Wed
Apr 11 2012 3:00pm

Farscape Rewatch: “DNA Mad Scientist”

“DNA Mad Scientist”
Written by Tom Blomquist, birected by Andrew Prowse
Season 1, Episode 9

1st US Transmission Date: 18 June 1999
1st UK Transmission Date: 14 February 2000
1st Australian Transmission: 16 September 2000

Guest Cast: Adrian Getley (NamTar), Julian Garner (Voice of NamTar), Sarah Burns (Kornata)

Synopsis: An alien called NamTar offers Moya’s crew maps to their homeworlds that allow them to avoid areas of PK jurisdiction in return for samples of their genetic material and one of Pilot’s arms. Rygel, D’Argo and Zhaan promptly chop off the requested limb despite Pilot’s protests. John and Aeryn are horrified by their crewmates’ actions.

The data crystal NamTar gives them in return contains the promised three maps but there is too much data – only one map can be downloaded into Moya’s databanks, destroying the other two in the process. Rygel steals and hides the crystal to try and force Zhaan and D’Argo to take him home. They lock him in his room but he tricks them and locks them in there instead while he goes to the flight deck to download the data. John, finding out from NamTar’s assistant, Kornata, that the crystal is a trap which will destroy Moya’s databanks, manages to destroy the crystal in time.

Aeryn agrees to give genetic material to NamTar in return for a map to a non-PK Sebacean colony where she can settle, but instead of taking a sample from her NamTar secretly injects her with some of Pilot’s DNA.

It transpires that the base is an old research centre that was run by Kornata. NamTar was a lab rat (NamTar = RatMan, geddit!?), whose intelligence she raised until he took over and used her and her team as experimental subjects to augment his own genetic makeup in a quest to become the perfect being. NamTar intends to use Aeryn to isolate the multi-tasking mental abilities of Pilot’s people which he will then inject into himself.

Aeryn begins to transform into a Sebacean/Pilot hybrid. John and Pilot help Kornata develop a serum for both NamTar and Aeryn – NamTar reverts to a harmless lab rat and Aeryn reverts to her normal Sebacean physiology.

Buck Rogers Redux: John is normally neurotic about food and drink and analyses it before touching it, however, he’s so depressed at not finding Earth in NamTar’s database, that he gulps down some alien booze without a second thought and gets nicely drunk for his pains. He’s astonished that Pilot isn’t openly angry about having his arm cut off, but unlike Aeryn he never confronts his crewmates about their actions. He has changed into PK duds for the first time, with black leather trousers and a grey tee – much to the delight of my wife. He still doesn’t carry a gun, though.

You Can Be More: Aeryn is depressed because she can never go home, but she knows about some Sebacean colonies where she could fit in and clutches at this last straw of hope. When she begins to metamorphose she admits to John that she is scared. She also exhibits the compassion she was so scornful of in ‘Premiere,’ when she protests to D’Argo and Zhaan about their treatment of Pilot, although she excuses it as acceptable because it’s compassion for a comrade. Although the forced evolution of NamTar’s experiments is reversed she does evolve as a person (yes, I know that sounds horribly Star Trek, but it’s done well, and with subtletly): she starts the episode telling John, ‘I was born a Peacekeeper soldier. I’ve always been one among many — a member of a division, platoon, a unit, a team. I’ve never been on my own, John. Never been alone. Ever.’ Yet after her transformation she says, ‘I’ve always thought of myself in terms of survival, life and death, keeping the body alive, but what NamTar did to me... it was me, inside. The real me.’

Big Blue: This is a different Zhaan to the calm, mellow priest of the first seven episodes. Her experiences in ‘That Old Black Magic’ have wrought huge changes in her personality – she’s ruthless, vicious, conniving, deceptive, nasty and full of rage. After a mere third of a season Farscape has entirely altered the personality of one of its main characters – what other show would do something so brave and risky so soon?

I Was A Teenage Luxan: D’Argo again tries to bully others into doing everything his way, but Zhaan won’t have it and Rygel doesn’t trust him. He refuses to apologise to Pilot and admits he’d do the same thing again in the circumstances, even telling Aeryn that he’d do it to any of them if he had to. He has finished the Shilquenhe was building in ‘Back and Back and Back to The Future’, and he comes to play it for Pilot.

