Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [4.11] – “Unrealized Reality”

Today, on Farscape

“Time.”
“…”
“Time.”
“Is up?”
“Time.”
“Flies.”
“Time.”
“Bandits.”
“Time.”
“Wounds all heels.”
“Time?”
“Rosemary and thyme.”
Time!
Is up!

While on a spacewalk to experience the opening of a wormhole up close, John is sucked into the vortex where he’s confronted by an interdimensional being who wants to kill him to prevent wormhole knowledge from being misused.


Noel

Have you heard of my new band, Permanent Unrealized Reality?

This is another one of those episodes that’s largely remembered because it let the cast and crew cut a little loose and come up with some wild gags and imagery; in this case, everyone getting to step into each other’s roles. It starts with Claudia Black doing such a freakishly dead-on Chiana that, had John not called it out right up front that, I wonder how long it would have taken people to catch on to the fact that something is different. Not only is the squeaky mewl of the voice identical, but Black absolutely nails the physicality, with the constantly taut stance and random flares of movement and head motions. Not to knock Black, who’s certainly fit, but it can’t be easy stepping into a role so physically defined by an actress who’s a top class acrobat and martial artist. Then we get into the later scene where the whole crew is all over the place. The Rygel puppet has been decked out with the beard and and tentacles of D’Argo, with Jonathan Hardy building up a warrior’s rumble in the voice. Anthony Simcoe knocks it out of the park as Jool, prancing about, being a diva, and doing the scream. Raelee Hill plays up the crazy and rants left and right as Stark, though I’m a bit disappointed they kept her skin makeup as if to suggest Sikozu herself had become Stark, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Gigi Edgley perfectly captures the deep gaze, elvish smile, and gentle motion of Noranti, and the prosthetic cheeks they added make her visually almost indistinguishable from the real thing, but her voice is the same as always, which is a little jarring when she shares the scene with Claudia Black, who’s still mimicking that voice perfectly. The only one I don’t care for is Melissa Jaffer as Rygel. Not only is the makeup bad, but neither the actress nor the crew really know what to do with the character, so she just kinda wanders around in an odd, forced pose, burping out a line or two.

I like how the plot finally provides an origin for the Ancients, that they’re offshoots of creatures from another dimension specifically engineered to operate in our space, which intersects with theirs through the wormholes. John’s meeting with the being he calls Einstein quite resembles Captain Sisko’s introduction to the Prophets in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, especially the constant flashes of people from John’s memories, but while the Prophets didn’t understand linear time, the Ancient Ancestors know it all too well and Einstein starts to fill John in on the implications of what it means to cross the streams. None of this works for me. The series seems to be having its cake and eating it too by saying there’s an infinite amount of branching possibilities out there, but treating it as though it’s still a singular timeline that can be severely repurcussed by John returning to a space before he left it. If there’s branching possibilities, that suggests multiple time streams and alternate universe, which means he wouldn’t be be altering the time stream at all, merely leaving one and entering another. If he returned to a spot before he left, he wouldn’t really be in the same spot, he’d be creating an alternate spot to exist in where that plays out as it would while the spot he left continues on in its own way. And it wouldn’t be some crazy alternate dimension, it would be the same as the one he left, but with the one little difference of his arrival at the point he showed up. The episode also suggests that the wormholes, instead of merely being vortexes in the rips between space and time, can actually be affected by will alone, and that all John has to do to reach a desired location is to click his heals together three times and think about it really really hard. In what way does this line up with our prior experience with wormholes? Sure, adding the time element increases the already near impossibility of mapping the wormhole network, but never before has anyone who entered a wormhole been shown to appear somewhere simply because they pictured it in their head. It’s trying to be all metaphysical and shit, but it comes off childish and lazy and doesn’t sell to me at all. And, dammit, how can an Unrealized Reality be Permanent? Wouldn’t that just make it a Realized Reality? Is Permanent truly a necessary addition?

