Farscape 4.19-4.20: “We’re So Screwed,” Parts 1-2

After continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “A Constellation of Doubt” and “Prayer,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week with the nineteenth and twentieth episodes of Season 4.

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.

4.19: “We’re So Screwed, Part I: Fetal Attraction” Original airdate: 28 February 2003

"We're So Screwed, Part I: Fetal Attraction"

“We’re So Screwed, Part I: Fetal Attraction”

Farscape’s final trilogy of episodes kicks off in grand style with an installment that defies expectation at every turn, firstly because what seemed as if it would be the primary purpose of this arc–rescuing Aeryn from the hands of the Scarrans–is actually resolved before this first episode is up, and before they even reach Katratzi, instead revealing an entirely different and more surprising rescue to be the main thrust of this story, and secondly because, in many ways, Noranti, rather than John, proves to be the true lynchpin in the quest to free Aeryn. In fact, they are able to get her back largely due to Noranti’s actions, which, at the same time, in true Farscape and Noranti style, are truly bonkers, extremely dangerous, and had real potential to end in catastrophic failure. This episode is a perfect example of Farscape at its best–highly charged, dark, filled with life-and-death stakes, but also an underlying, twisted sense of humor that often dovetails with rather gross bodily functions, in this case a horrendous Hynerian disease that results in rashes, skin sloughing off, bloody sores, and worse.

“Fetal Attraction” is set on a Scarran space station, a checkpoint of sorts fairly close to Katratzi that all ships planning to travel into Scarran space must stop at first in order to be deemed worthy of safe passage. And shortly after Moya arrives there, with Scorpy of all people posing as the captain of this supposed Leviathan trading vessel, with John, Chiana, and Rygel as his associates, they learn the shocking coincidence that the ship on which Aeryn is being held has been stopped there as well at this very moment, on the way to Katratzi. As with Farscape’s best seemingly farfetched twists of circumstance, on the one hand, it might seem unlikely that they’d all end up at the same place at the same time, while on the other, (a) it carries with it the operatic ring of fate, a heightened sense of reality that has always fit within this show’s tone and framework, especially given the way John and Aeryn’s epic love has always been depicted, and perhaps even more importantly, (b) given that both Aeryn and John were on the way to Katratzi and given that this is the apparently the last checkpoint before Katratzi, the only real suspension of disbelief one must sustain is to accept that they would both have reached there simultaneously, which, again, isn’t the most outlandish pill to swallow. It also helps keep viewers on our toes, not giving us exactly what we had expected. We had thought there would be a big rescue mission for Aeryn on Katratzi, and instead it happens before they get there. However, at the same time, John wouldn’t have found her here if he hadn’t discovered the way to Katratzi, and furthermore, they will all end up going to Katratzi after all, just for a very different reason than they first expected.

Upon realizing that Aeryn’s ship is there, thanks to Sikozou getting close and personal with another Kalish worker on the station–her people run it for the Scarrans–the gang realizes that they’ll have to come up with some way to stall it in order to give John ample time to rescue Aeryn, and to Noranti’s credit, she follows their lead brilliantly. First, Rygel vomits on cue after eating a great deal of food, and makes reference of the fact that he had, years before, contracted and nearly died from Hynerian dermafollica, and that that was the last time he’d puked like that (they clearly don’t know him at all!). Concerned that the virus, long dormant in his system, might have reawakened, the Kalish head of the station puts him under immediate quarrantine and locks down the station, forbidding any ship from leaving. While dermafollica is very dangerous for Hynerians, its effects are almost instantly fatal for many other species, including his own, so they can’t risk anyone who might have been infected by Rygel from bringing a plague into Scarran space. Then, Noranti appears seemingly in the nick of time, taking on the role of a healer, with D’Argo as her Luxan assistant. To her credit, she seems to have come up with the idea on her own, and brilliantly plays along, in order to help stall the ship. However, she soon realizes that the only way the ruse of Rygel’s illness can be kept up long enough is if he starts to exhibit more symptoms, and her only way of doing that is to give him a potion that actually does reawaken the disease within him. And given the pervasiveness of the illness, as soon as he is made ill, everyone on the station is at risk. Basically, she very well may end up unintentionally killing Aeryn–along with many others–before they have a chance to save her, particularly since when she first reinfects Rygel, she doesn’t have a cure ready.

