The television show Farscape originally premiered back in 1999, and I bought a couple of season boxes around the same time and binge-watched every minute of them.
It was an vexing experience at the time.
For some odd reason the season boxes had no subtitles and I often had trouble keeping track of what everyone was saying. I had watched all the seasons of modern Star Trek on VHS without subtitles and it was fine there. Patrick Stewart and his acting colleagues spoke so clearly that I never lost the thread. Farscape, on the other hand, sounded more muddled. Maybe they spoke faster, or the music was louder. Either way, I gave up after those two seasons.
That’s why it was great news when Amazon Prime announced that they had picked up this old science fiction show. And now with English subtitles too? Excellent!
I have now rewatched all of the first season. To be honest it doesn’t hold up that well today. It’s nowhere as bad as e.g. Space: 1999 or Blake’s 7 – both of which are quite excrutiating to watch today – but there are still a number of issues now 20 years later.
It’s not so much that the first three seasons are in the 4:3 perspective or that most of the episodes in the first season are standalone stories. Sometimes the latter can have its charm – so much so that I sometimes miss those kind of science fiction shows. The acting, the Henson dolls, and the style itself are also all fine. Those things are all part of the remaining charm of Farscape.
The first problem I had was that it feels like 95% of the show seems to take place in the tubes and tunnels of Moya. Space scenes are short and rare (no doubt expensive to make) and action in the form of space ship battles are even rarer. There are episodes taking place on planets, but even then we get to see the crew running down the same three Moya tunnels over and over and over.
The stories also rely on a lot of cliches and structures of old times. Evil is usually 100% evil, black versus white chess gaming. Some new baddies were allowed to escape where they really should have been offed in the same episode. (Perhaps we can reuse the makeup in a later episode.)
Fight choreography? Maybe they spent 1$ on that part. Maybe 2$.
The blade wielding D’Argo is straight out of the Star Trek: The Next Generation season one school of Worf. He sounds powerful and intimidating yet always get his ass handed to him on missions. It’s a shame because I actually really like that blade of his. The ability to pop it open and fire phaser shots was a brilliant idea. I sometimes wished we could have had that in a video game.
It would have been great and expected to have seen D’Argo at least have a minute of defending himself admirably before getting knocked down as the story demands, but sometimes he just stands there and lets himself get grabbed. The former peacekeeper Aeryn Sun sometimes fare better, but all in all the fighting is definitely not where Farscape remotely shines.
Nevertheless, the show still has its moments.
I’ve always considered Farscape as sort of an amalgamation of Buck Rogers meets Blake’s 7, with additional inspiration from the first Alien movie for the pilot character. The style and atmosphere is definitely its own, however, helped along by the excellent puppetry and alien makeup. I always liked how John Crichton throws Earth pop cultures around without abandon in his wisecracks, and some of the ideas are really unique and excellent, such as how the crew travels space onboard the living spaceship creature Moya with a pilot alien permanently grown into it.
So, should I still continue with the second season after all? Maybe. I’m not sure yet.
Notes about specific episodes
I liked how this episode had a smell of inspiration from Star Trek. The part with Crichton meeting an alien mother and her child, only to realize that he himself is the alien in their eyes.
DNA Mad Scientist
In this episode, the crew are so desperate for information that could get them home that they actually cut off one of pilot’s arms. It’s one of those things that must have been quite shocking back in 1999, in the times before every third character starting dying in our shows.
Somehow that aspect of the episode reminded me of Valerian, the French comic book series.
Till the Blood Runs Clear
Earlier, when I mentioned baddies running away that should have been killed, those two daft bounty hunters were on my mind. I had a hard time taking them seriously.
I remember I loved this Robinson Crusoe idea so much back when I watched the episode 20 years ago. The other members of Moya had regularly been so disrespectful towards John Crichton and it made a lot of sense that he would eventually just leave.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that him being marooned was actually the result of Moya accidentally starbursting away. It took some of the edge off this episode.
Also, D’Argo found him again faster that I seemed to remember.
And why could they make excellent alien makeup yet Crichton’s beard looked like amateur hour?
A Human Reaction
Ah, Crichton going home to Earth! That was early. And some of his fellow crew members also pop up. This was a great episode and also another one that felt so very Star Trek.
I loved how Aeryn Sun reacted to the rain. Also, that dress…
Huh? Oh, sorry.
One of the most unexpected eyeopeners of the season here with Rygel being dissected. 😮
Through the Looking Glass
I loved this idea of three overlapping color dimensions that had each their own properties. The yellow one made everyone jolly, laughing at almost nothing.
It worked really well. I laughed at their silly jokes right along with them.
One lost opportunity in this episode – Chiana was immune to one of the dimensions, yet wasn’t used to fix the problem there. In the end, Crichton had to run the entire gauntlet.
A Bug’s Life
I spotted a boom mic in this episode. Boo.
The Hidden Memory
Come on, Gilina was using standard mini jack plugs here? Why didn’t you also use our standard power plugs to connect all of the alien consoles while you were at it?
That detail almost took me right out of the episode.
But then they made it all well again by having a prison mate pet Crichton like a hamster.