I hadn’t seen Farscape (1999-2004) since it was first broadcast by the BBC back in the day, but it had been on my “wish list” for a while, so when I saw a complete run of the first season going cheap in a second-hand shop, I had to have it! (I assume the original owner had wisely upgraded to the slim and shiny new box-sets, as these were the old, space-wasting sets with twenty two episodes spread across ten discs, each in its own individual case!)
For those who don’t know, this cult “space opera” tells the story of ‘John Crichton’ (Ben Browder), an American astronaut from present-day Earth, who finds himself flung through a wormhole into a distant corner of the universe while testing an experimental spacecraft, dubbed “Farscape 1”. He emerges in the middle of a dogfight between a fleet of fascistic space-cops known as “Peacekeepers”, and a misfit crew of escaped prisoners who have somehow gained control of their transport vessel, a living biomechanical ship named ‘Moya’. After accidentally pranging the ship of a prominent Peacekeeper, who immediate crashes and burns on the surface of a nearby moon, Crichton has no choice but to ally himself with the escapees, and hope that he can stay alive long enough to figure out where the hell he is, and how he can get back home again.
When I first started watching the show, I found Crichton quite annoying, with his cocky, devil-may-care antics, and constant wisecracks… but second time around, I find him far more sympathetic, because I know that in later seasons he’s going to start going full-tilt batshit. In fact, it helps to imagine that he starts going crazy as soon as he first sets foot on Moya, and that his apparent bravado is just a front he’s putting up, while he struggles to cling to his ebbing sanity. How else can you explain his compulsive reliance on pop-culture references which his alien companions could never possibly be expected to understand? They’re his only link back to his homeworld, after all… he has to filter every mind-warping new experience through the TV shows and movies that he’s seen, in order to process them without becoming a gibbering wreck. But it isn’t all bad news for Crichton, of course, because he does get to share a ship with three of the coolest, comeliest women in Sci-Fi/Fantasy history. I’m not sure how he wangled it, but Browder seems to spend half his time on-screen either nuzzling or frotting his female cast-mates, while “steadying” them or catching their fall! Lucky git.
First up is ‘Aeryn Sun’ (Claudia Black), a disgraced, human-looking Peacekeeper, who is drummed out of the service after she’s held captive by Moya’s crew, and becomes “irreversibly contaminated” by their empathy and compassion for others. She begins the series as an elitist, trigger-happy snob, but eventually warms up to her wary crewmates… and even finds herself feeling “the human emotion you call love” for Crichton. Er… sort of. The two of them have one of the most confusing “will they, won’t they” relationships I’ve ever seen, simply because it’s sometimes rather hard to know for sure which reality they’re in when they do hook up, and if it still counts when they get back to the real reality. If you see what I mean. Aside from being exceptionally beautiful, Black’s very good at portraying the character’s initial arrogance as well as her later vulnerability, and it’s always fun when she takes charge and starts laying the smack down. Her commanding performance is especially impressive when you see how sweet and smiley she is in the “behind the scenes” interviews.
Next up is ‘Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan’ (Virginia Hey), a blue-skinned, bald-headed Delvian Pa’u… or priestess, if you prefer. Blessed with pain-relieving powers, and a stock of home-made medicines, Zhaan is the closest thing the ship has to a doctor… although she’s also proven herself more than capable of kicking ass, should the need arise. Zhaan’s probably my second favourite character overall, because she’s so chilled and enlightened, and I enjoy getting a vicarious hit of “Zen” off of her… even if she is tortured by her darker demons from time to time too. Hey does a great job with the character, portraying her grace and nobility… and you have to admire her dedication as an actress, shaving her hair and eyebrows, and wearing all of that skin-suffocating make-up for three straight years! I mean, I’m sure it was a rewarding role, but probably not worth sacrificing your health for…
And finally there’s the most adorable alien of all time, a grey-skinned, doe-eyed Nebari chick named ‘Chiana’ (Gigi Edgley). Arriving fashionably late in ep #1.15, Chiana is a super-cute scoundrel sentenced to receive an electroshock lobotomy by her own ultra-conformist kind, for committing the deadly serious crime of being a horny, antisocial kleptomaniac, with the unbridled, off-kilter sensuality of a Goldfrapp album made flesh. Thankfully she manages to avoid her date with brain-death and find sanctuary aboard Moya, where she quickly insinuates herself into their ragtag family, while kissing, kicking and crying her way into our hearts! Fun fact: Edgley was initially only hired for a one-shot guest spot, with Chiana doomed to die at the end of the episode… but everyone loved her so much that she was promptly granted a reprieve and written into the remaining episodes. And thank goodness they did, because Edgley brings a whole new energy to the show. It can’t have been easy for her joining an established cast that late into production, but by the end of the season it feels like she’s been there the whole time! Bless.
(Of course, it doesn’t hurt that all three actresses are Australian… as everyone knows that “Aussie” is one of the Top 5 Sexiest International Accents. Fact!)
Overall, there are times when the show can be quite cheesy and corny and cartoony, but it can also be quite funny and unsettling and artistic and innovative too. One of the things that sets it apart from a lot of the other big name Sci-Fi franchises is that the main characters aren’t Establishment figures… they aren’t military-types with matching uniforms, a rigid chain of command, and a set of approved protocols or prime directives to follow… they’re a bickering band of random renegades, who have to survive on their wits and improvise their way out of every pickle they get themselves into. And I doubt you’d ever see a crew member of The Enterprise arriving late to their captain’s rescue because they were delayed by a sun-flare-induced “photogasm” while crossing a desert! As a collaboration with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the series is also blessed with a wealth of animatronic puppets, which help to flesh out the universe with properly alien-looking characters of all shapes and sizes, rather than just the regular people-with-prosthetics that you find on every other Sci-Fi/Fantasy show.
My only major complaint about this season would be that it ended on a major cliff-hanger, which left me jonesing for season two! Dammit!