Every inch a Monday

Today was just, y’know, every inch a Monday.

This evening, I got to Grand Central only to discover that two of the three shuttles to Times Square were stuck there on the tracks. Rather than wait around for the one remaining shuttle to depart, pick up new passengers across town, and then come back — only to fight the crowds and maybe still not get on the train — I decided to try my luck with the 7 train, which also stops at Times Square. Of course, that involved a lot of walking back through the subway to find the right track, then waiting forever for the train, then being kind of a dick to a guy coming up the stairs when I was going down, trying to make the connecting E train to Penn Station.

(There didn’t seem to be anywhere to move, really, but I could have been a lot nicer about it. I could have made an effort. I didn’t realize until after I’d refused to budge that he maybe needed the stair railing to help himself up. And so to that anonymous stranger, I’m sorry for being a dick. If it’s any small consolation, I missed my train out of Penn Station, so all my running around was for nothing.)

Anyway, that was Monday. I also got the sad news that actor Jonathan Hardy, the voice of Farscape‘s Rygel, passed away at the age of 71. So I’ll leave you with this small clip from one of my favorite first-season episodes, which I tried and failed to upload to my Tumblr:


First things first: Season 4 of Farscape wasn’t nearly as disappointing the second time around.

It still doesn’t completely work, as a season of television, and it’s almost certainly a letdown after the stellar third season. But watching it again, from season premiere to series finale — divorced from expectation and hype and the hoopla surrounding its cancellation — I was struck by just how much of it does work, by how much there is to admire in the show’s risky creative choices and its overall direction, and again by how difficult it is to pin down exactly what went wrong and where.

If I had to guess, I’d say they probably tried doing too much…and maybe tried to do it with too little.

“Crichton Kicks” gets the season off to an excellent start, however. It’s a fun and fast-paced episode that does some clever things with its introduction of new characters and old. Sikozu, who I remember spending much of the season not liking, emerges right away as a much more interesting and promising character than expected. She’s a character you’re not supposed to like, who the other characters don’t like, which is always a tricky thing to play. The character will never quite get the development she maybe deserves on the show, and eventually she’ll be weighed down by one too many plot-dictated superpowers — re-attach limbs, reverse her own gravity, shoot fire, etc. But here, in her earliest scenes with Crichton, trying to learn his language and trying to stay one step ahead of both him and her one-time business partners, she’s really a welcome addition to the show.

It’s kind of a shame, then, that what comes next is the muddled two-parter “What Was Lost.”

I think this is the first real inkling we get of what the writers have in mind for the season, how they’ve mapped out the story that’s to come and decided to tie everything together. It may be this last part, the attempt to tie everything together, though, that gets them into trouble. Season 4 was envisioned as part of a whole, not just a continuation of the Farscape story, but a culmination of the series, along with whatever the writers had planned for Season 5. This was the first time they really allowed themselves to play the long game, to set up developments that wouldn’t pay off for another season and a half. (Or, in reality, wouldn’t pay off until the miniseries.) It’s ironic that this was the first time they really felt confident of another season’s pickup, so much so that, right away, they introduced elements that wouldn’t be properly explained until the whole series was over. Every season before this had been a scramble, a last-minute save for another year. It was only now, when they were convinced that Season 4 could be half of a bigger whole, that they were canceled.

So there’s a reason “What Was Lost” feels muddled. It’s setting up new character dynamics, trying to explain why humans and Sebaceans look so much alike, introducing priests and prophecies and ancient astronaut hieroglyphic-like symbols that wouldn’t seem out of place on an episode of Stargate. It’s trying to do a whole lot, probably too much. The second time around, when I could better understand what it was trying to do and where all of this would eventually lead, the episode wasn’t as bad, was not as confusing. But it’s still a two-part mess. Noranti’s motivations and objectives are often unclear; Grayza’s being largely reduced to a sexual predator is problematic; Oo-Nii, the creature from the Black Lagoon, is just plain weird and occasionally dumb; and while the actors give it their all, the relationship between D’Argo and Jool can’t help but feel a little rushed — no doubt because Tammy MacIntosh and her incredible abs were leaving the show. The show looks terrific — again, filming in Australia meant Farscape looked like nothing else on American television — but I’m not sure how well it works as a pair of individual episodes.

