|"Scratch 'n Sniff"|
... If it's even possible to summarize this episode. "Scratch 'n Sniff" is so much more about the visual artistry, constant split-second flashbacks, speeding up the camera, slowing down the camera, double exposures and double takes, that it's really impossible to translate to written word. Best I can do is sum up the actual story, which is kind of like telling you about the subjects in a Picaso painting – it's visual media that you just have to see for yourself.
Open on John and D'Argo having drinks at a bar. D'Argo is telling John that he's just like a Sebacean; thinks of himself as superior and treats everyone else like animals, especially come decision time when John turns into Mr. Know-it-all. As Chiana pops in to make fun of them for sulking in their drinks when there's partying to be done, we get clued in on why they're all there. Pilot banished D'Argo and John from Moya for a forced vacation because of their constant bickering. She reminds them of this and suggests they indulge a little, though maybe not as much as Jool who is about to pass out drunk. A few moments after Chiana and Jool walk off, a couple of alien women approach D'Argo and John looking to party. Seizing the opportunity to follow Chiana's advice, they take off with the girls, dancing the night away. Fun company, good drinks, funky-jazzy music, and some strange mist that people keep spraying around at all the patrons.
Quick cut to the next morning. A hung over D'Argo wakes an equally hung over John who tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. All he can seem to remember is naked girls with feathers, but D'Argo adds that the girls must have spiked their drinks and taken off with their money. Worse, Crichton realizes he's in a display window of sorts with a small crowd of amused people watching him. Much of their amusement probably comes from John wearing the girls' fishnet stockings.
All this is a flashback. Actually, the whole episode is a flashback. John is explaining to Pilot why he's back after 2 days when Pilot ordered him to stay away for 10, and why he can't go back to the planet, LoMo. Pilot is reluctant to even hear the story, but lets Crichton continue anyway.
Flashback to a tent on the beach, the same morning that Crichton and D'Argo woke up in the window. As they're trying to figure out what happened last night, they casually wonder where Jool and Chiana wound up. Not to worry, they probably had a better time and can take care of themselves. As they're musing over this, they notice a woman who seemed to be watching them in the bar last night and was definitely watching them in the window this morning. They get her attention, she joins them in the tent, and they accost her, asking if she stole their money. She says she didn't, but if they won't hurt her, she can tell them where Jool and Chiana are. John's not about to trust her, but she asks, "What have you got to lose? You can't very well be robbed again." So they go with her. Raxil's the name, and she comes across like a used car salesman. As John says, there's one of her on every planet.
She takes them to a creature called a Han-Jee. He has removable eyes that can act as camcorders, even when separated from the body. Since John and D'Argo are broke, Raxil pays the Han-Jee for a recording of what happened with Jool and Chiana in the bar last night. Fast forward through several scenes of them having way too much fun in the bar, including dancing and showing off for the patrons, Jool with a little gymnastics and Chiana swinging flaming ropes that literally hypnotize a guy until he passes out. They catch the attention of everyone in the bar, but especially a real player-looking guy named Fe'Tor. He approaches Chiana, telling her he likes her and Jool, but especially her. He gives her a whiff of a drug that hits hard and fast. She's instantly stoned and all over him.
The recording stops there, with the Han-Jee saying that if they want to see more, they'll have to pay more. They may have seen enough though. Raxil explains that Fe'Tor goes after all the hot women, "gives them the whiff," and they do anything for him. He takes them back to his place where they party night and day. It's dangerous for them though she says. He'll eventually hurt them. John is still reluctant to believe that Chiana, party alien of the universe, is in any danger. She's probably walking into the bar looking for the next guy by now. D'Argo decides though to pay Fe'Tor's place a visit, just to check up on Chiana and Jool.
D'Argo weasels his way into Fe'Tor's impressive and large compound to find Jool and Chiana, partying the day away just as Raxil said they would be. They certainly didn't seem hurt, but they were definitely still stoned and unusually happy to stay with Fe'Tor and blow off D'Argo. Especially Chiana, who noted, "We're not together any more? Then leave me alone." When D'Argo tries to take them out anyway, Fe'Tor and his people pull guns on him. He's forced to leave, for now.
Regrouping back on the beach, D'Argo attacks Raxil, thinking as John does that they're being set up for something. To protect herself, Raxil sprays him with the same handheld spray mist that was going around the bar last night. The drug is freslin, a cheaper street version of the drug used on Chiana and Jool. It's an attractant, making the people who take it attracted and/or attractive to whomever is around them. Raxil takes them back to the bar, figuring it's a better place for D'Argo to let the freslin run its course.
