Farscape: Premiere

Meet Commander John Crichton. Crichton is an Earth astronaut who gets hit by an electromagnetic wave while testing his own theory that it is possible to overcome atmospheric friction and use a planet’s gravity to slingshot away at exponentially higher speeds. Said wave turns out to be a wormhole that hurtles him to the far side of the Universe and deposits him in the middle of an attempted prison break. Much to his and our amazement, he soon finds himself onboard a living ship with a diverse group of hostile aliens who are trying to escape an interstellar “peacekeeper” force. He’s threatened, probed, insulted, beat down several times, and imprisoned, but after discovering he accidentally killed a Peacekeeper commander’s brother, Crichton soon comes to realize that he’s better off joining the escaped prisoners in the uncharted corners of the Universe. And thus begins Farscape ...

I’ve always remembered Farscape as one of those shows I love that had a subpar pilot episode. But, even though ‘Premiere’ is a bit clunky at times, overall it is actually a pretty effective pilot. It defines this strange new world, gives us a pretty good introduction to the main characters, and clearly establishes the basic premise and the situation going forward. It was action-packed and exhilarating, and gives us an instantly likeable hero in John Crichton.

Ben Browder is simply wonderful as Crichton. In addition to being very easy on the eyes, he brings such a genuine and relatable quality to a character in an incredible situation. He is fully able to fully convey the terror, confusion, and wonder of Crichton’s predicament. I love his look of almost giddy joy when he first sees D’Argo and Zhaan on Moya’s bridge, as well as his befuddlement and outrage when Rygel spits on him. “What is the matter with you ... people?!” He can also can deliver borderline cheesy dialogue like “It’s not who you are, Dad. I love who you are. It’s being son of who you are ...” with such ease and believability that you can’t help but like the guy. Plus, Ben’s got some serious comic chops.

The show also gives us a pretty dynamic array of aliens, including Officer Aeryn Sun, a pilot and infantry soldier from the human-looking Peacekeepers; Ka D’Argo, a tall and tentacled Luxan warrior; Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan, a bald and blue Delvian priestess; Dominar Rygel XVI, a deposed Hynerian royal who’s sort of a cross between Yoda and a slug; Moya, a Leviathan, or living ship; and her Pilot, who’s like a hybrid of a crab, a spider, and a turtle. Rygel and Pilot are animatronic puppets from Jim Henson’s creature shop. I may be biased, as a fan of The Dark Crystal and The Muppet Show, but I think Jim Henson’s people do superlative puppetry work, creating fully believable characters. Rygel and Pilot feel like real and equal characters from the get go. Rygel, in particular, is a fantastic little “slug” with incredibly expressive eyes. I love the final look he gives Crichton as he delivers his “Are you a sound sleeper?” line before chuckling and zipping away at the end of the episode.

My least favorite part of ‘Premiere’ is probably the stuff on Earth before the wormhole accident. It felt rather slow and clunky, with dialogue that was a bit cheesy and predictable. Once Crichton emerges from the wormhole, however, things kick into overdrive. The story really goes from “ho hum” to wide-eyed wonder and amazement. Even the slow moments like Zhaan and D’Argo getting acquainted --- painfully awkward semi-flirting, notwithstanding --- help to define the characters and build the world. And I can even accept the somewhat tired plot device of Crais unjustly persecuting Crichton over his brother’s very clear accidental death, because it is the necessary evil that forces Crichton and Aeryn to go on the run with Moya and her crew.

Other Thoughts

For some reason, I really like that the first episode is called ‘Premiere’ instead of ‘Pilot.’

When re-watching, I was really impressed with the special effects. They’ve held up pretty well. They may not be as clean as the effects on the new Battlestar Galactica, but they also don’t look as dated as the Babylon 5 special effects. Ultimately, it is the sets, costumes, makeup, and Henson creatures that really sell this world, but the CGI effects aren’t too shabby either.

The theme music, on the other hand, is some of the craziest I’ve ever heard. I love how it opens with the drums and male chanting, but then the dissonant, high-pitched female voices start and the whole thing becomes insanely over the top!

