I’m almost as good-looking as Rygel.
Farscape fans are a passionate, passionate bunch. They argue that the series is one of the best, if not the best television programs ever created. I tried a few times to get into the show when it originally aired, but, not having seen it from the beginning, I always got lost in not knowing the elaborate continuity and not understanding the characters’ relationships. I always told myself that someday I’d check the show out from the beginning.
It’s at this point that the fans usually say, “Are you out of your frelling mind? You’ve never seen frelling Farscape from the frelling beginning? Get off your frelling butt and frelling watch it already, you frelling frell!”
My destiny has a finally arrived, with Farscape: The Complete Series, a gigantic 26-disc set. Now that I’ve seen all 88 episodes in order, you can count me among the Farscape faithful.
Astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder, Stargate SG1) disappears during an experimental space flight, unexpectedly ending up on the other side of the universe, in the middle of a conflict between aliens. Crichton ends up on board an alien ship with a group of fugitives—spiritual healer Zhaan (Viginia Hey, The Living Daylights), noble warrior D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe, Nim’s Island), and usurped royal leader Rygel (Jonathan Harvey, Severance). After a misunderstanding, the crew is joined by Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black, Pitch Black), a militaristic “Peacekeeper,” who looks human but is far from it. This ship of theirs, Moya, is a living creature, bonded to a pilot, named Pilot (Lani Tupu, The Condemned). Moya takes them away from the Peacekeepers and into uncharted space, where there’s no shortage of danger and adventure.
The Moya gang later picks up more permanent passengers—troublemaking thief Chiana (Gigi Edgley, Rescue Special Ops), former slave Stark (Paul Goddard, The Matrix), and others. All the while, Moya is hunted by the Peacekeepers, led at first by Commander Crais (also played by Lani Tupu) and then by Scorpius (Wayne Pygram, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith), who will go to any unethical lengths to gain the knowledge of wormhole-based interstellar flight from Crichton’s mind and use to conquer the universe.
The “ship show” has become a sci-fi staple. You’ve got a crew aboard a spaceship traveling from planet to planet, having adventures. The ship is usually populated by stock types—the heroic leader, the smart one, the tough guy, the comic relief, and so on. Star Trek set the standard for this, obviously. At first glance, Farscape would seem to repeat a lot of Trek tropes. Zhaan is the Vulcan, D’Argo is the Klingon, Rygel is the Ferengi, etc. As the series progresses, though, it attacks these stereotypes aggressively, continually breaking down genre conventions and going where you don’t expect it to go, while still providing the rollicking space adventure we all enjoy.
It’s also clear to see how Farscape was a few years ahead of its time. I see a lot of what would later become Firefly in this show, in that it’s a group of misfits aboard a ship, doing whatever it takes to get by, with only each other to rely on. In its third and fourth seasons, I’m also reminded of what would later become the new Battlestar Galactica, with a sprawling, complicated storylines and elaborate mythology, while never losing an emphasis on characters and emotions throughout.
The first season is what you’d expect from a ship show. The characters visit different planets or have various alien guest stars visit them every week. In the course of each stand-alone tale, we learn a little more about the members of the main cast and about the overall world of Farscape. The creators spend a lot of time exploring the idea of the living ship, and there are a lot of episodes about Moya’s many quirks. There are a lot of little surprises along the way that reveal how this is no run-of-the-mill sci-fi show. At one point, an alien offers the characters a means to find their home worlds, in exchange for one of Pilot’s arms. The Moya crew then dismembers Pilot without hesitation. The Star Trek crews never would have considered this as an option, and the Serenity crew would have at least debated it first. This shows how Farscape is willing to tread its own ground, and not just rehash what was done in other shows. In the final third of the season, we get several serialized episodes in a row, in which Scorpius is introduced and Moya, if you can believe it, gives birth to a new ship, Talyn. This leads up to a whiz-bang finale, with a lot of dramatics and action.
After recovering from the cliffhanger, I was surprised to see season two go back to a lengthy run of stand-alone episodes. What’s noticeable from the start is how the series gets a visual upgrade this season, the cinematography is more dynamic, feature film quality, and the costumes and makeups are all redone and much approved. The highlights are a handful of multi-part episodes. The first has Crichton being forced in marrying an alien princess as a means of keeping himself and the crew safe from Scorpius. Despite all the court intrigue, this three-parter is really about Aeryn and Crichton and their feelings for one another. The second multi-parter has the crew assembling a Dirty Dozen-like gang of bad guys from past episodes to assault a fortress-like Shadow Depository, to rescue D’Argo’s long-lost son and help free Crichton from Scorpius’s influence. This takes viewers up to the big cliffhanger, in which the characters make grand sacrifices to save each other. The second season is when Farscape truly became Farscape.
