After continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “Infinite Possibilities,” Part II and “Revenging Angel”, our Farscape re-watch continues this week with the seventeenth and eighteenth 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.
3.17: “The Choice” Original airdate: 17 August 2001
“The Choice” isn’t only one of Farscape‘s best and certainly its most initimate episode–a magnificent character study for Aeryn at the lowest point in her life, as well as a superb showcase for Claudia Black’s prodigious talents–but arguably its darkest, as well. It’s rare to see a sci-fi show devote an entire hour to a character’s grieving process, particularly in a manner that is so personal and insular, with a character who has effectively isolated herself from her friends and is now drinking herself into a stupor, and even rarer to see someone as stoic and bold as Aeryn fall apart to this degree. That’s largely what makes it so powerful–seeing someone who was raised to be emotionless and hard trying to process feelings that she is even more poorly equipped to deal with than the average person suffering from a profound loss. The episode is also designed to confirm that the show didn’t cavalierly clone Crichton and then kill one of them with a “Hey, there’s nothing to worry about! There’s still another one!” attitude. As far as Aeryn is concerned, the love of her life just died, and she doesn’t even once think about his double aboard Moya here, because that’s no consolation to her, at least at this point. It will be a long time until she will find herself able to accept him as the same man. It’s impossible to walk away from this episode thinking her wounds can be so easily healed by returning to Moya. Instead, one gets the sense that it will be the hardest thing she has ever had to do.
Another reason this is such an unusual episode for Farscape is that it is set almost entirely in a single building, a seedy hotel–albeit in such a way that one gets an expansive sense of the entire planet on which it is located–and mostly within Aeryn’s room, which rarely has more than one or two other characters with her at any given moment, and it’s also largely plottless, more focused on psychology than story, making it at times feel like a small play. At the same time, however, it manages to remain distinctly Farscape, with some of the most impressive Jim Henson’s Creature Shop creations of the entire series on display, but all in a manner completely subservient to Aeryn’s character and journey. Even by Farscape‘s general standards, “The Choice” is an incredibly surreal episode and perhaps even more so due it not utilizing more outlandish, out-there visual and atmospheric tricks to establish its heightened reality but instead by scaling back to a more subtle, eerie sense of hazy dislocation, Aeryn’s drunkenness and grief mirroring the already mystical nature of this planet and perfectly conjuring that state of hyperreality that people go through in the wake of losing someone crucial in their lives, like being haunted by the ghost of an amputated appendage. Black’s pared-down, often surprisingly subdued performance–punctuated by brief flares of anger and insanity–adds to this sense of the world having come a bit unstuck.
From the start, there’s a feeling in the air that this is a place in which the lines between reality and fantasy–or perhaps between the physical and spiritual realms–blur. At first, one might think Aeryn is simply hallucinating when she sees Crichton, but the acknowledgment that this is a planet of mystics and on which people claim to be able to make contact with the other side brings some pause to that assumption. And then there is the indescribable moment in which Aeryn is visited not by the Crichton she knew but by the old Crichton from “The Locket,” who she doesn’t immediately recognize but whose presence begins to reawaken memories in her of this alternate life that we as viewers had thought to have been undone by Moya’s escaping the mysterious cloud, thus indicating both that this reality likely does continue to exist somewhere, Aeryn’s grandchildren continuing to miss and mourn her there, as well as that the veil between realms is weaker on this planet. How else could Aeryn gain these memories? Significantly, however, since she’s in an addled state and furthermore, she doesn’t have context for the “Locket” flashbacks, Aeryn later seems to write it off as hallucination or illusion, along with her other visions of Crichton and the seer’s words that he might be able to bring him back. Via Old Crichton, we as viewers realize there is something to this planet, meaning that the seer might be able to help her after all, but Aeryn doesn’t know this.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself. At this earlier point, elements such as Old Crichton manage to create an atmosphere for both Aeryn and us as viewers that deliberately makes it difficult to tell what is real and what isn’t. For example, the old man whose face seems to be half-lobster, who claims to be Aeryn’s father, Talyn. Is he real or not? At first, it’s difficult to tell whether he’s some strange sort of ghost or spirit, whether Xhalax hadn’t killed him after all, or whether he’s lying. Because this place feels so otherworldly–while also very stark, with its grimy, dilapidated feel of Blade Runner crossed with a decaying, dystopian Coruscant–all seem to be potential options. It might seem unlikely that Aeryn’s father happens to have turned up here, but it also seems like one of those strange places where the typical rules of logic and reason are bent, and, again, it is possible he’s some sort of apparition. His strange visage (which he claims to be the result of surgeries to hide his appearance from other Peacekeepers) further contributes to the overall surreality of the situation, and Justin Monjo’s script continues to toy with our perceptions when Stark later hears Zhaan’s voice, a bleeding-eyed mystic reveals personal knowledge of the deceased love of Rygel’s life, and then Xhalax herself appears on the planet. Whether literally or figuratively, Aeryn is being haunted by the ghosts of her past.
