The last time that I took a major vacation, I gave the column a bit of a vacation as well. Instead of writing about comic books, I turned my attention to some of my favorite television shows. Two years later, I’m ready to do it again. I’m off to foreign lands, and “Fluit Notes” is off to the far reaches of space with the best episodes of “Farscape.”
It was actually pretty easy to pick a list for the first season. I had been drawn into the series by a Friday night Farscape marathon featuring many of the best episodes from the first season. These are the episodes that made me fall in love with the show and the episodes that I enjoyed immensely when I watched them again.
Premiere: An outstanding debut. You know right away that this show isn’t going to be like any science fiction you’ve seen before. Instead of Star Trek’s efficient yet friendly Federation, you have the tyrannical Peacekeepers. Instead of Star Wars’ friendly, and often cute, alien life forms, you meet a ship full of escaping prisoners. There’s betrayal, mistrust, confusion and danger right from the word “Go!” The main character, John Crichton, is sarcastic, funny and full of appropriate pop culture references. And, oh yeah, there’s the wizardry of the Jim Henson company bringing new life to puppets and prosthetics.
Throne for a Loss: An early episode that shows you that the cast is not going to become best friends so easily. Rygel steals from the ship in order to impress some trading partners only to get kidnapped for ransom. The others borrow one of the enemy’s weapon gauntlets in order to rescue him (and the crystal he stole) only to turn on each other with a version of steroid rage. Farscape does a great job of depicting the complex relationships of characters thrown together by circumstances who don’t necessarily trust each other or even have the same goals in mind. Plus, Zhaan has some great scenes in which she tries to convince their own hostage to give up his violent ways, including one in which she shows that she’s not embarrassed to be naked.
Thank God it’s Friday… Again: One of the things that I like about Farscape is that, just as the crewmates can’t trust each other, they also can’t trust the planets that they land on for supplies. The city of the Sakarens is a great example as this apparent paradise is actually an enslaved population kept in perpetual happiness by drugs. D’Argo is quickly entrapped himself and the others have to find a way to extricate him while not knowing who they can actually trust. Pretty soon they find themselves as part of an underground rebellion standing up to the suitably alien queen Volmae.
DNA Mad Scientist: Just when you think that the crew might be coming together as friends, Farscape trips you up with a compelling story of selfishness and betrayal. A mad scientist claims that he can help anyone find their homeworld through their DNA. What should have been a series of painless trips to the doctor turns into a brutal fight for primacy as the aliens argue about who should get to go home first. In one of the most memorable scenes of the first season, they even cut off one of Pilot’s arms in order to achieve their goals. Plus, as we’ll learn time and time again, the alien always has goals of his own which don’t line up with those of the crew. In this case, the doctor injects Aeryn Sun with Pilot’s DNA turning her into a grotesque hybrid in another unforgettable and tearful scene.
Till the Blood Runs Clear: This episode is a perfect example of what makes Farscape great. There’s the constant conflict and tension: from each other, the alien worlds they encounter and the Peacekeepers who are chasing them. There are the sudden surprises and twists. There’s the humor. And, increasingly, there are the tender moments as creatures who seem to have nothing in common are inevitability drawn into friendship. “Till the Blood Runs Clear” features wolf-like bounty hunters tracking down the crew, a delightfully sarcastic alien mechanic named Furlow, Aeryn’s temptation to betray the others to the Peacekeepers in order to get her old life back and a powerful scene in which John and Aeryn rescue D’Argo from torture and try to keep him alive.
Jeremiah Crichton: Farscape loves playing against expectations. In this episode, John Crichton is apparently abandoned by Moya and the crew. Instead of a quick rescue, the show jumps forward several months. Crichton has eked out a living, grown a beard and befriended the locals including the beginnings of a romantic relationship. He’s making a life for himself on this planet, just as he had on Moya. When the crew finally finds him, it’s not obvious that John will actually rejoin them. Of course, the presence of so many aliens throws the locals into confusion, resulting in some hostile encounters and one of Rygel’s best scenes as he’s worshipped as a local emperor/god.
