Farscape Rewatch! — “Taking the Stone,” “Crackers Don’t Matter”
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This week’s pair of episodes couldn’t be more different. On the one hand, we’ve got my very least favorite episode of the entire series, and on the other, we have a an all-time classic, a brilliant piece of television that should be immortalized in bronze and hung over some sort of important building. The thing about TV shows, especially ones that crank out twenty-two plus episodes a year, is that due to budget and time constraints, you’re almost always going to get a few duds. For whatever reason, these episodes just don’t work. It could be because of some fundamental flaw at script-level, or because the director didn’t know what to do with the script, or because the art department got the tone wrong, or maybe you have a dud for a guest star . . . the point is, great TV is a collaborative effort, and if you have people in charge that have a plan, most of the time those dud episodes don’t matter in the long run. Such is the case with “Taking the Stone.”
But here’s the other thing about great TV shows: even the bad episodes have merit. A bad Farscape episode still has more going for it than any other episode of, say, CSI: Miami or Desperate Housewives. Even though I hate hate hate “Taking the Stone,” I can see where that episode was coming from and how it fits into the larger structure of season two. Here’s where you guys come in: I’m riding a fine line with this episode. I can’t tell if I hate it because of some strange personal bias, or if it really is that bad. I will attempt to explain my reasons below, but I would love to hear your thoughts (and always remember, if you aren’t commenting, then you are a bad person). As for “Crackers Don’t Matter,” well, there’s not much to say beyond use of the word “genius.” (As a warning, I discovered that I had ahhhlllloooot to say about “Crackers Don’t Matter,” so feel free to skip the summary and just jump to the long-winded analysis as a time-saver. You’ve seen the episode.)
2X03 — “TAKING THE STONE”
Chiana is stumbling around Moya in some sort of distress, and the music is doing this weird heartbeat thing. She happens upon Crichton, who for some reason can’t take the time out of his busy schedule (which apparently consists of getting electrocuted multiple times while trying to hack into one of Moya‘s systems) to talk to her. She flounders off, even more upset, slices herself open and pulls out a flashing beacon, which quickly dies. This makes her go crazy, kill a DRD, and steal Aeryn’s Prowler. After finding the thingy in the hangar bay, we learn from Zhaan that it’s a “life disc” which when implanted creates a link between two people. It quickly becomes obvious that whoever Chiana was linked to is now dead, so of course Crichton feels like an asshole. Meanwhile, Chiana has landed on a really weird planet that seems to be full of nothing but headstones (yes, headstones) and flashing lights, where she is very soon overcome by some young men who move like monkeys and who are dressed like Deadheads dipped in rotten frosting. We are very clearly supposed to believe she is in trouble and feel sorry for her, and maybe some of you do. Relish that feeling for now; the rest of this episode will be murdering it very soon.
Crichton, Aeryn, and Rygel transport themselves down to the planet (which isn’t really a planet, but a moon, despite its creepy status as a “Royal Cemetery Planet,” according to Rygel) to look for Chiana. They quickly find her (discarded) clothes at the entrance to some sort of mine shaft and head on down. Rygel stays behind to rob a grave, as per the usual. When Crichton and Aeryn do manage to find her, she is less than grateful. Her hair is now pink and frostinged up in dreadlocks, to match the weirdos who live down there, weirdos who keep calling Crichton and Aeryn ‘ancient’ and ‘worn-out.’ Since Chiana is pissed at Crichton, it’s Aeryn who talks to her. Chiana tells her about the strange initiations that take place in this gross colony, and asks her to stay a little while. She also says that Nerri, the man she was linked to through her life disc, was her brother. Later, at “the Gathering,” we learn about “taking the stone.” Molnon, the leader of the weirdos, starts going on and on about being left behind and alone, and then this OTHER weirdo just up and jumps off the cliff while the others are chanting with their arms in the air like monkeys. Except, he doesn’t go splat. This weird energy net catches him. Three others follow. Aeryn calls it a sonic net, says it’s sustained by their voices. Then this OTHER other kid, who Crichton caught acting kind of weird in the tunnels earlier, jumps, and just before he’s about to hit the ground, the voices stop, and he splats. Dead as fuck. “Frell,” says Aeryn.
