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"The Choice"

Summary

There is no 4 or 5 page impartial summary that can begin to do "The Choice" justice and I'm almost embarrassed to try. But, since Dani and I have promised you episode summaries and have established a pattern of 4 or 5 pages of relative impartiality, I'll give it a shot.

Following the death of John-Black, Aeryn has sought solitude on Valldon, a planet Stark describes as having dark powers, in a colony full of refugees, mystics and seers. Crais is livid that Stark told her about the planet in the first place. He and Stark get into it as Stark insists Aeryn wanted to get away from Crais and that she wants Stark to be with her and protect her. Rygel butts in and says that Aeryn made it clear she wants no part of trying to find Moya and nothing to do with any of them.

Aeryn comes in off the street and through the foyer of a run-down hotel, dressed in a cloak and hood not unlike most of the locals. An image of Crichton stands in the midst of the melee, watching her. She glances, but doesn't seem to notice who it is. Fighting off mystics who want money to contact the dead, she makes her way back to her equally run-down (but remarkably spacious) hotel room. Sitting in the window, looking down at the city far below, she finishes a bottle of fellip nectar (UT equivalent of beer) and it obviously isn't her first. She looks like she hasn't slept and has shed more tears than not. She's uncharacteristically dressed in a torn brown body suit and tattered brown dress. Tossing the empty bottle out the window, she curiously studies the knife in her hand, glances at the pulse pistol on the table, then goes to a comm unit on the wall. A male voice answers and she tells him that she's changed her mind. She wants him to raise Talyn Lyczak, her father.

Waiting for the man she's hired, Aeryn is lying on the bed, staring at nothing, when she realizes there's someone else in the room; Older John Crichton from "The Locket." She doesn't recognize him. Where we'd expect her to violently expel a stranger from her room, she just rolls back over. Crichton goes to her and asks her to touch him. She does so angrily and when she does, she gets flashes of "The Locket." She looks like she doesn't believe it, until she grabs her chest in pain in the same spot her older self did. Before the vision can continue though, there's a knock on the door.

She invites an alien with a grotesquely distorted face into her room and unenthusiastically tells him to get on with it. Her manner isn't convincing him that she believes, but she tells him she's willing to pay, that should be enough. Can he contact Talyn Lyczak? Better than that, he says. He is Talyn Lyczak. He had his face altered in order to hide. He pulls out a blood spectrometer and the tests match. But Aeryn is still stone-faced; either not believing or not caring. When he tries to put a hand on her shoulder she pulls away. He says he understands and starts to leave. Aeryn coldly tells him to wait.

Rygel and Stark have been searching the city for Aeryn, who's masked her comm signal. They happen to be in the right hotel but don't know it yet. As Stark is distracted hearing Zhaan's voice everywhere he turns, Rygel is being accosted by a street mystic. As Rygel laughs him off as a phony and turns away, the mystic starts calling out a name; Kellor. This stops Rygel in his tracks as he asks how the man knows that name. All the man says is that she forgives him and knows he couldn't go against his parents. He has more to tell but Rygel is far to creeped out to play along and joins back up with Stark. He insists that Stark must have told the man personal details about him but Stark denies it, saying it's the planet's dark powers. "Full of yotz" Rygel says. They seek out the hotel owner who asks if they're there to buy dead bodies. Not exactly - looking for a Sebacean. Stark proceeds to describe Aeryn with a little too much infatuated embellishment, saying that they're very close. Rygel is disgusted, reminding Stark that Aeryn can't stand him. Either way, no Sebaceans staying here, the owner tells them, despite the lead that Stark was given. As they turn to leave though, Stark sees a face in the crowd he never expected to see again; Xhalax Sun. She's talking to the mystic that had accosted Rygel, angrily asking if he told him anything about her. Though he denies it, she yells at him that she's paid them all a lot of money and kills him.

Stark and Rygel confront Crais on Talyn and they're not happy campers. With a pulse pistol to Crais' head, Stark demands the truth. Crais says that he knew High Command would just keep sending more retrieval squads, so the deal was Xhalax's life in exchange for a report to High Command that Talyn and crew were dead. Stark doesn't believe that Crais was trying to save anyone but himself and is ready to kill him, but Rygel stops him, knowing that Aeryn's the only other one who can fly Talyn and she's MIA.

