For previous installments:
This was one of the few shows I have been pleased enough to watch as it actually began. I enjoyed how much creativity and attention to detail was put into it. Admittedly, I hadn’t seen any show like this before, or since, and deeply appreciation it’s contribution to the Sci-Fi drama.
Additionally, in Stargate SG-1‘s 200th episode, titled “200,” there is a scene which makes a direct reference to Farscape, because both actors Black and Ben Browder had received large roles on the series (above clip) before moving to Stargate.
Premiere, Back and Back and Back to the Future, That Old Black Magic, DNA Mad Scientist, Rhapsody in Blue, Durka Returns, Through the Looking Glass, A Bug’s Life, Nerve and The Hidden Memory
- It is exceptionally rare for a series premiere to be to be considered the best, and yet Premiere does just that. We are taken from the very comfortable scenes of Earth, shot through a wormhole, to a completely and unrecognizable world, full of aliens, and strange cultures. Not only it is relatable, it works, with all the characters;
- Back and Back and Back to the Future was what I consider a pretty fun episode, although certain scenes do point that the character, Matala, who appears would be considered an Evil Demon Seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s #4);
- That Old Black Magic was great in bringing Captain Crais and Crichton back together, though Maldis was very much a stereotypical villain;
- It is DNA Mad Scientist that showed us how early in the series, this group were so willing to betray the others without a beat;
- As there had been yet an episode that focused on Zhaan, I immediately enjoyed Rhapsody in Blue, for putting the focus on her. I thought her character was one of the most interesting;
- I have always loved Durka Returns, beginning to end;
- Through the Looking Glass was a really awesome episode;
- A Bug’s Life features a highly intelligent virus released because of Chiana and Rygel;
- Nerve and The Hidden Memory introduced Scorpius who would be a presence from here on out, Stark who would also continue to appear through the remainder of the series, and another return of Crais.
According to The A.V. Club review of Premiere:
“Each man gets his chance to be his own kind of hero. Your time will come and when it does, watch out. Chances are it’ll be the last thing you ever expected.”
When creating their characters, space-based science fiction shows often run into a problem of relatability. After all, James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard are the captains of the Enterprise, the flagship of Starfleet and home to its most accomplished officers. They are brilliant tactical minds who can be counted on to emerge triumphant while routinely facing situations we would find utterly incomprehensible. Even when characters in sci-fi shows aren’t so explicitly the best of the best—like, say, the ragtag crew of Serenity—they all still possess a knowledge base vastly different from our own. Their history is different, their science is different, their technology is different, and their pop culture, assuming they have any, is completely different. None of these are insoluble problems, of course, but they do present a basic layer of separation between the show’s characters and its intended audience.
Farscape is something else entirely. The show, which aired on what was then the Sci-Fi Channel from 1999 to 2003, presents as its main character John Crichton (Ben Browder, whom newer genre fans might recognize from recent guest spots on Doctor Who and Arrow), an astronaut from contemporary Earth. As initially presented to us in “Premiere”, Crichton is as close as any science fiction show like this is ever going to get to the consummate everyman. He may be smarter and in better shape than the typical person—he is an astronaut, after all—but he’s just as flummoxed as anyone would be when he suddenly finds himself lost somewhere in the universe among a myriad of strange, hostile aliens. Indeed, after being attacked and nearly killed by just about everyone he meets, Crichton specifically mentions that Steven Spielberg had no idea what he was talking about when he made Close Encounters. Farscape is fundamentally about what would happen if one of us were suddenly flung halfway across the universe, although “Premiere” only scratches at the surface of that intriguing concept; its deeper implications will be explored later.
The show is the brainchild of Rockne S. O’Bannon, a veteran TV writer whose other credits include writing the screenplay for Alien Nation and creating the Roy Scheider submarine show seaQuest DSV (not to mention the recent CW trainwreck Cult), and Brian Henson, the son of legendary puppeteer Jim Henson and the longtime chairman of his father’s eponymous company. The show was produced in Australia and ran first on the country’s Nine Network before wending its way to the United States—the show featured a primarily Australian cast and production team, although the writing staff was mostly American. Brian Henson and his team provided the show’s state-of-the-art prosthetic and animatronic elements, most notably in the form of two of the show’s main characters, Rygel and Pilot, who are quite possibly the most complex puppets ever built. The end result is a show that feels uniquely alien, and its visuals generally stand up better than many of its sci-fi contemporaries.
The episode opens at Cape Canaveral, as American astronaut John Crichton is set to head into space to test out Farscape-1, an experimental module of his own design that will theoretically use Earth’s gravity to achieve unprecedented speeds and potentially set the stage for interstellar flight. Crichton has the oddest sense something big is about to happen, but his concerns are momentarily allayed after a pre-launch chat with his father, legendary Apollo astronaut Jack Crichton (Kent McCord, who conveys much of the same old-school, all-American qualities he brought to his starring role on the long-running Dragnet spin-off Adam-12). Jack gives his son the sage advice quoted at the top of this review, which is one of a few lines in “Premiere” that serve as mission statements for the show’s central characters. While testing Farscape-1 up in Earth’s orbit, Crichton gets caught in a wormhole, a mysterious tunnel in space-time that sends him hurtling through the universe to parts unknown, leaving Earth behind and kicking off Farscape proper.
So what strange new universe does Crichton arrive in? His module emerges in an asteroid field in the midst of a space battle between dozens of small starfighters and a single gigantic ship, which uses its tractor beam to pull him aboard—though not before Crichton’s unexpected presence causes one of the fighters to clip his module’s wing and explode. Once aboard the starship, Crichton soon learns this was until extremely recently a prison ship, and a trio of alien newly liberated inmates have gained control and are currently attempting to escape their captors. They pulled in Crichton’s ship because they hoped he knew the secrets of wormhole travel, a technology with which they are unfamiliar. Before Crichton (or the audience, for that matter) can get his bearings, he is choked, shoved, interrogated, spat upon, and finally rendered unconscious when stung by one of the alien’s tongues. When he awakens, he finds himself naked in a prison cell with a captured fighter pilot, whose species turns out to be identical in appearance to humans. Of course, the moment he attempts to greet the newcomer he’s thrown against a wall, kicked multiple times, pinned to the floor, and again ordered to identify himself.
I’ve intentionally kept those descriptions vague, because—and it’s easy to forget this when rewatching the show with knowledge of all that comes later—“Premiere” takes its time in filling in these blanks, and the show often asks us to accept on faith that what we are watching makes sense, particularly in the first 20 minutes. We learn that the escapees are the hulking, quick-tempered Ka D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a Luxan warrior who spent the last eight cycles (the show’s equivalent to years) imprisoned for the crime of killing a superior officer; Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey), a blue-skinned, anarchic, and sexually liberated priestess from the planet Delvia; and the diminutive, haughty Rygel (voiced by Jonathan Hardy), formerly Rygel XVI, Dominar of the mighty Hynerian Empire before his cousin betrayed him. Their ship is Moya, a living bio-mechanoid craft known as a Leviathan, which is controlled from a central hub by its symbiotic Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu). Before their prison break freed Moya of her control collar, all were held prisoner by the Peacekeepers, who come across as a particularly thuggish, fascist spin on Starfleet. The two main Peacekeepers we meet in “Premiere” are Officer Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), who is dragged aboard Moya and is ultimately forced to ally herself with the escapees, and Captain Bialar Crais (also Lani Tupu), who swears vengeance against Crichton after learning his brother was the Prowler pilot killed in the collision with Farscape-1.
Like most sci-fi pilots, “Premiere” has a ton of setup and exposition to get through, leaving precious little room for a narrative. Indeed, there isn’t really a story here, at least not in the sense of something with the clear dramatic structure of a beginning, middle, and end—Crichton’s theory that a planet’s gravity can be used for acceleration proves crucial to Moya’s climactic escape from Crais, but mostly this episode is one long explanation of what this corner of the universe is like, what manner of creatures inhabit it, and how Crichton and his reluctant allies now fit into it. Crichton is imprisoned and breaks free multiple times at the hands of both Moya’s crew and the Peacekeepers, but these play more as a series of loosely connected incidents than a fully developed storyline. Farscape is somewhat hamstrung here by the fact that “Premiere” is only an hour long, whereas the latter-day Star Trek shows, Babylon 5, Firefly, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot all had the luxury of double-length episodes, pilot movies, or full-fledged miniseries to explain their universes, which gave them room left over for a fully developed, self-contained plot. On the DVD commentary for “Premiere”, O’Bannon and Henson mention that they had wanted a two-hour premiere to tell this story in more detail, but they couldn’t get network approval for the extra time.
Still, “Premiere” doesn’t suffer unduly from the minimal plot; if anything, it works in Farscape’s favor. “Premiere” is far from perfect television, but it very effectively throws both Crichton and the audience into the deep end. The episode is at its best when it deliberately keeps viewers off-balance, providing just enough information so that the audience isn’t completely lost, but never really stopping to explain precisely what the hell is going on. The most sustained scene in the episode is between D’Argo and Zhaan, who introduce themselves to each other in a way that mostly avoids being a clunky infodump. The scene hammers home the vital details about the pair—Zhaan’s final line about a warrior and a priest is the one line that rings false as something a character would actually say, as opposed to a grand thematic statement—but it more subtly slips in various supporting details, such as Luxan lifespans, Delvian attitudes toward sex, and Peacekeepers’ brutality towards their prisoners. It helps that Anthony Simcoe and Virginia Hey slip so completely into their characters, allowing them to transcend reductive descriptions like “angry warrior” or “sensual priestess” from the outset.
