Contained below are mild spoilers for the Season 2, Episode 4 episode of Farscape, “Crackers Don’t Matter.”
In 1999, my husband and I came home to his parents house after a night out. We found my mother in law watching the Sci-Fi Channel, as she often did in those days. The show that was on was Farscape. It was everything that the other sci-fi shows of the era were not. It was intelligent, bright, messy, sexy, funny, and relatable. I immediately fell in love with it.
The premise of the show is that John Crichton, astronaut, is testing his ship, called a “module,” in low Earth orbit, when he’s catapulted out of the galaxy through a wormhole. He winds up in deep space, immediately pisses off a high-ranking military officer, falls in with some escaped prisoners, and is off on an adventure.
Oh, and there’s no way to get home because nobody knows where Earth is located.
A Familiar TV Trope Gets Frelled
It’s the classic heroic, fish out of water tale. But the writers had a way of making it fresh and the story lines weren’t morality plays or situations we’d seen before on other shows. In fact, in the 20 years since the show debuted, it has become the template from which many other shows now draw, although viewers may not realize it if they haven’t first seen Farscape.
There’s one episode in particular that always stood out to me. It’s Season 2, Episode 4, entitled “Crackers Don’t Matter.” The ship Crichton is on is alive and her name is Moya. A being named T’raltixx tells the crew that he can help in making Moya untraceable, so they’re not recaptured by their enemies. Of course, T’raltixx lies and winds up hijacking Moya.
The crew has to take on T’raltixx but they can’t get near him because he is holed up in a room that he’s modified to be full of extremely bright light. Crichton, the only human, can’t see as well as the rest of the beings, so he is drafted and outfitted to take on T’raltixx. He’s smothered in a paste and given a cape and helmet that will protect him against the light. He charges into the chamber and winds up being quite heroic and saving the day.
The entire premise and how it’s portrayed is irreverent and comedic, even though the crew (figure left) is in real danger. It’s rather like real life: the situation might be serious but there’s usually a funny side to it as well. Crichton is aware of how ridiculous it all is and plays it up (figure right).
“I Have GREAT Eyes…and They’re BLUE”
What’s remarkable here is that throughout the show, and especially in this episode, Crichton is seen by his shipmates as an inferior being. There are no other humans and most of the species encountered on the show have never heard of Earth or of humans.
Many of the beings Moya and her crew encounter have abilities that humans might consider to be superpowers. Extreme strength, quick healing, telepathy, and advanced intelligence to name a few. However, there are also many undesirable “humanish” traits on display: gluttony, jealousy, greed, and anger.
At first, nobody on board Moya expects much of Crichton. As is pointed out in this episode (and many others), he can’t see, hear, or reason as well as the other beings. They get annoyed that he can’t survive in some places or do the things that they can. He can’t keep up and at times, accommodations need to be made for him. Mind you, this is a human who has several advanced degrees, which is why he was in space in the first place. He might be one of the best Earth has to offer.
Yet he’s still considered deficient in the part of space he now inhabits. But in “Crackers Don’t Matter,” he’s the only one that can address the problem that threatens to destroy the ship. It is precisely his being human, and having “poor” vision, that allows him to save his shipmates and Moya too.
“Deficiency” Is Subjective
People who live with chronic illness, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), as I do, are often confronted with our differences from healthy people. We sometimes fall into the groove of thinking about what we’re “unable” to do. What we “can’t” do. What we’ll “never” do.
It’s quite a mental shift to send our synapses into a different pattern and to look upon our challenges as strengths. In some cases, the idea of being “less than” are unfortunately our own but more often, they are imposed upon us by others. Friends, family, and co-workers find us to be inconvenient at times — for them. We need a bathroom, a different restaurant, or a day of rest at times when healthy people don’t.
I said Farscape isn’t a morality play, and it’s not. The characters are deeply flawed and they hurt one another constantly. I don’t know what the writer, Justin Monjo, intended with “Crackers Don’t Matter,” beyond turning the tables and having the human be the hero for once. But what it said to me was that the aspects of one’s body or personality that other people identify as a fault can actually be a power.
There will always be someone, even many someones, who will use their own metrics to frame a disability. That it is something to be “overcome.” The healthies look to people who have done extraordinary things while disabled: the inspiration porn. That’s because it makes them feel better, and allows them to think that if they were disabled, they’d be fine. That they would be one of the disabled people who can do the things that even most normal people can’t.
Exhausting But Also Empowering
Here’s the important bit: we don’t need a life or death situation to come into our power. We already have it. But we do have to own it, inhabit it, and grow into it. As people with chronic illness, we won’t always be able to look to others for validation. We developed inner resilience because we had to, not because we wanted to, but once we have it, we can always draw on it.
Illness and disability makes us flexible. Pliable. But if we can stay away from the mold of other people’s expectations, we can direct the way in which we become solidified. The qualities I see when I look at people with chronic illness and disability and the communities we have formed —what I choose to see — is vitality, ingenuity, tenacity, connection, and love. We’ve carved out spaces for ourselves and we should inhabit them, which includes our own bodies, unapologetically.
We are all John Crichton, thrown into a universe we don’t understand, wearing the only armor we can scrounge, saving ourselves and those around us, while everyone tells us we can’t do it.
I’m the deficient one, and I’m still saving your butts.-John Crichton
I wrote this to demonstrate how a strength can be perceived a weakness but that a weakness can actually be a strength. But make no mistake: I also wrote it to prosthelytize about Farscape. You can stream the show on Amazon or it’s likely you can pick up DVDs at your library or at a reseller. Then you can find out why the episode I chose to tell you about is entitled “Crackers Don’t Matter.” Don’t forget to tell me when you do.