Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Farscape Season 1

Farscape was one of several "made for cable" spaceship shows that aired around the turn of the century, shows which I had a hard time telling apart until just lately. Until I picked up a box set of the complete series on sale at BestBuy a couple of months ago, I never had access to it or knew much about it. I am now getting a swift education in what I now consider to be one of sci-fi television's most daringly innovative series. Here's what I can tell you right off the bat:
  • Its four seasons originally aired from 1999 to 2003.
  • It was the first original series ordered by the US's Sci-Fi Channel.
  • It was simultaneously funded by UK's BBC and Australia's Nine Network--making it the rare show that had to cater to the tastes of three different nationalities at the same time; Brian Henson claims this balanced out as greater creative freedom.
  • Its international backing boosted the series' budget enough to allow for top-drawer makeup, special effects, and Jim Henson puppetry, so that (among other things) Farscape could present the most alien-looking aliens ever featured in a sci-fi series.
  • Filmed at Fox Studios in Sydney, Australia--a facility known mainly for feature film shooting, such as the Star Wars prequels--this season benefits from a wealth of Australian, New Zealander & Oceanian talent, while the fact that the process of producing such an unprecedentedly huge and complex series (for that part of the world) forced the crew to be inventive and, in consequence, original in their creative approach.
  • Though the series had to move to other facilities after Season 1, it is supposedly the only TV series ever to be filmed at Sydney's Fox Studios.
  • Though Brian Henson and his crowd had been looking for a sci-fi vehicle for their "creature shop" for several years, the creative spark under this series was only lit when Rockne S. O'Bannon came on board.
  • Besides this show, O'Bannon also created Alien Nation and SeaQuest DSV, two series I have yet to watch but have on my short list of shows to take in.
  • Unlike two roughly contemporary series created from unproduced material by the late Gene Roddenberry--namely Earth: Final Conflict (1997-2002) and Andromeda (2000-05)--Farscape did not survive past its fourth season, though there was a four-hour miniseries titled Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars which resolved the series-ending cliffhanger and, one would hope, redeems some of the promise of the aborted fifth season.
  • The two lead actors of this show, Ben Browder and Claudia Black, subsequently teamed up on the last two seasons of long-running sci-fi series Stargate SG-1, which I think is cool because they had great chemistry in this series.
Unlike your common, or garden, spaceship show, Farscape does not take place in the future. Nor does it take place long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Rockne O'Bannon's deal-making concept was that its hero character would be a guy from present-day Earth who, thanks to a mishap with an experimental NASA module--well, IASA, to be precise--finds himself surrounded by total weirdness in some unknown region of the universe.

Astronaut John Crichton (Browder) is a brilliant scientist, man of action, and all around cool dude, but getting sucked into a wormhole and spit out in the middle of a battle between alien spaceships wasn't part of his plans. Now, for reasons beyond his control, he is the target of an obsessed villain, and his home is a bio-mechanoid ship named Moya. His space-mates are escaped prisoners who are trying to elude the authorities and find their way home, though they seem fated never to lay their hands on a star-chart. And the only familiar, seemingly human face in his daily life is a female commando who, apart from outward appearance, is more mysterious and alien to him than anybody else.

This suspiciously humanoid alien is Aeryn Sun (Black), an officer of a brutal mercenary outfit ironically called the Peacekeepers, and a member of the Sebacean race. Conscripted as a small child and trained to fly a wicked little spacecraft called a Prowler, Aeryn is conditioned to follow orders without question, to kill without remorse, and to prize her people's racial purity above all else. The only emotions she feels comfortable expressing are ambition, anger, and distrust. Being among Crichton and his friends works a change in her so quickly that Aeryn finds herself banished as one who has been "irreversibly contaminated" by her contact with alien beings. She slowly develops a bond with her new crewmates, and particularly with Moya herself--and most slowly of all, with Crichton. And yet there is obviously a romantic spark between them, one that even within the first season begins to grow into a flame.

Previously a Peacekeeper-run prison ship, Moya is now free, thanks to a mutiny by several former prisoners. Most of her crew, apart from Crichton and Aeryn, consists of those prisoners who remain on board after most of the cells were ejected during their escape from the Peacekeepers. One of those ex-prisoners is Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey), a ninth-level priest of the blue-skinned Delvian species. Zhaan--pronounced as though spelled "Zan"--is even weirder than you might expect, looking at this picture. Though humanoid in shape, she is actually flora rather than fauna. This has advantages and drawbacks. On the one hand, you can regulate your own body temperature, and injuries that would permanently maim most people heal as easily as a plant grows new fibers. On the other hand, it can be tough to stay on task when you have a "photogasm" every time bright sunlight hits you. Moya is an expert at chemistry and holistic medicine, but beneath her peaceful, contemplative surface is a capability for savage violence.

