Wed
Aug 7 2013 2:00pm

Farscape Rewatch: Season Three Overview, Season Four Primer

Farscape season 3 cast

So that was Season Three, for my money the best of the four, and with a run of episodes in the second half that is one of the strongest any sci-fi show has ever produced.

The series managed to raise both the narrative and the emotional stakes, and to intertwine the two in clever, thrilling and affecting ways. It’s easy to forget how much Farscape broke new ground for TV sci-fi, by showing that big production values and insane plotting do not and should not mitigate against heart, passion and knotty moral and emotional drama that we simply weren’t used to seeing a sci-fi show attempt back in 2002.

I loved Jool, although I know she didn’t connect with a lot of viewers. Tammy Macintosh’s comedy chops were a delight, especally in ‘Different Destinations,’ and by the end of the series I was deeply attached to her. It seems kind of unfair that Stark, a character who was handled far better this year than last, but who still kind of seemed to wander in and out of the show at random, was a title character whereas Jool wasn’t. I remember missing her terribly in Season Four, which may explain why I never warmed to Sikozu.

The darkness of the show increased, necessarily, following the death of Zhaan, and it was always the intention that this, as the middle chapter in the planned five-year saga, would be the Return of the Jedi segment of the story—the bit where all the characters hit rock bottom after two years of steady setbacks and decline. This gave the actors a chance to show what they could do, and Claudia Black in ‘The Choice’ and Ben Browder in ‘Lions Den’ really stepped up.

Some plotlines are kind of just... there. D’Argo seems a bit lost without the quest for his son to give him focus, and he seems to spend most of the season as a foil to other people’s storylines. I imagine the introduction of the D’Argomobile was intended to offset this, but it doesn’t really. The tentative relationship between him and Jool sort of fizzles out, as does Chiana’s psychic abilites, which also seem like a failed attempt to give an established character some new narrative drive; it just never seems to go anywhere.

This year belongs to John, Aeryn and, perhaps surprisingly Crais, whose ambiguous trek to redemption is very well handled by both writers and actor. Even Scorpius is better served than Chi and D’Argo this year, with the brilliant ‘Incubator’ being a series highlight. Rygel gets his moments in the sun, in ‘I-Yensch, You-Yensch’ and ‘Fractures,’ but he too suffers from the intense focus on John and Aeryn.

But it was the right thing to do, the story demanded it, and when what you get is this good it seems churlish to complain about the plotlones and characters that were under-served.

Favourite episode: Perhaps a little controversial, but ‘Scratch n Sniff,’ just because it’s one of those episodes that only Farscape could have pulled off. But really, it’s damned hard to pick a favourite in a season this good.

Least favourite episode: Some of you are no doubt shouting ‘Revenging Angel,’ but I loved it. My low-point was ‘Losing Time,’ which was still nowhere near as bad as the worst of Season Two.

Best single moment: Scorpius, standing on the steps of the doomed Command Carrier, water cascading around him, opera soaring. Brilliant.  

Worst single moment: Stupid Crichtons’ stupid death of surpassing stupidity. Just throw a shoe at it, FFS. Sheesh.

 

Season Four

And so we come to Season Four. This marks a major change in this blog, because so far I have been updating my existing episode guide book. The book was announced in June 2002, around the time ‘Crichton Kicks’ premiered in the U.S.. At roughly the same time, Sci-Fi announced their commitment to seasons four and five. 

Rather than wait for the U.K. broadcasts, I managed to watch the episodes shortly after they were aired Stateside. And I remember a growing feeling of horror during the initial few episodes, and terrible certainty that the show had lost its way and was sure to be cancelled. Sadly, I was right. I’ll speak more to that in the first few blogs.

The book came out 8 August. 

Season Four went on a mid-season hiatus in the U.S. on 23 August. 

On 6 September—three weeks before Season Four even premiered in the U.K.—Sci-Fi announced the show was cancelled. I had been expecting it, but it still made me all kinds of angry and upset.

