My subtitle for this two-parter is "Enter Scorpius," and what a great entrance it is! This couplet also introduces us to Stark, which is another huge plus. (As I said at the start, I love Stark, and I think the fandom often gives him short shrift.)
Dani Moure's summary of Nerve can be found on Farscape World here. A recap of The Hidden Memory, meanwhile, can be found here.
This two-parter represents one of the wisest moves the showrunners ever made. As I've stated in previous reviews, Crais never really worked as a Big Bad, mainly because his psychotic need to avenge his brother's accidental death was more likely to elicit pity than fearful respect. Even given his murder of poor Lt. Teeg, Crais seemed more the victim of the Peacekeepers than the victimizer. In particular, the revelation that Crais was a lower-class conscript only served to reinforce that impression. Thus, it makes eminent sense that these episodes (especially The Hidden Memory) should utterly strip Crais of his command and his dignity. And in the meantime, the writers happily fill the void left by Crais' dethroning with a character who really does fit the description of a Big Bad. We'll discover later that Scorpius too Has His Motivations, but the fact that his reaction to his subjects' tortured screams is largely one of cool intellectual curiosity should conclusively demonstrate the boundlessness of his sadism. Scorpius is no man to be trifled with. Indeed, he will cause all manner of heartbreak for our protagonists before all is said and done.
But now to what I really want to talk about: Stark. SABR Matt, if you do get a chance to watch these episodes at some point, I think you'll be surprised by how sane Stark is here. While he's definitely been affected by the cruelty of the universe in which he lives, I'd say that at this point, 70% of the "insanity" is a survival strategy Stark has adopted to keep "Scorpy" off his back. He will need to go through a few more traumas before the ratio shifts in favor of genuine derangement. At any rate -- in addition to answering the question regarding Stark's current mental status, these episodes also give us plenty of opportunity to witness Stark's positive attributes. We can see, for instance, that Stark is both clever with his hands and persistent; the fact that he macgyvered a crypt encoder and has been trying to unlock his cell door for the past two cycles speaks to both of those qualities. We also see that Stark is kind; he offers comfort to both John and Gilina in the moments of their greatest need. And I personally love watching Stark and John bond over their shared torments. As they're shooting their way out of the Gammak base, for example, the two men reveal to each other what they've been keeping from Scorpius all this time, and the laugh they share there is just terrific (and impossible to transcribe).
This is definitely an eventful pair of episodes. Not only are two excellent characters and a few key plot arcs introduced, but Gilina also gets a very nice (and heroic) send-off, Aeryn has a brush with death, and - oh, yes - Moya finally gives birth (which is a dramatic event all by itself). I think it's safe to say that we've hit the true meat of the series. Strap in, folks; it's going to be a bumpy ride.
As I observed above, Scorpius is a necessary addition. I also think the writers do nice things with Stark and John.
This is not Wayne Pygram's very best showing, but then again, he is still deliciously evil. It's also hard not to be impressed by how Browder, Tupu, and Goddard all go for broke in their Aurora Chair scenes. They're definitely not afraid to make torture look distinctly unattractive.
Obviously, I chose not to focus on the race to save Aeryn's life in my commentary above, but in risking his own skin to procure for Aeryn the treatment she needed, John perfectly embodies a code of behavior that animates our best soldiers: "Never leave a man behind."
Aeryn: This mission is foolhardy, Crichton. It makes no sense for you to be killed as well. Let's just cut our losses.
John: Drop the martyr routine, Aeryn. I'm not gonna let you die.
Pilot: (on the clamshell) Crichton - we've reached the designated coordinates.
John: Thank you, Pilot.
Aeryn: Do humans have some sort of ritual for occasions like these?
John: Well, there's the handshake, followed by "Good luck."
Aeryn: (she rises and grips his hand) Good luck. How was that?
John: (softly) Perfect. (Awww.)
(Rygel enters Aeryn's quarters, muttering to himself, looking around. Aeryn is laying down, very still, but stirs suddenly at his approach)
Rygel: Oh! Oh! I came to see how you were doing!
Aeryn: (sounding weak and bored) You came to see if I was dead so you could start going through my possessions.
Rygel: Oh! I resent your unfounded accusation! Furthermore, you have no possessions worth taking.
Aeryn: How inconsiderate.
Rygel: Yes. How terribly inconsiderate! (LOL!)
John: My name is Larraq. Peacekeeper. Special Ops.