Ka D'argo, more often addressed as just plain D'argo, is played by the ginormous Anthony Simcoe. He comes from the Luxan race, a people known for their rough, tough, tattoo-covered warriors. His head has a surprising number of appendages in addition to the standard compliment of humanoid features, and his collarbones are pierced with metal rings that enabled the Peacekeepers to keep him chained up. He bears a tremendous sword that can turn into a ray-gun, and he has a long tongue that he can shoot at people with a toxin that knocks them out, and now and then he has a "hyper-rage" which turns him into a berserker killing machine. In spite of the heavy prosthetic appliances worn by the actor, D'argo is a passionately emotive character--a characteristic, really, of the entire cast which sets them apart from, say, Star Trek. D'argo is actually quite young and inexperienced, and we find out in due course that he is not guilty of the crime for which he was imprisoned. He is determined to find his long-lost son, get back to his Luxan homeworld, and never be chained again.

The third surviving prisoner is the diminutive Rygel, formerly Dominar Rygel XVI of the Hynerian Empire. Played by a puppet and voiced by Kiwi actor Jonathan Hardy, Rygel is a selfish, greedy, arrogant, stubborn, shrewd little backstabber with three stomachs, a thousand secrets, and a single-minded dream of being restored to his throne, which was usurped by a scheming cousin who turned him over to the tender mercies of the Peackeepers more than a century ago. Rygel cruises around on a hovering chair, "eats and craps his body weight twice a day" (if a peevish Crichton is to be believed), drives a hard bargain whenever any negotiation is called for, and would sell out any and every one of his comrades if he thought it would serve his interests. At one moment he seems deluded by his own pride and ambition, and often in the very next moment proves to be ready with a sarcastic riposte or a display of heroic fortitude. And in spite of it all, he somehow comes across as an endearingly funny most of the time.

Filling out the original cast is another Creature Shop creature, Pilot. This huge, complex, animatronic character is neurally bonded to Moya and serves as an interface between the ship's crew and its own built-in sentience--or rather, born-in; Leviathan-type ships like Moya are born, not made. Pilot, an otherwise nameless member of a species whose mental agility, multiple appendages, and characteristic willingness to pay any price to see the universe make them ideal for the job, is so deeply bonded with Moya that he would not long survive being separated from her; he feels her feelings as if they were his own; and, as he reveals in due course, the likelihood that he will die with her actually means that, as part of the cross-universe room, board, and travel package, he willingly forfeits two-thirds of his race's average life expectancy. Because they can move about the ship and he can't, Pilot usually communicates with other members of the crew via a comm link, with or without a holographic visual.

I didn't mention the actor who furnishes Pilot's voice because Lani Tupu also plays the main villain of Season 1, Peacekeeper Captain Bialar Crais. The sound people must have done something with his voice to get it to sound like Pilot, because you would never guess it was the same actor. I have already seen enough of Season 2 to guess that Crais evolves into a more sympathetic character, but from the very first episode he is gunning for both Crichton and Aeryn. Why? Because, quite by accident, Crichton crashed his module into a Peacekeeper ship and killed Crais's kid brother. And because, having been condemned to execution along with her prisoners on the charge of alien contamination, Aeryn helps the Moyas escape and, to add insult to injury, escapes with them.

Towards the end of Season 1, several new main characters are added to the cast. First, there is Chiana, a gray-skinned alien of the Nebari persuasion, played by Gigi Edgley. Girlishly cute, mouthy and rebellious, Chiana comes on board under circumstances that will be explained in due course, and soon livens up the regular cast (even joining the opening credits by the end of the season) with her dangerous hint of untrustworthiness, her touch of vampishness, and her vaguely feral way of carrying herself. And since she hasn't seen much of the universe either, she adds an additional "Dude, this is weird" point of view right at the moment where Crichton starts to fit in. Plus, there will always be the danger that her people will come out looking for her again. Nebari society has a really creepy way of forcing square pegs to fit into round holes.

Also joining the series late in Season 1 was recurring villain Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), an unusual Peacekeeper officer in that he is only half Sebacean. Exactly what the other half is, isn't explained in this season. Somehow exempted from the service's genetic purity requirements, Scorpius is obsessed with figuring out how to create a wormhole and use it as the ultimate weapon. Part of his research involves putting people in a torture device known as the Aurora Chair, which extracts their memories and displays them on a TV screen. After tasting Crichton's wormhole-related memories, Scorpius becomes convinced that the Earthman holds the secret to wormhole technology. So, after pushing Crais onto the sidelines, Scorpius takes his place as the "insane commando type" referenced in Crichton's main-titles voice-over.

