Wed
Feb 15 2012 2:00pm

Farscape Rewatch: “Premiere”

Farscape Rewatch on Tor.com: “Premiere”
Written by Rockne S. O’Bannon, directed by Andrew Prowse
Season 1, Episode 1

1st US Airdate: March 19, 1999
1st UK Airdate: November 29, 1999
1st Australian Airdate: May 20, 2000

Guest Cast: Kent McCord (Jack Crichton), Murray Bartlett (D.K.), Lani Tupu (Cpt. Bialar Crais), Christine Stephen-Daly (Lt. Teeg), Damen Stephenson (Bio Isolation Man #1), Colin Borgonon, (PK Weapons Officer)

Synopsis: While testing a theory of slingshot space travel John Crichton’s Farscape module is transported through a wormhole into the middle of a space battle on the other side of the galaxy.

His module collides with a fighter craft (a Prowler), which crashes as a result. John is then sucked on board a huge ship, Moya, the crew of which — Zhaan, D’Argo and Rygel — are prisoners attempting a break out.

They escape — successfully StarBursting to safety, sucking Aeryn’s prowler along in their wake.

The leader of their attackers, Captain Crais of the Peacekeepers, discovers his brother was piloting the prowler that collided with John’s module, and he blames Crichton for his brother’s death. He takes his ship in pursuit of Moya. Moya was damaged in the escape, so the crew find a commerce planet and go to barter for vital fluids to repair her, leaving Aeryn and Crichton locked up on board.

They escape, take Aeryn’s prowler down to the planet, and Aeryn signals Crais. Zhaan and Rygel return to Moya, D’Argo stays to recapture John and Aeryn, but they are all captured and imprisoned by Crais.

They escape and return to Moya just as Crais’s ship moves in to attack. Moya is too weak to StarBurst, but using John’s slingshot theory, and Aeryn’s piloting skills...

...they escape!

Buck Rogers Redux: “I don’t know where I am, technically I don’t know how I got here, but I’m not going to stop trying to get home.”

Commander John Crichton is a scientist first and an astronaut second, and the Farscape project is his baby, in collaboration with D.K., a childhood friend. He’s been up in the shuttle only twice before. He broke out of quarantine the night before his big test flight so that he could watch the sunrise over the launch pad. His father, a famous astronaut who walked on the moon, gives him a good luck charm: a puzzle ring he received from Yuri Gagarin.

He spends most of his time on Moya being punched, knocked out, locked up and abused, but he still manages to use his scientific skills to save the day and prove his slingshot theory at the same time, demonstrating his usefulness to the crew of Moya. He realises that he must have travelled through a wormhole and defines his objective — to find another one, or to create one, and use it to get home. He is recording messages for his father on his mini-disc player.

You Can Be More: “It’s my duty, my breeding since birth, it’s who I am.” Officer Aeryn Sun, special commando, Peacekeeper command, Ikarian company, Plaizar Regiment, is caught in the wake of Moya’s StarBurst because she disobeys orders and continues attacking.

She was bred to be a Peacekeeper, it’s all she’s ever known, and she doesn’t want to be on Moya at all. Crais has branded her “irreversibly contaminated” by her long exposure to Crichton, so she has no choice but to stay — the Peacekeepers will kill her if they find her. Her piloting skills are essential in allowing Moya to escape Crais.

Big Blue: “On my home world, even amongst my own kind, I was something of an anarchist. Actually, I was the leading anarchist.”

Zhaan is a Delvian priest who was imprisoned, she implies, for being a troublemaker (we discover her true crime in “Rhapsody in Blue”). She spent 3 cycles on a maximum labour planet working with Peacekeeper technology.

She can work very fast indeed, her hands fly over the controls at super speed. She establishes her role as mediator between hotheaded D’Argo and selfish Rygel immediately. She meditates nude.

I Was A Teenage Luxan: “I am a Luxan warrior, I have seen two battle campaigns!”

D’Argo is 30 cycles old, which is young for a Luxan. He has seen two battle campaigns, and Zhaan thinks that’s very few. He has spent 8 cycles on Moya and prior to that spent some time working on the 93rd level of the Kemlach mines on Meeka 7, a punishment so brutal that Zhaan is amazed he survived.