Scorpius: Unfortunately wrong. On all counts. (Niem makes some adjustment at her control panel and the headpiece John wears sends an energy probe painfully deeper into his mind. John winces and exhales explosively.) I am Scorpius.
John: But of course you are. Peacekeeper. (He loses his faked PK accent.) Funny, you don't look like a Sebacean.
Scorpius: On the other hand, you do look Sebacean. Yet your energy signature is quite dissimilar. What species are you? And who are you working for?
John: Get. Stuffed. (Niem makes another adjustment to her console and John grimaces with pain.)
Scorpius: (calmly) You attempt to provoke me. Perhaps you are hoping I will lose my composure and kill you before I have extracted any information. But I long ago learned the advantages of patience. (Oh, crap. This guy's not at all like Crais.)
Scorpius: (ruminatively) Well, well, well. Our spy has an interest in wormhole technology.
John: (sweating, gasping, sick, stunned) He - he gave me the equations.
Scorpius: And that's why you came to this place.
John: (slurring badly) What's this base got to do with -? (realization hits him) That's why you built it? (he starts to laugh deliriously) All this research! You're trying to create wormhole!
Scorpius: (he paces slowly around John as he pieces together what he thinks is going on here) As are you. That creature knows how - but he wouldn't tell you - would he? Or so you thought. So. You sought that knowledge here. Never realizing - that you already had it. Locked deeply away. (to Niem) Find it. Segment his mind. As many layers as it takes.
(Yay, John thinks. I'm sharing a cell with Psycho Boy.)
(Zhaan and D'Argo tend to Aeryn.)
Zhaan: The treatment's working. But all it seems to be doing is stopping her from deteriorating further. Why didn't you want me to tell her it was your idea?
D'Argo: Earlier on, Aeryn told me she wanted to die alone. As a warrior, I should respect her wishes and not interfere.
Zhaan: You did a good thing. You may have saved her life. Despite her words, she really didn't want to die.
D'Argo: I don't even believe that she wants to die alone.
Crais: I have orders to recapture the Leviathan and its passengers.
Scorpius: Captain. Crichton has vital information. Until I get it, you may not have hi-
Crais: (cutting him off) I order you to release him to me!
Scorpius: (not looking at Crais but still with that inwardly smiling look on his face) Your adherence to orders is selective. You have repeatedly failed to cease the pursuit and return to First Command.
Crais: I have received no such orders.
Scorpius: Your dereliction of duty is not my prime concern. Give me your full cooperation and you can have Crichton -- when I have finished with him.
Crais: (angry) Give me Crichton now and I will get you all the information he possesses.
Scorpius: Torture alone would be ineffective. Only the Aurora Chair can extract the information we need.
Crais: But the chair might well kill him before you find it.
Scorpius: Therein lies the stalemate I must break.
John: (mumbling to Stark) What are you doing there?
Stark: DON'T TALK TO ME! Stay! YOU STAY WHERE YOU ARE! Don't talk to me! There's no talking to me. I do my talking in the chair.
John: Ah. You like the chair.
Stark: (eyeing John warily) Love the chair. Love the chair. Love the chair.
John: (slowly pushing himself up and crawling towards Stark) Are you spying on me, Stark? Scorpy sent you in here to spy on me?
Stark: (mildly, trying to conceal something he's doing) No. I'm no spy for Scorpy.
John: What you got there?
Stark: Nothing. Nothing.
John: (gimping closer) What is that?
Stark: NO! (he explodes into action and pins John against the wall) Stop! (quietly) If you don't stop, I'm going to have to kill you.
John: Give it a couple of days. I think Scorpy and Peacekeeper Barbie'll do it for you. (Stark snarls and with a force that belies his raggedy appearance, he shoves John back onto his side of the cell. John sits up and gazes at Stark.) You're not crazy, are you, Stark?
Stark: No. But if they think I am, they don't bother me so much.
John: So what are you hiding there?
Stark: (giving in to the temptation to talk) My baby. (he scuttles across the cell to show John) It's a magnetic crypt encoder. I've made it from scraps of metal I've been collecting for two cycles.
John: What's it do?
Stark: If I get the sequence right, it can unlock the door. But it can only try one sequence at a time.
John: (he laughs and coughs in both appreciation and contempt) You're gonna be in here forever... if you're waiting for that thing to get you out.
