updated March 24, 2003
Not the Puppy!
Episode 18 -- Feb 21, 2003
Okay, so I'm a little behind on the Farscape reviews. Actually, right now I'm two whole episodes behind. This is partly because, y'know, I have a life and stuff, but it's mostly because writing about Farscape is a lot harder than I thought it would be. When I started this column at the beginning of the season, I couldn't wait to watch the new episode and then go and write about it. How innocent I was back then! I should have known better. Writing about Farscape isn't a hobby, it's work -- serious, difficult work. I had no idea.
In fact, as of this episode, just watching Farscape feels like work. If you read the various Farscape websites, you'll see a whole bunch of reasons why Farscape fans think the ratings went down this season. They say that Farscape is too intelligent for a mass audience, it's too challenging... basically, it's just too good for TV. Stupid Americans, is the basic attitude of the devoted Farscape fans, you don't deserve a show like Farscape. Back to Joe Millionaire with you, you big losers, they say, and then they start using words like dren and frel, and it gets a little obscure at that point.
Now, granted, I think they have a point about the Joe Millionaire thing, but I don't think that's why Farscape's ratings dropped off this season. If you ask me, the problem is that the show is just too damn messy. As in, watching the characters' brains drip out of their skulls and onto the floor kind of messy. Farscape is fun sometimes, and I've written about the fun parts, but it swings back and forth between the fun Farscape and the dripping-brains Farscape on a week to week basis. You never know which one you're going to get.
So, they set up a fun thing -- for example, Aeryn and John finally getting back together, and being really cute about it -- and then that instantly morphs into a not-fun thing, namely Aeryn being kidnapped by the Scarrans. She was captured two episodes ago, and this week's episode is essentially all about Aeryn getting tortured on the transport ship. I think the not-fun aspects of this scenario are pretty obvious.
Basically, this is how the fun / not-fun ratio currently stacks up. In the last scene of "Twice Shy," which was about a month ago, John told Aeryn that he loved her, and they kissed, and it was really nice. That was the last scene of the episode. At the beginning of the next episode, there was one scene of Aeryn and John snuggling on the bridge, before they separated on different missions. And those two scenes, apparently, are the beginning and the end of the happy times that Aeryn and John get this whole entire season.
As soon as that snuggling scene was over, John was off to the mental arts training camp, which was a whole episode of being shouted at, locked in a cage and being forced to pick up burning-hot metal with his bare hands. Then the next episode was Aeryn getting kidnapped, which ended with John shooting Aeryn in the head, and blowing half of her face off. (Okay, that wasn't the real Aeryn, but still, ouch, right?) In last week's episode John moped around and watched videos, which wasn't that happy, but at least no one that we like got shot in the head.
Then this week's episode turns the misery dial up to eleven. Not only are John and Aeryn still not getting any real scenes together, but Aeryn is actually strapped down and tortured on camera for the whole episode. Her interrogators give her a kind of painful sci-fi electroshock, and they smack her across the face a lot. Then they inject her with truth serum -- and, as she begs them to stop, we see the needle going right into her pregnant abdomen. As a bonus, we also see an embryo twitching as it burns to death on screen, and the only person who's even vaguely nice to Aeryn turns out to be a spy who's trying to poison her.
Oh, and meanwhile, John goes through a wormhole to an alternate reality, where three of his friends get shot at point-blank range and die -- including yet another Aeryn lookalike.
Now, I understand the soap-opera cliche that happy couples are boring, and unhappy couples are interesting. I don't agree with it, but I understand the concept. But the ratio of two scenes worth of happy, immediately followed by two full episodes of graphic physical torture... that seems a little out of whack to me. There is apparently no limit on the amount of physical and emotional pain that the characters get to endure. Happiness, on the other hand, is measured out to us with a teaspoon, like it's lunch time at Oliver Twist's orphanage.
