Farscape: “Thanks For Sharing”/“Green Eyed Monster”/“Losing Time”
Lani Tupu (left), Claudia Black, Ben Browder
Lani Tupu (left), Claudia Black, Ben Browder

Farscape: “Thanks For Sharing”/“Green Eyed Monster”/“Losing Time”

So many Crichtons, so little time

“Thanks For Sharing” (season 3, episode 7; originally aired 6/15/2001)

(Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.)

“You’ve been lying to your daddy, boy, and you know you shouldn’t lie to your daddy. It’s gonna stop. Who’s your daddy? C’mon, you know who your daddy is. Who’s your daddy? D’Argo, tell him who his daddy is.” “I’m your daddy!”

The major selling point of “Thanks For Sharing” is that it’s the one episode where we get to see the two John Crichtons interact before the two head off on their respective ships. As it turns out, the episode doesn’t end up doing quite as much with this hook as one might expect, as a good chunk of the episode features just the one Crichton attempting to negotiate the trade of chromextin. Sure, there’s a switch halfway through the episode, but anyone hoping Farscape would play up the more mindbending, even the more farcical elements of our hero’s doubling is going to come away a little disappointed. Some of that comes down to logistics, I imagine: There may be two Crichtons, but there’s still only one Ben Browder, and an episode with a necessarily limited budget is going to have to be selective about how often it shows the two Johns next to each other.

Indeed, viewed that way, it’s clear just how carefully the show approaches which scenes should feature both Crichtons. The opening scene, in which the pair bicker like they’re in a demented Abbott and Costello routine, plays like the show is essentially telling the audience to get all the laughs out of their system and enjoy the silliness of the premise while they still can, because the show intends to play the scenario straight from the on. Their cooperation when dealing with Rinic Tolven’s missiles is a nice bit of foreshadowing of their eventually permanent moves to the separate ships, and the structure of the scene is useful in understanding a point that the show has been making over and over again since “Eat Me”: There really isn’t any difference between the two Crichtons. One took the lead in threatening Rinic Pralanoth because he happened to be on the gunship at the time, while the other helped out in Moya. If their places had been reversed, there’s really zero reason to think it would have played out any differently.

For all that, there’s still the temptation to think that the two respond to crises in different ways, however subtle those differences might be. The closest point of comparison is in the Johns’ dealings with the Rinics, in which the second John comes across as slightly more unhinged than the first, who sticks to slightly more straightforward assurances—and, when the assurances don’t work, threats. But that’s a false dichotomy, really, as it relies on the silly assumption that characters only ever respond to situations in one specific way. That’s not how humans work, and it ideally isn’t how characters on television shows work either. If “Thanks For Sharing” were rewritten with only the one Crichton, there would be nothing surprising about his shifting response to the planet’s ruling family. Crichton contains multitudes, so both of the twins do as well, and if the last three cycles in the Uncharted Territories have taught him anything, it’s that there’s precious little value in patience.

Perhaps the better takeaway here isn’t that the Crichtons are either different or the same, but rather that the second Crichton does appear genuinely aggrieved by the attack on the first. The real journey for the Crichtons in this episode is their realization that both versions of them are equally valid. The episode’s other big split-screen scene—one handled so niftily that it’s easy to forget that Ben Browder can’t possibly have filmed both of his parts simultaneously—features one John deciding to donate his blood to the other, explicitly accepting that this other man has a right to exist. The wounded John woozily questions the other’s decision, pointing out that his death would make things easier for everyone. The healthy Crichton’s response is telling: He doesn’t deny the soundness of that logic, but he also can’t bring himself to let his twin die. I won’t pretend that we know even remotely enough about the psychology of a situation like this to really be able to read his reaction, but it’s interesting to consider both Crichtons’ responses in the aggregate.