And then we return to the sequences of Moya’s cast switching their parts. It’s fun, yes, but I don’t get it. How would John returning to a time shortly before he entered it cause all of his fellow shipmates to psychically exchange their identities? How would it make him a Peacekeeper interrogating a lethal Sikozu? I don’t frelling understand! I love him arriving at his first introduction to the crew, I love the alterations of his first meeting with Aeryn, I love the idea of an alternate world where one single choice resulted in him being an inside man that Crais uses to take down the ship full of escapees, so why couldn’t we play this angle up? Why couldn’t we instead see these alternate versions of familiar events where a single choice leads to a completely different outcome? Wouldn’t that better nail home the message to John about consequences and decisions and being careful what you step in because you never know what stain you’ll leave as you track it onto a carpet? Instead, we just hit him with random nonsense. It’s fun nonsense, it’s very Farscape nonsense, but it’s having so much fun being nonsense that it’s not serving the story or the message this particular episode is trying to tell. Instead of elevating the material or coming out of it naturally, it’s jarring and ultimately weakens the story.

So, no, I can’t say as I like this episode. It’s beautifully directed, the cast is great, I love seeing the cast in everyone else’s parts and the sit-down interviews with people, both new and previously introduced, from John’s life, the opening is great, Einstein is wonderful, and the tiny iceberg setting is simple, but stark and memorable, but I don’t get the other stuff. I don’t get what they’re trying to do with wormholes. I don’t get their vision of alternate possibilities. I don’t get the way they hammer these consequences home to John. It just plain doesn’t work for me.

Maybe there’s an unrealized reality out there where I do get it. Some branching, parallel dimension where I’m suddenly played by Tessa.


Weston

There’s a lot going on in this episode. Let me see if I can break it down.

Once upon a time, there was a boy named John. John went into the space program, became an astronaut, and got shot through a wormhole. Hijinks ensued, and then someone messed around with time travel resulting in…

Once upon a time, there was a boy named John. He was a jerk. Nobody liked him, and Caroline says he was terrible in bed. Through sheer talent, and having nothing to do with effort, he became an astronaut. He got shot through a wormhole and messed around with time travel, resulting in…

Once upon a time, there was a boy named John. He was completely unmemorable, nothing interesting happened around him. But someone messed around with time travel, resulting in…

Once upon a time, there was a boy named John. He died very young, well before his mother passed from cancer. Then someone messed around with time travel, resulting in…

Once upon a time, there was a boy named John. He got shot through a wormhole, joined the Peacekeepers, was promoted to Captain over Braca, and shot a Scarran spy named Sikozu. Then someone messed around with time travel, resulting in…

Once upon a time, there was a boy named John. He was born several centuries after Earth was subjugated by the Scarran Empire, and an unsuited Scorpius was his father. A father… who burned hot dogs.

Okay, that last one is terrifying. What is demonstrated here is the true power of a wormhole weapon: Not the ability to destroy planets or star systems, but the capacity to rewrite your own history. Or someone else’s history. To eliminate your enemies before they even know they’re your enemy. If two opposing forces develop these devices simultaneously, you could wind up with a full fledged Time War.

Unrealized realities are could-have-beens, potential results from alternative choices. They don’t exist until someone takes a right turn at Albuquerque and winds up in Mexico with Wayne Pygram playing Jack. It’s the Back To The Future model. The person with the time machine controls the single timeline that’s “on”, but there are thousands or millions of alternate universes where everyone has goatees. Possible, but non-existent. All it takes to trigger a shift onto one of those parallel lines is one time traveler arriving at a previous point within their own lifetime.

But. Should events be matched closely enough to course, time has a way of preserving major outcomes. Time is resilient, permitting minor alterations while remaining largely intact. Harvey knew this. He’d cracked the Ancients’ code, but didn’t tell Crichton, and was unable to transfer the cracked data to Scorpius’ neural chip. Unfortunate that he isn’t around to soak Crichton’s wrath.

Einstein takes a different tack to unlock Crichton’s wormhole knowledge than Jack. Where Jack killed Harvey and releases the memories manually, Einstein forces Crichton to open them up himself. It manifests as the voices of people Crichton’s known, people who know him, voices that advise him on how wormhole navigation works. The key moment comes when he realizes that he can interact with them, ask them questions, and get real answers. With what he learns on the iceberg, Crichton gains the ability to not only properly surf wormholes, but bodysurf them.

I’ve been waiting to say “wormhole bodysurfing” for a year and a half. Mmmmm.

