Talking about Farscape’s John Crichton and Aeryn Sun on Valentine’s Day.
"Science fiction as a genre has plenty of gorgeous love stories to go around, ones that leave you in tears or fill your insides with fluffy candy heart goulash (just pretend that sounds appetizing…). But for years now, when I think of the words “true love” there is only one pair that continues to impress me with how well they embody the phrase. Farscape’s John Crichton and Aeryn Sun should be on the cover of a book called “How to Do Romance Right in Storytelling For All the Times Ever.”
Which is not to say that there aren’t other couples in the SF pantheon that make me all wibbly. I’ll cop to being a sap; I love a good romance as much as I love good villains and snarky dialogue. But Farscape was a show that continually broke ground (even when next to no one noticed), and continued to do so by way of the show’s central couple. It’s not that John and Aeryn are simply destined or lovely together or worth rooting for—it’s that they broke rules for couples on screen. They broke a lot of them. And they did it with such style… and by style I mean that they wore leather pants. Style.
It is essential to realize and remember that most of what this pair had going for them came down to ineffable, stupid luck. Chemistry between actors Ben Browder and Claudia Black was off the charts throughout the show’s entire run, and easily could have ended up as something far less memorable. The casting call for Officer Aeryn Sun demanded a blond-haired blue-eyed woman who would have been ten to fifteen years John Crichton’s junior. Black happened to be reading the part opposite the men trying out for Crichton, and when Ben Browder came in, everybody sat up and took notice… of the two of them. They just worked. Black wanted to be part of the show in any way she could, but would have never been considered for Aeryn initially—she had no idea that by reading opposite Browder, Farscape’s direction would alter entirely.
For those who know next to nothing about the show, the crux of John and Aeryn’s tale is not too complex; he’s an astronaut from Earth who’s flung across the universe, where he meets a flight jockey named Aeryn Sun, member of an elite, galaxy-dominating military force known as the Peacekeepers. The brief time she spends with him in the first episode has her dubbed “irreversibly contaminated” by her commanding officer, and she is forced to flee with the very escaped criminals who have cost her the only life she has ever known and everything she previously held dear. Problem is, this odd “human” as he calls himself has really blue eyes, and he’s all full of emotions and caring and terrible advice… So, this is a love story in which the woman is the colder, more logical, less emotional participant to start. Rare, yet not unheard of. But it’s more clever than that; Aeryn isn’t dropped into a “frigid harpy” stereotype and left there to flounder. Her difficulties come from what boil down to cultural misunderstandings. To set up an example, the reason why the Moya’s crew can understand each other despite all speaking different languages is an injection of translator microbes that colonize the base of their brains. But the microbes can only translate for what words each character knows in their native tongue. John is shocked early on to find that Aeryn does not get a translation for “compassion”—there is no equivalent word for it among her species
Because the Peacekeepers breed and train their own soldiers to follow orders and fall in line, Aeryn doesn’t have an emotional base. She believes that her feelings are a defect that can only get in her way. Claudia Black extended this even so far as John and Aeryn’s initial meeting—the meet cute that John lovingly refers to as “boy meets girl, girl kicks boy’s ass”—saying that the reason Aeryn reacts so violently to him is because it was actually love at first sight. The problem is, for Aeryn Sun, it could only be identified as a foreign emotion that resulted in confusion, so she believed her best course of action was to eliminate it… by eliminating the target responsible for eliciting the emotion. If you don’t think that’s just the cutest thing ever, I honestly don’t know what to do. So this show, with its galactic machinations and colorful characters and exotic, dangerous technology became a backdrop to the Saga of John and Aeryn. He learned about the universe and she learned about herself. Sometimes these journeys aligned well. Sometimes they did not. Sometimes they left both participants in pieces. And that was one of many reasons why few tales taking up science fiction’s hallowed halls have ever surpassed Farscape. Even today.”