Season two of Farscape is when it all starts going crazy.
Or maybe that’s just John Crichton. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Be forewarned: major spoilers will follow. Maybe that means only Betty will read this — I don’t recommend reading it if you’ve never watched Farscape — but so be it.
If season one (which I discussed at some length here) is all about uneasy alliances and conflicting agendas, then season two is about the blossoming of real friendship (and love) as common goals (and enemies) emerge. If the first season gave us John Crichton as our audience surrogate, reacting in wide-eyed amazement and confusion to the alien worlds that surrounded him, the second season gives us a John who is much more confident, experienced, and fully integrated into Moya’s crew. There’s less a sense that he’s always playing catch-up. In short, by the start of season two, John has gone native.
He’ll spend the rest of the season going insane.
The introduction of Scorpius at the end of season one was a smart move, not least of all because of Wayne Pygram’s quietly menacing portrayal. The character’s singleminded pursuit of Crichton across the galaxy in many ways mirrors Crais’ pursuit throughout the first season, but I don’t think the latter would have been as sustainable over multiple seasons. Crais, moreover, works much better as the uncertain ally and reluctant hero he would grow into, once he moved past the need for vengeance that defined the character in year one. In retrospect, Lani Tupu has surprisingly little screen time in the first season — not counting, of course his always great voice work for the character of Pilot — and it’s easy to see why: Crais is simply more interesting once his motives become more cloudy, once his character is given a chance to evolve, and once he, too, goes native.
Also important is the fact that Scorpius is simply more alien. When the “insane military commander” chasing you is a fetish-geared half-lizard with metal cooling rods embedded in his skull, you know you’ve moved into less familiar territory. And that just plays into the always slightly off-kilter second season as a whole. It will be two more seasons before we return to “Kansas,” and here we’re given plenty of reminders that we’re anywhere but.
We have the magic mushrooms in “Taking the Stone” and the acid-like trip they produce for Crichton. We have the entire crew (and even Pilot) acting paranoid and delusional in “Crackers Don’t Matter.” We have the weird, perspective-bending mirror realm of “Picture If You Will.” We have Zhaan hallucinating — out of grief, out of fear — in “Dream a Little Dream,” imagining the Crichton and D’Argo that she, at that point, thinks are dead. We have all the characters (except for Zhaan) swapping bodies in “Out of Their Minds.” We have “My Three Crichtons,” with the character split into different evolutionary paths, an unevolved beast and an advanced — and even then almost Scorpius-like — super-evolved version. We have the hallucinatory mind-fuck that is “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” We have “The Locket,” where both Aeryn and Crichton age several decades (if not lifetimes). We have the Rashômon-like storytelling of “The Ugly Truth,” where each character acts very differently depending on whose perspective we’re seeing them from. We have the drug-induced mind control of “A Clockwork Nebari.” And all of that’s before we even get into the neural implant that’s actually driving Crichton crazy — the one that, by season’s end, will have essentially turned him into Scorpius and forced him to kill the woman he loves. That’s ten episodes, almost half the season, in which the characters are hallucinating, or drugged, or crazy, where they’re in an alternate version of reality, or asked to play an alternate version of themselves.
And I could easily find more examples. Zhaan going mad from malnutrition in “Home on the Remains.” Pilot and Aeryn’s dark past in “The Way We Weren’t.” Crichton forced into marriage and fatherhood in “Look at the Princess.” Even the criminal persona that Zhaan and Chiana adopt in “Liars, Guns and Money.” It’s hard to look at any of the episodes from the second season and not see in them some moment where the characters are losing touch with reality — or at least the reality they once knew. It isn’t always overt, and I don’t want to read too much into it, but the motif is there.
The second season is all about going native and going crazy.
Episode for episode, it’s also even better than the first season. One of the things I loved, in re-watching it all again, was realizing just how often the writers take very cliché science fiction ideas — body-swapping, time loops, Flowers for Algernon-like evolutionary leaps — and turn them on their ear. And I was also delighted to discover that “Look at the Princess,” which, at three episodes, I worried might seem a little bloated upon re-viewing, still works really well. There’s maybe some padding to it, but I think it’s a story rich enough to merit the three episodes they give it. Which is something you couldn’t say, perhaps, for some three-episode arcs later in the series. (“We’re So Screwed,” I’m looking at you. I’ll probably look at you again when I get to the fourth season.)
As I noted before, I’ve re-watched a lot of these episodes over the years, but this is the first time I’ve really sat down from beginning to end and reacquainted myself with the series. It’s been a delight to really examine what works about the show and catch things I maybe missed the first time around. I’m already well into the third season again, and I’m looking forward (at some future point) sharing my thoughts on those episodes as well.