Monday, February 21, 2011

Farscape Season 2

Season 2 of Farscape originally aired on the US's SciFi channel, the UK's BBC, and Australia's Nine Network during the 2000-01 season. At that time I was still watching commercial TV, but only via rabbit-ears; so, this being a cable show, I missed out on it until now. Even coming to it a decade later, however, I find it fresh, absorbing fun, with a many-layered, ongoing story set in a universe full of marvels, horrors, troubling ambiguities, frankly adult themes and language (some of it--but only some--couched in such galacticspeak euphemisms as frell, dren and yotz). It has the same main cast as Season 1, which is noteworthy because things start to change after this year. Scorpius, Crais, and Stark remain only recurring characters--indeed, Stark only gets involved towards the end of the season--though all three become regulars (with main-titles credit and all) in Season 3. Our heroes remain pretty much where Season 1 left them: on the run from Scorpius, who wants to prise the secrets of wormhole technology out of John Crichton's mind.

I should note the arrival of another recurring character. Peacekeeper Lieutenant Braca (played by David Franklin) had appeared in the last two episodes of Season 1, but given the expendable nature of our villains' minions you might not have expected him to have a growing importance throughout the series, and still to be alive at the end. Braca makes 6 of his 24 regular-series appearances in Season 2. (Please don't ask me to count his appearances in comic books, which I'm not going to read, or the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries, which I haven't seen yet.) For me the defining Braca moment comes towards the end of Season 3, when Crais tells him, "You are the consummate Peacekeeper"--and Braca looks as though he has been slapped. But let's not get ahead of ourselves!

The episode originally meant to be aired as the Season 2 premiere can now be seen in its original form only as a DVD special feature titled "Re:Union." Most of this episode was subsequently used as the season's eighth episode "Dream a Little Dream," re-edited with some new scenes to make it fit in chronologically. At the risk of committing heresy against the broadcast canon, I'm going to come right out and say that, in my opinion, "Re:Union" works better than "Dream a Little Dream," both in terms of series continuity and as a story on its own terms. But I understand why they pulled it out of the season-premiere slot; it's kind of a downer, definitely not the cliffhanger follow-up that most fans would hope for. As unpopular as it probably would have been in that regard, I think there is something brilliant about the idea of a swashbuckling sci-fi series showing that its heroes aren't just cartoon characters who bounce right back from their trials and traumas without a bruise on them, but the lasting consequences can hurt a lot.

I'll have more to say on this when "Dream a Little Dream" comes up, but Trekkies can compare this to the dilemma whether Star Trek's original pilot ("The Cage," starring Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike) or the creatively edited, aired episode "The Menagerie" (which won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation) is the better story, or whether TNG's post-"The Best of All Worlds" episode "Family," with its exploration of the human cost of high adventure, deserves to be the lowest-rated episode in that show's first run. That Farscape ran into such "lost-and-found episode" dilemma is not unusual; that we can compare and evaluate both versions (aired and unaired) is a sign of the DVD generation and the internet age, in which "lost episodes" are no longer lost and fans don't have to wait 30 years to see the unaired version as it might have been.

Mind the Baby thus became episode one of season two. It finds Crais bonding with Talyn (the offspring, you remember, of the leviathan-ship Moya), Crichton and D'argo recovering from their near-asphyxiation on an asteroid where Aeryn has brought them (secretly with Crais's help), Zhaan slightly maddened by grief after Moya was forced to starburst leaving the others behind, and Scorpius laying devious stratagems for the capture of both leviathans and Crichton. After much coming and going, it is finally decided that the only thing for it is to let Crais take off in Talyn (who, beyond all expectations of a leviathan of his tender age, is already able to starburst). Crais antagonizes Scorpius as he does so, an early sign that his character may really be evolving... though you're never quite sure about him (or at least, Crichton isn't) until the end. Crais's, that is.