There’s similarly strong characterization for Crichton and Aeryn Sun, albeit not in quite so concentrated a form. Crichton’s journey is signposted with his father’s words, while Crichton suggests Aeryn Sun’s path when he tells her she can be more than her Peacekeeper training and that she doesn’t have to accept the death sentence that comes with her newfound status as irreversibly contaminated. Elsewhere, “Premiere” has to walk a fine line in depicting Crichton as both resourceful and hopelessly out of his depth. He’s clever enough to distract the Peacekeeper guards with Yuri Gargarin’s toy, but he doesn’t have a clue how to actually use the pulse pistol once he gets his hands on it.
In an earlier scene, he deftly pockets a fork for escape purposes after Aeryn’s own attempt is detected, but he isn’t actually sure whether this is the right decision. My favorite exchange of the episode comes when Crichton tries to convince Aeryn not to sabotage Moya on grounds of compassion, a term with which Aeryn is unfamiliar. This could be a clichéd moment, as the narrow-minded alien is taught a lesson by the wise human. But the scene repeatedly subverts expectations: Crichton is dumbfounded and irritated that anyone could be that ignorant; Aeryn gives a look of genuine, childlike puzzlement (a particularly well-acted moment by Claudia Black); and then, when Crichton explains the emotion, Aeryn replies, “Ah, I know this feeling—I hate it.” This sentiment demonstrates just how wide the gulf is between humans and Peacekeepers, and Crichton in turn offers the only sane response, declaring that he’s on the wrong team. The question that “Premiere” leaves intriguingly open is whether there’s a right team.
For those new to Farscape, “Premiere” may not always offer the clearest argument for why the show is worth watching. It’s resolutely weird and isn’t always easy to follow—it probably needs to be watched a couple times before everything makes sense. Moreover, some of the setup for the long-term narrative can seem overly broad. In particular, there’s little to suggest Crais is more than a nasty, one-dimensional villain, as he openly abuses his power and destroys innocent people’s lives in pursuit of a personal vendetta. For anyone skeptical about Farscape after “Premiere”, my advice is to keep watching. If you’re uncertain about the characters or their relationships, then just know that Farscape’s greatest strength is in how it fearlessly subverts expectations and shifts the status quo. That isn’t meant as a spoiler, but as a promise: Just about everyone and everything we encounter in “Premiere” is going to be reexamined and is going to change. This episode isn’t so concerned with telling an epic story that kicks off the Farscape saga. Instead, it’s a starting point, something we can look back at as a reminder of just how deep into alien territory Farscape is going to take us on the coming journey. So, as Pilot would say, claw onto something, people, and prepare for starburst.
“I’m curious about Crichton.” “Far too complex, I’m afraid, for you to know in the short time that you’ll be here. I suggest you shouldn’t try.”
“Back And Back And Back To The Future”—henceforward referred to just as “Future”, because I refuse to write the word “Back” thirty more times—represents an evolution in the kind of stories Farscape is willing to tell. While the show’s premise has always been weird, the plots the show has pursued so far have boiled down to straightforward, relatively normal concepts. “Premiere” is just about explaining the setup, “I, E.T.” is about Crichton looking for a vital material and making first contact with an alien race, “Throne For A Loss” is about Rygel getting kidnapped, and even the fairly weird “Exodus From Genesis” is essentially another story of alien races meeting and interacting. With “Future,” Farscape expands its repertoire by messing around with a form of time travel. It makes for a much more complex episode structurally, and it signals that the show is willing to tackle all the great outlandish sci-fi tropes. This is easily the highlight of the first batch of episodes.
Before we get to the temporal craziness, it’s also worth noting how “Future” handles sex. Put simply, none of this story would unfold the way it does if D’Argo weren’t so damn horny. He again mentions his eight cycles of Peacekeeper imprisonment, first in the context of his ignorance of the Ilanic-Scorvian war but then in terms of just how long it’s been since he’s had sex. As he notes at the end of “Future,” he wouldn’t normally be so affected by a woman during a crisis, but it’s been so damn long—something Crichton ruefully says he understands. In “Premiere,” Zhaan suggested D’Argo was still a boy by Luxan standards, and Anthony Simcoe plays D’Argo like an awkward teenager; he’s too bashful to discuss his feelings for Matala with Verell, and his intonations and body language when Crichton interrupts his flirting with Matala is a wonderfully funny display of romantic ineptitude. For “Future” to work, D’Argo needs to temporarily ally himself with Matala against the Moya crew. The pact between the Luxans and the Ilanics could provide adequate motivation, but it’s a dry, abstract reason for D’Argo to oppose Crichton. His motivations go beyond more staid concepts like honor or even love—D’Argo is blinded by lust, projecting his own desperation onto Crichton and so ignoring the human’s very real concerns. The episode’s frank approach to sex gives D’Argo’s actions a visceral, primal edge that would otherwise be absent.
If “Future” has a weakness, it’s in the Ilanics. Lisa Hensley’s performance as Matala is deeply strange, full of odd pauses and affected line readings that sometimes sound alien and devious but sometimes just sound stilted. There’s never really any doubt that Matala is the villain of the story, but then tricky enough keeping track of where Crichton is up to in time without also trying to sort out multiple characters’ allegiances; as such, this over-the-top, transparently evil performance serves a useful narrative function. Even so, this is a love-it or hate-it kind of performance, and I’m still not entirely into which camp I fall. The look of the Ilanics generally works well, conveying the sense that these are the Luxans’ less fearsome genetic cousins. Matala’s appearance has to pull off the tricky feat of being attractive both to a Luxan like D’Argo and, at least theoretically, to a human like Crichton. The drawback to the Ilanic makeup is one that Ben Browder and episode director Rowan Woods point out on the commentary—to avoid making his giant tentacles jiggle about, Verell actor John Clayton has to remain perfectly still at all times. He still turns in a good performance despite being virtually immobile, but there are a few times in the episode where he appears frozen in place for no clear reason, in particular when Matala first puts the moves on D’Argo. While the Ilanic makeup works well aesthetically, it’s a bit of a misfire from a practical perspective.
Crichton’s temporal disclocation drives the episode, although it’s disguised early on. Anyone who knows the title of the episode is likely to guess that Crichton’s apparent sexual fantasies are in fact flashes of the future, but his scenes with Matala are so dark and so bizarre that it’s easy to see why the original audience might have been flummoxed in the early going. As such, Crichton’s vision of a conversation he’s about to have with Aeryn in ten seconds’ time is a key pivot, a sequence that works well in keying both Crichton and the audience into the nature of this seemingly impossible phenomenon. It’s also a fun example in miniature of the episode’s narrative complexity, as Crichton’s stunned reaction to Aeryn in the “future” is revealed to itself be the effect of déjà vu, something he only experiences in the “present” because he just saw what was about to happen. The scene gleefully muddles causality and garbles the timeline, and that only increases as Crichton gets more and more unstuck in time, to use the phrase Crichton fittingly borrows from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
The episode’s most fiendish misdirection comes when Crichton discusses his situation with Zhaan and experiences multiple lengthy visions of the future—except because there’s no clear gap between present and future, Crichton doesn’t realize what’s going on until he snaps back to Zhaan’s quarters. Crichton breaking the masks serves as an effective signpost for when Crichton embarks upon a new timeline; fittingly, it’s an accident the first two times, but he intentionally smashes the mask on his last time through to indicate his renewed, possibly insane sense of purpose. The second snapback is particularly sadistic, as Crichton’s vision takes up an entire act of the episode and features crucial scenes between first D’Argo and Matala and then Crichton and Virell before concluding with Moya’s fatal implosion as the Ilanics’ black hole destabilizes. The return to Zhaan’s quarters at the end of all that stands as Farscape’s most daring narrative risk to date, and it pays off brilliantly.
“Future” wouldn’t work as nearly as well as it does if not for Ben Browder’s frantic, unhinged performance, as he forcefully conveys Crichton’s growing madness as he is forced to relive the same events over and over. Browder is faced with a near-impossible task, considering he has to somehow convey the incomprehensible idea that Crichton is experiencing the pain of his own death in the future, then returning to the present safe and sound. He’s aided in this task by Rowan Woods, whose subtly claustrophobic direction—as he explains on the commentary, he used the same angles for each time through Zhaan’s quarters, only went for tighter close-ups each time—plays up the idea that time is collapsing around Crichton, leaving him without so much as the present to call his own.
The episode’s conclusion, in which Crichton finally finds a sequence of events in which he can defeat Matala, feels like a slight letdown after all the temporal insanity, although it’s hard to complain too much about a resolution in which Moya starbursts to safety just as Matala’s singularity-crippled shuttle crashes into the disguised Scorvian cruiser. And more than that display of visual effects, “Future” finds an ending that again hints at further hidden depths for its characters. After all, D’Argo only joins Crichton’s side once the human reveals that, in another version of events, he overheard D’Argo admitting that nobody on board Moya knows his true crime. All this is really just teasing a much bigger revelation down the line, but for now it simply provides D’Argo a strong, character-based reason to listen to Crichton, not to mention the first moment in which the human indisputably has the upper hand over the Luxan. In an episode full of incredible moments, that one might actually be the most remarkable.
According to The A.V. Club review of That Old Black Magic:
“You called her a warrior. You could not have cut her more deeply.”
