It’s not secret that the success of Farscape came about by random chance. Unlike the intricately scripted Babylon-5, for example, it’s pretty clear the writers of Farscape were flying by the seat of their pants for most of the show’s run. Many of the most brilliant developments in the series (as I’m sure we’ll address) were less well-planned plotlines and more blatant retconning. Well executed, but retconning nonetheless.
I bring this up just to highlight how far the first post-premiere episodes are from the insane roller-coaster ride Farscape would become by even the last half of the first season. If memory serves me right, it took me about six weeks of intermittent watching when I first discovered Farscape to get through the early first-season slog. “Ugh. I have nothing to do. I guess I’ll try another episode of Farscape…” It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s off about them. Is it just Crichton’s over-earnestness? A lack of humour that would later come to define the series? Monster-of-the-week stories that weren’t particularly compelling? Mostly I think it’s that Farscape‘s greatness came from the risks it took later on and the complex stories and relationships that were able to develop. They just haven’t had time to build that yet.
I really don’t have it in me to cover all of these episodes individually. So, lets just speed through these as best we can and take a look at: “I, E.T.”, “Exodus from Genesis”, “Throne for A Loss”, “Thank God it’s Friday,” “Back and Back and Back to the Future.” There is, however, some useful world-building in this batch: we discover Sebechean heat delirium, learn about the chakan oil that powers pulse pistols, and get the first hint that D’Argo was not entirely honest about the crime for which he claims to have been imprisoned.
So, while I have a notorious “watch/skip” list for Farscape (file titled “Rachel is a crazy person” in my documents folder) which I pass on to all my friends who start the series, if we’re going to do this right we can’t pass over them entirely. What’s good about them, then? Mostly it’s the little character moments.
“I, E.T.” gives us that wonderful moment where Zhaan agrees to take on all of Moya’s pain that she can bear. It is our first glimpse of a Zhaan who gives of herself for others, arguably her defining characteristic (as will become all too clear). Zhaan’s sacrifice also gives us a glimpse into the first, ever so subtle, cracks in Aeryn’s peacekeeper armour. Even at this point–and possibly despite her own better judgment–Aeryn genuinely does care about Zhaan and the pain she is about to endure. It’s not much, but it might be more concern that we were lead to believe she would be capable of, based just on the pilot alone.
“Exodus from Genesis” is clearly the strongest episode in the bunch (horrible eye make-up on our guest star peacekeepers notwithstanding). It takes a huge risk in showing a personal vulnerability to Aeryn very early in the series. She boldly declares to John–“Friends? Family? I want neither.” But within a few hours she is struck down by the greatest sickness known to her species, and her only hope is to plead from these same people she otherwise dismissed in hopes of a merciful death. In the audio commentary for the episode, Brian Henson said he thinks the moment where Aeryn makes John promise to kill her if the delirium takes hold is the moment John falls in love with Aeryn. A part of me feels like that comment (all due respect to Mr. Henson) does a disservice to so much of the John/Aeryn relationship which is about John looking to Aeryn for strength and protection. But, I take his point. This is the first moment when John sees that degree of vulnerability in Aeryn where she is emotionally approachable at all. And at this point in the series, John still clearly sees himself as very conventionally masculine, with all the baggage that brings to notions of romantic entanglement. Deconstruction of gender roles is part of what makes Farscape great.
Though it’s not a particularly good episode, “Back and Back and Back to the Future” as well shows us a version of D’Argo here that is not merely the “Warrior” archetype, but a rash, immature young man being led around by his … mivonks (to use some Farscape parlance). There will be ample time to discuss D’Argo later, but it’s worth mentioning that last scene between the human and the Luxan. Male bonding at it’s most primal? Also, I have never seen any reference to this in any discussions of Farscape I’ve encountered … But is it just me or does the whole “black hole weapon that can destroy a planet” plotline seem to be just the tiniest bit relevant to later developments in the series? I’ll just leave it at that.
However much or however little attention one pays to this initial run of episodes, it’s important at least to remember that they are there as we move further into the series. When we get to the darker events of the ensuing episodes, consider we had half a dozen episodes’ worth of character building and bonding going on with these characters. To channel my learning from seminary– we’ve been through our “Forming” and are solidly in the “Storming” stage of group dynamics. Keep that in mind when we get to “DNA Mad Scientist” next time!