Farscape 3.11-3.12: “Incubator”; “Meltdown”

After continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “Losing Time” and “Relativity,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week with the eleventh and twelfth episodes of Season 3.

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.

3.11: “Incubator” Original airdate: 13 July 2001

"Incubator"

“Incubator”

Nearly two years after first introducing the seemingly horrifying Scorpius to the Farscape universe, the series finally revealed the true motivations behind his hatred of the Scarrans and obsession with wormhole technology in this fantastic, disturbing, and formula-defying third season episode. The brilliance of his backstory is that it manages to make Scorpius more sympathetic to an extent while neither excusing any of his previous actions nor defanging this magnificent villain. Not unlike what “That Old Black Magic” did for Crais (at least up until “The Hidden Memory”), in some ways, knowing more about Scorpius actually makes him scarier. His hatred and thirst for vengeance is so pure and singleminded, he will do anything–including destroying countless lives–to see it to fruition. At the same time, however, “Incubator” goes a long way towards proving that Scorpius and the Peacekeepers very well might be the lesser of the two evils, which is downright terrifying.

After the show got us accustomed to the alternating Talyn and Moya episodes for a few episodes, “Incubator” surprises us at first by seeming for a while to potentially be set almost entirely at Scorpius’ new wormhole research center and inside his head. As the episode progresses, this turns out to not be the case. There is a Moya-set B-plot, as well, that is directly related, however this installment is remarkable for being the only one to actually center on a Farscape villain. Over the course of the series, we have spent a great deal of time in John Crichton’s head, and in much of that time, Scorpius was inside it, as well. “Incubator” ingeniously flips the concept with a story in which John Crichton and, by extension, we are instead inside Scorpius’.

At the start of “Incubator,” Scorpius’ research team is instead tearing out their proverbial hair over the fact that their test pilots keep turning into gooey liquid whenever they attempt to traverse a wormhole. As it turns out, when designing the neurochip, Scorpy’s scientists hadn’t taken into account how well the Ancients had hidden the information inside John’s head. There is, apparently, a piece of coding that they’ve been unable to unlock which might contain the reason that they keep failing, and Scorpy decides that the only way to do so might be to talk to the chip, or rather, the John Crichton inside the chip. Because, yes, just as there had been some “bleedover” that caused Harvey to be copied into John’s brain, a version of John now resides inside the chip, as well–the third version of Crichton to appear on Farscape this season, and this one, again, ironically a neural clone who is inserted into Scorpy‘s head via the coolant rod system. And reasserting that these neural clones are full, sentient beings, when this Crichton first appears, he doesn’t realize that he isn’t the real deal, nor that he’s in Scorpy’s mind rather than vice versa. (This is also yet another case of a plot point that would be endlessly confusing to someone who hadn’t seen any previous episodes, given that one of the other Johns also appears in “Incubator,” with no explanation for newcomers. In many ways, this was probably the season that most impacted the show’s ability to attract a wider audience. It is also the series’ best, specifically because it isn’t concerned with that at all. It’s dense, complex, and requires commitment on the part of the viewer.)

Furthermore, the last thing this Crichton remembers is being in the operating room in “Die Me, Dichotomy”. This is a crucial point, not only because it establishes him as a distinct entity from the two other Crichtons on the show now–each having his own separate experiences–but because it means he doesn’t realize that Aeryn is alive again, which plays a key factor in how the situation resolves.

Returning to Scorpy, what he plans to do is to convince John to help him decode that last hidden piece of information, and he decides to do so by revealing his own history to him, feeling that if he could just show Crichton how extremely important his mission is and make him realize that he, Scorpius, isn’t driven by greed or a lust for power and that John can help him save the universe from a horrifying scourge. And so Scorpy opens up to him, allowing him to see all of his deepest, darkest secrets, realizing that he needs to be honest if he expects Crichton to help him. The irony, of course, is that he isn’t actually opening up to anyone but himself. This isn’t the real Crichton but instead a mere reflection of him in his head, and yet the situation is very real to Scorpius, who nearly dies due to being overwhelmed by having to relive some of these traumatic experiences. Also, significantly, although for now, we the audience are the only ones who “really” learn anything, once Scorpy brings in the real Crichton (or one of them, anyway), he will show him these same memories, and so it will have a real impact outside of expositing to the audience–only not just yet.

