As the episode opens, Moya’s lights are mostly off, and her passengers are all huddling in a circle, wearing blankets and shivering, the reason being that Crais’ command carrier is in hot pursuit of them ever since they fled the Gammak Base and they need to reduce their energy signature as much as possible, meaning using as little power as possible. When they then get a distress call from a young alien female on a nearby asteroid being tormented by what looks like a hideous mutated monster, it could not come at a worse time–the funny thing about the series proper’s final episode, “Bad Timing,” is that it could have been applied to practically any Farscape installment–and yet that’s also what makes it so oddly fitting. The fact that our heroes choose to go down to the asteroid and help her despite their troubles indicates just how much all of them have grown over the course of the season, more willing than before to go out of their ways to help not only one another but a complete, (seemingly) innocent stranger.
At the same time, when Chiana says, “Distress call? Directed at us?!” and Crichton frenziedly laughs, “How stupid is that?!” it is funny but also a dark reminder of how much he has changed. He still seems off-kilter from his recent trauma, still recovering from his time in the Aurora Chair. This new edge drives him throughout the episode, in which he will be far more volatile, suspicious of new people, and quick to pull a gun in order to defend his friends than he’s ever been in the past. If “A Human Reaction” is what began this process, the events of the preceding two-parter, from his torture all the way through to and including Gilina’s death, cemented it, and although the episode refuses to spoon-feed the reason behind this change in him to the audience, it is clear to anyone who has been watching each week.
Furthermore, the plot of this particular episode is tailor-made to constantly driving Crichton’s suspicions, as it’s based on a number of truly clever subversions in which who is “good” and who is “evil” is repeatedly twisted. At the outset, things seem straightforward enough. Crichton, Zhaan, and D’Argo touch down on the asteroid to find a green, verdant paradise of sorts, full of some of the most wondrous vegetation that Zhaan has ever seen. Soon afterwards, they cross paths with the small, fearful, young M’Lee, who claims that her entire family had been slaughtered and devoured by the monster in her initial broadcast. As it so happens, however, the exact opposite is true. The so-called monster is actually a scientist called Br’Nee, the rest of whose expedition team had been devoured by M’Lee, the actual “monster,” a highly deadly alien carnivore with spikes and teeth who subsists on bones and only returns to her “docile” facade when her hunger is satiated, which is a wonderfully Farscape twist fully in line with the lessons John learned in previous episodes about not judging alien creatures based on outward appearances (although this being the flip side of that), as well as its shying away from the standard “damsel-in-distress” narrative.
As it turns out, however, even at that, things aren’t so simple, as M’Lee later reveals the truth to Crichton that although she has committed acts that most sentient species would deem murder, they were all in the name of survival rather than a desire to harm anyone. Br’Nee’s people, on the other hand, are truly culpable. When Crichton and Co. first reached the asteroid, Zhaan was shocked by the fact that there were no other life forms on the planet but flora, which is practically unheard of–no animals whatsoever to compete with or devour the plant life, making it a truly unique place. What John learns from M’Lee is that the real reason this is so is that Br’Nee’s people had deliberately brought her people there to eat up all of the other animal life there, and then, once the meat was all gone, left her people to starve. By the end, they were turning on and eating one another, out of pure desperation. Br’Nee and his team returned once they assumed all of M’Lee’s people had died out and happened to be surprised by the fact that there was still one left behind, who had suffered a great deal and had been on the brink of death before they arrived and she started attacking them.
And although he has a friendly exterior, Br’Nee is no exception to his peoples’ belief that any action is justified in the name of science, soon afterwards turning on Zhaan–who had defended him against John’s accusations–shrinking her with a highly complex scientific instrument in order to bring her back to his planet for study. His cruelty doesn’t only extend to animals but to plants, as well, such as Zhaan, whereas M’Lee’s “cruelty” comes down simply to her biological need, making him the truly heartless one. M’Lee, on the opposite end of the spectrum, agrees to fight her own nature as best she can if Moya’s passengers will agree to take her to a planet with an alternate food source. Francesca Bueller (Ben Browder’s wife, who would appear on Farscape numerous other times, as ro-NA in the second season’s “Look at the Princess” trilogy, Raxil in the third season’s “Scratch N’ Sniff,” and Minister Ahkna throughout the latter half of the fourth season and “Peacekeeper Wars” miniseries) brings a great deal of surprising “humanity” (for lack of a better word) to M’Lee, beautifully capturing her inner conflict: her generally congenial nature versus her ravenous hunger. Bueller manages to make this apex predator extremely sympathetic, even as Marton Csokas makes the “civilized” Br’Nee truly contemptible. At the same time, of course, the two are playing against their physical appearances–brought to life by marvelous Creature Shop work–making for some fascinating dichotomies.
When he is finally cut in two by his own laser–which Zhaan refers to as “justice,” reminding us that her forgiving nature only goes up to a point–Zhaan grimaces afterwards as M’Lee devours him, saying, “There is much cruelty in the universe,” a line laden with meaning, for she’s referring not only to the violence of M’Lee’s actions but the very fact that she has to do this to survive. Crichton responds, “Yeah, we seem to have a treasure map to it,” expanding Zhaan’s discussion of cruelty in nature to all of the cruelty that has been visited upon them over the course of their travels together. And the fact of the matter is that they know that, in order to spare the sympathetic M’Lee’s life, they have to indirectly perform acts of cruelty themselves, or at least facilitate them. The typical sci-fi show wouldn’t have its heroes serving up even their enemies on a platter to a ravenous monster, yet in this episode, it seems oddly kind, at least as far as M’Lee is concerned.
But I mostly glossed over an important point regarding Br’Nee’s kidnapping of Zhaan, which is that this is the episode in which John–and by extension, we–learn that Zhaan is actually an evolved, sentient plant, as are all Delvians. Although this reveal could have happened at any point, the reason it works so well here is because John has only just been through the worst experience of his life, one that nearly broke him and one that largely stripped away the awe he once felt at every new alien thing he encountered. This, however, takes him aback, which shows that underneath the pain, he’s still John, that Scorpy hasn’t taken everything away from him, as well as reminds us that, in the grand scheme of things, he still hasn’t been in this part of the universe that long. There is still an endless supply of basic, everyday knowledge that everyone else around him takes for granted that he doesn’t know and they hadn’t even thought to fill him in on, because they’re so used to everyone knowing it. I love how delighted John starts to get when he discusses Zhaan’s biology with her. For a few seconds, he’s the old John.