Farscape was quite a unique series in that it featured puppets as many of its’ characters: Dominar Rygel XI, Pilot, and the Eidelons, to name a few. The show is exceptionally unique in it’s presentation of gender politics. According to “Space Opera: Melodrama, Feminism and the Women of Farscape“:
The women of Farscape are smart, aggressive and strong. Joyrich critiques the traditional soap opera for the helplessness of its “overinvolved female spectator”: “Unlike the man, whose voyeuristic and fetishistic distance allows him to master the image and whose cinematic counterparts control its flow through time, the female spectator is cast as too close to the image to achieve such mastery, and melodrama, the genre most often addressing a female audience, exploits this closeness through its tearful fantasies of (maternal) union” (144). Modleski blames the lack of a protagonist: “If, as Mulvey claims, the identification of the spectator with a main male protagonist results in the spectator’s becoming the representative of power, the multiple identification which occurs in soap opera results in the spectator’s being divested of power” (91). This is where Farscape’s hybrid nature becomes both truly evident, and truly useful to the female viewer. Although Farscape, as a science fiction action adventure, is crafted around the adventures of a traditional male protagonist, it also possesses the fractured narratives and complicated melodrama of a soap opera. Crichton is neither the perfect “masculine” hero, immune to suffering, nor is he the embodiment of “feminine” aesthetic television — he suffers, but he is not passive, nor are his female companions. Every character is flawed and tormented; every character is strong and actively seeks his or her own salvation. In essence, nobody — and everybody — is a victim.
Unfortunately, Farscape was cancelled after four seasons, but was allowed to close the series with Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, seen in the clip directly below.
Unrealized Reality, Kansas, Terra Firma, Bringing Home the Beacon, A Constellation of Doubt, Prayer, and We’re So Screwed: Fetal Attraction, Hot to Katratzi, and La Bomba
A brief look at individual episodes:
- Unrealized Reality sees the return of the Aincents as well as (finally!) an explanation of how the wormholes work;
- Kansas and Terra Firma both see John Cricton returned to Earth, however, in Kansas it is 20 years in the past. Terra Firma sees John returned to modern day Earth, but a Skreeth turns this homecoming into a burial;
- In the same way that Twice Shy was male-centric, Bringing Home the Beacon is emphatically women-centric episode, and that is what I enjoyed about it. Aeryn, Sikozu, Noranti, and Chiana go on a mission at an outpost together to acquire a sensor distorter that will allow them to camouflage as other type of vessels. There, they encounter not only Commandant Mele-On Grayza, but the Scarren War Minister Akhna, both of whom are holding a secret meeting;
- A Constellation of Doubt follows up on Terra Firma, when the crew visits Earth. This is done through Crichton watching a documentary that had been transmitted. Much of the story is centered on figuring out where Kitatzi is, as the documentary realistically portrays the human reaction of their visit through various commenters;
- Prayer sees Aeryn’s perspective as a prinsoner of the Scarrens while John and Scoprius an unrealized reality; and,
- The three-part We’re So Screwed is an awesome, though somewhat incoherant, pnultimate story of the series. Plus the return of Harvey!
According to the DreamPunk.Me review of Unrealized Reality:
I’ve been both eagerly anticipating and dreading this episode since I first decided to do these revisiting-Farscape-analysis/review things, the former because it is very possibly the most blisteringly brilliant, mindbendingly ingenious, innovative, and audacious hour of the entire series’ run, the latter because the idea of writing a piece on it is intimidating. It’s a dense, intricate, at times deliberately overwhelming hour that is both a 45-minute-long conversation between two characters–John Crichton and a member of the species from whence the Ancients came who John refers to as “Einstein”–and an epic, dizzying magical mystery tour of time and space, bouncing between various past, potential future, and other varying forms of alternate timelines, and which is the first of a trilogy that forever changes the face of the series. I don’t think there’s any way to fully capture the power of this episode in a review. A lot of what makes it such a masterpiece is the experience of it all, and so I’m just going to do my best to discuss the salient points rather than try to cover every moment and nuance of this frankly massive episode.
Broken down to its most basic terms, “Unrealized Reality” is about an advanced alien capturing Crichton and sucking him into a wormhole with the intention of judging whether or not he poses a threat to the universe due to both the knowledge he possesses and his propensity for finding and traveling through wormholes. He creates a space in the center of a wormhole to interrogate John that looks like a lone ice floe in a blue nighttime sea and which has its own artificial gravity and breathable atmosphere. Over the course of the episode, we learn that his people are actually from a different realm of existence and that the aliens that John knows as the Ancients are an off-shoot of his race whose bodies were modified so that they could survive on the corporeal plane that Crichton, his friends, his enemies, and we occupy. He also makes John aware that wormholes are even more complicated than he had thought and that the Ancients had left out some crucial information: namely that wormholes don’t only connect between two different parts of space but rather two different parts of space-time. Each wormhole has countless openings, each of which, for any given person, opens up on a staggering number of “unrealized realities” or alternate versions of their lives, some of which are nearly identical to the ones they knew but only off by a few details, others of which are wildly divergent, and the closer one comes to emerging from a wormhole, the greater the risk of ending up in one of these unrealized realities, and although it is possible to pull oneself out and thereby collapse that reality, there is always a great danger of not being able to do so, at which point that alternate version becomes actual reality, for all intents and purposes. One could unknowingly wreak great havoc on the universe. This is why this alien, who Crichton dubs Einstein, captured Moya at the end of Season 4: in an attempt to track down John Crichton and keep him from destroying reality.
Because this is where things get complicated. Unrealized realities seem to basically be the result of someone leaving a wormhole earlier in their time stream than when they left, thus setting into motion a new sequence of events and overwriting what was meant to occur. And the greatest irony is that the reason this hasn’t happened to John or anyone we know yet is that the likelihood of an unskilled wormhole traveler ending up in a different reality is actually incredibly low. Most people traveling by wormholes aren’t taking an active role in the process. They simply get sucked up and deposited. The greater danger is when someone with a lot of knowledge about them like John creates and then travels through one with a specific end goal in mind but without knowing how to navigate past unrealized realities, because that’s basically giving someone just enough rope to hang themselves with. It seems that wormholes can’t just be reduced to scientific equations. There is also a spiritual use-the-Force-Luke element to mastering them, and it takes a great deal of perception, skill, intuition, and concentration for one to find oneself where one wants to be. It seems that one basically has to feel one’s way to the correct place.
As the episode proceeds and Einstein imparts this information to John, John repeatedly falls into various unrealized realities that his new “friend” pulls him out of as soon as he can, a brilliant method of directly illustrating the episode’s main points without bogging it down in exposition. As with other great Farscape episodes with heavier sci-fi concepts, this keeps technobabble to a minimum. Crichton experiences the concept of multiple universes in a way that is highly illustrative as well as involving, bizarre, and often funny, but which also requires attention and work on the part of the audience member to connect all of the dots and follow all of the nuances. “Unrealized Reality” throws a huge amount of details at the viewer at once, and it can take patience and rewatching to get even half of a handle on it. I’ve seen the episode at least seven or eight times and still feel that I haven’t mined all of its depths yet, a mark of truly great writing. As I’ve said in the past, the genius of Farscape is that it could be madly experimental but practically always with purpose. On the surface, a newcomer might wander into this episode and feel as if they’re watching something careening insanely out of control, and yet an afficiando of this one-of-a-kind series’ history and tone can marvel at the eyclopedic level of detail here, as well as how it can juggle sci-fi exposition and character study at once while always retaining its unique voice. As far as the latter, this might seem like an episode of crazy what-if?s, but it’s also yet another peek into Crichton’s psyche, currently plagued with fears about the dangers he could cause the universe. After all, he may be one man, but look how many lives his quest for home and attempts to just survive have cost others, both friends and strangers. Whereas “John Quixote” made him question whether his love for Aeryn could be harmful, in this one he wonders whether he himself is too dangerous to be allowed to roam the stars.
The levels of danger are illustrated through a number of unrealized realities. The first is almost identical to John’s first scenes aboard Moya in “Premiere,” when he first met Zhaan, D’Argo, and Rygel, and is in fact comprised of newly filmed footage of Ben Browder interacting with clips from the first episode, the major difference here being that, since John has lived through this before and remembers it, he anticipates certain events before they happen and reacts as such. There are, however, a few additional subtle differences, such as in the ensuing cell scene, in which he is wearing a white t-shirt rather than being naked as he was the first time around (which he notices right away)–a very minor change, yes, but one that indicates in a butterfly effect sort of way that the minorest of alterations can have unintended and far-reaching consequences. One of these is a reality in which John is a Peacekeeper captain, Braca his underling, and Sikozou a Scarran spy, the latter of which comments on the fact that, at this point, the crew still can’t fully trust her, further underlined by her alliance with Scorpius in this episode. He at least seems to trust her at this point (not that that would put her in John and his friends’ good graces), but should he? One might wonder what events might have caused John to become a PK, but then again, Scorpy isn’t the most likely PK, either. Perhaps this version of Crichton even agreed to share his wormhole knowledge with Scorpy and/or the PKs, and eventually pushed Scorpy out of his position, given he is actually the fount of the needed knowledge. With his Sebacean looks, he’d likely be far preferable to have that position than Scorpy, from High Command’s perspective.
And then there is the reality set on an alternate Earth, in which the Scarrans have actually taken over centuries ago. Both John and his dad, Jack, seem to have Scarran DNA in this reality. Jack is even portrayed by Wayne Pygram, to further hammer home the differences, which also makes a darkly funny comment on the strange relationship between Crichton and Scorpius. Here, he isn’t just a dark paternal figure but John’s literal father. It’s even possible that this means that the man we know as Jack Crichton was never born in this reality, and Scorpius was instead–that, in this world, Scorpy is half-human, half-Scarran, and was born on Earth. And how might this reality have come to be? Why, our Crichton might have come back to Earth centuries ago rather than the modern day and led the Scarrans after him, causing invasion, conquest, and eventually, in this new version of 1969 (the year our Crichton was born), the birth of a half-Scarran John Crichton. Not that that explanation is ever given. Again, the clues are there for us to extrapolate on our own. Furthermore, this scene also foreshadows the concept of the Scarrans being interested in conquering Earth, which we will learn over the rest of the season is a very real danger, and has a specific purpose beyond generic evil.
The other major unrealized reality–in many ways, the centerpiece of the episode–is the most out-there of them all, which is the one in which all of the actors have taken on the roles of different characters. Claudia Black (Aeryn) is Chiana, Gigi Edgley (Chiana) is Noranti, Melissa Jaffer (Noranti) is Rygel, Rygel/Jonathan Hardy is D’Argo, Anthony Simcoe (D’Argo) is Jool, and Raelee Hill (Sikozou) is Stark. And although we see neither Zhaan, Aeryn, or Sikozou, we can assume that they’re mixed up as well Perhaps one looks like Tammy MacIntosh (Jool). And who knows? Another might like Paul Goddard a la Anthony Simcoe’s genderswap as Jool! Likely the two most significant elements about this reality, though, are (a) that, in it, we learn that Stark is in love with Aeryn, and Crichton with Zhaan, and (b) the fact that Stark says the word “Katratzi” in it. As for the first, I discussed this in my “John Quixote” analysis, but in many ways, that episode foreshadows the whole latter portion of this season in microcosm. In it, John had to rescue a princess in a videogame. He expected she would be Aeryn, but instead, because the game was based on Stark’s personality/memories, the princess was Zhaan. And here, John is in an alternate reality in which his “princess” is Zhaan. Now, on a first viewing, a viewer takes no notice of “Katratzi”. It is but one of several practically unintelligible alien words Stark utters. Later on, however, after Aeryn is captured by the Scarrans, John vaguely remembers it and travels back to this unrealized reality in order to discover its meaning and by so doing help save Aeryn. Therefore, John had to return to the reality in which Zhaan was his “princess,” in other words, the woman he loved, (as foreshadowed by his having to kiss Zhaan to finish the game in “John Quixote”) in order to rescue his “princess” in our reality, Aeryn. But, again, none of this is apparent on a first viewing of this episode. Or a first viewing of “John Quixote,” either.
Another thing about this reality is that it’s probably the least easy to explain from a linear standpoint. What could John possibly have done for things to have changed so much? I believe the whole point of it is to show that there’s no way to tell or to fully unravel it. Completely innocuous actions could have ripples. I think one possible clue might have to do with the fact that one of the quick flashbacks we see is of when Zhaan was captured on the Halosian ship. That happened in “Out of Their Minds,” when all of the characters accidentally swapped bodies. While that was just their minds rather than their actual physical features altering, my guess is that this is a hint that John appearing earlier in the timestream somehow led to something of a not completely dissimilar nature occurring to create this result, albeit later on, given Noranti, Stark, Jool, and embodied by this Stark, a version of Sikozou, are there. Then again, if it was this exact situation, maybe Zhaan is the only one who didn’t swap, just as she wasn’t on Moya for that to occur in “Out of Their Minds”. There could be another explanation for why Zhaan was still alive and all of these others were still on board.
These still aren’t the only differences, however. In this reality, Pilot is extremely short-tempered, incredibly snarky, and clearly hates all of them, which in some ways is an exaggeration of how he is at his most pissed-off, but part of me wonders if this might have been due to a different outcome from “DNA Mad Scientist,” in which no one apologized and Pilot never forgave them for cutting off his arm. And all of this is but a preamble to arguably the biggest surprise: that when Crais storms Moya at the end, we learn that he and Crichton are working together, a reflection of John being a PK captain in one of the other realities (though we know it isn’t a different view of this one, since Raelee Hill played Sikozou in it), and another case meant to warn John that really anything could be changed from the mere act of leaving the wormhole from the wrong exit.
