Before we get to today’s reviews, a quick announcement. We’ll be pausing our coverage of Farscape at the end of the third season. We had really hoped to do both seasons three and four this year, but the readership unfortunately hasn’t been there for us to continue at this time. I realize we’ve been down this road before, and all I can say is that my editors and I remain as committed as ever to finishing off these reviews. Let me make one small request: I’ll be starting a comment thread for anyone who wants to talk about this, but let’s keep the rest of the comments focused on the actual episodes under discussion. And, in the meantime, let’s make the most of the rest of season three. To that end, the upcoming schedule has been expanded slightly: Next week is just the “Into The Lion’s Den” two-parter, and we’ll wrap things up for now the week after with “Dog With Two Bones” and some general thoughts on the third season. And now, without further ado, on with the show…
“Fractures” (season 3, episode 18; originally aired 8/24/2001)
“They won’t shoot us down with him aboard.” “Oh, ho, ho, ho! I wouldn’t be so sure about that!”
One of Farscape’s cleverest innovations in its endlessly subversive exploration of the science fiction genre lies in how John Crichton responds to each new episode-specific crisis. While Crichton briefly fancied himself the traditional, dashing interstellar hero—seriously, “I, E.T.” doesn’t just feel like a different show, it obeys entirely different laws of physics—he’s long since moved on to just being annoyed by the latest inconvenience. The show has mined Crichton’s mounting exasperation with his lifestyle to great comedic effect, and it has also driven so much strong character work. Part of the reason that Crichton and his shipmates all get so aggravated is that nobody can ever agree on the best way to handle the latest problem; I’m only barely exaggerating when I say that entire worlds have burned while Crichton and his friends have bickered over how best to save said planet. Beyond that, everyone has their own specific agenda, and each shipmate is potentially willing to put his or her own selfish needs above the greater good of the ship. For Crichton, his agenda basically involves making things work with Aeryn and finding a way home, probably with the help of a wormhole. Anything that distracts him from that tends to just piss him off at this point.
But one scene in “Fractures” shows a very different reaction from Crichton. The setup is classic Farscape: One of the new refugees from Peacekeeper captivity is a traitor, having sent out a distress signal that gives away Moya’s location. There’s no obvious way to determine who sent the signal, so Crichton offers a coldly logical plan, as he proposes they finish fixing the pod as quickly as possible and keep their visitors imprisoned in the meantime. But each of the three new fugitives has already bonded with a shipmate—the Scarran Naj Gil with D’Argo, the Nebari androgen Hubero with Chiana, and the Hynerian female Orrhn with the Dominar himself—so Crichton’s suggestion is brusquely dismissed. John offers one last warning, but he’s no longer raging against a universe too insane to ever listen to him. He reminds everyone to be careful because, well, that’s what he does in these situations; even he doesn’t believe it matters at this point. Never has John Crichton sounded quite so defeated. On a metatextual level, he’s gone from the show’s reluctant hero to someone who can no longer bring himself to bear the narrative responsibilities of being Farscape protagonist.
It’s all because of Aeryn, because it always is. I’m not sure I had ever quite appreciated the fact that we’ve spent the last few weeks watching and discussing two separate shows—each carrying the name Farscape but featuring different casts, different dynamics, and different tones—until “Fractures” prepares for the big reunion. For the first time since “Thanks For Sharing,” a scene featuring Crichton, D’Argo, and Chiana is immediately followed by one with Crais, Rygel, and Aeryn. Even if an audience member, for some insane reason, chooses to watch this episode without seeing any of what comes immediately before, those early scenes indicate the massive divergence in the two ships’ journeys. With the reunion imminent, Crichton is a jubilant goofball, asking D’Argo which shirt he should wear—and getting damn good sartorial advice, it must be said—Aeryn is all business. Claudia Black’s icy delivery of the simple line “Talyn, set intercept course” hints at the great distance she has traveled over the past few months, and how far her tragedies have taken her away from the Crichton waiting for her on Moya. Aeryn’s departure on Talyn essentially pressed pause on the Moya Crichton’s story, whereas Aeryn’s epic tale essentially ended with her John’s death in “Infinite Possibilities.” All that has come after may be existence, but it isn’t life, not yet anyway.
