Farscape: Terra Firma

After the beautiful and endearing fluff of 'Kansas', which I rank as one of the best installments of Farscape ever aired, we move on to heavier fare in 'Terra Firma', another great episode.

Oh, and it's Christmas!

On the surface, the whole point of Farscape's first seasons was John's struggle to "get home". In later seasons, that plot was obscured by ever-more-complicated twists of the show, the forging of new loyalties and an appreciation of what really was "out there".

Now John is home, and it's far from what he hoped for. Most of this is due to his own transformation as a person. He's no longer the blue-eyed hick from some backwater edge of the galaxy running from danger. His goals are no longer selfish ones. As such he can't help but immediately recognize the danger his return puts Earth in, both directly as a way of putting it on the map of his enemies, and indirectly through the unintended meddling in Earth's internal affairs that he, his ship and his crew represent.

"What is wrong with you?! These are your people! Or do you think they pose us a threat?!"
"No. It´s the other way around."

The problems are manifold. The Americans, with John's father a leading accomplice, insists on hoarding all the technology from the alien contact for themselves, which is, let's face it, only exactly the way any administration of an empire ever would go about things. Thus there is the very real danger of John's arrival severely disrupting the balance of power on the planet, which would be... bad? John's father suggesting September 11th as the rationale for why the Farscape project need remain American seems to me the supreme irony, as arguably the notion of America as the "exceptional nation" is part of what fuels resentment and hate towards it. More than that, neither of the brass running things seem to fully grasp, as John argues, that the better part of the galaxy may be about to come crashing through the doorstep and that Earth's only chance to survive lies in unity.

A tangent to the above, back in the day, the common derogatory nickname for this show was "Muppets In Space". Perhaps the most "high-fantasy" of all long-running sci-fi shows in the visual department, for good or bad, some people viewed it as mere escapism. I won't claim to be able to read the minds of the creators, but for those people, 'Terra Firma' could be seen as the intentional cold shower. Having its fictional world, muppets and all, collide with hard contemporary events is doubly effective as it serves the "sense of wonder" of all good sci-fi at the same time as it grounds the show in actual, living reality - "it's Earth, stupid!"


The beauty in this installment lies in how while it might be among the most serious fare of the show, it's still executed with all the lightness, human warmth and wry humor that made 'Kansas' such a fantastic episode. In a sense, 'Terra Firma' represents the beginning of "endgame", and these are characters and actors who have all settled into their roles and come to own them.


When even Rigel, a rag doll, has more depth and nuance to him than most of the regulars at your average sitcom, that can't be viewed as anything but a triumph of Farscape's character development. Bobby lusting and snooping on the same Chiana who just last week boned his older cousin (at approximately the same age!!), Noranti stuffing Rigel's throat with raw popcorn - "another delicacy!", Aeryn´s talk with Caroline realizing that she simply doesn't grasp the concept of self-deception... all golden. Hell, even Scorpius' romance with Sikozu has managed to turn almost endearing! And, even the conflict between Aeryn, John, and his ex-girlfriend, which could've come off as just a trite love triangle, is handled with the type of delicate touch that turns it from that into an effective vehicle for exploring John's alienation from his own home and culture.


In closing, I believe one of the most important points of 'Terra Firma' is that it makes good on the promise made in its opening credits - to "get home". Chekov's gun is fired. There have been other shows, where similar sound-bits have gone on a loop through all seasons, that never delivered; in other words, shows that betrayed their pact with the audience.

Farscape never became one of them.

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