Revisiting Farscape: the 5 maddest episodes

From alien drugs to murderous computer games, via a great deal of vomit, Juliette counts down Farscape's 5 maddest episodes...

Warning: contains major Farscape spoilers.

Here is the sort of thing you can expect to see in a run-of-the-mill episode of Farscape; crazy alien drugs, vomit, spaceships that have temper tantrums, vomit, planets where 90% of the population are lawyers, vomit, alien lobster lie detectors, vomit, cannibals, vomit, fart gags. Some space operas opt for a cool, clinical vision of life in outer space, others for a gritty military vibe. Farscape, as you can tell, is a bit different. 

Even allowing for the show’s special brand of lunacy, some episodes of Farscape were even more out there than all the others. Heaven help the casual viewer who, deciding to watch the show for the first time, tunes in to one of these. These episodes just barely make sense when they crop up during a DVD marathon-viewing – out of context they make the series seem about as intelligible as Yellow Submarine (and possibly made on just as many drugs). But for those of us who love the show, these episodes are also one of the reasons we love it. All you need to do is sit back, relax, and let the madness wash over you…

5. Crackers Don’t Matter (Season Two)

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Madness level on a scale of Captain Jack Sparrow – Mad Hatter: Like Cap’n Jack, this episode is mostly quite fun and involves just a soupcon of swash-buckling.

What the frell is going on? An alien called T’raltixx is trying to create an enormous amount of light within Moya for… reasons. To make sure the crew don’t try to stop him, he drives everyone a little bit crazy, increasing their paranoia and mutual antagonism until they are on the verge of killing each other. Except Zhaan, who has orgasms in bright light.

Weirdest moment: Crichton is the least affected by the light because he has the worst eyesight, so he is sent in to fight T’raltixx and stop him from destroying the ship. To protect him from the light, he is covered in a mixture Zhaan made from vomit (we weren’t exaggerating about the amount of vomit on this show) and given a shiny cape, dark goggles, a silly hat, a shield made from a bit of Aeryn’s Prowler and D’Argo’s Qualta blade. He looks like the superhero all the other superheroes try to avoid at parties. To top it all off, as he goes on the attack, he hums Ride of the Valkyries.

There’s method in the madness: While everyone is going crazy, for no really apparent reason, Crichton starts hallucinating Scorpius (in a Hawaiian shirt). If you watch the series unspoiled, in order, this seems like one of the craziest aspects of the whole thing and makes the fact that Crichton is the least-affected crew member even more worrying. However, if you re-watch this episode later (or if you’re spoiled) you know that this is, in fact, the first onscreen appearance of Harvey, the neural clone Scorpius implanted in Crichton’s subconscious in season one’s Nerve. Rather than being part of the general madness, Harvey’s role in season two turns out to be logical and deadly serious.

Enjoy the ride: There are some truly disturbing scenes in this episode (including D’Argo force-feeding Rygel and Crichton nearly raping Chiana) and the ending doesn’t shy away from the awful things some of the characters have done to each other, but the level of crazy and the speed and bite of the humour keep things from becoming too dark. It’s certainly hard not to smile when we see Crichton in his superhero get-up, all of which is reasonably logical in its own way, but at the same time utterly ridiculous.

Words, words words: ‘Kill her. Then we’ll have pizza and margarita shooters’ (Scorpius/Harvey).

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4. Scratch n’ Sniff (Season Three)

Madness level on a scale of Captain Jack Sparrow – Mad Hatter: Crichton’s skill as a story-teller may put you in mind of Ed Wood.

What the frell is going on? Pilot has kicked Crichton and D’Argo (both suffering from cabin fever and sexual frustration) off Moya for several days, but they’re back early, begging to be allowed back on board. Crichton explains why they weren’t able to stay on the Risa-like planet they were holidaying on – a complicated story involving a lot of drugs and Crichton feeling up Chiana for the umpteenth time. It’s distinctly possible that none of it happened at all, and that Green T Crichton is just making it all up in an attempt to get Pilot to take them back.

