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Farscape characters: Zhaan, D’Argo, Chiana

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ZHAAN

“Time and Patience…”

Where Aeryn represents physical strength and soldierly values, Zhaan in a way acts as her counterpart: she’s a Delvian priestess who cherishes spirituality above all else and embodies a sort of protective, maternal instinct that makes her the logical representative of the necessary spirit of cooperation that will be fundamental for the survival of the Moyans.zhaan

She is the voice of reason, the one who takes on the often difficult task of smoothing over the crew’s animosity toward each other, employing all the wisdom of her 800 cycles-long life.  The group of people aboard the Leviathan is thrown together by accident and at first their association is more a matter of necessity and convenience than a true alliance or a bond of friendship: this is why Zhaan’s mediation acts often as the only barrier between the opposing needs of the Moyans and the catastrophic consequences of many of their actions. And probably it’s not accidental that from Season Three on, after her demise, the story-arc becomes darker and more devastating.

With these premises it also appears logical that she would be entrusted with the crew’s physical well being: her herbal remedies and her knowledge in the field often make the difference between life and death and there’s a fine irony in the discovery that Delvians are in fact evolved plant-life. Herbal therapy incarnated.

Zhaan’s mother-like, protective attitude creates a special bond of allegiance with Moya, herself a protector and a mother-figure: inside the Leviathan, like in the maternal womb, the crew is reasonably safe and finds almost everything they need to survive.  We see the Delvian assume this role as early as the second episode of the show when she takes on herself Moya’s pain during an operation performed on the Leviathan’s neural system: it’s evident that Zhaan is facing an almost impossible – and very painful – task, yet she accepts it with courage and determination.

And yet ethereal and contemplative Zhaan is the child of a violent past: she murdered the Delvian leader – her lover – when he sold the planet’s independence to the Peacekeepers to gain absolute power.  Mindless violence, that sometimes can be permanent, represents the dark side of the Delvian soul and Zhaan freed herself from it thanks to the Seek, the mystic quest for enlightenment she initiated during her long imprisonment.  Yet these cruel instincts can only be repressed but not eradicated: in several occasions we see them emerge and threaten to overwhelm Zhaan’s better nature.

She is without doubt a positive figure, but she’s far from perfect: she takes an active part in the forced amputation of Pilot’s arm as the price to buy much-needed star-charts, and her cold, hypocritical rationalization of such brutality makes us spectators reel back in horror before this unexpected turn.

These contradictions stress Zhaan’s imperfections, true, but in counterbalancing her more spiritual tendencies they make her more approachable, more understandable and closer to us.  There is a scene that is strongly emblematic of Zhaan’s nature: while dealing with a dangerous mercenary, she repels his attack with surprising ease stating that she’s “Delicate, yes, weak, no”.  This is Zhaan, in a nutshell: grace and strength, spirituality and “human” frailties.

And dignity. This is the word that best defines her and informs her every gesture and nuance of expression and accompanies her to the very end: when she chooses to sacrifice what’s left of her life to save her ship-mates, she takes her leave from the crew of Moya with the same grace and dignity that are uniquely hers. Each family member, which she claims are her “children and loves”, receives a blessing and a spiritual parting gift that leaves an indelible impression – on both sides of the screen.

Even after she’s gone, her memory and spirit still linger along Moya’s corridors, as if she were a protective deity: each time the camera pans through the rooms where her presence was more constant, it’s impossible not to think about her or imagine her blue-clad form sailing through them with her trademark gracefulness.

Sweetness and strength, wisdom and sternness, imperfection and willingness to sacrifice oneself: Zhaan’s character is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

 

D’ARGO

“I will never be taken prisoner again!”

DargoHuge, fierce, aggressive, a booming voice raised in growled threat: this is the way D’Argo appears on screen for the first time, and this first impression is later strengthened by his violent approach to any situation. It’s clear from the very start that he has to deal with huge anger-management problems, including his own species’ peculiar hyper-rage (a sort of berserker raptus that pits him against other males), so that it’s too easy to classify him as a savage.  But D’Argo is far more complex than that.

Little by little we learn that he has lost everything: falsely accused of his wife’s murder, he’s been a Peacekeeper prisoner for long cycles, laboring like a slave in conditions that would have killed weaker beings; he knows nothing of his son’s whereabouts and he burns with the need to avenge his wife’s death. All this could be enough to explain D’Argo’s constant anger, but there’s another important detail to take into consideration: he’s young – by Uncharted Territories standards he’s just beyond his teens.  “You’re but a boy!” Zhaan tells him, from the perspective of her 800 cycles.

