Monday, June 6, 2011

Finishing "Farscape"

I can't imagine the fan rage and drama that must have erupted in the wake of the fourth season of "Farscape," which ended on a typical cliffhanger. But then the series was then unexpectedly canceled by the Sci-Fi Network, and the chances of any future resolution looked bleak. Thanks to Brian Henson and crew, however, we got a three-hour follow-up television movie to finish off the series, "Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars."

One of the best ways to evaluate the end of a television series is to ask if it has fulfilled its premise and resolved its most pressing central conflicts. Does John Crichton master wormhole technology and find his way home? Yes, but not in the way he originally imagined. An arms race for wormhole technology becomes key to the escalating conflict between the Scarrans and Peacekeepers in the final seasons, which puts John and his headfull of knowledge right in the middle. In order to avert a war and make everyone stop chasing him around the galaxy, John has to finally confront the issue of wormhole weaponry head-on in "Peacekeeper Wars." Also, the lost astronaut does manage to return to Earth in the fourth season of "Farscape," but comes to realize that he can't stay there. So after closing the most direct wormhole to Earth in order to keep humankind safe in the season finale, John spends the television film reestablishing a nuclear family around himself - getting hitched to Aeryn Sun and becoming a father at last.

So the "Farscape" finale is extremely effective because it manages to hit all these emotional high notes in the middle of an all-out action adventure story, and it happens in typical "Farscape" fashion with a lot of humor and a lot of science-fiction bizarreness. Multiple weddings are interrupted and turn into fight scenes as the Scarrans and Peacekeepers go to war. Rygel ends up carrying John and Aeryn's baby briefly thanks to a medical mix-up. Aeryn alleviates labor pains by shooting things with her pulse pistol. There are death fake-outs, really-for-real character deaths, surprise reunions, and plenty of cameos from old friends. Also, with only one last chance to show off all they could do, the movie was full of fancy pyrotechnics, animatronics, and lots and lots of aliens that would have probably cost too much to all be included in any single episode of the series. The opening scene is of a fully CGI Rygel swimming in the ocean, looking much more convincing than any of his earlier non-puppet doppelgangers. Everyone went for broke for the final hours of "Farscape."

Yet, with all the the finale managed to achieve, it couldn't stand in for a full season. The movie inevitably felt rushed, even with three whole hours to fill. I wasn't happy with development of the Scarrans as villains, who always looked like souped-up "Power Ranger" monsters and never felt as truly dangerous as they should have. In the end, there wasn't enough denouement all around, Sikozu's story ended much too abruptly, and there should have been more time with Moya and Pilot, who are such central characters to the series. There's also plenty of material left over for more adventures, since so many questions were left unanswered. We never did get to see Hyneria, Chiana's new powers and missing brother never got much attention, and no explanation is given for the fact that Commandant Grayza is heavily pregnant all throughout the movie. However, it seems petty to wish for more since I know we were lucky to get any sort of ending at all.

"Farscape" should be counted among the greats of science-fiction television, for the boundaries it pushed, the difficulties it overcame, and the way it evolved into something special. I never would have guessed during some of those really mediocre first season episodes, where John Crichton was spouting pop-culture references left and right, that the show could develop these wonderful story and character arcs, and reach the heights that it has. It set the bar higher, not just for effects and production values, but for the kinds of characters that could appear on television and the sort of science-fiction stories that could be told. Without "Farscape," I don't think there could have been the more sexually charged adult series of recent years like "Battlestar Galactica," "Firefly," and "Torchwood."

I'm really going to miss "Farscape," and the way that it presented such a different take on the universe - a wilder, weirder, funnier one full of such interesting alien life forms and endless ways for an idiot human to get into trouble. It wasn't always the most polished show, and it had its share of terrible episodes, but it's hard to think of any subsequent spaceship adventure series that has matched "Farscape" for sheer creative verve. I guess there's really nothing left to say but goodbye, Moya. And thanks for the great trip.


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