“Fractures” doesn’t even begin to bridge the impossible divide between Aeryn and this unfamiliar Crichton, at least not beyond pointing out that the two still have each other’s back during the climactic chase sequence. John shows remarkable restraint, at least by his standards, by only once even trying to engage Aeryn in conversation, and there he quickly concludes that nothing good will come of their talking. Even D’Argo, who I’m starting to think might qualify as Moya’s resident busybody, tries a couple times to help out, but he drops the subject when Aeryn tells him to, and he realizes that he doesn’t actually have any advice for John when the human takes him up on his offer of guidance. The only person who has any sort of handle on this unholy mess of a situation is the hologram of the dead Crichton, and even he can suggest little more than to give Aeryn the time she needs to begin to heal.
The rest of this episode is generally serviceable, which I suspect is about as much as one could expect from the story that has to somehow bring the Moya and Talyn crews back together; just figuring out how to reintegrate the increasingly disparate tones of the respective ships’ arcs is a tall order. The introduction of yet another band of fugitives is a fantastic premise, but it ends up being a bit of an afterthought; in particular, “Fractures” never really bothers to dig deep into why D’Argo and Chiana care so much about Nag Gil and Hubero. Admittedly, it’s not exactly difficult to guess. With the androgen Hubero, Chiana is presented with a Nebari non-conformist who makes even her look like a natural part of the Establishment. For his part, D’Argo realizes that the imposing but basically good-natured Scarran is yet another person whom the Peacekeepers have dismissed on the grounds that any member of his warrior race is a savage brute—sound familiar? But those parallels are left in the subtext; much as I appreciate a little narrative subtlety, this means that the episode can’t go beyond the absolute most obvious connections. From a plotting perspective, these latest fugitives do their job, as the hunt for the traitor provides a tight little narrative arc for the episode while John figures out what the hell he’s going to do next. But there’s a lot of potentially fascinating character-based material that goes unexplored; perhaps this story could have worked better in the talkier and more episodic first season.
That said, I’m not a complete monster: Any story that prominently features Rygel having a ton of sex is never going to be a total write-off. I’ll discuss this more in the next episode’s review, but we’re in the midst of a shockingly good run of Rygel material; this episode doesn’t let him show off any of the heroism or cunning evident in the other stories, but it’s just nice to see Rygel be genuinely happy for a change, at least right up until the point he realizes Orrhn’s love is a cruel ruse. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that this is a ship where any character could theoretically be amorously interested in any other character—hell, the occasional excursions to Crichton’s subconscious suggest he’s got some unresolved feelings for D’Argo—but Rygel has always been shut out of this; the notion of Rygel as a sexual being has always been an object of ridicule on Farscape. Again, “Fractures” doesn’t do as much with this point as it could have, but both the puppet’s expressions and Jonathan Hardy’s voice work convey just how exciting it is for Rygel to be on the same ship as someone with whom he is physically compatible, let alone a female of his own species.
While the Crichton material is strong enough for me to consider “Fractures” a success—the last game of rock-paper-scissors between the two Crichtons is suitably devastating, and it’s damn difficult to watch the dying Crichton struggle to complete his message—this is the rare episode that could have benefitted from being more episodic, rather than less. Going back to how Farscape treats Crichton’s reactions to the madness around him, part of the show’s genius is that it treats each new episode-specific plot as a distraction. Farscape is particularly adept at showing how the most important day of some guest character’s life is barely worth the shipmates’ attention; indeed, that’s a good description of the next episode. But here, in an episode where the crisis of the week is so secondary to the serialized charcter work, it’s a mistake to choose such a rich, intriguing setup for what is ultimately background material. Orrhn and her Peacekeeper accomplice, Markir T’al, make a great pair of antagonists, just competent enough to be trouble for our heroes and just stupid enough to not know when to quit, and I’ve already discussed how Hubero and Naj Gil are underserved by the episode. “Fractures” most definitely isn’t a bad episode; if anything, there are two great episodes, one serialized and one episodic, contained within, and the interaction between the two leads to some destructive interference.
- Rygel being told by his lover to growl like a Luxan: great thing, or greatest thing ever? Greatest thing ever, clearly.
- There are few things quite as quintessentially Farscape as the Boolite; as Crichton says, its very presence pushes this episode into Naked Lunch territory, an expression that leaves Jool even more confused than normal.