And finally, the recurring character of Stark (Paul Goddard, late of the Matrix trilogy) comes in almost at the end of the season, and I only know that he goes on to be a main character because I read about it. What we see of Stark in these episodes is a mysterious being who looks pretty much human except for the iron mask that covers part of his face. Under the mask is a golden glowing something-or-other that enables him to exercise some kind of cosmic powers, such as healing people and telepathically sharing a beautiful memory to ease the passage of a departing soul. I really don't get Stark quite yet; it will be interesting to see what the show makes of him. I hope....

NOTE: The episodes below are listed in production order, which is how the DVD packages them. This, however, is quite different from the order in which they were originally aired.

Premiere is the aptly named premiere episode, in which Crichton's experimental module is launched off an IASA space shuttle and, instead of proving his theory about bouncing off the atmosphere to generate unprecedented velocities, gets sucked into a wormhole and spit out in some faraway, unknown corner of the universe. Just his luck, the module (christened Farscape, don't you know) emerges right in the middle of a battle between fighters from a Peacekeeper command carrier and the leviathan prison-ship Moya. After an unavoidable collision with Crais's brother (fatal for him, fateful for Crichton), the module gets pulled aboard Moya and Crichton stumbles, disoriented and desperate, onto the bridge, where he finds mutinying prisoners D'argo, Zhaan, and Rygel trying to wrest control of the ship. A DRD (maintenance drone) injects Crichton with a brain-altering microbe that enables him to understand alien languages, but he finds it hard to gain the trio's trust because he looks just like a Peacekeeper. In all the fracas, nobody notices that Aeryn's prowler is brought along when Moya "starbursts" out of the battle zone. She comes aboard, words are said, things are done, what with one thing and another she ends up leading Crichton before Crais as a trophy of battle. But instead of rewarding her for her success, Crais accuses Aeryn of being contaminated by the aliens, merely because she tries to defend Crichton. So she ends up running away with the Moyas, and so begins the journey of a weird and wild sort of family.

I, E. T. is the one where the Moyas make first contact with a planet similar to present-day Earth. First, a locator beacon implanted in Moya by the Peacekeepers goes off, forcing Moya to land on a swampy planet where the mud can stifle the signal until the beacon can be removed. While Crichton, Aeryn, and D'argo search the planet for a mysterious substance that can numb the leviathan during the operation, Zhaan applies her Delvian powers of empathy to help Moya deal with the pain while Rygel begins cutting the beacon out of her. Things go pear-shaped topside. Crichton gets captured by an alien boy and his mother, who has long been a laughingstock on her world for expecting visitors from other worlds. Determined as she is to prove her theories, Lyneea finally grows to care about Crichton so much that she decides to help him escape from the military types who, now that an alien ship has been sighted nearby, have set up headquarters on her farm. This gets complicated when they capture D'argo, who has come searching for Crichton. The whole adventure takes a remarkable "E.T.'s eye" view of alien visitors, and the little something that "clicks" between him and Lyneea leaves Crichton gazing wistfully at the planet receding in the leviathan's wake.

Exodus from Genesis is the one where Moya cruises through a cloud of debris whose fragments behave in a mysterious way. The mystery turns chilling when a swarm of gigantic space-cockroaches gets on board and sets up a nest for their queen to breed a new generation of DNA-sampling, clone-producing, blue-ooze-bleeding nasties. As if this isn't jeopardy enough, the bugs have taken control of Moya's environmental systems and turned up the heat to incubate their brood. The high temperatures are uncomfortable for everybody else, but deadly for Aeryn--who, as a quirk of her Sebacean physiology, is unable to cope with heat. Just when the Moyas come to an understanding with the bugs so that Aeryn can survive, a squad of Peacekeepers boards Moya, armed and ready to re-take the ship. They keep shooting drone/clones who look like Crichton, D'argo, and Zhaan on sight, provoking a state of war with the bugs and forcing them to fight back with even more debilitating, life-threatening heat.

