Killjoys premiered on Friday with a story within a story surrounding how Dutch and Johnny got to be Killjoys. Some amount of time has clearly passed since last season’s finale given Dutch’s curren’t predicament, so strap in as we take a look at “The Warrior Princess Bride.”
We cold open on Khlyen carrying what appears to be an incapacitated Dutch through a forest in the “Green Space.” Cut to Aneela standing in a ruined tower watching Khlyen return, upset when she realizes that something has happened to Dutch. When Khlyen reaches the tower, Aneela asks anxiously, “You found her?” To which Khlyen replies, “I think she found us.” It’s not clear whether they mean Dutch or the Lady, and I’ve learned to not assume with these kinds of statements.
Dutch’s injury looks like Frodo’s injury in “Fellowship of the Rings” after he’s been stabbed by the Nazgul, and she is engaged in a battle for control of her mind with “The Lady,” who wants access to her memories. Unfortunately, there’s no kingsfoil or elves around, just a story that may or may not be true (more on that later), but serves to give us a version of the story they’ve been referencing and revealing bit by bit over the last three years.
Excellent. We’re in a frame story, and we just hung the frame. (Hello, Princess Bride.)
Khlyen sends Aneela to keep watch, and kneels down beside the injured Dutch (that sounds a lot more ominous now that I’m typing it, and frankly, it should). He tells her that there’s a memory of hers that is “very important” that she hold onto, and that it’s very important that she remembers the details of it as it goes on. As he plays with her memory, we see the details shimmer and change, primarily, the RAC insignia, which changes from its usual form to something I… honestly don’t remember seeing before.
This memory is, supposedly, about how Dutch and Johnny got to be Killjoys after running away from the planet that Dutch was made queen of and where she unwittingly (because of Khlyen) killed her own husband on their wedding night.
Each transition into the “story” has a voiceover from Khlyen (not unlike The Princess Bride). Dutch resurfaces from time to time to either express objections or one-liners—it gets a bit eerie once you notice what he’s changing, and when you stop to consider what he might be changing that you don’t know. For lack of information, and based on the fact that Dutch’s main objections only happened around details that we saw Khlyen change, I’m going to tentatively go with most of it being true.
The flashback is a lot like the other case-of-the-week stories we’ve seen from the show, but with a few of the usual dynamics reversed. It begins a few months after Johnny and Dutch first met. The two have passed the “honeymoon phase” of their grand plan to run away from everything, and the cracks are starting to appear in their hastily-agreed-upon partnership. They’re completely out of money, almost out of fuel, down on their luck, arguing, and snidely putting down the others’ background. Dutch is keeping the true extent of her trauma—and her training as an assassin—to herself, trying to leave that line of work behind.
Johnny tries to hustle on the side and ends up getting them into even more trouble than before. Dutch tries to get them an honest job, but because she doesn’t have Johnny’s street smarts, she winds up getting them into a con that sets them up to act (unknowingly) as mules and then take the fall. They also don’t know what the RAC is yet, and manage to wind up on the wrong side of the law (and, ironically, “locked and served”) when they shoot RAC Agent Joseph Siano (their future mentor in the RAC, a callback to an episode in the first season) in the foot after he intervenes in yet another botched pickpocketing attempt.
We get some of the show’s characteristic one-liners during an interrogation that establishes the pair’s styles under pressure: Johnny makes lewd jokes and evades hard questions, and Dutch (still going by Yala) handily lets Siano know he’s in over his head by making a toy out of his lie detector. Siano then does what the machine can’t (a recurring theme throughout the episode) by pinpointing her exact insecurities around her “partnership” with Johnny—he doesn’t know her real story. She’s not the type who has friends. It’s not in her line of work. You can see the confidence melt from Yala’s face.
The missteps they make in the beginning are solidly in character, and while Johnny and Dutch both feel endearingly new to this whole line of work, and have zero plans on becoming Killjoys until the very end, you can see glimmers of the characters they’ve become by the pilot episode. Neither of them know anything about bounty hunting or law enforcement, but when the Company officer who seized their cargo and impounded their ship drags them back in to answer for a break-in at his facility that occurred while they were in custody, Johnny starts poking around out of curiosity, and discovers an EMP device hidden in their cargo—that all of them failed to search. At that point, his technical and criminal knowledge come together to deduce that they were, in fact, used as mules, and Dutch’s knowledge as an assassin lets her identify what was stolen: a deadly poison.
