The irony, as aforementioned, however is that where she escapes to is an almost literal planet of the dead. The surface of the planet is occupied by the graves of deceased monarchs, and the caves underneath are filled with tribes of very young people who have never seen a healthy person older than 22 and who constantly, casually put their lives at risk, from the possibly-poisonous drugs they take to the “taking the stone” ritual in which they jump from a very high platform down a circular chasm with nothing but jagged rocks and gravel at the bottom, during which they have to hum at a certain pitch and resonance in order to activate an invisible sonic net or be dashed to pieces when they hit the ground. All of these kids, who speak in a strange form of tribal slang and have created their own mythology around “taking the stone” feel like they are living to an extent that no one else does, and yet they all have to eventually “take the stone” without humming in order to avoid falling victim to an illness that Crichton and the others come to discover is brought on by exposure to radiation from the caves in which they are living and ironically wouldn’t be an issue on the surface. And thus they constantly live in the shadow of death but at the same time experience constant denial about it. They tell themselves that “taking the stone” is what it means to really live, even if it only lasts a moment or two.
In other words, the ultimate goal for the kids on this planet is to eventually kill themselves, which sometimes occurs by accident, because the participant happened to not hum at the right pitch, and eventually is always on purpose. I don’t think Chiana truly wants to die, however. She does want to put herself in extreme danger and to prove to herself that she can survive, and yes, there is a chance that the attempt could kill her, which she accepts, but she sees it as a challenge, not a suicide attempt. And John spends a great deal of the episode not understanding that. He finally comes to grasp the pain that she’s going through and his own culpability in having pushed her away, about which he feels a great deal of guilt, but it isn’t until the end that he comes to realize why Chiana feels she needs to do it. He spends most of the episode in a big brother/paternal role, and is so dead-set on preventing her from jumping that at one point he sedates her and tries to drag her back to Moya against her will, which Aeryn won’t let him do:
AERYN: Crichton, just listen to me, will you? If Chiana really wants to, she’s going to find a way to kill herself, and maybe not here or now. So you have to let her work through this on her own. You cannot take her back to Moya like this.
JOHN: When did you get so insightful?
AERYN: I understand loss.
JOHN: So do I.
It’s a great moment, arguably being the first time Aeryn is the one giving Crichton advice on how to be “more human,” so to speak–advising him on how to put himself in Chiana’s shoes and see things from her perspective. And a great deal of this newfound ability I believe comes from her time as a parental figure to Talyn, who, significantly, she also recently lost. She had to allow him to make his own decision, even if she didn’t like it, and that’s the same advice she’s now giving John. And in many ways, he was being very caring towards Chiana ever since arriving on the planet but he was also doing so in an over-protective father sort of way, not letting her make her own decisions and arrive at what she felt was best for herself, and what John has to do is let go in order to realize that, again, she’s working through her grief, not succumbing to it. I love the moment that she finally jumps and manages to hold herself up with her voice, not only because it is such a triumph for her, but because John wholeheartedly cheers her on. He puts aside the lectures and the scolding and instead just revels in Chiana’s accomplishment, support that probably helps her decide to return to her life aboard Moya just as much as the jump itself did. I also love their final moments together in the episode, when she buries her Life Disc, and she calls John, “Old Man,” to which he responds, “Little Girl”–a heartsearingly tender moment that is all the more so because it’s downplayed so beautifully by both actors.
The fact that Crichton can’t talk Chiana out of jumping is also reflected by the fact that, even upon revealing to the kids that all they have to do is move to the surface in order to avoid their fate rather than committing suicide, they choose to stay in the deadly caves. This is Farscape-as-the-anti-Star-Trek more so than perhaps ever before, because it follows the classic Trek model of the crew landing on a planet and revealing a truth to the people there that is meant to fix all of the problems with their culture, but in this case, despite all evidence, it goes completely ignored. Although the rituals were created to help people cope with life the way it is, even when they learn that there is a better way to live, thus meaning those rituals have outlived their purpose, they would rather stick to them, because that’s what they’re used to–even though it means literal death–than move on, which can be read as a fascinating criticism of religion in the modern day. At the same time, it isn’t such a one-sided argument, because as we see, at least through Chiana, there is an up side to the ritual, as well, which is that the thrill of it helps her come to truly appreciate life again. We can sit in judgment on those kids, but it’s not as if life on the surface of that planet, which gets no sunlight and is covered with graves, would feel more like truly living to them than the indescribable rush of taking the stone.