Most science fiction revolves around a brave crew of adventurers boldly facing the unknown. Then, there’s Farscape, where a bunch of criminals run away from anything like the unknown as fast as they possibly can.
Farscape is different, is what I’m saying.
More than just different, Farscape was unlike anything sci-fi fans had ever seen. Taking place abroad a living starship, with two fully animatronic cast members, and some of the most creative swearing in the history of television, Farscape ignored the idea of exploring brave new worlds, or accepting one’s destiny. Instead, it focused on escaping from pretty much everything in the galaxy, preferably with great haste.
The show follows American astronaut John Crichton as he is flung to the far side of the galaxy by a wormhole, where he ends up on a ship being stolen by the convicts that were being held prisoner there. Caught up in their escape, and confused for some kind of enemy agent by the Peacekeepers, a militaristic society bent on domination that the convicts are escaping from, Crichton has little choice but to go along with them as they escape.
Before he knows it, his knowledge of wormholes has made him the prime target of a Peacekeeper agent, who tortures Crichton, and pursues him relentlessly across the galaxy as he runs for his life. At every turn, new enemies await, which John and his new alien allies also run away from, and the mystery of just what Crichton really knows about wormholes grows.
Faced with constant threats, strange alien cultures, and assaults on his very sanity, Crichton just wants to go back home, but finds that dream getting farther and farther from him as instead struggles just to stay alive in the face of a galaxy that wants to dig around in his brain.
Premiering in 1999, Farscape was a joint production between Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and Hallmark Entertainment. Created by Rockne S. O’Bannon, the same guy behind seaQuest and Alien Nation, Farscape ignored every conventional rule of science fiction, and kicked ass doing it. Where other shows explored the final frontier, or offered up the best aspects of humanity, Farscape went the other way. Running away from the final frontier and showcasing just how screwed up humanity really is.
As a protagonist, Critchen, played by Ben Browder, was no kind of a hero. He frequently panicked in the face of all the strange alien stuff he kept running into, and away from, collapsed under torture, twice, went crazy, became a drug addict, and in general, was not very good at doing much of anything except bragging.
Yet, it was this very thing that made him so compelling as a central figure. He was a flawed character, who still tried, in his own often clumsy way, to do the right thing. He forged friendships, and defended them to the best of his ability. He struggled, and often failed, but always got back up again and kept going. No matter how bad things got, Crichton never stopped trying.
That may not be the best of what humanity is, but it at least honest about what we are. Stubborn.
Crichton was frequently at odds with his crewmates, none more so than Peacekeeper pilot Aeryn Sun, played by sci-fi legend Claudia Black. After her ship was damaged in the escape attempt that dragged Crichton into his present mess, Sun was brought aboard the convicts ship as a prisoner. At first a stoic and combative person, she slowly grows to be part of the crew, especially after she learns the Peacekeepers consider her to be culturally tainted and plan to kill her. Now a runaway like the rest, she begins to become part of the crew, and sees them all as family. She and Crichton had an much contested relationship, eventually ending with them falling in love. Though, they did get killed and brought back to life first.
The rest of the crew changed frequently. Ka D’Argo lasted the longest. A tall and fearsome warrior, played Anthony Simcoe, D’Argo began the show as an almost Klingon like character, but over the course of the series, showed many different sides to himself, add became Crichton’s best friend. No matter what they faced, D’Argo always had Crichton’s back, and vice versa.
Zhaan, a blue skinned alien played by Virgina Hey, was more meditative and calm, though she possessed a dark side as well. Eventually, she would sacrifice her life for her crew, though in reality, Hey had to leave the show after developing a severe allergy to the skin paint used to make her blue.
Let’s not forget Chiana, played by Gigi Edgley. A liar, con artist, thief, and all around trouble maker, she falls in with the crew around the time Zhaan left the show. Without the calming influence of Zhaan, and Chiana’s already wild personality, things definitely got more unstable, and more interesting, resulting in, you guessed it, more running away from things.
The there’s Pilot. The ship the crew escapes on is a Leviatian, a living starship with its own thoughts, goals, and desires. Pilot comes from a multi limbed race that are used by the Peacekeepers to control such ships. They are fused directly to the ships nervous system, and live in constant communication with it. This Leviatian, Moya, and her Pilot, make for one of the more interesting dynamics in the show. Both care mostly for the well being of each other, but will go out of their way to take care of the crew. Usually. Now and then, Moya and Plot both get a can full, and have kicked various members off the ship until they learn to behave.
