Farscape: “Die Me, Dichotomy”
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Farscape: “Die Me, Dichotomy”

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Farscape

“Die Me, Dichotomy”

Season 2, Episode 22

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“Die Me, Dichotomy” (season 2, episode 22; originally aired 1/26/2001)

(Available on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.)

“You’ve cost me much. And I do not suffer disappointment well. I condemn you, John Crichton—to live! So that your thirst for unfulfilled revenge will consume you. Goodbye.”

When Crichton screams that he is in control, Harvey calmly responds, “No more, John.” In that moment, a grim truth snaps into focus: for quite some time now, Crichton has only been in command of his own mind on Harvey’s sufferance. The neural clone could have taken permanent control of Crichton’s body long ago, and the only reason it didn’t was because there was no particular reason to. When Harvey briefly revealed himself in “Beware Of Dog,” he declared that John would never see the trap closing until it was too late. He didn’t specify just what the trap was, but “Die Me, Dichotomy” makes it fairly clear that he didn’t mean some byzantine, off-screen ploy by Scorpius; no, Harvey was referring to himself when he spoke of Scorpius’ trap. That means that this episode is the logical follow-up to “Nerve” and “The Hidden Memory” just as much as it is to “Liars, Guns, And Money,” as this story reveals that, in a sense, John never really left the Aurora Chair. He is still under Scorpius’ complete control, and the liberty he equal parts enjoyed and endured this season was really just an illusion. John has been a time bomb, and after ticking away for 24 episodes, he finally explodes.

Except, that isn’t really true, at least not outside the confines of Farscape’s fictional universe. After all, the neural clone wasn’t devised until midway through the second season as a way of bringing back the Scorpius hallucination from “Crackers Don’t Matter”—and, as showrunner David Kemper explains in this episode’s commentary, that original hallucination was just one of the crazy ideas an almost certainly sleep-deprived Justin Monjo came up with when ordered to write a script in two days. From that moment of desperation, however, came the idea that ultimately ties the entire season together, and so this episode stands as an enduring tribute to the Farscape writers’ ability to tie disparate narrative strands together in the absence of some preordained narrative. If Babylon 5 stands as the most meticulously planned of the great sci-fi epics, then Farscape is its improvisational opposite number, and that status makes the apparent seamlessness of the show’s overarching narrative all the more impressive.

Admittedly, for all the times in which the creative team’s freewheeling approach results in an episode like “Crackers Don’t Matter” or a concept like the neural clone, there must also be instances in which the show misfires or crashes into narrative dead ends. Indeed, it’s easy to forget now just how hit or miss the first third of this season was—as good as “Mind The Baby,” “Crackers Don’t Matter,” “The Way We Weren’t,” and “Out Of Their Minds” were, they were surrounded by episodes that struggled to match that same level of quality. Leaving aside “My Three Crichtons” and its rather mixed reputation, the show reestablished itself for good with “Look At The Princess,” and it isn’t an accident that that is when Scorpius and Harvey reemerged as major players. The opening section of this season was a fundamentally serialized show in search of a suitably big and important story, and, instead of forcing such an overarching narrative, the show returned to standalone tales with mixed results. The last 12 episodes of this season don’t form a single tight narrative, but they all share the same overriding narrative preoccupations; even a story like “The Locket,” which is so standalone that its story didn’t actually happen, finds ways to further the stories of D’Argo’s search for his son and the relationship between John and Aeryn.

Indeed, their love story is arguably the real focus of “Die Me, Dichotomy,” with Harvey’s hostile takeover just a ridiculously nasty plot device. Aeryn’s personal transformation is particularly apparent here, and part of what makes this episode so heartbreaking is how much she now acts like the John Crichton of the first season; in fact, Claudia Black notes on the commentary that some of her body language in this episode is meant to imitate Ben Browder’s movements as Crichton. Officer Sun’s hard-edged Peacekeeper training never entirely abandons her—she is still willing to at least try to shoot down Crichton’s module, even if Harvey is correct that she couldn’t bring herself to actually hit anything—but she shows newfound tenderness and a certain indomitable optimism when she tells Crichton to meet the challenge of Harvey with strength. She mentions that Crichton brought hope to Moya, and while Aeryn is still very much Aeryn, she believes she and John have the capacity to defeat any threat. But Crichton’s own hopefulness was shattered way back in the Aurora Chair, and Scorpius has trapped him in a truly unwinnable scenario. It doesn’t matter how strong John is or how much Aeryn believes in him when his identity can be overwritten at any moment.

