Farscape: My Three Crichtons

D'Argo: "You did what you thought was right, John."
Crichton: "I did what I knew was wrong."

I literally cringed at the idea of starting off my reviews with the de-evolution episode, because I honestly couldn't remember if it was any good. Evolution/de-evolution episodes in sci-fi are kind of like a red shirt on Star Trek, pretty much doomed to die before they even have a chance. To say I was deeply surprised that this wasn't a bad episode at all would be a massive understatement.

As far as plot goes, another strange, marginally unexplained space phenomenon crosses paths with Moya and her crew. This time it is an inter-dimensional biological research device and specimen collector. Of course the first thing that happens is it focuses on Crichton and Aeryn shoots it, and as a result the object subjects Crichton to some bizarre stuff, as per usual on this show.

The reasons why it focused on Crichton were eventually answered and actually made a little bit of sense. This device had literally been capturing a single copy of all the various alien races in this area of space as specimens for its research. It had already succeeded in capturing pretty much everything already, and was headed back home when it came across Moya, and as per its function, checked out its inhabitants. Crichton, being unique in the part of the galaxy, was a species that the device had never encountered before, so it tried to collect him.

The rest of the sci-fi contrivances that the device does over the course of the episode did work within the definitions of the device, but felt a little deus ex machina to me. We got it opening a dimensional portal (which was powerful enough to suck Moya into it), and generating duplicates of Crichton at different stages along his species genetic evolution. Still, as a rationale for a specific fantasy sci-fi plot, it has just the right amount of plausibility that it didn't throw the whole situation down the toilet.

Yet none of that would've mattered if the rest of the story sucked, which by all rights it should have. I think I can attribute this to the fact the writers went for character study instead of horror show. Pretty much every time something like a metamorphosis/evolution/de-evolution plot is attempted, we often see the poor character suffer through it like he or she has been recast in The Fly. The typical tropes for that plot are miserably deformed makeup, bizarre character choices, and an eventual last minute cure. Save for the makeup, this episode deftly avoids it all.

The hook is that all three versions of Crichton are active all at once. They make an interesting triangle, reflecting two extremes of Crichton's personality, along with his true balanced self. This may not be the most original way to conceive of these two broad archetypes, which were a hyper-intelligent, cold and logical future version (Brain Crichton), and a simpleminded, furry, and occasionally violent cave man version (Cave Crichton). However, how these other Crichtons interact with the crew, and how they acted within the framework of the situation was engaging and a bit surprising.

The new versions of Crichton weren't broad-stroke at all. They were subtlety done with a nice amount of attention paid to how those changes (de-evolution/evolution) would affect Crichton's personality if he was suddenly altered. Cave Crichton was suddenly without his mind, and terrified of what he had become. He was violent on occasion, but turned out to also be surprisingly gentle and noble. Whereas Brain Crichton quickly became cold and calculating, leaving behind his humanity for an overwhelming sense of self-preservation masquerading as logic.

Yet what really stuck me was Chiana's immediate connection to Cave Crichton. She was the first to realize the value in the less developed version, and actively took steps to protect him when the inevitable twist came that one of the three would have to be sacrificed. It was also fun that no one trusted Brain Crichton, and for good reason, since Brain Crichton was willing to do the things that Crichton himself wouldn't let himself do because they crossed lines of ethics and morality.

In the climax of the story, there was really only one solution, that both new versions of Crichton had to go away. And the moral dilemma that Crichton had to face was emotional and difficult. It was slightly predictable to have Brain Crichton turn and go all homicidal, but it was nice that Cave Crichton killed Brain Crichton and then sacrificed himself. It was obviously the only solution to the plot, but it didn't save Crichton from facing some moral questions about his actions.

Bits:

Aeryn stealing parts from Crichton's module. That's a frequent back and forth.

There is lots of duplicating and body swapping on this show, and those are often the best episodes.

It is implied that Brain Crichton has a smaller... package.

The makeup for Brain Crichton and Cave Crichton wasn't that effective, but not horrible, either. I think the evolved makeup was sufficiently creepy to create a sense of instant distrust. It was cool that the rest of the crew felt that creepy vibe too.