One of the more interesting subplots that ran during Farscape was of Moya getting pregnant and giving birth. Her child, Talyn, had been tampered with by the Peacekeepers, and was the first Leviathan warship. Leviathans, as living creatures, don’t possess weapons, but Talyn did, and his very life was constantly under threat, making things even harder for the crew.
Can’t forget to mention Rygel, the pompous and arrogant frog like alien who hovered about on his throne. Deposed royalty, Rygel acted like it at all times, but did grow to care for the rest of the crew a great deal. His ability to negotiate saved the crew on many occasions, but his condescending manner got them into trouble just as often.
Both Pilot and Rygel were animtronics created by Henson’s Creature Workshop for the show, yet were as real and part of the crew as any of the living members, creating a different feel to everything right from the start.
Probably the greatest and most memorable character to come out of Farscape, however, was Scorpius. A Peacekeeper scientist obsessed with wormhole technology, and using it as a weapon, he was played by Wayne Pygram. Half Peacekeeper and half Scarran, a lizard like race, Scorpius was forced to live in a full body suit that regulated his temperature, but made him look like he was into BDSM. Brilliant, callous, cunning, and willing to do whatever he had to to get what he wanted, Scorpius became the series central antagonist for almost the entire run.
Pygram, however, got to show off his acting talents by playing both Scorpius, and a neural implant version of himself that existed inside Crichton’s mind, where he would sometimes turn up wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt, or spouting random pop culture references in frequently comedic moments. They also had a bit of a menacing undertone, however, as the neural implant version was intended to ferret wormhole information of our Crichton, even if it drove him insane, which it eventually did for a while.
Eventually, Scorpius would be betrayed by the Peacekeepers, and like the rest of the cast, run for his life. There was a lot of running away from things in Farscape. Which was actually want ended up making it work. Being all brave and heroic is fine, but it really is better to live to fight another day, an attitude taken by just about everyone on the show.
Lots and lots of running away happened.
The thing is, what Farscape ended up offering was a truly different take on the science fiction world. Instead of brave heroes or dauntless explorers, we got real characters who couldn’t tackle the problems they faced, so they fled. Fighting the Peacekeepers was suicide, after all, since they had tons of ships and weapons, so fleeing was the only option.
Rather than facing them down bravely, that’s exactly what the crew of Moya did. Run like hell. Which made them believable, and relatable in a way very few science fiction characters ever get to be.
You can only run for so long, though, and by the end, Crichton, the crew of Moya, and even Scorpius, had to face up to the things they were running from. Which is probably the real legacy that Farscape leaves behind.
Sooner or later, you have to face things. It doesn’t matter how impossible they are to overcome, how scared you are, how helpless or powerless you feel, sooner or later, we all have to face the things we are running from. For the crew of Farscape, it was when there was nowhere else to run. With their back the wall, and many of their friends and allies dead, Moya and her crew of took a stand, and won the day.
Not with bigger, better weapons, but by showing everyone chasing them just what it was they were really after.
For the most part, what the Peacekeepers, Scorpius, and the Scarrens wanted was to weaponize wormholes in the war everyone knew was coming. So, Crichton and the crew of Moya showed them what they were really asking for. They used a wormhole as a weapon.
The end result was so terrifying, both sides decided it wasn’t something they really wanted, and for once, the people who had run for so long, got to stop, while the people who had been chasing them, ran away from the awful truth of what they thought they wanted.
In that sense, Farscape came full circle. Those who had run, until they couldn’t anymore, left their pursuers no choice but to run away in turn. It was a fitting end to the strange little show that even many in the sci-fi community had never heard of.
At it’s heart, Farscape was about running away from your problems, with the lesson being that, sooner or later, you do have to face them. Considering that most think of science fiction as being a way to explore the best aspects of human nature, this seems an odd thing to center a series around, but in reality, it isn’t.
It’s okay to run away from a fight you can’t win. It’s okay to run away when your scared. It’s okay to even run from your own feelings. Sooner or later, just know, you’ll run out of room to run, and have to face them. Be ready for that, and when the time comes, face it with all the conviction you have. Make those things you have fled, run from you.
That’s a pretty okay legacy to leave, if you ask me.
Science fiction doesn’t have to be about big ideas, or uncharted frontiers, in order to explore humanity. Even our worst sides, and our shameful sides, have meaning, and when examined properly, can give us context and courage, as well as a deeper understanding of ourselves.
What Farscape did was take science fiction someplace it hadn’t eve really gone before. Into the true nature of humanity, and what we find there, is all of us.