Saturday, February 26, 2011

Farscape Season 3

Farscape's third season aired from August 2001 until January 2002. Fans of the show consider the title of this season's premiere episode to hold thematic relevance for the entire year, as it begins with Aeryn dead, provides a death scene for its main hero, permanently kills off several main characters, and teases the deaths of several others. The designation "season of death" is apropos in another way, as Farscape exhibited a key symptom that often serves as an early warning sign of the death of a series: a main-cast shakedown. The season begins with a new main-title sequence, complete with three new regular-cast members (Paul Goddard as Stark, Lani Tupu as Crais, and Wayne Pygram as Scorpius), a considerably different Crichton voice-over, souped-up graphics, and a new musical theme. Then, in the fourth episode of the year, Virginia Hey (Zhaan) departs, while Tammy MacIntosh (Jool) joins the show as a new main character, notwithstanding her "guest starring" credit throughout the season. And the entire season builds toward the sacrifice of two characters who have been with us since Season 1.

A word about Jool. Her full name is Joolushko Tunai Fenta Hovalis. When asked what her friends call her for short, she says, "My whole name"; yet she gradually comes to accept nickname "Jool," given her by Crichton, perhaps because it's preferable to his other pet name for her: "Princess." Jool has been on ice for the past 22 years, ever since illness overtook her and two cousins as they traveled together for pleasure. A member of the Interion race that is physiologically and genetically close to humanity, she prides herself on her academic accomplishments and the superiority of her culture. This, together with her spoiled-brat personality and a scream that melts metal on a molecular level, creates friction between Jool and her shipmates. Being a bit of a hysteric, she screams a lot; her hair also changes color when she is upset. Nevertheless, she adapts to her new situation on Moya, makes friends (especially with Pilot and Chiana), and with her scientific and medical background becomes an invaluable member of the crew. For one year, anyway.

Season of Death picks up where Season 2's agonizingly suspenseful cliffhanger left us: with Aeryn's dead body on ice, Crichton lying on the operating table with his brains all ahoo and his surgeon collapsed on the floor, Scorpius in possession of his wormhole knowledge, and, and, and... Deep breath: You ain't seen nothin' yet. Tocot the Diagnosan makes a miraculous recovery and saves Crichton's brains, aided by the sacrifice of a cryogenically preserved Interion specimen. Even with Scorpius's chip removed, Crichton continues to struggle with "Harvey," the personality clone of Scorpius that came along as a free bonus. While a Scarran (pictured) chases Crichton and friends around the snowbound hospital, Scorpius and Braca lie low, looking for a way off the planet past Talyn, Crais, Moya, and other hazards. And finally, at great personal cost, Zhaan brings Aeryn back from the dead, just in time to give Crichton a reason to live.

Suns and Lovers features this Creature Workshop riff on Fat Bastard: an arachnoid bartender whose vast bulk and many busy appendages overflow the frame in most of his scenes, somewhat spoiling the effect. The Moyas witness a terrorist bombing that blows a commerce station to kingdom come, and then help the survivors dig themselves out of the ruins so they, in turn, can help free Moya from the tangle of wreckage. They have to hurry because a storm is coming, and I'm not just talking about D'argo's fury when he finds out that his son Jothee and his girlfriend Chiana are fooling around together. Also, Stark shows signs of being in love with Zhaan, who for her part has started dying since she helped Aeryn back to life.

Self Inflicted Wounds, Part One: Could'a, Would'a, Should'a is the one where Moya pokes her nose into a wormhole and immediately collides with an alien ship. Due to some kind of dimensional mumbo-jumbo, the two ships become embedded in each other, which means that neither of them will ever escape from the wormhole without destroying at least one of them. The Pathfinder aliens (their leader Neeyala pictured here) show no signs of volunteering to be the ship destroyed, though they have some kind of treachery up their pleather sleeve. For the Moyas, escape from the wormhole is urgent, because Zhaan doesn't have long to live unless they can get to a planet where she can recuperate from the drain on her powers involved in resurrecting Aeryn. Meanwhile, a nasty serpent is slithering around the ship, and invisible saboteurs are playing Old Harry with Moya's systems, and Scorpius is still inside Crichton's head, and Pilot is puking everywhere, and Jool has come out of hibernation, reacting as you would expect a spoiled, histrionic debutante to react when she finds out that she has been on ice for 22 years, that her two cousins who were accompanying her on her grand tour have died horrible deaths, and that she has no influence over the course of the ship she finds herself on, surrounded by rude and disreputable aliens. It's enough to make a girl scream metal-melting screams!

