How weird can things get when trapped in a game based on John Crichton's exploits? Very...
Click here to read the Farscape World synopsis for this episode.
This episode was like "Scratch 'n Sniff" and "Revenging Angel" had a child... and it's a little hyperactive. That's how Mary described the episode to me, and I just fount that so apt. This episode, like its evil, aforementioned twins and so many others that have gone before it, is one that splits people right down the middle; you will either love it or loathe it, with very little in between. In that sense, and indeed in general style, it often echoes the format of season two's "Won't Get Fooled Again". If you've read my past reviews, you'll know I'm quite a fan of these sorts of experimental episodes, that both stylistically and story-wise try and do something different that's not seen too often if at all in the genre. "John Quixote" is no different; it's a fun romp that plays out, in part, like a who's who of Farscape, yet presents some subtle characteristic undertones that are extremely relevant to not only the way the characters think but also to the overall arc of the season so far.
The story begins with John and Chiana on their way back to Moya, Chiana carrying a virtual reality game that she wants him to play. On Moya, meanwhile, Sikozu goes to Scorpius and plays chess with him. As Chiana enters the game, John, whose been thinking about Aeryn and the whole Scorpius situation, receives a message from D'Argo that they're having a small problem with Scorpius. This plays exactly to John's fears and distrust, and of course he instantly worries and wants to return to Moya. Instead, Chiana pulls him into the game, which turns out to be based on his exploits in the Uncharted Territories, at least for the first level. Soon the pair are thrown into the next level, which is actually a fantasy world, with Aeryn dressed as a blonde princess atop a tower crying out for help, and Stark manifesting as the game's guide, only dressed with a cloak, long hair and his mask on the wrong side.
The game world was actually created by Stark (or that's what the narrative and the natural story suggest, despite contradictions in the SciFi.com journey log), and it provides plenty of symbolism, for what John is thinking and feeling, and it quite literally plays on his fears. What begins as the "back-door" section of the game that's not even supposed to exist, evolves into the game jumping to Moya, and really taking John's fears about Aeryn and her secrets she's been keeping, and his fear that Scorpius will turn on them and try to escape, and exemplifying them so that everything plays perfectly to what bad things John is expecting, as opposed to what is really happening (which in reality, is nothing bad at all).
In short, everyone in the game plays either some sort of twisted version of something else, or the dark side of who they are. The Aeryn and Scorpius in the Moya scenario, and Stark throughout, are the latter. Stark, as the avatar, has his mask on the wrong way round. He wears a cloak and has long hair. But he's also very deceptive, and is out to get John. This is the part of Stark that, in the past, has only been hinted at. He was obviously extremely affected by the death of Zhaan (in "Wait for the Wheel"), and deep down blamed John for her death. He had been bottling it up, much like John has bottled up his guilt for the deaths that he has caused, and it finally comes out in this episode, and causes John at least to think about, and reflect, on this. And that's why the episode stands as important, at least to the character of John. So the game is created based on what John has said in the past to Stark, and also the memories that Stark took from the dying John (in "Icarus Abides"), so that when John played it, it would try and capture him in the game, thus on the outside he may die and his mind be forever trapped in the simulation. It's a deceptive thing to do, but then Stark isn't often up front about his own feelings, so he's not the sort of character that would just tell John that he blames him.
It's also interesting that it ends up being Zhaan that ultimately reveals both Stark's contempt and John's guilt. She was always the mother-figure, and in many ways also acted as the conscience of the crew, so it's only natural that not only would she be the game's end, as Stark's "princess", but would also brings John's feelings of guilt to the fore. This guilt is something that John will have to deal with, especially now it's really been exposed. It's capped off by the nice sequence with Noranti that in many ways links it all together – his "war" with Scorpius, and the "war of the heart" with Aeryn. In this scene Noranti shows that she's much deeper than she sometimes appears, and indeed knows a lot about John's tribulations.
