Season 1, Episode 14
1st US Transmission Date: 30 July 1999
1st UK Transmission Date: 20 March 2000
1st Australian Transmission: 30 September 2000
Guest Cast: Natalie Mendoza (Lishala), Kevin Copeland (Rokon), John O’Brien (Kato-Re), Deni Gordon (Neera), Tania Mustapic (Maid)
Synopsis: Do I have to? Oh well, here goes Crichton throws a wobbly and goes for a drive in his module to cool off. While he’s away Moya’s pregnancy causes complications and she has to StarBurst away, stranding John.
He flies to a conveniently local planet that is, happily, just like Earth and is, luckily, inhabited by Earth-type people. Here he settles down on a beach, does some fishing and grows a beard. The daughter of the local chief, Lishala, falls for John and the chief hunter, Rokon, gets jealous. Rokon is egged on by his scheming mother, who is head Priesten. Rokon is about to kill John when D’Argo and Rygel serendipitously appear at just the right moment and save the day. John thinks his crewmates abandoned him, but they reveal they’ve been looking for him for three months.
John and D’Argo are captured, accused of attacking Rokon and are about to be sent off to a labour camp when Rygel appears and is, wouldn’t you know it, hailed by the tribe as God. The gang would leave, but their ships, weapons and Rygel’s chair are knackered because there’s an energy vortex on the planet that prevents technological devices from working.
On Moya, Aeryn and Zhaan locate the source of the vortex and fire its co-ordinates in a canister at the settlement. Meanwhile, we discover that there is a prophecy relating to Rygel, that says he will rise up and lead the tribe into the light. Luckily, there’s a book around to explain everything, and happily it’s in Ancient Hynerian, which of course Rygel can read. It turns out that the tribe was sent to the planet from the Hynerian Empire by Rygel 10th to spread his influence and were abandoned. The energy-dampening device was installed to keep them there and the Priestens created a religion based around the Hynerian Dominar. Rygel, of course, can’t rise up, and admits this.
John and D’Argo run, leaving Rygel to be tortured to death for being a false God. Luckily the capsule containing the map fired by Moya lands right next to them and they return to the village and destroy the device. Rygel’s floating chair works again, so he sits in it and rises up before the tribe. The Priesten is discredited, Rokon and Lishala make friends and everyone lives happily ever after. Which is nice.
Buck Rogers Redux: ‘I’m sick of this whole turd-burb end of the Universe.’ John finally loses his cool, storms off Moya to get some space, and then spends three months thinking he was left behind deliberately. He chooses to live outside the tribe because he doesn’t want to disturb their ways, but he feels comfortable on Acquara and even considers staying once a return to Moya is open to him: ‘since I left my home I’ve been hunted, beaten, locked up, shanghaied, shot at. I’ve had alien creatures in my face, up my nose, inside my brain, down my pants. This is the first time, the first place where I’ve felt peace.‘
You Can Be More: Although she knows there will come a time when their search for Crichton will have to be abandoned, Aeryn sticks at it longer than Zhaan would have. Her facility with science and engineering is a far cry from the uncertainty of ‘Thank God it’s Friday Again‘.
Big Blue: Zhaan is pricklier and more threatening now that she has abandoned her spiritual quest, and she is the first of the crew who seems willing to abandon the search for Crichton. She is getting on Aeryn’s nerves and D’Argo thinks she has become ‘cold.’
I Was A Teenage Luxan: D’Argo has changed from being the one who always wanted to abandon his crewmates; obviously he’s taken his little talk with John (‘Till the Blood Runs Clear‘) to heart. He refuses to stop looking for Crichton, partly due to his own sense of guilt at helping drive him loopy in the first place.
Buckwheat the Sixteenth: Rygel loves being a regent again and has surprisingly enlightened views: ‘the highest sacrilege is purposely keeping your own people ignorant and subjugated for your own glorification.’
A Ship, A Living Ship: Moya’s pregnancy is continuing to affect her. The technobabble is all a bit confusing, but basically something builds up which she can’t vent herself, D’Argo and Crichton try to help, but in the end Moya has to StarBurst to prevent some sort of rupture.
