After continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “Scratch n’ Sniff” and “Infinite Possibilities,” Part I, our Farscape re-watch continues this week with the fifteenth and sixteenth 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.
3.15: “Infinite Possibilities, Part II: Icarus Abides” Original airdate: 3 August 2001
It’s difficult to focus on anything about the epic, tragic conclusion to the “Infinite Possibilities” two-parter other than its heartbreaking final scene, which I have yet to get through without bawling, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. And that is because they actually did it–they actually killed John Crichton, just when he was on the cusp of getting his happy ending–and irreversibly so. Now, some might say, “But there’s still another John out there!” and, yes, that is true, but the genius of the show is that it refuses to allow that to diminish the fact that this John Crichton–identical in all ways to the other one–dies. The story of this John Crichton is that he got shot through a wormhole, wound up on a living ship of escaped alien prisoners, met the love of his life, was hunted, captured, and tormented by an insane military commander, managed to finally escape with his life and sanity after often nightmarish struggles, and then was never able to reap the joy of his success, dying before he was ever able to return home with the woman he loves. This John Crichton is no less legitimate than the one on Moya, and in fact, Aeryn basically considers him more so.
It’s also no coindence that Talyn-John was given most of the more dramatic, significant material since the crews split, while Moya-John has effectively been in a holding pattern, narratively speaking, waiting to reunite with Aeryn. That isn’t meant as a deinigration of the Moya episodes, most of which I love, but a simple comparison of how much changes for each character over the course of their arcs: Talyn-John finally couples up with Aeryn, helps her cope with the loss of her mother, gets Harvey removed, takes out a dreadnought, dies a hero, etc. while Moya-John squabbles with D’Argo and tries to distract himself, while fairly certain he’s missing out on whatever’s going on on Talyn. Basically, the text of the show is indicating that Talyn-John is the “more important” of the two Johns. If only one John can survive, conventional wisdom would say it should be him, because he’s the one who got the meaty material, along with the “girl”. But this being Farscape, that’s also precisely the reason he’s the one to die. Because it makes it hurt more. And it’s infinitely more difficult on everyone involved, particularly Aeryn, whose heart is shattered just when she finally felt her life coming together. What’s fascinating is that, in many ways, Talyn-John’s arc foreshadows the trajectory of Moya-John’s for the rest of the series: ending up with Aeryn, being a big, damn hero on his own terms, defeating the Scarrans, ridding his mind of Harvey. It’s just that Talyn-John accomplished this over a period of a handful of episodes, while Moya-John has to take the proverbial long way round, and facing even more setbacks precisely because Aeryn not only initially views him as being akin to a ghost and pale replica of her John but also is deathly terrified of losing him all over again.
This is all the sadder because, by all rights, given the triumphant opening of the episode, Aeryn and John should have had their happy ending. In the first scene, when Aeryn has her pulse pistol up to John’s head, because Harvey has taken him over, it seems to be her lowest moment and worst dream come true. But then Jack stops her from pulling the trigger, confirming that Harvey is, in fact, dying. He had simply been trying to manipulate Aeryn into killing John along with him, out of spite. But Crichton is stronger than the demon in his head, and he ultimately drives him out, a beautiful inversion of the events of “Die Me Dichotomy”. Aeryn and Crichton press their heads together in utter relief and joy. After all of this time, the Scorpy in his head is finally gone. Shortly thereafter, Jack unlocks the Ancient knowledge in Crichton’s head. Now, all they have to do is blow up the Scarran vessel, and they’ll be home-free. Aeryn even agrees to go with him to Earth, thanks to his newfound wormhole expertise. Naturally, the other shoe has to drop, and it does so thanks to a series of devastating yet relatively small events, all of which revolve around Furlow and create a chain that leads Crichton to his doom.
