Farscape - Season 2
D. W. McKim (3-16-01) - SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains an in-depth analysis of Farscape's second season up to and including the season finale cliffhanger. The last third of season one is also discussed. While we trust you all already know this with these reviews, we did at least want to provide ample warning for newer viewers who may currently be exploring the show via the recent DVD and video releases. There's lots of wonderful twists and turns ahead and it's best to try to remain unspoiled if possible! On the other hand, new or casual viewers may find this helpful as a way to catch up on the various plotturns as the show is set to enter its third season.
When I wrote my first Farscape review, it was after 15 out of 22 episodes had aired. You'll recall I gave it a full five Kermit head rave. Little did I know that Episode 16 onward would blow everything that had come before away with the inaugural season's remaining episodes mostly being among their best as well as steering the entire series into a new direction that would set the tone for season two.
completest's sake, to recap - Episode #16 "A Human Reaction"
finds Earthling John Crichton's supposed return to Earth where instead
of a hero's welcome, he's greeted with fearful and paranoid former colleagues
who are wary of the extraterrestrial modifications made to the Farscape
ship and differences in his biological structure (the translator microbes
colonized in his brain.) The arrival of D'Argo, Aeryn, and Rygel soonafter
does not help ease any tensions... the aliens are treated not as ambassadors
from another world but as beings to be feared and studied - with Rygel
soon dead on a dissection table. Even though the end seems like a bit
of a cheat or cop-out...the experience was not really happening but rather
an experiment by a race known as the Ancients to see how this unknown
planet known as Earth might receive their people were they to settle there.
Tthe episode was nonetheless one of their strongest and most emotional.
At first what seems like a stand-alone episode ends up being a major turning
point for the series a few episodes later. In order to save Aeryn's life,
Crichton needs to pose as a Peacekeeper and enter a secret base to obtain
a tissue sampling. With help from Chiana and Gilena, the PK Tech Girl
he had a fling with in back in Episode 7, he almost succeeds. That is
until he crosses path with a very special Peacekeeper named Scorpius,
who being a Sebacean/Scarren hybrid is able to detect that John is not
a Sebacean. In some truly horrifying interrogation scenes, Crichton is
subject to Scorpius' Aurora Chair, which rather painfully extracts the
subject's memories onto a viewscreen. While sifting through his mind,
Scorpius learns that as a kind of acknowledgement for being put through
the Ancients' experiment, they had given John some extra subconscious
knowledge of the wormhole phenomena to assist in his continuing research
of the incident that propelled him to this part of the universe. Turns
out wormhole research is one of Scorpius' pet projects! As if Crichton
wasn't already on a PK Most Wanted List for killing Captain Crais' brother
and aiding and abetting the escaped prisoner Leviathan, but now punishment
for the above crimes become secondary to Scorpius' goal to gain access
to his hidden knowledge. Crais himself is also subject to the Aurora Chair
where Scorpius discovers his insubordination to High Command in his pursuit
of revenge on Crichton. In a series of plotwists during the season finale,
Crais becomes an unlikely ally/prisoner of Moya's crew up until he commandeers
Moya's recently birthed baby Talyn, a previously unheard-of hybrid between
Leviathan and PK gunship! Whew. Head hurt yet? Mind you, that's all just
the last seven episodes of season one. Season Two obviously had some bold
new territory to explore and was faced with a major challenge: sustaining
the momentum and consistent quality of what's come before. After one year
on the air, Farscape had become an instant classic and significant entry
into the scifi genre, earning the honor of The Scifi Channel's highest
rated program. Could its second year possibly live up to the standards
established by its first and even surpass it?
what went wrong? A number of factors combined to create a week opening.
For one thing, the season literally opened on the wrong foot. Aside from
the aforementioned Crais/Talyn and Scorpius stories, Episode #22 ("Family
Ties")'s cliffhanger had split up the main cast - with what would
arguably be the "leads" (an unfair label given the ensemble
of the cast) out in space and in immediate danger and the others left
on Moya having Starburst away for their own safety. Episode #23, originally
titled "Re: Union" was to have been a gutsy gamble focusing
solely on those still aboard Moya (Zhaan, Rygel, Chiana and obviously
Pilot) as they attempted to locate their missing crewmates. As initially
planned, none of the threads involving John, Aeryn, and D'Argo would have
been immediately resolved and the threesome wouldn't even have been seen
except as hallucinations of Zhaan - included a drastic vision of them
dying that would have heightened the tension level of the audience. Perhaps
wary of other programs in television history like Twin Peaks, Dallas,
and the more recent infamous South Park April Fool's prank that did not
provide immediate satisfaction in resolving cliffhanger threads, Scifi
decided that it might be too risky to let things proceed as such despite
the fact that unlike most television shows, the break between new episodes
had only been a month and a half and that Farscape's audience would tend
to be a bit more intelligent and accepted (even expecting) such twists.
