Jun 20 2012 3:00pm

Farscape Rewatch: “A Bug’s Life”

Farscape Season 1, Episode 18, A Bug’s LifeA 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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Christopher Hatton
1. Xopher
The face-tatted PKs appeared in "Exodus from Genesis." "Back and Back and Back to the Future" is all Ilanics and Scorvians; no PKs in that ep.
Rob Rater
2. Quasarmodo
It might've been cooler if Zhaan's antibody had actually been a bluff they used to expose the virus, instead of her managing to whip up the real deal.
3. politeruin
Ooh...they are heading towards the gammak base and we all know what that means, don't we? A mind frelling chair! ...also some unmemorable fetish wearing bad guy.
Scott K. Andrews
4. ScottKAndrews
@Xopher - A little sub-editing error that crept in after I hit Submit and the episode number was changed to the wrong title :-( Suspect those lovely folks at Tor were using one of the variant episode numbering lists I explained in my first blog. Easy mistake to make. Will get it corrected.
George Brell
5. gbrell
One potential gaffe I've never seen discussed.

Translator microbes are horribly inconsistent.
-John fakes being a peacekeeper, so presumptively they heard him speaking in the vowel-heavy peacekeeper tongue.
-But then how does Aeryn learn English? Can you choose not to hear the translation?
-And any of these solutions needs to accomodate "A Constellation of Doubt" where video-recordings of the aliens have them all speaking English, even though only Sikozu knows the language (and might be able to speak it). (Yes, it's technically possible that they are speaking their native tongues and John is translating as a proxy for the audience, but then wouldn't they have needed subtitles to broadcast to an earth audience?)

I love this show (just finishing S3 in my rewatch), but this seems to be one of those things that is constantly discarded in favor of narrative simplicity.
6. StrongDreams
And yet you have no problem with a puppet that burps helium when he's nervous and passes explosive urine?

Yes, although the translator microbes are somewhat better thought out than Star Trek's universal translator, they still bow to the Law of Narrative Causality.
My assumption (though I admit this is pure fanwank) is that the existence of translator microbes leads to linguistic fragmentation. That is, different Peacekeepers speak wildly different languages from each other, so when Crichton shows up speaking English they just assume he's speaking some obscure dialect they haven't heard before.

Admittedly this doesn't explain "A Constellation of Doubt"... maybe they got dubbed?
Iain Cupples
8. NumberNone
IIRC (I recently rewatched series 4) there's some suggestion in ACOD that all of the crew, not just Sikozu (and Aeryn, who already learned English) studied English while on Earth. Certainly, they all picked up a word or two on their previous visit. This still doesn't explain how they become so incredily fluent so quickly, of course. ;)
9. StrongDreams
linguistic fragmentation

That's actually rather brilliant. It would be the exact opposite of how the English language became standardized when printed matter became widely and cheaply available.
10. StrongDreams
linguistic fragmentation

On the other hand, the Peacekeepers were pretty fanatical about racial purity. One would think that a uniform language would be part of that.
Ian Tregillis
11. ITregillis
When I rewatched this recently, and the rest of the season, I really enjoyed the way the events here conveyed (to me, anyway) the sensation of a snowball rolling downhill (maybe because I already knew what was coming). The conclusion of this episode is like a bank shot that sends the series ricocheting in a very exciting direction.
12. politeruin
I'm a bit confused here, does john at some point in this episode speak english and only aeryn understands him? I really can't remember, i wish i had the episodes to hand so i could rewatch along with. As for a constellation of doubt, i assume john is given perhaps a pre-dubbed copy maybe but they still could have shown subtitles as we the audience are essentially john with translator microbes and can understand them all anyway. I've always thought the microbes are far more consistent and just plain logical than the universal translator but at some point there has to be a fudge.
13. StrongDreams
I guess the question is, how are the translator microbes supposed to work. That is, when John and Aryn talk, does John hear PKish but understand it in English, or does John actually hear it in English. (The former seems more sensible, the latter is problematic. For one thing, it would mean that the microbes directly interfere with his hearing, for another, it would mean that watching her speak would be like watching a badly dubbed movie.)

Because if John can hear her native language (even though he understands it), then the PK would hear John's native language. They could understand him, but they would also know that he is not making the same word-sounds that they make to convey the same meaning.
George Brell
14. gbrell

Those examples aren't gaffes per se. While it makes no sense for a biological organism to secrete Helium, Rygel is at least consistent about it (or at least whenever the writers want to make the joke). The explosive urine I can almost buy due to him having ingested the chakin (sp?) fruit.


That's actually a nice theory. One thing I always wondered about was that if translator microbes are injected at birth (D'Argo openly wonders how John wasn't injected in the Pilot, IIRC), how you ever learn a mother tongue.

Every time you heard a new word, you'd presumably instantiate that word as the base, so that even when someone said that word in your base language, your mind would translate it to the foreign language. It'd be like hearing "I want ice cream" as "I quiero glace sahne."


Will need to rewatch the earth trilogy...


But interestingly, their appears to be a unifying written language. This was demonstrated in "Crackers Don't Matter" when all the other crew members can read the writing on the basin, but John can't even see the characters.

Agree with linguistic purity for peacekeepers.


