Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

14 Sept 2011

(TV Series) Farscape

(Reaction) But Then You'll Never Know the Wonders I've Seen by: Antonio Conejos

Farscape is a show set far, far and away from Earth, a region of space where worms clean teeth and spaceships starburst through the heavens. Despite this otherworldlyness though it's really a show which deals with the most prosaic, mundane of topics: family, home and blessings.

Family

Throughout the show, familial ties set up conflicts which propel much of the animus between characters. Indeed, in the very first episode Crichton kills the brother of Crais, setting off a manhunt which runs through most of Season 1. John himself is at odds with his father, a man he admires and finds frustrating in equal measure. (The Ancient who gifts John the wormhole technology also takes the form of his father - further reinforcing the notion of John's father as a wise figure who trusts his son to make the right decisions. John in turn, throughout the series, must prove worthy of this trust.)

Another strained father-son tandem is D'Argo and Jothee. D' Argo spends most of Season 2 plotting to rescue his son only in the end to have his son betray him when Jothee sleeps with Chiana (shades of a soap opera but it fits in the characters of both Jothee and Chiana). Similarly, Aeryn has fond memories of her mother only to have her mother stalking her in Season 3. Finally, most of the angst and turmoil of Season 4 can be traced to John and Aeryn's baby, whose father may or may not be John Crichton.

Familial discord plays a key role in the themes and plots of Farscape. Yet in the face of all this violence caused by families, Farscape is keen to point out the redemptive aspects of family. For it is only family, the one you are born with and the family of friends you find later on, who will volunteer to fall on a sword for your sake.

Talon, Moya's blacksheep of a son, ultimately sacrifices himself (as does Crais) in order that all the other characters might survive. Jothee, now responsible and straightened out, redeems himself in PK Wars and saves D'Argo and Chiana from certain death. Aeryn and John come to terms with their respective parents just as they too become parents (birthing their child while under siege in a bombed out temple).

Family then, infuriating though they may be, are depicted as ultimately dependable; those one can turn to in their darkest hour. Indeed it is to family too that we turn to in our final hour, as Zhaan does right before she dies. D'Argo pleads with her not to go, Zhaan, you're needed here. To which Zhaan replies that she leaves behind something more precious than herself, At one time I believe I was, but then a family was born.

Home

Inextricably tied to family is the idea of a home, the place where families are born and nurtured. Fittingly then, the theme of returning home intertwines neatly with the echoes of family strife and love in Farscape.

All of the initial crew of Moya are trying desperately to get home. For D'Argo, Zhaan and Rigel it is to homes they were ripped away from by the Peacekeepers. For John, the desire to return home is made more acute by the alien nature of his surroundings and his companions. Crichton is literally a fish out of water, a fish who wants more than anything else to return to the blue ball of a planet he calls home.

Alongside those who wish to return to a home is the one character on Moya who seeks to find a new home. Aeryn is declared irreversibly contaminated by the Peacekeepers and exiled from the only society she knows. Thus she must seek for herself a new home amongst people she initially despises (PK's are markedly xenophobic).

Moya, who the crew constantly debates leaving, abandoning or betraying, starts out as temporary shelter for everyone. What was merely an interim refuge however becomes, with time, a new home for all of the crew. It is in this common home that they begin to see each other as a family.

Gifts and Blessings

John, in time, accepts his new home on Moya and in space. He remains conflicted though on returning to Earth. At first returning is all he can think about. But as he becomes adept in dealing with aliens he begins to question if Earth is ready for first contact. Indeed, John describes Earth as, unprepared, helpless for the dangers lurking in space.

This maturing of Crichton's thoughts is in large part due to his contact with the Ancients and his reflection (through suffering) on the gift they have given him. Ultimately Farscape is about being given a gift not because you are worthy but because someone is benevolent, kind. In turn, the onus is on you to prove that you are worthy of that gift.

Numerous times throughout the series the Ancients question whether it was a mistake to give John wormhole knowledge. Yet even though they doubt this solitary human from an insignificant corner of the galaxy, they trust him sufficiently to give him not only wormhole knowledge but the ability to harness such knowledge to create a horrific weapon.

It could be argued then that Farscape proposes that the gift of scientific knowledge in itself is insufficient. (If Scorpius, Graaza or the Scarans had been granted this gift then galactic annihilation would have swiftly ensued.) To prove that we are worthy of such a gift we must demonstrate wisdom alongside knowledge. Crichton resists throughout the series all attempts to weaponize wormhole knowledge. It is only at the very end (in the PK Wars) that he accedes to use it one (and possibly final) time.

