Character Analysis: Scorpius
There are many visually haunting characters in science fiction settings. Many very well written hunters, detectives and interrogators who weave complicated webs intended to use social pressure to starve, deprive, and lure in enemies of their cause. Scorpius, the half-breed Peacekeeper enforcer is perhaps one of the most visually striking, yet under the radar characters in terms of deserved popularity.
He’s a combination of Spock and Dark Maul. Not in appearance, but character. An analytical mind that brings to mind Thrawn if I’m being honest, and I’m not saying that one took inspiration from the other. But honestly, these mainstream characters possess more fame, but less depth than the equally well designed, and very well portrayed Wayne Pygram’s Scorpius.
His villainy – from an expected one episode! – goes from freakish and shocking, into bastardly infuriating for protagonist and antagonist, to intricate, as he affably delivers professional and reasonable critique from Commander Crais and usurps his own staff aboard his vessel.
His “fight” with Crais over dinner is probably the most hilarious display of etiquette I’ve ever seen. “WHY MUST YOU FORCE ME TO DISPLAY MY PHYSICAL SUPERIORITY TO YOU AS WELL?” is one of the most amusing quotes I’ve ever heard from a villain, because it’s utterly sincere. Scorpius bests his rival, the person he is effectively auditing mentally, via the echelons of command, and eventually physically, outplaying and outfighting a man prone to lose composure, yet clearly not a match when it comes to the tectonic rage held within the half Scarran, making Scorpius more dangerous for actually having the monstrous violent tendencies within that his physical appearance suggests.
Scorpius’s obvious issues, physical superiority and wit make him eminently entertaining, far less for his ham and grandiosity than say a Gul Dukat or Goa’uld, but joyfully admitting he will put Crais in the aurora chair to torture the truth out of him, then take him out and walk onto Crais’s carrier his ship utterly unrepentant for his thought out actions, or his gangster style shots at the team in Liars, Guns and Money’, as goddamned hilarious as it is awesome. Pygram’s portrayal gives an element of solidity, his character is clearly intelligent and threatening, but a person. One capable of humour, one who is not purely written as a role, or a motivation. Why Scorpius acts as he does is a thing revealed later, much like other well written characters placed into the turbulence of outlaw life who share their circumstances moving forward.
A cold blooded, calculating enemy is enjoyable, but hardly unique. But a blend of that with the physical powerhouse, overloaded with a disability and accompanying rage? It merges a lot of interesting character aspects of heroic characters such as the Hulk, Cú Chulainn, a Sherlock Holmes or other detective character using inductive reasoning, wrapped within the aesthetic of a deliberately unsettling leather bound reptilian. Written simply it seems reductive, and shouldn’t work. But the entire effect absolutely does. Pygram with the costume looks absolutely terrifying at the first cold open moment the camera looks at him, and another almost equally unsettling introduction comes from hearing his voice the first time. I would argue, even twice, the ‘first voice’ being his clipped cultivated tone, then the baritone growl, an audial indicator of his Sebacean (humanoid) and Scarran side.
Scorpius is dangerous, like the Moya crew because he continues to function despite torment and contradiction, not unlike the characters of a Planescape Torment to give a gaming example. The contradiction like the weird world was conceived of by the show runners, because the drama practically writes itself.
Scorpius is eager to uncover main character and nemesis John Crichton like a puzzle, just as he is eager to escape this monster. From the beginning his antagonism of Crais gives us a reason to enjoy seeing him off screen, which was actually taken in a brilliant move of inspiration by forming the Harvey character. Whether in the mind, tactically or physically Scorpius is a threat. He is a creature so heavily abused he decided to become an apex predator himself, a chimera. If his goals require throttling an opponent with his boot, he will do it. If it requires years of patience, speaking politely and negotiating with prejudicial peacekeeper society then he will do that as well.
Unlike other villains his seediness and ‘humanising’ elements, like happening to build wealth stored in banks on the side makes sense, after all in our world and by extension fiction, alongside politics is physical wealth and desire. Sleeping with some spider lady who assists you is just bastardly villain appeal, the kind of amusing and theatrical performance you see in a character like Lionel Luther of Smallville fame. Scorpius has his tragic backstory, his hatred and drive much the same as many heroes and anti-heroes, a classic motivator and proven shaper of will, Edmond Dantès through a science fiction mirror.