As they walk through the hotel foyer, Lyczak is asking Aeryn who she really wanted to contact. She's reluctant to talk, and he asks, "Were you in love with him?" She still isn't talking but this obviously strikes a chord. Lyczak wants to help Aeryn and promises to return tonight with a creature who can assist. When he leaves, Aeryn asks the hotel owner if he's seen Lyczak before and what he knows about him. Unlike Stark, Aeryn knows how to talk to people around here, paying him for each tidbit for information. When she gets sick of paying him, she grabs him by the collar. All he knows is that Lyczak has been studying with a group that channels the dead. He also suggests she get more fellip nectar, which she does on her way back to her room.

Rygel and Stark bring a handcuffed Crais back to the hotel. Stark works his crossing-over magick with a dying woman and in the process, learns that she's seen Aeryn who may be on an upper level. Rygel stays put to fend off more psychics and keep an eye out for Xhalax and Stark takes Crais to look for Aeryn.

On her level, on the way to her room, Aeryn passes a couple making out in the hallway. She can't help but watch them for a moment, getting flashes of her kiss with John from "Season of Death." She goes into her room only to see Crichton sitting in the window. She obviously thinks it's a hallucination though. Crais and Stark arrive outside her door. They want to talk, she calmly tells them they can't come in. Lashing out again at Crais, Stark trains a gun on him and tells him to get on his knees. Watching this with detached boredom through a panel on her door, Aeryn comes out into the hall to join them. Stark coddles her, telling her she must return to Talyn with them as they've seen Xhalax here in the hotel. She responds by calmly saying it's this place, that she's seen Crichton and her father, and any microt now, Stark will see Zhaan. Crais confirms that he never killed Xhalax. In response, Aeryn laughs and crawls on the floor over to the still-kneeling, still- handcuffed Crais. Stark wants her to stay away from him but Aeryn says it's alright, that Crais wants her, always has, and here's his chance. As Crais kneels helpless with a pained expression, she whispers in his ear that she can close her eyes and he can be someone else. When he tries to break free she grabs him tighter, ready to rape him. Stark interferes and she attacks Stark, pushing him against the wall and pulling her knife on him. Threatening to take out his remaining eye, she says she knows he's been lusting after her as well. What makes him worse is his conceit. She angrily tells them both to get out.

In the foyer, Lyczak meets with Xhalax. He tells her he thinks Aeryn's buying it all and assures her that once Aeryn sees the critter he's rounded up, she will suffer the way Xhalax wants her to.

Aeryn stands out on the window ledge looking down on the city. "First Talyn, then Xhalax, what next?" She starts shouting Crichton's name. He is in jeans and a white tank top, sitting on the edge of the windowsill facing out the same direction she is as she stands on the ledge. She starts getting flashes of the safe-house scene from "A Human Reaction," when it was her sitting on the bed and John staring out the window. She says that this is her world now, but she liked his better. She sits next to him and a role-reversal of the "Human Reaction" scene is played out, with Aeryn working her way up his shoulder and neck. As their lips are about to meet, she is touching empty air and goes back to her bottle of fellip nectar. Rygel comes floating up out of the streets, obviously uncomfortable with this height. He says with genuine sincerity that he knows how she feels, that he lost someone too. He also says that he has no ulterior motive, he doesn't want to save her or recreate with her, but Crichton loved her and wouldn't want his death to lead her to this window ledge. There's a knock on the door and she tells Rygel to leave.

It's Lyczak at the door with the seer. The seer is in a pod of sorts and Aeryn applauds with mock impression as the pod opens up and the four-eyed mystic is revealed. Lyczak and the seer start to do their thing - which really does sound kind of fake - while Aeryn is looking like she really isn't buying any of it, but has nothing to lose. The seer asks her to touch him and asks her to tell him about the one she seeks. She looks like she can't talk about it, so the seer tries to fill in, "Did he love you? Hold you? Touch you soft?" This strikes a nerve with Aeryn and she manages to say simply, "Yes he loved me. He made me better." The seer strains and a holographic image of Crichton appears above him, asking Aeryn to help him and bring him back. Lyczak and the seer say that the vision is powerful, and with the help of another creature, they might be able to turn Crichton's spirit corporeal. Lyczak leaves. Aeryn muses, still unenthusiastically, that she came back from the dead … why can't Crichton?