Significantly, none of Scorpy’s history is completely surprising, but it wasn’t intended to be. One huge clue regarding that is the fact that Tauza, the harsh Scarran woman who heartlessly tortured him as a child in an attempt to snuff out his “Sebacean weaknesses”–even though this is a physical impossibility, given his biological inability to handle extreme heat, meaning he simply suffered–told him that his mother was Scarran and his father Sebacean, which goes against what we had learned in the “Look at the Princess” trilogy. A viewer who remembered this detail would instantly notice this red flag and come to wonder why she had lied, or whether the show had slipped up in its continuity. But, no, as it turns out, she was lying to him. He realized this himself through his unique ability–of which she is unaware–to see in a sort of x-ray vision that allows him to read heat signatures, as a side effect of his singular biology–finally explaining the reason he was able to instantly tell Crichton wasn’t Sebacean, all the way back in “Nerve”. Once he discovered her falsehood by noticing how her heat signature changed color when she told it, he concocted a plan to escape, which he finally did after convincing Tauza of his compliance, spending a number of years traveling through the Uncharted Territories, attempting to discover information on his parents. And, although he doesn’t specifically mention it, this would have been the period that he fell in with Natira, as the next time we see him, having voluntarily surrendered to the Peacekeepers in order to learn whatever they might know about his parents in exchange for his knowledge of the Scarrans, he already has his first, primitive coolant system.

From the Peacekeepers, he learned that his mother and her husband had been part of a group of Sebaceans who had planned on colonizing a planet in the Uncharted Territories but whose ship had been attacked by Scarrans. These two young people were the only ones to escape the slaughter, managing to evacuate in a small pod and landing alone on the planet. After a very short time alone in this vast frontier atmosphere, however, a Scarran tracked them down, killed the young man and abducted his wife–a conceit that, according to episode director Ian Watson, was inspired by the origin story of Tarzan. After Scorpy found this vessel years later, he instantly became locked within it, and a signal began transmitting to the Scarrans–it had been booby-trapped by Tauza, who had assumed he’d find it eventually. Once back in her clutches, he learned the full truth: that his mother had been brutally raped by that Scarran–a horrific ordeal that shattered her mind–as part of a scientific experiment. Later on, the difficult childbirth killed her. Upon learning the truth, Scorpius, in a rage, broke a used coolant rod in two and poetically gouged out Tauza’s eyes with the resulting glass shards. After killing her, he returned to the Peacekeepers, who gave him a high-ranking position in exchange for the loyalty he’d shown them, making the rare exception to their “purity” rules (which again shows just how arbitrary their “irreversibly contaminated” rulings are). Since then, he has been desperately trying to develop wormhole tech in order to wipe out the Scarrans all together before they can wipe out every planet and species other than their own.

But returning to my earlier point, although most major aspects of Scorpy’s backstory such as his mother having been raped by a Scarran aren’t a huge surprise–it would be difficult to have imagined it being a romantic or willing relationship, given what we know of Scarrans and how much Scorpius hates them–what is so powerful and effective about the episode is the confirmation that Scorpy has a heart, as twisted as it might have been by hatred and vengeance. We are inside his head and bear witness to how profoundly painful his childhood was, and the tortures and indignities he suffered at Tauza’s hands, and we also see his mother’s rape through his own eyes (having seen a video file of Tauza’s), and realize how devastating it is for him to replay these memories and emotions–so much so that it nearly kills him. David Franklin had always played Scorpius magnificently, always hinting that there was more to him than met the eye, and here, when he finally gets to show what drives Scorpy in full, he truly knocks it out of the park, beautifully conveying his agony and his desperation. You really get a sense for why he always speaks in his higher, cultured tones. He is trying to divorce himself from his Scarran background as much as he can. And, again, it’s one thing to guess why the villain is the way he is. It’s another to see it, and to experience the honest, heartbreakingly “human” emotions beneath the hateful exterior.

As I said before, however, what makes Farscape such a great story is that, although it explains his motivations, it refuses to excuse the horrendous actions he’s performed throughout his run on the show. The episode’s final irony is that, even after Scorpy bears his heart and soul to the Crichton neural clone, John refuses to help him, an echo of the nightmares Scorpy was having about John defeating him in “Losing Time”. And his reasoning makes sense. Having good intentions doesn’t forgive all of the pain he has caused John. Remember, as I said before, as far as this clone knows, Aeryn is still dead. Scorpy killed the woman he loved and now wants his help. And in addition, John also probably isn’t too keen on giving the Peacekeepers wormhole tech. It may be the lesser of the two evils in the short term, but who’s to say that the PKs can be trusted with it after they stop the Scarrans? So, no, John decides he can’t give it to him, because after all, the Ancients who entrusted him with the knowledge told him that only those who can figure it out for themselves are worthy of having it. And the amazing thing is that we have been in Scorpy’s POV for so long in this episode that, at least momentarily, we might almost side with him over John. Look at how much he suffered and how much sense he’s making! But if we take a moment to look at the broader picture, it’s impossible to forget all that Scorpy has done to John and so many others, as well as to remember, again, that this wormhole info isn’t his to possess nor John’s to give.