“Lava’s a Many Splendored Thing,” the next episode, is a lot more fun and smartly written, as are the next two, “Promises” and “Natural Election,” even if these latter are a little on the forgettable side. Then there’s “John Quixote,” which works a lot better than I remember it doing — a common refrain this season — but which still kind of feels like an excuse to just let everybody act crazy. It ties together well, I think, by the end, with its cameo by Zhaan, but along the way the episode feels a lot like the second season’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” only with more rules and lower stakes.

“I Shrink, Therefore I Am” would, ironically, have worked better without the shrinking part altogether. Without that, it’s actually a pretty decent riff on Die Hard, with some nice developments along the way. The shrinking is amusing — until the very end, when it becomes sort of dumb and poorly rendered — and it does allow for a nice exchange between Rygel and Sikozu. (“This is physically impossible,” she rightly claims. “And yet it’s happening,” he tells her.) But it’s ultimately kind of superfluous.

“A Perfect Murder” feels incomplete; even with the deleted scenes on the DVD, it feels like there’s a good chunk missing from the story. This is one of those times when Farscape‘s tendency to jump right into a story — sometimes well into a story — kind of works against it. And the villains here are ultimately a little silly. Like a lot of the episodes before and after it this season, there are a lot of good moments, but they don’t quite add up to as much as one might have liked.

“Coup by Clam” is kind of fun, and again has fun poking holes at the impossibility of its own science. Crichton’s impatience with the doctor who keeps trying to explain why he’s blackmailing them and how the clams work — instead of just getting to the point of what he wants — is amusing, as is the sight of Ben Browder in drag.

Of course, from there it’s straight into the alternate timelines, wormholes, and Earth-based stories of “Unrealized Reality,” “Kansas,” and “Terra Firma” — none of which work as well as they maybe should. Again, they’re playing the long game, setting up a lot of information and putting a lot of new pieces on the board. But they also often feel like they’re biding their time; there are a lot of interesting ideas at work in these episodes, and in the season, but are there really two seasons’ worth of ideas? Individually, the episodes are interesting and fun to watch, but all together, they’re a little forgettable, seeming to be doing too much with too little. In that way, the last season of Farscape is very similar to the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But that’s another story.

I could go into the Earth-based stories in detail, but few of the specific details are particularly memorable after the fact. Except for one thing: everybody does seem to learn English pretty darn quick, in ways that the translator microbes would seem to make difficult, if not impossible. (How do you learn the vocabulary and grammar of another language when the microbes automatically translate it, albeit sometimes imperfectly, into your native language?) Farscape often has fun playing with language and the Babel-fish-like microbes — it’s something I always felt it had over both Star Trek and Stargate — but here too many questions get raised. I’m just saying.

The next three episodes (“Twice Shy,” “Mental as Anything,” and “Bringing Home the Beacon”) all have their moments and do good work to push the story forward, but they’re again not especially memorable individually. (Although “Mental” does have some nice development for D’Argo’s character.)

It may be uncharitable to say this, and also maybe an exaggeration, but “Constellation of Doubt” often feels like little more than leftover footage from the Earth-based “Kansas.” It’s nice to see the reaction to Moya’s crew on Earth, but it also feels like we’ve seen this before, in earlier episodes and in Crichton’s repeated claims that Earth isn’t ready for alien contact. In many ways, the episode feels like a placeholder, something to watch while we wait for Crichton to remember where he heard the word Katratzi and figure out how to get there and move the story forward.

Which it does. “Prayer” and the three-part “We’re So Screwed” work quite well. “Screwed,” in fact, works much better than I remember it, not half as padded as I thought and nicely pulling together plot threads from as far back as Season 1. It’s not Farscape at its absolute best, maybe, not even up to the high standards of previous season finales, but it’s a good stretch of storytelling nevertheless.