It’s so strange to see the hero of a sci-fi show so utterly defeated, and yet the episode treats Crichton’s powerlessness as a given. It’s possible that John is struggling like mad inside his own mind, but the episode gives no indication of this, because it wouldn’t make any difference. To its credit, “Die Me, Dichotomy” doesn’t undercut the other characters by having them somehow miss or ignore the Harvey-controlled Crichton’s destructive actions; once Jothee and D’Argo find Crichton sending the signal, everyone treats him as a threat from that point on. The only major exception is when Harvey tricks Zhaan, but the episode wisely doesn’t treat the reemergence of Harvey there as some big twist. Instead, it reveals John in the illusory Scorpius gear earlier in the scene, which allows the audience to focus less on the shock value of his sudden attack and more on how the silver-tongued Harvey manipulates Zhaan—the specific reference to John’s father might be a particularly nice, very subtle touch, considering Zhaan mentioned way back in “Rhapsody In Blue” that she’s not sure of the fate of her own father, so she might be particularly sympathetic to John wanting to get a last message to his dad. The writers deployed the neural clone in part to maintain Scorpius’ effectiveness as the primary antagonist, and the payoff for that work is that Harvey can plausibly fool the Moya crew even when they are on their guard, because he and Scorpius are just that good at being bad. The audience respects both Scorpius and Harvey as villains, and that’s a big reason why they can emerge victorious at the end of this episode.

Indeed, “Die Me, Dichotomy” seems to make an active effort to remind viewers that both versions of Scorpius really are villainous, even evil. As I discussed in the previous review, the “Liars, Guns, And Money” trilogy complicated the audience’s view of Scorpius by arguing that all his brutal actions are in service of some higher purpose. While we still don’t know quite what he’s up to, the presence of the Scarrans at least raised the possibility that Scorpius is the lesser of two evils. Similarly, for all Harvey’s previous manipulations, he was essential to John’s survival in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “A Clockwork Nebari,” so it’s tempting to think of him as a begrudging ally. This episode, however, leaves no doubt that both are, if not inherently evil, then certainly capable of vindictive, indiscriminate evil. Scorpius’ casual, murderous dismissal of the Diagnosian Tocot—the same Diagnosian who designed Scorpius’s life-saving coolant suit!—seems entirely random and unmotivated, unless Scorpius simply wishes to harm all those who would seek to help Crichton. Scorpius finally reveals just how much he despises Crichton and how personally invested he is in the recovery of the wormhole technology; while he was at least willing to grant Crichton a quick death in “Liars, Guns, And Money,” here he happily condemns Crichton to everlasting suffering. The next two seasons will further complicate just how the audience feels towards Scorpius, but whatever happens from here on out, his actions here must loom large.

Still, even Scorpius’s actions aren’t as bad as those of his neural clone. Harvey doesn’t just kill Aeryn; he kills her barely more than halfway through the episode, leaving plenty of time for the shipmates to grieve and for Crichton to be consumed by guilt. As David Kemper notes in the commentary, the episode works hard to convince the audience that, in defiance of all sci-fi conventions, Aeryn is really, truly dead, and that’s a big reason why the funeral scene is so lengthy. While it remains difficult to believe that this could really be Aeryn’s departure, the episode at least established that any subsequent resurrection is unlikely to come easily. Even so, Harvey’s most despicable actions might actually come earlier in the neural cluster, when he allows Aeryn to believe she is talking to the real Crichton and leads her into her first eve declaration of love. Even by Farscape’s lofty standards, this takes screwing with audience expectations to a whole other level. Aeryn finally tells John that she loves him—something she didn’t even manage in the nullified story of “The Locket”—and Harvey immediately attacks her, knocks her out, and then, just to add creepy insult to injury, licks her. The final, mirroring heartbreak comes later, when John is in control again and finally tells Aeryn that he loves her, except that Aeryn is now dead.

