Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Farscape S1 Ep9: DNA Mad Scientist

The stunning creation of Namtar. Namtar is just one of the many astounding aspects of the extraordinarily vibrant world of Farscape.

If DNA is the root of life, the code or building block of creation, then greed is undeniably the root of all evil on a sociological scale. Greed is the root of the problem here as it finds its way into the hearts of our dear, would be team of space adventurers in Farscape. The functioning dysfunctional family of reluctant travellers steps back from the progress of their personal connections to date for one another in an exciting if disturbing turn. Be prepared for this Farscape favorite. Here comes Farscape, Season One, Episode 9, DNA Mad Scientist, where desire and want affects us all in ways that are less than becoming.

This brief introduction to Ratman, better known as Namtar, sets the tone for a vivid exercise in Farscapism.

Namtar summons the assistance of his disfigured, mutant female helper, Coronada. Namtar secretes DNA from the all too accessible crew of Moya. They willingly submit themselves in the hopes Namtar may reveal the exact location of their homeworlds through the extraction of their genetic information. The crew desperately clings to the hope astronomical mapping of their homeworlds can be determined for their respective returns. The information alludes Moya's data banks. Of course, nothing is free. Everything comes at a price. Namtar's reputation as a DNA scientist somehow precedes him, and as the old saying goes, 'if it's too good to be true it probably is' exists for a reason. Namtar selects "beautiful" Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan first. A holographic display presents an interpretation of planetary locations across the Farscape galaxy. Namtar's database holds the genetic markings of over 11 million lifeforms. The genetic sample allows him to pinpoint the genetic location of its origin. The moment, the music is quite cinematic for television. It's beautiful. Farscape continues to demonstrate why it is a grade A production.

The price: One of Pilot's arms. Yes, Namtar requires a sizable genetic sampling of the species. Is the price too high? Is the desire to obtain this information so great the crew of Moya would compromise one of their own? Could they - would they turn their backs? This is the moral dilemma. Despite Pilot's value and pivotal role to the crew of Moya's very survival, how do they see Pilot? Is Pilot a thinking, living, emotional being that is part of this makeshift family of castaways, or but a mere creature of higher intellect with something of value they deem expendable? This is the question. And if Pilot is expendable who isn't?

Earth is nowhere on the radar. John Crichton queries, "Am I in the neighborhood here?" He simply can't believe Earth doesn't register.

Aeryn Sun refuses access to her eye by Namtar to take the DNA sample. [Sorry, there's no way I could allow a needle into my eye!] For Sun, her reasons are more out of an imperative to avoid Peacekeeper detection. Sun can't go back, "ever." Crichton, being human, knows that unless Pilot volunteers an arm they'll all be leaving the planet shortly. Being a human, of sound mind, he is not inclined to allow such an atrocity to occur to Pilot. Sun isn't so sure the others will allow Pilot the option, but rather taking one of his arms by force. You see, the thought never crosses the mind of American Crichton, because it defies all that he believes. It would defy anything an all American boy raised in the Carolinas would believe acceptable. It's quite simply a hideous act.

Meanwhile, back on Moya, Pilot is literally being assaulted, wrestled and forcefully removed of an arm by Zhaan, Ka D'Argo and Dominar Rygel XVI. It is an ugly display of alien nature as blood from Pilot's arm sprays upon his face. It is a truly disturbing moment and as much as Zhaan would rather not do it, she does and this position by these three crew members is something that truly stuns us as viewers. Rygel, maybe, D'Argo perhaps, but Zhaan is shocking.

On the whole, we are horrified by their actions. If science fiction offers us a window to the soul or a look at human nature in unique ways, this is a perfect example saved only by the fact Crichton is not among the violators. Crichton is our center, our human identification, our moral compass, but all represent the mistakes we make and the gamut of emotions we feel. It is a maneuver that will remain with us for some time and speaks to their characters. Desperation. Need. How far are willing to go when pressed? This is a glimpse at our flaws and the atrocities we commit. We are taken to dark places - all of us. Where will the crew of Farscape go from here?

Sun, who appears to share a connection with Pilot, would not return to Moya. We are all faced with difficult decisions in life. Think Sophie's Choice [1982]. Despite her objections, Sun essentially removes herself from the proceeding and does nothing to prevent it. Perhaps, her opposition would not matter. This is undetermined. But does not her silence make her just as guilty. Crichton too. We are forced to ask that of ourselves.