“That Old Black Magic” is one seriously weird episode of Farscape. I realize that that’s true of every episode to one extent or another, but temporal dislocation and Genesis-created clones are nothing compared to an honest-to-goodness dark wizard. The introduction of Maldis pushes the show away from strict science fiction and into fantasy territory; the creative team has likened the character to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s similarly omnipotent Q, but that show at least offered some explanation as to how such a being could fit into its universe. Maldis, on the other hand, is given only the flimsiest of background stories, and it really just boils down to the fact that he’s a wizard (or soul vampire, if you prefer), and he’s evil. He’s also an over-the-top, megalomaniacal villain that flips between cartoonish personas and silly voices just because he can. He’s not bound by any apparent laws of the universe, at least not until Zhaan shows up to kick his ass. But up to that rather glorious moment, Maldis doesn’t so much expand the scope of the Farscape universe as he does push it to its breaking point. His supernatural powers are only part of that, as he also reveals just what the main characters are capable of if they are pushed far enough.
Maldis isn’t really a character in his own right; Chris Haywood is entertainingly theatrical as Maldis and his alter egos Igg and Haloth, but he isn’t given much to play beyond stock satanic villainy. Really, Maldis is an all-powerful plot device, one that can facilitate the narratively crucial meeting between Crichton and his accidental nemesis, Captain Bialar Crais. This is Crais’ first appearance since “Premiere,” and his character was only thinly sketched out in his debut. In particular, the death of his brother—who isn’t even given a name until this episode—happened so quickly and so immediately upon Crichton’s arrival that it never really registered as a crucial dramatic moment. The Maldis-generated flashbacks of Crais’ past are an unsubtle, vaguely clunky way to reveal why the Peacekeeper is so obsessed with revenge, but they do at least offer some insight into why Crais is so damaged. Aeryn has made it clear that she and most other Peacekeepers were born into service, but Crais was the child of a Sebacean farmer, and he and his brother Tauvo were forcibly conscripted into the Peacekeepers when still little boys. Considering how emotionally limited Peacekeeper service has left Aeryn, it’s not hard to imagine how traumatic the experience could be for someone like Crais who wasn’t bred for service. It also explains his overwhelming contempt for any authority that isn’t his own.
Still, what really makes Crais work in “That Old Black Magic” is Lani Tupu’s fearless, unhinged performance. Crais is so crazy that he almost doesn’t count as a villain, as villainy would imply some level of thought underlies the malice. The captain is an animal, a creature of unreasoning, instinctual rage. Even when Crichton makes a persuasive argument that he had nothing to do with Tauvo’s death, Crais says it doesn’t matter; he has set his mind on killing Crichton, and nothing will stand in his way. He flagrantly disobeys his superior’s commands to give up the search, and he keeps his word as a Peacekeeper for roughly five seconds before he tries to kill Crichton again. Maldis actually points out that he is far more trustworthy than Crais, even if the wizard does mislead Crichton when he says that he will let one of the two combatants go.
That line offers a neat distinction as to why Maldis is more classically villainous than Crais; the former relies on deceit and subterfuge, whereas the latter is essentially a rabid beast that fate has unwisely put in charge of a Peacekeeper Command Carrier. Crais is so obviously psychologically scarred that it’s tempting to feel sympathy for him, as there’s a pathetic undertone to his madness. But then Crais breaks the neck of Lieutenant Fenra Teeg, the only person in the universe who gave him her unquestioning loyalty. It’s a brutal, unexpected moment, and whatever happens with Crais from here on out, this action marks him forever as a cold-blooded killer.
Meanwhile, Zhaan must tap into the dark side of her psychic powers to defeat Maldis. Her violent past has been hinted at before—most effectively when she threated the Tavlek boy in “Throne For A Loss”—but this is the first time we understand just how powerful she really is. The episode presents a clumsy, overly strong dichotomy between “good” and “evil” magic, although the most effective dichotomy is actually the visual one between the serene, blue-skinned Zhaan and the angry, magenta-skinned Liko. I’m not exactly sure the episode makes a strong enough argument as to why Zhaan needs to prove she can hurt adorable little two-headed birds before she turns her attention to someone like Maldis, who actually deserves to suffer at her hands; then again, this all sets up Zhaan remotely torturing Rygel, so it’s hard to quibble too much with this. Still, while her final scene with Crichton briefly reveals the inner rage that has been unleashed, it’s difficult within the context of the episode to blame Zhaan too much for using her powers against Maldis. The episode hints at the beginning of a darker arc for Zhaan as she struggles to regain her serenity, but it doesn’t quite snap into focus here.
The other major flaw of “That Old Black Magic” is the depiction of the commerce planet. While the opening scenes give some sense of the larger marketplace, the episode almost entirely takes place inside Liko’s shop, and just about everything we learn about the planet comes from the broken priest’s dialgoue. Grant Bowler turns in a game performance, but he’s basically being asked to support the entire planet on his shoulders, and his complicated backstory—which involves a failed revolt against Maldis and a humiliating forced existence as a shopkeeper—is tricky enough for him to sell without also getting into how the entire rest of the planet works. In its previous depictions of alien planets, Farscape has achieved an impressive sense of scale, but here the planet is little more than a storefront and an alleyway.
Still, while Crais and Zhaan most clearly cross the line, the episode also more subtly pushes Crichton into darker territory. He fulfills the straightforward, morally upright role for most of the episode, believing that he can appeal to Crais’ sense of reason even long after it becomes clear that his adversary is a lunatic. Maldis delights in torturing Crichton, in proving that the human’s morality is worthless when faced with a kill-or-be-killed scenario. It’s not unusual for sci-fi protagonists to be confronted with an impossible scenario such as this, but what’s shocking is that Crichton eventually accepts Maldis’ terms. Before the wizard transports Crais back to the command carrier, Crichton is about to break his adversary’s neck, and there’s no indication given that Crichton would have lost his nerve at the last moment. For that brief instant, Crichton is a killer, and though the episode ultimately lets him off the hook, that sequence is crucial in defining the extreme limits of Crichton’s character. While the show’s resident human has generally demonstrated a straightforward heroic streak that has set him apart from the others onboard Moya, it turns out he can be every bit as dangerous as D’Argo or Aeryn. By episode’s end, he learns reason and compassion can’t always help him out here, and he must either adapt or die.
According to The A.V. Club review of DNA Mad Scientist:
When I first started watching Farscape last December, this was the episode that made me realize this would be unlike any other science fiction show I had seen. When I first watched Namtar demand Pilot’s arm in exchange for detailed star charts back to Zhaan’s, Rygel’s, and D’Argo’s home planets, I assumed this would be the big moral dilemma that would drive the episode. After eight episodes, I knew the crew of Moya had a more flexible moral code than that of, say, the crew of the Enterprise, and so I figured that our heroes would at least consider Namtar’s proposal before ultimately rejecting it. The structure of “DNA Mad Scientist” certainly suggests that approach to the story; Namtar’s demand and the crew’s horrified reactions are placed directly before the opening credits, which is the moment one would expect to see the episode’s primary conflict spelled out. But I never imagined they would actually chop the damn arm off.
It’s not just that Zhaan, Rygel, and D’Argo cut off Pilot’s arm; it’s that they do it in the first ten minutes of the episode. If they have any qualms about betraying Pilot, the episode certainly doesn’t show us. And, right up to the very last scene of the episode, none of them apologizes to Pilot or even really acknowledges just how horrific their actions have been. D’Argo does eventually find a Luxan way to apologize, and it’s not shocking that Rygel never shows remorse, but Zhaan, the ship’s supposed moral compass, never makes even the slightest conciliatory gesture. She even has the gall to cheerily ask Pilot how he’s feeling, as though she wasn’t one of the three people who cut off his arm in the first place. Farscape is hardly the only science fiction show to present morally compromised protagonists—and it certainly wasn’t the first, because Blake’s 7 exists, for a start—but what makes “DNA Mad Scientist” so bold is that it bypasses the part where the characters are supposed to wrestle with the moral conundrum. The show doesn’t meticulously lead us to the point where we can understand why these three would do something so abhorrent; it cuts right to them doing the deed, and then it dares us to keep following, even rooting for them.
Earlier, I used words like “heroes” and “crew” to describe the inhabitants of Moya, but neither of these is really accurate, at least not yet. “Crew” implies that these people are a unit, that they swear allegiance to some common cause. Before this episode, they at least shared the goals to survive and to evade imprisonment, and Crichton provided a certain lofty idealism, but it’s easy to forget how many of their seemingly actions had self-serving undercurrents. Zhaan didn’t fight Maldis just to save Crichton or to free that planet, but also because it was the only way she could hope to escape the wizard’s grasp. Nobody actually wanted to save Rygel in “Throne For A Loss,” but they needed to recover the vital crystal. In “DNA Mad Scientist,” our protagonists’ goals no longer overlap, so they instantly, unapologetically turn on each other.
The introduction of Namtar’s crystal turns the rest of the trio’s story into what is essentially Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, as they scheme, propose alliances, and then immediately backstab one another in pursuit of the knowledge necessary to return home. Virginia Hey is the standout here, adding a harsh, manipulative edge to Zhaan that keeps the audience continually off-balance. Rygel and D’Argo may be treacherous here, but they are basically forthright about their intentions; D’Argo might be lying about his promise to supply Rygel with a phalanx of Luxan warriors, but he doesn’t bother to keep up the pretense for very long. Zhaan, seemingly the most virtuous person on Moya, is also the most desperate to get back. She allows herself to be flattered by the obviously evil Namtar, and she defends his work as some of the most revolutionary in the galaxy; at least D’Argo, who also find Namtar’s work impressive, takes a cynically violent view of the research. Zhaan’s attempted seduction of Rygel is a great moment not only for Hey but also for Rygel’s operators and his voice actor, Jonathan Hardy. For all its bizarre sexuality and mixing of scale, the scene shows a new side of Rygel’s vulnerability, as he meekly admits he isn’t “a body breeder”—a term producers Rockne O’Bannon and David Kemper admit on the DVD commentary that they never quite defined, but it captures the idea that Rygel is stranded with a group of people who don’t even share his most basic anatomy. It’s one of several little moments that give us some sense of why these three would be lonely and desperate enough to betray Pilot so brutally.