His otherness makes him a personal opponent rather than a race based one, his ability to treat with, even work with the crew entirely fitting. Because a hateful, lustful, clever creature struggling to survive and in so doing affect the malevolent world around him is exactly what the show’s protagonists are doing. And with strength, desperation and a good plan comes the societal changes and power one can expect, if fighting for their cause and tenacious enough to see it through.
Attention to detail defines Scorpius, in his conceptualisation as much as his character. Even small verbal tics, such as calling the main protagonist by his first name “John”, when none of his companions do and prefer “Crichton” is a telling change of the dynamic and tension. He has the primal aspect of a hierarchal creature seeking to dominate, but also engage personally, convince, affect, and serve whatever community furthers his resources and desires.
Scorpius’s bestial nature, much like his sexuality are designed to be unsettling, but the irony is what’s unsettling is his humanity, we expect the evil overlord to be a sexless, scheming and grandiose bigot, generally following the typical conventions of average villains. But an interrogator with motive, commending a beleaguered crew, opposing the season 1 antagonist and later being revealed to have devoted feelings to his mother, and a backstory of constant torture and experimentation explaining his appearance, worldview and ruthlessness? There is too much nuance not to like him, or at least be engage when he is on screen. It propelled this planned one off character, in a clip episode to be probably the most identifiable part of the Farscape mythos.
The vulnerability, for a foe to be sick, to have live support, and yet be incredibly dangerous hangs a carrot for audience and heroes wanting to see him stopped, the best version of this being the genuine hate conveyed when Crichton struggles, under attempted mind control to run away and leave the man’s sabotaged cooling rod to blow up his brain, a visceral, incredibly tense confrontation where the pair utterly ruin each other’s bodies and brains in a struggle to spire and survive their torment.
It’s kind of like the crazy D and D dynamic of heroes, decades before that idea too. The evil teammate, a villain recruited to the cast of the ensemble of heroes. This fits especially well given the grey morality of the show, and the presence of characters rather than archetypes. While their visual differences are obvious, broad strokes of personality generalisations cannot be said of Farscape. Each individual is self-interested, independent and highly motivated many times to serve their own goals with no care for the consequences. This is often simply not present in many other shows, but it does suit the idea of involving a nemesis character, not changing their methodology but only their aim, or even simply who they are choosing to attack or live with.
Something that can be said of Scorpius, against other popular franchises is that he is a clear threat, not easily dispatched, more a threat you would expect to see in a crime drama than space opera. His villainy is a matter of political savagery, economic backing, and physical strength. Scorpius appears as a hunter in his role, a tracker ill at odds with every other planet and each character he is around after his introduction, even Natira the arachnid woman. The deliberately cultivated coolness of his speech, cleverly written as part of his unique biology gives him an edge against his unsettling aesthetic. At first, he is intimidating by his cold and frightening demeanour, hard to pin down. but from his well-deserved beat-down of Crais, another element is knowing that like many other hybrid-species science fiction characters, Scorpius is a creature of clashing elements. He is not a brute with a cold mind, but a ‘human’ being, who is perfectly capable of snapping and even more dangerous when doing so.
Infecting the mind of his opponent is not beneath him, willingness to both act, and for the writers to give him the upper hand in his equally well written enemy John provides an experience where the villain does not need to be on screen, or have a cinematic CGI showdown to be a memorable threat. Another clever conceit of the adaptive writers was the integration of Harvey; another character birthed from Scorpius. Harvey evens out the tone, adding humour, giving us more time with the character, but also from the start avoiding the common lapse in science fiction; dread for the antagonist fading away due to overexposure.
Ultimately the villainous hunter progresses alongside the rest of the emerging main cast of Farscape as another aspect of the series’ hallmark; showing the human nature of the bizarre, and that the drive for survival, obsession, knowledge in the face of looming empires, cold wars and mutilated bodies makes many stronger not just through struggle, but who they find when they strive.