I can't help but imagine what Christmas is like at Rockne O'Bannon's house. The kids open up their presents, and they get just what they wanted. They tell Dad how much they love their new train set. "Oh, you DO, do you?" says Rockne. "Well, now I'm setting it on FIRE and throwing it out the WINDOW! Ha HA!" No, don't do it, the kids sob. Please! Not again! "Now, where's your puppy?" No, Dad! No! Not the puppy!
I mean, shooting people in the head is a lot of fun, and we all enjoy a good needle in the abdomen scene every now and then, but that's not what the whole show is about, is it? I thought the heart of the show was supposed to be the interaction between the main characters, especially John and Aeryn. Why don't they get any scenes together?
In my opinion, John and Aeryn is the puppy of Farscape. They just spark together, and they're always fun to watch. So the producers, poisoned with flawed "happy couples are boring" logic, come up with one reason after another to keep them apart. In soap opera terms, John and Aeryn are a supercouple -- and the hardest job on series TV is to keep a supercouple on screen together and still make it interesting.
When shows do supercouples well, they do it by giving the couple obstacles that they can work on together -- and, really, it would be incredibly easy for Farscape to do that. What if -- instead of the last three torture sessions -- we had everybody else on Moya getting kidnapped, and John and Aeryn had to work together to infiltrate Katratsi and rescue them all?
I don't think that's too much to ask. I don't need for Farscape to be the happy fuzzy fairyland show, where everyone smiles all the time, and there are singing bunnies, and I get a cannoli at the end of each episode. But does it have to be Schindler's List in space?
We're So Confused
Feb 28 - March 14, 2003
"We're So Screwed, Pts 1-3"
When I started this Farscape column at the beginning of this season, my big question was: Is it possible for somebody who's only watched a handful of Farscape episodes to start watching the show in the fourth season and still make heads or tails of it?
The answer, apparently, is no. I just finished watching the three-part "We're So Screwed" story, and, well, it beats the heck out of me. By the end of the third episode, everybody's bluffing and double crossing so much that it's honestly a relief when Crichton drops a nuclear bomb and blows most of the characters to bits. I kind of wish that I'd known he was going to do that from the start, because then I wouldn't have bothered even trying to keep track of what was going on. (Just like the writers. Bada bing!)
So I'm going to write up all of this in one big lump, because I need to catch up before next week, when they cancel the show -- or, as the Sci Fi Channel tactfully puts it, when the "series finale" airs. Anyway, it's supposed to be a three-part story, so why not.
Not that it actually is a three-part story. If you want to get technical about it, Part 2 and Part 3 are a two-part story, and Part 1 is clearly just a repeat of the episode before it.
In fact, as far as Part 1 goes, I could just put a big "ditto" up, and that would about cover it. In most respects, this episode is very, very similar to the Puppy episode. There's more torture, there's more needles, there's more shouting. The big difference is that in this episode, a major character gets infected with a horrific fatal skin condition.
By the way, why doesn't that kind of thing ever happen to, let's say, the cast of Everyone Loves Raymond, so I could really sit back and enjoy it? I can't stand the characters on that show. If you ask me, the Everyone Loves Raymond family could use two or three contagious skin conditions, just to shake them up a bit. Let me know when they get around to that.
So anyway, Part 1. John is still chasing after Aeryn, who's still being tortured on camera by the mean Scarrans. Moya catches up with the Scarran transport ship on the outskirts of Scarran space, at a Scarran border station. Scarrans, Scarrans, Scarrans. We haven't seen a single Scarran until like three episodes ago, and now the place is lousy with Scarrans.
The Scarran border station is yet another dirty enclosed claustrophobic set with lots of little dark rooms to run in and out of. Is that a cost-cutting thing, putting every episode on some kind of space station or secret underground outpost? All of these episodes happen indoors. Last week's was on the transport ship, the week before that they sat around and watched TV for the whole episode, and before that I think they spent the entire episode at the mall. I can't remember the last time they went outside, I guess because outside always looks like New Zealand. No wonder the characters look so upset all the time. The last half of this season is one long rainy Sunday afternoon.
