Cult-TV Flashback: Farscape: "Different Destinations"
In the Farscape canon, "...Different Destinations" is apparently a stand-alone episode, one outside of the big story arc and larger narrative concerns, and yet -- despite the superficial "throwaway" status of the show -- it's an absolute gut-punch to John Crichton, Aeryn Sun and indeed, to the audience itself.
But something goes awry when the enigmatic Stark (Paul Goddard) views the events of the distant past.
In other words, they wonder if their presence at the battle can change the course of history, and thus affect the future itself; the very "future" they dwell in. There's even a little arrogance in a conversation between Aeryn and John early on, as they wonder if there's a way they might actually "improve" the future.
What "...Different Destinations" actually depicts is a kind of royal screw-up on the part of the Moya's argumentative crew. For instance, when Aeryn sees that Dacon is just a rookie -- and a cook, no less -- she does everything she can to shield the young man from his grim but pre-ordained fate. And unbeknownst to the others, John strikes a secret deal with the Venek General, one that ends in disaster when the general is murdered on the monastery ramparts by a nurse.
History recorded the military leader as a reasonable man who worked with Dacon to subdue the blood lust of the Horde. Now that he's gone, there's absolutely no buffer between the nurses and the violent warriors at the gates.
John notes after the death of the Venek leader: "I'm in a hell of a slump here. Everything I do just makes things worse."
Before long, John is actually seeking the advice of the Scorpius implant in his head (Wayne Pygram). That's how desperate he becomes to find a way out of this complicated temporal puzzle.
He informs her that the only way to make herself immortal is to be remembered. She takes his words to heart, and carves her name - Centrina -- into the walls of the fortress.
Back on Moya, Chiana, Pilot and Rygel watch in horror as the planet they orbit keeps changing. The once-beautiful world becomes a burned out cinder and then, finally, disappears all together...totally annihilated in a conflict of hate and violence.
But when they view the events of history through the tourist goggles, the time travelers learn a hard truth: The Venek mob murdered all the nurses and children. They were angry because they refused to give up the location of the Peacekeeper named...Crichton.
"I screwed up," a mourning John admits.
But this Farscape episode remains a remarkable one because it's just so far astray of audience expectations. In a latter generation of Star Trek, for instance, the men and women of Starfleet would have certainly repaired the time line and rescued the innocent nurses and children. And there's almost zero chance they would have held the day by employing their advanced weaponry against primitives.
But in Steve Worland's "...Different Destinations," there are no higher rules (like Starfleet regulations) to contend with, and furthermore no unity whatsoever amongst the time-traveling participants about how to proceed. It's trial and error all the way, and John and Aeryn argue vociferously about what should be done.
Interestingly, D'Argo -- often a sort of father figure, given the loss of his son in the series -- befriends Centrina and sees immediately the human cost of failure. While Aeryn and John talk tactics, he discusses mortality, memory and loss. It's a potent contrast to the behavior of Crichton and Sun. They're struggling on concepts: how do we fix this; how do we repair that. But D'Argo looks at something else: at youth and innocence, and the death of both. The final moment of this subplot, with D'Argo discovering Centrina's names carved in the monastery wall, is downright haunting.
I admire how "...Different Destinations" is gleefully politically incorrect in terms of genre standards. The heroes fail egregiously. The innocent die...horribly. Standard methods of success (attempting to maintain the timeline; adhering to accepted time travel philosophy) prove counterproductive. Most importantly, the temptation to "re-boot" the time line and tie everything up with a nice, neat ribbon is avoided. What we have instead then is a series interested in examining cliches and carving out new...and uncharted territory.
Economically shot -- almost entirely on one set, the monastery courtyard -- "...Different Destinations" is impressive in just about every way one can tally. In particular, it very adroitly utilizes its pop culture references (a mainstay of Farscape), with John finally alluding to the last stand of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983).
There, Tony -- a gangster and thug -- fought impossible odds and lost, destroyed by his enemies but also by his own self-destructive nature.
It's extremely interesting, then, that in this episode John goes from referencing Davy Crockett at the Alamo -- an example of great heroism in a last stand -- to Tony Montana, a man who has isolated himself through his bad behavior and went out not in a blaze of glory, but infamy. The siege situation on the planet has descended from one of heroic last stand, then, to a purposeless battle to the death. Again, this is a very unromantic, unglamorous view of war, and more trenchantly, of heroes.
What are the reasons for the crew's egregious failure in this episode? Well, Stark says it well: "...different beliefs...different destinations." John believes in one thing; Aeryn another, and they don't really work together until it is far too late. Their different beliefs have created successively -- as we see from Moya's observation deck -- different destinations. And all those destinations are increasingly horrible.
In short, this is a story in which our heroes stumble into a tough situation...and make it infinitely worse through their involvement.
That's the kind of thing that didn't often happen to Captain Picard...