Throne for a Loss is the episode in which Rygel tries to impress some Tavlek traders by boosting his image as Dominar of an empire with billions of subjects. Unfortunately this leads them to believe that holding him for ransom would be more profitable than trading supplies with the Moyas. Rygel ends up in a holding cell, buried up to his armpits in mud, along with a scepter adorned with a vital part of the ship's propulsion system. This means his shipmates have no choice (alas) but to rescue the little reptile, combining Aeryn's commando tactics with Crichton's knack for improvisation. Meanwhile, back on Moya, Zhaan attempts to help a captured Tyvek overcome his addiction to the super-soldier drug supplied by the gauntlet which D'argo, Aeryn, and Crichton wear by turns--a weapon that is not possessed so much as it possesses whoever wields it. This episode wrings more pathos out of one puppet's (Rygel's) performance than you ever expected to see. But that's only because you haven't seen many episodes of this series yet.

Back and Back and Back to the Future is the one where Moya rescues a pair of Ilanics from the spectacular destruction of their ship. These noodly-headed aliens, distant relatives and allies of D'argo's Luxan race, are closely guarding a piece of research which they hope to use in their people's war against their Scorvian aggressors. The male Ilanic, a scientist named Verell, seems reasonable enough, if perhaps a bit secretive. The female Martala, on the other hand, features in a series of futuristic visions that Crichton begins having after he gets a shock from something in the Ilanic shuttle. The visions run the gamut from eroticism to presentiments of doom, mostly and increasingly the latter, until by trial and error Crichton figures out how to get D'argo alone for a serious, ship-saving talk. It finally turns out that Verell's secret weapon is a tiny black hole, which implodes on Martala as she tries to make her getaway. The acting of John Clayton and Lisa Hensley as Verell and Martala is as weird as the appearance of their characters--something that, at first, might strike a starship-TV fan weaned on Trek and B5 as indicative of a want of talent but that, as the series continues to unfold, turns out to be a unique and consistent approach to portraying aliens. I imagine this is an artifact of being filmed in Australia, where folks are much more susceptible to the influence of Asian cinema and its totally different world of acting styles.

Thank God It's Friday... Again continues this theme of aliens who act as weird as they look (if not more so), foremost of whom is Volmae, the leader of the Sykarans, played by Int'l Emmy winner Angie Milliken. The story begins with D'argo going into a Luxan hyper-rage, which compels him to kill any male person he meets. Crichton comes out of hiding several days later and finds out that D'argo shuttled down to the Sykarian homeworld. When his friends go down after him, they find him blissfully happy in his new life as a farm laborer, in a decaying city filled with willing slaves who spend every day in the burning sun, digging weird tubers out of the soil, and every night partying because they believe that tomorrow is going to be a rest day. These folks really know how to party, too. But how is it that they never notice that the promised rest day never comes? Well, one use of the tubers they dig up is to make a food that renders people happily compliant with whatever they are told. This, naturally, is a staple of the Sykarian diet, and it works on other species as well--so that Zhaan, as well as D'argo, is soon addicted. Another use is revealed when Rygel begins sweating high explosives. Crichton, forced to share body-space with a worm that filters the tannot root out of his system, faces his possible destiny as the savior long hoped for by the minority of Sykarians who are not affected by the root. Meanwhile, Aeryn takes a crash course in science to work out that the Tannot root's explosive properties, when chemically treated or digested by a Hynerian, are the reason the Peacekeepers use it to power their weapons. Thus, freeing their friends means starting a rebellion against the Peacekeepers' exploitation of this innocent world--and that, in turn, means a spectacular scene in which Rygel aims explosive urine off the top of a wall.

PK Tech Girl introduces the Sebacean characters Gilina (Alyssa-Jane Cook) and Durka (David Wheeler), both of whom would reappear in later episodes, as well as the Sheyangs--lumbering amphibious scavengers who, thanks to their ability to breathe fire, needn't wait until a vessel is abandoned to salvage it; as in the case of the Peacekeeper ship Zelbinion, they might just crisp the crew where they stand, and then take their time stripping stuff out of it. Everyone on Moya has a reason to be interested in Zelbinion when they find its wreck drifting in space. Aeryn is in awe because the ship has been a legend to her people since it disappeared 100 cycles (years) ago. Rygel is creeped out because it was the first ship where he was tortured after his deposition, and he is still haunted by the ghost of its sadistic Captain Durka. Crichton gets excited because of a pretty Peacekeeper tech girl named Gilina, who remains on board after being dropped off by Crais's carrier to see what can be salvaged from the ship. Now the Moyas have to race to get one of the Zelbinion's defensive nets working before the returning Sheyangs blow both it and Moya to pieces, and to get the other net onto Moya herself before Crais's ship returns, so that Gilina (who is sucking face with Crichton before long) can go home without being suspected of alien contamination. Which just illustrates how very much is packed into each and every thrilling, well-written Farscape episode...

