The beloved sci-fi TV series Farscape celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. It was a true space opera with epic and inventive storylines and colorful characters. Farscape starred Ben Browder as John Crichton, an astronaut from Earth that got sucked into a wormhole and was stranded on the other side of the universe. Crichton quickly made friends and foes as he first struggled to survive, then tried to find a way to get back home. One such person he met during his travels would become the most important person in his life.
A Star-Crossed Affair
Out of all the exotic alien beings John Crichton met in his spacefaring adventures, the one he connected with the most was Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black). In a clever bit of irony, the show’s creators had her antagonistic alien race, the Sebaceans, look exactly human. Coming from the harsh and militaristic Peackekeeper culture, Aeryn was disdainful toward Crichton, who she saw as weak. Actually she was hostile towards him because she blamed him for being stuck with the Moya crew, who were escaped convicts. She was part of the Peacekeeper force trying to re-capture Moya , a living ship, in the pilot episode, but her fighter ship was accidently pulled into Moya’s docking bay. Though she tried escaping, Aeryn was unable to return to her people because she was considered contaminated from her prolonged exposure to aliens, including Crichton. Eventually she became part of the crew and one of Moya’s fiercest defender. Crichton and her began to feel something for one another but tried to deny them. In the time-travel yarn “The Locket” the idea of them having a relationship was explored when old, future versions of themselves were shown to have been in love with each other.
However, things weren’t so clear cut with them. For many episodes there was a “will they or won’t they” aspect as they bickered with each other and had other relationships. In the second season finale “Die Me, Dichotomy” Crichton admitted his love for her when it seemed that she died. Spoiler: She did die but was resurrected by fellow crewmate Zhaan (Virginia Hey). Things took a strange twist in the third season when Crichton was duplicated by a mad alien scientist (“Eat Me”). During that time the crew of Moya was split up with one Crichton remaining onboard Moya, while the other took off with Aeryn onboard Talyn, Moya’s offspring spaceship. That Crichton and Aeryn fully developed their romance and he actually found a way to return home, but tragically died at the end of the two-part episode “Infinite Possibilities”.
Meanwhile, the Crichton on Moya was unaware of all this and was expecting a happy reunion with her when the two ships finally made their rendezvous (“Fractures”). Instead he found a heartbroken woman who was unable to reciprocate his feelings. As far as he was concerned they were back to square one. This constant back and forth would’ve been tiresome to watch in your standard TV show but this was Farscape; it was provocative and scintillating.
Always In His Mind
John Crichton had an additional emotional bond with another alien, but in the other extreme. He had a burning hatred towards the creepy Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), who first appeared in the episode “Nerve” and quickly became the main villain in the series. Clad in a thick leather suit and tight-fitting cowl, Scorpius had a cadaverous appearance with his pasty white, scaly skin, bloodshot eyes and short, dark teeth. He was a cold and calculating person who spoke in an unexpectedly eloquent and sophisticated tone and who would stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Scorpius is one of the greatest sci-fi villains and that is due to several factors which include Pygram’s performance and the character’s back story.
As explained in the episode “Incubator” the alien is a hybrid resulting from when a humanoid Sebacean female (who make up the Peacekeepers) was raped by a reptilian Scarran. When his mother died at childbirth, Scorpius was raised harshly by his Scarran caretakers who looked down at him as a halfbreed to be tortured and experimented on. After reaching adulthood, Scorpius escaped and joined the Peacekeepers with the goal of defeating the Scarrans. It should be noted that the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans were bitter rivals constantly on the verge of war. This episode went a long way to explaining Scorpius’ motives and the revelations added more dimension to his character. The viewer understood why he was so ruthless and brutal and why he was so determined to get Crichton. When he is introduced in the two-part episode “Nerve”/ “The Hidden Memory”, he learns from torturing a captured Crichton that the astronaut has buried knowledge in his subconscious on how to create wormholes. Crichton unknowingly received this information by advanced aliens he met in the episode “A Human Reaction”. From then on, Scorpius became an alien version of Javert, who was obsessed with capturing his very own Jean Valjean. Scorpius was desperate to gain Crichton’s buried knowledge in order to construct weapons and use the wormhole-based weaponry against the superior Scarrans.
An interesting development was that before Crichton escaped Scorpius’ clutches in their first encounter, Scorpius implanted a sort of neural clone into Crichton’s mind. During times of great stress or danger, an imaginary version of Scorpius would appear to Crichton, usually as part of bizarre hallucinations. Sometimes this implant saved Crichton’s life, other times it kept him from killing Scorpius. The interactions between Crichton and “Harvey”, as he called the implant, were the highlights of many episodes. Their discussions unveiled many insights into Crichton’s character, sometimes they were humorous, other times they were poignant.
