Thursday, December 26, 2013

Farscape: DNA Mad Scientist

My Farscape rewatch continues with "DNA Mad Scientist." And holy crap cakes, is this an insane episode. I mean, "PK Tech Girl" was my first exposure to Farscape and that was pretty damn hallucinatory-trippy-bizarre. I can only imagine what someone would think if they happened upon this episode with no prior warning!

Moya's crew arrives at the laboratory of a famed scientist called NamTar, who has amassed the largest cross-referenced DNA database in the known universe. So large, in fact, that he can pinpoint the system of origin of any species in the galaxy if he has a sufficient DNA sample. Since the crew is lost in the Uncharted Territories with no idea how to get back to their respective homes, they jump at the chance to obtain star maps from NamTar--even though the DNA extraction process involves a horrific needle in the eye. Yikes! Aeryn is the only crewmember who refuses to participate, since she is a Peacekeeper and can never return "home" without being executed as a traitor. NamTar announces he's located the home systems for every crew member... except for Crichton, of course. Earth remains distant and unknown. But NamTar demands a steep price--an arm of Pilot, since that species is rare and valuable to the scientist. What's worse is that Zhaan, D'Argo and Rygel go behind Crichton's and Aeryn's backs and assault Pilot, with D'Argo slicing off Pilot's arm with his Qualta blade. This naturally sets off some serious conflict amongst the crew. Crichton, as desperate as he is to get home, takes the others to task for their ruthlessness. While the arguments rage, Aeryn returns to NamTar, asking the scientist to find her a Sebacean colony far from Peacekeeper space, so she might live out her life among her own species. Instead of taking a sample of her DNA, however, NamTar injects her with Pilot DNA, which spreads like a virus and begins to transform Aeryn into a grotesque chimera.

Crichton takes Aeryn back to NamTar hoping to force the scientist to cure her, but the mad scientist proves immune to blaster fire--he simply regenerates the damage--slaps Crichton around and claims Aeryn as a lab specimen. NamTar wants to graft Pilot's vast multitasking capabilities to his genome, but his efforts thus far have failed and so he is using Aeryn as a bridge. Crichton learns from Kornata--NamTar's much-abused lab assistant--that NamTar himself started out as a simple lab rat, that Kornata herself was the lead researcher at the lab. As her team experimented with various genetic techniques, NamTar gained intelligence and began "improving" himself, unknown to anyone else, until he was able to take over. The maps home NamTar provided Moya's crew in the form of a crystal is actually a double-cross, meant to erase Moya's memory once downloaded, leaving the Leviathan lost in space. Crichton destroys the crystal just in time, Kornata develops an antidote for Aeryn on Moya, and also a drug to strip the grafted DNA from NamTar's genome. Crichton then confronts NamTar, who shows him Aeryn, almost completely transformed. NamTar then delivers a soliloquy about all creatures striving toward perfection, comments which remind Crichton very much of Hitler, or maybe Josef Mengele. Kornata surprises NamTar, injecting him with the reversion drug, and Crichton injects Aeryn with the antidote to return her to normal. NamTar is reduced to a rat-like Muppet that looks suspiciously like Salacious Crumb from Return of the Jedi. The ordeal leaves everyone shaken, Aeryn most of all, and trust amongst Moya's crew is at the lowest point it's been since the pilot episode.

Commentary: This is a cold-hearted episode. Up until this point, the disparate, occasionally antagonistic crew had been growing closer and opening up to each other. In fact, Moya's crew was in danger of marching happily into a Kumbaya, everyone-loves-each-other dynamic until this episode, which pulls the rug out from underneath the viewer's expectations. Zhaan, the peaceful, meditative Mr. Spock analog, suddenly became a ruthless enabler when her interests were at stake, fallout from her "dark" reversion in the battle against Maldis the previous episode. This episode showed that events in Farscape had consequences and the crew carried a lot of baggage along with them. I appreciated that. One of my big beefs with Star Trek: Voyager was that there seemed to be no consequences, and that the Maquis and Starfleet officers, who were ferocious adversaries, quickly fell into a trusting, disciplined relationship with each other. It seemed like every other episode a shuttle craft got blown up, yet nobody worried about replacing it--by the next week they'd replicated another, ready to be blown up whenever the script called for false drama. For a small starship cut off from all support and succor, this rang very, very hollow for me. Farscape never fell into this trap. Hell, there are episodes where the crew is desperate and on the verge of starvation. I'd have liked to see that on Voyager.

Also, lest I forget, the NamTar design is over the top. Crazy. Wild. The head is insanely articulated, but what really sells the alienness to me is the backward-facing knees and the stilted way he walks. A straightforward, practical effect, sure, but one rarely seen on SF television. It was much appreciated by me.

Crichton Quote of the Episode:: "Well, gotta give me a clue here, Aeryn. Is this something new? Or is this just your usual PMS, Peacekeeper military sh--"

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