DeFlip Side #14: Farscape Season 4

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Welcome everyone. This is DeFlip Side.

Now let me say this right off the bat: I love Farscape. It’s the best show on TV and one of the most innovative Science Fiction series ever created. I couldn’t think more highly of it than I already do. So understand that it is my adoration that forces me to ask show creator Rockne O’Bannon: What in the hell are you doing to my show?

The fourth season of Farscape has come, and mostly gone, and has stranded fans in the uncharted territories, straining to find bits of the story they’ve been following for the last three years amid the debris of disposable shoot-em-up episodes and excessive fart and puke jokes.

Just to recap, when the third season ended, the show had reached the natural conclusion of the premise that had spurred it along from the beginning. The escaped prisoners aboard the living ship had finally gotten clear of the Peace Keeper forces that had been pursuing them and were parting ways to resume their interrupted lives. D’Argo’s declaration, “I’m surprised it’s taken this long,” really put things in perspective, reminding us that these people had only been thrown together by circumstance and the friendship between them likely never would have happened otherwise. They have whole lives, ones we barely know about, awaiting them.

So D’Argo and Rygel said their goodbyes, planning to return home; Chiana was off to join the Nebari resistance; Crais, Talyn and Zaahn were dead; and Aeryn had taken off in her prowler for points unknown, despite Crichton’s pleas for her to stay.

That cut Moya’s crew down to Crichton, who had nowhere else to go, Jool, whose departure was imminent, and the Old Woman, Noranti, who had hitched a ride on Moya to escape the destruction Scorpius’ command carrier. To cap things off, a wormhole opens out of nowhere, swallowing Moya and leaving Crichton adrift in his Farscape module. I was echoing him as he said, “You have got to be kidding me!”

As sad as I was to see these partings, voluntary and otherwise, I was psyched to see how season four would unfold. In my mind, the show was poised to turn formulaic television upside down once again, by delivering a season that would follow each character along their separate paths, maybe incorporating two stories a week, and having them all meet up again toward the end of the season in the some spectacular new plot development. I mean how cool would it have been to see D’Argo avenge his wife’s murder, or to see Rygel return to Hyneria and try to retake his throne?

Maybe it’s this conception of how I thought things should have been that soured me on the fourth season that actually was. When the season opened with a drunk, slightly crazy Crichton aboard a dying Leviathan scrawling wormhole equations all over the place, I thought we were off to a pretty good start. But not more than half way through the episode, who shows up? Rygel and Chiana, saying there’s a new Peace Keeper bounty on their heads. They’re all fugitives. Again. Does anyone else her the sound of back peddling?

To keep things going south, the episode was mainly a fight to stop aliens from taking over the ship. We haven’t seen that ever… The only positives to come out of the episode were the introduction of the character Sikozu and Crichton’s revelation that he had finally figured out equations for safe wormhole travel.

Over the course of the next two or three weeks everyone was together, again; they got captured, again, this time by the new Peace Keeper baddie of the moment; and they managed to escape. Again. Shortly after this, Aeryn made her return, and had Scorpius with her. He came aboard Moya asking for asylum—the same thing that had happened with Crais! Crichton even made a joke: first they want to kill us and then they want to move in with us?

The show remained fair to middling after that, with episodes, as I said before, that were either extended shoot-em-ups, or drawn out fart and puke jokes—usually both. Now I have nothing against a good firefight. And farts and puking can be really funny in the right setting. But Farscape has always managed to work them into some larger context. Now it seems they are the primary context: smearing vomit on the controls of D’Argo’s ship because it only responds to his DNA; having the characters drink each other’s urine as an antidote to an alien poison; Rygel’s flatulence taking center stage in several episodes. Any one of them would have been fine alone, but pile them in, episode after episode, and it’s just overkill.

Another overkill alert: get the frell out of Crichton’s head already. The concept of Scorpius implanting a neural clone into John’s brain was inspired. The path of madness it took him on was brilliant, culminating in John begging D’Argo to kill him, just to put an end to it. You don’t see stuff like this on TV ever. Even when John regained control, started calling the clone Harvey, it still worked because he was using it as an insight into the way Scorpius thinks. But again, they’ve taken the concept too far.

We got to go into Crichton’s head deeper than we ever wanted to this season in the disastrous episode, “John Quixote.” They explained it as some kind of mental virtual reality game that Stark created using Crichton’s brain as a model. C’mon! It was really just an excuse to let Ben Browder write a dopey script, one that would have been rejected out of hand if it had come from any writer. Again, I’m not against far out premises or wacky humor. Farscape normally does both exceedingly well. But instead of the inspired lunacy of episodes like “Crackers Don’t Matter,” we had a mishmash of misfired jokes and disjointed images that served as a poor vehicle for the return of Zaahn—a cameo by Virginia Hey that many fans have been hoping for for a long time.

And while we’re on things fans have been waiting for, what about moving forward with John and Aeryn’s relationship? For the first two seasons, we see them dancing around each other, finally admitting how they feel to themselves, if not to each other. Then we get the season of double Crichtons, where Aeryn hooks up with the Crichton that eventually dies. She spurns the remaining Crichton, understandably weirded out. It all leads us to the heart-wrenching season three finale, where John drops the B.S. and begs her to stay with him, only to have Aeryn turn him down.

Now here we are, Aeryn is back, and tells Crichton that she’s come to the realization that she does want to be with him and may even be pregnant with his child. And what does John do? Jump up and down with glee? Give her a great big kiss? No. He turns her down. Turns her down! Saying he can’t trust her with his heart, or some crap.

I know this is space opera in the grandest sense, and the romantic tension between John and Aeryn is a mainstay of the show, but come on! It’s just not realistic that he would spurn her after all we’ve seen. It’s getting ridiculous. Put a laugh track behind them and you have the intergalactic Sam and Diane. It’s just one more example of the show taking giant steps back.

All this is not to say there hasn’t been anything good about this season. Despite the disservice I think they’re doing to the greater story arc, I’ve still enjoyed each episode individually. I like the darker, more cynical edge they’ve given to Chiana. I like the growing camaraderie between Sikozu and Scorpius. Aeryn’s attempts to speak English are a nice touch; and I think it’s great that they made D’Argo captain of Moya instead of going with Crichton as the obvious choice. I still find myself laughing out loud several times during any given episode. The characters and groundwork are still there.

And the final episode of the summer proves it. It was the best yet, exploring the deeper dangers of wormhole travel in terms of the intricacies of time and space, with untelevision-like complexity that forces you to really listen if you want to keep up with what’s going on.

This sink or swim approach has been Farscape’s greatest strength, what elevates it above other shows. You join the ride at full speed or not at all. I’m used to watching, thinking that there’s no way for it to get any better, and then sitting speechless, week after week, as it tops itself yet again. Which is why this season has thrown me for such a loop I guess; its mediocrity is unprecedented.

I’m not really worried. If history is any guide, everything we’ve seen this season, no matter how silly some of it has been, will eventually become relevant at some point. My faith remains. I still maintain that even the worst episode of Farscape is usually better than anything else you could watch.

My concern is for the big picture. This was the worst possible season to take a header. The addition of Stargate SG-1 to the Sci-Fi Channel’s Friday lineup has brought an entire new audience with it, the biggest ratings the network has ever had. Farscape now has an opportunity to tap into this built-in audience. But if I were a new viewer with only this season to go by, I’d be wondering what the big deal is all about. All I can say strap in and hang on. When the show regains its stride—and it will—you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.

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