Self-Inflicted Wounds, Part Two: Wait for the Wheel is the end of the journey for Zhaan, a character I truly missed after her exit from the show. Evidently Virginia Hey asked to be written out when the blue makeup started to cause health problems. It's too bad, because Zhaan really was the glue that held the other characters together and, after this episode, there were many moments when their endless bickering became tiresome. To make a long synopsis short, Zhaan sacrifices herself to disembed the Pathfinder ship from Moya so that her friends can escape from the wormhole in which both ships have become stuck. In the words of Rygel: "Goodbye, you big, beautiful, blue bitch."

...Different Destinations is an episode dramatizing the harmful effects time travel can have on history. Remember this in case you are ever attempted to go back in time! The Moyas visit a shrine on a planet where peace between two alien races was achieved after the martyr deaths of a small group of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to save a mission full of women and children. By means of special goggles, tourists can peer through rips in time and see the events unfold as though they were right there. Unfortunately, the power under Stark's mask sets off an unexpected reaction, sending Crichton, D'argo, Jool, Aeryn, and himself back in time to the event itself--and, by their very presence, changing it. Worst case scenario (which Chiana observes from orbit at one point): all life is wiped off the planet. Later, after the Moyas do what they can to repair the damage, the scale of destruction is pulled back somewhat. But the episode's unexpectedly bittersweet ending shows that, even if history can be patched up, it will cost. On the lighter side, Jool gets shot at a peace memorial, pushed into a mud puddle, and made to drink piss. So it's all worthwhile!

Eat Me is the episode in which John gets split into two Crichtons, each believing he is the original. It's all because of the guy pictured here, a sort of mad scientist named Kaarvok. The Moyas are forced to make an emergency landing on an derelict Leviathan, which they find peopled by a brain-sucking fiend and his cadre of cannibalistic kooks. Kaarvok has a device that "twins" people--not so much copying or cloning as creating two originals of the same person. This enables him to stretch his food supply (i.e. the brains of whoever was aboard the ship), but after being copied too many times, they don't have much left in the way of brains. So Kaarvok begins cloning the Moyas, offering to let them go if they will mate with the local gimps and enrich the gene pool a bit. By the time they escape, D'argo and Chiana have shed their twins, but Crichton still has his... which sets up interesting developments in the episodes that follow.

Thanks for Sharing is the episode where the Moyas try to negotiate with the ruling family of the planet Kavnia for a rare material that Talyn needs to heal after being wounded in battle. This is complicated by the fact that one of the ruler's children harbors a deadly ambition and is dealing with the Scarrans. These folks have a lobster-like creature whose lie-detecting talents are fatal to anyone who fudges the truth, which makes it lucky there are two Johns because that gives him (them) plausible deniability. Meanwhile, a Peacekeeper retrieval squad is on the prowl for Talyn, and the officer in charge of it happens to be Aeryn's mother...

Green Eyed Monster is the one where Crichton, Crais, and Aeryn are trapped on board Talyn when the young leviathan gets himself swallowed by a budong (see Season 2's "Home on the Remains"). While they race against the creature's digestive processes to find an unprecedented means of escape, their only help from the outside comes from a pod manned by Rygel and Stark. Yeah, I know. I would probably quit too. But one of the things that keeps things hopping on board Talyn is a kinky, four-sided love triangle in which Crichton and Crais seem equally determined to possess Aeryn, while Talyn himself turns out to be the most possessive of all. This is the beginning of a long arc in which the two Crichtons split up, having separate adventures in alternating episodes.

Losing Time is the first of the "meanwhile, back on Moya" half of the group of Season 3 episodes that alternate between the separate adventures of the two John Crichtons. Two bodiless aliens visit the Moyas, one the hunter and the other the hunted, and both of them possessing members of the crew. This is supposed to explain why people are losing track of periods of time, but it frankly doesn't. Not knowing who is really him- or herself causes the already shaky shipfellows to turn on each other. Meanwhile, on the Peacekeeper command carrier, Scorpius is frustrated with the progress of the team researching Crichton's wormhole data. The closest they can get to a successful wormhole flight ends, invariably, with the pilot reduced to a liquid state. Not ideal. Also, this is the episode in which Chiana's ability to see into the future begins to develop.