John Crichton has been through so much, committed so many questionable acts, and just generally suffered and caused suffering in such equal measures that he no longer cares much about his own continued existence; Crichton may not always be wracked with self-loathing, but I’d wager he has his days. But even if he struggles with his own self-worth, his compassion does remain, even buried under layers of cynicism and trauma. Taken together, it makes so much tragic sense that Crichton would simultaneously accept his death and refuse to allow the death of another being—even if, paradoxically, that other being is him—all in the same moment. Meanwhile, it’s revealing that the other shipmates focus far more immediately on Jool’s potential compatibility as a donor, even when the obvious solution really ought to be staring them in the face. Yes, it’s possible that they have momentarily forgotten that there’s another Crichton—the potential death of one might well serve to temporarily blot out the existence of the spare—but it’s also possible that their honest opinion is that Crichton probably wouldn’t act to save his twin’s life. Whether that indicates their current poor opinion of their human friend, or the shipmates’ generally dim view of people, is an open question.

But then, the shipmates are given a fresh set of reasons to distrust people here. To borrow a phrase, Farscape has never been particularly interested in seeking out new life and strange civilizations, if only because said life and said civilizations invariably want to kill them. What has changed is the kind of role the Moya shipmates slip into whenever they do travel to a new planet. These aren’t precisely the same scenarios, but one could draw a rough line from “Thank God It’s Friday, Again” to “Look At The Princess” to “Thanks For Sharing.” That early first season episode presents the shipmates as overwhelmed pawns in a much larger game, even if they do literally end up taking an explosive piss on the situation; the mid-second season three-parter increases the characters’ agency significantly, but Crichton still finds himself in situations where he can be killed for annoying the wrong person. These days, it’s Crichton that would-be despots would be wise to not piss off. Maybe Crichton and company didn’t change; it’s the planets that got small.

Consider the stranit. At the outset, it’s the latest instrument of Crichton’s torture, an object that is only not completely terrifying because Tolven is so obsessed with proving Crichton’s role in the petty local politics that he never bothers to ask any of the legitimately tricky questions. The presence of a second Crichton means that it’s at least possible that this John could die during interrogation, but it’s hard to take such a threat seriously when Tolven is so obviously on the wrong track. The second Crichton and D’Argo’s visit to the Rinics’ office starts out as a great, rousingly Farscape sort of moment, complete with the tremendous “I’m your Daddy!” riff. But we’re so far past the point where the show is going to give us a scene like that and let it end well. Just as Tolven fundamentally misjudged the nature of Crichton’s culpability, so too does Crichton err on the precise nature of Tolven’s misdeed. We learn that he never took any action against the shipmates that he wouldn’t proudly admit to, but his lone subterfuge was rather more basic: He cannot honestly reply that he is a good and loyal son, and that’s ultimately why the stranit plunges a fatal tentacle into his skull.

Back in early stories like “Thank God It’s Friday, Again,” visits to alien worlds meant that the crew had to fight hard to avoid being trampled underfoot by the absurd machinations unfolding around them. These days, the shipmates don’t know their own strength, figuratively speaking, and they haven’t quite grasped the fact that Moya’s reputation as a ship of death might be well-earned. Again, there’s a temptation to go overboard here in assigning blame—it was Pranaloth who pushed his son for an answer, after all, and it was they, not Crichton, who deployed a stranit in interrogations in the first place—but, whatever the outside manipulations, it was still Crichton who initiated that final, fatal interrogation. At this point, he’s been burned so many times that he no longer recognizes when he’s playing with fire.

Stray observations:

  • The episode tweaks the audience’s expectations of a plot featuring two Crichtons with the replacement of Rinic Sarova with the shape-shifter. It’s kind of great that both of the individuals injured by the explosion are replaced by duplicates—and the Crichton swap isn’t even the important one! 
  • For those who feel I didn’t talk enough about Aeryn here—in the sense that I’m pretty sure I didn’t talk about her at all—fear not, because “Green Eyed Monster” is coming up. But I’ll say right now that it’s great to actually see the visuals of the young Aeryn’s one and only encounter with her mother.
  • It’s always great to see Rygel in diplomatic mode, because it’s good to be reminded he’s actually good for something occasionally.
  • I’d say this episode features the best use yet of Jool, namely that of the ship’s pissed off, vaguely hostage-like chief medical officer.