D'Argo and Zhaan return to the planet upholding their end of the bargain. Namtar indicates it will take some time to load the cartographs of their homeworlds into the crystal. The crew of Moya is less than trusting of Namtar. It turns out he's a rather disturbed or "mad" scientist. In a dark room within his quarters, he retreats with Coronada and we find a mutant creature chained to the wall, a victim of Namtar's experiments, like Coronada complete with her massive, freakish hand. His hope is that the Pilot DNA will further his sick, demented genetic cocktails.

On board Moya, Crichton is troubled to find Pilot is now one arm short of four. He arrives to speak with Pilot as one of the DRD's finishes soldering repairs on Pilot's arm joint and wound. This is an insightful moment regarding Pilot's species and its regenerative capabilities and the creature's mission.

Naturally we have such empathy for Pilot. This is clearly a forgiving species. How can one harm a creature so seemingly giving and kind? I mean those Pilot eyes will melt the coldest of hearts. Much of the information found in this episode will be cause for greater reflection in an even more horrifying entry found in Season Two when it comes to the question of behavior and motivation. Sun asks the moral question we should all ask.

Crichton is disturbed by the display of violence against what he considers, like Sun, one of their own. He calls their status, "the odd men out." Sun worries all will be going home. She fears, internally, Crichton will find home. She's always been one among many as a Peacekeeper and she's never been alone, but she feels alone. Crichton tells her he would take her home to Earth. Sun appears caught between her role as lost soldier and her new existence. Her Peacekeeper life was clearly a stern, almost grim existence. She is a severe character and humor and joy do not come easily to her.

Elsewhere, D'Argo discovers Rygel has been packratting food supplies needed by the crew. The more you see of Rygel the less reason he gives you to like his character, if he has any. Having said that, just when I've given up on the despicable alien cretin he turns it around for me and gives me pause so that I don't completely give up on him.

Shortly thereafter, Zhaan and D'Argo discuss the price to pay for information concerning one's homeworld. She is surprised by Crichton's less than enthusiastic support for the others. There is clearly a difference of ethics and morality in play. D'Argo believes Crichton would have sacrificed his memocks [a penis?] for Earth's location. This is where, I believe, D'Argo does not genuinely understand the human condition or at least, more specifically, Crichton's sense of camaraderie beyond genetic or the specie-specific boundaries of Farscape. D'Argo will no doubt learn. But, God knows the human condition has its fair share of participants who would resort to the reprehensible.

Zhaan suspects she would sacrifice if it was required. Would she? Then, D'Argo asks the most prescient, telling question, given his knowledge- why does Namtar work under cloak of darkness in the Uncharted Territories? The question comes too late. D'Argo can't understand it. Namtar's knowledge could bring wealth, fame even power. Zhaan reckons it would change the basis for astral-navigation. D'Argo believes it could affect how war is waged. D'Argo touches his eye. Clearly, Crichton, D'Argo and the others are all feeling the effects of Namtar's experiment. The question is what did Namtar do to them? One thing is certain, desire may indeed bring out the worst in us.

On the planet below, Namtar's frustration illuminates the truth of his own existence as a genetically endowed creature with psi-powers. Coronada cringes in fear of his powerful psychological rage. He turns to find Aeryn Sun has arrived for the eye fluid extraction. Don't we all want to belong? Sun requires a home she can "fit in" of a Sebacean heritage. Unlike the others, the sensation burns. She inquires when she will discover the results. "It won't be long at all." The Namtar creation is one Henson's creepy best! It is a sensational work from the Creature Shop.

Back on Moya, the crystal has arrived with the results. Rygel wishes to return home first given it was he who made arrangements with Namtar. How Namtar retains a notable reputation based on the disfigurement of his assistant is any one's guess. Only a desperate man would trust Namtar of which our fleeing crew appears to be. Zhaan believes all should return to their homes based upon the logic of proximity. Rygel calls Zhaan a "blue-assed bitch!" Crikey! What a line! Pilot chimes in to inform the crew that Moya is not drawing data from the crystal. A decidedly guilty or remorseful Zhaan inquires as to Pilot's well being. Zhaan is not thrilled with her actions, but her kindness feels unwanted despite her sincerity. Pilot notifies the group that the crystal is useless and, incensed, that they did not trade anything of "REAL value" for it. Zhaan believes they can access one of the three maps, but two will have to be destroyed to retrieve the data. Thus choices must be made again. Rygel suggests returning to Namtar for three separate crystals. Pilot begs the question of Rygel, "if he should ask for it, what body part are you willing to offer your eminence?" Rygel grabs the crystal and runs.

