Better late than never, huh? Would you believe I got sucked into a wormhole?
Nah. Let’s just do this thing.
“Season Of Death” (season 3, episode 1; originally aired 3/16/2001)
“I shouldn’t be here.” “This is exactly where you should be.”
One must always be wary of the deaths of major characters in season finales. Generally speaking, there’s a direct relationship between the amount of time that elapses between a character’s apparent death and the likelihood that said demise will actually stick. If a character appears to die right in the very last shot of a season—think Ka D’Argo drifting in space back in “Family Ties”—the odds are virtually nil that the character will actually perish, and indeed “Mind The Baby” only dealt cursorily with his survival. Aeryn Sun’s death in “Die Me, Dichotomy” is something different. Both that finale and this premiere make every effort to play Aeryn’s death as something real, something permanent. “Die Me, Dichotomy” offers only the absolute vaguest possible hints about the eventual mechanism of her resurrection in. Since she dies with about 15 minutes left on the clock in “Die Me, Dichotomy” and is revived about 30 minutes into “Season Of Death,” she is dead for the length of an episode, a veritable eternity in television time.
And yet it’s difficult to imagine all but the most casual, or possibly the most paranoid, of viewers could have actually feared that Aeryn would be gone for good; if absolutely nothing else, Claudia Black’s name is right there in the opening credits for “Season Of Death.” Even if we assume a decent chunk of the audience was unaware of Officer Sun’s imminent resurrection, such surprise can only aid the episode on the initial viewing. This episode follows a predetermined path right back to a predetermined point, and so it’s essential that the journey be compelling long after the shock is worn off. Indeed, the great danger for an episode like this is that it can so easily become an hour-long reset button, its primary purpose simply to get the characters back to something resembling a status quo after “Die Me, Dichotomy” apparently blew apart Farscape’s basic premise.
Honestly, that’s not an entirely inaccurate description of what transpires here. By episode’s end, Aeryn is restored to life, she has decided that she and Crichton cannot pursue their romance, Talyn and Crais have starburst off to parts unknown after thinking they avenged Officer Sun’s death (a belief that’s mistaken for at least two reasons), and Scorpius has slipped yet another noose, turning his attention towards the wormhole technology so that the Moya shipmates might be allowed to resume their freewheeling adventures. Throw in the fact that the precise details of Aeryn’s revival represent Farscape at its most unapologetically, bafflingly magical—even episode writer Richard Manning has invoked the old Spinal Tap axiom of there being “a fine line between stupid and clever” in describing Aeryn’s return—and there’s a real risk that “Season Of Death” could collapse under the weight of its own narrative contortions.
The reason why that doesn’t happen—indeed, the reason why “Season Of Death” belongs, if not in the top tier of Farscape episodes, then somewhere very near it—is that this story never loses sight of what its plot twists mean to its characters. “Die Me, Dichotomy” didn’t offer the Moya shipmates an inordinate amount of time to mourn Officer Sun, but “Season Of Death” explores even more difficult territory: Aeryn has been dead just long enough that the characters are beginning to realize what it means to go on without her. Crichton, convinced Aeryn is gone forever and consigned to spending the rest of his existence communicating solely with Harvey, briefly gives into despair, per Zhaan’s unity with him, but even he regains the strength he needs to keep fighting. It’s hard to consider anything that happens before Aeryn’s return an unqualified triumph, but it’s still pretty damn rousing to see Crichton mentally pummel Harvey, and it’s so very, very Farscape to learn that Stark only advised him to do so because he thought it sounded good.
Among the others, it’s D’Argo, as one might expect, who addresses this issue most directly, telling Zhaan, “We have already lost Aeryn—we will not lose another!” Like everyone else aboard Moya, Aeryn’s death has shaken him to his core, but he translates his sorrow into decisive, rational action; no matter how hopeless Crichton’s situation might be, the fact that he remains alive means he is still worth fighting for. Zhaan, whose capacity for empathy leaves her ill-suited to stand by such idealistic absolutes—and who is being manipulated by a Scorpius-controlled Grunchlk, lest we forget—is fully prepared to help John die if it will end his agony. On another show, this scene might play as an allegory for contemporary debates about assisted suicide—Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Ethics” is a natural parallel—but such social commentary implies a degree of thematic rigor and logical organization that Farscape has never shown much interest in. This show is terminally messy, but only because life itself is messy, and perspectives rarely fall into neat categories; D’Argo and Zhaan disagree on how best to help Crichton because of who they are as people, and so their reasons are selfish and flawed and irrational in a way that they wouldn’t be if the pair were serving as stand-ins for opposite sides of an ideological debate. This isn’t a defining example, perhaps, but after such a long time away it’s good to highlight just how Farscape uses its science fiction setting to propel such character-centric drama.