“Green Eyed Monster” (season 3, episode 8; originally aired 6/22/2001)

(Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.)

“Mother always said I’d die from incompetence! I finally know what she meant! That’s why we keep people like you chained in the first place!”

The twinning of John Crichton had an unexpected side effect, at least in the short term: It doubled the man, but it halved the protagonist. As much as “Thanks For Sharing” offers plenty to talk about with respect to Crichton—I mean, you hopefully just read the review, so you know I’m not kidding—but there’s an odd stretch in that episode where the presence of two Johns makes it hard to focus fully on either one. Crichton is present throughout the story, but the audience, perhaps subconsciously, is more inclined to hold both of him at arm’s length, if only because any character development for one Crichton won’t necessarily be reflected on the other. The twinning puts Crichton in stasis for that episode, and so there’s a section where protagonist duties effectively fall to Farscape’s next most dynamic character: Officer Aeryn Sun. Both “Thanks For Sharing” and now this story lean into her heightened importance with the reveal of her mother Xhalax Sun as the leader of the retrieval squad and the return of Crais, who is just as infatuated with her as ever he was (well, at least since he learned that she was a person who existed, which happened right around the time she took him for a spin in the Aurora Chair).

After all, we go from an episode in which each Crichton is not in sole possession of his own identity to one in which he is an unwelcome presence on his own ship. When I talk about the characters on Moya, I try to refer to them as shipmates, rather than crewmates, because a huge point of Farscape is that this randomly thrown together band of fugitives is in no real sense a crew. But the term feels far more valid when discussing those on board the gunship Talyn. That’s especially true when one considers that three of them are Peacekeepers, people who are bred for war and trained to follow commands: Crais, Aeryn, and Talyn himself. “Green Eyed Monster” smartly places Stark and Rygel off to the side so that we can focus on how just Crichton fits in with this newly formed band of Peacekeepers. If Moya scenes play as a deeply twisted, only barely recognizable spin on the exploration aspects of Star Trek and other space operas, then these Talyn scenes play as a similarly demented but far more familiar take on those shows’ militaristic elements. There’s suddenly the semblance of a chain of command, and Crichton very specifically has no place in it, at least as far as both Crais and Talyn are concerned. Crichton’s place here feels vulnerable and precarious, even before we learn the damn ship is trying to kill him. Indeed, the in-universe implications of his narrative isolation help explain why he’s so receptive to Talyn’s doctored tape of Aeryn and Crais.

Crais and Talyn are difficult characters to work out in “Green Eyed Monster,” not least of which because it’s explicitly left unclear just who is controlling whom. Talyn’s murderous impulses toward Crichton could be a manifestation of his Peacekeeper xenophobia, or a manifestation of Crais’ own feelings, or the ship’s own feelings toward the nasty, inconvenient human. The middle option reflects most poorly on Captain Crais, but I suspect that’s a little too straightforward. Crais defies easy categorization; even at his most villainous and unstable phase in the first season, there were signs of anguish and trauma that suggested he genuinely never intended to be the man he became. Years on, Crais and Talyn have formed both the best and the worst of all possible relationships; the pair both give each other the strength needed to go on, yet both feeds into the other’s naturally paranoid, even violent inclinations. It’s entirely like that each is only alive because of the other, yet the lesions on Crais’ skin make it clear just how poisonous their relationship fundamentally it is. It’s one of several character-based paradoxes in an episode positively bursting with them.

But what of Aeryn? “Green Eyed Monster” doesn’t necessarily offer much clarity on what Aeryn wants, except to confirm just how little clarity she has. She genuinely wants Crichton by her side when she prepares to join with Talyn, and her feelings endure beyond his tantrums and his verbal attacks to the extent that she can still show Talyn what it means to need someone. But it’s hard to get away from that final scene, in which Aeryn lists all of Crichton’s prodigious shortcomings—he helpfully volunteers “dumb”—and notes just how thoroughly he has ruined her life. Even when allowing for the fugitives’ uniquely close quarters, Aeryn likely feels that, if she were being entirely rational, she would have long ago left Crichton, but she just can’t.