All of these zanier, more chaotic permutations are then also paralleled by interviews of various people from John’s life both back on Earth–old girlfriends, old teachers–and from the Uncharted Territories–Zhaan (Virginia Hey, in her last appearance on the series), Jool, and Crais–all of which are, by comparison, practically serene, as well as another beautiful illustration of the wormhole danger. The first time we hear them all speak, they all praise John, saying wonderfully complimentary things about him, which is likely the closest to the Crichton we know and love. Some might be a bit more overflowingly positive than we might expect, but it’s generally accurate. He is, at his heart, a very smart, sweet, and good guy. The second time through, however, suddenly, everyone is disgusted by him. The ex-girlfriend calls him bad in bed. Others basically call him loutish, repellant, and dumb. This is, of course, the potential result of an unrealized reality, while at the same time comments on John’s darkest fears about himself, particularly having to do with how his years aboard Moya have changed him. In this very episode, he realizes he’s gotten darker when he shoots at Einstein rather than initially letting him talk, and then stops himself, saying that that wasn’t like him, or it didn’t used to be. And then there is the last time, when no one knows who Crichton is at all. None remember him. Perhaps in this unrealized reality, he’s flat-out ceased to exist, which by the end, even he thinks might be the safest choice, for Einstein to finish him, so he can’t emerge in the wrong space-time.
Ironically, however, by the end, while he may have started to doubt himself, Einstein has gained faith in him and believes him capable of navigating correctly out of the wormhole. He explains to John how to find his way home by keeping where he wants to be–again, home; in other words, Moya, his Moya in his time and reality–in the forefront of his mind and feeling his way out. However, this leads to the absolutely briliant ending twist that, when John finally makes his way out of the wormhole, he isn’t at his current home, Moya, after all. He’s at his original home. Earth. And given how carefully the episode laid all of the rules out for us, we know that this isn’t another hallucination. Unlike previous times, this is real. Furthermore, as awe-inspiring as this moment is–and honestly, who ever thought the series would bring John home before the final episode??–it could also be very bad. For starters, he is alone, floating in space, with no ship, and therefore no way to get down to Earth. Although we know this won’t be the case even on a first viewing, there is a real danger at least from Crichton’s perspective that he could die the most tragically ironic death ever, right beside the home planet he has searched for for so long. And then there’s also what the entire episode has been about: unrealized realities. Einstein had even told him that people have the chance to cause the most damage when going back to their places of origin, since they could undo their very lives from the ground up. In one potential unrealized reality, the Scarrans took over Earth. John had already messed up by not navigating to Moya but to Earth. When this cliffhanger first occured (and the show didn’t return for about half a year afterwards!), we had no clue when John had arrived. And as it would come to turn out, he is too early, leading to the wonderfully-Back-to-the-Future-ish plot of the next episode, “Kansas”.
According to the DreamPunk.Me review of Kansas:
Back in Season 1, whoever would have expected that John Crichton’s return home wouldn’t be the culmination of the Farscape story but rather another important transitional chapter in the life of the series’ protagonist?
When the show began, going home was Crichton’s main quest but his character had changed a great deal over the years, experiencing the great wide world in all of its wonder and sometimes terror, gaining deep, abiding friendships, and falling in love, none of which was compatible with a normal life back on Earth. And yet, even up until the fourth season, many fans still thought that a return home would still be the series endgame.
In many ways, this arc is designed to tell the audience, “No, we weren’t kidding around when we implied that John might not be able to go home.” Because in it, he does indeed return only to definitively discover that he can’t stay. Only by truly going home and having the options presented to him not in dreams, not in alternate realities, not in hallucinations, not in meticulous simulations, but in his actual place of origin can he know this with 100% certainty.
In the end, the Earth arc is less about saying “hello” again and more about finally being able to say “goodbye,” this time on his own terms. In the past, there were two things truly holding him back from being able to let go: his mom and his dad. The time travel scenaro in “Kansas” (named, of course, for Dorothy Gale, whose journey John Crichton has been mirroring since all the way back in “Premiere”) allows him to put some of his trauma surrounding his mother’s death to rest, as well as to confront some of the darker issues of his home life as a kid, and the present day visit in the next episode, “Terra Firma” allows him to finally make peace with his dad.
At the same time, the time travel construct is also a fantastic way of uprooting audience expectation further. If anyone had ever thought John Crichton would finally actually get home, very few likely could have predicted that it would occur in quite this way. Yet again, things don’t go according to plan.
In Farscape’s typical low-key method of getting out of seemingly inescapable cliffhangers, the method of reuniting with his friends actually isn’t as it otherwise would have seemed. We learned over the course of the last season or two that wormholes aren’t “created” so much as brought out of hiding. They seem to wink in and out of existence, when in actuality the moment before they are visible, they were technically there, only on their side, so to speak. And so Moya’s comms and John are actually able to connect to each other through the wormhole, even though it isn’t visible. Which is how John is able to walk the others through meeting up with him–which D’Argo, Aeryn, Chiana, Rygel, and Noranti do via Lo’laa, while Sikozou and Scorpius stay aboard Moya with Pilot (Speaking of which, director Rowan Woods’ attention to detail is so meticulous that the opening shots aboard Moya are exact mirrors of the opening shots of “A Human Reaction,” which he also directed.).
Shortly after they rescue him, however, John learns that he did screw up after all. He may be back on Earth but he isn’t in the right time. This is 1986, and furthermore, an unrealized reality in which everything is the same except for the fact that Jack Crichton has been chosen to pilot the infamous Challenger mission, whose spacecraft tragically exploded shortly after take-off, killing its entire crew. Therefore, if Jack decides to go through with this mission, he will die, which will set off a chain of events that will undo the lives of everyone aboard Lo’laa. It’s amazing to think how the loss of this one man on Earth would affect them, countless bazillions of light years away. And yet, if Jack dies on this mission, John likely never goes into the space program and becomes a pilot himself, meaning he never goes up in the Farscape One, meaning Moya’s escape from the Peacekeepers likely proves unsuccessful, meaning Aeryn remains a PK, and D’Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel prisoners.
Furthermore, without John, Chiana would likely be incarcerated or executed by her people. And Noranti would still be a prisoner, as well. And so on and so forth. Which is a brilliant thing for the show to point out, because while on the one hand, Crichton’s friends are helping them because they are his friends, it also gives them each a personal stake in setting the timeline right. Their own lives hang in the balance due to the life of this one Earth man who they had never met. At first, after they all land near the house he grew up in, in Florida–and I would just like to take a second to commend the show’s production team for their choice of locations, for they managed to make it really feel like Florida, despite the fact that it was filmed in Australia–John’s plan is to simply get his teenage self, and then, when that doesn’t work, his mom to convince his dad to turn down the mission.
However, in his desire to fix everything, he had forgotten a crucial problem: the fact that his dad never listened to anyone, least of all his rebellious son, who was always mad at him specifically because he felt his dad didn’t treat his mom well. That isn’t to say that there was ever anything approaching abuse, either physical or verbal, but that Jack is a stubborn man who was obsessed with his work, which probably often led to him shutting down, which in turn led to being emotionally neglectful towards his wife and kids, which itself likely led to frequent arguments. Furthermore, young John’s anger towards him regarding that only exacerbated the issue, as illustrated by the nightmare sequence in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in which his mom and dad are fighting over him and implying that he ruined their lives.
Now, to reiterate, that was a nightmare and therefore a reflection of John’s deepest fears and gross distortion of what actually occurred, however one can see where these fears sprang from. Therefore, finally realizing that neither of them will be able to talk Jack out of something he is determined to do, John comes up with a clever alternate solution and that is by bumping up a different event that happened to him a bit later, when his dad was assigned to an alternate space mission.
A day or so before he was supposed to leave, young John was caught in a housefire and Jack rescued him, an event that brought Father and Son closer together and which inspired his dad to stay home. Because Einstein had told him in the previous episode that time tends to self-repair once it’s nudged in the right direction–also echoing Harvey’s words to Crichton in “…Different Destinations”–this is a fantastic solution, as it uses knowledge about his life and how his dad reacted in a similar circumstance in order to manipulate the current situation back on track, so to speak. Furthermore, there is also the added implication that this is actually how it always went down, after all. Right before Noranti knocks young John out with a sleeping potion, she hypnotizes him into forgetting everything that has happened up to this point, which implies that this false fire created by Noranti’s potions was the fire John remembers from childhood, after all, the details surrounding it and the fact that the mission his dad turned down due to it being the Challenger amongst the things that her spell wiped out. And there’s another big clue, namely the one thing that Chiana whispers into his ear to remember, and that is “Karen Shaw, in the four-wheel drive.”
All the way back in the first season, John had made reference to having lost his virginity to a girl named Karen Shaw in the back of his dad’s four-wheel drive. In this episode, the young John meets Chiana, and due to her (to his ears) garbled alien accent, hears the name “Karen Shaw” instead of Chiana. Later on, sure enough, Chiana takes young John’s virginity, meaning she was Karen Shaw, all along. Or that, at the very least, she is now in the self-corrected timeline, although I verge towards embracing the former explanation. As to why John didn’t immediately recognize her back when she first came on board, I wouldn’t be surprised if, due to the nature of Noranti’s drugs, John’s memories surrounding the entire experience are incredibly hazy, i.e. he remembers that he lost his virginity to a woman named Karen Shaw in the back of the truck, but can’t quite recall her face–or, any time he starts to think about it too closely, his mind wanders as a result of the hynopsis so that he never notices anything strange, in order to prevent the paradox. Basically, what this all implies is that John was always meant to be sucked through that wormhole and then return earlier, in order to save his dad and himself.
It’s also, of course, just wonderfully Farscape that Chiana actually has sex with teenaged John Crichton for numerous reasons. First and foremost, it’s perfectly in character for Chiana to push those boundaries, and because she is Chiana and an alien, the scenario works in a way that it wouldn’t with anyone with any Earthly sense of morality. If this were a story about a group of human time travelers, this would be questionable at best, flat-out wrong at worst. But with Chiana, it’s naughty, yes–it’s why she does it–but it’s also playful and funny and perfect, as well as being a terrific twist. All of those years that Chiana repeatedly came onto Crichton and he never gave into her because he saw her as a younger sister of sorts, and little did he know that not only had they already had sex–she had ushered him into manhood, so to speak–but that she had been chronologically older than him at the time! Absolutely genius.
The episode does a lot of really fascinating things with age. Another terrific example is the adult John’s interactions with his first girlfriend. Ben Browder does an absolutely incredible job with this material, because on the one hand, he is a grown man and in the episode, he is coming dangerously close to flirting with a teenage girl, but at the same time, he has such a masterful control of his character that it never comes across as anything but fully innocent. As viewers, we don’t see a man in his late thirties/early forties leching on a teenage girl, but rather a man who, in the moment where he locks eyes with his first girlfriend, suddenly finds himself transported back to his own teenage years. He’s in awe, and isn’t at that moment thinking as an adult but as that gawky kid he once was. This is incredibly difficult to pull off well, and it’s yet another of countless examples throughout the series of what an effortlessly brilliant actor Browder is.
He does similarly beautiful work when he gives his own unconscious teenage self a gentle kiss on the forehead, telling him to try not to frown so much, a self-mocking joke about his own frown lines on one level, but also a comment on the fact that he should enjoy his innocent, young life on Earth while he can before things truly spiral out of control in a way he could never predict. In this way, this episode allows him to also really say goodbye to his own former innocence. He looks at this boy he used to be and knows he has a lot of darkness in his future–and also remembers the anger he had at this point–and so the kiss can be seen as a way of almost protecting him, psychically trying to convey to him that he loves him and that one day, things will turn out okay.
Browder’s other best work in the episode is with Carmen Duncan, who plays his mom, Leslie Crichton, whose death had a major impact on John four years before the show began (and it does wonders for the emotional continuity that they were able to get Duncan back from her previous appearance two seasons before). We know from “Won’t Get Fooled Again” that her slow death of cancer was an extremely difficult time for him, and that in the end, he was too upset to be with her–something which he never stopped regretting and which ate away at him, feelings he often did his best to suppress and ignore beneath his jovial, quippy exterior. Even now, when he has the chance to actually interact with her again, we can see the push-and-pull between awed joy at getting this impossible opportunity that anyone in his shoes would do anything for, as well as pain at seeing her standing right there before him, because (a) she doesn’t know who he is, (b) he’s afraid that if he embraces this wholeheartedly, the idea of losing her again will be too much to bear. And Browder conveys these complex emotions through alternating between a breathless sense of innocent yearning on his face, and also a subtle flinching, repeatedly turning away, as if he’s afraid that the very act of looking her in the face will cause her to disappear.
One of the most intelligent characterization choices in this episode, then, is also Leslie Crichton’s fascination with tarot cards and astrology, firstly because it puts her at odds with her scientist husband and even loving son who otherwise defends her, because they both find it silly, but secondly because it allows the adult John to speak to her and have her take him seriously. The first time he comes to her under the guise of a concerned person also interested in astrology, telling her that he had done a reading that indicated that her husband would be in danger if he went into space. Often, in similar stories, the protagonist will run into the problem of how to convince people to do what he says. In this case, however, she is already someone who is open to strange phenomena, so appealing to her in this manner works, as he knows it will–another sign of Crichton’s deeply perceptive, empathetic nature.
At the same time, however, it’s something that won’t work on Jack, and John has clearly overestimated her ability to influence her husband’s decision in this regard. It also allows for that great moment when he reassures her to not pay attention to her son pooh-poohing her interests. It’s clearly something he wishes he could have told her back when she was still around. This also sets up the second time he interacts with her, which he basically does as a ghost. When Noranti first gives the teenage John too much sleeping potion, and it nearly kills him, causing adult John to begin to fade out of existence.