And this proves to be a perfect showcase plot for Noranti, easily the best of her entire run, because it manages just the right blend of demonstrating her typical insanity–the idea of infecting someone with a veritable plague in order to save one other person, who may herself get infected in the process, seems certifiably nuts–with her at-times Kantian, ends-justifying-the-means attitude (such as when she nearly killed John to protect the secret of the devices’ location on Arnessk, in order to save potential billions), while also allowing to see deeper wellsprings of “humanity” from her than we’ve ever seen before. This manifests firstly in her drive to do whatever it takes to come up with a cure, along with her confidence that she can succeed, even as the fantastic Melissa Jaffer weaves subtle hints into her performance that indicate that she’s perhaps not as fully sure as she claims to be; secondly in her fierce protectiveness over Aeryn–when the Scarran, Cpt. Jenek, demands that Aeryn’s baby be transferred to Chiana (he doesn’t care at all for Aeryn’s life and only wants to ensure that her baby, whose DNA might be encoded with Crichton’s wormhole knowledge, survives; since Nebari are immune to dermafollica, he considers this a suitable option, even though the operation could possibly kill the baby along with Aeryn, if not Chiana, as well), she fights with every tool she has at her disposal to try to keep it from happening, and while still remaining in character as this healer who doesn’t know Aeryn or Crichton; and thirdly, in the genuine remorse she shows in her final scene with Rygel, regarding the few people who died of the disease before she was able to cure it. While we’ve seen her perform morally ambiguous actions before, this is the first time they’ve actually ended in death, and the fact this truly bothers her–the taking of innocent life, despite a positive outcome in other regards–goes a long way towards making her feel even more fully fleshed-out as a person, beneath the often kooky exterior.

The other MVP of the hour is, of course, John, who exhibits remarkable bravery, as well as smarts in at first attempting to woo the contemptible Sebacean nurse, and then refusing to break character once the Scarrans capture him for knocking her out and attempting to free Aeryn. He claims that he had simply wanted to recreate with another of his species and that Aeryn was better-looking and therefore more desirable, and even when being interrogated with the Scarran heat torture, he answers with half-truths, never revealing his identity nor connection to Aeryn. And while he does end up carrying the woman he loves to safety, this isn’t the typical hero-rescuing-the-damsel story, not only because while Aeryn might be a victim here in some ways, it is the first and only time in the entire saga that anyone could ever say that about her, but also because the titular hero flat-out wouldn’t have been able to succeed by himself, and again, the person who truly facilitates the saving-of-the-day is a centuries-old woman. Speaking of Aeryn, though, Claudia Black does an ingenious job of capturing her trauma. We have never seen her this physical weak nor nearly-broken before, and it is extremely difficult to watch. After hallucinating about John rescuing her while she’s in a state of heat delirium, she refuses to initially believe it’s actually him when he first shows up, and all she can do is flinch and cry. Watching Aeryn Sun of all people reduced to this is one of those moments of Farscape that are just soul-destroying. Luckily, by the last scene, however, she does wake on board Moya in her own bed, and realizes that she is once again safe.

Or so it seems. Because while everyone else has managed to escape the Scarran base, one is captured, and that is Scorpius. And although no one aboard Moya save Sikozou (who, by the way, earlier in the episode, melts a conduit with a new, previously unexhibited power that we don’t learn until the next episode is the result of not actually being Kalish as she seems but a bioloid) has any interest in saving him, that is when the real kicker occurs: out of a black-and-white crypt in John’s mind, Harvey 2.0 arises, like Dracula or Nosferatu rising from his coffin, and reveals that Scorpius hadn’t actually removed him after all but simply upgraded him. Like Rygel’s dermafollica, he had been dormant all of this time, until he is now needed to compel John to rescue Scorpius. And while his purpose is to make John loyal to Scorpius, his arguments for saving him are strong enough for John to have listened, even without being forced to–because Scorpius knows many things, from a great deal of wormhole knowledge bar the remaining details he hadn’t been able to get from the chip to the location of Earth, and he won’t be able to hold out forever against Scarran interrogation, particularly due to his inner heat regulation issue. And, therefore, if they don’t all risk their lives to save Scorpius, the entire galaxy might again be doomed–which is the perfect reversal for the final Farscape series-proper arc. In season 1, Aeryn had to rescue John from Scorpius. In season 4, John had to rescue Aeryn from the species that makes up half of Scorpius’ parentage, and now, once that is done, they have to both now rescue Scorpy himself. On a list of things you might have never expected to see in the first season, this might be #1. Particularly since the need to save him is revealed at the same time that the fact that he had frelled John once again, in the form of Harvey, comes to light.

In other words, Farscape.

Also, just have to mention the fact that, when this three-parter originally aired, the BBC weren’t comfortable with the word “screwed” in the title, so suggested renaming it “Another Fine Mess,” which is possibly the most adorably British thing I’ve ever heard. In the end, incidentally, they ended up just calling each episode by its subtitle, though I might have suggested just swapping “screwed” for “frelled”.

