And thus we come to it. The point of no return for one John Crichton. But more on that in a moment.
A Human Reaction
This is the episode that made me fall in love with Farscape. Let me explain. I grew up on portal fantasy–most notably The Chronicles of Narnia. I have no shame in admitting that I was one of those kids who checked every closet looking for a door into another world (indeed, I have no shame in admitting I am one of those adults who still opens a closet looking for Narnia). It always bothered me a bit in the classic portal fantasies when the characters get that amazing opportunity to enter another world, and spend all their time trying to get home. The ingrates.
Farscape is clearly a portal fantasy in the most literal sense of the word–Crichton is brought through a wormhole to a wholly alien part of the universe. We’ve seen hints through the series through this point that Crichton is astounded by the “wonders he’s seen” (to coin a phrase from later season opening monologues). Yet he is still single-mindedly focused on going home. My first time through the series, Crichton’s innocence bugged me … As if he could just happily return to earth after all the things that he has encountered in his time on Moya. A Human Reaction is the death of Crichton’s innocence on a number of levels, not least of which, though, the death of Crichton’s (and the audience’s) hope for an uncomplicated return to earth.
The complexity begins before Crichton has even set foot on this would-be “earth.” Yes, admittedly, the farewells between Crichton and the rest of the crew do not prove to be that permanent … but they don’t realize that at the moment. Crichton is given time with each of his fellow crew members to mark just how far they have grown together. This motley band might not be a pseudo-family just yet, but Crichton (I’m sure to his surprise) must come to terms with the fact that it is not easy just to leave them behind. As much as he longs for earth, he will miss at least something about this new life that he has found.
Far more significantly, however, the events that transpire on the false earth see Crichton siding with Moya’s crew over his fellow humans. Obviously, the scenario is constructed to bring out the worst in humanity. But John doesn’t know that at the moment. I’ve mentioned before the Farscape reviews being written over at the AV Club. The reviewer there points to the events of Nerve/The Hidden Memory as the point from which Crichton’s sanity will never return. Don’t get me wrong. There is much physical and mental torture ahead for Crichton, particularly in that 2-parter. However, I think the real damage is done much earlier and much more subtly when John points a gun at a fellow human being and then runs off with Aeryn. That gets to questions of identity, purpose–forever complicating John’s dream of a simple return to earth.
Throughout the series, we’ll question how much of Crichton’s insanity is his own and how much is manufactured. There’s a strong case to be made that a natural break in his sanity occurs here, when he realizes the place he thought was home was a lie. On the one hand, that must be comforting … to know this nightmarish place he has come to is not in fact the home for which he has been longing. And yet he still must acknowledge the truth in the illusion. The fear and small-mindedness that exists in humanity. And that he sided with his new life against that version of humanity. It was a wise choice of the production crew to play the first 3/4 of the episode in such a subdued manner. It nicely highlights Chichton’s break in the end. Along with a preview of John’s second-season crazy hair!
There’s little left to chance in Farscape, and it’s no coincidence that immediately after this episode, Crichton starts wearing a gun. Is he afraid of the universe, or is he afraid of himself?
All in all, this for me is the episode that definitively changes John and changes the series. Indeed, it will be a few episodes yet before we realize the extent to which A Human Reaction sets the stage for John’s fate. This is the episode that promises us the viewers that Farscape will avoid the inherent problems of a show about a man looking for earth (either he must find it and end the show or spin dramatic wheels as he continues to search in vain) by declaring the return to earth will not be straightforward at all. This is a promise the show will keep and capitalize upon, as the tension in John will continue to play out between that yearning for home and normalcy will push against the new life he is forming aboard Moya, not least of which is his relationship with Aeryn.
Speaking of Aeryn … we get some definite progress on that front here. We see John and Aeryn as two people drawn together for strength when they have no other options. I suppose one could question wether that is the best foundation for a relationship, but we have several seasons left to ponder that question as well. For the moment, lets just give Farscape a slow clap for allowing its romantic leads a moment of sexual intimacy which in no way reduces the sexual tension between them but rather enhances it. Bravo. Also … small point. It’s easy to brush Aeryn off as unaffected by her night with John (“it’s fine John, it’s just not top priority right now). But, going back to my earlier question of when Aeryn refers to our male lead as “John” vs. “Crichton”, she does exclusively refer to him by first name for the rest of the episode. Sparks of intimacy perhaps?
And so we press on in the saga of Farscape, our hero slightly more broken. And yet John Crichton is never defeated.
–I have to applaud Justin Monjo for this episode. Monjo will pen some of the best character-driven episodes in the series. It has to be said he also has a fantastic grasp of the John-Aeryn dynamic (I believe he also wrote The Flax). Admittedly, he also wrote season 2’s Taking the Stone … but they can’t all be winners now, can they?
–I love the look of loss and pain on Aeryn’s face as John disappears through the wormhole. One could just watch the whole series for the nuances of Claudia Black’s facial expressions.
–Kent McCord always knocks it out of the park on his guest appearances throughout the series. We see him so rarely, but he and Ben Browder are able to capture the layers of a father and son who are just beginning to understand and respect one another after a difficult past. Even when McCord isn’t really playing Jack Crichton, but an alien impersonating him. He just brings this notion of all-American earnestness.