As illustrated by the Ancients, a gift can both be a boon and a curse in equal measure. One becomes worthy not in the granting of a gift but in one's use of it. Thus, John must decide, is he to promote peace with the barrel of a wormhole? Alongside the potential peaceful applications of wormholes is the possibility of a weapon so final as to end all conflict, all life. Peace then is balanced on the razor edge of destruction, prosperity with utter destruction.

Similarly, to return to Earth would expose his planet to unparalleled danger. Yet, as Crichton points out, if Earth shuts its eye from space, then you'll never know the wonders I've seen. How far from the shore do we dare to venture, armed only with the gifts of our ingenuity and our courage? This is the final question Farscape challenges its viewer with.

Review:

A really fun series which, at its best, explores just how alien it may be possibly be out there. What Farscape has going for it is its courage to be different from most cookie cutter sci-fi shows. For one, the crew doesn't journey on a warship but one whose only defense consists of running and hiding. Two, the crew isn't (at least at first) a crew at all - but colorful (sometimes insane) characters thrown together by circumstance and bad luck. Third are the muppets - muppets as aliens are awesome and really help to convey the other-worldliness of the show. Just to prove the point, Pilot and Rigel seamlessly become characters in their own right. (Great voice acting for the muppets and make-up on the human actors help in this department too.)

Props to Farscape too for not being afraid to pull punches. On this show the characters aren't afraid to act like real people; they aren't just some uniformed puppets who are always polite and civil to each other. In Farscape the crew (at least early on) is constantly attempting to backstab each other in an effort to get home. So much so in one episode they turn on Pilot and hack off one of his limbs which will serve as payment to a geneticist who may have a map to their respective homes. Event the muppets of Farscape have more personality than the people turned puppets on other shows.

Pilot isn't the only one who suffers at the hands of the fahrbot crew. In another episode D' Argo flies into one of his constant rages and almost kills John. To have a main protagonist, one who later goes on to be elected captain of Moya, deviate so far from the traditional conception of being a good guy demonstrates the daring of the show.

Through its originality and style, Farscape manages to deliver a lot of only on Farscape moments. It is a show set in space but focused on how experiences out there reflect back on the world back here.

As with all things great though, there are some quibbles along the way. Season 4 for me tended to drift too much towards the melodramatic, especially with the incessant focus on John and Aeryn's fated-doomed/doomed-fated love. Indeed a lot of the episodes in Season 4 are quite plodding without the narrative verve of wonder/action/craziness found in previous seasons.

There are some logical lapses in story telling as well throughout the series. In I, ET (a Season 1 episode) no reason is given why the inhabitants of a world which has never encountered aliens before (and hence can't have had access to translator microbes) can understand John. This is particularly galling since the concept of translator microbes is a creative answer to the problem of communication between different species. Yet in I, ET this cool concept falls by the wayside.

The leaps in plausibility stretch to the breaking point in Season 4 where the ostensible reason for rescuing Scorpius is to prevent him from sharing any wormhole knowledge he may have received from Harvey. Yet if Harvey was sending Scorpius information sourced from John's brain, why was Scorpius so insistent that John share said information with him?

Overall, Season 4 may have been the show's weakest season. However it was apparently still doing quite well ratings-wise and its cancellation left a lot of people dumbfounded. Farscape though ends on a high note. Peacekeeper Wars brings back the crew for an ultimately satisfying conclusion that ties up everything neatly. (Except for Sikozu, the way her story ended seemed lazy and out of character.)

Lastly, I'll end my review with my two best (in the sense that they made an impression and stayed with me long after watching) episodes of Farscape, in no particular order:

1. The Way We Weren't (S02E05) - Brilliant, emotionally engaging episode. Most times retcon (the tendency of shows and movie sequels/prequels to iron out the universe by resolving plot contradictions or revealing how all the characters intersected with each other in the past) feels forced and strained. In this episode you don't mind the retcon because instead of tidying up the backstory of Farscape it adds further drama and pathos to the conflicts of the characters (Pilot and Aeryn in particular). Even the title is a sly foreshadowing of what to expect.

2. Scratch and Sniff (S03E13) - Farscape at its very best in terms of humor and tone. Style elevates a humdrum sci-fi mainstay (people being milked for some pheromone/drug/aphrodisiac) into pure storytelling - whimsical, silly and widely entertaining. Pilot though doesn't seem to be amused.

3. (Bonus Episode, S04E10) Coup by Clam - Rigel and Crichton in drag, nuff said.

Share
This reaction is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution - NonCommercial - ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. All that legal mumbo jumbo just means you're free to use any part or entirety of this reaction for any non-commercial purpose as long as you cite the author. Creative Commons License