Written by David Kemper, directed by Andrew Prowse
4, episode 1
1st UK Transmission Date: 23 September 2002
1st US Transmission Date: 7 June 2002
Guest Cast: Raelee Hill (Sikozu), Peter Whittle (Ilkog), Bob Nisevic (Nukana), Dinah Shearing (Voice of Elack’s Pilot)
Synopsis: This episode takes place ‘some time’ after the events of ‘Dog With Two Bones.’ A dying leviathan called Elack arrived at the Leviathans’ sacred place intending to die, shortly after Moya was snatched by a wormhole. John took refuge aboard. He’s been hanging out there, drinking hooch, covering the cargo bay in wormhole equations and growing a truly resplendent beard. A small ship crashes in, destroying his equations. On board is Sikozu, an employee of a race called the Grudeks. They harvest dead and dying leviathans and Sikozu’s job is to find them. Unfortunately, by identifying the Leviathans’ sacred burial ground she has rendered herself both superfluous and a liability—they are chasing her, intending to kill her to prevent the secret getting out to their competitors.
The Grudeks board and begin harvesting Elack. John decides to try and fight them off, with predictably dismal results. The Grudeks release a Brindz Hound—a hunting dog—to track them down. Chiana and Rygel turn up; the hound gets flushed out into space; John, Chi and Sikozu do some baffling up-and-down thing; there’s a lot of shooting.
Oh who the hell knows what happens, it’s completely incoherent. And dull. NEXT!
Buck Rogers Redux: John has let himself go. He’s manic, mad, drunk, hairy and oddly obsessed with Tchaikovsky. He daydreams about pregnant Aeryn, but eventually manages to stop, realising that it’s not helping.
You Can Be More: Nowhere to be seen.
I Was A Teenage Luxan: Nowhere to be seen.
Buckwheat the Sixteenth: Rygel’s attempt to reclaim his throne has been scuppered by wanted beacons scattered everywhere by Grayza. He is worth 7 million. Hynerians bruise pink. Since he turns up with Chiana in tow it seems they left together in ‘Dog With Two Bones.’
Everyone’s Favourite Little Tralk: Chiana’s attempt to find Nerri has been scuppered by Grayza’s beacons too. Chi is worth 5 Million. Chiana’s precognitive abilities have changed—she can now see the present in slo-mo, but it leaves her with literally blinding headaches.
Jool In the Crown: Nowhere to be seen.
Sputnik: Sikozu Svala Shanti Sugaysi Shanu is a Kalish. Her people live in Scarran territory. Her race cannot tolerate translator microbes, but they can shift their centre of gravity, which means they can climb walls. Her hand is bitten off but she is able to re-attach it—because although it bit off her hand, the Brinz Hound apparently spat it out again so Rygel could conveniently find it and pick it up and could use it as a flyswatter. She is an expert on Leviathans, but this is her first time aboard one.
Hi, Harvey: Harv’s hanging with John on the beach and running off to get snowcones.
A Ship, A Living Ship!: Grudeks hunt toubray, which is the neural cluster tissue of Leviathans. The best toubray is found in the etal cavity. Some cultures eat this tissue to improve their brain power. Leviathan’s shape themselves to their occupants, so none are the same. The doors on Elack don’t work because he is dying (until the plot requires one to work, when it miraculously does). Elack has been bound to his pilot for 350 cycles. Elack’s Pilot is a female, while he is male; given Moya is female and her Pilot is male, this implies the Pilot is always of the opposite gender to the Leviathan.
Alien Encounters: The Grudeks have some kind of metal thing stuck through their foreheads.
Stats: John’s cracked wormholes, and can get everyone where they want to go if he can find ‘the wormhole network.’ The what-now? Never mentioned before, but suddenly it seems wormholes are part of a network, kind of like the London Underground. Or something. But instead of being able to create wormholes wherever and whenever he wants, which is how we’ve always understood it to work, John has to find ‘the network’ first. This seems to be a completely arbitrary new limitation introduced to get around the fact that John now has practically god-like wormhole powers. Boy, does it infuriate me when the rules get changed mid-game. Yes, I suppose you can retcon it to make some kind of sense when stacked up against ‘Self Inflicted Wounds,’ but you shouldn’t have to.
WHAT did you just say?: John speaks Klingon to the Grudeks. Amazingly, he speaks good Klingon, which makes Crichton even more of a geek than we suspected.
Backstage: Maintaining the tradition whereby the episodes where John has a beard are the worst episode of the show to date, this at least has a real beard, which Ben Browder grew between seasons. There is a deleted scene which illustrates the changing dynamics between Scorpius, Braca and Grayza, and establishes the Interon world that will be the location for the next two episodes.
The Verdict: I take no pleasure in putting the boot in quite this hard, but it has to be done. Brace yourselves, this ain’t gonna be pretty...
So it’s a new season, you’ve been a ratings success and have been rewarded with a two-year renewal and a prime timeslot after the channel’s big hit show, Stargate: SG1, a far more mainstream show in which clean-cut U.S. Soldiers make the universe safe for people who want to live like good Americans1.
1—I love Stargate, I’ve even written for it, but compared to Farscape it’s the most vanilla show imaginable.