And suddenly, they’re an asset, one that Siano recognizes and is quick to take advantage of—although they’re far from a functioning team.
Back at the Royale—another callback to their usual drinking and strategizing before a job—Siano tries to think about how to use these two wild cards that have landed in his lap. Dutch, sensing his frustration, admits she’s an assassin, and push her skills as a reason why Siano should let them fix the mess they’ve caused and then leave. But even Dutch’s assurances that they’re leaving the Quad aren’t quite enough to get them out. So, Dutch does what she always does from this point on: makes a deal to let Johnny and Lucy go, and Siano can keep her there.
Keep in mind that by this point, she’s already told Johnny that she’s wanted for her husband’s murder. If she stays in custody, that’s more than likely the end of the line for her. Johnny, however, can walk away from this and nothing Yala Yardeen has done will follow him. They just need to fix their mess. Meanwhile, Johnny’s gotten a knife from Pree to crack open the EMP and done some technological wizardry that lets him track the remote control signal back to its source. Dutch compliments Johnny’s skills (a turning point), and Johnny preens a little bit.
“Their mess,” they find out after a brief interrogation of some nerds in an alley, is the assassination of a Qreshi noble at a “ten-year” retreat. As a delicate political thing for the upper classes, marriage is legalized in the form of a contract that expires every ten years. At the ten-year anniversary, they can choose whether or not to nullify the contract and move on with someone else.
Yes, that means Dutch and Johnny go undercover together for the first time at a Qreshi sex retreat.
There’s just one hitch: Dutch has already decided that this is where her and Johnny part ways. Dutch will go to the retreat, face whatever comes, and Lucy will take Johnny far, far away from here.
Johnny, of course, takes that news less than spectacularly, because, he’s actually starting to enjoy working with her. Dutch isn’t having any of his “We make a great team!” guff, metaphorically breaks up with him, and locks him inside the ship, telling Lucy to get him out of there. Lucy is not inclined to let Johnny out, since he recently attempted to steal her.
What follows is an extremely cheesy but also kind of wonderful scene where we see the real beginning of Johnny and Lucy’s relationship. Johnny damages one of the circuits in Lucy’s security system system, but instead of rewriting her directive and making himself the captain, asks Lucy what kind of evidence there is that Dutch does, in fact, trust him, even after trying to steal her ship, and then asks her to trust him the same way. Lucy processes, Johnny congratulates himself for giving a spaceship a choice, and Lucy decides to trust him. I got weirdly emotional about it.
Cut to Dutch at the sex retreat, where we learn that she really wouldn’t have made it far without Johnny, since she didn’t even think to bring a fake ID. At the last second, Johnny sidles up, hands over some credentials, and gets them in the door.
The next fifteen minutes or so are, frankly, epic. It’s clear from the beginning that they’re making an explicit parallel between Johnny and Dutch’s partnership-in-crime and marriage (“mawwage”?), and I am here for it, if for no other reason than, yes, who you choose to bounty-hunter with is probably a decision that lives right up there with a political alliance. The right partner can absolutely determine your fate. They argue about strategy, about Johnny showing up at all, about Johnny’s clothes. There’s a tango, where they argue again, and then Dutch drops him to go survey the room. They find the target: a man who’s made himself “un-matchable” in the system. Dutch proceeds to jump him, in another callback to one of the first few episodes of the series.
Instead of ending up with an unconscious Qreshi noble, like she does in that episode, she ends up with a crying Qreshi noble who made himself un-matchable because he didn’t want to get matched, and now he wants to snuggle. Dutch really wants Johnny to find that assassin. Unfortunately, he can’t identify them, since the assassin has technology that allows them to render their photo in the retreat’s guest database more or less faceless. Luckily, the assassin’s found him and they fight. Dutch incapacitates the assassin, but when they attempt to move her, they find that Johnny’s been poisoned.
With a dying Johnny and an unconscious assassin back on the ship, Dutch is faced with a choice: Torture an assassin who’s unwilling to give up the antidote to a couple punks screwing with her paycheck, or let Johnny die. The assassin commiserates with Dutch about wanting out of the assassin life taunts her with her worst fear—that there is no escape, not really.
