“Sorry, I don’t make the rules.” “You certainly seem familiar with them.”
“Til the Blood Runs Clear” is a very masculine episode of Farscape. Not that other episodes haven’t been masculine, but usually that’s undercut by the way that Crichton operates very much outside of that framework, opting for (or at least trying for) diplomacy rather than violence, and emotional vulnerability rather than guardedness. One of the central dynamics of Farscape is the way that Aeryn and Crichton flip traditional gender roles in their relationship: Aeryn is physically stronger and significantly more emotionally closed off. She’s macho, and Crichton is extremely not. Aeryn is a warrior, and able to connect with D’Argo on that level; Crichton is a peacemaker, and gravitates towards Zhaan.
This episode shifts all of those dynamics around. While planetside getting Crichton’s module fixed, Crichton and Aeryn discover that Crais has left a wanted beacon calling for the capture of Zhaan, D’Argo, and Rygel. They then run into a pair of bounty hunters, Rorf and Rorg, with very regressive gender dynamics. In order to stop Rorg from killing Aeryn, and in order to throw them off their scent, Crichton takes on the role of a loud, controlling, domineering alpha male.
At first, this is just a way to let the characters play-act for a little bit. Aeryn is annoyed (in part because she was already annoyed with Crichton before the charade started) but practical: The ruse is necessary. Crichton isn’t having fun with his role, but he certainly does seem to understand it well. He’s playing a part, being a movie bounty hunter.
Then D’Argo shows up, looking for Crichton and Aeryn, and Rorf and Rorg capture him. Now, Crichton’s role requires some real commitment: He has to navigate his relationship with Rorf and Rorg to prevent them from realizing that he’s on D’Argo’s side, while also preventing D’Argo from coming to any real harm. After Rorf and Rorg torture D’Argo by cutting into one of his tenkas, they challenge Crichton to torture him as well. Crichton acquiesces, but his torture mostly involves beating D’Argo to increase his blood flow—thereby saving him from dying of toxic blood.
The episode culminates in a confrontation between D’Argo and Crichton. D’Argo accuses Crichton of betraying him, and being a fundamentally untrustworthy person; Crichton accuses D’Argo of being childish and violent. D’Argo attacks Crichton (and Crichton completely drops his macho act, running up a ladder to avoid the attack). And then, in a kind of macho way, they come to terms. Crichton teaches D’Argo about handshakes (“Warriors on Earth did this to show that they weren’t holding weapons”) and they agree to be not friends, but allies. Shootout, declarations that D’Argo won’t abandon an ally, and Aeryn solves the whole thing with a clever trick.
The role reversal is kind of fun, and it allows D’Argo and Crichton to connect meaningfully in a way they never have before, but this is largely Farscape just playing around. Yes, they’re poking fun at the kind of bullheaded masculinity that Crichton is play-acting at, but Crichton is also inhabiting that role easily and well. As Aeryn says, Crichton may not make the rules, but he sure seems familiar with them. Despite Crichton not being this kind of guy, in some ways, playing this role puts him in more familiar and stable territory than he’s yet encountered in the Uncharted Territories. He knows how guys like Rorf operate, he knows how to act like them, and in doing so, he gets to be in control in a way that he really hasn’t since going through the wormhole.
Maybe that’s why, despite having plenty of character work and interesting dynamics going on, “Til the Blood Runs Clear” isn’t as fun as some other episodes of Farscape. One of the most interesting things about Farscape is watching Crichton be wrong, off-footed, lost. When you’re a fish out of water but it turns out you can breathe the air, something vital is lost.
- There’s a lot going on with Aeryn and Crichton’s relationship in this one, and it does play off of the gender dynamic flip. Crichton takes Aeryn along for a ride in his module to collect solar flare data, and in the process accidentally creates an unstable wormhole. For a moment, he’s ready to fly the module straight in, despite the fact that Aeryn is with him. Aeryn is understandably upset that his tunnel vision (ha!) put her at risk. Crichton’s obsession with getting back home makes him less understanding, less emotionally vulnerable, more controlling—all the things that generally mark him in opposition to Aeryn.
- Magda Szubanski is a very well known Australian actress, and she’s great as Furlow. In terms of design I particularly like the subtle contacts in her eyes that make her irises smaller, and obviously the omnipresent cigar is a great touch.
- Weird alien biology: Zhaan orgasms—sorry, “photogasms”—in response to light with particular kinds of radiation. Also she does some sort of weird Delvian thing to mask her scent (which is “subtle”) from the bounty hunters.
- In response to Zhaan’s photogasms, Rygel says, “I’ll get a mop and bucket.” Should Farscape be asking Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion for royalties?
- Aeryn is so thrilled and proud of her plan to get rid of the bounty hunters. (She has Furlow manipulate the beacon to make it look like Crais has withdrawn the reward.) Her smile when she activates the beacon is amazing.
- This episode is very tied into continuity. At its core, it’s about reevaluating D’Argo and John’s relationship, so it references a lot of milestones of their interactions, and doesn’t particularly care about explaining them in depth for unfamiliar viewers. John and D’Argo talk about Pilot’s arm and D’Argo’s secret family, and never really expound on them.
- This may not be the intended reading, but D’Argo’s response to John saying, “Oh, we have a relationship, no wonder you want to kill me,” is “I once thought…” which honestly sounds like he’s saying he used to have a little crush on John.
- “You know what, D’Argo? Sometimes you’re a real pain in the ass.” “What is a pain in the ass?”
- “I am Rorf.” “Worf?” “RORF!”
- “You help me capture the prisoners and I’ll split the bounty, seventy-thirty.” “Seventy… forty.” “Eighty-forty.”
- “Help! Help! A mad Delvian exhibitionist is forcing herself on me, visually!”
- “It’s all there. Parts, labor, overtime, goggle rental.”
- “Hey Furlow. Five years from now. I’ll be waiting for you at the end of that wormhole.”
Photogasm, grezz conductor, ionized fragile, welnitz, “twice as blotching long,” and Furlow is “not a pleebing ocular physician.”
Lotta stuff in this one, obviously. This episode is the first one to posit that knowledge of wormholes is valuable and worth stealing. It’s no wonder that the show eventually returned to Dam-Ba-Da; in addition to Furlow being a great character, this is a planet with a rich vein of story potential, if you assume that your story is about wormholes.
D’Argo and Crichton saying that they’ll never be friends is hysterical, obviously. Plus, I think later events from the series kind of back up the idea that D’Argo considered Crichton a potential sexual partner, even if, again, that may not have been the intended meaning at this point.
Zhaan is so obviously a plant, how did any of us not know?
Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in comments.
Thanks for the patience about this review being a day late! Next Monday, January 4, it’s nothing but net, as we cover 1×12, “The Flax.”