Whereas “Bad Timing,” the season and series finale, is arguably the best episode the show ever did. Everything Farscape does well is on display here, and I immediately realized why this and “Crichton Kicks” are the only two episodes from Season 4 that I’ve watched more than once. If the rest of the season had been this tightly plotted, this emotionally hard-hitting, this clever and high-stakes, I would have had a much different reaction to it. The season works a lot better than I remember it working, but it also often doesn’t work at all. The second time around, I’d have to qualify my disappointment, point at all the parts that do work, all the risky choices that, even if they don’t pay off, are admirable in and of themselves. But qualified disappointment is disappointment nonetheless.

Still, “Bad Timing” is phenomenal.

There’s a lot to like about Season 4 of Farscape, individual lines or scenes that are as good as anything that came before them. There are some very decent episodes and some very intriguing ideas. But there’s little about the whole that works as well as previous seasons, and little about individual episodes that’s quite as memorable. A lot of that is due, I think, to the fact that their ultimate goal was too big; they decided to treat Seasons 4 and 5 as one long arc of the story, but in the meantime lost sight of the single season’s arc.

As an addendum to all this, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the miniseries, The Peacekeeper Wars. I think it’s a terrific piece of storytelling, a fitting and thrilling conclusion to the story. But one thing it isn’t, I discovered, is a fifth season of the show. The miniseries is best appreciated as a sequel, rather than a direct continuation, experienced (as it was originally) with some time between it and Season 4. Trying to watch those four hours as the cap to Season 4, rather than as a movie on its own terms, you’re reminded too easily of the the things that don’t work about it, and all the tiny (and not so tiny) differences. Like Pilot’s different voice, or the different makeups for Scorpius and Noranti, or the fact that Noranti is hardly in the miniseries (supposedly because of an adverse reaction to the new makeup), or that Grayza is suddenly pregnant and next in command to the Chancellor, or that D’Argo’s son Jothee is suddenly played by a different actor, with completely different makeup of his own, or…and so on. By comparison, Raelee Hill’s new haircut and bondage-gear outfit don’t seem so remarkable at all. Actually, they seem like exactly the sort of thing Sikozu would pick up trying to impress and attract Scorpius.

The miniseries is wonderful, and builds from the strengths of “Bad Timing” more than the weaknesses of the season before it. But try to watch it too soon after Season 4, and it’s easy to dwell on all the things they changed, either out of necessity or simply because so much time had passed since production originally shut down.

I haven’t read the comics yet, and I’ve heard pretty mixed things overall, but I suspect at some point I will. Re-watching the series from the beginning has reminded me just how rich this universe is, how much of it there still is to explore, and how, if put in the right hands and treated well, there’s nothing else like it out there.

This is Fred Coppersmith, somewhere in the universe, signing off.

Frell me dead

It should almost go without saying, but this post contains huge spoilers for the third season of Farscape. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you skip this entry altogether.

“I shouldn’t be here.”
“This is exactly where you should be.”

The third season of Farscape is almost certainly its strongest. It’s also the season I’ve re-watched most often, before this little experiment of revisiting the entire series in full began. Any season that includes episodes like the two-parter “Self Inflicted Wounds” or “Green Eyed Monster,” the two-parter “Infinite Possibilities” or “The Choice,” almost gets a pass on anything else it may or may not do over the course of the remaining episodes. Heck, I’m just about willing to forgive the show anything for the last ten minutes of “Infinite Possibilities” alone. This is the show at the height of its power, telling its most mature and resonant stories, a show confident enough to take some huge storytelling risks, almost all of which pay off…to the point that the fourth season almost couldn’t help but be a letdown.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Season 3, as it announces itself right out of the gate, is the “Season of Death.” That’s a shadow that hangs over the show and its characters throughout the third year. The season starts with Zhaan sacrificing herself to save Aeryn, and then again (with more finality) to save everyone else. The loss of Virginia Hey as an actress, and Zhaan as a character, would have a profound impact on the show going forward; it’s impossible not to wonder how the show would have evolved differently had she remained. The season ends with the death of Crais and Talyn, a hero’s death to be sure (and in many ways a redemption for them both), but no less a significant loss for everyone else. And in the middle, anchoring the season, there’s the death of John Crichton — or at least the one version of him — and those heartbreaking final moments of “Infinite Possibilities” that get me every frelling time.

