“Bone To Be Wild” (season 1, episode 21; originally aired 1/21/2000)
“There is much cruelty in the universe.” “Yeah, we seem to have a treasure map to it.”
At first glance, “Bone To Be Wild” is a strange bridge between last week’s climactic, game-changing two-parter and the first season finale. Farscape has been tilting in this direction for a while, but with “Nerve” and “The Hidden Memory” the show finally seemed to embrace its serialized potential, with the return of Crais and the introductions of intriguing new characters like Scorpius, Stark, and Moya’s Peacekeeper hybrid son. And, to be sure, we do see the return of most of those characters (minus Stark, whose abrupt departure from Moya was mentioned in a line deleted from the finished episode), but Scorpius and Crais never interact with the main cast members, and Moya’s child only deals with Aeryn in the episode’s tertiary plot. Crichton, D’Argo, and Zhaan seemingly take a break from all these nascent ongoing storylines with a trip down to a terraformed asteroid dominated by exotic, extraordinary flora.
With all due respect to the episode’s bone-eating monster, the stakes of this story don’t feel nearly as high as the run of powerhouse episodes that began with “Durka Returns,” and that’s very much by design. Our three heroes do spend most of the episode in mortal peril, at least theoretically, but David Kemper and Rockne S. O’Bannon’s script undercuts the supposed threats. On some basic level, it’s difficult to take monsters seriously when their names, weird alien spelling aside, sound exactly like the very human, distinctly non-threatening Bernie and Emily. In particular, Br’Nee comes across as an intentionally silly character, the result of both Marton Csokas’ broad performance and the ridiculously grotesque prosthetics. Francesca Buller (Ben Browder’s real-life wife) takes a more serious tack with M’Lee, but for all the obvious horrors she has endured and committed, she doesn’t actually kill anyone over the course of the episode, so her terrifying nature is slightly blunted. This is still a compellingly twisty, entertaining story, but it lacks the mad ambition of “Through The Looking Glass” and “A Human Reaction” or the dramatic weight of “Durka Returns” and the previous two-parter. It’s a chance for the audience, if not the characters, to catch their breath, and as such it can feel a little insubstantial.
But then, “Bone To Be Wild” requires a relatively light adventure, because Crichton clearly isn’t up for anything more strenuous. I mentioned in last week’s review that Crichton changes forever as a result of his torture in the Aurora Chair, but I had forgotten just how immediate and how absolute that shift is. Crichton is, if you’ll forgive the diagnosis, out of his frelling mind. He laughs hysterically when he realizes someone sent a distress call to a hiding, powered-down Moya. It’s not that Crichton was the stoic hero before his torture; it’s conceivable that he might have made a grim quip about the distress call even if he had never visited the Gammak Base, but any reserve is now long gone, and so what once might have been sarcasm is now half-mad cackling. When Aeryn briefs him on what to do on the asteroid, Crichton’s jerky movements, maniacal grin, and silly-looking cap all give the sense of a man only barely holding it together, and that’s confirmed when he starts pointing guns at anything that moves. After a season of playing peacemaker between hostile races, Crichton has had enough, and there’s every possibility that he would have followed through on one of his many threats of violence to Br’Nee or M’Lee if not for Zhaan’s occasional intervention.
This really is an unbelievably bold move for Farscape, because although Crichton isn’t always going to be quite so broken, he’s never going to be entirely mended. While “Nerve” and “The Hidden Memory” had plenty of impact in isolation, it’s “Bone To Be Wild” that cements their importance by treating the psychological damage to Crichton with deadly seriousness. Ben Browder plays this new Crichton well, as he isn’t just twitchiness and mercurial mood swings; there’s a deadness in Crichton’s eyes and voice that indicate the damage goes even deeper than it first appears. When Crichton angrily castigates himself for being slow on the uptake, it’s as good an indication as any that the inquisitive scientist we got to know throughout the last twenty episodes is long gone, and a scarred survivor is all that remains. The Aurora Chair isn’t something a victim should just be able to walk away from as though nothing had happened, and yet Farscape massively subverts expectations of viewers—particularly those watching for the first time in 2000—not only by depicting Crichton’s subsequent mental instability but also by treating it as just the new status quo.