She falls onto the bed, staring into space again. Crichton appears behind her, rubbing her shoulder, telling her, "You know you can't bring me back." She speaks of hope, but her tone and body language express otherwise. Aeryn asks him if it was easy to be the hero and leave her behind. He says he didn't know that he was going to die. She playfully says that he did know and they kiss as she has flashbacks to their first kiss in "The Flax" and their morning-after antics in "Relativity." Crichton disappears again, leaving her alone on the bed.

Then, Xhalax bursts in, pulse pistol aimed. Aeryn jumps to her feet but her pulse pistol is out of reach. "A soldier without her weapon? That's against regulations," mother says. Lyczak walks in the room and Xhalax knocks him on the bed and trains the gun on him. He starts speaking of a pact they made for their mutual survival and to save their daughter. Xhalax is poised to kill him though and he boldly tells her to go ahead and do it. Xhalax says she's changed her mind and can't kill him looking at that ugly face. She orders him to roll over. Aeryn is trying to talk to Xhalax, saying not to kill Lyczak, but she doesn't have the will or presence of mind to put too much effort into it. Lyczak meanwhile has taken on a new, more serious and frightened tone. He does what Xhalax says though and she follows through on her threat and shoots him in the back.

Xhalax tells Aeryn she's glad she got to meet her father, so that she could suffer having to watch him die. Yet, Aeryn doesn't seem any worse off than she has been. She doesn't look like she could get worse off. Mother goes on to say that High Command really did offer her the chance to redeem herself, but she was never really accepted again. She blames Aeryn, Aeryn's existence, for everything. She wants Aeryn's pain, and wants to know how Aeryn feels now that she has nothing. Aeryn is as unfeeling about the pulse pistol aimed at her head as she is about Xhalax's attempts to get under her emotional skin.

In the hotel foyer, Rygel and Stark are threatening the owner, who caves and tells them that Xhalax is upstairs with Aeryn and the entrances are all guarded. There is a service lift though that will take them there. Right about that time, a number of hired thugs start shooting at them. Under the circumstances, they decide to uncuff Crais, who enters the lift to try and reach Aeryn.

"Wasn't killing Talyn once enough? Did you have to kill him in front of me?" Aeryn is numb and calm when she asks Xhalax this and says that she never believed for a moment that the dead creature on her bed was her father. She hoped, just as she'd hoped she'd contact Crichton, but knew none of it was real. Mother doesn't want to believe that her plan failed, but Aeryn's accepting, at-peace state assures her that it did. Aeryn tells her, "We Peacekeepers think we're so remarkable … but we're not. We do nothing for love." Xhalax reveals that her killing Talyn so many cycles ago was a choice. She was given a choice between killing Aeryn or Talyn and chose Talyn, out of love for Aeryn. But, the more the Peacekeepers assigned her to kill, the colder she got until she just stopped caring. By now, Aeryn is standing out on the ledge again, facing out, with Xhalax's gun aimed at her back. "So, kill me now, destroy the last part of your life, leave nothing." And there's no doubt that Aeryn could care less if she lives or dies. Xhalax starts firing, barely missing Aeryn. Aeryn doesn't flinch. She just invites Xhalax out on the ledge and turns to face her. "You can't miss me from here, unless you want to."

Aeryn calmly tells Xhalax to put the gun down. As she starts to, Crais comes in and shoots her. Aeryn catches her as she's about to fall off the ledge, but Xhalax tells Aeryn to let her go. "I died a long time ago. You live for me." Calmly, matter-of-factly, Aeryn nods in agreement and lets Xhalax fall.

On Talyn, Crais and Rygel are watching a holographic recording of Stark. The message says that he keeps hearing Zhaan and knows she's trying to contact him and he must follow that lead. He's left his mask to give to John-Green, saying he'll know what to do with it. He tells them to take care of Aeryn and he will find them again. Meanwhile, Talyn thinks he's located Moya. Crais tells Rygel that once Talyn and Moya are reunited and a new pilot is secured, he'll leave.