While all of this is going on, Rygel has taken the transport pod up to Moya with all of his stolen loot. D’Argo isn’t happy about it. After Rygel inventories all his loot, which included a nice little slug-bonus meal, his peaceful nap underneath a mask that he found amongst the booty is interrupted by a chanting Zhaan, who believes the stolen treasure to be cursed. Rygel ignores her, and decorates his room with all the stolen shit from the dead royal people. Then all of a sudden, things start flying off the walls and crashing to the ground, and the death mask seems to be the culprit. Rygel glares at it, and then goes to yell at Zhaan and D’Argo for messing with him. He’s finally convinced to take it all back when a bunch of sparkly stabby things almost skewer him to the wall. He’s back in time to pick the others up and bring them back to Moya.
Back on Planet Death, Chiana is now determined to “take the stone.” She’s talking to this gnarly pregnant woman who has armpit hair and a see-through stomach, so you can see the fetus. All in all, the effect is nauseating. Later, Molnon is talking to Chiana, but I seriously can’t understand a word that is coming out of his stupid mouth. He seems to be trying to convince her to stay, and that this “taking the stone” thing is the most awesome idea in the universe. Then he attacks her with his face. I basically hate him. Crichton sees all of this happening. Despite warnings from Aeryn to stay out of it, Crichton confronts Chiana, and she is hella pissed. She reminds him that he once told her she could jump ship any time, and that now is the time. While he’s stewing off some of his anger over this whole dumb situation, he learns a couple things. First, that none of the weirdos are older than twenty-two, because around that time, they start to become very ill. Second, when the first signs of illness start to appear, they either choose to take the stone and end their lives, or to go into hiding and become a “lost person.” After some pseudo science, it becomes apparent that they’re suffering from radiation poisoning, and that if they were to move out of the caves, they would live longer and better lives, but in the end they decide they would rather die young, because they are idiots. You’ll notice that I’m skipping over everything to do with Molnon, because I hate that fucker. Anyway, Aeryn finally manages to convince Crichton to let Chiana jump. When she doesn’t die, everyone is happy, including me, because that means they’re leaving and I don’t ever have to watch this episode again.
- Originally, Nerri was supposed to be Chiana’s sister, but on the suggestion of Gigi Edgley, he was re-written as a male instead.
- The concept of a planet devoted to the dead came from Rockne S. O’Bannon’s first trip to Australia. While on a location scouting trip, he discovered a cemetery built into the side of a hill. The image stuck with him.
- Weirdly, this awful episode was written by Justin Monjo and directed by the great Rowan Woods, two of Farscape‘s best creative minds. Really don’t know what happened here, guys.
Here’s the thing about “Taking the Stone”: on paper, it doesn’t sound that bad at all. Chiana is the youngest and most emotionally immature of the crew, so of course when her brother dies, she’s not going to react rationally. She’s going to take the most roundabout, awful, teenage way of getting over her grief, and we’re going to have to watch. The episode is set on a planet entirely made up of graves, which in theory gives the story a nice atmosphere, and underground lurks an entire population of idiot young people, which also in theory, seems like a nice setting for Chiana to work her shit out. The death of her brother is crushing, assuming they were close (why else would she be so upset?), but his death also reminds her of her own shortcomings. Again, this makes sense. When people close to us die, we tend to re-evaluate. She lashes out at Crichton and the other Moyans (“Everyone’s so lame on Moya.”) but it’s not really about them. It never is. Chiana has to deal with death for the first time in her life, and she seems to possess a crushing fear of never fully being able to live before that time will come for her. This is why people sky dive and bungee jump, to feel alive, so again, in theory, taking the stone should be an effective way for Chiana to get her yabbos out.
The other parts of the episode that have some meat to them have to do with Chiana, Crichton, and Aeryn’s interactions with one another as they all try to deal with Chiana’s emotional crisis. Again, there’s the family thing, which explains why Crichton is so determined to bring Chiana back aboard Moya, but it’s also that he really cares about her as an individual. He doesn’t want her to throw her life away. I think that’s a nice touch. Older brothers never want to let their sisters go. He thinks by holding on, he can keep her safe, but she needs to come to that decision by herself. It’s kind of strange that Aeryn would be the one to understand what to do, but then again, not only was she herself once a teenage girl, but she lost her entire way of life and had to find a way to move on. “I understand loss,” she says. So does Crichton. The most interesting and intense moment of the episode is what Chiana says to Crichton: “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not your kid, I’m not your sister, and I’m only your, your tralk in your dreams.” At the moment she enunciates the word ‘tralk,’ Gigi Edgley chooses to go down to her knees so that her eyeline, and thus ours, is focused squarely on Crichton’s crotch. It’s a very effective moment, both visually and in terms of the script, in telling us just what Chiana thinks of herself, or rather, what she believes other to think about her.
