Farscape Reviews

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Farscape - Season 1 - Episode 01

Farscape - 1x01 - Premiere - Originally Aired: 1999-3-19

My Rating - 8

Fan Rating Average - 4.46

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Synopsis
Astronaut John Crichton's experimental Farscape module is swallowed by a wormhole and spat out on the other side of the universe - in the middle of a pitched space battle. Taken on board Moya - a huge bio-mechanoid "living ship" desperately trying to escape captivity - Crichton is confronted by alien life forms: Ka D'Argo, the fierce Luxan warrior; Rygel XVI, the sluglike Dominar of the Hynerian Empire; Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan, the serene blue Delvian priestess; Pilot, a four-armed creature physically and neurally bonded to Moya, and Officer Aeryn Sun, an enemy Peacekeeper. In order to repair Moya, Zhaan, D'Argo and Rygel are forced to a Commerce Planet. Pursued by the ruthless Captain Crais, Crichton must use his primitive earth science to devise a means for Moya to slingshot out of range of Crais' ship and into the Uncharted Territories. [DVD]

Filler Quotient: 0, not filler, do not skip this episode.
- Series premiere, not filler by virtue of so much exposition.

Problems
None

Factoids
- The Farscape One mission's stated objectives were to "overcome atmospheric friction and exponentially increase its speed using only a planet's natural gravitational pull" ostensibly for the purpose of developing new spacecraft propulsion techniques.
- John's father was an astronaut and has walked on the moon.
- John went up in a fictional space shuttle named Collaroy.
- In this fictional quasi-contemporary universe, John works for an organization called IASA, which probably stands for International Aeronautics and Space Administration at which John holds the rank of Commander. IASA is likely meant to be a more internationalized version of the real-world US NASA program.
- Translator microbes colonize language-capable species at the base of the brain and facilitate the function of a universal translator. It is common to receive them at birth.

Remarkable Scenes
- John's trip through the wormhole.
- John, upon discovering he's in some kind of asteroid field with other ships flying around: "Uh... Canaveral?"
- Farscape One colliding with another ship, destroying it.
- Farscape One being pulled into a giant ship.
- John confronting the little robots aboard the ship and meeting the aliens aboard.
- John being injected with translator microbes.
- John discovering he's fallen in with escaped prisoners.
- Crais discovering that his brother was killed while colliding with Crichton's ship.
- John being knocked unconscious by one of the alien's tongues.
- Rygel to John, regarding translator microbes: "Why you weren't injected at birth I cannot fathom!"
- Officer Aeryn Sun confusing John with a member of her race, demanding his rank and regiment.
- Zhaan: "It's time for us to eat." John, a bit scared of her intent: "Eat what?"
- John explaining who he is to the aliens.
- The helium fart.
- Aeryn and John escaping Moya.
- Crais to Crichton: "You charged my brother's prowler in that white death pod of yours!" Crichton: "Wait a minute, are you talking about that near miss I had the first minute I got here? That was an accident." Crais: "That was no near miss for my brother."
- Crais declaring Officer Sun irreversibly contaminated.
- Crichton demanding that they all leave on Moya together.
- Crichton using his slingshot maneuver to save Moya from the Peacekeepers' "frag" cannons.
- Crichton after kind of fixing the little yellow robot: "See? You're fixed. Go play."

My Review
When looking for a compelling drama, I typically gravitate toward stories set in the past or the future because imagining settings other than the contemporary is an important part of the fun for me when experiencing the art of storytelling. Since Farscape is a contemporary science fiction drama, it should instantly lose points for me because it's set in the quasi-present day, but it doesn't. Because minutes into the premiere we're transported into a fantastical universe as imaginative as any future-set science fiction story.

The characters in this galaxy far, far away are so far removed from anything Earth that this story might as well have been set in the future, given the technology levels. The Peacekeepers (Sebacean race) even conspicuously look like humans. The narrative makes a distinct point out of this without necessarily chalking it up to some goofy coincidence; a forced cliche to do yet another western imperialism allegory where the Peacekeepers are meant to bear a striking similarity to the irrepressible and often criticized forces of western civilization on Earth in the real world.

Instead, while the curious similarity between the Sebacean race and real humans is quite obviously a good way to save money by doing less of that stupendous alien makeup work for the characters, it also serves as just one of many fascinating mysteries for John Crichton to uncover the source of. The most pressing questions for John to answer though of course are where is he and how did he get there?

