Saturday, May 14, 2011

Classics: Farscape 2:5 - The Way We Weren't

Overall: 9.9

The Way We Weren't absolutely destroys me. Destroys me, I tell you! It is probably the series' finest stand-alone episode.

Plot Synopsis:

Farscape World has a recap here.

The Skinny:

If I recall correctly, John Adams once complained in his famous correspondence with Thomas Jefferson that every time he sat down to compose a letter to his comrade and rival, he wouldn't know where to begin because a multitude of topics always sprouted in his mind like trees in a forest. This is precisely how I feel about The Way We Weren't. The brilliance of Naren Shankar's script is so all-encompassing that I honestly don't know how to organize my reactions into a post that is even half-way coherent.

But let's start with Aeryn. Believe it or not, I don't think killing Moya's first Pilot was the worst thing Aeryn did on that assignment three cycles ago. From the moment of her birth, Aeryn had been brainwashed into believing that non-Sebacean lives don't matter -- that the Other was a contaminant and therefore something to be avoided. Perhaps more importantly, Aeryn was one guilty party among several; while she willingly pulled the trigger, Aeryn would not have been placed in that position if it weren't for Crais's orders (and - as we'll discuss in a moment - our Pilot's impatience). No -- betraying Velorek was the worst thing Aeryn did. You see, Aeryn truly loved her fellow Peacekeeper. What's more, she was wholly aware that using that connection to nab her favored assignment was wrong. But despite her own ambivalence, she gave Velorek up to Crais' tender mercies anyway. In a way, I can understand her decision. All her life, Peacekeeper Command had convinced Aeryn that sex was merely a means for the troops to let off steam -- that forming any kind of long-term intimate bond was impossible. That kind of perverse, upside-down attitude regarding intercourse is bound to deform a woman's conscience. Still, there is something fundamentally shocking in Aeryn's willingness (at the time) to ignore her own feelings for the sake of her ambition.

And speaking of ambition, let's now discuss Pilot. As Chiana correctly points out, it's not a surprise that Aeryn has committed heinous crimes; she was indeed a Peacekeeper, and no Peacekeeper is likely to serve without accumulating his or her share of spiritual black marks. It is a surprise, however, to discover that our Pilot had a role to play in the murder of Moya's first. That is the episode's coup de grace. If Shankar had focused solely on Aeryn's guilt, this would've been merely a "pretty good" episode -- but he doesn't stop there because he evidently realizes that sin can ensnare even the gentlest among us. That's how sin works, unfortunately; it takes our healthy desires and decent sentiments and perverts them -- twists them into something unrecognizable.

Above, I implied that I have little trouble putting myself in Aeryn's shoes and comprehending her motivations. Well, I comprehend Pilot's motivations all the more because I have felt that same yearning to learn -- to see the myriad wonders of the universe. I myself have looked up at the stars in the firmament and dreamed about visiting the worlds which circle some of those stars. Haven't we all? Isn't that why we watch and read science fiction? We in the audience can distance ourselves from Aeryn and her Peacekeeper mindset, but there's no way we can distance ourselves from Pilot because he is us. It's not as easy to deny that we would do anything - and I mean anything - to satisfy our burning wish to explore.

A little more than a month ago, when I reviewed Bone to Be Wild, I made the following observation:

...Farscape may be the most adult of the series currently on our docket. That assessment has less to do with the violence or the sexual content (although the show has both) and more to do with the nature of the universe presented. The world of Farscape, to put it simply, is a fallen world. Cruelty abounds -- and the choices that are presented to Crichton are less often choices between good and bad and more often choices between bad and worse. Normally speaking, a series this mired in the grey areas would turn me off, but Farscape (unlike, say, the reimagined BSG) injects just enough of the redemptive into its procedings to avoid this danger.

In very few episodes is this more true than in our current episode. The Way We Weren't is an unquestioned masterpiece of gritty realism in which the focus characters are forced to face the wages of their sins. But I believe it's also a very hopeful story. Aeryn and Pilot are already better people than they were three cycles ago -- and after the appointed time, Pilot will finally know what it's like to be naturally bonded to Moya. The process of atonement will be long and hard indeed, but it seems these flawed characters will eventually find their redemption.