Worlds Apart: The earth-type world is referred to as Acquara by the natives.
Disney On Acid: When Rygel rises up Crichton mutters ‘The Slug Who Would Be King’. The Man Who Would Be King was a morality tale by Rudyard Kipling about the dangers of playing god. ‘Well, hakuna matata, Masata’ says John at one point, referencing a song from The Lion King.
Seen It All Before: So many times where to begin? Doctor Who specialised in ‘advanced people who now live as savages surrounded by relics of their former glory which they revere’ stories, to wit: ‘Face Of Evil’ (in which the Doctor is also mistaken for a God), ‘Death To The Daleks’ (which also features an energy draining device that has to be destroyed), ‘The Mysterious Planet’ and many more. Star Trek, in all its incarnations, did a few of those too, as did every other Sci-fi show. And they were never any good first time around.
Bloopers: The beard. And the hair — sticking a bit more gel in it and making it spiky does not equal three months growth.
Logic Leaps: If the tribe, who grow hair naturally, have blades sharp enough for Rokon to shave his bonce every morning then surely they could rustle up a razor for poor old John. The canister from Moya lands right next to Crichton who, not knowing what it is, wades into the water and grabs it anyway. What if it had been an unexploded bomb?
Guest Stars: Natalie Mendoza normally appears in musicals, including Moulin Rouge, but also appears in Beastmaster. Kevin Copeland can be seen in Muriel’s Wedding and The One.
Backstage: John Eccleston, one of the chief puppeteers, appears as a native, running with Rygel over his head. This episode hit trouble when a hailstorm, with hailstones the size of cricket balls, hit the Henson workshop and threatened the sets.
The Verdict: Oh dear, this really is dreadful. ‘Space Tribe’ episodes are always corny and this one crams every happy accident, freaky coincidence and cliché in town into the mix. The characters are stereotypes, the love triangle is predictable and dull, the Priesten might as well have been rubbing her hands and cackling. And as for ‘one of the crew is mistaken for a God’, please, how many times have we seen that hoary old number? For once Farscape takes a familiar theme and fails to put a new spin on it, instead churning out tired old nonsense. And that beard shudder.
Verdict Redux: Best. DVD. Commentary. Ever! In fact it’s the only commentary I know that’s given its own title in the menu ‘When bad things happen to good shows’. Happily, everybody involved in Farscape agrees that this episode is dreadful the worst they ever did and the gleeful way they demolish their own episode in the commentary, while acknowledging all the talent and effort that went into it, is brilliant. From all the details of the Great Beard Disaster, to the never-filmed scene in which Aeryn goes skinny dipping and takes out six PK soldiers wet and naked, to the horror that was The Tandoori Chicken, and the truth about the football helmet in the title sequence, it’s the best commentary I’ve heard since Joss Whedon’s amazing philosophical commentary for Firefly‘s final episode.
The general consensus seems to be that the main problem is that everybody is playing it way too seriously, and there’s something to that. But the perfectly uniform costumes, the make-up fail, the indigenous tribe protected by white warriors (coz they couldn’t find any indigenous stuntmen) it’s a perfect storm of Wrong, in which the stars aligned and somehow nothing worked. On other episodes there were some elements that failed, but none on which all of them did.
One highlight of the commentary is an anecdote from David Kemper. Don Brinkley, TV legend, once told him that if you produce 26 episodes a year then two of them, no matter what, will be A-Grade Emmy worthy. Conversely, two of them will be total E-Grade stinkers. And you can almost never tell which episodes they’ll be ahead of time. The other 22 episodes are what dictate the show’s survival — if they trend more towards D-Grade you’ll not get a second season, if they trend more towards B-Grade then you will.
It’s actually quite an achievement that Farscape, in a turbulent first season, only produced one turkey.
(PS — have you seen the trailer for the episode of Doctor Who that Ben Browder’s going to be guesting in? Yes, you guessed it — FACIAL HAIR ALERT!)
Scott K. Andrews sports a very fine beard, thank you for asking.