“Take a look inside. You’ll see his image. The only love of my life.”
In my decade-plus of talking to Farscape fans of all kinds, I’ve found “The Locket” to be one of the show’s most polarizing episodes. People who are very invested in the John/Aeryn romance tend to love it—and given the structure of the show, it’s arguable that hardcore John/Aeryn shippers are not just the focal audience, but the people who are reading the show’s priorities and intentions most accurately. On the other hand, there are a lot of other reasons that someone might click with Farscape: the irreverent tone, the deep and thoughtful character work applied to the entire ensemble cast, the examination of trauma and culture shock, the loving deconstruction of sci-fi tropes. People who come to the show primarily for those other reasons tend to find “The Locket” a little boring, at best.
Most Farscape episodes are primarily engaged with some sci-fi trope or premise. “The Locket” does have elements of that; you can see the roots of the story in classic television episodes like Star Trek: TNG’s “The Inner Light,” and in speculative literature like The Chronicles of Narnia. But the timey-wimeyness of the mist that Moya is caught in is not the focus of “The Locket,” and “The Locket” is not deeply engaged with time travel/time manipulation tropes. Instead, it takes its cues from another genre entirely.
“The Locket” is a romantic weepy in the grand tradition of Titanic, a movie that blew up box offices only three years before the episode aired. The early 2000s were a hotbed of sentimental romances with a tragic or tear-jerking bent, from direct Titanic rip-offs like Pearl Harbor, to the tween girl sleepover favorite The Notebook, to the cultural touchstone Brokeback Mountain. In comparison to these movies, “The Locket” is at both an advantage and a disadvantage. A movie has to fit its entire argument for why its central couple belongs together into about two hours, while “The Locket” can rely on the work of 37 previous episodes, and assume that we’re invested in John and Aeryn from the get-go. On the other hand, the longer runtime of a feature film gives it space to let the length of a relationship breath, while “The Locket” has to fit a lifetime’s worth of story for John and Aeryn into just over 40 minutes. Moreover, a movie can focus tightly on its central couple, and only include subplots if they bolster its main story. Farscape, in contrast, has obligations to characters and storylines other than John and Aeryn, and has to devote precious screentime to establishing Zhaan and Stark’s dynamic, seeding difficulties in Chiana and D’Argo’s relationship, and setting up a long-term plot involving D’Argo’s son.
All of this is to say that although I don’t generally love earnest, sentimental romances, the primary issue with “The Locket” is that it doesn’t spend enough time on its central romantic plot. John and Aeryn living and growing old together on the Favoured Planet is the episode’s entire hook, but we only see two scenes of that. If we’re going to do this, let’s do this; let’s see how John and Aeryn spend their 55 years together, how they love each other and do and don’t show it. That those years are erased from their memories doesn’t have to matter; they can still reveal something vital to us, the viewers. We know that John and Aeryn love each other. They’ve showed that over and over, in small and large unspoken ways. What I would have loved to learn from this episode is what John and Aeryn living a life together would look like.
- The trope reversal that it’s Moya who’s moving slowly, rather than the planet moving quickly, is neat.
- Although it’s a distraction from the main plot, I really do like the D’Argo and Chiana scenes in this episode, which convincingly pick up on an obvious potential source of conflict in their relationship: They have very different value systems and priorities!
- The in media res opening was probably necessary for an episode trying to do as much as this one, but it was clunkier than Farscape’s usually are. Zhaan wanders around receiving exposition, and it’s harder to accept Stark’s sudden presence than it is to accept “oh, Moya’s in peril again.”
- The episode also spends way too much time having the characters question whether Aeryn is really old. I get that they needed to get John onto the planet somehow, but it eats up a lot of time, and makes the characters look really silly. (Where exactly do they think Aeryn got her incredibly different clothes?)
- That said, I love Aeryn and her granddaughter’s outfits. I would totally wear everything they wear in this episode.
- Someday I would love to do a comparative analysis of this episode, “The Inner Light,” and The Magicians episode “A Life in the Day.” I think they’re a really interesting springboard into discussions about how these shows approach serialization, and also how television serialization in general has evolved over the decades.
- “Look at you. I’d forgotten how beautiful you were. […] I’d also forgotten how wrong you could be.”
- “Aeryn. What happened to you?” “I lived, Pilot.”
- “You’re not gonna change me.” “I’m only just beginning to realize that.”
- “Don’t you ‘old man’ me woman, you’re 200 cycles older than me!”
- “Anix and that sleeping pill she married have arrived.”
- “I was what I wanted to be.”
- “Why would you have his image in there?” “Oh, just to drive you crazy.”
- “I am too old for this shit.”
Please remember to tag spoilers in the comments.
Next Monday, September 19, the Moya crew get their rashom on in 2×17, “The Ugly Truth.”