- Speaking of which, I appreciate that Crais gets out his soldering kit and gets straight to work on putting the Boolite back together, even if he does have a little trouble telling the thing’s ass from its mouth. Still, points for enthusiasm.
“I-Yensch, You-Yensch” (season 3, episode 19; originally aired 4/5/2002)
“Your bravery is convincing.” “Yes, I think they bought it.”
Everything’s coming up Rygel these days. Our favorite dominar has appeared in five of the past six episodes—the “Infinite Possibilities” two-parter, “The Choice,” “Fractures,” and now “I Yensch, You Yensch”—and he’s been given terrific material in every last one of them. Now, Rygel has always been a strong character and a perfectly designed piece of Farscape’s overall ensemble. But he tends to be great as comic relief, as a given story’s fifth or sixth most important character. There’s really only one episode in Farscape’s entire run that can truly be considered a Rygel episode, and it’s frelling “Jeremiah Crichton.” But in recent weeks, Rygel has proven himself in battle, emerged as the only member of Talyn’s crew who even vaguely respected Aeryn’s grief, and indulged his libido; fine, that last one didn’t work out too well, but the Hynerian still acquitted himself well as Orrhn’s prisoner, making it damn clear to her that his comrades didn’t care about his safety. And now “I-Yensch, You-Yensch” might well represent Rygel’s crowning achievement on Farscape, as he and Scorpius face off in a battle of wits before being forced to team up to defuse what really has be the dumbest hostage situation in galactic history.
Though Rygel’s physical limitations and diminutive stature mean that he can never be the action hero that his compatriots so often are, Farscape has long established his most crucial role onboard Moya, namely that of the ship’s master negotiator. Because we join “I-Yensch, You-Yensch” relatively late in the game, with Rygel and D’Argo already in position for their meeting, it’s easy to miss just how much faith Crichton and company are putting in the Hynerian. After all, Rygel was there in “Fractures” when John outlined his objective to destroy Scorpius’ wormhole research, so Rygel presumably knows that the offer he makes Scorpius is not on the level. Keep in mind that Scorpius possesses the ability to tell when individuals are lying; even if we assume that Rygel’s Hynerian physiology affords him some protection, recall that the very first meeting between these two particular characters was the Dominar’s attempted betrayal of the Moya crew in “Family Ties,” and that was an unmitigated disaster for Rygel. If his first ever encounter with Scorpius represented Rygel at his worst, then “I-Yensch, You-Yensch” is him at his best. There are some practical reasons for Rygel’s greater success here: Crichton’s wormhole knowledge gives Rygel leverage he never had in “Family Ties,” and he and D’Argo are wise enough to insist on a neutral location. But part of the story really does appear to be that this is a better Rygel than so many versions of him we’ve me throughout the show’s run.
A recurring theme of Farscape is that the shipmates are such consummate screw-ups that their mere presence on a planet is enough to trigger a global crisis. That’s a potent idea—this season’s most brutal take on it has been “…Different Destinations,” and “brutal” is really an inadequate word—but it’s also refreshing to come across a situation that is genuinely someone else’s fault. The robbers Sko and Wa are there because the cook Voodi paid them to torch the place as an insurance scam, and the collective stupidity of everyone involved—only Voodi’s wife Essk has her head screwed on straight—suggests that these morons would have found a way to get each other killed even if Rygel and Scorpius hadn’t been there. As such, it’s great fun to watch Scorpius and Rygel lead the criminals on a merry dance, each repeatedly betraying the other while the other tries to work out if this latest treachery is sincere. As Rygel points out when talking to the “dead” Scorpius, he really had nothing to lose by shooting his adversary; the best chance for all of them to survive hinged on the criminals believing Scorpius to be dead, and Rygel wouldn’t exactly have complained if the criminals had proven correct in that belief. Really, there’s no better tribute to Rygel than the fact that Scorpius would even be willing to follow the Hynerian’s lead.
