Fair warning to SABR Matt, who's watching this series for the first time: This episode is extraordinarily grim. But that doesn't mean it's not awesome.
The Farscape Wiki has a summary here.
I'll tell you one thing: As far as the production values are concerned, the crew absolutely outdoes itself here. Foremost on my mind is the parade of grotesqueries the Creature Shop dreams up to populate Valldon (especially Cresus, who is perfectly crafted to inspire the viewer's revulsion), but the lighting and set design are also worthy of praise. Every technical element, in truth, has a contribution to make to the overall picture -- which, of course, is intended to dramatize Aeryn's psychological state in the wake of Talyn!John's death.
But now to the content of the story. Justin Monjo makes the correct choice in bringing Xhalax back into the picture, as Xhalax, once again, compellingly illustrates Aeryn's great good luck in meeting John. Many cycles ago, Xhalax took a chance on loving someone, only to have her hopes dashed in the cruelest possible way. Since then, she has never been afforded the opportunity to come to terms with what the Peacekeepers did to her developing family -- and the anger and hurt that this has wrought has consequently divorced Xhalax from her own humanity. Instead of blaming her fascistic superiors for her sorrow, Xhalax blames love itself and seeks to strike at the person - Aeryn - who inspires it.
Aeryn, on the other hand, will not follow her mother's path. Though we see her indulging in a bit of Xhalax-style emotional torture in re: Crais - and though we see her retreating into her Peacekeeper persona at the end of the episode to protect herself from further emotional upset - it's also important to note that she leaves Valldon (unlike Stark, who, given his brain damage, is ill-equipped to withstand the planet's magic). The fact that Aeryn chooses not to lose herself in Valldon's black promises - that she chooses not to dwell on what she has lost - is in actuality an indication that John has changed Aeryn in a fundamental way. Though Aeryn doesn't recognize it yet, John has made her a healthier and better person -- an effect that will never be completely undone.
The characterization is flawless, I feel.
I also don't believe there's anything wrong with the performances.
Production Values: 10.0
True -- we don't normally add in this dimension when we review television shows. In this case, though, the atmospherics really stand out.
It is indeed dangerous to hang on to the fantasy that anyone can be brought back from the dead.
(With thanks to whoever it was who compiled the Farscape Transcript Archive.)
Stark: Aeryn, you must return to Talyn. We -- we saw Xhalax here on Valldon.
Aeryn: It's this place. You should see who I've seen.
Stark: No-no. Your mother is really really here.
Aeryn: No, guess who I've seen? Crichton. And guess who else? My father. Any microt now, Stark, you're going to see Zhaan.
Stark: You stop! You listen to me! He - (indicating Crais) - he never killed Xhalax! He was preparing to betray us!
Crais: That is not true. I made a deal for all of us.
Stark: (roaring as he shakes his gun in Crais' face) LIAR! LIAR! (Then quietly, and ever so gently, back to Aeryn) Now you must come back with us. I will look after you. I want to look after you.
Aeryn: (in a very low voice as she gazes into Stark's eyes) That would be really nice.
Stark: Oh - please --
Aeryn: (without taking her eyes off him, in the same, creamily half-stoned voice) Don't touch me. (Stark freezes.)
Crais: Aeryn -- Xhalax is alive.
Aeryn: Come on! (She slides onto her hands and knees and crawls over to kneel in front of Crais where she shakes her hair back and plays with his collar in a manner somewhere between seductive and threatening.) Come on. Come on, Crais. You can tell the truth. Mm?
Stark: (scoldingly) You get up! Get away from him!
Aeryn: No that's all right. He wants me. Isn't that right? You always wanted to take me from Crichton, and now here's your chance. (Crais isn't sure what to make of her behavior - he can't help but smile ever so slightly at her attention - but he knows she's drunk and distraught as she leans in close, cradling his head and speaking into his ear.) And you know what, Bialar? If I squeeze my eyes closed - (she sighs) - tightly enough - you could be someone else. (Crais grunts - he suspected as much - and he tries to pull away, but Aeryn latches onto him with a vise-like grip, pressing herself against him and throwing one leg around him as she insists hysterically.) No! Come on! Right here! Right now! Give it to me. Give me what you've got!
Stark: You're coming with me! I'm taking you now! (Oh no, she's not. Aeryn comes powering off the floor like a maddened thing and rams Stark against the wall, pinning him there. She whips out her knife and holds it poised over his eye.)
Aeryn: (viciously) DON'T - YOU - TOUCH - ME! I swear I will spear the last eye you have left! (Then, with quiet hatred:) Do you know what makes you so much worse? The fact that you think you're so much better than him. Always pressing against me. Stealing looks. Get out of here. (She turns and walks away from Stark. Crais starts to rise to his feet, and Aeryn jerks him up and gives him an enraged shove) Both of you GET OUT!
Aeryn: Let me guess - you're my long-lost sister.
Rygel: Look - Aeryn - I know you're upset. I too had someone important in my life. Kellor was her name. I missed her for a long time. But I knew - as I'm sure you do - that self-sacrifice is not the answer. Look -- I'm not like Crais or Stark. I'm not trying to save you or recreate with you. You can do whatever you like. But -- Crichton loved you, Aeryn. He wouldn't want his death to lead you here.
Talyn: Cresus says he has rarely had a vision so powerful! And he wants me to find the Sintar. He is a creature who can sometimes turn spirits corporeal.
Aeryn: That's not possible.
Talyn: Oh, Aeryn -- on this planet I have seen things I have not thought possible. Wait here. I will find the Sintar. If the connection is strong enough -- if he thinks this can happen --
Aeryn: He can bring Crichton back?