Once she has solved the problem, however, there is still some time before Crichton recorporealizes, and he takes the opportunity to go his mom as a spirit, telling her that he is currently in danger and where his dad has to go to rescue him–a great scene for him because it allows him to actually talk directly to his mom, as himself, one last time. It’s punctuated by a great final moment when he almost tries to warn her about the cancer, to not ignore the pain when it starts, but he stops himself, knowing what havoc it could wreak with the timeline, despite his own overwhelming personal desire to change things. Again, you can see the struggle on his face, and it’s just beautifully done on every level. Meanwhile, to counterbalance the episode’s more serious drama, the show also takes fantastic advantage of the comedic potential inherent in Crichton’s alien friends actually finally being on real Earth, albeit slightly-past-Earth.
All of the material regarding the Gladys Kravitz-esque nosy neighbor next door spying on them, as well as the cops who start to investigate the premises on her behest is, of course, wonderful. And then there are the details about them learning about Earth culture: the great running gag regarding how they all come to think that giving the middle finger is a friendly way to say “Hello”; a terrifically understated sight gag in which Noranti casually pretends to read the inside of a pizza box in order to seem nonchalant; Rygel’s crazed addiction to sugary treats; the perfect decision to set the episode at Halloween, which both allows the characters to go outside since people assume they’re wearing costumes and acts as a great reference to Steven Spielberg’s E.T., which actually came out around this time. And then there is the TV viewing, with Aeryn at first being horrified by Vanna White’s plastic features on Wheel of Fortune, and then gleefully watching Sesame Street–a watershed moment in which th Jim Henson creatures from Farscape first encounter an actual Muppet for the first time, in the form of Kermit, a moniker Aeryn later applies to Rygel! The best part is that the clip they’re watching is the classic scene in which Kermit and a little girl sing the ABCs, only for the girl to keep saying “Cookie Monster” and erupting into giggles.
Aeryn, however, is actually trying to practice her alphabet, and gets competitive with the girl, and decides she must be slow if that’s the response she keeps giving. It’s a brilliant example of hilarious comedy coming from superb character writing. And there’s also another level to it, which is that Aeryn is finally getting a chance to experience some of the Earth pop culture that John has been referring to for the past four years, which finally starts to put them on more even footing. He has spent four years learning everything about her part of the world, and now it’s finally her turn to get a taste of his. And returning to the idea of Rygel as a puppet, there’s also that great moment when the cop enters and Aeryn tosses him across the room, to demonstrate that he’s a toy, only for Rygel to call her a bitch for nearly breaking his rib as soon as the man leaves. Classic Farscape.
And the episode continues to keep us on our toes up to the very end, when John talks Pilot through meeting up with him, and Pilot instead ends up outside modern-day Earth. John and the others then hop the wormhole to the proper space-time, and John steps aboard Moya only to discover a group of humans in uniform waiting for them, one of them being his dad. Apparently it’s been quite a few months that Moya has been waiting for him, which is again such a perfectly Farscape thing to do. And, befitting how much John has changed, particularly in regards to drawing his weapon, as well as how many times various aliens have screwed with him when it comes to the chance of reuniting with his dad, when Jack walks over to embrace him, John pulls out his gun and asks him “Bass or trout?” a question that goes all the way back to the fishing trip story that “Jack” told him in “A Human Reaction” in the first season.
What other show would expect its audience to remember such a relatively minor detail from three years ago as the cliffhanger final line to a major episode? As well as to give such a seemingly silly line such weight. God, I love Farscape.
According to the DreamPunk.Me review of Terra Firma:
This is it. After three and a half seasons and numerous dreams and nightmares about coming back to Earth, “Terra Firma” is the episode where that finally happens, and as one should always expect from Farscape, it isn’t nearly what a viewer ever might have expected, because not only is getting home not John Crichton’s endgame anymore but this is the episode in which John Crichton realizes once and for all that Earth isn’t his home anymore. He has always clung so hard to his Earth reference points as a security blanket of sorts only to realize, when he gets back, that there is very little left here for him anymore, and perhaps most distressingly, that he’s ashamed of his people, these deeply divisive, combative cultures clinging to a little rock in an endless expanse with no sense of perspective as to the countless alien species and civilizations out there, as well as what little grasp they truly have of science, philosophy, or anything, really.
One might have thought that when John was finally reunited with his dad, it would result in a huge hug and tears. But John has lived through false reunions with his father before, twice, and this time, he has even more initial trouble acclimating to the idea of being in a room again with Jack than he did in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. He keeps his pulse pistol aimed at his dad, is very reticent to lower it, and even once Sikozou confirms the truth for him, he remains on his guard. This is not a happy reunion or a relief but instead extremely unsettling. A part of John seems to resent his dad and the other Americans’ presence aboard Moya. This is his turf, not theirs, and the image of them standing there in their Earth attire is both incongruous and even disturbing to John, given what he remembers of the nightmarish occurences of “A Human Reaction”.
And what’s very interesting is the way in which these two encounters parallel and diverge from one another. In many ways, that worst-case-scenario does prove to have been an exaggeration. The aliens aren’t kept in a prison cell, killed, nor dissected, and John doesn’t end up on the run for his life with the last of his friends to survive. However, the American government still remains very suspicious and distrustful of them, and if not outwardly hostile, underlyingly, passive aggressively so. They may not keep them locked in a literal cage, but they do keep them largely confined to a mansion with 24-hour armed guards ostensibly there to protect them but actually meant to protect the human race. Rather than embracing their new visitors’ technology and larger perspective, they are resentful of them, because they can’t understand them, and furthermore, their fierce xenophobia leads the Americans to want to maintain proprietary control over all of this information that they, again, don’t actually understand, anyway.
This leads to a great deal of conflict between John and his dad, which is fascinatingly rooted both in the zeitgeist of this new era in which John has returned to Earth and the loving but in some ways contentious relationship they’ve always had. As for the former, having been produced in 2003, the events of 9/11 cast a shadow over the entire episode. While away in space, John missed one of the most horrifying terrorist acts in modern history, and from that perspective, Jack isn’t completely wrong about it possibly having been dangerous at that point to share alien technology with the entire world, or at the very least that point-of-view is understandable. They may have informed John about the events that occurred, but since he wasn’t there during the aftermath, he can’t ever fully understand the sense of overwhelming fear shared by the majority of people on the planet in the days after that horrific occurence. At the same time, the fact that it happened at all is yet another sign to John of the inherent brokenness of his home planet. To him, regardless of the circumstances, it is still wrong for the U.S. to try to take control of something that everyone on Earth should have the right to partake in. To him, space exploration is about sharing the wonders he and any other astronaut has seen with everyone on the globe, in order to help inspire and enrich them, and make them more aware of their place in the larger universe out there. To him, any less would be a betrayal not only of his own ideals but the philosophy that his dad ingrained within him from a young age.
But this, of course, isn’t only just about space travel but the relationship that has always existed between the Crichton men–a mix of deep love, mutual respect, and a shared power struggle. As much as Jack truly meant what he said to John in “Premiere” about becoming his own kind of hero, that doesn’t negate the fact that John had felt his entire life that he was struggling to live up to his dad’s accomplishments, nor that his dad wasn’t used to being the alpha male of the Crichton name. Part of the problem is that John is now inarguably more experienced in space travel and even the workings of the greater world than his dad–the former astronaut hero–ever was, but Jack still has trouble relinquishing his role as the wiser, more worldly one and acclimating to a new normal where his son is more accomplished than he is (that moment when Aeryn flies him out to Saturn in her Prowler and his first instinct is to say that no human has ever been farther than he has, at which point Aeryn reminds him that his son has is an incredibly telling one), and John struggles with having been through all of that wonder and terror in the uncharted wilds of space and now once again being back at home, treated like a kid by his dad.
Farscape is often very surreal, in a very out-there, bizarre, extraterrestrial kind of way. The most significant accomplishment of “Terra Firma” might be how writer Richard Manning and director Peter Andridkis conjure up an entirely different sort of surreal, perfectly capturing the strange sense of hyperreality one experiences when revisiting a childhood home that one hasn’t occupied in many years. There is a hazy sense of familiarity, but as John explains to his sister while leafing through old family photo albums, it also feels as if happened to a different person whose memories you can access but who you somehow feel that you can no longer fully identify with. His entire time back on Earth, it’s as if he’s sleepwalking through a dream territory, which is an incredible twist on how present he was during his visits to false Earths. Here, however, he deliberately isolates himself. When he first came on board Moya three and a half years ago, he spent a lot of time by himself, recording messages to his dad on a small tape recorder. Now, finally “home” on Earth, he largely cuts himself off from contact with other people, spending time alone, recording his thoughts on paper in a journal. At the beginning, being on Moya made him feel like the loneliest person in the universe, and now that’s instead how he feels on Earth. The only relief he seems to get is actually during his short visit to Moya, at which point he has already made up his mind to leave. He was one extremely meaningful yet deliberately understated line to Aeryn in this scene. She tells him that she’s not fitting in, and he responds, “You’re fitting in as well as any of us are”. He could almost be saying those words about any other alien planet they were all visiting together. He’s lumping himself in with his friends here, not with his family or the other people of Earth, as if it isn’t even a question who he now belongs with. It was one thing to travel to his actual past in the previous episode, because it gave him the opportunity to revisit his own childhood, and say the goodbye to his mom he never got to back then, but this current Earth…this is a place that has moved on without him and that he can no longer even fully recognize. In actuality, of course, it’s the same it’s always been. He’s the one who has grown and changed.
And there is another way in which his return to Earth isn’t as he imagined and that is in regards to his relationship with Aeryn. In the past, he had always imagined returning with her as his girlfriend or wife, taking her the places that were important to him when he was growing up, and getting to experience his planet through her eyes. Why, the last time they had thought they were really on Earth together, the two of them ended up having sex for the first time, whereas now that they’re actually here, it seems to her like he can barely look her in the eye, the irony being that she is making herself completely available to him. Why, shortly before he was sucked up by the wormhole in “Unrealized Reality,” she had been practicing English in order to prepare for the day that they would go to Earth together, never thinking it would be so soon or that he would have continued to erect an impregnable wall around himself when they arrived there. From her perspective, he is still furious about the pregnancy and she has missed her chance, evidenced by the fact that he again takes up with an old girlfriend, Caroline, who we first met as one of the “talking heads” in the interview portions of “Unrealized Reality”. She, of course, doesn’t know the whole truth, that he is taking drugs in order to block out his feelings for her–though she learns this at the end of the episode, once they are once again on Moya–and that the reason is that he’s trying to protect her from Scorpy seeing her as a potential pawn to use against him. There is probably also an emotional level to it where–as Caroline tells Aeryn–John is trying his old life with her on for size, to see if he could make himself fit again the way he once did. He certainly knows it would be safer for both of them, but at the same time, part of him has to know that would never work. Speaking of which, while Aeryn and Caroline’s conversation doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, since it’s about John, it is wonderful to note the level of maturity with which both women handle the situation. Although Aeryn begins in a defensive posture, not knowing what Caroline is going to say, Caroline soon sets her at ease, conceding that it’s no contest: John wants Aeryn, not her, and she accepts that. She even explains to Aeryn that men from Earth sometimes hide their feelings, or repeat the same lie over and over in order to convince themselves that it’s true.
Aeryn also gets good advice about John from her future father-in-law, Jack, while she takes him on a ride around the local stars, an aspect that I particularly love, because even though this is actually the first scene the two characters have ever shared, it’s easy to forget that, since Aeryn and other versions of him also had lovely moments together in “A Human Reaction,” “Infinite Possibilities,” and “Dog With Two Bones”. I love that, in whatever permutation we see, these characters share a kinship, which makes sense–they’re both pilots; they both love John and know him better than anyone else. Furthermore, since each previous version of Jack was based on John’s memories of the real Jack, it makes further sense that she would get on just as well with him. What we might not expect is that, up until later in the episode, she would do so better than John does.
Returning to Jack, however, he does eventually say the right thing, possibly due to finally listening to Aeryn’s advice, and at a meeting of all of the top Americans involved in the learn-about-the-alien-tech project, agreeing to honor his son’s wishes and support the whole world being let in on the information, despite his misgivings. Sadly, however, reconciling with his father isn’t enough for him, and neither is the bond he shares with his sister, because (a) as I went into earlier, he no longer feels at home here, and (b) he learns that even back on Earth, he isn’t safe, which he discovers when Grayza’s rather horrifying alien agent, the Skreeth, bursts into the Christmas he is trying to share with his family and nearly destroys the house and everyone in it. If there’s any better symbol for John’s life in the Uncharted Territories intruding on and disrupting his ability to ever feel satisfied or safe back at home on Earth, it is this. There is probably nothing in pop culture more redolent of home and family than Christmas, and Farscape completely demolishes it. In other words, you can’t go home again. Or, as Aeryn says, “Merry frelling Christmas”.
The episode’s saddest irony is that John and Jack Crichton don’t finally have that moment of openhearted reconciliaton and love, along with a big hug, we had been hoping for until the very end, when John is leaving. He can’t stay. It isn’t home for him anymore. And yet his tough, brave dad breaks down into tears in front of him–perhaps for the first time?–at the prospect of his leaving again. It’s a beautiful, raw moment, particularly given that at the time, Jack has a terrible feeling John won’t be coming back, and that certainly seems to bear out by what happens in the series finale, “Bad Timing”. And yet at least this time around, John isn’t just randomly disappearing from his life with no warning nor goodbye. This time, they can express their love for one another, and this time, Jack knows John survived and is doing great things out there in the universe, and even knows how to get home, which is far more than he got the first time around.