That Old Black Magic introduces the evil Sorcerer Maldis, played by Chris Haywood in both this episode and Season 2's "Picture If You Will." Appearing to Crichton in several guises, ranging from a jester to an ancient sage to the powerful being you see here, Maldis feeds like a vampire on other people's fear, violence, and death. Trapped in a fortress that defies physical laws, Crichton is forced to face his nemesis Crais--who, meanwhile, has taken irrecovable steps to stake his Peackeeper career on killing Crichton. To save Crichton, and to liberate an entire "commerce planet" from Maldis's cruel grip, Zhaan must risk unleashing the savagery that she has only held in check, until now, by years of priestly devotion. While Maldis forces Crais to relive his worst memories so that Crichton will have no choice but to fight him, Zhaan joins her powers to those of a powerful alien to make a last stand against Maldis.

DNA Mad Scientist is about this really weird-looking alien who offers the Moyas holographic star maps that they can use to find their way home. All he asks in exchange is a sample of each shipmate's DNA, extracted from their eyeballs, to help him complete his research into the genetics of alien life. Unfortunately, Namtar has no intention of holding up his end of the deal. Plus, what he wants to use the DNA for is worse than anyone imagined. With the shipmates turning against each other and a deadly trap in store for everyone, the Moyas have enough to deal with even before Aeryn starts to mutate into something sick and wrong. All depends on Crichton being able to coax a female Igor to betray her Frankenstein. She turns out to have been the real Frankenstein, and Namtar the monster, as we find out when she jabs him with a syringe full of the genetic "restore defaults" potion. The creature effects in this episode are mindblowing!

They've Got a Secret begins with D'argo getting flushed out into space, just after destroying a mysterious piece of Peacekeeper equipment implanted in Moya's innards. Luckily, Luxans can survive for a while in the vacuum. Even this, however, doesn't explain D'argo's strange behavior when he comes out of his space-induced coma, or the DRDs' "shoot to kill" policy against anyone trying to follow up on the accident. Eventually Crichton and the others work out that D'argo is reliving his most painful memories. It is here revealed that D'argo was falsely convicted of murdering his wife, who happened to be a Sebacean. It was really the girl's Peacekeeper brother who killed her, something like an honor killing, and Peacekeeper justice was such that, even though the real killer was known, D'argo got sent up for it. Now his whole being is bent towards finding his son Jothee, whom he had sent into hiding for his own protection. Meanwhile, the reason for D'argo's parenthood-related break from reality comes into focus as Crichton investigates the cause of D'argo's accident and the mysterious dispersal of tiny bits of leviathan biomatter. The Peacekeeper panel D'argo had broken was, in fact, a prophylactic preventing the leviathan ship from conceiving its offspring. Now that it has been removed, Moya is pregnant!

Till the Blood Runs Clear takes its title from the most troublesome fact about Luxon physiology: When wounded, their blood runs from dark red to black. Unless the wound is forced to bleed more freely--until the blood runs clear--infection will set in, followed by septic shock and death. Though you will have already learned this tip for the care and feeding of Luxans by this point in the series, it is fair to name this episode in honor of it because... Well, let's see! During a test flight after installing some of Moya's components on his IASA module, Crichton nearly gets sucked into another wormhole and ends up having to limp down to a sun-baked planet for repairs. Though a mechanic named Furlow (pictured) comes highly recommended, she seems intent on aimlessly tinkering with the module and making repeated offers to buy it for scrap. Meanwhile, a mated pair of Vorcarian "blood trackers" home in on the scent of the runaway prisoners, whose blood-scent seems to be a feature of the holographic "wanted poster" left on the planet by the Peacekeepers. Crichton tries to save his friends by tricking Rorf and Rorg into thinking he is another bounty hunter and offering to go shares with them, but this puts him in the position of having to beat up a defenseless and confused D'argo in order to save his life. Through all of this everybody looks funny in goggles designed to protect their eyes from solar flares, while Aeryn (who forgets to wear hers) goes at least temporarily blind and Zhaan is rendered useless by her susceptibility to photogasms. So, at least one person has a good time. In the end, Crichton can only pay Furlow's repair bill by turning over all his wormhole research. So, in his search for a way home, he has to start all over...