The treatment of the science behind how John got where he went is mostly good. The slingshot stuff is all perfectly within the realm of real science. The only fishy stuff concerning that is what possible scientific benefit there could have been to John's Farscape One mission in the first place. The physics behind how slingshot maneuvers (or more correctly "gravity assists") work has been fairly well understood since the 1970s, and the specific maneuver John appeared to be testing was an aerogravity assist. Indeed, had John's experiment been performed at that time in the real world, it would have been the world's first test of an aerogravity assist. But the newscaster claiming this would somehow help us develop a means of interstellar travel is nonsense.

As for wormholes, that's all just fantasy, speculative science. But I'm fine with that MacGuffin. As with the conspicuous similarity between the Sebaceans and humans, the narrative of the premiere makes it clear that the nature of this wormhole phenomenon will be explored in more depth some time later. John's primary mission, of course, is to reverse engineer wormhole physics and find a way home.

The biggest weakness of the premiere has mostly to do with not enough time being spent developing the primary antagonist, Crais, as a rich and interesting character nor giving sufficient context to the conflict between him and Crichton. They meet in only one short scene in which a conversation that is hardly rational takes place. Crais mostly just comes off looking like an insane madman, which is precisely how John describes him in the subsequent opening monologues this season. It makes you wonder how Officer Sun could have ever condoned serving under such a man's command. Though she seems loyal to a fault.

Likewise, the conflict between the Peacekeepers and the rest of the prisoners is similarly poorly defined. All we know is D'Argo killed a superior officer while serving his people, Zhaan was a member of some sort of anarchy movement among her people, and Rygel was deposed from power over his people. Of these three wayward souls, Rygel comes off as the most sympathetic despite being the least likable, excluding Pilot and Moya herself, who appear to be sentient enough creatures that their enslavement was immoral.

Overall, knowing more about how Rygel, D'Argo, and Zhaan managed to escape from captivity, take the vessel by force, and expel all its crew, and why exactly they were all being held by the Peacekeepers in the first place seems less like a tantalizing mystery and more like a prerequisite for having sympathy for these characters.

In spite of that, in some ways less is more. By focusing the premiere solely on John's perspective, we get to really experience what he experiences as the story moves forward. We're confused when he's confused and we're surprised when he's surprised. This also magnifies John's bravery and cunning in the face of certain death when he heroically applies his knowledge of gravity assists as a means to help Moya and her crew escape danger; demonstrating once and for all John's tangible value to the crew. Indeed, John has finally stepped out of his father's shadow. More importantly, in a situation like this where a bunch of strangers each with their own agendas have formed temporary alliances, being valuable is preferable to simply not being a threat to the others.

Overall, as much as I enjoy the intense focus on John Crichton's bewilderment and awe surrounding his newly stumbled upon fantastical adventure, a good story requires an ensemble of characters. Right now I only feel like I know John. Hopefully that will change as the story continues because I want more of the the tantalizing taste of rich and fascinating diversity we got in the premiere. Truly the Farscape universe is among the most imaginative settings in science fiction in spite of its contemporary underpinnings.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Remco on 2010-01-28 at 10:39am:
    This comes as a nice surprise! I recently started watching Farscape, and I'm at episode 7. When did you decide to start reviewing the show? Right after watching the premiere?
  • From Kethinov on 2010-01-29 at 1:23am:
    I've already seen Farscape a couple times all the way through. When I finished my reviews of BSG and Firefly I needed a new show to go through alongside Caprica, so I started drawing up a short list of sci fi shows that I felt would make good review candidates. I ruled out Stargate early on for its premise issues. The finalists were Babylon 5 and Farscape. Farscape won.
  • From Chris on 2012-06-09 at 5:03am:
    Just found this review site of yours and I'm glad I did! I've been looking for an objective viewpoint to counter mine, as I'm thinking of watching the whole Farscape series again. I consider this to be one of my top 5 favorite shows of all time. I may drop in some more comments as I go through the episodes again. I like your review style.

    I noticed you also considered watching Babylon 5. If you ever get a chance to do so, just do it! I can tell that you're into character development and complex stories and B5 is rich with it! =D

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