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Farscape Rewatch: “A Bug’s Life”

A Bug’s Life
Story by Doug Heyes, Jnr., teleplay by Rockne S. O’Bannon (as Steven Rae), directed by Tony Tilse
Season 1, Episode 18

1st US Transmission Date: 17 September 1999
1st UK Transmission Date: 17 April 2000
1st Australian Transmission: 23 December 2000

Guest Cast: Gigi Edgley (Chiana), Paul Leyden (Larraq), Richard White (Thonn), Zoe Coyle (Hassan), Michael Tuahine (Rhed)

Synopsis: A damaged PK Marauder approaches Moya. Crichton persuades everyone to pretend they are still prisoners while he and Aeryn pretend to be Peacekeepers. The ship is carrying a four-person Special Ops team, under the command of Captain Larraq. They are transporting a captured Intellent Virus to a hidden PK Gammak Base (a science/military installation) deep in the Uncharted Territories.

John, posing as a PK Captain, and Aeryn try and gather information about the PK base and its mission. Chiana and Rygel, believing the cargo to be valuable, open the casket and release the virus. Thonn interrupts them, is possessed by the virus, and immediately shoots Rhed. The infection then leaps to Chiana. Chiana/Virus tells everyone that Rygel is the one possessed and Peacekeepers and supposed prisoners unite, hunt him down and freeze him.

Meanwhile the virus leaps to John, who increases Moya’s speed towards the PK base. Zhaan decides to try and develop an antibody with the help of Hassan, but John/Virus kills Hassan first. Zhaan realises the virus was in Chiana not Rygel so she and D’Argo abandon the pretence of being prisoners and storm the command deck. She realises the virus is in John, everyone starts fighting and in the confusion, the virus leaps elsewhere. Now everyone is standing in a circle pointing guns at each other, no one knowing who is infected.

Farscape Season 1, Episode 18, A Bug's Life

Since the virus cannot re-enter a host, John and Chiana are clear. They all go to the medical bay and Zhaan whips up an injection which will force the virus to reveal itself. It turns out to be in Larraq, who takes Aeryn hostage and makes a run for his ship. He stabs Aeryn during the escape, but John lets him go. The damaged Marauder is still leaking fuel so John moves Moya’s StarBurst engines into the trail of fuel, ignites it, and blows the ship up.

Buck Rogers Redux: John adopts a cod English accent as the PK captain and bluffs brilliantly. Pretending that Moya was a PK ship carrying prisoners was his plan and the others only go along with it reluctantly.

You Can Be More: Aeryn is again confronted by the life she’s lost when Larraq offers to have her transferred to Special Ops. She and he get on very well, and there’s a hint of romantic interest. When Larraq/Virus stabs her, John says ‘he missed your heart,’ and Aeryn wistfully replies ‘closer than you think.’ She started flying ‘Scrub Runners’ at 14, then a KL-80 and a KL-81 before starting Prowler school at 16, which is late for a PK, but her feet didn’t reach the pedals until she was 16.

Farscape Season 1, Episode 18, A Bug's Life

I Was A Teenage Luxan: D’Argo allows himself to be chained up in order to fool the Peacekeepers, but he is humiliated and angry about it. After it is all over, he destroys the chains and swears never to allow himself to be chained again by anyone.

Buckwheat the Sixteenth: Rygel knows there are Peacekeepers on board and that they’re all in great danger, but he still breaks out of his cell using his secret exit and goes to try and steal their cargo. The crew, especially D’Argo, are less than sympathetic when he gets frozen.

Farscape Season 1, Episode 18, A Bug's Life

Your Favourite Little Tralk: Chiana poses as John’s servant and flirts with Thonn to get what she wants – in this case, an impression of the key to the cargo pod which she gets by pressing it into a food cube.

A Ship, A Living Ship: John tells Larraq that he and Aeryn are with PK New Tech, testing a way of controlling Leviathans without Control Collars using Neural Control of Pilots. Larraq reveals that this has been tried before, but each time the ship and crew have been lost.