He claims was imprisoned for killing his commanding officer (we’ll discover in episode 102, “Back and Back and Back to the Future,” that he was lying). Aeryn describes the Luxans as “a brutal race, uncivilised, indiscriminate in their deployment of violence.” He has a Qualta Blade, basically a big sword, which he sharpens and polishes obsessively. He can stun people with his incredibly long tongue.

According to David Kemper, the rings through D’Argo’s collar bones “were inserted, without anaesthetic, by the Peacekeepers after he was captured [because] arm restraints weren’t enough.”

Buckwheat the Sixteenth: “I am Rygel the 16th, Dominar to over 600 billion people. I don’t need to talk to you.”

Rygel has demonstrated his usefulness to the crew — it was he who bribed the guards for the codes that allowed them to escape, but he’s an irritating, smelly, self-centered kleptomaniac. His phlegm (he spits on Crichton) is red. He tells John: “my cousin, Bishan, stole my throne from me while I slept, a mistake I will soon be correcting.”

In The Driving Seat: After the StarBurst, Pilot has no idea where they are; it’s obvious that he and Moya are inexperienced.

The Insane Military Commander: “You charged my brother’s prowler in that White Death Pod of yours!”

Captain Crais commands an armada of Peacekeeper ships, but when his brother’s prowler is destroyed after an accidental collision with Crichton’s module he goes rogue, leaves the armada behind, and takes his Command Carrier off in pursuit of Moya and Crichton. He promises to rip Crichton apart personally just to find out how he works, and when Aeryn protests he turns on her and has her locked up too.

He is a melodramatic scenery chewer, and someone really needs to talk to him about his choice in hats, but he’s got a big ship, a crew to back him, and he’s ruthless to a fault. Aeryn tells Crichton that he won’t stop coming just because Moya’s gone outside his jurisdiction.

A Ship, A Living Ship: Moya, the ship, is a Biomechanoid Leviathan, which means she’s a living being. She is bonded with Pilot and he is the only one who can speak to her and for her.

She has no offensive or defensive capability, but she can StarBurst, which means that she can zap herself instantly to another seemingly random point in space. She was fitted with a control collar, which restricted her to following Peacekeeper orders, but D’Argo ripped out some synapses from the control console and freed her. To repair the damage this caused the crew need to find some Iriscentent Fluid.

Moya has limitations — she needs to regain her strength for a while after each StarBurst before she can do it again. The ship is maintained by small yellow droids called DRDs — Diagnostic Repair Drones. She can be piloted manually from the bridge, using a joystick.

The Ballad Of Aeryn And John: The very first thing Aeryn does when she meets John is beat him up, so things can only get better. She tells Crichton she hates compassion, yet when he is about to be taken away and dissected by Crais she intercedes on his behalf, betraying her own weakness. He repays the favour by telling her that she can be more than just a soldier, showing faith in her based on very little actual evidence.

Worlds Apart: Moya was transporting the prisoners to Terran Raa, a planet for lifers. Both Zhaan and D’Argo spent time as prisoners on Meeka 7. The commerce planet that the crew visit is never named.

Moya flees into the Uncharted Territories, an area of space in which the Peacekeepers have no jurisdiction and which is, presumably, represented on maps as a big blank, perhaps with “Here Be Monsters” written on it.

Alien Encounters: The Peacekeepers are a race called Sebaceans. We’re not told what race the dealer Rygel meets on the commerce planet is, but he’s got enough teeth that he can pretty much choose for himself, who’d argue with him? If you look closely you can see Zhaan talking to a Sheyang, from “PK Tech Girl,” when she’s on the commerce planet.

Disney On Acid: “Boy was Spielberg ever wrong. Close Encounters my ass.” Poor old Crichton gets upset when he makes first contact and the aliens don’t play tunes to him.

