(Housekeeping note. When I get in project mode, I go a little crazy. I could probably make a new entry in this blog every day, but I feel that might run counter to its stated purpose of keeping me grounded and mentally healthy. So, I’m giving myself a semi-weekly schedule of Sundays and Thursdays for new posts, if there’s anyone out there who would be interested enough to check back for new updates. That brings us to…)
DNA Mad Scientist
Ah, the episode that saved Farscape. From what I understand (my DVDs are on loan at the moment, consequently I am re-watching the series via netflix sans commentaries), Farscape was on the chopping block–remember those mediocre-at-best first episodes?–until producers saw DNA Mad Scientist. Not surprising. This episode shows us a series not afraid to go dark with its characters in a way that remains refreshingly un-moralizing. D’Argo’s final scene with Pilot does not reveal a character who has learned some valuable moral lesson. He would make the same decision again in a heartbeat. However, he can still do his best to ease his companion’s suffering. Remember as well that this is pre-Firefly, pre-BSG space opera. The notion of a fractured crew aiming for no purpose beyond the individual members’ survival was fairly risky. Not bad for an episode that was never given a proper title (DNA Mad Scientist was just the working title on the set, and the writers never got around to changing it).
Obviously, the pivotal moment here is the decision by Rygel, D’Argo and Zhaan to cut off Pilot’s arm in response to NamTar’s offer for genetic maps to their respective home worlds. (Side note, I did once watch this episode with my geneticist friend who had an understandably difficult time getting past the whole premise. Lets just accept that the episode at least works within the bounds of its own internal logic and not get to side-tracked with the actual science. Farscape is at its best as space opera/space fantasy, not strictly speaking science fiction). Back to Pilot’s arm. After a third of a season spent making us root for this band of misfits we are reminded in no uncertain terms that they are a loosely affiliated crew. At best they have a shared goal of survival. Beyond that, they have no trouble each pushing their own agendas.
Zhaan’s behaviour is the only one that doesn’t sit quite comfortably, I must confess. We have already seen her move to take away Moya’s pain in “I, E.T.” Zhaan is a protector, a nurturer. I find myself wondering if she really would have harmed another creature strictly to serve her own ends. That said, we also know Zhaan is pragmatic. I can see her excepting that causing Pilot temporary pain given the significant gain said pain would afford the rest of the crew. It has also been established the Zhaan is no wilting flower (spoiler? bad-dum…ching!)
In my last post, I mentioned Crichton’s desire to see himself as a morally upright voice in a world that has gone mad around him. As he says to Pilot — “I will never understand you people!” However, as quickly as two episodes from now we will see perhaps that D’Argo’s read of Crichton is all too accurate — when his chance for home appears he does not even consider whom he might impact by pursuing it. Crichton has been the white-clad innocent to this point, but we are beginning to see the chinks in his character. John has been holding himself together remarkably well to this point, all things considered. In light of his near break at the hands of Maldis in the previous episode, his depression is becoming more apparent. Drunk Crichton is sad Crichton.
Whenever most people talk about DNA Mad Scientist, the emphasis is typically on that darker element — the breakdown in our tentatively assembled crew. But what intrigues me is while on the one hand we have half the crew at eachother’s throats, we also see the opposite dynamic between Aeryn and John. The “B Plot” show two members of the team helping our and relying on one another in a more intimate way than we have yet seen.
(Related) Side-note #2: I was determined on this re-watch to pay attention to when Aeryn refers to John as “John” and when she calls him “Crichton.” I may be mistaken, but I do believe the moment the pair comes back looking for NamTar and Aeryn slips, “I’m losing it John” is the first time she calls him anything but “Crichton.” This more familiar form of address, along with John’s offer to bring Aeryn to earth, should he ever find a way home, does more than fill my shippery heart with glee. It shows us that, petty bickering aside, the members of this crew are forming relationships. Aeryn reveals this truth explicitly when she confesses her fear of being alone. One would think this ex-Peacekeeper would be only too happy to rid herself from the fugitives who destroyed her life. And yet, already, these former prisoners have become her default crew.
On the subject of Aeryn: Admittedly, “Exodus from Genesis” showed a degree of vulnerability. NamTar’s experiments, though, touches her on an existential level. One gets the impression that Aeryn may never have had much of a thought of herself as a unique person before this. It is perhaps the essential revelation that allows for her more significant growth going forward. While DNA Mad Scientist devotes significant attention to the John/Aeryn relationship, you cannot overlook the dynamic between Aeryn and Pilot. In one of those first episodes (I forget which) Aeryn tells Pilot “we make a good team.” You can almost hear Aeryn’s voice crack when she challenges Zhaan and D’Argo about their mutilation of him. Now, she has shared Pilot’s DNA. One might argue Aeryn and Pilot are the first members of the crew to develop the first genuine, caring relationship.
This is where I find the cleverness of “DNA Mad Scientist.” Not merely in the risk it takes by depicting a crew divided by their own agendas. But at the same time indicating that they are a crew despite themselves. D’Argo qualta blade may have cut off Pilot’s arm, but D’Argo’s music will also soothe him. There will be plenty of times going forward when one character’s agenda (usually Crichton’s) will threaten the rest of the team, but there will also be moments when we see loyalty, devotion and deep bonds of friendship. DNA Mad Scientist–and Farscape as a whole–takes us to the dark place, but it does not leave us there.
“Lucky for you, you didn’t trade anything of real value to get it” — Oh, passive-aggressive Pilot, you’re the best!
“Blue-*ssed Bitch” — ‘nough said.
“Frell You!” — You know you have officially watched too much Farscape when “Frell” stops sounding ridiculous
“It’s a happy face.” “They’re food cubes.” “No, the cubes form a … never mind …” — That might be my favourite John and Aeryn moment from the first season. It’s just so perfectly on character, speaking to how close these two are becoming and how much they fundamentally do not understand each other. It might speak to how innocent and boyish Crichton remains at this point, but a part of me likes to think that after everything he goes through, there are moments when the John of later seasons would still try to make smiley-faced food for Aeryn.