The Ballad Of Aeryn And John: Aeryn is frustrated by John’s plan and only lets him play Captain because the uniform they find won’t fit her. John is very distressed when she nearly dies from the stab wound, and she thanks him for staying by her bedside, but she’s distracted by her attraction to Larraq.

Farscape Season 1, Episode 18, A Bug's Life

Alien Encounters: The function of the Intellant Virus is to incubate in a host for one hour and then release a million spores. It wants to get to the PK base because that will give it the best vector for mass infection. During infection, the host acts almost normally. It is an acid-based life form. After possession, a host’s body displays high acidity and dizziness as a reaction to the mild hallucinogenic left behind by the virus to prevent the host remembering its possession. The Peacekeepers want to use it as a weapon. A Delvian colony world was once wiped out by such a virus.

Disney On Acid: Ben Browder delivers another ad lib and quotes Ghostbusters: ‘You might think your magic pill worked, and then Rygel’s up walking around the ship, coughing up the spores, cats and dogs living together…’

Farscape Season 1, Episode 18, A Bug's Life

Get Frelled: Out of left field comes sexual tension between Chiana and… Rygel? 

CHIANA: Keep your fantasies to yourself, frog boy.
RYGEL: Fantasies…about you? Yuck!  Why I never…
CHIANA: Oh, I’ve seen you looking at me. You want to be a pervo, you ought to practice subtle… oh, well don’t get your shivvies in an uproar. Like I care.

Seen It All Before: Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers, all versions, but perhaps most directly John Carpenter’s The Thing, in which all the crew take a test to establish which of them is the alien – it’s a classic scene that’s been replicated in countless films and TV shows. The finale, where John lights the ship’s fuel, is a rip of the end of Die Hard II.

Logic Leaps: It’s a bit of a stretch to accept that Zhaan can whip up an antibody to such a complex creature in almost no time at all, with no samples to work from. Moya’s DRDs put on an impressive display of firepower to persuade Larraq to be nice, a defensive measure very effective here, but rarely used in other episodes. For example, since all the doors have little hatches to allow DRDs to enter why didn’t Pilot simply send a few into the command deck to shoot Durka in “Durka Returns”?

Farscape Season 1, Episode 18, A Bug's Life

Behind the Scenes: Paul Leyden played Simon Frasier in As the World Turns and then Blake in The Young and the Restless. This is Doug Heyes Jr.’s final story/script contribution to Farscape. Rockne S. O’Bannon’s first script for the show since the “Premiere.”

The Verdict: It would take a spectacularly bad show to mess up such a familiar storyline, but by adding a bunch of Peacekeepers to the mix, Farscape spins an old chestnut just enough to get away with over familiarity, and the tension is wracked up nicely to an exciting conclusion. It feels like the show is going somewhere at last, since they’ve been wandering around talking about Crais and the Peacekeepers, but rarely bumping into any. The introduction of the mysterious Gammak Base and a PK presence out in the Uncharted Territories offers renewed threat, and when Chiana grabs Larraq’s ID badge during a fight, it’s an indication that it’ll be used in future episodes, promising a running storyline. And that is what we finally get…

Verdict Redux: Initially Rygel was the most untrustworthy crewmember, but as the season has progressed he’s softened and shown that he can play on the team when needed. So Chiana’s assumption of the role of grit in the gears is sensible, but then it turns out Rygel is still just as bad, so we have two selfish problems aboard. Should be fun!

I liked the wipe scene changes in this episode—I can’t recall them being used much previously, but the give the episode a nice retro feel.

Farscape Season 1, Episode 18, A Bug's Life

Now they’ve lost the tats and have better uniforms, the PKs work much better than the bunch who boarded Moya in “Exodus From Genesis” and seem more of a threat.

Near the end Crichton takes a pulse pistol off a dead PK and runs after Larraq — I’ll watch closely in the next few eps to check, but could this be the moment he acquires Winona? (Yes, I know the video game provides an alternative explanation, but is it really canon?)


Scott K. Andrews has written episode guides, magazine articles, film and book reviews, comics, audio plays for Big Finish, far too many blogs, some poems you will never read, and three novels for Abaddon. He is, patently, absurd.

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