Get Frelled: Upon discovering that Zhaan is a Delvian priest D’Argo’s first thought is of sex. He says he’s heard about her races “appetites” and something they experience called the “Fourth Sensation.” Zhaan’s playful response — that she’s experienced that, but “not lately” — gets the Luxan all hot under the collar. Later, when John has saved the day, Zhaan gives him a Delvian ear kiss that leaves him cross eyed, and D’Argo jealous.

Outwardly Sebaceans resemble humans, and Zhaan, who wastes no time drugging John and ripping his clothes off, indicates that the only way she knew John was not Sebacean were the unusual bacteria in his body. So his reproductive organs must look much like those of Sebacean males, and thus, presumably, he and Aeryn are… um… compatible.

What Does This Do? Rygel farts helium, but only sometimes, when he’s “nervous or angry.”

Logic Leaps: Crais is down on the commerce planet before Zhaan and Rygel leave in Moya’s pod. This means that for a while at least his Command Carrier was in orbit with an entirely undefended and helpless Moya. So why wasn’t Moya crawling with Peacekeepers when Zhaan and Rygel returned?

Also, why are D’Argo, John and Aeryn imprisoned on the commerce planet, why not just bundle them into a ship and take them back to the Command Carrier?

Bloopers: Crichton works for IASA. Presumably the International Aeronautics and Space Administration, however the insignia on his uniform has the stars and stripes on, and the module has United States written on it.

How does the broken DRD get on the table in the final scene — can they levitate?

WHAT did you just say? “Don’t move or I’ll… fill you full of little yellow bolts of light!” Crichton trying to be a hard man with a ray gun and blowing it horribly.

“He claims to be a human, from the planet Erp.” Aeryn proves that John isn’t the only one who can get it all wrong.

Stats: Distance is measured in metras (Peacekeeper Frag Cannons have a range of 45 metras).

Speed is measured on the Hetch scale (Moya’s maximum speed after StarBurst is said to be “hetch 2”).

Time is measured in cycles (approximating to years) and arns (approximating to hours).

Translator microbes are injected into most people at birth. They colonise at the base of the brain and allow people to understand each other. (Babel Fish anyone?)

In Peacekeeper Territory there is some sort of genetic sieving process (D’Argo refers to it, astonished that Crichton, who he assumes is an idiot, escaped it), probably designed to weed out perceived genetic defects. 

Prowlers can hold three people.

Guest Stars: Kent McCord played Commander Scott Keller in four episodes of Rockne S. O’Bannon’s show Seaquest DSV and prior to that he was Captain Troy in the liver-shiveringly dreadful Galactica 1980, plus he’s also been in more TV movies than you can shake a stick at. Murray Bartlett used to be Luke Foster on Neighbours. Christine Stephen-Daly was Lara Stone in the UK hospital drama Casualty.

Backstage: The original US DVD release of this episode has a commentary track featuring Rockne S. O’Bannon, Brian Henson and Ben Browder. The creation of this episode, and the changes it went through from script to screen, is covered in exhaustive detail in issue one of The Official Farscape Magazine.

John’s Farscape Module (henceforth referred to as the WDP — White Death Pod) was based on the proposed emergency re-entry vehicle for the International Space Station.

 When the show began production two episodes were filmed simultaneously (while this is virtually unheard of in the UK or US it is common working practice in Australia, where Farscape is filmed), so “Premiere” was lensed at the same time as “Exodus From Genesis.” This method of working was abandoned with “PK Tech Girl.” This might explain why some confusion has arisen about the production order of the first few episodes and the sequence in which they should be viewed.

The Verdict: Not the strongest pilot ever made, it tries to do so much in a short time and comes as across as rushed and unsatisfying. The characters are established in broad strokes and seem, at first glance, to be little more than stereotypes. There’s also a bit too much being locked up and...

...escaping!

When watched for the first time it doesn’t really draw in the casual viewer, it isn’t different enough to justify instant loyalty. However, when watched in hindsight, with knowledge of how subverted all those initial stereotypes will be, it’s much more interesting viewing.

“Premiere” looks great, sounds totally original, and holds promise, but there is little here to indicate the levels of weirdness, perversion, violence, and narrative originality that are to come.