If you’ll forgive me a couple more comparisons to Star Trek: The Next Generation, look at the times the show tortured Captain Picard. The most effective, unflinching exploration of this subject is “Chain Of Command, Part 2,” which really digs deep into the psychology of torture and illuminates the fact that everybody, even an exemplary officer like Jean-Luc Picard, eventually breaks. It’s a fantastic episode… but then the next episode is all about Professor Moriarty making trouble on the holodeck, and all is forgotten. Even when the show spent an entire episode sorting through the psychological fallout of Picard’s experiences with the Borg—and I’m not knocking “Family” here, as it might be my favorite Next Generation episode—the episode represented an endpoint for that story, and Picard is more or less himself again after that. Again, none of this is really meant as criticism of Star Trek, as the boundaries of what television shows, particularly sci-fi shows, could do had greatly expanded in the intervening decade between “Family” and “Bone To Be Wild.” WhatFarscape deserves tremendous credit for is being willing to take a giant leap after ten years of other shows—The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine very much included—taking small steps in this direction. The depiction of the shattered Crichton is easily the episode’s most daring and most subversive example of serialized storytelling.
With D’Argo waylaid by his Luxan allergies, Zhaan emerges as the main supporting character for this episode, and we even discover that she is, as Crichton so eloquently if inadvertently puts it, a stinking plant. It’s a great little twist—one with clear roots (pun only somewhat intended) in her photogasms in “Till The Blood Runs Clear”and her aloe-like blood in “Throne For A Loss”—and this is really the perfect episode to deploy it, as her lack of bones helps Crichton work out Br’Nee’s deception. This reveal is more than just a plot point, as it creates friction between Zhaan and John; under better circumstances, I doubt Crichton would show such animal-centric prejudices, but he is not at all equipped to deal with this new bit of weirdness. For Crichton, this is just the latest realization that he still doesn’t really know the first thing about his only friend in the universe, so it’s understandable this discovery leads him wrong-footed.
Zhaan’s natural sympathy for plants also links nicely with her established willingness to rationalize occasional monstrosities in the name of the greater good, as when she suggests Br’Nee’s cruel abuse of M’Lee and her people was worthwhile if it allowed unparalleled flora to flourish. That exchange is particularly intriguing in light of Crichton’s later confrontation with Br’Nee, as John dismisses the scientist’s argument that Zhaan could be used to create medical cures beyond imagination. Crichton says this isn’t a fair tradeoff to either him or Zhaan, but her own words suggest she might actually understand such an action, and her disapproval of being imprisoned would be more personal than philosophical. Crichton really might not know who his friends are or what they want. But, as “Bone To Be Wild” so ably demonstrates, he’s not really in the right state to care.
- John Crichton rather took over this review, but that’s not intended to minimize the importance of the stories with Aeryn and Moya’s son and with Crais and Scorpius. In a way, Aeryn’s story here is the aspirational mirror image of her scene in “The Hidden Memory” with Crais, as Aeryn tries to convince the child that just because it comes from the Peacekeepers, that doesn’t mean it must always be a Peacekeeper. In a way, Aeryn has also been transformed by her time on the Gammak Base, although in a far more positive and rather more subtle way than Crichton. After a season of growth, she now knows who she is well enough to be able to convince Moya’s son to choose his own identity. Farscape shows some restraint by not having Aeryn directly restate Crichton’s “You can be more” line that he told her in “Premiere,” but I wouldn’t have minded if they had gone for that flourish.
- As for Crais and Scorpius, both Lani Tupu and Wayne Pygram are excellent, although their story here largely restates the story beats of “The Hidden Memory,” as it’s clear that Crais only still captains the Command-Carrier on Scorpius’ sufferance. The scene where Scorpius attacks Crais adds a whole other dimension to an already fairly terrifying villain.
- “Zhaan, let me explain to you what’s going on inside my nose right now. There’s large pieces of green mucus and gunk...” “D’Argo, D’Argo, no, no, no, no. Stop it with the Luxan poetry.”
