The only person who proves not to be part of this illusion–who, for all intents and purpose, is real–is Scorpius. Or at least, one of them. There is a Scorpius who appears as part of a reggae band (with Pilot on bongos, of course!) and speaks with a bluesy Southern accent, and then there is the one who acts in character and who approaches Crichton, offering to help him. Before Crichton and we realize that we are actually trapped in his head, this naturally makes Scorpy seem to be the culprit. It’s a completely reasonable assumption, and yet the truth of the matter is that Scorpy is actually trying to protect Crichton, and as we learn later, it is because he is the neural clone who John here dubs Harvey (after the rabbit who James Stewart hallucinated in the classic 1950 film of the same name), whose job is to collect the wormhole data from his head and to keep him alive until the real Scorpius can extract it. Therefore, the irony is that the only other “real” character here is actually an illusion of a different kind–meaning the very fact that he appears in John’s head means he is, by definition, an illusion or hallucination, and yet he was literally implanted there as a sentient albeit artificially intelligent being who is an exact replica of Scorpius, versus everyone else in the episode, all of whom have been drawn from John’s memories and thoughts and have been repurposed to drive him crazy.
What is perhaps most fascinating about the episode, then, is what these dreams-escalating-into-nightmares do or do not say about John Crichton. Some fans took issue with the episode, thinking that they every occurrence was meant to be a representation of what John secretly wants on some level, from the bizarre sex dreams in which Zhaan, Chiana, and even Rygel are dressed in Scorpy-inspired bondage gear and the latter starts to fetishistically whip him to the even more disturbing one in which his deceased mom starts to come onto him (what other show, let alone sci-fi show with Jim Henson puppets, would go there?!), and yet, as episode writer Richard Manning and director Rowan Woods point out in their DVD commentary, this was always meant to be a red herring to an extent. There is the possibility that in some dark recesses of his brain, these thoughts might have crossed his mind before quickly being banished, but what’s definite is that the Scarran who has captured Crichton on the commerce planet is deliberately trying to break down the walls of his mind to discover what makes him tick. He is specifically whipping up the most troubling scenarios he possibly can in order to drive John to insanity.
And, yes, each of these scenarios have an element of truth, or they wouldn’t be so effective, but to read any of the events in this episode as actual “wish-fulfillment” would be incorrect. And I think the reason that some people misinterpreted this episode is because of how Hollywood tends to depict dreams. We’ve been trained through many examples throughout film history and even pop culture to think of dreams as representations of our innermost desires. But real dreams aren’t like that. Real dreams often simply take aspects and fragments from our lives, send them through a blender, and spit out bizarre permutations and connections that we wouldn’t ever actually want or consciously think of. A sex dream about someone doesn’t mean we’re actually interested in having sex with that person. Sometimes it’s a representation of certain anxieties, fears, tensions, what have you, symbolically presented in the weirdest of ways.
Another thing your brain will often do to you when you’re trying to calm down and/or fall asleep: make you think of something you actively don’t want to think about, as if you’re at war with yourself. With John, a lot of this revolves around his aforementioned mother. Up to this point, John had never brought her up. This is actually completely common in sci-fi and fantasy stories, among others. Men tend to focus on their dads, women on their mothers, as if it would imply femininity for the former and masculinity for the latter (a perfect example: although Superman and Batman are both orphans who lost both parents simultaneously, both tend to focus on their fathers when they think about them, in most depictions). The Farscape team had already flipped this to an extent with Aeryn by having her name Talyn after her father, and here they decide to reveal that John didn’t only mention his father before now because of any macho BS but for a specific reason, namely because it was too painful to think about his mom. Because of that, she proves to the perfect tool for the Scarran to torture John with.
After John manages to keep his cool, deliberately refusing to play the game, upon being confronted with a succession of crazy versions of his friends, only then does the Scarran start to break with any attempt to pretend that this might be real, when he bring in John’s mom, who, despite all of the colorful aliens who casually appear on Earth as if nothing is out of the ordinary, is ironically the only person who could under no circumstances be there, and that is because she is dead. At first, “she” tries to get to John by asking him why he’s changed so much, a deliberate, pointed examination of something that John has been afraid of, turning into someone he doesn’t recognize:
JOHN: People change to survive.
MOM: But did you have to lose so much? You were so innocent. So full of wonder. It’s all gone! You’ve become callous. You’ve killed!
JOHN: You can’t know that.
MOM: It’s true, isn’t it? That’s what bothers you. That’s why you can’t sleep nights.
JOHN: I sleep fine.
MOM: Where are you going?
JOHN: Away from something that isn’t my mother.
MOM: Are you going to leave without saying goodbye?
This final line has a great deal more meaning than it seems at first glance, which we learn when she chases him to the bar in the next scene, this time no longer looking as vibrant as she did but instead weak, sick, cancer-ridden, and trailing an IV, begging John to stay with her. Here, we learn that this is how his mom died and that when she was dying, he wasn’t there for her, the implication being that it was too difficult for him to see her in this weakened state, something which has given him a great deal of guilt over the past five years. “Stay with me this time,” she pleads, and this is when John truly starts to break down. We’ve seen him at what has seemed to be at his lowest and what seemed to be the greatest agony imaginable in the Aurora Chair, but what Ben Browder does in this scene is absolutely remarkable, because he manages to convey that for John, this is worse torture than anything Scorpius had ever done to him. “No…No…Oh, god…This is cruel,” he cries, and it is the most emotionally naked, devastating moment he has had on the series to date when what had seemed like a weird, wacky episode in which wild things happen like him comically stealing a cigar from a corporate boss-man Rygel and then cartoonishly tossing him off of a building and in which later Crais will appear as a cop in ruby red high heeled shoes suddenly turns brutally real, like the darker moments of “Crackers Don’t Matter” amped up to a thousand.