Vitas Mortis guest-stars Melissa Jaffer (who later played the regular character Noranti) as an ancient Orican, or Luxan holy woman, who recruits D'argo to assist her through the ritual of passing. At the climax of this (naturally) dangerous rite, instead of dying, Nilaam suddenly regains her youth and beauty. Unfortunately, this magical transformation comes at a cost: now it is Moya who is dying of old age, and taking Pilot with her. As the ship's fluids congeal and her hull begins to crumble, the Moyas try first reason, then force, to persuade Nilaam to release Moya from this evil magic, and to accept her own end. But it is finally a love-struck D'argo who must be convinced that the female he loves must die.

Taking the Stone is this series' entry into the canon of sci-fi episodes depicting a planet of Peter Pan's lost boys (and girls), a world forever young because of a disease, or a superstition, or a social obligation to commit suicide before a certain birthday, etc. I've spotted this type of episode on Star Trek (TOS's "Miri"), and more recently on Stargate Atlantis ("Childhood's End"). Trying to think of other examples might be a nice way to keep your mind occupied while sitting through this disappointing, essentially pointless episode. To be sure, the alien youngsters are kind of sexy, in a way that reminds one of the kiddie colony in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, though it is clear from their laid-back groove that they are into some really yummy drugs. The ultimate thrill ride for them is to jump off a cliff. When accompanied by chanting voices, the jumper is caught by a sonic net and lives to jump again. But when the one "taking the stone" is of the age where a disfiguring illness sets in, the chanting stops and the jumper plunges to his death. It's a mildly psychedelic episode, with hallucinogenic moonshine, pregnant girls with transparent wombs, and a bit of bother over Chiana's intense desire to take the stone. Since discovering (thanks to a disc implanted in her body that remotely monitors her brother's lifesigns) that her beloved Neri is dead, Chiana may be just grief-stricken enough to want to end it all. Or maybe she just wants the rush?

Crackers Don't Matter is one of my favorite episodes of this season. The weird alien pictured hear, named T'raltixx, comes on board Moya promising to tweak her energy harmonics, or whatever, so that enemy sensors can't pick her up. But T'raltixx has other plans for Moya (don't they always?)--something to do with generating massive amounts of light. With the aid of a pulsar, which has disturbing psychological effects on everybody but Crichton, T'raltixx keeps the Moyas preoccupied with petty squabbles and paranoid delusions, many of them revolving around the supply of "food rectangles" that nobody likes, but everyone is suddenly hoarding. Zhaan is merely caught up in a long, exquisite photogasm; Crichton has a hallucination of Scorpius in a flowered shirt, which eventually proves to be the result of an implanted personality clone; but finally there is nothing for it but to tie everyone up, wreck T'raltixx's infernal machine, and kill the alien himself. Afterward, the Moyas must still face their mutually bruised feelings.

The Way We Weren't guest-stars Alex Dimitriades (pictured) as Velorek, a past lover whose bitter fate Aeryn remembers with regret for more than one reason. For one, while Peacekeepers are permitted to fool around with each other, they aren't supposed to really fall in love. The shame of this forbidden romance is compounded by Aeryn's betrayal of a truly special man whose gentleness, she now realizes, was unusual for his kind. But above all, her newfound conscience is troubled--and Pilot is enraged--by the role Aeryn played in the Peacekeepers' enslavement of Moya, the murder of her previous Pilot, and the agonizing, unnatural, morally compromising implantation of her present one. For a little while, it looks as though Aeryn and the Moyas must go their separate ways. But these revelations lead to a new chance for Pilot to integrate naturally with Moya, and very nearly to an open admission that Aeryn loves Crichton.

Picture If You Will concerns the Moyas' second round against the evil sorcerer Maldis. This time Maldis terrorizes the friends by means of a painting Chiana picks up on a commerce station. Reminiscent of Edvard Munch's The Scream, the picture foretells the doom of one after another of our friends, and when each grisly image comes true, the victim shatters and disappears, only to materialize in the same twisted dimension that the painting depicts. Ultimately Maldis reveals that he is saving his ultimate revenge for Zhaan, who had dared to match powers with him. But he is undone, once again, by the Moyas working in concert, in two different universes, to kick Maldis's ass. Which, by the way, gives Virginia Hey (Zhaan) a rare opportunity show off her martial-arts expertise.