The third season more or less drops the stand-alone episodes in favor of one big serialized ongoing tale. This is the “if you miss one episode you’ll never get caught up” style that initially turned me off the show when it first aired. At the first part of the season, we get a return to wormhole technology and its importance to the show’s mythology. Then things go for a real loop, when Crichton is split in two, and there are two identical Crichtons running around, just as the crew divides in two and splits off in different directions. The two Crichtons are a great invention, actually, in that it gives the writers new opportunities to take risks. Any time one of them is danger, there’s a very real feeling that he could die. Even though I already know the actor is one of the main cast, this character could still get killed off any time, and that adds a lot of suspense. Additionally, this plot allows the writers to explore Crichton’s character in new ways, by putting the two Crichtons in differing situations and seeing how they react and change independent of one another. The third season offers another upgrade in production values, highlighted by adrenaline-pumping Mad Max-style chases and gunfights on a desert world. The multi-part season finale is another good one, taking our heroes deeper into Peacekeeper territory than they’ve ever been. Also, flying jetpacks!
The fourth season throws yet another wrench into the characters’ lives, with a good length of time happening between seasons. We viewers have to put the pieces together as to what happened during the unseen time and how the main characters have changed. We also get a handful of new characters aboard Moya. It seems like all this change would have killed the show’s quality, but the risk pays off, thanks to an emphasis on character work. All the changes are about developing the characters, and not just about coming up with crazy twists merely for the sake of crazy twists. Does season four get too over-the-top? There’s no such thing as a status quo this season, as the characters’ lives are a total roller coaster, enduring both hills and valleys of plot and emotion. It gets to be too much to take in after a while. The good news is that it builds to another whopper of a multi-part season finale.
Despite a huge cast of aliens and the fate of the universe at stake, Farscape, at its heart, is the intimate story of two individuals—John Crichton and Aeryn Sun. These two, and their feelings for one another, are what anchor the series, despite all the weirdness and craziness that goes on. Most of the humor of the series comes from Crichton. Although he’s stranded far from home, he has a good attitude, and he often diffuses tense situations with wisecracks. He makes a ton of pop culture references, and it’s always funny when he does, seeing as how these references always fly right over the heads of the other characters. This makes the viewers feel like they are in on the joke, and helps Crichton become likable. Aeryn, meanwhile, is the serious one, raised from birth to be a soldier. Throughout her experiences on Moya, she learns that she can be something more. Her heart gradually softens, and her—for lack of a better word—humanity slowly comes to the surface. All the while, romance stirs between Aeryn and Crichton, though it’s not without its complications. There are outward complications, such as Scorpius always after them, and inward complication, such as Aeryn’s fears over how their love might affect her judgment.
Perhaps no one in Farscape suffers a broken heart more often than D’Argo. The pilot episode establishes that he’s “just a boy” in the terms of his race, although he survived numerous battles and had a scandalous relationship, leading to a son he barely knows. His drive throughout is to find the boy. Along the way, he begins an amusing, and sexy, romance with Chiana. When his relationship with her and with the boy, Jothee (Matthew Newton, Queen of the Damned), both end in gut-wrenching ways, D’Argo is never the same. As for Chiana, there are only a few times we get inside her head with episodes based on her. Essentially, she’s a troubled “wild child” with no direction in her life. At least, none until she becomes one of the Moya crew. I really like actress Gigi Edgley’s birdlike way of moving, a simple but effective way of making the character seem truly alien.
Zhaan, as the thoughtful, spiritual member of the crew, doesn’t get as much action as the others, but she adds a lot to the ensemble. Her breed of religion is actually more metaphysical than spiritual. She can do all kinds of funky stuff like connect her soul to another soul, take away another’s pain, and more. All this talk about souls and spirits are not given any scientific explanation, but merely accepted by everyone—including Crichton—as a working, functioning part of this world. Once Stark enters the picture, he offers a lot of what Zhaan offered in that he’s deeply spiritual and has healing powers, but he’s a lot harder to pin down as a character. He’s a lot more unpredictable, and often gets wild and manic for no reason. He does a lot to help his crewmembers, but he’s also the “weird one” on board.
With the Jim Henson company behind most of the otherworldy beasties on this show, it’s a no-brainer that there would be monsters and aliens of all shapes and sizes to be seen in Farscape. The show is a throwback to the time when it seemed like any movie with aliens and/or monsters would provide awesome-looking animatronic creature creations. Puppet numero uno is Rygel. He’s the comic relief, with plenty of jokes about his greed and gluttony, and how that complicates life aboard Moya. There are rare times, though, when Rygel’s inherent regality shows through. He occasionally serves as the ship’s negotiator, and there are even times when his violent side reveals itself. The other main animatronic character is Pilot. He’s the one who delivers most of the exposition and technobabble. Personality-wise, he lives to serve, and is there merely to act out the crew’s wishes.
