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Farscape

1.09 - DNA Mad Scientist

By Dennis Matheson - aka tanstaafl

[Cast/Credits]  [Overview]  [Quotes]  [Summary]  [References]  [Questions]  [Commentary]

Cast and Credits:

Original US Air Date: June 18, 1999

Regular Cast:
Ben Browder...................John Crichton
Claudia Black.................Aeryn Sun
Virginia Hey..................Zotoh Zhaan
Anthony Simcoe................Ka D'Argo
Jonathan Hardy................Dominar Rygel XVI (Voice)
Lani Tupu.....................Pilot (Voice)

Guest Cast:
Adrian Getley.................Namtar
Julian Garner.................Namtar (Voice)
Sarah Burns...................Kornata

Writer........................Tom Blomquist
Director......................Andrew Prowse

Overview:

A scientist offers the crew maps back to their home worlds in exchange for samples of their DNA. But the price turns out to be higher than they expected and Aeryn becomes an involuntary subject of his experiments.

Quotes:

Are you all right, John? - Zhaan
Yeah. Sure. No problem. Happens all the time. Needle in the eye, no sweat. - John Crichton

What am I, chopped mellet? - Rygel
Of course not. I can stomach chopped mellet. - Zhaan

Well, give me a clue here, Aeryn. Is this something new or is this just your usual PMS; Peacekeeper Military Shi... - John Crichton
Frell you! - Aeryn Sun

It's a happy face. - John Crichton
They're food cubes. - Aeryn Sun
No. See, the pattern forms a... Never mind. - John Crichton

Summary:

The crew is assembled in the laboratory of Namtar, a scientist who’s reputation has spread throughout the Uncharted Territories. He is extracting DNA information from the crew by inserting a needle into their eyes. He has just finished with John and is asking for who will go next.

Aeryn says she is not participating and D'Argo reluctantly goes next. John asks Namtar why, if he is getting DNA information, he has to use the eye instead of a simple skin scraping. Namtar responds that it is necessary since he works at a level below that of the standard double helix.

Namtar calls for his assistant Kornata and a deformed, misshapen woman enter the room bringing a tall crystalline object with her. Namtar tells the crew that he has 11 million species in his DNA database. With the samples he has just taken, he can pinpoint their worlds of origin exactly and provide them with maps of how to get home, avoiding all Peacekeeper controlled areas along the way.

The crystalline object projects a holographic representation of the galaxy. Zhaan approaches the display and touches a point on it. A star system expands into view and she starts to cry as she recognizes the planet. It is Delvia, her home world.

Namtar touches a control and the hologram fades. He says they need to discuss payment. Rygel reminds him that he told Namtar they had very limited resources but Namtar waves him aside and asks if it is true that they have arrived on a Leviathan. Zhaan confirms this and asks if he wants their ship.

That is not what Namtar wants. He says he wants a DNA sample from their Pilot. John asks if he wants the same kind of sample he took from them but Namtar says he needs a larger sample. He asks them to bring him one of Pilot's arms.

Later, Aeryn and John are sitting in a bar on the planet. John is upset because, even with 11 million species in his database, Namtar could not locate Earth or even come up with a guess as to where it might be. John is having to face the concept that he may be nowhere near Earth.

He asks Aeryn what is bothering her and why she didn't get her DNA tested. She points out that the rest of them are trying to find a way home while avoiding Peacekeeper territory but that her home is Peacekeeper territory and she can't go back there.

John tries to cheer her up, saying that it's really meaningless since Pilot would never volunteer to give up one of his arms anyway. Aeryn looks at him.
"What makes you think that they're going to wait for Pilot to volunteer anything?" she asks.

On Moya, D'Argo, Rygel and Zhaan are struggling with Pilot. Rygel is hanging onto one of his arms and Zhaan tells him that she will take his pain. As Pilot yells for them to stop, D'Argo draws his Qualta Blade and severs one of Pilot's limbs.

D'Argo, Rygel and Zhaan present the arm to Namtar, who is pleased. He tells them that he will prepare the maps and deliver them to their ship. They leave and he calls to Kornata. They take the arm and enter the next room, where a creature that looks like a horribly deformed Pilot is chained to the wall.

John enters Pilot's Den on Moya and finds one of the DRDs cauterizing the stump of Pilot's arm. Pilot sends the DRD away and John, trembling with rage, asks how he could have let them do this to him and how he can be so calm.

