Farscape: The Way We Weren't

When Chiana discovers a video revealing that Aeryn was involved in the slaughter of Moya’s original pilot, Pilot and Aeryn are forced to confront some ugly and painful truths from their pasts.

Wow. Just … wow. ‘The Way We Weren’t’ is a profoundly shocking and moving glimpse into the overlapping histories of Aeryn and Pilot. The episode completely upends our perceptions of who they are, deepens our understanding of the choices that continue to shape them, and forces us (and Moya’s crew) to reconcile the characters we’ve come to know and love with the two people who were willing to trade the lives of others to reach their dreams. It delves into questions of identity, personal responsibility and worth, atonement, and the possibility of redemption. It’s a stunning hour that’s incredibly illuminating.

Aeryn’s history with Velorek explains so much about why she continually holds Crichton at arm’s length, and why she still can’t bring herself to admit she loves him. She was raised in an environment where long-term romantic partnerships were forbidden, and sexual attraction was nothing more than a biological need to be satisfied with speed and discretion. “You don’t connect with anyone openly. And never with any longevity.” Procreation was arranged by High Command to fill the ranks, and all other encounters were deemed “recreation.” Yet, in this environment, Aeryn once allowed herself to feel something for a partner. To briefly consider the possibility of happiness and satisfaction beyond flying her prowler and casually recreating. She fell for a man very similar to Crichton, who believed in her and encouraged her to reach beyond her Peacekeeper training. A caring man who told her she could be more. And she utterly betrayed that man. She abandoned him to torture and death, so that she could return to prowler duty. In the wake of that choice, how can she trust herself to be with Crichton? How can she return his love, when she doesn’t truly believe herself worthy?

It all makes so much sense now, and I can only hope that learning Aeryn’s dark past has also deepened Crichton’s understanding of what’s holding her back. I got the impression from their final, silent exchange that he’s disappointed by her continued hesitation, but understands the reasons for it and is willing to be patient. She is making some progress, after all. She can’t quite admit her feelings for him yet, but she won’t deny them either.

The shocking revelation that Pilot was complicit in the death of Moya’ previous pilot was equally illuminating, and fit wonderfully with his previous characterization. In the past, he’s made several comments about his species being incapable of space flight and his view that service aboard a Leviathan is a “perfectly equitable” tradeoff for a drastically shortened life cycle and having to prioritize others’ needs. Being Moya’s pilot was clearly the fulfillment of his greatest desire, even before we learned just how great his longing for the stars was. “The stars. […] I dream of nothing else.”

Similarly, several little and not-so-little moments over the last season suddenly make much more sense in the wake of this revelation. Now that we know Pilot has only been with Moya for three years and was forcibly grafted onto her, we can understand his apparent embarrassment or shame at his inability to discover all that had been done to her by the Peacekeepers (‘I, E.T.’); his incomplete comprehension of Moya’s vast store of data; and previous hints that he feels “not yet worthy” of being her pilot (‘Thank God It’s Friday … Again). Most importantly, his relatively minor reaction to the brutal assault in ‘DNA Mad Scientist’ no longer seems incredibly bizarre. After all, how could he truly begrudge the temporary loss of an arm so the others could achieve their dreams, when the price he was willing to pay was so much higher?

Aeryn suggested to Crichton that Pilot’s memories of that time were just now coming back to him, but I don’t think he ever forgot the price he paid to reach the stars. He may have pushed it to the back of his mind, or tried to will the memories away, but the pain from the grafting process no doubt served as a constant reminder that he didn’t truly earn his place. His angry, visceral reaction to seeing the footage struck me as a classic case of transference or deflection. “It isn’t me on that recording committing barbaric slaughter. With no remorse.” Learning that Aeryn actually participated in the cold-blooded murder allowed Pilot to redirect all his shame and self-loathing for his role in the original pilot’s death onto her. To continue denying his own failings and responsibility. Note that he doesn’t actually attack her in blind rage until she reminds him that they both share DNA with the original pilot and says, “Do you have any idea how I felt when I saw it? When I was reminded of what I had done?” Yes, he does, Aeryn. All too well. Which is exactly why he lashed out at her, much like she unleashed her self-loathing and regret on that punching bag in the training room. Similarly, Pilot’s attempt to banish Aeryn was merely an effort to avoid the reminder of his own responsibility in the whole hideous mess. “You killed this ship’s first pilot! The pilot that belonged here. I will not have you aboard, defiling her with your presence!”

For me, it is these reactions that constitute the real meat of the episode. As illuminating as it is to learn about the choices Pilot and Aeryn made not so long ago, it is witnessing their struggle to cope with those choices now that has the most revelatory power. Let’s face it: they both made selfish, horrifying decisions with terrible consequences, and just as learning the truth shakes the confidence of their shipmates, it calls into question our own faith and investment in these characters. How can we continue to root for Pilot and Aeryn knowing what they did? Do they deserve our affection and compassion, when they had none? Or do they deserve banishment and death?

The answer to those questions lies in the way they confront and come to terms with their “memories of a time none of us wanted to remember.” As we witness their passage from violent rages to broken sobs to numb grief, and see them resign themselves to exile or death, we come to understand the depth of their shame, self-loathing, and regret. More importantly, we see that they are no longer the two people who allowed others to die to advance their own self interests. They have grown into people who can’t fathom not offering support to a friend in need, and who are unwilling to let others pay for their sins. Given the chance to wallow in their shame and regret --- putting their need to punish themselves ahead of the others’ welfare --- Aeryn and Pilot choose a different path. They choose friendship, compassion, and the possibility of redemption.

