“…Different Destinations” (season 3, episode 5; originally aired 4/13/2001)
“Gone! The planet, it’s gone!” “It can’t be gone; I was just there two arns ago. I got shot. I drank piss!”
Somehow, after a run of episodes that has included Crichton’s utter subjugation by Scorpius’ neural clone, Aeryn Sun’s death, Zhaan’s initial sacrifice to bring Aeryn back and her final sacrifice to save Moya, an even a relatively low-key relationship subplot that just happens to involve Chiana driving D’Argo away by sleeping with his son, “…Different Destinations” might just be the most devastating of the bunch. That this episode could pack such an emotional wallop isn’t immediately obvious while watching some of its sillier elements unfold; really, the episode’s closing heartbreak only works because the core idea is powerful enough to overcome some occasionally wonky execution along the way.
Farscape has never been afraid of failure, and it’s starting to feel like a long damn time since John Crichton has had an unequivocal victory; I was initially tempted to say you’d have to go all the way back to the first season and “Through The Looking Glass” to find one, but I guess something like “Out Of Their Minds” would count, sort of. But it’s no longer that Crichton is a victim of circumstance, as he so often was in the second season. Crichton isn’t visibly unhinged like he was in the immediate aftermath of his torture at the Gammak Base, but that’s only because he’s so completely internalized his insanity that it’s not immediately obvious how broken he really is. All of his instincts are wrong, and he can’t even effectively communicate to people why he believes in his latest, probably incorrect course of action.
Given how irresistible time travel is as a science fiction concept—seriously, just start trying to list every Star Trek episode (let alone every movie) that utilizes it, and that’s not even the big iconic sci-fi franchise that runs exclusively on time travel—it’s a little remarkable that Farscape has largely avoided it up to this point. This isn’t wholly surprising, admittedly, considering that the Uncharted Territories of the present day are already completely alien and recognizable to us. While the very presence of time travel in the storytelling enables the show to investigate fascinating ideas about fate and causality, it’s hard to see what the show would gain by visiting the past or the future; after all, a big reason that episodic Star Trek used to love its time travel stories was that it allowed the show to save a bit of money by filming in contemporary locations.
Farscape doesn’t have that option, and more’s the pity; it’s just a little too obvious that this episode’s budget left the show entirely confined to a single monastery location. In theory, this could feel claustrophobic, but in practice it just gives the episode a stage-bound quality. A visit to the Venek camp would have opened the story up, as would have just a simple shot of what’s over that wall, but that would have cost money the show likely needed to spend elsewhere. Besides, our heroes’ inability to see beyond their immediate surroundings underscores their lack of control over the situation.
Still, this means that there’s a feeling of slight artificiality that hangs over “…Different Destinations.” In fairness, at least some of that is intentional; the episode very deliberately plays with the fact that these events transpired 500 cycles before our time, and the ways in which the Moya crew struggles to engage properly with people who are suddenly all too real. Crichton talks about Sub-Officer Dacon’s history-mandated death as though it’s all part of some intellectual exercise, a final piece in a puzzle that will set time back on its proper course. He’s not totally wrong to think of a man’s death in those terms, at least not in these very specific circumstances, but then Farscape goes out of its way to make Dacon’s demise as visceral as possible. It’s not the most gruesome death in the show’s history, but his coughing up blood after being hit with the spear feels achingly real, not to mention distinctly unglorious. Both Crichton and Aeryn make the mistake of engaging General Grynes and Dacon in conversation just the two are quite precariously hanging around the wall; if either shipmate could resist the urge to offer meaningful farewells to the men, they might well have avoided their agonizing deaths.
Farscape is intent on holding up this episode as the latest example of how badly Crichton can screw things up—he says as much himself, and we’ll circle back to his own culpability later—but it’s worth pointing out that this is an episode that lets Aeryn be just as wrong, even if she only barely acknowledges it in her final conversation with John. Appropriately for an episode entitled “…Different Destinations,” this story lets us see multiple possible paths for Aeryn Sun; she is in her element in a situation that very specifically calls for a Peacekeeper soldier, but she also displays a sentimentality that would have been entirely alien to the Prowler pilot we met way back in “Premiere.” Unfortunately, both strains of Aeryn’s character serve her poorly here.
