“You’ve changed.” “People change to survive.”
Redoing a concept that your show has done before is risky. Redoing the concept of one of the best episodes your show has ever done is perhaps bordering on self-sabotage. There’s so much potential for disappointment there. Farscape is always flying close to the sun; “Won’t Get Fooled Again” kind of feels like flipping the sun the bird on the way past.
But they nail it. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” revisits the idea of a fake return to Earth—first seen in the classic “A Human Reaction”—and completely pulls it off.
It helps that, this being Farscape, they not only acknowledge the similarity, but lean into it. The very title of the episode is a reference to the fact that John has encountered a situation like this before. There is no point in the story where John believes, even momentarily, even slightly, that what’s happening could be real. He disregards the hallucination’s attempt to set up a conflict (“The Farscape project is circling the drain!”) and gets right down to the business of trying to figure out what’s really going on. And, I guess, fucking around, because if you’re in a hallucination where nothing’s real, you might as well, right?
In this sense, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” isn’t just take two at the fake-Earth plot, or an attempt to revisit the well; it’s a report card on how John has changed as a character. Its similarities only serve to highlight its differences. The John who was captured in “A Human Reaction” was, as his false mother says in this episode, innocent and full of wonder. The John of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is suspicious and haunted. Season one John probably wouldn’t have tossed Rygel off a roof even if he was pretty sure he was in a simulation.
It’s that insight and detail in the character work that elevates “Won’t Get Fooled Again” into greatness. The episode isn’t just funny and dark and weird—it’s funny and dark and weird in extremely specific and revealing ways. Every aspect of the episode has been pulled out of John’s brain in one way or another, whether it’s references to movies that he identifies with—the Wizard of Oz theme is strong in this one—or strange subconscious psychosexual feelings, or deeply repressed traumas.
If the heart of “A Human Reaction” was John’s relationship with his father, the heart of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is his relationship with his mother. We haven’t heard anything about Leslie Crichton before. (In fact, we don’t, at this point, know her name, but I’m breaking my spoiler rule because it’s very cumbersome to keep calling her “John’s mom.”) Ben Browder, in the commentary for this episode, says that he always assumed there was a trauma associated with John’s mother because of that silence. That’s a very generous way of looking at it; the most likely answer, when a story never talks about the hero’s mother, is that the writers just didn’t think very much about her.
But Farscape, beautiful character-explorer that it is, bears Browder out. John doesn’t talk about his mom because Leslie died, traumatically and not all that long ago. Of course, “dead mom” is a trope in and of itself, but the way that Farscape handles Leslie, and her interactions with John, reaches beyond that trope. Leslie’s death isn’t a motivator for John, or a way to conveniently free our hero of parental oversight and obligations. She’s just a person that he loved, and lost, and misses too much to even talk about. It’s not really possible for her to be a full person, given the context of her introduction, but she also exists as more than just the abstract idea of a dead mother. There’s obviously guilt there—the episode never spells it out, but it’s implied that John wasn’t there when Leslie died, possibly intentionally. And though one probably shouldn’t read literally into John’s more unhinged hallucinations, there also seems to be a thread of tension between Leslie and Jack.
Leslie’s presence makes the episode feel real, even as it’s obviously fake from the start. The emotions that she taps into are old and ongoing ones, and the only point in the entire episode where John considers, even for a moment, giving in and believing that his hallucinations are reality is when he first sees Leslie. None of the people in this dream are real people, but John’s feelings about them matter immensely, and Leslie makes that impossible to forget.
I could write pages and pages about this episode. It’s incredibly dense with detail, with intentional and unintentional subtext, with tone and emotion and dialogue. But I’m going to leave most of that to the comments, and just say, once again, that it’s a great episode of Farscape.
- Another thing that makes “Won’t Get Fooled Again” great is the structure. The darkness and the weirdness ramp up exponentially, and just never stop ramping, until scenes are ten seconds long and presented completely without context. Every time you think the episode has pushed as far as it can, it pushes further.
- On a similar note, everything about the episode is designed to be offputting—not just the content, or even the music and the camera work, but the actual structure of the narrative. Starting very early in the episode, scenes don’t transition into one another; John will be having a conversation with one person, and then we cut, and he’s somewhere else doing something completely different, with no explanation as to how that happened. It’s doing the Inception dream sequence thing a decade before Inception would do it.
- Farscape Gender Corner: Lotta fuckery going on in this episode, from the constant references to homosexuality (“Oh my God! Oh my God! It’s a straight boy!”) to the sexualization of John’s relationship with… let’s go ahead and say the entire crew of Moya. I don’t know if there’s anything meaningful to pull out of all of that, although it does seem worth noting that every sexual advance towards John in this episode is to some degree predatory.
- When John first sees Aeryn, before he realizes she’s not real, he calls her “honey.” This stage of their dynamic is kind of fascinating, where they’re obviously in love with each other and to some degree even in a relationship, but they don’t really say that out loud.
- Early in the episode, John says to Dr. Komenski, “Somebody is gaslighting me.” This is kind of fascinating to me! The movie Gaslight came out in the 40s, and “gaslighting” as a verb can be traced back to at least 1969, but it only became really common in the 2010s. Of course, Farscape references pop culture a lot, and it’s not like the word was unknown—it showed up in psychological literature reasonably often between 1970 and 2010—but it’s still one of those things that pops out.
- “You’re blue.” “Do you have a problem with people of color?” “I have a contextual problem. You’re an alien.” “Yes, that’s true. But I do have a green card.” So much of the humor in this episode is pure Abbott & Costello.
- “‘Shared unity.’ Interesting euphemism. No, Mr. Crichton, you and I have never had sex.”
- “Come out, come out, wherever you are, and see the young man who fell from a star.”
- “He looks normal to you?” “It’s a lifestyle choice.”
- “My friend. One thing you have to learn. There is always time for beer.”
- “Strange. I miss Moya. A ship full of aliens becomes so normal.”
- “The guy’s a two-foot green slug on a golf cart!” “What does a man’s disability have to do with anything?”
- “You’re an astronaut groupie? That so works for me.”
- “Where are you going?” “Away from something that isn’t my mother.”
- “You’re that John Crichton guy, aren’t you? That astronaut?” “I don’t know. I don’t know who I am anymore.”
- “Assault on a police officer! Theft of police property! Illegal possession of a firearm! Five counts of attempted murder! That comes to… $29.40! Cash, check, or credit card?”
- “This thing’s going completely off the rails. Or maybe I have.”
- “I can wear a Freudian slip.”
- “You have the right to the remains of a silent attorney. If you cannot afford one, tough noogies! You can make one phone call. I recommend Trixie: 976-555-LOVE. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you? Well, do ya, punk?” “No.” “Then I can’t arrest you!”
- “I. Don’t. BOOGIE.”
Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in the comments.
Next Monday, September 13, time stops, as we cover 2×16, “The Locket.”