The decision was made that "Re:Union" would be postponed until
later in the season and they would open with episode #24 "Mind The
Baby" which picked up more of the pressing questions from "Family
Ties"' conclusion. This ultimately substantially weakened two otherwise
good episodes. "Re:Union" was later titled "Dream a Little
Dream" and was retooled as a flashback episode with new bumpers at
the beginning and end with Zhaan telling John about "what happened
when". Though the new scenes were kinda cute, they couldn't save
an episode that essentially lost any of its dramatic tension by being
shown later. Seen first, "Mind The Baby" was confusing to watch
since not only did several story elements (mostly in regards to Zhaan's
apparent freak-out) not make sense without proper set-up, but the episode
itself opened with a dream sequence which without appropriate context
seemed like it was a "real scene" and not a dream of D'Argo's.
(Even the scifi.com summary of the episode mistakenly described it as
having actually taken place). Did I say the show started off on the wrong
foot earlier? It really went outside with mismatched shoes - on the wrong
feet! (And as an American, I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize
on behalf of our nation to all the other countries that Farscape airs
in. Since episode #23 had to be redone as a flashback, this basically
forced other programmers to follow the same messed up airing sequence.)
next two episodes "Vitas Mortis" and "Taking The Stone",
while each not without their individual strengths, were nonetheless quite
weak and in comparison to the recently ended major arc, suffered all the
more. "Vitas"'s lame story was saved by strong acting most notably
by Anthony Simcoe's D'Argo and Tony Tilse's dreamlike direction. However,
as much as I find Tilse to be the series' most intriguing and artful director,
quite a few viewers thought "VM" was too dreamlike and bordering
on slow and dull. (Altogether now in your best Gonzo voice -- "Yokels!
Rubes!") While "Taking the Stone" had the potential to
be a deep exploration of life, death, and mortality, it was hampered by
a guest cast of young aliens that could barely be understood without closed
captioning and an absolutely dreadful "what were they thinking?"
clichéd sitcom-y B plot involving a curse on items Rygel stole
I'm usually not a proponent of airing episodes out of sequence, given
the circumstances I think Scifi made a wise decision in showing Episode
#2.7 "The Way We Weren't" before Episode #2.6 "Picture
If You Will". "TWWW" was a masterpiece of an episode and
definitely among Farscape's best - and at this point, it really needed
a strong episode for those who weren't won over by "Crackers".
"Picture" certainly would not have been a good choice to air
next as it featured the return of Maldis, a rematch that was far inferior
to his original appearance back in #1.8's "That Old Black Magic".
With all the general comparisons that could be made between Season Two
not living up to Season One, a direct example would have really hurt if
something spectacular didn't proceed it. "TWWW" delved into
Pilot and Aeryn's backstory as its revealed that Aeryn was one of the
PK's who had assassinated Moya's original Pilot. The hour filled in much
backstory on two of the series' most intriguing characters in a poignant
deeply emotional manner. I would personally recommend this episode to
Henson fans who weren't into the scifi genre but just wanted to see what
kind of work was being done; not only does Pilot's performers give some
remarkable performances, but we even get to see Pilot's full body for
the first time. My only beef with the episode was that there was no attempt
made to physically differentiate the original Pilot from our present one.
Another puppet may have been too costly to make but given that the former
Pilot was female, they could have at least tried giving it longer eyelashes
or some kind of minor touchups to show a distinction.
the Tavlek Bekhesh still is headquarted in the same location, this is
passable - but finding a particular Sheyang ship that is not centered
in a particular area but rather devoted to roaming and looting? Finding
the sameVocarian Blood Trackers that would be thought to travel from planet
to planet based on wherever the offer of profitable bounty may be? Way
too contrived. (b) To even accomplish the task of finding these people,
Pilot explains that Moya's been mapping their time in the Uncharted Territories
as best as possible - but given what we've previously learned about StarBursts
- that it invalidates previous navigation points, this just was too big
a contradiction especially combined with the above implausibility. I do
however, have to commend the writers on the plottwist of Rygel's seeking
the Zenetan Pirates for assistance with The Flax to find that their former
leader has been replaced by his former adversary Captain Durka. Not only
was this a scrumptious surprise, but also quite clever being the possibility
that the Nebari sector where Durka was last expelled could have been quite
close to the Flax - the Flax was in Episode #13 and Durka Returns was
in Episode #15. Even though Moya did perform a StarBurst in between the
two in "Jeremiah Crichton"; she eventually had to find her way
back to where John was stranded outside.