And they are, firstly, Furlow betraying them and killing Jack before he can either finish constructing the device or fly it up into a wormhole himself, as he had planned, in order to keep Crichton safe; secondly, after John has figured out how to finish the device himself, Furlow stealing it and making a getaway in one of her vehicles; and thirdly, John running Furlow down, accidentally causing the device to crash and for its casing to open up, leaking radiation. This means the only options would be to flee, as Furlow does, and lose any chance of stopping the Scarrans from taking over the galaxy, leading to countless potential deaths, or to attempt to close the device and complete the mission. And in his most heroic, selfless act on the series to date, Crichton finally achieves his dad’s prescient statement in “Premiere” about becoming his “own kind of hero” (and significantly, in the episode in which his dad’s alien double dies) and jumps over to the device, shutting it down. And likely the most agonizing part about it is how visually anticlimactic it seems. Crichton can’t have been exposed to the radiation more than half a second. It seems so trifling, and yet in that half a second, he received a massive, deadly dose. That’s all it took to doom him, and rob Aeryn and him of their future together. And because life can be doubly unfair, Furlow manages to escape, scot-free, although it also seems she doesn’t get her big payout, so there’s some small justice there.
Knowing he’s going to die either way, John then flies the new device up into space, near the approaching Scarran dreadnought, and confirms just how deadly a weapon a wormhole can be. Beforehand, we might have thought that their potential as weapons was limited to their ability to move armies across vast reaches of space in practically no time at all. What John accomplishes here, however, is on a whole other level. He creates a stable wormhole, and then, using Jack and his greatly modified phase stabilizer, converts it into a nuclear-powered weapon that burns with the fire of a thousand suns and devours the enormous Scarran vessel, causing it to implode into nothingness without leaving a trace, a truly humbling moment that, even as it destroys these Scarrans, demonstrates just how lucky everyone is that they never had the chance to get their hands on this technology, despite Furlow’s best efforts, nor to pass the wormhole data to the rest of their race.
As it turns out, John survives this incredibly dangerous mission but only long enough to make his final goodbyes to all of his friends aboard Talyn, as well as Crais, with whom he finally makes his peace. It has been such a long journey for the two of them that has been marked at different points by hatred, recrimination, jealousy, distrust, and an-at-times begrudging respect. When the chips are down, however, Crais finally proves himself to Crichton when, rather than running away with Talyn, he actually stayed behind until after John was done destroying the Scarran ship, even though there was a significant chance that either John would fail and Talyn would be overrun by Scarrans or that, even in victory, the wormhole might have gotten out of control and taken out Talyn, as well. But, impressed by John’s significant bravery in signing up for this task, as well as selfless acceptance of his fate, Crais refused to let him down. Their first encounter established the enmity that set off Crichton’s arc in the Uncharted Territories in the first place, whereas their last one finally ends it. At the beginning of the episode, Crichton banished the last vestiges of Scorpius from his mind, reclaiming his sanity and finding himself at peace for the first time since that fateful trip to the Gammak Base in Season 1. At the end, he symbolically lays another villain to rest by finally reconciling with Crais, and I like to think that the example he sets here plays a large factor in Crais’ decision to sacrifice himself for the greater good at season’s end.
John’s final moments with Rygel are also achingly beautiful due to how they reference their old shared joke about him getting to keep his stuff after he goes, but at the same time, you can hear how shattered Rygel is. They’ve had their conflicts in the past but Crichton was always so full of life, spirit, and optimism, and the idea of him actually dying is nearly too much for the little guy to bear. This is where my waterworks tend to start, bolstered then by Stark lifting his mask and bathing John in his radiant light to help him cross over, just as when he shared his memory with him when they first met in order to help him calm down and when he helped Gilina as she died. He was also there both at the beginning and end of John’s journey with Scorpius.
In the end, though, the most painful section to watch is, naturally, Aeryn and John’s final goodbyes. The way Claudia Black’s voice falls apart as she says, “I’m very angry” absolutely tears my soul into pieces. It is such a pure, honest expression of grief, and then the way Ben Browder conveys John’s regret at missing out on the chance to spend many years to come with her but at the same time a sense of calm and of achievement at how he had succeeded that day. “They say it’s a lucky or an unambitious man who goes when he’s ready,” he says. “That said, Scorpius is gone. I’m at peace. I don’t hurt. I…I did some good things. I’m proud of my life. And I’m with you…Don’t worry about me, I’ve never felt better.” He is such a hero in this moment. If Farscape is a bildungsroman, it’s in these final breaths that John Crichton finally, fully, becomes a man and the hero he always had the great potential to be. He also has clearly taken the lessons of his great friend and teacher, Zhaan, to heart. Just as she did, he dies feeling spiritually fulfilled and proud at what he and his friends have managed to accomplish together.
