Written by Ben Browder, directed by Tony Tilse
Season 4, episode 7
1st UK Transmission Date: 11 November 2002
1st US Transmission Date: 26 July 2002
Guest Cast: Raelee Hill (Sikozu), Melissa Jaffer (Noranti), Paul Goddard (Stark), Tammy MacIntosh (Jool), Lani Tupu (The Ogre), Rowan Woods (Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan), Alyssa-Jane Cook (Gilina), Virginia Hey (Zhaan)
Synopsis: Chiana buys a virtual reality game which she persuades John to try with her. It turns out to be based upon the memories of Black-T John as absorbed, interpreted, and then sold by Stark.
John and Chi are trapped in a fairytale world, in which familiar characters are represented as warped, monstrous versions of themselves. It transpires that the game is trying to keep John and Chi trapped inside until their bodies die, leaving their consciousnesses stuck in gameworld forever. John is able to decipher the riddles, and he and Chi escape.
Back on Moya, Noranti offers John a drug that will make him stop caring about Aeryn, and the damned fool goes and takes it.
The Man In the Iron Mask: Stark is the POV character this week. The game is based on a mix of Black-T John’s memories and a neural template from Stark. So the game reflects Stark’s view of events and people, portraying them as fundamentally dangerous and insane. He harbours deep seated resentment against John for, as he sees it, causing Zhaan’s death. It will be interesting to see how this revelation affects his relationship with John if their paths ever cross again in the real world.
It is not stated, but it seems likely that the game only goes askew when it realises the real John is playing, and that the secret level he and Chi enter is a trap, possibly created subconsciously by Stark to take revenge for Zhaan’s death should John ever play the game.
Stark’s version of himself has hair—he must be insecure about early hair loss, poor lamb.
Big Blue: Of course the real princess is Zhaan, Stark’s lost love. It seems so obvious in retrospect, but it was a great surprise at the time (well, it was in the U.K.—Sci-Fi trailed Virginia Hey’s guest appearance). But before the big reveal we get a male Zhaan, who lives in a camper van in car park and can lactate acid.
The Ballad Of Aeryn And John: The whole fantasy game revolves around John’s unresolved feelings for Aeryn—his longing for her, his fears that she’s going to leave again. She is the princess he thinks he has to rescue, but in each version, she is involved with another—the ogre in the fairytale, and Scorpius in the Moya level. When John still thinks Moya is real, he tells Aeryn how happy he is to have her back. But by the time he gets back to reality, he’s so screwed up by the way the game made him see the nature and consequences of his own obsession, that when he is offered the chance to anaesthetise his emotions, he jumps at it. What an idiot. Seriously.
I Was A Teenage Luxan: D’Argo is Hansel, but instead of being eaten by a witch, he’s got two witches ready for the table. Also: D’Argo in lederhosen. Just... no words.
Scream Queen: Jool is a wicked witch with baked bean for intestines.
The Insane Military Commander: Crais is big ogre with a demanding wife and a bad temper.
Everyone’s Favourite Little Tralk: Chiana loves the game and plays it well. She and John are such a good team, that the game switches her for a fake just to keep John running round in circles. She’s a nifty swordfighter.
Buckwheat the Sixteenth: Rygel is the Black Knight from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, and he can shoot fire out of his arse, naturally.
Bobblehead: In the real world, Sikozu likes to play chess with Scorpius. He asks her to let him out and although we see them playing through the door, there is later a small problem with that same door—did she try to open it and mess it up?
Nosferatu in leather: In the game Scorpius is both Pinocchio and his old, menacing self, taunting John on the Moya level and manipulating Aeryn, much to John’s horror.
Disney on Acid: The references just keep coming—
- Fairytale riffs: Scorpius/Pinocchio; Scarran/Red Riding Hood; Sheyang/dragon; Aeryn/Rapunzel.
- Sci-fi riffs: John’s gameself is a take on Max Headroom, because Ben Browder reckoned that the fake version of John should be a sci-fi character rather than a fairytale one; the lift wants to go sideways, like the lift in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
- Other riffs: The scenes between the princess and the ogre are modelled after Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?; there is a 37 in the wormhole equations that John draws on his cell floor, referencing Cool Hand Luke.
Seen It All Before: In the game version of Moya, Aeryn has her season three hairstyle, D’Argo is wearing his season three costume, and the scenes in Pilot’s den are a direct rerun of scenes from The Way We Weren’t. In fact the whole Moya level is designed to feel familiar, as they go through the kind of scenario Farscape has done on countless bottle shows.
Backstage: This is Ben Browder’s second script for the show. It was originally intended to slot in before Aeryn returned to Moya and would have served as a re-introduction of the character prior to her genuine re-appearance. When it was moved to episode seven, the episode then had to set up the emotional distance between John and Aeryn that would persist throughout this season.
Despite the script’s wild ambition, no new sets were built for this episode, and it came in on time and under-budget.
Claudia Black is wearing a ¾ wig – the hair at the front is hers, the back is not. Male Zhaan is played by Farscape director Rowan Woods, who shaved his head and had his body hair removed for the role. Virginia Hey wore a skull cap.
The princess’s comments during the climactic fight were improvised by Claudia Black, who based the accent on an amalgam of Mike Tyson and Wallace Shawn’s character from The Princess Bride. Look closely at the TV that falls on John—it has an image of Aeryn on it.
The original cut was ten minutes longer, and Ben Browder preferred it—he thinks the episode plays better at a slightly less frantic pace.
The Verdict: First time around, I remember feeling that this episode tried too hard to be zany and mad. I didn’t like it much, thinking it a pale imitation of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ This time, however, I like it a whole lot more.
It’s great fun to see Stark, Crais, Jool, Gilina and Zhaan again, to have references to all the seasons, old episodes, and old villains, like Maldis. But in spite of all the fun, this is an episode with serious intent, showing us our heroes in a more malignant and dangerous light, letting us see them as they must appear to the people they encounter on their adventures, and those who they leave bereaved or broken in their wake. It also works as a deconstruction of John’s love for Aeryn and an exploration of his love, insecurity and paranoia.
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.