Rygel, though, was the season's big loser. His character has so much potential that's being wasted - a former Dominar used to the adoration of 600 billion subjects finds himself looked down upon by his fellow crewmates. His outlook and values are constantly misunderstood; he may very well be the smartest being (aside from Pilot) on Moya, but because his goals are often at odds with everyone else and because of his markedly different appearance/size, he's looked down on if not ignored. He's not been given a lot to do this year and when he is given a story, we usually just see his selfish side. Assuming he returns in season three (we last left him bargaining for outside transport independent of Moya), I really hope the writers make it more of a priority to explore his character much more - real three-dimensional arcs and not the grave-robbing no-stories that he got stuck with this year. I would also suggest it's time we really need to get a good look at his backstory - yes it would be prohibitively expensive to see a bunch of other Hynerians, but surely there's got to be ways to flesh out his past more - we know from "Jeremiah Crichton" that the Hynerian Empire was at least once one to be reckoned with. We need to know how and why. What relationships do they have with the Sebaceans/Peacekeepers - Zhaan and D'Argo, we learned were political prisoners of the PK's; I would trust Rygel's displacement from his throne came about through a similar underground coup between the PK's and his usurper cousin Bishan. I love Aeryn Sun. Crais, Scorpius, Zhaan, D'Argo, and Chiana; intriguing characters all. But if there's no major emphasis on Rygel next year, I'm really going to start feeling cheated. It's well overdue. Even Pilot - a servicer mainly - has had much more of an arc this year, growing confident in his abilities and developing more of a backbone and equal status with the passengers as opposed to a robotic follower of their demands.
We haven't learned a great deal about Jothee yet, but I'm excited by what i've seen so far and hope to see more of him next year. As mentioned, he's very much his father's son, but he's had to be more of a survivor and must have had a rougher time finding his identity and place in the universe, being an orphaned half-breed. D'Argo by contrast grew up as part of a military unit and a strong sense of Luxan identity and culture. Even without the Chiana triangle, this could be an interesting relationship to follow - or if improperly developed, could lead to "an extra 'D'Argo'". It will be interesting to see if the Luxans stay on Moya for the remainder of season three, since D'Argo's accomplished his main goal - finding his son. What's left for him now is to either regain his name and honor in his homeworld (not to mention find it), or set up a new life somewhere else altogether.
mentioned in last year's review that Farscape is one of the best cast
shows on television and I stand by that statement - Gigi Edgely, Wayne
Pygram as Scorpius, and Paul Goddard (as an actor) have been strong additions
to the cast. Francesca ("Mrs. Ben Browder") Buller has played
TWO marvelous creations each year; M'Le in last season's "Bone to
Be Wild" and the Royal Family's servant Ro-NA ("Toaster-toaster-toaster")
in the "Look At The Princess" arc. I'm hoping we see her return
as another character this year! But what's really impressed me this past
year is how good the show is especially at casting character's relatives.
We met John's father all the way back in the Premiere. Even though Kent
McCord basically fell into the role via his friendship with David Kemper,
this was a blessed bit of casting nonetheless - you can look at Jack and
John and see a possible family resemblance (more noticeable when we got
to see John as aged to an old man in "The Locket" - lots of
shades of Crichton Sr in his look and speech), plus a shared accent. The
Future version of John in "My Three Crichtons" sounds an awfully
lot like Crichton Sr in his delivery. I've already touched on Jothee;
Matt Newton's portrayal especially drives home how much he's like D'Argo.
In "The Locket", when Aeryn finds herself if a different timeline,
we meet her granddaughter Ennixx - Allyson Standen was a remarkable find,
very much a mirror of Claudia Black's features, delivery, and mannerisms.
As much as alternate reality stories make my skin crawl, I certainly wouldn't
mind seeing Ennixx again just because the actress is so good. Finally,
that leaves Chiana's brother Nerri. We only saw him in a recorded message
and a few brief flashbacks in "Clockwork Nebari" but we'll no
doubt see him again sometime so again, we have a potentially interesting
character on the horizon.
From the moment he appeared on screen, Pygram's Scorpius had immediately replaced Crais as the Numero Uno Baddie. Crais couldn't hope to match him and watching some of the power struggles between the two characters was riveting. Pygram definitely has a rare screen presence - his costume must aid tremendously, but make no mistake - Wayne still earns his paycheck. Threatening with just a small bit of camp to keep it fun but not too over-the-top, he truly is the proverbial villain we love to hate and hate to love. We learned some more of his backstory this year especially in terms of how his suit serves as a means of balancing his Sebacean half who can't stand heat and the Scarren half that both thrives on and radiates it. But there's still so much more to find out such as how exactly he came to his position with the Peacekeepers and his formative years and I hope we get more of this as well (but given a choice between Scorpius and Rygel history, I'm definitely ready for Hynerian 101!) The only problem with the character is that he seems to survive an awful lot of situations that would otherwise seem fatal (How the heck did Scorpius and Lt. Braca outlast the depository exposion in the next-to-last episode? This was never addressed!)