Pilot tells him that he didn't exactly let them do this but that there was nothing he could do. He tells John that he will regenerate the arm. He also says that when one of his kind is merged with a Leviathan they dedicate their lives to the Leviathan and those who ride in it. Since his species is incapable of space flight otherwise this is the only way he could see the galaxy. He considers it a fair arrangement.

Aeryn is in Command when D'Argo and Zhaan enter. She is obviously angry and is prominently wearing her pulse pistol. She asks how they could have done such a thing since Pilot was defensless. D'Argo is surprised that she, a Peacekeeper, is showing compassion.
"You attacked one of your own." she tells him angrily. "Would you do the same to the rest of us?"
"Of course." is D'Argo's reply.

She asks if they really think that Pilot will take them to their home worlds now. D'Argo responds that Pilot is a servicer and "will get over it". He leaves. Zhaan then tells Aeryn that she knows Aeryn is only upset because she can never go home but that she should not deny the rest of them their chance. She leaves also.

John is down in the galley, obviously getting drunk, when Aeryn enters. John briefly tells of his encounter with Pilot and Aeryn says that the others have gotten their maps. John realizes that once the others get home it will only be him and Aeryn, a situation that Aeryn seems to be less than happy about. She takes the container away from him and starts drinking herself.

She reminds John that if he ever finds a way back to Earth then he will leave too. This is what is bothering her.
"I was born a Peacekeeper soldier." she tells him. "I've always been one among many. A member of a division, platoon, a unit, a team. I've never been on my own, John. Never been alone. Ever."
John tries to cheer her up. "When I find a way home... If I find a way home... I'll take you with me!"
Aeryn seems less than thrilled with this idea. "Me? On a planet with billions of you?"

D'Argo is walking through Moya and sees items flying out of Rygel's cabin. He enters and finds Rygel going through his things and discarding those he no longer needs since he is going home.

Down on the planet Namtar is unhappy because his latest experiment is not going well. He waves his arm and glassware across the lab goes flying. Kornata enters the lab and Namtar lifts his hand, causing her pain. She begs for him to release her and, when he does, tells him he has a visitor.

Aeryn enters and says she wants to give a DNA sample. She knows there are Sebacean colonies beyond the Uncharted Territories that are not under Peacekeeper control. She wants Namtar to find one of these where she can live.

Namtar agrees and uses his needle apparatus on her eye. This time, something different happens than when he did the tests on the others. A color flare appears in her eye and she complains of a burning feeling.

She asks when she will know the results and, in a strangely ominous voice, Namtar tells her "It won't be long at all."

Back on Moya, D'Argo, Rygel and Zhaan are arguing over who will go home first. Rygel assumes he is but D'Argo and Zhaan both say they will go to whoever's home world is the closest. While they are arguing, the crystal has been sitting in the middle of the console displaying data. They think it is being processed by Moya but Pilot appears and tells them it isn't. They accuse Pilot of doing something but he assures them that there is simply too much data in the crystal for Moya to handle. They can't use the it.
"It appears your crystal is useless." he tells them. "Luckily for you, you didn't trade anything of real value to get it!"

Zhaan looks at a console and confirms what Pilot is saying. She also says that they can use one of the maps from the crystal, but only by destroying the other two.

Rygel suggests going back to Namtar and asking for two more crystals. D'Argo reminds him that they have nothing to pay him with and Pilot asks Rygel what body part he is willing to give up. Rygel suddenly grabs the crystal from the console and flies off with D'Argo in pursuit.

Aeryn is staggering through Moya. Her vision is blurry and she is hearing things. John finds her and asks if she is all right and she claims to be. He tells her what the others have found, that only one of them can get home. He notices that she is sweating and again asks if she is all right. She yells for him to leave her alone and leaves.

D'Argo has caught up with Rygel in his cabin but the crystal is nowhere to be seen and Rygel is floating out of his reach. He refuses to tell D'Argo where the crystal is and will not reveal it until the others have agreed to take him home first.

D'Argo says that if they go to his home world first he will get an army of Luxan warriors to accompany Rygel back to Hyneria so he can reclaim his throne. Rygel doesn't think he needs the warriors and doesn't believe D'Argo anyway. D'Argo leaves, locking Rygel in his cabin.

Aeryn has gone down to the planet and enters the bar. She lifts her shirt to reveal where her skin is changing into something else. She sees Namtar across the room, runs over and slams him against the bar with his arm twisted behind his back. She demands to know what he has done to her.
"This is not like what you did to the others." she says.
"Oops." is Namtar's only reply.

