02 June 2017

Steve and Hayley Watch Farscape: Season 1, Episodes 1-4

For a long time now, my wife and I have talked about watching Farscape... and now we finally are. I'm trying something different here on the blog; we're going to write up our thoughts together.


  • STEVE: Can we start by talking about what we know about Farscape going in and why we want to watch it?
  • HAYLEY: I’ve only seen the first episode before.
  • S: Really? I thought you’d seen more.
  • H: I thought I’d seen a few, but after we watched “I, E.T.,” I realized I’d only seen the first episode. One of my friends in Kansas had me watch it after I’d seen all of Stargate SG-1. So I’ve seen Ben Browder and Claudia Black in that.
  • S: I have seen exactly twelve episodes before. Oddly, six from the first season (I got a DVD from Blockbuster called Best of Season One or something), and the very last six of the whole show. But I’ve seen nothing in between that. We’ve talked about watching it for a long time, but why do you want to?
  • H: Well, what I really loved about SG-1 was the group of characters going on adventures. Farscape is an ensemble of interesting characters going on adventures in a spaceship--which is also one of your favorite setups, too. So it’s up both our alleys.
  • S: Yes, you’ve removed my need to answer this question. I just want to add that adhering to this template is why the original Star Wars movie will always be the best one.
  • H: Other ’90s/’00s shows which feature good group ensembles: Buffy, Deep Space Nine, Firefly… all favorites.
  • S: Exactly. Well, speaking of interesting characters let’s start with:

1x01: “Premiere”

  • HAYLEY: John Crichton (Ben Browder) on Earth. The conversation with his dad is kinda hokey.
  • STEVE: I liked his dad!
  • H: It’s necessary setup. And I like their relationship. I’m into Crichton as a character. A stand-up, average Joe flung into outer space.
  • S: Yeah, it could be a kind of thankless, blank character, but even in just the first episode, Browder is already bringing humor to the role.
  • H: Next we’re introduced to Ka D’Argo and Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan.
  • S: That’s her name!?
  • H: I don’t know how to pronounce any of it except her last name.
  • S: I think that’s all that matters in this case? The meeting with D’Argo and Zhaan was probably my favorite part of this episode, which has a pretty simple plot. The viewer, like Crichton, is really thrown in at the deep end and totally disoriented. (Though not so much me, since this is one of the twelve I’ve seen before.)
  • H: Yeah, I like that, too. Oh, but we forgot about the cute robots! We see them first.
  • S: My suspicion is that I am going to like these guys.
  • H: Absolutely.
  • S: We also meet Rygel XVI, dominar-in-exile, and Pilot, pilot, both puppet characters.
  • H: Impressive Henson Studio work. For the most part, those really hold up, two decades later.
  • S: I’m sort of jumping ahead, but there’s especially some good stuff with both characters in episode 2; they both have genuine, character-based conversations with Zhaan where you completely forget you’re watching a puppet at work.
  • H: In this episode, we don’t get a lot of insight into any of the four alien characters. But there’s quite a lot set-up that seems as if it will pay off later.
  • S: Yeah, Captain Crais has about five minutes in which to develop a blood vendetta that will lead him to pursue our heroes to the end of the galaxy.
  • H: But I do already love Claudia Black’s character, Aeryn Sun.
  • S: You would!
  • H: She’s a badass female warrior who’s got a lot to discover about being a good person! Who wouldn’t?! Actually, not too different from her SG-1 character.
  • S: I feel like we both thought the climax was a bit hokey, with Moya “slingshotting” around the planet to get away.
  • H: I liked that, actually. Crichton had to establish that he has a role among this group of misfits.
  • S: Fair enough.
  • H: But I may have some issues with the science behind the “slingshot.” How can friction make you go faster?!

1x02: “I, E.T.”

