Farscape: “Mind The Baby”
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Farscape: “Mind The Baby”

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Farscape

“Mind The Baby”

Season 2, Episode 1

“Mind The Baby” (season 2, episode 1; originally aired 3/17/2000)

(Available on Amazon Instant Video.)

“You want to have a midlife crisis? Fine, just… ditch the firm, head off to Maui, shack up with the supermodel, but you do not get to keep the Porsche!”

Structurally, “Mind The Baby” has much in common with “Family Ties.” Like its immediate predecessor, this episode features only brief bursts of real action, with most of the plot being driven by the interactions between the main characters. But while last season’s finale used all its character scenes as an elegiac meditation on what Moya’s various crewmembers had come to mean to each other, “Mind The Baby” is aiming for something rather more straightforward. A new season has begun, and so there’s plenty of work to do in establishing the new status quo. After seemingly consigning themselves to death at the end of “Family Ties,” Crichton and D’Argo are saved and eventually reunited with their comrades, and then everyone finally escapes the asteroid field in which they have now spent the past five episodes. Moya evades Scorpius’ clutches while Talyn and Crais strike off on their own, which seems to bring us more or less back to how things used to be, with a band of fugitives on the run from a distant but untiring Peacekeeper threat. Even Crichton’s line in his opening credits monologue about how he’s on the run from an insane military commander requires no alteration, as the show simply subs in Scorpius for Crais.

As such, new viewers would be forgiven for thinking “Mind The Baby” represents the show pushing the reset button, albeit with more style and elegance than is typically seen in such stories. However, as will soon become clear, Farscape’s second season will be vastly different from its first, and that’s something we will explore together over the coming weeks. But none of this really alters the fact that “Mind The Baby” is an episode charged with doing a lot of narrative heavy-lifting, and while that’s unquestionably important—and, again, expertly executed—it’s not necessarily the most interesting thing about the episode in retrospect. So then, I’m going to do something a little different with this particular spotlight review and take a closer look at one of Farscape’s alien races; I hope to do the same for the other major species in later reviews. In this instance, I plan to examine just why the Peacekeepers, for all their humanlike appearance, might actually be the most alien creatures on Farscape.

But first, if you’re looking to mark a clear break between Farscape’s first season and it second, look no further than Ka D’Argo. The Luxan warrior undergoes something of a soft reset between seasons, in terms of both his appearance and his personality. “Mind The Baby” is the debut of the character’s new makeup, a darker, “tanned” look that Dave Elsey, the creative supervisor for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, half-jokingly attributed to the character’s prolonged exposure to the vacuum of space. While D’Argo’s physical change was really motivated by more practical aesthetic considerations, Elsey’s explanation is a perfect in-universe justification, and it also helps explain why D’Argo emerges from his coma a slightly different man than he was before. He’s still irascible and still quick to violent, decisive action, but he seems mellower than before. In “Family Ties,” he came as close to death as it is possible to get, and it’s only natural that some of his old bluster and posturing has melted away. He can’t suppress his irritation with Talyn’s stupid name, but he doesn’t press the point when Aeryn shows up, as he’s overwhelmed with happiness at seeing her again.

Perhaps most crucially, Crichton and D’Argo are now natural allies. When rewatching Farscape for these reviews, I found two central elements of the first season particularly difficult to square with my impression of the overall season. First, it’s crazy just how long Chiana takes to show up, because she so quickly comes to feel like an intrinsic part of the ensemble. Second, it’s weird to think that, up until the final ten minutes of the first season finale, Crichton and D’Argo aren’t really friends. Crichton specifically ruled out friendship back in “Till The Blood Runs Clear,” and when the pair interacted in a substantial way in subsequent episodes, Crichton was generally continuing to disappoint D’Argo; for examples, look no further than “Jeremiah Crichton,” “A Human Reaction,” and “A Bug’s Life.” The pair grew closer and friendlier over the course of the season—although considering where they started out in “Premiere,” it would be difficult for them not to have done so—but they ultimately didn’t get all that many scenes together in the back half of the season as Crichton and Aeryn’s relationship moved to the foreground.

As such, when Crichton declared himself and D’Argo to be “Kirk and Spock! Abbott and Costello!” at the end of “Family Ties,” that wasn’t so much the culmination of a long-developing friendship as it was a sudden recognition that, for all their differences, the two of them were about to throw themselves into space and set a frelling moon on fire, and it is difficult not to be friends with someone after doing something like that together. Crichton told Crais that he didn’t have many opportunities for male bonding onboard Moya, a statement that implicitly excluded D’Argo as a friend. But Crichton and D’Argo passed through one hell of a crucible together, and they emerge now as comrades, and that’s one of the relationships that will come to define this season and those that follow.