While Zhaan, Rygel, and D’Argo are caught up in this psychological drama, Crichton and Aeryn face the even more unsavory task of navigating their way through a horror movie. Namtar is a particularly daring Creature Shop creation, as his proportions are massively inhuman; Ben Browder and Claudia Black detail on their commentary track the insane lengths operator Adrian Getley had to go to portray Namtar, which involved walking around on stilts and encasing his own head inside Namtar’s torso. The result is an impressively unnerving beast, although Farscape makes his design so weird that it can be hard to accept him as a real, living being. This episode revels in making the audience uncomfortable, as both Namtar’s creator-cum-servant Kornata and the transformed, Pilot-like Aeryn are memorably grotesque creations. Director Andrew Prowse, who previously worked on “Premiere,” shoots a lot of the action in Namtar’s laboratory with various obstructions in the foreground, creating an even more claustrophobic atmosphere in the dark, dingy setting. While Crichton and Aeryn don’t reveal the same sort of internal darkness as the others do, their half of the episode features more than enough external nastiness to make up for it. This is a seriously dark episode.
“DNA Mad Scientist” reveals some crucial vulnerabilities for Aeryn Sun. As she points out, her situation is arguably even worse than Crichton’s; while he may not know where his home is, she knows exactly where she should be, but she can never return to it. Aeryn has matured enough that she at least can now articulate her own limitations, as she explains to Crichton that her Peacekeeper breeding makes it impossible for her to imagine being alone. That primal terror is what leads her back into Namtar’s den, and she pays dearly for that moment of weakness. During the conclusion, she notes that her hellish transformation forced her to confront the possibility that survival in and of itself is not enough, that she has an existence and a consciousness that endure even when her body is ripped away from her, and that these are worth protecting. Crichton told her back in “Premiere” that she can be more than her Peacekeeper training, and she discovered new facets of herself in “Thank God It’s Friday, Again,” but this is the first time Aeryn has realized that she must be more than she once was. Like the others, “DNA Mad Scientist” takes Aeryn to a point from which there is no return. The only question now is how they all choose to proceed.
According to The A.V. Club review of Rhapsody in Blue:
“Whilst in your mind, you have showed me the ember of my own virtue.” “Next time, ask.”
Moya is a ship of escaped prisoners, but that’s not the same thing as a ship of escaped criminals. After the revelations of “They’ve Got A Secret,” we now know that D’Argo was framed for the murder of his wife. As Dominar of the Hynerian empire, Rygel probably had more than his fair share of tyrannical moments, but he was the victim of his cousin’s palace coup, not some democratic movement. And while Aeryn might well be hiding some atrocities in her Peacekeeper past, she and Crichton are only fugitives because of Crais’ insane capriciousness. These characters may be untrustworthy, even dangerous, but on some level, they are all innocent, at least in the sense that none of them deserve to be in Peacekeeper custody. But then there’s Zhaan, who is completely, unequivocally guilty of her crime. Indeed, as a horrified Crichton learns, she actually murdered the last man she loved in cold blood.
The main purpose of “Rhapsody In Blue” is to flesh out Delvian culture and Zhaan’s place in it. Since the Moya crew is still lost somewhere in the Uncharted Territories—and, just as importantly, the show’s budget places a fairly strict limit on how many blue-skinned aliens can actually appear—the episode has to explain Zhaan’s world without ever visiting it. In its place, the episode presents a breakaway sect of priests and priestesses, who fled the Peacekeeper-assisted oppression of their home planet. There’s a ton of backstory to get through here, especially when it’s only split amongst five Delvians, and the end result are a bunch of moderately stilted scenes in which the various priests swap thinly veiled exposition. For instance, Darlene Vogel and Michael Beckley try their best with the early scene in which Hasko lectures Lorana about the perils of Tahleen’s approach, but the scene is ultimately two characters we have only just met talking about some other character we have only just met. The actors don’t know their characters—or even their characters’ species—well enough yet to convey the complicated emotions the scene would require to really work. Hasko is petulant and Lorana is dismissive, but there isn’t much nuance beyond that.
Admittedly, these problems could theoretically be extended to just about any Farscape guest alien, although the Delvians are unusual in that they don’t actually interact with the main characters for much of the episode; Zhaan has some scenes with Tahleen, but once they share unity and Zhaan is driven insane, Tahleen mostly just deals with her fellow missionaries. David Kemper’s script gives the Delvians tremendous power, which they use to distract the Moya crew and keep them away. While that makes sense from a story perspective, it’s more questionable in terms of the individual characters; with Crichton or the rest of the crew unable to act as a focal point, it’s harder for the audience to connect with the Delvians. It doesn’t help that the Delvians’ defining features are their telepathic abilities and their spirituality, which are both difficult to make into compelling television. It’s especially hard to convey clear dramatic stakes when so much of the action takes place in the characters’ minds; it’s revealed that Zhaan is unique in her ability to explore her dark side without going mad, and Tahleen hopes to augment her own powers with this skill, which Tuzak says his daughter will use both to kill and possibly to liberate her fellow Delvians. These plot points all make sense in the abstract, and they are defined well enough to justify Tahleen’s villainy, but they don’t carry much weight emotionally.
Despite all that, “Rhapsody In Blue” is a largely successful episode, and a lot of that is down to Virginia Hey’s performance as Zhaan. Hey is far more experienced than the other Delvian actors in finding the emotional core that underlies her monologues. She makes the most of her showier scenes, like when she explains why she committed her crime to Crichton or when she, newly insane, playfully reveals her plans to kill Tahleen. But she also is able to lend much-needed weight to quieter exchanges, as when she praises the mad Tuzak for his teaches and he commends her for her choice of murder victims. “Rhapsody In Blue” gives Zhaan the spotlight much as “They’ve Got A Secret” did for D’Argo, and if this episode is not as immediately accessible as the previous one, that’s likely because the Luxan has shown a more human emotional register. Zhaan goes straight from serene to murderously insane, and the script doesn’t even really try to make these two facets of the character coherent. Tahleen’s betrayal during unity effectively robs Zhaan of part of her mind, part of her very soul, so the madwoman who emerges is not the Zhaan we know. Virginia Hey fully commits to each different Zhaan, creating the emotional arc that drives “Rhapsody In Blue.”
Zhaan’s crewmates spend much of the episode distracted by the Delvian mindfrells. It’s instructive to look at the different ways in which the priests mentally cripple the crew. D’Argo, unsurprisingly, forgets about everything else when he believes his son Jothee is being chased by Peacekeepers. The episode makes explicit Rygel’s latent insecurities when he believes he has shrunk to an even smaller size. The way that Aeryn is immobilized is particularly revealing; whereas the Delvians manipulate the other characters’ deepest fears and desires, Aeryn has no such vulnerabilities to play on, so a more direct approach is required; the priests simply knock out the part of Aeryn’s brain that knows how to use a weapon. It’s a fiercely logical, unemotional approach to a character, and it implies that, for all Aeryn’s growth over the last few episodes, she is still a shallow person. She’s quickly learning about her emotions and her potential, but she doesn’t yet have a history that can be abused.
Crichton, meanwhile, spends most of the episode hallucinating Alex, an old girlfriend from back on Earth. Neither the script nor Ben Browder and Darlene Vogel’s performances suggest this was some epic romance. Instead, Alex represents a love that just never quite worked out, and a connection to a world Crichton may never see again. “Rhapsody In Blue” is at its most daring in its treatment of Crichton’s fantasies; every time it appears our great human hero is on the verge of figuring out the deception, the Delvians push again, and his memories rearrange to accept the new reality. Crichton’s personality and concern for Zhaan remain unchanged, but he is forced to split time between her and Alex, who he soon believes to have been his copilot on Farscape-1. That fantasy lasts right up to when, in the episode’s cleverest move, he tries to convince Alex that she is real, that her claim that she doesn’t exist is itself Delvian trickery.
Crichton’s fundamental decency is what ultimately convinces Lorana to release him—although he does quite understandably reprimand her for invading his mind to discover that decency—and it’s his belief in Zhaan that allows him to survive unity and restore his friend’s sanity, as he shares with her how he sees her. It’s a great character moment to build the climax around, especially since there’s no real guarantee that Crichton will survive Delvian unity with his mind intact. “Rhapsody In Blue” isn’t entirely successful, but the episode works because it ably explains just who Zhaan is and why she matters so much to Crichton.
According to The A.V. Club review of Durka Returns:
“Make sure the others know that she’s capable of violence.” “So are we.”
“Durka Returns” feels like both a culmination of one story and the beginning of another. A sequel of sorts to “PK Tech Girl,” the episode reveals the true fates of both the Zelbinion and its captain, Selto Durka. His survival as a mind-cleansed servant of the technologically advanced, conformity-obsessed Nebari is the big twist that opens the episode, but it’s just one of several ways in which the episode defies expectations. Three guest characters come aboard Moya in this episode: one who Rygel has met before, one who we only know briefly, and one who ends the episode as the newest member of our band of fugitives. Neither Durka, Salis, nor Chiana is easily categorized as good or evil—well, it soon becomes clear that none of them are good in any straightforward sense, but the real question is whether any of them can be trusted. These are possibly the three best characters Farscape has come up with since the main cast was introduced way back in “Premiere,” and their interactions both with the crew and with each other yields an episode that is every bit the towering success that “Jeremiah Crichton” isn’t.
