Farscape: Taking the Stone

After Chiana learns of her brother’s death, she leaves Moya and joins a cult of ‘shroom and adrenaline junkies, prompting Crichton to try to save her from herself.

Crichton: “When did you get so insightful?”
Aeryn: “I understand loss.”
Crichton (sadly): “So do I.”

I’ve written a lot about the themes of identity and home in Farscape, but have never directly addressed one of the series’ other major themes: loss. Loss is a fundamental element in the Farscape tapestry, and finding ways to cope with loss drives a substantial portion of the plot and character development on the show. Even as our heroes wrestle with their sense of identity and their search for home, they must constantly cope with the loss of same. Past losses, and fears of losing what they have managed to regain, influence nearly all their choices and often provide the narrative momentum for the series. Hell, for the bulk of the first season, the crew was on the run from a vengeance-mad military commander driven by grief and loss!

Until this week, we haven’t had much opportunity to explore this theme with Chiana. We know how she responds to threats to her freedom or to the possible loss of her individuality, but we know very little about her background and how her exile from her homeworld has affected her. Unlike the others, she’s got no interest in returning home. But does she still mourn the loss of her friends and family? Given that she’s allowed herself to become attached to our wayward crew, it’s reasonable to assume that she feels the loss of a “family” support network to a certain extent. And yet, she’s never seemed as lost or damaged as the rest of the crew.

Based on what we learned this week, perhaps she’s never seemed as adrift as the others because she’s always felt the connection to her brother, Nerri. He’s been physically with her all this time, in the form of a surgically implanted “life disc” that links her life force to his. Even if she lost her current makeshift family, she knew her brother was somewhere out there in the universe, so she was never truly “on her own.” But now Nerri’s gone, and for the first time, Chiana has to confront the same kind of painful loss that dogs her shipmates daily, as well as the terror of facing life alone.

Now, I understand that reactions to grief can be completely irrational, but I can’t quite wrap my brain around what Chiana was thinking on the cemetery planet. Did she really want to die? Did she understand that she was supposed to do the “death jump” and not just the “sonic net jump”? If the former, did she decide on this course of action because she bought into Molnon’s philosophy about conquering the fear of death by choosing the time of your demise? Or did she simply want to do something incredibly dangerous to prove to herself that she was alive, as Aeryn postulated?

Based on her final conversation with Crichton before she jumped, maybe we can infer that she always considered the link to her brother to be her source of strength and courage. “I never had any courage. As a kid, Nerri gave me everything. I just … I just followed him.” Crichton giving her the brush-off back on Moya, convinced her she had no one else to turn to for support and was truly alone now. She needed to figure out how to face life on her own. When she saw Das and the others jump, she latched onto that as a way to test herself. Perhaps she initially went along with Molnon’s proposal because he presented her with a clear way to take control of her fear. But, deep down, she didn’t really want to die, she just needed to prove to herself that she has the courage to continue living without that connection to Nerri. And to no one’s surprise but her own, she does. “You’ve shown me courage plenty of times.”

This week’s adventures also turned out to be a “teachable moment” for Crichton. As he told Aeryn, he understands loss. All too well, in fact, and for the last several episodes, that understanding --- and the fear it induces --- has been blinding him to the best interests of his friends. Quite frankly, he’s been an arrogant, insufferable jerk, of late. I know it’s nothing new for Crichton to adopt a morally superior attitude when it comes to various facets of his strange, new world; but he’s never seemed quite so aggressive and condescending in his attempts to “protect his friends from themselves” as he has these last few weeks. It’s as though almost losing Aeryn, and then nearly dying several times over, have made him irrationally overprotective and convinced him that he knows what’s best for everyone. He stepped way over the line trying to control D’Argo’s choices last week, and this week --- despite Aeryn’s and Chiana’s repeated attempts to get him to understand that Chiana’s pain is not about him, and he should just support her through her grieving process --- he spent the better part of the episode either telling Chiana what to do, trying to get others to tell her what to do, or attempting to force her to do what he wanted. This shift in character is, perhaps, understandable, but I miss the old Crichton.