Verdict Redux: On rewatching it now I think my biggest disappointment with it is that the moment it abandons John’s viewpoint it loses momentum. The scene between D’Argo and Zhaan is the first thing we see that John doesn’t, and it too quickly dissipates their mystery and strangeness. How much more fun, and dramatically satisfying, it would have been to stick with John’s viewpoint throughout — to meet Crais when John does, to keep Zhaan and D’Argo as totally alien and unrelatable for longer, to really leave the audience as confused and disorientated as John is.

But a pilot episode is very rarely about the best artistic choices, as it’s slave to a checklist of things that need to be set up and introduced as quickly and economically as possible. This is why so much of the dialogue is very on the nose —  “you could be more” being the most wince-inducing example of a character basically reading out another character’s key traits from the series bible.

And, on reflection, when the series produced what amounted to a second pilot, they did keep things confusing, and actually gave so little consideration to making things clear for newcomers that it all went horribly wrong, so what do I know. Anyway, the “second pilot disaster” is a blog post for another day...


Scott K. Andrews has written episode guides, magazine articles, film and book reviews, comics, audio plays for Big Finish, far too many blogs, some poems you will never read, and three novels for Abaddon. He is, patently, absurd.

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25 comments
John Skotnik
1. ShooneSprings
Thanks for doing the re-read; this is still one of my favorite shows.
Paul Weimer
2. PrinceJvstin
It does do a lot in one episode.

I started re-watching Farscape recently, and just finished Season One. I'll have to try and keep up!
politeruin
3. politeruin
I see your point about extending john's pov a bit longer but i distinctly remember this being unlike anything i'd seen before so for me that alienness remained regardless. It was a sprawling, colourful mess of a thing once the pretty staid earth sequences had played out, like the wizard of oz going from black and white to technicolour i suppose, it hooked me right there. Difficult to see it having any sort of depth and longevity at this point but oh it so verily did, my brothers.
Michael Poteet
4. MikePoteet
# 3 - The Wizard of Oz homages and parallels go even further than that! The Premiere has our hero being swept away from home in an unexpected storm, accidentally killing the sibling of the archnemesis, and being thrown together with strange companions as the quest to get back home begins. I love this episode for that reason alone!
politeruin
5. politeruin
MikePoteet - Oh of course, i hadn't thought of that but it holds up rather well. But the transition from scenes that were all too familiar to this were a right kick in the rot; what is this, give me more, now!

Also, no mention of zhaan's species being evolved from plant in that little bio.
Scott K. Andrews
6. ScottKAndrews
Okay, I feel like a total dunce for not spotting the Oz parallels, especially since it's filmed there (kind of ;-)

politeruin: Nope, no mention of Zhaan being a plant, because it's not established in this episode. Off the top of my head I can't recall when it's established - quite soon, iirc.
politeruin
7. politeruin
Ahh right, for some reason i read those as complete character histories.
politeruin
8. RobinM
Looks like I'll have to open the plastic on my Xmas gift and start rewatching season 1. One of the silliest things I remember about this episode is how John brushes his teeth or given translator microbes using a slug that "Tastes Minty."
David Betz
9. RDBetz
"Kent McCord played Commander Scott Keller in four episodes of Rockne S. O’Bannon’s show Seaquest DSV and prior to that he was Captain Troy in the liver-shiveringly dreadful Galactica 1980"
Let's not forget where I first saw him and still remember him best, the 1968-75 series Adam 12.
politeruin
10. ChrisG
I generally agree with your points about the weaknesses of this episode. But when I saw this the first time, the contentious relationships among the main characters already stood out relative to the show's peers, a feature that develops very nicely as the series progresses. And seeing it now, while knowing what happened, I agree that it is even more evocative.

On the other hand, the first time I saw the show, and for a few episodes after, Crichton's pop-culture snark grated a bit as a little too cute/goofy. It did grow on me slowly, though, and now I enjoy that aspect much more.

The slingshot ``theory'' is somewhat laughable. But hey, artistic license...