Rhapsody in Blue is the first episode to focus primarily on Zhaan's background. Her crime, for which she was imprisoned on Moya, is revealed: She murdered her lover, who to hold onto his power had transformed the peaceful Delvian society into a reign of terror, policed by the Peacekeeprs. Some of those driven away from the Delvian homeworld include the inhabitants of a temple-ship, who have colonized a barren planet and established their own sect. Lured to this world by deceit unbecoming of Delvian priests, the Moyas become playthings of a group of priests who want to retake their world by force, but who are having trouble balancing the Pa'u spiritual discipline with these violent impulses. The original leader of the sect, an elderly Pa'u named Tuzak, is already quite insane, able to do little more than cultivate a field of twisted cuttings from the living root at the heart of their ship. His ambitious daughter Tahleen wants to join minds with Zhaan, hoping to find out how the quondam murderess manages to hold it all together. But even this turns out to be a trick, which she forces Zhaan to accept by playing cruel tricks with her shipmates' memories and perceptions. There seems to be no way out until Crichton offers to join his mind to Zhaan's, risking his own destruction to save them all.

The Flax is an energy web in which Crichton and Aeryn get caught during flying lessons in a transport shuttle. While they grow closer during their ordeal--closer to death, at least--the other Moyas scramble desperately for a way to save them. Their first scrap of hope comes from a woolly character named Staanz, who claims to have run away from the Zenetan pirates who use the Flax to catch their prey. Staanz lures D'argo onto his junk-heap of a ship, which seems to be kept going by sheer luck (and not much of it), but soon they too are caught in the Flax and it's up to Rygel to pry their friends' fate out of the hands of the Zenetan pirates in a risky game of chance. This funny, romantic, tension-filled episode concludes with Rygel proving more devious than anyone would have thought, Aeryn proving to care about Crichton more than life itself, and Staanz proving to be (cough!) the female of the species, and hot for D'argo!

Jeremiah Crichton, like many episodes of this series, takes its title from the type of pop-culture reference John Crichton specializes in. In this case, the reference is to classic Robert Redford movie Jeremiah Johnston. It begins with Crichton getting fed up with everybody and taking his module out for a decompression break. Just his luck, a now very pregnant Moya has a panic attack and starbursts away just as Crichton is leaving the ship. Months later, his friends finally find him living an idyllic life on a lush planet where machines don't work, and where the local people are scantily clad and easy on the eyes. The tribal chief's daughter wants to choose Crichton as her mate, provoking the priestess's son to homicidal jealousy, and there's no telling what might have become of Crichton if Rygel and D'argo hadn't shown up at a crucial moment. But now there's another problem: Rygel looks so uncannily like the idol worshiped by the locals that it becomes evident these people are descendants of Hynerian subjects. They expect Rygel to work some miracle and take them away to the stars--where they don't want to go, really, but if he doesn't pull it off, he and his pals will be roasted alive as heretics. Surrounded by people with different motives to kill them, it's just the sort of lose-lose situation that always brings out the best in Crichton.

Durka Returns, notwithstanding the fact that Rygel discovered his corpse in "PK Tech Girl." But although Rygel still can't bear to be on the same ship with him, the feared-and-revered Peacekeeper Captain is no longer who he used to be. He comes back as an apparently successful subject of "mental cleansing," a specialty of the gray-skinned Nebari he accompanies. Together they are transporting a dangerous prisoner back to the Nebari homeworld for the full treatement. This prisoner turns out to be our own Chiana, who is guilty (to be sure) of all kinds of interesting crimes, such as grifting and picking pockets, but who is mostly a candidate for mental cleansing--i.e., brainwashing by torture--because she lives as a free spirit, doing what she pleases without any concern for social norms. While Chiana tries to seduce Crichton into helping her escape and Salis (pictured at the end of this post) begins making threatening noises about all the Moyas being candidates for cleansing, the real threat develops when Durka breaks his conditioning and reverts to the sadistic, murdering monster everyone knew and loved.

A Human Reaction is the first, and not the last, episode in which Crichton seems to have found his way home to Earth but really hasn't. The trick is very believable this time, if somewhat cruel. After flying into another wormhole, he finds himself crash-landed on an Australian beach. IASA snaps him up and puts him through a hellish debriefing, seemingly unconvinced that he is really 100% Crichton. The nightmare grows even worse when Rygel, D'argo, and Aeryn come after him to make sure he's all right. The "human reaction" to alien visitors isn't all that Crichton hoped and expected. IASA's opening gambit is to go all "alien autopsy" on Rygel, and D'argo appears to be next. With a little help from Dad, Crichton and Aeryn escape and hole up for a while in a condo, where in the expectation that they will soon be captured, they consummate their passion. (How much of this actually happens is never clear, at least to me.) But Crichton gradually realizes that he is being played for a sucker, and that the Earth he finds himself on is really an artificial reality constructed out of his own memories. The folks behind it reveal themselves as the Ancients, an insectoid race looking for a world they can co-inhabit with another species, and now convinced that Earth isn't it.