Dutch finds the antidote, but the assassin refuses to give up the code to open the container. Dutch decides she’s going to go for the torture, but before she can slip back to the Dark Side, Johnny stops her. He proceeds to give a very sappy speech, and Dutch gets all gooey-eyed. The assassin rolls her eyes, whistles a couple notes, and gives up the antidote.
Later, after Siano has offered them both jobs as Killjoys, Johnny confesses that he knows what she’s done because he can use a computer. Yala doesn’t believe that he would want someone like her around or that she’s capable of leading “a normal life.” Johnny slides a ring on her finger (yes, that happened), flippantly calls her “Dutchess” instead of “Princess” (which he’s been doing the entire episode), and the rest is history.
Back in the Green Space, Khlyen insists that this is the message of the story that Dutch must hold onto, no matter what, if she is to have any hope of succeeding against the Lady: that Johnny is “her true North.”
Not five minutes later, Khlyen admits to Aneela that “we both knew” Dutch would lose to the Lady, it was just a matter of when. Aneela doesn’t seem incredibly comfortable with that, but doesn’t do anything, either (yet). We then see a wounded Dutch stumbling off into the forest, where she’s promptly overcome by the Lady.
I tend to be iffy about season premieres with this show, because it tends to feel like they’re reintroducing the show to the audience—probably because they are. Sometimes, this leaves the first episode feeling weirdly disjointed from the rest of the season, where we pick up the smaller emotional arcs from the previous season, and then things start to get moving again.
Unless there is a jarring change in tone next week, though, the season 4 premiere is an exception to that pattern. This week, we got to see the major players (except Dav and Kendry), and we also got a complete introduction to the universe again. One that, for anyone familiar with the show, and the observant folks who aren’t, raised some questions that will probably have repercussions throughout the rest of the season.
There are two stories going on in this episode and neither of them are exactly what they claim to be. It also looks like it will be another two-part episode.
But I will say two things:
One: I love how they handled Johnny & Dutch’s relationship
It’s been a running joke since the beginning of the series that Johnny and Dutch do everything but sleep together, and now we get to actually see that their partnership is precisely as central, important, and worth dramatizing as “marriage” or any romantic relationship, both in terms of world-building (they’re anywhere from bounty hunters to buddy cops, depending on how you read it, and all of these professions require trusting your partner with your life) and character development (Johnny’s importance to Dutch’s healing process can’t be understated, and now we get why Johnny needs Dutch, too).
There are far too few stories that don’t play the “will they/won’t they” card with the two main (male and female, usually) characters, to the point that it’s just something people assume, because their expectations have been set. The ones that don’t are often shows that center homosocial relationships—two men or two women—and then when a subset of people ship them romantically, the show’s creatives often backpedal frantically. Apart from getting raised eyebrows from the gay crowd (who are all too familiar with this phenomenon), they usually undermine all the things that made the show so compelling and doom the show in the process (looks pointedly at Agent Carter).
The thing is, relationships between characters are important and giving them the weight that they deserve draws people in. Frankly, I don’t care whether or not Johnny is Dutch’s “true North” in a romantic sense (though they’ve consistently set up Dav, who was conspicuously absent this episode, as a love interest). When it comes to the relationships that form the emotional core of a show, the majority of those relationships will be some flavor of platonic, unless you only have the same two characters onscreen, ever. And failing to give those relationships the weight they deserve because you’re scared someone might “make it shippy” shafts the characters and their emotional development, lowers the stakes, and generally makes the story more boring.
Second, especially when it comes to homosocial (platonic) relationships and the surprise people express when they find out someone interpreted an entirely platonic relationship as not platonic, you have to realize that the dramatization of these relationships is going to vibe as romantic to some people. Partly because a lot of the tropes and story beats used to mark a relationship as “important” are also shared with romantic relationships. In this genre, that includes saving each others’ lives, climactic curing of amnesia/poisoning, metaphorically or literally going to the ends of the universe for each other, etc. Big stuff, grand gestures. But more importantly, emotional ones.
Which is what we have here. Dutch and Johnny’s relationship is so important and so key that it gets: a tango, a marriage retreat, an obligatory “man sits on the BDSM equipment and self-flagellates for anything offensive he might’ve done to try to win the girl back” speech, AND A RING. And the kicker is? They’ve always been portrayed as firmly not interested in each other in a romantic fashion.