Home on the Remains takes Chiana back to a rough-and-tumble frontier kind of place where she and her brother ran wild in their misspent youth. It's not a planet, it's not a space station; it's the carcass of a ginormous space-dwelling creature called a budong, where the offscouring of the galaxy risk being eaten by a rampant beast or digested by eruptions of budong bile, all in the hope of mining valuable crystals out of the creature's bones. The Moyas need food desperately--especially Zhaan, who has reached the dangerous budding stage, after which a carnivorous instinct for self-preservation will kick in, and none of her shipmates will be safe. Plus, Zhaan is giving off spores that are messing with Moya's sensors. While Chiana squirms at the apex of a lust triangle between the villainous B'Sogg (pictured) and our own D'argo, it turns out that the ravening keedva has been killing miners on B'Sogg's orders, and is now hard on the scent of Chiana's friends. Brace yourself for some gruesome special effects in this episode (budong bile is a bitch!). But also, enjoy such tough-gal lines as Chiana's "I'm evolving as an individual" (after B'Sogg, facing the point of her gun, tells her "You're not a killer").

Dream a Little Dream is the revised version of lost episode "Re:Union," whose main events take place between Season 1's cliffhanger ending and Season 2's premiere. The whole melancholy tale is finessed into its current slot in series continuity by the addition of framing scenes in which Zhaan confides in Crichton about how depressed she was when she thought he, D'argo, and Aeryn were lost for good. Disturbed by a recurring nightmare of her three friends dying in the vacuum of space, Zhaan tells John how she, Chiana, and Rygel searched for them from one planet to another, finally touching down on Litigara, a world where over 90% of the people are lawyers, and the remaining population falls into an oppressed underclass called the utilities. The visitors provide the planet's leading law firm with a convenient scapegoat for the murder of a leading pro-utilities advocate: Zhaan. In her despair, Zhaan refuses to assist in her own defense, but Chiana shrewdly plays the Litigaran legal system against itself and, using a brilliant deception, ironically reveals the truth. But in the present tense, framing narrative, none of this makes Zhaan feel any better. It's a bit of a downer of an episode--even more so, perhaps, without the framing scenes revealing that Crichton et al had survived--but I am glad to have seen the "original cut" as well. In my opinion, it's a remarkable, risk-taking, classic Farscape episode.

Out of Their Minds revives the skeksis from the classic Muppet Workshop movie The Dark Crystals... or, at least, a creepily similar race of aliens, whose lack of skin enables you to see the tendons, ligaments, and muscles that move the parts of their nasty bodies. The Halosians lure the Moyas with a dastardly ruse, then fire on them with intent to destroy. Thanks to a partially functioning defense shield, the ship survives... but every time the ship is hit, everybody on board switches bodies with the nearest person. This has the hilarious result that each member of the regular cast gets to play the role of several of his or her costars, regardless of gender or species. My favorite bit is the one where Crichton, finding himself in possession of Aeryn's body, unzips her jumpsuit (tastefully facing away from the camera) and gives his newfound boobs a lusty shake. This is way more fun than Star Trek's body-swapping episode (TOS's series-ending "Turnabout Intruder").

My Three Crichtons is the one where a sphere of energy pass through Moya's hull, envelops Crichton and spits him back out again, along with a cave-man version of himself and (a bit later) a more highly evolved, super-brain type pictured here. The energy ball turns out to be some kind of specimen collector from another dimension, one that studies all the genetic possibilities of each lifeform it encounters--but that it must return to its own dimension with a specimen, who will not survive the trip. The longer the container waits for a specimen, the more Moya is in danger of being pulled through a dimensional doohickey and being destroyed with all on board. So the condundrum becomes: which version of John Crichton should be sacrificed to save everyone else? Superbrain Crichton thinks the answer is obvious, but Caveman Crichton has formed a sweet bond with Chiana and "normal" Crichton knows it can't be that simple. But since this wasn't the last episode they ever made, you can probably guess what the final answer proved to be...