I’ve talked before about Chiana’s sexualized nature, how she uses her body as a weapon, but here it becomes clear that she’s using it as a defense mechanism. It gives us an insight into her personality that we haven’t necessarily had before. One of the reasons the Crichton/Chiana relationship is so interesting is that you get the feeling Chiana is a character who men treat badly. So what she has in Crichton is a man who not only respects her, but loves her in a way that isn’t demeaning. What we’re seeing in this scene is what Chiana fears most about her relationship with Crichton, the scary possibility that he’s just like all the others who only see her for what they want to see. Again, it’s a very effective moment. Also effective is the scene later in the episode when Crichton has once again failed to convince Chiana not to take the stone, and he becomes so frustrated that he takes it out on Aeryn before stomping away mid-sentence. “If I ever decide to throw myself in front of a bus, I hope you’re not the only one . . .” he spits at her. But I think she understands. I also have to admit, the end scene is nice. “Let’s get out of this dead place,” says Chiana. Of course, I might only like it because it means the episode is over, but let’s give it the benefit of the doubt, shall we?
Honestly? I just hate this episode so much. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been sympathetic to any kind of teenage rebellion story, or maybe it’s just that everything in this episode is so damn ugly, but I think there is more going on here. Let’s start at the beginning. It’s unlike Crichton to ignore Chiana, let alone a Chiana in obvious pain, so right away there’s a hole in the story’s logic. He doesn’t even seem to be doing anything important, but he needs to ignore her so that the rest of the episode can happen. It’s not that Crichton can’t be an asshole, because he can — “Crackers Don’t Matter” is certainly proof of that — it’s that we have to understand why. Crichton in his normal state of rest is kind-hearted, sympathetic, and a good listener, so for him to ignore Chiana is a big breach of character. There is absolutely no reason that he would be so engaged in futzing around with Moya‘s systems that he could fail to hear the pain in Chiana’s voice. Pain is Crichton’s archnemesis. He’s the hero, the cowboy. When one of his own is in trouble, he’s there.
In addition to having little patience for teenage rebellion (most likely due to the fact that it was something that never happened to me as a teenager), the we-have-to-kill-ourselves-at-a-certain-age story tropes are my least favorite. Logan’s Run would be the obvious reference here, and The Next Generation did it with “Half a Life,” but I know I’ve seen others; probably Stargate has done it at least three times, and it’s annoyed me every damn time. This trope makes the culture practicing it seem like idiots. It makes me want to throw things, and the weirdos in “Taking the Stone” are no exception to this. It probably also doesn’t help that the weirdos in “Taking the Stone” are incredibly annoying even without the suicidal tendencies. The actor who plays Molnon gives the character this unexplainable dirty quality that just makes me want to stab him, on top of which he also seems stupid. Why should I give a crap about this character or his people? I see no reason. Even the pregnant girl, Vyna, is totally unsympathetic, largely because the see-through uterus thing, which was probably meant to be sort of cool and alien, comes off as creepy and disgusting, and please shave your pits. Molnon’s machinations are additionally stupid. How in the holy heck would Chiana taking his place at the stone help him in any way? Will it save him from dying of the sickness? No. Will it save him from taking the stone in the future? No. Is it made abundantly clear that he loves taking the stone? Yes. So why the fuck does he need Chiana to replace him? It’s confusing and boring at the same time.
The over-arching theme also fails, I think, in large part due to the design of both the aliens and their environment. This place is supposedly making Chiana feel like she wants to live, as evidenced by the many times she tells Crichton that these are people who really live before they die, but it does not do that for the viewer. For us to buy this story, we need to see these people the way Chiana does, and that just doesn’t happen. The mannerisms of the aliens (weirdos) and the general setting in which they live do not make me want to GO OUT AND LIVE, but in fact, make me want to shower in acid. This could just be a personal thing, but I really really hate it. Additionally, I think the episode wasn’t only harmed by things that made it on film, but by things that were missing. We don’t know Chiana or her brother well enough for this episode to really hit home. We really needed backstory on Chiana and Nerri’s relationship in order to understand why Chiana reacts the way she does. We have no context. Flashbacks would have been nice, or at least some specific details coming from Chiana (I do recognize that flashbacks are just not something Farscape is interested in). To put it simply, I don’t give two shits about Nerri, so it annoys me that Chiana does. Some smaller things: the entire Rygel plot is just pointless and doesn’t connect in any way to the larger Chiana/Nerri/Crichton/Aeryn/Weirdo story, and the freeze frame on Chiana after she takes the stone is just awful. Let me elaborate on that last one: FREEZE FRAMING IS NEVER OKAY.
