Friday, September 28, 2007

ScapeCast: Farscape Lives!

For today’s Friday Feature, I want to introduce you to the very best TV science fiction show I have ever encountered (and I’ve been watching for a while!). A show, I might add, that didn’t even get into the Top 50 Scifi Shows of All Time at http://www.boston.com/. That’s okay…they had a few other things rather messed up in their list. So what show is it? FARSCAPE. If you haven’t seen this now cancelled show, I review it below. In any case, my Friday Feature is actually ScapeCast, a Farscape fan-created news and discussion audio program available as a webcast (more commonly referred to as a "podcast") for direct download, subscribed download by tools such as iTunes, or streaming over the web. Their mission is to keep the passion of Scapers burning and to introduce newcomers who have found the show via syndication or DVDs to the wealth of information and community available to Scapers. ScapeCast is totally fan-made by volunteer writers, voice talent, hosts, editors, and other folks like you! And it just rocks! You can find my contributions to Scaper podcasts here (featuring the hero’s journey of “villain” Crais) and here (featuring the hero’s journey of Crichton and Aeryn). Visit the site here and enjoy the wonders I’ve seen…


Review of Farscape

Okay, I’m a late bloomer, or so I’ve been told by many of my relatives. And they’re probably right: I got married later than most and had my son even later. I didn’t join the 21st Century tecky scene with internet service, websites, and cell phones until recently (yeah, really!). We still don’t have cable or satellite TV (and don’t plan on it soon either). And I still don’t have a cell phone, much to the chagrin of my teenage son. So, it’s no surprise that I discovered “Farscape” for the first time through an enthusiastic fan demo to re-instate the already cancelled show after four seasons!

Upon seeing a montage of scenes at a “Save Farscape” panel at V-Con, I knew I wanted to see more and out of sheer faith bought the first season on DVD (at no small sum, I might add!). I was totally vindicated, beyond my highest expectations.

This is an intelligent, edgy, subversively imaginative series that can be perceived on many levels. Crafted as a “hero’s journey” in its truest sense, the show’s title speaks of the yearning for home. And this is, on its most obvious level, what the series is all about: finding home. The theme is most literally portrayed by the lead character, John Crichton(played by the consistently attractive Ben Browder), the human scientist/astronaut who is accidentally propelled through a wormhole into a galaxy far far away, peopled with strange and awesome aliens of all manner and shape. On another level, one could equally apply “Farscape”, the name of Crichton’s ship, to his longing for a figurative “home” -- a place or state of being he can not find on Earth, where he withers beneath the imposing shadow of his celebrated heroic father.
When Crichton stumbles into this awesome “farscape”, he plunges into the mayhem of a raging space battle of Peacekeeper fighters (called Prowlers) with an immense biomechanoid ship (called a Leviathan). He is captured and brought on board Moya, a living ship linked symbiotically to its Pilot and manned by a rag-tag clutch of escaped convicts, D'Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel. Crichton finds himself imprisoned on Moya, along with one of the Peacekeeper Prowler pilots who has managed to get caught in the stream of Moya’s starburst (the equivalent to hyperdrive in other SF stories), as the homeless convicts flee into uncharted territory. Crichton struggles to grasp this very strange world and its alien beings who consider him “higher brain function deficient” (D’Argo in Premiere). Upon glimpsing his attractive female cellmate, Crichton thinks he’s found an ally in the human-looking Sebacean Peacekeeper pilot -- only to find her hostile and contemptuous (he is, after all, a lowly non-Sebacean). Crichton’s “Wizard of Oz” journey through this “farscape”, bursting with aliens who think him weak and useless, provides him with many opportunities to prove himself -- not as the brawny shoot-em up action-man but as the cerebral, problem-solving diplomat -- a different kind of hero. Crichton is a gentle soul, a man of integrity and given rather to humor and silly references to pop-culture to disarm his antagonists. Together, whether they like it or not (and the Peacekeeper certainly doesn’t – at least in the beginning) they must all find a way to work together as they are pursued through the uncharted territories. One of the greatest qualities and gifts Crichton brings to this group is his intrepid explorer’s willingness to see the best of a new and alien situation or phenomenon (e.g., Through the Looking Glass). This is because John Crichton is driven not by fear but by wonder.