Youth, coupled with the total loss of his world, is the key to understanding D’Argo: while he struggles with himself, to keep his drives under a tighter rein, he also desperately attempts to rebuild what has been taken from him – he searches for his lost son and tries to create a stable relationship with Chiana. He’s so focused on that goal, like a drowning man clinging to a lifeline, that he loses any sense of perspective and refuses to heed the danger signals that everything might not be as he wants and hopes for.  When he finds his son, the boy has been a slave for a long time, and he’s full of mis-directed anger (not unlike his father….); and Chiana is too much of a free spirit to accept a quiet life on a farm.

D’Argo fierce nature, his origins from a warrior race, seem to condemn him to a life of strife, and yet he does indeed grow through these struggles because the family being built on Moya needs his strength and his loyalty, and it’s thanks to them that he realizes his full potential. What best shapes him is the friendship with John Crichton: it’s not an easy bonding, on the contrary it starts with suspicion and contempt on D’Argo’s part, but it develops slowly though shared dangers. From comrades in arms to brothers.

On hindsight, I believe that a sort of osmosis happens between the two men: from D’Argo, Crichton learns a more aggressive stance that contributes to divest him of his higher ideals of mediation and dialogue, since they have no place in the Uncharteds; from Crichton, D’Argo learns how to value friendship and respect, to stop seeing them as a sign of weakness. And to joke about the direst of situations.  The emblematic moment when their bond is cemented happens in the last episode of season 1, while the two get ready to attempt something that might cost them their lives:

Crichton: Hey, D’Argo. How come I’m not afraid?
D’Argo: Fear accompanies the possibility of death. Calm shepherds its certainty.
Crichton: I love hanging with you, man.

They become each other’s support, confidante and the go-to person when they need to unburden. Both deprived of compatible male company by circumstances, they gravitate toward each other in an unforced way that feels completely natural, and believable.  The trademark of all Farscape relationships.

 

CHIANA

“I can kiss or kick or cry my way out of it.”

In the beginning, young Chiana seems destined to the role of the outsider, the off-key note: her arrival aboard Moya happens in the middle of the first season and her presence acts as a ripple passing through the fragile balance that is taking hold among the Leviathan’s inhabitants.

Chiana is a rebel, running away from the oppressive Nebari government and its imposition of rigid rules that even contemplate brainwashing of its citizens. Since her escape, she’s been living a hand-to-mouth existence and her instincts are tightly focused on survival, while her principles are quite flexible.

More than anything else she is a study in contradictions: her slight, juvenile appearance leads people to underestimate her because it hides the crafty experience she’s gained through a life on the edge. These contradictions are also plain in the way she moves, with sudden and almost disarticulate gestures that match a speech pattern that is breathy, fast and full of stops and repetitions, like the outward expression of a mind riddled by conflicting thoughts and emotions that make her interaction with the outside world quite unpredictable.Chiana

So it’s hardly surprising if the Moyans have some trouble in trusting her, particularly so when she seems unwilling to contribute to everyone’s survival: at some point we see her trying to escape, with no further thought for the others, from a dangerous situation they are in, and we can sympathize with her companions’ annoyance, but we also understand that this flight reaction is nothing more than the product of her former life, where Chiana certainly survived by being fast on her feet and not trusting anyone but herself.  It will be only thanks to her life on Moya, and the family that’s being slowly created there, that she will learn how to depend on others.

It would be too easy to label Chiana as self-centered and egotist or, worse, as an unrepentant tralk (the alien equivalent of “slut”), as some commentators did. Easy and wrong, because she is instead a very complex person, one who is revealed little by little and who always manages to surprise – both the viewers and her traveling companions.   With the latter she creates, with time, a fierce bond of love and loyalty that grows as the ties between them all become stronger. We could say that Chiana is the emblem of the complex synergies aboard Moya: the group initially works together for simple expediency and only later grows into a real family, while the young Nebari’s stay with them morphs from a temporary measure, just a stop along the way while waiting for a better opportunity, to a progressive integration with this group of people, until she becomes an essential part of the family she learns to count on for survival, and love.

This does not mean, however, that Chiana completely changes her attitude or behavior: indeed some her most radical sides keep appearing like glitches in an unstable mechanism, as we can observe in her relationship with D’Argo. Once they become lovers the Luxan sees in Chiana the chance to restore the family that circumstances stole from him, as he dreams of a quiet and peaceful life. A terrifying prospect for the Nebari, since she resents every limitation – be it true or imagined – to her own personal freedom; and that’s why she decides to destroy their relationship in the most devastating way, betraying D’Argo with his own son Jothee.   It’s curious that Chiana would consider the dramatic shattering of her love story with D’Argo as the lesser evil, if compared to a conventional, probably boring life, but we must keep in mind that her past – and the oppressive atmosphere of the Nebari worlds – plays a key role in this: Chiana is a free spirit, a creature that does not bear well a cage, no matter how sweet or gilded.