4.20: “We’re So Screwed, Part II: Hot to Katratzi” Original airdate: 7 March 2003

"We're So Screwed, Part II: Hot to Katratzi"

“We’re So Screwed, Part II: Hot to Katratzi”

Farscape continues its absolutely stellar last batch of episodes with “We’re So Screwed, Part II: Hot to Katratzi,” which, besides being just as twisty and bold as anyone could have hoped for from this ingenious show’s climactichours, also has the distinction of having the cleverest title in the entire run on the series. That is just a statement of fact.

Among the episode’s many strong attributes, the most impressive is likely how surprising it is, taking a number of plot elements we have seen the series handle before but handling them in an entirely different way than we have come to expect from those previous adventures. We have seen Moya’s crew launch a complex rescue mission from a seemingly impenetrable fortress, going deep into the belly of the beast, as it were, in order to save a friend. This time, however, not only is it an enemy rather than a friend who they’ve come to save, but they don’t do so surreptitiously at all. They don’t assume elaborate false identities or have a complex plan. Instead, they effectively knock right on the Scarrans’ front door in the middle of their negotiations with the Peacekeepers, John Crichton brashly and fearlessly announces his presence, and then he basically proceeds to frell with them. Browder plays this pitch-perfectly. After years of being on the run, John has had it up to here with the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans, so he basically says, “Screw it,” marches right in and offers to give his wormhole knowledge to the highest bidder. Whether it be the Scarran emperor or Grayza–who, it is revealed here, had escaped from Ahkna, after all, and therefore hadn’t been replaced by a bioloid, another surprising shift from what we might have expected–is of no consequence to him, or so he says. In actuality, of course, he’s planning on surrendering it to neither, and is just marching in, deliberately loud and blustering, in order to provide additional cover for their plan to get Scorpy out of there. But he manages to secure safety for his friends and him in a similarly ostentatious, balls-to-the-wall fashion.

Whereas when he and his friends boarded the Command Carrier at the end of the previous season, it was after intense negotiations between Rygel, D’Argo, and Scorpius that culminated in John and Scorpy wearing I-Yensch bracelets, this time around, John has a much simpler and yet simultaneously bug-nuts insane plan. He builds a thermonuclear bomb, straps it to himself, and rigs it to detonate basically under any circumstance where he is threatened. As he explains, “Now, before anyone decides to get clever, you should know I have multiple dead man’s sensors from every culture on my ship and a few cultures I haven’t even heard of. My heart stops? We all go boom. My heart speeds up? It’s boom again. Too hot, too cold, too happy, too sad, thirsty, hungry, bored… it’s John Lee Hooker time. Boom, boom, boom. And if you try your little psychic trick… kaboom. And we’re all pushing up day-glo daisies.” This is the sort of move that Crichton never could have pulled much earlier in the story, as it’s one that springs from desperation, fed-upedness, and perhaps most importantly, a true willingness to gamble his life in order to save the world. That isn’t to say that he’s never done so before, but there’s a particular level of devil-may-care cavalierness to it this time around. The other version of him did die from radiation sickness, in order to keep wormhole tech out of Scarran hands, and he may have considered not surviving the “Into the Lion’s Den” arc a real possibility, but in the former case, it was a last-minute gut decision, and in the latter, he took as many precautions as possible to keep his friends and him safe. This time around, however, he’s putting both his fate and those of everyone he loves in the hands of the Scarrans. If they don’t believe him and decide to attack anyway, they’ll all die. He’s hoping that they don’t decide to test him, but if they do, he’s prepared to die, just to screw them over. That’s not to mention that it’s incredibly risky from other perspectives. External threats aren’t the only things that can get someone’s pulse to beat faster. At one point, it starts to quicken simply from flirting with Aeryn, adding a level of danger to their encounters that can’t help but be incredibly hot.

Speaking of Aeryn, she has largely bounced back from her experiences in the previous episodes, which is very in-character for her. You can bring her down but not for long. She’s perhaps a bit more subtly subdued than usual but other than that, she is just as resolved and powerful as ever, only now she isn’t withholding in her affections for John, which makes her seem an all-around stronger, happier individual. She manages to be completely open to him, even sharing a very sweet dance with him in an elevator, while also projecting her full-on badass PK self, which is basically what the two bring out in each other over the course of the rest of the main series and “The Peacekeeper Wars”. I love the little looks they give each other that quietly indicate their pride in one another. They make each other better while also each remaining strong people in their own rights. With Aeryn, you can see a mixture of being genuinely impressed with John’s bravery, perhaps mixed with a touch of worry by how far he’s willing to go, but also fully committed to backing him up, regardless of any fears, which is the same thing she does for him. He has only become this brave because of her. And while he does still end up taking very dark actions that do still bother him, particularly in the next episode, he is evolving into someone who can live with making tough decisions at times, particularly if they will help more people than they will hurt, but who still ultimately strive to achieve more pacifistic goals. In other words, his own kind of hero.

