This may be one of the most brilliant episodes of Farscape yet, which automatically ranks it way up there in television history as a whole. I've watched it twice now, seen different things both times, and fully expect to keep seeing more and more the more times I watch it. Always assuming I can keep from throwing things at the TV each time through. Babbling follows.
The concept of the episode is, of course, utterly insane. Aeryn is being held prisoner by Scarrens, everyone on Moya is worried to death, John is having a meltdown, so instead of addressing any of that -- they're going to do a cheesy, alarmist documentary about the visit to Earth that happened several episodes ago. Could anything sound more annoying and stupid? Oh, sure, it's a pretty amusing concept, but for an entire episode? And what about Aeryn?!? Waaaah!!!!!
Except it's all pointy. All of it. The search for Aeryn seems to have been shuffled to the backburner, but is, instead, an remarkably strong frame story wrapped around "Alien Visitation". The entire episode plays like a primer in truth versus lie (and all the shadings in-between), in reality versus perception, leading up and around and back to all the themes of Unrealized Reality in a masterful circle that leaves you blinking, trying to figure out how the silliness and angst led to this.
John, R. Wilson Monroe, and Bobby Coleman anchor the whole ride in their own ways. Bobby, of course, is the instigator, his ever-present camera during "Terra Firma" the jumping-off point. He also gets to be possibly the only totally honest voice in the lot, a 13-year-old calling them like he sees them, asking for the truth and getting it, be it about religion, or death, or sex, or how it feels to get tongued by D'Argo (which just sounds wrong when you phrase it like that....). He'll make a good journalist one day (might even improve broadcast journalism; god knows it needs all the help it can get. I've got a degree in print, I can say things like that. In fact, I'm obligated to). He was trying to help his new friends by telling the truth, only to see it all twisted, making things worse. Sucks to be Bobby.
Monroe (performed in a nicely low-key, undemanding, 'please kill him now' kind of way by Nick Tate) anchors the documentary and is totally unconcerned by the truth -- you get the impression that this guy is really hacked off that nobody did anything on Earth that he can grab onto and scream "dangerous!" or "high ratings!" He's wandering around trying to find matches because nobody set a fire in time for the six o'clock news. He may actually even believe some of what he's saying, believe that he's distorting things closer to the truth, instead of farther away. He may actually think there's a real threat -- and he'll make everyone else see that, no matter what it takes. Such men are dangerous.... Especially since I think his motives aren't nearly so pure. It's not fear -- it's hurt pride. He'd rather Earth be in danger from aliens than disregarded by them. Because if Earth is so unimportant in the great galactic scheme of things... what does that make him?
And then there's John -- as usual, the fulcrum around which Moya rotates. His search for Aeryn dominates the ship; the video from his homeworld dominates the minds of his crewmates. His sense of reality is being stretched to the breaking point -- his memories of home are distorted and cheapened, his one anchor on Moya is missing and in danger, and the only clue to where she is, is locked up in memories of things that never actually happened. His refusal to give up on Aeryn drives Sikozu's rational frustration, D'Argo's worry, Chiana's sympathy. The video from his home fascinated all of them -- the friendships they thought they'd made, the people they thought they'd seen and understood, and been understood by, reject them on film. Never mind that it's one bullshit program designed to screw with people's minds -- it changes everything they thought they believed about Earth, and their time there, distorts their perception as surely as John's memories were distorted by the return to reality.
Is your Faithful and Analytical Tour Guide reading too much into this stuff? Maybe, but I don't actually think so. So much going on here, almost none of it on the surface. I could go on for hours... but I'll try to restrain myself a bit.