As it turns out, Crichton is the only actual spirit (assuming he’s “real,” which is never confirmed, besides an indication that at least the old version of him is likely legit). Crais had actually spared Xhalax’s life for the same reason he indicated before obscuring it with added lies at the start of “Meltdown”: he had bargained for their lives. She agreed to get the Peacekeepers off their trails in exchange for letting her live. But now Xhalax has tracked Aeryn down and paid an imposter to pose as her father with the express purpose of tormenting her. It hadn’t been fully clear in her last appearance just how much Xhalax has come to blame and despise Aeryn for ruining her life, even though none of it was actually Aeryn’s fault but her own. Xhalax hadn’t told her daughter the full truth before. The Peacekeepers hadn’t simply forced her to kill the man she loved but had instead given her a choice between killing Talyn or Aeryn, their offspring, and Xhalax had chosen Talyn. Even afterwards, however, she was never allowed back into the position of pilot, which she had been trained in and loved, much like Aeryn later would, but was instead forced to kill by High Command over and over again, until she eventually lost all vestiges of compassion and humanity (for lack of a better word). She likely similarly faced great shame at their hands when Aeryn defected. And so she has come to blame her daughter for everything that has gone wong in her life: for being born, for being the reason she had to murder her lover, for being the reason she had to become an assassin; for leading to her recent deformities, such as having to amputate her own leg on the planet on which Crais left her. The irony is that she has come to realize just as much as Aeryn that the PKs are cruel liars, but whereas Aeryn escaped from the system, Xhalax fell victim to it, allowing it to fundamentally change her, reshaping her into a monster.
Naturally, this is a monumentally powerful scene for Black and Linda Cropper, the acclaimed Australian actress who brough Xhalax to life. The key to the latter’s performance is how she manages to make her sound so bitter and twisted with hatred–she would have to in order to shoot the fake Talyn in front of Aeryn just to punish her, although Aeryn, who is stronger than her mother ever was, reveals to her afterwards that, from the start, she had known in her soul that he wasn’t her father–but, beneath that, to reveal the subtext that as much as she claims to hate Aeryn, she actually hates herself for what she has become and how she is treating her own daughter, the cruelest irony of the episode being that, just when Aeryn is starting to get to Xhalax, and it seems like she might be able to convince her to put her gun down and talk, Crais barges in, sees Aeryn’s mother pointing a gun at her and shoots the old woman, thus finally completing the task he’d claimed he’d done all the way back in “Relativity,” but at the worst possible moment. And so in this episode, Aeryn has to give up the ghosts of the father she never knew, the mother who disappointed her but who gains a small spark of redemption in the end by asking Aeryn to let her fall from the window rather than trying to save her–“I died years ago,” she says, implying that she knows she can never take back what she’s done and likely doesn’t think she could even change now, thus requesting her daughter take her out of the equation, in order to give them both different measures of peace–and in the end, Crichton.