Much as this episode lets her offer rare positive spin on the Peacekeepers, as she reminds Dacon that their purpose is to defend the defenseless, she still interprets that broadly noble directive in the most violent terms possible. She insists a ceasefire can be won through force of arms, and that decision helps precipitate the nuns’ eventual deaths at the hands of the horde. But Aeryn’s martial instincts might not have failed her if she had at least been consistently ruthless, her insistence on trying to save Dacon from his fated death clouds her judgment. More generally, she lacks Crichton’s knowledge of time travel mechanics—insight doubtless gleaned in large part from repeated viewings of Back To The Future—and she has little patience for issues of abstract discussions of causality or temporal preservation. As far as she’s concerned, she’s here, people need help, and she’s going to help them, without ever quite realizing that their interference is destroying the entire planet; she even briefly entertains the possibility that their presence could improve history, before Crichton gets her to admit just how preposterous that really is.
While I promise I’m about to get to Crichton, it would be a mistake to think of this episode solely in terms of its time travelers. Again, the episode’s sense of unreality places the guest characters at an unusual remove; Dacon, General Grynes, and young Cyntrina all have great moments, but as a whole they never quite step out of the history books. The exception here is Nurse Kelsa; whereas Dacon and Grynes are generally good people who agree to do what Aeryn and Crichton ask of them, Kelsa is far less predictable. In the original history, she has no active role to play: She is simply the person Dacon is defending, then the person to whom Grynes offers the ceasefire. With no special status accorded by history, her every action plays as a hindrance, an interference with the established order every bit as destructive as the actions of the time travelers. She gets an absolutely beautiful scene with Stark in which he advises her to travel light, to cast away hate, but that advice comes too late. She set herself and her charges on the path toward their fate the very moment she pulled the trigger and killed General Grynes, and she never gets a chance to atone.
In reconstructing the chain of events that transforms the peaceful ceasefire into a tragic massacre, we can point to Kelsa’s murder of Grynes and Aeryn’s decision to engage the horde in battle, but these errors are bookended by Crichton’s screw-ups. If we accept that Grynes’ capture was an accident, a random byproduct of the time traveler’s unexpected arrival, then there really are only two decisions we have to account for: Crichton’s decision to send Grynes over the wall without informing anyone else, and his insistence to Kelsa that a ceasefire will be offered, as long as they and their weapons are nowhere to be seen when the horde arrives. His error in the first instance is neglecting to tell anyone what he’s up to, provoking not entirely unreasonable accusations that he’s a traitor.
More broadly, he errs because he, ever the genre-savvy human, treats time travel as a game, a puzzle to be solved, and a civilized one at that. He throws so much faith into Harvey’s notion that time will knit itself back together as soon as he’s gone that he ignores the actual logic of the situation. He assumes a ceasefire will come because he knows it has to, not because that would be the horde’s logical response to a humiliating defeat at the hands of superior firepower. Peace is ultimately reached and the timeline is corrected, but such a result can be achieved with a tragic massacre just as easily as it could with a noble sacrifice; indeed, such a massive disruption to history requires a more serious sacrifice than one Peacekeeper cook. Crichton’s mistake lies in thinking that history, at the very least, could remain safe from the Moya crew’s intergalactic ability to frell things up. A dozen people who just that morning might still have been alive were, by the time he was through with them, dead for 500 cycles. Yeah, that’s pretty damn devastating.
- The show twists the knife still further with the interaction between D’Argo and Cyntrina, giving the latter one of the longest lifespans we’ve yet seen for a humanoid character just to give the audience that little extra hope of an implausibly happy ending. The final shot of D’Argo looking at the name she carved in the wall, recognizing he could be the only person left to think of her all these cycles later, is a brutal capper to an already pretty darn brutal episode.
- I’ve mentioned Star Trek a couple times, and I was originally considering a section where I compared this episode with the excellent Deep Space Nine two-parter “Past Tense.” Anyone who has seen both can probably attest to the structural similarities between the two, but the key point of contrast between the two is revealing. “Past Tense” maneuvers history so that Commander Sisko is forced to take the place of somebody slated to die; he has to exert all his energy keeping an explosive situation under control, all with the knowledge that his every action could be leading him toward a death he won’t be able to avoid. That’s a terrific dilemma to build a two-parter around, and Deep Space Nine doesn’t shy away from the darker dimensions of the story, but there’s still a clarity to that situation that alludes the shipmates. Sisko knows what he has to do, even if it’s unpalatable. Crichton and company—who don’t take anybody’s place, at least not at first, and indeed must decide whether to push certain characters toward their deaths—have on idea what the frell they’re doing, as the show never really offers any kind of coherent path toward a happy ending.