Another interesting thing to watch is how John's reaction to Aeryn changes. At the end of "Natural Election", he tells her to come back to him when she has her story straight, and how a relationship is based on trust, and he can't trust her. Now when the game scenario on Moya begins, and John searches the ship for Scorpius with her, his reaction is one of relief, and he says to her how good it is to have her back. Later though, following her betrayal in the game, he rightly becomes cautious. When the game is over and he returns to the real Moya, he opts to ignore Aeryn. Obviously the question of whether he took Noranti's drug is one that will probably be left hanging, but I am of the inclination that he didn't. He has been building up to shunning Aeryn for a while, and especially after what he said in the last episode, this is the sort of reaction he may have put forward on his own. Her betrayal in the game may have played on his fears, but it's something that he probably considers feasible. As such, despite Aeryn's happiness at being a princess in the game, John just walks on by and ignores her. I'd think it's more that he just doesn't want to be hurt anymore, so until he learns the truth he will just continue to keep his distance. And thus the Aeryn-John story continues, and although I don't consider myself a shipper, I really like the way they've thrown obstacles at the two characters.
Anyway, having got the characterisation out the way, let's talk a bit about the fantasy world that was concocted for the game. It was just great to watch all the cast, and some memorable guests, come together and play roles so wildly different than usual. The use of guest stars was magnificent, and the entire ensemble seemed to step up their game, and all of them seemed to have a blast. From Tammy MacIntosh constantly crying out for D'Argo to eat Jool, to Claudia Black really taking the princess Aeryn character and running with her, giving such memorable lines as "can I help you find some place to sheathe that sword?" and "honey, the butler's dead!" Virginia Hey deserves major credit for an awesome appearance, completely controlling the stage for the couple of minutes she appeared. Likewise, the rest of the cast deserve credit, including veteran Farscape director Rowan Woods making his on-screen debut as the male version of Zhaan. But the whole fantasy world was chock full of so many references, nods to other shows and memorable moments that it becomes difficult to list them without going on for pages or forgetting half of them. But I really enjoyed how this part of the game scenario played out, from the hints at what was going on through the other characters' dialogue and actions, to the general fun and wackiness of it all. It's one of those times where Farscape again pushes the boundaries of what can be done, but it does it with flair, and everyone who worked on this episode deserves credit for making it work so well.
I also enjoyed the part of the game that took place on Moya, although I will say it didn't take long for me to figure out that John was still trapped in the game. Maybe I've seen to many stories of people trapped in things like this and being fooled into thinking they've escaped, or it was just the hints that things were not right that came through in the dialogue (especially that of Aeryn and Scorpius). But then that's probably a credit to the planning of the story, in that the nuances were there to spot that it was different, and certainly anyone that didn't realise the first time should easily spot the hints on a second viewing. The way everyone literally played on John's fears was great, and I also thought it demonstrated Farscape's attention to detail in that neither Sikozu nor Noranti were present – again a hint that it wasn't really Moya.
At the end of the day, some people will love this episode because it was written by Ben Browder. Others will hate it because it was written by Ben Browder. Some will love it for doing something different and being another experiment that pays off. Others will hate it for doing something different and being an experiment that failed. It's that old adage: you can't please everyone all of the time. If you approach "John Quixote" with an open mind and really take note of the character subtleties that come through in the dialogue and on-screen action then you'll probably like it. If you appreciated some of the past experiments like "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Scratch 'n Sniff" and "Revenging Angel" then you might like it too. It would of course be easy for me to say I loved the episode just because Ben Browder's name is put to it, but I'm well aware that much of the cast and other writers had input into certain things too, and I'd like to think that people realise by now that I really do tend to appreciate these experimental, different episodes, in part for pushing the boundaries. I have to say though that the episode was very well plotted, with a lot of attention paid to details that other shows might overlook, and I really enjoyed this ride, and I will certainly commend Ben Browder and director Tony Tilse for bringing this to the small screen.
So I liked the episode a lot. I wouldn't say it's a 5 out of 5, but it's a solid 4, and up there with the best of the season so far. Sit back, watch and enjoy. Or hate. It's up to you, but I certainly won't hesitate to put the tape back in and watch this episode until the tape wears out.
