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Farscape Rewatch: “Back And Back And Back To The Future”

Back And Back And Back To The Future
Written by Babs Greyhosky, directed by Rowan Woods
Season 1, Episode 5

1st US Transmission Date: 2 April 1999
1st UK Transmission Date: 13 December 1999
1st Australian Transmission: 3 June 2000

Guest Cast: Lisa Hensley (Matala), John Clayton (Verell)

Synopsis: Encountering a cruiser that’s being destroyed by mysterious energies, Moya rescues an escape pod with two scientists on board, Matala and Verell. They are Ilanics, a race at war, and they are developing weapons. On their pod they have isolated a Quantum Singularity (that’s a black hole to you and me) and Moya’s crew agree to ferry them to a rendezvous with a ship that will take them home where they will use the Singularity as a weapon to win the war. Matala uses her sex appeal to keep D’Argo off balance, turning him into a protector and champion, while Verell tries to solve the containment problem that led to their ship being destroyed.

John is exposed briefly to energy from the Singularity and becomes unstuck in time, flashing forward into the future. He learns that Matala is an agent of the Scorvians, the race the Ilanics are at war with. She intends to kill Verell once he’s solved the containment problem, and the ship they’re heading to meet is in fact Scorvian not Ilanic. He tries to persuade D’Argo of this, but the Luxan is too besotted with Matala to believe him.

We then see three separate future flashes of Crichton attempting to resolve the situation, but each time it ends in everyone’s death. Finally, he realises that to save the day he must convince D’Argo of the truth. He does so, but Matala still kills Verell and escapes in the pod to meet her ship. Just before he dies, Verell is able to self destruct the pod and release the Singularity, destroying the weapon, Matala, and the Scorvian ship.

Buck Rogers Redux: ‘I could just be going plain ol’ bonkers here, I guess it’s about time for that to happen.’ When the flashes start, John begins to wander around the ship muttering to himself, convincing everyone he’s lost the plot entirely. Aeryn asks Zhaan ‘What’s the matter with him?’ and Zhaan answers ‘He’s Crichton.’

You Can Be More: When Verell and Matala are suspicious of Aeryn because she’s a Peacekeeper, D’Argo tells them that she’s an escapee and ‘she’s one of us now,’ the first real statement of unity amongst the group and the first time anyone publicly accepts Aeryn’s right to be there. She challenges Matala to a workout, which turns into a knock down fight where Aeryn doesn’t pull her punches. She’s beaten by Matala’s Scorvian neural stroke, a manoeuvre which stuns the victim, but betrays Matala’s identity.

Big Blue: Zhaan is more attuned to Moya than the others and is able to sense imbalances in her systems caused by the Singularity. She’s the one John turns to when he works out what’s happening, cementing her role as calm confidante and emotional centre of the group.

I Was A Teenage Luxan: ‘I am normally unaffected by females in a crisis, it’s just, it’s been so long.’ Poor old D’Argo; eight cycles without female companionship and the first compatible woman he meets deliberately drives him to distraction and then tries to kill him. His chin is an erogenous zone!

He reveals to her that he was not really convicted for killing his commanding officer (as he told his crewmates in ‘Premiere’), but he will not reveal his true crime. John overhears this and asks him what he really did, but D’Argo refuses to tell him.

A rogue D’Argo, following his own agenda regardless of what the others think, is shown to be the greatest threat to the crew’s unity and survival, as it was when he put on the gauntlet in the previous episode. In one of the possible futures, he even goes so far as to run John through with his Qalta blade. By the end of the episode he and John reach a mutual understanding – mainly because John stands up to him aggressively – that ensures that he’s unlikely to ever again skewer the human.

He is building something called a Shilquen in his workshop (it is an instrument and is finished in ‘DNA Mad Scientist’).

Alien Encounters: Ilanics are ‘genetic cousins’ of the Luxans and they ‘have been blood allies for 1,000 cycles.’ A race called the Scorvians declared war on the Ilanics three cycles ago and launched an unprovoked attack on a colony, which left two million dead. The Luxans are aiding the Ilanics with hardware and troops.

Get Frelled: Matala is ‘leading D’Argo round by his mivonks,’ the first time that word’s used, but I think we all know what it means, don’t we. In one of the future flashes she shoves her hand down D’Argo’s trousers and the look on his face is priceless. He admits to John he’s been off balance because he’s gone so long without a woman, and Crichton tells him he knows how that feels.