Chiana’s character, while growing in depth and responsibility, does take on an increasingly tragic streak that is tied to a series of traumatic losses: her carefree youth comes to an end when she’s forced to part company with her brother Nerri, the only person she has a strong emotional bond with, and until that moment the very center of her world.  Zhaan’s death again marks a turning point, because it finally stresses how Chiana has become an integral part of Moya’s family and how the loss of this pivotal and irreplaceable figure will affect her. And last but not least, D’Argo: once he breaks their relationship after the fling with Jothee, Chiana understands the importance that the Luxan had in her life, and after they manage to seal the breach – thus revealing the Nebari’s further emotional growth – D’Argo dies heroically, leaving her once again adrift.

The last scenes where we see her, in THE PEACEKEEPER WARS, show us the extent of her evolution through the decision to carry on D’Argo’s dream to live on Hyneria as a farmer: accepting her dead lover’s legacy and making it her goal she proves how the past experiences have changed and matured her, although something of the “old” Chiana peeks through the cracks when she ironically comments on these changes. It’s a pity that this particular scene is available to us viewers only as deleted footage, because it would have better defined Chiana’s character and its progress, while at the same time stressing the contradictory spirit that still dwells at her core, making her so elusive, mysterious and fascinating.

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6 thoughts on “Farscape characters: Zhaan, D’Argo, Chiana

  1. There isn’t much more I can add, since you’ve said it all so eloquently. But I’ll certainly try 🙂

    One of the hallmarks of Farscape’s characterizations is that characters are often not what they seem; that seems more true of these characters than it does of even John and Aeryn.

    While the latter change as a result of the upheaval of their ordered lives–both strangers in a strange land, when you think about it, the first we see of Zhaan and D’Argo leads us to conclude that one is a WARRIOR of the Worf variety, the other, an empath of the Troi variety. Boy, are we wrong.

    Zhaan is the only person aboard Moya who actually committed the crime for which she was convicted–no frame job, no governmental overthrow. That crime forces her to redemption. D’Argo is really a lover and farmer and father at heart, with a rage that is genetic more than chosen.

    By the show’s end, and especially after Zhaan is gone, Chiana takes on the mother role that Zhaan vacated. Quite a move for a girl who never stopped running and again, transformative.

    BY the way–REDEMPTION . While hope and family and love are the prevalent themes in Farscape, I’d say REDEMPTION is the result. Zhaan says it best when she counsels Aeryn–both women with violent, hopeless pasts who are transformed aboard Moya. Their souls redeemed, in a way, so that Zhaan feels prepared to meet her maker.

    After you peel away the puppets, and the zaniness, and even the humor, that’s what you have at this show’s core: The transformative power of love resulting in redemption for its characters.

    Thank you for you continued analysis of Farscape!

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    1. Thank *you* for adding these wonderful thoughts!

      You are right: it’s easy to shape these characters into a mold they don’t belong to – easy and self-deceiving. TV (or should I say “run-of-the-mill TV”?) led us to thinking that there are fixed categories for characters and that those same characters have to conform to certain guidelines. The beauty of Farscape is that you always get the unexpected, the unpredictable, and you enjoy the discovery just as much as the fictional people on your screen.

      That’s one of the reasons that shows like Farscape (and a very few others) have raised the stakes, and changed both our expectations on the overall quality of the stories we watch and – more importantly – our tastes. By offering something that’s not easy to find, but oh-so-rewarding when we do.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m enjoying the analysis.

    “The beauty of Farscape is that you always get the unexpected, the unpredictable, and you enjoy the discovery just as much as the fictional people on your screen.”

    To which I give a Teal’c like “indeed.”

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  3. Another great read.

    Nothing is ever black and white with the Farscape characters and that is just so fascinating to me.

    You go from episodes such as DNA Mad Scientist where you are appalled and disgusted at some of the crew’s behaviour and thinking that you may never like these character again to loving them a couple of eps later.

    The ups and downs of “human” nature (although it is weird to say that about mostly aliens) are laid out on the screen ep in ep out and it makes for a great ride!

    Thank you for the great articles and I look forward to the next!

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    1. Thank you for the lovely comments!
      The strength of this story and these characters comes across when you rewatch the episodes and manage to always find something new: not many shows can boast that…

      Oh, and if anyone is interested, another Sci-Fi Month participant is reviewing the Farscape comics: here is the blog’s address http://mervih.wordpress.com/
      It’s another point of view on our beloved universe….

      Like

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