As the series begins, Crais is the main baddie, whose motivation for hunting Moya is revenge, as he blamed Crichton for his brother’s death, however accidental. Most of the first season is Crais doing the Ahab thing. This changes once Scorpius shows up and Crais falls out of favor with the Peacekeepers. Crais ends up linked mentally with Talyn, making him a reluctant ally to our heroes. Fortunately for viewers, this also makes him a much more interesting character. His bond with Talyn could melt his heart, turning him into one of the good guys, or maybe he’s corrupting Talyn, turning its firepower against Moya. Back in Peacekeeper command is Scorpius, the big bad of Farscape. His search for Crichton is less of an obsession, and more of a game. I get the sense he almost enjoys the chase, despite how much is on the line. Scorpius is also a brainy baddie, constantly thinking, and always one step ahead of Crichton, in his own way. An ongoing plotline has Crichton hallucinating Scorpius’s presence, which always in the back of his mind, commenting on whatever’s happening. It’s a great device, and leads to some expertly written and acted interaction between the two. The interaction continues in the final season when the writers bite the bullet and put him on board Moya, seeking asylum.
Then there are the Moya newbies who tag along as the show progresses. The orange-skinned wild-haired Jool (Tammy McIntosh, All Saints) was somewhat annoying at first, a “Paris Hilton in space,” whining about being stuck aboard the ship instead of actually doing anything. Her metal-melting scream doesn’t do her any favors, either. She then reveals she’s a medical expert, and becomes the de facto ship’s doctor. I found myself enjoying the character after a few episodes, and looked forward to where the writers would take her next. The gravity-defying Sikozu (Raelee Hill, Superman Returns), a self-styled expert on living ships, joins up in season four, seeing her association with Crichton and company as an opportunity to get her wrecked life back on track. She easily fills the “chief engineer” role with her knowledge of the ship. Less interesting is Noranti (Melissa Jaffer, Komodo), the crazy old lady who always seems to know more about what’s going than anyone else and who apparently has some kind of mind-reading powers. Her goofy ramblings and deus ex machina abilities made her my least favorite of the main cast.
The makeup, costumes and puppet creations are all excellent, and so is the CGI, definitely at the top of created-for-TV effects. Most of the pixels are devoted to the spaceship action, and it looks great throughout. An establishing shot of a space station at the start of the third season is breathtaking. Action scenes throughout are generally well-choreographed, with plenty of chases and laser gun battles to enjoy. Farscape was filmed in Australia, and the occasional location shooting benefits from some gorgeous scenic locales.
Farscape‘s history on DVD has been a rocky one, with season sets, multi-episode “Starburst Edition” sets, and various “best of” discs all in stores at one time or another. I am unable to compare those earlier releases with this one, but I can tell you that the picture and audio quality on these DVDs are stellar. This is a series in which a lot warm colors, like reds and browns, have to compete with a lot of cool colors, like blues and sharp grays. I worried that any time the blue-skinned Zhaan or Chiana appeared framed on screen against a soft brown background that there would be bleeding or edge enhancement, but I didn’t see any. Farscape is visually bright and colorful, and the discs show off all those colors nicely. The audio, in both 5.1 and the original 2.0, also shines, making the most of the laser blasts and scientifically-impossible sounds of the ships zooming around in space.
For fans, the big deal about the extras is the rarely seen, never-before-released TV special Farscape Undressed, featuring cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and a look at the show’s history. From there, a collection of other featurettes include a discussion of the show’s origins with Brian Henson, a look back at season three, villains, visual effects, and the fans’ efforts to save the show from cancellation. Thirty-one episodes get commentaries, mostly with the actors, which are light and funny, but nice tributes to the show. There are also cast and crew interviews, original TV promos, and twelve interviews with the show’s composer, Guy Gross. Overall, it’s an excellent collection of bonus content.
It says “The Complete Series” on the box, but that’s far from the truth. The miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, which promised to wrap up all the loose ends, isn’t on this set. If you want the complete Farscape experience, you’ve got to purchase that one along with this set. The reasons for this allegedly have to with another company claiming ownership of the miniseries, but still.
OK, all you insane Farscape fans, you can stop trying to convince me. I’m one of you now. It’s a true TV epic. Awesome show, awesome DVDs, just plain awesome.