That in and of itself is a sign of growth; it takes its own kind of maturity to deal with such uncertainty. The Aeryn we met in “Premiere”—the Aeryn we knew for a good chunk of the first season, with occasional relapses after that—had no ability to deal with ideas or emotions that did not fit her narrow worldview; the flashbacks in “The Way We Weren’t” revealed she was capable of emotional complexity even before she was irreversibly contaminated, but even then she only exhibited such characters in strict accordance with her Peacekeeper training. Crichton’s initial belief in her, that promise that she could be more, was a crucial part of her growth, but she has long since surpassed the lessons that Crichton—this damaged Crichton, especially—could ever hope to teach her. It’s perhaps less than ideal that this episode and the show in general still play out such a big chunk of Aeryn’s stories through the prism of her relationship with John, but a key innovation of this Talyn story relative to what we’ve seen before is that Aeryn now sits at the crux of the story. Crichton looks just as foolish and petty as Crais or Talyn in his overtures to Aeryn, while her exasperation with the conduct of those around her is universal. Again, with John very much positioned as the outsider—literally at one climactic point—the story relies on Aeryn in a way that few recent episodes have.

More generally, this increased focus on Aeryn Sun allows Farscape to begin sketching out a new storytelling identity for itself after a second season—particularly a back half of the second season—that was so overwhelmingly concerned with Scorpius and wormholes. John and Aeryn’s relationship has always been important to Farscape’s overall narrative structure, but the show has never really been interested in sustaining a genuine romantic story; “Look At The Princess” probably came closest, and John and Aeryn’s story there was defined by the time spent apart, not together. Always, Scorpius would prove the more important presence in John’s life, regardless of what he actually wanted; “Die Me, Dichotomy” took quite sadistic glee in having the Harvey-controlled Crichton share declarations of love with Aeryn as just another part of his gambit. But now, Scorpius is gone, at least temporarily, and so the show has to sort out just what John and Aeryn actually mean to each other when distractions are, if not exactly removed—Talyn is both stuck in a budong and trying to kill Crichton, after all—then at least reduced. There’s enough time between crises in “Green Eyed Monster” for Crichton and Aeryn to finally have a chance to talk, and the results are seldom anything good.

“Green Eyed Monster” was Ben Browder’s first television script, and it’s a fine effort. His episode reveals the kind of intense understanding of character that he and his fellow actors display in interviews and commentaries; it’s only fitting that the show’s star be asked to articulate in unprecedented detail the true nature of Aeryn and Crichton’s feelings for each other. As ever, Farscape is hesitant to give its characters all but the narrowest of victories, especially in an emotional context. Crichton doesn’t so much respond to Aeryn’s frustrations—I’m not sure there even is a legitimate response—as he does deflect it, telling her that she is his constant in both a cosmic and an interpersonal sense. It’s a heartfelt sentiment, but his words are complicated by the fact that this John Crichton doesn’t always act like a man tethered to any coherent reality. The reasons for that are complex; after all, Crichton put himself in a place to be driven mad because his refusal to let Aeryn die led him to break into a Gammak base, yet that dramatic rescue was only made necessary because his human arrogance led him to think he could fool a bunch of elite Peacekeepers in “A Bug’s Life.” The trouble with Crichton has always been that, for all his heroism, he’s just a little too damn good at being the architect of his own destruction. On the rare occasion that he doesn’t wake up in a self-destructive mood, the universe is all too happy to take its best shot at him. With Talyn and “Green Eyed Monster,” that just happens to be a rather more literal phenomenon.

Stray observations:

  • Rygel and Stark only have so much to do in this episode—though Rygel does have some great lines, as you can see up top—but this episode is rather instructive in terms of how Stark fits into a given story. Basically, whenever the show needs someone to have a bit of random but very convenient knowledge, they give it to Stark. Of course he’s a budong expert. What lets the show get away with this is the fact that he’s usually too addled and crazed to be particularly useful to anyone.
  • The full extent of Talyn’s powers can really only be guessed at here—he appears to be able to mimic Crais’ voice over the comm channel, though it’s kind of odd that that detail just sort of gets glossed over. Either way, this is one ship that apparently spends a crazy amount of its spare time generating and editing fake sex tapes. Only on Farscape, I guess. Though one can only imagine how disappointed Moya would be if she found out what her son were up to.
  • I don’t really have any massively profound insight here, but I just want to point out how great it is that Lani Tupu portrays both of the Leviathans’ pilots.