The story then culminates in what seems like an utter defeat for Scorpy–not only did John not help him but the emotions make him so overheated that the chip becomes irreparably fried within him. Braca even scalds his hand on the red-hot coolant rod when he tries to remove it for him. But although he didn’t get everything he wanted, he was able to memorize a section of the swirling code before Crichton shut him down, and he thinks it might just be enough to save the project. Of course, a viewer on a rewatch knows that he will need the real John’s help after all, but for now, it manages to end the episode on an interesting note of both combined defeat and triumph for Scorpy–he didn’t get exactly what he wanted but, in the moment, he thinks he just might have been able to slither away with a significant piece of the puzzle that he wouldn’t have otherwise had. Even in defeat, he wins. And that’s Scorpius to a tee.

Other odds and ends:

–In a brilliant example of very long-term arcing, Scorpius has a certain, most unusual-looking flower in his quarters, the very same sort of flower that we see growing on the planet that his mother’s people were planning to colonize. We don’t learn the significance until nearly the end of the fourth season. This is a flower that Scarrans actually need to be around, because proximity to it is what gives them their higher functions. Without it, they are base lizards. And so, in retrospect, it explains why they had been guarding that planet from the Sebacean colonists. This flower is very rare, so they likely do their best to prevent others from going to any world on which they find it. Significantly, one of the planets that has it happens to be Earth.

–In this episode, Braca also ironically proves his loyalty to Scorpius…by nearly letting him die. Although the nurse worries throughout the procedure and keeps trying to unhook him, Braca understands the importance and won’t let her intervene, which makes him seem even more stalwart and impressive to Scorpius, Braca even ultimately badly wounding himself in a final attempt to save him.

–I didn’t discuss the Moya plot yet, but it’s also very interesting. One of Scorpy’s scientists, Co-Kurra Strappa, comes up with a certain sort of phase shielding that she believes will counteract the liquification problem and requests to test fly it, afterwards escaping through a nexus of wormholes and finding Moya, telling John and Co. that she was convinced that Scorpy would kill her when the project was done. Pilot is particularly inclined to believe her as she’s from a race that are long-time friends to Leviathans, and when she offers to give John her secret to traversing wormholes–he hadn’t even been aware of the liquification issue before she told him–in exchange for Moya, it provokes an interesting discussion on several levels. For one, Pilot is actually inclined to take her up on it, because she promises to take Moya and him into deep space, something that the two of them have always dreamed of. Further, the various crew members have different opinions on the situation. D’Argo thinks John is again falling victim to wormhole madness–and even goes so far as to accuse him of contributing to Zhaan’s death as a result of the last time he did. He also doesn’t trust that she won’t sell them out to Scorpy. Chiana actually believes her as far as that is concerned but thinks she’s lying to Pilot and Moya about wanting to go into deep space with them and that she’s instead saying what she knows they want to hear so that they’ll help her get away from Scorpy. In the end, they never find out the truth because Co-Kurra begins to melt, regardless, and flies out on her Prowler, choosing suicide before she can dissolve to nothingness. However, the plot does again allow the writers to explore a situation in which the crew’s motives may be at odds with one another and in which they may be inclined to behave selfishly rather than for the good of the rest of them. And this case is particularly unique since Pilot and Moya were given a reason to consider choosing another over the people who have been living on her for years.

–Returning to the melting issue, again, John wasn’t aware of it before now. Co-Kurra attributes it to luck on his part, because the wormhole that brought him to this neck of the galaxy happened to be fully stable. This would make sense to a degree. It’s possible that the Pathfinders created that other wormhole and would know the way to make one completely s

3.12: “Meltdown” Original airdate: 14 July 2001

"Meltdown"

“Meltdown”

And now we return to Talyn for yet another one of those I-enjoy-it-but-many-other-fans-don’t-seem-to episodes. Here’s the thing: it’s not that I will blindly adore any episode of Farscape, even though I honestly don’t think there’s a single one that I outright dislike, and the reason is that there was such an immense level of ingenuity and unbridled imagination to every single episode, so even the misfires have truly enjoyable elements. And I wouldn’t even call “Meltdown” a misfire, though I can understand why people who don’t like Stark might not have much patience for it. I happen to be a huge fan of the character and Paul Goddard’s work, however, which certainly makes it go down easier.

The major problem with “Meltdown” is that its main plot, of an evil creature who lives inside a “siren” sun, luring Leviathans to their deaths, and who has trapped the soul of one such Leviathan’s passengers between our realm and the Other Side for countless years, doesn’t have much or any impact outside itself, on any of the characters besides Stark, nor does it have much thematic resonance either, other than perhaps as a reminder of what Stark is currently going through in mourning Zhaan, the love of his life. Meanwhile, everyone else is being driven crazy by the mist, and to be honest, there are far better Farscape episodes about everyone going nuts, the best of which, “Crackers Don’t Matter” is referenced here.

