Today, on Farscape…
“I’ve got a hum in my head. I’m going to follow it.”
“Well, you’ve got something in there. It’s not a brain.”
As Aeryn is tortured under Scarran hands for the knowledge she possesses, Crichton searches throughout the multiverse for any clues for her location.
I know this is going to sound strange coming right after I said that I love the previous episode utterly and completely, but I think the pseudo-two-parter nature of “Constellation” and “Prayer” works to its detriment. Noel and I debated briefly about whether the slow pacing of “Constellation” was an acceptable break from tension or grinding the narrative to a halt, and while I still come down on the acceptable break side for “Constellation”, combining it with this episode puts me firmly in Noel’s camp.
Gorgeous juxtaposition and framing aside, these episodes are five pounds of storytelling in a ten pound bag. The scenes in “Prayer” are drawn-out and often feel like filler, even though every single one of them is important to the overarching narrative. The spinning through the wormhole was overdone and made me dizzy, the continued spinning afterwards was pushing the bit too far, the double-exposure whatsis they used made no sense (yes, it’s an “unrealized” reality, but the last time we were there I didn’t feel like I was watching Vigo’s ascension all over again), and the Aeryn torture scenes were too far past the appropriate point. Yes, she’s lying. Yes, we know she’s lying. Yes, we know what lengths she’ll go to when protecting the toy surprise and waiting for Crichton to come rescue her. Continuing to show flashes of Crichton in her recollection of her Assassination/Mercenary Backstory for too long was unnecessary, a repeated reminder of a foregone conclusion.
It’s especially frustrating coming off the heels of quite possibly the best-paced episode in the series. I mean, I love what they were able to do with “Prayer”. Showing Aeryn not only holding on very tightly to the hope that Crichton will find her, but pushing aside the “Damsel in Distress” crap that would have been extremely against her character and keeping herself strong and in control. That’s the Aeryn Sun we know and love.
How, then, to fix pacing problems? Would it be as easy as combining the previous two episodes into one? It might not be an exact 1:1 ratio, but I’m sure that some streamlining can happen. As it is, it feels to me like an excellent pair of stories that got stretched into an entire episode, possibly because they already had their four-part season finale coming up and needed to fill some space.
I don’t know. I’m having trouble finding things to talk about, because I really did like this episode, conceptually and in partial execution. The side-along view of the wormhole was probably one of the most beautiful bits of CGI since the disintegrating Leviathan, the worldbuilding exposition on Scarran breeding projects and their mobile laboratories, not to mention the agony on Crichton’s face as he has to kill yet another person who looks like Aeryn absolutely slaughtered me. But it was cheapened by the overall framing. It’s the opposite of the situation Noel had last week; he wanted to hate the episode, but the delivery floored him. I want to like this episode, but the framing and the delivery knocks it down for me.
- I’ll need to watch it again to find out, but did Starkozu’s eyes turn black after shepherding Chiaeryn’s soul, or were they black all along?
- Starkozu comes off as much less crazy and more broken and vulnerable. I’m not sure if it’s through the acting or if it’s just a double-standard view I’m taking as Paul Goddard is bigger and broader than Raelee Hill. Also, Starkozu’s cuter when she’s frantic.
- If Starkozu has to love the soul, when did she love a Scarran enough to cross it over?
- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Claudia Black can act rings around pretty much everybody on this show. That’s not disparaging their performance, it’s just that hers is that good.
- Seriously, that wormhole shot’s my favorite of anything ever.
“Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought or why we died. No, all that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important. Valor pleases you, Crom, so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen… then to hell with you!”
That quote is pretty much the A-Plot of this episode in a nutshell as Aeryn is tortured for info on John, on Wormholes, and, when it’s discovered she’s pregnant, the identity of the father, all in the universe’s Worst Maternity Ward Ever, with stirrup chairs and unsterilized needles and sobbing fellow mothers who watch as their babies are microwaved in their bellies as they gradually collect what drugs they can for an eventual attempt at suicide. This is the world that surrounds Aeryn now, where she’s suddenly more useful to the Scarrans because now they not only have a prisoner to crack, but they have John’s wormhole knowledge ready and waiting to be handwaviumed out of the fetal DNA.