“Losing Time” (season 3, episode 9; originally aired 6/29/2001)

(Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.)

“So let’s make a deal. You turn the ship around, head back to your cluster, we’ll tell you where the Rider is, and you two can play ‘Pick The Friendly Alien’ in your neighborhood.” “How do I know one of you is not infected? That this is not the Rider’s plan?” “It’s not, believe me. This plan is so bad, it has to be ours.”

After so many series-redefining episodes to kick off its third year, “Losing Time” feels like a more minor effort, a throwback of sorts to the kind of story Farscape used to tell in its second season, perhaps even its first. While Aeryn and the Talyn Crichton are forced to work through some difficult emotions and reach new levels of understanding of each other, the Moya Crichton finds himself at a loose end, desperately trying to convince his increasingly surly shipmates that a wormhole is right around the next star. The interpersonal dynamics are so much simpler on Moya than they are on Talyn; on the other ship, John is in close quarters with the person he loves most and the person—other than Scorpius, presumably—he hates most, but here John is just spending his days with a bunch of friends… and Jool. Subtracting Aeryn from the narrative equation allows Farscape to tell simpler stories than would otherwise be possible this late in its development, and “Losing Time” ends up feeling like a breath of fresh air. I wouldn’t want every Farscape episode to be like this, but it’s possible that more emotionally complex and demanding stories like “Green Eyed Monster” benefit from this kind of counterweight.

You have to squint a little bit, but the Moya team as currently constituted does resemble the original configuration, minus Rygel: Crichton and D’Argo remain themselves, while Chiana and Jool are vague analogues for the roles that Aeryn and Zhaan played in the show’s first dozen or so episodes. The overriding difference is just how much more irritable everyone is, and it’s not as though the shipmates were exactly models of equanimity in the early going. It’s not just that D’Argo and Chiana are frustrated with Crichton, but rather that they’re frustrated with the very fact that they again have to be frustrated with him; we’re dealing with second-, maybe even third-derivative annoyance here. There’s no particular future waiting for either of John’s friends, but they at least can feel relatively certain that nothing is ever, ever going to happen while they let John search fruitlessly for wormholes. Much as Crichton helped Aeryn be a better person before he himself was broken, so too did Crichton help D’Argo and Chiana discover better parts of themselves that they thought were lost. That makes it all the more difficult for them to see a friend descend into obsession and self-absorption, especially when they know that this Crichton is keenly aware that he might be the inferior duplicate, if for no other reason than the other version is where he truly wants to be.

The introduction of the two energy riders almost serves as a relief under such circumstances, as it wasn’t as though anyone here was going to have a good day anyway. There are flashes of the Crichton of old here—anytime he busts out a double-barred, Star Wars turned Star Trek reference, you know John is feeling his oats—as he enlists Moya’s direct assistance to help free Pilot from Tallip’s control. After the fiendish convolutions of “Self-Inflicted Wounds,” the narrative simplicity of “Losing Time” is a definite plus; each energy rider has a story to tell of the other’s evil ways, but it turns out that both are pretty damn corrupt. It’s very quickly understood what the shipmates’ goals are—figure out which of them is carrying the fugitive, then get Tallip to leave Pilot—and it’s endearing just how completely they realize how inadequate they are to the task at hand. Crichton’s proposal to Tallip doesn’t really even vaguely make sense, and it’s hard to argue with D’Argo’s assessment that only they could have come up with a plan this bad. There’s plenty of failure here, including D’Argo launches a futile frontal assault on the Tallip-controlled Pilot, but it’s kind of a relief just to let the shipmates fail in a relatively consequence-free environment. That said, this episode does involve a plan that prominently relies on a barely conscious Chiana fleeing a massive explosion. By the ship’s current standards, the fact that everyone makes it out of this in one piece automatically qualifies “Losing Time” as one of the good days.