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2X04 — “CRACKERS DON’T MATTER”
The Moyans are desperate people, and sometimes they do stupid things. Like bringing aboard a dude named T’raltixx to adjust Moya‘s electrical systems in order to somehow make her untraceable, even from Scorpius (who has been busy putting wanted beacons everywhere in the universe). Aeryn and Chiana are fresh from the market where all they’ve managed to buy is a bunch of “dried food rectangles,” a thousand units of crackers. Aeryn is working at hacking into a wanted beacon, which is only one of ten that she saw down on the commerce planet, courtesy of Scorpius, and hence the decision to hastily buy crackers and high tail it out of there before somebody recognized them. T’raltixx, the creepiest motherfucker this side of the Uncharted Territories, has this huge head, bat-like ears, bug fluff all over the huge head, and no eyes. And because he’s so ridiculous, you know he’s going to be terrifying later. Right now, he’s ready to show off his device on Crichton’s module, but Crichton doesn’t trust him, and even when we see the device turn half of the module “invisible,” you know this isn’t going to end well.
T’raltixx convinces them that to build the device large enough for Moya, they need to head back to his home planet. The bulk of the journey will be spent in the light of five pulsars, which he says might affect them in strange ways, but begs them not to worry about it. “It’s rare that it would disturb beings of your sentient stature.” They wait a couple seconds after entering the light, and of course Zhaan starts in on her photogasms (accompanied by some great eye-rolling on Crichton and D’Argo’s part), but nothing seems to happen. They go about their business for awhile, Crichton showing T’raltixx around the ship, but we start to notice cranky behavior on the part of the crew. Despite this crankiness, nothing seems to be really out of the ordinary, that is, until D’Argo catches Rygel hoarding food and starts violently shoving crackers into his mouth. It all starts to spiral from there. John is very condescending to Pilot, calling him “Shellhead,” Pilot having just moments earlier admitted to T’raltixx that he didn’t particularly like any of the others. But Crichton seems to be the only one who is aware that something is off. After Crichton diffuses a messy conflict between himself, D’Argo, Aeryn, and Chiana, the camera pans up and we see T’raltixx crawling around on the ceiling. A DRD spots him, so he kills it with light beams from his eyes. Fuckin’ T’raltixx.
The situation is deteriorating rapidly as everyone becomes increasingly paranoid. Aeryn has taken to wandering the ship with a gun. Rygel is hiding in the walls. Chiana and D’Argo are convinced that Aeryn is some sort of Peacekeeper double agent. Pilot is just snotty. And Zhaan, well, she’s just having a grand ole time. Only John is asking questions. He keeps getting the sense knocked back into him, if only temporarily. While everyone else is making alliances and playing Survivor in Space, Crichton becomes increasingly isolated. An encounter with Pilot has him wondering why the large alien has been affected at all; he hasn’t even seen the light from the pulsars. But before Crichton can make any headway on this revelation, he’s sucked back into the madness. Soon he’s singing and yelling about ice cream, disabling his module and the hangar doors, and just doing his best to be in the way of everyone else’s plans. But even in his crazy state, he’s still trying to get people to put down their weapons. Then things start to get REALLY weird. After Chiana knees him in the nuts, Crichton starts hallucinating Scorpius. First, he imagines that the wanted beacon is talking to him, and then a full on Scorpius materializes. “You’re right, John,” he says, “They don’t know how crazy they are.”
Scorpius is now following Crichton around the ship, taunting him with memories from his past and attempting to turn him against the rest of the crew. Meanwhile, T’raltixx keeps screaming that he needs MORE LIGHT. Pilot obeys. In the hangar bay, Crichton confronts D’Argo at the point of a gun, and even though his intent is to get D’Argo to put down his weapon and stop acting crazy, it doesn’t come across too well. Crichton looks pretty crazy himself, especially when he starts talking to an invisible Scorpius, who has suggested that they kill everyone so they can go to the beach. (He knows a place where they can get margaritas and look at naked Sebacean women.) Fresh from shooting D’Argo in the foot (D’Argo escaped, thanks to Scorpy), Crichton corners Chiana in the hallway and practically rapes her. It is horrifying. And just like that it’s not funny anymore. Aeryn knocks Rygel out just in time for Crichton appear, and they say some nasty things to one another. Of course this is when Scorpy shows up, and this time he’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt and he wants to go eat pizza. John shoots him in the head, which explodes into lots of little floating heads. For some reason, this snaps him out of it again, and he tries to talk Aeryn back into sanity as well. It isn’t happening. So he knocks her unconscious and ties her up.