Monroe aside, the episode of "Alien Visitation" was an absolutely fascinating look, not at the aliens, but at humans -- it was humanity that was held up to the light, not D'Argo, Chiana, et al. Humanity didn't come off too badly, as a whole -- interviewees like the geeky, enthusiastic anthropologist and the Buddhist priest came off very well indeed. No hypocrisy there, just faith and optimism that verged very close to cluelessness on occasion, but still spoke well for us. The xenobiologist and the sociologist also displayed well -- both realists, both very much aware of humanity's limitations (worry of whether we can handle a new vision of ourselves in relation to galaxy), but full of optimism that we can rise to the challenge. But then we get the self-righteous reverend, the priest, the two soldiers, who don't want to believe there could be anything less than perfect than humanity, who don't want to hear criticism and won't believe it when they do. They dismiss Noranti's entirely rational and straightforward view on killing and religion because she refuses to be the hypocrites they are, either personally, or through the policies their institutions espouse. The criminal psychologist admits Noranti's logic holds up "on the surface" but "breaks down under scrutiny", which is why it's dangerous. No details, just "it breaks down". I'd like to hear how it "breaks down," in a society that condemns murder and condones execution. (I'm not getting into a debate on the death penalty here, I'm just pointing out the inherent contradiction. If you think execution is the right way to punish murder, then go for it. But don't then be self-righteous about killing always being wrong.)
The other psychologist was the one that really got me -- she had this tendency to be totally right about all of her off-the-cuff diagnoses, yet was still always basically wrong. Chiana is "disturbed", but not because she thinks lots of different kinds of water for grooming is silly, or because she's totally open about sex. Chiana is disturbed because she was raised in a totally repressed world and has a tendency to make really bad emotional choices under pressure. Totally right, completely wrong. She's a very competent doctor, but totally closed-minded -- if it doesn't fit with her concept of "right" and "healthy", then it's wrong and dangerous, and she's full of logical reasons why. Of all of the people we saw, this chick's probably the one who could do the most damage. Really excellently written.
By contrast, all of our alien buddies come off quite well, despite all attempts to the contrary. How the hell can anyone feel threatened by someone as patient, compassionate and endlessly cool as D'Argo, tentacles aside? Chiana's a pain in the ass, but threatening? Not even close. Especially when you see her cuddling the rat that Noranti's poison killed (nice internal continuity, by the way), and bopping around to what sounded suspiciously like girl-group music. Rygel and Sikozu were, sadly, themselves (although I'd like to hear Sikozu sing more; that was pretty), but even Noranti came off much saner and more rational than usual. Must be having problems getting the right drugs... And, of course, Aeryn is the coolest being ever born, and not even Monroe can make her look like anything else.
Mind-bendingly good episode (particularly loved the promo for "next week" over the credits), and somewhere along the line, it also sets us up for everything to come -- the repercussions of John's deal with the devil (and wow, is everyone going to be pissed if he gives Scorpy the wormholes, after Crais and Talyn died to prevent that - and I'm among those who will be pissed), Aeryn in the hands of the Scarrens, and the clue to save her locked in one of those unrealized realities. Just what John needs, more screwing with his perceptions. Actually, Your Faithful and Terminally Turned-Around Tour Guides don't really need any help with that, either....
|February 21, 2003
Aeryn's imprisonment becomes torture, as her unborn child turns into the object of the Scarrens' search. Meanwhile, Crichton and Scorpius take a dangerous ride to another reality in a desperate bid to find Aeryn before it's too late.
Coming, well, eventually.
Okay, so, it took several months for Your Faithful and Penitent Tour Guide to do this review. Chalk it up, if you please, to a combination of intense denial and the joys of being unemployed. But here we are now, desperately trying to remember continuity, and being freaked out just like old times....
You know, I hate it when they do stuff like that blood-exchange thing. Guh-ross! I am not a Nosferatu person, seriously. And I'm not wild about the whole Scarren heat probe thing, either. Are Scarrens just intrinsically icky or what? Although the Sebacean collaborator, Vreena, wasn't much better, though; I'm not arguing with her survival logic, but her priorities leave a lot to be desired. Some things, it really is better to die than allow yourself to be forced into. Granted, she's got horrible examples in front of her (watching that heat ray kill the "embryo" was one of the least pleasant things this show has ever done and that's saying something! Your Faithful and Grossed-Out Tour Guide was appalled, even after the truth came out), but to actively help the bastards carry out real atrocities like mind rape and torture.... I'm sorry. There is no justification. Survival only goes so far as a reason -- then it becomes an excuse.
And apparently we now know the sort of place where Scorpius was produced. < shudder > The more I see of the Scarrens, the more I'm inclined to let Scorpy loose on them. If only we could be sure he'd stop there....