Fortunately, seeing Chiana successfully make that leap of faith seems to have been a sort of wake-up call for Crichton. He was so sure she was going to kill herself in a misguided attempt to find solace; but when she landed in the net and gracefully regained her feet, he suddenly seemed to recognize that his “guidance and support” had far more to do with his own fears than what his friend needed. In his subsequent conversation with Aeryn, he acknowledged that he’s been acting rather out-of-character recently, and that his efforts to protect his friends weren’t doing them or himself any good. I’m hopeful that going forward, we’ll get back to the Crichton we’ve come to know and love, and can finally set aside the overbearing blowhard.

Wow. That’s a lot of critical analysis for an episode I didn’t actually like that much. When it was over, my husband and I had a little debate about which episode was worse: ‘Vitas Mortis’ or ‘Taking the Stone’? I’d say this one, because not only did I find most of the happenings down on the planet either confusing or tedious, but we were also subjected to the ridiculous and completely pointless “Rygel turns grave robber” subplot. (Did we really need to watch him stealing from the dead and refusing to acknowledge that it was completely reprehensible to know what a selfish, greedy, and morally compromised scumbag he can be?) But, I will give this one credit for having thematic resonance, for giving us a little more background on Chiana, and for hopefully bringing an end to boorish Crichton.

Other Thoughts

After so many months away from the series, it was a serious letdown to come back to such a subpar episode. Guess that will teach me to go on a Farscape reviewing hiatus!

Why did Crichton and Aeryn take Rygel with them to the planet in the first place? What possible use did they think he would be in getting a grief-stricken Chiana to come back?

Rygel eating the critter that crawled out of the dead royal’s eye was utterly revolting. My husband and I both started squealing in disgust when he took a bite out of that thing.

Why is it that all the reddish-skinned races we meet are drug addicts?

I couldn’t understand most of what Molnon and his people said, and I had a hard time following their stoner logic for needing to “take the stone.” I was able to make a bit more sense of it on a second watch. For others that may have been confused, apparently the clans celebrate a new life by having someone purposely make a death jump. Members are willing to do this, because the alternative is dying from radiation poisoning at 22-years-of-age. They choose to “take the stone” to avoid the ravages of a slow death and to eliminate the fear of never knowing exactly when death will come knocking.

It was a refreshing change of pace for our crew’s outside interference and “enlightenment” to have absolutely no effect on the way the clans chose to live their lives.

Vyna’s see-through pregnancy belly was bizarre and intensely creepy. Some stuff just shouldn’t be visible from the outside.

World building bits: life discs, which create a permanent life link between two people; royal cemetery planets, to keep those pesky dead leaders from sleeping their eternal sleep too close to where you rest your own head; and sonic nets, which are sustained by the user’s voice and used to cushion a fall during aerial training.

Quotes

Crichton: “Did you catch any of that?”
Aeryn (looking self-conscious): “Not much. Except all the ‘I’m worn out’ dren.”

Crichton (re: Chiana): “Be nice.”
Aeryn: “I’m not good at nice.”
Crichton: “Just don’t shoot her.”

Chiana: “Crichton, why I’m here --- it’s not about you. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not your kid, I’m not your sister, and I’m only your … trelk in your dreams. So please, please go away.”
Crichton: “I’m trying to help.”
Chiana: “I don’t want it, and I don’t need it.”

Crichton: “Aeryn, what the hell is wrong with you? You are the pin-up girl for frontal assault! You should be dragging her back to the ship yourself!”
Aeryn: “Crichton, just listen to me, will you? If Chiana really wants to, she’s gonna find a way to kill herself. And maybe not here or now. So you have to let her work through this on her own. You cannot take her back to Moya like this.”

Final Analysis: Not a great episode, but a good extension of a major series theme to a relatively unexplored character.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.

2 comments:

TJ said...

This is probably the worst Farscape episode IMO.

You said it yourself, Jess. This was your punishment for having that hiatus...:)

Patryk said...

Luckyly for you the next two episodes are brilliant.