The resurrection of Aeryn is a case in point. From a plot standpoint, her return to life is wholly unearned, achieved with little more than a bit of hand-waving over the difference between “dead” and “effectively dead” and some quickly exchanged lines of mystical technobabble between Zhaan and Stark. But, as is so often the case with Farscape’s big storytelling moves, the emphasis isn’t on the words that they say, but rather the emotions—the fear and the anger and the desperation—that they invest them with. All we really need to know is that, for whatever reason, it is indeed possible to bring Aeryn back, but there will be consequences. Zhaan can only save Aeryn’s life at the expense of her own; we’ll get into the behind-the-scenes reasons that shaped that particular narrative maneuver in next week’s review, but “Season Of Death” mostly makes the return work as a character moment. I say “mostly” because I’m not at all convinced by Zhaan’s pronouncement that she is doing this because Crichton loves Aeryn; after Zhaan’s suffering at the hands of the Harvey-controlled Crichton, I’m skeptical that Zhaan would grant such primacy to his needs, especially when I’m already entirely convinced by the first explanation she gives to Officer Sun: “Because I love you.” Farscape is usually a little defter in not allowing itself to turn into The John Crichton Show; even if that was not the specific intention with that line, it still reads as a misstep.
And, through it all, there is Scorpius. His role as the episode’s largely unseen manipulator is wisely chosen, as it’s difficult to imagine any direct confrontation between him and the Moya shipmates that would not end in a whole heap of fatalities. Hugh Keays-Byrne deserves tremendous credit for his work here; as much fun as he was as the scurrilous Grunchlk in “Die Me, Dichotomy,” he takes it to a whole other level by augmenting his established mannerisms with just a hint of Wayne Pygram’s. He has a particularly great moment as the Scorpius-controlled Grunchlk considers the doctor’s explanation for Crichton’s survival, with Scorpius’ earnest fascination causing him to momentarily drop his otherwise impeccable disguise.
Still, as entertaining—and as absolutely, horrifying disgusting—as this subplot is, it’s also essential in how it lays out just where we stand with Scorpius. With the neural clone responsible for most of the in-person villainy in “Die Me, Dichotomy,” the real Scorpius existed there as a kind of elemental force, an invincible agent of retribution that left both the physician and Crichton in agonizing near-death out of sheer, sadistic agony. “Season Of Death” drills down further in exploring Scorpius’ cruelty: He kills enemies and allies alike just because he can, and the reason that he can is that they no longer serve any purpose. Grunchlk persuasively lays out the flaw of such thinking as he explains that he set in motion plans to release the Scarran as an insurance policy against just such treachery. Scorpius’ hubris is that he believes both that people only exist in terms of what they can do for him and that no one could ever pose a significant threat to him, at least not to the extent that he he should keep people alive past their point of immediate usefulness. As brilliant as he undeniably is, and as reasonable as he can occasionally appear to be, his alliances are exclusively ones of convenience, and someday he will encounter a needlessly aggrieved foe who can ruin his day far more effectively than Grunchlk can.
As a rule, one must be wary of deaths in season finales, and the corollary to that is that one should be equally suspicious of declarations of love in season premieres. The episode ends with Crichton and Aeryn at last reunited, and Crichton finally gets his own opportunity to tell her how he feels. Those emotions are reciprocated, but it wouldn’t be much of a season-long emotional arc if those two crazy kids acted on their desires straight away. Aeryn’s rationale for not pursuing their love is actually reasonable enough, as such narrative excuses go: She is unwilling to let anyone else die because her emotions clouded her judgment, and the final shot of Stark and a weakened Zhaan underlines that point in the most heartbreaking of fashion. It’s smart thinking, but here’s the problem: If Aeryn thinks she can even vaguely controls who lives and who dies in a universe like this, then she doesn’t know Farscape. Season three has some lessons to teach.
- Welcome back to TV Club Classic’s coverage of Farscape! As some of you may have noticed, it’s, uh, not November of last year. But hey, we’re back now, and the plan is to finish out the final two seasons in style. The schedule is going to be slightly accelerated from what it once was, but only slightly; basically, where before I’d do the occasional single-episode review to ensure the various multi-part stories lined up correctly, now I’ll be doing three-episode reviews. All the reviews will still be pretty much the same length that they were in the first two seasons. I’ll be in the comments if anyone has any questions about all this. But now, with that out of the way, on with the show!