The question remains, however, whether she should be giving up Crichton. Xhalax had to make a choice, and so does Aeryn. In the final moments of the episode, she ties her hair back into her tight PK braid and puts her soldier gear back on, symbolically deciding to suppress her emotions and reclaim her past persona. Being a soldier hurts less than giving into the paint, and without Crichton there to guide her in her humanity, it is all she knows. “Maybe I could have become something different,” she says. “If you’d lived, I could have truly changed. But you are gone, and I am who I was bred to be.” And while it may not seem healthy to keep clinging to the past, particularly if she does so while remaining in a drunken stupor, this certainly isn’t the right decision, either. Another show might have had Aeryn reach some level of epiphany and catharsis at the end of this sort of episode. The always brave Farscape, however, instead has Aeryn effectively give up for the time being on fulfilling the potential that Crichton saw in her. Along with his death comes the death of the “new” Aeryn, but again she is adrift, because it doesn’t seem like she can ever be a PK again at this point.
This pays off in just a few short episodes, however, when the PKs give her an opportunity to rejoin, as part of an elite assassination squad, no less, and she agrees, which may seem like following in her mother’s footsteps without heeding the warning of what happened to her, but from Aeryn’s perspective, it makes complete emotional sense. Her mother became subsumed by the lifestyle of an assassin until she lost herself completely, and that’s what Aeryn wants–to basically just disappear; to shut off the pain and replace it with a hard, emotionless void. She takes the wrong lesson from her mother’s life but does so with her eyes wide open, a different form of willful self-destruction.
Other odds and ends:
–The Seer is an absolutely incredible puppet. It looks like a giant, evil baby’s head but with four eyes and shortened chicken wings for arms, but despite those physical embellishments, is one of the most visually convincing creations of the entire series. The texture of its flesh looks so real, as do the movements of its mouth, the glint in its eyes, its expressions, that it seems to literally come to life. And when its distinctively creepy voice comes into the mix, you have an astounding feat of imagination, magnificently realized.
–In her DVD commentary, Claudia Black refers to the scene in which Aeryn confronts Stark and Crais as her “Ophelia” scene, referring to the fact that, in it, she is practically mad with grief. It is a brilliant, bracing, deeply uncomfortable scene due to the fact that, in it, grief has removed all of Aeryn’s filters. She acts contemptuously towards Stark for trying to protect her from Crais. From her perspective, he’s only recently lost Zhaan and she’s only just lost Crichton, and the fact that he wants to try to fill that “protector” role for her now infuriates and disgusts her. She calls him out on that hypocrisy, and even calls him worse than Crais precisely because he thinks he’s better but isn’t. He’s also motivated by lust, or so she thinks in her particularly uncharitable state. Meanwhile, she’s possibly even crueler to Bialar, who she nearly has sex with right then and there in the hallway, by telling him that “if [she] squeezes her eyes tightly enough,” she can almost imagine he’s Crichton. He’s wanted her for so long, and here she almost offers it, but in a way that makes him feel terrible about himself. What makes the scene so compelling is that Aeryn isn’t very nice in it. This acknowledgment that grief can make people behave nastily is so rarely dramatically depicted, but it feels so honest. Aeryn’s angry at the world, and she’s taking it out on these two men, who genuinely want to help her but she can’t see that now.
–One of the most interesting aspects of the episode, then, is how genuinely kind and calm Rygel is with Aeryn. As he tells her, he has no ulterior motive beyond wanting to help her. He’s grieving Crichton, too, and also knows the pain of losing someone he loves, and he wants to share that with Aeryn. And although she turns him away, you get the sense that she does, on some level, appreciate his attempt.
