Pulled off air nearly a decade ago amid a mess of mixed signals (the Sci-Fi Channel said yes to Season 5, and then no), Farscape just missed out on the era of mass internet fan mobilisation – the kind that has kept similar shows like Firefly, Caprica and Stargate SG1 high on the cancellationoutrageometer.
Those who do remember its abrupt end – a cliffhanger not entirely salved by the somewhat cluttered 2004 miniseries The Peacekeeper Wars – still mourn. For its mixture of knowing genre irreverence and crackin’ great genre tales, it was the sci-fi answer to Buffy The Vampire Slayer before Firefly turned up as the rightful heir, offering a similar ragtag crew, internal lexicon and Spaghetti Western aesthetics. The basic premise, with shades of Blake’s 7 can be entirely explained by its opening credits:
Created by Alien Nation‘s Rockne S O’Bannon and Henson Company chief and king of muppets Brian Henson, Farscape was a fast-paced, melodramatic, frequently ridiculous slab of space opera that riled so hard against the limitations of its special effects budget, seemingly on a mission to depict the undepictable using only elaborate puppetry and enthusiasm. But there’s no need to describe why we like it so much here, when this snapshot of ten awesome episodes will do it for us:
10. A Human Reaction (Season 1, Episode 16)
John: “They have worlds out there, people out there you wouldn’t believe! But they do not have chocolate.”
Lost astronaut, proud Southern boy and POV character John Crichton (Ben Browder), thinks he’s found a way home and the crew of Moya follow him down. Mankind reacts largely as you’d expect it to and Crichton finds himself splayed between his new friends, and his old ones, including his father, Jack (played by Galactica 1980‘s Kent McCord).
After 15 episodes and with no conception of the show’s future, this really did feel like it might be the end and things hadn’t wrapped up quite the way we’d imagined – with comedy muppet sidekick and deposed monarch Rygel dead and dissected in the Australian equivilent of Area 51. Then comes the twist, laying seeds for an arc that outlives Farscape entirely.
9. The Way We Weren’t (Season 2, Episode 5)
Pilot: “If I hadn’t agreed to come, Velorek may never have found a replacement pilot. But… but I just wanted so desperately to see the stars.”
Aeryn: “Do you remember when you first came aboard? Velorek stroked your cheek like this. Back then, I couldn’t fathom why he’d do a thing like that, and now I couldn’t fathom not doing it.”
An event from Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) and Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu)’s past comes back to haunt them, throwing Aeryn’s place on Moya in doubt. We get told a lot about how evil the Peacekeepers are – they’re a sort of Empire-style organisation of English space Nazis – but we only really understand that when we see the offhand callousness with which Aeryn and her squad executed the living ship’s last Pilot to bring Moya into line. An emotional, shipbound episode – both things Farscape does so well – that not only ultimately brings Pilot and Aeryn closer together, but brings us closer to them too as we’re pulled through the barbwire tunnel of their pain and guilt by the feet and made to see it up close and personal.
8. Won’t Get Fooled Again (Season 2, Episode 15)
Crais: “I like your style, hombre, but this is no laughing matter. Assault on a police officer, theft of police property, illegal possession of a firearm, five counts of attempted murder. That comes to 29 dollars and 40 cents. Cash, check or credit card?”
Crichton wakes up back on earth, and knows it’s bullshit from the get-go. In response the pressure is piled on and old and new friends appear in increasingly daft scenarios, giving the cast a whole new Big Top in which to extend their talents – Anthony Simcoe, who plays the Klingon-copypasta (initially, at least) Ka D’Argo, in particular turns in an amazing display that frankly, defies description.
7. Out Of Their Minds (Season 2, Episode 9)
Crichton: “Have we sent the ‘Don’t shoot us, we’re pathetic’ transmission yet?”
What would be an otherwise dreary cheapo ship-based filler episode based around that old Star Trek standby of something mysteriously causing people to swap bodies is turbo-charged by that magical combination of gleeful acting (Ben Browder and Claudia Black imitating not only each other’s mannerisms, but those of muppety puppety alien things Rygel and Pilot) and absolutely deranged scriptwriting.
6. Revenging Angel (Season 3, Episode 16)
Crichton: “I don’t… wanna be like other people. I don’t wanna be like you. I don’t wanna stoop that low. Kirk wouldn’t stoop that low.”
Scorpius: “That was a television show, John. And he made Priceline commercials.”
It’s probably going to seem to the uninitiated that 80% of Farscape is just the cast going nutso on the ship and shouting at each other, which isn’t true (it’s more like 73%), but with the emphasis taken away from running around unimpressive looking alien planets/ships of the week, the ensemble prove their versatility and gurning prowess with cabin fever meltdowns.
D’Argo and Crichton wind each other up something chronic, and John is knocked unconscious. His Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) brain-implant (the big bad put a ‘neural clone’ of himself in John’s head to try and weasel out his secrets), named Harvey in homage to the 1950 invisible rabbit movie of the same name, convinces him that revenge is the only way to regain conciousness. Crichton being Crichton forcibly turns everything into a riotous Warner Bros cartoon and Roadrunners his way through his subconscious. Meanwhile, the ancient Luxan ship D’Argo and Crichton accidentally turned on is counting down its self-destruct sequence…
5. Liars, Guns And Money (all three parts) (Season 2, Episode 19-21)
Harvey: It wasn’t easy, there are vast regions of your brain that are filled with nothing but gibberish.