Relativity is the episode in which Xhalax Sun, Aeryn's mother, tracks down her little girl--now not so little--with a Peacekeeper retrieval squad on orders to capture Talyn. Crais, Crichton, and Aeryn try to decoy Xhalax and her reptilian trackers away from the young leviathan, to give him time to heal himself. But when your enemies have shape-changing powers, a terrific sense of smell, and the ability to see body heat, it's a tough chase--even in a world stocked with animated vines, foul-smelling sludge, and countless hidey-holes. Xhalax proves to be a vicious opponent, even to the daughter whom she once visited in the middle of the night to tell her, against all that the Peacekeepers stand for, that she was loved. Apparently the old lady got caught in the act and, after a period of re-education, is more committed than ever to the Peacekeepers' twisted values. Crichton, meanwhile, skates perilously along his own ethical edge, using an injured Crais as bait to catch Colartas (those lizard guys). But the ultimate moral conundrum turns out to be: Can Xhalax's life be spared?

Incubator is the one where Scorpius takes the next desperate step to prise the secret of wormhole travel out of Crichton's mind. Turning the tables on the man whose mind he invaded, Scorpius brings a memory clone of Crichton into his own mind. There he appeals to Crichton to open up to him, hoping to gain his trust by revealing his backstory as the child of a Sebacean woman raped by her Scarran captor. The conflicts of his upbringing, torn between two races that hate each other, tormented by his own heat, forced him to develop a resistance to pain. Meanwhile, one of Scorpius's scientists risks her own face-melting ordeal in an attempt to trade a new development in shielding technology for... well, for Moya. And for a moment, it looks like the offer might be accepted!

Meltdown is the "bug zapper" episode, in which Talyn encounters a strange kind of radiation that causes him to feel an irresistible urge to fly into a certain sun. As Crais's ability to control Talyn crumbles, Stark bonds with Talyn pilot-style and tries to hold back the fiery doom that seems sure to befall the ship and crew. Turns out the radiation pulses are the bait in a trap set by a powerful entity whose hobbies include destroying leviathan ships and messing around with the soul of a woman caught between life and death. Even Stark can't help her "cross over" while the villainous "god-like alien" has control of the situation. And he will remain in control unless Aeryn and Crichton can figure out a way to break through Stark's reluctance to fire the ship's weapons.

Scratch 'N' Sniff could be the season's weirdest episode--I think in a good way. It's funny, sexy, but whoa... far out, dude. On the pleasure planet of Lomo, the Moyas get high on some kind of sci-fi super date rape drug, and "the boys" (D'argo and Crichton) wake up to the realization that they have to rescue "the girls" (Chiana and Jool) from having their vital essence drained and marketed as an aphrodisiac. Besides a lot of club scenes and a trippy, humorously confusing storyline, this episode features another character played by Francesca Buller (again, Ben Browder's wife) and an amazing creature called the Hangi (pictured here), which can deploy its eyeballs as video cameras and replay recorded footage for your viewing pleasure, provided you are willing to stick one of its tentacles in your eye. There is also a slave auction, a chemical disguise, a good deal of action--and a very disapproving, disbelieving Pilot who has to listen to the whole story before deciding whether or not to kick "the boys" off the ship.

Infinite Possibilities, Part One: Daedalus Demands brings back some characters you may remember from Season 1. First, Kent McCord reprises his role as Jack, the "Ancient" alien who takes the form of Crichton's father. Jack things John sold out the Ancients, because a wormhole has been observed that could only have been created with the aid of the knowledge they planted deep in Crichton's mind. But the pilot caught on film flying out of the wormhole is a Charrid, a member of a warlike species who have been savage enemies of Rygel's Hynerian empire for a thousand years. The idea of the Charrids having wormhole technology is pretty frightening, whether or not the reports are true that the Charrids are joining forces with the Scarrans; but when the Talyns get to the bottom of it, they find out that it's Furlow--yes, that sleazy, backstabbing grease-monkey who once blackmailed Crichton into turning over all his wormhole research to her. Now Crichton, Jack, Aeryn, and Rygel are stuck on a desert planet with no choice but to defend what is potentially the most dangerous weapon in the galaxy against hordes of Charrans mounted in dune buggies and, if they don't get out fast, a Scarran dreadnought as well. As the first part of a two-episode arc comes to a close, Jack has forced Crichton to run an additional gauntlet: get Harvey out of his head or die. He may die either way...

Infinite Possibilities, Part Two: Icarus Abides is the one where Crichton actually does die. He earns a poignant, meaningful death while fighting off Furlow, the Charrans, and his own inner demons--and finally risking exposure to deadly radiation to save everybody's butt. The good news, of course, is that you know there's another Crichton to carry on, thanks to that twinning thing. The bad news, however, is that Aeryn has fallen deeply in love with this Crichton; his death hits her pretty hard. But it hits us all, and it was meant to do so. Clearly, this is what the whole twinning story-arc was supposed to lead to. Well, that and the rest of this season...