Rygel, of course, didn't care which Crichton was sacrificed to the sphere, as long as he survived. I do wonder, though, would he have really thrown the true Crichton in? Sparky has some complex moral standards, much like Quark from DS9. He appears not to care in the slightest -- but this crew has become his family.

I loved that Brain Crichton constantly threw out a solution to the immediate problem a minute or so before our Crichton came up with the same solution. But what was really telling was that, even though Brain Crichton proved himself a couple of times, Aeryn deferred to the true Crichton to make sure it was the right move again and again.

Quotes:

Crichton: "Oh god, another critter."

Crichton: (to Pilot) "Yes, mister bad news."

Rygel: "Well, if I see the creature, you'll be the first to know."
D'Argo: "I'll be sure to follow your screams."

Crichton: "Since when do we take the easy way out?"

Chiana: (to Crichton) "You think this guy's nothing? He's you! He's warm, he's sensitive, he's everything I've ever liked about you."

Brain Crichton: (to Crichton) "Remember the way you first saw the ape man? How you could legitimize sacrificing him? Well, guess what? That's the way I see you."

Crichton: "So you're the future. I'm glad I won't be here to see it."

D'Argo: "You did what you thought was right, John."
Crichton: "I did what I knew was wrong."

Chiana: "For what it's worth, I'm glad it worked out the way it did."
Crichton: "I wish I could be. I always thought I was a good guy, Chiana. But it was the least developed one of me, the one I thought least likely, did the right thing. Somehow you knew."
Chiana: "I know you."

I wouldn't go so far as to call this a great episode, but I enjoyed it more than I expected I would.

3 out of 4 Duplicates of Crichton.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

6 comments:

Jess Lynde said...

Yea, Farscape is back! Sorry to saddle you with this episode as your first one out of the gate, J.D.! But, unfortunately, my complete lack of desire to watch it again for my quote run is what partially led to my having to "retire" from reviewing the show. My initial notes said "I wouldn't say it is appallingly bad. They tried hard to touch on some morality and the logic v. emotion divide. And they tried to give us a view into everyone’s perspectives. All of which I found very consistent with past characterization. But it just felt like such a long boring trip to get to the fairly obvious end result. [...] Very worthwhile moral dilemma at the core. Just not a very engaging or entertaining exploration of the topic."

I enjoyed your take on it though. I ended up referring to the two versions of Crichton as "Caveman Crichton" and "Brainiac Asshole Crichton." You were much kinder to his more advanced counterpart. :)

So any thoughts on why Brainiac Asshole Crichton occasionally sounded so exceedingly Texan? Maybe the bizarro horse teeth made it hard for Ben Browder to talk normally?

J.D. Balthazar said...

Yeah, I was waffling between 2 1/2 and 3 for this one. I didn't hate it at all, and I thought the character study made it worth the price of admission.

As for Ben's accent, I think whenever you have an obstacle to speech, you revert to what is comfortable. Since he has to affect his voice for the part, it makes sense that his real accent would come out with the false teeth.

I love Brainiac Asshole Crichton, I wish I had thought of that.

Stephen said...

Hooray for the return of Farscape reviews! I must admit I couldn't muster enough self-control to wait for the reviews, so am now up to the end of this season, but looking forward to the reviews from your perspective J.D!

Anonymous said...

Yay for more Farscape reviews..Have reached the fourth season but this one didn't linger in the mind long. Better is to come.
Anna

J.D. Balthazar said...

I probably should've mentioned it in my review, but I'm a huge fan of Farscape and this will be my third time watching the series (I actually own it all on DVD) as a whole.

That being said, I'm still a touch fuzzy on when stuff happens since it was years ago that I last watched it all. Also, my first run through, i.e. when it aired, was very choppy and I know I missed a few episodes.

So going through the series again will be somewhat fresh to me.

Suzanne said...

I am very excited to see these reviews, J.D. I have only been through the series once fairly recently, but I liked it so much that I bought the DVDs. I will look forward to rewatching some of my favorite episodes with you. Great review! I didn't remember this one too well, but your review brought some of it back to me and made me appreciate it more.