Put as simply as possible, this empire is actually made up of Sebaceans who broke off from the Peacekeepers 1900 cycles ago, and it has been flourishing ever since then, despite the PKs’ initial belief that they would never survive out here in the Uncharted Territories–which we finally learn is actually a condescending PK term for an area of the galaxy that is simply outside of their purview. Because this kingdom is such a significant territory, both the PKs and their mortal enemies, the Scarrans–the reptilian alien race that make up one half of Scorpius’ parentage–want to control it, and the latter have made a move towards this in recent years. According to this planet’s laws, rule of their empire is passed down to the firstborn, regardless of gender, as long as the firstborn can provide future children, but the Scarrans have gotten to the younger Prince Clavor, promising him even greater power if he becomes ruler instead and allies with them. And so with the influence and help of his Scarran “friend,” Cargn (the first Scarran we ever see on the series), he somehow poisoned his older sister, Princess Katrala’s, DNA, in order to make it incompatible with that of other Sebaceans. If Katrala can’t find a suitable mate by the time of her coronation, the throne instead goes to Clavor, which would ensure the Scarrans take over the empire and have a huge foothold in the Uncharted Territories.
However, the situation changes when Crichton shows up because, through a test performed on all men who come to the kingdom, he proves to be the only man they have encountered who is capable of impregnating her with a healthy child. And although he initially scoffs at the idea, because he doesn’t love the princess, the cold, calculating Empress gives him an ultimatum: he either marries her daughter or she will give him to Scorpius, who then enters the room and presents a very different facade than we’ve seen from him before–warm, cordial, and jovial, giving John a very intimate hug:
JOHN: I hate to say that you’ve wasted your time, Scorpy, but you have.
SCORPIUS: You know that no matter what you think, the rift between us need not be terminal.
JOHN: Go away, Scorpy. It’s over. Find another girlfriend.
And although John says this largely in bitter jest, it does establish a homoerotic vibe that begins to manifest in their interactions throughout the rest of the series, not in the literal sense of them ever being a potential romantic pairing but in its intensity and intimacy.
And speaking literally, Scorpius does want to be inside of John–his brain, that is. And what John doesn’t know yet is that he already is, and not just in a figurative sense. The reason Scorpius is haunting his dreams, constantly “in my head…Back of my mind, corner of my eye,” is because of the neural clone. John doesn’t learn the truth yet but a seed is planted. When he first sees Scorpius again, we cut to inside John’s mind, where we see a flurry of flashbacks from his time in the Aurora Chair, and yet not all of these clips are from “Nerve”/”The Hidden Memory”. A new one is planted in there, as well, in which Scorpius whispers to him, “Something to remember me by”. Just as the Ancients had hidden the wormhole knowledge inside his brain, as revealed in a new “flashback” in “The Hidden Memory,” Scorpius had blocked Crichton’s memory of his also having put something into his brain, now alluded to with a new “flashback”.
This also again reiterates the recurring motif throughout the series of Crichton being placed in the damsel/victim role typically given to women in these sorts of stories. Scorpius tortured and violated Crichton and has continued to hunt him down and terrify him since then, literally stalking him inside his own mind, and now a female ruler is using John as a pawn and an object, forcing him into marrying her daughter or she will effectively feed him to his tormentor. The fairy tale atmosphere is also enhanced by the random chance of his having arrived in the kingdom at exactly the right/wrong moment. As Crichton says to Rygel, “I am the reverse King Arthur. I am the one who could put the sword into the stone!” Meanwhile, the princess is a victim of her mother’s rule and the laws of her kingdom, as well. She is actually in love with the Empress’ councilor, Tyno (as he is with her), but cannot be with him or her brother will destroy the empire, and yet part of her doesn’t care. It’s mostly Tyno who refuses to allow them to put their desires over the millions of people in the empire who would suffer as a result.
What makes the scenario really work is that, in both cases, there is both a grander and more intimate, character-based aspect to the decision. For Katrala, it is her love for Tyno vs. her love for her kingdom. For John, while he certainly doesn’t want to condemn countless people to misery, he has personal reasons for agreeing to the marriage, which center on his fear of Scorpius and a lack of response from Aeryn (who doesn’t want Katrala to have him but won’t admit she wants him, either), and which, since we know and care for John intimately, are what really drive the drama for us as viewers. Rather than asking us to care about hypothetical offscreen millions of people we don’t know, the conflict instead is centered on John’s emotions and fears, which are as tangible to us as they are to him. There’s something scary about seeing John consider “giving up” like this. We don’t often see our scifi heroes realize that they can’t win and come to accept a lesser of two evils, and it raises the stakes and the direness of the situation enormously.
And what’s ironic is that Scorpius doesn’t actually care about any of the things that the others in this kingdom believe he does. The Empress is so focused on keeping her territory out of the hands of the Scarrans and the Peacekeepers that, when Scorpius shows up, she can think of no possible reason other than that it is to attempt to make the first moves for PK control in the area. The same goes for Cargn, who assumes Scorpius is there specifically to undermine his plans. What they don’t understand is that he couldn’t care less about this planet. He only has eyes for Crichton. He simply manipulates the situation in order to get close to him again. The irony, of course, is that Cargn is right about one thing: Scorpius does actually long to defeat the Scarrans. It is his central motivation in life (as we’ll learn more of in the third season’s “Incubator,” but which is hinted at here when Cargn reveals that Scorpius’ father was a Scarran and mother a Peacekeeper). It’s just that he’s looking at a much bigger picture. He sees the wormhole knowledge in Crichton’s head as the best means of achieving that end. As soon as he has it, he can implement technology that could help him and the PKs easily wipe out the Scarrans, but since this is top secret information, the others around him don’t know this and thus play directly into his machinations. He uses the Empress’ paranoia to help trap John exactly where he wants him (although in this first episode, we don’t yet know why his marrying Katrala would be to Scorpy’s advantage, but it becomes clear in the second part of the trilogy). Also important to note on a rewatch is that Scorpius’ hatred of the Scarrans is just as fully personal to Scorpy as Crichton’s own drives are to himself–although we don’t know it the first time around.
Returning to John, the personal stakes raise for him even further when he gets a glimpse of what his and Katrala’s child might look like, through an amazing piece of technology that can extrapolate a fully lifelike hologram of a potential future child of theirs, based on a mix of their DNA. This is the true flipside to the nightmarish vision of a “future Crichton” in the previous episode, and brings out the best in John. The moment he sees the baby and then a slightly older version, the game changes for him. Browder is superb, instantly transforming before our eyes when he first sees the child, beaming with such pride and optimism for the future. It no longer feels like an abstract idea but tangible and real, which is also ironic given this isn’t a real child but a projection. Claudia Black does an equally stunning job with Aeryn’s reaction when she stumbles upon this scene, because she sees in John’s eyes that this potential child could turn these three into the sort of happy family that she’s terrified to create with him, and for a moment, the realization that she might have lost him is as scary to her as the idea of having him.