In the midst of all this, the episode attempts to integrate D’Argo’s son Jothee into the world of Moya. It’s fair to say that Jothee is not a fan favorite character—last week’s comment section will readily attest to that—and it’s not difficult to see why. Jothee is frequently unpleasant and ungrateful, and his main purpose in the episode is to drive a wedge between his own father and the woman he loves. Still, that’s too simplistic a reading; after all, every main character on this show has done worse things than Jothee on multiple occasions. Kissing Chiana might not be the most wonderful thing to do, but can that really be considered worse than cutting off Pilot’s arm just to satisfy some sleazy mad scientist? Besides, Jothee does seem to make a genuine effort early on in the episode to fit in and help out. He’s the first person to find the Harvey-controlled Crichton and attempt to take him out. Sure, he fails, but that misstep is really just the setup to D’Argo knocking out Crichton a few moments later. Even when Jothee is trying to help out, Farscape undercuts him in order to make his father look better.

And that’s really the issue with Jothee, because both the audience and the show itself can’t help but see the character in terms of D’Argo. The elder Luxan has had the benefit of two entire seasons to show viewers his best so that they might tolerate his worst, and so it’s easy to forgive his overbearing, selfish approach in this episode when the audience understands just how much he has suffered and sacrificed for this reunion. But the fact remains that D’Argo hasn’t seen his son since he was just an adorable little boy, and it’s apparent that, much as D’Argo might have intellectually understood that time would have passed for Jothee just as much as it has for him, he still wasn’t prepared for the prospect of a Jothee that had grown into young adulthood in the most horrendous of conditions. As Jothee himself observes, D’Argo believes his old life with his family on the farm was simply put on hold, rather than irreparably destroyed, and so all his thoughts now are to rebuilding and returning to an old life that only he actually wants. He made all these plans based on what he and his own mind’s idealized version of a younger Jothee would want, and he never thought to consult the actual Jothee about any of this—or, for that matter, Chiana.

If it’s hard to hold such a massive oversight against D’Argo, that’s only because the audience knows and likes him already, and because the end of “Die Me, Dichotomy” positions him as the unsuspected lover about to be betrayed. The audience can be told that Jothee has lived through unspeakable horrors, but without actually seeing any of these ordeals, it’s hard not to dismiss him as a whiny brat. As Jothee, Matt Newton is unable to establish an immediate rapport with the audience in the same way Gigi Edgley was when Chiana debuted in “Durka Returns,” but I’m hesitant to hold that against him too much. When Chiana showed up, she came with no preconceived notions on the part of either the shipmates on Moya or the viewers at home, and she slid into a role that, in retrospect, the show obviously needed. Jothee is an interloper almost by design, the living embodiment of the harsh reality of the show’s universe clashing with D’Argo’s naïve idealism. Newton plays the part as it’s written, and he does a perfectly decent job with it; no, he doesn’t find a way to elevate the material, but it’s hard to imagine how he could have done so without defeating the narrative purpose of the character. Farscape doesn’t intend its audience to like Jothee, even as it recognizes that that isn’t particular fair to the kid. That’s an uneasy position to leave Jothee and, by extension, D’Argo and Chiana; it will be the task of season three to justify this rather unpleasant characterization with strong storytelling.

That actually leads into the one potentially significant flaw of this episode, which is that it devotes a bit too much time to supporting storylines that, honestly, aren’t nearly as compelling as what’s going on with Crichton and Aeryn. As David Kemper notes on the commentary, this episode functions as much as the prologue to the third season as it does the conclusion of the second. That’s certainly not a bad idea, but some moments just feel like blatant setup for future stories. While Crais and Talyn are generally used well here, the former’s final, cryptic line about how the knowledge they gained from a chip would have made Aeryn the happiest of them all doesn’t really work as anything but obvious foreshadowing. And there’s still the matter of Jothee and Chiana. I don’t actually object on narrative terms to how they are used for most of the episode. Indeed, I would actually compare their growing, possibly lustful attraction to Stark and Zhaan’s decision to pursue a life together, which is handled delicately in a single scene and flows naturally from Zhaan’s grief for Moya. That moment works because it suggests future plots without actually being plot itself; it’s primarily a character moment, and it offers a tender picture of how two of the characters decide to endure after all the horrors they have witnessed, endured, and even caused in these last few episodes.

