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Farscape Rewatch: “A Clockwork Nebari”

A Clockwork Nebari
Written by Lily Taylor, directed by Rowan Woods
Season 2, Episode 18

1st US Transmission Date: 15 September 2000
1st UK Transmission Date: 20 November 2000
1st Australian Transmission: 25 December 2001

Guest Cast: Lani Tupu (Capt. Bialar Crais), Wayne Pygram (Scorpius), Malcolm Kennard (Meelak), Skye Wansey (Varla), Simon Bossell (Nerri)

Synopsis: Moya is boarded by two Nebari—Varla and Meelak—who have been hunting Chiana and intend to return her to Nebari space. They mentally cleanse everyone on board and put a collar on Pilot to prevent him initiating StarBurst.

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

John is immune to the cleansing because of Harvey and Rygel because of his fast metabolism. They plot to free Chiana, who is also not cleansed because the temporary drug-induced cleansing Varla is using does not work on Nebari.

All sorts of interesting things about Nebari plans and Chiana’s past are revealed. Meelak is working undercover for the Nebari resistance, which is led by Chiana’s brother, Nerri, who is still alive. John, Rygel and Pilot stage a fake PK attack on Moya and in the confusion attempt to take down Varla, but fail. At the last moment Meerak decides to risk blowing his resistance cover and shoots Varla to save Chi.

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

Meerak leaves for Nebari space carrying a secret message for Nerri while the rest of Moya’s crew are locked up by John until the mental cleansing drugs wear off.

Buck Rogers Redux: ‘I’m here to tell you that the Nebari are a bunch of geeks and their damn mind cleansing doesn’t work on mother Crichton’s baby boy—John Crichton, astronaut, Master of the Universe!’ Crichton has named his pulse pistol ‘Winona’—yes, she’s here and the first time we meet her, she’s on the fritz. When he pretends to be mind cleansed he adopts full on ‘Bill and Ted’ surf slacker speak and uses way more pop culture references than normal. However, when he’s with Pilot and does not need to pretend he’s still very nutty indeed—his madness continues to evolve. He’s developing quite a fatalistic streak too: ‘since when do people like us get what we want?’

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

Big Blue: Zhaan is cleansed and does appear briefly during the action, and again at the end of the episode, locked up with the others, but mostly she’s nowhere to be seen. Aeryn tends Varla’s wounds rather than Zhaan, who would normally do that. Was Virginia Hey on holiday perhaps, or could the scriptwriters just think of nothing interesting to do with Zhaan?

I Was A Teenage Luxan: ‘All the things I’ve done as a warrior, all the horrible thoughts I’ve had all the cycles of my life, even about you, I am so sorry!’ Rygel, John, Aeryn and Chiana go down to a planet to find information about the auction of D’Argo’s son, Jothee, but D’Argo remains on Moya. Why? When he is cleansed he becomes a weeping, pathetic mess, kind of like the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz.

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

Buckwheat the Sixteenth: ‘I’m nobody’s puppet!’ Rygel’s metabolism is so fast that he processes the drug long before any of the others. He sells John out to Meelak to convince the Nebari that he’s still cleansed. John later finds him hiding in a box in the Maintenance Bay and forces him to help save the ship. He enjoys locking up Aeryn, D’Argo and Zhaan.

Your Favourite Little Tralk: John: ‘You can kick, kiss and cry your way out of any situation. I just wish you’d stop getting into them.’ Chiana is three cycles younger than Nerri. It is never explained why her life disc stopped working (‘Taking The Stone’) although it seems safe to assume that Nerri disabled it to help him elude capture by the Nebari establishment. He goes to great lengths to get a message to Chiana to let her know he’s still alive, but he orders Meelak not to bring Chiana to him because it would be too dangerous. Chiana is desperate to join Nerri and wants to be with him more than anything in the world. She did not tell her shipmates about the Nebari infection because she was afraid they wouldn’t let her stay on board.

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

In The Driving Seat: ‘Crichton, did that work for you? I thought it worked. Definitely.’ Pilot’s people are not susceptible to mental cleansing, presumably because of their much vaunted multi-tasking abilities. He manages to stage a very convincing PK attack and exhibits just a hint of satisfied self-congratulation afterward; I think he kind of enjoyed it.

A Ship, A Living Ship: Moya is capable of causing explosions inside herself, as demonstrated when she and Pilot fake the PK attack.

The Ballad of Chiana And D’Argo: John implies that Chiana was using her sexual allure to extract info about Jothee, and that D’Argo will not be best pleased when he finds out.