Meanwhile, in addition to distracting attention away from their quest to free Scorpius, the plan also involves Sikozou, D’Argo, and Rygel surreptitiously stoking hatreds between the Charrids and the Kalish aboard the station, hoping that it will erupt in violence that could help provide a cover. For Sikozou, this involves trying to nudge the other Kalish into thinking that the Charrids are trying to kick the Kalish off Katratzi by undermining their authority, eventually enlisting the help of Zukash, an aide of the head Kalish, and who, like her, is actually a bioloid, which we learn for the first time here, thus explaining the strange melty power she exhibited in the previous episode. Although we don’t learn this until the next episode, Sikozou, however, isn’t a replacement for a real person, as Aeryn was. She was created by the Kalish in order to achieve Kalish ends, and considers herself one, as well, though we can probably discuss that more when we get to the next episode. While Sikozou is pursuing those ends, Rygel and D’Argo work together, as they did when they met Scorpy and Braca in “I-Yensch, You-Yensch,” however this time around using their skills to manipulate the eminently gullible and violence-minded Charrids, providing one of the last great opportunities for us to see Rygel’s sharp brains and Dominarly talent for politically outthinking his opponents in action.

At the same time, while all of this is going on, Scorpius is being tortured for the information the Scarrans seek and, in a direct reversal of their positions when we first met them, he is actually being tortured by Stark, of all people, who is using his Stykeran power not to help but to hurt, shining his light upon Scorpius as a means of torture, likely inflicting terrible memories upon him in order to find wormhole information from him, rather than vice versa. Now, on a first watch, this seems to show Stark at his darkest and most morally ambiguous, and does provide, again, a great full-circle twist for the two character. As it turns out, however, as we learn in the next episode, this isn’t the real Stark after all but a bioloid, which is interesting because on the one hand, it certainly fits more with the more spiritual quest Stark set out on the last time we saw him, in order to find Zhaan (although we never learn how he came to captured by the Scarrans, it certainly was while in pursuit of this goal), while on the other hand, Stark has always been depicted as unstable enough and even capable of vengeful thoughts to the point that it wouldn’t have been completely unbelievable for him to have done this, given the opportunity, particularly since he knows nothing of what Scorpius has been up to for the past year. Hell, even if he’d known, he likely wouldn’t ever trust him.

Nor should he, as we discover in a fascinating scene in this episode that Scorpy has actually been a spy for the Scarran emperor all of these years, and in a few brief lines of dialogue, seems to reveal himself to have been a liar and actually fully loyal to the Scarran empire all of this time, interested only in power. In short, it makes him the villain John had always thought he was from the beginning, rather than the more grey figure he revealed himself to be, once John learned his backstory and motivation. And John is certainly thinking along those lines when, at the last minute, as he and Aeryn are about to usher him to safety, he turns on them, attacking John despite the literally ticking bomb attached to him. Now, of course, Scorpy isn’t actually loyal to the Scarrans, but as with Stark, the episode gives us just enough information to possibly doubt everything we thought we knew about him up to this point. It is difficult to believe, given that Scorpy’s actions and reactions throughout don’t initially seem to make as much sense were he actually just doing all he did simply to gather the information for the Scarrans. His hatred of them and his temporary brokenness at the end of “Into the Lion’s Den” seemed too emotionally legitimate, not to mention the fact that he told his backstory to the John neural clone in “Incubator”. But there is also the chance that he could have lied even to him, in order to get what he wanted. And Scorpy has always been squirrelly and shady enough that just enough room is left for doubt. Again, it’s not necessarily likely doubt but he has frelled John over so many times that John is always ready to believe the worst of him, and his actions at the end seem consistent with that, even if to a perceptive viewer, the question is less whether Scorpy had actually been working for the Scarrans all along but instead what exact angle he’s working here.

And then there is that mysterious room of flowers in the lowest chamber of the base, which John and Aeryn discover in this one and which plays a crucial role in the last hours of Farscape…

 

Something about Ahkna vs Crichton

Next:  “We’re So Screwed, Part III: La Bomba” and “Bad Timing”

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Author: Robert Berg

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