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Farscape Rewatch: “Nerve”

Nerve
Written by Richard Manning, directed by Rowan Woods
Season 1, Episode 19

1st US Transmission Date: 7 January 2000
1st UK Transmission Date: 8 May 2000
1st Australian Transmission: 30 December 2000

Guest Cast: Gigi Edgley (Chiana), Lani Tupu (Capt. Bialar Crais), Alyssa-Jane Cook (Gilina), Kent McCord (Jack Crichton), Wayne Pygram (Scorpius), Paul Goddard (Stark), Imogen Annesley (Niem), Stephen Leeder (Commander Javio), Anthony Kierann (Lt. Heskon)

Synopsis: Aeryn’s stab wound damaged her Paraphoral nerve (‘A Bug’s Life‘) and her body cannot filter out toxins – she has two days to live. John decides to visit the secret PK Gammak base, masquerading as Larraq, and get the tissue sample Aeryn needs to survive. Chiana gives John Larraq’s Ident Chip and volunteers to come along and help divert attention.

At the base they are contacted by Gilina (‘PK Tech Girl‘), who has recognised John. She obtains a hypodermic that can cure Aeryn. Scorpius, an alien who appears to be in charge of some scientific operations on the base, realises John is an imposter and he is captured, but not before he hides the hypo. John is tortured in the Aurora Chair, a device which rips into the occupant’s memories. Scorpius discovers John’s history and sends a message for Crais.

Farscape Season 1 Episode 19, Nerve

When the chair finds memories of his encounter with The Ancients (‘A Human Reaction‘) it encounters a neural block. It transpires that The Ancients secretly planted the equations needed to create wormholes in John’s subconscious to help guide him to the knowledge that will get him home. John cannot directly access the memories, and they’re too well protected for the Chair to extract. Since the purpose of the Gammak base is to try and create wormholes, Scorpius assumes that John is there to spy on their research.

While recuperating in a cell John meets Stark, a prisoner who appears to have been driven insane by the Aurora Chair. Gilina patches into the cell’s comms unit and John tells her where the hypo is. Gilina programs a blind spot in the base’s scanners and gives Chiana a safe route out. Chiana collects the hypo and escapes. Crais arrives and demands that Scorpius hand Crichton over, but Scorpy cuts a deal. Crais tells John that he’s captured Moya and John must submit to the chair if the wants his friends to live. John knows Crais is lying because he doesn’t know Aeryn’s ill, but to buy time for Chiana, he agrees and is strapped into the chair and the torture continues.

Farscape Season 1 Episode 19, Nerve

Meanwhile Zhaan and D’Argo connect Aeryn to Moya and use her as a sort of dialysis machine to filter out the poisons in Aeryn’s body and keep her alive. They are forced to disconnect her when Moya experiences her first contraction. Chiana returns and Aeryn is cured.

Buck Rogers Redux: John initiates the plan to get the graft for Aeryn and refuses to take no for an answer — even Rygel eventually endorses the plan. He’s like a man possessed, undertaking what is, in effect, a suicide mission to save Aeryn. If not for Chiana’s possession of the Ident Chip, and Gilina’s fortuitous presence, chances are he’d have been dead in an arn. He holds up to torture very well – no matter how much Scorpius hurts him in the Aurora chair, he still laughs in his face every time he’s allowed to draw breath. Gilina can tell immediately how much John has changed from the happy-go-lucky, still-learning space cadet of ‘PK Tech Girl‘, to the stressed out, self-possessed undercover agent he is here. It really throws the development and evolution of the character into sharp relief.

Farscape Season 1 Episode 19, Nerve

You Can Be More: ‘If a warrior can’t die in battle she can at least die alone.’ Knowing that she is dying, Aeryn at first plans to take her Prowler and die alone in space. D’Argo knows, however, that she doesn’t want to die, not even alone (which she proved by reviving Crichton in ‘The Flax‘).

I Was A Teenage Luxan: D’Argo comes up with the plan to use Moya to filter Aeryn’s toxins, but won’t take credit for it because he believes it’s disrespectful of her desire, as a warrior, to be left alone. He sits by her bed and holds her hand, unexpectedly paternal and caring, and she thanks him.

Farscape Season 1 Episode 19, Nerve

Your Favourite Little Tralk: ‘The more they look at me the less they look at you.’ Unlikely as it may seem, Chiana does not have a hidden agenda – she really does want to help John save Aeryn. She’s an ‘accomplished burglar and distraction causer’ and she drives all the men on the base wild within minutes of arriving. She can fly a Prowler. Her manipulation of the base’s Captain is masterly, but he recognises her when she tries to leave and she ruthlessly burns him alive — the long lingering close-up of his smouldering corpse is a memorable, if icky, sight – and she seems to rather enjoy the killing. Maybe she did kill Salis after all (‘Durka Returns‘).