Cresus: Perhaps. Don't lose hope -- y-yet.
Talyn: Wait here. I will not be long. Just believe! (A tear slides down Aeryn’s cheek as she watches him go. Then she shakes herself and rises.)
Aeryn: I returned from the dead. Why can't he?
(She staggers over to her bed and flops into it with a sigh. Before long, the spectral Crichton returns, coming to sit behind her on the bed and laying his hand on her shoulder.)
John: This is where it hurts?
John: Right here. (He massages her shoulder as he brings his head close to hers. She sighs with deep comfort and contentment.) You can't bring me back, you know.
Aeryn: Mm. They said that on this planet there's a -- I've forgotten his name.
John: (gently) No.
Aeryn: (after a long pause) No?
John: (firmly) No.
Aeryn: (she closes her eyes and says after another long pause) Was it easy to be a hero? Leave me behind?
John: (quietly) You never think - you're gonna die. I didn't know.
Xhalax: You know -- things couldn't have worked out better. I'm glad you two got to meet.
Aeryn: (staring at the body of Talyn sprawled on the bed) Why?
Xhalax: For this. For you to suffer. For everything you did. For everything that went wrong.
Aeryn: I -- We did nothing to you.
Xhalax: You did everything. After your birth, High Command said I could redeem myself if -- (she stops herself) -- but they lied. The damage was done. And no matter what I did I was never truly reinstated.
Aeryn: And now you want my pity.
Xhalax: Oh no. I want your pain. To know how close I was - to love. So close -- and then to lose it all in an instant. I've heard -- loved ones leave you in pieces. That little by little you start to forget things about them. But that's not true. You lose them - everything - instantly. And suddenly nothing can replace them. Nothing. And now you -- have nothing. How does it feel?
Aeryn: Wasn't killing Talyn once enough? But did you have to kill him in front of me? Is that what was missing? When I first met him, I knew he wasn't my father, but he knew all these details about you and me.
Xhalax: You're lying. You didn't know. (Aeryn laughs a bitter, woozy laugh as she turns away from her mother and goes to sit in the window.)
Aeryn: (loudly) Of course I hoped -- that he might be Talyn. Just as I hoped that I might see Crichton again. But in my heart - I knew that that - (gesturing to the body laying on the bed) - was not my father. And then you walked in. You know -- we Peacekeepers think that we are so remarkable. Soldiers without equal. Precise tacticians. Purebloods. But I've realized -- we're not remarkable. We do nothing for love. Not one thing.
Xhalax: (after a long pause) You're wrong. Cycles ago - after your birth - I was given an order. They called it a choice. "One of you must die," they said. I killed your father so you could live. I did that -- for love.
Aeryn: So. This is it? Kill me now. Destroy the last piece of your life -- and leave nothing.
Xhalax: I wasn't an assassin until I killed your father. I was a pilot. I was bred to be a pilot. But they made me kill again and again -- and finally I stopped caring. But I knew your suffering would ease my pain. And it has. It has.
Aeryn: The battle's over, Xhalax. You don't want to kill me.
Xhalax: No. (She wants Aeryn to kill herself. She fires two shots over Aeryn’s shoulders, but Aeryn doesn't even flinch.
Meanwhile Crais has made it up on the service lift and is moving cautiously through the hotel corridors. The halls are more deserted now, and everything Crais sees, he treats as a potential threat, taking down one hooded figure before moving on. He comes to Aeryn’s room -- but is forced to duck back as a guard posted there takes a pot shot at him.
Cut back to Aeryn on her ledge with Xhalax in the room behind her)
Aeryn: Why don't you come out here a bit closer? It might make it easier for you. (And Xhalax does. Aeryn guides the muzzle of her mothers gun to the base of her throat.) Here -- you can't miss from here. Unless you want to.
(The scene shifts quickly from the standoff on the ledge to Crais as shots in the hallway are fired and the last of the obstacles between him and the door to Aeryn’s room is removed.)
Aeryn: Drop the gun, Xhalax.
(Xhalax' gun wavers on the ledge -- and in the hallway Crais moves carefully through the trash-strewn corridor to Aeryn’s door, mindful of any hidden assailants in the gloom.
Xhalax closes her eyes and her gun wobbles.
Crais steadies himself to storm the room.
Slowly, almost miraculously, Xhalax lowers her weapon and she and Aeryn stand there on the ledge, facing each other. Aeryn smiles.
But at that moment - the door to her room bursts open and Crais charges in - he sees only Aeryn and Xhalax on the ledge.)
Aeryn: NO! (Xhalax turns towards Crais and brings her gun up -- but Crais fires first, and Xhalax is hit in the chest. Her gun goes spinning away down the side of the fearsomely tall building, and she begins to topple over backwards. Aeryn catches her and holds her back) NO! (Crais holds his fire as he watches them down the barrel of his gun, wide-eyed, as he begins to realize what he's done.)
Xhalax: (gasping) Let me fall Aeryn.
Xhalax: Do it. Let me go. I died a long time ago. You live - for me.
(Cut back to the miserable hotel room on Valldon. Aeryn has cast off her mourning rags and is finishing reassembling herself as a woman of the Peacekeepers. Pants, vest, hair pulled back into a tight braid. Weapons. The ghost of John is standing, looking out the window as she dresses.)
Aeryn: (watching the reflection of the ghost behind her in the mirror) Maybe -- I could have become something different. If you'd lived, I could have truly changed. But you are gone. And I am - (she holsters her pulse gun) - what I was bred to be.
John: Aeryn -- come here.
Aeryn: No. (There's a long pause.) You have to go now. (And after another long pause, she turns back to the mirror -- which gives back only her reflection. She is alone.)