In her hotel room, Aeryn is back in her old clothes, PK braid pulled back tight, strapping on her pulse pistol. Crichton is in the background. She's telling him that she was on her way to becoming something truly different. But now he's gone, and she is what she was bred to be. He tells her to come to him. She says no, that he has to go now. As she's about to leave, the seer (still in the room) tells her to wait. Most of what they do are deceptions, but it her case, it may have been real. Shall they try again? Aeryn walks away.


Review

"Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war
Just after I wiped away his last tear.
I guess he's better off than he was before,
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here."

- Prince; 1986; "Sometimes it Snows in April"

"The Choice" gets a 5 out of 5. Let me get that off the table first. Now, I could gush on about it the way I do with the other 5s I've given out. "Great CGI … the animatronics were fantastic … The acting/writing/directing rocked … " It would be a fine review, but I would only be scratching the surface of something I know to be so very much more. "The Choice" goes deep below that surface, that "safety zone" if you will, that no TV show need surpass in order to be quality entertainment. Most of us have experienced some kind of loss or tragedy in our personal lives. The effect of that loss varies from person to person. Some are lucky enough that the wounds heal with relative ease. Some are not. For a few, those wounds are mortal; a literal death and rebirth of one's spirit, mind, and soul. Few TV shows attempt this. Until now, I've never known one to fully realize it. I must assume this is because so few people have been there, and I can't imagine that anyone knows this place well enough to recreate it with such haunting accuracy unless they themselves have experienced it. Claudia Black, Justin Monjo, probably Rowan Woods and I'm sure a few other cast and crew members have gone far above and beyond the call of their contracts to revisit that place for us, to offer a rare glimpse of it to those who haven't been there, and to say to those who have, "You're not alone." As one of the few who have been there, I can not in good conscience limit a published review of this episode to surface-scratching. The very least I can give back to the people of Farscape who have given so much, is to stand in this place with them, to do my best to wrap words around it, and to translate what little is possible for the viewers lucky enough not to have experienced this death/rebirth for themselves.

April 10, 1989. I had just arrived at work for the night shift when a manager told me that my brother-in-law was downstairs and needed to talk to me. I wondered what tool of his I'd borrowed that he so desperately needed back at 9:30 at night. When I got to him, he flatly said that my sister was in the side parking lot and I needed to talk to her. Now, we have another sister who is terminally ill. I've been preparing all my life for "the news" and that thought crept into the back of my mind as I went to meet Katie in the side lot. I found her sobbing and I fully braced for the moment we'd all dreaded. That moment never came. Instead, what she said to me was, "David committed suicide." Simultaneously knowing which David she was talking about and unable to believe it, I asked her incredulously, "Our brother David?" Katie nodded. She put her arms around me. I closed my eyes and in that split second I spiritually, emotionally, and mentally died and was reborn a different person into a world no longer so familiar to me. I opened my eyes and took my first look at this new, strange, unfamiliar world, through these brand new eyes, this brand new, altered perception. The first thing I noticed was that at some point between closing my eyes on the old and opening them on the new, it had started to snow.

Less than two weeks later, the friend who had managed to touch me deeper than anyone else during my first few days in this frightening new world was hit by a car and suffered a massive closed-head injury, leaving only bits and pieces of his mind, unable to care for himself and barely able to speak.

Whatever the event(s) that cause such a death and rebirth, everyone goes through the process a little differently (order, timeline, more of this, less of that), but with some common elements. To start, the human body has a remarkable ability to go into physical "power-save" mode as part of the trauma process. This can last days, it can last months. Where mine was an instant traumatic shock, I imagine that Aeryn's was a slower process since John's death process and her grasp of it weren't so sudden. Either way, similar end result. Though Aeryn was drinking throughout the episode, I saw her maintaining a healthy buzz to ease the raw nerves, but not all-out drunk so as to run completely. Much of the sluggishness that Claudia expressed was more emotional exhaustion than intoxication. With intoxication, your responses are slowed. With traumatic stress, it's not a matter of slow so much as a specific energy-drain that comes and goes. What's literally happening is that emotions and nerves crest a peak where you become potentially dangerous to yourself (and possibly others) and the body is trying to protect itself by dragging you down and keeping you tired. Whether she meant to or not, Claudia conveyed this flawlessly.

