Friday, February 08, 2008

Farscape: 1x07-1x09

Farscape rages on with its best episode yet, and two of its weakest. That’s the peril of any show based around standalone episodes, you’re going to get duds in there, and it makes it tougher to watch the show. In the post Sopranos age, a standalone structure isn’t required, and it’s tough to return to those days. But, as long as we keep getting good episodes like “PK Tech Girl,” I’ll stick around.

That episode is easily the series’ best. It takes a kind of stock plot, the hero rescues a girl and falls in love with her. The episode works for two reasons, one is the way it brings out the tension in John and Aeryn’s relationship, the other is how it develops the world of the Peacekeepers. It’s been a while for John, as we found out a few episodes ago, and when he sees a pretty girl who likes him, he’s happy about it. Aeryn and John are clearly meant to be together eventually, but this does a good job of putting a twist in things. They’ve been in this sealed world, getting closer over the course of the episodes, and the intrusion of an outsider disrupts that.

The best scene of the episode is definitely Aeryn telling John that she found him interesting, struggling to find a way to convey her feelings. Of course, neither of them are ready to say how they really feel about each other. The relationship between them is right out of 30s screwball comedy, where the two characters are always at each other’s throats, but they’re getting closer and closer all the time. I can definitely relate to the way Aeryn feels there, and it’s certainly the most emotional episode of the series. I particularly like the crazy strobing lights on the ship, which heighten the tension.

Gilina herself is a pretty compelling character, and a nice contrast to the more world weary Aeryn. I was sad to see her go at the end. It’s the same as the Karen/Pam situation on The Office, because we care about all the people involved, it makes the love triangle more engaging.

This episode also featured a great subplot with Rygel, and his memories of his time on the Peacekeeper ship. Rygel is in a lot of ways the most complex character on the show, struggling to deal with the pain in his past while keeping the appearances of a cool, collected leader. He won’t admit how far he’s fallen, even though he clearly knows it. And, the interrogator guy was pretty freaky looking.

The episode after this on paper looks great. We get back to the show’s ‘mythology’ and see Crais and Crichton clash for the first time against the backdrop of a surreal wizard’s nightmare world. Unfortunately, the surreal nightmare world feels very much like a bunch of sets, and the Crais/Crichton conflict doesn’t work for me. The reason is Crais’s hatred of Crichton is irrational. I can understand why he’d be mad, but we have no real context for understanding Crais’s feelings, no real understanding of the man. Those flashbacks here were probably supposed to do that, but just knowing a guy had a tough childhood doesn’t make his reckless pursuit of Crichton make any more sense.

The best moments on The Wire or Babylon 5 came when we cared deeply about both the heroes and the villains. When the Narn/Centauri fought or when the detail pursued Avon, I wanted everyone to come out okay, even though that wasn’t possible. Here, there’s no conflict, just a misguided guy bothering our hero. Maybe Crais will develop as time passes, but here, he’s not doing much for me. And, I think they could have done a lot more with the dreamspace where we spent most of the episode.

‘DNA Mad Scientist’ was another dud. What threw me here was the sudden, complete change in all the characters’ behavior, Zhaan in particular. I didn’t know everyone so desperately wanted to get home, so the decision to cut off pilot’s arm comes out of nowhere. This was an episode where they decided to go in without exposition and just cut straight to the story, but not having that exposition meant the character arcs didn’t make sense. It seemed like all the characters were under the influence of some strange drug, with their juvenile scheming.

Along with this, the whole Aeryn turns into weird beast storyline was classic standalone stuff, where we know she’ll be fixed by the end, and it’s just a matter of getting there. I did enjoy the weird Lovecrafty vibe when she was behind the curtain, it reminded me of the Shoggoth from The Invisibles, but other than that, there wasn’t much of note in this episode.

So, hopefully things will turn around a bit in the next set of episodes. I loved ‘PK Tech Girl,’ but since then, things have been a bit off. Any show’s going to have some duds, but it’s frustrating to watch them.


RAB said...

Farscape isn't entirely a series of standalone episodes; there does turn out to be an overarching story arc that ties the whole thing together, and even some seemingly random things turn out to be unexpectedly significant later on. It wasn't charted out in advance like Straczynski's five year plan for B5...but part of the problem was that the Sci-Fi Channel didn't want a Babylon 5, they wanted a Stargate SG-1. (And when they finally got Stargate itself, it wasn't long before they axed Farscape...) There was a lot of pushing and pulling behind the scenes, but ultimately there is a single, more-or-less coherent story that comes to a definite end.

"That Old Black Magic" was another of the quasi-Trek episodes that really don't belong in the series. There are at least a couple more to come. (Maldis does make one return appearance.) The good stuff this time isn't the encounter between Crichton and Crais but rather what's going on with Zhaan, which will turn out to be important later on.