Later. Crichton’s got everyone tied to the table in the kitchen so he can knock some sense into them about this whole T’raltixx thing. “I need you to understand that crackers don’t matter,” he says, shooting the crackers. While he’s trying to get them to help him, T’raltixx screams for MORE LIGHT, and when Pilot complies, Moya starts to glow. It’s actually kind of pretty. The Moyans have finally come around to Crichton’s plan, and start making preparations. Since John is the least affected, he’ll be the one to kill T’raltixx. The others aren’t happy about this until Chiana points out that the reason Crichton is the least affected is because he’s “deficient.” He has the worst eyesight out of all of them. They dress him up in protective gear, including a paste made from Zhaan’s bile, and weapons, so that he can kill T’raltixx and not go blind or burn up in the process. Pretty soon he’s sneaking into T’raltixx’s chamber all invisible with D’Argo’s Qalta blade, and there’s this totally cheesy fight where Crichton just keeps chopping wires and T’raltixx shoots laser beams out of his eyes. Pretty soon the little bugger starts going crazy himself, running up the walls. Crichton shoots him down, and before stabbing him through the guts, T’raltixx is all wah, wah there are THOUSANDS JUST LIKE MEEE. Honestly, you’re not that threatening, dude. You’re basically a giant bug. SQUASH. No more light. Later, after they’ve disposed of the body (like flushing a cockroach . . . yick), Pilot apologizes to D’Argo and Rygel for his behavior. They’ve all been making apologies like this, apparently. D’Argo tells Rygel that he is ashamed of what he did to him and asks for forgiveness, but Rygel says he can’t forgive him, not yet. He’s not the only one. Everyone is ashamed. Crichton sings “Humpty Dumpty” to himself and then asks Zhaan, “How do we take it all back?” “I don’t know,” she says. Don’t worry, John, you’ll put it back together again. It’s just a stupid nursery rhyme.
- “Crackers Don’t Matter” is considered the first “Mind Frell” episode of Farscape.
- Writer Justin Monjo had to pen the episode in an extremely short time because delays in the completion of “Picture if You Will” forced the rapid production of a shipbound story.
- Director Ian Watson stated he intentionally made odd production choices, such as ending John and Aeryn’s shoot-out with them both running out of bullets, and the use of martial music in a romantic scene: “I was trying to do the unexpected. Trying to push the style and push everything we did into new places. Rather than saying this is safe science fiction, we were trying to work with opposites, trying to make a likable character unlikeable . . . We were trying to do inappropriate things to shake the drama up.”
- A new Rygel puppet was used in this episode, and was almost broken immediately during the cracker force-feeding scene.
- The “crackers” used in the episode were Cruskits, manufactured by Arnotts.
- Danny Adcock (T’raltixx) had to look through a series of mirrors in order to see out of his costume’s facial prosthetics.
- Ben Browder added Crichton humming “The Ride of the Valkyries” while looping the episode’s dialogue.
- Director Ian Watson describes this episode as The Shining retold. Crichton references this when he does his Nicholson impression: “Heeeeere’s Johnny.”
- Series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon said that the show’s production team was still “trying to find the ultimate tone of the show, how far it could go without going absolutely too far. Things like the near-rape scene could be perceived as over the top but were really a question of muscle flexing to see how far we could push the show. But it would have been wrong to push and stay at that level of intensity.”
- “Crackers Don’t Matter” is considered a fan favorite episode. When Farscape was canceled, fans responded by sending Sci-Fi executives packages of crackers in homage to the episode.
- [SPOILER!] Though at first it seems as though Crichton seeing Scorpius is just a hallucination, it in fact marks the first appearance of the neural clone, implanted in Crichton’s head by Scorpius and a crucial part of the story as the season continues.