Farscape remains one of the most impressive technical showcases on television, bringing feature film values to the small screen and yet its remained true to itself in terms of putting the stories and characters first as opposed to the usual Hollywood mentality of everything else revolving around the effects. This year saw some changes in the technical crew. The CGI company and the shooting location is different as well as the overall look of the show. The cinematography reflects the tone of the show in that it looks grittier and harsher (different camera?). Most of the characters have undergone either a wardrobe and/or design change. Crichton has ditched his t-shirts for the Peacekeeper vest; he looks dang sexy in it, but aside from looking "cooler", it also ties in with his psychological development as noted. Aeryn's wearing her hair straighter and longer and while still mainly in black leather, is starting to pick up clothing slightly separating her from her old PK identity. Pilot has had some work done internally allowing for greater expression range while Rygel's given a new puppet. At first Rygel's change didn't look so good - it literally looked like he's had all the elements of a human face lift; everything tighter and pulled back. He worked well in close-ups but otherwise he looked more like a puppet. However, it appears Henson has slowly been modifying him over the season and after a few episodes, his coloring and overall look found its niche to where it finally ended up being an improvement over last year (i now look back at the previous Rygel and cringe). D'Argo's change was the most dramatic; his whole make-up is darker - at least the script justified the change; his new look could be credited to his space exposure and moon burn. The shock wore off quickly though and I was already won over by the new look as soon as "Vitas Mortis". The new make-up enhances Simcoe's face and expressions and I'm especially thankful that the color of the nose blends in better with the rest of the face... last year's dark brown nose over his paler complexion just looked laughably silly. Zhaan's new look however can only be considered a failure. There was a change in her costuming, adapting more formal priestess robes which were more in keeping with her return to the Delvian Seek. Some fans didn't like the new robes, especially the high turtleneck, but I didn't mind those as much as I did the make-up. Virginia Hey's wearing a different kind of make-up this year which is better for her skin. While I certainly wouldn't want Virginia to suffer more than what she must already for her art (think of the poor lady's bathtub rings!), the new make-up does not translate well at all on camera. All the details are completely drowned out. Look at the rich complexity of her face in That Old Black Magic or DNA Mad Scientist and then look at her now and it's all just about gone. We can see some white freckles on her forehead and her nose but everything else is just eughh-blue...not only are all the contrasts gone but it looks like makeup pancaked on. In a way, I'm almost thankful for her reduced screen time because the look is so bad that when she comes on screen, I don't think "Oh, Zhaan" but rather "here's Virginia in her make-up". Hopefully, the staff can find a way to keep Virginia happy and healthy while tweaking the make-up to be more camera-friendly. And speaking of actresses and make-up, the body contouring on Chiana has become so dramatic that it screams "shading enhancements" rather than looking natural. Maybe in her adventures over the cycles, Chi has learned a think or two about Seduction Via Cleavage Paint.
Which brings me to one of my biggest disappointments with this season. The return of the Nebari. Chiana's introduction in "Durka Returns" was one of my favorite episodes of last year mainly because of Tilse's haunting direction - Chi's captor, Salis was creepy mainly because he was so Mister-Rogers-calm. Yet, when the Nebari return to claim Chiana in "Clockwork", both characters look like rebels themselves instead of the conformists. Varla basically looked like Chiana's mother; the exact same makeup and hair but on a different actress. The male Nebari looked just like Nerri when we saw his image. It struck me as the character designers trying to create a mod/goth look that was "cool", but it just didn't gel with what had already been established. Add to that the fact that a later effect with Crichton's eyes being pulled out way more than what could be remotely plausible let me to think someone in Australia's been watching too much "Ren & Stimpy" - this seemed like a gross-out effect just for the sake of being gratuitous. I hereby ban Rowan Woods from directing any more episodes with the Nebari and request that from now on, only Tony Tilse is allowed to touch them.
With the recent video and DVD releases, more fans should be tuning in to season three, and the program should hopefully build on the growing reputation it deserves. Enough seeds have been planted this last year for some more exciting developments, and as long as the writing staff is able to learn from past mistakes, Farscape's third year definately has the potential to maintain a consistently high quality throughout. "Deeper into the Uncharted Territories!"