The Wonders I’ve Seen: 1×18, “A Bug’s Life”

“How does a damned virus get to be so smart anyway?”

A Note: I tried, but I couldn’t find a way to review this episode entirely without spoilers. They’re minor, but there are references to the next two episodes of Farscape in this review.

Probably I shouldn’t have decided to review “A Bug’s Life” in isolation. It’s not a bad episode on its own—there’s plenty of fun to be had in the “pretend to be Peacekeepers” premise, and “paranoid bottle episode mystery” is a note that Farscape plays very, very well.

But although virtually no episode guide lists it this way, “A Bug’s Life” really isn’t a standalone episode. It’s functionally the first episode in a three-part story, whose second two parts, “Nerve” and “The Hidden Memory,” are listed as a two-parter. This is evident in where the writing directs its narrative energy—there’s not much time to examine the effect of the Peacekeeper charade on inter-crew dynamics, for example, but there’s plenty of space for long discussions about a mysterious nearby Gammak Base, or for Chiana to establish her thieving skills and put them to use snatching Larraq’s Peacekeeper ident chip.

More importantly, though, the episode’s status as a part of a whole is evident in the fact that it comes to few, if any, narrative conclusions. Sure, the intellant virus is caught and the Peacekeepers dispatched with. But what did any of that mean? Have the character dynamics been shifted, have personal arcs been advanced? Not really. D’Argo will never be kept in chains again—shocking—and no one’s too happy with Rygel. These are not even minor revelations.

The closest thing that “A Bug’s Life” has to a real character arc is Aeryn’s connection/flirtation with Larraq. The captain of the special ops team sees something valuable in Aeryn’s skill, and is personally fond of her. He offers Aeryn an opportunity that, if she were still a real Peacekeeper, would be extremely tempting: A place on his high-profile team.

The offer clearly touches something in Aeryn—regret, nostalgia, perhaps wistfulness. But the viewer never learns the exact nature of Aeryn’s emotional reaction, because she never talks about it, or acts upon it. Even this is, to quote my college creative writing professor, situation and not story. Aeryn feels something, but nothing comes of that feeling—at least not yet.

Again, this is not to say that “A Bug’s Life” is a bad or even boring episode. There’s plenty to enjoy, from Crichton’s terrible Peacekeeper accent to the five-gun standoff that ends the thing. Farscape is having fun with the concept, and in terms of tropes, it leaves it all on the dance floor.

But as the episode ends, the sense is less of a finished story and more of anticipation for what’s waiting out there in the Uncharted Territories. Which we will, after all, find out next week.

Random Bits

  • I like the way that Farscape episodes generally begin in media res. Not in the annoying weird-situation-followed-by-half-an-episode’s-worth-of-flashback sense, but in the traditional manner: The story picks up where the action starts, and lets the viewer understand what’s happening via very light exposition. It happens in this episode as the story starts with D’Argo already being chained up, but I’d say at least half of the episodes we’ve seen so far have started this way.

  • Only in the Peacekeepers would you encounter fellow members of your military and have your entire introduction with guns drawn.

  • One thing that Larraq and Gilina (the two “normal” Peacekeepers we’ve really gotten to know) seem to indicate is that the Peacekeepers maybe aren’t as regimented as they would have the rest of the galaxy believe. A rank-and-file soldier like Aeryn might claim to have no friends and no concept of compassion, but a tech like Gilina and a specialist like Larraq have at least some sense of romance and personal attachment. And Larraq makes it clear that he, at least, thinks that Aeryn does or should have some choice about where her future will take her.

  • D’Argo to John: “You look very, uh. Fetching.”

  • John to Chiana: “Shall we shaft it?”

  • John’s descent into violence continues: “Twisted as it sounds, what we have right here is exactly what we need. Guns in a lotta hands, pointed in every direction.” (Also, like, he kills two people.)

  • “Sixteen? Why’d you wait so long?” “I had to. My feet didn’t reach the pedals.”

  • “Here, lick this.” “What? That’s your bed cover. Is everybody aboard this ship kinkoid?”

  • “Thank you.” “Don’t mention it.” “Why would I ever mention it?”

Alien Words

Nerfer, snurgh, kinkoid, tinked, Ulgarian table spud, and if they mess up, Larraq will have his officer’s “heads on jinka poles.”

Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in the comments, although I suppose you don’t have to bother tagging the spoilers that I gave away in this review.

Next Monday, March 1: John finally gets the chance to sit down for a bit, in 1×19, “Nerve,” and 1×20, “The Hidden Memory.”