  • STEVE: In this episode, the crew discovers Moya is giving off a locator signal and has to hide on a twentieth-century Earth-style planet while they try to shut it off.
  • HAYLEY: I thought it was really interesting that the Leviathan ship was just as much a prisoner of the Peacekeepers as Rygel, D’Argo, and Zhaan were. Although the control collar was present in the first episode, it wasn’t really explained.
  • S: Yeah, I assume we’ll hear more about this stuff as the show goes on-- the idea of the Peacekeepers having a fleet of living ships enslaved to their will is intriguing, and I want to know more. Pilot seems to have come with the ship, for example.
  • H: There were some good scenes with Zhaan, Rygel, Pilot, and Aeryn back at the ship. As you mentioned earlier.
  • S: Yeah, I feel like the “second episode” is kind of a genre of its own, where you flesh out what you sort of sketched in in the first episode, and this really does that for almost everyone-- poor D’Argo just kind of stays in a tree most of the time.
  • H: And Crichton gets the tables turned on him, as he’s the alien presence intruding into the lives of everyday people. What did you think of the alien woman (whose name is apparently Lyneea)?
  • S: I wanted to like her more than I did. I felt like the actress was being, I dunno, too “alien” or too “quirky” at times, she seemed a little affected.
  • H: I wanted to know more about her motivations. Like, why wasn’t she tempted to turn Crichton over to the military? She would have been set with funding for life.
  • S: No more grant applications! Yeah, the military was just kind of said to be jerks, and that was that. That face she made when Crichton kissed her did funny things to me, though.
  • H: Hahaha--I liked that reaction, too. Overall, a decent second episode, though I’m hoping it’s mostly uphill from here.
  • S: Yeah, I found the B-plot on the ship more interesting than the A-plot with Crichton, and that more for the character stuff-- Rygel admitting he didn’t know how to use a tool because he had people to do that for him, or the implications that Aeryn cares for the others more then she lets on. The show is already starting to flesh these characters out.

1x03: “Exodus from Genesis”

  • HAYLEY: I think for this episode, they were like, “Let’s do all the tropes for a show on a spaceship!” We’ve got a bug infestation of the ship, replicants of the main characters fighting with their duplicates, a misunderstood alien race that forms a truce once they can finally speak with each other, and a race of aliens that dies a horrible death when the temperature gets slightly uncomfortably warm.
  • STEVE: Like the Ice Warriors?
  • H: Yeah. Clearly the Peacekeeper suits should have some kind of cooling system if they’re going to die miserably when the other characters aren’t even sweating. Not a very plausible trait for a conquering race to not have adapted to by now.
  • S: Yeah, D’Argo says it’s like a mild winter on his planet… so how did the Peacekeepers conquer this planet? Your list of sf spaceship tropes leaves out a dangerous malfunction that threatens to destroy the ship if something can’t be switched off. But did it all work for you?
  • H: I’m not sure that it did, overall. But there were some good scenes. And some good character moments.
  • S: Yeah, that’s basically what I was leaning toward saying here. The plot was kind of formulaic, but there were some nice moments between Zhaan and Rygel, and between Aeryn and Crichton, that provided some depth.
  • H: I thought Zhaan’s speedy “spirit painting” was dumb, but I like the payoff when she suggested Crichton ask Rygel what Rygel the First would do. It was a good character moment for Rygel, and also resulted in some good jokes later on.
  • S: This is the second episode in a row, though, where Rygel is humiliated by doing something only someone his size can do!
  • H: Hey, they’re making good use of the ventilation shaft sets!
  • S: Also I just realized another sf drama trope--the alien entity who has to possess a crewmember in order to speak.
  • H: Hopefully we’ve now gotten most of those tropes out of the way, and in one episode, too.
  • S: I thought at first that this (to highlight another science fiction cliche) was going to be a money-saving bottle episode after the expensive first couple episodes--main characters only, no locations or new sets--which was reinforced when duplicates and possession turned up, so the episode surprised me when the Peacekeeper commando squad turned up to complicate everything in the last fifteen minutes.
  • H: With their terrible eye makeup.
  • S: They were just terrible commandos all around.
  • H: I’m not sure Crichton’s plan was the best, sending them back to Crais with tales that his nemesis can duplicate himself into an army. Seems likely to backfire.
  • S: Heh, true.
  • H: I know I’m kind of jumping around, but the other thing I really liked was the scene where Crichton fought with the bug in his bedroom. I liked how the bug went into a very bug-like defense mode, making itself appear larger and waving its antennae around and moving back and forth.
  • S: Is this real bug behavior?
  • H: Absolutely! It’s called deimatic behavior. Check out this mantis using it against a spider:

  • S: My biology fact of the day.

1x04: “Throne for a Loss”