- By the way, everyone, Chiana and Ka Jothee are officially having sex (though no word on whether it’s fantastic sex). Let’s just save that whole topic for “Suns And Lovers,” shall we? Instead, let’s enjoy some choice quotes from the episode.
- “Sounds like you got a plan.” “We’re gonna bring him out here, and see how he likes being in the cold.” “And what if he likes it?” “Look, one plan at a time!”
- “When your goons came in locked and loaded, I kind of doubted your good intentions. As insurance, I switched on the Scarran’s auto-release. I hope he kills you. Very slowly.” “Not likely.”
- “I’ll, ah, consume this in a room without detonating crockery, thank you very much.”
- “Can I get a hell yeah?” “Hell yeah!”
“Suns And Lovers” (season 3, episode 2; originally aired 3/23/2001)
“Hey yo, Heavy D! Hey man, have you tried one of these things? They’re terrible, but once you get past the blue slime? Underneath… pure aviation fuel!”
I’ll level with you all, gentle readers. As some of you may have noticed, it’s been nearly a year since I last wrote a Farscape review, and, on some level, I’ve now got to reteach myself how to write these things. As such, what I could really do with now is a good old-fashioned breather episode, the kind of early-season story that is content to let its core characters busy themselves with some silly little caper before the year’s real plotlines kick into gear. Back in the first season, “I, E.T.”—and really every episode up to “PK Tech Girl”—fit that bill nicely; in year two, the show got considerably weirder with the likes of “Vitas Mortis” and “Taking The Stone,” but they were still basically inessential, offering both the show and its audience a chance to get warmed up before the craziness really began. As I said in the “Season Of Death” review, that premiere offers the show just the reset it needs to take things nice and easy for a few episodes, should it choose to. Scorpius, Harvey, Crais, and Talyn all depart, letting the show refocus on its core cast, give or take Stark and Jothee.
Crichton even winks at such expectations of a return to normalcy with his drunken opening monologue, as he notes that he’s now rich and the neural Scorpius is safely hidden away, so everything ought to be fine. The trouble is that we’ve reached the part of the Farscape story where there’s always, always a “but,” and in this case it’s a big one: Zhaan is sick, and “sick” is really just a polite word for dying. Crichton’s accounting doesn’t even include the crisis he won’t acknowledge, namely his and Aeryn’s romantic confusion, and the one he doesn’t know about yet, namely the fact that Chiana has begun an affair with D’Argo’s son. A year ago, the Moya crew could escape first great battle with Scorpius with Crichton’s sanity as the only real casualty; now, it’s no longer possible to walk away, because the line between the good days and the bad has become hopelessly blurred.
Still, at first very glance, “Suns And Lovers” fits right in as an inessential early-season Farscape episode. After all, the technical main plot of this episode involves a religious zealot who can aim space storms and can magnetize herself… somehow. This is the classic example of a storyline that really just serves to annoy the Moya crew; there are little hints in Justin Monjo’s script and Leeanna Walsman’s performance of the actual person behind Borlik’s threats and chants, but the episode isn’t interested in showing her sympathy or exploring her bizarre worldview. In a sense, this is how “Suns And Lovers” deals with the fact that it is indeed the season’s second episode, so de-escalation is necessary. After all, there really is no way that whatever Borlik does can compete with the kind of hell that Scorpius just visited on the shipmates. Cleansing herself and the heathens with the space storm is the most important thing in the universe to Borlik, but it barely rates a mention by Crichton and company’s recent standards.
At this point in the show’s run, that’s a sensible enough decision, and it’s a wiser option than whatever precisely it was that Farscape was attempting to do in “Vitas Mortis” and “Taking The Stone.” But it ends up blunting whatever impact the Borlik-centric plotline might have had. The episode attempts to offer some character moments for Aeryn and Zhaan, with the former refusing to abandon the stranded children—quite the departure from the coldly ruthless Peacekeeper we met all those years ago—and Zhaan refusing to abandon the mortally wounded Moordil, even as she herself struggles to steady herself. “Suns And Lovers” also attempts to move Aeryn and Crichton’s non-romance forward, as the former suggests they could have sex to relieve the tension. Any of this could be expanded into something weightier; Aeryn’s subplot in particular feels like it wants to say something about the character, but it’s all rather minor and oblique by Farscape’s standards. The “Suns” part of this episode is fine but forgettable. It’s the “Lovers” part that will punch you in the gut.