Noel’s right about the mix-and-match crew – it’s bonkers and amazing. I’ve always pictured it as a worse form of the body-switcheroo, or maybe they let NamTar play Lego genetics. Either way, everyone but Crichton got tossed in a blender. We never see what Zhaan and Aeryn wound up looking like, though given the options remaining I suspect that Stark wound up in Zhaan’s blue makeup and Aeryn got Sikozu’s red hair and makeup.

One moment, I need to imagine Aeryn with wavy red hair.

Meanwhile, back on the ship: Aeryn (with regular straight black hair) is reading T’John’s starchart and practicing her English with the word “existence”. D’Argo found Crichton’s drug stash and calls him out on taking anything Noranti Nana Peepers creates. Sikozu and Scorpius formalize their relationship with an alliance, and she tweaks his new coolant rods. Rygel regrows his mustache and eyebrows and chats with Pilot about taking Moya down a wormhole.

This is the episode that convinced me that Crichton’s first trip through a wormhole hadn’t just propelled him through space, but it also dropped him in the distant future. A point long after humanity had expanded into the galaxy and become Peacekeepers.

In conclusion: “Time.”


Tessa

This is a really interesting example of an episode where almost everything is great, and yet the overall package is a little off. The acting is phenomenal, the dialogue is great, the scenery is great, the visuals are fantastic, the humor is Farscape’s usual wackiness… so what exactly goes wrong? I have to agree with Noel that the problem lies in the basis of the entire episode being on a flawed concept, which drags what should be a spectacular episode down to just okay.

Before I get into all that, though, I want to touch on the good parts of this episode, because there were an awful lot. We’ve talked about the actors on Farscape being incredibly adept at not only their own roles, but being able to slip into each other’s characters as well. Claudia Black plays Chiana so well that it didn’t even dawn on me at first that it wasn’t Gigi Edgely in the first alternate-universe hop. The other character-swaps almost play out more as parodies of the characters, but they’re still incredibly fun to watch and well-acted. Anthony Simcoe in particular is incredibly fun to watch go totally nuts as Jool, and he plays the hell out of the part.

I love the “Einstein” character, this ethereal old-ish man in a suit who is making an attempt to look human and familiar, and yet he’s instantly recognizable as being something other than human. I like the explanation that the Ancients are an offshoot of his species that adapted to live in our dimension, specifically so they could keep an eye on what people were learning about wormholes… and yet, this doesn’t exactly match up with what the Ancients actually did earlier in the series, as they seemed far more concerned with their own survival, and other than John, they didn’t really check up on anyone else that was looking into wormhole tech (Furlow is sort of incidentally stumbled upon while fake-Jack is looking for John, and there’s no evidence that the Ancients even glanced in Scorpius’ direction despite all of his work on wormhole technology). I kind of wonder if maybe the Ancients lost track of their original purpose at some point, possibly even forgetting where they originally came from, or simply abandoned their mission once their lives were put in danger.

For all of the wackiness and humor involved, there’s also some seriously creepy moments going on in some of the alternate realities. Sikozu is genuinely terrifying as an enemy, and things about her that we didn’t necessarily see as threatening in the past (such as her ability to simply walk up walls) suddenly becomes extremely scary when she’s the monster killing a room full of people. Her hissing delivery of the line “Weak species” sent chills down my spine. With the scene on Moya at the beginning of the episode where she seems to enter into a closer alliance with Scorpius, I almost have to wonder if we maybe aren’t getting a little peek at what could potentially come out of her character down the road if things stack up to put her in opposition with the rest of the crew.

That, however, doesn’t even hold a candle to the extremely unsettling and almost nightmarish scenario where the Earth has been conquered by the Scarrans for some time, and humans don’t quite look human anymore as a result. It’s not a post-apocalyptic setting, or even a particularly oppressive looking one, it’s a very simple sunny day on a dock with John’s now very Scorpius-like father (Wayne Pygram is fantastic in the role, incidentally) is having a barbecue. It’s a perfectly normal scene, that plays out as if nothing is wrong… except for little things just feeling very wrong. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought the most unsettling part of the whole thing was “Jack” holding up a charred hot dog that has caught on fire and offering it to John, with no acknowledgement from either one of them that something was wrong with the situation. It was flashed to multiple times, and I can’t really tell if it was intended to be funny or disturbing (possibly both), but it was by far the scariest scene for me in the episode.