A much better quality freslin is finding its way to Chiana courtesy of Fe'Tor. Before taking it, she gets a flash of being bound and strung up in chains, but it doesn't deter her. Taking the drug, she notes it's much stronger and more bitter than what she was given last night. Fe'Tor says that an animal's last batch always is. He gives some to Jool and both she and Chiana are so stoned, they agree to do anything for Fe'Tor. He playfully leads Jool through a corridor with a hidden doorway. Behind the doorway, a milking room. Before she knows what's going on, Jool is strapped to a chair and they begin milking her for freslin. The base element of the drug comes straight from senal gland of sentient beings. The "animals" he was referring to.
So, why is Raxil helping John and D'Argo? Fe'Tor sometimes milks people until they die. Her mate, Sul, is with Fe'Tor and she wants to save him. One of Fe'Tor's people walks in the bar and John decides to play drug deal with him, dropping a few names, claiming to have lots of cash, and looking for some really good dren. It works, and the guy gives Crichton a pass into an auction Fe'Tor is holding tonight.
Sometime later, as the freslin in D'Argo is wearing off, they go back to see the Han-Jee. John talks him into showing them Fe'Tor's compound while Raxil has a plan to disguise D'Argo. While viewing the compound, Harvey shows up and gets formally introduced to Ka D'Argo. John explains that he just shows up now and then to dispense bad advice. D'Argo just thinks John is even more nuts than before. Harvey does dispense advice, pointing to the circuit breakers and noting that darkness may be their friend. He also suggests they peek in on the milking room. They do, noting how many steps down the corridor – 8 according to D'Argo, 10 according to John. More bickering over that one.
Chiana wakes up hung over and suddenly worried about where Jool might be. She wanders into the corridor that leads to the milking room, which was probably a really bad place to wander. Fe'Tor meets her there, ready to take her as well. Chiana's gone along with him up to this point for fun's sake, but only to this point. She sees Jool in the chair and gets angry with Fe'Tor, demanding he let them go. He tries to offer her more of the drug and she knocks it away and spills it – probably not a great idea to waste the drug dealer's dren.
Raxil is getting impatient and, in a moment of impatience, lets slip that she's been planning things all along. When pressed for elaboration, she tells Crichton and D'Argo that she's heard of their reputation and set up the kidnapping to get their help. When D'Argo attacks, she sprays him again. This time, it's a type of freslin that creates an aura morph, changing D'Argo's appearance and making him unrecognizable to folks like Fe'Tor, who's already seen him. Meanwhile, the Han-Jee has a live feed into the milking room. Fe'Tor declares Chiana an exceptional specimen and orders his assistant to drain as much as she can "without damaging Chiana's value." John grabs more currency, a couple of pulse pistols and some night vision goggles from the transport pod – a bit of a disappointment to Raxil who was expecting something more spectacular from "The Great D'Argo and Crichton."
On to the auction. In a passageway, out of earshot of his clients, Fe'Tor's assistant tells him the Nebari is ready to go. He orders her to drain Jool to failure and goes on to meet his guests. Crichton is welcomed in, no problem. Especially the way he's flashing cash. Fe'Tor is surprised to see Raxil here and still alive, thinking she'd given up the freslin trade. He pauses when he sees D'Argo, asking if they've met before, but D'Argo's aura morph disguise does its job. They enter to find he is indeed auctioning off people to be used for freslin. As their anger starts to boil, Raxil tells them to calm down. Especially D'Argo, as increased oxygenation will only make the freslin wear off quicker. When Chiana comes up for bid, Crichton starts a bidding war with another buyer. Pretending to be interested, he asks that Chiana be cut loose so he can take a closer look. She tells him Jool is still in the milking room. D'Argo isn't at all happy about Crichton pawing all over Chiana, act or not. Raxil assures him it's just the freslin.
The bid goes to 250,000, more money than Crichton has and the other buyer wins out. D'Argo is furious and, as Raxil said would happen, the freslin wears off and he morphs back into himself. With D'Argo immediately recognized, it's time to break out those pulse pistols and night vision goggles. Aiming for the lights first, Crichton then starts taking out security guards left and right while D'Argo goes to the milking room to find Jool. He finds it and tongues Fe'Tor's assistant unconscious. They find Jool in the milking chair, alive but not in too great of shape. They also find Sul, Raxil's mate, dead in the corner.