Anyway, the border station is run by Dr Trayso, an entirely incompetent Medical Officer who apparently knows nothing about medicine and very little about offices. He spends the entire episode standing around in a big leather coat and saying that nobody can leave the station unless he signs their hall pass. It's supposed to be his job to check out all the ships going into Scarran space to make sure that nobody is bringing in any contagions, but when he's faced with an actual contagious illness, he has no idea what to do with himself. He just stands around and moans, like Mr Mooney from The Lucy Show.
And y'know what? It just occurred to me how weird it is that they have a border station in space in the first place. I mean, how do you regulate a border around "Scarran space"? It's not like Scarran space is a suburban gated community with only one entrance. Space is three-dimensional, you could be coming from any angle. This is the least of my problems at this point, but still. A border station. I don't get that part.
Anyway, they come up with the brilliant plan of giving Rygel a contagious fatal skin condition, which forces Mr Mooney to lock down the station and run around shouting, "LUCIIIIILLE!" (No, he doesn't really, but I wish he did.)
The more I think about it, though, the more this seems like an episode of The Lucy Show. John and Scorpius cook up a wacky scheme where they pretend to be spies, and Noranti poses as a doctor. Mr Mooney, the so-called Medical Officer, accepts these obvious lies without checking anyone's credentials or even asking for a social security number. All the schemers run around and whisper, and they keep changing their stories. After a while, John and Scorpius get frustrated, and they just start clonking people over the head and knocking them unconscious. This is The Lucy Show: 1999. I bet if The Lucy Show was being made today, they would've had abdomen-piercing needles and projectile vomiting too.
The big wacky sitcom conclusion is that at the end of the episode, John manages to rescue Aeryn and get her back home... but then they realize they left Scorpius behind! Now they have to go and rescue him! Luuuuuucyyyyyy!
Boy, it's a good thing this is only a three-part story, cause the way this is going, we could just keep swapping hostages around forever. This episode is basically like the "take a penny - leave a penny" dish of hostage taking. And that's the end of Part 1.
Part 2 takes place on Katratsi, which is -- surprise! -- another big dark space station. It's the Scarran's secret base, which they've apparently built in the middle of a chewed-up Milk Dud. There is some reason for this that they might have mentioned while I was distracted by the Scarran Emperor.
The Scarran Emperor -- and we might as well jump right into this, because I can't stop thinking about him -- is a huge scary lizard guy with a really deep voice and enormous full-figured breasts. I'm serious. The guy's a plus-size model. He's like a slightly more feminine Roseanne. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to make of this -- it's obvious that I'm supposed to be scared of him -- but every time he's on screen, I keep thinking, that emperor guy is a whole lot of lovely lady to look at. Is that weird?
It doesn't help that he's wearing some kind of armor-plated muu-muu with spikes shooting out at the shoulders and cuffs. Again, not sure what I'm supposed to make of that, except maybe it was a bridesmaid's dress and he thought he could still get some use out of it.
Hey, quick joke: How do Scarran emperors hug? Very carefully. Thank you.
So then we get to the part of the story where they start revealing secrets that a) I don't understand and b) I wouldn't care about even if I did understand them. For example: SIKOZU is a BILOID! I think I've already covered in previous entries that I am pretty much immune to any big revelation that involves a character turning out to be one thing instead of another thing, especially if I didn't know what they were supposed to be in the first place. Sikozu was introduced as a snippy red-headed alien chick who could run up walls. I never knew what her species was called, and it never occurred to me to wonder about it. The fact that I now know that she is not a Kalish -- which is apparently Farscape for "red-headed and snippy" -- but is in fact a Biloid who's involved in an anti-Scarran resistance movement... well, it means nothing to me.
And also ditto on SCORPIUS is a SCARRAN SPY WORKING FOR THE BIG-BREASTED EMPEROR! Which may or may not be true depending on which scene you're watching. Ditto also on STARK is a BILOID! and then, Oh, no, there he is, he's over there! which is another confusing thing that happens. Now, I don't really know Stark -- he was before my time -- but the one thing I thought I knew about Stark was that he was dead. Now, apparently, not dead. And that about wraps it up for Part 2.