Aeryn and Pilot reaching out to each other in his den, offering understanding, comfort, and strength, is a powerful and poignant moment, which reduces me to tears every time I see it. “We’ve come a long way since then, Pilot. And we’ve still got a long way to go. Take the journey with me.” It stands in stark contrast to Pilot’s earlier violent attack on Aeryn, and is a beautiful testament to how far they’ve come overall. While we and the others can’t condone or necessarily forgive their past actions, we can at least accept that those choices were made in a different time and place and recognize that they have changed. They now stand ready to make different choices and to continue working towards redemption, together, thus justifying our original faith in them and reconfirming that it is, indeed, worth taking the journey with them.

Other Thoughts

Given how shocking and emotionally devastating the revelations of this episode were, I was incredibly impressed with the relative maturity everyone displayed in processing the blows. Yes, Aeryn and Pilot had some self-pitying and destructive moments, but, for the most part, they and everyone else approached the situation in a very adult manner. Chiana and Crichton took the footage to the others, and then they confronted Aeryn with it together, to give her a chance to make her case. Chiana and Crichton both also recognized that learning of Aeryn’s past actions, while upsetting, doesn’t really change the woman they’ve come to know and trust. She has a past. They all do. “What have you guys been thinking all this time? What, she was out picking baskets of rawless buds while the other mean Peacekeepers did all the really nasty stuff? She was a Peacekeeper.”

That said, I was really surprised that the others wanted to keep the video from Pilot. Did they think he didn’t know that Moya had another pilot before him? Or that he didn’t know what had happened to her? Or did they think that he was well aware and were just concerned about him finding out Aeryn was one of the Peacekeepers involved in the operation?

This week, I was really fascinated by the juxtaposition of Lani Tupu being a psychotic hardass as Crais and running the gamut of emotions as the voice of Pilot. Sometimes, the fact that he “plays” both roles creates cognitive dissonance for me.

It was so wonderful to have sane and supportive Crichton back in the house this week. This is the first time in the new season that he’s truly felt like Crichton to me.

I absolutely loved the scene with John and Aeryn talking in the training room. Not only was the staging visually interesting --- with them divided by the red point of Peacekeeper symbol on the mat --- but it was just lovely to see them being so calm and emotionally honest with each other. Plus, the painful subtext and longing between them as she discussed her relationship with Velorek was so palpable. Those two have such an amazing connection. And Ben Browder did a fantastic job showing Crichton’s struggle to balance his discomfort and jealousy with his desire to be supportive and to help her open up.

Great small bit with Crichton and D’Argo shooting rock-paper-scissors to see who would go with Aeryn to talk to Pilot. I especially got a kick out of D’Argo’s disgust at losing.

More illumination: Crais’s almost giddy reaction to first being aboard Talyn and subsequent bonding with him certainly takes on new meaning now, eh?

Quotes

Crichton: “We all have things in our past that we’d rather not have on instant replay.”
Zhaan: “True enough, John. But I still can’t accept the cold-blooded slaughter of such a helpless creature.”
Aeryn: “Oh, it’s perfectly fine to cut off one of his arms then, is it, Zhaan?”

Aeryn: “Crichton, you might have noticed that, at times, I’ve … kept you at a distance.”
Crichton: “Many times. Vast distances.”
Aeryn: “There’s a reason for that.”
Crichton: “Just one?”

Aeryn: “I felt something for him that I’d never felt with any of the other men that I’d recreated with. I didn’t know what it was. I guess now I’d say that it was love.”

Crichton: “Well, we’ve never seen Pilot like this before. You chop off his arm, the best he can muster is a few snotty remarks. But this? He shuts down the ship and he tries to kill Aeryn.”

Zhaan: “I’m sorry.”
Aeryn: “No, Zhaan. I am what I am. I did what I did.”
Zhaan: “Aeryn, you had no choice back then. You did exactly what was expected of you. In that world, that was the only kind of Peacekeeper you could be.”

Pilot: “Moya only accepted me, because she was tortured into it. Tortured into it!”

Aeryn: “That recording brought back memories of a time none of us wanted to remember. Based on my actions back then, I deserve to die. If you wish to kill me right now, I won’t stop you. But, please, spare the others and yourself.”

Pilot: “It wasn’t really you who caused her death. It was me. If I hadn’t agreed to come, Velorek may never have found a replacement pilot. But … but I just wanted so desperately to see the stars.”

Pilot: “During the bonding period, I won’t have as much control over Moya’s systems as I had before. It will make it even more tenuous for all of us.”
D’Argo: “It doesn’t matter, Pilot. You deserve to be bonded to Moya naturally.”
Pilot: “I will work hard to deserve it.”

D’Argo: “I’m finished. How does it feel?”
Pilot: “There’s no pain. No longer any pain.”

Final Analysis: A shocking, devastating, and powerful episode. It blows me away every time I see it.

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

2 comments:

Jess Lynde said...

Programming note: (Yes, I just heard the collective scream raised 'round the interwebs.) I likely won't have a review ready for next week due to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. I doubt very much I'll be able to even watch the next episode, much less write about it while dealing with family visits and feasting and such. But rest assured regularly scheduled viewing and reviewing will resume shortly.

HellBlazerRaiser said...

I read about this episode in a book about FARSCAPE (sometime in 2002) before I actually watched the episode. That was a couple of years before I was finally able to watch the show when Sci-Fi reran all the episodes over the spring and summer of '03.

No description of the episode can do justice to the power the episode conveys. It showcases all the best that a series like FARSCAPE offers and shows the power that well plotted and acted SF is capable of.