Buckwheat the Sixteenth: Rygel is again revealed as the negotiator, having made first contact with NamTar and brokered the deal for the maps. He’s also the most ruthlessly self-interested amongst a crew of self-interested people — he even stored food cubes for himself when the rest of the crew were starving. He had a secret escape route from his cell that the Peacekeepers never found, and he has hiding places similarly concealed.

In The Driving Seat: At last we find something out about Pilot when he tells John: ‘when one of my species is bonded to a Leviathan, we give our lives to the service of others. Ship first, then those who travel aboard her… My species is incapable of space flight on our own. If we wish to journey beyond our home planet, this is the trade off we make for the chance to see the galaxy. I consider it a perfectly equitable arrangement.’ He claims not to be angry about having his arm cut off, but when the data crystal turns out to be useless, he sarcastically taunts the crew with barely disguised relish.

The Ballad Of Aeryn And John: John offers to take Aeryn home with him, but she replies ‘me, on a planet full of billions of you?’ They emerge as natural allies in this episode, as they are the only two who do not mutilate Pilot – although that’s arguably because they were the only ones who had nothing to gain by doing so, it seems unlikely that they would have joined in if even if it had been in their interests. They go drinking together, seem more relaxed in each other’s company, and Aeryn is willing to show weakness to him and ask for his help, something she’s never done before.

Worlds Apart: NamTar’s base is on some sort or asteroid that looks like it’s made of dead animal parts – could it be a calcified Budong (as seen in Season 2 ‘Home On The Remains’)? Delvia has at least three moons.

Disney On Acid: John gets homesick for the three stooges:Larry, Curly, and Moe just found out that they can only use one of the maps.’

Get Frelled: Hynerians are not really ‘body breeders’ which I assume means the have an egg-based reproduction system like most aquatic life (this seems to be directly contradicted in a host of subsequent episodes, most notably season three’s ‘Fractures’), but their ear-brows are very sensitive indeed (shades of Ferengi ears on Star Trek).

What Does This Do? A reference is made to Zhaan’s Numa, implying that is the name of her reproductive organ, or one of them anyway.

Seen It All Before: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is given a Farscape twist and melded with elements of H.G. Wells’ The Island Of Doctor Moreau.

Logic Leaps: At first it seems that NamTar can locate a planet by matching a species to information in his database – this is why Earth is not in there, because he’s never sampled a human (given future spoilerific revelations, this seems odd. A good retcon is required here, I think.) Zhaan and D’Argo’s later discussion of the applications of NamTar’s work seems to imply that by some magic process he can map a route to a homeworld using information from the DNA itself, which is daft, really.

When NamTar is defeated and Kornata is back in charge, why did Moya’s crew not ask her to extract useable navigation data from the system for them and fly off home? Perhaps this provides a solution to the aforementioned implausibility – was NamTar lying about the mapping process all along?

WHAT did you just say? Frell: expletive, meaning to have sex, used most often in exactly the same way as f**k, i.e. ‘Frell You’, ‘Get Frelled’ etc.

Stats: NamTar’s database contains 11 million life forms.

Backstage: The second of Andrew Prowse’s 17 Farscape episodes; the only Farscape script from Tom Blomquist, a veteran of The A-Team, Swamp Thing and Walker: Texas Ranger, amongst others.

The Verdict: All the elements that make Farscape so unique are here – gross body horror, amazing design from the Creature Workshop, superb effects, bucket loads of real internal conflict, distrust, violence, sex and a unique visual aesthetic. After eight episodes finding its feet this is the point at which the show comes into its own, and this is a cracking episode.

Verdict Redux: “They’re all being REALLY horrible to each other” and “this is SO disgusting” are the two highpoints of my wife’s reaction to this episode. She was convinced they were under the ‘fluence, but when she realised they cut Pilot’s arm off under their own steam, she was ready to give up on this crew. There’s no getting around what a massive horrible thing it is that they do, and it really sets the show’s stall out as something genuinely unpredictable and as far away from the safe environs of pretty much every other show as possible. I like the unpredictability, but this is in many ways the most extreme it ever gets. It’s almost as if they know each other well enough to stop watching what they say and do so closely, but not yet well enough to be proper comrades and friends – it’s a difficult and awful point in the evolution of this crew. Precisely because it’s such a lowpoint for Rygel, D’Argo and Zhaan, it highlights all the things Aeryn and John really have in common. My favourite moment is when NamTar is being armlocked by Aeryn, switches his body’s receptors from pain to pleasure, and asks her to hurt him harder. Proper kinky and just the kind of warped oddness I want from Farscape.

