10 reasons we love Farscape
In the second of our weekly Farscape look-backs, Juliette tots up ten reasons to love the show, from leather, to Muppets, to Harvey...
This feature contains major Farscape spoilers.
When Farscape was abruptly cancelled at the end of season four, the outcry among its devoted fans was such that the Sci-Fi channel was persuaded to make a mini-series concluding some of the dangling plot threads, and both the lead actors were eventually made regulars in the network’s ultra-successful Stargate SG-1. What inspired such devotion to a show not written by Joss Whedon, we hear you ask?
Farscape is a high quality drama, with strong writing, great acting, compelling characters and intricate plots. But it is also a truly unique show, full of quirks and existing in a frequently lunatic world all of its own. Here are ten reasons we love it.
1. Muppets! In! Space!
Officially, the Farscape puppets have nothing to do with the Muppets – but they’re Henson workshop and you look at a Henson workshop puppet, you see a Muppet.
The puppets in Farscape are, like all the Henson workshop’s characters, fantastic creations. Expressive, creative, voiced by brilliant actors and capable of true emotion, these fantastic creates ensure that Farscape’s universe really does seem to be universal and not a homo sapiens-only club. Most importantly, watching the show never feels like watching puppets; when Crichton is tricked into thinking he sees Rygel lying, dead and dissected in a secret base on Earth, it is horrifying. Just as it should be.
2. Black leather. Lots of it.
It’s no wonder just about every life-form in the universe seems to want to have sex with one or both of them.
3. Alien slang.
Frell. Yotz. Dren. Mivonks. Tralk. Farbot. Farscape isn’t the only show to invent alien swear words (‘frak’ and ‘smeg’ are particularly beloved) but it has an unusually large number of alien slang terms on top of all the strange alien creatures with exotic names already running around. They’re all perfectly comprehensible, they’re all used consistently, they allow the series to get away with using the ‘f’ word every other sentence and they all sound perfect.
Cunningly, the series also uses alien units of time (microt, ahn, solar day, cycle. It’s never revealed which planet’s rotation and orbit provide the measurements for ‘solar days’ or ‘cycles’ – presumably there’s an alien equivalent of the Greenwich Royal Observatory out there somewhere). This means that, when our characters cry that they only have thirty microts to save themselves, and then take substantially longer than thirty seconds to do so, we can all tell ourselves, ‘well, it wasn’t really thirty seconds – it was thirty microts. That’s a totally different thing.’
Farscape’s alien swear words in action:
Aeryn: No, bad frell!
4. Warrior, Priest, King.
When Crichton is first pulled aboard Moya, the prison ship is in the middle of being stolen by three escaped prisoners, D’Argo, Zhaan and Rygel (who masterminded the escape). These three are, respectively, warrior, priest and king. It’s not quite the three functions of Indo-European mythology (those are warrior, priest, farmer/producer) or Kirk, Spock and Bones, but it’s close, and it means they represent three archetypal characters offering three distinct perspectives on any given situation. These three give fish-out-of-water Crichton and pre-programmed Aeryn three distinct responses to any predicament – attack it, try to understand it or attempt self-centred diplomacy/bribery. Of course, given the crew of Moya’s usual luck, the chances are all three will fail and they’ll be forced to resort to producer-Crichton’s solution; technobabble. But they try.
Surely the cutest menial robots since Red Dwarf’s scutters, Farscape’s DRDs are miniature works of genius. Most of the time, they just potter around in the background, but every now and again they really get a chance to shine. In the notorious 'Season of Death’ (season three) the untimely demise of the DRD that communicates after the fashion of Star Trek’s Captain Pike does not go unnoticed. Talyn has some fabulously evil-looking DRDs, and the sheer look one of them gives Crichton with its little blinky light-eyes as they try their hand as accessories to attempted murder on Talyn’s behalf in Green-Eyed Monster is genius. And then, of course, there’s 1812, rescued from a dying Leviathan by Crichton and given adorable personality through the use of a bit of Tchaikovsky and a confusedly patriotic paint job (presumably the red, white and blue was inspired by the music’s use in Fourth of July celebrations – except it looks like a French flag. And the piece was originally written to celebrate a Russian victory over the French).
6. The changes to the theme tune and opening narration in season three.
Farscape’s opening sequence in seasons one and two was one of its weak points. The opening narration was simple and clear enough, though not overly inspiring. It sets up Crichton’s situation effectively, but is so bland that when the identity of the ‘insane military commander’ hunting him changed from Crais to Scorpius between seasons, the opening narration didn’t need to change at all. The biggest problem, though, was that it was accompanied by an absolutely unholy screeching sound, which, coupled with all the ‘strange alien life-forms’ being thrown in your face, was almost certainly enough to put some viewers off.
In season three, however, the opening sequence changed. Firstly and most importantly, the theme tune was re-recorded without the screeching. But the opening narration also changed, and became something much more interesting. Instead of ‘strange alien life-forms’ – something new viewers could easily see for themselves from the images of the Henson-work-shopped main cast accompanying it – Crichton was now surrounded by ‘escaped prisoners – my friends.’ This suggests the real depth and layers always present in the show much more clearly, instantly conveying the danger of their situation and the darkness sometimes displayed by our nominal heroes through the description of them as ‘escaped prisoners,’ and balancing it immediately by also claiming them as ‘friends,’ and indicating the love and bonds that tie them together.