She twists his arm harder but he reroutes his nerve receptors from pain to pleasure and asks her to push even harder. In disgust she lets him go and steps away. Namtar tells her she is in the latter part of phase one.
"Phase one of what?" she asks.
"Please." he mocks her. "I don't want to spoil the surprise of phase two."

D'Argo and Zhaan are discussing what to do about Rygel. They both decide to treat him as the enemy and agree to stay unified until they get the crystal from him.

Aeryn staggers into Pilot's Den. She is in obvious distress but asks Pilot how he is feeling. Pilot says he is fine but is more concerned with her. She says she is hearing the DRDs from all over the ship and sensing various ships systems. Pilot asks how this could be and she holds up one of her hands which is turning into one of Pilot's claws. He gasps in surprise. She says the only thing worse is her thoughts; they feel as if they are all happening at the same time.

John enters the Den looking for Aeryn. He says he wants to take her down to the planet to see if Namtar can figure out what is wrong with her. She refuses and when he asks why she shows him her arm and skin on her side. She tells him that Namtar did it to her; he has given her some of Pilot's DNA.

John asks how Namtar had a chance to do anything to her and she admits she went back down to the planet and talked to him.
"I wanted him to find me a place where I could belong." she tells him. "I didn't want to get left behind. I'm so scared."

Zhaan goes to Rygel's cabin and talks to him through the gaps in the door. She tries to seduce him, telling him that she can be "quite gentle". Rygel reminds her that he isn't a body breeder but she reminds him that the Hynerian earbrow is very sensitive. She starts stroking it but Rygel snaps out of it and tells her she will not get the crystal. She gets angry and leaves.

Back on the planet, John enters the bar with Aeryn in tow. They find Kornata and John tries to talk to her but she screams and Namtar appears. John confronts Namtar and says that whatever he has done to Aeryn wasn't part of their deal. Namtar brushes him off, saying that a deal implies equality and that there never was anything equal about them.

Namtar gestures with one hand and John is flung across the room. He gestures with his other hand and Aeryn unwillingly approaches him. He examines her, asking if she is developing the heightened perceptions and multitasking capability of Pilot's species.

Aeryn backs away as he tells her she is making a contribution to the advancement of sentient life. She suddenly pulls her pulse pistol and shoots him, blowing a large hole through his torso.

Namtar simply looks at the hole and tells her that she has a very impressive weapon. Tubes attached to the backpack he is wearing pulse and the hole in his torso heals in a matter of seconds.

Namtar again approaches Aeryn and John moves to intercept him. Namtar waves his hand again and John goes sailing across the room again. This time he hits his head on a pipe with a ringing clang and drops to the floor unconscious. Namtar leads Aeryn out of the room.

Back on Moya, D'Argo and Zhaan go to Rygel's cabin and tell him that they acknowledge that he has won. They cannot get the crystal back. They swear an oath that they will take him to Hyneria and they will find their way home from there.

They enter the cabin and find it to be empty. There is only a pile of clothing under the bedcovers. The door suddenly swings shut behind them and locks. Rygel watches them through the door and tells them that he had a secret way out of the room. He leaves to plan his trip.

On the planet, Kornata awakens John and tells him he must leave. John won't leave without Aeryn and Kornata tells him that Namtar is using Aeryn to isolate Pilot's multi-tasking ability. He needs that ability because it is one he does not already have. Namtar has been grafting the DNA of other species onto himself to improve himself. He now has the best traits from thousands of species.

John asks if that is the true reason that Namtar set up his lab. Kornata says that she is actually the one who set up the lab. They were doing genetic experimentation and Namtar was one of their test subjects, a lab animal. When he reached a certain level of intelligence he started experimenting on her and the rest of the laboratory staff.

John says he is now using Aeryn and asks if there is anything they can do to help her. Kornata tries to avoid the question but John grabs her and insists that she tell him what they can do.

Namtar is in his lab with Aeryn in a shadowed alcove. Aeryn says that she realizes that once the process has run its course he will take the DNA he needs from her and destroy her. Namtar simply says he is looking forward "to experiencing the insights you obviously already possess."

D'Argo and Zhaan are trying to get out of Rygel's cabin. They aren't having much luck.

