It took me several weeks (hurrah for illnesses that leave you unable to do anything particularly taxing) but I have now watched all four seasons of ‘Farscape’ plus the mini-series-cum-movie ‘The Peacekeeper Wars.’ My judgement; I can comfortable pronounce it to be good. Great even.
To broadly overgeneralise, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Babylon 5’ remapped American telefantasy. ‘Babylon 5’ introduced the ‘proper way of dealing with long term stories’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ naturalised genre TV’s dialogue (which, since we are dealing with fiction, doesn’t mean ‘naturalised’ at all). Both of these shows have a very special place in my heart but both shows, because they rewrote so much of their respective landscapes, have flaws that really have only become apparent with their natural successors. For ‘Babylon 5’ its most fatal flaw is dialogue; whilst it has its share of great and motivational speeches some of the dialogue is incredibly samey. ‘Buffy,’ on the other hand, had hip and smart dialogue but its season-length plotting sometimes had a lot to answer for.
‘Farscape,’ for all its flaws, is the next-gen show. Hip and smart, with more pop culture references than an episode of ‘Queer as Folk (UK original),’ ‘Farscape’ had beautiful season plotting (with one major set of exceptions) and dialogue to die for, in part because the show gets away with a frellingly surprising amount of swearing (my next viewing project is Bryan Fuller’s ‘Dead Like Me’ which apparently is remarkably uncouth). With dren like this on TV you have to ask who has the mivocks to call the producers of ‘Farscape’ to task.
Hehehehe. Not so private joke.
‘Farscape’ deals with the exploits of IASA astronaut John Crichton, a man who gets sucked through a wormhole to a part of the galaxy sixty light-years distant. On arrival he finds that the Peacekeepers (the Sebacean race) hold power. Pissing off a Peacekeeper Captain named Crais by accidentally killing his brother, Crichton ends up joining a rag-tale group of ex-convicts who simply want to go home. It’s a little like ‘Blake’s 7’ except both nicer and nastier.
Nicer because the heroes do end up winning. Nastier in that they end up doing more harm to one another than Avon ever did to Vila. Still, it never quite reaches the self-interest shown by the crew of the Lexx, a show that deserves a far bigger fan base than it ever got. That, though, is a story for another time.
‘Farscape’s charm comes from constantly putting people into trouble; deep trouble. People die in ‘Farscape;’ sometimes multiple times. The characters also react, a rarity in longform telefantsy. John spends near four years away from Earth and over the course of the first two seasons really does become quite irrational, bordering on the psychotic. This makes a lot of sense; although some of the aliens are humanoid none of them are human, and thus Crichton spends a great deal of the first season learning to cope with a way of life that is, appropriately, utterly alien. Still, he forms friendships and makes enemies, like any male. When his shipmates are threatened John reacts with vehemence; when his shipmates threaten him (which happens a lot; they’re aren’t exactly a trusting bunch) he becomes paranoid. Sometimes the threat is external and sometimes it is internal, but hardly an episode goes by without there being someone who is unhappy with their shipboard life.
Character development is almost this show’s raison d’etre. Characters undergo very real changes; Crais, the Peacekeeper Captain, who starts off as a villain ends up being redeemed; Scorpius, who first appears as a villain ends up being presented as someone who will do anything to achieve his ends, but that his ends are somewhat more noble. The show puts its cast through the character-development ringer over and over again, doing some downright nasty things to characters, and it works. That it can do on an almost episode-by-episode basis, right down to letting characters make the same mistakes time after time is a testament to just how well written the scripts are for these individuals.
The characters aren’t perfect. They betray each other at a moment’s notice and it takes them a long time to realise that not all wants are exclusionary. The aliens, despite their different wants, desires and intentions, become, whilst not more human, more like individuals than strange archetypes (my biggest issue with ‘Star Trek’ has always been the aliens as archetypes of human characterisitics; a joke that ‘Farscape’ often plays out with peoples (a planet where the population is 80% lawyers) and places (plants called ‘The Royal Planet’ or ‘The Commerce Planet’). This is most noticeably shown by the character of Rygel, the only puppet in the crew. At first Crichton treats him as a creature, despite Rygel being the former leader of several billion of his kind, yet over time this puppet ends up being a complex and often misunderstood being who you may not ever want to know but wouldn’t be the worst person to be stuck with.
‘Farscape’ probably isn’t science fiction; things happen in a way which would be more comfortable if everything was based on magick, down to the interesting conceit that when they do get back to Earth it turns out that no one here can understand how the science of the rest of the galaxy works. Most of the ‘science’ exposition goes by incredibly fast, but that it often its virtue. No one really cares about tachyon pulses and geometric expansion of wormhole matrices. These are just rails on which the plot rides. This conceit of glossing over things extends to other aspects of the plot. Often when major events happen to the characters the usual aftermath of ‘now we need to escape’ is simply left out. Characters perform actions towards their escapes and then, a scene later, they are back safely on board their living ship, Moya. It works; ‘Farscape’ has mercifully few corridor chase scenes; the plots we see are the important salient bits, not the time wasting filler.
All good in my book.
There’s so much more to like. ‘Farscape’s’ season-arcs are beautiful; the final four episodes of any given season are huge in scope and are always deservedly so. Whilst not every episode in a season is plot important each episode gently places the characters in situations that gradually change them over time. By the end of a season you can see why they are motivated to do the things they have to do, whether it be attack a Peacekeeper base, rob a bank or destroy a Command Carrier. Bit by bit, piece by piece the writers set up both the plot and the people who drive the plot to be in the right place and the right state of mind to do big things. I do not think that I’ve ever seen a show do this as gracefully and naturally as ‘Farscape.’
Still, it has a flaw. A very noticeable and recurrent issue we shall call ‘The Farscape Effect;’ whilst the show has wonderful and epic conclusions per season it also has relies on end of season cliff-hangers, and they are always solved far too easily and quickly in the first episode of the next season. Without fail the writers place their characters in peril and then extract them with a deus ex machina. Characters are resurrected from the dead with ease, spaceships save characters stranded in the depths of space as if space wasn’t such an empty void at all and fatal bombings turn out not to be so fatal after all.
Which leads to the other issue I have with ‘Farscape;’ the first four to six episodes of any given season are usually pretty dire and uneventful. Painfully so at times; if illness hadn’t robbed me of the will to use a remote properly there would have been days I would have given up on marathon sessions of ‘Farscape’ and returned to my fascination with ‘The Comic Strip Presents…’
In the end, however, the show worked. It rocked even, to use a phrase that isn’t natural to me. Now that I have watched it all I need to ask where is the next show that will fill this void? The answer seems to be that there isn’t one as of yet.
Such answers make Mr. HORansome sad. But do not cry for him for he is not yet dead.