With that traumatic stress also comes a very unsettling and much longer-lasting detachment from the world around you. For many of us, it will come and go for the rest of our lives, though we learn to control and manage it. You're in the world and yet you're not. Life is moving all around you, but things that were once familiar and ordinary, now seem very strange and surrealistic. You and the people around you don't quite move at the same speed.

"The Choice" conveys this detachment in a number of ways. Aeryn's clothes and environment are very different than we're used to seeing her in. This soldier (a term we associate with neatness and organization) is living in a filthy, cluttered hotel room with graffiti on the walls and haphazardly placed furniture. She's blended herself in with this environment, yet simultaneously, it's a very un-Aeryn setting. In the opening scene, she moves about in this setting with a cloak and a hood over her head, as do many of the people around her; in a crowd, yet each in his or her own private bubble. There's a moment where she climbs a set of stairs, hears John's voice, turns to look back, and the foyer crowd is moving in semi-slow motion. It's a quick and subtle scene, and that's exactly how the feeling works. Little snippets of being out of space, out of time. She spends a lot of time at the open window to her hotel room, high above the city. Again, it's an expression of being in this hectic, crowded place, yet at the same time viewing it from the outside (or in this case, from high above it), apart and detached from it.

With the detachment, as well as being reborn into someone who can never go back to who you were before, comes altered perception. All five senses tend to swing between polar opposites; blurred and dulled, or so sharp it hurts. Personally, sound is the thing that I notice most. In a crowd, I can't really hear the person next to me, but I can hear the conversation across the street with crystal clarity. Sight is probably the other most common altered sense and Rowan Woods boosts this concept through fantastic set visuals. The hotel room is at once dull and swathed in bright, chaotic shapes and colors. The flashing neon lights and randomly swinging spotlights in this otherwise dark city add to that dull-sharp-dull-sharp sway. The visual metaphors are mere support for Claudia though. Aeryn touches Crais, searching herself through touching him, while also recoiling from Stark's touch. She recoils from Leczyak's touch as if it burns her. She starts out looking at Stark and Crais through dulled eyes and dulled, detached senses. Then in an instant, she is one raw nerve, drilling into Stark with wild, crazed, steel blue eyes that have suddenly taken on a life of their own. Dull-sharp-dull-sharp. One moment, can't feel. Next moment, everything hurts. Claudia pulls this off like no actor I've seen.

The psyche also swings between frustratingly dull and painfully sharp. The lines between conscious and unconscious often cross each other, but that which you do perceive will, without warning, hit you with a solid strength that can be both calming and frightening. The planet is referred to as a refugee's city with dark powers. In the early scene where Aeryn is recalling "The Locket" as if in a dream, but suddenly feels the same chest pain that her older self did in that lifetime, we are shown that there really is something going on here. We see it with Stark constantly hearing Zhaan's voice, and again when the mystic approaches Rygel on the street and knows intimate details about a dead loved one. This allows us to wonder at every turn, "Was that real or imagined?" When one is in the state Aeryn is in, the question expands to, "What's the difference? Is there a difference? Does it matter? Do I care?" Woods could have overdone the special effects and camera tricks a la "Scratch 'n Sniff" to project this feeling of altered psyche, but there's no need when you have Claudia Black at your disposal. She emotes so much through her eyes to begin with, but in this episode she took her performance to all new levels. Just in a blurry photo downloaded from the trailer to this episode, I could see that disconcerting combination of numb shock and raw pain; viewing the world through a newfound, un-asked for, haunted vision that clouds your perception one moment, and the next moment drinks in way more than you're prepared to handle. It's a look I have only ever seen on people who have been through this death/rebirth at some point in their own lives. Some actors try to mimic it. Claudia embodies it.