Meanwhile, Sun is clearly feeling out of sorts. Blurred vision and a ringing head speak to the fact Sun is not responding well to Namtar's genetic extraction. Crichton happens upon her and lets her know that "Larry, Curly and Moe" are having trouble with the crystal.

In the meantime, D'Argo is in Rygel's quarters searching for the crystal. Rygel tells him he won't find it. Once again, D'Argo is willing to make major conscessions for what he needs. D'Argo tells Rygel if he sides with him against Zhaan and returns him home first, he will gather a Luxan army to strike against his Hynerian cousin upon Rygel's return. Rygel calls D'Argo a fugitive offending the warrior Luxan.

Sun returns to the planet with the knowledge something is happening to her as the result of Namtar's work. Sun goes on the attack and comes up behind Namtar twisting his arm. She demands to know what he did to her. He has turned his nerve centers from pain to pleasure and is unharmed by her strongarm tactics. It's almost kinky, erotic and Sadomasochistic in tone when Namtar tells Sun to "push harder." He enjoys it and his outfit screams the kind of sexual undertones that permeate the world of Farscape. He gives Sun the bad news. She is in phase one of transformation.

Back on Moya, Zhaan and D'Argo join forces against Rygel. The joining of forces illustrates how quickly greed turns allies to enemies and enemies to allies. There are power plays at work and greed is rotting them to their core. All sense of reason and good will achieved is being thrown away.

Elsewhere, Sun, back on Moya, visits Pilot to determine his health. Sun herself can sense aspects of the ship as never before. She is attuned to the ship like never before. She can feel the power generators and hydraulics of Moya and the DRDs. Sun has clearly been injected with Pilot's DNA. This is confirmed when she shows exhibit A to Pilot - her disfigured hand. She is changing with physical alterations and attributes denoting the skin tone and color of Pilot. Crichton arrives and Sun informs him of her changes. She is frightened. For the first time that I can recall, Sun is feeling more alone and more vulnerable than we've seen her to date, save for maybe her near death brush in Episode 3, Exodus From Genesis.

Zhaan pays a little visit to Rygel hoping to strike up a bit of bargain with Rygel by offering, well, sex. Rygel is intrigued by the proposition. Zhaan continues to surprise. This particular installment does not exhibit the best features of the Delvian priestess. Power grabs are not working between the threesome aboard Moya.

Sex is indeed an operating factor in the wild world of Farscape. One day I look forward to reading Farscape Forever! Sex, Drugs And Killer Muppets! by Glenn Yeffeth. I'm intrigued by the handling of the topics.

On the planet below, Crichton takes Sun to obtain help and expects Namtar to make things right. Crichton first approaches Coronada who screams. The psychic scream captures Namtar's attention as he arrives upon the cantina-like bar scene.

Crichton angrily confronts Namtar that what he did to Sun wasn't part of their deal. Namtar arrogantly informs him that a deal connotes equality and equality is something the two do not have in common. Namtar is a genetic freak and believes himself to be a superior being as well as a genuine rat bastard. Namtar suspects Sun is nearing the end of phase two. Crichton charges Namtar, but is struck down with a powerful psi-burst indicated by the sweep of Namtar's hand. Namtar summons Sun forth and observes her as the mad doctor he is. She pleads that he stop her mutation. He refuses. He sees her moving toward sentient perfection. Her physical affectations are nothing compared to her psychic acuity and multi-tasking powers [Pilot's powers]. She pulls a weapon on Namtar and fires. Unfortunately his powers are so great he immediately heals the grisly, gaping hole shot through his side.

Is this an old school oversight a la Lost In Space? I'm still not sure how, but Namtar is able to repair the clothing that bonds his freakish body together too. Go figure. Still, it's such a damn fine episode you're willing to forgive the imperfection. Namtar moves Sun into his testing facility after knocking Crichton unconscious.

Zhaan and D'Argo pay a visit to Rygel who has been locked inside his quarters by D'Argo. Turnabout is fairplay as Zhaan and D'Argo enter, Rygel exits through an alternate route and locks the door behind them.

