Farscape 2.03-2.04: “Taking the Stone”; “Crackers Don’t Matter”

The second one is when Crichton overpowers Chiana and speaks to her in an intensely, brutally sexualized manner that implies that he is considering raping her. This latter, controversial moment was actually added to the episode after initial filming was done, because director Ian Watson didn’t feel the tone had hit the right level of darkness yet, and while the reason some people dislike this scene is completely understandable, it certainly helps shift the tone of the entire episode into something legitimately dangerous. Because, although the characters do come close to killing each other at different points in “Crackers Don’t Matter,” as audience members, we can be reasonably assured that no one is actually going to succeed, but this sort of threat feels more visceral and nastily real, particularly coming from the “good guy male lead,” which really hammers home just how unstable everyone is becoming, gradually transforming from exaggerated versions of themselves to something truly monstrous.

This is also the point that can be seen to paradoxically assure the viewers that these characters are being pushed far past the realm of how they would ever behave under normal circumstances. While Crichton will be horrified by what he does here at the end of the episode, just as he was when the sentient virus inside him killed the PK scientist in “A Bug’s Life,” I don’t think anyone watching really believes Crichton would ever actually want to force himself upon Chiana. In his normal state, I don’t believe Chiana even thinks of Chiana in that way, other than perhaps chance moments of arousal brought on by simply being a guy, but at the same time, what he does certainly could lead John to the disturbing question of if he does have that capacity after all.

Significantly, however, there is an additional explanation, and that is the Scorpy in John’s head–Harvey, really–who, at this point, John assumes to just be a hallucination caused by T’raltixx but which we now know is the neural clone that Scorpy planted in Crichton’s head in order to collect the wormhole data, and who at this point is arguably fulfilling his function of protecting John by actively convincing him to attack all of the others. As we will later learn, his primary directive is to keep Crichton safe and alive until Scorpius can retrieve the information, and so in retrospect, what seems to be madness solely orchestrated by T’raltixx might also largely be Harvey realizing that T’raltixx’s influence could cause the others to kill Crichton and so instead encouraging him to do so first.

The manner in which the Farscape writers choose to first introduce Harvey–one of the most important characters in the entire series–in an episode that is ostensibly a comedy, and then manage to obscure the truth about him by making him seem to be caused by the same insanity affecting everyone on the ship, the only clues that something else might be happening being the fact that no one other than John experiences any visions of characters who aren’t there (unlike what happens in “Rhapsody in Blue”), and, even more obscurely the first time through, that Crichton had been acting erratic prior to this episode, is nothing short of genius. And on a later rewatch, not only does one realize the truth about Harvey but notice how Crichton’s behavior in this episode foreshadows how Harvey will come to fully take him over at the end of the season, again becoming a very real danger to his friends and loved ones, both in a sexual context (slowly, grotesquely licking Aeryn’s face after kissing her and knocking her out) and a life-threatening one (shooting down Aeryn’s Prowler).

At the same time, it’s also possible that Harvey is the reason that John is able to rally himself together by the end and become more relatively coherent than the others–relatively meaning he handcuffs all of his friends, and still keeps threatening them, and exploding piles of crackers around them with his pulse pistol the entire time. Which leads into the utterly gonzo and divinely brilliant finale, in which they realize that the only way John will be able to face T’raltixx is if they dress him up in a sort-of bizarro knight costume (with Zhaan’s puke rubbed on his face, because Farscape) in order to protect him from the harsh effects of the light and the little alien’s influence, as well as to use T’raltixx’s own technology to make him temporarily invisible. And John does so, fights him and ultimately succeeds in killing him, skewering him through with the Qualta Blade, which on the one hand, is a triumphant action (he’s saving his friends and himself) but on the other adds yet another shade of darkness to John, as it isn’t something he would ever do earlier on in the series. It’s certainly the first time he’s ever killed someone in such a direct physical manner, with a blade rather than a gun or explosion from further back.

In the final moments of the episode, apologies are made, but they are all still genuinely wounded, and not just physically, although D’Argo is still healing from Crichton having shot him in the leg (another “Holy dren!” moment, particularly given he doesn’t allow D’Argo to force the blood into running clear when it happens). At the same time, no one is holding onto a grudge forever, likely because they all behaved abominably in different ways. The scene in which D’Argo apologizes to Rygel is particularly telling about the state of their relationship. When he asks if he can ever forgive him, Rygel at first says “No!” and then follows that up a few second later with, “Not yet…” which is another example of Farscape managing to show character growth in a completely unsentimental manner, because even just the fact that Rygel of all people clarifies that his anger won’t be permanent quietly says a great deal about how they’ve progressed as friends.