Off-Kilter Space Opera
Farscape was characterized by its twisting and complex storylines that more often than not were mind-bending. It wasn’t lightweight fare, yet it moved briskly with a kinetic pace. It even showed in the camera work; the cameras were rarely still and always moving off kilter. The cinematography was off balanced, which emulated the feeling of being in space while giving many scenes a dream-like quality. In a way, one could say it was as if John Crichton stepped through the looking glass and was trapped in his twisted version of Wonderland. Much like Marvel Comics’ Howard the Duck, he was trapped in a world he never made. Still, he made the best of his plight and persevered.
Ironically, for a space opera, Farscape didn’t dwell on space ship battle scenes. That was a rarity, it could’ve been due to the budget which went to the excellent alien makeup and design. Also, aside from Moya, the spaceships shown in Farscape were largely unremarkable. But don’t think the show was dull. No, it was exciting with lots of explosions and gunfights. Our heroes were usually outmanned and outgunned and the fun was seeing how they got out of their dilemmas, which was often by using their wits and a generous supply of desperate nerve.
They needed them to handle their outrageous situations. A good example is the three-part epic “Liars, Guns and Money”. In order to buy D’Argo’s (Anthony Simcoe) son from slavery, Crichton and his friends hatched a complicated scheme to break into a criminal bank vault and rob it. Needing some muscle and weaponry they recruited villainous mercenaries and criminals they’ve dealt with in past episodes. To make matters worse Crichton had to contend with Scorpius, who was visiting the vault, and soon discovered he’s unable to kill Scorpius thanks to the mental implant.
In another episode “Scratch ‘N Sniff” our heroes go to a pleasure planet for shore leave and are given intergalactic roofies. The episode was one wild, drug-riddled ride as we experience their altered viewpoints thanks to inventive camera work and their whacky behavior. Just seeing that scene were D’Argo bobs his head while grooving to local dance music is enough to make anyone burst into laughter!
The show wasn’t afraid to take chances and explore matters pertaining to sex, politics, disturbing images and toilet humor. It often pushed the envelope and gave us thought-provoking tales or hysterical comedy. And Farscape almost always was out of the box with its stories.
A good example is “Out Of Their Minds” where the minds of Moya’s crew were switched into different bodies. This tired sci-fi cliché was given a fresh spin thanks to the actors’ performances who perfectly emulated other characters. This especially goes to Ben Browder and Claudia Black. At one point, Crichton is possessed by the toad-like Rygel and has to figure out how to urinate! Later on, Crichton is in Aeryn Sun’s body and opened his (her!?) vest to check out her/his breasts!
On a more serious note, “Terra Firma” took the bold step of having Crichton actually returning to Earth. What should have been a joyous occasion clearly isn’t as Crichton quickly realizes that he and his home planet have changed and he doesn’t like the changes. He felt embarrassed by the paranoid behavior of his fellow Earthlings when they dealt with his alien friends. The episode was original in the fact that the aliens’ existence was revealed to the world and we began to see the consequences.
On March 21, 2003, Farscape aired its final episode “Bad Timing”, a most appropriate title. Despite initial plans to have a fifth season, the Sci-Fi Channel chose to cancel the TV show citing production costs and declining ratings. The fan outcry, as expected, was huge but not enough to keep the show on the air. What was most exasperating for devoted fans was that the final episode ended in a cliffhanger where John Crichton and Aeryn Sun were apparently killed. Talk about leaving you hanging!
Farscape’s production company, The Jim Henson Company, later produced the mini-series Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars to resolve the cliffhanger and wrap up most of the show’s stories. The final image of that mini-series had Crichton and Sun with their infant child onboard Moya. Crichton proudly held up his son and proclaimed that the universe was now his playground. A fitting way to finish a beloved space opera.
As per custom with many properties, Farscape spawned books, games and comic books, plus enjoyed numerous DVD/Blu-ray releases. In 2007, it was announced that a web series featuring Crichton’s son would be produced but nothing came of that. But there is still hope for Farscape, Justin Monjo, one of the show’s writers, is writing a script for a film and the show has gotten new exposure thanks to airings on the Pivot cable channel and its availability on Amazon Prime and Netflix. Whether or not Farscape will return, fans still have four amazing seasons to cherish and celebrate as they join John Crichton in the wildest ride of any human’s life.