@4 Mike Poteet: Agreed.
Michael Poteet
11. MikePoteet
@20 Chris G - Hey, the slingshot theory had been well-established long-ago by Star Trek, so what's the problem?!? ;-)

The other thing about Premiere that I love is just I had never seen sci-fi on TV look so gorgeous before. As others here have said, it holds up pretty well even now. I would spring for the blu-ray set if it had any subtitles, which the complete DVD set does not, either... grumble, grumble... I can't figure out how to make my fancy TV display simple old-fashioned Closed Captions from any source other than "live" TV? But that's another rant for another time...
Michael Poteet
12. MikePoteet
Scott, you mention the confusion over the order of the earliest episodes. Maybe I missed a schedule, but what will be our next episode? I want to come better prepared!
john mullen
13. johntheirishmongol
I have been watching this on netflix, trying to get a handle on why so many say they like it. I did watch a few eps when it first came out and gave up on it. The puppet thing I have never really accepted, it still looks fake to me.

I liked John's character, until he got to Earth, and then I thought he was just being an ass. Aeryn was ok, but I really preferred her as Vala in SG1. Zhaan was kind of cool, but the whole idea of her being a vegetable was a joke.

Overall, I think a lot of the stories are weak and just sad, with a few moments of really good storytelling.

The coolest thing on the show was the ship, especially in the beginning, but it would have been much better if they could have communicated directly with the ship. And then the sad stories of the ship got old since it was one version after another about poor Moya.

I have about 4 eps left to watch and I am crossing my fingers for a good wrapup, but I hold out little hope for it.
Scott K. Andrews
14. ScottKAndrews
MikePoteet I'm going to follow the order on the most recent DVD/Blu-Ray sets, which is basically the same as the old preferred viewing order. So next up is I, E.T :-)

As for the gorgeousness of the show, definitely agree. Although it did belatedly occur to me last night to wonder why escaping prisoners weren't wearing some kind of prison garb. I mean, D'argo's nice red suit looks like it's fresh from the dry cleaners, and what kind of convict is allowed to wear flowing blue robes (also spotlessly clean) and jewelry!?

RobinM The dentic's in 103 - Exodus from Genesis.

RDBetz Don't think we ever got Adam 12 here in the UK.

ChrisG I agree about Crichton's snark - when I first watched the show I was worried it could get annoying and undermine the drama too much - awful memories of Gil Gerard's unstoppable smirk - but BB's judgement as an actor is so sound, he pitched it just right.

johntheirishmongol Dude, why torture yourself watching a show you don't really enjoy? When I imagine the misery I would have heaped on myself if I hadn't abandoned Andromeda after a few episodes... shudder...
Jack Flynn
15. JackofMidworld
Back when this was playing on SciFi, I made the same mistake I did with BtVS and caught a couple of random episodes and got turned off by the bizarreness of it all (without the buildup, it was just, well, weird). When it came up on Netflix, I listened to a buddy of mine and started watching it from the beginning and was totally hooked.

On a random side note, Farscape wasa actually my gateway to Stargate: SG1. I'd watched a couple of episodes here and there and liked it but but never actually got into it. I read about a late series SG1 episode (after Ben Browder & Claudia Black joied up) that had a FS parody and pulled it up on the 'flix. At the risk of spoilers and ruining the punchline, Claudia Black's character was a recently arrived alien pitching TV show ideas (complete with cut-scenes showing the SG1 team as the main characters) to a TV exec. All of them were ripped straight from movies she'd just watched, but, when she described the FS idea, the exec said he'd never heard of that idea before - a snarky little dig, since FS had been canceled for low viewership, tho SG1 was really good at getting their digs in)

Dammit, now I want a Stargate: SG1 rewatch, too.
Jim Brannick
16. divisionerror
I've always loved Farscape, so this should be fun! The interaction with the puppets and animatronics are just so much more tangible than CGI. Loved it!
politeruin
17. mike-ptda
Sweet! Thanks for doing Farscape. Really enjoy what Tor is doing with the "rewatch" series.

~Mike
James Whitehead
18. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Thanks for starting the rewatch. I didn't get to see Farscape when it first aired as it was on SciFi (i.e. cable) and graduate school w/ young family don't equal 'free cash.' ;-)

I caught epsiodes later on reruns & then have watched the series in order when it got onto Netflix. I loved Crichton & his non-stop banter from the beginning.

