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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

How Farscape Told a Sci-Fi Version of Oppenheimer’s Story 20 Years Ago

When John Crichton faced his own Oppenheimer-esque dilemma on Farscape.

By Trent Moore
A split screen image featuring Ben Browder in Farscape and Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (2023)

The question of a man grappling with the existential fear and pressure to create a world-changing weapon is one we’re all thinking about in the wake of Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus Oppenheimer, charting the famed physicist’s journey to create the atomic bomb — and the fallout that ensued on mankind and his own psyche.

But the story at the heart of Oppenheimer is a fairly universal one, as humanity has tried to harness new forces since the dawn of time, from starting fires to forging swords and spears. Though Oppenheimer’s true story is arguably one of the most well-known examples of that friction playing out in world-altering ways, it’s far from the only story of that type, especially when you look to the genre of science fiction.

RELATED: Where are the stars of Farscape now?

One of the most compelling sci-fi stories that grapples with many of the same elements? The journey of John Crichton in the Sci Fi Channel (now SYFY) original series Farscape, and its follow-up miniseries The Peacekeeper Wars, which dropped a full 20 years ago. The series followed a human astronaut who accidentally gets sucked into a wormhole on a test flight, and emerges on the other side of the universe with no obvious way to return home. So he teams up with a few aliens on the run to go on all sorts of adventures as he tries to find a way back to Earth.

It’s a relatively straight-forward sci-fi pitch on the surface, but in building out its mythology over its four-season run, the story finds the long lost human John Crichton (Ben Browder) gifted with some rudimentary knowledge of how to travel and manipulate wormholes by an ancient race of aliens, mostly as a way to try and help the wayward traveler eventually open a portal back to Earth.

But, as any Spider-Man fan can guess, with great power comes great responsibility. Before long, the warring alien factions the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans become aware of Crichton’s rare knowledge to manipulate wormholes, and quickly see its potential as a balance-shifting weapon on a galactic scale. Much of the back half of the series revolves around this plot point, with both sides fighting to catch, kidnap, manipulate or trick Crichton into helping them build a wormhole weapon.

Farscape wormhole

With the long-time space cold war quickly becoming hot by the events of the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries, Crichton returns to the ancient alien race to ask them to finally unlock the knowledge locked away in his mind, as the universe is on the verge of collapse as the war rages on, threatening not only his life but the life of his newborn son and friends. Crichton unlocks the knowledge following a poignant back and forth with the ancient alien he’s nicknamed Einstein, as Crichton’s wordplay and riddles finally show he’s learned the power of what a wormhole weapon can do, and the true consequence of messing with “time.”

Einstein: Time…
John Crichton: Flies.
Einstein: Time…
John Crichton: Bandits.
Einstein: Time…
John Crichton: Wounds all heals.
Einstein: Time…
John Crichton: [sings]  Rosemary and...
Einstein: Time…
John Crichton: Time ends.  

Time ends is the lesson Crichton needed to learn before harnessing this unimaginable destructive force.

So as the flagship battle rages around his ship, Crichton activates his mythical wormhole weapon himself against both sides, which opens a planet-devouring blackhole that quickly eclipses the battlefield, showing it’s true destructive size and scope, with the looming warships now just shadowy dots in the wormhole’s wake. But in Farscape’s story, both sides now finally see first hand these weapons aren’t something that can be controlled or manipulated. They’re simply too powerful for anyone, or any military power, to possess. 

With the wormhole on the verge of swallowing both armies, the two sides begrudgingly agree to a peace treaty, as Crichton finally pulling the trigger on a weaponized wormhole the only thing powerful enough to bring both sides back to the negotiating table. You also see the anguish in Crichton’s eyes as he unlocks this knowledge, knowing he now has the capability to wipe out entire planets with a thought. Thankfully, he's able to halt the wormhole's growth before it can do ever more damage. 

The power is such a threat to the galaxy, in fact, the ancient aliens remove it from Crichton’s mind after he uses it for the first time, to not run the risk of him creating something so out of control it might devour the known universe itself. The series ends with a fragile peace finally established across the galaxy, as Crichton and his family can finally look to a more hopeful future.

On the heels of Oppenheimer, the Farscape saga is one worth revisiting, especially for sci-fi fans. It’s a window into how science fiction can give us a different lens to reexamine, and view, the realities of the world we live in.

Stream the full run of Farscape, as well as the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries, on Peacock now. Oppenheimer is in theaters now.