John leads Kornata into Pilot's Den and introduces her. She thinks Pilot is "magnificent". John tells Pilot that they need his assistance and he offers it "without hesitation".

Later, Kornata is working in a lab set up inside of Moya. She and Pilot are analyzing some results and when John tries to help they shush him. Pilot informs John that Rygel is getting ready to load the data crystal. Kornata asks if he means the crystal that Namtar gave them and tells them that the crystal does not contain map information. Instead, it is designed to wipe all of Moya's memory banks.

John yells for Rygel over the comms but Rygel does not respond. John leaves the lab on the run.

D'Argo and Zhaan manage to open the door to Rygel's cabin and also run for Command.

John enters Command and struggles with Rygel for the crystal. He manages to knock it from Rygel's hand and, just as D'Argo and Zhaan enters, it falls to the ground and shatters. The galaxy display activates briefly then fades away into nothingness.

"What have you done?" asks Zhaan angrily.
"It would have destroyed all of Moya's data." he tells her sadly. "It was never meant to work."

Pilot interrupts to tell him that everything is ready. John leaves the other three staring at the broken crystal.

Kornata and John enter Namtar's lab. Namtar tells John he will kill him but John says he only wants to see Aeryn. Aeryn steps out and we see she has almost turned into a human version of Pilot. John is angry at Namtar but Namtar claims he is only working for perfection. John asks how many innocent life forms must die for Namtar to reach perfection and Namtar says it does not matter. John then tells Namtar about Mengele, who killed thousands in his experiments.

"This Mengele sounds like a visionary." says Namtar
John grabs his arm. "He was a monster!"

While he is distracted, Kornata injects Namtar with the serum she developed on the lab on Moya. Namtar sweeps his arm and John and Kornata go flying, but Namtar screams and falls in on himself. When the transformation is complete, in his place is a small gremlin-like creature which Kornata picks up and places in a cage.

John takes the injector and starts to inject Aeryn. Kornata tells him it must be in the eye and he does so. Aeryn goes into convulsions and John asks what is happening.
"What have you done?" Kornata asks. "You've saved her life."
John holds Aeryn while the convulsions continue.

Later, John enters the galley on Moya where Aeryn is sitting and back to normal. He hands her a plate of food cubes arranged to form a happy face but she is downcast. He asks her what the worst part of the experience was.
"I've always thought of myself in terms of survival..." she says. "Life and death, keeping the body alive. But what Namtar did to me... it was... it was me. Inside. The real me."
John nods in understanding and sympathy. "You would've fit in on Earth. Just fine."

D'Argo enters Pilot's Den carrying something over his shoulder. He asks if Pilot is all right and if he understands why he did what he did. Pilot says yes to both and also says he knows that Luxans are not given to apologies. He also has no doubts that in a similar situation D'Argo would do the same thing again.

D'Argo removes the object from his shoulder and Pilot recognizes it as a device D'Argo has been working on for some time. He asks what it is and what type of weapon it is.

D'Argo tells Pilot that it is a shilquen and it is not a weapon. He sits down in front of Pilot and begins to play him a musical tune on the shilquen.

References:

John initially thinks Aeryn's problems are related to her sensitivity to heat, first mentioned in Exodus from Genesis.

The crew has been looking for their way home for some time. In PK Tech Girl D'Argo boards the Zelbinion looking for navigational data to help them get home.

We see D'Argo's shilquen in the workshop in Back and Back and Back to the Future.

Unanswered Questions:

Did Kornata use the serum she developed to undo what Namtar had done to her and the rest of her staff? Did they continue with their experiments?

After Namtar was gone why didn't Kornata use his database to find everyone's home worlds for them? Does she not know how herself or was Namtar lying when he said he could provide them with that information?

How did Rygel get out of his cell? And where did he hide the crystal for that matter?

Zhaan and the others were pretty quick to accept John's statement that the crystal would have destroyed Moya's memory. Why did they believe him so readily?

There are still some lingering effects from her transformation on Aeryn. Things still taste funny to her, for example. What other effects might she still have from the experience?

Commentary:

Didn't expect that, did you? I told you that you didn't know these characters.

The episode starts very graphically with someone getting a needle stuck in their eye. How many of you winced involuntarily during that scene. (I did.) Unfortunately, it is just a warning of where this episode is going.

This is a painful episode to watch in some ways. We have gotten used to these characters by now, have started to get involved with them and have seen them start to come together. To see them suddenly turn on one of their own is startling. And frightening.

