“That’s it. Earth. Minus the sunshine.”
“A Human Reaction” is…
Aw, fuck. “A Human Reaction” is great. You know it, I know it, the world knows it. A paranoid thriller that deconstructs E.T. way better than the episode that explicitly references the movie; a beautifully shot love poem to Earth and Aeryn Sun; a fake-out family drama that still manages to find substance. And it all comes to a head in the most beautifully stupid Farscape kind of way.
Some quick recapping: John finds a wormhole that seems to lead to Earth, and hops through it despite the danger. Back home, he discovers that the people of Earth are deeply suspicious of him, and the menacing governmental Wilson keeps him under close tabs. But he also reconnects with his father. When Aeryn, D’Argo, and Rygel arrive, having gotten sucked through the wormhole themselves, things go sour: Rygel dies under mysterious circumstances and his corpse winds up on a dissection table, and D’Argo disappears. Aeryn and John make a break for it and have sex, and then John realizes that the whole thing is a simulation and confronts the (sigh) god-like alien behind it all.
An episode where most of the events aren’t real, and where, frankly, it’s obvious that most of the events aren’t real from the start, could feel cheap or pointless. Of course John’s not going to make it home halfway through season one; of course Rygel’s not dead. But “A Human Reaction” manages to avoid flimsiness.
First, it’s directed completely straight. Farscape is generally loose with its cameras, willing to spin and track and zoom to create whatever mood it wants. But “A Human Reaction” pushes that to its limit. The camerawork is queasy in the tense moments and still, sometimes almost reverent, and in the softer emotional beats. The lighting—especially in the scene where John and Aeryn talk in the safehouse—is gorgeous. The music is tense, and sounds unlike the show’s usual score. It’s a truly cinematic episode that neither looks nor feels like anything Farscape has produced before. Which means that even if you know that the plot isn’t what it seems, it’s easy to get immersed in the feel of it. And the visual and musical distinctiveness helps to sell the idea that we’re in a different place than we normally are, even if that’s not true.
Second, although the events aren’t real, Farscape uses the opportunity to dig up real truths about the characters. It’s not just that the false narrative affects John, a la “The Inner Light,” although of course it does. It’s also that because John believes that this is real, we get to learn important, interesting things about him that we would never get to in space. Jack Crichton, who was barely a sketch of a father figure in the pilot, here gains dimensions—or at the least, since Jack isn’t actually there, John’s relationship with his father gains dimensions. The love becomes specific, and so does the anger. We start to see exactly what John meant in the pilot when he said that he loved who Jack is, but not being the son of who he is: “You were late. Again.”
We also get to see a side of John that hasn’t, perhaps, been entirely absent up to now, but has certainly been building gradually, and comes out in full force here. With his friends’ lives threatened, John is now fully willing to point guns at people. He’s willing to kick Cobb when he’s down. This is John making peace with his violence.
And finally, and probably most importantly, some of the events truly are real. Rygel, D’Argo, and Aeryn were all really there, and all really thought that they were on Earth. (Until it was time for their characters to exit, anyway.) This is of course particularly important for Aeryn, who finally has sex with John. The scene where it happens is really stunningly shot. It feels, very quietly, like the end of the world. It’s romantic, in its way, but mostly it’s sad. If “The Flax” was Aeryn and John hooking up when they thought they were going to die, “A Human Reaction” is them hooking up when the earth has dropped from beneath their feet.
It’s very clear even within the episode that this is not the start of a relationship in any clear-cut way, but all the same, it’s a major step in John and Aeryn’s growing relationship. And because of that, “A Human Reaction” has major, far-reaching consequences, despite the fact that its set-up is fake.
- One of the great things this episode does—part and parcel of how straight it plays the entire plot—is that it really commits to John’s goodbye scene. He gets a real and meaningful moment with every member of Moya’s crew (save Chiana). Which not only sells the emotional part of the plot, but serves as a great way to check in on John’s relationships with all of them. He and Aeryn are very close, but still somehow unsteady; he and Zhaan are dear friends, to the point of very nearly being family; he and D’Argo have gone from uneasy allies to actual friends.
- Sebacean is English backwards. But it’s not reversed speech—Claudia Black actually spoke the phonemes in reverse. This makes it incredibly difficult to translate. This frustrates me to no end, because the thing that Aeryn says to fake!Jack should be possible to figure out. But I can’t. (I think the last thing she says might be “I would.” But it’s so hard to know!)
- The scene with John and Aeryn’s “morning after,” where Aeryn is wearing John’s shirt and John tries to talk to her “about last night,” is, I believe, the Euro scene for this episode, which is hysterical when you think about it, because without that scene it’s not entirely clear that John and Aeryn had sex.
- It probably doesn’t even need to be mentioned, but Aeryn sticking her tongue out to taste the rain is a Top 5 Aeryn moment.
- Chiana’s in about two minutes of this episode, but she’s really great in all of them, and I think that deserves to be mentioned.
- This episode confirms that John has been in space for seven months.
- One thing I remember very clearly from the audio commentary of this episode is that it took hours to get the shot of the crab walking over Jack’s badge. Super worth it, though.
- The one off note of this episode for me is the design of the alien playing Jack. There’s nothing wrong with the puppet itself, per se, but the way it moves—kinda floating in the air, in a hominid stance that doesn’t really seem to tally with its insectoid design—always looks a little silly to me.
- Farscape Gender Corner: The scene where John and Aeryn kiss is very soft, and in particular, John is very soft. He’s also positioned so that he’s below Aeryn the entire time. This isn’t wild subversion of gender norms, or anything, but it does strike me as being an atypical way to stage a scene like this.
- “It’s just a tiny blue planet, what are you getting so worked up about? It’s got no particle rings, no red moons…”
- “However this works out, this could be goodbye. And I know that you didn’t expect be to be here, but thanks. You saved my life. All of you.”
- “John Crichton. Remember. There’s a part of me inside you. Take care of it.”
- “Hello, sky!”
- “Who’s on first, what’s on second, I don’t know, I can’t see ’em!”
- “If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be the happy little Peacekeeper dominating the lesser races.”
- “Aeryn. Um. About last night…” “Yes, it’s fine, John, it’s just not top priority right now.”
- “I thought the best spy would be a father, as seen through his son’s eyes.”
Bassim oil, fellip nectar, and John is “you lucky prabakto.”
You guys all know what goes here. I’ve got nothing to add. Except I will say this: John asks Jack to call on every favor he has, including from “every Pentagon mistress.” This could theoretically mean Jack’s mistresses who work in the Pentagon, or it could mean the mistresses of Pentagon officials, whom Jack knows. But seeing young John in “Kansas” has always led me to believe that John is talking about Jack’s mistresses. Teenage John had a very deep anger about the way his father treated his mother.
You guys all know what goes here. I’ve got nothing to add.
Except I will say this: John asks Jack to call on every favor he has, including from “every Pentagon mistress.” This could theoretically mean Jack’s mistresses who work in the Pentagon, or it could mean the mistresses of Pentagon officials, whom Jack knows. But seeing young John in “Kansas” has always led me to believe that John is talking about Jack’s mistresses. Teenage John had a very deep anger about the way his father treated his mother.
Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in comments.
Next Monday, February 15, the crew learns their primary colors, as we cover 1×17, “Through the Looking Glass.”