Weirdest moment: The drug that drives the plot of the episode, Freslin, is some kind of alien combination of ecstasy and a love potion. At one point, D’Argo gets a face-full of it, and we smash cut to D’Argo dancing around the bar, doing a sort of chicken-peck movement with his head.

There’s method in the madness: Close second in terms of craziness is the scene in which Crichton and D’Argo wake up together, having slept in a shop window, with Crichton wearing fishnet stockings – but to be fair, that could be the result of a relatively normal drinking session followed by hangover. With fishnets.

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Enjoy the ride: Again, this episode skims over some really dark themes (Chiana and Jool are drugged and seduced and then kidnapped, drained of fluids and sold into slavery) but it maintains a light tone – plus, there’s the comforting possibility that Crichton’s making it all up anyway. The whole thing is filmed like Baz Luhrmann on acid, all stuck record repeats, crazy camera angles, short flashbacks and so on, enhancing the sense of a tall tale in which the truth has been stretched to breaking point. It also features security uniforms that look like gimp suits. Of course.

Words, words, words: ‘Oh god, there were girls, right?’ (Crichton, on waking up with D’Argo).


3. Revenging Angel (Season Three)

Madness level on a scale of Captain Jack Sparrow – Mad Hatter: Somewhere in the region of Rango, re-imagined as an Elizabethan revenge play.

What the frell is going on? After getting into yet another fight with D’Argo, Green T Crichton ends up in a coma. While everyone else tries to stop D’Argo’s new toy (a Luxan ship) from destroying Moya, Crichton tries to find a reason to live through the medium of Looney Tunes.

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Weirdest moment: The bulk of Crichton’s plot is animated, with D’Argo playing Wile-E-Coyote, trying to kill Crichton, who plays the Road Runner role. Harvey tries to persuade Crichton to take revenge on D’Argo for trying to kill him, while Crichton himself asks hallucinations of his other friends (and an animated version of Aeryn) to help him find another solution. Eventually, Crichton decides to give Harvey’s suggestion a try – at which point, the medium shifts back to live action, but the action stays in the style of Looney Tunes – so we see a live-action D’Argo stalking Crichton, walking into rakes, stepping in buckets and so on.

There’s method in the madness: Of course the Starship Enterprise turns up in animated form. Crichton is a big Captain Kirk fan (one of his favourite pop culture references throughout the show) so the opportunity to sneak a shot of the Enterprise into the show (complete with Scotty impression in voiceover), even in animated form, was clearly too good to pass up.

Enjoy the ride: In season three, Farscape’s crew were divided into two halves, each with a version of John Crichton. Black T Crichton flew off on Talyn with Aeryn, where they experienced all sorts of emotional trauma (and had a lot of sex) culminating in his untimely death. In between all that, Green T Crichton and D’Argo bickered and took a lot of drugs. Scratch ‘n’ Sniff aired immediately before the two-parter which killed off Black T Crichton, while Revenging Angel aired next, in between Black T’s death and an episode dedicated to Aeryn mourning him. In other words, it is very deliberately written as an entirely fluffy bit of light relief to give everyone a break in the midst of all the trauma. And it works perfectly. Just sit back, enjoy the cartoons, laugh at the even higher than usual frequency of pop culture references, and try not to think about the fact this is at least the third time that D’Argo has tried to kill Crichton.

Words, words, words: ‘You’re very wise’ (Crichton).

‘I don’t get out much, so I read’ (Pilot).


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2. Won’t Get Fooled Again (Season Two)

Madness level on a scale of Captain Jack Sparrow – Mad Hatter: Willy Wonka – brash, loud and kind of creepy.

What the frell is going on? Crichton has been captured by a Scarran, who is using induced hallucinations to break Crichton mentally so that he’ll spill all his secrets. The net result of this is that we see an extended dream sequence in which Crichton appears to be back on Earth, but surrounded by all his friends and enemies from the Uncharted Territories, who are behaving in a somewhat eccentric manner.