A reminder should be made that these are escaped prisoners. While it is nice to think that they were all innocents unjustly imprisoned by the Peacekeepers we have to face the possibility that there was a reason why these three had been locked up.

On the other hand, perhaps they aren't acting out of character. Consider...

Zhaan has always been the mother and protector of the crew. But, in the previous episode ( That Old Black Magic), she has to release her dark nature and is afraid she will not get it back under control again. She did deliberately cause pain in that episode and said "Part of me enjoyed that." She is capable of such things. She did warn us.

How about D'Argo? Well, he is a soldier and this is what Aeryn confronts him with. He attacked one of his own. But, as a soldier, D'Argo may also think in terms of sacrificing one to save many. History and literature are full of stories of one soldier who gives their life so that the rest may escape. In Exodus From Genesis he suggests that everyone cut the tips of their little fingers off to distinguish them from their duplicates, so he does not consider mutilation to be out of the question. He insists to Aeryn that Pilot will get over it and Pilot does get over it. He clearly knew what he was doing.

Rygel is, well, Rygel. He's always been out for himself and he certainly does that in this episode. No surprises there.

So, maybe everyone wasn't suddenly acting out of character. There is just more to their characters than we see on the surface. Sort of like real people.

Starting to see what Farscape does right that so many other shows do wrong?

Let's talk about Rygel some more for a moment. Once he gets his hands on the crystal he is in charge of the situation on Moya. Both D'Argo and Zhaan are eventually forced to admit he has won. It's easy to think of Rygel as a buffoon and comic relief. Now we start to see that he may be as smart, cunning and devious as someone who once ruled 600 billion beings would have to be. You can be sure that neither D'Argo or Zhaan will underestimate him again.

Now let's look at Aeryn. We get to see how badly she misses being in the Peacekeepers. For her entire life she has been a part of something and now she is having to face being alone on her own for the first time. This is something she could not even have learned since all other Peacekeepers, which is all she has had contact with, have the exact same experience as her. She is going through a crisis. In the first episode she says she has always been a Peacekeeper and John tells her "You can be more." She has reached the point where she has to become more than she was if she is to survive.

It is John of course who puts everything back together again. He was denied even the chance to go home and we see how that is affecting him. A question could be asked about what would have happened if Namtar had turned out to have Earth's position in his database. Would John have joined the attack on Pilot? I doubt it. His conversation with Aeryn in the bar shows that he never even considered taking Pilot's arm by force.

Pilot seems to realize this too. While he taunts the others when the crystal doesn't work, he offers his aid to John "without hesitation". Pilot may forgive the others what they did, but he will not forget. We learn much about Pilot and his people in this episode and we learn that he is a being with feelings too.

There are some other great moments in this episode. The horror in John's "What have I done?" when Aeryn starts to convulse after he injects the serum and his relief when Kornata tells him "You have saved her life." shows how much he cares for Aeryn.

Finally, none of the attackers ever directly apologize to Pilot. We should have expected such from Rygel but it is odd that Zhaan never says anything to him. Perhaps her own guilt keeps her from it.

D'Argo's reaction is more interesting. Pilot acknowledges that Luxans are not prone to apologize and D'Argo admits that he would do the same thing again. Then, he plays his shilquen for Pilot. It is not an apology but perhaps it is an acknowledgment of Pilot's feeling and, to D'Argo perhaps, a small amount of repayment.

A few other comments on the episode. The implication here is that not only do all species in the galaxy have double-helix DNA (extremely unlikely) but that their DNA is all compatible with each other. Hardly. I should have more in common with a turnip than Aeryn would with Pilot. It is a common enough science fiction cliché but it is a fairly bad error.

The episode also manages to touch on issues of both animal testing and genetic engineering without directly referencing either. It is subtle, unlike many other shows which attempt to bludgeon you over the head with the issues they address, but it is there.

I do have to say though that DNA Mad Scientist gets my vote as one of the worst episode titles of the season. On the other hand, the title is in the exact same format as PK Tech Girl.

The darkness I mentioned in my comments for the premiere episode has arrived. Hang on, things may get a bit bumpy from here on out.

Overall, this is an outstanding episode and one of the best of the season. Make an effort to see it if you can.

One other observation. Namtar is "Rat Man" spelled backwards.

Dennis Matheson - tanstaafl@earthlink.net
Farscape and all related characters and elements are © & ™ The Jim Henson Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

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