Part 3 begins with another series of random revelations that I don't really get, the major one being SCORPIUS WANTS TO DESTROY THE SCARRANS' FLOWERS! That one is entirely beyond me. I wish I understood that, actually, even a little bit, because I bet there's a ton of really hilarious jokes I could make about it, if only I knew what it meant. The Scarrans have some big ol' greenhouse in the basement of their secret base that grows special flowers that they need to eat or else they devolve or something. And Scorpius -- who I thought was a Scarran spy last week, but now maybe not -- really wants to destroy the flowers. In fact, all of a sudden, that is literally the main motivation of his entire life. He actually says that he would lay down his life if he could destroy the flowers. The fact that no one has ever mentioned these flowers before in any episode that I can recall makes the situation even more baffling for me.
I mean, is it fair for them to suddenly say, oh, hey, you know how we've been going on and on about wormholes all season? Well, actually, surprise, the big threat is flowers. Boy, scary flowers, though, huh?
The other major motif of the episode is that all of a sudden everybody wants to use the Willy Wonka elevator, which looks and acts just like a normal elevator except that it has a drill on the end of it that can tunnel through the whole planet. The magic elevator is called, for some reason, a "Rabrokator."
I'm serious. This is the moment that broke me, that drove me to despair. At the top of the hour, they start saying that Scorpius' plan is all about the elevator. Then, thirty minutes in, they suddenly start calling it a Rabrokator. "Sikozu has managed to summon the Rabrokator," says Scorpius. Crichton, naturally, says what the hell is that. "It's a drilling elevator," says Sikozu, as if that explains everything. After that, they talk about the Rabrokator pretty much non-stop. "They're in the Rabrokator, we're trying to over-ride," says Maleficent. "The Rabrokator is stopped at the crystherium cavern," says a Kalish tech. Rabrokator, Rabrokator. Every time they say it, it's like a little piece of my soul dies.
Then there's one more big meaningless revelation, which is that Sikozu tells everyone that she's a biloid who's been genetically engineered with the power to kill Scarrans by making their heat-producing glands explode. The translation for those of you who don't speak technobabble is that Sikozu is a magic fairy who can turn herself into one of those plasma globes from Spencer's Gifts, and that makes the mean lizards go boom.
At that point, it's back to the Rabrokator, which digs through the whole planet, finally smashing up through the floor of the conference room and upsetting everybody. They all seem very surprised, although I'm not sure what they installed a Rabrokator for, if not for this very thing. I mean, why even have a drilling elevator if you're not going to drill anywhere? Why not just put in stairs?
Then everybody starts double-crossing everybody. Grayza tries to attack the Scarrans, so Bracca takes command away from Grayza. The Emperor tries to take power away from Maleficent. The Kalish resistance fights against the Scarrans. All kinds of mess happens.
Finally, Crichton ends the whole deal by dropping his nuclear bomb and blowing up the entire Milk Dud of a planet, apparently killing everybody, except for the main characters. Which wraps everything up pretty nicely, I suppose.
And then next week the whole show ends.
Dust to Dust
Episode 22 -- Mar 21, 2003
Well, stay tuned for Battlestar Fucking Galactica, I guess.
Which just adds insult to injury, doesn't it? I mean, it's bad enough that they go and cancel the only show on the Sci-Fi Channel that I have the slightest interest in watching. Then they have to take that money and put it into shows based on stuff from the 70's. They just showed a miniseries on Children of Dune, from 1976. Next up is a miniseries based on Riverworld, which was 1971. And they take this moment -- the series finale of Farscape -- to spring the news on us that after that, they're doing a remake of Battlestar Fucking Galactica. Hey, I thought science fiction was supposed to be looking to the future. Wha happen?
