After 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 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.
3.13: “Scratch ‘n Sniff” Original airdate: 20 July 2001
“Scratch n’ Sniff” is one of the strangest, downright bizarre episodes of Farscape‘s entire run, and that’s saying something. Unlike some of the series’ other wackadoo episodes, however, it isn’t necessarily the plot so much that makes it so weird. Well, okay, it is plenty weird, kinky, and at times disturbingly dark, in the grand tradition of all of the series’ “comedy” episodes. But the plot, stripped of the presentation is actually fairly straightforward: Sick of Crichton and D’Argo’s incessant bickering which has escalated since last we saw them in “Incubator,” Pilot kicks the two of them off the ship for 10 solar days, and so the two guys and girls decide to spend some time on a pleasure planet (a nice follow-up from “Incubator,” when they mentioned that they should do something of the sort, since they all need a break). Only two days later, however, Crichton returns and tries to convince Pilot to let them back on, telling him a crazy story about Chiana and Jool being kidnapped by an evil man who hooked them up to weird machine that he used to milk a certain essence from each of them that people on this planet use as a drug, and how D’Argo and he came to rescue them with the help of a weird little Cockney-accented creature called Raxil–yet another quirky role for Francesca Buller (Ben Browder’s wife, who also played M’Lee in “Bone to Be Wild” and Ro-NA in “Look at the Princess” and will play Ahkna in Season 4 and “The Peacekeeper Wars”). But the story includes lots of loony flourishes, including a creature whose eyes can be removed and continue to function, and therefore can be used as a sort of security camera, the “footage” from which can then be viewed by applying one of its many tentacles to one of your own eyeballs, a drug that manages to entirely alter D’Argo’s outer appearance to everyone who seems him, and the very fact that so much liquid can be drained from the girls without killing them, and so Pilot refuses to believe them, ultimately dropping them off on yet another planet to allow himself a well-deserved break.
As with the best of Farscape‘s mindfrell episodes, it is often hilariously funny with great bits such as John and D’Argo waking up naked together in a department store window, John wearing high-heeled stilettos and black lace a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show; D’Argo’s new appearance; and a lot of great slapstick, but just as often unnervingly creepy. The concept of Jool, Chiana, and others before them being “milked” in order for people to get stoned is outrageously disturbing, and the episode manages to play all of these different beats at once, with a great deal of unbridled, unhinged lunatic imagination. What sets this one apart from the other mindfrell episodes, however, is its truly ingenious, chaotic direction by Tony Tilse, who manages to mirror the characters’ drink-and-drug addled state, as well as the fun-loving, decadent and at times sinister and seedy carnival atmosphere of the planet throughout via frenetic, innovative editing reminiscent of indie directors such as Guy Ritchie and Mark Webb’s work on (500) Days of Summer (which came later), with all sorts of nifty tricks such as underlining certain moments with quick foreshadowing shots that cut to an out-of-context scene from later or sometimes earlier in the episode in order to comment or contrast with the current action in a way that becomes even more impressive on successive viewings, when one can note what is being set up in each instance, quick instant replays, rewinds, fast-forwards, freezes, sped-up shots, slowed-down shots, and so on and so forth. The fact that this is likely the shortest episode review I’ve done yet is no reflection on its quality. It’s just that this one is less about plot and character and more about the experience of it all. And as far as shots of pure, unadulterated Farscape go, there are few installments that do a better job of letting the show just wave its freak flag loudly and proudly, in all of its glory.
Paired with the previous episode, “Meltdown,” it also provides the series with two wacky back-to-back episodes, one aboard Talyn, the other aboard Moya before the show plunges into the epic tragedy of the two-parter that immediately follows it, and it should also be noted that the Crichton-and-D’Argo-bickering arc will come to a lovably weird head in the next Moya-set story three episodes from now, “Revenging Angel,” which happens to be one of my favorites.
Three more things:
1) This episode, being the first time that we see the John on Moya speaks to Harvey since the split, is the first to confirm once and for all that both of them are indeed complete, equal Crichtons, since we now know they both have a Harvey. And, in case there was any doubt, this one also confirms that Harvey is a distinct being, because when John and D’Argo are linked to one another through the alien’s tentacles, Harvey actually manages to appear to D’Argo as well, and helps them figure out a plan to break Chiana and Jool loose, another sign of how Harvey has been subtly changing from the start of the season.
2) Also, I believe this is the first episode that hints at Chiana’s bisexuality in the real world and possibly Jool’s as well, with the two grinding on one another on the dance floor. The previous time we got an indication Chiana might be was actually only in John’s head in “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the series’ previous mindfrell outing. And while this one wouldn’t necessarily confirm it as the two are partying and decidedly not sober at the time, we will see Chiana flirting with other women at other points.
3) Another thing I love about this one is that it again reiterates that Crichton and Co. have been building a reputation throughout the Uncharted Territories over the course of the past two and a half cycles. All of their exploits have not occurred in a vacuum. This is amusingly illustrated through quick cuts to their destroying the Shadow Depository, amongst other bits of their derring-do from across the series.