Before moving on to the other major plotline of this episode, we need to talk about sex. The rider-controlled Chiana’s seduction of Crichton lets Farscape play around with its most obvious unexplored sexual pairing without actually having to commit to something serious; the rider claims that it brings pleasure where Tallip brings pain, but there’s also more than a little hint that Crichton particularly enjoys the sensation because of which particular body the rider has chosen. In any event, the capper to that particular scene—which finds Crichton walking away from the neural cluster, loudly muttering to himself about the experience he has just had—is a hilarious bit of acting from Ben Browder, and the entire sequence is a huge showcase for Gigi Edgley, who somehow manages to play a massively more alien and massively more sexualized version of her already pretty damn alien and sexualized character without the whole thing collapsing into self-parody.

If there’s any downside to all this, it’s that the energy rider’s seduction of Crichton adds to the generally laddish atmosphere of the episode. I mentioned earlier that this quartet feels like a translation of the original set; that parallel works, but Aeryn and Zhaan were far stronger individuals than Chiana and Jool are, and both were rather more capable of pushing back against Crichton and D’Argo when they threatened to run roughshod over a situation. I’d say “Losing Time” isn’t overly compromised by such issues, but this is a topic definitely worth returning to for next week’s Moya-set episode.

Elsewhere, in the midst of this relatively—and I do mean relatively—more lighthearted adventure on Moya, Farscape gets to take us back to Scorpius; whatever epic storytelling stakes are absent from the Moya story are more than made up for by his presence. The scene in which he discusses the Scarran threat with Braca provides the audience with the clearest sense yet of just why Scorpius has gone to such extraordinary lengths and committed so many unforgivable transgressions to get where he is—assuming that one doesn’t just think Scorpius has done all this for his own personal evil ends. The scenes set aboard the command carrier suggest a more general ambiguity about Scorpius’ character; if one were feeling inordinately charitable toward him, one might interpret his initial reluctance to follow Drillic’s recommendations as a sign of genuine concern for the welfare of the test pilot under his command, and his de facto execution of the project leader as a further sign of anger for having sent a man to his death.

Perhaps. I’m not exactly convinced by that interpretation, but Wayne Pygram plays Scorpius at so many different levels that it can’t be ruled out, and, for all the character’s ruthlessness, he has generally shown himself a more considerate commander of men than Crais ever did. But all that assumes that Scorpius is a character who could be cowed by Drillic, even for a moment, or that he is someone who would prioritize the safety of one Peacekeeper pilot over the completion of his mission, and “Season Of Death” already rather emphatically showed us that wasn’t the case. There’s a very real possibility that everything that happens after Drillic opens his big mouth—the melting of the pilot, the punishment of Drillic, the promotion of Co-Kura Strappa—unfolds precisely as Scorpius calculated that it would. That too might be giving Scorpius too much credit, ascribing to him a degree of omnipotence that even he can’t actually wield. But for Scorpius and his search for wormhole technologies, there have always been two types of problems: John Crichton, and then everything else. Thus far, one of those two has been solvable… and the other looks pretty good in a black T shirt.

Stray observations:

  • As anyone who has heard Crais speak probably already knows, the voice that Lani Tupu used for the Tallip-possessed Pilot is much closer to his natural voice. Also, it’s remarkable just how much a lighting change and some slightly altered expressions and movements can make the Pilot puppet look like a completely different entity.
  • I realize I keep consigning Jool to the stray observations, but I will give credit for another pretty good use of her, as she tries and mostly fails to take the possessed Chiana prisoner. She’s a difficult character, in that she’s very clearly meant to annoy the frell out of everyone, but I mostly like the ways in which the show has developed that admittedly irritating concept thus far.

Next week: We go back to the normal two-episode clip (thank goodness) with a pair of crucial, family-centric episodes, “Relativity” and “Incubator.”

Filed Under: TV, Farscape

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