So she prays. She digs up an old Sebacean deity from the time before the Peacekeepers would have likely stamped such a thing out, and she prays to it in the faint hope that something might come. And when it doesn’t, she damns the god that she never really believed in to begin with as it’s no longer about hoping for rescue, it’s about keeping her baby alive. This thread of the episode is a might predictable, with the interrogations and the other woman actually turning out to be a spy and the good cop pretty much failing to hide that she’s a bad cop, too, but it works. There just such a nightmare quality to things, an unrelenting atmosphere of hellish plans for Aeryn and her child that it’s hard not to be swept up in things. And we finally know that John is, indeed, the father. There was the man from Aeryn’s past, yes, but DNA shows the father isn’t Sebacean. We learn of another man from Aeryn’s time off ship, but he’s revealed to be a lie. There is only John. This is an answer not only to us, but to Aeryn herself, who has been struggling with the question and a way to resolve it, and I’m betting this is NOT the way she was hoping to do so. It’s a great story and Claudia Black nails it with every glare of determination, even when it’s betrayed by a tear streaking down her cheek.
And, yet, she does ultimately sell out, striking her own Faustian vow, much like John in the thread I’ll discuss below. I don’t usually like to play the “what if” game about ways to rewrite a story, because it’s done, it can’t be changed, and it comes off sounding like I’m blaming the writers for not having the same ideas I did. I’ve spent a little time in a writers room and know how chaotic it can be with everyone throwing plots left and right and how the most amazing of ideas can refuse to materialize until it’s too late to do anything with them. So this isn’t really a criticism, just an idea that kept floating into my head as the episode played out. The B-Plot, where everyone is scrambling to find and rescue Aeryn… what if that took place in Aeryn’s mind. Not as a hallucination, but as her hope, as the dreams that keep her going in the time between torture sessions, as the faith that John will be the big damn hero and triumphantly come to her rescue. And as time goes by, and the rescue doesn’t happen, she starts to lose that hope and it’s replaced by a fear that he won’t get to her, that he’ll die, that he’ll just keep looking but never finding. And when she’s at that lowest point, instead of breaking, she goes into full-on badass Aeryn Peacekeeper mode, snapping the spy’s neck and vowing, that if John can’t make it all the way to her, then she’ll do everything in her power to meet him half way.
That’s the Aeryn I was expecting in this episode, but never ultimately got. Sure, she took out the spy, but she gave up her secrets and remains locked away, with no plan to push forward beyond a promise to strike whatever deal she needs to, which whomever she can, to keep her baby alive. I guess that’s what they were ultimately trying to say, that this is such an overwhelming force that there’s no realistic way she can do anything about it but stay alive. And I guess I can’t hold it against them because this, ultimately, isn’t about clinging to hope, but rather about losing it. She loses her hope. She stops praying to gods, stops waiting for John. She vows to do anything she can to get out of here. But there’s nothing. No option for her to exploit. It is a damned good harrowing note to end the A-Plot on.
Which brings us to the B-plot.
The spinning the spinning the spinning the spinning DEAR DJANCAZ-BRU STOP THE FRELLING SPINNING! Just because the thread has the recurring image of John and Scorpius flushing themselves down a cosmic toilet bowl doesn’t mean we need to fully experience the point of view of a turd.
As for the story, I’ve expressed my loathing of the Unrealized Realities in the past, and all this episode does is enforce said hatred.
First, John being able to will himself through wormholes. Why is this something John can do that others can’t? Does having the wormhole knowledge in his brain mean his brain has itself been re-wired in some way that gives it a connection to wormholes? Does having another mind in the pod affect this navigational ability? That one might be so, as they first go the wrong way. And why is Scorpius, who has a long-standing obsession with wormholes, essentially scoffing and rolling his eyes at a fist-hand demonstration of how one successfully navigates them? He should be fascinated by every move and observation John is making, taking note of them and filing them away for the chance he’ll one day get to soar through the vortex of his dreams.
I thought the only way to create a scrambled reality was entering reality at a point before you left. Okay, that (kinda) explains how he ended up on a ship where every member of the cast but him is playing dressup as one another, but this episode clearly drops him at a point in time before when he was originally there. So wouldn’t that cause a new scramble that makes his goals all that much harder to achieve? Wouldn’t that create a new Unrealized Reality instead of dropping him in the same one he’s already been to?