According to the DreamPunk.Me review of Bringing Home the Beacon:
While the previous episode, the all-male “Mental as Anything” was a dark, brooding affair, the all-female episode (other than a very short scene in the teaser, as well as the final act), “Bringing Home the Beacon” that follows it is arguably Farscape’s final all-out romp. That isn’t to say that it’s a fully comedic episode, but that the bulk of the episode has a sense of bouncy fun unlike any you find in the series’ last set. That also isn’t to diminish the series’ breathtaking final run nor its remarkable entertainment value but to say that it can be dramatically heavy-going, what with John’s seemingly impossible quest to rescue Aeryn from captivity aboard a Scarran dreadnought, and this can be seen as the last burst of just pure fun before the big climax(es). At the same time, however, even this episode isn’t devoid of serious goings-on, for it actually involves secret, unsanctioned negotiations between Grayza and the Scarran War Minister Ahkna (yet another role taken on by Francesca Buller, Ben Browder’s very talented wife, whose intimidating presence here isn’t even vaguely reminiscent of her more obsequious previous characters, M’Lee, RoNA or Raxil) and culminates in a devastating reversal involving Aeryn.
At the start of the episode, the women have come to a trading outpost located on the corpse of a dead Leviathan, the irony being that they are here in an attempt to save their Leviathan’s life, or to at least help protect her and them from the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans via a device that they can buy here capable of masking a ship’s signature for that of a variety of other options. And, of course, while they’re hanging around, waiting for their order to be completed, who should so happen to show up by both sets of people they’ve been trying to avoid: Grayza, Braca, and a small group of PKs, and Minister Ahkna and a few other Scarrans. Because Farscape. These people are safe nowhere. With this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented to them, Aeryn and Sikozou can’t pass up the ability to spy on Grayza and hopefully discover what she has really been up to all of this time, and Aeryn in particular hopes to finish it off by assassinating her and thereby eliminating the threat she has posed to John for the past year or so. And while she ends up not being able to line up a clear shot, they witness something very interesting and troubling: Grayza apparently has no problem betraying the PKs’ new alliance with the Luxans, as she willingly concedes their planets to the Scarrans as part of a new peace treaty, a peace treaty which Ahkna immediately betrays by having her guards assassinate all of the PKs in the room other than Grayza and Braca, then taking them both captive, the reason ironically being to extract the wormhole information that they and PK Command have lied about having in order to keep the Scarrans in line. This would, of course, be a problem for everyone, for once their mental interrogations are done, they would undoubtedly discover that the PKs have nothing. Even the dreadnought that the PKs have taken credit for destroying with a wormhole weapon was actually done by the other John Crichton, and so the galaxy could be well and truly frelled.
In the meantime, however, the scenario provides a fantastic chance for all of the women to show off their skills, as well as to work together in a way we rarely see, since they’re so often at odds with each other due to their often diametrically opposed personalities. For one, in the series’ typical refusal to adhere to gender stereotypes, all of the negotiations in this episode are handled by very canny women. The women from Moya’s crew refuse to let themselves be intimidated by the sellers of the device they need and prove just as good at playing hardball as any man–and that even includes Noranti, particularly impressive since dotty old women are often thought of as the least shrewd and most easily conned people when it comes to these sorts of business deals–while, on the villains’ side, the fate of countless planets rests on the negotiations between two fierce female military leaders. As the plot proceeds, Aeryn and Sikozou work together for what is possibly the first time, and do it well, genuinely collaborating rather than squabbling. Meanwhile, Chiana and Noranti have even more fun, thanks to a temporary genetic manipulation procedure that allows them both to look like they’re from different species for a brief time, in order to stay hidden from the PKs. The best scene occurs when Braca nearly recognizes Chiana, but she brushes him off, posing as one half of an affluent and rather eccentric lesbian couple with Noranti, the capper being her playfully love-biting Noranti’s ear, as an indication that she did well.
In short, it’s a complete blast, with lots of great comedic chemistry, as well as fun twists and turns for all of the characters. It’s particularly satisfying to see Aeryn turn the tables on Grazya and take her into her custody, even if she does manage to ultimately elude capture, or so it seems. The characters later assume that the Grazya and Braca who escape are actually bioloid replicas–carbon-copy robots, as we learn Sikozou is, as well–leaving the Scarrans free to torture the information out of the real ones at their leisure, but it seems from later episodes that they are actually wrong about this and it is, indeed, the real ones who escaped. What is undoubtedly true, though, is the fact that they did manage to capture and replace Aeryn. When everyone is finally back on board Moya, they are distressed to discover that the Scarran dreadnought is able to zero in on their location, despite a starburst jump. As it turns out, someone is broadcasting a signal from inside Moya, and that answer turns out to be Aeryn, who John is horrified to realize isn’t Aeryn when she doesn’t only not know what he’s talking about when he refers to the baby but finds herself incapable of even saying the word. It clearly hadn’t been programmed into her vocabulary. An earlier sign is also how willing she is to point the blame at Sikozou, after they’d worked so well together throughout the episode. And so, just as John had feared, an enemy–but the Scarrans rather than Scorpy or the PKs–had captured Aeryn in order to get to him and the wormhole knowledge in his head. The idea of Aeryn needing to be rescued hearkens back to the foreshadowing of “John Quixote”–in retrospect, a crucial episode that foretells the rest of the season in microcosm–when John had to save the “princess,” and the false, bioloid version parallels the false Chiana from the videogame. Basically, John’s worst nightmares are lived out here. He has to shoot and kill something that looks exactly like the woman he loves, and he has no idea how he’s ever going to get her back, now that she’s in the hands of a fearsome enemy that makes the Peacekeepers seem unthreatening by comparison.
According to the DreamPunk.Me review of A Constellation of Doubt:
And now we come to another one of my all-time favorite episodes, “A Constellation of Doubt,” an innovative, formula-defying hour that addresses the Farscape saga in a way that had never been done before, explores the crew’s time on Earth from a different angle, and manages to push the seasonal arc forwards in surprising ways, particularly given that it easily could have been a standalone designed to stall until the big finish, when in fact it proves crucial, in terms of plot, character development, and worldbuilding.
Its premise is that Pilot has intercepted a signal from Earth that is actually the first episode of a new documentary series called “Alien Visitation,” whose purpose is ostensibly to examine Earth’s recent visit by aliens but whose paranoid fears and biases against the outsiders are only thinly veiled, thus reasserting all of John’s worst thoughts about humanity during his time back home. Aeryn had bought him a TV for Christmas, and he spends days obsessively rewatching the show. Upon hearing that Grayza–and therefore Aeryn, as well–was to be brought to Katratzi, which he assumes is a heavily fortified Scarran military base, John had found the word extremely familiar, but can’t remember why, particularly given that no one they contact has any information on this place. How could John have heard this word in the past when no Scarran contact they make seems to have heard of it? (Incidentally, this is another case of Farscape not drawing all connections for its audience. The reason Moya’s crew can make these inquiries and expect honest answers is because they are using the device procured in the previous episode that masks Moya’s actual signature and makes it read as a Scarran ship, and furthermore, Sikozou is posing as a Scarran over the comms, since she can speak the language. For all these Scarrans know, they’re communicating with other Scarrans. But the show offers no expository recap dialogue to explain this to newcomers or people who didn’t pay enough attention to the previous episode.) And for some reason, his instincts tell him that the answer lies somewhere in this footage, but each time he watches it through, he can’t quite put his finger on where or why. At the same time, his unstated reason for watching and rewinding it over and over again is that it is both comforting and painful for him to see Aeryn on the screen, conflicting impulses that are drawing him in like a moth to the flame.
The episode is so conceptually strong and beautifully produced that it’s easy to suspend disbelief in the moment regarding Pilot’s acquisition of the footage. On a first viewing, one might find it curious but quickly find oneself absorbed by the emotions of the episode, which are always of greater importance on Farscape than plot mechanics. However, later on, it actually makes even more sense. It’s been established in “Kansas” and “Terra Firma” that radio communications can be sent through the Earth wormhole, which, don’t forget, is always there, even though it’s invisible. However, it seems that it requires a connection through Moya’s comms. We know from “Bad Timing” that John left one with Jack, in case he ever needed to reach him, so the odds are that somehow that connection can be used to send the signals to Moya. Which means it’s likely that it wasn’t coincidence that Pilot picked this up, but that Jack had specifically sent it to them. We don’t know much about comms technology, but it’s possible/likely that it’s complex enough to receive a more complex video transmission, as long as Pilot sends it to a screen. It’s also possible that once Moya had been to Earth and learned how to pick up the signals that she was able to continue to do so through the wormhole afterwards. But, anyway, the reason the show doesn’t go into this stuff is it isn’t important. All we need to know is that John is devastated by the loss of Aeryn, determined to rescue her despite the odds, and has a TV, as well as this documentary to watch on perpetual repeat.
And what’s fascinating about the documentary is that while it’s ostensibly meant to show how hostile the human race is overall to this friendly visitation by peaceful aliens due to how their very presence uproots their sense of self and how they’ve always defined their places in the universe, it also allows us, as viewers who know and love the alien characters, the chance to see a more fleshed-out view of their reactions to life on Earth, via the footage shot of them by John’s nephew, Bobby (who, incidentally, was referred to as a cousin in “Terra Firma,” but as in my family, cousins who have that wide an age difference are sometimes referred to as uncles/nephews, I don’t have a problem with that seeming inconsistency). While many of the talking-head commentators–a motif that parallels the fantasy interviews of people from John’s life in “Unrealized Reality”–interpret each of the character’s either honest or innocuously intentioned comments with fear, moral outrage, or anger, interpreting them in the most out-of-context, negative light imaginable, John and we see his/our friends observing a backwoods planet that, despite its primitive nature, has some very positive elements but which often squanders its potential on petty hatred, rivalry, xenophobia, and greed. We are seeing our world through the Farscape aliens’ eyes and possibly feeling a bit ashamed of it, from this outsider perspective. For example, while war is an unfortunate truth even amongst more advanced societies, the people of Earth seem unique in their distrust and hatred not only of other species but of each other. The fact that members of a species would fight, kill, and enslave one another simply due to a few minor external physical differences such as skin tone is baffling to them. As Sikozou discovers by reading Earth’s history books, our past is rife with cultural setbacks of hundreds, if not thousands, of years occuring due to this sort of bigotry, discrimination, and fear. And as Aeryn points out, if Earth isn’t ready for the advice and help from friends such as them, how would they possibly survive if and when hostile aliens arrive?
And yet the majority of the commentators take their every statement as negatively as possible. For example, although D’Argo actually behaves very gently with Bobby throughout, all that most of the talking heads latch onto are the fact that he acknowledged how easy it would be to conquer Earth–that even his small ship, Lo’laa, has offensive capabilities that Earth’s best weapons couldn’t withstand–as if he had meant this as a threat and not as a simple statement of truth that people should know in order to be prepared for what is out there. All they see is what to them is a frightening, warrior-like visage, refusing to listen to his words. Meanwhile, when Bobby encourages him to knock him out with his tongue–which we learn for the first time here is actually accomplished via a small level of venom within it, rather than the force of the flick– which he reluctantly agrees to do, people are up in arms about how he could do this to a child, as if D’Argo had been encouraging it, as if he would suddenly turn on this boy who was the nephew of his friend for no reason, and as if this sort of pearl-clutching Earth morality applies to all species.
The same occurs when Chiana asks Bobby whether he’s ever had sex. The priest in particular is horrified by how she’s corrupting this young boy with her very question when the fact of the matter is that she’s simply perplexed as to why our culture holds childhood to be so sacrosanct. Earthlings refuse to understand or accept that their way isn’t the only way, and that a completely alien species might develop biologically/sexually/psychologically at a different pace. Technically, at 13, Bobby is old enough to father a child, and while in our modern culture, we are against this, not only is he scientifically and genetically equipped to have sex but his natural drives are likely encouraging him to do so. And so to Chiana, again, a completely outside observer, the fact that he’s not allowed to is random and arbitrary. She’s not amoral. She would have to have grown up in and understood Earth’s society, and then rejected its teachings to be amoral. She scares the priest because she simply grew up unaware of it, and that implies that are potentially countless billions of worlds out there with no knowledge of Earth’s religions and values, meaning that our religions and values might be either wrong, flawed, or just a small piece of a much larger puzzle that we are too young and inexperienced as a planet to comprehend. Noranti’s discussion of religions on other planets also, naturally, shocks him. And so he stubbornly holds onto his position that Earth is the center of the universe, shutting himself off from the possibility that there is much more out there to learn. Which is a shame, because Chiana also points out the hypocrises she sees on this planet. For example, if people aren’t supposed to have sex when they’re children or with children, why is there an entire industry designed to dress young girls in sexually provocative clothing?
Gigi Edgley is also particularly powerful in a short scene in which she mourns the loss of a rat she had befriended outside the house (likely the victim of rat poison we saw Noranti cooking up earlier in the episode), holding it in her arms and even kissing it on the head. To her, this creature was a friend, regardless of human concepts of which animals are and are not acceptable as pets. And it’s even more complex than that, because she didn’t view it as a pet or something to take ownership of, but simply a friend. And then there is the classic bathroom scene, in which she speaks about Earthly greed, and how Earth’s culture is too excessive–and coming from a thief, that’s really saying something. The moment in which she starts to wash in the toilet because the water from there is the same as that from the sink and shower is especially great because, as viewers, we can’t help but wince when we watch her do it even while knowing that she’s essentially right–as long as the toilet is kept clean, that is. One interesting nuance, however, is that not all of the interviewed humans are awful. A few of them actually are entranced by these aliens, Chiana in particular. However, even the positive voices either seem to overanalyze the aliens’ every minor exhalation or behave with some level of condecension towards them. Chiana is referred to in terms one might attribute to a child, which is particularly galling, given how much more of the outside universe she knows than they/we do. They are still thinking of everything in terms of Earth being central, whether or not they realize it.
