Episode 1: End. Begin. All the Same.
My sister was born in January of 1980. By the time The Dark Crystal was released in December of 1982, she would have been close to 3 years old, and her first theatrical release was decided. She loved the Muppets… it was only natural. But you’ve heard all this before when I wrote about the movie. Or maybe you’ll hear about it later when I write about the movie. I’m not sure; time plays tricks. Suffice to say, that was the beginning. Or was it the ending? It’s all the same when you’re talking about stories. See, that movie was the end of the story. 38 years later, Netflix returned to the land of Thra to show us the beginning. And guess who is along for the ride!
There’s a LOT to be said about this opening episode. First off, the narrator (movie legend Sigourney Weaver) sets the stage and gives us a lot of information. There are seven clans of Gelfling, three of which are discussed with their special abilities and life styles. Maybe the narrator was a fan of another legend, because the three groups she covers are from “above, between, below”. There’s the Vapra, living high above in the mountains. Stonewood live between in the forests. Grottan living below, in dark caves; their eyes dilated to show how little light they get. Then there’s Aughra, who accepted her orrery from the alien Skeksis, the current rulers of the planet. For those of us who saw the original, we know what happens to her orrery in the future, but for now, Aughra’s attention is captivated by this device as she uses it to learn about the heavens. Meanwhile, the Skeksis, in their quest for eternal life, have discovered that the Crystal of Truth can drain the essence from a living being, and they have their sights set on who to drain, and what to do with that power. (This is something we saw in the movie, but that takes place some 2000 years from now. We are seeing the origin of these legends!)
The episode opens with an absolutely stunning array of visual imagery. It’s one glorious sight after another. From the open skies of the Vapra, to the phosphorescent caves of Grottan, we cover a range of beautiful locales! There is a library of which I am infinitely envious and very hopeful they create in VR, because I want to explore it! From the original movie, we see the marvelous landstriders and we are introduced to new beings, in the form of some really adorable characters. So far, the little paper eater is my favorite. I have to admit, though, I’m torn: the wheels on the Skeksis’s carriage are actually large pill-bug-like creatures that roll into a ball and push the carriage. (Brilliant!) And then there’s the giant spider, which creates funnel webs in the catacombs… Thank the God of all Monsters that this doesn’t look as scary as a real spider, or I’d have a hard time with it!
The Gelfling seem to have a power that I don’t recall from the movie. They can enter a state called Dream Fasting, where they share their memories. When Princess Brea (voiced by the lovely if somewhat elfin Anya Taylor-Joy – genre fans my remember her as the survivor of Split) discovers a flowery symbol in the air, she wants to share her memory with her mother, but gets derailed by another discovery she makes. During a tithing ceremony, another family has to give up a treasured heirloom which ends up in Brea’s mother’s possession. (Another genre great, Brea’s mother is Helena Bonham-Carter!) What caught my attention about the flowery symbol that Brea never got to show her mother had to do with the power of Three… a theme that was essential to the original movie.
Of some interest to fans of the original is Skeksis mainstay, Chamberlain, this time voiced by Doctor Who/Star Trek/Shaun of the Dead great Simon Pegg. Before he says a word, his little “hm’mmm” can be heard and I knew we were with an old frien… um, enemy. From just one episode I can see we are going to be in for a game of “spot the celebrity”. Jason Isaacs (also of Star Trek fame) is the Skeksis emperor. Rian, the Gelfling guard we think might be a main character, is voiced by Taron Egerton (from the fantastic Kingsman: The Secret Service). Nathalie Emmanuel is Deet, the underground Gelfling who is chosen for a quest (Missandrei from Game of Thrones). I still want to see how many I recognize but so far, I am trying to limit how many I look up. (I am fairly certain I recognized the librarian, but I will wait to find out!)
Ok, so we’re one episode in and I am sure there’s a lot we will talk about. Possibly the most obvious is the allegory about how we abuse natural resourced, but for now, I’ll wait and see where we go. Suffice to say, I’ve already been stunned by one of the deaths. I really didn’t see it coming and I will have to wait to make my assessment on that. For what it’s worth, I’m just glad to be back in a land I loved… this time on a bigger journey, with my sister in tow… ML
The view from my rainbow connection
First of all, just seeing Jim Henson’s name with that iconic font made me smile. It takes me back to childhood immediately. I am blown away by the genius behind the puppetry because within minutes of watching you forget that these being are actually puppets.
Thra is the planet the story of the Dark Crystal takes place on. It has 3 suns. Did you know that Thra in real life is a volcanic island in Greece. I find it ironic because the story we are about to take a journey on is just that: Volcanic. I think in many ways it mirrors what life on Earth is when it comes to our overuse of natural resources and the class system we are all accustomed to.
Rather than explain everything as it is, I will discuss how I interpreted the first Episode.
Gelfling are made up of 7 clans. I will explore the three we became familiar with in episode 1.
Vapra, who are the over-seers and live in the mountains. Mountains being high – similar to this clans status.
Stonewood, fiercest in battle and live in the forest. They are in the midst of it all- like trees in a forest, they are the ones in the “thick of it.”