The hidden protagonist of the series, the one who carries the deeper and more resonating metaphor of yearning for “home”, and ultimately the most interesting character, is the Sebacean Peacekeeper, Officer Aeryn Sun (played impeccably by Claudia Black) who is brought on board and, as a result irreversibly “contaminated”. Unlike John Crichton, Aeryn Sun is in her home; but circumstances (of which she is more responsible than she’d like to admit) swiftly render it as hostile and “alien” to her as her homeworld is to John Crichton. While Crichton's “Stranger in a Strange Land” discovery of the far universe draws our empathy, Aeryn's struggling journey through her somtimes tortured inner universe is far more compelling. Her plight resonates more universally with us as she is forced to seek her identity and to become more than she was. In this regard, John Crichton’s character serves as a catalyst to Aeryn’s evolution more so than she does to his. In the Premiere episode, shortly after she is declared a traitor by her superior officer, punishable by death, Aeryn fatalistically resists fleeing with Crichton from her Peacekeeper captors: “No. I will not come with you; it is my duty, my breeding since birth. It’s what I am.” To this Crichton simply replies: “You can be more.”

Aeryn’s “hero’s journey” is not unlike that of the other main characters she is thrown together with; each fighting their own demons to find their way to peace, their “home”. Hers is just more interesting. A Sebacean (human-looking but incapable of thermo-regulation), Aeryn was born and reared aboard a Peacekeeper Command Carrier, trained from infancy to be an elite soldier and to follow orders without question. Peacekeepers are proud mercenary soldiers, serving as a military force for planets that lack one. Tenacious and clever fighters with massive ships and weaponry, their society follows a harsh, unforgiving meritocracy, with success greatly rewarded and failure mercilessly and brutally punished. Here’s an example: Aeryn’s only transgression was that she spent too much time with non-Sebacean “alien lifeforms” while onboard Moya. Her commander, Captain Crais, declared her “irreversibly contaminated” through her unauthorized contact with these “lower life forms” and sentenced her to death. His true reason for throwing her in with the others was that she brazenly -- and foolishly -- defended one of them (John Crichton).

Aeryn Sun’s private struggle to reconcile her former Peacekeeper life with her life in exile resonates through the other characters, with each episode of the series providing its own individual element to the overarching theme. For instance, in the episode Exodus from Genesis, when the ship becomes infested by insect-like creatures (Draks), both Crichton and Aeryn must re-evaluate their notions of lesser creatures’s role in the universe; only Aeryn’s vision of a lesser creature isn’t the “bugs” but -- you guessed it -- humans. In Throne for a Loss, Zhaan attempts to enlighten a warlike Tavlek about choices, as D’Argo, Aeryn and even Crichton take their turns at donning the powerful device/weapon that removes the very need for choice. As a Peacekeeper, Aeryn is trained to be extremely independent and self-reliant. In Exodus from Genesis, Crichton tells her, “You're not in this alone. Everyone on board has had their lives derailed from what they thought they should be. We're stuck together. And as long as we are, we might as well be . . .” Aeryn finishes for him, almost sneering,“What? Family? Friends? I want neither.” Of which she both learns to value (e.g., DNA Mad Scientist) and cultivate by the end of the first season (e.g., Nerve, Family Ties). In the very episode where she claims no use for such ties, she finds herself relying on Crichton when she succumbs to Sebacean Heat Delerium (which leads to the Living Death).

In PK Tech Girl, both Aeryn and Rygel are forced to come to terms with their vision of the past and of themselves (Aeryn of her status as a traitor banished from the home she loved: “I hate being ambushed.”). Crichton’s vision of her culture (and implicity of her) provides Aeryn’s first challenge. Remarking on the incredible derelict Peacekeeper ship they are investigating, Crichton says, “If you guys only used your know-how to--” Aeryn cuts him off with her own challenge: “To what? To fulfill your vision of who we should be?” Then reveals her idealism: “We are Peacekeepers. Other cultures hire us to keep order, to keep harmony--” What she leaves out -- and Rygel is quick to point out -- is that in many cases this is achieved through assassination, brutal torture, and kidnapping. In DNA Mad Scientist the crew (namely D’Argo, Zhaan and Rygel) lapse into selfish bickering when a mysterious scientist, Namtar, offers them the chance to find their homeworlds at the expense of Pilot (whose arm is sacrificed) and Aeryn Sun, whom they abandon to Namtar’s unnatural genetic butchery. This is a pivotal event for Aeryn, who begins the discarding of her outer shell of Peacekeeping rhetoric to learn to trust her inner feelings. Emerging from this abomination done to her, Aeryn finds herself: “I always thought of myself in terms of survival, life and death … What Namtar did to me … It was me, inside. The real me.”


