Farscape 1.18-1.19: “A Bug’s Life”; “Nerve”

Browder explains on the DVD commentary that her appearance was also a point of contention between the production team and the SciFi Channel, who had originally wanted Farscape to be a simple, standalone space show that didn’t require viewers to watch every week to follow what was going on. Farscape fans know that the show only became more and more complex and subsequently unwelcoming to newbies as it went along, and in many ways, it begins here, because the episode doesn’t include any explanation as to who Gilina is or how she and John met. If you hadn’t seen her previous appearance, you would be left entirely in the dark. What I also happen to really like about her appearance is that while there is a certain level of kismet to it, at least where John is concerned, the idea of her being reassigned here isn’t so entirely farfetched. It makes enough sense that, with this base being set up in the Uncharted Territories, PK High Command might find it convenient to transfer a tech who was already in the general vicinity, particularly given the likelihood that more techs would be required here than on Crais’ ship (it’s even possible they ended up picking her up from the Zelbinion rather than Crais). It may be unlikely, but if it weren’t, it wouldn’t have been such a surprise for John and Gilina to have crossed paths here again. And, of course, an operatic story like this requires some level of cosmic coincidence at times, as also happens with Crichton and Scorpius. Which we’ll get to very soon.

But the tragedy of Gilina is that she does still love Crichton wholeheartedly and she puts herself in danger to help save him after he is captured by Scorpius, who can tell that his energy signature doesn’t read as Sebacean (this is another nifty piece of writing because in the moment, we might think it’s due to some sort of scan he ran on him, but on a later viewing we realize that he sensed/felt it himself, due to his half-Scarran lineage). And by the next episode, yes, she will die for him. What makes it particularly sad here, though, is that you can tell that she senses not only a growing distance between Crichton and her but the fact that John loves Aeryn. However, Chiana lies to her, telling her that Aeryn is just a shipmate and that she, Gilina, is the one he loves. And Gilina seems to accept these words because she wants to believe them, even while on some level she knows the truth. However, Chiana does stack the deck a bit by indicating that Crichton even wants Gilina to escape on Moya with them. How could he not want to be with her if he indicated a desire to take her along?

It’s a very complex moment, because while Chiana is being very emotionally manipulative here, which would generally be considered a bad thing, it also demonstrates her understanding of psychology. She doesn’t know Gilina very well, but knows that people tend to be motivated by their own desires and agendas, and worries that were Gilina to learn the truth that she might stop helping John–or even betray him–out of jealousy or spite. And so Chiana lies in order to protect him and Aeryn, while also possibly indirectly dooming Gilina in the process (although judging by Gilina’s openhearted nature, feelings for him, and behavior in the next episode, I believe that there’s a great likelihood that she would have continued to help John anyway).

And now we come to Scorpy and his memory extraction device, the Aurora Chair. It is so distinctly Farscape that they manage to completely subvert the typical damsel-in-distress plot on every level. Aeryn is currently dying and may indeed be in need of Our Hero’s rescue, however while on his mission to do so, not only is he helped by two women every step of the way–Chiana and Gilina, the latter of whom procures the needed tissue sample, and the former of whom ultimately flies it back to Moya and into Zhaan’s hands to save Aeryn–but in the end himself becomes even more of a damsel in need of rescue than the woman he had gone out to save. He is victimized and brutalized, cruelly and mercilessly tortured by a villain who has no compunctions against literally tearing his mind apart in his quest to get the information he wants.

And, of course, Scorpius is a villain like no other. Clad in his leather “gimp” outfit and with his desiccated, Nosferatu skin, he looks like a truly horrifying creature of nightmare by way of a sex dungeon (and it’s so very Farscape that even this bizarre outfit does have a logical explanation, which we’ll learn later on), yet at the same time Wayne Pygram plays him from the start in a deliberately jarring manner, speaking in a precise and surprisingly higher-pitched voice than the deeper tones one would expect from someone with such a frightening visage. In his first appearance, Scorpius and his Aurora Chair always reminded me a great deal of Count Rugen and his torture machine from The Princess Bride, cooly, calmly inflicting unspeakable misery upon the captured, screaming Wesley, who can’t do anything by the end but wordlessly sob. Crichton cries during his ordeal, as well. He also screams, he spasms, he spits, he frenziedly laughs like a mad thing. No words can convey the full power of Browder’s performance. He takes what could have been a more abstract form of torture for a viewer to comprehend–it being mental rather than physical–and makes it feel visceral, real, and agonizing to behold. By the end of just his first session, he already seems broken, which is an incredibly painful and scary thing to watch happen to someone we’ve come to care for so much.

But incredibly, although he seems like he might legitimately be losing his mind by the end, he never fully breaks. Instead, even while shaking in agony, he laughs in Scorpius’ face, refusing to let go of all of his memories. And that’s really the key to the Crichton/Scorpius relationship, all right there at the very beginning. Beyond his motives for wanting inside Crichton’s brain, John also fascinates him because no matter what Scorpy does to him, and no matter how much he causes Crichton to unravel, John will 9 times out of 10 undercut him with his Earth humor, rarely refusing to let on just how much Scorpy scares him. Even here, Scorpy comments on John being “exceptionally strong” in willfully maintaining a mental block around a secret he is hiding. Now, in actuality, we learn in the next episode that all he’s actually hiding is Gilina’s identity, but to Scorpius, it seems to just confirm that he’s a spy, as he suspects.

Then we come to the unfortunate coincidence of operatic proportions that I alluded to earlier because, while digging through John’s mind, Scorpy comes to discover a memory Crichton didn’t even know he had, of “Jack” the Ancient implanting the equations for how to make a stable wormhole inside John’s mind. In this “flashback,” “Jack” tells John that he’s giving him this information but at the same time, blocking the memory of it because his species don’t just give away this crucial, sensitive data. Not unlike the Prime Directive, the Ancients believe that John (and, presumably, any other species) can only be worthy of possessing it if he is smart enough to figure it out on his own. Instead, they feel that burying it in his subconscious mind can help guide him to the right answers, as long as he puts in the work himself. And of course, Scorpy, more than anything else in the universe, is desperate for wormhole technology and is unwilling to wait for it. It’s the whole purpose for this Gammak Base’s existence in the first place! Which puts John in the path of a far scarier and far more dangerous archnemesis than Crais ever was–Crais, who Scorpy all but dismantles when he lands on base, revealing that mad man to be a much smaller fish than he had originally seemed.

Author: Robert Berg

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  1. Farscape 1.20-1.21: “The Hidden Memory”; “Bone to Be Wild” | DreamPunk - […] continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “A Bug’s Life” and “Nerve,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week with the twentieth…

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