Look At the Princess, Part One: A Kiss Is But a Kiss introduces a three-episode arc featuring a planet where a couple's genetic compatibility (i.e. the ability to make a baby together) can be tested by taking a drop of a certain party drink, then touching tongues with a person of the opposite sex. This makes for an interesting clublife on the Royal Planet of the Breakaway Colonies, an offshoot of the Sebacean empire that isn't policed by the Peackeepers. More specifically, it offers Crichton an absorbing escape from the stalled trajectory of his romance with Aeryn. But when he turns out to be the only known male compatible with Princess Katralla, the heir to the Empress, fate seems determined to pull John and Aeryn apart forever. Now he must choose between his quest to find a way home to Earth and a hard-to-refuse invitation to be the consort of a lovely Princess, and eventually Empress. This episode features Francesca Buller (Ben Browder's wife) as the second of four different characters she played on Farscape, one in each season. It is also interesting to know that it was originally shot as a two-parter; additional scenes were shot later to expand it into three episodes.

Look At the Princess, Part Two: I Do, I Think begins where the previous episode's cliffhanger left Crichton, moments away from being disintegrated by assassins. For wouldn't you know, the Princess he has agreed to marry isn't the Empress's only child. She has an amorally ambitious brother, who has supported his bid for the crown by poisoning his sister's DNA so that she cannot produce an heir; and now, when a compatible mate unexpectedly turns up, means to do away with him. Prince Clavor, in turn, is being set up as the next leader by representatives of the Scarrans, a race of heat-emitting nasties we will soon get to know a lot better. So, ironically, it is an undercover Peacekeeper operative who foils the assassination attempt against Crichton. Scorpius, who happens to be half-Scarran and half-Sebacean, also shows up and adds his own layer of complexity to the situation (including another, even more spectacular try at Crichton's life). In spite of it all, in spite of a heartbreaking tiff with Aeryn, in spite of walking in on a surprisingly graphic sex scene between D'argo and Chiana (which could turn a man against sex forever), and above all in spite of knowing that he will have to spend the next 90 years frozen in the form of a bronze statue, Crichton finally goes through with his wedding to the princess...

Look At the Princess, Part Three: The Maltese Crichton continues the adventures of the (literally) bronzed John Crichton. He has a surprising number of them, for a man who has been turned into a statue--beginning with having his head cut off and thrown into a pool of acid. But all's well that ends well, thanks in part to the amorous devotion of a Peackeeper spy who thinks Crichton is working for her people. He has survived exposure to the vacuum of space, being decapitated and partially dissolved, and now he comes back to the flesh (way ahead of schedule) to face a world where Aeryn has been involved in a rock-climbing accident, where the Scarrans are trying to destabilize an independent Sebacean empire, and where Moya has been called home to the secret leviathan graveyard by one of her gods (pictured), who claims that she deserves to die because she spawned a gunship. That last bit is really Zhaan's storyline, though. And the three-episode arc ends with a tanalizing revelation about John & Aeryn's romantic compatibility. Kahaynu of the Builders, pictured here, was played by the same Jonathan Hardy who voiced the character of Rygel throughout the series.

Beware of Dog is the one where Crichton starts showing signs of space psychosis, which eventually turn out to be the result of the memory clone Scorpius implanted in him. Meanwhile, a concern that the ship's stores might be infested with a parasite that can wipe out entire ships, leads to the Moyas adopting a cuddly parasite-hunting critter called a vorc (pictured here with Aeryn). First D'argo and then Rygel are bitten by a venomous creature that seems to have the run of the ship, while the apparently useless vorc does little more than pee on things and run away from anyone who tries to catch it. Eventually it turns out that the monster and the vorc are one and the same, the big tough beast merely the mode the vorc goes into when it is on the scent of the parasite--and that the seemingly dying Rygel is actually a colony of larval parasites, while the real Rygel has been trapped in a cocoon, waiting for them to eat him. It's a cute episode, but more importantly, it raises the question: Does the bug inside Crichton's brain make it inevitable that Scorpius will get him?

