Revisiting Farscape: its best season

Feature Juliette Harrisson 1 Aug 2013 - 07:00

Juliette's Farscape look-back considers which was its best season, a tricky decision to make...

This feature contains Farscape spoilers.

Usually, when we sit down to think about the best season of a show, we have an answer in mind. Perhaps there are two seasons that are particularly good but we have a personal preference, perhaps one particular season is clearly head and shoulders above the rest. But an answer, however debateable it might be, usually presents itself fairly quickly. 

Not so with Farscape. 

Farscape was a remarkably consistent series, which maintained a certain level of quality throughout its run. That isn’t to say all seasons were completely equal. Like all shows, it took a while to find its feet, to set its tone and for its characters to get bedded in to their roles. Season one, then, isn’t the best season. Although it gives the show a roaring start and builds to a thrilling climax, many of the early episodes in between veer between unremarkable and plain daft. 

Season four probably isn’t the best season either, though it represents the culmination of many of the major story arcs and again it builds up to an intense and exciting climax. But it takes a while to get going, continuity starts to slip for the first time (the writers keep forgetting what happened to Black T-shirt Crichton and what happened to Green T – Green T never met Aeryn’s mother, and only had sex with her once, several years ago), and Aeryn doesn’t show up for simply ages at the beginning, which is a big mistake. 

So Farscape’s best season is either season two or season three. Season three is an extraordinary season of television. Where other shows produce clones/doubles of main characters who either die immediately (Doctor Who’s Ganger-Doctor), disappear off into the sunset (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Thomas Riker, Stargate SG-1’s young O’Neill) or disappear, then die (the grey-goop-crew from Star Trek: Voyager’s Demon and Course: Oblivion), Farscape kept two Crichtons around for the bulk of the season. Where other villains are either killed or start to decay until they’re no longer scary, Scorpius’ character was fleshed out and his motivations built upon without the character ever losing his edge. Where other series keep characters on long after they’ve run out of ways to use them, Farscape will happily write out two regular characters (well, one regular character and one ship) before they outlive their usefulness.

However, for some viewers, season three will never be their favourite season because it saw some major changes to the show. Virginia Hey was forced to leave to protect her health, which meant the loss of Zhaan, one of the series’ most beloved original characters. Although we think that the double-Crichton storyline was a stroke of genius, it undeniably changed the nature of the show, with the crew separated, a much bigger role for Talyn and Crais, and only Crichton appearing in every episode. When you love a show and it changes, there’s always a risk of missing the show you initially fell in love with, no matter how good the new version of the show is (J.J. Abrams, take note). 

And then there was the overall tone and subject matter of season three – when the first episode of a season of television is called Season of Death it’s not hard to see where the story is going. Rygel dies again (briefly), D’Argo, Chiana and Crichton die (permanently but they have spares), Zhaan, Crais and Talyn die (permanently). Aeryn starts out dead, but gets better. And that’s just the regular cast! In the ‘season of death,’ even the cute little DRD that communicates Star Trek-style with Crichton in Losing Time doesn’t escape a horrible fate. 

And so we come to season two. This is the season in which Farscape became a primarily arc-based show, though it continued to produce a number of stand-alone episodes as well. It’s the season in which the series started experimenting with ambitious three-part episodes (following the more-or-less three-part story of A Bug’s Life/Nerve/The Hidden Memory in season one). It’s the season in which Harvey appeared, Crichton got married and our heroes became armed robbers, though no one seems especially conflicted about that. Season two had some distinct lows (Taking the Stone, the extreme cheesiness of The Locket, the implausible nature the planet of lawyers in Dream a Little Dream) but it also hit some spectacular highs. 

Some of season two’s highlights include: 

Crackers Don’t Matter

It is completely bonkers. With this episode, Farscape found its own, gloriously mad USP. 

The Way We Weren’t

 

Every main character on Farscape has a pretty dark backstory; Zhaan and Chiana are convicted criminals, D’Argo was framed for his wife’s murder and has done considerable jail time, Rygel was the victim of a possibly-deserved political coup, Aeryn was a ruthless soldier in a dubious military outfit, Crais was the villain in season one, Scorpius stays the villain, Stark has been driven mad performing Scarran death rituals, and so on. The exceptions, at first, seemed to be Crichton and Pilot.