At the outset, Aeryn “has the most to lose and the most to learn” (Rockne O’Bannon, Creator/Executive Producer) when she gets caught up in the escaped ship’s rebellion and her consequent banishment. Despite her growing rejection of the Peacekeeper’s brutal totalitatianism and a society that has already rejected her, Aeryn maintains an affinity for its culture and the status she lost. But as she learns to embrace humility and tolerance (something unheard of for the proud facsist-like Sebaceans) through her interactions with Moya’s crew, specially with John Crichton, Aeryn grows as a person and begins to think in broader terms. She grows to a point where, despite her training “to survive” as a Peacekeeper (Aeryn in PK Tech Girl: “In our world showing pain is a sign of weakness…”), she permits herself the “weakness” of falling in love and chooses to sacrifice her life rather than survive at the expense of another’s (The Flax). Gradually she discovers, often with John Crichton’s help, that her true strengths lie not in the display of might or stoicism but in the gift of honor, loyalty, and compassion -- traits she has always possessed. In fact, it was her sense of honor and her compassion (for which she claimed to have no use) in initially defending John from the fate of a tortuous death at the hands of Crais, that condemned her as a traitor in the first place. This single act of compassion -- in itself counter to how Peacekeepers and Sebaceans deal with “lower life forms” -- seals her destiny and sets in motion her journey of self-discovery: a journey of slow but inexhorable peeling away of layer upon imposed layer of Peacekeeper rhetoric to release the light burning inside her.

Farscape is an elegantly crafted work of art created by Rockne O’Bannon (Alien Nation) and produced by the Jim Henson Company and Nine Network Australia (in association with Hallmark Entertainment). Edged by a haunting evokative score (by Subvision), seamless CGI, and other special effects, Farscape achieves a truly remarkable universe, often of cruel and bizarre beauty peopled by powerfully complex characters who’s journeys of mind, soul and body resonate with what it is to be human and of humanity. Displaying moments of clever humor, and incredibly sensual interaction, “Farscape” entertains like no SF TV serial I have seen to date. Farscape is both an intellectual feast of imaginary worlds with thought-provoking concepts and a love story told on a grand scale upon a tapestry of elevated themes such as honor, loyalty and sacrifice. The program has won widespread acclaim among both genre and mainstream press and was nominated for an Emmy when news of its cancellation broke out. Matt Roush of TV Guide described Farscape as “the most irreverent, unpredictable, sexy, intelligent and exciting sci fi show on TV.” Says Clare Sainsbury in her article “Who killed Farscape?” in Strange Horizons (Oct. 14, 2002): “Often baroque, visually spectacular and pyrotechnic … [Farscape is] strange, smart, sexy, psychologically rich, superbly acted, and apparently hell-bent on breaking every rule in the book, including its own -- as one fan summed it up, Farscape is ‘not your father’s sci-fi’.”

I recommend this series to anyone who appreciates intelligent science fiction in the vein of Stanislaw Lem (Solaris), Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. USA Today proclaims that, “Farscape is more than just TV’s best space show.” This “simply spectacular” (Desert News) series is “exotic … impressive…” (San Francisco Chronicle), “Eye-catching and energetic … lotsa fun” (Dalas Morning News) and “One of those rare outer-space adventure series that deserve to be called fantastic.” (Reader’s Digest). Farscape has generated an incredible fan-base, many of whom remain commited to bringing the show (e.g., mini-series, and feature films) back on the air or on the silver screen since its cancellation in 2003 (e.g., http://www.watchfarscape.com/; http://www.savefarscape.com/). Google Farscape for more fan sites. DVDs of seasons 1 through 4 as well as the most recent mini-series, “The Peacekeeper Wars”, which had a limited airing in October 2004 are available. Enjoy it. I certainly still am!

