In the seventeenth episode of the fourth season of Farscape, Crichton becomes obsessed with a documentary series about the crew’s time on Earth while he worries about Aeryn’s fate. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Farscape.
There’s a lot here in “A Constellation of Doubt” that I want to talk about, so let’s just jump into it.
One of the most impressive aspects of this episode is the way in which the show takes a narrative gimmick – John watching a flashy documentary about the aliens’ time on Earth – and weaves it into a larger story about guilt, doubt, and fear. It doesn’t feel like a gimmick when you’re watching it because it’s such a vital story for Farscape to tell. And look, it’s not like I felt as if the Earth trilogy arc was stingy on details; I was already satisfied with what this show had done then. But this provides us with details about what the crew did on Earth, and, most importantly, what affect they had on our world. It’s not something I expected to see, and it’s done so well.
A New Context
As I mentioned on video, “A Constellation of Doubt” provides a meta-text for the audience, since it’s almost like another party has watched the Earth arc and is then commenting on it. Yes, it’s undeniable that the show is parodying the kind of American documentary shows that Alien Visitation is based off of, but I think there’s a larger commentary at work here, too. So much of what we see from the clips is the way in which things can be twisted out of context to serve a purpose. The audience is familiar enough with characters like Aeryn Sun or Peacekeeper culture to know exactly what she means when she’s telling R. Wilson Monroe about the Peacekeepers. But the citizens of Earth lack this context, and for the most part, we see the worst of human behavior from everyone interviewed to analyze Bobby’s videotapes. We see paranoia, xenophobia, willful misinterpretation, moral posturing… the list is endless, y’all.
Which is not to suggest that there aren’t things these characters say that aren’t worthy of a raised eyebrow. Rygel’s demand for slaves has a different context for a world population who has dealt with the horrors of slavery for hundreds of years; Chiana’s sexual liberty appears super creepy in the context of her asking a thirteen-year-old boy if he’s had sex. Hell, even I was grimacing while watching Chiana comment on the clothes young girls wear. But there is an ongoing tone to the clips we see and the commentary that follows them: most humans are threatened by having their worldview destroyed. Of course a religious figure would feel enraged about aliens pontificating about the link between violence, religion, and mob mentalities. Of course humanity would balk at Chiana’s strangeness and vitality. (And I saw a very obvious thread of ableism directed her way, which broke my heart.) Of course everyone would see D’Argo as a military threat.
Sure, there are exceptions to all of these things. Dr. Hamilton was a constant joy to watch because he was so ready to accept that his world had changed, that the meter by which he’d measured everything had just dramatically becomes something else. Ivan Chanderpaul was also a delight to watch. But in the whole? I completely understood why Crichton was so distraught watching this program. Humanity was not ready for their world to be changed. They weren’t ready to find out that they aren’t the center of the universe. And I wonder if there’s a bit of regret pulsing through Crichton when he thinks about going to Earth. It’s not like he had much of a choice, mind you, because I don’t think he was prepared to die floating in space. Still, he had so much hope that humanity would be ready to accept the existence of extraterrestrial life, and Alien Visitation proves, without a doubt, that they were not ready at all.
I’ll get to the concept of hope in the final section because there’s a parallel story unfolding on Moya while Crichton’s watching Alien Visitation. And it’s VERY VERY IMPORTANT. But I did want to say that I found this to be one of the most inventive, ambitious, and shocking episodes of the entire show, and there are about a million ways this could have gone terribly. However, the writers respected these characters, and that even includes Bobby and Olivia, who return to provide some of my favorite insight into this monumental occasion in human history. It’s wonderful to me that both characters face the extreme and the unbelievable and immediately accept it. In that sense, they’re the best representation of humanity within the narrative. Both of them are curious without being pretentious, and that’s particularly the case with Bobby. When he’s first revealed as the source of most of the video clips, he justifies his release of them not because it’ll make him famous. He wanted to counter all the terrible rumors. His affinity towards these aliens led him to try to defend them in the public eye. It’s certainly not his fault that they were terribly interpreted and used to further drive a wedge between humanity and extraterrestrial life. Throughout his interactions with the aliens, he’s always respectful about their differences. He views them as exciting. He views them as cultural adventures in a way that doesn’t objectify them. A thirteen-year-old boy treated Moya’s crew better than 99% of the humans who interacted with them.
It’s an incredible thing to watch.
Humans Never Give Up Hope
I think I still would have been amused had the writers chosen to focus solely on the documentary. I won’t deny that it was executed beautifully, but it’s the Crichton plot that adds another layer of brilliance to “A Constellation of Doubt.” Crichton butts heads with the rest of the crew over his obsession with Katratzi. That’s not a new thing, y’all, and we’ve seen plenty of times how Crichton’s stubbornness has negatively affected the crew on Moya. Remember his search for wormholes? But there’s a crushing sense of dread that pervades this episode, and it’s all centered on the fact that everyone is afraid that they might have to give up hope. Without a single clue as to the location of Katratzi, they’ve got nowhere to turn. And it’s worse than not having a clue: literally no one has ever heard of it. So there’s no lead at all, nothing they can go off of.
It irritates Sikozu because Crichton is so dismissive of her. D’Argo is concerned about Crichton’s mental health. Even Chiana begins to doubt that it’s possible to find Katratzi. But Crichton is so certain that they’ve all heard the name Katratzi before, so I assumed it was only a matter of time until they all realized where that was. However, Crichton’s always been a very stubborn, persistent character. This very episode tells us that humanity rarely gives up hope, even in the face of insurmountable odds, and Chiana says practically the same thing to Rygel. All of this is a set-up for what Crichton will do at the conclusion of “A Constellation of Doubt,” and perhaps you could even say it’s foreshadowing. When Crichton realizes he heard Katratzi spoken by Sikozu!Stark in “Unrealized Reality,” he has to accept that he’s been wrong this whole time, that his crewmates are telling the truth, and that he’s desperate. But that desperation still shows us that he’s unwilling to give up, that he still holds hope that he can rescue Aeryn. He’s got an idea – one that’s utterly absurd, because how the fuck do you go to that reality – and he just needs the means to execute it.
SO HE ASKS SCORPIUS FOR HELP IN EXCHANGE FOR GIVING UP WORMHOLE TECHNOLOGY AND OH MY GOD. !!!!!!! Was this Scorpius’s plan the whole time? Did he know that if he assimilated into the crew, Crichton would eventually get so desperate he’d have to ask Scorpius for help? THERE’S SO MUCH THE SHOW CAN DO WITH THIS AND I’M SUPER EXCITED AND SLIGHTLY TERRIFIED AND I NEED THE NEXT EPISODE RIGHT NOW.
The video for “A Constellation of Doubt” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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