And by the way, this episode blasts any doubts about the show's use of live-action actors and muppets to absolute smithereens. Yes, Pilot is a technical marvel, but you forget that completely here as the writing, Tupu's voice work, and the technology come together to bring us a flesh-and-blood being for whom we feel genuine sorrow. I guarantee that you will not walk away from that last scene between Pilot and Aeryn with dry eyes.

(Because a bullet is just not strong enough.)

Have I mentioned that this is one of the greatest Farscape scripts of all time?

Acting: 9.7

The performances here are gut-wrenching and virtually flawless. Bravo!

Message: 10.0

Shankar subtly yet inexorably convicts us all by highlighting our universal vulnerability to temptation. 'Tis a humbling and necessary message. See above.


Aeryn: (upset, angry, near tears) Yes, it's me. I admit it. Are you happy now?
Zhaan: This shows you have been aboard Moya before.
D'Argo: Why didn't you ever tell us?
Rygel: Criminally obvious, isn't it? She helped murder a defenseless Pilot!
Aeryn: It must have been about three cycles ago. I've been aboard hundreds of Leviathans, and I had no idea that it was Moya!
Chiana: Oh, so all non-Sebaceans look alike. Is that it?
Aeryn: I didn't know, Chiana!
John: Look - the Aeryn on that tape is not the Aeryn we know. That was a long time ago.
Rygel: Three cycles isn't that long! Heh! I was aboard Moya by then.
Zhaan: As was I.
Rygel: Maybe you were one of the ones who took a turn at torturing me. Ever torture a Hynerian?
D'Argo: Perhaps you helped torture me too.
Aeryn: NO!
John: Aeryn - just don't - (He puts a hand on Aeryn's shoulder, but Aeryn slaps it away.) Okay everybody. Neutral corners. Let's chill out for a microt. 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. (You're one to talk. Didn't you murder your lover?)
Aeryn: Oh! It's perfectly fine to cut off one of his arms then, is it, Zhaan? (Good jab, that.)
Rygel: Peacekeeper murderer! (Aeryn lunges furiously at him, but John goes after her and pulls her back.)
John: AERYN! NO! Don't! You're not helping your case.
Chiana: What have you guys been thinking all this time? What? She was out picking baskets of rolliss buds while all the other mean Peacekeepers did all the really nasty stuff? She was a Peacekeeper.
Aeryn: (flat) Yes. I was a Peacekeeper. And things were very different then.

(In the past.)
Velorek: You don't - enjoy being here with me?
Aeryn: Hm. I enjoy it.
Velorek: But it just isn't right to actually feel something for a fellow Peacekeeper, is it?
Aeryn: Well, what's the point? We won't be assigned to be together forever.
Velorek: We could be. I'm fairly high in the Military Tech Hierarchy. I could make it happen -- if you wanted me to.
Aeryn: Peacekeeper High Command makes all assignment decisions.
Velorek: High Command doesn't always make the right decisions. Come on, Aeryn. You and I have been intimate since the second solar day of our voyage to get here. There's something about you - something special - and I think you know it.
Aeryn: No. No. I'm not special.
Velorek: Don't take the Peacekeeper hard line, Aeryn. You understand what I'm saying. Can you honestly tell me - all you want is to fly Prowlers, like a thousand others? And serve a madman like Captain Crais?
Aeryn: That is outright insubordination!
Velorek: No, it's not. It's observation. Think beyond the box the Peacekeepers put your mind in, Aeryn. Crais is a maniac, and his coveted "project" - is an abomination.
Aeryn: No. I don't know anything about Crais’s project, and I don't want to know.
Velorek: The project will likely kill this Leviathan. And I cannot let that happen. Will not.
Aeryn: What does that mean?
Velorek: Aeryn, I know how I feel about you. And I think I know how you feel about me. When I leave here - I want you to come with me. You can be so much more.