In pretty much any other episode, the Scorpius hostage negotiation plot would be the darkest, most serious narrative thread. But then, no other episode has Talyn open fire on a medical ship carrying 600 souls, including the lone surviving fugitive Naj Gil, who pops up for a cameo in this episode just so that the vessel’s destruction can have a human (well, Scarran) face. This is a genuinely shocking development—this is the worst thing any of the non-Scorpius characters has ever done, and that’s really saying something—but it’s shocking in part because Talyn’s paranoia kind of comes out of nowhere. I should be more precise: Talyn has repeatedly shown that he’s unstable, perhaps even slightly deranged, but the slight problem with “I-Yensch, You-Yensch” is that it’s actually been awhile since Talyn has acted like that. “Out Of Their Minds,” way back in season two, suggested Talyn and Crais’ exploration of the universe was less than peaceable, thanks in part to Talyn’s jumpiness. But this season? Yes, Talyn totally tried to kill Crichton in “Green Eyed Monster,” but that was more out of a bizarre sense of jealousy than the paranoia on display here. Indeed, the one obvious example of a trigger-happy Talyn in recent episodes is his rescue effort in “Infinite Possibilities,” and that’s one of his most straightforwardly heroic moments on the show.
Now, as these things go, the sudden progression of Talyn’s character arc isn’t such a bad thing; in an ideal world, it might have been nice for Crais or Aeryn to observe that Talyn seemed to be doing so well lately, but I’m not going to quibble too much about the absence of such a line. After all, whatever deficiencies this storyline may have in its past, it is damn powerful in the here and now. Crais has already made such strides to regain his lost humanity, but never has he sounded quite so heartbroken as when he slowly, carefully lays out what must be done with Talyn. Recalling Aeryn’s big speech to her mother in “The Choice,” Crais approaches the problem as a pragmatic, even ruthless Peacekeeper, diagnosing the core issue and proposing the radical but necessary solution. Crais is never going to be an idealist like Crichton—or, perhaps more appropriately in this situation, a parent like Moya—who would refuse to countenance any strategy that destroys the individual in the act of saving him. Crais has not outgrown his limitations, but he is still so much more than what he once was, and the fact that Talyn was such a big part of his redemption only makes it more difficult to propose the plan to shut him and reboot everything, personality included.
All of this discussion takes for granted the most remarkable conceit of this and any other Leviathan-centric episode: I don’t doubt for a moment the sentience of the two starships involved. Of the two, Talyn is held at a further remove, appropriate given his precarious mental state; for much of the episode, the audience can only know his mind from the use of his cannon, and that paints a grim picture. But the later scene, in which Aeryn and Crais assure Talyn that he is not responsible for the madness that overtakes him and that he is brave to fight on as he does, offers a much more immediate glimpse of the gunship. Honestly, it’s kind of insane how heartbreaking a random assortment of console noises can be. For her part, Moya takes a far more active role here than in most stories, as she literally shakes with grief and anger when Crais makes his desperate proposal. So much of the success for humanizing Moya must go to Claudia Black, who invests Aeryn’s pleas to Moya with all necessary desperation, and Lani Tupu, whose dual role as Crais and Pilot means that he is all things to Moya in this episode. His two characters have one of the most quietly devastating exchanges of the episode, as Crais offers the familiar courtesy of asking Pilot to thank Moya on their behalf—only for Pilot to tell him that it’s best to just leave Moya alone at the moment. For all the craziness of the episode’s sci-fi trappings, this is still the story of a mother agreeing to effectively euthanize her own unbalanced but still beloved son. Whatever wonkiness there might be in the overarching narrative, the great success of “I-Yensch, You-Yensch” is that it never forgets this tragic reality.
- I didn’t even touch on the titular I-Yensch bracelets! While those things are about to take on far greater importance, given that they guarantee Crichton and company’s safety on the command carrier, they are mostly useful here as a way to neutralize both D’Argo and Braca, keeping the focus squarely on Rygel and Scorpius. Also, they help pave the way for an entirely enjoyable comeuppance for Wa.
- Speaking of Wa: That noise he makes may well be the single most annoying thing in Farscape’s illustrious run. I mean, just… good grief.
- This episode moves John and Aeryn’s story a little further forward, in that Aeryn says they can still maintain a working relationship. It’s only at the end that the two even lock eyes, a conscious choice by Ben Browder and Claudia Black to hammer home how far apart the characters really were at this point.
Next week: I’ve been waiting to talk about “Into The Lion’s Den” for a long, long time. This one is going to be epic.