And since this is SyFy? Maybe they’ll pull a Warehouse 13 and decide that they should pair off Johnny and Dutch, who have been strictly established as platonic, even sibling-like, throughout the series. But what this episode did establish, loud and clear, was that this relationship, this one in particular, transcends the typical delineations of platonic/romantic and, if not the core relationship of the show itself, it is absolutely central to who the characters have become and where they will go.
Frankly, if that’s not the way you want to portray a relationship that is this formative for the characters involved… well, you’re probably in a different genre than I am. If you’re going to go the “fate of the universe” route, you might as well go big or go home.
And after all, if it’s not actually that important, then why did Khlyen bother to mess with Dutch’s memories of it?
Two: Memory and agency continue to be a big deal in this world
On the one hand, this episode finally gives us a visual on the backstory they’ve been dropping hints about for the last three years, and it’s framed as a flashback, with the case-of-the-week format that the show excels at. It breaks down the important bits of the show into easily digestible chunks for audiences that might be either casual viewers or have never seen Killjoys before. It focuses on the strengths of the show: dialogue only Hannah John-Kamen and Aaron Ashmore could pull off, awesome fight scenes and choreography, and the sense of place that the Westerley setting gives the show.
On the other hand, we also can’t trust any of it.
Memory, the manipulation of memory, the telling of modified stories as a form of control—all of this plays into both Aneela’s story from last season and Dutch’s story throughout the entire arc of the show. They have both been told very selective stories, by Khlyen or the Lady, or told themselves very selective stories, about Khlyen or each other. In almost every case, those stories are incomplete or altered in some way.
They’ve already made several rather overt metaphors for abusive/toxic parental relationships with Khlyen and Dutch. They’ve been everywhere from “I-want-to-set-this-guy-on-fire” levels of rage-inspiring to nuanced portrayals of how complicated it is when your abuser is also someone who, essentially, raised you, protected you, and taught you everything you know. But none of that can quite top the quieter, sometimes downright creepy, vibe between Khlyen and Aneela.
Dutch’s relationship with Khlyen is more openly antagonistic: He is, quite literally, the bogeyman from her childhood. The fact that he’s dead now, or trying to be helpful, doesn’t change that. She doesn’t want to hear his stories in this episode because she knows that they always come with a manipulation. To trust him is to risk falling back under his control. Aneela, on the other hand, wants to hear Khlyen’s stories, because she wants to connect with him, in spite of the ways he’s used and neglected her or allowed others to use her.
What it comes down to, I think, is that Aneela thought that what Khlyen did to her—locking her up, abandoning her—was her fault, a feeling that Dutch doesn’t share. It was Aneela’s fault for coming out of the change from human to Hullen wrong. It was her fault for being so volatile. Her fault for being vulnerable to the Lady’s manipulations. It made her impossible to love. So, her reasoning went when she pulled a memory of herself out of the Green: “If I give him a blank slate, a “better” or purer version of me, her (Dutch’s) life will be better. She’ll have a good life and ‘happy memories.’”
But that’s not how this works with terrible parents. And Aneela, I think, is coming to hate the idea that someone is manipulating her actions. To see someone manipulating Dutch the same way she’s been manipulated, to see Khlyen manipulating Dutch the same way she’d been manipulated when she gave Dutch to him as a child so that she could have a better life. This could very well be another breaking point for her.
When it comes to Khlyen’s manipulation of her, she gives him a free pass because she wants him to love her, and she overlooks or just can’t see the ways he’s used her or allowed her to be used because she doesn’t believe he’d do that to her. But when it comes to someone else (Dutch Kendry), I don’t think she’ll have those hesitations.
We’ve seen that Aneela isn’t used to “breaking the rules” the way Dutch is. She retreats and hides, and tends to behave somewhat passively at first when bad things happen. It took a triggering event to drive her to act—Gander kidnapping Seyah Kendry, and in the process revealing that her entire life was still controlled by the Lady, that her power as “The Commander” was an illusion. We see here that she’s on the defensive again, sitting and waiting, and isolated, while Khlyen moves the pieces and Dutch does the bleeding. And I’m really interested to see what will spur her to action this time. Will it be a threat to Dutch’s personhood from the Lady? Or, Khlyen’s continued manipulation of Dutch?