- Perhaps wisely, “…Different Destinations” lets the show move forward without Zhaan, and the shipmates’ dearly departed friend is only mentioned a couple times. The first reference to her—the scene where Rygel and Chiana both try to claim that they are visiting Zhaan’s quarters to steal whatever isn’t nailed down, then admit they don’t have the heart to—is a perfect bit of characterization, and really all the show needs.
- “How do you know that?” “Read about you. Studied you at, uh, school.” I do appreciate the implication that Crichton only knows so much about General Grynes because he literally just read about it on some museum display just adjacent to the shrine. The amount of random short-term knowledge I’ve gained from visiting historic sites would, I’m sure, serve me well if I ever do get flung back in time immediately after visiting one.
- Harvey plays a mean harmonica!
- This episode has a fascinating conception of time travel, one I’m not totally sure I’ve seen elsewhere. The idea that changes in history might be localized to a single planet, with those outside that sphere fully able to recognize the timeline changes as they occur, is one of those things that does make a weird sort of intuitive sense, and I suspect that said weirdness is only the result of the fact that most time travel stories just so happen to pick a different set of rules to follow.
“Eat Me” (season 3, episode 6; originally aired 4/20/2001)
“As you can see, once you’ve been twinned about 30 or 40 times, you’re not much good for conversation… not that you’re especially witty right now.”
“Eat Me” is one seriously sadistic hour of television. Insane as it might sound while watching the story unfold, this episode fundamentally exists as setup, a bit of necessary narrative maneuvering to enable the rest of the season to radically reshape its usual format, not to mention save a bit of money through creative scheduling. We’ll see how this all unfolds in the coming weeks, but it’s not hard to see what key new element is added at the end of the episode, and how that presence could reverberate through the rest of the season: the second Crichton. I say “second,” but that implies that there’s a first one, that one Crichton somehow predates the other, and “Eat Me” loudly insists that that isn’t the case. Again, I’m trying to hold off on discussing just where the show is headed from here, but suffice it to say that Farscape’s third season absolutely required Crichton to be in two places at once. A clone wouldn’t do the trick, nor would any other standard sci-fi trope that would make it possible to tell the two Crichtons apart in any fundamental way, to privilege one’s existence over the other.
The problem with that is that it’s completely frelling preposterous. Science fiction offers writers the most wildly unbounded storytelling canvas imaginable, but even it has its limits. The idea that a person could be doubled in a way that there is no original and no duplicate strains credulity to the point that it’s difficult to even know where to start raising logical issues with it. I mean, surely one of the two Crichtons is composed of the same molecules he had when he entered Rovhu, while the other is composed of molecules supplied by Kaarvok, but I suppose that just raises the question of how much we really care about molecular identity, considering that a person’s molecules are hardly fixed. I guess Kaarvok’s twinning process could split Crichton into two equal halves, with each Crichton regenerating the rest of himself from the same amount of new matter. But that’s, you know, completely absurd.
There’s no shortage of science fiction stories that deal with the issues of identity that the presence of a true duplicate would raise, ranging from Spider-Man’s Clone Saga to that one Doctor Who two-parter where some goop turns into an extra Matt Smith. Probably the closest match for “Eat Me” is “Second Chances,” the Next Generation episode in which Commander Riker discovers that a transporter accident—that wellspring of so, so many gleefully absurd Star Trek scenarios—created two Rikers, with no clear way to differentiate between the two beyond their divergent memories. But the crucial difference with all those episode is that they are concept episodes, stories designed to explore and wrestle with the deeper intellectual implications of these admittedly outlandish scenarios. The Lieutenant Riker introduced in “Second Chances” only exists as a vehicle for the show to explore questions of identity (and to enable a sort of pointless romantic subplot with Counsellor Troi, but that’s late-period Next Generation for you), and the show very clearly has no idea what to do with him when he rather inconveniently doesn’t die at the end of the story.
“Eat Me,” on the other hand, has the exact opposite creative priorities. The questions of identity are beside the point, something the episode has to at least feint toward in order to earn its extra Crichton. As with the euthanasia discussion in “Season Of Death,” there’s very little sense of a coherent ethical debate here. Instead, any philosophical points must be understood in terms of the characters’ priorities. D’Argo, who at this point somehow qualifies as one of Moya’s most contemplative souls, is willing to consider the possibility that the other D’Argo was really him; indeed, he won’t rule out the possibility that he is just a copy, and the actual D’Argo perished on the dying Leviathan. There’s perhaps a hint of self-loathing to be detected here; it would fit right in with D’Argo’s larger arc this season for him to worry that, after failing his son, his fiancé, and just about everyone else he encounters, he might now have failed himself. Chiana, on the other hand, dismisses Kaarvok as a liar not because she has any real proof—beyond his obvious insanity—but because she can’t bear the thought that she abandoned herself to a grisly death at his hands.