Speaking of things that are more important, by the way -- I'm going to have to kill John. I love him, and I sympathize with the whole "end of my rope" thing, but I really need to kill him if he gives the wormhole knowledge to Scorpy. Some things... are so important that two people don't matter a hill of beans, and I really, really hate quoting that particular movie. :p John's new wormhole navigation abilities are cool as hell, not to mention muy impressive, but make me even more worried about what Scorpy would be capable of with the same knowledge. And I don't think his first answer was a lie. (of course, all of this may be moot if Harvey really did transmit all of John's wormhole knowledge. In that case, we got troubles....)
(I also need to kill John because of his little crack about the alternate world where the Cubs win the World Series. Don't diss my Cubbies, man. I mean this.)
The dynamics between Scorpy and John are actually very interesting; in a twisted way, they are a very effective team. But even as they get things done, the mutual dislike is tangible. And the fact that Scorpius disapproves of John's methods just as much as John disapproves of his is... an interesting perspective. I'm still with John, Scorpy is a cold-hearted bastard (there really wasn't a shortage of them in this episode), but it's... interesting. It was John I was really feeling for throughout bizarro-Moya -- knowing your friends are going to die in an arn really doesn't make it any easier to kill them.
It was cool to go back to bizarro-verse, and even more fun that Scorpy was along for the ride. But god, why does Stark keep coming back as an incoherent CPD even when someone else is playing him/her?!? Where the hell is this information coming from during "crossing over," huh? It's being extracted from the ether? How con-VEEEE-nient! (she complains in her best Church Lady delivery). Details, people, or I'm not buying it! Still, you have to admire Scorpy's extremely practical methods of information-acquisition -- although it's good to know even he can frell up royally. And Anth Simcoe as Jool is still bloody insane; Claudia Black as Chiana continues to be spookily good, right down to the voice and laugh.
And as Aeryn, Claudia is so beyond cool. Cowering alone in her cell, talking to goddesses who aren't there, or spitting in Scarren-bastard Jenek's face, Aeryn just rocks. And makes us very, very worried -- when Aeryn starts praying, things have gotten as bad as they possibly can. She keeps thinking, keeps holding out, keeps lying through her teeth (and how much of that was truth, hmmm? We know she was doing assassinations, but we still don't know why, or for whom. Was there a Lachna, or an equivalent?) -- but this is Farscape, and you just never know when things are still possible, or when hopeless is the order of the day. Just when you think she's finally given up -- she kills the (fairly incompetent and obvious) spy bitch and hunkers back down to figure out how to save her child. Go, Aeryn! (Although, I'm not sure whether it's cool or simply sad how much she and John are both willing to go through, what they're willing to do, to save each other and the baby. I think, after this, i'm going with sad. The couple that kills together...)
It was good to finally get details of how that whole "fetus stasis" works, by the way, although it's still not clear whether it's natural or implanted. Although I'd like to know whether Velorek's execution was fact or ship-gossip. It was cool to find out that even before Crichton, Aeryn had serious problems with Peacekeeper ways of doing things -- refusing to be to on a "breeding roster" isn't a surprise, given that visit from her mother, but it's another indication of how different she was all along. Don't think we didn't notice, by the way, that confirmation of paternity has still not happened.
I love D'Argo, man. No matter what other madness is in the universe, D'Argo will always be there watching your back and being that crucial island of sanity. I still hate Sikozu for her relentless dismissal of anything not directly related to her, and for being a nag. "If I say it loudly enough and shrilly enough, they will have to admit everything I say is right, even when I'm being a heartless bitch." But go Moya, Pilot and Chiana for voting to hold out for their friends! We applaud you!
Taking incumbent knowledge from fetal DNA? What, genetic memory? That's... an interesting theory. Not sure I buy it, but it's interesting. Ooo, and a new curse word -- gotta love the sound of fek-face. < g > Very taut, scary writing throughout; the frame of Aeryn talking to the goddess was powerful and moving, and John and Scorpius on Bizarro-Moya was grim and heartwrenching. But this is Claudia Black's episode, and she carries it off with style and power; words cannot express how much this woman rocks.