At the risk of giving away a rather basic spoiler, there’s going to be plenty of time in future reviews to discuss Chiana, but it’s still worth praising the work Gigi Edgley does in her debut episode. Her off-kilter line readings and body language mark her as an alien presence along the same lines as Matala in “Back And Back And Back To The Future” or Volmae in “Thank God It’s Friday, Again,” but Edgley doesn’t just play Chiana as weird and otherworldly; she also incorporates more straightforward line readings that indicate her desperation when threatening Rygel or her anxiety when failing to lure Durka into the chamber. Everything about Chiana—Edgley’s performance, Grant McAloon’s script, and Tony Tilse’s direction, which repeatedly places Chiana and Crichton in each other’s personal space—marks her as an alien seductress, but there’s also a clear sense of the psychological damage lurking just beneath the amoral, hypersexual exterior. “Durka Returns” never allows the audience to get comfortable with Chiana, and every time it seems like she might be deserving of Crichton’s—and, by extension, our—trust, the story twists once more, including the devastatingly ambiguous final exchange.
Still, Chiana wouldn’t be nearly as effective if the Nebari in general weren’t so well-drawn. Their monochrome appearance is Farscape’s most memorable alien design since the Luxans and the Delvians, and the gray complexion is the perfect aesthetic complement to the Nebari’s fixation with emotional balance and conformity. The script quickly establishes the Nebari as a serious threat with Salis’ offhand remark that the Nebari ship that destroyed the Zelbinion, the most feared Peacekeeper command carrier of its day, would not even be considered a military craft, but it’s Salis himself who makes the Nebari a truly unnerving presence. The episode briefly considers his perspective when he inquires of a suspicious Crichton, “You crippled our ship, endangered our lives, disrupted our plans; are you now the arbiter of our justice system, as well?” But it doesn’t take long for Salis to show his true (mostly gray) colors, as he calmly demands Rygel be turned over to Nebari custody and observes Zhaan could also benefit from mental cleansing. Salis and the race he represents aren’t scary because they can destroy the Zelbinion and wipe people’s minds; they are scary because they believe that they have the right to do so, and indeed, as Chiana angrily observes, that they are doing everyone else a favor when they make such decisions. Their morality doesn’t just allow them to tamper with people’s minds against the willing—it demands it.
Building on Salis’ assessment of the situation, “Durka Returns” provides the clearest example yet of what will fast become a Farscape hallmark, as the travelers onboard Moya aren’t here to solve problems so much as fix problems of their own creation. There’s no reason to think that the mentally cleansed Durka is anything but sincere when he claims to be a changed man and rejects his earlier violence, which means Rygel is entirely responsible for unleashing the very monster he most fears. After his brief run as a beloved leader in “Jeremiah Crichton,” Rygel is back to being dismissed and insulted, which makes it slightly more understandable that he takes matters into his own hands and tries to blow up Durka. Then again, Crichton is standing right next to Durka when the bomb rolls in, and the pregnant Moya’s hangar bay is also put at risk. As such, any sympathy for Rygel from either the audience or his shipmates is short-lived, especially when Crichton snarls that he’s going to kill the Hynerian for this. Some of the viewer’s potential sympathy for Rygel is rooted in knowledge of science fiction tropes; on most other shows, it would be revealed that Durka is indeed faking his rehabilitation or some random accident would undo his conditioning. We know that Rygel will be proved right about Durka, or else there wouldn’t be much point to bringing him back in the first place, but the episode subverts expectations by turning Rygel’s fears into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Once Durka shakes off the Nebari conditioning, he proves a fearsome foe for the rest of the episode, wresting control of Moya from Pilot and trapping D’Argo in a shaft. As Crichton explains to an understandably baffled Chiana, Durka goes Hannibal Lecter on them all, although for all his competence as a villain, “Durka Returns” subtly undercuts him. After all, Aeryn defiantly laughs off his threats, and Rygel redeems himself with his big speech in which he declares that Durka never broke him, and he never will. Durka may be ruthlessly efficient and utterly amoral, but this episode suggests that can only take you so far on Farscape, especially when taking on a pregnant Leviathan and her passengers, all of whom are varying degrees of crazy. In one of the episode’s best exchanges, the Peacekeeper swears he will hunt down and kill Crichton, and the human’s response is simply, “Get in line, Durka!”
After all, the ultimate point of “Durka Returns” is that the show’s most dangerous characters aren’t necessarily the obvious villains. At first, the episode seems to halfheartedly sell the misdirection that Chiana killed Salis as setup for Durka’s big reveal, but the episode’s final scene reveals the opposite might be true, that Durka’s return to villainy might have allowed Chiana to get away with murder. Crichton’s question to Chiana is shocking, not only because it calls into question Chiana’s innocence—she might not just be the rebellious but basically goodhearted victim of an oppressive society—but also because it reveals how much Crichton has learned from his time in this universe. His earlier suggestion to Chiana that she start trusting somebody shows his early idealism has been replaced with a harsher, more practical outlook, but it’s still stunning to see our hero casually accuse his apparent newest friend of murder. Chiana offers no denial, and Crichton gives no indication he will press the point, explaining that he owes her at least that much. It’s a morally complex, fiendishly ambiguous way to end the episode, and it’s the episode’s last, best indication that, the previous misfire notwithstanding, Farscape won’t just be all right. It’s going to be great.
According to The A.V. Club review of Through The Looking Glass:
“Listen sunshine, you want to be part of this crew?” “On your good days.” “This is one of the good days!”
“Through The Looking Glass” is a frelling masterpiece. As great as both “Durka Returns” and “A Human Reaction” are, this episode represents Farscape reaching another stage in its growth. Those two previous episodes represented the show figuring out how its own formula works, what makes an hour of television distinctly Farscape. They are unique stories, ones that could only work in this show’s universe, and they represent the show’s emergence as a creative endeavor that can stand on its own two feet without having to define itself in terms of Star Trek, Star Wars, or whatever else. That’s all vitally important, but “Through The Looking Glass” pulls off what might be an even more impressive feat. This episode takes one of the Star Trek universe’s favorite story structures—specifically, the mysterious space anomaly that seems to tear at the very fabric of the universe—and it puts an unmistakable Farscape stamp on the story.
That’s not exactly surprising, considering David Kemper originally conceived the basic story as an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it represents the show at its most confident. Where before Farscape had aped other shows—including The Next Generation itself in “I, E.T.”—because it was still working out what Farscape even was, here the show is strong enough to borrow an iconic Star Trek narrative structure while still proudly maintaining its own identity. That’s evident from the opening scene, in which our heroes share a terrible meal and a tense conversation about their future plans. The scene emphasizes their divergent agendas, as D’Argo wants to leave Moya to find his son, Zhaan and Rygel both fear Moya’s pregnancy makes her an ineffective vessel in which to evade the Peacekeepers, and Aeryn pledges to remain by Moya’s side, in part because she has nowhere else to go. Crichton is the only one who really tries to convince the others to follow his lead, but as D’Argo pithily observes, his arguments are “selfishness masquerading as reason.” The real reason Crichton wants to stay in the Uncharted Territories is because he wants to find a wormhole back to Earth, but he’s the only one unwilling to be unflinchingly honest about his real motivations.
All this talk of abandoning Moya frightens the ship so much that she attempts immediate starburst in order to prove her worth, and that mistake sets the rest of the episode in motion. Again, it’s one thing to say that Farscape is different from Star Trek because the former’s characters disagree with and distrust each other, but it’s something else to see that concept actively drive the story. It’s possible to imagine the Enterprise getting stuck mid-warp just as Moya gets stuck mid-starburst, but this would be down to some freak spatial anomaly or some error in engineering. Here, the characters’ plight is a direct result of their infighting and their failure to communicate, and the ship itself is arguably the biggest culprit. Crichton and company are the architects of their own destruction, which lends their desperate attempt to escape—not to mention their celebratory meal afterward—extra impact. On other shows, the main characters cooperating to solve a problem would represent a status quo so basic that it wouldn’t even be worth explicitly acknowledging. Here, that cooperation provides a readymade character arc for everybody on the show.
Much like “A Human Reaction,” this episode is told more or less entirely from Crichton’s perspective, as we only see the other characters when he shares a dimension with them. Though this episode doesn’t provide Ben Browder with as much of an acting challenge as its predecessor, he does nicely capture Crichton’s growing frustration with… well, with everything. Crichton gets some great one-liners, including his advice to Chiana on how best to piss off the monster and his rejoinder to Zhaan when she muses what might lie beyond the normal dimensions. Mostly though, Crichton just has to anchor the episode, providing a steady, competent presence that eventually becomes heroic through sheer determination. This episode also reminds us that Crichton is fundamentally a scientist, which explains why he keeps locating the portals between dimensions whereas his more action-oriented compatriots just wander around aimlessly. In one of the episode’s best ideas, Crichton repeatedly and inexplicably refuses to fire at the creature, which prompts harsh criticism from the soldierly Aeryn. But then Crichton recognizes the creature is using prime numbers—one of the most basic ways to demonstrate intelligence, and quite possibly how we really would initiate contact with extraterrestrials if we ever encountered them—and trusts that his otherworldly tête-à-tête won’t end with his horrible death. Although, as he points out, everyone is going to be dead soon enough anyway, so what does it really matter?
A big part of this episode’s brilliance lies in its handling of the supporting characters; everyone has a distinct, clearly defined reaction to the insanity that unfolds around them. Zhaan doesn’t get much to do in this episode, but Virginia Hey conveys such abject terror in her characters’s reactions to the others’ disappearances. She is scared beyond words, and she recovers only insofar as she spends the rest of the episode quietly preparing for death. Chiana is similarly petrified, and while her revelation about the destruction of Nebari colonies is little more than an afterthought amidst all the other ideas, Gigi Edgley plays the scene well enough for it to have some impact in the moment, even if it’s quickly gets lost in the shuffle. D’Argo benefits from his time in the red dimension because it effectively cancels out his usual obstinacy. He’s in too much pain to sit in constant judgment of Crichton or to maintain his constant rage, so he just shifts to wearily irritated, which proves much more relatable. He orders Crichton not to throw up in Pilot’s den, which Crichton completely fails to do. Anthony Simcoe gets in a reliably great delivery with his, “No, I do not want that here,” and his subsequent mocking sigh is a great comedic moment in an episode full of them.