In the commentary, Rowan Woods discusses their uncertainty at this point in the show’s evolution as to how far they could push the sexual elements of the show, given that it did not have a late night timeslot. In the first draft of the script, John and Matala’s flashforward encounters were described as a hot and heavy sex scene, but Woods chose to make them more of a ‘dark rape fantasy.’ Even so, the scenes as shot went a bit further and were cut slightly in the edit.

Logic Leaps: Crichton’s first few visions are sexually charged flashes of he and Matala ‘getting horizontal,’ but although all his other visions come to pass in some form or another, this one never does and it’s hard not to conclude that it’s simply done to titillate and provide convenient tension between John and D’Argo. Also, he’s never actually cured of his time flashes, so presumably they just stop once the situation with Matala resolves itself, which is a bit convenient and smacks of a ‘reset button.’

Seen It All Before: The unstuck in time story is a staple of sci-fi, as are time loop episodes where events are repeated again and again with slight differences. ST: TNG did it with ‘Cause and Effect’, ST:DS9 did it with ‘Visionary’, Stargate: SG1 did it with ‘Window Of Opportunity’ and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer used it a bit in their episode ‘Life Serial.’ The danger is that repetitive episodes like this can get really boring – ‘Cause and Effect’ was hailed by some as a masterpiece and derided by others as the height of tedium — but Farscape pulls it off with aplomb and the tension builds admirably throughout.

Guest Stars: If you’ve seen Tackle Happy, the documentary about two Australian guys who perform as ‘Puppetry of the Penis,’ then you’ve seen Lisa Hensley before. She’s also been in the movies Paradise Road and Mr Reliable, as well as many TV movies and mini series.’

John Clayton had a long career behind him in Aussie TV, and I remember him from Chopper Squad when I was too young to admit to here. He died in 2003, while a series regular on Grass Roots.

Backstage: The design on the floor of the gym where Aeryn and Matala fight is the PK logo and will appear throughout the series. It is taken from a piece called Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge by El Lissitzky. The U.S. DVD release of this episode includes a commentary track featuring Ben Browder (who says this is his favourite of the first set of episodes) and the director, Rowan Woods.

Ben Browder says this was the first of the ‘black tee episodes,’ by which he means that whenever they got a script that veered towards dark and more warped material, he wore a black t-shirt rather than the white one. Of course, the white t-shirt will soon be a thing of the past, which cements this episode as the first time they felt they were getting the tone of the show right.

This episode also inaugurates the ‘punch the puppet’ ethos that continues throughout the show. When Crichton stumbles into Rygel, Browder had agreed the move with the main puppeteer, but the remote operators flooded the set afterwards, panicking that the puppet had been damaged.

Before Farscape, writer Babs Greyhosky had worked on Magnum PI and The A-Team, amongst others; she would go on to write for Sheena and Tremors, but this is her only Farscape episode.

Rowan Woods became one of Farscape‘s go-to directors, notching up 18 episodes in total. He has since moved onto the big screen, with Fragments, and is currently working on Spartacus: Vengeance.

The Verdict: Now that the characters have been established it’s time to start paying more attention to the plotting. Ben Browder gets to do his unhinged Crichton act for the first time and is engaging, funny and believable, providing a hint of the extremes his performance would reach in coming years. Anthony Simcoe gets a lot to do too, skilfully showing the tender, immature, impulsive side to D’Argo, already moving him away from the stereotypical hard man presented in Premiere.’ But the real plaudits go to Babs Greyhosky and Rowan Woods, who skilfully lead the viewer up the garden path again and again and provide the first inkling of the narrative complexity that Farscape will soon achieve. Also, the music’s far better, and the effects, especially when Moya is sucked into a black hole, are excellent.

Verdict Redux: Yup, still love it. The fight between Aeryn and Matala is kind of hilarious, especially Lisa Hensley’s jazz dance moves! Also, the two Aussie guest stars both give performances that veer away from what could be called the ‘standard’ sci-fi acting you expect of Americans who are versed in genre work. Aussie TV was, and mostly remains, realistic and non-genre, so a lot of the actors are doing sci-fi for the first time and their uncertainty about how to pitch their performances leads to them really going for it with the kind of balls-to-the-wall vigour you might not get from more seasoned sci-fi actors. Hensley’s evil voice in the final scene sounds exactly like my six year old daughter pretending to be a witch – it has that unselfconscious commitment. And if you think Hensley goes a bit OTT, wait til next week – wow! For my money, it’s a large part of what gives Farscape its appeal, and I enjoy the extremity of performance.

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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