With that said, there is some highly entertaining material that occurs as a result of the mist. It intensifies Rygel’s gluttony to the point that even he is practically begging the others to stop him from eating because he can’t stop himself. It turns Crais into an exaggerated parody of the worst of himself, back when he was a PK captain, constantly screaming at everyone, pointing his gun, accusing them of mutiny, and bellowing, “I’m the captain!” a line which inspires each person in turn to laugh in his face. And it turns up Crichton and Aeryn’s passion for each other into a practically smoldering heat that leads to some of the most in-your-face erotic and simultaneously funny sexual situations that have ever made their way onto a sci-fi program. What I particularly love about the latter is that it really allows the show to establish just how hot and heavy these two crazy kids are for each other. It’s great to see Aeryn in particular letting herself go and being this sensual, and knowing what is going to happen in the near future to this John, they both certainly deserve it.

Speaking of which, there are some sad bits of foreshadowing when one takes the upcoming “Infinite Possibilities” into account, such as when Aeryn tells John she’s never going to let him go. Meanwhile, at another point, Crais warns Talyn that if he keeps attempting to fly into the sun, he’s going to kill himself and them along with him, which takes on a whole other level of meaning when one remembers how Talyn and Crais’ lives end in the season’s penultimate episode. In a similar vein, other lines sprinkled throughout the episode about how big Talyn is growing and how large he will get become similarly tragic in retrospect. So I guess in that way, there is some symbolic resonance regarding impending death in this one, although the specifics of the plot still aren’t perfectly calibrated to that theme.

Expanding on the growing Talyn theme, he also happens to be growing a vestigial Pilot’s den, which causes a great deal of trouble when Stark hooks himself into it and takes control of Talyn, wresting it from Crais and the others, first in order to fly Talyn away from the sun, in an attempt to save Sierjna, the trapped soul, and then returning to it when he realizes that she’s no longer with him and so he can’t free her that way. Then, after Talyn is overwhelmed again by the temptation to fly into the sun, he finds himself incapable of stopping him and so gives up, requiring John and Aeryn to attempt to reason with him. This is, of course, the element of the episode that likely drives all Stark haters up a wall, but given that his crazy is being amplified by the mist along with everyone else’s, I forgive him his foolhardy actions. And I love that John finally gets to him by telling him Zhaan wouldn’t want him to give up, albeit in a much cruder way than that, and finally that Aeryn is his Zhaan and that he’s killing her. Now, this being Farscape, this also has an unintended consequence, which is getting Stark to renew his burgeoning interest in Aeryn, particularly when she tells him that Zhaan would approve of the violence she’s about to inflict on the baddie, Mu-Quillus, because Zhaan is “speaking through her,” but what can ya do?

Other odds and ends:

–Another reason I really like this episode is the fantastic Creature Shop work. Both Sierjna and Mu-Quillus are unique and beautiful in very different ways, the former looking like a very white, ethereal sprite creature, and the latter a rocky lava god.

–The very first scene of the episode is a wonderfully cheeky fake-out, in numerous ways. It takes us back to what happened right after they left Crais to finish off Xhalax, from Crais’ POV. But instead of killing her, he realizes that if she dies, the PKs will only send another retrieval squad after them, so instead he lets her live in exchange for her reporting him terminated to PK High Command.  And then he asks for more: he’ll give the PKs Crichton, Talyn, and the others, in exchange for Aeryn and his former PK status restored! And a second later, he looks directly at the screen, saying, “Is that what you think happened, Crichton?,” shattering the scene and revealing it to have been a depiction of this false story Crais is telling him. But what’s even cooler is that we later learn, in “The Choice,” that Crais was actually telling the partial truth here, namely the beginning. He did indeed trade Xhalax’s life for her promise to report him dead, but he made the rest up to make it all seem preposterous. I’m guessing his motive is because he doesn’t want Aeryn to leave, and he knows that if she knew about this deal, she’d see no reason to not contact Moya that the retrieval squad is no longer after them. This way, she thinks they may still be a threat. In a very indirect way, one could say that he then contributes to this Crichton’s death, which might not have occurred had they just returned to Moya here. Of course had that happened, there would still be two Crichtons on Moya, one of whom would be intensely heartbroken and jealous of his other self, but still…

Next:  “Scratch ‘n Sniff” and “Infinite Possibilities, Part I: Daedalus Demands

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Author: Robert Berg

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  1. Farscape 3.13-3.14: “Scratch N’ Sniff;” “Infinite Possibilities,” Part 1 | DreamPunk - […] continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “Incubator” and “Meltdown,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week with the thirteenth and fourteenth episodes …

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