Crichton works for ‘I.A.S.A.’ Is that the “International” Aeronautics and Space Administration? Crichton’s module and uniform have United States markings, and the test launch is being run out of Cape Canaveral. So where does the “International” part come in?

Crichton and Aeryn have quite the “meet cute,” when she kicks his ass, then straddles him and demands to know his rank and regiment. Despite that very sexually charged position, I’m not detecting a whole lot of sexual tension between them at this point. She doesn’t seem interested in him in the slightest, and his insistence on bringing her back to Moya seems more motivated by concern or guilt than by attraction. He simply doesn’t want her to lose her life for attempting to defend him to Crais (even if she did so by denigrating his bravery and intelligence).

I had completely forgotten about Rygel’s gas issue. What an unexpectedly hilarious scene!

[All in high-pitched voices.]
Rygel: “It’s a perfectly natural bodily function. And it’s odorless.”
D’Argo: “So you’re loyal subjects tell you.”
Crichton: “You fart helium?!”
Rygel: “Sometimes. When I’m nervous. Or angry.”

I also completely forgot about the DRD’s. How the heck could I forget about the DRD’s? I love the sound they make and the scene in which Crichton fixes the broken antenna on the one he first encounters. It’s going to be fun experiencing this series all over again!

D’Argo’s tongue maneuver is awesome!

Some world-building notes: translator microbes are an excellent device to explain why everyone can understand each other; those food cubes looked seriously unappetizing; the Peacekeeper commandos in full gear remind me of the Kull warriors from the Stargate universe.

I was amused when they tapped into alien abduction lore by having Crichton wake up naked and Rygel telling him they “examined” him while he was unconscious.

It's kind of surprising that Zhaan’s, D’Argo’s, and Rygel’s possessions were still around. They’ve all been in custody a long time. Zhaan and D’Argo did time in a forced labor camp since their incarceration. Why would the Peacekeepers even hold on to the possessions of prisoners, especially ones bound for a lifers colony?

I was amused by John’s complete awe at standing on what he clearly thought was an amazing alien planet, followed by Aeryn calling it a “waste hole of a planet.” Eye of the beholder and all that.

I loved that Crichton got to prove his atmospheric friction theory with Moya. It made for a very exciting escape sequence, and the visual of Moya streaking across the atmosphere was impressive.

Quotes

Crichton’s Dad: “Each man gets a chance to be his own kind of hero.”
Ugh! So cheesy and portentous.

Crichton: “Oh please, let it all be a dream. A very bad, very ... twisted dream.”

Zhaan: “It’s time for us to eat.”
Crichton (nervously): “Eat what?”

D’Argo (re: Crichton): “This one is some kind of higher brain function deficient.”

Crichton: “Boy, was Spielberg ever wrong. Close Encounters, my ass.”

Aeryn: “Compassion? What is compassion?”

Crichton: “Yeah, well how do I know I can trust you?”
Aeryn: “You don’t. That’s just another thing you don’t know.”

Aeryn: “Sir, he claims to be a human, from a planet called Earp.”

Aeryn: “... I believe him when he says that what happened to your brother was an accident. I don’t believe that he is brave enough or intelligent enough to attack one of our prowlers intentionally.”

Crichton: “Don’t move! Or I’ll fill you full of … little yellow bolts of light.”

D’Argo: “Now unlock me!”
Aeryn: “No! He is a criminal!”
Crichton: “We all are.”

Aeryn: “No. I will not come with you.”
Crichton: “You’ve been irreversibly contaminated. Remember?”
D’Argo: “It means death.”
Aeryn: “It is my duty, my breeding. Since birth! It’s what I am.”
Crichton: “You can be more.”

Aeryn: “Crais thinks you killed his brother. In such a case, would you obey jurisdictional boundaries?”

Crichton (to tape recorder): “And there’s life out here, Dad. Weird, amazing, ... psychotic life. And death. In Technicolor.”

Final Analysis: A pretty solid pilot episode, which effectively introduces the characters, the world, and the basic premise. It certainly left me wanting to see what would come next.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.

12 comments:

Mark Greig said...