All four of these deaths hang heavily over the show, but they’re by no means the only ones. There’s practically not an episode in which somebody doesn’t die, and many of these deaths are ones we’re made to feel.

“I got shot at a peace memorial!”

So let’s take a look at them, shall we?

  • In “Season of Death,” there’s Tocot, the Diagnosan, killed by a Scarran (who later freezes to death), and there’s his business partner/assistant Grunchlk, left “effectively dead” by Stark before the episode is through. Then there’s also Scorpius’ pilot, Kobrin, who over-estimates his piloting skills and pays for that hubris with his life. Over all of this hangs the great sacrifice that Zhaan has made, the knowledge that Aeryn now owes Zhaan her life, and the belief (which we, but not they, know to be false) that Scorpius is also dead.
  • In “Suns and Lovers,” there’s the slow and painful death of Moordil, the alien bartender, as well as the subsequent (if much more sudden and fiery) death of Borlik, the religious zealot who caused Moordil to die. And there’s the Interion, who wakes from cryogenic slumber only to throw up violently and die.
  • In “Self Inflicted Wounds,” there’s the crew of the alien ship that crashes into Moya, who either sacrifice themselves or are killed trying to complete their mission — and, moreover, save the lives of the families who will be killed if their mission fails. And this, of course, is Zhaan’s last episode (minus a cameo in the following season).
  • In “…Different Destinations,” there’s almost nothing but death, the horrific and haunting deaths of time travel gone terribly wrong. I’m having a tough time thinking of another show where it’s the heroes who are the cause of so much inadvertent bloodshed.
  • In “Eat Me,” there’s a dying Leviathan (and Pilot), any number of feral Peacekeepers shot dead, and duplicates of D’Argo and Chiana both dispatched with equal relish by that week’s villain, Kaarvok. And then, of course, the Leviathan, Peacekeepers, and Kaarvok are all blown to tiny bits.
  • In “Thanks for Sharing,” the entire royal family of Kanvia is dead before the episode is over. (Although, in all fairness to the characters, one of them was probably dead before they got there, and certainly not killed by them directly.)
  • In “Green Eyed Monster”…well, Crichton only nearly dies.
  • In “Losing Time,” there are the two energy beings that possess Chiana and Pilot, respectively, who both end up dead when they refuse to leave the ship peacefully. And there’s Drillic, Scorpius’ team leader, whose arrogance ultimately costs him his life.
  • In “Relativity,” there are the Colarta hunters, plus the apparent death of Aeryn’s mother. That last is also a pretty big deal, with much debate over how Aeryn shouldn’t be the one to kill her.
  • In “Incubator”…well, most of the deaths there are in Scorpius’ memories — his mother, her husband, and possibly Tauza, the Scarran who teaches and torments Scorpius, and who he’s all too happy to torment back — but there’s also Linfer, who winds up liquefied, and the remnant of Crichton in the neural clone, who dissipates and then is gone.
  • In “Meltdown,” there’s Sierjna, the woman Stark helps pass over to the other side into true death, and Mu-Quillus, her captor, who gets turned to dust.
