Farscape 1.08-1.09: “That Old Black Magic,” “DNA Mad Scientist”

–The comedic scenario in which Rygel performs the Hynerian death ritual for the lifeless Crichton in order to have an excuse to take his things is also, of course, wonderful, with just the right mixture of almost-well-meaning Rygel and little-bastard Rygel. And when John wakes up, still a little off-kilter, he plants a kiss on Rygel’s mouth, the first of what becomes a recurring gag, and picks up on his hands-on treatment of him at the end of “Throne for a Loss”.

–It’s also fitting that at the end of the episode in which Crichton realizes he’s lost his chance to make peace with Crais that we again see him recording a message–this time to DK–for the first time since “Premiere”.

1.09: “DNA Mad Scientist” Original airdate: 18 June 1999

"DNA Mad Scientist"

“DNA Mad Scientist”

And while we’re on the subject of dark, here’s another one of those early, “lighthearted” episodes of Farscape in which members of Moya’s crew erm hold Pilot down and CUT OFF HIS ARM for their own ends and then turn on each other, and in which a mad scientist does unspeakable genetic experiments on another regular cast member–all of which is further proof that Farscape‘s twisted soul did not begin with Scorpy. In many ways, “DNA Mad Scientist” (an unfortunate case of a working episode title never having been replaced with a better one a la “PK Tech Girl”) is a major turning point for the series, as it tests our characters as they have never been tested before, a test that most of them arguably fail, exposing a capacity for selfishness and greed that challenges any previous perception a viewer might have had that they are becoming a happy family while at the same time ironically, possibly helping to pave the way for them to become one in the future, due to the manner in which they are eventually chastened for their behavior in this one.

The episode begins with a needle being poked into Crichton’s eye, a cringeworthy moment that sets the tone for the hour. A brilliant scientist called NamTar–a huge creation who, from the start, seems to be almost a walking assemblage of different parts that don’t quite fit together, including strange, almost goatish legs, easily the most impressive one-off Creature Shop character we’ve seen yet–has developed a manner of using species’ genetics to map the location of their home worlds (and even chart courses to them that avoid Peacekeeper territories), and he offers each of Moya’s crew that chance to return to their respective homes. Before this episode, we may not have realized that all of the people on board Moya (other than Aeryn), are looking for home, not only John, and not only a metaphorical level. NamTar’s offer, however, comes with a price. He requires the genetic material of a Leviathan’s Pilot, namely, again, one of Pilot’s arms.

As Ben Browder and Claudia Black discuss on their DVD commentary, on any other sci-fi show, this would be an ethical dilemma that would be heatedly debated amongst the characters, and eventually the heroes would either discover a way around the problem or just decide that the cost is too high. Not Farscape. Right after a scene in which a disturbed Crichton and sad Aeryn (for different reasons, which I’ll get to in a bit) are talking in an alien bar, the next time we see the others, they are in Pilot’s den, Rygel holding the horrified Pilot’s arm down, and D’Argo chopping it off with his Qualta blade, as Zhaan “shares Pilot’s pain,” the poor creature screaming–in pain, yes, but also from shock and hurt at this turn of events, this violation. And that’s really what it is: a horrific action, a rape of sorts. Pilot refused to consent, and rather than respect his wishes, they take his arm because their desire to return home overrides his personal rights.

I always find it enormously brave of any show to have their characters–particularly their titular “heroes”–do unlikeable things at times, but for a sci-fi space show that people initially perceived to be family fare due to its attachment with the Henson name, it’s practically revolutionary. Because whenever I watch this episode, I am furious at Zhaan, D’Argo, and Rygel, characters I generally love. At the same time, however, this is an enormously complicated issue. From this trio’s perspective, they have been held captive on this Leviathan for years now, away from their families and loved ones, and this is the first chance they have had in all of that time to find their ways back. Furthermore, Pilots have extreme regenerative abilities. His arm will grow back. Isn’t temporary discomfort on his part a worthy trade-off for them being able to return to the places where they belong? To John and Aeryn, there is no question that what they did is horrifically wrong, but by the same token, NamTar can’t help John or Aeryn. Earth isn’t in his databanks and Aeryn’s home is a PK command carrier. Would they retain this moral high ground if the shoe were on the other foot? It’s impossible to say.

It’s also important to remember that none of these people are here because they want to be. They’ve been thrown together, against their wills, and remain comrades at this point due to convenience. As Black intriguingly points out, even Moya has an agenda. She didn’t choose these passengers. She longed to escape the PKs as much as they did, and wants to continue to maintain her freedom, relying on their help in this regard, for the time being, as they rely on her. The only two people who really have started to think of this as a family at this point are John and, in spite of herself, Aeryn, who exposes her emotional vulnerability in this episode as never before. Black refers to her character as a “mix of incredibly tough warrior and hopelessly lost and vulnerable girl,” which absolutely nails it. Although on the one hand, Aeryn is a badass soldier, she has been tossed into a situation she has never been prepared to cope with. She had grown up on a PK ship, as part of a unit. She had always had other soldiers by her side. In other words, she has never been alone, and so despite her initial reticence to embrace them or to admit it, she had come to think of the gang on Moya as her team, because it’s how she’s always lived. Due to Crichton’s influence, particularly in “Exodus from Genesis,” she had even tentatively started to come to see them as more, a feeling betrayed by the fact that the instant the others are each tempted with the chance to go to their “real” homes, they “abandon” her without a second thought.

Author: Robert Berg

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1 Comment

  1. Although I have not finished with all of your reviews (I am starting from the beginning) I do hope you continue with all the episodes. You have perfectly encapsulated why I love this show. Even now it is still my favorite.

    Farscape forever.

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  1. Farscape 1.10-1.11: “They’ve Got a Secret”; “Till the Blood Runs Clear” | DreamPunk - […] continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “That Old Black Magic” and “DNA Mad Scientist,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week…

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