Grottan, my personal favorite because they are living in perfect harmony. While they live underground, which seems to lend itself to their “class” among the other two above mentioned clans, they are the ones who respect all nature and all animals.
The heart of Thra is the Crystal. The Crystal is the source of life- it is truth. How fitting that truth be the source of life. I would have guessed love was the source of life but perhaps truth is where love is born to begin with after all.
Any child of the 80’s, like myself must remember our friend Augrah. I was scared of her as a kid. She was less than plesant looking and came across as scary to me. While we haven’t seen that version of her yet, besides in visions or pictures…we learn she entrusted the Crystal to the Skeksis after they gifted her the giant Orrery. She is a truth seeker and astronomer who looks to the stars for truth.
Those pesky Skeksis I just mentioned are the bad guys we grew up with. The only reason all the Gelfling are cool with them now is because this Netflix series takes place about 2000 years before the movie we all know and love. Those damn Skeksis steal from the crystal. The crystal is both their prize and their prisoner. How sad. I felt an immediate connection to our Mother Earth. We treat Earth often as both our prize and our prisoner. Our overuse of natural resources as well as human pollution in both the air and sea. How ironic that the more the Skeksis take from the Crystal the less the Crystal has to give. The Crystal getting corrupted by greed spreads to all of the creatures of Thra. Just as we have seen in real life, animals, insects, people, and even the land seem to fight against us in areas of over population and greed.
We meet Podlings in this episode. They look like little upright moles walking around. I mention this now incase I need to elaborate on them in a later episode. They are funny little morons. We know they too work for the Skeksis because everyone is still under their control or under the belief that Skeksis are good. Remember, we don’t know otherwise for a while. 2000 years later is the culmination of all the truth we discover.
We also meet Mira and Rian. They are two Gelfling who are in love with each other. Is it funny to anyone else that the female Gelfling have wings while the males don’t? Wings generally show that a being is not of “earthly” realm but rather “heavenly.” Hummm…somthing to ponder. Having two boys of my own I don’t embrace this as wholeheartedly as I would have before being a mother myself. Anyhoo, Mira and Rian “dreamfast”, which is an almost mystical sharing of memories. We see they met and fell in love and seem to be still in the honeymoon stage. Rian is the son of Captain (spitter slayer) Ordin. Ordin is met breifly and I get the impression he is not thrilled with his son Rian. I am sure many boys can relate to the feeling that their dad wants more from them. Those Spitter’s we meet are just giant, gross, spiders. At least Ordin knows how to kill them. I don’t know if Rian will fare as well.
Lucky for us, we get to meet the Armalig. They are a mix between a slug and a rolly-poly. Servants of the Skeksis for sure. Those Skeksis sure do take advantage of all creatures, including Landstrikers. Landstrikes look like a sloth with ridiculously long, fast legs.
As the episode continues we start to get to the heart of things, in my opinion. This is where we meet the 3 princess sisters, daughters of All-Maudra. Tavra, the serious, warrior princess. Seladon, the oldest sister, and finally Brea, the good hearted, youngest sister. We also meet my favorite character so far- Deet. Thats short for Deethra. She is a female Grotton gelfling who loves all creatures. She even feeds the wormlike Nurlocs who end up being the first of the creatures of Thra to attack the “hand that feeds them.” Who can blame them? They are likely the lowest creature, physically, to the land of Thra, hence infected first with the “darkening”. I will explain that later and what I take it to represent.
While I don’t think this series lends itself to children because of the intricacies of it, I do believe lots of kids would laugh when meeting SkekLack. Her nose literally runs all the time. Snot seems to make lots of children laugh. She is down right ugly and attributes her ugliness to knowledge. She says she was once beautiful before she acquired knowledge. This is often how I feel after watching the news.
The Skeksis are on their way to the Groton Gelfling to collect Tithe. A law that they in fact created. It is believed that because of their generosity they should be gifted. Is this is a play at the rich getting richer? Maybe a political nod to our government too. We see the poor farmer family give very little because their land won’t produce. I wonder why? The awful Skeksis notice the farmers wife has a pendant that was etched with her mothers’ final wisdom. The Skeksis make it nearly impossible for the farmer not to “give” it to them by guilting them and then having the other Gelfling peer pressure them as well. How awful. Yeah- certainly a dig at the government taking from its people. No Tithe can be taken- it must be given. Sure….just like property taxes. Brea is the only one who feels this is wrong. She wonders about this “law” and if it is really a way of thanking the Skeksis for being good or if it is a ploy to have the poor fighting over the left overs. Brea, being interested in learning, tries to figure it all out while the librarian tells her not to go down a path against the Skeksis. It is at that point that a book basically comes to life and reveals a vision to her. Unfortunately when she runs to tell her mother, she is shocked to see her mother wearing the very pendant the Skeksis got from the poor farmers wife. Is this what a pay off looks like?? I felt sorry for Brea’s mother only for a moment when she explains why she is now in possession of the pendant. She says, “it’s easy to be poor when no one relies on you.” I don’t think it is ever easy to be poor however as a parent I can say honestly that money matters more to me now than it did when I was younger because I want so badly to be able to give my children the best in life.