But let’s back up a bit, because there’s really no easy way to broach the topic of Chiana and Jothee having sex. There’s always a slight sense of expediency to this plot development, as though Farscape was straining to find a way to get Jothee off the show as quickly as possible; indeed, Gigi Edgley has since said that Matt Newton’s very busy schedule meant he had to exit the show sooner than the creative team had hoped. But it’s also a means to an end for the characters themselves, specifically Chiana. As she tells both Luxans toward the end of the episode, she had no interest in the bucolic existence D’Argo had planned for them, and so she conceived of this affair as a crime so unforgiveable that D’Argo would push her away forever. That tallies well with what we see in this episode, as there’s never any question just how much Chiana still cares for D’Argo, even after he rejects her; she genuinely loves him, even if she wants no part of his perfect life.
That’s a decent enough motivation, but I’m not sure it’s such a great twist that it has to go unrevealed until the very end of the episode. I say that because, up to that point, Chiana’s characterization is a mess; Farscape retains some sympathy for her throughout, but it’s difficult not to feel more for D’Argo. Indeed, in the absence of a clear motivation for Chiana, his paranoid jealousies can’t help but influence the viewer’s interpretation of the episode. His righteous if unreasoning anger positions Chiana as the bad guy in ways that might technically be fair—I mean, she did just have sex with his son—but carry some uncomfortable implications, as he projects onto her the image of a cruel, treacherous seductress that isn’t actually an accurate motivation of her thought processes.
Really though, part of the trouble is that, if “Suns And Lovers” belongs to any character, it’s D’Argo, not Chiana. If Crichton lost everything (again) over the course of the last two episodes, it’s now time for D’Argo to experience the most excruciating emotional agony, to the point that he comes dangerously close to committing suicide as part of his effort to free Moya. Honestly, D’Argo was long overdue for such a fall, even leaving aside how selfish he was in his quest to find Jothee last season. The shipmates all have the long-term dreams that keep them going—Crichton wants to go home, Rygel wants to reclaim his throne, and so on—and the short-term pleasures that make life on the run feel a little less miserable; yes, I’m mostly talking romance here, because there’s a very short list of ways a group of gender-balanced exiles can pass the time, especially when faced with ever-dwindling resources. D’Argo is unique in that he’s the only character who has gotten everything he wants, as he has both found love with Chiana and reunited with Jothee. His plans to go back to his farm indicate a Luxan who wishes to merge the two great joys of his life into one coherent existence; Farscape just chooses an achingly literal way for it all to blow up in his face.
The cruelty of this development only gets worse the more one thinks about it. After all, this is the same D’Argo who told a broken John to keep fighting in “Season Of Death” because Aeryn would have wanted him to go on. Sure, he’s a noble warrior, but he’s also a big old romantic at heart, and he derives such strength from the romantic bond he forged with Chiana and the paternal one he hoped to rediscover with Jothee. It’s wise to remember that D’Argo is still the Luxan equivalent of a teenager, and so much of what has happened to him since the big reunion in “Liars, Guns, And Money” has been about confronting him with the naiveté of expecting two complicated, damaged individuals to subordinate their own needs and desire to better fit into his vision of the perfect life. And honestly, D’Argo’s dream wasn’t such a bad one, as dreams go. But it wasn’t Jothee’s, and it sure as hell wasn’t Chiana’s. His inability to understand that doesn’t make him responsible for what happens in “Suns And Lovers,” but it goes an awfully long way toward explaining it.
- It’s remarkable just how odious Rygel truly is, considering the episode opens with him surreptitiously monitoring Chiana and Jothee’s lovemaking and never even bothers to call him out on it. At this point, Rygel’s depravity is just something we all take for granted.
- I can’t imagine I’m the first person to point this out, but still: If Luxans don’t like the cold, how the hell does D’Argo function so well in the subzero temperatures of, you know, outer space?
- I like just how angry Stark gets at Zhaan for hiding her ailments. He’s a tricky character, is Stark, but “Suns And Lovers” makes some nice use of his instability.
- Oh, right, new opening titles! I’ll admit that the third season titles are my least favorite of the show’s three versions, and there’s a solemness to the dual Crichtons’ narration that just don’t quite sit right with me. But it’s a pretty cool attempt at something different, which is always something I look for with Farscape. Seriously, it’s so damn good to be back.
Next week: Prepare for some “Self-Inflicted Wounds,” everyone. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more devastating.
“Frell me dead.”