Created by Rockne S. O’Bannon
March 1999 to March 2003
Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel
Farscape is one of those great series that seems to have become a cult series followed by only a few. This was an amazing show. There was nothing like it before and there has been nothing like it since.
Originally I was going to do this review as once-and-done with all seasons done in one review but changed my mind to break it down per season because as I wrote I felt I needed to discuss each season individually. So much could get packed into each one and I felt it necessary to discuss a particular season’s events.
The series itself is the story of astronaut John Crichton and how his arrival in a far-off section of the galaxy changes his life and the course of history in that quadrant.
The original cast of characters are:
John Crichton (Ben Browder) is an astronaut who while testing his experimental spacecraft gets sucked through a wormhole to a far part of the galaxy and gets swept up in the galaxy changing events of the new world he is in. John quickly finds himself stuck on a living ship called Moya filled with escaping prisoners.
John Crichton was never a hero. He was the central character and the most heroic from beginning to end but he was never a hero. He was just a man caught up an extraordinary circumstances who tried to do the right thing as well as just survive. He started out as quite possibly any science-fiction fan would: amazed and excited to be living in a science-fiction movie but as season one and the series in general continued on, the weight of what he had to do in order to survive and to keep his friends alive changed him. By the end he was still a good man, but he was a good man with a great deal of blood on his hands.
Officer Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) is next on the roster. Though she looks human she is actually a member of an alien species known as Sebaceans-more popularly known in that quadrant as Peacekeepers. Aeryn was perhaps the most bigoted of the group. In the beginning she saw herself and her people as superior to those she was stuck with because of being declared “irreversible contaminated.” By the end however her character grew into much more.
Aeryn was never a willing member of the crew. She was not a prisoner but rather a Peacekeeper pilot that was accidentally dragged along when the crew escaped. She found herself stuck with them after John, who had managed to escape with her, was declared “irreversibly contaminated” by her commanding officer after she defended the lost human.
Dominar Rygel XVI (voiced by Jonathan Hardy) is the dethroned leader of the star spanning Hynerian Empire. Prior to the events of the series he was dethroned in a coup by his cousin Bishan. Rygel did not experience too much character growth during the first few seasons and only really blossomed by season 4 and the concluding miniseries. He got cut down a few times, but it did not do much to change with him.
Ka D’Argo (referred to simply as D’Argo and played by Anthony Simcoe) is a Luxan warrior falsely imprisoned for the murder of his Sebacean/Peacekeeper wife. His real crime was marrying her as interspecies marriages were forbidden among Peacekeepers as well as fathering a child with her.
Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan (referred to usually as Zhaan and played by Virginia Hey) is a Delvian priestess who was imprisoned for the murder of her lover Bitaal who was the leader of her planet’s government after he and others in the government made an alliance with the Peacekeepers. Zhaan like all the characters could be very human as well as surprisingly alien. One of her more alien aspects was that she was a sentient plant. I’m not sure if I ever saw a character be an intelligent plant before.
Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu) is, well, the pilot of the vessel and is a member of a species referred to during the series only as Pilots or Servicers. He is physically joined to Moya as all his people are when assigned a Leviathan transport. His people while ancient have no spaceflight technology and this is their only way to see the stars.
Chiana (Gigi Edgley) is a late addition to the cast as she joined during the middle of Season 1. She is a mercurial creature running from the authoritarian Nebari regime for the crime of not conforming. She’s a capable fighter and a resourceful thief.
The villains (as of season 1):
Captain Bialar Crais (Lani Tupu-AGAIN!!) serves as the overarching villain for the majority of the first season. He uses the excuse of retrieving the missing transport as a means to pursue John into what is known as the Uncharted Territories. John, when he arrived in this part of the galaxy, accidentally collided with Tauvo’s (Crais’s younger brother) prowler causing his brother to crash into an asteroid. During the course of the season we learn that Crais and his brother were conscripted into the Peacekeepers from a farming colony and his parents had asked him to watch out for his brother. This was a duty that he took very seriously to the point he was driven to obsession for revenge upon his brother’s death.
Crais unfortunately was a limited villain. I’m not talking about the actor who is amazing but his villainy and the motivations behind it didn’t and unfortunately couldn’t do much for the series and at the end of the first season the producers wisely added in one of the greatest science-fiction villains of all time in the form of Scorpius.
Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) is a half-Sebacean, half-Scarran Peacekeeper. By the time of his introduction the character was quite notable in the context of the series since by then it was well established that the Peacekeepers did not tolerate half breeds. He was a diabolical villain that had plans within plans and was presented as being one step ahead of everyone else. The best part was he was never presented as being truly evil. He was just cold and calculating and his motivation was always that he thought he was doing the right thing. That made him a very complex character. I know I may get some pushback on this, but the means justified the ends since he viewed the Scarran threat as quite possibly devasting for every planet in the galaxy. I think he was driven by a fear based on personal knowledge that others could never know. Scorpius was a game changer for the series.
Lt. (eventually Captain) Meeklo Braca (David Franklin) appears late in season one though initially in a non-speaking role. He does not become an active participant in events until the last few episodes of season one but his overall contribution to the series is significant enough that he needs mentioned here.
