“But then you’ll never know the wonders I’ve seen…”

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.

Monday various

  • Rachel Maddow takes on the “Scare White People” tactics of the right. That this is a tried and tested method for securing votes is only slightly less disheartening than the fact that it seems to be working even today. [via]
  • Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, whose story “Mouse and I” appears in the April 2010 issue of Kaleidotrope, writes about finding her voice as a Filipino science fiction writer:

    I found myself thinking, yet again, on what kind of science fiction a Filipino would write, and how a writer can break free from being someone who emulates the works of writers he or she has admired to become a person who writes with a voice and with a story that comes from the writer’s own soul.

    What things influence the Filipino writer then? What’s our backstory? How can I as a writer coming from a country that has been so colonialized and that is still trapped in a colonial mindset free myself so I can write the fictions that only I can write?

  • She also shares a really terrific talk on “The Danger of a Single Story” by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  • Apparently there is no gravity [via] and time is disappearing from the universe. [via] Or at least, those are some theories.
  • And finally, I don’t know if this story, about a Bosnian man who claims to have been hit by meteorites six times, is made more or less strange by the possibility that it’s all a hoax.

Monday various

One more frelling time

I’ve been re-watching Farscape a lot recently, not just a favorite episode here and there, like I’ve sometimes done in the past, but actually revisiting the series in its entirety from the beginning. This is something I’ve actually never done before, and there are several episodes that I’ve only ever watched a single time. But I’ve been really pleased — almost surprised at how pleased, even — to discover just how well the show holds up on a second viewing. In fact, knowing where the show is headed ahead of time, and how the characters and their relationships will develop, has actually increased my admiration for it. Now that I know its destination, I can even better appreciate the steps that it took along its journey.

Because Farscape is all about the journey, and all about character development along the way. The thing that I’ve most loved about revisiting the show is realizing not just that the characters change and evolve, but just how believable and hard-won those changes and evolutions are. They happen gradually and organically, so that you can look at any one character’s arc over the series and not feel like the writers have cheated. The show famously prided itself on having no reset button, so that there would be no undoing of mistakes or avoiding the consequences of a particular choice; but there’s also no fast-forward button, nothing to zip us past conflict and make characters suddenly friends, or enemies, or lovers without it feeling like that’s what would actually happen. The characters make very different choices by the end of the show than they do at the beginning, but these almost never feel like choices the characters wouldn’t make at that given point.

Some heavy spoilers follow, just so you know.

I’ve just recently finished re-watching the first season, and I think this is nowhere more clear in that season than in “Jeremiah Crichton,” about midway through. In one of their commentary tracks, the writers and cast jokingly refer to the episode as “When Bad Things Happen to Good Shows,” but I think that really does it a disservice and undermines what is, in retrospect, one of my favorite episodes from the first season. Yes, the costuming is unfortunate, and some of the acting from the guest cast is…well, questionable. It is not a perfect hour of television. And yet it does so many things right and underlines just how organic the character development on the show is, that I can easily forgive these faults.

It was only three episodes earlier, in “Till the Blood Runs Clear,” that Crichton told D’Argo that the two of them would never be friends. Now that I’ve seen the series in its entirety, I know that this isn’t true — there’s a friendship forming even by the end of the first season, and by the end of the show Crichton will name his first-born after D’Argo — but it was perfectly believable and in keeping with the characters at the time. Here, in “Jeremiah Crichton,” D’Argo realizes he hasn’t really held up his end of the bargain, that all of them have pushed Crichton away. Whereas, not that long ago, he would have gladly left Crichton on the planet where he’s been stranded, D’Argo returns to make amends and to help the man who, if nothing else, has proven himself a worthy ally. The episode is a real turning point in their relationship, and a deepening of D’Argo’s character overall.

Add in the beautiful Australian location shots — and some nice character work for both Aeryn and Rygel — and I think the episode gets unfairly maligned.

I’m really looking forward to re-watching the rest of the series. Including season four, which I don’t remember being the series’ finest hours. It’s been great to discover that Farscape really holds up, that it isn’t just nostalgia feeding my love for it. I may have more observations about particular episodes or arcs as I go along, but until then, I really do recommend giving the first season a shot if you’ve never seen it. The series rewards some initial patience, and its characters (even the ones that are puppets) are some of the richest and best developed in televised science fiction.

Monday various

  • It probably should come as no surprise, but I’m pretty much in complete agreement with Noel Murray about last night’s Lost finale. “These are the new myths. Now it’s up to us to misinterpret them.” I liked the episode a whole lot.
  • Meanwhile, Terry Pratchett is maybe a little harsher than I would be about Doctor Who and the title character’s deus ex machinations. I’m not entirely convinced there’s real value in rigidly defining science fiction and fantasy this way. (And, unlike him, “Small Worlds” is one of my least favorite Torchwood episodes.) But he makes some good points, while still happy to enjoy the show for what it is. [via]
  • Speaking of Doctor Who, here’s an interesting take on The Comparative Lives of the Doctor.
  • Here’s a scary thought from the New York Times:

    Ask a first grader to identify Bugs Bunny and the response more likely than not will be a blank stare.

  • And finally, Neil Gaiman on Ray Bradbury [via]:

    So when the wind blows the fallen autumn leaves across the road in a riot of flame and gold, or when I see a green field in summer carpeted by yellow dandelions, or when, in winter, I close myself off from the cold and write in a room with a TV screen as big as a wall, I think of Ray Bradbury . . .