The ‘insane military commander’ has gone now too, not because Scorpius is no longer a threat, but because Crichton’s priorities have changed. Throughout seasons one and two he was ‘just looking for a way home,’ but as Moya has become his home over two years, this is no longer the simple goal it once was. One of the central themes of Farscape is that sometimes you can’t go home. While Crichton’s reference to ‘the nightmares I’ve seen’ ensures that the narration still incorporates a sense of danger, his awed mention of ‘the wonders I’ve seen’ as he debates whether or not it is even a good idea to return to Earth emphasises that it’s not all bad out there in the universe.
Season four slightly altered the opening narration again, once again emphasising Crichton’s attempt to return to Earth and the danger he’s in. With the reduced screeching and the continued reference to ‘escaped prisoners – my friends’ it’s effective too, but for our money season three’s, as the show first started to shift gear a little in terms of Crichton’s overall goals, is the most poetic.
7. Crais, Scorpius and Braca.
Farscape has particularly well developed villains, who always have their own motivations and their own problems. Crais starts out rather one-dimensional, the ‘insane military commander’ hunting Crichton for no particularly good reason (Crichton killed his brother, but accidentally). However, Crais’ journey from villain to reluctant hero is beautifully played out. His essential personality traits do not change and he and Crichton never entirely trust one another, but his slow shifts in attitude and character development are both plausible and fascinating to watch. By the time he exits the show, we feel like we’ve lost one of our hero-characters.
And then there’s Scorpius and his ever-loyal Braca. (Loyal to Scorpius that is – he betrays just about everyone else). Scorpius is a great villain in his own right, with a horrifying backstory and completely comprehensible goals, but absolutely ruthless in pursuing those goals. He has some classic ‘villain’ attributes, like his Achilles heel (his need for cooling tubes) and his tendency to behave in a thoroughly slimy way towards the hero’s girlfriend, but he also has a weird, evil-cool vibe all of his own.
Best of all, though, is his relationship with Braca. It’s a relationship that’s in the background most of the time, since they’re the villains and Braca doesn’t join Scorpius aboard Moya in season four, but the glimpses we see suggest that they are just as close as our heroes in their own way. Braca understands his job (he doesn’t ask questions) and he understands Scorpius, preventing a nurse from intervening in a situation that seems to be getting out of hand in season three’s Incubator because, like Scorpius, he can see the bigger picture. His loyalty and confidence in Scorpius in that episode, and the way he manages to save Scorpius and replace his cooling tubes while burning his own hands and looking completely freaked out the entire time, is positively heart-warming.
Harvey was Farscape’s answer to a common problem – the over-popular villain. Scorpius is a great villain and we want to see more of him, but the more we see our heroes defeat him, the less frightening he becomes (otherwise known as the Star Trek: Voyager Borg Problem). The solution? Put a ‘neural clone’ of Scorpius inside Crichton’s head and let him interact with that. Harvey undergoes all the villain decay often experienced by regular antagonists, starting out scary (well, after he took off the Hawaiian shirt he was scary) and providing a real threat (he’s responsible for Aeryn’s temporary death) then becoming less and less threatening and more and more a source of comic relief as time goes on (by the latter half of season three he’s appearing as a Looney Toons character). Meanwhile, the real Scorpius, despite several uneasy alliances with the protagonists, remains mostly mysterious and threatening throughout the show’s run.
Oh, and did we mention Harvey is also hilarious? Responsible for numerous one-liners and sight gags, he also provides a useful outlet for Crichton’s pop culture obsession. Since Harvey is in Crichton’s head, he is the only character in the show who actually understands what Crichton’s talking about and can join in. It’s a credit to both Wayne Pygram’s acting and the writing that by the end of the show, Harvey is a separate and beloved character in his own right.
9. Two Crichtons. (Get your mind out of the gutter).
It’s the end of season two and, like most shows at the end of season two, you’ve more or less resolved the romantic relationship between your two leads, or at least reached the point where putting it off any longer is going to get ridiculous. Your other plot threads are coming to a head as well and you’re running out of places to go – you sort of hoped you might get two seasons and you dragged them for as long as possible, but now, to your delight, you’ve been given a third season, and you’ve run out of plot. All you can do is resolve the dangling plot threads, consummate the unconsummated sexual relationship and try and think of some new ideas to keep your show going through season three and, possibly, beyond.
Or, you can split your main character in two, give one version of him everything he ever wanted, then kill that version and start again with the one you’ve got left.
Farscape’s solution to the Season Three Problem wasn’t perfect, or flawless. It required Aeryn to continue to mess around refusing to call Crichton her boyfriend until he’d been split, so that only the doomed version (Black T Crichton, wearing a black T-shirt) would get laid, which got a bit silly (she reasons that if they’re together, their judgement will be impaired – but their judgement regarding each other has clearly been impaired since at least season one’s Nerve). It meant that the entire cast had to be split up so that only half the characters, plus a Crichton, appeared in any given episode. And it meant that Green T Crichton (the green T-shirted version who wasn’t getting any) pretty much sulked his way through half the season.
On the whole, however, it was a stroke of genius. Black T gets everything Crichton was looking for – Aeryn, Harvey out of his head, a way home (let’s hope no one tells Green T that Black T and Aeryn were about to skip off back to Earth without him). And then he dies, leaving Green T with the knowledge that all these things are possible, but as yet unable to achieve any of them. And so, Crichton’s chief motivation remains the same throughout the rest of season three and the early part of season four, and we get to see him go through the whole thing again, only more successfully. And Black T manages to knock Aeryn up, so his existence wasn’t a total waste of time.
10. Who’s your daddy?
Read the first in our Revisiting Farscape series, looking back at season one pilot, Premiere, here.
Juliette Harrisson is a part-time lecturer and full-time Trekkie. Her thoughts on what the Greeks and Romans have done for us can be found here.
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