Farscape: a brief review

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So, now that we’ve finally finished watching it…

(warning: spoilers below for all seasons)

I liked the show’s first season–I liked the premise, I loved the character work and the ensemble cast. Coming from ten seasons of Stargate (a show which is decidedly episodic and not alien-friendly), it was a breath of fresh air to come into a universe with lots of species, and aboard a ship where decisions mattered, and characters could have the space to breathe and grow. Perhaps because of this, though, the show was never gripping in its first season–the character work being pretty much the only link between episodes, and I never got the urge to do some binge-watching that I’d had with other series (BSG or Avatar the Last Airbender, for instance–which are pretty much textbook on how to manage both individual episodes and an ensemble cast with an overarching season plot). I also really liked the strong women characters: both Zhaan and Aeryn were very different, but believably tough and damaged, and never felt like they were being slighted in favour of the males.

Seasons 2 and 3 built on that foundation–best, I thought, when attempting to grapple with the complexity of the universe, ie showing us Scarrans and setting up the dilemma of whether the Peacekeepers might not be the best option among bad options. I loved the way the antagonists (Crais and Scorpius) slowly moved from cardboard stock villains to more complex people. Crais’s about-turn from power-hungry maniac to hunted man was slightly unbelievable, but I was fascinated with how far the writers took it, and didn’t complain too much. I also loved the whole idea of Moya being pregnant and the beginning of the Talyn story-arc–in particular, the fact that the gunship attempted to find its own path away from its peaceful mother. I also liked the new characters, Chiana and Stark, and the mix they brought to the crew.

However, the show itself seemed regularly unable to make up its mind as to what it wanted with a lot of things, including the previously mentioned antagonists–justifying their behaviour one moment, and making them go back to cardboard the next. As the series progressed, there were spectacular inconsistencies in behaviour, and really over-the-top moments (the duplicate Crichtons, which had not only been used before–in the episode where we saw several versions of Crichton–but also the duplicate’s death, which was milked for all it was worth). The episodes also exhibited a tendency to anchor themselves around Crichton, who in many ways was a bad protagonist–selfish, loud and arrogant, and convinced that the universe revolved around him–which wouldn’t have been so bad if the crew didn’t seem to adhere to this perception (when it became convenient for them to do so, plot-wise), respecting Crichton far more than they should have. Several of his decisions were downright questionable; and while I like protagonists who made mistakes, I didn’t like that the show seemed to go out of its way to justify that Crichton did not, in fact, make any mistakes because everyone else was evil or mistaken.
In particular, every single character on Moya seemed to rally awfully quickly to the worst idea ever–destroying Scorpius’ Command Carrier at the end of season 3 in order to supposedly cripple wormhole research forever. Er, sorry, we’re talking about Scorpius here, aka Mr Paranoiacally Prepared. Did they really think he wouldn’t have a backup of the entire research close to hand, or even several backups spread in key locations? Well, as it turns out, he hadn’t, because the script needed him to act like an idiot at this point.

Season 4 got to a particularly low point, which was a shame because it had started to raise interesting questions–I loved the idea of Scorpius joining the crew, but not the shabby way everyone treated him–and similarly with Sikozu, who does a lot of the dirty and boring tech work and gets shouted at by everyone (yes, I know, part of this is happening because she’s so close to Scorpius. But still). And Grayza, aka Mrs-use-seduction-to-get-to-the-top. Oh my god. The least said about Grayza the better.
All of this culminated in the end of season 4, in which honour and morality went flying out the window when Crichton enlists Scorpius’ help to rescue Aeryn from the Scarrans, and then just leaves Scorpius to be tortured and killed because promises made to a power-hungry obsessed maniac don’t count (hint: morality and honour shouldn’t depend on whom you deal with). The show seemed to veer wildly between condemning this behaviour (Scorpius himself had a couple of pointed lines) to approving and even encouraging it (Scorpius regularly gets treated like dirt, and no one on the crew seems to ever complain about it, not even Aeryn, whose life he’s saved), to the point when I wonder if the writers weren’t schizophrenic. And, in general, season 4 was a spectacular high point of inconsistencies and pointless plot twists–Sikozu is awfully concerned about abandoning Scorpius at one moment, and then completely indifferent the next; Braca delights in torturing Scorpius one moment and then is revealed to have been working for Scorpius all along; Sikozu suddenly turns out to have magical Scarran-slaying powers (which she never used before). Possibly the only plot reversal I thought was clever was the revelation about how Stark had been working for the Scarrans before–which neatly explained why Scorpius had been so busy with Stark beforehand.

All in all, Farscape is a bit like Heroes for me–awesome ideas, nice plot twists–but the show definitely overstayed its welcome.

4 comments

  1. A very interesting review, Aliette. Myself, I’ve always enjoyed Farscape even when it turned to the ridiculous. Which is probably partly to do with the fact that I watched (and loved) it as a child.

    I don’t particularly disagree with any of what you said, especially about the fourth season. I do wish they would have let Scorpius out to play a bit more, and Grayza was more of a stopgap villain than anything. But the three parter at the end, whilst plagued with inconsistencies, was just mad enough to keep me entertained.

    I wonder if you’ve seen the concluding mini-series, and what you thought of it?

  2. He, thanks, Matthew! I wish I’d come to it as a child, because there were so many moments of awesome wordlbuilding that would have kept my attention–whatever their problem with plots, Farscape was great at putting bizarre locations together and make them feel real and lived in. And their aliens were also pretty good; I loved the casual association between species with barely a hint of racism, which was a welcome change from shows which use their aliens as metaphor for brown-skinned/yellow-skinned people in not-very-subtle ways.
    I was *so* disappointed when they put Scorpius onboard Moya and then basically spent the rest of the season thinking up ways to sideline him–he had so much potential as a foil for Crichton and the rest of the crew, and it was really frustrating not to see that realised. The three-parter at the end was definitely the high point of season 4 (and far better than the season 3 conclusion). Part of it was the Scorpius/Crichton association, I admit (they nailed the differences in ideologies between those two admirably and with great gusto).
    I have to admit that both I and my husband had lost patience with the series by then, and preferred to conclude our farscape run on a positive note rather than risk the mini-series (on which I’ve heard mixed feedback. We stopped at the end of that three-parter in fact (reasoning that the last episode of the season would be setting up the miniseries and end on a cliffhanger).

    What’s your take on the mini-series–worth watching? I skimmed the summary over on a farscape-dedicated wiki, and wasn’t exactly enthralled by some of the choices (Sikozu turning traitor and D’Argo’s death, specifically), but the execution might compensate.

  3. I would recommend the mini-series, actually. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fairly fitting end to the series. It has a sense of scale about it which makes the whole Peacekeeper-Scarren thing actually seem to matter.

    D’Argo’s death is a mixed point for me. I don’t like the idea, but the execution is actually fairly powerful (if you ignore the slight flaw that I don’t really see that he *had* to die). But the Crichton and Aeryn scenes are brilliantly done, and Scorpius is given more of the role he should have had in season 4, I think.

    So yeah, I’d give it a go. Not perfect, but certainly one of the better recent sci-fi offerings.

  4. Ha, thanks a lot for the input! Still torn, I admit. I think I need to get the bad taste out of my mouth before I’m ready to give Farscape another try. We’ll see in a few weeks…

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