Let’s return to the hypothetical episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the Enterprise gets splintered between dimensions and Picard has to go hopping from one to the other. I can imagine Picard enduring such an experience, but I can’t imagine it being as, well, annoying as what Crichton goes through. It’s particularly bold to feature deafening noise as the defining trait of the blue dimension, and it’s down to Farscape’s growing faith in its audience that they even attempt such an endurance test. Aeryn is the perfect one to get stuck in this dimension, and not just because she and Crichton prove adorable charades partners. She makes the most progress in Crichton’s absence, rigging up headsets that allow them to communicate over the din. While the pair’s experiences in “A Human Reaction” aren’t directly addressed, their relationship is portrayed differently here than in previous episodes; there’s a playfulness to their interactions that suggests, even in the midst of all this hell, they enjoy spending time with each other and trust each other implicitly, something that wasn’t true even a few weeks back.
“Through The Looking Glass” is a joyous, triumphant exploration of all the things Farscape can do that no other show could. The show encapsulates all that right at the end of the episode, as the gang sits down together for another dinner, which this time around is full of laughter and communal spirit. The two meals are the perfect bookends for this episode, as they emphasize how important the groups dynamics are to Farscape, and how much they can change over the course of a single episode. This time, at long last, our heroes get a complete, unqualified victory, and they respond with appropriate jubilation. Enjoy it now, because it isn’t to go last for long.
According to The A.V. Club review of A Bug’s Life:
“Twisted as it sounds, what we have right here is exactly what we need: guns in a lot of hands, pointed in every direction.”
If you judge a work environment in terms of how effectively an intelligent, body-snatching virus can hide in plain sight—which I’ve always considered a crucial criterion when evaluating any workplace—then Moya isn’t looking too good right now. On any sane starship, the virus wouldn’t have been able to pass itself off as the person whose body it had stolen, because any sane starship wouldn’t be home to multiple factions constantly lying to one another. Indeed, on any sane starship the virus would have never escaped in the first place, because no sane starship would allow two passengers who are as self-centered and untrustworthy as Rygel and Chiana to remain onboard. And, perhaps more important than anything else, no sane starship would ever turn to John Crichton for its plans.
Like “Through The Looking Glass,” “A Bug’s Life” feels like a story that could easily have happened on Star Trek—indeed, I’d wager this basic premise of a parasite hiding inside crewmembers’ bodies did happen on all five shows at one point or another, although I’ll leave it to you the readers to provide the appropriate examples. But once again, such a virus would get loose because of happenstance, or because of some enemy’s interference, or perhaps—just perhaps—because of some crewmember’s honest curiosity. It would not get free because two of the show’s supposed heroes decided to steal it (well… maybe if we’re talking about Quark on Deep Space Nine, but you get the basic idea). “A Bug’s Life” is another crazy space mystery episode, but everything that happens is so fundamentally driven by the main characters’ flaws. Just look at Chiana, who lies as a matter of course even when not under the virus’ sway; she initially says she’s fine when Zhaan asks how she is doing, only to then admit that she is indeed dizzy. It’s a quick moment, but it’s indicative of how deep the mistrust really runs.
Crichton’s plan in this episode—to deal with a visiting Marauder full of special ops Peacekeepers by putting on a spare uniform and pretending he and Aeryn are in charge of a wayward research vessel—is a plan that seems brilliant right up to the moment that you actually think it through. It’s the type of daring plan that Crichton almost certainly got from watching TV and movies, where such paper-thin disguises always worked because, well, those were TV and movies. Farscape may not yet qualify as real life, but it’s certainly messier than your average TV show, and while Crichton’s ruse goes undetected until long after the intelligent (sorry, intellant) virus has escaped, his plan still repeatedly encounters dangerous complications.
The simple act of putting on the uniform and affecting a wonderfully silly accent—I guess we’ll call Ben Browder’s accent British, I guess—is a huge risk when Crichton’s only real exposure to Peacekeeper society is through Aeryn. He knows just enough to get by and, when in doubt, he simply acts as pompously and officiously as possible, but one false comment could give the game away to the actual Peacekeepers. “A Bug’s Life” falls back on the idea that the galaxy is so big and the Peacekeepers so secretive that the special ops team’s ignorance could conceivably make sense, and at least Crichton knows enough to leave the bulk of the talking to Aeryn. Still, if anything, the episode underplays just how foolhardy his plan really is, especially when he decides to keep going towards the science base in the name of gathering information. Each of his decisions makes a certain amount of sense in isolation, but taken together they become appallingly reckless.
What’s more, that erratic decision-making is part of why the virus is later able to pass himself off as Crichton. He has shaken D’Argo and Zhaan’s faith in him enough that they don’t notice anything amiss when he comes up with a flimsy excuse to lock them up once again instead of letting Zhaan work on an antibody. The real Crichton would surely trust Zhaan to find the antibody far more than he would the Peacekeeper scientist Hassan. But Crichton has taken such a domineering approach throughout the episode that it’s easy to miss when he becomes unreasonable; one might think that the real Crichton wouldn’t willingly lock D’Argo and Zhaan up in the midst of a crisis, particularly given how much both hate captivity, but then his entire original plan hinged on them being imprisoned once again. The only other big clue that something isn’t right with Crichton is his sudden obsession with Hassan’s lips, but the others don’t immediately notice anything is wrong because Crichton is constantly spouting what they consider nonsense; indeed, they might have reached the point where they recognize “Hot Lips” as some reference to Earth culture that they could not be expected to understand.
This is tricky, because I just came dangerously close to arguing that Crichton’s unreliable behavior helps the virus evade capture, which makes Crichton indirectly responsible for everything the virus does while in control of his body, including the brutal murder of Hassan. Even if Crichton isn’t in his right mind, it’s still shocking to see the hero (or at least his body) beat somebody to death with a pole. The episode doesn’t dwell on this incident, although Crichton’s haunted stare when forced to stand next to the corpse conveys everything the audience needs to know. While there’s territory here that the show could have explored in more detail, Chiana’s line really does sum up the issue: “Lighten up. You didn’t do it. Well, you did, but… it wasn’t really you.”
That line is also a key character moment for Chiana, as it’s the first time that she really puts herself out there for a shipmate and tries to make someone feel better. Her straightforward words of comfort couldn’t have come from Aeryn or Zhaan, and certainly not D’Argo—some or all of them might have agreed that Crichton shouldn’t feel responsible, but their advice would have been like that something an adult would impart to a foolish child, as all of them tend to lecture Crichton when he screws up. Chiana is more willing to speak to him as an equal, and while her attempt at comfort is pretty terrible here, it bodes well for their relationship going forward.
Placing Crichton under the virus’ control also allows him to play the hero in the final act of the episode, as his newfound immunity means he’s the one person anyone else can trust to take charge of the situation. The standoff as Zhaan prepares the antidote is a marvelously tense sequence, and then everything goes completely bonkers when Larraq is revealed as the virus’ new host. Crichton redeems himself somewhat with his plan to defeat the virus, which involves using some starburst energy to blow up Larraq’s ship. While the kill makes sense given the danger the virus poses to the galaxy—indeed, I think we can take it as a given that Larraq would have ordered Crichton to blow up the ship—this still represents the first time Crichton has unambiguously, intentionally taken a life, and he meets this moment with a simple, callous one-liner: “Boom.” As with everything else in “A Bug’s Life,” Crichton’s decision is justifiable, even commendable, but it still raises the question: Just how long can Crichton survive in this strange new galaxy while keeping his essential humanity? Last week’s “A Human Reaction” tackled that question in terms of loss and alienation, but “A Bug’s Life” presents a dark, scary universe, and then it suggests that Crichton fits in far better than he would ever admit. Crazy as it sounds, the fact that Crichton is a constant screw-up might actually be more important than his human morality when it comes to keeping him on the side of good.
According to The A.V. Club review of Nerve:
“Danger, danger, Will Robinson. Beware the chair. Beware the chair.”
Over the course of this first season, we have had a chance to get to know John Crichton. He is a resolutely decent person, someone willing to put his own safety at risk to help others. Admittedly, his impossible situation means he doesn’t always have a choice when it comes to self-sacrifice, and it’s not as though he goes around trying to solve other planets’ problems, even if he occasionally comes close. He has his fair share of flaws, and he’s shown a selfish streak when it comes to anything Earth-related, but he usually hits the right balance between pragmatism and principle. He’s definitely not perfect, but he has the strengths we might all hope to have, and he has the weaknesses we tend to forgive. He’s not Captain Kirk, but he has his moments. That’s the Crichton—the brave, selfless, fundamentally innocent Crichton—who heads to the secret Gammak Base to save Aeryn. That isn’t the Crichton who returns.
“Nerve” and its follow-up “The Hidden Memory” represent the climax of the first season, and they mercilessly tear apart all that came before them. The first half of this episode feels like a relatively straightforward caper, at least by Farscape standards. Yes, Crichton is attempting his Peacekeeper con on a scale unlike any he’s tried before, and the unexpected return of his would-be love interest Gilina presents some major complications, but this is all of a kind with what the show has evolved into over the past few weeks. It’s ambitious in the way a big, season-ending two-parter should be, but it doesn’t initially seem to be revelatory. But then Crichton’s disguise is uncovered by the worst person imaginable, and everything falls apart.