And I’m still banging my head that a huge plot development hinges on the notion that, in a reality where all of the characters are suddenly played by different people and things have been tossed around in a blender, that the location of a secret hidden Scarran prison – which is spacebound and potentially mobile – will most certainly be in the same location in our reality that it is here. Are they trying to suggest that everyone is how they are simply because they’re close to John? Because that’s bullshit. For them to be this way, they would have to have been born this way, and that would mean the changes track all the way back to their homeworlds, cycles before they met John, and the genetic ancestry of their parents. The entire universe would have to be tossed in a blender from the point of its inception for the ship to turn out the way it has, not just these few people. So, no, don’t you dare try to tell me that it’s all okay because this one orbital prison complex will be in exactly the same spot in a different reality.
What I do like about this plot thread is how it takes the idea of John making a deal with the devil and runs it to the hilt. After their nastily delicious blood pact, Scorpius is literally the demon on John’s shoulder throughout the entire episode, taking him on a nightmare journey where John is forced to turn a version of his friends, his family, the people he’s shared a home and a life with for years now, into a sacrifice to win a service from an angel (Starkozu) and give the demon what he needs to fulfil his half of the bargain. Sure, Scorpius actually kills two versus John’s one, but John is forced to pull a gun on D’Argo (well, J’oolgo) and shoot down his best friend. And then, in order to find the Aeryn he loves, he has to aim a gun at an alternate Aeryn, wearing the skin of another of his closest friends and…. no, he just can’t pull the trigger. Thi isn’t an obvious impostor like the bioroid from two episodes ago. This is an actual being, a living, breathing, innocent combination of two people he’s extremely close to. But he’s already made the deal with the devil, so there’s Scorpius using John’s own hand to finalize the dirty deed. And John is left watching Chiaeryn bleeding out and dying for no reason than to settle the mystery of a single word.
It’s freakin’ harrowing and, yeah, Claudia Black plays the alternate role to such an amazing degree that, I hate to say it, even Gigi Edgley can no longer claim to be the best person who’s ever played her character. The pain, the betrayal, the confusion, the anger, the ebbing life on that face, in those eyes, through that pip squeaking voice… it floored me.
But, no, I couldn’t buy the premise that led up to it. It’s asking too much from me and is building on foundations that I’ve already argued against the stability of. This doesn’t change my mind. This doesn’t win me around and finally sell me on the Unrealized Realities concept. It merely enforced the doubts and criticisms I’ve already expressed. Yeah, the journey to the dark side with a devil on your shoulder aspect is great, but not like this. Not this way. It just plain doesn’t work for me.
This a mixed bag of an episode. Both plots have their gut punches, but one descent into the dark side works far better than the other. Maybe it’s because Aeryn’s feels far more real and in the moment, whereas John’s is almost a metaphysical parable through an imaginary bizarro land. One has weight, the other does not. But one single truth does manage to unite both: Claudia Black is frelling amazing.
This is Aeryn’s “Nerve” episode. She’s in enemy hands, unreachable by the folks on Moya. Tortured. Alone. Stuck in a twisted metal chair with a madman and his female assistant. Her mind is being plucked apart, her only solace is another prisoner who has a desperate plan to escape.
And yet it’s Crichton who’s spinning around in circles. What the hell.
Alright, checking off the points on my list that the guys already hit:
- Amazing wormhole CGI.
- spinning spinning spinning retrograde spinning spinning
- Excessive black and white flashbacks.
- Microwaved embryo gaaaaaaah. That was cut from the US version.
- Starkozu’s eyes only went black while crossing Chianaeryn over. Eternal sadface.
- Claudia Black = Amazing
- Yes, I am contractually obligated to use the word “amazing” twice per episode why do you ask?
- Aeryn’s own Faustian deal.
- Unrealized realities – need a
fullcouple paragraphs for.
- Somewhere, the Cubs are winning the World Series.