Through the Looking Glass is the one where Moya, in another fit of pre-partum anxiety, flips out and tries to starburst when she doesn't have enough power to pull it off. As a result, she ends up stuck in the realm outside space and time that, in an ordinary starburst, she would pass through in an instant. Plus, she gets split up into four Moyas, each inhabiting a slightly different address in multi-dimensional space: a red one, where the light hurts Crichton's eyes and makes him want to puke; a blue one, where the background noise is deafening; a yellow one, where everybody is punch-drunk and ludicrously happy; and a full-color one where everything is normal, with the exception that members of the crew keep falling through portals between these dimensions. Plus, a great white nothing seems to be eating the ship, tier by tier. Crichton spends much of the episode running through the corridors of the ship, repeatedly visiting his friends in all four dimensions with updated instructions on their latest theory as to how to escape from this starburst-gone-wrong, and finally getting the right directions from a being that inhabits the trippy starburst realm. All that running looks really tiring. But at last it ends with everybody together on and around Pilot's console, basking in their successful plan.

A Bug's Life is the one where Peacekeeper Spec Ops team orders its way on board Moya, forcing Crichton to impersonate a Peacekeeper captain, Aeryn his second in command, Chiana his servant, and everybody else their former selves as prisoners on a Peacekeeper-controlled ship. This charade proves to be too hard for everyone to keep up, especially D'argo (who can't stand to be chained again). And then Rygel and Chiana conspire to break into the locked container the Peacekeepers brought on board with them, which is supposed to be some top-secret parcel for the science team at the top-secret Peacekeeper base they are now headed for. The trouble is that they can't afford to get there, because as soon as Moya is recognized as the escaped prison ship, they'll all be captured. The other trouble is that the secret unleashed by Rygel and Chiana turns out to be a sentient virus that passes from person to person, possessing whatever body it is in. Once it's been in one person's body, it can't get back in again; but if it stays in one body long enough, it will release millions of spores and become a galactic plague. And while in possession of anyone, the virus can use that person's body to do terrible things. Crichton, for example, beats a female Peacekeeper to death while under the virus's influence. There are only two ways to tell whether a person has been possessed by the virus: a bit of amnesia, and an acid taste in the mouth. How can you tell who's currently infected, though? That's the trouble, in this episode guest-starring soap opera hunk Paul Leyden.

Nerve is the first half of a two-parter in which Crichton risks being captured by the Peacekeepers in order to save Aeryn's life. Aeryn's paraphoral nerve - the Sebacean answer to kidneys - is failing, and can only be repaired by a tissue graft from a compatible donor. As there are no other Sebaceans on board, this means infiltrating the secret Peacekeeper base Larraq (the captain from "A Bug's Life") was headed toward. Using Larraq's ident chip and accompanied by the ever-resourceful Chiana, Crichton does his best to brazen it out but, given the strangeness of the base, wouldn't get very far if it weren't for Gilina, that smitten "PK Tech Girl," happening to be there and covering his back. Unfortunately, only Chiana is able to get away with Aeryn's desperately needed cure, thanks to a villainous halfbreed named Scorpius, who spots Crichton as an impostor and introduces him to his mind-raping Aurora Chair.

The Hidden Memory continues from where "Nerve" left off, with Crichton strapped into the Aurora chair, writhing in agony as Scorpius sifts through his memories. Scorpius is interested because he believes Crichton holds the secret to wormhole technology, something Scorpius wants to develop as a weapon. In fact Crichton does have knowledge of wormholes, thanks to a hidden memory implanted in his subconscious by the Ancients (see "A Human Reaction"), but what he really wants to hide is his romance with Gilina, whom he still hopes to protect. This prolongs the psychological tug-of-war between Crichton and Scorpius, giving the former time to get to know his seemingly mad cell-mate Stark (who is really more than meets the eye) and giving the latter time to out-villain Crichton's initial nemesis, Bialar Crais. When Crichton's friends come to fetch him, Gilina senses a romantic vibe between him and Aeryn, which complicates their plans to escape together and leads, at last, to a heartbreaking sacrifice.