3.14: “Infinite Possibilities, Part I: Daedalus Demands” Original airdate: 27 July 2001
The third season’s second official two-parter kicks off with “Daedalus Demands,” an episode that arguably pulls together more mythology pieces from across the history of the show to date than any previous entry, weaving John’s wormhole obsession, the Ancients, Furlow, Harvey, and the Scarrans together into a superb hour of Farscape that sets up the events of one of the most devastating events in the series’ history. At the start of the episode, John and Aeryn are intimately lying together, only partially clothed in his bunk. It’s a lovely scene, almost casual in its domesticity, and in retrospect, one of the final quiet, “normal” moments these two will ever have together, making it a bit heartbreaking on later go-rounds, as is the short scene a bit later when John tells Aeryn that he wouldn’t like to back to Earth alone and she agrees with him. Aeryn will go to Earth–the real Earth–with John Crichton one day. But it won’t be this John Crichton.
The significance of them discussing this in this episode is that it also sees the return of “Jack,” the Ancient who took the form of John’s father on the false Earth in “A Human Reaction”. In fact, the reunion is heralded by the same illusory wormhole and Earth that tricked Crichton oh so long ago. But upon first arriving, Jack isn’t nearly as warm as he was the first time they met him but is instead furious because he suspects John of having betrayed him by giving the precious wormhole knowledge with which he entrusted him (apparently against the better judgment of most of the other Ancients) to a warrior alien race that we learn from Rygel are called the Charids–long-lasting, vicious enemies of the Hynerian Empire. The reason he believes John stabbed him in the back is footage of a Charid flying what looks like the Farscape One, with an additional phase stabilizer–technology that allows travel through any wormhole, whether it be stable or only proto; in other words, what the PKs have been trying to perfect, in order to keep from turning to jelly–on board. He therefore assumes that John had managed to figure out wormholes with the embedded knowledge in his brain, after all, and then sold it for profit.
As it turns out, however, this of course wasn’t John at all, but Furlow, the canny mechanic from the first season’s “Till the Blood Runs Clear,” who had demanded John’s collected wormhole data as payment for the repairs she had made, the greatest irony being that this had happened before John had ever crossed paths with Jack. This implies numerous, fascinating things. Firstly, that Furlow is even smarter than we had realized in her first appearance. In order to have made a phase stabilizer by using John’s readings and presumably studying the design of his craft, which she had scanned and created a replica of (after all, the original was able to travel through a wormhole without liquifying John, implying that despite its seemingly primitive design, there is something about it that allows for safe wormhole travel where PK and most other spacecraft from this part of the universe fail), she has to be a genius. After all, she didn’t even have all of the Ancient information to work from, and she has been able to accomplish what Scorpius’ best scientists and a budget likely the equivalent of billions of dollars hasn’t managed to do, even with nearly all of the information from the neurochip.
Secondly, that wormhole knowledge isn’t a completely inaccessible entity that only vastly powerful, practically godlike alien races can master. If you have the data, the time, and the brains, it is possible. It’s even possible that, had John never met the Ancients but hadn’t had to give up his research to Furlow, he could have solved it by now, assuming he is as smart as Furlow. It’s also difficult to tell whether Furlow knows everything about wormholes now, or simply how to traverse them and some workable knowledge of how to create them. My guess would be she isn’t fully aware of the latter or she wouldn’t have had to test-fly through so many unstable ones, however even that is dangerous knowledge for a non-altruistic race to have. The damage that could be inflicted from them simply being able to travel through them unharmed could be astronomical.
At the same time, the series is far from implying that wormhole knowledge is easy to come by, after all. Remember, the reason that Furlow was so eager for John’s data in the first place is that, up until she saw the evidence that he had flown through one, she and most other people in this area of space had only known them to be theoretical. The data he gave her was incredibly difficult to come by because most scientists had never found a real wormhole from which to get data at all. That means when John simply created the unstable one in “Till the Blood Runs Clear” by copying the scenario that brought him through that first wormhole, he was accomplishing something that very few had ever been able to achieve, other than–as far as we know–the Ancients and possibly the Pathfinders (it’s not clear whether they can create them or are simply able to travel through them). It’s likely what put him on the Ancients’ radar in the first place–he impressed them (which also implies that he is at least Furlow’s equal, in the brains dept., if not smarter).
And so they all return to Furlow’s planet to find out what’s going on and discover that it’s been overrun by Charids, who not only are holding her captive but are now in league with the Scarrans, who, by the end of the episode, have uploaded all of the information from Furlow’s computer that they would need to make their own phase stabilizer. In other words, Scorpy’s greatest nightmare, as detailed to his neural clone of John in “Incubator” has already come to pass, and the only solution is to destroy the Scarran dreadnought on which the data currently resides–a task that would be insurmountable due to the immense size of the thing (it’s at least twice the size of a PK Command Carrier) except for the fact that Jack knows how to turn a phase stabilizer into the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. He would need John’s help, however, and proposes to do so by unlocking the wormhole knowledge planted in his brain. At the time, he actually thinks he’s giving John new information regarding the existence of this knowledge, until John comes clean about the truth regarding Scorpius and Harvey. He hadn’t said so before because, given that Jack nearly killed him when he thought he’d given away his knowledge at the start of the episode, Crichton was worried about revealing it, but he realizes now that it’s crucial. He couldn’t let Harvey gain access to this knowledge, for fear he could still take him over and deliver it to Scorpy.