The episode culminates with two very important scenes, the first in which Crichton confronts Sikozou, who tells him definitively that no one has heard of Katratzi, something which he doesn’t accept because he seems to vaguely recall she having been the one to say the word to him. And so he demands she tell him the real reason she had been on board all along, pointing a gun at her–that action that he himself admitted to Grayza in “Into the Lion’s Den” and Einstein in “Unrealized Reality” that he likely does too readily lately–all of his paranoia about the secrets he thinks she’s been keeping flooding out. And that’s when he looks up at the screen and notices a clip of her in which half of her face is obscured by a reflective dish she is holding up, his brain connects that image with that of Sikozou in front of him, pleading for him to not shoot her, and he suddenly realizes why he had thought he had heard her say “Katratzi”–he had in a manner of speaking, but it hadn’t come from the lips of this Sikozou but rather the Sikozou-as-Stark who he had encountered in the body-swapped unrealized reality, the way her face was obscured on the TV jogging his memory of her face within Stark’s mask. He apologizes to her and then in the breathtaking final scene makes a deal with the very devil that Sikozou has been allying herself with in recent episodes.
After nearly half a season of deliberately avoiding Aeryn in order to protect her from Scorpius, he goes to his old nemesis and lays all of his cards on the table, revealing that he doesn’t care about the Peacekeepers or the Scarrans or war or wormholes. All he cares about is Aeryn, and he will willingly give Scorpy all of the wormhole knowledge he has in his head–with no more holding back or cheating–in exchange for his help in rescuing her. This is, of course, an earth-shattering moment (no pun intended), and Ben Browder makes us feel just how huge this is for Crichton, this realization that Aeryn is the most–the only–important thing to him and he would even give Scorpius of all people all he had ever wanted if he will only help him save her, a direct reversal of the events of the nightmare scenario in “John Quixote”. The fact that Scorpius remains entirely silent for this entire scene, simply processing what Crichton is saying to him, increases its magnitude fourfold. Wayne Pygram’s facial reactions throughout speak volumes. Here he is, about to get everything he has ever wanted, and this time, he didn’t have to do anything for it. He didn’t have to threaten Crichton. He didn’t have to manipulate or cajole. All he had to do was sit back, watch his most hated enemies capture Crichton’s love, and then John approached him. The only thing we don’t know in this episode yet is why John feels he needs Scorpius’ help, of anyone’s, to go back through the Earth wormhole into that unrealized reality, but it all becomes apparent soon enough.
According to the DreamPunk.Me review of Prayer:
If I were to make a list of most emotionally devastating episodes of Farscape, “Prayer” would be right up there near the top, possibly sharing a space with the similarly Aeryn-centric “The Choice”. It is no secret that whenever Claudia Black is given truly psychologically wrenching material to play, she always knocks it out of the park, and yet here she reaches whole new levels of devastation. The scenes in which she is interrogated and tortured at the hands of the Scarran are absolutely brutal, and while we have seen her in dire straits before, it has never been to this extent. She suffers in this episode and comes close to breaking–she cries, she screams, she foams spittle at the mouth, in absolute agony–and it is extremely difficult to watch, while at the same time, her fearless performance is absolutely enthralling. This is the sort of acting that would win an Emmy award, were the actors of basic cable genre shows generally afforded such honors. Because anyone can cry and scream, but few people could chart the intricacies of the particular arc Aeryn has to go through in this episode. She has to be afraid–perhaps truly afraid for the first time, as she isn’t only worrying for herself but her unborn child–and nearly shattered but, underneath it all, convey an inner growing strength and resolve, as well as ultimately utter desperation. These twisting emotions are what keep Aeryn, even in captivity, from being simply a victim in need of rescuing. She fights until there is no fight left in her, and then when it seems that all may be lost, she rallies herself around again. She even resorts to praying to a Sebacean god for whom most others in her species had abandoned belief in ages ago.
Some have argued that the fact that after her brilliant final soliloquy, an extremely operatic yet stark moment in which she disavows any allegiance to said god, vowing to make whatever deals she has to in order to protect her child, is dramatically undermined to an extent by the fact that this possibility never actually comes up in the episodes that follow it. While I think that could have been a fascinating note to play, I don’t agree, however, that it was narratively necessary. Aeryn’s intent here to me is far more important than whether or not she ever attains an opportunity to follow through on it. And while we can’t know whether this not being directly followed up on was due to a change of heart on the writers’ part between episodes, an accident, or if it was a deliberate misdirect to throw viewers off guard as to where the story would be going, I still find the manner in which her declaration mirrors John’s deal with the devil in the form of Scorpius in order to save her immeasurably powerful, and as the culmination to all of the suffering she endures over the course of this episode, it remains blisteringly brilliant, particularly since it occurs immediately after Aeryn commits an act of murder meant to declare her refusal to let the Scarrans destroy her or her child.
Before that point, Aeryn had shared many scenes with a fellow prisoner, an alien woman who, like her, was pregnant, but, unlike her, had been there so long that she had become suicidal. According to the woman, the Scarrans had repeatedly attempted to breed with her. Her species’ saliva has the ability to dissolve thin metals, and the Scarrans had wanted to try to combine those genetics with their own in order to create an even stronger offspring, but a number of them had been miscarriages, and, as we actually see in one of the most shocking moments in the series’ history, others had been aborted in the womb due to not possessing the desired traits. And, yes, we do actually see the Scarran use his heat power to kill her current fetus, a sign of either how much creative freedom SciFi had granted Farscape at this point or perhaps how little attention they were paying, in favor of the higher rated Stargate: SG-1. It’s one of those scenes that reasserts Farscape’s status as one of the darkest, most cutting-edge series in sci-fi (the genre, not the channel) history. And one of the main reasons it was likely allowed to happen is the revelation at the end that it had been staged. Not only is this woman actually a Scarran spy planted in order to convince Aeryn to reveal John Crichton’s location to her, but she had never been pregnant at all. Thus another one of what seems like the series’ darkest scenes, in which Aeryn and this character start taking a series of sleeping pills as part of a shared suicide pact, is twisted in on itself. Aeryn reveals herself to have realized the truth all along. Too many parts of her story either hadn’t added up or had been too convenient–another prisoner with such a great deal in common with Aeryn who just so happens to be positioned next to her; the fact that she was able to free herself from her bonds using a code she claimed to have swiped from the nurse; her always saying what seemed like just the right thing at just the right moment to convince Aeryn to trust her. Even these so-called sleeping pills are harmless. And so Aeryn makes a boldly defiant statement to her captors by snapping this traitor’s neck. Before doing so, she asks her if she had ever been a mother, to which she finally admits that she hadn’t. “Good,” Aeryn says, as she kills her, “then I orphan no one.”
What is so compelling about this whole thread is that this “cellmate” of sorts is so convincing by the end that, although we might be inclined to agree with Aeryn’s initial suspicions, elements such as her pleading to spare Aeryn’s life and the abortion bring us around again to being totally sold on her lies until that final moment. The fact that Aeryn never is–she had actually been playing her, as well, all along–reminds us what a canny character she is and reasserts both her stength and her experience. She may have exposed emotions to us over the course of this episode far removed from the closed-off soldier she once was, but that doesn’t mean that she has either grown complacent or gullible or has forgotten her PK training. Aeryn also shows remarkable resolve when dealing with the hardened Sebacean nurse, a truly fascinating character who has managed to survive all of these years by remaining fully faithful to the Scarrans and who wouldn’t do anything to outwardly implicate herself but who makes some small gestures to help Aeryn. At the same time, even these “kind” actions that aid in lengthening Aeryn’s life are complicated because she has no compunctions about potentially dooming Aeryn’s unborn child. She may be willing to grant the barest minimum of assistance to a fellow Sebacean when she can but she is a survivor, first and foremost, and considers anyone who isn’t to be a fool, treating Aeryn roughly without a hint of compassion when the Scarran is around.
Meanwhile, John brings Scorpius along on his excellent adventure to what he dubs Bizarro Moya, via the wormhole. This is another subplot that has always impressed me greatly. Who ever would have thought back when “Unrealized Reality” aired that not only would John end up returning to one of the unrealized realities later in the season, and with Scorpius in tow, no less, but that the body/gender-swapped one wasn’t just a crazy bit of fun but would revealed to be crucial to the huge, final arc? And although John never explicitly says why he wants Scorpy on this journey, I think it’s because, although he can’t know for sure, he has a feeling that it might require some morally questionable actions that his other friends might have trouble with, particularly since they would be confronting sort-of doubles of themselves, whereas neither he nor Scorpy have duplicates there. And it certainly does lead to a major moral dilemma. When he tracks down Sikozou-Stark to ask about what he knows about Katratzi, he learns that the Stykeran rules are a bit different in this universe than the one he came from–namely, Stark has access to the memories of other beings he crossed over as he is crossing over another, but not at any other time. And so Scorpius drags Noranti-Rygel to him and shoots him to death, to John and Stark’s horror. As it turns out, it’s also a pointless death, as this Stark can only cross someone over who he loves–although, clearly it’s not simply relegated to romantic love, or he’d only be able to do it for one person in the world. This also clearly isn’t our Stark for another reason, as our Stark would never have loved a Scarran. And we know that he crossed Aeryn-Chiana over in “Unrealized Reality,” and therefore he feels love for her, which is why Stark next pressures John into killing her.
Now, this is a fascinating moral dilemma, because John has brought Scorpy and himself back to about half hour before he knows they are all going to die from his previous visit to this reality, and so it shouldn’t actually matter whether he kills Aeryn-Chiana now, because she is doomed regardless. And yet, looking at this woman who resembles both the woman he loves and one of his dearest friends, he realizes he can’t bring himself to do it. Just before, he had shot and killed D’Argo-Jool, but that situation was slightly different, as she’d been threatening him with her pulse rifle. It certainly wasn’t something the younger, more innocent John would have done, but it wasn’t cold-blooded murder. Incidentally, it can be easy to forget that Claudia Black is also playing Chiana here, and doing a remarkable job capturing Edgley’s performance as well as conveying her fear and betrayal at the hands of Crichton, her supposed friend. The fact that she slipped into this alternate character the same week that she had to play all of the emotional turmoil aboard the dreadnought is nothing short of remarkable. Returning to the scene at hand, while John can’t bring himself to do it, Scorpius can. He grabs John’s hand and presses his hand down on the gun, killing Aeryn-Chiana, and compelling Sikozou-Stark to tearfully cross her over, at which point she again speaks the word, “Katratzi,” and is able to give them the location, which just so happens to correspond with a location in “our” world that Scorpy is aware of, implying that it will synch up correctly back aboard the “real” Moya.
And so, again, this is some awfully compelling material, philosophically speaking. In some ways, John isn’t culpable for Aeryn-Chiana’s death, as he didn’t pull the trigger, but at the same time, he had to know, just by bringing Scorpius along, that people might get hurt. And, again, on some level, I think that that’s why he brought him, whether or not he could admit it to himself fully at the time. He unleashed this monster on this other world, knowing what he was capable of. But at the same time, (a) this world is an unrealized reality that would effectively only exist if Crichton stayed there too long, (b) even if he did stay, the characters would still be doomed due to what’s due to happen later that day, and (c) he does get the results he needs. It says something about Crichton, though, that even knowing this world isn’t “real,” Scorpy’s actions and his own part in them trouble him greatly, but that at the same time, he was willing to do them to save Aeryn, thus setting up far darker actions that he will have to willfully perform over the course of rest of the series in order to keep both her and the rest of the universe safe, while up until the end, potentially corrupting his own soul in the process.
Also just want to mention the awesome scene in which Crichton and Scorpy are ejected out of the wrong wormhole exit. You can tell Rowan Woods directed the episode due to how artful it is, and unlike anything you’d see on most other shows. While Crichton performs some quick repairs to the module, it spins in space, and unlike other space shows where the inside of the ship would likely look still, the camera continues to spin around and around, turning Crichton and Scorpy upside down and right side up over and over again throughout the scene, a literally dizzying effect that places the viewer right in that tiny, claustrophic module with our hero and his nemesis and which is the sort of filmmaking you see more often in indie, arthouse cinema rather than cable genre shows.
According to the DreamPunk.Me review of We’re So Screwed:
Farscape’s final trilogy of episodes kicks off in grand style with an installment that defies expectation at every turn, firstly because what seemed as if it would be the primary purpose of this arc–rescuing Aeryn from the hands of the Scarrans–is actually resolved before this first episode is up, and before they even reach Katratzi, instead revealing an entirely different and more surprising rescue to be the main thrust of this story, and secondly because, in many ways, Noranti, rather than John, proves to be the true lynchpin in the quest to free Aeryn. In fact, they are able to get her back largely due to Noranti’s actions, which, at the same time, in true Farscape and Noranti style, are truly bonkers, extremely dangerous, and had real potential to end in catastrophic failure. This episode is a perfect example of Farscape at its best–highly charged, dark, filled with life-and-death stakes, but also an underlying, twisted sense of humor that often dovetails with rather gross bodily functions, in this case a horrendous Hynerian disease that results in rashes, skin sloughing off, bloody sores, and worse.