  • In “Scratch ‘N’ Sniff,” Fe’Tor dies, albeit happily. And I think maybe a little bit of me died re-watching the episode. There’s some clever and funny stuff in it, some moments of real humor, but it’s clearly an attempt to save a failed episode with a lot of crazy editing and sound effects. And the attempt doesn’t quite succeed. This is probably the one time in the season when the huge storytelling risks the show was taking don’t pay off, so maybe it’s just as well that the number of casualties here is lower.
  • In “Infinite Possibilities,” which is probably my favorite two-part episode of the whole season, there’s the Charrid that Rygel kills during “interrogation,” the Scarran killed trying to seize control of their ship, the death of Harvey inside Crichton’s mind, and the murder of the Ancient “Jack” by the double-crossing Furlow. Then there’s the mass destruction of the Scarran Dreadnought and everyone aboard it — “I have no prayer for that.” — and of course the ultimate death of John Crichton. Zhaan’s death will color the entire season, and the death of Crais and Talyn will ensure that it ends on a less than victorious note, but it’s this Crichton’s death, and what it means for Aeryn and her relationship with the other Crichton, that will shape everything else that is to come.
  • In “Revenging Angel,” nobody dies, for a change, but everybody comes pretty darn close.
  • “The Choice” is all about death, and about being haunted by the ghosts of the past, of the loves we have lost. I also think it’s easily Claudia Black’s finest hour. There’s the death of the man who claims to be her father, of the woman who actually is her mother, and Aeryn’s decision to say goodbye to the ghost of the dead Crichton.
  • In “Fractures”…well, there’s the Scarran, Nebari, and female Hynerian who come aboard, along with an unconscious Peacekeeper Tech, and all but one them ends up dead before the episode is through. And Naj Gil, the Scarran, is knocked for a loop and will die at the top of the next episode. Plus, there’s that message from the dead Crichton, still haunting the living in a way.
  • In “I-Yensch, You-Yensch,” there’s the hospital ship that Talyn destroys, the decision to reboot and effectively kill Talyn himself, the pair of would-be criminals who take everyone at the diner hostage, and the death of the diner cook and owner who hired the criminals in the first place. This last death shouldn’t necessarily matter, since we’ve never met these characters before, but we’re left with a moment to consider the woman who will be left mourning this man’s loss. Actions have consequences, and often leave victims behind.
  • And that takes us right into the final three episodes (the two-parter “Into the Lion’s Den” and the finale “Dog With Two Bones”), where many Peacekeepers die (most in the explosion that kills Crais and Talyn), Aeryn’s one-time friend dies (severing any last ties she might have had to Peacekeeperdom), the Command Carrier is destroyed, and John realizes he can’t go back to Earth without endangering the people he loves. That doesn’t stop him from fantasizing about it, of course, from trying to have it both ways, and pretty much everybody dies in those daydreams.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve never felt better.”