Weirdest moment: Spiritual, almost ethereal priest Zhaan in S&M gear is fairly weird – and then up pops Rygel, right through Crichton’s legs, in a gimp suit. The next few seconds seem to last an eternity, as somehow the scene goes on and on…

There’s method in the madness: At one point, Police Officer Crais tries to arrest Crichton, asking him if he understands his rights as they have been explained to him. Since the rights in question were a bit out of the ordinary (‘You have the right to the remains of a silent attorney. If you cannot afford one… tough noogies! You can make one phone call. I recommend Trixie: 976-555-LOVE’), Crichton says no, and Officer Crais concludes ‘Then I can’t arrest you!’ There’s a certain crazy-logic to it. Also, of course, Harvey is completely sane, and distinguishable from Dream-Scorpius by the fact that he isn’t wearing Earth clothes and he knows who he is.

Enjoy the ride: This is the episode that properly introduces and explains Harvey to the audience (after he’s made brief and unexplained appearances for a few episodes), and you know you’re in a crazy story when the neural clone of the villain that the hero has been seeing in his mind is the sanest part of the episode. Like Scratch ‘n’ Sniff, there’s a lot of dizzying editing used to heighten the sense of bewilderment that accompanies much of the action, but like Crackers Don’t Matter, it’s evened out by a generous helping of humour, and this episode is one of the funniest of Farscape’s run, as well as one of the most disturbing.

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Words, words, words: ‘I could wear a Freudian slip’ (Zhaan).


1. John Quixote (Season Four)

Madness level on a scale of Captain Jack Sparrow – Mad Hatter: The maddest of Mad Hatters.

What the frell is going on? Crichton and Chiana are trapped in a computer game – so far, so typical. But this computer game, apparently written by Stark with the sole intention of getting it to Crichton, trapping him in it and killing him (not necessarily in that order), features a nightmarish sequence of scenarios, all based on warped versions of the late, lamented Black T Crichton’s memories.

Weirdest moment: All the characters within the game are bizarre, warped versions of important characters from the show. With characters like Black Knight Rygel, Butler Harvey (why doesn’t the real Harvey help? Clearly he’s overwhelmed by the madness), Ogre-Crais and Southern Belle Aeryn running around it’s a tough competition for the weirdest interpretation. But the winner has to be D’Argo, dressed as a clown, keeping Jool and Chiana in a cage and planning to eat them. The most surreal moment of all comes when he starts eating baked beans out of Jool’s innards.

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There’s method in the madness: Black Knight Rygel farting fire actually does fit with what we know of Rygel’s metabolism (which has been known to be explosive). And the weirdest alternate character interpretation of all, male transvestite hippy Zhaan, does actually have some kind of semi-logical explanation – the riddle the player must solve to win the game is that the princess she or he must kiss is ‘by ugliness enslaved,’ not literally by the uglified Crais, but symbolically by the overweight, masculine outer body on Zhaan.

Enjoy the ride: This episode was written by Ben Browder, and it’s nice to know that the show’s star is keen wholeheartedly to embrace the series’ characteristic oddness, though this story really pushes the madness about as far as it can go. There are some fun touches, like the medieval theme, which although based on a real computer game also echoes some of the costume choices in another surreal masterpiece from Australasia, Xena: Warrior Princess’ The Bitter Suite. The biggest problem with the plot isn’t so much the weirdness of the game as the oddness of Stark having written it in the first place, since he seemed quite well-disposed towards Black T Crichton when the former died, but he has his reasons, and the finale, as Crichton contemplates how many people have died for him, is sad and touching, and feeds into season four’s overall arc. It’s always fun to see long-dead characters again (hi Gilina!) and to see the regulars playing their parts differently from usual, so the best thing to do is just throw sanity to the wind and enjoy the show.

Words, words, words: ‘This elevator sucks. My job sucks. Day after day the same thing. Up. Down. Up. Down. Just once it’d be nice to go sideways’ (John Headroom, channelling Douglas Adams). 

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 hereRead more from her Revisiting Farscape series, here.

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