“Fetal Attraction” is set on a Scarran space station, a checkpoint of sorts fairly close to Katratzi that all ships planning to travel into Scarran space must stop at first in order to be deemed worthy of safe passage. And shortly after Moya arrives there, with Scorpy of all people posing as the captain of this supposed Leviathan trading vessel, with John, Chiana, and Rygel as his associates, they learn the shocking coincidence that the ship on which Aeryn is being held has been stopped there as well at this very moment, on the way to Katratzi. As with Farscape’s best seemingly farfetched twists of circumstance, on the one hand, it might seem unlikely that they’d all end up at the same place at the same time, while on the other, (a) it carries with it the operatic ring of fate, a heightened sense of reality that has always fit within this show’s tone and framework, especially given the way John and Aeryn’s epic love has always been depicted, and perhaps even more importantly, (b) given that both Aeryn and John were on the way to Katratzi and given that this is the apparently the last checkpoint before Katratzi, the only real suspension of disbelief one must sustain is to accept that they would both have reached there simultaneously, which, again, isn’t the most outlandish pill to swallow. It also helps keep viewers on our toes, not giving us exactly what we had expected. We had thought there would be a big rescue mission for Aeryn on Katratzi, and instead it happens before they get there. However, at the same time, John wouldn’t have found her here if he hadn’t discovered the way to Katratzi, and furthermore, they will all end up going to Katratzi after all, just for a very different reason than they first expected.
Upon realizing that Aeryn’s ship is there, thanks to Sikozou getting close and personal with another Kalish worker on the station–her people run it for the Scarrans–the gang realizes that they’ll have to come up with some way to stall it in order to give John ample time to rescue Aeryn, and to Noranti’s credit, she follows their lead brilliantly. First, Rygel vomits on cue after eating a great deal of food, and makes reference of the fact that he had, years before, contracted and nearly died from Hynerian dermafollica, and that that was the last time he’d puked like that (they clearly don’t know him at all!). Concerned that the virus, long dormant in his system, might have reawakened, the Kalish head of the station puts him under immediate quarrantine and locks down the station, forbidding any ship from leaving. While dermafollica is very dangerous for Hynerians, its effects are almost instantly fatal for many other species, including his own, so they can’t risk anyone who might have been infected by Rygel from bringing a plague into Scarran space. Then, Noranti appears seemingly in the nick of time, taking on the role of a healer, with D’Argo as her Luxan assistant. To her credit, she seems to have come up with the idea on her own, and brilliantly plays along, in order to help stall the ship. However, she soon realizes that the only way the ruse of Rygel’s illness can be kept up long enough is if he starts to exhibit more symptoms, and her only way of doing that is to give him a potion that actually does reawaken the disease within him. And given the pervasiveness of the illness, as soon as he is made ill, everyone on the station is at risk. Basically, she very well may end up unintentionally killing Aeryn–along with many others–before they have a chance to save her, particularly since when she first reinfects Rygel, she doesn’t have a cure ready.
And this proves to be a perfect showcase plot for Noranti, easily the best of her entire run, because it manages just the right blend of demonstrating her typical insanity–the idea of infecting someone with a veritable plague in order to save one other person, who may herself get infected in the process, seems certifiably nuts–with her at-times Kantian, ends-justifying-the-means attitude (such as when she nearly killed John to protect the secret of the devices’ location on Arnessk, in order to save potential billions), while also allowing to see deeper wellsprings of “humanity” from her than we’ve ever seen before. This manifests firstly in her drive to do whatever it takes to come up with a cure, along with her confidence that she can succeed, even as the fantastic Melissa Jaffer weaves subtle hints into her performance that indicate that she’s perhaps not as fully sure as she claims to be; secondly in her fierce protectiveness over Aeryn–when the Scarran, Cpt. Jenek, demands that Aeryn’s baby be transferred to Chiana (he doesn’t care at all for Aeryn’s life and only wants to ensure that her baby, whose DNA might be encoded with Crichton’s wormhole knowledge, survives; since Nebari are immune to dermafollica, he considers this a suitable option, even though the operation could possibly kill the baby along with Aeryn, if not Chiana, as well), she fights with every tool she has at her disposal to try to keep it from happening, and while still remaining in character as this healer who doesn’t know Aeryn or Crichton; and thirdly, in the genuine remorse she shows in her final scene with Rygel, regarding the few people who died of the disease before she was able to cure it. While we’ve seen her perform morally ambiguous actions before, this is the first time they’ve actually ended in death, and the fact this truly bothers her–the taking of innocent life, despite a positive outcome in other regards–goes a long way towards making her feel even more fully fleshed-out as a person, beneath the often kooky exterior.
The other MVP of the hour is, of course, John, who exhibits remarkable bravery, as well as smarts in at first attempting to woo the contemptible Sebacean nurse, and then refusing to break character once the Scarrans capture him for knocking her out and attempting to free Aeryn. He claims that he had simply wanted to recreate with another of his species and that Aeryn was better-looking and therefore more desirable, and even when being interrogated with the Scarran heat torture, he answers with half-truths, never revealing his identity nor connection to Aeryn. And while he does end up carrying the woman he loves to safety, this isn’t the typical hero-rescuing-the-damsel story, not only because while Aeryn might be a victim here in some ways, it is the first and only time in the entire saga that anyone could ever say that about her, but also because the titular hero flat-out wouldn’t have been able to succeed by himself, and again, the person who truly facilitates the saving-of-the-day is a centuries-old woman. Speaking of Aeryn, though, Claudia Black does an ingenious job of capturing her trauma. We have never seen her this physical weak nor nearly-broken before, and it is extremely difficult to watch. After hallucinating about John rescuing her while she’s in a state of heat delirium, she refuses to initially believe it’s actually him when he first shows up, and all she can do is flinch and cry. Watching Aeryn Sun of all people reduced to this is one of those moments of Farscape that are just soul-destroying. Luckily, by the last scene, however, she does wake on board Moya in her own bed, and realizes that she is once again safe.
Or so it seems. Because while everyone else has managed to escape the Scarran base, one is captured, and that is Scorpius. And although no one aboard Moya save Sikozou (who, by the way, earlier in the episode, melts a conduit with a new, previously unexhibited power that we don’t learn until the next episode is the result of not actually being Kalish as she seems but a bioloid) has any interest in saving him, that is when the real kicker occurs: out of a black-and-white crypt in John’s mind, Harvey 2.0 arises, like Dracula or Nosferatu rising from his coffin, and reveals that Scorpius hadn’t actually removed him after all but simply upgraded him. Like Rygel’s dermafollica, he had been dormant all of this time, until he is now needed to compel John to rescue Scorpius. And while his purpose is to make John loyal to Scorpius, his arguments for saving him are strong enough for John to have listened, even without being forced to–because Scorpius knows many things, from a great deal of wormhole knowledge bar the remaining details he hadn’t been able to get from the chip to the location of Earth, and he won’t be able to hold out forever against Scarran interrogation, particularly due to his inner heat regulation issue. And, therefore, if they don’t all risk their lives to save Scorpius, the entire galaxy might again be doomed–which is the perfect reversal for the final Farscape series-proper arc. In season 1, Aeryn had to rescue John from Scorpius. In season 4, John had to rescue Aeryn from the species that makes up half of Scorpius’ parentage, and now, once that is done, they have to both now rescue Scorpy himself. On a list of things you might have never expected to see in the first season, this might be #1. Particularly since the need to save him is revealed at the same time that the fact that he had frelled John once again, in the form of Harvey, comes to light.
Farscape continues its absolutely stellar last batch of episodes with “We’re So Screwed, Part II: Hot to Katratzi,” which, besides being just as twisty and bold as anyone could have hoped for from this ingenious show’s climactichours, also has the distinction of having the cleverest title in the entire run on the series. That is just a statement of fact.
Among the episode’s many strong attributes, the most impressive is likely how surprising it is, taking a number of plot elements we have seen the series handle before but handling them in an entirely different way than we have come to expect from those previous adventures. We have seen Moya’s crew launch a complex rescue mission from a seemingly impenetrable fortress, going deep into the belly of the beast, as it were, in order to save a friend. This time, however, not only is it an enemy rather than a friend who they’ve come to save, but they don’t do so surreptitiously at all. They don’t assume elaborate false identities or have a complex plan. Instead, they effectively knock right on the Scarrans’ front door in the middle of their negotiations with the Peacekeepers, John Crichton brashly and fearlessly announces his presence, and then he basically proceeds to frell with them. Browder plays this pitch-perfectly. After years of being on the run, John has had it up to here with the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans, so he basically says, “Screw it,” marches right in and offers to give his wormhole knowledge to the highest bidder. Whether it be the Scarran emperor or Grayza–who, it is revealed here, had escaped from Ahkna, after all, and therefore hadn’t been replaced by a bioloid, another surprising shift from what we might have expected–is of no consequence to him, or so he says. In actuality, of course, he’s planning on surrendering it to neither, and is just marching in, deliberately loud and blustering, in order to provide additional cover for their plan to get Scorpy out of there. But he manages to secure safety for his friends and him in a similarly ostentatious, balls-to-the-wall fashion.
Whereas when he and his friends boarded the Command Carrier at the end of the previous season, it was after intense negotiations between Rygel, D’Argo, and Scorpius that culminated in John and Scorpy wearing I-Yensch bracelets, this time around, John has a much simpler and yet simultaneously bug-nuts insane plan. He builds a thermonuclear bomb, straps it to himself, and rigs it to detonate basically under any circumstance where he is threatened. As he explains, “Now, before anyone decides to get clever, you should know I have multiple dead man’s sensors from every culture on my ship and a few cultures I haven’t even heard of. My heart stops? We all go boom. My heart speeds up? It’s boom again. Too hot, too cold, too happy, too sad, thirsty, hungry, bored… it’s John Lee Hooker time. Boom, boom, boom. And if you try your little psychic trick… kaboom. And we’re all pushing up day-glo daisies.” This is the sort of move that Crichton never could have pulled much earlier in the story, as it’s one that springs from desperation, fed-upedness, and perhaps most importantly, a true willingness to gamble his life in order to save the world. That isn’t to say that he’s never done so before, but there’s a particular level of devil-may-care cavalierness to it this time around. The other version of him did die from radiation sickness, in order to keep wormhole tech out of Scarran hands, and he may have considered not surviving the “Into the Lion’s Den” arc a real possibility, but in the former case, it was a last-minute gut decision, and in the latter, he took as many precautions as possible to keep his friends and him safe. This time around, however, he’s putting both his fate and those of everyone he loves in the hands of the Scarrans. If they don’t believe him and decide to attack anyway, they’ll all die. He’s hoping that they don’t decide to test him, but if they do, he’s prepared to die, just to screw them over. That’s not to mention that it’s incredibly risky from other perspectives. External threats aren’t the only things that can get someone’s pulse to beat faster. At one point, it starts to quicken simply from flirting with Aeryn, adding a level of danger to their encounters that can’t help but be incredibly hot.
Speaking of Aeryn, she has largely bounced back from her experiences in the previous episodes, which is very in-character for her. You can bring her down but not for long. She’s perhaps a bit more subtly subdued than usual but other than that, she is just as resolved and powerful as ever, only now she isn’t withholding in her affections for John, which makes her seem an all-around stronger, happier individual. She manages to be completely open to him, even sharing a very sweet dance with him in an elevator, while also projecting her full-on badass PK self, which is basically what the two bring out in each other over the course of the rest of the main series and “The Peacekeeper Wars”. I love the little looks they give each other that quietly indicate their pride in one another. They make each other better while also each remaining strong people in their own rights. With Aeryn, you can see a mixture of being genuinely impressed with John’s bravery, perhaps mixed with a touch of worry by how far he’s willing to go, but also fully committed to backing him up, regardless of any fears, which is the same thing she does for him. He has only become this brave because of her. And while he does still end up taking very dark actions that do still bother him, particularly in the next episode, he is evolving into someone who can live with making tough decisions at times, particularly if they will help more people than they will hurt, but who still ultimately strive to achieve more pacifistic goals. In other words, his own kind of hero.
Meanwhile, in addition to distracting attention away from their quest to free Scorpius, the plan also involves Sikozou, D’Argo, and Rygel surreptitiously stoking hatreds between the Charrids and the Kalish aboard the station, hoping that it will erupt in violence that could help provide a cover. For Sikozou, this involves trying to nudge the other Kalish into thinking that the Charrids are trying to kick the Kalish off Katratzi by undermining their authority, eventually enlisting the help of Zukash, an aide of the head Kalish, and who, like her, is actually a bioloid, which we learn for the first time here, thus explaining the strange melty power she exhibited in the previous episode. Although we don’t learn this until the next episode, Sikozou, however, isn’t a replacement for a real person, as Aeryn was. She was created by the Kalish in order to achieve Kalish ends, and considers herself one, as well, though we can probably discuss that more when we get to the next episode. While Sikozou is pursuing those ends, Rygel and D’Argo work together, as they did when they met Scorpy and Braca in “I-Yensch, You-Yensch,” however this time around using their skills to manipulate the eminently gullible and violence-minded Charrids, providing one of the last great opportunities for us to see Rygel’s sharp brains and Dominarly talent for politically outthinking his opponents in action.
At the same time, while all of this is going on, Scorpius is being tortured for the information the Scarrans seek and, in a direct reversal of their positions when we first met them, he is actually being tortured by Stark, of all people, who is using his Stykeran power not to help but to hurt, shining his light upon Scorpius as a means of torture, likely inflicting terrible memories upon him in order to find wormhole information from him, rather than vice versa. Now, on a first watch, this seems to show Stark at his darkest and most morally ambiguous, and does provide, again, a great full-circle twist for the two character. As it turns out, however, as we learn in the next episode, this isn’t the real Stark after all but a bioloid, which is interesting because on the one hand, it certainly fits more with the more spiritual quest Stark set out on the last time we saw him, in order to find Zhaan (although we never learn how he came to captured by the Scarrans, it certainly was while in pursuit of this goal), while on the other hand, Stark has always been depicted as unstable enough and even capable of vengeful thoughts to the point that it wouldn’t have been completely unbelievable for him to have done this, given the opportunity, particularly since he knows nothing of what Scorpius has been up to for the past year. Hell, even if he’d known, he likely wouldn’t ever trust him.