Braca is not really evil in my view. He is just doing his job and trying to get promoted. Braca is the only character in the series Scorpius appears to implicitly trust and this trust is repeatedly justified. They form a close bond possibly because Braca sees Scorpius’s goals as similar to his as well as viewing riding Scorpius’s coattails as a way to greater power.
The first half of the first season was a little clunky but that is forgivable for any series starting from scratch to build a mythology. And when I say clunky it is clunky in comparison to the rest of the series because even the clunkiest Farscape episode was as strong if not stronger than the most refined episode of any other science fiction show.
In the beginning the crew had nothing in common other than each one desiring to go to their various homes. Unfortunately, they couldn’t since they had to drive deeper into the Uncharted Territories to avoid the pursuit of Crais and none knew the location of their respective planets.
Various standalone episodes gave insights into the assorted characters. We learn why Zhaan and D’Argo are in prison and we get details as to how Rygel came to be deposed. Aeryn at the beginning of the series believed in the righteousness of the Peacekeepers but learns during season one that they are not as perfect and correct as she had been taught to believe. The most significant blow to this is when the character of Durka returns in the episode “Durka Returns.”
Durka was a legendary Peacekeeper captain who had been in charge of the vessel Zelbinion that the crew of the Moya encountered derelict a few episodes prior. It was assumed that he died with the ship as commanding officer and the indication in the episode was he had indeed died. It was not until the introduction of Chiana and his return that we learned he was captured by the Nebari and they were the ones that had devastated the Zelbinion.
During season one we even get something which I dare say is unique in science fiction where a living starship becomes pregnant. Yes, you heard me right. Moya is with child by the end of the season. And her child turns out to be part of a Peacekeeper experiment to create a Leviathan gunship.
Towards the end of the first season shortly after the time of Chiana’s introduction the show ditched the self-contained narrative and started to rely more heavily on interconnecting stories. Episodes increasingly referenced what came before if not completely expanding on it.
This all culminated in the season finale episodes. Aeryn was injured in a previous episode but kept it to herself since the ship did not have the resources to save her life. By this point the crew had gone from disparate individuals to a reluctant (and dysfunctional) family and decided to help her at the behest of John who shamed them into it. They knew of a nearby Peacekeeper base because of an earlier encounter and decided that was the only place they could go to get what they needed.
John was the only one on the ship who could infiltrate the facility since he looked like a Peacekeeper. And after making contact with a Peacekeeper named Gilina (Alyssa-Jane Cook) whom they had encountered in “PK Tech Girl” on the wreck of the Zelbinion they were able secure an artificial version of the tissue which would save Aeryn. And as is par for the course for the series just as he is about to leave everything goes to crap. One of the hallmarks of the show is that the best laid plans of the crew never quite work out. It was at this moment that viewers are introduced to the character of Scorpius. He has the ability to see energy signatures and can clearly tell that John is not what he appears
It was at this moment that the series took a change for the better. Scorpius was working to develop wormhole weaponry to use against a far superior military threat. And after interrogating John using Peacekeeper technology known as an Aurora Chair, he discovered John had everything he needed locked inside of his brain. The Aurora Chair scans and interprets thought somehow. As is often the case the science behind assorted technology they encounter is never explained. It just works. This ain’t Star Trek.
A few episodes prior the crew had encountered a species with wormhole technology that was searching for a planet to colonize and they had tapped into John’s brain. This species taking pity on John (I took it as possibly setting things up to teach the galaxy a lesson once the series ended) planted wormhole knowledge in John’s subconscious that would only reveal itself when he was intellectually ready to handle it.
This would lead to a series long obsession that the character Scorpius had for John and provide for some serious villainous mechanizations. Scorpius not only became obsessed with John but usurped Crais’s command of his own carrier forcing the character to flee his ship. The character had been fairly bland up until this point which was unfortunate because Lani Tupu is really good.
It was also on the base that they first met the character of Stark (Paul Goddard). He is a Stykera which is a subrace of another race called the Banik. This subrace has spiritual powers that they use when someone is near death. It appears that his people were generally slaves in the Farscape universe.
Scorpius apparently tortured him in the Aurora Chair regularly because there was an area in his mind Scorpius couldn’t access. Scorpius assumed it was some important secret. Stark didn’t really become a member of the crew until later on, but he appeared quite frequently from this point on throughout the course of the series.
This all led up to what would become a hallmark of the series-the season finale cliffhanger. John in particular and the crew in general realized that what Scorpius was doing on the base was a serious threat to the galaxy and was something probably the militaristic Peacekeepers should not have. The moon that this was all occurring on was covered in an oily substance. The show is space opera so weird things like that were not impossible. Anyway, their plan involved lighting it on fire which would destroy the base and make the planet uninhabitable.
And the plan worked to an extent. After nearly failing, the transport pod crashed into the planet and ignited the surface, but John was left floating in orbit and in the last minutes of the episode D’Argo had lost consciousness. Aeryn was forced to pretend to be part of a Peacekeeper patrol looking for them and could not get to them in enough time to help D’Argo. Our heroes were left floating in space with the resources running out and help pretty much out of reach.
Season one began on an OK note and ended with a bang. This season in total was a great start to what became an amazing television series. What they presented here was a very strong foundation on which they built something amazing.
Next week I talk about season two.