Won't Get Fooled Again wakes up on Earth, having never apparently left Earth's orbit, and having hallucinated everything he has experienced since his test flight in the series' pilot. He doesn't believe it for a minute, however--not since the alien simulation of Earth had him going in Season 1's "A Human Reaction." But this time he's not being put on by an outside force; rather, someone is messing around with his mind. It turns out that a Scarran has captured Crichton and is plying his mind with clever delusions, in the hope of breaking through his defenses. The memory clone of Scorpius, whom Crichton calls Harvey (in honor of the famous six-foot rabbit), actually comes to his rescue, helping him see through the Scarran's tricks and giving him an opportunity to escape in a scene that gives new meaning to the word "mind-blowing."

The Locket is an episode you'll want to watch with your girlfriend, wife, or prospective future ditto. It's a movingly romantic story involving a world where 165 years are as a day to the Moya, floating nearby in a dense mist that, as it hardens around the ship, threatens to cut her off from the flow of time forever. Aeryn comes back from a brief recon mission shockingly aged; she reveals that while her friends have only missed for one day, she has raised three sons and has a granddaughter waiting for her to return. Ignoring her warning not to follow, Crichton follows Aeryn down to the planet, only to become trapped with her for what seems to be a lifetime. By the time they can return to Moya, Crichton has reached an advanced age and Aeryn--well, she doesn't quite make it back, dying during the flight. The sense of loss shared by these two characters, together with the mystery of whose picture Aeryn cherishes in her locket, make this episode a touching teaser for romantic developments yet to come. It is also the episode in which Stark returns, bearing news that D'argo's son Jothee is about to be sold as a slave.

The Ugly Truth is the episode in which the melted-wax people (pictured) interrogate Crais, Stark, and the Moyas, in order to find out who "pulled the trigger" causing Talyn to fire on one of their ships. As each character in turn gives testimony, we see a lot of contradictory viewpoints, finger-pointing, and growing distrust between the prisoners. Eventually, when it appears that Stark was really responsible, the Plokavians come to the same conclusion and disintegrate him. Don't touch that dial, though; the last surprise hasn't registered yet. And though, as the end of this episode, one can't be sure whether or not Stark will recover from his wounds(!!), the Moyas have to live with the knowledge that they share responsibility for what happened.

A Clockwork Nebari is the one where representatives of the Nebari Establishment--the body that rules Chiana's world by means of "mind cleansing" and other forms of cruelty--have come to bring Chiana and all the other Moyas under their planet's behavioral standards. Crichton, who together with Rygel is immune to the mind-cleansing, learns that Chiana and her brother were deliberately infected with a virus and allowed to roam freely through the galaxy in a type of biological genocide against everyone not like the Nebari. And Chiana learns that her supposedly dead brother is actually alive, well, and leading a rebellion against the Establishment. Whether or not she will ever see him again is another matter. The immediate worry is getting control of the ship back when all their shipmates have become Good Citizens. It's a memorable episode for many reasons, not least of which is Rygel's outburst: "I'm nobody's puppet!" What a howler!

Liars, Guns, and Money, Part One: A Not So Simple Plan is the first act of another three-episode arc, this one revealing how the Moyas rescue Jothee from a life of slavery. The plan begins with the rescue of Stark, who has bounced back amazingly from being dispersed at a subatomic level. Stark has the coordinates of the slave auction where Jothee's fate will be decided. Now all they need is money--lots of it. For that kind of cash, they will have to knock over a Shadow Depistory, a sort of private bank for galactic super-villains. The lady pictured here is the bank president, if that gives you an idea; she has a special relationship with Scorpius, who shows up right at the inconvenient moment when the Moyas are attempting to rob the bank. Double-crosses, torture, a good deal of business regarding Scorpy's cooling rods and the mental implant that prevents Crichton from acting against him, do all they can to trip the friends up. But the real kicker comes when they are flying away with a cargo hold full of gold ingots... which sprout insectoid legs and start running around.