Nor should he, as we discover in a fascinating scene in this episode that Scorpy has actually been a spy for the Scarran emperor all of these years, and in a few brief lines of dialogue, seems to reveal himself to have been a liar and actually fully loyal to the Scarran empire all of this time, interested only in power. In short, it makes him the villain John had always thought he was from the beginning, rather than the more grey figure he revealed himself to be, once John learned his backstory and motivation. And John is certainly thinking along those lines when, at the last minute, as he and Aeryn are about to usher him to safety, he turns on them, attacking John despite the literally ticking bomb attached to him. Now, of course, Scorpy isn’t actually loyal to the Scarrans, but as with Stark, the episode gives us just enough information to possibly doubt everything we thought we knew about him up to this point. It is difficult to believe, given that Scorpy’s actions and reactions throughout don’t initially seem to make as much sense were he actually just doing all he did simply to gather the information for the Scarrans. His hatred of them and his temporary brokenness at the end of “Into the Lion’s Den” seemed too emotionally legitimate, not to mention the fact that he told his backstory to the John neural clone in “Incubator”. But there is also the chance that he could have lied even to him, in order to get what he wanted. And Scorpy has always been squirrelly and shady enough that just enough room is left for doubt. Again, it’s not necessarily likely doubt but he has frelled John over so many times that John is always ready to believe the worst of him, and his actions at the end seem consistent with that, even if to a perceptive viewer, the question is less whether Scorpy had actually been working for the Scarrans all along but instead what exact angle he’s working here.
Critchon Kicks, and John Quixote
Going over briefly:
- Crichton Kicks was a bit Robinson Cruesoe for my personal taste; and,
- I wasn’t very engaged with the format of John Quixote.
According to the DreamPunk.Me review of Crichton Kicks:
I know that many people have problems with “Crichton Kicks,” and I can understand why: in many ways, it’s a deeply weird season opener that doesn’t even come close to resolving all of the dangling threads of the preceding finale, which often feels so murky and surreal that the first time I saw it, I wondered whether it was primarily composed of hallucinations, and which keeps viewers constantly off-balance. These are also the exact reasons that I love it. By this point, Farscape had long ago given up on ever appealing to a wide audience. Where other sci-fi shows might have attempted to be more welcoming to newcomers in their season premieres, scaling back on the crazy, and presenting a clearer, cleaner narrative, Farscape boldly goes in the dead opposite direction, which simultaneously reassures fans that it refuses to homogenize its art for ratings even while it promises an upcoming season that will be even stranger and more fearless than ever before. Visually, the aspect ratio switch to widescreen instantly announces a level of change, providing perfect accompaniment to the writing and artistic decisions of the episode, which go out of the way to make sure that we as viewers don’t get too comfortable. Farscape never has been and never will be “comfort food TV,” and here, it wears that as a badge of honor, loudly and proudly.
In many ways, the first handful of Season 4 episodes also seem to be a response to what happened at the start of Season 2, when the Farscapewriters had hoped to keep the thread of how Moya’s crew would reunite after the fallout of the season 1 cliffhanger dangling until the second episode, but the SciFi Channel insisted they answer the questions right away, leading to their scrapping their original second season premiere and airing it later as a flashback. This time around, not only does everyone not reunite in the premiere, but it actually takes until the fifth episode for everyone to reassemble, and even given that, it takes far longer for all of the answers regarding what happened to everyone to emerge. And while this method might have created difficulties for the viewers in terms of patience when it first aired, it also allows the series to pay greater respect to the events of “Dog with Two Bones,” in which huge decisions were made, ones which it would have seemed rushed or too easy to simply tie up with a neat bow in the very next episode. By not restoring the “status quo,” so to speak, right away–and even at that, shaking up multitudes of elements, meaning the show is never exactly the same as it was–it allows the climactic events of the previous season to retain their impact.
And, in true Farscape tradition, it’s very cheeky about it, too. When the episode opens, John is in his module, just as he was at the end of the season finale, but now he has a big, bushy beard, deliberately calling to mind the series’ most despised episode, “Jeremiah Crichton” (only this time, Browder actually grew the beard, and then shaved it off on-camera in a later scene). For a split second, we are meant to think, “Wait a minute, has he been stuck in his module all of that time?!” until we realize an instant later, “No, that’s impossible. With no fuel, he would have frozen/starved/crashed/what have you.” But then John reasserts our initial thought when he says, “Pilot, if you’re there, almost out of fuel. Need a little help.” But, but…Pilot and Moya were swallowed up by a wormhole. Are they back?! What’s going on? Only then does John continue, “Look, I am trying to apologize. I accept my friends aren’t coming back from the womrhole. You’re on a beautiful old ship and I can’t leave you guys, so please let me back in! Yo! Your ladyship!” That’s when we realize and learn that this isn’t Moya nor our Pilot but instead an ancient Leviathan, Elack, and female Pilot who had come to the Leviathan burial grounds to die but had rescued John when his friends disappeared. In fact, a deleted scene from “Dog with Two Bones” had revealed this to be the very Pilot who had informed our Pilot about the mad Leviathan’s history, meaning this was likely always the plan to resolve John’s cliffhanger. I actually prefer it without that scene, however, as this way, the solution to his dilemma isn’t as immediately obvious yet it makes complete sense in retrospect.
In some ways, when we reencounter John here, he seems crazier than he has ever been before, but that also makes a great deal of sense. He has lost all of his friends and the woman he loves, who he knows is pregnant with what he assumes to be his (or at least John Crichton‘s) child, and he has spent the last number of months(?) alone on a dying, majestic but practically dessicated Leviathan with no one but his lovely but ancient and therefore often practically narcoleptic Pilot, his host of similarly corroded DRDs (a particularly great detail and bit of added mythology, that ancient Leviathans produce ancient-looking DRDs), and Harvey to keep him company, not to mention his dreams of Aeryn. With no indication that he could ever be reunited with his friends, it’s no wonder that he instead returned focus to the only obsession other than Aeryn that has driven his life the past few years: wormholes, because there is nothing left for him here. Even with that, however, he isn’t simply absorbed by his own goals. He is remarkably kind to this Pilot and cares a great deal for both Elack and her. They saved his life and he is eternally grateful, and when Elack is subsequently threatened by aliens who look a bit like Klingon pirates (and he even yells at them in Klingon!), he fights tooth and nail to help his new friends. He even forms a friendship with one of the DRDs, who he has dubbed 1812, painted red, white, and blue, and has taught to “sing” Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture, who has arguably the strongest personality of any DRD we’ve ever seen. By the end of the episode, he even butts his “head” into John like a cat, in order to get him to start singing the 1812, with the two of them alternating lines.
Like “Dog With Two Bones” before it, “Crichton Kicks” has a fairly simple plot, which is by design, as it’s more of an atmospheric/psychological piece that takes stock of the current state of John Crichton, as well as one that provides an introduction to a new character, Sikozou, and begins to bring the band back together again than a plot-driven episode. The basic gist is: space pirates invade Elack, with big scary space dogs, and Crichton, along with Sikozou and a newly returned Chiana and Rygel, help defeat them. The space pirates have boarded in order to harvest “toubray,” tissue from Leviathan neural clusters, and Sikozou works for them but had actually meant to be fairly compassionate in her choice of vessel. Whereas the Grudeks would have been perfectly fine hijacking and murdering a young Leviathan (likely along with its crew), she reasoned that the burial grounds would be a good place to find an ancient, dying Leviathan who had already lived a long, full life, and so suggested they come here.
Sikozou proves to be a fascinating character over the course of her run on the series. She has some things in common with Jool, having some physical similarities, and fancying herself better and smarter than anyone else aboard, but in her case even more so as she had actually studied Leviathans in depth, although she soon discovers to her frustration that book knowledge doesn’t always equal practical application. Also unlike Jool, she doesn’t have “princess” tendencies. She just happens to think everyone else is incompetent–besides Scorpius, but that comes later. She’ll also prove to be arguably the only regular Moya crew members who so retains her own agenda that she can never really ever be trusted and never becomes a true part of the “family,” which is funny in retrospect because, at the start, she seems to be yet another person ultimately thrown aboard Moya who claims to be just in it for herself and plans on “getting her life back,” and therefore we naturally assume she’ll end up being like everybody else.
There are also some very interesting clues regarding Sikozou’s physiology that have a different, fuller context once revelations from the end of the season are taken into account, namely that she is a “bioloid,” basically an organically engineered android. For example, when she first reveals to Crichton that her body can’t accept translator microbes and that he will have to speak her language slowly to her and identify certain objects so that she can learn it, the swiftness with whcih she is able to pick it up might seem very strange. But on a later viewing, the answer seems to be that her bioloid brain is capable of processing this sort of information much faster than a regular person’s could. It similarly explains how she is able to reattach her hand after one of the dogs chomps it off, along with her ability to shift her center of gravity and walk on walls/ceilings, not to mention her air of superiority. The information about her having grown up in Scarran space as part of a slave race–she is modeled after the Kalish, who are indeed one–also pays off as the seasonal arc culminates and also explains a major reason that she comes to ally with Scorpius: they share an all-consuming desire to defeat the Scarrans.
And now we come to Chiana and Rygel, whose return in this episode is done in such an understated manner–their voice simply appearing on Crichton’s comm at the worst possible moment–that I wasn’t convinced it was really happening the night it first aired. But it turns out to be yet another example of Farscape subverting how any other show would do this sort of thing. There’s no musical swell, no big hugs or teary reunion–instead they just show up, not unlike Noranti’s mysterious appearance in the previous episode. And as we soon learn thereafter, they have returned for two reasons: (1) although they had thought they’d be safe from the Peacekeepers after getting Scorpius off their backs, as it turns out, now Grayza is hot in pursuit of all of them and has placed a huge bounty on their heads, dead or alive, and (2) Chiana’s powers have continued to evolve to the point that no longer is she seeing events a while before they occur but while they occur. She is able to basically “slow down” the present in order to see take note of minute details, but at the cost of her eyesight. Immediately after using her power, she gets blinding headaches and her eyes go temporarily gray and useless. The progression of her powers is quite fantastic, since the first times she used them, she was seeing events a long time before they played out, and the gap gradually closed over the rest of Season 3, and now months later, it has finally settled into this state.
And she had tried to use it to cheat at a casino but after winning an “unwinnable” game numerous times, the casino heads had taken her winnings, locked her up, tortured, and possibly raped her. Afterwards, she and Rygel (who it seems hadn’t gotten a chance to go their separate ways before confronting the PK reward beacons and likely collaborated on the casino scam) decided to return here, on the off-chance that they could either find their friends or perhaps a clue as to what had happened to them. And lo and behold, they came across Elack and noticed Crichton’s module in the hold. Again, however, just as when Talyn returned to Moya in “Fractures,” this isn’t the happy reunion it could/should have been because again they are being hunted, and Chiana is particularly frelled up by her powers and likely PTSD.
After they all finally overpower/outwit/throw out the pirates and get rid of the dogs, who are actually surprisingly good CGI creatures (John tricks one out an airlock, with help from 1812, in a particularly funny scene), Elack and his Pilot decide to repay their debt for Crichton and Co. having saved their lives (not to mention escaping any other potential pirate attacks) by leaving the burial grounds and delivering them to a planet where they believe more of his friends might be, a selfless act that truly touches Crichton, because they are giving up their dream of being buried there for him. Pilot responds, “No dream is guaranteed, Commander. The grace of age is we learn to accept.” Learning to deal with not getting your dreams exactly as you had always imagined them is a key theme of these episodes, and deeply resonates with the events of “Dog with Two Bones,” as well as with John’s fantasies of Aeryn, in which she is lying on a beach with him–significantly, the very beach he returned to “Earth” on in “A Human Reaction,” I believe–extremely pregnant, in a bikini, this dream reflecting the fact that he doesn’t yet know about Sebacean pregnancies and how they work, nor that it’s possible that the father isn’t him at all. It could even be Velorek, since PK women’s pregnancies have to actually be willingly “activated” or they remain in stasis, which helps prevent them from interfering with military campaigns and other duties, when they occur at inconvenient times. But what I love most about these scenes are how they reflect Aeryn’s scenes with Crichton’s “ghost” in “The Choice,” John having conversations with the woman he loves who, for all intents and purposes, is gone forever and trying desperately to suss out why she did what she did. Even the end is an echo of that episode, as John ultimately decides that he can no longer indulge in these conversations–they’re unhealthy for him and, particularly now that his friends are back in his life and he knows the PKs are once again on their tails, he has to return to the world of the living.
According to the DreamPunk.Me review of John Quixote:
In basically all external details, and certainly stylistically, the second episode written by Ben Browder couldn’t possibly be more different than his first. Whereas “Green-Eyed Monster” was a relatively restrained bottle episode that had a nifty underlying sci-fi concept but underneath it all was really a beautifully realized domestic drama aboard a spaceship, “John Quixote” is an experimental explosion of unfettered imagination and lunatic genius and feels like the closest the show would ever come to depicting whatFarscape as directed by Terry Gilliam might have looked like. At the same time, there is underlying method and structure to the madness. While to a casual observer, it might just seem like mindfrell for the sake of mindfrell, underneath the at-times demented, seemingly chaotic atmosphere, the episode, at its heart, is another taking-stock-of-the-current-state-of-Crichton piece of the sort that the show would do at least once per season, and like “Green-Eyed Monster,” one that takes a very perceptive view of the John-Aeryn relationship, examining it from a new angle while propelling that arc forwards. At the same time, it is also a remarkably dense and important episode that can be seen as foreshadowing the season’s upcoming major arc in microcosm, often in extremely subtle ways, and therefore is one that requires revisiting in order to pick up on all of its nuances.
