Friday’s Rag Tag Crew: Farscape Season 1 Episode 9 “DNA Mad Scientist”

I’m not doing an episode-by-episode review of Farscape but I am watching it bit by bit. There are a lot of episodes and I’ve been watching other things but I’m about halfway through Season 1. So far mainly interesting episodes but a bit lacking in direction. The premise that Crichton is on the run from the Peacemaker Crais, has had a limited impact on the story. I enjoyed Episode 7 “PK Tech Girl”, which did expand on the Peacekeepers a bit but in general, it feels like the backstory about the Peacekeepers and why there was a prison ship etc etc hasn’t actually been worked out yet. Crais himself has really only turned up again in a more fantastical episode where Crichton is captured by a Q-like psychic sorcerer.

There’s also still a sense that the characters and the relationship between them is unstable. Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) has more clearly settled into a stable characterisation, as has Rygel but D’Argo and Zhaan feel like they get variations on their personality from episode to episode. That maybe be because the show isn’t in a clear sequence of stories (I note the episode order on Amazon Prime is slightly different to that on the Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Farscape_episodes )

Part of what is unclear is what the crew are trying to do. Escape for the Peacekeepers, sure but they have sort of done that. Episode 9 “DNA Mad Scientist” asserts a clearer answer to that.

The episode title is oddly utilitarian. It’s a gothic, body-horror episode featuring a bunch of mad scientist tropes and DNA. The title reads like a stand-in name for the episode that was left unchanged.

In the cold open, the crew (aside from Sun and Pilot) are each, in turn, having a large needle put into their right eye. The character design of the scientist Nam Tar is genuinely impressive, giving him an almost satanic look. He doesn’t have cloven hooves but he does have complex jointed legs that must have been a real challenge for the actor (prop designer Adrian Getley https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0315225/ ) to walk around in.

The argle-bargle explanation is that NamTar can extract from a person’s DNA, their planet of origin and (somehow) a route back to that planet. For the crew of the Moya, that means a way back to their respective homes. Sadly for Crichton, it turns out that Earth and Humans aren’t in NamTar’s files.

Now here is where things start getting even wilder. The price NamTar demands for the information is simple: the DNA of Pilot. However, it is the size of the sample that raises the stakes: NamTar needs a whole armful. Unfortunately, Rygel had negotiated the deal without establishing the price, creating what appears to be a moral dilemma for the crew.

Delightfully and shockingly, it turns out that this isn’t even remotely a moral dilemma for D’Argo and Zhaan, who head back to the ship and despite Pilot’s protests chop off one of his arms. We do learn later that Pilot regenerates easily but it is a disturbing moment. So why did I say “delightfully”? It’s such a sudden swerve away from when the plot is going I laughed in surprise and then felt bad about it because, good grief, you can’t just go around chopping off your comrade’s arms because you want to go home.

Does that whole bit work? Not really. The idea that Rygel, D’Argo and in particular Zhaan are so desperate to find a way home that they would cut off a comrade’s arm hasn’t really been established prior. Zhaan seems very out of character here, as the empathic one of the bunch but this may be due to events in the previous episode with the evil sorcerer (Zhaan has to embrace her own inner darkness to defeat him).

Well, that’s all fairly shocking but things only get darker. Sun had initially opted out of the whole great-big-needle in the eye thing because she knows where her home planet is but can’t go home because she is a renegade Peacekeeper. However, she rethinks this decision. Maybe, there is a planet somewhere occupied by her own species that is outside of Peacekeeper territory. She returns to NamTar to find out.

NamTar tricks her and instead of extracting her DNA, he injects her with Pilot’s DNA, starting a metamorphosis in Sun which will turn her into a humanoid-pilot hybrid.

Things go very badly for everybody. Rygel, D’Argo and Zhaan feud as to whose home plane they will go to first. This dispute intensifies when they discover they can only extract one route map from the data NamTar provides.

Meanwhile, Sun has started to grow tentacles. Crichton attempts to confront NamTar but the being has both size and psychic powers as advantages of Crichton. Instead, Crichton enlists the help of NamTar’s hideous-looking assistant.

The plot twist is that the monstrous-looking, servile assistant is actually the original research scientist. NamTar was the original experiment to create an enhanced being.

Luckily she can make a magic DNA reversing formula. Crichton uses that to de-evolve NamTar back into a muppet and turns the slimy Sun-Pilot hybrid back into Claudia Black. D’Argo apologies to Pilot and the credits role.

It is very much a WTF episode full of disturbing ideas. What it does well is to place the crew at odds with each other, emphasising that this is a group formed by circumstance rather than mutual loyalty. Less good is that the two most human characters take a principled stand on the issue of cutting off Pilot’s arm (without his consent) and the more alien/muppet/prosthetic characters all take more objectionable positions.

It doesn’t really work. The character shifts needed, the contrivance of the conflict, and the overly neat resolution all work against the episode. However, it is a dramatic promise that the show can go to weird and very disturbing places.


12 responses to “Friday’s Rag Tag Crew: Farscape Season 1 Episode 9 “DNA Mad Scientist””

  1. I’m sure that the backwards reading of NamTar’s name is no coincidence.

    It’s quite common for shows to have a wobbly first season so don’t hold the problems with this episode against it. It gets really nuts (and so does Crichton) as it goes on. And one of the best characters is not introduced until near the end of season 1.

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    • I’m enjoying it so far. It’s not *compelling* but mainly because there is little between-episode continuity yet. What I really like about this episode is that it just doesn’t go the way you expect it to until the very end

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      • The order Prime has for the first season — production order rather than intended viewing order — doesn’t help. The character developments are a bit better in the intended order.

        And later it will swing to the other end of the spectrum: if you don’t watch season three in order you’ll be lost. Excellent in hindsight, not so good at the time on a network channel.

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  2. When a found family is not a found family yet, its members may initially and sometimes at pressure points make selfish, violent and distrusting decisions, especially when the universe they’re in rewards and encourages such decisions and when they have been prisoners and victims. But as they become a found family, behavior can change. Not that Farscape ever stops being whacky though.

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    • I loved the wackiness that ran through the whole series. And after they really do become a family, it was crunchy goodness (Except for the redheaded screaming chick — could have done without her).

      There was a panel at Worldcon a few years into it that they had to hold twice because the room wasn’t big enough.

      Also, not very far into it, nobody thought of Pilot or Rygel as Muppets any more. They were just them. Pilot’s backstory is heartbreaking; he’s probably the most principled character of the bunch.

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  3. I read that this episode title was a placeholder, because they weren’t originally going to have episode titles and changed their mind very soon before the first season was due to be broadcast.

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