In “Mind The Baby,” Crichton and D’Argo’s strengthened bond becomes particularly important in light of Aeryn’s behavior. There’s little question that her initial, seemingly nefarious dealings with Crais represent some sort of fake-out; her harsh language might literally suggest she plans to betray her friends, but she’s really either deceiving Crais or doing all this for reasons she considers justifiable. The former option is an easier way out, but it’s a little too straightforward for Farscape; instead, it’s revealed that Aeryn really is working with Crais and lying to Crichton and D’Argo, although she believes she is doing this to protect both them and, perhaps more importantly, Talyn. Her decisions here are particularly fascinating in that they are arguably the first she has ever made without any advice or guidance, whether it’s from Peacekeeper superiors or her friends on Moya. Her actions in the interim between “Family Ties” and “Mind The Baby” aren’t shaped by Crichton’s input, and so they—along with the decisions made by Crais and Scorpius—represent our best glimpse yet into just how the Sebacean mind really works.

Peacekeepers are fundamentally forward-thinking individuals, although only in the short term; they make their decisions based on whichever of their current options is likely to achieve the best results, with past actions only relevant as a potential indicator of future success or failure. Aeryn maintains her bargain with Crais because she believes the disgraced captain is a better guardian of Talyn than Scorpius or no one at all. It’s hard to argue with that first evaluation, but Crichton and D’Argo would both gladly incapacitate—and yes, quite possibly kill—Crais and take their chances with a Talyn free of his control. Aeryn won’t countenance that because it’s too chaotic, and Peacekeepers are conditioned to find and preserve order. Crais is a known quantity, and that will do until she finds a better solution.

When she tells Crichton that “right now, Crais’ control is better than no control at all,” Crichton angrily retorts, “Right now? Okay, when exactly is that gonna change, Aeryn?” Crichton takes a longer view than Aeryn, one that more clearly incorporates Crais’ past transgressions. As far as John is concerned, Crais has lost the right to his liberty and, by extension, the right to captain Talyn. Even if letting him go might be the most rational short-term solution, Crichton doesn’t particularly care because his perspective incorporates a moral dimension that Aeryn’s worldview still lacks. That actually brings John more in line with D’Argo’s way of thinking, which is why Crichton doesn’t object when the Luxan uses his tongue trick to knock out Aeryn. D’Argo is willing to draw a line in the sand and declare some people like Crais just fundamentally can’t be trusted. Give or take the occasional declaration of irreversible contamination, Peacekeepers are far more relativistic in their thinking.

At least Officer Sun has discovered compassion, which is more than can be said for Scorpius. It’s revealed that he allowed Aeryn to rescue Crichton and D’Argo, because he could not risk Crichton dying and thus destroying the wormhole information hidden in his brain, which ties in with a general sense both here and in “Family Ties” that Scorpius has trouble dealing with Crichton in part because he can’t entirely understand the human’s willingness to kill himself if no other options exist. Suicide, even tactical suicide, just isn’t the Peacekeeper way—something again hinted at when Crichton tells Aeryn there are always choices, even when one of the choices is death—and Scorpius displays what is simply a more disciplined version of Aeryn’s strategic thinking. He allowed Crichton to escape because it was the only option he had, and it now buys him enough time to wait for circumstances to change to his favor.

There’s a larger point to be made here, and I would say it all comes down to the difference between a warlike society and a militaristic society. The former is much more common in science fiction—the Klingons are the archetypal example, the Luxans certainly qualify, and we humans are often judged to fit into the warlike category. A warlike society is aggressive, violent, and frequently obsessed with honor. There is little divide between their emotions and their thoughts, and so their stratagems are designed around accomplishing some lofty ultimate goal. A militaristic society, on the other hand, is defined by its discipline, by its rigid adherence to its central hierarchy. The Peacekeepers do not see their lives as a grand war but rather as a series of tactical missions, each a small but vital step towards the accomplishment of a specific objective. While a warlike society might see an honorable death as a grand final victory, a militaristic society would reject that as unacceptable incompetence. While Luxans are meant to be more alien than Sebaceans, it’s actually easier to understand aggression and honor than it is absolute pragmatic, consequentialist rationalism. The Luxans are a magnified version of one particular aspect of human nature, but the Sebaceans in “Mind The Baby” come across as impressively, authentically alien in their thinking.