A Human Reaction: Farscape loves playing against expectations, but it also occasionally plays against our fears. “A Human Reaction” is one of the best examples. John apparently finds his way back to Earth but his home isn’t exactly a welcoming environment for his comrades. They’re hounded, quarantined and eventually dissected. It’s an occasionally dark mirror, reminding us of the worst of human nature and that we’re not always better than the alien races John has encountered. This episode was already good but the twist makes it even better. An advanced race is using John’s knowledge of his home to test whether or not they would be welcome there. They realize they wouldn’t but they appreciate John so much that they bless him by implanting knowledge in his brain.
Nerve/The Hidden Memory: Throughout the first season, John Crichton and the crew of Moya have been playing mouse to Commander Crais’ cat. Finally, in this stunning two-parter, they walk right into a Peacekeeper base in order to save Aeryn only to be captured by Crais and someone even worse. This story introduces Scorpius as a great new villain, as well as Stark, a delightfully lunatic fellow prisoner. It starts out like a heist film, turns into a prison torture tale, and ends up as an escape story. Ongoing series in both comic books and television like to claim that nothing will ever be the same again. With Farscape, that’s true more often than not.
Out of Their Minds: Season Two starts out a little rough. It’s not until the ninth episode that I actually found an episode I would include in a “best of” list. But at this point, the second season really picks up. “Out of Their Minds” is a hilarious tale in which the characters find that they’ve traded minds. It’s great fun for the actors to pretend that they’re someone else. And it’s great fun for the audience to see what the characters would do in each other’s bodies. Farscape is usually very funny, but it can sometimes fall flat when it goes for a straight comedy episode. This one, however, is a wonderful success.
Look at the Princess, Parts I through III: Farscape does a great job introducing new villains. At the end of season one, we met Scorpius, who’s an even bigger threat than Crais. Now, we get our first extended look at the Scarrans, a race that’s an even bigger threat than Scorpius. They’re trying to control a planet through diplomacy, treachery and outright mental domination. And John Crichton is caught in the middle of it when the princess falls in love with him and asks him to be her husband. Once again, we’re shown a life that Crichton might just prefer to that of being an escaped prisoner. Once again, we’re caught up in a web of intrigue, deceit and betrayal. This time, however, the crewmates are actually able to trust each other. It’s everybody else that they can’t trust, including Scorpius, Braca, the Scarrans, the prince and his fiancee. “Look at the Princess” doesn’t change the status quo the way that other Farscape epics do, but it’s a great story deserving of the trilogy treatment.
The Locket: Farscape has often flirted with other love interests for John or Aeryn, but we’ve always been able to see the romantic tension in their relationship. “The Locket” shows us what their love could be like as first Aeryn and then John are trapped on a world in which time moves more quickly. They spend a lifetime and become old together in a truly touching tale.
Liars, Guns and Money, Parts I through III: The second season of Farscape is at its best when it tells big stories. “Liars, Guns and Money” is the second trilogy in the season, and again well worth including in a “best of” list. The basic story is a heist. But what a heist! Stark learned that D’Argo’s son Jothee has been captured and is going to be sold off as part of a slave auction. In order to rescue Jothee, Stark proposes that they rob a Peacekeeper Shadow Depository in order to get the money they need to be admitted to the auction. Then, in order to rob the Shadow Depository, the crew recruits foes and villains from previous episodes including Bekhesh from “Throne for a Loss,” Rorf and Rorg from “Till the Blood Runs Clear” and Rygel’s former captor Captain Durka. The raid features some of the best action and explosions of the series to date. But the plan is a failure as Scorpius buys Jothee before they can free him. Then the heist turns into yet another tale of betrayal, as their mercenary allies turn on them and each other, while they’re caught in a game of intrigue with Scorpius and Natira, the beautifully devious ruler of the depository.
Die Me, Dichotomy: Throughout season two, John Crichton has been battling a neural chip that Scorpius implanted in his brain. The neural chip has led to some great scenes as John argues with the Scorpius clone lurking in his brain. Now, after the big heist, John wants the chip and the clone out. They travel to a Diagnosin, but if you’ve been following Farscape at all then you know that nothing will go according to plan. Scorpius is there ahead of them. The Diagnosin’s assistant isn’t to be trusted. And Chiana and Jothee betray D’Argo’s trust by making love.
That’s it for Part One, and the first two seasons of Farscape. Come on back next week for Part Two.
* Thank you to farscapecaps.com for their excellent screen caps of the Farscape series!