- “When did our roles become reversed, sweet D’Argo?” “When you required it.” This is just a quick little exchange, but Virginia Hey and Anthony Simcoe nail the underlying emotions and really suggest that these two have gone on an emotional journey together over the course of the season, even if it’s often been in the background. Also, if you get a chance, listen to Anthony Simcoe’s DVD commentary for this episode. It’s one of the best solo commentaries I’ve ever heard, and his love for Farscape and the creative process in general is infectious.
“Family Ties” (season 1, episode 22; originally aired 1/28/2000)
“D’Argo, how come I’m not afraid?” “Fear accompanies the possibility of death. Calm shepherds its certainty.” “I love hanging with you, man.”
Nothing much happens in “Family Ties.” Oh, sure, the episode opens with Rygel attempting to betray everyone onboard Moya to Scorpius and the Peacekeepers, and it ends with Crichton and D’Argo setting a damn moon on fire. Either of those are easily big enough events to propel an entire episode, but the fallout of Rygel’s betrayal and the big plan to destroy the Gammak Base are really only incidental to the main thrust of this story. Throughout its first season, Farscape has consistently emphasized the importance of its characters, and so “Family Ties” is a massive character study, one that spotlights at least a dozen key relationships. Crichton alone shares crucial individual scenes with Aeryn, D’Argo, Zhaan, Rygel, Chiana, Crais, Moya, and, in a sense, his father. These exchanges are illuminating in how they illustrate not only the various interpersonal dynamics, but also how each of the characters have changed since “Premiere.” For instance, Aeryn interacts with D’Argo far differently than she does with Zhaan, but these are also unrecognizably different from how they treated each other when they first met.
Crucially, the characters assume that this is the end of their time together, and some, if not all, of them aren’t going to make it out of the asteroid field alive. The opening sequence of “A Human Reaction” illustrated how powerful farewell scenes can be when the show takes them seriously, and “Family Ties” extends that principle to the entire episode. The show’s real-life status likely informs the meditative, funereal mood; as explained on the commentaries for this episode, it wasn’t clear that Sci-Fi was going to order a second season when this episode was being written, and it wasn’t until midway through production that the renewal notice came. As such, the cast and crew treated this like it really might be the end of the line, and while it would have been one hell of a downer to end the series on D’Argo slowly asphyxiating in high orbit above a burning moon, the mood and atmosphere of this episode are worthy of a series finale. Everyone—even Rygel, if only for a moment—sets aside his or her own agendas and comes together to, if not exactly save the day, then at least piss off Scorpius as much as possible. Victory isn’t really an option here, but the characters intend to go down swinging.
Indeed, the decision to launch a suicide mission against the Peacekeepers takes up less than a minute of time; Crichton raises the possibility of one or two shipmates sacrificing themselves so that the others can escape, and Aeryn and D’Argo instantly agree. Crichton is more stable here than he was in “Bone To Be Wild,” but he’s still fragile and unpredictable. His friends never question his sanity, even when he so readily suggests this extreme plan, and that shows tremendous respect to Crichton and, indirectly, to Scorpius, as it confirms he really is that much of a threat. The scene also suggests Crichton is now a fighter himself, or at least experience has shaped his worldview into something harsher and less compromising, something more readily understandable to the Luxan and the Peacekeeper. Perhaps responding to the gravity of this latest crisis, Crichton keeps it together throughout most of “Family Ties,” but his reactions to Crais are fascinating. Just like in “Nerve,” Crichton greets his tormentor with an insane laugh, and it is a tearful, quietly broken Crichton who later attempts to bond with the imprisoned Crais. The damage will always be there, because—as Crichton brutally points out to the fugitive captain—he and his shipmates have never had the luxury of the time it would take to heal.