That isn’t to say “Nerve” plays it safe before Crichton is captured. When Crichton reveals his plan to save Aeryn, he interacts with his shipmates less like a driven hero than like a petulant child, coldly accusing D’Argo and the others of not caring whether Aeryn lives or dies. And as much as this story is driven by Crichton’s love for Aeryn, the episode doesn’t shy away from the sexual side of Crichton and Chiana’s relationship. In previous DVD commentaries, Ben Browder has explained how he took any opportunity for Crichton to get physically close to Aeryn in the early episodes as a way to demonstrate that bond. Now, if anything, he gets even closer to Gigi Edgley’s Chiana, who is in pure, unabashed seductress mode throughout. The episode doesn’t make anything of the obvious spark between the human and the Nebari beyond forcing us to recognize that it exists, and its presence adds extra, only mildly uncomfortable energy to the proceedings. Then again, Chiana acts that way with everybody—all part of her entirely sensible plan to keep the attention away from Crichton—but the line between fiction and reality is occasionally blurred, such as when Chiana complains to Javio about running from system to system with a guy who’s got a talent for getting into danger.
Crichton busts out his gloriously—and, in case there’s any doubt left after last week’s discussions, I think we can safely say intentionally—awful Peacekeeper accent as he impersonates the dead Larraq. His disguise is even less convincing that it was in “A Bug’s Life,” and he doesn’t have the advantage of only having to fool a few exhausted, battle-weary commandoes. But the subterfuge works far longer than it should, and that indicates just how psychotic Peacekeeper command structure is. That’s not exactly a surprising revelation, considering this is the organization that gave positions of authority to the likes of Bialar Crais and the flagrantly corrupt Commander Javio, but it’s remarkable to see just how far Crichton can get on bluster and imperiousness alone (not forgetting some crucial assistance from Chiana and Gilina). The Peacekeepers are a fundamentally myopic, secretive outfit, one in which nobody ever knows what anybody else is doing, and, shockingly enough, that’s no way to run an interstellar military. We’ve already been given several indications that the Peacekeepers, whatever their hidden virtues, are fundamentally broken—the existence of Crais, for a start—but the success of Crichton’s ruse is perhaps the most damning indictment yet.
The one big thing working in Crichton’s favor is that he never breaks character, even when he faces seemingly impossible situations. When the genetic scan is about to reveal he isn’t Sebacean, Crichton doesn’t waver from his supercilious persona, and even after he awakens strapped into the Aurora Chair he still insists in his best Peacekeeper diction that he is Larraq. If nothing else, Crichton is a stubborn bastard, and once he commits to something, there’s no stopping him. That’s part of what makes his experiences in the Aurora Chair so heartbreaking. Crichton, whose unconventional heroism is so fundamentally intertwined with his indomitable spirit, is broken quickly, absolutely, and irrevocably. With minimal effort, Scorpius gains access to corners of Crichton’s mind that were off-limits even to its owner, as we learn Jack the Ancient from “A Human Reaction” left Crichton with hidden knowledge about wormholes.
While it will take some time for the full implications of that revelation to become clear, it’s fair to say that the show has now found a powerful driving force for its future conflicts. The original wormhole was just a plot device, an effective way to send Crichton to a weird, alien universe. But a phenomenon that allows near-instantaneous travel across such unimaginably vast distances has great potential as a weapon, particularly to the sort of person who apparently heard of the intellant virus from “A Bug’s Life” and said, “Yes, we can tame that.” As soon as Farscape acknowledges wormholes are comprehensible to and perhaps even replicable by lesser beings, they become unfathomably dangerous. In the short term, this is just a handy excuse for Scorpius to decide against melting Crichton’s brain, but that’s only the beginning.
My favorite moment in “Nerve” comes during one of Crichton’s recuperation periods in his cell. As part of his interrogation efforts, Scorpius enlists the assistance of Crais. The renegade captain hasn’t appeared much this season—before this, we only actually saw him in “Premiere,” “That Old Black Magic,” and as a hologram in “Till The Blood Runs Clear”—but he has still been the show’s primary antagonist, and his psychotic chase has profoundly shaped the decisions of Crichton and his shipmates. Before flying down to the Gammak Base, it seems fair to say that one of Crichton’s worst nightmares would be to find himself captured by the Peacekeepers at Crais’ mercy. But when that moment arrives, Crichton bursts out laughing. There’s a few ways to interpret that reaction—Crichton could be broken further at the sight of this fresh hell, he could be laughing at the idea that his current situation could possibly get worse, or he could even be perversely glad to see someone, anyone who isn’t Scorpius—but I tend to see it as a half-insane Crichton being confronted with all the fears and challenges that defined the first season and then realizing that they are nothing compared to the situation in which he now finds himself. At point, what else is there to do but laugh? It’s that moment when the Crichton we first met is lost forever.
According to The A.V. Club review of The Hidden Memory:
“I’m coming with you. If you can be an idiot, I can be an idiot.”
Farscape creator Rockne S. O’Bannon has referred to this two-parter as “our first Farscape feature,” and it’s not hard to see why. This is an altogether more ambitious story in scale and scope than anything that precedes it; “A Human Reaction” also felt like a movie, but that was still only a single episode. And yet, for all the spectacle of these episodes, they never lose sight of what always set Farscape apart from its sci-fi compatriots, and that’s its characters. In particular, “The Hidden Memory” is distinguished not by its action and bombast but rather by its characterization.
Take Paul Goddard’s Stark, for instance. When first introduced in “Nerve,” he’s a mildly interesting but familiar type, the mad prisoner meant to remove the last scrap of comfort from Crichton as he rots away in his cell. At the beginning of this episode, Crichton testily wonders whether Stark is actually spying for Scorpius, and I’d say a healthy percentage of shows would indeed go that route. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that creative choice; it further robs Crichton of his last vestiges of a support network, and it emphasizes both his isolation and Scorpius’ omnipotence. But the episode also respects Stark as a character, even though we’ve only just met him, and Goddard makes the most of his opportunity. Once his insanity is exposed as a ruse, he still shows a harsh edge, but he soon recognizes that he need not push Crichton towards his doom just to save himself. Stark’s speech about his strange gift and the Banik slave race only sort of made sense—and I’m pretty sure his history is going to get revised a few times anyway, so the exact words don’t really matter—but Goddard plays the scene in which he saves Crichton’s mind with vast, quietly alien compassion. Stark’s sanity may be little more fathomable to us than his insanity, but he proves an invaluable ally and someone worth seeing again.
With all due respect to Stark, the big addition to the Farscape mythos in the two-parter is Scorpius. Sporting misshapen features and wearing what can only be described as an intergalactic gimp suit, Scorpius is an intimidating, unnerving presence from his very first moment, and the scariest thing about him is that he never gets angry. As he explains to the flippant Crichton, he long ago learned the value of patience, and he approaches every decision with a cold, logical eye. Scorpius has the Aurora Chair—I don’t think it’s ever explicitly stated that he invented the thing, but that’s certainly a reasonable assumption—and it can unlock the truths in anyone’s mind, so there’s never a good reason not to use it. There might be a tactical advantage to leaving Crais alone, especially considering Crichton’s memory really is pretty obviously fake, but Scorpius shows no interest in the psychology of his opponents—or, perhaps more accurately, his pawns. He prizes wormhole knowledge above all else, and he needs both information and power to obtain those secrets, and so all his decisions logically flow from there.
Again, I’ll try not to get too far ahead of myself, but suffice it to say that as good as Wayne Pygram is in these two episodes, he is going to get so much better later on. Scorpius here is much like Crais in “Premiere,” as both are the obvious, unsympathetic antagonists of the story. Scorpius is more immediately compelling than the relatively cartoonish Crais was in his debut, but Scorpius holds such absolute power over Crichton that Pygram can only play a relatively narrow range. He’s already more than a stock villain, but his character can be reduced to the rational counterpart to the animalistic Crais. His outfit notwithstanding, there isn’t a hint of sadism in Scorpius’ torture of Stark, Crichton, or Crais; it feels like there ought to be, but every time a normal villain would betray some hint of sick glee, Scorpius simply responds with detached puzzlement at his subjects’ continued resistance. Still, we know nothing about Scorpius at this stage, so he can only be rational. It’s as we learn more about him and Pygram grows more comfortable in the role that Scorpius becomes reasonable, and that’s when the character becomes truly frightening.
With her paraphoral nerve only barely just regenerated, Aeryn Sun launches her own daring rescue mission to save Crichton. The fact that she, D’Argo, and Zhaan would do such a thing for Crichton is already an important moment for their characters, but everything we need to know about where Aeryn now stands as a character can be found in her big confrontation with an Aurora Chair-bound Crais. The scene reminds us that Crais destroyed Aeryn’s life even more completely than he did Crichton’s, and yet he’s less aware of this relationship than we are, as he doesn’t recognize the voice of the woman he declared irreversibly contaminated. Claudia Black reaches a new level with her crucial line, in which she tells Crais everything she lost isn’t worth a damn, but the entire scene is remarkable. At Crais’ most vulnerable moment, Lani Tupu plays him with primal, animalistic fury; even after being thoroughly outmaneuvered by Scorpius, Crais is arguably never scarier than in the moment he vows to kill Officer Sun. Aeryn’s decision to leave Crais in psychic agony is the only proper end to this confrontation between these two characters. As I’ve observed in previous reviews, the Peacekeeper life has left both these soldiers damaged, emotionally immature individuals, and no matter how far Aeryn has come, she still has no compunction about a little vengeance.