Aside from the fact that it’s one of the funniest episodes Farscape ever did, what makes “Crackers Don’t Matter” so enjoyable is that it’s perfectly balanced. Yes, it’s funny, but that sense of joyful, manic energy the episode gives off is also tempered by madness, a madness which is fueled by that dark place inside of all of us that wants to give in and do terrible things. Good balance, contrary to popular opinion, is all about contrast. The funny bits are funnier when standing next to the dark bits, and the dark stuff looks even darker if it’s sandwiched five seconds on either side by, say, a constantly orgasming plant-woman, or by a devil dressed in a Hawaiian shirt. (This is one of the many reasons that I prefer shows like Farscape and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Sopranos or Mad Men, those supposedly “great” TV shows I’m supposed to love, but in general find self-important and unengaging: balance. Real life is funny, and real life is tragic, not one or the other.) In some cases, the funny and the sinister are one and the same, like when Crichton calls Aeryn a “frigid, flat-butted, Peacekeeper skank,” and because of the way he says it and the cultural connotations of the words, we laugh, but we’re also asking ourselves, should we be laughing at this? It’s a wonderful dichotomy that jumps back and forth over the lines, between appropriate and inappropriate, sanity and madness. And it’s wonderful because it gives us as viewers that experience as well. Half of our selves are laughing because it’s funny to call people names, especially profanity laced references to body parts, but the other half is cringing because in that moment, Crichton is throwing Aeryn’s worst fears back at her. The thing she struggles with everyday: learning how to be a person. But then there’s that balance thing again, because it’s not just Crichton hurling insults. Aeryn does it as well. ALL of them do it; none are blameless by the end.
But let’s go back to the beginning, because one of the things that kills me about “Crackers Don’t Matter” is how it builds to those moments. The tone of the episode is very light in the teaser, lighter than your normal episode of Farscape, even. Everyone is padding around cheerfully, Aeryn is laughing, despite the nature of her work in hacking the warning beacon, which should be acting as a reminder of their danger, but instead seems to suggest that these people have internalized the danger at this point. Danger is the norm, and this is a group that clearly feels a connection to one another. The camaraderie is almost palpable. No one is even that upset upon learning that all they’ll be eating for the next week or so is crackers. This scene acts as a baseline of sorts, of the ideal Moya, a community of friends who trust one another (with the possible exception of Rygel). Seeing this happiness makes the later scenes all the more striking. But in addition to building a trust with the audience, this scene is also necessary as a kind of negative. What we’re NOT seeing are the little things, the fears that these people hold inside, but which nevertheless are brewing under the surface at some sub-conscious level.
Act One begins with a marvelous red herring from T’raltixx, who uses the pulsars as a distraction from the real problem (the crew being in proximity to T’raltixx himself), with an additional little zing thrown in there about the light only affecting “lesser beings.” These people, as former prisoners, are especially sensitive to accusations of inferiority, so this is brilliantly played by T’raltixx. Being a prisoner, or being hunted as a criminal, is a soul-sucking experience (and in the cases of Aeryn, John, and Chiana, being fish out of water places an additional burden). A prisoner is not a person, it is a possession, something outside what is right and good, and even if the actual physical prison gets left behind, a person could easily spend the rest of their lives trying to cleanse the memory of it from their system. The Moyans are not, and never will be, like everyone else. They are the definition of “ragtag.” At the moment, this isn’t a lifestyle choice (although it certainly may become one, by force of habit). They are the perfect prey for T’raltixx. From there, Act One nicely sets up conflicts already present in the crew, so that the viewer might think the pulsar light might actually be real: Crichton accusing Chiana of “stealing” (playing both on Chiana’s fear of not being accepted by the group and Crichton’s brotherly feelings that could easily turn patronizing), Crichton telling Rygel to hurry up and store food (egging on Rygel’s fear of never having enough, and displaying his repressed contempt for the disgusting little creature), Crichton telling T’raltixx that Rygel eats and craps his body weight twice a day (more contempt), Aeryn being short with Zhaan and Zhaan being suspicious of Aeryn and the beacon (the Peacekeeper versus the Priest), Crichton being snippy with Zhaan and telling her to “get [her] big blue butt down here,” etc. For a moment, we might believe that these people are just cranky, but then D’Argo starts shoving crackers down Rygel’s throat in a disturbing show of aggression and domination. What’s great about all of these conflicts is that as far as they go into madness (and they go pretty far), they are all rooted in real, understandable conflict.