As D'Argo carries Jool out, they're met by Crichton and a dazed Chiana. Meanwhile, Raxil grabs a chip out of the milking machine. The chair was her design. Her mate stole it and gave it to Fe'Tor. Now, with the brains to the machine, it's hers again. Guess we now know the real reason she scammed our little heroes for their help. In the corridor, Chiana asks Crichton how his neck is. Puzzled, he says it's fine, he doesn't mind sticking it out for her. She removes his night vision goggles, saying he doesn't want them broken. He asks if she's ok, and she says she's fine, and follows D'Argo to get to the transport pod. Right behind her, Crichton is met by Fe'Tor's fist, right in the eye that the goggles were over, before starting to strangle him. Crichton breaks free, but not before Fe'Tor gets his pulse pistol. Chiana interrupts though and splashes a huge container of the freslin on Fe'Tor, disorienting him. She kicks him and pours the rest of the freslin down his throat, ODing him and noting that the sad thing is, he'll die happy. She coyly asks if Crichton's neck is still ok, saying "I knew it!"
So, there's the tale, John tells Pilot. Pilot still doesn't believe such a wild story and isn't inclined to wake Jool and Chiana to ask them to verify it. True or not though, D'Argo and John's "time out" was supposed to last 10 solar days, not 2. Pilot's found an industrial commerce planet and, as soon as they get there, D'Argo and John are to serve the rest of their time away from Moya and Pilot. D'Argo comes into Pilot's den as John is being kicked out. Didn't believe you? Do you want to try telling the story to an angry Pilot? They proceed to carry on bickering about how John blew this one too…
So here was my introduction to this most bizarre episode: My cable wigged out and I came home late from work to find I did not get "Scratch 'n Sniff" on tape. In a panic, I sent out a distress signal to a couple of fellow Denver area Scapers. MikiADoo came to the rescue and invited me over to watch and tape it. Good thing too, as she was able to give me ample warning that this episode takes a couple of viewings to truly wrap one's mind around it. Sure enough, where most are describing it as a "love it or hate it" ep, I was thinking more along the lines of "Either you get it, or you don't do psychoactive drugs." In any case, MikiADoo was right; it took a couple of viewings, but upon getting into the rhythm, I really enjoyed "Scratch 'n Sniff."
During that first viewing, I mostly did a lot of turning to Miki and saying, "Huh?" The one thing I latched onto though and knew for sure was that I was really, really digging Raxil, both the way the character was written, but especially the way the character was being played. I was in total awe, wondering once again how Farscape comes up with these amazingly talented and fun guest stars. It was some time later that I went back through the credits and found it was none other than Francesca Buller, Ben Browder's wife. I then learned that she played ro-NA in "Look at the Princess," another guest alien favorite of mine. And just when I thought I was becoming so well versed in Farscape trivia…
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, an overview of the episode is in order. ExquisiteIrony called it "Director's Indulgence." I'd have to agree, though in this case, I really thought it worked. What "Meltdown" tried to be, "Scratch 'n Sniff" became. Yes, I'm going to take this opportunity to rag on "Meltdown" some more, only because the two episodes have so many points of comparison. The porno-flick music in "Meltdown" came off as way out of place. In "Scratch 'n Sniff," given the bar and the various bizarre sets they were in, the chosen music was excellent. As a techno/industrial fan, I'd love to get my hands on some of that nightclub music, especially the jams that Chiana was doing her thing to. From techno to acid jazz to almost surf-dude beach music, the music still managed to sound somewhat alien and fit perfectly with the direction and feel of the episode. Also in contrast to "Meltdown," the drug in "Scratch 'n Sniff" had a clear effect, a clear purpose. You were exposed to the drug, it hit you with whatever intensity relative to the quality, and it ran a specific course.
Topping off the feel of "Scratch 'n Sniff" was the aforementioned "Director's Indulgence." The first thing to strike me is that this was so very un-Farscape, yet once I got into it, I came to realize that's part of the point of the episode. This is pretty much a stand-alone episode and specifically designed to be out-there. Underscoring the out-there quality was the constant flashbacks, flash-forwards, double and triple takes, and various tricks of exposure and camera angles. In short, we the audience felt a little stoned and disoriented, thus we became participants in the episode rather than just third party viewers. I found that to be extremely cool.