It's not that John speaks English to Aeryn, it's that he's always speaking English even when he's trying to fake being a peacekeeper. So that means that the peacekeepers hear John speaking in their own tongue, but he later teaches Aeryn to speak English (much of S3 onboard Talyn), so how does she hear him speak English words.
George Brell
15. gbrell
Another random gaffe involving language.

In "Kansas," Noranti tries to sing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" but butchers it, which would imply she can read English, at least phonetically, but can't speak it.
16. politeruin
Ahh i see the issue now and it's heading into an area of linguistics that i doubt the creators even thought of. But my interpretation would be the same as strongdreams, that like any foreign language you can speak you hear that language's sounds but can understand it. So maybe that's how aeryn can learn english since she is hearing those words and is simply trying to repeat the sounds rather than speaking her own language.

As for the pk hearing john's native language, i assumed the pks are made up of a myriad different cultures where they don't speak all the same language so the pk wouldn't really give it much thought, john's prim english accent conveying authority i suppose. Racial purity would ensure they are all sebacean but not necessarily the same language and that's flung out the window anyway with hybrids like scorpy sue.
17. StrongDreams
Racial purity would ensure they are all sebacean

Actually, I was being lazy when I said "racial purity," it's pretty clear that PKs view cultural purity more highly than racial purity. There are lots of Sebacean planets whose people are not PKs and would never be accepted as PKs; while Aryn and Gilina were deemed "irrecovably contaminated" after only a few hours exposure to someone from another culture. Under those circumstances, I would assume that, among themselves, PKs would use one language, one set of common customs and attitudes, etc. This would also solve gbrell's problem of langauge assimilation, at least among PKs. (They would only speak to children in the "approved" language until they were old enough that it was engrained and they could be exposed to other languages without being contaminated.)

On the other other hand, maybe translator microbes existed long before the creation of the PKs -- long ago enough that spoken language among the space traveling races had completely devolved, and only truly isolated races/planets have maintained linguistic coherence. Any two people might have completely different base (vocal) languages, even if they grew up on the same planet. In that case, the idea of linguistic purity might never even occur to the founders of the PKs. The idea of an entire spaceship, or race, or planet of people using a common vocal language might be seen as backwards and primitive, something to be mocked, not to be emulated.

That would make John's vocal language unremarkable to the PKs. It would also mean that even if John had learned to communicate with Aryn without the microbes, he would be unable to communicate with anyone else, but Aryn, by learning English, would be able to communicate with a large number of human beings.
Kristen Templet
18. SF_Fangirl
Translator microbes aside this was a great episode. I did find John's bad english accent somewhat cringe worthy though. You're right, though, I do get that snowball rolling downhill feeling like the plot is finally moving forward.
Christopher Hatton
19. Xopher
I don't know why Browder was even doing an English accent, bad as it was. Most of the PKs have Oz/Kiwi (sorry, I haven't heard enough to tell the difference reliably) accents. And didn't he have exemplars for those accents ready to hand? Crichton hasn't met Scorpius (whose accent is, shall we say, less antipodal), so there's no reason he should think the English one is more authoritative (unless that's just how he hears it through the translator microbes).

About those translator microbes: In my opinion, they were a way of hanging a lantern on the absurdity of how language is treated in science fiction TV and movies. "Yes, we know it's ridiculous that everyone is going to speak English. This is our excuse for not worrying about it. Just chill."

There were some stupids about it (to my mind, the worst is Sikozu, whose brain can't tolerate translator microbes...for maybe one episode, and everyone of her same species understands all the other characters perfectly once we meet them), but in general I think we should ignore it, because it really doesn't make sense, and no amount of fanwanking will make it make sense.

It can be fun. That I grant. But trust me, you won't make it make sense, any more than you can make sense of the source of Rygel's helium supply.

Not that Farscape is any worse than any other show; it's just thumbed its nose at the problem more blatantly. The Star Trek "Universal Translator" has already been pointed out here. But the worst is probably Stargate, where every human in the universe speaks perfect English except on Earth. I mean, I wouldn't mind Teyla speaking perfect American English if they didn't rub my face in it by having Zelenka speak Czech, and making a big deal out of McKay saying "zed" instead of "zee" for the letter Z. Really? Which one does Teyla say? How about Ronan?

And the whole thing is just made so much worse by the fact that everyone in fandom thinks they're an expert on language. I ran into that on a TNG thread when people were trying to defend the episode I call the "linguistic WHAAAAAT" episode (you know the one, let's not do it here).

But I digress. So I'll stop.

I thought it was too bad Larraq had to die in this episode. I liked him.
20. DavidB
MMM the problem I had with this ep was that John simply could not pull off being a Captain.
Ok so he spoke in a posh english upper class accent but all that means is he was still speaking english but in a posh upper class accent.
The moment he dropped Buffy or ice cream or any million other earth type phrases he was pretty much sunk because there was no point of relevance to the rest of the crew.
Also he had no command presence, having never been a Captain before he simply had no idea of how to act.
It was kind of interesting despite this epic failure measured because the PK's did die that they still gave him kudo's for a great plan at the end.
I was thinking derr not really because all the PK's died anyway and almost took Aeryn too.

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