  • STEVE: The crew gets involved in a trade deal that goes bad when raiders kidnap Rygel, hoping to ransom him for a fortune (because of Rygel’s own bluffing, they’re unaware he’s been deposed). I thought this one started very confusingly.
  • HAYLEY: Yeah, this is only the second planet in the “uncharted territories” we’ve seen, so I thought it was a little odd that the viewer is left to figure out so much of the set-up necessary for the opening scene.
  • S: Yeah, the mechanics of the trade deal are vague, and then the episode plunged straight into the action, which I thought looked goofy and was awkwardly shot, and then there’s this whole thing with the armband that gives people superpowers but also rage, and D’Argo steals it, and it all seemed pretty hokey at first.
  • H: I thought the entire episode was all going to be about D’Argo being in charge and needing to get the armband off him, but thankfully the episode veered away from that.
  • S: Once the focus of the episode became clear, I started to enjoy it more, but the first fifteen minutes or so were rough.
  • H: Poor Rygel is always going to be used for humor, isn’t he?
  • S: Apparently so, though I liked how this one show his ingenuity, such as when he managed to escape from the cell on his own.
  • H: Only to be killed!
  • S: Well, yes. Bad timing. The scene where he goes from laughing at his plight to crying was very well done.
  • H: I thought so too. (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t stay dead.) But I think my favorite parts of the episode were the Zhaan scenes. She reveals a badass layer to her that isn’t usually front and center. It makes it easier to believe she was once an anarchist threat to her world.
  • S: Through her attempts to deal with the raider they’ve captured, she also reveals more about her compassionate side, which we’ve seen some of before--but it’s one thing to be nice to Crichton who is 1) not evil and 2) wants her help, and another to be nice to a murderous alien. She came across as genuinely wanting to help this guy for his own sake, and there was a real connection there. But the episode also avoids anything too saccharine or preachy; he doesn’t get the crew killed when he has the chance, yet he still tries to take over Moya, and the episode ends with him going back on ketracel-white. (The aliens are basically the Jem’Hadar.)
  • H: I liked the way that subplot ended. He doesn’t do a 180 conversion, but the simple statement he makes to Zhaan--“My choice”--speaks volumes.
  • S: Yeah, it was a nice bittersweet ending. As for the main plot, I think my favorite parts of this somewhat simple story were, as always, the bits of character. I like that the crew is bonding, but in this episode D’Argo and Aeryn bond over how useless they both think Crichton is!
  • H: I wanted to like their bonding scenes more. They lobbed insults back and forth throughout the episode, getting angry at being called “coward” and “barbarian,” which had a nice twist at the end where they reversed the insults while Aeryn was saving D’Argo’s life. It was kind of a nice moment, but I don’t think it carried the weight that it could have.
  • S: I didn’t feel it was supposed to be weighty. It’s a nice moment, but I don’t think we’re supposed to see them as becoming serious friends yet-- it’s just a step.
  • H: I suppose.
  • S: I also liked that the climax involves Crichton attempting three or four different bluffs before just telling the truth, and that’s what works.
  • H: “Have you ever heard of… chicken pox?” cracked me up. I liked it too.
  • S: I feel like they’re almost making fun of themselves (already!) since the climax of the previous episode was based around an improbable Crichton bluff.
  • H: Hmm. That makes his quick backtracking in this one seem less in character. Or maybe makes that bluff more out-of-character in retrospect. I hadn’t thought about that. But it seems inconsistent.
  • S: Eh, I think he just goes with what works. Braindead Peacekeeper commandos are easier to fool. I would like to point out that this is the third episode in a row whose plot hinges on Moya being trapped due to a broken part. What kind of maintenance regime is Pilot running?

Focus on… Pilot

  • HAYLEY: This is very much an aside, but I wanted to talk about it. While we were writing these, you said something about Pilot and used the pronoun “he.” And that was the first moment I realized Pilot was supposed to be male. You asked me why I was surprised by that, since Pilot’s voice actor is male, and I said that I had always envisioned Pilot to be androgynous. Or neither male nor female. Then you said that (like in Transformers) the default would then be male pronouns. (This is, after all, a couple decades before the singular ‘they’ started to become a thing.) Anyway, in my headcanon, Pilot is still androgynous, or maybe hermaphroditic. He’s an endosymbiont, and I assume it’s a mutual symbiosis--meaning neither Moya nor Pilot can survive without the other.
  • STEVE: What is an endosymbiont?
  • H: It means “internal symbiont”--
  • S: Oh, duh.
  • H: --or an organism that has to live inside another. Like our gut bacteria. Or tapeworms. Or the algae that live inside coral. In biology, I can’t think of a single endosymbiont that wouldn’t either be a hermaphrodite or reproduce asexually.
  • S: Well, there’s a lot we still don’t know about Pilot. Has he always been with Moya? What does he want? Each of the other characters has some reason to be on the run, but Pilot wasn’t a criminal and yet he went right along with the prison break. Biologically and personally there’s much to learn.
  • H: Good point. He clearly does have a complicated relationship with the Peacekeepers, because in the scenes with Aeryn in “Exodus from Genesis,” Aeryn seems to pick Pilot to open up to over everyone, but Pilot makes a comment about this being the first conversation with a Peacekeeper where he wasn’t afraid. I hope that future revelations about his past and character-- and biology-- are satisfying.
  • S: Maybe there’s a Mrs. Pilot back at home.
  • H: That would ruin my headcanon!
All screencaps courtesy FarscapeCaps.com.

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