The Man In the Iron Mask: Welcome Stark! Why Scorpius keeps torturing him in the chair we don’t know, but it’s driven him nuts. He even begs to be given more time in the chair, appearing to enjoy his torture. He banishes John to the other side of the cell.

Farscape Season 1 Episode 19, Nerve

The Insane Military Commander: Crais never filed a report of Crichton’s existence and still maintains that he never received recall orders from First Command (‘That Old Black Magic‘). He tries to order Scorpius about, but gets nowhere – he’s only kept in the loop because he can help Scorpius coerce Crichton. Already, he seems neutered.

Nosferatu In Rubber: ‘I long ago learnt the value of patience.’ Welcome our new nemesis: he will actually appear on the show from time to time unlike the rarely seen but oft-mentioned Crais. He’s a wrinkly skinned, S&M, PVC nightmare. The Aurora Chair is his toy, the base is his domain, and although he is an ally of the Peacekeepers, we do not yet know what official position he holds, if any. He is trying to create wormholes and in John he sees the opportunity to avoid cycles of research and cut straight to the chase, if only he can get the Ancients’ equations out of John’s head. He is able to detect John’s alien nature simply by being close to him – telepathy or some form of energy signature recognition?

Farscape Season 1 Episode 19, Nerve

A Ship, A Living Ship: Moya experiences contractions that threaten Aeryn’s dialysis process, but Pilot is unsure if this heralds the birth of her child.

The Ballad Of Aeryn And John: Gilina is in love with John and would do anything for him, but although he doesn’t tell her of his feelings for Aeryn, he tries not to lead her on. When Gilina realises that John is willing to die for Aeryn, she knows things have changed. Chiana, keen to keep Gilina on their side, tells her John loves her and that Aeryn’s just a shipmate, and Gilina plans to leave with John when Chiana returns with reinforcements. Her fascination with his eyebrows has not diminished.

Farscape Season 1 Episode 19, Nerve

Worlds Apart: The Gammak base is in what appears to be an abandoned mining station on a moon in orbit around a gas giant.

Disney On Acid: Lying in the cell, all John can say is ‘danger Will Robinson, danger! Beware the chair…’ lapsing into Lost In Space land. He mimics Connery’s Bond from Goldfinger when he says ‘but of course you are…’ when Scorpius introduces himself. He quotes Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch (you didn’t expect that, did you?) when he cries ‘fetch the comfy chair!’

Backstage: Scorpius’ half-Sebacean half-Scarran nature was revealed in the original script, which also established that he wiped out the Scarran race with a virus. Happily this was cut, because the Scarrans go on to become a regular element on Farscape. Also, Scorpius was at one point conceived as an entirely animatronic creation.

Wayne Pygram was a regular on Fire and has since gone on to appear in Home and Away, Lost and Star Wars: Episode III. Paul Goddard played Simon Armstrong on Sons And Daughters, came to the U.K. to play Stephen on Coronation Street, and was Agent Brown in The Matrix.

Farscape Season 1 Episode 19, Nerve

The Verdict: After a series of stand-alone episodes designed to give the characters room to breathe, establish the rules of the show and draw in viewers, suddenly the writers feel confident enough to start playing with the continuity they’ve established and reward loyal fans with a stunning episode that begins the story arc that will dominate the show from this moment on.

Scorpius is instantly more menacing that Crais ever was and raises the threat level hugely. The revelation about the wormhole equations comes entirely out of the blue, but it works. Gilina is a welcome returnee, Chiana finally earns her place on the ship, and John goes to extraordinary lengths to show his devotion to Aeryn. We even get introduced to Stark who at this stage seems to be only a minor background character.

Another sign of Farscape‘s class is the design on the Gammak base. On any other show it would be gleaming and shiny, but here it’s dark, grungy and partly built of stone — at some points it’s obviously filmed on location. Ben Browder pulls out all the stops and delivers an excellent performance. From hereon in, it only gets darker and more dangerous as the stakes get ever higher.

Farscape Season 1 Episode 19, Nerve

Verdict Redux: There’s one jump cut to Scorpius when John, Chiana and Giliana are plotting that is awful, but apart from that the direction is really good. It’s only now we’re off the ship again that I realise how many bottle-shows we’ve had recently — it’s great to get off Moya and out into the wider universe again. I’d not realised that we meet Braca for the first time in this episode, as a mute uncredited lackey of Crais. This is also the first time Crichton really embraces the reckless, borderline suicidal and extremely dark side of himself which will come so much to the fore in the future. The episode has the confident swagger of a cast and crew who have spent a year finding their feet, and now know exactly what they want the show to be. It’s Farscape‘s coming of age episode.


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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