Act Two has everyone taking sides in increasing paranoia. They’re seeing what isn’t there, or distorting what is, but it’s still funny in. The crews’ worst qualities begin to come out, but nothing damaging occurs, nothing that can’t be laughed away (and we are certainly laughing). This is also when it becomes clear that Crichton isn’t responding like the others, who are surpassing him in insanity. But when Crichton starts hallucinating Scorpius in Act Three, it becomes a different story altogether. For those of you who have seen the series before, you know the Scorpius hallucination has other implications (and thus affects your interpretation of “Crackers Don’t Matter” in a significant way), but for you noobs who haven’t seen the rest of season two, the Scorpius clone seems to simply be a manifestation of Crichton’s worst fear (and indeed, it can still be read this way, no matter events of later episodes). It’s very interesting to me that what Crichton really fears comes from the outside. Not only does that suggest the depth of his compassion and understanding for his crew-mates, but also the intensity of his trauma with regards to Scorpius. Nobody else currently aboard Moya was tortured half to oblivion in the Aurora chair, nobody else is as hunted a prize. Scorpius is the thing that comes in the night. In terms of structure, the hallucination also keeps Scorpius visible as a threat to us as viewers. We aren’t privy to Crichton’s nightmares; we don’t know how often he thinks about this. It nicely keeps Scorpius in play without him actually having to be there. Act Three then fully descends into madness, as Crichton, spurred on by the hopeless feelings represented by Scorpy, gives into his basest urges. The near rape of Chiana, even if it wasn’t a real rape, or even if Crichton never really intended to harm Chiana in that way, is certainly a mental rape. Crichton uses his body language as well as his words to bring Chiana down in the worst possible way, objectifying her in a way that she never hoped (but always feared) he would. I’d forgotten that he literally humps her; it’s awful. And then of course there are the awful things Crichton and Aeryn say to one another, but as I discussed above, at least they’re equal in that regard.
And then finally, perhaps awoken by the horrible enormity of what he’s done and almost done, Crichton manages to snag the others and convince them of T’raltixx’s malevolence. Act Four is Crichton trying to fix things, all the while fighting off that insanity. He doesn’t want it to take him again, and even though Act Four brings the return of the funny (the nature of everyone being tied to the table as Crichton shoots crackers all over them is undeniably farcical), we have those awful scenes fresh in our minds. We know where this could end up. The brilliance of the ending, which finds everyone working together in this strange affectionate hatred, is that it ends in comedy, in the true and original sense of the word. In Shakespearean terms, a tragedy is about things falling apart (and this episode could easily have become that), but what makes it a comedy is that despite the fracturing of the crew, they do come together in the end. I also love that it’s Crichton, the “inferior” one (in an episode centered around people trying their best to NOT be inferior) who has to kill the source of the madness and distrust. He may have the least amount of literal eyesight, but in terms of “seeing things,” Crichton is very perceptive. I love the sense of metaphor this episode plays with, how it doesn’t treat “light” or “blindness” in any one way. In the beginning it’s more literal and we have Crichton thinking that T’raltixx is harmless just because he’s blind (when Crichton and the others are the ones being blinded from T’raltixx’s true nature), but from there it goes other places. For one thing, light illuminates, but it also blinds you if you have too much of it in the wrong place. Here, T’raltixx is a literal representation of that former kind of light (his mere presence is enough to give Zhaan oodles of photogasms, and if that isn’t a literal indication of light, I don’t know what to tell you), one which causes more harm by falsely illuminating feelings and ideas that shouldn’t be illuminated without their proper context, and which people keep buried for a reason (most often, this is the thing you are trying to overcome). Because of his poorer eyesight, Crichton is the most sane, the most balanced. He’s still capable of seeing the nuances, the shadows, the bigger picture. He’s the only one who can see that these crackers just don’t matter.
Some smaller observations: The acting in this episode is fabulous. This is very clearly a character piece, and to fully enjoy it you need to know and love these characters. All of the main players (excepting the photogasming Zhaan) slip and slide nicely on that sanity/madness line, and none play it the same. I love the decision to have them eat the crackers throughout. That trivial crunch crunch in between lines just makes for excellent background texture. It’s the little things that mistrust is built on, and that’s why this episode is so hilarious, it’s funny to laugh about squabbles over crackers. The episode wouldn’t have been nearly so successful if it had taken itself seriously. I also love the emerging patriarchalism/chauvinism that becomes glaringly apparent each time D’Argo, Rygel, and Crichton throw the word “bitch” around. It provides several throwaway moments that are nevertheless immensely effective in their offensiveness. Crichton doesn’t just throw “bitch” around lightly, especially at Aeryn. He worships at her feet. But mostly I love the mind frell, the nice slide into madness. Farscape has the distinction of being the only TV show in my mind to simulate insanity quite so effectively, and I love the way that this episode in particular uses light to portray insanity as this overwhelming physical reaction, an inability to distinguish the reality in your individual perception. Also, it’s just really fucking entertaining.
The only quibble I have with this episode is pretty insignificant. T’raltixx’s sole motivation is to gain access to LIGHT but why he needs this light is never made clear, and why now? Can it only be made in Leviathans? Living beings? Was he planning on taking over Moya forever? We don’t know. Again, it doesn’t really matter because the whole point of the episode was how the crew reacted to the T’raltixx situation, not why T’raltixx was doing his creepy crap.