I actually liked the pilot but how much of that is the fact that I knew the series would grow; plus we viewers need to cut any show's pilot episode a lot of slack. I shudder to think of all the shows that wouldn't have made it had they been made today with their lacklustre starts.

Also got my wife hooked on it & she's not much for the SciFi scene. She liked SG1 (I second the motion from the right honourable JackofMidWorld for a SG1 rewatch) specifically for Jack's sense of humour/snark & transitioned over to Farscape when Chricton & Aeryn show us.

Looking forward to the discussions on this rewatch thread.

Kato
Scott K. Andrews
19. ScottKAndrews
KatoCrossesTheCourtyard "I shudder to think of all the shows that wouldn't have made it had they been made today with their lacklustre starts." ...coughBabylon5cough...

As for SG1 - I always really enjoyed pretty much all versions of Stargate (even wrote it once upon a time) but am unusual amongst Stargate fans for actually preferring the final 2 seasons of SG1 to the preceding 8, in large part coz of BB and CB. That brief parody of Farscape was *very* funny :-)
Scott K. Andrews
20. ScottKAndrews
Drew Holton
21. Dholton
I was a latecomer to Farscape, having just watched it all on DVD within the last year or so. I have to say, like the aforementioned "
coughBabylon5cough", the first half of the initial season was a real grind for me.

In fact, I unfortunately stopped watching it right about the point where it started improving in my mind, once I did get back to it. But once that point was reached, I plowed through it all in a marathon couple of weeks.

Although I have to say my opinion of the intro theme music never changed. It's still like a drill bit boring into my skull for me.
politeruin
22. Mayanscaper
Thank you so much for writing such a terrific warts and all re-watch for Farscape. I've seen Premiere many times and still you pointed out things I hadn't thought of, such as Moya being left undefended.

I loved Ben's John Crichton because he wasn't a super heroic typical science fiction military persion like we see on Stargate or Star Trek, but a guy, a terrifically good looking, athletic, smart guy, but someone we can use as a POV. His snark is his way of trying to explain to himself what he's seeing and later to confound his enemies plus give himself little doses of home. As such, because of this layering that continues throughout the wonderful writing, the snark never bothered me but entranced me. And the show can be really funny one minute and extremely angsty the next.

And the bad guys have much character development, too. And the cinematography is gorgeous. I highly recommend the Blu-Ray for the sound quality and picture enhancement. And the commentaries, especially the ones with Ben and Claudia are funny, smart, and just cool. They have chemistry immediately on screen and off.

I look forward to reading these weekly.
Melissa Shumake
23. cherie_2137
i hadn't ever watched farscape before, and had heard of it only in passing. but, when i saw that tor was hosting a re-watch, i figured it must be a show worth watching, and rented the first couple discs of season 1 from my local movie rental store. watched the first couple episodes (after technical difficulties with my roommate's tv) and i'm pretty impressed. i'll definitely be trying to stay up to date to read the re-watch posts!
Melynda Scarborough
24. halcyon
Years late with a comment.. I only recently watched Farscape on a whim on Netflix (I've only got a few episodes left... I'm stringing it out to make it last longer) and I have to agree that this pilot really doesn't do much to draw people in. I was eye rolling and scoffing at things within the first few minutes (who flies an experimental craft in space with no oxygen mask?? and then gets out without knowing if the air is breathable??). But after a few episodes I learned to just go with the flow. Definitely worth it.
politeruin
25. LovesAeryn
Farscape is my favortite show of all time. The John/Aeryn dynamic had me from the start, especially when she practically sits on his face in the first episode. Talk about chemistry. When watching Farscape, sure it's easy to point out continuity errors and other snafus, but then I remind myself that it was written by imperfect humans doing their best to tell the story. This show was quite ambitious and still holds up well today. After several rewatches I'm taking a year off and will start it up again in 2015. And as of this writing, there was talk of a movie of some sort a few weeks ago. That would be awesome if done well (which means dropping the comic storyline).

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