On the planet, Coronada tells Crichton he should leave. Coronada reveals the lab was once hers. She was once the project leader there. The cantina-like creatures in the bar area were facility employees. She was working on quantum genetics isolating the "essentials of thought itself." Namtar was a test subject, a "laboratory creature", a rat. He increased his size and traits from a variety of lifeforms and the more intelligent he grew. Elsewhere, Sun is changing and Namtar is excited by her intellectual potential. Namtar is a vile, grotesque creature and well voiced by Julian Garner. A Pilot-like claw reaches out from behind a curtain as the transformation end grows closer.

On Moya, Rygel looks at the crystal. As Zhaan and D'Argo plot their escape they both realize they have been manipulative and dishonest in their respective deals. Is it ever too late to learn?

Crichton brings Coronada on board Moya to meet Pilot. She is astonished by the creature that is Pilot calling him "magnificent." Crichton asks for Pilot's help, not demanding it, to save Sun and he obliges "without hesitation."

A new piece of information surfaces as Pilot indicates Rygel is close to obtaining the cartogrpahic information from the crystal. There's more bad news. Coronada informs Crichton and Pilot that Namtar created a crystal that will erase all of the data from Moya's databanks if uploaded so that the crew will be hopelessly stranded. Essentially, the crystal would "erase Moya's memory." The value of life is underscored when the show brings the living ship into its story. It's a fascinating aspect of the series and how it weaves into the lives of the other crew members.

Crichton slaps the crystal from Rygel's hand. It shatters as D'Argo and Zhaan enter following their escape. The crystal releases a deceptively pretty map into the room, but the viral release would have been Moya and the crew's entire downfall. Following Coronada's work aboard Moya with genetic cocktails she returns to Namtar.

On the planet, Namtar informs Coronada that the final stage serum is close to completion. He needs her help. Crichton wants to see Aeryn, but Namtar informs him that she is gone. He will enjoy meeting the creature that has replaced her. "Rise" [reminisces of the Vader sequence in Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith]. Namtar draws back the curtain to reveal a mutant version of Sun crossbred with Pilot.

This is a great scene that asks us to consider the morality of experimentation and how far we are willing to go. The line between good and evil, gods and monsters is thin as noted by Crichton. This is a terrific scene that illustrates Darwinism in its purest form. Further, Sun's metamorphosis speaks to the concept of body horror that is often eloquently expressed and illustrated in science fiction. It's also worth noting the wonderful set design by the Henson group.

At the right moment, Crichton secures Namtar's arm. Coronada quickly injects him with a serum of her making. Namtar writhes in pain and agony as he is reduced to his original state, an alien lab rat. Coronada and Crichton inject a serum into Sun's eye to reverse the process and return her to genetic normality. Clearly, it's a major leap to think Sun's severe mutation, and that of Namtar's physique, could ever be altered to begin with or to be returned to original form. This is indeed the precondition to riding this science fiction wave. Farscape pushes those boundaries, but has a whole lot of fun doing it. It takes ideas like genetics and through far out execution begs the questions humanity must ask of itself.

Back aboard Moya, the crew is reunited. How they respond going forward to such an ugly episode in their young relations will be interesting. Sun appears to be changed to some degree by these events. Her connection to Pilot is one of interest and will continue to be a source of fascination. This physical link was an intriguing exploration. Sun tells Crichton she is changed by the experience. The "real me" was affected inside beyond the life and death struggle of her Peacekeeper identity. This is a simple moment, but one that illustrates how Crichton and Sun are growing closer.

D'Argo reaches out to Pilot asking if his arm is healing. D'Argo indicates he would do it again. Pilot understands, but also understands Luxans "are not given to apologies," of which D'Argo clearly is offering in his own way. The scene is telling. It is a wonderful illustration of acceptance, understanding and forgiveness. This is a touching closing moment for Farscape. Perhaps, with all of the questions of Darwin and behavior abound, our dear comrades are indeed learning. The truth is it's never too late.

Apologies do not come easy and neither does trust. This was an interesting crossroads. This coherent, complete, nightmarish tale certainly leaves one reflecting on the possibilities before us in the great unknown. When it comes to the question of evolution DNA Mad Scientist poses a great many questions from Josef Rudolf Mengele's human experiments to the untapped possibilities and horrors linked to the age of stem cell research or biological research. This installment, the second for director Andrew Prowse [Premiere], speaks to the wonders of the sci-fi genre when it's done right. One of Farscape's finest Season One moments to date is like nearing science fiction nirvana.