Stark: (a little insulted) At least I'm trying something. (He goes to try to unlock the door again, but after a beat, he curses loudly and returns to John's side.) You'll tell them about my baby, won't you?
John: (sober again) No... no, I've kept things from them this far. I can keep this.
Stark: (in an even, quiet tone) Everyone can block thoughts for awhile, Crichton - but eventually, you'll tell the chair. I'm the only one who can block thoughts forever.
Chiana: You've got to stay calm during birth.
Rygel: I am calm! I - I've conceived hundreds of progeny. Hmph! And those are only the official ones with my wives.
Chiana: Oh, then you should know something about this. You should be able to help us!
Rygel: I was never present at the birth.
Chiana: Not one?
Rygel: (shocked) Well, of course not! I think this is a trifle different, don't you? My progeny were tiny. Tiny and handsome - like their father! (LOL!)
Soldier: Get back Stark! (He pushes Stark back into the cell.) Get inside!
Stark: (as Crais and Scorpius enter) Scorpy! Will Scorpy let me get into the chair? (Crais seizes Stark and viciously subdues him. Stark utters a high-pitched yip and quiets down.)
Scorpius: Have you finished?
Scorpius: (pacing casually towards John) You see, Crichton... this is what I'm trying to keep you from.
John: (sarcastic) Yeah, Scorpy, you're all heart. (Soldiers hoist John to his feet.)
Scorpius: You show me everything that's in your brain and I won't torture you anymore.
John: I've shown you everything.
Scorpius: The chair indicates that you're holding back.
John: Chair's wrong.
Scorpius: What won't you tell me? I already know everything else. I know you're living on a stolen Leviathan with escaped prisoners. And I know that Leviathan is pregnant.
John: You know who the daddy is? (He laughs out of exhaustion and defiance.)
Scorpius: Why are you doing this to yourself? What is so important - that you're willing to go through all of this?
John: I'm not blocking anything.
Scorpius: Bring him. (He turns to go.)
Crais: (getting in his dig behind Scorpius' back) I'm going to enjoy ripping the truth out of you, Crichton.
Scorpius: So - nothing of what we saw was true?
Scorpius: Were you born on a farming commune?
Scorpius: Were you conscripted from it by the Peacekeepers?
Crais: Yes, but -
Scorpius: How does Crichton know this?
Crais: Well, he must have stolen it from a database!
Scorpius: While he was in security three containment?
Crais: (angry) Look, I don't know how he did it. But what you saw on there is not true!
Scorpius: Of course it's not. But there's only one way to be sure it is a lie.
Scorpius: For you to go in the chair.
Crais: (derisive laugh) Me?
Crais: No captain has ever been subjected to such an indignity.
Scorpius: There's always a first for everything. (to Niem) Get Crichton back to his cell.
Crais: You overstep yourself, Scorpius. You haven't got the numbers to put me in the chair.
Scorpius: (casting a glance over his shoulder at Crais) Don't I? (to the soldiers attending) Put Crais in the chair. (when the soldiers don't move Scorpius addresses them) I commend your loyalty. It must be difficult to maintain for an officer like Crais. An officer on the edge - and out of control -
Crais: Talk to ME, Scorpius - not to them!
Scorpius: (ignoring him) I have unconditional authority on a Gammak Base. Captain Crais - will go to the chair. To stop that - you'll have to kill me. And all my men. Are you prepared to do that?
Crais: Do not listen to him! That is an order!
Scorpius: Do what you know in your hearts is the right thing. Put Crais in the chair. (And this right here marks the end of Crais' first season arc, as he is superseded by an even badder bad guy.)
John: I don't know how she did it. But-but she did it.
Stark: (softly) Rest, Crichton.
John: (slurring and seizing slightly - he tries to get to his feet) Nonono - we gotta do something. Gotta get the door open.
(But John collapses, too weak and in too much pain to continue. Stark gathers him up into his lap. He then unbuckles and removes his mask, revealing the golden pool of light that is the right half of his face.)
John: Huh - Oh - What is that? What did you just show me?
Stark: I'm able to give a few thoughts, that's all. Rest, my friend.
John: How long have you been here?
Stark: Two cycles. Peacekeepers killed most of my people. But they kept me alive because I interest them. I'm able to hide thoughts that the chair can't touch. It's almost ironic - what made me a slave now keeps me alive.
John: What made you a slave?