You want worse? Here's worse: I don't even know about this stuff from watching the commercials. Who watches commercials? No, I know all about the Sci-Fi Channel's upcoming lineup because they've started using that hideous technique of promoting future shows while the show that's currently airing is happening on the screen in front of you. They're "bottom-thirding," which means that every time they cut from a commercial break back to the show, they put an animation on the bottom third of the screen that tells you that there's a new Shannen Doherty reality series coming in a couple weeks. They do this right over the show. Then, presumably, they run ads over that show telling you to watch the next show, and so on and so on, until eventually I guess there just aren't any TV shows left. Broadcast TV will just be an endless loop of promos for itself.
Is it too early to call for a consumer revolution on this? I pay good money for satellite TV; I don't need this nonsense. My fantasy is that the people rise up and march on the TV stations with pitchforks and rakes. Failing that, can we at least boycott the Shannen Doherty show, which I wasn't going to watch anyway?
Anyway, I don't mean to go on about it, but if I complain about the promo clutter, then I don't have to think about the last minute of the actual show. Which is the moment when all the goodness and kindness of the world was snuffed out like a candle, and all I was left with was Battlestar Fucking Galactica. You can see why I'd want to avoid dwelling on it.
But there's no way around it, so here goes. Time is clearly running out for our Farscape friends, because in the first minute of this episode, they all realize that they only have an hour left, and they have like five new plot points to establish. So it cuts back and forth between all the characters, who are running from room to room and shouting the new plot points at each other. It's like finals week on Moya, and everyone's cramming.
The big news, of course, is that last week I assumed that a whole bunch of people died, just because a nuclear fusion bomb went off about twenty feet away from them. Silly me. None of them are dead. The big-breasted Scarran emperor is alive, the Maleficent chick is alive. Everybody is apparently alive. Evil characters never die on this show. Only the puppies and kittens die.
So the not-dead Scarrans are planning to go through the wormhole to Earth in order to enslave the humans, take over the planet and steal some of the flowers. Which seems like a long way to go just for flowers, but try getting that across to the Scarrans. Everybody finds out about this plan because apparently the Scarrans were talking about it on their cell phones, and the Peacekeepers were listening in. Or something. This all gets established in shouty jump cuts, so it's hard to be sure.
John's way of dealing with this situation is to strap a nuclear bomb to Scorpius and push him out an airlock, which I can only say I entirely approve of. I wish I could deal that effectively with my irritating house guests.
By the way, all of this happens before the opening credits. They have a lot to get done this week.
Then, happily, there's a long scene of John lounging around on the floor dressed entirely in tight black leather. Then all the characters walk around for a while and make funny jokes about how nauseous they are. Then John and Aeryn have a really cute relationship scene where they lean against the wall and smile at each other. All of this reminds me of why I'll miss Farscape, especially the parts with the tight leather.
John comes up with a lunatic plan to close the wormhole to Earth by flying through it before it opens and making it collapse in on itself, which makes about as much sense as anything else, so fine. They make sure that every character gets a little task to do, which is really cute; you can basically go through most of the episode checking off each character's plot moment. Pilot gets cut from Moya to fly the module through the wormhole... Rygel is the one that convinces him to do it... D'argo does the actual cutting... Noranti keeps the cables moist until Pilot can be rejoined... Chiana slows time so she can learn how to use the controls... and Scorpius and Sikozu sit on the Peacekeeper ship and mack out for the whole episode, the purpose of which was a bit unclear to me. They looked like they were having a good time, though.
John goes through the wormhole to Earth again, where he lands on the moon and calls his dad on a cell phone. You can tell this is science fiction, because they have a two-minute cell phone conversation between Florida and the moon, and they can actually hear each other the whole time. In real life, of course, you can't call somebody three blocks away. I kept expecting John to start saying, "What? WHAT? I'm ON the MOON! Can you HEAR me? WHAT? I'm ON the MOON!" Anyway, the conversation with John and his dad just makes me tear up. It's incredibly moving, actually, which should have been a warning sign. Any time something gets beautiful on Farscape for two minutes at a time, that's a red flag that they're about to kill a puppy.