On their way, the Scroll-keeper Skeksis is the one who reaches out a hand when he find Princess Brea on the road waiting to see them drive by. Wait, is this even a nod at religion? I couldn’t help but think about our Pope coming through on his Pope-mobile while the lay people gather around to catch a glimpse. I sure hope this isn’t going to become a religious AND political lesson. After all, I love Pope Francis. I digress. So Scroll- keeper Skeksis is only kind to Brea after he find out she is a Princess. At first he talks down to her then realizes she may be a valuable ally. He even tells her he will speak on her behalf to her mother who will surely be upset she embarrassed the family by being so interested in asking questions of the Skeksis.
Back to the Crystal, the heart of Thra. It can no longer draw enough power from Thra since it has been taken from so much already. Ahem, Mother Earth. The Skeksis have to have their scientist figure out a way to draw from another source otherwise they will eventually die. The moron scientist named SkekTek almost kills himself experimenting- and would have succeeded if it wasn’t for that other rat, Chamberlain SkekSil, shutting off the machine that was being used. They realize that the experiment was not a failure because they now know they can extract “essence” from living creatures and use that essence to become healthier and more powerful. Sounds like all women in the quest for eternal youth. We just go to plastic surgeons though. Skeksil is the horrid creature who suggests they take from Gelfling instead and SkekTek walks away with this suggestion looking like the temporary hero.
Now back to my girl Deet. Remember she was attacked by the creatures, the Nurlocs, she was taking care of and feeding? Well in her quest to escape she stumbles upon the Sanctuary Tree. The Tree itself speaks to her. Only a chosen few can hear the tree speak. The Tree informs her of “the Darkening” which I briefly mentioned earlier. We learn now that the Trees were the ones keeping Thra safe but they are now losing their battle. Deforestation anyone? (THEY PAVED PARADISE TO PUT UP A PARKING LOT) Deet faints after the vision with the Sanctuary Tree. When she wakes she finds herself with family being checked up on by Madura Algot (seems like the family doctor to me) and finds out that she has been chosen by the tree and now must go on a quest to warn the All Madura of the darkening. She must follow the brightest star in the sky. Oh boy- yeah- sounds familiar to me.
Uh oh- Gurjin (a lazy friend of Mira and Rian) come along with the love birds while they hunt spitters. Rian is trying to impress his dad since he was overlooked by his own father to Tolyn (a gelfling we don’t know yet). Mira being a complete doofus follows the spitter they were hunting as it escaped down into the catacombs, which by the way, are forbidden to Gelfling. She gets caught by a Skeksis all while Rian tries to catch up with her.
Can I just mention Gourmond. He is the fat Skeksis. I am on day two of my diet and I can relate to his desire for snacks wholeheartedly. That is all I need to say about him.
Remember I said Mira was caught by a Skeksis in the catacombs? Well they use her and have the Crystal of Truth (the dark crystal) take all of her fear, love, and secrets which kills her by draining her of her essence. Poor Rian watches from above and unwittingly alerts the Skeksis by dropping a tear on to them from his hideout above. He already witnessed the Emperor get strong after drinking some of Mira’s essence. Now as he runs off we hear the Skeksis as they feel they have now conquered death. We hear them say that even if Rian tells his father or the others he will be outcast because “to not believe in Skeksis rule, is to not believe in themselves.” Sounds to me like an abusive relationship where the boyfriend tells his girlfriend she is nothing without him.
The episode ends with us seeing the Pendant returned although I am not sure by whom. Did Brea steal is back or did her mother have a change of heart. Unless I missed something I think this is a clear indication that good is always there. Light exists even in darkness. The Skeksis think Gelfling want to be ruled but I think they have another thing coming.
I love pink trees so the last scene when I see Deet, my home girl, emerging from a pink tree, I felt all would be alright in the end. I may have 2000 years knowledge though. DG
I also grew up with the Muppets and still love them. My first experience with them was on the Ed Sullivan show (yep, I am that old – LOL), since then other puppet-types just don’t compare. I’m still debating on the new show. It has great characters (yea), but I also agree that it is not for kids (bummer).
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I just finished the series last night and definitely agree it’s not for children below teen years but I am so impressed by the artistry, story, and visuals that I can honestly say the series is worth watching.
I mean, we love good stories. This is one. We love beautiful artwork. This has it in abundance. We love talent. This series proves the creators have talent bc I was near tears on occasion and laughed on others. These PUPPETS became people to me. Far as I can tell, that makes it worth watching.
But I do agree that it would have been nice if younger kids could have watched. However having re-watched the original, the concepts in that were fairly highbrow too; not for little kids certainly. ML
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For many years I remembered Dark Crystal as a stand-alone film. But that’s also how we all remembered Blade Runner until that changed after so long. Because there can always be more to tell when a lavishly artistic SF world unlike anything seen before is thrust upon our consensus. I must confess that I’ve outgrown my fandom of the Muppets even though they were very enjoyable in my childhood. My fondest memory of them now would be the stageplay crossover between Pigs In Space and Dr. Who.
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I love this. And I love us. (I had a few typos I now noticed though)
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