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- “You are the pinup girl for frontal assault, you should be dragging her back to the ship yourself!”
- “Where’s my ice cream? Where’s my ice cream!? WHERE’S MY DAMN ICE CREAM?”
- “I hate when villains quote Shakespeare.”
- “That is fantastic coming from a frigid, flat-butted, Peacekeeper skank!”
- “Nobody has margaritas with pizza!”
- “I got great eyes! They’re better than 20/20, and they’re BLUE.”
- “I’m not deficient. I’m SUPERIOR. Humans are superior.”
- The pregnant weirdo, Vyna, I would actually consider a failure. Maybe not because of the puppetry or the make-up, but because what the see-through fetus added to the story was gross on top of gross. I don’t think that’s what they were going for.
- T’raltixx, as I’ve said, is a creepy motherfucker. I hate that guy.
- The best thing they’ve done with the Rygel puppet yet happens in “Crackers Don’t Matter.” When D’Argo is done force-feeding him, we can see that the area around his eyes is wet. He’s been crying. Just fantastic.
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“Crackers Don’t Matter!”
- Interstellar Swearing: “Tralk” can be loosely translated as “slut,” but other words such as “skank,” “whore,” and “hussy” could work as well. “Yotza” is an exclamation of pleasurable surprise equivalent to “hot-damn!” “Drad” is annoying-speak for “awesome.”
- Pop Culture References: Cool Hand Luke, the Three Stooges, Star Wars, Brainiac, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Gilligan’s Island, 2001: A Space Odyssey, William Shakespeare, Dangerous Liaisons, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Hawaii Five-O, and of course, The Shining.
- I fucking hate Molnon. Die in a fire, assface.
- If you’ll notice, we’ve finally reached the episode that this section is named after. Just thought I’d point that out.
- Pilot: I’m only judging on my experience with you, but I’ve never seen such a deficient species . . .
Crichton: [biting his arm] Have you run the scan on the pulsar light yet?
Pilot: How do humans make it through a cycle, even half a cycle, without killing each other?
Crichton: [with no pauses] We find it difficult have you run the scan?
Pilot: You have no special abilities, you’re not particularly smart, can hardly smell, can barely see, and you’re not even vaguely physically or spiritually imposing. Is there anything you do well?”
Crichton: Watch football.
- Ben Browder is SO GOOD at playing crazy. That isn’t the first time I’ve said that, nor will it be the last.
- Aeryn: I’ll kill him. Undo me. [She munches a cracker that was in between her boobs.]
Crichton: Can I trust you?
Crichton: At least you’re honest.
- The DVD commentary for “Crackers Don’t Matter” features Claudia Black and Ian Watson musing on philosophies of acting and directing. It’s really interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing (which I am), but I would have liked more little bits about the actual episode. Their commentary could have been playing over any old episode, but “Crackers Don’t Matter” is iconic. I want to know things!
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Classic Moments in Farscape, #13
[Zhaan is covering Crichton's face in some sort of green goop.]
Crichton: What the hell is this?
Zhaan: Heat deflecting paste. You’ll burn up in there without it.
Crichton: Smells like puke.
Zhaan: I pre-digested it to increase its potency.
Crichton: It’s PUKE!?
D’Argo: We’re gonna have to move fast. All of Moya is glowing.
[D'Argo hands Crichton a pair of goggles which Crichton slips over his head.]
Crichton: I hate these goggles, they look like crap.
D’Argo: Stop whining. You sound like a Zelmat. They’re the only thing that are going to stop you from going blind in there.
Aeryn: [handing him a large shield-like object] Probably will anyway. Here, this may be of some use to you. I made it from a piece of my Prowler, and it will withstand a Zekian laser pulse.
Crichton: Thank you.
Chiana: [wraps a silvery cloak around his shoulders] Solar reflective flare wrap. Pull it on tight.
Crichton: Does this strike any of you superior beings as a little bit ironic.
Crichton: That I’m the deficient one and I’m still saving your butts.
Chiana: Bend over. [places an aerial cap of some sort on his head and it is also covered in green goop] We soaked it in Zhaan’s bile for as long as we could.
Crichton: I look ridiculous, don’t I?
Rygel: Don’t worry. This is T’raltixx’s disappearing device. [He drapes it over Crichton's neck.] It doesn’t matter how ridiculous you look.
[Crichton begins humming "The Ride of the Valkyries" and strikes a stupid pose. All the other Moyans watch him, non-plussed.]
Aeryn: We are going to die.
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Coming Up on the Farscape Rewatch: “Picture If You Will,” “The Way We Weren’t”