In much the same way, Chiana’s initial unease with and Jothee’s open antipathy towards D’Argo’s plans make perfect sense in terms of what we know about both their characters, and the idea that they might be attracted to each other also makes sense. Assuming Jothee is attracted to women, there’s no sane reason why he wouldn’t be interested in Chiana, especially when his father—her lover—is a stranger at best and the man who betrayed him at worst. As for Chiana, it seems entirely in keeping with her to deal with an awkward situation by, well, trying to have sex with it. The issue is more just that Farscape progresses this story just a bit too far by actually having the two move in for a kiss as D’Argo barges in; that scene takes what had been character work and turns it into a plot that needs resolving, and so it feels unsatisfying when it happens just moments before the end of the season, particularly in the midst of far more consequential stories elsewhere.

The great strength of last season’s finale “Family Ties”—which, on further reflection, is probably my favorite episode of these first two seasons, in case anyone is curious—was that it forced all the characters to stare death in the face, which largely removed the need for story and allowed the show to focus more on the relationships that had built up over the past year. Crichton and company’s foolhardy, possibly suicidal attack on Scorpius’ Gammak Base was so major an event that it would have dwarfed any other subplots, and so the episode doesn’t bother with them; consider how quickly that episode runs through and discards the seemingly important Rygel betrayal storyline. “Die Me, Dichotomy” is more about dealing with the aftermath of death, and that means characters are forced to wonder about what happens next, which means things get messier. Still, while the more transparent setup for season three narratives can be clunky, the episode does get some good mileage out of the idea that the shipmates have reached the end of their shared journey, even if it’s not entirely by choice. Rygel’s attempt to obtain transport from Grunchlk is particularly well played, as it uses Rygel much like the proverbial rat jumping from the sinking ship; when he stops talking about abandoning Moya and starts actually going through with it, the show indicates that Moya really might never recover.

“Die Me, Dichotomy” represents Farscape at its most brutally heartbreaking, which is perhaps why it also features some of the silliest jokes in the show’s history. As evidenced by the photo up top, high Pilot is a delight, as are Stark and D’Argo getting goofy on the restorative fumes. These are brief moments, admittedly, but it’s a good reminder that Farscape can always be serious, but it’s never dour. Indeed, the best example of this is Grunchlk—whose name Aeryn mispronounces, another possible nod to her more Crichton-like behavior—who livens up the episode with his amusingly obvious scams. Even then, Hugh Keays-Byrne is able to modulate his performance after Aeryn’s death, first when he rather perfunctorily confirms to Rygel that his ship is on its way, and then when he quite earnestly tries to reassure Crichton that, according to Tocot, there’s no way that he was responsible for Aeryn’s death. As we reach the end of two seasons, that’s fairly indicative of what Farscape is—it’s a show where even the apparently incorrigible comic relief can recognize the gravity of the situation unfolding around them. Even more importantly, Farscape is a show where a season can end with its hero strapped to an operating table, his memory and his speech completely scrambled. But that’s a story for next time.

Stray observations:

  • And so concludes the second season of Farscape. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting; you all have built a wonderful community around these reviews, and it’s a big part of why these reviews remain so much fun to do.
  • As should hopefully be obvious, I’ve already said pretty much everything I have to say about this one. If I’m going to take a break, I might as well at least try to earn it, I guess. Speaking of which…

Next time: We’re now halfway through our Farscape reviews and the busy fall TV season is just around the corner, so this seems like the right time for a brief hiatus. Farscape reviews should return in early November. We’ll be kicking things off with “Season Of Death” and “Suns And Lovers.” I totally understand if you want to go ahead and watch those two now, but I’d suggest pausing once this episode’s cliffhanger is resolved, because the third season only gets crazier from there. 

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