So, where does this episode fall short? It’s almost entirely in the basic concepts. For one, I love the idea of alternate universes, and I really like the premise of this episode, but we don’t get enough time in any one of the alternate realities to really explore the concept. I’m with Noel in being fascinated with the version of events that puts him in cahoots with Crais to bring down Moya and crew from the inside, but we barely get to see any of that angle, because the wacky character swapping takes front and center and distracts from what’s actually going on. Which, I guess, was partially the point, but I would actually have liked to see that version of events in a lot more depth. I almost wish that rather than plopping John in and out of multiple universes and times, that they had just picked one and let us see things fleshed out more and taken seriously.

That’s not to say that I don’t like the character swapping, because that has some of the more funny bits of the episode and features some really great performances, but I kind of wish they had separated it into its own thing as opposed to tying it to one of the more interesting potential realities. It’s almost a throw away joke to start with, why not just go all the way and do a quick “and in this universe everyone is a different person” thing? Part of the problem with it, I think, is that we do start out so subtle with the change, with Claudia Black’s Chiana being nearly indistinguishable from Gigi Edgely’s, only to dive headfirst into the other characters, who are anything but subtle about their differences. It’s a concept that starts out as something that can be taken seriously, but takes a sudden turn towards the nonsensical. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own, but once we start getting invested in the idea, effectively pulling the rug out from under us at the halfway point (and then attempting to slide it back under our feet at the end with what’s otherwise a very interesting twist) is more than a little jarring.

And then we have the wormholes. The effective dues ex machina of the series. It’s a little frustrating that the rules by which the wormholes work by keep changing to fit the narrative. I don’t mind the addition of new complexities to the wormholes themselves as much (after all, part of the whole point is that they aren’t understood), but the continuity throughout the show in regards to wormhole travel is terrible.

For one, the physical dangers involved in wormhole travel (which themselves seemed to come out of nowhere in Season 3 seeing as prior to that they had never been mentioned) appears to have gone out the window. The original explanation was both that there was something special about Crichton’s module, as well as “added finesse” involved in flying through a wormhole that made it safe from being liquefied while traveling in one. Neither of those concepts apply when John gets sucked in on his own, with only a space suit protecting him. By the previous set wormhole rules, he shouldn’t have survived the trip. Not to mention that the added complexities of wormholes traveling space, time, and (apparently) alternate universes mean that every prior trip through a wormhole has been paired with astronomical strokes of good luck, since probability-wise the number of trips taken through wormholes (most of them blind trips) and winding up back in the place, time, and universe intended every time is phenomenally low.

That said, I don’t have as much of an issue with the idea of John being able to navigate his way through in the way presented to him at the end. I took it as less of a willpower thing and more that John’s been subconsciously “cataloging” coordinates in his head while traveling in wormholes (which I suppose post-Ancients encounter could be the hand-wave for making it out of other wormholes, although that still leaves the Pathfinder incident unexplained). It’s a little overly convenient, but not any less believable than most of the plot device that the Ancient’s information stuck in his head has been.

On a final, nitpicky note, they seem to have totally given up on even bothering to justify Tormented Space. The actual issues with flying in it only took a quick upgrade to Moya’s filter to resolve, and nothing remotely out of the norm for the series has happened while there. And now that John has accidentally flung himself back to Earth, I’m having doubts that we’ll even see much more of Tormented Space or that anything there is going to be particularly torment-y. Disappointing.

So, in the end, there was more about this episode that I liked than there was that I had problems with. The problems, while few, are admittedly pretty big, but in the end I still enjoyed the episode on the whole. Not my favorite, but far from the worst of this season.


Kevin

“I am not Kirk, Spock, Luke, Buck, Flash or Arthur frelling Dent. I’m Dorothy Gale from Kansas.”

In a series where the morality is delightfully grey, where there are few true heroes but there are certainly definable villains, where the so-called Good Guys is a team comprised of a thief, a murderer, an ex-con, a lunch lady, a scientist, two soldiers, a Death God, a student, a ship-chopping turncoat, and a Magnificent Bastard… this quote sticks out. Some would call it the defining quote of the show.