If these elements of detachment, altered perception, and altered psyche could all be covered in full range in a single scene, it's the Aeryn-Crais-Stark hallway scene. When Crais and Stark come to her door, she hasn't got the will or the energy to express anger or make any real effort to get rid of them. She floats out into the hallway where a frantic Stark and an on-edge Crais tell her about Xhalax being alive. This scene brings that detachment to vivid life. Aeryn somehow knows this conversation should mean something to her, but it doesn't She watches Stark as he talks to her, tries to comfort her, and she's watching him as if they don't quite occupy the same space-time. He thinks he understands and sees her state as being fragile when in fact the better description is dangerous; a lull between sudden bursts of emotional and mental adrenaline without the will or energy to keep it in check. With the news of Xhalax - to which we would fully expect Aeryn Sun to be livid - re-enter that "Is it real or is it imagined, and do I really care at this point" feeling. That emotional/mental adrenaline starts to gather and sends her laughing and fumbling towards Crais.

A lot of fans are going to pick apart the sexual overtones of this scene when in fact it isn't about sex at all. Her mental state is much closer to that of a rapist. Rape is not really about sex, it's about power. Sex drive is an extremely powerful, primal part of our core psyche, nearly as basic as thirst and hunger. Your typical rapist has lost the ego and superego ability to distinguish right from wrong and control this drive accordingly. Aeryn is not consciously seeking power here, but she is in a state where she lacks the will and energy to keep the ego and superego functioning. Her id swings to a polar extreme and she just follows it wherever it leads. "And do you know what Bialar? If I squeeze my eyes closed tightly enough … you could be someone else." One remaining ounce of caring about what she's doing and the fact that her own actions are disgusting and a little frightening to her are reflected in her eerie tone of voice and that face that says what no words can. Also reflected is the other side of the coin; the strange liberation of just giving oneself over completely to the id. In that one line and expression, she's exploring this unfamiliar loss of control, feeling it out, vaguely analyzing it as if watching herself from the outside. It's a strange feeling to curiously watch yourself fall off a cliff like that. Mirroring Claudia's portrayal of raw id and raw pain is Lani Tupu's reaction. They say acting is reacting, and his reaction to her in these few seconds is the best performance I've seen from him so far. In this hardened Peacekeeper captain, we see him beginning to grasp the scope of her pain, helpless to do anything but watch. It's brilliant and it's so real it's haunting.

When Crais tries to break free, Aeryn does give in for a microt. What little fight her ego and superego had left are gone and she gives herself over completely to the id. Had Stark not interfered and caused her to switch gears, she probably would have raped Crais right then and there in the hallway. Her attack on Stark was no less powerful, and luckily for Stark, that full loss of control in Aeryn was only momentary and she regained barely enough control to not kill him.

Likewise, with all the flashbacks she has of kissing or having sex with John, it's not about sex. It is about spiritual and emotional intimacy for which physical, sexual contact is just the conduit. The recreation of the scene from "A Human Reaction" captured this best. In that episode, Aeryn was still very unfamiliar with her feelings and she clearly didn't know what to make of the scope of John's feelings for her. Now, in this place, she finally understands where he was at that time and this is shown through the role reversal of Aeryn playing John's part of that scene and John sitting in Aeryn's place. The metaphor was brilliant and once again expressed what words could not.

The realistic portrayal of the other characters' range of reactions and actions towards Aeryn also strikes a raw nerve for those of us who have been there. In "The Choice" as in real life, everyone who reaches out a sympathetic hand is sincere and that sincerity is noted and appreciated. Some, like Stark, hit a very touchy cord though when they want you to be or feel something you're not and act accordingly, often through over-protectiveness. I saw this in Aeryn's line to Stark in the hallway: I want to take care of you - that would be really nice / Stark puts a hand on her arm - don't touch me. Then of course there's Xhalax, who wants to take advantage of Aeryn's pain to inflict more of it. I had a couple of Xhalaxs in my life. It's rather pathetic to see someone that angry and miserable who thinks the only way they can feel better is to make other people angry and miserable.