DNA Mad Scientist: B+

Writer: Tom Blomquist. Director: Andrew Prowse.

Pop Culture Reference: The Three Stooges.

Additional thought and commentary:

First and foremost is the ongoing chemistry between this wonderful, family-like alliance. There was that huge shocking moment, as noted earlier, when Zhaan, D'Argo and Rygel all team together and lop off one of Pilot's arms. Most of us reeled, repulsed by such alien thinking. It was so remote and antithetical to our own sense of self-preservation. At this point, Pilot was like a trusted friend more than a beloved family pet. How could this happen? It highlights "the dysfunctionality of the group," according to Farscape The Illustrated Companion. Actress Virginia Hey was "horrified" by the amputation of Pilot's arm, a friend as she saw him. She notes her character, Zhaan, didn't even apologize for the drastic action even by episode's end. These complex dynamics combined with staggering decisions have consequences that continue to inform the development of the group as a family.

Secondly, the visual effects continue to be of noteworthy inspiration. Farscape The Illustrated Companion revisits the phenomenal creature effects applied to Namtar, calling him "part medical manual, part fetish magazine." As the product of self-genetic experimentation, Namtar was the culmination of excessive experimentation, like a woman with too much cosmetic surgery. Terry Ryan explained in the book, "We wanted his whole body to be held together by something from the outside. That's why we did the metal callipers and spine, and the hinges and bolts that came out and held his joints and body together... hence the callipers on his legs."

The heavy reliance on prosthetic make-up and genuine creature effects a la the Brian Henson Creature Shop continue to astonish. So many films today would have created a film like this and relied solely or largely on CGI. This is just one big reason to love and thank the creators of Farscape. The CGI that is employed is a complement to the tangible realities of the character work. It is stunning work. Namtar is the kind of revelation that is ultimately rare in film, nevermind television. Farscape is a treat and one that can be relished for its four seasons of magic.

As Creator Rockne S. O'Bannon put it in Starlog #261 regarding animatronics and prosthetics this is off the charts. "The level of prosthetic work we're doing is leaps and bounds beyond what you would normally see on television." Boy - Amen.

Special Effects guru Dave Elsey [of the Australian branch of the Jim Henson Creature Shop] offered additional input in Starlog #261 on why Namtar offers viewers such a treat. The amount of work that goes into these productions is often sadly overlooked. "We're very fond of Namtar... That was a pretty full-on monster for a TV show, with leg extensions and a crazy mechanical head and contact lenses." Adrian Getley deserves credit for being inside that costume. The Jim Henson Creature Shop proved time and again why each episode is a veritable treat to behold beyond the strong writing and great characterization. Despite all of that, it is often a visual feast for the senses and DNA Mad Scientist is the perfect example.


John Kenneth Muir said...


A great review of this memorable (and horrific episode). The following passage really captured the essence of the episode, and of Farscape, beautifully:

"Desperation. Need. How far are willing to go when pressed? This is a glimpse at our flaws and the atrocities we commit. We are taken to dark places - all of us. Where will the crew of Farscape go from here?"

That's the key in Farscape. The characters' desperation, need and other foibles drive them to places we never see our "heroes" go in the latter-day Star Trek universe. And it's in those places that we really see their mettle.

I loved your review!


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks so much John. I've been so busy of late. Hope to get over to do some reading soon.

Thank you so mcuh for the kind words and additional points as always.

Your visits never go unappreciated.

Best my friend

PDXWiz said...


Been busy the last several days with projects but I wanted to express my admiration for this beautiful review. What a fascinating episode!

Star Trek certainly had its share of mad scientists, like Dr. Tristan Adams and his neural neutralizer seen in "Dagger of the Mind". "DNA Mad Scientist" combines the Trek mad scientist with the Next Gen episode "Genesis". Ratman seems to be as intelligent as the Trekverse's two most famous genetically engineered beings after Spock, Dr. Julian Bashir or Khan Noonien Singh, but without Bashir's scruples and with Khan's desire (or greed) for more (power for Khan, abilities for Namtar). And yet, I think one could deal with Khan much more effectively than Namtar... Because Khan, for all his augmentation, is still human at his core---unlike Namtar.

Thanks for the great review!

Gordon Long

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hello Gordon.

You're argument stands to reason my friend. I enjoyed your thoughts and the Star Trek analogies.

I understand busy my friend. Right there with you.