Revenging Angel takes us back to the Moyas, where the other Crichton takes a knock on the head when D'argo blames him for messing up his new ship. With Moya's systems--including her hangar doors--messed up, and a self-destruct sequence locked in on the Luxan ship, and everyone at each other's throats, it seems like the perfect time to check out and watch cartoons. Which is exactly what Crichton does. Though, to be sure, the cartoons are actually figments of his comatose brain. Harvey (who, natch, was twinned along with John) wants to convince Crichton that what he needs is a reason to live, and nothing is more worth living for than revenge. Crichton, determined to prove him wrong, turns every revenge fantasy that Harvey throws at him into a whimsical gag, reminiscent of the Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons. The pop-culture references fly thick and fast in this episode, my favorite being a scene in which Aeryn appears as Jessica Rabbit. Finally it turns out that the key to aborting the self-destruct countdown on D'argo's ship is the Qualta blade which, in a fit of self-loathing after nearly killing John, D'argo had hurled into Moya's depths. And Jool, who actually caused the malfunction, makes the ultimate sacrifice (for her)... wading through chest-deep bat guano to fetch the blade back!

The Choice is the episode featuring these two examples of what happens to kids who spend too much time reading, when they grow up. But seriously, these are a couple of freakoid mutants on a planet full of freakoid mutants, where Aeryn goes to escape from it all after Crichton died in her arms. On the planet Valldon, the membrane between life and death is said to be rather thin. Aeryn hopes so; she wants to contact a man from beyond the grave. But it's not who you think: it's her father, the original Talyn after whom she named the young leviathan ship. The mutant pictured on the right claims not only to be able to reach Talyn, but to be Talyn. The hideous baby creature, Cresus by name, claims to be able to raise John from the dead. But what Stark, Crais, and Rygel know already--and what Aeryn seems unwilling to hear--is that Xhalax Sun is on Valldor, gunning for her estranged daughter one last time. It's a dark, deeply troubling episode, full of ominous portents, physical and spiritual danger, and the unbearable ache of loss.

Fractures is the episode in which the two halves of the regular cast come back together. Amid the not-so-joyful reunion of the Moyas and Talyns is a rendezvous with yet another crew of escaped prisoners, this one comprising escaped specimens from a monstrous Peacekeeper experiment. Someone on board is in league with this guy--a nerdy young Peacekeeper played by Matt Doran, best known as "Mouse" in The Matrix. But who is betraying his or her fellow prisoners? Is it the heat-glandless Scarran, the dangerously nonconformist Nebari androgyne, the enthusiastically fertile Hynerian female (Rygel hardly believes his luck), or the freakishly resilient Boolite, who has been blown to pieces yet still has a good chance of recovery provided the Moyas can puzzle his parts back together. It's not that I don't want to spoil it for you, but really--who cares? Aeryn and Crichton are back together again, the moment he had kept himself alive by hoping for... but she's not interested in him! It's as if her heart died with the other Crichton. The episode includes an emotionally destroying scene in which Aeryn overhears John listening to a recorded message from his other self; it ends with the fateful decision to go to the Command Carrier and face down Scorpius, risking all to keep the secret of wormholes out of Peacekeeper hands.

I-Yensch, You-Yensch is Farscape's parody of Dog Day Afternoon, featuring these two examples of what happens when kids who don't read enough grow up. Oy, but these dim-witted crooks are annoying, what with their simian chatter and the fact that their inept attempt at a restaurant robbery rudely interrupts tense negotiations between Scorpius and the Moyas. What makes their brutality perfectly exquisite is the fact that Braca and D'argo are linked by a matched pair of bracelets that cause any injury done to either of them to happen to both. Talyn, meanwhile, has become so psychotically violent that he has to be lobotomized, leviathan-fashion, and allowed to grow a fresh personality. It's not a treatment he can be easily persuaded to undergo.

Into the Lion's Den, Part One: Lambs to the Slaughter begins the climactic arc of the season, with the Moyas risking a visit to Scorpius's command carrier. John and Scorpius, bound as mutual hostages by I-Yensch bracelets, are meant to be working together on wormhole science, though John's real intention is to sabotage the project if he can manage it without Scorpius catching on. Aeryn and Crais endure the hostility of former shipmates who consider them traitors. Chiana tries to flirt. Talyn submits to being brought on board, his weapons disabled, to have some of his glitches looked at. Jool and D'argo survive an assassination attempt only to be arrested (briefly) for killing the assassin. As tensions mount between Scorpius and his crew (who aren't so enthusiastic about giving their "guests" a safe conduct), both Scorpius and Crichton find their plans being frustrated by a seductive Peacekeeper Commandant named Grayza--soon to become the series' next recurring villain--who is opposed to the wormhole project because she wants to negotiate a truce with the Scarrans. Now Grazya is gunning for Scorpius, and his most vulnerable point (by way of the I-Yensch bracelet) is Crichton. This leads to a three-dimensional chase by assassins through the Command Carrier's reactor room, and a final crisis in which Scorpius reveals that he knows the location of Earth and will destroy it unless John applies himself to finishing the wormhole project....