Pilot gets them back through the wormhole at the right time to make it collapse, and it happens to be just at the same time that the Scarran scout ship is coming through from the other side. This leads to an incredibly tense action sequence that almost makes me forget that this whole thing is about the Scarrans going on a shopping trip to get some flowers. The Scarran ship is going this way, John's ship is going that way -- and luckily, at the last second, it becomes the Haunted Mansion ride, and they all kind of turn transparent and float through each other, so everything's okay.
By the way, John's ship makes it out of the wormhole before it collapses, which everybody is obviously happy about, but for all we know, the Scarran ship made it through to the other side too. So they might be sitting on the moon right now calling John's dad. I just wanted to point that out.
So now, unfortunately, there's really no way for me to avoid That Last Minute. I have to talk about it. It'll help me get over the trauma.
Because, the thing is, as incredibly cynical as I have been about Farscape, they actually managed to make me believe for a minute that the season (and therefore the series) might have a happy ending. I feel like such a sucker for admitting that. I've been writing for weeks about how they always kill the puppy on this show, how they only give you a moment of happiness in order to take it away from you and set it on fire.
So, warning sign #1: They stop to rest. Warning sign #2: John and Aeryn go out on a boat, and they have a whole scene together to talk about their relationship. Warning sign #3: D'argo, Chiana and Rygel are watching them, doing a funny and warm commentary. Warning sign #4: Aeryn is having John's baby, John proposes, Aeryn accepts... and they're happy. The audience lets their guard down for a moment. The puppy is ready to burn.
And then, out of the sky, with no warning at all, a Thomas' English Muffin alien flies by in a spaceship, and spots John and Aeryn.
I'm calling him a Thomas' English Muffin alien, because his head splits open to show the nooks and crannies that hold the melted butter. Also, I can't call him anything else, because I've never seen the guy before in my whole entire life. Is it fair to pull out random, murderous breakfast-related aliens at the last minute? Not really. But here he comes.
And he shoots John and Aeryn with a ray gun. And we watch John and Aeryn crumble and disintegrate, until they're nothing but a pile of dust, except for the engagement ring, which is left intact on account of extra poignancy.
Now, I have to admit that this is just about the Farscapiest ending for the series that they could possibly have done. I mean, sure, the main characters get one moment of peace before they're disintegrated. When you stop to think about it, it really couldn't end any other way.
But, talk about insult to injury -- then they put up the words "TO BE CONTINUED," which is just a horrible lie, unless maybe they mean "TO BE CONTINUED ON A THOUSAND SLASH-FICTION WEBSITES."
Which is fair enough, because the only alternative to writing your own season five is just to go and put your head in the oven. So, in case you're having trouble coming up with your own, here are my five possible scenarios for how John and Aeryn were supposed to survive at the beginning of the next season.
Survival Scenario #1: It wasn't John and Aeryn after all. They were just genetically engineered biloids.
Survival Scenario #2: They're not dead, they're freeze-dried. Just add water!
Survival Scenario #3: Pam Ewing goes to take a shower; the entire season was a dream.
Survival Scenario #4: Noranti scoops up the dust and takes it to an alien specialist, who manages to reconstitute John and Aeryn -- but they come back as hideous flesh-eating zombies who feast on the brains of the living. (Note: This is an extremely plausible scenario.)
Survival Scenario #5: It just looked like they were killed -- actually, the English Muffin Alien's ray gun teleported them through a space-time fracture. The dust is just their excess skin and clothes, so they'll be completely naked when they get to wherever they're going -- which let's say for the sake of argument is Happy Bunnyland, where nobody wears any clothes and they all live happily ever after.
Obviously, my personal choice is Happy Bunnyland, but the beauty of a show getting cancelled before it's actually over is that you get to make up your own ending.
There's just one thing that I know is true, no matter what: The Scarran scout ship did get all the way through the wormhole, and they ended up trapped in Earth orbit. Feeling pretty pissed off about the whole situation, they spent a couple days sitting around on the moon and lobbing tactical nuclear devices at the Earth.
So everybody and everything you've ever known is dead and gone forever, burned up in a pointless nuclear holocaust, and it's all John Crichton's fault. Bye!
Photos courtesy of the fabulous