You’ve got a completely clean slate—all your major plotlines have been squared away, and your main cast is scattered far and wide, each pursuing their own personal quests. Basically, it’s time for a soft reboot—a chance to re-establish your universe and core cast simply and dramatically for new viewers, and forge ahead with a bright new future.
You open with John Crichton—outlaw, hero, man of action with a brain, good looking, cutting a dash in black leather—in a short vignette designed to show new viewers what he is about in one short sequence. He should be heroic, slightly oddball, rescuing someone perhaps, or facing off against a really bad guy. Lots of humour and excitement. A broad strokes re-establishment of the character, setting out your stall for the newbies, convincing them this is a character they want to spend time with. Either way, you have to begin with him being active in the story and in media res; anything else would be madness.
Then, probably a sequence where you establish that he’s lost, alone, trying to find one of his friends, that leads into him tracking down either D’Argo, Rygel or Chiana and getting involved in their personal story. It is essential that you keep him pro-active, moving forward, with a clear goal. During this episode you re-establish the secondary character of choice, and then they head off, a duo, to track down the next crew member on their list.
It’s not rocket science. Given the setup left behind at the end of ‘Dog With Two Bones,’ any decent jobbing writer could bash together a season opener that would, at the very least, do the job. I realise that what I’m outlining may sound a bit vanilla, but the season opener has a very specific job to do, and as Farscape has proven time and again, this is a show that does very well at taking an initially straightforward plot that feels familiar and giving it a whopping great tweak in the third act. The skills necessary to deliver a blindingly good episode that secures Farscape’s future have been demonstrated time and again.
Instead we get ‘Crichton Kicks,’ the single most baffling season opener of any season of any show ever broadcast. And yes, I’m including Andromeda. I even reckon I can tell you the exact moment the show doomed itself—it’s about 90 second in, when John cries ‘bring in the horns’ and a dodgy synth version of ‘The 1812 Overture’ kicks in and he begins to caper in slow motion down a corridor. Every Stargate fan in the U.S. went ‘what the hell is this?’ and reached for the remote. 90 seconds. That’s how long Farscape’s brave new world lasted. They blew it that quickly.
Then where do we go from there... we introduce a new character, Sikozu. How do we do that? With a completely incomprehensible piece of business about learning English. It has no bearing on her character, no plot relevance and, because we hear both her and John speaking English anyway, it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just the wrong time and place for it, and it’s executed horribly.
Then the bad guys. Essentially, they’re space-whalers. Fishermen. Not inherently bad, just jobbing fishermen. Ethically a bit murky, no doubt, and we certainly want to see them sent off with their tales between their legs, but they have no beef with John. They offer him safe passage off the ship. And his response to these guys, who probably live in an economically depressed part of the galaxy and are trying to feed their families? He decides he’s going to Kill. Them. So here’s our hero—a bum who guns down people kind of at random.
Then we reintroduce two other lead characters. Characters who are extremely visually striking. How do we do that? Over a radio link. Yes, we completely throw away the reintroduction of two of our leads in a way that gives no initial indication of their importance or backstory. Why are they here? We never really find out, except that they are on the run. Why are they together? Who knows.
We do get some backstory from Chiana but only after John, for no readily apparent reason, slams her against a wall in a manner that is both threatening and sexually aggressive. This is our hero, the misogynist creep. Seriously, what the holy fracking frell is going on with that scene? It’s appalling.
Now let’s throw in Harvey and dream-Aeryn in such a way that a new viewer has no real idea what the hell is going on, just to make things extra-confusing.
Let’s have a CGI attack dog that, um, doesn’t often attack so much as run around very fast. Let’s have it bite off and eat Sikozu’s hand—but no, in fact let’s have him spit it out so Rygel can find it. Coz that makes perfect sense.
Finally, we have two action set pieces.
The one where John lures the Brindz Hound into an enclosed space and flushes him out into space in a manner both absurdly contrived and really poorly realised. It’s funny, but it’s a very confusing sequence, both on paper and in execution. Plus it relies entirely upon a working door, something we’ve already established ain’t happening on Elack.
But it’s nothing compared to the sequence where they set up a pulley system to kill the Grudeks. I literally have no idea what is happening here. There are some pipes that have to be shot in the right order, I think, but the explanation is so garbled and out of the blue, and the sequence itself so confusing, that it’s basically just noisy pictures.
And then we’re done, and John’s heading off to a planet where he thinks his friends are. How did hear about this planet? Why does he think his friends are there? Why is he only going there now? Who knows. Who cares. We’ve already established time and again in this episode that nothing on Farscape makes any kind of sense any more, so why bother explaining.
Here’s the thing – this episode took everything that was good about Farscape—edgy hero, bonkers sets, grungy aliens, over the top action sequences—and turned them up to 11 until all the elements that made the show work became so exaggerated that the show lost all cohesion and collapsed. This episode is exactly what Ronald D. Moore2 was talking about when he said that Farscape disappeared up its own arse. This is a show so in love with its own edginess that it has lost sight of the fundamental principles of good storytelling.
2—Ironically, the man responsible for the single worst series ender ever written.
This is the episode that killed Farscape3.
3—I’m not letting Sci-Fi off the hook – they handled the show really badly and made some egregious errors, not least season four’s timeslot and lead-in. But those errors were hugely compounded by the dren that they were handed.
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.