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Farscape: Season One (1999)
Created by Rockne S. O'Bannon

review by Trent Walters

Despite its availability only on cable (though also now out on DVD) in the US, you bump into fans everywhere - at work or at school - people who suspect you have a penchant for SF, trap you by the water cooler, and nudge you in the ribs, asking, 'So what's up with Crichton this season?' What accounts for Farscape's success? Farscape, a Sci-Fi Channel exclusive programme in the vein of Star Trek and other SF TV/movie media, plays with genre expectations. The viewer may have seen every plot in the industry, but hasn't seen them played in quite the same way as this. Media is about 40 years behind the progress made in print but that leaves the ardent fan plenty of territory to explore and supply the science fictional fix.
   The first difficult question to ask is whether the series is SF in the genre sense of the term. The answer is no. The science is dubious at best, providing nitpickers opportunity aplenty to dissect the minor inconsistencies. One wonders how matter can be created and destroyed, how ships bob and float in space like a ship at sea, how Newton's laws of gravity and momentum function. (Shouldn't a disturbance toss loose passengers in the same direction? Shouldn't people who jump from a ship that's diving into a moon follow shortly behind, even if they jump in the opposite direction?)
Ben Browder as John Crichton Claudia Black as Aeryn Sun Moya - the living starship
In fact, Farscape discusses science less than crystals, potions, and mysticism. Bonafide science does percolate the grinds of its plotting, but the fantasy element is more prevalent. But, hey, what's wrong with a good science fantasy? Another difficult question, despite universal translators, is where they come up with all these silly bunny schmerps (see the Turkey City Lexicon in the appendix of Paragons), substituting 'microns' for seconds, 'cycles' for years, and I'll save the best for your own discovery (the substitution for a four-letter expletive deleted). The least they could do would be to develop strange usages for strange terminologies in a logical, methodical manner that does not so closely parallel English grammar. Meanwhile, the most difficult question is for the characters: whether they can develop their mostly two dimensional personalities with occasional glimmer of fullness which sadly surpasses the common television standard. Viewers don't watch Farscape for character but the plotting elements (albeit not as integrated as Blake's 7), a far better fare than 99.9 percent of other programming.
Anthony Simcoe as D'Argo Gigi Edgley as Chiana Paul Goddard as Stark
What makes the show succeed is a sense of connectedness and continuity that's so rare in TV-land these days. Typically, Bart conquers his fear of a dog to have it return, Moe gets a face lift that disappears when a façade falls upon it - all so the series can play endlessly upon the same tune, the same flat characterisations and scenarios from ground zero over and again. Star Trek characters rarely get promoted or, if they do, they demote themselves to remain forever on the same ship or they jump ship to a different series. In Farscape, if a character dies, he (or she) may never be seen again; if a captain kills his second in secrecy but somehow gets discovered, he may lose his position. Sometimes the connectedness is subtler: a seemingly meaningless stolen object or last kiss in one episode becomes the key to complicating or resolving otherwise impossible conflict in another, later episode. Surprise, surprise: viewers can appreciate having their intelligence challenged, making associations and connections, appreciating art and craft. This, more than any other reason, probably accounts for Farscape's success among its loyal viewers. Other programming ought to take the hint.
   Unfortunately, the series must begin somewhere and without connections. The characterisation isn't any more dynamic than other programming on television (D'Argo aptly describes one of Crichton's two emotions with "You're always confused." His character does get better later in the series). And the plots are all strangely familiar, but when has familiarity in plot or character ever bred contempt in its viewers? Witness the same old misunderstandings and lies that form the plot basis behind episode after episode of the popular Friends and how often has a show's popularity continued after sexual tension is resolved? Who wants to see a married or divorced couple (witness Sonny and Cher after their break-up)? Better to fight, make a soap opera out of love, and milk the Nielsen ratings to stay on the air for seven times 70 seasons.
Rygel (puppet character) Pilot (puppet character) Virginia Hey as Pa'u
Rather, Farscape sidesteps new plot and character development issues by playing upon viewer expectations based upon 50 years of TV/movie SF - the mix 'n' match plots that take its characters down the cow path less trampled. For example, episode three combines elements of Aliens and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and a dash of itself in order to thwart the expected media interpretation of how the crew should react. Such plot complexity is not rare. In fact, episode 21 has three plot threads - two of which can be subdivided into a total of five plot threads. This, too, may account for its popularity.
   However, if you want to pick up the series - due to its connective nature - plot summaries are in order with an occasional analysis on individual success. Without the connections, a viewer might be inclined to drop the series - not that the viewer needs all the details, but that details build upon one another, and this accretion of detail, of human detritus and baggage is what raises the bar on television programming. Lugging baggage forever around like the rest of us fellow human sufferers opens the gate to identifying with the characters and hooking more viewers each season. But if you haven't started watching, give yourself plenty of episodes for Farscape's plot teeth to sink in.

all FARSCAPE photos © 2001 The Jim Henson Company
Farscape
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JOHN CRICHTON
(Ben Browder)
Astronaut Crichton is
thrown across the
universe through a
random wormhole and
picked up by prison
ship, Moya, on the
other side.
Thankfully, his
confusion grows less
as the season wears
on, and his elusive
goal is to get back
home to Earth.

AERYN SUN
(Claudia Black)
Daughter of Sebacean
peacekeeper officers
Sun is contaminated
when Crichton and
Moya's crew holds
her prisoner. She
has no home to
return to.

KA D'ARGO
(Anthony Simcoe)
Luxan warrior
D'Argo is the
stereotypical
quick-tempered,
macho, big tough guy
in search of home but,
more importantly, his
Sebacean half-breed
son, the source of
all his troubles.

CHIANA
(Gigi Edgley)
Walking around with
an annoyingly cocked
head, Chiana joins the
crew as a prisoner in
transport. She'd like
to be reunited with
her brother who is
part of a rebellion
against their people.

STARK
(Paul Goddard)
Imprisoned with
cellmate Crichton as
part Scorpius' beloved
Aurora Chair of coerced
memory delights, Stark
can heal and reveal the
other side of death.

RYGEL XVI
(voice: Jonathan Hardy)
Rygel used to be dominar
of his empire but was
deposed by his cousin
and imprisoned by the
peacekeepers for 250
years. His acerbic
manner toward the crew
enlivens the series.

PILOT
(voice: Lani John Tupu)
Pilot is the liaison
between Moya and her
crew. Her personality is
mostly a compliant one
though her dander gets
raised about Moya's ill
treatment when she
first arrived.

PA'U ZOTOH ZHAAN
(Virginia Hey)
Pa'u is a Delvian
Priestess who has
finally found an
inner peace after
much meditation,
rejecting her earlier
angry rebellious self
that comes back to
haunt her and turn
her peace-loving
blue eyes to angry
red. She adds a
necessary levelheaded
balance to the crew
that would be lost
without her.

Farscape season one cast

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