–All of the scenes between Aeryn and Crichton are absolutely sublime, from the manner in which scenes from far earlier in their relationship are intercut and paralleled with new shots–the manner in which their roles in “A Human Reaction” are mirrored and reversed, Aeryn now kissing Crichton’s neck instead of vice versa, is just beautiful–to their dialogue which strikes just the right mix of dreamy and down-to-earth. I particularly love when Aeryn expresses some anger at Crichton for choosing to save the world, act the hero, and leave her alone in the process, and he responds, “You never think you’re gonna die.” She reacts by telling him he did, but not in the way one might expect. Instead, there’s actually a bit of a teasing/flirty tone to her voice, and the both laugh. It’s so sweet and natural, as if she’s realizing she can’s stay mad at him and falling in love with him all over again at the same time for having followed his heart, and it’s all the more devastating because he’s gone.
–Speaking of that scene from “A Human Reaction,” that is also the scene in which Aeryn tried beer for the first time and told John it tasted like fellip nectar, which is significantly what she is drunk on throughout this episode, a beautiful, subtle link to the beginnings of their love sto.
–It really something about how much Crais has grown as a person, as well as has been affected by Crichton’s death, that he actually at least temporarily decides to return Talyn to Moya, and “retire” as his captain, in the aftermath of having killed Xhalax.
–There is a brief cameo by a Diagnosan, which is a reminder of Aeryn’s death earlier this season, which contributed to the whole series of events that led them to this sad moment, as well as reminder of Aeryn’s resurrection. Could the same have been possible for this Crichton? We’ll never know, but in a manner of speaking, he does eventually get resurrected through Moya-Crichton, particularly when he begins to gain his memories, symbolically indicating that the two are becoming integrated once more.
–Interestingly, whereas Aeryn the warrior puts aside trying to chase Crichton’s spirit, Stark, the mystic, makes the opposite choice here, leaving Moya in order to pursue Zhaan, who he believes is trying to reach out to him. He does, however, leaves his helmet which we later learn, is significantly due to trying to help the other Crichton and by extension, likely to heal his and Aeryn’s relationship. He is obliquely trying to help guide Aeryn’s path back to him.
3.18: “Fractures” Original airdate: 24 August 2001
Not to hit the “on most other show, [x] would happen” point too repetitively, but on most other shows, if the characters were ever split up for a long period of time–which is fairly rare, anyway–they would likely return to a huge, tearful, joyful reunion. Farscape, however, subverts expectation, as ever. Evidenced by the title, “Fractures,” Talyn’s crew isn’t nearly as thrilled to be back aboard Moya and with their friends as one might have hoped. They have been through a great deal, including the loss of their Crichton, and all have conflicting feelings about coming back, most of all Aeryn. Before they return, however, Moya-Crichton doesn’t realize this, and it is heartbreaking to see how excited he is about Aeryn’s impending arrival, like a kid anticipating Christmas morning, when, even on a first viewing, we know that his excitement is about to be crushed. The dramatic irony created by our knowledge of the events on Talyn to which the Moya people are not yet privy is handled beautifully, particularly when it comes to Jool’s lines: “I’m sure the other you has taken extra good care of her…I mean, all I meant was that I’m sure that he did everything that you would have done if you had been with Aeryn all this time…” They’re extremely funny but also have a tinge of sadness for the viewer, knowing just how deep the other Crichton and Aeryn’s emotions were for each other and that he hasn’t survived.
And the writers are extra cruel to Crichton when his first welcoming party for what he believes to be Talyn’s crew turns out to not be them at all but a different group of people entirely–a set of escaped Peacekeeper prisoners, begging for asylum. How perfectly fitting, ironic, funny, and, well, Farscape that, just when they’re expecting one set of people who have been fleeing the PKs–their friends–they instead get an entirely different one, each of whom is like a bizarro twist on Moya’s crew. There’s a warrior, except he’s a Scarran rather than a Luxan. There’s a Sebacean, except he’s a male tech instead of a badass female pilot. There’s a Hynerian, except a beautiful (by Hynerian standards) female civilian rather than an old, male ex-royal. There’s a Nebari, except she isn’t actually female or male but an androgyne, or what we would think of as a hermaphrodite, born with the organs of both sexes and thus an affront to the Nebari’s rigid, codified society.