It didn’t take long for the book—which had been expected to lead to a second edition covering the next two years—to make its way to the remainder bins.

Reader, I wept.

So I’m going to use this blog to complete the original plan, and write new guides for Season Four and The Peacekeeper Wars. This is going to be odd, because I watched the first three seasons at least three times, in order to write the book. But Season Four I only watched once, on transmission, so my memories of it are far less crisp.

It will be interesting to see how I react to Season Four this time around. I remember very little about it, so it’s almost going to be like watching a new series. 

 

Titles: Same music, but with fewer regular cast. Stark and Crais are no longer included, but nobody new is added, so the core cast is John, Aeryn, D’Argo, Chiana and Scorpius. Slightly rejigged narration:

My name is John Crichton. An astronaut. Three years ago I got shot through a wormhole. I’m in a distant part of the Universe aboard this living ship of escaped prisoners—my friends. I’ve made enemies. Powerful, dangerous. Now all I want is to find a way home. To warn Earth: Look upward and share the wonders I’ve seen.


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.

Farscape Rewatch on Tor.com: ‹ previous | index | next ›
9 comments
Cybersnark
1. Cybersnark
Empire Strikes Back is the middle chapter where everyone hits rock-bottom, not Return of the Jedi.
Rob Rater
2. Quasarmodo
I didn't remember that we were doing season recaps, so I was expecting this to be Crichton Kicks, which I watched last weekend. At least this gives me the chance to get a little further ahead of the rewatch (a whole 'nother episode!) And there aren't any commentaries on disc 1 to slow me down, which means I should have at least 8 eps of clear sailing.
Cybersnark
3. Colin R
Well, I hope that you enjoy Season 4 more now you're far removed from concerns about the future of Farscape. I gotta say that whatever Season 4 is, it ain't boring--even episodes like Lava's a Many-Splendored Thing (which I like a lot), John Quixote (which I don't), and Natural Election are trying to do things that are weirder or different from what has come before. The people making Farscape were totally comfortable with their characters and their craft, and felt the need to push at the boundaries and go into weirder, darker places. I respect that a lot.

I can understand the sinking feeling people had when starting this season out though. When I first watched the series in full on Netflix and DVD, I was really worried too. Grayza is seriously terrible--a horribly misogyist caricature; when I was watching the second and third episodes and it looked like they were setting her up to replace Scorpius as the primary antagonist, I was horrified. Thankfully, she practically disappears after those early couple of episodes, and is never terribly important or prominent again.
Scott K. Andrews
4. ScottKAndrews
@cybresnark Oh FFS. I am a bad geek. Brain fart. Knew that. Sorry. #shameface
George Brell
5. gbrell
ColinR hits my thoughts pretty much exactly on the mark. S4 isn't as good as S3, but it gets a lot of points for trying and has some really successful hits.

With regards to S3:
Favorite episodes: Green Eyed Monster, Into the Lion's Den
Least favorite episodes: Scratch 'n Sniff, Suns and Lovers, I-Yensch, You-Yensch
Rob Rater
6. Quasarmodo
When I first watched Farscape, it was borrowing my brother's dvds, and we exchanged regular emails with updates on my progress. I read through them to see what my initial reactions to some of the the episodes were. Apparently I really, really hated I-Yensch, You-Yensch. When I watched it this time around I still didn't love it, but I didn't hate it quite so much either.
Elizabeth Heckert
7. silhouettepoms
Jealous that you are getting to watch Farscape that is "almost new" ... LOL. I watched the entire series in 2-3 mos last fall and I wish I could forget it and watch it all over ;)