Crichton’s backstory is fairly traditionally heroic – it’s over the course of the series that he’s driven to theft, murder, armed robbery, terrorism, nuclear terrorism and, eventually, galaxy-threatening terrorism. But in this episode, we discover that Pilot, too has made mistakes, as well as confronting for the first time what Aeryn was before she accidentally threw away her entire life trying to stick up for Crichton. 

There’s a big difference between knowing your friend used to kill people for a living, and seeing video footage not only of them doing it, but of them killing someone your other friend (Moya) was extremely (literally) attached to. The anger and disappointment shown by the whole crew is completely understandable. Between the horror everyone, including Aeryn and Pilot themselves, feel at this episode’s revelations, as well as the heartache as they try to come to terms with it, this is one of the series’ most gut-wrenching hours. It’s also the perfect follow-up to the insanity of Crackers Don’t Matter, proving that the show can still do deadly serious when it wants to. 

The Look at the Princess trilogy

There are some huge plot-holes in this trilogy (we won’t point them out because once they’ve been spotted, they can’t be un-seen) and since, unlike later three-parters, this is one continuous story rather than three linked stories, there’s some blatant padding as well (Aeryn going rock-climbing, Crichton larking about in space). But as ways to prolong the main couple’s love story go, it’s rather fun (though it’s notable that when Crichton and Aeryn eventually marry and have their own child, no-one mentions the fact that their marriage is technically bigamous, or that Crichton’s half-Sebacean son will probably live long enough to potentially come across his royal half-sister…). This trilogy also marks the first appearance of the Scarrans, properly scary villains who will come to dominate the major story arcs over the rest of show’s run. 

Won’t Get Fooled Again

One of Farscape’s maddest episodes, but that’s not why Won’t Get Fooled Again is a highlight of the season. In amongst the madness is the distinctly less-mad-by-comparison Harvey, revealed here to the audience but forgotten by Crichton, an intriguing and properly threatening presence. The idea of villains who break prisoners mentally is also rather interesting, though the Scarrans tend to prefer their heat probe in most of their appearances. 

The Ugly Truth

 

The Rashomon episode (in which we see the same events as seen from different points of view) has been done many times, but probably only in Farscape does it feature the protagonist completely failing to pronounce the villains’ name in his version of events. This episode also neatly highlights the various mini-alliances and antagonistic relationships forming amongst the crew, as Zhaan covers for Stark, Aeryn tries not to implicate Crais or Talyn and perhaps surprisingly so does Crichton while Stark sells them out, and D’Argo implicates Stark. 

The Liars, Guns and Money trilogy

 

Action, morally-dubious allies, the offscreen deaths of thousands of people partly as a result of our heroes’ choices, returning guest stars, Crichton going crazy and S*it Blowing Up – classic Farscape. 

Die Me, Dichotomy

As end-of-season cliff-hangers go, this one takes some beating. It’s not so much that viewers were likely really to be convinced that Aeryn was going to stay dead or Crichton stay unable to speak, rather that the sheer desperation of Crichton’s situation in those last few moments, coupled with the simple beauty of the ice planet set, makes for a brilliantly intense ending to the season.

Season three featured some great hours of television and for our money it’s just as good as season two (highlights including …Different Destinations, Incubator, Infinite Possibilities, Revenging Angel and the epic two-parter Into the Lion’s Den). On the other hand, season three also featured Black-T and Aeryn at their most sickeningly gooey, and included the episode Meltdown, in which Stark must save Talyn and the ghost of Barbie while Crichton and Aeryn have a lot of sex, which loses it a good few points. The structure of the season is ambitious and effective, but perhaps slightly less satisfying on a week-to-week basis (though it benefits from being watched in a DVD marathon, cutting down the waiting time between each individual character’s appearances). Ultimately, the award for best season has to go to season two for being not just Farscape at its best but Farscape at its most… Farscape-y.

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. Read more from her Revisiting Farscape series, here.

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