Love, love, love Farscape. All these years later still one of my all-time favourite shows.

Really happy you’re going to be reviewing it, Jess.

Josie Kafka said...

Jess, I'm so excited to check this series out now that you're reviewing it.

Netflix, here I come!

Billie Doux said...

Woo hoo, Jess!

I'm planning to Netflix it, too, since I haven't seen it since it aired and don't remember much. It's so exciting to be able to add a unique show like Farscape to our site.

Jess Lynde said...

Thanks, guys! Current plan is to post just one review a week. I go through really productive bursts every now and then, but for the long haul, I don't think I'll be able to keep up with more than one episode a week. Hopefully that doesn't put too much of a damper on everyone's re-watching schedule! If I get a really deep backlog going, I may start posting more than one a week.

My husband and I are definitely having a blast re-watching the show thus far. So much fun, with surprising depth! I love it.

citten said...

Heh, this was fun :)
Farscape was such a great series, and I'm gonna read every review you post!

Remco said...

I started watching Farscape this year, and I'm now right before the series finale. It's been a blast! I remember not really liking the first season. It had a lot of not too exciting filler episodes. I just wanted the story to begin! But this premiere episode was awesome! I really loved that first moment where John didn't understand the aliens. From that point I trusted the writers to play fair.

Over the seasons I've come to really respect the writers of this show. On the surface, the show may seem like fun superficial and super crazy fluff, but then they throw in a plot element that has been foreshadowed for a season, and I get reminded of how smart these people are.

Rafaello said...

It's interesting that you found John to be likable right from the start, because I disliked him in the early episodes. I felt tbat he was shallow and stereotypical. I started liking him later in season one and loving him in season three.

Just like most fans, I think the arrival of Scorpius was the moment when Farscape "grew the beard". Scorpius is such a badass villain, sometimes I just couldn't help but root for him. It's a shame that Farscape is so underrated, because Scorpius should be just behind Darth Vader on every "best sci-fi/fantasy villains" list.

Jess Lynde said...

Hmmm ... I guess if I'm completely honest, I don't know if I found Crichton instantly likable from the start. I initially started watching the series part way into the first season, so even the first time I saw the pilot, I had already developed affection for the crew. I know when I re-watched it for these reviews I found Crichton very appealing. But that's how I reacted as a completely initiated fan. I'm not sure how I would feel seeing it for the very first time with no prior knowledge of the series.

I'm curious to see how I feel the series evolves as I re-watch it. Right now it is a lot lighter than I know it will become, but I'm still seeing hints of depth, even at this early stage.

Billie Doux said...

I remember initially finding Crichton sort of annoying, but grew to love him pretty quickly. I also remember being turned off by the Muppets. That changed, too.

Billie Doux said...

Netflix ahoy! I'm going to rent the disks as you finish reviewing them, Jess, so I can participate in the discussions.

I saw all of Farscape in broadcast order when it originally aired, but I haven't seen it since then -- so it's going to be fresh for me. I remember my first impression was that the alien costumes and make-up were both incredibly good and way over the top. Zhaan's may be the best alien make-up (with very little in the way of appliances) that I've ever seen. The translator microbes are a perfect plot device. And I love Claudia Black.

My favorite line was John's -- the psychotic alien life in technicolor.

Irina said...

I finished watching the whole series about six months ago and I liked it a lot so definitely looking forward to reading the reviews.

The first season seemed to me to be the weakest though with hindsight it is better than on first viewing. It picked up in quality in the last four episodes and even the earlier episodes introduce characters and plot points that come back later in the series so it's worth watching again.

My personal favourites are in later seasons: the gimmicky episodes (animation, computer game) and the all-time favourite Season 4 opener which features Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

Trousers said...

Right, due to these reviews and the fact that the series box set has just come out, I've decided to give farscape another go. I saw the peacekeeper wars when it originally aired and was most confused, and tried watching the series from the start a few years ago. I got about 10 eps in before losing interest.

I enjoyed this episode, think I did the first time round too. My main problem is that I don't like a lot of the characters to start with. Zhan, Da Argo and Rygel all seem utterly unappealling at this point. Right, onto the next episode