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11 comments
Bart Leake
1. JonnywiththeTemper
"Proper kinky and just the kind of warped oddness I want from Farscape." Couldn't have said it any better. That same warped oddness is the main reason I love Farscape as much as I do. The great thing is it only gets better!
Tony Lazarus
2. Tony Lazarus
Hi fellow rewatchers. This is spooky - I've been doing my own rewatch of Farscape and this is the episode I've reached! Not sure if I can wait a week for the next one though so I may be doing a Halley's Comet on you and zooming ahead. Pausing long enough to say, what a fantastic episode - such seriously poor behaviour on the part of three of the main characters could have been done on any number of shows. On Star Trek, everything would have been rebooted next week and we would hear nothing more of it. On Babylon 5, they would die. But on Farscape they have to continue with the uneasy relationship. Just like in real life. I love this programme 8=)
Ian Tregillis
3. ITregillis
Love this episode. One of the highlights of the first season for me. I particularly loved the look of NamTar and the work of the Creature Workshop. Great stuff.

As this season goes on, I really enjoy watching the crew of Moya start out as almost enemies then slowly come together first as reluctant crewmates and then as a family.
George Brell
4. gbrell
Having ploughed ahead and gotten to the beginning of season 2, it's amazing how much changes in the relationships of the crew from this episode to Season 1, episode 22 and Season 2, episode 1 ("Family Ties" and "Mind the Baby").

One thing that bothered me is NamTar's cavalier attitude towards John's attack on him. Presumably a pulse pistol to the face (or to hte metal exoskeleton he wears) would destroy something that couldn't be easily reconstructed.
Tony Lazarus
5. politeruin
Just when you think you're getting a handle on this show they'll not let you forget these are still a bunch of escaped convicts looking out for themselves when they chop poor pilot's arm off, it is completely unforgivable and i cannot remember if it was addressed after this episode. The regeneration of his limb is followed though.

I don't really understand your retcon comment if you're thinking of what i think you're thinking. My take on human dna not being found could be down to divergent evolution if you wanted to explain it away.

Good catch on the pain receptor thing, something that reminds me of a future scorpy sue and his kinky tendencies. Best bad guy everrrr.
Tony Lazarus
6. StrongDreams
@5, the retcon problem is not just based on the spoilers from "The Peacekeeper Wars" but from the much earlier (season 2) "Look at the Princess." Based on the results of the kiss, you would expect that a DNA scan of a human would reveal some result.

Leaving that aside, one thing that impresses me about Farscape is how on top of their game nearly every episode is, especially this early into a 4 season run. You can tell early episodes of Next Generation or DS9 by the wonky plots and weak characterization. Here, early Farscape is distinguishable not by struggles to find their footing but only by the continuity of the characters' relationships.
Tony Lazarus
7. politeruin
#6 Oh yeah, i clean forgot about that, aeryn and john took the dna compatibility test and it implied they were indeed compatible.
Christopher Everett
8. MidwestMedic
I love reading the comments almost as much as the posting itself. The episode, the post, and the comments all get thumbs up this week. Thank you for the reminder about eh compatability test. I think RatMan was flat out lying about getting maps via DNA. He wanted DNA, you wanted maps, "Hey, guess what I can do for you!?" sales pitch.
Christopher Everett
9. MidwestMedic
Oh, but that doesn't mean he might not have still known where some of their planets are. Delvia could still have been in his maps and he could show it without DNA to show the way...but why do that?
Tony Lazarus
10. ChrisG
With the trend towards edgier storytelling in episodic TV, it's easy to forget how distinctive it was for the "good guys" in a series like this to act the way they did here. While the characters come to bond quite tightly over the entire arc, the tension and self-interest in these early episodes was fantastic, and I agree with previous commenters that the writers let that tension develop nicely rather than resetting it away. This episode always stands out for me because I remember my surprise on the first run when they actually took Pilot's arm.

About the DNA-to-map process, I always took it as a scam. That the data crystal had a "virus" on it just reinforced that.
Tony Lazarus
11. LovesAeryn
Other than PK Tech Girl, this is the first episode that really showed promise and just how good Farscape could be. It's like someone looked Farscape in the eye and said, "You could be more." And here is where it started. The only downside is that as brilliant as Namtar was, his assistant was quite the opposite. What's with that huge hand. It was useless and looked silly. But overall, this was a great episode.

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