Into the Lion's Den, Part Two: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing is the one where John, having dissembled with Scorpius as long as he can and finding no way to sabotage the wormhole project, decides that the only thing for it is to blow up the whole Peacekeeper Command Carrier. But in order to save the lives of the 50,000 men, women, and children on board, they have to do it in a way that gives everyone time to evacuate the ship. But while the plan matures, more and more of the wormhole knowledge locked in John's mind comes to the surface. And that can't be good, because nothing could be more dangerous than a Peacekeeper-Scarran alliance wielding the power of wormholes. Nowhere in the galaxy would be safe from them. As the equations blossom out of John's subconscious, D'argo, Chiana, Rygel, and Jool get caught in the act of plotting the carrier's destruction. They have all been betrayed by Crais--who then tells a disbelieving Crichton that he only did this because their plan would never have worked, and because he needs a diversion to carry out his own plan to destroy the Command Carrier. In a supreme act of self-sacrifice, Crais awakens Talyn in the carrier's hangar and persuades the young leviathan to starburst, causing a slow-motion implosion that turns the entire carrier into an outer-space parody of Titanic. Scorpius standing on a stairway as floodwaters gush past him is one of the indelible images of this season. The episode ends with the Moyas planning to split up, now that the Peacekeepers have provided them the information they need to pursue their separate goals. Could this be (*sob*) the last one they ever made?

Dog with Two Bones is the episode that keeps you on the hook until Season 4. It also introduces Noranti (full name Utu-Noranti Pralatong), a batty old lady with a knack for herbal remedies, who will become a regular character in the following season. At this point she doesn't have a name, apart from Crichtonisms like "Old Lady" and "Grandma"; she seems to have stowed away on Moya while prisoners rescued from a Command Carrier life-pod were being dropped off on a commerce planet. And now, apparently, the old witch is meddling in the relationship between Aeryn and John, which has reached a new crisis point as Crichton experiences a series of visions about what it would mean for her to marry him and try to fit in on Earth. While the Moyas try to inter the remains of Talyn in the leviathan burial ground--over the objections of a rogue Leviathan, who is willing to resist Moya's funeral plans with deadly force--Noranti leads John to realize what his visions are all about: he is torn between his yearning for Earth and his love for his friends, especially Aeryn--knowing that he cannot have both and, now that they are going their separate ways, may not have either. After the famous scene in the maintenance bay, the "coin toss" scene in which John and Aeryn argue over whether they should be together, we find John in his Farscape module, having a private moment after watching Aeryn fly away in her Prowler. Just as he is turning back toward Moya, Harvey pops up in his mind and unlocks a buried memory of Noranti whispering in his ear that Aeryn is with child. In an awkwardly dense cliffhanger scene in which one surprise trips over another, Jool and Noranti squabble over whether Pilot should chase Aeryn's Prowler and then, just as everyone has agreed on what to do, a wormhole opens up and sucks Moya in, leaving John marooned in space. His final words sum it up: "You've got to be kidding me!"

I think the tragic love scene in the maintenance bay is about the high-water mark of this season's script writing. Unfortunately, everything that happened after that is a rushed, confusing mess. Nevertheless, this "season of death" (that first episode really called it!) is one brilliantly realized, extended storyline, combined with a variety of entertaining standalone stories. The "twinning" subplot enables John and Aeryn to consummate their love without sacrificing the romantic tension that remains bowstring-taut throughout the remainder of the series. In one year's worth of episodes, we see Aeryn resurrected, while Zhaan, Crais, Talyn, and even Crichton himself die poignant deaths. And, though you may not know it yet, you've been set up for a new level of jeopardy for the Moyas who, having found more or less what they were looking for, remain together from here on out because... well, because they're family.

See also my review of Farscape seasons one and two. For more on spaceship-based TV series, see my reviews of Star Trek: TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of DS9 seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of Voyager seasons one and two; and of Enterprise season one. As a control group, see also my reviews of Firefly, and of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, and four.

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