And then there’s a Boolite, who doesn’t necessarily synch up with any of the main cast in particular but who represents the fracturing of the crew by being literally in pieces at the start of the episode. Boolites are apparently a very strange race whose body parts can stay alive days after being separated, even in the case of explosion, which means even though he looks like a scattered pile of messy, drippy remains, he can still be assembled like an extremely icky jigsaw puzzle and eventually heal. Which, is again, so, so Farscape. He also, of course, functions as a metaphor for Moya’s fractured, bedraggled crew, but in an exceedingly cheeky manner. It’s such a gross, purposefully silly concept that it circles around to being a deliberate parody of overly tidy metaphor, particularly since not only does the poor Boolite get ultimately shot up into even more pieces until it’s legitimately beyond saving, but the people trying to restore him–Crais and Jool–are both outsiders to the core team. They also happen to have a surprisingly terrific rapport, making for a fantastic comedy team. Their shared horrified screams at the Boolite bits blasting all over them are an episode highlight.
But returning to the plot, by the time the expected crew does arrive, everyone else is so busy keeping an eye on the newcomers that Crichton is the only one there to greet them, and it isn’t nearly the happy reunion he had been dreaming of for months. Rygel and Crais are both strangely subdued, Stark is gone, only his mask left behind for Crichton, and Aeryn won’t make eye contact with him or acknowledge his existence. It’s such a crushing moment because, after an episode in Aeryn’s shattering POV, we’re now in Crichton’s limited perspective, and all he knows is that the love of his life is treating him like a stranger, or worse, as something to be avoided and ignored–as D’Argo later, gently tells him, she thinks of him as the copy–which is painful, awful, and deeply unfair. At the same time, we know what Aeryn is going through and why it’s so difficult for her. She just spent a long time grieving Crichton, and now here he is again, reawakening all of those memories–even unconsciously echoing them at times, such as when he mentions Donald Duck’s nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, which is what the other Crichton named three of the stars in his chart–and yet not her John Crichton, since he doesn’t realize the relevance of that Disney reference that cut her to the quick, and later doesn’t know what she’s talking about when she reflexively compares their attempt to spear the fleeing transport pod to when they did so on the budong in “Green-Eyed Monster,” only realizing a moment later that he wasn’t here at all, which seems to silently wound her all over again. It’s difficult enough to recover from a loved one’s death without having to interact with someone who looks, sounds, and acts exactly like that person but isn’t him.
Ah, but at the same time, although Aeryn isn’t yet ready to accept it, despite slowly coming to realize it over the course of the episode, he is. One of the most touching aspects of “Fractures” for me has always been just how moved the remaining Crichton is by Talyn-Crichton’s death. Sure, he had been jealous of him–and, in a way, still is–but at the same time, this man was him, and he died, and that’s a very frightening thing to process. How easily the tables could have turned, leaving him dead and the other Crichton in his place. The moment when John opens the duffel bag of the other Crichton’s–meaning his–belongings and inhales the scent of the leather jacket is so powerful, real, and unique, because more than in a manner of speaking, he’s mourning himself. And later, when he finally sees the message that Talyn-John had recorded for him, he experiences a swell of love for the other him that he never had in the past. He is seriously blown away by his double’s bravery and what he had accomplished, and when Talyn-John explains to him that the Scarrans’ wormhole tech is once again at Square One and that the only way to protect the galaxy is for Scorpy’s to be destroyed, as well–he may not realize that Scorpius actually has a strong argument regarding how much larger and more powerful the Scarran army is than the PKs’, but one still can’t deny that it’s beyond dangerous for the PKs to possess this knowledge, for what is to guarantee they only use it against the Scarrans, despite Scorpy’s own lack of interest in galactic domination?–this Crichton decides that he has to honor the other’s legacy and fulfill his last request, being to stop Scorpius by any means necessary, a foolhardy plan that will most likely end in his death.
