Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Real Pretend and the Pretend Real

Sooner or later, every intensely immersive simulation game is going to go fantastically wrong, as proves to be the case on Farscape. Crichton and Chiana find themselves caught in a forced dream composed of parts of Crichton's memory in an episode with surprising psychological depth.

Season Four, Episode Seven: John Quixote

The second episode to be written by Ben Browder, Crichton himself, this has at its heart the relationship between Crichton and Aeryn (Claudia Black), much like Browder's previous episode, "Green Eyed Monster", from season three. But this wasn't unusual subject matter for season three, in season four it feels like a refreshing return to form after the first episodes of the season had been more about introducing new characters and focusing on Aeryn's secret pregnancy. For whatever reason, previous writers in season four failed to take the pregnancy plot to the levels of the John jealousy/inadequacy plot in season three.

The silly story in the game simulator which Chiana (Gigi Edgley) gets them stuck in while in a transport pod turns out to contribute to this depth during the perhaps inevitable portion where it seems the two have safely gotten back aboard Moya. They find Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) is taking over the ship and finally succeeds when Aeryn double crosses Crichton, confirming John's fear from a few episodes back that she was working with Scorpius for more than necessity's sake.

This is where the episode starts to become brilliant because while we, as the audience, might assume now that this is all a simulation, there's enough ambiguity to prevent this from being the obvious conclusion. It crystallises in an excellent moment for Claudia Black to show her capacity for subtlety as Crichton, now locked in a cell, confronts her on the issue of her loyalties, commenting on how everything they say can be overheard.

She asks questions to undermine possibilities of certainty. She'd shot Crichton when he was being attacked by Pilot (Lani Tupu) being controlled by Scorpius and she points out to Crichton that her shooting him may have been her way of protecting Pilot. She doesn't say if this was her motive, she merely points out that he didn't seem to be considering it. Is this her way to signal to him that she's only pretending to support Scorpius because he's spying on them? If so, would would this be the simulation Aeryn pretending? All this compels the viewer to intensely scrutinise her expression for any tell--that she's pretending, that she's a simulation--virtually anything, and Black employs the tiniest suggestive quirks of the eyebrow. Ironically, when she does reveal herself to be entirely supportive of Crichton, this is the moment he correctly guesses it's a simulation.

Which isn't to say it's not true Aeryn would be supportive of him but this is the moment where the computer fails to hit the right level of nuance for effectively sentient.

The episode features several season three guest stars--Jool (Tammy MacIntosh), an oddly hairy Stark (Paul Goddard) and, of course, Zhaan (Virginia Hey), in her first appearance since her death at the beginning of season three. She's only a simulation but it's still nice to see her.

. . .

Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.

This entry is part of a series I'm writing on Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):

Season One:

Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: I, E.T.
Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis
Episode 4: Throne for a Loss
Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again
Episode 7: PK Tech Girl
Episode 8: That Old Black Magic
Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist
Episode 10: They've Got a Secret
Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear
Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue
Episode 13: The Flax
Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton
Episode 15: Durka Returns
Episode 16: A Human Reaction
Episode 17: Through the Looking Glass
Episode 18: A Bug's Life
Episode 19: Nerve
Episode 20: The Hidden Memory
Episode 21: Bone to be Wild
Episode 22: Family Ties

Season Two:

Episode 1: Mind the Baby
Episode 2: Vitas Mortis
Episode 3: Taking the Stone
Episode 4: Crackers Don't Matter
Episode 5: Picture If You Will
Episode 6: The Way We Weren't
Episode 7: Home on the Remains
Episode 8: Dream a Little Dream
Episode 9: Out of Their Minds
Episode 10: My Three Crichtons
Episode 11: Look at the Princess, Part I: A Kiss is But a Kiss
Episode 12: Look at the Princess, Part II: I Do, I Think
Episode 13: Look at the Princess, Part III: The Maltese Crichton
Episode 14: Beware of Dog
Episode 15: Won't Get Fooled Again
Episode 16: The Locket
Episode 17: The Ugly Truth
Episode 18: A Clockwork Nebari
Episode 19: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part I: A Not So Simple Plan
Episode 20: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part II: With Friends Like These . . .
Episode 21: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part III: Plan B
Episode 22: Die Me, Dichotomy

Season Three:

Episode 1: Season of Death
Episode 2: Suns and Lovers
Episode 3: Self-Inflicted Wounds, Part I: Would'a, Could'a, Should'a
Episode 4: Self-Inflicted Wounds, Part II: Wait for the Wheel
Episode 5: . . . Different Destinations
Episode 6: Eat Me
Episode 7: Thanks for Sharing
Episode 8: Green Eyed Monster
Episode 9: Losing Time
Episode 10: Relativity
Episode 11: Incubator
Episode 12: Meltdown
Episode 13: Scratch 'n Sniff
Episode 14: Infinite Possibilities, Part I: Daedalus Demands
Episode 15: Infinite Possibilities, Part II: Icarus Abides
Episode 16: Revenging Angel
Episode 17: The Choice
Episode 18: Fractures
Episode 19: I-Yensch, You-Yensch
Episode 20: Into the Lion's Den, Part I: Lambs to the Slaughter
Episode 21: Into the Lion's Den, Part II: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Episode 22: A Dog with Two Bones

Season Four

Episode 1: Crichton Kicks
Episode 2: What was Lost, Part I: Sacrifice
Episode 3: What was Lost, Part II: Resurrection
Episode 4: Lava's a Many Splendoured Thing
Episode 5: Promises
Episode 6: Natural Election

No comments:

Post a Comment