Ben Browder plays John Crichton with a natural, understated style, portraying a man with an appealing mixture of high moral ethics, weird humor, and innovative intellect and proving that a hero need not be the dark, arrogant loner so common on the screen these days. He’s a nice guy, a scientist and pacifist, who prefers to use his brain and humor over brute force and an arsenal of weapons to solve a conflict. “Ben is an all-American guy. There’s always something going on behind his eyes. He’s got a certain spark that’s necessary for Crichton.” (Brian Henson, President of Jim Henson Co.). As John Crichton, Browder is both very male yet soft, sweet and boyishly vulnerable: “Come on, Aeryn, you bash me all the time for being soft, but the fact of the matter is sometimes it’s an advantage and this is one of them.” (Crichton in PK Tech Girl).

Says Browder of his character in Farscape, “John Crichton is a guy stuck in extraordinary circumstances … He spends a lot of time figuring out what’s going on around him and getting knocked down and dragged around and he pops back up and comes up with an idea to save his butt…” Browder shares a philosophical fascination for the genre of SF: “The thing about doing science fiction is it allows you to explore different ideas , different avenues, in a way you can’t do in standard drama. It allows you to raise very hard and interesting questions about what it is to be human and what it is to be moral and ethical … and also you get to tell really interesting stories and there’s fabulous alien chicks.”

During a quiet moment in The Human Factor, when John and Aeryn are hiding out, he sits beside her glum form and simply leans his head like a great big puppy dog on her shoulder. It is a move both so endearing and sweet that it’s no wonder she reacts the way she does.
Claudia Black is Aeryn Sun: “She’s this beautiful vicious killer who is at the same time a very innocent vulnerable girl deep down that was never allowed out.” (Brian Henson, President of the Jim Henson Co.). “When we first saw [Black’s] audition, we thought: that’s not what we imagined, that’s not really what we saw. Then you watch her for ten seconds and you can’t stop. There’s something so appealing about her; she’s like a magnet. There’s life experience in her. She’s very fit, she can be strong as a person and at the same time , underneath there’s a real vulnerability that you can see through the eyes. That’s pretty much Aeryn. Her energy inside is a pulling energy. We sort of thought we knew what Aeryn was; then we met Claudia and we realized we were wrong . . . Claudia was exactly what Aeryn was.”

Black manages in her facial expressions, voice, body movements and expressive eyes to deliver the subtle nuances of a complex, often paradoxical character: one that is both strong and vulnerable; courageous and crusty yet soft inside; ruthless yet compassionate; confident and intelligent yet often uncertain of her capabilities (particularly her intellect). Black considers Aeryn “a contemporary Emma Peel” (of the original Avengers). Says Black: “When the audience first finds Aeryn Sun they’ll be a little bit surprised by how harsh she is. She’s very tough. I don’t know if she’s very likeable but gradually she’ll find her smile.”

Supporting Cast:
D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), Zhaan (Virginia Hey), Rygel (Jim Henson Creature; voice by Jonathan Hardy), Pilot (Jim Henson Creature; voice by Lani John Tupu) and even Moya (the ship) provide a rich tapestry of imaginative setting whose filigree of characters provide humor (mostly Rygel), spirituality, conflict and drama to a show willing to take risks. D’Argo is the fierce Luxan warrior whose reaction to conflict is to attack first and ask questions never. Zhaan is a Delvian priest, whose dignified gentle demeanor provides a much needed level of balance and spiritual strength to the disparate group. In contrast, Rygel is a Hynerian, formerly royal sovereign of more than 600 billion subjects. His excessive concern with his own self-interest is barely eleviated by his small size and although he appears rather cute, this alien is far from sweet. He often serves the role of comic relief in the show. Lastly, there is the mild-mannered Pilot, who is symbiotically linked to the leviathan. Later in the season, other strange characters join Moya’s rag-tag group, adding spice, grit and confusion to the already careering homeless group (e.g., the wild bratty Nebari, Chiana, played by Gigi Edgley; and the Banik healer, Stark played by Paul Goddard).

23 comments:

Erik said...

I had never heard of it before now, but it sounds like everything I want in SciFi - that little twist that allows the viewer to see it as a distant mirror. I will check out "Farscape"!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Though I have neverc seen 'Farscape, I have seen Ben Browdler & Claudia Black in 'Stargate SG1'. Both were good in that, especially Claudia.

sfgirl said...

Yes, do check it out, Erik! I don't think you will be disappointed. It is not only intelligent and multi-layered but very well acted, as Jean-Luc said. This is, sadly, very rare in TV. One of the reasons I have lapsed from watching it. There's nothing worse than lame acting to ruin an already lame plot and theme...