I hafta say when I watched season 4 I remember being super impatient the first 4-5 episodes because of course I was expecting a resolution of the Aeryn cliffhanger and WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE TO WATCH ANOTHER EPISODE because it is still not resolved?! kind of made me annoyed... LOL.
Cybersnark
8. RinnicBob
For the life of me, I still can't figure out what the beef is with so many viewers about season 4! What exactly were they expecting? Was it just that their preconceptions and/or expectations were so different from my own? I don't know. But I can tell you one thing: Farscape for me was always about change. The changes we learn to accept, even fight with all our might against, as we grow into adulthood, middle age and beyond, and Farscape realized this point with more passion and sincerity that any show I'd ever watched. Also, for those who were haters of the John/Aeryn story line, that almost by itself was the reason that Farscape kept me coming back over and over. At its core, Farscape is an epic love story. Simple as that. Ben Browder and Claudia Black have such electric, dynamic, BELIEVABLE chemistry that it makes this whole aspect of the show work.
Cybersnark
9. matta2k
"For the life of me, I still can't figure out what the beef is with so many viewers about season 4!"

I haven't seen Farscape in over ten years, so I'll do this from memory. What I remember about season four:

- Aeryn's pregnancy ruined her (to what extent is debatable) as a character. She used to be a tough as nails Peacekeeper but motherhood gave her a different personality, and anything concerning her child became her defining motivation/characteristic. This has occurred in a lot of television series (Dana Scully is the most cited example) and at least Aeryn's pregnancy was not "mystical" (a trope addressed here http://fanlore.org/wiki/Pregnancy). The sentence in that link about how pregnancy storylines relegate previously strong females into domestic roles, sidelining them from the action--that's how a lot of Farscape fans felt about Aeryn in season four.

- Grayza was a terrible villain, concocted from the wet dreams of a fourteen year old boy. She was all sex, no substance. She dressed in low cut, skin tight outfits and positively purrrrrred sex, but she was brainless and one dimension. Then, there was Sikozu, who my friends renamed Sickofyou. She was Jool 2.0. Less whiny than Jool, but equally useless. I remember her developing a relationship with Scorpius, which made her slightly more interesting, but her motivations were often murky. Like with Aeryn and Grayza, it gave one the impression the writers no longer knew how to craft a character as complex as the much lamented Zhaan.

- There was a lot of dumb/forced humor and potty humor in season four. "Lava's a Many Splendored Thing," "Coup by Clam," "John Quixote" were lowlights for me. I remember "Clam" being disgusting, the extreme low point of the series. "Quixote" didn't feature nearly as much vomiting, but in a way it was almost worse because it felt like Browder was way trying too hard to write a clever script, but failed miserably. Farscape achieved some media acclaim with its cartoon-infused "Revenging Angel" (and fan acclaim with the humorous "Crackers Don't Matter" and "Out of Their Minds" episodes) so suddenly the writers of season four turned everything up to eleven, consequences be damned. It's like the adults left the room for the first half of season four, and the series only got some of its brains back toward the end.

- Crichton finally returns to Earth! And it was anti-climactic. I remember a scene where Chiana came back from a mall, and everyone was beaming with how hilarious that concept was—Aliens shopping on Earth! And I remember thinking: Well, that would have been fun to SEE too bad we DIDN'T. We didn't get to see any of Earth's reaction to the news that extraterrestrial life exists. It's all very business as usual. John's fake return home in season one ("A Human Reaction") was a lot more interesting. But what really ruined that homecoming for me was that John's friends DK and were MURDERED and John didn't seem to care at all. You'd think he'd be really upset that his longtime friend who he hadn't seen for years had been killed by an alien creature, but he acts pretty chill then, poof, he's back on the other side of the galaxy. And humanity is like, gee thanks for coming home, John.

So, those are my vague memories of season four. I probably got some details wrong. (I had to look up DK and Laura's names—sorry, DK and Laura.) Now, you may disagree with all of my points. That's fine. But, I hope I gave you some insight into how some of us felt about Farscape's last season and why we weren't exactly shedding tears when the series was abruptly canceled.

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