Significantly, though, by deciding to do this despite the extreme odds, he is following in his own footsteps, and thus proving himself not only as brave as the other Crichton but, really, one and the same as him. And that is why Aeryn is the first to stand by his side. Before this scene, she had secretly spied on this Crichton watching the video of “her” Crichton and had heard his advice to not “push her,” which I believe is the first moment she began to consider the possibility of accepting the legitimacy of this John. Because I think it’s the first time she found herself able to put herself in his shoes and realize how he must be feeling and that she isn’t being fair to him. His emotions are valid and real, too. The second moment followed immediately afterwards, when they play “rock, paper, scissors” with each other one last time–a truly stirring scene–and each again pick the same object, as it reconfirmed their identical natures. And now, after those instances, John pitches an idea to them that not only is every bit as simultaneously brave, selfless, and foolish as “her” John’s but which honors his desires and spirit. She isn’t ready to consider a romantic relationship with him now, if ever. The wounds are too raw. She probably can’t even admit it to herself in full yet, but on some level, she is starting to acknowledge that he is as much her Crichton as the one she had lost.
Other odds and ends:
–One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is actually one of the main thrusts of the episode, which is a whodunnit mystery as to who set off a signal to the PKs, broadcasting Moya’s position. While easy money would say the PK Tech, he is ironically the only one who it can’t be, having been locked in a cell the entire time and watched over by a DRD guard. Meanwhile, all of the others also have alibis, since each has been watched over by one of Moya’s crew. And interestingly, D’Argo, Chiana, and Rygel all become fiercely defensive of their charges and therefore at odds with one another, underlying the eponymous fractures currently marring the heart of this oddball family.
–In some ways, no one is more protective than Rygel, who has his first contact with another of his species for countless years and swiftly falls in love with her. Now, to be honest, he’s probably thinking more with erm “Little Rygel”–the euphoria of making love in addition to spending time with a Hynerian female are likely clouding his brain more than a little bit. And the situation is also very funny. We don’t often see alien puppets having erotic scenes on TV. But at the same time, Rygel’s emotions feel very real. It’s not often that we think of him as an either romantic or sexual being with physical urges and a desire for companionship, but given his size compared to the others and his sometimes off-putting attributes, it must be very lonely for him–and, remember, it was only just in the previous episode that he was reminded of the woman he loved years ago, so this must have felt like fate to him–and so it’s difficult to not feel for the little guy here, and also to not be genuinely sorry for him when his new paramour, Orrhn, betrays him, revealing herself to be the culprit. In fact, she’d used their sex against him, sneaking out whenever he’d fallen asleep in post-coital bliss. And though her line, “The pleasure, Dominar, was all yours” is funny, you can also tell how much it hurts Rygel, making it difficult to not take some small satisfaction along with him when he jettisons her into space, even as you know how heartbroken he is. Still, you gotta love the concept of a Hynerian femme fatale.
–Chiana gets another one of her future flashes in this episode, foreseeing that there is going to be a blast from a pulse pistol but not sure when or where. As her powers develop, they will become much more instantaneous but at this early stage, the thing she gets a vision of may take a while to happen. Sadly, what she seems to have been forseeing is the death of her new friend, the Nebari, Hubero.
–The reason that the Scarran can be trusted at all is that the PKs had removed the gland that produces his heat power. What’s really effective about this is that the writers actually manage to create sympathy for him, having been basically neutered by his captors, even though at the same time, if he still had the ability to create heatwaves, he might have been a significant antagonist.
–It’s both lovely, strange, and sad to see Crais being so kind and gentle with Crichton. It shows how much he understands the delicacy of the situation and is even sympathetic to this Crichton’s emotions after witnessing the death of the other one.
–The scene in which D’Argo attempts to give John advice is a really lovely one, reiterating that their friendship is once more in a good place, after their reconciliation in “Revenging Angel”. And I love that he admits that he has no specific advice, because this is such an unusual situation, but that, regardless, he is there for his friend.
Next: “I-Yensch, You-Yensch” and “Into the Lion’s Den, Part I: Lambs to the Slaughter”
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