After continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “Out of Their Minds” and “My Three Crichtons,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week with the eleventh and twelfth episodes of Season 2.
Just one important note: if you are new to Farscape, you may NOT want to partake of these posts, as I plan on including potentially major spoilers for later events. They are written not for the Farscape virgin but more for the viewer who–if not as obsessive about the show as I am–has at least seen it once through and can appreciate the bits of foreshadowing and long-term arc progression that the show sets up often far in advance.
2.11: “Look at the Princess, Part I: A Kiss is But a Kiss” Original airdate: 21 July 2000
I’m very excited to finally reach the “Look at the Princess” trilogy, as it’s one of my very favorite Farscape arcs, one which works beautifully as an extended standalone story in a world that seems so fleshed-out and lived-in that it very much feels as if Crichton and his friends have been dropped into the middle of a fairy tale saga that has been going on for a long time, but which also expands the series’ narrative scope not only in terms of this planet but as far as the larger Farscape saga. “Look at the Princess” is a crucial chapter in the canon, pushing many of the most important character arcs forward, as well as establishing some key mythology reveals that forever alter the course of the series.
It’s also cool to note that, when the first season debuted, the SciFi Channel was so insistent on the series remaining largely standalone in nature that they balked at the idea of the writers introducing more complex continuity and featuring a two-parter with “Nerve” and “The Hidden Memory”. After those episodes were filmed, though, they were so satisfied with how that arc opened Farscape up on a whole new level that, by the time the second season came around, not only were they eager for more two-parters, but they were actively encouraging three-parters! Which happened twice that year, with the “Look at the Princess” trilogy and the later “Liars, Guns, and Money”. In the former case, what was originally planned as two episodes was expanded during production into three, and this was due to the network’s suggestion that the story might work even better with more room to breathe–one of the seemingly rare cases where a network isn’t only actively encouraging a series to spend more money and be more expansive rather than less but in which its “interference” is fully positive!
Setting the tone for the arc’s more overt focus on relationships than any previous episode, the story begins with an almost-moment-of-romance between John and Aeryn in his module. While she is helping him with some new Moya modifications to the Farscape One, John smells her hair, one of the more intimate positions we have seen them in, and that’s including in the hotel room on the false Earth in “A Human Reaction”. And although Aeryn initially resists his advances, lush, romantic music begins to swell, and soon the two are kissing…only for Aeryn to swiftly break it off and escape the module. The push-and-pull between Aeryn’s desires and her ingrained training and painful past experiences that tell her to avoid serious romantic entanglements is as fascinating to watch as it is frustrating. Although she first claims that she put the scented oils from Zhaan in her hair for herself, not John, she finally, reluctantly admits that it was “to see if you’d notice,” but even given that, she can’t get past her own hang-ups.
And picking up from the last episode, which ended with Chiana consoling John and imparting wisdom to him–a flip of their usual dynamic–here, she does so again, saying, “Hey! There’s too much pressure. She’s scared of the future. So why not just live in the moment?,” a truly lovely and perceptive moment from Chiana. Although Aeryn and Chiana often seem diametrically opposed, they actually have a great deal of common beneath the surface. It’s why Aeryn was able to understand her self-destructive behavior in “Taking the Stone,” and why here, Chiana can speak accurately about Aeryn’s emotions to John. Because, although she isn’t nearly as unwilling as Aeryn to partake in the pleasures of the flesh, the prospect of a meaningful, long-lasting relationship scares her, as well, as we’ll later see when she cheats on D’Argo with Jothee, due to being apprehensive of his long-term plans for them. Later on in this episode, when D’Argo is upset that the two of them aren’t genetically compatible, Chiana brushes it off, saying, “Only our DNA, not the parts that make us feel pleasure.” D’Argo is worrying about the long-term future being tied into their chances of children, while Chiana is living in the moment. The difference between Chiana and Aeryn is that Chiana can “recreate” with D’Argo without worrying about what it means beyond pleasure, whereas Aeryn knows that if she really started something with John, it would have a lasting impact on them both. (It’s also significant that John learns about D’Argo and Chiana’s relationship in the very episode he’s worrying about his and Aeryn’s.)
But, of course, at the same time, Aeryn wants to keep John as an option open, whether she consciously realizes it or not. While she rebels against the idea of “settling down” with Crichton, the idea of him leaving scares her, as well, which is what causes her to act so surprisingly emotionally when he seriously considers accepting the Empress’ offer to marry her daughter on the planet. Aeryn can’t bring herself to admit why she’s so upset by the idea, and that’s the problem for John. “There’s never been anything we couldn’t overcome together,” she tells him–the exact sort of line usually uttered by someone to their lover, which inadvertently reveals Aeryn’s innermost desires, but she still won’t budge, causing John to reply, “Except each other”. Because, really, what are his prospects if he escapes with her? A life perpetually on the run from a madman with a woman who might never acknowledge her feelings for him (the unspoken subtext of Browder’s performance is that Crichton could have changed his mind if Aeryn would have given him a reason to) versus a life as the co-ruler of a empire with a kind wife, beautiful children in his future, and protection from Scorpius forever, or so it seems.
Of course, I’m jumping a bit ahead of myself here, but this is a very complicated episode to unpack, from a plot standpoint. As with all of Farscape, however, all of the external worldbuilding is in service of John’s arc, which is particularly interesting here, as our heroes have been plopped into a more complex situation than ever before, filled with all sorts of politics and courtly intrigue, yet what all of these politics and courtly intrigue are actually doing is obscuring the very simple heart of the matter, which is that it really all comes down to Scorpius wanting John–also a romance of sorts, albeit a dark one that stands as a sharp contrast to the lovey-doveyness that seems to permeate the air of this planet, what with all of the kissing and talk of marriage and children (although even that is a facade, given the Empress is trying to strong-arm Crichton into a loveless political marriage).