Mark Watches ‘Farscape’: S04E15 – Mental as Anything

In the fifteenth episode of the fourth season of Farscape, D’Argo is forced to confront his past in a remarkably violent way. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Farscape.

Trigger Warning: For mention of spousal abuse, mental illness, body horror, and gaslighting.

I feel like it’s almost silly at this point to say, “Well, that was a strange episode.” What isn’t a strange episode in the Farscape canon??? In this case, I think there’s a deliberate attempt on the part of the writers to play off our expectations. As is now clear from my predictions for this season, I figured that D’Argo’s story with Macton would have been dealt with at this point. Instead, I am distracted by nearly a complete season of OTHER STORIES, only to have Macton appear at the very same training facility that Scorpius has taken the group to. It’s a compelling premise, and while there’s a lot here that’s very important to D’Argo’s characterization, it’s… well, it’s weird.

I don’t know how else to explain it! The set-up is a bit clumsy, since we don’t know why D’Argo, Rygel, and Crichton have agreed to do mental training with Scorpius. It’s not revealed for nearly half an hour as a method to get Crichton able to fight off Scarran mind attacks, which seems like A PRETTY SIGNIFICANT THING TO WAIT TO TELL HIM UNTIL HE’S SUFFERING IN THAT HUMID CELL. Shouldn’t he have told Crichton that at the very beginning? Shouldn’t he have told all of them that from the beginning? I’m pretty sure they all would have been a lot more cooperative if that were the case, given that being able to fight off the Scarran mind meld thing would be a valuable power to have. Instead, this episode feels like the gang is being forced to go on a field trip with Scorpius, and they spend most of “Mental as Anything” complaining that the other students get to go on a much better trip.

Actually, that is pretty funny now that I think of it. That’s exactly what’s going on here.

So it’s very confusing that Crichton needs to go through this training, Scorpius withholds this from him, and then there’s no acknowledgement that the training was interrupted and incomplete at the end of this episode. Unless him getting out of the cage was the only test? Which is a terrible test? And HOW ELSE WOULD CRICHTON HAVE GOTTEN OUT OF THAT CAGE, SCORPIUS? Magic? Ah, I’m so confused.

So let’s move on to D’Argo’s story, which got so deeply uncomfortable there that I was worried we actually were seeing his backstory get turned on its head. But I do appreciate that the writers didn’t do that thing where they say it’s impossible for a likable person like D’Argo to have done something horrible. That’s a very common thing you see in discussions of abuse, and it’s… well, it’s a huge problem. But D’Argo really does have to start examining his own culpability here, though it’s for an entirely different reason. As I said on video this is EASILY the most extreme version of gaslighting I’ve ever seen. Macton literally enters D’Argo’s subconscious mind so that he can manipulate him into believing an alternate version of reality.

It’s horrifying, and I say that not just for the sake of it, but because I know personally how disorienting it is to be gaslighted. It is an awful feeling to question your own perception of reality, and over the course of “Mental as Anything,” D’Argo does just that. And while it’s healthy to want to be responsible or to be held accountable, what Macton does is straight up terror. He uses D’Argo’s own sense of duty – the very same sense that inspired him to tell his wife that she needed to be honest about his violence – against him. Just think about how upsetting it was that all the evidence within this very episode seemed to suggest that D’Argo had abused his wife and killed her. Now imagine how revolting D’Argo must have felt to believe the very same thing about himself.

I admit that the setting for all of this was both appropriate and totally distracting. It was a means to see within D’Argo’s mind and to give us flashbacks, which was great! But it also felt like this huge, significant plot was stuck inside a story-of-the-week format instead of given its own space to grow. But I don’t have a solution to this problem, either. I think if I had felt less bewildered by Crichton’s subplot, I wouldn’t feel this way about D’Argo’s story either. Still, it’s an important entry into this show’s canon for D’Argo, so I think I am pleased with the outcome.

The video for “Mental as Anything” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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