Liars, Guns, and Money, Part Two: With Friends Like These... This second part of three finds the successful bank robbers smarting from their success. First they find out that, to buy Jothee out of slavery, they have to bid all their loot on a lot of 10,000 slaves. Then, after being outbid by a vengeful Scorpius, they learn that their gold has come to life and is chewing holes in Moya. While Zhaan and Scorpius concoct a plan to kill the metal-eating bugs--a plan which will leave Moya horribly burned--Crichton and the others recruit a motley band of accomplices from adversaries they faced in Season 1. But before they can switch into Ocean's Eleven mode, Crichton simply gives Scorpius what he wants in return for Jothee's freedom... himself.

Liars, Guns, and Money, Part Three: Plan B concludes the three-parter with the Moyas and their freshly-recruited allies executing a complex plan to rescue Crichton from Scorpius, though the Shadow Depository where it all happens is already on high alert following their previous heist. Scorpius wants to prise the knowledge of wormhole technology out of Crichton's brain. And with "Harvey" inside his mind, Crichton is helpless to resist, or even attempt to escape, whatever Scorpius has planned for him. So it's up to a Sheyang who can't make fire, a Tavlek berserker who has sworn never to kill again, a Vorcarian blood tracker who has a poor sense of smell, and a Zenetan pirate who turns out to be working for the other side. Plus Stark, Crais, Talyn, and the other Moyas, of course. Their mission is to get Crichton back or, if he refuses to go with them, to put a bullet between his eyes. Ultimately their rescue mission is successful, though with heavy losses on both sides; and when D'argo takes Jothee with him to thank Crichton for saving him, they find him close to madness, with Harvey tormenting him for allowing the apparent death of Scorpius. The episode ends with Crichton begging D'argo to kill him.

Die Me, Dichotomy is the cliffhanger conclusion to Season 2, in which the Moyas spend all their loot from the Shadow Depository to hire a healer to remove the chip from Crichton's brain. The healer is a Diagnosan named Tocot (pictured below), an alien with a sense of smell so delicate that, outside a sterile environment, it would die without its facial filter. While Tocot focuses on surgical technique, his assistant Grunchlk (pictured at left) handles the financial side of things, and with all the honesty and forthrightness you can read on his features. Before they can go ahead with the operation, however, Crichton escapes, sending out a signal to Scorpius, and engages Aeryn in an aerial chase over a frozen wasteland. Now and again possessed by the implanted personality of Scorpius, Crichton inadvertently forces Aeryn to eject from her Prowler over a freezing lake. Aeryn's dead body is recovered, and after her funeral an emotionally crushed Crichton surrenders to Tocot's tender mercies. As if that isn't as bad as things can get, Scorpius waltzes into the operating theatre while Crichton lies helpless with his head open and half of his brain on the table, breathes into the Diagnosan's delicate nostrils, and makes off with the chip the healer has just removed from Crichton's brain. The season's last "To Be Continued" card appears as Crichton writhes and screams incoherently, his only hope of survival lying comatose on the floor, left alive only to suffer Scorpius' most brutal revenge....

See also my review of Farscape season one. 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: Braca; the Litigaran judge from "Re:Union/Dream a Little Dream"; Crichton and Aeryn having a moment; Nilaam showing her age; Das preparing to take the stone; Traltixx; Aeryn and Velorek; D'argo and Chiana trapped inside the picture; B'Sogg; Zhaan gagged by her own defense attorney; Yoz of the Hosnerians; future-Crichton; Crichton and Katralla looking at their future heir; Crichton in bronze; Kahaynu; Aeryn with her parasite-sniffing critter; an alternate career path for Pilot; the marooned hero couple nearing the end of life; Fento of the waxy-melty Plokavians; Valra of the Nebari Establishment; Natira of the Shadow Depository; Stark, Rorf, and Bekhesh lining up to do their part in the heist; Jothee; Grunchlk; and Tocot, the Diagnosan doctor whose nose really knows!

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