Okay. I think the point in time that Crichton wormholes to is somewhere after “Out of Their Minds” but before “Nerve”, and they’ve somehow picked up Sikozu along the way. Maybe the small change that occurred in this reality was a small deflection in the knife’s path in “A Bug’s Life”, which would have prevented Crichton and Scorpius from ever crossing paths. Something like that could have kept the series in a space chase format for another couple years, with innumerable changes along the way. No neural clone, no Crais running off on Talyn (unless Talyn was captured by the Peacekeepers *shiver*), a whole slew of different conflicts and resolutions. I suggest “Out of Their Minds” as a branching point because of the body-switching thing, but NamTar could have had a hand.
Yes, I’ve put this theory forward before. It’s relevant now.
The only changes in this universe derive directly from what was altered. The Sun still moves in its orbit (assuming it hasn’t been eaten by a wormhole), Crais is still a jerk, and Katratzi is still a hidden Scarran forward base. Such ripples as Crichton’s pebble have created are insufficient to move a small moon. …unless other!Crichton used a wormhole to eat the moon. Which would be a fairly big ripple.
In short: I disagree on the believability of the unrealized reality concept, but agree that it does have issues. One universe ceasing to exist while Crichton is traipsing around in one that’s very similar is a hell of a way to do parallel worlds. Somewhere in that universe is another pathetic Crichton living out another potential life, and it’s a shame we don’t see him. Gunning down Nana Pygels, D’Ool, and Chianeryn takes a huge toll on Crichton. The last enemy he shot was that giant spider – it’s been all friendly fire ever since.
Scorpius actually uses the term mind rape in reference to what the Scarrans will do to Aeryn. Given his history with them, he knows exactly what she’ll be going through. The genetic incubation program on that ship is a parallel to the program that produced him. Crossbreeding Scarrans with other species to introduce their strengths into the genepool. You have to ask: How many other species have they assimilated in this way? Which of their strengths are natural, and which taken from others? Is that the difference between the long-face Scarrans and the royals?
Aeryn has none of her cool here. None of her quiet, calm badassery. All that’s left after repeated interrogations, heat probes, and drug injections is the strength at her core. Absolute determination, the resolve to survive, and the strength to protect her child; pure Aeryn.
Aeryn is on a Scarran ore freighter – the kind of ship that Moya has been imitating for three episodes now. Is that ironic, or a heartbreaking coincidence? I lean towards the latter.
Back in season one, the producers wanted to get Claudia Black into actual training with real Australian commandos – it never happened, unfortunately, and it may show a bit in the flashbacks. For all her badassitude, melee combat is not her strong point. Related flashback note: Does anyone else think Letchner looks a little like Quentin Tarantino? It’s our first look at what she was doing between seasons three and four, and it doesn’t say much.
We’re into the final four episodes next week. Buckle up, folks. I’m totally giggling in anticipation of Kevin’s reaction.
I haven’t even seen Conan and that quote was going through my head during this episode.
This is another one of those episodes that I don’t really know how I feel about. The guys pretty much covered everything in this one already, and I’m not really sure what else to say. Doesn’t help that I’m doing this right before bed and therefore my brain is a little mushy.
I’m not going to rehash the wormhole argument yet again, because I wouldn’t be saying anything new, but I’m in total agreement with Noel on the “unrealized reality” front. No, it doesn’t matter if we can pin down when in the timeline this alternate universe is supposed to be at, because the underlying point is that there are obviously massive differences at play here in the universe. To assume that the only consequence is that everyone’s race and gender has been mixed up and that everything else is otherwise the same is a ridiculously risky gamble. I have no doubt it will pan out, of course, since just about everything involving this plot thread has totally hand-waved things that should have astronomically low chances to work the way they do.
Was it just me, or did the prisoner who turned out to be a Scarran spy flat out admit to being a spy halfway through the episode? I don’t know if the intention was that she was supposed to be telling Aeryn what she used to do in order to try to gain her trust, but since she turned out to be a spy anyways, why not make up something less suspicious? Maybe it was intentional, and she was slipping up only to have Aeryn grab hold of that thread to unravel the whole thing.
Overall, this episode had some incredible acting (both of Claudia Black’s roles in this one are stellar), a strong basic plot with very strong moments, but it stumbles over clumsy pacing and flawed concepts. I liked it in spite of that, but I really hope this final arc to the season (and series!) picks up next episode.
Episode [4.17] – A Constellation of Doubt || Episode [4.19] – We’re So Screwed Part I: Fetal Attraction