What is fascinating about this, going forwards, is that the John who survives isn’t yet at the psychological place his double has managed to reach, or at least worries he isn’t. They are both the same person with many of the same experiences, yet Moya-John hasn’t experienced the past few months with Aeryn Sun. In many ways, it is that reciprocal love that ignited his bravery. It’s likely what gave him the strength to defeat Harvey. And so Moya-John will for the next while be living in the shadow of himself, likely terrified by the reality that he could very well die just as his alternate did, but also wondering whether he could ever measure up to him. Of course, the answer is yes. He is him, but reaching that realization internally will take more time and experience.
I also just have to mention the Talyn-based subplot in this episode, in which a Scarran attempts to take control of the ship, because it’s a fantastic example firstly of Crais and Stark working together to solve a problem (which, in retrospect, is a hint that this disparate group will be able to come together and succeed in John’s absence), and secondly of Stark using his insanity to their advantage. He plays up his “antic disposition” a la Hamlet, which convinces the hubristic Scarran that he’s not a threat, and then he manages to talk the Scarran into accepting a neural transponder from Talyn in order to give him “full control” of the ship. Just when the brute is distracted by the pain of the insertion, Crais commands Talyn to turn all of his guns on the Scarran, killing him. I would think that even the biggest Stark detractor could see how useful he was in these circumstances, and furthermore, it’s the rare case of there not really being any downside to Stark’ presence unlike, say, “Meltdown,” where his efforts to help actually make things much, much worse. Given that this is his next-to-last episode as a series regular, it’s nice to see him being unequivocally useful and even coherent here, or at least coherent enough to use his incoherency against the villain.
3.16: “Revenging Angel” Original airdate: 10 August 2001
“Revenging Angel” is one of my favorite experimental episodes of Farscape. As a long-time lover of Looney Tunes, how could I not dig a partially animated episode in which Crichton imagines himself as a twist on the Road Runner, with D’Argo as his Wile E. Coyote? But what’s equally impressive is its placement in the season. Another show might find it jarringly inappropriate to follow up such a tragic episode as “Infinite Possibilities II” which such a zany, madcap (while still a bit disturbing, this being Farscape) comedy, and yet it works perfectly here for numerous reasons. Firstly, it’s deliberately jarring. The characters aboard Moya have no clue as to what happened on Talyn, and this firmly underlines that fact. That isn’t to say that it’s all fun and games on Moya right now. The humor of the encounter occurs only after a deadly serious situation of D’Argo going all Luxan hyperrage on Crichton, accidentally putting him into a coma and nearly killing him. And that is also fascinating: Moya-John is floating between life and death at what might be the exact moment Talyn-John is dying, light years away. It’s as if the two have some sort of psychic link and what happens to one is reflected in the other. This could be seen as foreshadowing what happens in season 4, when Moya-John begins to remember some of Talyn-John’s memories.
Secondly, said cartoonish insanity reminds us all over again that, while Talyn-John’s mental anguish is over, Moya-John is still very much stuck with Harvey, illustrated here with some of the most loopy visions we’ve ever seen Crichton have, short of when the Scarran rifled through his brain in “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and that’s saying something. And thirdly, the episode provides a good buffer between the heartbreaking conclusion of “Infinite Possibilities II” and the emotional heavygoing events of “The Choice,” giving us a much-needed reprieve before diving off the deep end into a 45-minute-long exploration of Aeryn’s overwhelming grief that is the next episode.