Crais is the most intriguing character in “Family Ties,” as he’s the only member of the ensemble whose actions are impossible to predict. At this stage, we can expect just about everyone on Moya to do something resembling the right thing, and the lone holdout Rygel is at least dependably traitorous; it’s easy to see why he betrays his friends and then subsequently comes crawling back. Crais, on the other hand, is harder to pin down. On some basic level, he’s an opportunist, willing to leap to whatever is his best available option. Staying on the Command Carrier means court martial and execution, so Moya is his only option… until he discovers Talyn. Any other villain would likely have had commandeering Moya’s child as his real goal all along, but that just isn’t Crais. He’s still a creature ruled by instinct and ego, and he takes Talyn not as part of some grand masterplan but because it’s what he feels like doing at that particular moment. His earlier contrition and remorse seem genuine because he’s not overly apologetic; he recognizes that his values decayed and that he mistreated those onboard Moya, but he still believes they should grant him sanctuary. He feels no further need to discuss his past with Aeryn, not after what she subjected him to in the Aurora Chair, but he also repeatedly offers her a place alongside him on Talyn. He’s no longer a villain, but he’s such a wild card that it’s nigh impossible to figure out what he plans to do next. Likely, Crais himself doesn’t have the first frelling clue.
The rest of the character interactions are so perfectly handled that I don’t really have much to add beyond simply acknowledging their brilliance. One of the more offbeat pairings is Aeryn and Zhaan, as these are the two characters that arguably have the least common ground after all this time. Aeryn pays the Delvian an exasperated compliment, marveling at how Zhaan could keep her center in such a violent world. Zhaan’s responds that her decision to commit murder voided her right to live, and so every subsequent day is a generous, undeserved gift from the goddess, and then she goes right back to making bombs. Farscape hasn’t always had the firmest grip on Zhaan as a character, but that moment is perfect. Rygel also gets his redemptive arc after Crichton offers a blistering critique of the Hynerian’s latest excuses, as Crichton notes that “the right thing starts at the beginning of the day, not after you’re caught.” Rygel’s eventual promise not to abandon D’Argo and Crichton is a wonderful moment for the character, but Crichton is right—as nice as the gesture is, it’s too late for Rygel to do the right thing and make any sort of difference.
As a counterpoint to Rygel, Chiana demonstrates just how far she has come in just seven short episodes. Because this is Chiana we’re talking about, the only way she can think of to thank Crichton for his sacrifice is by offering sex, but there’s such emotional honesty underpinning that offer. Chiana says it best when she admits she knows of no other way to thank him for saving her life. His advice to “Pass it on” isn’t something Chiana can act on in this episode, but she does make a significant gesture with the final feast she cooks for everyone except Crichton, who is busy recording a final message to his dad. That meal is the closest thing to a joyous moment in what is otherwise a proudly melancholy episode, and it’s remarkable that its architect is the crew’s least dependable, most selfish member (Rygel very much excluded, of course). The great strength of Farscape is that everyone changes, and there’s no way to know how their latest journeys through space will affect and reshape them. It probably won’t last, but for this one episode, the strange, unfathomable aliens onboard the living ship all come together as a family, and they all reveal their willingness to sacrifice towards a common purpose—which, lest we forget, is setting a frelling moon on fire. This is about as perfect as season finales get, and it’s remarkable that, even after all of this season’s brilliant episodes, Farscape still manages to save the best for last.
- I realize there are still so, so many great scenes I didn’t mention. D’Argo and Aeryn parting like warriors and discussing the former’s son, Aeryn promising to stand by Pilot and Moya, D’Argo admitting to Chiana that he’s grown fond of her, Crichton beseeching Moya to save herself… the list goes on and on. Basically, if I didn’t mention it, assume it was flawless.
- Although he debuted in the previous episode, “Family Ties” sees the first major appearance of Braca. I won’t spoil anything for first-time viewers, but as is already clear from his scenes in this episode, he’s pretty much the ideal foil for Scorpius.
- “Kirk and Spock! Abbott and Costello! First base!” Between this line and the exchange quoted up top, we’ve reached my favorite milestone in the series, which is when D’Argo and Crichton at last become friends. Given the fact Crichton said this would never happen way back in “Till The Blood Runs Clear,” this is one majorly welcome turn of events.
- I’m still debating which is the better grand summation line for John. While I love the wistfulness of “This is John Crichton, somewhere in the universe,” it’s really hard to beat the mad triumph of “Hey you bastards, John Crichton was here!”
Next week: I’m taking a much-needed break next week for Memorial Day, but I’ll be back on June 2 with a closer look at the season two premiere, “Mind The Baby,” as well as a general overview of where Farscape stands as it ends its first chapter and begins it second. I can’t wait.