Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Over Halfway Through "Farscape"

It's only been a couple of weeks since my last "Farscape" post, but I've just mainlined about half a season's worth of episodes and I'm currently in the middle of Season Three. There's a lot to talk about that I don't want to put off. Some spoilers are ahead, but I'll try not to get too specific about the big events.

Over the last season, "Farscape" has become a full-fledged character drama, built on budding relationships, interpersonal tensions, family dynamics, and a whole lot of pulse weapon battles. It's still primarily an action show, full of Jim Henson Creature Shop aliens, but the nature of the adventure has changed The appearance of Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) as the series' major antagonist seems to have been the catalyst for the shift from mostly standalone episodes in the first season to a semi-continuous storyline. Multi-parters abound, with no guarantee that anything will be resolved in the final installments, and every season so far has ended with a cliffhanger. I've never been so happy to have access to an entire series all at once, because I can imagine that some of the waits between seasons must have been aggravating as hell.

There are now very apparent character arcs and issues constantly in play. John Crichton (Ben Browder) is still trying to get home to Earth and is slowly turning up the heat on his romance with Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), but his most pressing problem is Scorpius. Thanks to a little gift from their first encounter, Scorpius has gotten awfully close to taking over Crichton's mind and driving him insane. D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) has also had his share of drama, thanks to various relationship troubles and a major betrayal at the beginning of the third season. It looks like Chiana (Gigi Edgley) is being set up for bigger conflicts down the road and Crais (Lani Tupu) must be up to something. Finally, to say anything of Zhaan (Virginia Hey) would be a spoiler.

"Farscape" has really benefited from exploring character-based dramatic storylines. While the show does deliver up many episodes devoted to exploring various science-fiction concepts like parallel universes and time-travel, its primary concern has become the ongoing development of its characters. The latest episodes, particularly the multi-parters, have gotten very compelling with everyone's problems compounding on each other. Resolving one character's crisis may create bad consequences for another, or lead into a new arc for someone else. I love this kind of science fiction when the creators can really commit to it. Shows that focus on big ideas and novel concepts tend to have overly idealized or very flat heroes. Don't get me wrong. I adore Picard and Data from "Star Trek: TNG," but it's hard to imagine them bringing their personal baggage into their fights, or being able to grow and change and get involved with each other's lives the way the crew of the Moya do.

Right now "Farscape" has much more in common with "Firefly" and the original "Star Wars" trilogy, which both featured imperfect, everyman heroes and more rough-and-tumble universes. What distinguishes "Farscape," though, is that it likes actively subverting our expectations about science fiction and tells a much broader range of stories. It has silly comedy episodes, weird experimental episodes, and some that go to very dark and twisted places. And there's not only romance, but plenty of sexual activity going on too, much of it inter-species. Even the villains see their share of action. "Farscape" has also had much more time to build up its storylines and flesh out its cast of oddball characters. It makes for a nice change of pace from the more traditional starship shows, which almost always feature a stifling military culture and the heroes upholding terribly lofty ideals.

This isn't to say that "Farscape" couldn't stand some improvement. I don't see too many production problems anymore, but the show's writing is still very uneven. There have also been two new additions to the crew of the Moya. One is Stark (Paul Goddard), a former slave who first appeared at the end of Season One, and popped up again halfway through Season Two. He's another victim of Scorpius's who is not very mentally sound, and the writing of the character has been very inconsistent. In one episode he's all sweetness and light and nobody questions his intentions, and in another D'Argo and John are both actively hostile towards him for no apparent reason. Sometimes he's lucid and sometimes he's a gibbering, paranoid wreck. The other newcomer is Jool (Tammy McIntosh), who I haven't seen enough of to say much about yet.

And while I like that the writers have embraced the personal stories and aren't afraid of taking risks and changing the status quo from episode to episode, some of the resolutions have just been messy. A fake-out with one character's apparent death made the subsequent departure of one of the other leads harder to believe. And are we really supposed to buy that D'Argo's storyline with his son just ends the way it does? And that Crichton's mental breakdown doesn't have more consequences? And surely there has to be a limit on the number of times Moya can be dying of some horrible affliction on other. Maybe this is just setting up future stories, but I've done some checking and it doesn't look like some of these loose ends will ever be wrapped up.

So while "Farscape" has hit some very strong highs, it's still got its share of lows. But I have to say I'm really enjoying the good parts, especially the ongoing struggle between Crichton and Scorpius. I initially thought Crichton was a bit of a self-centered jerk, but he's grown on me as the universe has steadily turned against him and put him in some dark and unhappy places. The pop-culture references still stick out, but it's become clear that they're a coping mechanism. And I really appreciate the sillier side of his personality, which has fueled some of the show's great comedic episodes. It's become something of a running joke that every time Crichton wakes up on Earth, it means another alien is screwing around with his brains, leading to all kinds of bizarre scenarios. I'm looking forward to the next time this happens.

Sigh. Alas, I am already more than halfway through the series. Why is it that the good ones go so quick?

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