But what really matters here is that Farscape is about to require two John Crichtons, and the writers know just how insane such a scenario is. The solution? Force Crichton, D’Argo, Chiana, and Jool to endure a crucible so psychotic, so unremittingly bizarre and macabre that the presence of two Crichtons feels downright mundane by comparison. In the name of a necessary but ridiculous plot twist, Farscape forces its characters—and, depending on who you ask, the audience—to suffer through hell. The twinned Crichtons are only plausible because Kaarvok tells us that that’s what they are, and we only believe him because Farscape—never a show renowned for its sanity—makes us spend an episode in his lunatic kingdom, to the point that we’re willing to believe damn near anything he says.
“Eat Me” is careful to provide just enough supporting details that the logic of twinning comes across as vaguely sound, at least in the context of the episode. In particular, it’s important that the doubling process cannot go on forever; as Kaarvok explains, 30 or 40 rounds of duplication will rather rob an individual of whatever once made them a sapient being. “Eat Me” works hard enough to make Kaarvok’s twisted “family” structure—one in which he both loves and devours his relatives, because why the hell else would anyone ever need to go around doubling people?—fascinating enough on its own terms, and the circumstances of his takeover of the Peacekeepers impressive enough, that the audience can almost forget that it’s completely unexplained how he can twin people in the first place.
I wouldn’t really say that I like “Eat Me,” exactly, but then this isn’t an episode that particularly desires to be liked. I respect its willingness to be unremittingly grim and horrific; outside of Chiana walking in on D’Argo’s “seduction,” this episode doesn’t even offer the occasional bursts of humor that helped make similarly disturbing episodes like “Crackers Don’t Matter” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again” so palatable. Ultimately, this episode has a job to do in service of the rest of the season, and it’s so very Farscape for the show to interpret that brief as an opportunity to get as brazenly weird and off-putting as possible. Every character is pushed beyond his or her limit; Chiana goes mad here in a way that we haven’t seen outside of her encounters with her fellow Nebari, and she isn’t even one of the two main characters who decides to commit suicide. Crucially, such drastic measures are not taken because the characters encounter some weird cosmic phenomenon that scrambles their usual decision-making processes; no, the shipmates must encounter the horrors of Rovhu as they normally are, and the experience is enough to break them.
Jool gets what could well be termed a comedy suicide plot, as she quickly realizes just how ill-equipped she is to deal with any of the horrendous challenges facing her, including the challenge of working out how to kill herself. Crichton, for his part, responds to the apparent deaths of all his friends by effectively weaponizing his own insanity; it’s left ambiguous whether Crichton has any initial intention of surviving Rovhu’s self-destructive starburst, but my interpretation is that he just plans to take Daavok with him. It’s a bold—and, yes, sadistic—show that would put its characters through such a ringer. Whatever misdeeds Crichton(s) may have committed, surely “Eat Me” represents more than adequate atonement. And yet, somehow, I’m guessing that’s not how the Farscape universe works.
- It’s worth keeping mind that everything we see on Rovhu is something we see every week. I mean that literally, as Rovhu is just a redress of the usual Moya sets, with Pilot himself reused as the other Leviathan’s Pilot. Indeed, the other Pilot is voiced by head puppeteer Sean Masterson, who for multiple seasons provided the on-set voice of Pilot before Lani Tupu redubbed the voice later. As such, the scenes with the other Pilot here probably give us the best sense possible of the actors’ real experience when working with Pilot.
- People with a better sense of Farscape fandom are welcome to weigh in on this, but I believe that this is often held up as one of, if not the most controversial episode in Farscape’s run. The twinning concept is going to have its detractors, but I imagine the real issue is just how damn grisly this all is. I’m just about willing to get on board with “Eat Me,” but I’ll admit this episode pushes me right to my limit.
- Shane Briant really is just the right mix of terrifying and urbane as Kaarvok; we encounter insanity all the time on Farscape, but rarely quite so entirely seated in a single person.
- Incidentally, yes, there’s Talyn subplot here that I didn’t really deal with, because it really is only there as setup for future storytelling. So, we’ll get to it next week.
Next week: We’re looking at three episodes next week, as the two Crichtons try to make things work together in “Thanks For Sharing,” then go their separate ways for “Green Eyed Monster and “Losing Time.”
“I doubled you. I twinned you. Equal and original.”