And it says something about how much Farscape has grown that, by its second season, it could pull off an episode such as this, that can veer from hilarious to frightening, and often both at the same time, all the while conjuring a seemingly chaotic, experimental-film atmosphere, but always with complete control of tone and character underneath the mad facade. A remarkable episode, indeed.

Other odds and ends:

–It’s notable that the issue of food is such a driving force in the episode. Although the difficulty in procuring food for Moya’s passengers has come up before, this is the first one to really fully emphasize just how desperate their situation can be. The fact that they can even be driven to fighting to the death over crackers reminds us that this is the rare scifi space show where a basic human need such as food isn’t always a given for the characters. Which makes it all the more impressive that the episode uses that partially as a basis for some very dark comedy here.

–Mindfrelled Zhaan’s initial distrust of Aeryn, threatening to attack her over being a Peacekeeper is intriguingly placed, given it’s only one episode before some truths about Aeryn’s PK past come out in “The Way We Weren’t,” in which they will again be at odds. The same goes for John’s cutting remarks to Aeryn about having betrayed her PK vows and basically now no longer having a purpose, since she is likely still stinging from these remarks when the bombshells of the next episode are dropped.

–I probably favored the dark stuff in this post more than the episode’s genuinely funny moments, because there’s less to discuss when it comes to them, but really, this episode is incredibly funny–and sometimes even more so due to the razor-sharp edge. Ben Browder and Claudia Black in particular have some great moments of wacky verbal and physical sparring that are sidesplittingly hilarious, and there are countless other great moments throughout, including Chiana’s paranoia over why Aeryn doesn’t seem to want to let her see the beacon, Zhaan again blissing out in photogasmic pleasure, John referencing D’Argo’s propensity for counting “Mippippippi”s, again, the entire “knight” sequence, and Pilot verbally dismantling Crichton and his entire species for being stupid. Incidentally, this last case is also another aspect that will be reflected in the next one. Although the mindfrelled Pilot is a little scary, especially when he basically acts like T’raltixx’s zombie servant, his state of pissiness at everyone, particularly Crichton, here is mostly played for laughs, whereas in the very next episode, he will demonstrate genuine and understandable rage at Aeryn unlike anything we’ve ever seen from him, which his snit here–an amplification of the feelings of dissatisfaction he sometimes gets due to Moya’s passengers’ behavior–foreshadows.

–The episode also contains one of my all-time favorite Farscape sight gags, when in a nicely underplayed bit, we can see DRDs attempting to use their lasers to fix the piles of broken crackers in the final scene.

–Do I even need to keep mentioning the brilliance of Browder’s performances? Here, he brings Crichton’s mania to a fever pitch that deliberately recalls Jack Nicholson’s in The Shining, in all of its menacing glory, while also having to play comedy at the same time. Breathtaking.

Next: “The Way We Weren’t” and “Picture If You Will”

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Author: Robert Berg

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1 Comment

  1. Funnily enough, at the time “Taking the Stone” was written, the writers hadn’t yet come up with the neural chip plotline. As I recall, that story grew out of the Scorpius hallucination in “Crackers Don’t Matter,” which makes sense; hints of Harvey don’t reappear until the “Look at the Princess” trilogy, which would be about where the writer’s room would have been at the time “Crackers Don’t Matter” was produced.

    I think it’s interesting, because much of the neural chip plotline, even after Harvey is revealed, could play as straight trauma, and it seems that’s what “Taking the Stone” was originally intended to play as. (Actually, I think the best reading of the text would have John’s crazier/suicidal tendencies in “Taking the Stone” as a result of his trauma, and not the neural chip’s doing at all; it’s hard to imagine why Harvey would want John to eat a mushroom that could kill him, and with him, the wormhole technology.) It leads into one of the neat Farscape conundrums where a character has both a mundane psychological trauma and some sci-fi problem that mimics/plays into the symptoms of that trauma, and we as viewers have to decide on our own how much of their behavior to attribute to one or the other. (There are shades of this in both John’s and Chiana’s season-four storylines, for instance.)

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  1. Farscape 2.05-2.06: “The Way We Weren’t”; “Picture If You Will” | DreamPunk - […] continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “Taking the Stone” and “Crackers Don’t Matter,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week with…

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