Also, thus far you'll have gotten the impression that Crais is meant to be the Sir Miles of the series, to use an Invisibles analogy, but that's misdirection. I don't want to spoil anything, but he does develop in a surprising direction. Towards the end of the first season you'll finally see the Quimper character, to continue the analogy -- you'll definitely know him when you see him -- and he also turns out to be something other than we're led to believe at first.

"DNA Mad Scientist" was a favorite of mine, though, for the very scene you didn't like. Cutting off Pilot's arm is emblematic of what made me love this show. These people are not very nice, they don't like one another, and they don't want to be together. Think of the "escaped prisoners from a chain gang" scenario: all they want to do is cut the chain and go their separate ways. This is implicit in the premise of the series. What's not obvious is how they'll change from that starting point. For me, the underlying theme of the series is about trust and loyalty: how does it develop among people and what happens when it's betrayed...and can it be rebuilt afterward?

David Golding said...

I'll just second RAB: to me and Penny, the arm thing wasn't left field, it was fundamental. If you didn't think it had enough explanation prior, you might consider it itself to be explanation.

Patrick said...

The issue with the arm scene for me was largely due to the skipping of what would traditionally be the first act of the episode. We don't see them finding out about Namtar, or deciding to go see him, so I'm not feeling their desperation. If we had just gotten a previous scene that conveyed how much they wanted to go home, I would have been able to understand their behavior in the Pilot arm scene, particularly Zhaan's, which seemed the most out of character. I guess I didn't realize that the only reason they weren't going home was because they didn't know how to get there, I thought it was because they wouldn't be accepted there.

And these Invisibles parallels have got me intrigued. What do you mean by they wanted it to be Stargate SG-1? I'm not that familiar with the show, but I'm guessing they'd likely want more standalones, less arc. That's what Sci-Fi seems to be pushing for Battlestar Galactica.

RAB said...

Stargate was a very accessible show: it was set on Earth in the present day, the lead characters were American military personnel and scientists so the average viewer was on very familiar turf, you could pick up the premise in a couple of sentences, the plots were fairly conventional action stories...and it was spun off a popular film so it had a lot of immediate name recognition. As a result, it did much better in the ratings. Farscape had a higher barrier to entry, the backstory gets more convoluted as it progresses, and it has Muppets that aren't funny. (Actually they are, but you know.) And all this was several pre-Sopranos years before Lost/Heroes/BSG/whatever else made story arcs a reasonable sell to executives. I think maybe Twin Peaks was the only SF predecessor to speak of, and that fell apart before the end. Plus Farscape was expensive. If it were my money, I'd have sat on top of it and shot anyone who came near me holding a Farscape. ;-)

It could be a bit of a cheat for me to use an Invisibles comparison, since I know it creates a favorable association. But at the same time, it's something we both know well enough that I can say for instance "this guy is the Quimper of Farscape" and know that you'll get an accurate mental picture. And I do genuinely see major parallels between them, so I'm not fibbing.

Patrick said...

Ah, that makes sense. I'd guess they originally saw Farscape as an ordinary guy who gets caught up in wacky adventures each week. It's odd that the Sci-Fi channel would place such an emphasis on having real world touchstones, but I guess they want to branch out beyond traditional sci-fi fans and a show like Farscape could easily be offputting to them. I don't even think of it any more, but Rygel probably looks pretty goofy if you just take a look at an episode out of context.

The X-Files was around before, but that was definitely a real world accessible setting with plenty of standalones. TV's changed a lot, and for the better, though I still don't think we'll be seeing a lot of shows like Farscape. Firefly and Battlestar seemed to have knocked aliens out of sci-fi TV for the time being.

Rafal said...

so, do you intend on coming back to show? this is the show that had serious flaws (most notable being a lot of filler - there are a lot of episodes that you SHOULD skip), but at its very best combined epicness of Babylon 5 and emotional intensity of Buffy. i really want to read your thoughts about this series (mostly because fanboy in me loves reading praises about his favourite episodes)

(sorry for bad english btw)

Patrick said...

I have still been watching the show, and am currently on the third episode of season two. With the show, I find myself being streaky watching it. I'll watch a bunch of episodes, then not feel compelled to watch one for a while, then eventually come back. So, I plowed through the Scorpius arc at the end of season one, but have been stalled for a bit. But, I'm sure I'll be back fairly soon, and I will start blogging on it again.

Rafal said...

Second season is still bit uneven - it has some interesting arc episodes (although it isn't until the third season that this whole Peacekeeper stuff gets REALLY epic and complicated), some wonderful standalones (such as laugh-out-loud funny 'crackers don't matter' and 'out of their minds'), but also still quite a bit of filler - for example, "taking the stone" and especially "picture if you will" are clunkers that you definitely SHOULD skip. but, you'll probably watch them anyway.