Firecracker said...

I'm a fan of the show and I have to agree with SF Girl. Farscape is a wonderful series.

Each season of Farscape just gets better, smarter and more sophisticated. At the same time the season arc provides the audience with a rip-roaring roller-coaster ride of excitement. It earns the appellation of "Must See TV".

Any show that respects the intelligence of its audience is one not to miss - and a show like Farscape, that is fantastically entertaining as well...?

Don't miss it. It is worth your time.

(Oh and don't miss the new webisodes! Coming soon this fall!)

sfgirl said...

OH, that's right, Firecracker! I'm glad you mentioned the webisodes. I'm very excited about them...though, I have to admit, I don't know what they will look like. Does anyone know?

Kevin said...

Very well done Nina...really enjoyed it!

We really appreciated your contributions to the podcast so far. It's always great to hear new perspectives on the series.

Kevin

Jarrak said...

Excellent intro for newcomers to Farscape and the old hands who may not have seen the show for a while.
As a series it was bold and imaginative enough that years later it still has relevance while other genre shows fall short even after a brief interval.

Loved the Crais article on The Scapecast as well:)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

YES! One of my favorite shows of all time!!!!

sfgirl said...

Thanks, Scapers! Nice to see you, Kevin, jarrak and Susan!

Kai said...

Both Farscape and Stargate were really good shows, but it's so sad that they both got canceled.

sfgirl said...

So true, Kai...sad too...What's out there now? Anything worthwhile? I don't watch TV (we don't have cable)...

davinci143 said...

SO MUCH TO SAY!

First: Excellent blog!

Second: I am a late-bloomer into the genre of science fiction despite a brief jaunt with "hard sci-fi" in the 80's with the likes of Arthur C Clarke. I am trying to play catch-up now.

Third: I did not believe that "intelligent science fiction" and "television" could exist in the same sentence. I knew that Farscape had a huge following, but did not know the reason.

Fourth: Excellent review! Because of your words, I went to Netflix and put the entire first season at the top of my queue! I can't wait!

Thanks and once again, excellent post!

Dan
http://www.cafeleone.net

sfgirl said...

Glad to hear it, Dan! And enjoy...as i know you will.

Firecracker said...

Just one thing Dan, because the copyrights to Season One have transferred to Sony, it is very difficult to find Season One Farscape.

You might want to check out your local library ('Scapers have been working hard to get Farscape into the Library systems in both the US and Canada) or look for a friend who might lend you the series. Or perhaps some ... less traditional method of seeing the first season. *cough*

Some of the early episodes are a little weak, so if you want a list on the ones to focus on, just contact me and I will draw up a quick list of *must see* Season One episodes.

'Cause Farscape really is a ride you don't want to miss. :)

Vincent pro said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stake said...

download Farscape tv show,really friends,trust me this show is mind blowing!!!It seems the camera is always moving and I love the interesting uses of light.it's very intersting show.

SF Girl said...

AWESOME, Stake! Now the whole world can watch this terrific show. Yes, from lighting to camera angles to superb acting and set design... not to mention quirky stories that challenge the mind and the soul... deep and thoughtful but thoroughly entertaining. Thanks for sharing, Stake!

johns said...

Hi,
Thanks for sharing that awesome post, Farscape TV Show tops my list of favorite shows. All the Farscape seasons are worth watching. I usually Watch Farscape Episodes Online at download-watch-farscape.edogo.com.

SF Girl said...

Very
very
COOL!

Thanks for the link, Johns!

Tristan said...

Really friends, it’s MIND BLOWING!!!! All my friends like to Watch Farscape Episodes Online .my friend sent me this link to watch this nice show, then i clicked on the link and watch it's full episodes and i became a big fan of this show.

SF Girl said...

Cool, Tristan!

Indeed, Fascape Lives! YAY!

I just recently started watching it again (I have the complete DVD set... smug smile) at my leisure...

Best Wishes,
Nina

ella said...

Is there anyone who has missed this show? Its outstanding show. If you missed it than dont worry click on Download Farscape Television Show and watch this show online.

simran said...

Farscape is my most favorite tv show. i always watch Farscape online. Its very interesting show. Ita a science fiction show. i like it so much.