Before I go though, I want to just have a quick mention of something that really bugged me. The return of Zhaan was clearly meant to be a surprise for the fans, something to catch us off guard that we'd really enjoy. The return of Virginia Hey for this guest appearance was kept very tight-lipped, and they even went to lengths to mask her appearance by moving her credit as a guest star from the opening roll to the end of the episode, something that Buffy and Angel, amongst others, have used on a number of occasions to mask the re-emergence of a guest star. Of course, it was in part given away by Sci Fi's teaser trailer for the episode. I really felt that, while showing hints of a Zhaan return and their whole "something old, something new" line would've worked well as a teaser, showing a line that's clearly Virginia Hey pretty much gave the whole thing away. I would still not have mentioned it had it not been for the fact that they did a very, very stupid thing and in their weekly e-mail round-up put, in the subject of the e-mail no less, "Zhaan on Farscape". Now some might say that still doesn't give Virginia's return away, but people who subscribe to those lists who don't even have Sci Fi or live in the US will clearly see that spoiler, just because it's in the title (and the first thing in the title, too), so even if you go to delete the mail, you'll still see it. And as an extra kick in the face, they even state that Virginia Hey will return in a guest appearance. Now this wouldn't annoy me had everyone not gone to lengths to mask the guest appearance, but they clearly did. Heck, if Virginia's name showed up in the opening credit roll, I wouldn't have said a thing. But I really feel Sci Fi missed the ball on this one, and hope that in the future, if everyone tries to keep a guest appearance a secret, they not ruin it so carelessly, in a way that even those who avoid the usual spoiler things like the trailers can't miss.
I love to hear your views, whether you agree or disagree, so feel free to e-mail me your feedback. Review by Dani Moure.
To see Mary Wood's review of "John Quixote", click here.
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Did You Know?
The title of this episode is a homage to the story "Don Quixote", written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, which can be downloaded here.
The John Crichton inside the TV is playing the part of Max Headroom. This is an 80s cyberpunk sci-fi series in which a TV reporter and his co-workers create a computer generated personality – Max Headroom.
Rygel's "none shall pass" line, along with John's talk of King Arthur of Camelot was likely inspired by this scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which King Arthur is on a quest for the Holy Grail and a lone knight guards a path, saying "None shall pass." Arthur reluctantly fights him and cuts off one of his arms. Thinking he's pretty much won the fight, Arthur starts to pass by but the knight refuses to give up his guardianship of the bridge. Arthur casually cuts off his other arm. This goes on until all 4 of the knight's limbs are severed and he's a bloody torso on the ground, still calling Arthur a coward for walking away when he can still fight.
The level featuring D'Argo, with Jool and Chiana in the cage ball, referenced the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel (by the Brothers Grimm), in which Hansel and Gretel are lost in the woods, and come across a house made of sweets. There they are continuously fed by a witch pretending to be an old lady, to make them plump and ripe for eating. The in-game story book says "A Grim Fairy Tale" on the cover, and appears to be a reference to the well known authors (despite the mis-spelling, which was probably intentional).
In the lift, John Headroom asks Crichton why he is always asked to go up and down, and never sideways, a reference to a line in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by the late Douglas Adams.
D'Argo eating out of Jool's belly bears a resemblance to a similar scene in Alice in Wonderland, in which Alice sees someone eating out of another's belly.
The opening scene with Aeryn crying for help atop the tower is similar to the story of Rapunzel (again by the Grimm Brothers), where Rapunzel is locked atop a tower and cries out for help, and is saved by a hero when she lets her hair out the window and he climbs up it.
The bird laying the golden egg when it flies out of the cabinet is a nod to The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg - one of Aesop's fables.
Harvey had a long nose, and along with his outfit, it appeared as though he was based on Pinocchio.
References compiled by Dani Moure and Mary Wood.
PK Tech Girl
The Hidden Memory
Won't Get Fooled Again
Self Inflicted Wounds, Part 2: Wait for the Wheel
Scratch 'n Sniff
Infinite Possibilities, Part 2: Icarus Abides
Dog with Two Bones
In addition to the numerous hilarious quotes scattered through the synopsis...
Aeryn: [over comm.] "Scorpius, we have Rygel."
Scorpius: [to John] "Lovely girl. I hear that one quarter Scarran-Sebacean offspring are quite hansom. [John goes to stab him] You harm me, you harm her."
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