John: Why don't you talk to me? Come on, Aeryn. Let me know. What's got you so torn up about what happened? Aeryn - what happened with Velorek? It's just you and me and the walls in here.
(Flashback to three cycles ago.)
Velorek: I have finished my assignment here. I'm going to be reassigned soon.
Aeryn: I want to go with you.
Velorek: You mean that? What about flying Prowlers?
Aeryn: I've been through all the accepted channels of command. Without something to single me out, they'll never listen to me.
Velorek: I can make this as exciting for you as flying any Prowler could ever be. I promise.
Aeryn: Where would we go?
Velorek: What does it matter? Somewhere else.
Aeryn: I don't know how to live somewhere else.
Velorek: You only say that because this is all you've ever known. In the right new place - you'll thrive.
Aeryn: (suddenly) Change you mind.
Velorek: What?
Aeryn: W-whatever you did with Crais’s plan - put it back!
Velorek: What are you talking about, Aeryn? Aeryn, what is this about? (At that moment, Crais enters with a contingent of soldiers.) What have you done? What is the meaning of this! (The soldiers seize him and proceed to drag him away.)
Crais: What do you think it is, Velorek? You're under arrest.
Velorek: On what charge?
Crais: Treason, of course. We can find no evidence of your attempts to sabotage my project. I think we may have caught you before you were able to do your damage. We'll find out soon enough. (to Aeryn) I assume you are the informant?
Aeryn: Yes, Captain. Officer Aeryn Sun.
Crais: Just contact Lieutenant Teeg. She will see that you are rewarded with the assignment you requested.
Aeryn: Prowler detail, sir.
Crais: Whatever. (to the soldiers) Bring him.
Velorek: (to Aeryn as he's being hauled away) You found that something special to single yourself out with. Congratulations Aeryn. No ordinary Peacekeeper would have attempted this. I told you you were special. (Well, that just cuts to the quick, doesn't it?)

John: Pilot -- we're just here to help. If you stay disconnected from Moya, you'll starve to death.
Pilot: (with weary bitterness) And with no one to regulate them, your precious life support systems won't function properly.
John: Right. Fine. Yes. We all want you back in the seat. And Moya must be pretty worried wondering where the hell you got to.
Pilot: Doesn't matter. She'll be better off without me. (Aeryn and John are quiet for a long moment as they ponder the depth of the great creature's misery.)
Aeryn: (tossing her pistol down in front of Pilot) That recording brought back memories of a time none of us wanted to remember. Based on my actions back then, I deserve to die. And if you wish to kill me right now - I'm not going to stop you. But please, spare the others - and yourself.
Pilot: Aeryn Sun -- It is not you who deserves death. It is I.
John: Okay, so you're not Moya's original Pilot. You replaced her - you can't blame yourself for that.
Pilot: I didn't only replace the old Pilot.
Pilot: (childlike as he looks up at Velorek) The Elders have already judged me. They said I was not yet worthy to pilot a Leviathan.
Velorek: If you believed that, you wouldn't be here right now. So, why are you here?
Pilot: (hanging his head) I want to be joined so badly...
Velorek: I can make that happen, young one.
Pilot: But the Elders - the Elders have not yet decreed it to be my destiny.
Velorek: I offer you the chance to make your destiny. Look up. What do you see?
Pilot: (he breathes the word with wonder and reverence) Stars!
Velorek: That is what I offer you. Stars.
Pilot: (wistful) I dream of nothing else.
Velorek: I offer you a Leviathan. All you have to do is agree to help me.
Pilot: (innocent, struggling to understand the implications of Velorek's offer) But you said - that - for me to be joined, the Old One would have to die.
Velorek: (firmly) That Pilot will die no matter what you do. (Pilot looks down and lets out a long, sad sigh as Velorek watches him like a hawk.) If you don't come with me, I'll find someone else who will. Someone who isn't afraid to take their place amongst the stars.
(Back to the present.)
Pilot: The fate of Moya's true Pilot was sealed at that moment. So you see, Aeryn, 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 -- (Tears well in his eyes.) -- but I just wanted so desperately to see the stars.
Aeryn: (who is also teary-eyed) Do you remember when you first came aboard Moya? Velorek stroked your cheek like this to calm you. (She reaches out and touches his face. Her voice cracks as she continues.) Back then, I couldn't fathom why he would do a thing like that -- and now, I couldn't fathom not doing 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. (Just in case you were wondering, this is me whenever I watch this scene:

I cry hard enough for my glasses to get smudgy. That is how good it is.)

No comments:

Post a Comment