That’s not to say that Aeryn’s decisions are determined by pure, cold logic divorced from any recognizably human emotion. The Aeryn we met in “Premiere” would have left a pair of comrades to die if there were no other options, and she would have done so without regrets. Aeryn refused to let Crichton and D’Argo to die, and her most recognizably human moment in the episode comes in an early exchange when the Luxan angrily declares she should have left them to die, and Aeryn simply responds, “No, I couldn’t have.” She has learned compassion, but it’s still not a natural emotion for her, and she treats it as a weakness that must be hidden behind renewed hardness. Indeed, while her initial pact with Crais was meant to save her friends, it’s really her protective instinct towards Talyn that guides her throughout this episode. She respects Moya too much to consider herself the ship’s mother, but she does show clear maternal affection towards the ship, and her willingness to tolerate Crais is a dubious byproduct of that caring impulse.

Bialar Crais is the most fascinating character in “Mind The Baby,” as Richard Manning’s script, Andrew Prowse’s direction, and Lani Tupu’s performance all challenge the audience to consider whether the exiled Peacekeeper has really reformed. The closest Crais comes to a moment of humility or self-recrimination is when D’Argo demands to know what Crais thinks of interbreeding. Without flinching, the captain admits that he finds the very notion repellent, but he then argues that this is a belief instilled in him by the Peacekeepers, and so it demands examination and perhaps reevaluation. While that statement seems a million miles away from the vengeful, tyrannical Crais who casually declared Aeryn irreversibly contaminated, it still takes no direct responsibility for Crais’ actions; if there is as error, he believes it lies with the Peacekeepers, and so he must be free to discover the version of himself that exists beneath the malevolent Peacekeeper conditioning. Crais rarely acknowledges his own culpability, as that’s simply not something Peacekeepers concern themselves with. He considers the Aurora Chair, the loss of his command, and irreversible contamination to be ample punishment for his past misdeeds, and now he is ready to move on, because what else is there?

A particularly unhinged Crichton isn’t happy with any of this, as he dismisses Crais’ ambitions as a mere midlife crisis. Crichton is barely any more stable than he was at the end of last season, and Crais brings out the madman in him like no one else, perhaps even more so than Scorpius. After all, Scorpius is still a real, imminent threat, and so Crichton has to pull himself together whenever the Command Carrier approaches. But Crais—the man who spent a cycle hunting Crichton like a dog—now claims to be an ally and a would-be peaceful explorer. He no longer claims to be an adversary, but Crichton ability to shift his opinions of others appears to have been left in the Aurora Chair. And that’s something to keep in mind as we head into the second season. Crichton’s circumstances are just going to keep changing and evolving, but it’s very much an open question whether John is equipped to deal with what lies ahead.

Stray observations:

  • Rygel and Chiana have fairly minor roles in “Mind The Baby,” but Chiana’s gravity-defying leap into Crichton’s arms and Rygel’s utter shock to see his friends are both heartwarming moments.
  • Scorpius shows some apparent vulnerability with those rods being inserted into his head; it’s the first indication that the cosmic gimp suit isn’t just for purposes of intimidation. Since the episode doesn’t really expand on what’s going on with the rods, I won’t say anything more here, but I suspect this is a good topic for any clearly marked spoiler threads.
  • “I'm just an ignorant warrior who believes that love means you are willing to fight and die for your fellow living beings.” As much as “Mind The Baby” reveals the alien side of Aeryn, it also keys in on when a forward-thinking, fiercely pragmatic worldview can be a good thing. Zhaan has clearly suffered a complete breakdown in the gap between “Family Ties” and this episode, which is something we’ll dig into further in coming reviews, but Aeryn does cut right to the heart of the matter when Zhaan claims she loves everyone, and that’s why she plans to do nothing. Aeryn makes some deeply flawed decisions in this episode, but at least she’s still willing to make decisions.
  • The entire cast is great, but I think Lani Tupu deserves special mention for his work here. Not only does he play Crais with the perfect shade of ambiguous benevolence, but he also resumes his voiceover duties as Pilot. That’s a particularly challenging role, because beyond realizing Pilot as a character in his own right, Tupu also has to convey Moya’s emotional state in a way that feels real to the audience, which means he can only use his digitally altered voice to make comprehensible and relatable the feelings of a gigantic, living starship. It’s insane just how good he is at that, it really is.

Next week: D’Argo confronts his Luxan heritage in “Vitas Mortis” and Chiana makes some questionable hair-related decisions in “Taking The Stone.”