Much like “Incubator,” the Scorpy origin episode, this is quite a structurally complex installment, with multiple layers of story going on at once. In the “real world” level, we have D’Argo and the others desperately trying to save Moya and themselves when D’Argo’s ship begins a self-destruct countdown and, due to a series of unfortunate events, they have no way to eject the ship from Moya. And then, in Crichton’s head, we have at least two levels: the mostly live-action one in which John interacts with Harvey and numerous other characters–some animated a la Roger Rabbit (including Aeryn, who literalizes the pop culture reference by briefly appearing in the form of Jessica Rabbit), and some live-action–who give him advice on how best to survive this, and the fully cartoon one, which are dead-on homages of the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner shorts, with D’Argo cooking up numerous ways to get John, often involving products from the “Ozme” company (another of the series’ combined Wizard of Oz/Australia references), but with it backfiring on him every time (the running gag of D’Argo painting a fake wormhole on a rock, only for Crichton to effortlessly fly through it while D’Argo crashes into the stone surface–a parallel to what Wile E. Coyote used to do with train tunnels–being my favorite). And then there is arguably a third layer, in which the “live-action” realm becomes increasingly cartoonish itself, with John chomping on an enormous, carrot-shaped cigar a la Bugs Bunny, and an explosion in D’Argo’s face causing all of his tentacles to stand up on end, frozen in place like cooled lava.
What I love most about it is that both the external and internal stories are equally high-stakes, life-and-death stuff, and they parallel each other in both being an exploration of the friction between the various crew members, as well as how they come to resolve or at least cope with that tension. Furthermore, what is happening in John’s internal world was directly caused by conflict in the external one, so it all swirls around the same issue of how these highly stressed people in close quarters ultimately find it in them to go along. D’Argo originally lashed out at Crichton because, when something goes very wrong while they’re both in his ship, he assumes that it’s John’s fault. In the wake of Chiana and Jothee’s betrayal, later compounded by the loss of Zhaan, and then Aeryn and the others leaving aboard Talyn, D’Argo has kept largely to himself lately, pouring his attention into trying to figuring out the puzzle of this ship, and when John seems to break it, he is furious because he feels as if he’s been robbed of the only thing that has brought him joy in the last few months. He didn’t, of course, mean to nearly kill his friend, however, which makes him even more angry–angry at himself for losing control, still angry at Crichton for ruining his ship–and ashamed, leading to him tossing his Qualta blade into the bowels of Pilot’s cavernous den, in rage, defeat, and humiliation.
And the irony is that Crichton didn’t even do it. Jool did. She had secretly gone into D’Argo’s ship and seems to have unintentionally pressed something that caused this reaction the next time he used it. Now, normally, this is the sort of thing that might drive people even further up a wall regarding Jool. It certainly enrages Chiana, who gets in such a heated war of words with her that neither notices Crichton’s gurney rolling across the room and crashing him to the floor. But when Jool finally goes to D’Argo and owns up to the truth, despite her fear, it actually further unpeels her character, revealing a softer side. At first, he erupts at her, but she bravely continues on, saying, “I know that I can be difficult–that no one wants to spend time with me. You’re someone who…I like. And I know that, since the problems with your son and Chiana, that you’ve preferred to be alone, in here. And I just thought, if this is so important to you, that maybe…maybe if I learned a little about it, we might have something to talk about.” It’s a lovely moment that is what first fully won me over to her, particularly because she doesn’t suddenly become a different person. She still snipes at Chiana and can still be a spoiled princess. But in this scene, she acknowledges her own shortcomings and reveals that she really does like others on the ship (in another nice moment, she gives the comatose Crichton a gentle kiss while tending to him), and even expresses her desire to reach out to D’Argo in particular and to be his friend, which naturally ingratiates herself to him even further and makes him feel even more ashamed of his behavior. And later on she will fully save the day by wading waist-deep into space bat dren (poor Jool, if she’s not drinking piss, she’s covered in guano…) in Moya’s lowest levels and finding D’Argo’s Qualta blade, which proves to be the secret to shutting down the auto-destruct sequence. As it turns out, D’Argo finding this ship was fate. He finally discovers this week that it’s an ancient Luxan vessel, and it finally starts responding to him once he identifies himself to it and presents his sword as proof.