And as it turns out, he was right to worry, for in the last moments of the episode, when Jack attempts to use his psychic powers to rid Crichton of Harvey once and for all, Harvey fights him tooth and nail, ultimately seeming to win. As in “Die Me Dichotomy,” once again we see John in Scorpy make-up and once again he is taunting Aeryn through her lover’s face. This time, however, Aeryn is prepared to blow his brains out instead. She has learned her lesson well.
Other odds and ends:
–Both return guests are extremely welcome. As usual, Kent McKord does a brilliant job with Jack, adding in a new layer we haven’t seen before, namely wrath, when he thinks he’s been had. He has a similarly great moment when he reveals his true face to Furlow, when she attempts to pull a gun on him for trying to destroy her research, the gravity of which stuns her silent, for once. It’s a shame that the CGI in that moment is so weak, but the performances are so strong that it’s not difficult to grasp the weight of what’s happening and to imagine a more impressive visage. Speaking of which, is also, of course, magnificent as Furlow, even funnier and more untrustworthy than the last time around. Of course, her planting a kiss on Crichton when he rescues her from the Charids is wonderful, but the look in her eye that implies she’s decidedly unhappy with this turn of events even better. It’s subtle enough that we may not guess the extent of her deceit up to this point–as revealed in the next episode–but simply think she’s angry that her research is being taken away “for the greater good,” while at the same time, in retrospect, no one can say that it doesn’t make complete sense. Which is what makes her such a terrific character. She can be funny and horrendous at the same time, but she isn’t evil. She’s just a brilliant businesswoman who knows how to look out for Number One, and really couldn’t care less for anything else. At the same time, even on Farscape, the level of her greed can be jarring, given how many criminals on the series ultimately reveal more noble sides when the chips are down.
–Rygel also gets some brilliant material in this episode, once again demonstrating that he has his own agenda that doesn’t necessarily coincide with the others–namely, when he discovers the Charid that they kept alive and that Charid (a truly hideous creature) defiantly refuses to believe that Rygel will harm him because the others want him for questioning, Rygel calls his bluff, brutally killing him with his own weapon just as his kind had so brutally slaughtered countless Hynerians. Rygel is never more fascinating than when he is terrifying. Again, he is not a cute little puppet. He is a complex, morally ambiguous old man who found his courage when he defeated Durka and won’t let his size get in the way of carrying out justice against his mortal enemies. Later, he has a ball shooting down countless Charids from a gunpost, however in the last moments of the episode, he falls under attack himself, a shard of glass tearing open his abdomen for the second time this season and leaving him on the brink of death as one of the cliffhangers.
–Meanwhile, in order to increase the tension even further, Talyn becomes blinded by a solar flare and, due to their neural link, Crais does as well–a clever raising-the-stakes-even-further that mirrors what happened to Aeryn in “Till the Blood Runs Clear”.
–The depiction of Crichton and Harvey’s internal struggle is particularly awesome in this one, being set at an amusement park. Early on, when he tries to hide himself from Jack, Harvey pulls John into a bumper car ride, but when John prepares to rid himself of Harvey, Crichton forces him onto a roller coaster–which makes for a cool visual as well as an excellent fake-out because at first, Harvey seems weak a la “Season of Death,” when John chucked him into the trash bin, but then he flips it around on him. By the end of the sequence, they’re both dangling for their lives from the top of the coaster, and then Harvey drags John down with him, both falling into a wormhole, and Harvey ultimately seeming to emerge victorious.
–Stark’s rather creepy interest in Aeryn continues to grow in this one, having been re-established in “Meltdown”. And speaking of that episode, with Crais also out of commision due to Talyn, Stark returns on board with him in order to communicate with Talyn, given the connection they shared when he was temporarily his Pilot in “Meltdown”.
–The subtitle of the episode, “Daedalus Demands,” refers to the ingenious craftsman character from Greek mythology who designed the famous Labyrinth at Crete with the minotaur within it and who the gods later trapped along with his son in a high castle in order to keep him from giving the knowledge to others. In order to escape, he created wings made of wax for his son and him, so they could fly down and away. His son, Icarus, however, became so entranced by the glory of the sun that he wanted to fly up and towards it, ultimately melting his wings and plummeting to his death. The story is a metaphor for what happens when one overreaches, pushing himself past the limit of what the knowledge he has gained is meant to be for. In this case, Daedalus is Jack, with the wormhole wisdom, initially angry at his “son” for seeming to have used it for greedy purposes and then later similarly admonishing Furlow for the same reason. His “demand” is that wormholes never be used for weapons, although ironically, they will have to create a terrifyingly powerful weapon with that knowledge in order to prevent it from happening. The title of the second episode, “Icarus Abides” is even more ironic, because in the Farscape version of the myth, Icarus does abide by his dad’s rules and yet gets “burned by the sun,” regardless.
Next: “Infinite Possibilities, Part II: Icarus Abides” and “Revenging Angel”
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