Stark: This. (He touches his mask.) I am of the Banik slave race. Outsiders think that we do not feel. But it's only that our feelings don't always show. Just as this can hide our feelings, we're also able to cloud thoughts from our minds. What I know deep inside, Peacekeepers will never see.
Zhaan: I always wanted to ask you D'Argo - that Qualta Blade - for a warrior - it seems a very unconventional weapon.
D'Argo: Many cycles ago there was a race even more feared than the Peacekeepers. The Tellachs. They laid siege to my planet for over 100 solar days. When the final assault came, all our warriors had were these "unconventional" weapons. My own great-grandfather died in that war. When the Final Days come, Luxans believe that the Qualta Blade will lead us to freedom.
Stark: Who is she?
John: (as they stare at Aeryn in all her rather unfeminine PK commando glory) That is - the radiant Aeryn Sun.
Stark: (good question - incredulous) How many Peacekeepers do you know on this base? (LOL!)
(Meanwhile, Rygel and Chiana have had to stuff themselves into a pressure tank.)
Rygel: (slithering up to come face to face with Chiana) Excuse me, I'm just making myself comfortable.
Chiana: (trying to keep her face as far as possible from him) What is that?
Rygel: Uh, what?
Chiana: (groaning as something touches her) THAT!
Rygel: It's nothing.
Chiana: Where's your hand, slug-face?
Rygel: (sniggering) It-it's down there.
Chiana: (not pleased with her tank-mate) I know. Keep it in your caftan, pal. (Rygel snickers some more, and Chiana yells frantically -) PILOT! (Rygel pinches Chiana.) YOW! PILOT!
Pilot: (in his Den) I'm very busy now, Chiana. You two okay?
Chiana: How's Moya?
Pilot: (sotto voce) Oh, yes! (louder) The offspring's coming now. I can see it! I must go, Chiana.
(Then Rygel farts. For the rest of the scene, Rygel and Chiana speak in high, chipmunk voices.)
Chiana: What - was that?
Rygel: Nothing, eh? Just a little bit of helium.
Rygel: I-I don't like being in confined spaces. I get nervous!
Chiana: You're disgusting! (ROTFL!)
Aeryn: Captain Crais. What are you doing in this chair?
Crais: Who is that? Who's there?
Aeryn: Well. I suppose I shouldn't expect you to recognize my voice.
Crais: Did Scorpius send you? Release me from this chair!
Aeryn: Why? So that you can kill me the way you killed Lieutenant Teeg?
Crais: Who are you?
Aeryn: I am "irreversibly contaminated." Now do you know who I am? (She moves into his line of vision.)
Crais: Aeryn... Sun...
Aeryn: (leaning in close to him) Does this contaminate you, Crais?
Crais: As a Peacekeeper, you took a blood-oath to obey your commanding officer. Till death.
Crais: I am still your commanding officer.
Aeryn: But I am no longer a Peacekeeper!
Crais: You are a Peacekeeper for life. On the oath you took-
Aeryn: Your oath means nothing to me! You made sure of that. You destroyed everything. I lost everything because of you!
Crais: Aeryn - Sun!
Aeryn: Do you know what I learned when I was away from you? Everything I lost isn't worth a damn. And I don't want to go back to your past.
Crais: I - ORDER - you -
Aeryn: You order me? (She takes his ident chip.) You will never order me again.
Crais: (panting with fury) I - will track you - down - and KILL you, Officer Sun! On that I give you my vow!
Aeryn: You know what I give you, Crais? Your life. (She walks away from him to the Aurora Chair control console.) I will make you watch - your life. (And she powers up the chair. Her exit is thus accompanied by Crais' tormented screams. Wow.)
John: Just lie still. Let Zhaan’s medicine do its work. You'll be fine in a little while.
Gilina: (breathing labored with pain) No more lies, John.
John: I'm not lying. (A beat.) Gilina, why'd you come back for us?
Gilina: I had to help you. Aeryn was right. If I'd stayed there, they would've found out about me. Found out that I... I love you.
John: Gilina... (She cries out with her dying pains.) Zhaan... (Zhaan shakes her head gently. She can do no more)
Stark: (entering) May I help? May I give you this? (He sits next to Gilina and holds the palm of his hand a few inches above her face. She gasps and then exhales deeply as he speaks to her in a soft, even tone.) It's a place I once saw. I've been carrying it with me a very long time.
Gilina: It's beautiful. It's beautiful.
Stark: There now. Just hold onto it. Don't let go. (Very nice.)