And realizing that his short fuse and rush to judge/blame people is what caused all of this trouble in the first place (even Jool’s initial action was an attempt to get through to him), his interactions with Jool in this one help open his eyes and put him in a position of being completely apologetic towards Crichton once he awakens. What John doesn’t know while unconscious, though, is that D’Argo was angry at his own actions from the start. Within his head, John thinks D’Argo is still feeling homicidal towards him, a feeling which Harvey exacerbates by encouraging him to focus on a desire for revenge, thinking if he can even just act out that fantasy in his own head, it might prove to be the motivating factor that inspires him to wake up and carry out that vengeance in the real world. Significantly, at this point, this Harvey’s behavior is the exact opposite of his double’s in Talyn-John. In “Icarus Abides,” upon realizing he was doomed, Harvey briefly took over John to try to manipulate Aeryn into shooting him and therefore killing them both, out of revenge. In “Revenging Angel,” Harvey is instead trying to help a dying John survive. Although in the latter case, Harvey is being helpful rather than hurtful towards John, however, they are both equally self-motivated. He doesn’t want to die. It’s just that, in the previous episode, knowing it was hopeless, he opted for an attempt to take them both out together, whereas in this one, he can survive if John does, meaning their motivations align.
But Harvey is also, of course, giving him bad advice–not intentionally, though. It’s just that he can’t escape the fact that he started out as Scorpius. Most of the other characters’ advice doesn’t necessarily help John much more either, though. Pilot encourages him to run away from the situation in order to avoid conflict. Chiana says to go for the revenge. In the end, Jool’s advice–to talk it out with him–is the most useful in a real world scenario, but not necessarily motivating enough to stir him from his coma. In the end, after a wonderfully heightened live-action revenge scenario, John realizes that none of this is reason enough. Instead, he focuses on his brief time with cartoon Aeryn, the most time he’s had with the woman he loves in months and it isn’t even really her, and he realizes that his love for her is all he needs to sustain him. That love is what awakens him. Love for Aeryn is what gave Talyn-John the courage to do what he did in the previous episode, and it is what gives Moya-John the drive to wake up. The dramatic irony, of course, for us as viewers is that not only do we know that Moya and the other John had fallen in love but that she is currently heartbroken over losing him. Things are not going to be so easy as just reuniting with Aeryn to make everything better for him, and even he knows it, though that’s now due to his fear of what has gone on between them in their absence; he doesn’t know his double has died, which will make things infinitely more difficult for him with Aeryn. Then again, if the other John were still alive, this John would still lose out. Regardless, however, what I love about this “resurrection” is it doesn’t take confirmation from Aeryn of her love for him to bring him back but just the simple fact that he does love her, which makes it a more selfless act. The irony for Aeryn is that the John she loved, died. The John with whom she didn’t take that next step came back to life for her, even though she isn’t ready to either appreciate that or accept that they are really one and the same.
The final scene is a truly lovely one. Still not sure of D’Argo’s temperament at the moment, John goes out in his spacesuit and drifts outside Moya, D’Argo then initiating a conversation with him, which becomes a true heart-to-heart between these great friends who have had trouble communicating lately. This scene has been a long time in the making, and it’s a gorgeous resolution, a sign that on Farscape, the smaller character arcs matter just as much as the more epic, tragic ones. The moment when they both touch hands through the glass, a gesture usually made between lovers, is particularly beautiful. Anthony Simcoe plays it superbly–the regret over his actions, his fear of his own dark side and anger (which will be delved into even more in season 4’s “Mental as Anything”), and his love for Crichton all shining through. And the last shot of the cartoon vista outside the window, along with the “That’s All Folks”-esque transition to the credits: perfection.
Other odds and ends:
–Chiana and Jool have some great arguments in this one, displaying hilarious comedic chemistry, even though they’re yelling their faces off at each other.
–The tiny moment when Chiana warns Jool about falling metal an instant before it happens is yet another subtle clue as to her burgeoning super power which was set into motion when she was taken over by the Traveler in “Losing Time”.
–All of the cartoon characters are amazing–I particularly love Aeryn appearing as a variety of sex symbols, as well as Dorothy Gale, yet another Oz nod, and Claudia Black’s hilarious voice work–but the winecorks on the side of cartoon Scorpy’s head and his angry little expression have to be my favorite.
Next: “The Choice” and “Fractures”
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