And then there’s Gilina. Alyssa-Jane Cook finds herself in an unenviable position here, asked to pick up exactly where she left off in “PK Tech Girl” when Crichton and the rest of the show have moved so far from that point. Even though it’s only been a dozen episodes since she last appeared—and even though her debut felt like a major leap forward for the show in terms of maturity and complexity—Gilina still feels like a relic from a simpler, more innocent time for the show. After all, since the two last met, Crichton has dealt with Maldis, Namtar, doglike bounty hunters, rogue Delvians, the Nebari, the Ancients, a dimensional schism, and a body-snatching virus. In all likelihood, Gilina just returned to her fairly dull life as a Peacekeeper tech. Meeting Crichton was the most exciting thing that happened to her, but for Crichton, their brief encounter is just a distant memory, particularly when he’s had nearly a cycle to bond with Aeryn. What once seemed like an instant spark now just seems like a staid, courtly love bereft of passion; compare how Gilina’s eyebrow kisses are treated in “PK Tech Girl” with how they are portrayed here.
That assessment is a little unfair to Gilina, and the episode does make it clear that she is every bit as capable as Aeryn, albeit in vastly different ways. She shows remarkably quick thinking in getting Crichton through the genetic scan in “Nerve,” and she actually manages to outwit Scorpius with the fake memory, or at least force him to shift focus to Crais. Aeryn is only alive because of Crichton, and Crichton is only free because of Aeryn, but they and their shipmates only escape this episode because of Gilina’s efforts. She’s a loose end, but she’s also still a character in her own right, and her death feels like more than a cheap way to remove her as an obstacle to Crichton and Aeryn. The love triangle is a tricky element, in that neither Crichton nor Aeryn admits that it exists, and Cook’s biggest achievement here is making the romance not seem like a total nuisance that distracts from everything else going on.
It’s easy to sympathize with Crichton, who is too busy getting tortured to really think about his love life, and I don’t think he actually asks Gilina to come with him, at least not until the big escape; that’s just a lie Chiana tells to mollify the Peacekeeper. But as Gilina observes, there will never be a perfect, peaceful time for them to discuss their situation, and Crichton must eventually be honest, even when it’s easier to duck the issue. After all, Chiana is only in a position to lie because Crichton can’t bring himself to tell the truth during his first encounter with Gilina. I’m not entirely sure Crichton leads her on, if only because I’m not sure even Crichton knows what he really wants with Aeryn, but he clearly no longer reciprocates Gilina’s feelings. As harsh as it sounds, his reaction when he first sees Gilina suggest he’s just dumbfounded to see her again, and she means nothing to him beyond being a pleasant but half-forgotten memory of a faraway time.
As I’ve previously suggested, this two-parter draws a dividing line between all that came before it and all that lies ahead; neither Crichton nor Farscape in general can ever be the same after what happens here. But that doesn’t mean the first season becomes any less important, or that the decisions Crichton made when he was a very different person still can’t affect him later on. The past is never truly buried on Farscape, and Gilina’s death is a final, poignant reminder of the dire potential consequences of any of Crichton’s actions, especially now that he’s attracted the attention of the likes of Scorpius. Gilina isn’t the only character who dies at the end of this episode. The John Crichton we knew is gone, and there’s no easy answer as to where this shattered, damaged Crichton goes from here.
Jeremiah Crichton has no real highlights to offer, and it is worth not watching again.
According to The A.V. Club review of Jeremiah Crichton:
“Well, hakuna matata, Masata. We got a big problem.”
I have a terrible confession to make: I don’t hate “Jeremiah Crichton.” Indeed, when I watched the show for the first time late last year, I actually rather liked this episode.
“Jeremiah Crichton” is infamous as Farscape’s worst episode ever, although I don’t think it’s quite that bad. Certainly, this is the worst episode we’ve dealt with so far, and it’s not just that the story doesn’t work, the guest performances range from bland to poor, and the general look of the episode is ridiculous, whether it’s the natives’ bright purple getups or Crichton’s hilariously fake beard. Those are all serious problems, but they wouldn’t necessarily spell doom for an episode all by themselves; “Thank God It’s Friday, Again” had similar problems, albeit not nearly to the same extent as “Jeremiah Crichton.” Still, that earlier episode generally worked because it understood its main characters and because it adopted such an aggressively weird, irreverent tone. Precious little of that is on display here, and while the episode eventually finds some moderately interesting things to say about Rygel, it’s a long, frequently tedious slog to that point.
In fairness, the episode does start promisingly enough. Crichton having a complete breakdown onboard Moya is a notion worth exploring, and it’s a great touch to have him snap at Zhaan when she doesn’t understand the idiom “fed up,” as he angrily observes that this sort of thing that was cute the first six billion times it happened. The opening presents a very understandable flashpoint for all of Crichton’s frustrations, as he finds himself crammed into a tiny hatch, making difficult, disgusting repairs to the pregnant Moya while a particularly tetchy D’Argo berates him. It’s not entirely clear why Crichton’s anger extends to Aeryn, but it’s easy to speculate that their experiences in “The Flax” left plenty of unresolved tension and awkwardness; besides, the constant insults and putdowns must take their toll eventually. Moya’s sudden, unplanned starburst while Crichton is out blowing off steam in his module leaves the human even more stranded than he was before. That’s a great hook for an episode, and there’s no end of potentially great ways in which the show could have explored Crichton’s sudden isolation.
Unfortunately, the episode chooses to pursue one of the strangest, least compelling possibilities. After the opening credits, we jump ahead three months to find Crichton living by a lake, catching the crab-like shakloom, and sporting one hell of an unconvincing beard. It’s a daring move to blow right past all the apparent drama set up by the pre-credits sequence, but it could work if the Farcape creative team have a firm grasp of the story they want to tell. That just isn’t the case here; as showrunner David Kemper explains on the episode’s pointedly, hilariously self-flagellating DVD commentary, the only reason they told this story was because both he and star Ben Browder loved the Robert Redford western Jeremiah Johnson, and they thought it would be fun for Browder to play a mountain man-type character for an episode. Creator Rockne S. O’Bannon puts it best on the commentary with this sardonic observation: “An actor wanting to grow a beard as the basis of an episode! You’re already starting from a great plan.”
Until the big Rygel reveal, all the episode offers by way of story is the power struggle between Kato-Re, the Acquarans’ Grondeer, and Neera, the high prieston, and the love triangle between Crichton, Kato-Re’s daughter Lishala, and Neera’s son Rokon. None of that is terribly inspiring, but even that could perhaps have worked if not for the fact that Crichton doesn’t want anything to do with the tribe. He wants to live like a hermit, he tells Kato-Re he has no plans to interfere, and he has nothing but platonic affection for Lishala. Because Crichton keeps trying to extricate him from the story, the guest characters can only interact with each other, and much like the Delvians in “Rhapsody In Blue,” that makes for a lot of stilted, emotionally dead exchanges, and the tribe comes across more as embarrassed coworkers forced to endure a mildly tense work retreat than primitives locked in life-or-death struggles. Nobody gives a good performance here—as Kato-Re, John O’Brien comes the closest, but he doesn’t convey much beyond bland decency—although it’s hard to fault the actors too much when they are given nothing to play. Deni Gordon plays Neera as a scheming, dastardly villain, but her over-the-top approach seems especially silly when the episode provides no sense of why any of her plotting matters, least of all to Crichton and his shipmates. And while Natalie Mendoza does nothing with her part, Lishala is by a wide margin the worst character Farscape has presented; if you can name a single personality trait she displays over the course of the episode, you’re ahead of me.
At the outset, I said that I almost liked “Jeremiah Crichton” when I first watched it. The reason for that is that, much as how “I, E.T.” was Farscape trudging through Star Trek: The Next Generation territory, this episode feels like a pale imitation of old-school Doctor Who, something I have an admitted weakness for. The classic series regularly made stories about primitive cultures engaging in bizarre power struggles, which often involved theatrical performances, clunky exposition, and deeply unconvincing costumes and sets, and they often managed to be excellent in spite of all those limitations—the Peter Davison classic “Kinda” is maybe the best example of this form, though there are plenty of other examples. However, those stories generally have a much clearer sense of story and world-building than “Jeremiah Crichton” has, and they feature a main character in the Doctor who actually wants to understand and help this alien culture. Such stories aren’t nearly as good a fit for Farscape, as Crichton—even when he displays more intellectual curiosity than he does here—always has his own agenda and isn’t interested in solving some other people’s problems.
The only character somewhat well-served by this episode is Rygel, who the Acquarans hail as their Masata, or god. The big reveal that this is an abandoned Hynerian colony only barely makes sense—the empire could presumably include humanoid races, but why would Rygel X send them into the Uncharted Territories, and why would he knock out all power?—but it does provide Rygel a chance to act like a sovereign. He is as conceited and indulgent as ever, but he also shows genuine compassion towards the tribe and regrets the insane, pointless cruelty of his ancestor. For once, Rygel understands the situation better than anyone, as when he offhandedly tells D’Argo that he had an army of tutors to teach him ancient Hynerian. The episode provides a useful glimpse into Rygel’s past, and both Jonathan Hardy and the puppeteers bring nuance and complexity to Rygel that is absent elsewhere. Even here, “Jeremiah Crichton” never quite hits the mark, particularly in the final scene between Rygel and Kato-Re. The latter’s deep, unqualified respect for his Dominar is a potentially interesting portrayal of an alien culture, one that happily incorporates Rygel as its absolute monarch. But, as Claudia Black points out on the commentary, it’s just all too painfully earnest, particularly when this is Rygel we’re talking about. It just doesn’t feel like Farscape, and that’s the fundamental problem with “Jeremiah Crichton.”