Rygel's reaction hit home hardest of all though. My friend, just a couple of days before being hit by the car, called me. He spoke casually but sincerely of wanting me to come visit him in New England - something we'd never talked about before. We talked about the peaceful setting around his college campus, various day trips we could take, and parks and towns we could visit. He then paused, and in the same tone of voice, no fear, no over-confidence, just honest sincerity, he said, "I just really want you to be ok, and I don't know how to say that." That was our last conversation before his accident. In his own Hynerian Dominar way, Rygel has a similar dialogue with Aeryn. He has no hidden agenda, he doesn't try to guess what she's thinking. He notes only the obvious, that she's upset, and that he can at least relate to the general feeling of losing a loved one. He reminds her simply that Crichton loved her and wouldn't want his death to lead her to self-sacrifice. He wants her to be ok, or at least more ok than she is now. Nothing more or less. For most of us, this simple, metaphorical pat on the shoulder is the most helpful, even if Aeryn wasn't in a position to receive it at the time.

I suppose there's some cosmic irony for me in the fact that my friend and the man who wrote this scene 12 years later, are both named Justin.

We all know though that when Rygel speaks of Aeryn's "self-sacrifice," what he means is "suicide." Suicidal thoughts are a less common part of the process if the triggering event(s) did not involve suicide. Mine definitely did. Aeryn's sort of did, in that John knowingly put himself in danger for the greater good. Aeryn sees it as a suicidal act of sorts, even asking a vision of him if it was easy to be the hero and leave her behind. Claudia takes us through the element of suicidal thoughts with the same frightening, cold realism as the rest of the process. It's important to note here that there's a huge difference between suicidal thoughts and suicidal tendencies. Tendencies are just that; you have an active versus passive desire to take your own life and are planning or looking for the right time. With thoughts, the intention to follow through isn't there, you're simply contemplating the "what ifs." I had thoughts only (still do … you just learn to live with it). Aeryn too shows no actual tendencies here, just thoughts.

Usually, the actor is trembling, scared, upset. In some cases, that's true, but in most cases, it's like Aeryn; that calm contemplation. Once more, it's Claudia's face and eyes that say it all. This is not an actress being directed. "Look at the pulse pistol, look over the ledge." This is an actress who's putting herself in that place. Studying the knife, matter-of-factly, dwelling on how easy it would be. Glancing at the pulse pistol, casually wondering if it would hurt more or less than the knife. Spending lots of time standing out on that ledge, knowing all she would have to do is walk forward … take one more step … how hard can it possibly be? Frightening as that may sound to someone who hasn't been there, these thoughts can actually be very calming and life-affirming in an odd way. Life becomes so much more vivid when you are so aware of how easily it could end. Aeryn's most comfortable spot throughout the episode is the ledge … so close … one step. The thoughts are right there behind her eyes, clear as if those thoughts were our own.

These thoughts culminate in the final confrontation with Xhalax. Most of the time, suicidal thoughts pop up spontaneously and we quickly, consciously dismiss them. To whatever degree, we really don't want to die and/or view suicide as a selfish, cowardly, unhelpful path to take. Most of the time. For many of us, the turning point, the very bottom of that deep, dark place, is to finally stand at the border between thoughts and tendencies and come to a moment of peace with that potential path. This was especially true for me and I imagine for most suicide survivors. I had to know how David could reconcile himself with such a decision and the only way to really know that was to go there myself. The feeling only lasted a minute, but it was enough to turn me around so I could finally start rebuilding.

By the time Xhalax bursts into Aeryn's hotel room, Aeryn had arrived at that point with more realism than I've ever seen onscreen. That violent sway of emotion settles and calms and you reach a point where nothing more can hurt you, even death. For this reason, all of Xhalax's attempts to emotionally hurt Aeryn fail. Not only is Aeryn truly, comfortably numb, but she is perfectly at peace with the idea of dying should circumstances go that way. There's a section of that rock-bottom place marked, "Don't have the energy/will/guts to do it myself. Quietly hoping someone else will do it for me." As with relinquishing control to the id, she relinquishes control of her life and death to Xhalax. When she flatly tells Xhalax to drop the gun, she's not begging or bargaining for her life. Xhalax's goal is to hurt Aeryn, and Aeryn is flatly telling her the effort is useless. Xhalax fires just past Aeryn, searching for a reaction and not finding it. Aeryn not flinching isn't out of bravery but out of being at peace with whatever may come. When she tells Xhalax to come closer, "You can't miss from here, unless you want to," Claudia's eyes reflect that moment of absolute peace, again with a realism that I'm not aware can be acted. It must be experienced and felt. Xhalax finally lowers the gun not out of compassion, but because she realizes shooting Aeryn really won't accomplish her goal. No pain for Aeryn, no joy for Xhalax. Just wasted ammo.