John Crichton. Astronaut. Thrown half a galaxy away from home, given knowledge and tools that make him the most dangerous person in the universe, and he still considers himself a regular guy. His greatest claim is that he’s not a hero. He will go out of his way to say that he still doesn’t belong here in Tormented Space some indistinguishable segment of the Uncharted Regions, because he’s not the hero. Stop calling him that. Seriously, please, stop bringing up all the amazingly wonderful things he’s done against the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans, and very much please never mention all the times he caused innocent people to die simply because he was there. He’s very much a non-entity, regardless of what keeps happening to and because of him.

No, he’s not protesting too much. No, he’s not trying to convince himself because he’s starting to doubt his place in the universe. He has no intention of staying with his new friends who would die for him (and some who already have), his favorite new technology and the names he has given them, or the woman he has loved for three and a half seasons and is possibly carrying his child. He’s certainly not fascinated by the cultures, varied life-forms, or new concepts and sciences he’s discovered in his travels. He wants nothing to do with any of them.

Each man gets a chance to be his own kind of hero, but that’s not him. He’s not a nomad. He’s not a converted citizen of the cosmos. He’s just trying to get home.

We’ve begun the final storyarc of the series. Strap yourselves in and check your preconceptions at the door.

Crichton has returned home. Now we’ll see if he was telling the truth. Now we’ll see if he honestly believes himself.

Notes!

  • I don’t think the rules for wormholes have changed drastically over the series. Specifically, only unstable wormholes liquify people, though whether a wormhole is stable or not depends on plot purposes, I’ll grant you. But if you go back one by one, it all fits.
    1. Crichton accidentally [stumbles upon/creates] a fully-stable wormhole over Earth. Ancients note this but do nothing, as it is a fluke.
    2. Crichton intentionally re-creates another wormhole over Tattooine Delvian Pleasure-Dome Furlow’s planet. Ancients take notice, though Crichton does not travel through it.
    3. Ancients [create/modify] wormhole to lure Crichton through, to find out what he knows. Ancient Not-The-Father implants wormhole knowledge into Crichton’s head.
    4. Moya is caught in a stable, looping wormhole, encounters Pathfinder vessel. Note that A: the Ancients are aware of the Pathfinders and B: this is where we first learn of inter-connected wormholes. A wormhole nexus, if you will. One point of entry gives multiple points of exit, it’s a matter of choosing the right one.
    5. Scorpius sets up shop outside an instable wormhole. Liquifies every single pilot. Initial work is made on a device that makes travel through instable wormholes possible.
    6. Furlow and Predaclones make successive trips through wormholes in a replica of Crichton’s ship. Ancients frelling take notice.
    7. Ancient Not-The-Father confronts CrichtonT, kills HarveyT, unlocks full Spatial wormhole knowledge. CrichtonT connects wormhole with a star, kills Scarrans, dies.
    8. Remaining Crichton starts working out wormhole physics, unconsciously learns how to map entrances and exits by experiencing them.
    9. This week’s episode.

    The only new thing we learned was that wormholes bridge not just spatial coordinates, but temporal ones as well, the subsequent paradoxes splitting off into alternate dimensions where they can be catalogued and dealt with accordingly.

  • Ancients know how to dress. Check out that GQ motherfrellnik, goddamn.
  • In an alternate reality where the only (visible) change is that Crichton joins the Peacekeepers, Sikozu is arrested as a Scarran spy. We encountered “our” Sikozu in Scarran space. Sikozu is getting closer and closer to Scorpius.
  • That said, I kind of like the Sikozu/Scorpius pairing. They’re both methodical, intelligent, and it’s kind of cute in a mutual leather kind of way.
  • It’s very much apparent that Virginia Hey is now wearing a bald cap over hair, though the makeup is so good that I don’t really care. Sure, there’s a bit of forehead bulging, but it’s Zhaan. The most beautiful and glamorous woman on the entire show.
  • I love love love that Rygel climbs up on Pilot’s “lap” to talk to him. Little things like that just make me so happy.

Episode [4.10] – Coup By Clam || Episode [4.12] – Kansas

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