That’s a pretty long list, with death in one form or another in practically every episode. I’m sure there others I’m failing to recall. But, as amusing as it is to put together this list, to tally up the number of dead, Season 3 of Farscape isn’t just about the body count. Or, to put it another way, it’s also about another kind of body count. There’s a distinct theme, or motif, of doubling — or “twinning” to use Kaarvok’s term — throughout the entire season.

There’s the obvious example of the twinned Crichton, whose appearance splits the crew (and their stories) in half. It’s interesting that the duplicate — or perhaps he’s the original, since the show never lets on which Crichton is the copy, and the characters certainly don’t know — makes his final appearance through the use of Stark’s half-mask. We see a similar half-mask motif at work in the imposter who claims to be Aeryn’s father in “The Choice.” There’s also the twinned D’Argo and Chiana, neither of whom survive for very long, but both of whom raise issues of authenticity and identity. (Given the state of the Peacekeepers in “Eat Me,” it’s altogether likely that the Chiana and D’Argo who come back aboard Moya are the duplicates, since Kaarvok seems to “eat” the original and leave an increasingly degraded series of clones behind.)

But there are other examples.

There are the two frozen Interions brought aboard Moya in “Season of Death.” There’s the ship that crashes into, and intertwines with, Moya in “Self Inflicted Wounds.” There are the two sides at war in “…Different Destinations,” with our characters caught in between, trying to do the right thing…and failing when their ideas of what that right thing is clash. There are the two energy beings in “Losing Time,” and the two somewhat similiar beings in “Meltdown.” There’s the further split of the stories in “Scratch ‘N’ Sniff,” with Chiana and Jool largely exiled to the sidelines. (Although, with the amount of editing this episode received, it’s impossible to call it anything like an even split.) There’s the other duplicates of Crichton, first in Scorpius’ mind (in “Incubator”), then in his own (as a cartoon in “Revenging Angel”) and then finally in Aeryn’s (in “The Choice”). There are even other duplicates for D’Argo, transformed into a very different alien in “Scratch ‘N’ Sniff”, and into a literal cartoon in “Revenging Angel.” There are the two Colarta hunters in “Relativity.” There are the aliens who come aboard Moya in “Fractures,” who are all but mirror-universe doppelgangers for D’Argo, Chiana, and Rygel. (And, with the Tech, possibly for the Aeryn that no longer is.) There are the two would-be robbers in “I-Yensch, You-Yensch,” as well as the bracelets that connect D’Argo and Braca, causing them both to feel the other’s pain. (We see the bracelets again, this time on Crichton and Scorpius, in “Into the Lion’s Den.”) And finally, “Dog With Two Bones,” the season’s coda, is all about Crichton realizing why he can’t have the best of two worlds. It’s an episode where everything ultimately comes down to a single coin toss, heads or tails.

And I’m sure there are even still more examples. It’s certainly possible to read too much into this — to see doubles or duplicates where none were intended, racking up lists almost as insanely extensive as the tally of dead bodies I pulled together above. But it’s interesting to view these duplicates, these alternate versions, these might-have-beens, in light of all the death that haunts the season.

“I am standing in your heart, and I’m about to squeeze.”

Season 3 is very much about how the choices the characters make, the choices they are often forced into making, have serious, sometimes unintended consequences. People die because of their mistakes, and often they must sacrifice themselves to save the lives of others. It’s a season not just about death, but about coming to terms with the high cost of protecting life, of saving the things and people you love. It’s about the knowledge that you may not always be able to do so, that you might fail tragically in the attempt, but the choices and sacrifices you make are nevertheless vital. It’s a season in which the consequences of actions are constantly reflected back on the characters, but where the cost of inaction is also often much too great. A season in which there often is no good choice, only the right choice. These are characters who have grown by leaps and bounds since their earliest appearances, and who are now faced with the higher stakes and more difficult choices that accompany that growth.

All of which makes it sound like the whole season is a huge downer, a serious and depressing cavalcade of death and bad choices from beginning to end. When the fact is, it’s anything but. These are also hugely fun episodes, smartly written, with big, action-filled set-pieces and stuff blowed-up real good. It’s a season that takes enormous storytelling risks: the death of major characters, the split between the two separate crews, episodes that sympathize with the villain, episodes that act like frenetic cartoons, episodes that literally are frenetic cartoons, etc. And yet this is Farscape at its very best, with episodes that I never get tired of re-watching, with moments like Crichton’s death scene and Aeryn’s reaction to it that choke me up every time. In revisiting the season, I was most interested in the crew aboard Moya, since these are ostensibly the weaker episodes, the ones I haven’t re-watched as much, but also since I now know that this is the John Crichton that lives. His is the story that will continue. I was struck by how connected it all seems, how each episode feeds into the rest. (“Scratch ‘N’ Sniff” is maybe the only exception to this, and my least favorite episode overall, but it does set up some of what comes into play later in “Revenging Angel.”) This is a season, more than the previous two, that feels like a single whole, less episodic and more a driving narrative. It’s less about the wacky planet of the week — although the show was never about that, and there are some truly wacky planets here — and more about the journey from beginning to end.

“I suggest you hang on to something.”

I’m moving on now to Season 4, which I remember as something of a disappointment (with a couple of real high points). And yet I’m nevertheless looking forward to it, if only because Season 3 has reminded me just how important the journey actually is.

Plus, I know just how good “Bad Timing” is, so there’s that.

“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.

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.