Bone to Be Wild features an unrecognizable Marton Csokas as a hideous creature who is at first mistaken for a monster, and then for a while is mistaken for a friend, before he turns out to be a monster after all. It all happens while the Moyas are shivering from having the heat turned down so they can hide from Crais and Scorpius in an asteroid field. A distress call lures Crichton, Zhaan, and D'argo down to one asteroid where a female alien named M'Lee claims to be the prey of a beast that has killed all her comrades. But it's actually M'Lee who is the predator and the burly, deformed Br'Nee who is her prey. The last surviving member of a party of botanists who had come to the asteroid to harvest medicinal herbs, Br'Nee warns the Moyas that M'Lee is a ravening creature who eats a body's bones and leaves the meat to rot. Now close to starvation, M'Lee can barely restrain her instinct to kill and eat, but she promises to try to hold out until she can be removed to a world stocked with animal life. Then she reveals that her people were abandoned on the asteroid by Br'Nee's people, in order to defend their precious plants from animal predation, and once they ran out of fauna to feast on they had nothing to eat but each other. In view of this cruelty, the Moyas aren't so inclined to work with Br'Nee--especially after he tries to collect Zhaan as a botanical specimen. The final comeuppance is pretty gruesome; meanwhile, back on the Peacekeeper command carrier, Scorpius pushes Crais to the edge of desperation.

Family Ties is the episode where Rygel skips ship and goes over to the Peacekeepers, offering to sell out his friends, but when he realizes that he can't trust Scorpius to honor their deal, he and Crais escape together. Crais is fleeing his ruined career and his likely execution on charges leveled against him by Scorpius. Whether or not the Moyas can trust him isn't yet clear, but worthily or not Crais begins to develop a rapport with Moya's offspring Talyn (who, by the way, was born in "The Hidden Memory" and, thanks to Peacekeeper meddling, is a unique leviathan gunship). Scorpius's command carrier and its deployed prowlers are closing in on Moya and Talyn, who continue trying to hide in an asteroid field. Their chances of escape are slim, since Talyn is not expected to be able to starburst for a while yet, and Moya refuses to leave him. Crichton and the others hammer out a risky plan that will allow Moya to escape, if she can be persuaded to leave her child behind. Diverting the Peacekeepers' attention will involve flying a transport filled with explosives into Scorpius's secret research base, and the only way to ensure that Scorpius won't blow it out of the sky is for Crichton himself to pilot it. In a do-or-die ruse, Crichton and D'argo bail out of the transport before it detonates, destroying the whole planet. Then, while Aeryn struggles unsuccessfully to reach the pair in her prowler, Crichton convinces Moya that they'll be OK, and she goes into starburst... leaving D'argo unconscious and Crichton dependent on his space-suit's limited air supply in a free-fall over the burning ruins of the Peacekeeper base. Doesn't that give a new dimension to the concept of a cliffhanger?

Farscape Season 1 is funny, sexy, richly dramatic, well-written, and packed with far-out images and ideas more daring than most name-brand starship fare. It has excitingly weird theme music. It has a ship that looks artificial and organic at the same time, and that is a compelling character in her own right. It has a remarkable ensemble of main characters who, at season's end, still seem to hold plenty of fascinating secrets in reserve. Thanks to Brian Henson's creative vision, it presents a cosmopolitan cosmos stocked with all the weird aliens from that bar scene in the original Star Wars, and then some. Thanks to Rockne O'Bannon's input, it is driven by the golly-gee wonder of a down-to-earth guy who happens to have heroism etched in every fiber of his being--a man who, in Episode One, looks up at his first alien sky and says, "I'm on another planet," with the just the measure of awe it takes to rope your heart right into his quest. His quest to find his way back home, to elude the madman who has it in for him (whichever madman it may be, from Crais to Scorpius), and to win Aeryn's heart, all while becoming such a key part of Moya's on-board family that the season finale's title earns its title "Family Ties" from the poignancy of the shipmates' reactions to his seemingly suicidal plan to save Moya. After seeing this season, it should be hard to hold back from watching Season 2. I ought to know. By the time I finished reviewing Season 1, I had watched most of the second season as well!

For more on space-ship-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.

IMAGES from top: Moya; Br'Nee from "Bone to Be Wild"; the main cast of Season 1, minus Pilot; Crichton as seen in Season 2; Aeryn ditto; Zhaan; D'argo; Rygel; Pilot; Crais; Chiana; Scorpius; Stark; Crichton in his IASA module; a space cockroach; Verell; Kyr; a Sheyang crewman; Volmae; Lyneea; Maldis; Namtar; a couple of Moya's DRDs; Furlow; Zhaan and Tahleen joined; Staanz; Crichton as a castaway; Durka; Jack Crichton; Moya stuck in starburst space; Larraq; Gilina; Crichton in the Aurora Chair; M'Lee; Crichton and D'argo where the cliffhanger leaves them; Rorf and Rorg from "Till the Blood Runs Clear"; the "Farscape" module falling into a wormhole; Salis from "Durka Returns."

1 comment:

S i a c í said...

Excellent overview. I am recommending this post to as many people as I can. Nicely done!