As one might expect from the title’s pun on “Don Quixote,” this episode does indeed put John in the role of a roving knight from ye olden times, complete with medievalish armor, and with Chiana as his sidekick/Sancho Panza, in the classic garb of a royal fool. This isn’t a dream, however, but a virtual reality video game that Chiana convinces him to play and which turns out to have actually been based on John’s life, of all things. As we later learn, the game designer had based it on the memories that Stark had absorbed from Talyn-John when he died. And while we never learn the full details of how this came to be, either in this episode or when they finally reunite with Stark at the end of the season, the fact that the next time we meet up with him, he is a captive of the Scarrans, we can assume that the game was created while he was under durress, perhaps by a tech who works for the Scarrans. Although within this episode, Crichton professes anger at Stark for the game’s existence, Stark would have had no reason to betray him in this manner, so odds are that it occurred without his permission or possibly as the result of torture. The real Stark isn’t as vindictive as the doppelganger version in this episode, with his mask on the opposite side of his face. And one thing that is for certain is that this is yet another example of the fact that Crichton and Co. have become either celebrities or at least notorious throughout the Uncharted Territories, with some likely thinking of them as folk heroes and others villifying them. No matter which side any given person falls on, however, there is clearly interest in roleplaying him in the form of a videogame–a videogame that John himself is now playing and which additionally was based not on his own perceptions but a mix of Talyn-John’s and Stark’s. Which is why the game is only based on knowledge either of them would have had. For example, Noranti and Sikozou do not appear because they don’t know them, D’Argo is dressed in a pre-Season 4 costume, Aeryn’s hair done in an earlier style, as well, and the bizarro version of Jool that appears has regressed to the whiny brat that Talyn-John and Stark knew, with none of her later character development intact.
The episode’s main aesthetic is Nintendo platformer quest game a la Super Mario Bros. meets fairy tale, genres that dovetail together very smoothly, given the rescue-the-princess angle of the former, which allows the episode to take advantage of a lot of similar genre overlaps. For example, Rygel briefly appears as the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail(another Gilliam link), before John bests him–this significantly occurs in the same parking structure in which he threw the businessman version of Rygel to his death in Won’t Get Fooled Again, versus here where he runs him over with a van, which works on two levels, both because it references the previous “out-there dream” episode and because Stark would have seen this structure buried in John’s subconscious memory of that episode–Aeryn as a blonde princess in a tower, Crais as her ogre husband (whose design was significantly based on the ogre from Gilliam’s Time Bandits), Harvey as her Pinocchio-esque manservant, and D’Argo, Chiana, and Jool in a twisted little spin on Hansel and Gretel. Farscape gives the latter a clever gender subversion, as well as a dose of kink, by having D’Argo as an overgrown Hansel in lederhosen, wielding an enormous lollipop as a weapon, while Chiana and Jool are both witches who are trapped in a cage by the boy, begging him to eat them, Jool later whinging her head off when he chooses Chiana for his meal, which reflects Stark’s view of Chiana–not knowing her very well, he likely only sees her rambunctiousness and hyped up sexuality–and Jool, he–again–only remembers as the brat she was at first. Interestingly, the idea of the two of them captured by a villain who wants to devour them–in a manner of speaking–is also rather reminiscent of the events of “Scratch n’ Sniff,” which makes me wonder if it’s a subtle indication of the potential psychic link between the two Crichtons that later grants Moya-John some of Talyn-John’s memories. It also reflects Jool’s feelings for D’Argo, despite his former relationship with Chi.
Besides the fairy tale levels of the game, however, there is also the more seemingly legitimate Moya level, which manages to trick John into thinking that he’s actually logged off for quite a while, even though both he and likely we don’t necessarily notice all the signs–a few of which I mentioned earlier–on a first viewing. And the reason it fools him is in how effectively it plays into his worst nightmares about Scorpius’ presence aboard Moya and his plans for Aeryn, and by reasserting them, they seem to confirm for John that he was right to be so concerned all along. When he “returns” to Moya, everyone is freaking out because Scorpy has taken over the ship, and no one can get through to Pilot. In his commentary, Ben Browder explains that what this sequence actually is is a deliberate composite of numerous episodes and motifs from across the series. And so we get a lot of swoopy shots of everyone running through Moya’s corridors, a la so many stories. And then John and Aeryn rappell into Pilot’s den to find that he has turned on them, the DRDs surrounding him beginning to shoot at them, all of which occurred in “The Way We Weren’t”. Meanwhile, the collar they discover surrounding Pilot’s neck, as well as the revelation that Aeryn is working for Scorpius are reminiscent of “A Clockwork Nebari,” while Aeryn overpowering and knocking John out is the sort of thing that’s been happening since the day they met. This is what John had been afraid of ever since Aeryn returned in “Promises”–that there was a sinister underpinning to Aeryn having arrived with Scorpy and having made John promise not to kill him. It’s not clear whether she is being somehow controlled or has been brainwashed, but she is effectively the embodiment of his nightmare flash in “Promises” of Aeryn in Scorpy gimp suit and makeup. This is followed by Scorpy locking John up aboard Moya, his home now once returned to the prison ship it once was, and threatening to harm Aeryn and his other friends if he doesn’t surrender the wormhole data.
John responds by cutting his finger and writing out the complex wormhole equations on the floor in his own blood, an extremely surreal image that many viewers took as another hint that Crichton had to still be in the game, because surely he couldn’t have spilled that much blood and remained conscious/alive, although according to Browder, they actually measured out a pint of fake blood and were able to write all of that out with it, and so that isn’t necessarily a hint after all. Either way, John stands on a crucial part of the equation, hiding it with his foot, in order to lure Scorpy in, and then “traps” him in the “game” by sticking his hand on the controller. The game cleverly takes John and Scorpy to the first level, in order to make Crichton think he’s succeeded, and then Aeryn “pulls him out” to the Moya level again, where it seems Scorpius has been defeated, still hooked into the game. This is also, however, when the always perceptive, observant John starts to get suspicious, particularly when Aeryn tells him, “Listen, John, I came back for you. Nothing else matters. I just want to be with you.” The funny/sad thing is that, when his worst nightmare was playing out before him, he at first thought it to be true, because it is so similar to how his life tends to go, with everything blowing up in his face, along with the loss of everything he holds dear, and yet it’s only when he starts to see his deepest wishes realized that he knows something is wrong, that this can’t be Aeryn, particularly given this was only an episode after he again perceived her as pushing him away in regards to the pregnancy she curiously doesn’t bring up here. And that’s when he looks down, notices one of the in-game balls that “Stark” had given him and realizes he’s still physically on the transport pod with Chiana, playing the same game he has been all day.
And speaking of which, the Moya level isn’t the only way in which the game has been messing with him. In fact, nothing is as it seems, for he can’t even trust his “faithful” sidekick. The Chiana who has been by his side since the Hansel and Gretel level isn’t the real Chiana, after all. She is actually the Chi NPC who had been previously locked up in the cage with Jool, having swapped places with the real Chiana, who has this whole time been tied and gagged in the gingerbread house, which John finally realizes his second time through. This has been an episode full of fake characters: fake Chi, fake Aeryn (both the one on Moya and the princess version), fake Jool, fake Crais (whose ogre persona reflects Stark’s dislike of him, he being unaware of his later sacrifice), fake D’Argo, fake Rygel, fake Stark, fake Zhaan–when John and Chi think they’re about to reunite with their long-lost friend, it is instead a male Delvian imposter (a reflection of the fact that Zhaan was originally going to be a man when the show was first being planned out) who runs a cheap fortuneteller business out of his van, and who happens to be played by long-time Farscape director, Rowan Woods–and this sets up the next twist, which is that Aeryn isn’t actually the princess he should have been going after, after all. Once he returns to the tower and defeats the ogre, planting a fairy tale kiss on Princess Aeryn’s lips, nothing happens. Incidentally, this princess character is a comedic tour de force for Claudia Black, who rarely got the opportunity to be this out-and-out silly on this show, outside of “Crackers Don’t Matter” and “Out of Their Minds,” but this is on a whole other level from those two, playing a seemingly innocent but actually rather devious person with an absolutely epic accent that, according to Black, is one part speech-impedimented-Bishop-from-Princess–Bride, one part Southern belle, and one part Mike Tyson. “Well, I’m not the Princess you seek, but we could still have a really good time” in that accent is hands-down one of my favorite moments in all of Farscape.
But the reason she isn’t the princess is due to the fact that this game was based on Stark‘s template, not John’s, and Stark’s princess wouldn’t be Aeryn but Zhaan, and so John returns to the Buddha-esque Zhaan and splits him open with his sword, to reveal the luminous Virginia Hey, returned as our beloved Pa’u in all of her radiant glory–a true fairy tale moment that feels fully earned, particularly due to all of the previous character returns that preceded it, including the aforementioned Stark, Crais, and Jool, along with Gilina–who, for a short time, could have been John’s “princess” and he lost when he first met Scorpy. And despite it only being a minute-long cameo, if that, Hey imbues her lines with such power, impact, and radiant warmth, it feels as satisfying as had she returned for a full hour:
ZHAAN: Be silent, Stark. Is that really you, John Crichton?
JOHN: I think…yeah. And you’re…?
ZHAAN: Zhaan. For all that matters. This Stark wishes to keep you here. He blames you.
ZHAAN: He believes I died for the love of you.
JOHN: A lot of people have died because of me.
ZHAAN: What is it you wish of me, John Crichton? A kiss? Have you wasted my death and the deaths of so many others?
JOHN: I don’t know.
ZHAAN: Then I suggest you find out, before anyone else dies of the love you.
And this is really the crux of the episode. Although this isn’t actually Zhaan’s spirit, in this moment, for all intents and purposes, she becomes the real Zhaan, querying John as to how he has been living his life in her absence. She asks a tough question of him, and his answer is honest. At this murky point, he’s not sure whether he has been doing the right thing. Sure, he kept the PKs from getting the wormhole knowledge, but was that the right decision? Could that actually have been the only thing to keep the Scarrans at bay, as Scorpius had warned? Later on, he will cause more deaths and yet eventually afterwards truly come to not waste them. His decisions will have a sizable impact on the galaxy and ultimately come to save it. For now, however, he is faced with the overwhelming responsibility of all of the havoc he has caused, coupled with his obsession for Aeryn, which he has been realizing more and more lately could be causing harm. Significantly, it was immediately after Zhaan became ill as a result of bringing Aeryn back to life–which Zhaan felt the need to due because Harvey/John had killed Aeryn, thus explaining why “this Stark” believes Zhaan’s death to be John’s fault (and I would say that the real Stark, in his heart of hearts, doesn’t actually believe this but that that doesn’t mean that some part of himself might not at times have this thought on his darkest days, which the game then transformed into this vengeance-driven through-a-glass-darkly version of Stark)–that Aeryn put the initial kibosh on giving into her feelings for John. She didn’t want anyone else to die as a result of their love. And now the tables have turned. Aeryn might finally be ready for John, but a visit from “Zhaan” causes him to consider the same thing she did at the start of Season 4: that it might be safer for his friends and him to shut off his feelings for her.
And, again, remember, the fairy tale plot in which his obsession for Aeryn nearly blinded him as to who the real princess was (as well as arguably kept him from noticing that Chiana had been replaced) is also wedded to the nightmare scenario in which Scorpius realizing that Aeryn could be used against him nearly led to disaster. And that is why, in the final scene, he chooses to take Noranti’s drug that will help him forget Aeryn–not in a literal sense, because she’s aboard the ship and unavoidable, but in the sense that it will block his feelings for her and allow him to distance himself, without his emotions getting in the way. And while in the moment, this seems troubling and unhealthy, John later does explain his reasoning, which is that if he can block away his feelings, then he can cause Scorpy to think that he no longer cares for her, which will in turn keep him from being able to use her against him, as he did in the game. And while some fans have argued that this isn’t fully logical, because how could Scorpius ever be fooled by that, I would argue that it isn’t meant to be completely logical. While John has a justification for his actions, I also think that on some level, he’s also in a lot of pain over Aeryn and simply wants to shut off that pain for the time being, particularly until he can answer for himself whether all of those deaths have been in vain or not.
Earlier, I also referenced there being a number of elements in the episode that foreshadow later events, and here are a number of them: the fake Chiana foreshadows the bioloid Aeryn in “Bringing Home the Beacon”. John’s quest for the princess foreshadows his rescue mission of Aeryn in the last portion of the season (the “We’re So Screwed” trilogy). In fact, John’s kissing the “wrong” princess could be interpreted as another bioloid reference. The virtual reality itself foreshadows the concept of unrealized reality, particularly the one that John and Scorpy travel back into to get information on Katratzi (“A Constellation of Doubt,” “Prayer”). Just as in “Prayer,” John “pulls” Scorpy into an alternate reality. Even Zhaan being the real princess for John to kiss in the game refers to later events in the season, as the alternate reality in which Stark-in-the-form-of-Sikozou says the word, “Katratzi,” which ultimately leads them to Aeryn, is also the one in which Stark is in love with Aeryn and John with Zhaan. John, therefore, had to travel to the reality where Zhaan really was his “princess” in order to discover Aeryn’s whereabouts! Furthermore, John offers to trade his wormhole information for Aeryn here just as he will offer to do so at the end of “Constellation”.