John: That would be high school.
Of all the arguments for officially recognising Farscape as the small screen Star Wars, two are the most compelling – it’s effort to create truly alien looking aliens through epic prosthesis and puppetry in an era when most sci-fi TV was content glueing ridges to people’s faces and painting on comedy eyebrows, and its love of a good solid action/adventure space romp.
The three part epic of ‘Liars, Guns And Money’ is like the first third of Return Of The Jedi impacting messily with Oceans 11. D’Argo discovers that the son he never met – he was arrested and imprisoned shortly after his birth – is being offered up on a slave auction, but slaves, like toilet roll, can only be bought in bulk and so Moya’s misfit inhabitants enlist a cross-section of rogues from across the first season to raid a seemingly impenetrable space vault. But, on no, snarling, sneering big bad Scorpius is also there and has a creepy S&M love affair going on with the vault’s owner, the eyeball-plucking scorpion-headed sadist Natira (Claudia Karvan)…
4. Into The Lion’s Den (both parts) (Season 3, Episode 20-21)
Crais (Over comm, to whole ship): Scorpius, I am just making my final goodbyes.
Scorpius: Where are you, Crais?
Crais: I am standing in your heart, and I’m about to squeeze.
If Farscape was Star Wars for TV, then the two part ‘Into The Lion’s Den’ was its Return Of The Jedi – our hero finally comes face to face with his nemesis, who wishes to lure him to his own equivalent of the Dark Side, by getting John to help him decipher the wormhole technology needed to defeat the galaxy’s even bigger bad, the Scarrans.
Obviously the crew have other plans, and there’s no way they’re handing the Peacekeepers’ deranged Mengele-meets-Vader any sort of leg up, and like the Death Star, Scorpius’ devestating Command Carrier is obliterated from within, and like Return Of The Jedi, there’s an unexpected sacrifice in this masterful chess game between good an evil…
I mean, just listen to how epic the music is!
3. Nerve/The Hidden Memory (Season 1, Episode 19-20)
Rygel: I’ve conceived hundreds of progeny! And those are only official ones with my wives.
Chiana: Well then you should know something about this; you should be able to help us.
Rygel: I was never present at the birth!
Chiana: Not one?
Rygel: Well of course not! I think this is a trifle different, don’t you? My progeny were tiny… tiny and handsome, like their father.
To revisit that now somewhat strained ‘Farscape as Star Wars: The Series‘ thing, ‘Nerve’ and ‘The Hidden Memory’ is very much the Australian muppet answer to A New Hope. Our band sneak into a Peacekeeper superbase – Crichton posing as an officer and the flirtatious Chiana (Gigi Edgley) his concubine – in order to save Aeryn’s life. Captured, Crichton undergoes a gruelling torture at the hands of the chilling Scorpius and the major plot arc for Farscape kicks off in earnest as Crichton is revealed to have secret wormhole technology embedded in his noggin by mystical beings.
‘Nerve’ was a terrifying escalation that took Farscape from the simple Blakes 7-style misfits-on-the-run premise into whole new complicated, high-stakes misfits-on-the-run territory. This is where Farscape stopped being merely good harmless fun, and became truly excellent…
2. Crackers Don’t Matter (Season 2, Episode 4)
Pilot: How is your module?
Crichton: Checked out fine, I checked out fine.
Pilot: While vaguely concerned about you, I’m much more interested in how this will affect Moya.
The undisputed king of Farscape‘s many crew-go-batshit-on-ship episodes! At the bequest of an obviously creepy alien engineer called T’raltixx, Moya heads through an area of space littered with pulsars that begin to exert a mental pull of the crew, pushing them to hot headedness, paranoia and borderline insanity. Crichton appears to the suffer the least, although haunted by Scorpius is pretty damn odd.
Filled with extreme and controversial scenes that tested everyone’s acting abilities, D’Argo force feeding Rygel crackers is pretty harrowing, although it doesn’t come anywhere near close to the implied near rape of Chiana – pretty bloody dark stuff for a show with muppets in it. Witty, brilliantly-paced, and terrifyingly visceral in places, ‘Crackers Don’t Matter’ should be the first episode any prospective ‘Scaper is shown to win them over.
1. Die Me, Dichotomy (Season 2, Episode 22)
D’Argo: Aeryn, Crichton has often said he’d rather die than fall to Scorpius. If you get the opportunity, don’t hesitate.
Aeryn: What makes you think I would?
D’Argo: Because if our positions were reversed… I would.
Please don’t be angry but I think this is our Empire Strikes Back… someone is lost and someone turns as the Scorpius neural clone implanted in Crichton begins to take full control and he rushes to have it removed. To describe it in any detail is to do it an injustice, but if you have a proclavity for crying at films – ‘Die Me, Dichtomy’ will have you feotal and weeping. Especially this bit (major spoiler).
Farscape: The Complete Series is available on DVD (with The Peacekeeper Wars miniseries), priced $61.39, and on Blu-ray, priced £79.49, from Amazon.co.uk.