Back to the specifics, like Raxil. The Eliza Doolittle cockney accent was fabulous, but that was only the punctuation to this character. I wouldn't be surprised if Fran doesn't follow much of a script, but rather gets a loose outline of the character and just runs with it. I would kill to see her do some improv. That same energy that turned ro-NA from a tiny guest role to one of the highlights of the Princess trilogy makes Raxil the star of this particular show. It's pretty obvious that Fran's true medium is the stage, and if she's due to be in any plays soon, I'll gladly make Sydney my next vacation and check her out.
Chiana was the other star of the show in my opinion. As is so often the case, Gigi takes x amount of screen time and stretches it to its limit. She's one of those actors that makes you completely forget that it's Gigi – or in this case, completely forget she's even human – and you just get lost in the character. I really like the teasers regarding Chiana's ESP gained during "Losing Time." Plus, did anyone else catch the new word she picked up in the same ep, "fekik?" It was quick and subtle, but if you caught it, there was a wonderful teaser to be had. What really brought these elements to life though is Gigi's eerie delivery. For a woman whom I understand is very fun and bubbly in real life, she can sure do creepy-eerie, and all with a knock-down sensuality that I haven't seen since, … well, … Claudia Black. To have both these women on the same show, it's no wonder that Farscape is viewed as such a sensual show without any real effort to be so.
All the actors in fact shone in "Scratch 'n Sniff." The goofy, typical-American-male approach to John Crichton usually fails to impress me, but it fit so well here. I think part of that is also that I'm really beginning to "get" the character of Crichton. In a recent series of bulletin board posts on what makes Farscape what it is, someone complained that Crichton is sort of a John Doe – no real outstanding qualities to him. Someone else noted that's exactly the point. He's the everyday guy that the rest of us can relate to. While I wouldn't recommend "Scratch 'n Sniff" to a newbie watching Farscape for the first time, I might recommend it as a "Time to 'get' John Crichton" episode. Like Fran, I got the feeling that Ben Browder and Anthony Simcoe did a lot of adlibbing here. The John D'Argo relationship, while it sometimes crosses the annoying end of the football buddies syndrome, is really starting to take on its own unique, Farscape quality.
Finally, not to be overlooked are the classic scenes between John and Pilot. Pilot's transition from passive servitude role to a more assertive persona has been subtle, but it hits you over the head here. Kicked off of Moya for 10 days? This element alone seemed to ruin the episode for hoards of people clinging to the hope that Farscape is really a warm and fuzzy show where everyone loves each other and we just haven't seen it yet. Sorry kids. During ScaperCon last weekend, Anna Kaplan (freelance journalist, does a lot of interviews and coverage for Farscape) assured us that while The Powers That Be do listen to us and enjoy hearing our views, they're going to do what they want, not what we want. There are still a number of us, myself included, who understand this makes for a much better product than the artist(s) whoring themselves out to the mainstream. One of those many unique qualities to Farscape that makes it a refreshing change from the norm is that the characters don't all get along. And not just in a slapstick "Odd Couple" sort of way. These people harbor some genuine animosity toward each other and they act on it, kind of like you'd find in, well, real life. When the dren hits the fan, they'll still go out on a limb for each other, though in this writer's opinion, that's largely part of the X-number-of-people-in-a-lifeboat element. You need all the help and extra hands you can get, even if those extra hands are attached to someone you can't stand.
Yes, "Scratch 'n Sniff" is kind of formula, your basic tale of a bad run in with a drug dealer and our heroes save the girls. If I didn't know Farscape, I'd have found the fact that Chiana and Jool were in the classic victim roles while D'Argo and John must go rescue them to be rather sexist. But Chiana did kick a little butt of her own and I know these characters well enough to know they don't fit the sexist mold. The sets and direction is bizarre enough to keep it from being complete formula and we the fans know that Chiana and Jool aren't regular pushovers. Again, I'd strongly discourage a newbie from watching "Scratch 'n Sniff" as a first episode. While it's a lot of fun, it's just so wildly un-Farscape and it's so much more fun to watch when you know the characters a little better. For those of us who are established fans though, who "get" the less-than-warm-and-fuzzy side of Farscape and can get into the rhythm of the "Director's Indulgence," it's a rare treat.
Agree? Disagree? Comments? Questions? Email me! Written by Mary Wood.
Raxil [to John]: You're not very smart, are you. Now [D'Argo], he's got a brain, but you, you're a bit of an idiot, huh?
John: But I'm bigger. [Shoves her down]
Click here to read Dani Moure's review for this episode.
Click here to read Dani Moure's synopsis for this episode.
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