And as it turns out, things work out perfectly for him in that regard, as Rygel inadvertently serves John up for him on a plate. Now, when he does so, Rygel actually has Crichton’s best interests at heart. The Empress’ refusal to admit that her security has been insufficient to protect Crichton or her daughter, and that her son could be the guilty party–although, ironically, he actually isn’t, in this case–allows Rygel the opportunity to continue to flex those regal muscles to an extent he hasn’t been able to indulge in for ages. He sees right through her posturing and tells her so, because when it comes down to it, he knows that she needs Crichton and that, for all intents and purposes, in these negotiations, he, Rygel, is her conduit to him. He suggests that Crichton could be kept safe off the planet but in a way that the Empress could still have control over the situation, and she finally admits that there is an unnoticed ship orbiting the planet filled with wedding gifts on which he can be safe–a ship sent by none other than ro-NA’s people, to which Rygel says, “You are most wise, Empress,” and she responds, “And you are most manipulative, Dominar”. The manner in which they so beautifully play the game and spar with one another is a joy to watch, as is the sense that they both have a begrudging respect for one another’s audacity. It is also very Rygel that he doesn’t tell his friends where Crichton is being held, because in his hubris, he believes he now has it all under control–in his mind, he is a Dominar again, with unimpeachable judgment and no need to discuss decisions with his “subjects”–meaning he shares a level of blame, as well.
And as far as John ending up on the ship, the nifty thing is that, as a viewer, one can choose to believe one of two things: (a) Scorpy is smart enough that he foresaw the possibility that ro-NA’s ship would be chosen to stash Crichton; there’s even a chance that, before the Empress brought up the ship to Rygel that ro-NA herself had suggested it to her at Scorpy’s behest and the Empress had kept it in the back of her mind, to bring up if needed, or (b) although he didn’t know where they would stow Crichton, he knew he could always get to him with the proven, “loyal” ro-NA in his pocket, and this just so happens to work out even more conveniently than he had anticipated.
Either way, John arrives on the ship and discovers roNA’s betrayal upon discovering none other than Braca on board, setting off a blisteringly brilliant sequence in which Crichton truly shows that he wasn’t kidding in “Family Ties” when he said he would never be taken alive by Scorpy again, at least as far as he could help it. Not long after Braca contacts Scorpius, who appears via hologram–another clue as to what is going on in Crichton’s head, as the last time we saw a hologram of Scorpius, he seemed to turn into Harvey, in “Crackers Don’t Matter”–John overpowers him by basically freaking him out, first by getting in his face, confident that Braca won’t shoot him, because Scorpy had said in no uncertain terms that he needs him alive, and then by seeming to really go nuts. Not unlike Hamlet, who put on an “antic disposition” in order to fool others at court even whilst potentially actually falling victim to madness, there is a very thin line between Crichton’s initially trying to throw Braca off his guard and his actually starting to snap.
Even the fact that Crichton seems almost suicidal in forcing Braca’s gun to his own head, regardless of the potential danger, and then nearly gets them all killed by priming weapons on the planet, thus activating the Empress’ automated defense system, indicates that he has been driven past his limit. And when the weapons start firing and John responds by laughing manically and screaming in a faux-stoner voice, “We’re so screwed, man! We’re gonna die,” there’s something almost frightening about how much John has changed from the formerly wide-eyed innocent he was at the beginning of the show. He even kills ro-NA in the chaos, dancing her into a wall that has been damaged in the explosion, frying her against its frayed, live wires.
At that point, Braca escapes with the only spacesuit, like the cockroach he is, and with the ship’s comm system damaged beyond repair, it seems like John has run out of options until we get the most direct indication of what might be going on up to this point when Scorpius’ voice manifests in John’s head, encouraging him to not give up and that he must survive. This sets off the heartpounding, breathtaking, indescribably tense sequence in which John, who seems nearly in a trance, jumps out into the vacuum of space sans suit, spinning as the Empress’ weapons continue to fire on the ship, until he manages to reach Moya’s transport pod, and collapse inside, gasping for air and shaking, seeming weaker and feeling more brutalized than we’ve seen him since the Aurora Chair. It’s an absolutely monumental piece of filmmaking that manages to feel both gorgeously, cinematically over the top and rapturously real at once–a stunning achievement truly worthy of the phrase, “space opera,” particularly for a basic cable series from the early 00’s.
But perhaps even more incredible is how it plays on different levels depending on whether its one’s first viewing of the episode or a revisit. The first time, one either wonders whether somehow Scorpius has created some sort of link to John’s mind or otherwise believes that John might be legitimately going mad. The idea of our hero hearing his enemy’s voice in his head, compelling him to survive is genuinely unnerving and could lead us to wonder whether John is losing his sense of self, and also to think that he has possibly gone off the deep end–sure, his jump into space saves his life but it is an unquestionably crazy move. One would have to be extremely observant and uncommonly perceptive to connect this with what happened in “Crackers Don’t Matter” the first time around, as not only did a bunch of episodes occur between them but the fact that everyone was going mad around John at the time provided an ingenious distraction as to what was actually going on with him. It’s not impossible to correctly guess what’s happening here, at least to some degree, but it’s still impressively obscured here (it isn’t until the next episode that we get much more solid clues). On a rewatch, we realize that Harvey is controlling John’s actions, overriding his own mind so to speak in order to save both him and himself, but by the same token, we know that the presence of the clone digging around in his brain is truly driving him mad, as well.
After John is back on the planet, he has a fascinating scene with Aeryn that both Browder and Black knock out of the park. In many ways, it’s a parallel to their closing scene in the previous episode, but with the twist that Aeryn walks in believing that Crichton has finally come around to her way of thinking whereas John is actually feeling more defeated than ever before. We don’t know how much he does or doesn’t know regarding how he survived–other than the fact that he definitely doesn’t know about the clone yet, it isn’t clear whether or not he has any memory of Scorpy’s voice; whether he remembers it and considers it further potential proof that he’s losing his sanity, or if there’s perhaps only the sense that something is wrong inside him, as he’s had in the past–but whereas Aeryn is proud of him for “Being Crichton, the Crichton I always knew,” John doesn’t feel like that man. He feels physically and mentally exhausted, thoroughly defeated.