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

Alien Encounters: When they were very young Chi and Nerri were given exit visas by the Nebari Establishment, along with hundreds, maybe thousands of others—it took them two cycles to discover why they were allowed to leave. During their routine health inspections they were infected with a sexually transmitted disease which they very effectively helped spread to other races. At a specified time the infection will manifest itself and many worlds will be thrown into chaos, ready for Nebari invasion. This plan has been in operation for 20 cycles. A high-up figure in the Establishment gave Nerri a cure, and he and Chi are now both clean. Nerri and Chi split up to evade capture and protect the traitor’s identity. Nerri is now leading an active resistance movement. Nebari bleed blue. The males have black hair and look like brooding members of 80s Goth bands. The ultra-calm Salis (‘Durka Returns’) is not as typical of Nebari as we were led to believe—Varla is far from the mellow nasty he was, she’s a full blown sadistic nut job. Full mental cleansing, as applied to Durka, takes 100 cycles. Their temporary mental cleansing, which is only used on aliens, involves attaching a metal gizmo to the exposed optic nerve which releases a drug into the system.

Hi, Harvey: John gets flashes of Harvey telling him to fight the mind cleansing drugs, and it’s implied that this is why he remains immune.

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

Disney On Acid: John refers to Varla as Debra Harry (of Blondie fame) and later says ‘she’s gonna getcha, getch, getcha, getcha,’ which is a quote from the Blondie song ‘One Way or Another.’ He warns Rygel not to eat too much or he’ll ‘Belushi out,’ i.e. get big and fat like John Belushi of Saturday Night Live.

Logic Leaps: Although Nebari standard class Host vessels are massively be-weaponed and easily destroyed the Zelbion, their Star-Runner transport ships are capable of being overwhelmed by PK ships. A PK patrol attacked the Star-Runner carrying Varla and Meelak and killed all the other crew members, but we don’t find out why—perhaps they are considered an enemy and are attacked on sight, or perhaps PK Command has discovered that it was the Nebari who destroyed the Zelbinion. If so, then why is Varla concerned that the Peacekeepers do not discover the infection? She seems to imply that the Peacekeepers would be a formidable enemy and would attack if they discovered the Nebari plan. If the Nebari are as powerful as we’ve been led to believe, why are they worried? One of their bog-standard ships took out the PK flagship without breaking a sweat, surely there’s no need for all this subterfuge. These are not necessarily problems, but we don’t know enough about the PK/Nebari relationship to explain possible inconsistencies.

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

Bloopers: Lots of Ophthalmologist Farscape fans complained loudly about the treatment John’s eyeballs receive and claimed it just wasn’t realistic. Fair enough. It was marvellously, spectacularly, stomach-churningly gross though, which justifies it in my book. Why does John close the door when he’s talking openly to Rygel to prevent being overheard, but not when he’s talking to Pilot?

Guest Stars: Malcolm Kennard used to be a regular on E-Street. Skye Wansey appeared in Chopper. Simon Bossell was in Better Than Sex.

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

Backstage: The name Winona came from Ben Browder and is a reference to Winona Ryder, a comic called ‘Wynona Earp,’ or an homage to famous country singer, depending upon whom you believe. The episode title is a reference to the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange in which a criminal is brainwashed to try and make him a better citizen.

The Verdict: The Farscape universe continues to deepen and the political situation between the races gets more complex. We’ve already got the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans after Moya, now the Nebari emerge as major players. Lots of fun for the cast as they once more play against type—Claudia Black’s zombie Aeryn is scary, Anthony Simcoe’s weepy act is marvellous, and Ben Browder’s surfer dude is just unhinged. It’s about time we got more background on Chiana, and it makes sense, giving Gigi Edgley more to play with. Finally, what other show except Farscape would have an alien race attempting to take over the universe using the clap?

Farscape, A Clockwork Nebari

Verdict Redux: At the time of writing the original recap it seemed a gimme that the plotlines set in motion here would be addressed later—but they never are. This foreknowledge renders this episode kind of annoying—a long setup for something that never pays off. Also, the two male Nebari are pretty dreadful, wooden and uninteresting. I reckon Meelak’s crucial info is the correct Moog settings to play Fade To Grey for Nerri’s Visage covers band. There’s a lot to enjoy here, especially the performances (Steve Strange wannabes aside), but it doesn’t add up to much.

Scott K. Andrews‘ latest short story appears in ‘A Town Called Pandemonium


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