“When I was a boy I dreamed of two very different lives.” “Only two? I wanted hundreds.”
The strangest thing about many early Farscape episodes is that the character they’re about is often not the character that they follow. “Thank God It’s Friday, Again” is, like “Back and Back and Back to the Future,” about D’Argo. He’s the character we begin and end with; he’s the character the thematic weight of the narrative rests on.
But very little time in the episode is spent with D’Argo. He doesn’t get a B-plot, like Aeryn; he can hardly even be said to have a C-plot. He’s more of a presence, a plot generator, dipping in and out of the main narrative as needed. D’Argo kicks things off with a bout of spontaneous hyperrage that takes him down to the planet Sykar; then we spend a while with him as John slowly realizes that something is wrong with both D’Argo and the planet; then he drops out of the episode almost entirely while John solves the mystery; then he drops back in for the denouement.
There’s not much that D’Argo does or can do. He’s brainwashed, living out a warped version of his Farmville fantasy life, with very little independent interior life or will to speak of.
Instead, John drives the action of the episode. He solves the mystery, saves the day, hatches the plan. But although this episode is illuminating about John, just in the sense that watching a person solve any complicated problem often tells you a lot about their character, it’s not about him. Crichton has no particular attachment to the idea of an idyllic farm life, and although there’s a lot of talk around homes, and how to make and fight for one, the episode never really manages or even tries to tie that in to John’s search for his own home.
That stark split between plot and narrative doesn’t completely destroy the episode—it’s absolutely fun to watch—but it does weaken it. As does the relative isolation of all of the main characters. By this point, Moya’s crew has been well fleshed out, and Farscape gets some of its best grist from bouncing them off of each other. But Zhaan and D’Argo spend most of this episode brainwashed, and Rygel spends most of the episode frozen, while John and Aeryn are in different places entirely.
The result is that whereas in “Back and Back and Back to the Future,” the characters’ grace notes at the end of the episode felt like the inevitable conclusions to arcs that had been woven into the topsy-turvy sci-fi plot, here, they mostly just feel like a requirement. Zhaan and D’Argo’s final conversation is beautifully written, indicative of so much about both of them as individuals, and about their relationship, and lovely simply on a wordcraft level. But because we’ve spent so little time with D’Argo—because the story, although about him, isn’t with him—the conversation doesn’t hit with all of the power that it could.
The one part of the episode where the narrative is driven by the character it’s about is Aeryn’s B-plot, where, forced to desert Sykar because of the heat, she has to analyze Rygel’s body chemistry to figure out what’s causing his fluids to explode. Claudia Black has expressed mild displeasure with this plot, describing it as being a little like Peacekeeper Barbie: “Science is hard!” And it’s not the most profound of stories, to be sure. But there is something gratifying about the way that Farscape continues to push Aeryn out of her comfort zone by inches, and the scene where Pilot confesses to her that he does not have a natural talent for science is deeply endearing, less because of the content of what’s being talked about than because of Aeryn’s clear surprise and gratitude at being a trusted confidant. Ultimately, Aeryn’s plot is less about her abilities or lack thereof than it is about her opening herself up to new possibilities, both within and without herself. Discovering, like D’Argo, the different lives she could be living.
And it’s about a Muppet with exploding pee.
- As I believe W.S. Punk mentioned last time, Crichton has a white shirt, a grey shirt, and a black shirt on rotation, with black shirt episodes being the ones where he really goes through some shit. This was a black shirt episode. He gets a worm shoved into his belly button, spends a day throwing up, gets stranded on a planet of brainwashed people without his friends, and then has the worm removed from his belly button. And nobody is sympathetic at all.
- This is another episode that does a lot of incidental work in really fleshing out the strength of the Crichton and Zhaan relationship. Not only do they just generally have a fun rapport throughout, but the scene where Crichton begs for Zhaan’s help as he gradually realizes that she’s been brainwashed and he’s on his own is probably the most emotional moment of the episode.
- That said, as of “Back and Back and Back to the Future” the seal has been well and truly broken on Farscape and sex, so the first scene between Crichton and Zhaan is basically just trope-y bedsharing shenanigans, in an episode that emotionally seems to be setting up Zhaan/D’Argo. The friend who introduced me to Farscape once told me, “You can’t ship Farscape. Farscape ships itself,” and basically this is what she was talking about.
- The scene where Aeryn and John argue over the plan, until John’s realization that Aeryn has become enthusiastic about science turns into genuine delight, is just really wonderful. It shows John’s growing confidence in his abilities in the Uncharted Territories, Aeryn’s growing understanding of herself as a person, and the incredibly compelling push-pull dynamic that the two of them have together.
- More weird Luxan biology: The males have hyperrage!
- “Oh yeah, I think I’ve seen this one. Mel Gibson, Tina Turner. Cage match.”
- “She gives me a woody.”
- “Nobody knows you here. It’s only people who know you who want to kill you.”
- “I suppose a starship can be a home?”
- “I am not a scientist. I am, however, what I have always been, and that is superior.”
- “There are no guarantees, D’Argo. We take each breath as if it is our last, and hope that the air is sweet.”
- “Those kinds of dreams cannot be found, brave Luxan. You have to build them. And I promise you, your hands are still strong. And there is plenty of time.”
Henta, Shintock sonnets, frotash garden, Rygel is frozen at “105 below the Galarian frost point,” Aeryn checks Rygel’s altex functions, and the Sykarans are harvesting the tannot root which is processed into chakan oil (which powers pulse pistols). This week is also fun because we’re starting to get some repeat words: dren, fapoota, and yotz all pop up after being used in previous episodes.
Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in comments.
Next up, we learn that astronauts prefer blondes, in 1×07, “P.K. Tech Girl,” on Monday, November 23.