"I died a long time ago. You live for me." A lot of viewers are going to complain about Aeryn's cool nod of agreement and letting go of her mother, expecting that she should have been in high emotional gear. Not really. In retrospect, it's very horrifying to realize how relaxed you were with the concept of death. But at the time, it really is a feeling of absolute peace and calm. Xhalax is mortally wounded and is snapped back to that place of calm herself and Aeryn sees it. Xhalax makes the life-death decision for both of them. Aeryn accepts that decision as casually as if Xhalax was deciding which outfit Aeryn should wear. It really is that calm of a place.

With that choice having been made for her, Aeryn can begin the rebuilding process. The key words here are "begin" and "process." I've described it as feeling like a house that's burned to the ground, and now that house must be rebuilt from scratch. Aeryn looks to her original blueprints, the emotionless soldier she was born and bred to be, to start that process. No doubt, as I write this, there are posts all over the board from angry shippers saying the John-Moya/Aeryn relationship has no chance and the series is doomed. This is Farscape folks. Like Aeryn, I began my process by emotionally closing up shop for a while, but I came out of it with a much greater capacity to touch and be touched by others. As well as Farscape knows this process of spiritual death, surely they will take us on the journey of Aeryn's rebirth. Come back to me this time next year when you're able to look back on a season's worth of episodes since this one, and tell me again that this is where the series ended.

I should take a moment to note how refreshing it is for Farscape not only to let one of its main characters go through this process, but a woman. Onscreen, women are usually reduced to curling up on the bed and sobbing. While we can be certain Aeryn did some of that, we got to see the more intellectual, analytical processes normally reserved only for male actors.

No series has to be this real. After all, TV is supposed to be escapism, right? It is. However, many of us also find pure escapism to be unhealthy, whether a drug, emotional isolation, or a constant diet of TV shows where actions have no consequence, death and tragedy are without meaning, and we are expected to believe that a deus ex machina will always come to our rescue. Yes, "The Choice" takes some of us to a place that is very painful revisit. But it's also necessary to revisit it from time to time and vent those emotions in controlled doses, lest they build up and blow up. If I must revisit this place, I'd just as soon do so in the safe and otherwise enjoyable confines of a fantasy world like Farscape.

Ms. Black, if this review somehow finds its way into your hands, I have to believe that you yourself have been to this deep, dark place I speak of, in which case, it was nothing short of an act of bravery to bring that to your chosen stage. If you have not been to such a place, then whether you intended to or not, you have shown more empathy through a character performance on a television screen than I've ever thought a person to be capable of in real life. Either way, I can not express how honored I am to have been touched by such powerful medicine. Mr. Monjo, same thing. You could have taken a much lighter path, but you didn't, and I assure you that all of us who have been where Aeryn went in "The Choice" appreciate the voice of empathy you have provided. Mr. Woods, you could have shrouded this episode in mystical, magical special effects and camera tricks, but you didn't. You gave us a beautiful framework where a superior script, a superior actress, and a superior supporting cast could speak for themselves. Again, I hope the number of us who were this deeply affected are few and far between, but on behalf of those who were, thank you, to everyone involved.




Agree? Disagree? Comments? Questions? Email me! Written by Mary Wood.

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Episode Credits
Season 3, Episode 17 - "The Choice"
Writer: Justin Monjo
Director: Rowan Woods
Production number: 10317
First UK Transmission: 7th Jan 2002
First US Transmission: 17th Aug 2001
Guest Stars:
Linda Cropper (Xhalax Sun); John Gregg (Talyn Lyczak); Raj Ryan (Hotel Owner); Mario Halouvas (Voice of The Seer); Steve Bowers (Tenek)
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