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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:

Examining FARSCAPE

Starring Ben Browder and Claudia Black
88 Episodes and 15 Hours of Bonus Material on 26 Discs
Available from
A&E Home Entertainment



There’s only so much room in a person’s life for serialized entertainment, only so much time that you have to fill. The rest has to be consumed by work, relationships, family, and such. Thus, when I first saw commercials for FARSCAPE when it was headed for airing, and I saw a show that looked uninteresting to me, I took a pass and spent my time on other things. Geeks around me began telling me what a mistake I had made in doing so, probably about halfway through the first season, but that didn’t matter- I had already let it go. However, when this DVD set landed on my porch, I was given a second chance to evaluate my initial decision. And now I can say that I really was missing something good.

Up to a point, that is.

FARSCAPE is the story of astronaut John Crichton. He takes off from Earth in an experimental craft designed to test the use of gravity for speed enhancement when, in a freak accident, he activates a local wormhole and is flung through to the other side of the universe. There he is taken aboard a living spaceship named Moya and becomes a part of its crew of escaped prisoners. These include the warrior Ka D’Argo, a blue-skinned anarchist priestess named Zhaan, and a former ruler of an empire named Rygel. However, the biggest addition to the crew becomes a woman named Aeryn Sun. Disgraced by her people, known as the Peacekeepers, she finds herself with nowhere else in the universe to go but with these people she would have normally spent her life tracking down and putting back behind bars.

Crichton, played by actor Ben Browder with an enormous amount of John Wayne gusto, quickly finds himself falling into a family dynamic with these aliens, and just as quickly becomes as wanted by the law as his new friends. His arrival in Moya’s vicinity causes the death of a Peacekeeper commander’s brother. And one of the Peacekeeper hierarchy’s greatest scientists and torturers, a creepy fellow named Scorpius, wants the secrets of wormhole travel and will do anything to get them out of Crichton’s head. And soon enough, the galaxy’s nastiest race, the Scarrons, will come looking for those same secrets. Thus, Crichton’s greatest journey, and desire to get back home to Earth, will be one that always takes place on the run. There is never any peace for the Moya crew.

Complicating matters for Crichton is the presence of Aeryn Sun. Sun, played by Australian actress Claudia Black, is the show’s richest character. Peacekeepers are trained as warriors from childhood, never having family, never forming deep emotional attachments. So while Crichton is, on the surface, the show’s main character, it is the character arc of Aeryn that the show really revolves around. She begins as a hard, cold person, but over time begins to find herself growing and flourishing in the familial dynamic of the Moya crew, and ultimately begins to allow her heart to open to John. However, it’s a very bumpy path for the duo, with massive detours and complications along the way. And just when it appears that their destiny to be together is about to finally move forward and be fulfilled…

The show gets unexpectedly cancelled, a season short of finishing.

FARSCAPE had received a season four and five commitment from the Sci-Fi Channel and had plotted accordingly in order to bring the series to a strong, natural close. However, when money was being discussed, late in the filming of season four, things suddenly went south, and the show got the axe. This meant that it ended on a brutal cliffhanger, and set off one of the largest fandom efforts to save a series in the history of television.

Looking at the four seasons of FARSCAPE, it is easy to see why fans took to it. Yet it’s also easy to see why it never became a huge ratings hit.

The good? At its core, FARSCAPE combines action, drama, and character in perfect amounts, and it makes it easy to gain a rooting interest in its leads romantic life. Browder and Black have so much chemistry together that it seeps out of your screen. They couldn’t be more appealing. Plus, you get the work of the Henson Company in the show, some of their best puppetry ever. Rygel is a puppet, and he’s as complex a puppet ever put on a screen. Greedy, self-serving, un-trustworthy, yet with moments of deep caring and valor, Rygel is a wildcard, and the puppetry involved in bringing him to life is astounding. Moya is run by a symbiotic being known only as Pilot, and Pilot is also a puppet. Pilot is the opposite of Rygel; deeply emotional and full of little but love and caring. Both characters are an incredible showcase for the talents of the Henson folks.

FARSCAPE also has an incredibly vivid look and feel to it. The worlds don’t look like what you’d get with TREK or other TV sci-fi. The aliens don’t resemble anything from other shows, either. It represents a creative pinnacle, and one the show can legitimately be proud of. It’s a dark, dusty, musty universe to play in, and one with dangers at every turn. It’s a complex, grown-up show that really does feel unique to televised science fiction.

That said, what works against it is pretty much precisely that.

If you went back to 2000 or 2001 and decided to give the show a try in season two, there is absolutely no chance in hell you would be able to follow it. FARSCAPE is serialized in the extreme. Even if you had come in halfway through season one, you’d have been horribly lost. As it was, I used a couple of websites to supplement my understanding of the show and its mythology as I viewed this set. I tried it without doing so and was hopelessly lost.

It’s horrible to say that the show was perhaps too complex for its own good, yet that was the feeling I got over and over. I found myself sucked into the lives of the characters and really caring about what happened, but I also found myself grateful I had waited until I had this set in hand. FARSCAPE is the most inaccessible science fiction piece perhaps ever created. Bits and pieces of it work on an episode-by-episode level, but a ton of it requires that you’ve seen the majority of what came before. By the time you get to season four, it’s so deep into its uber-plot that it’s almost painful. There was absolutely no chance that someone was going to start watching for the first time in season five, so you gain some understanding of why Sci-Fi Channel did what it did. With the amount of money the show cost, ratings were going to decline again in the final year, not pick up.

The other issue at hand is Crichton’s character development. Which is to say: there isn’t any. The John we have at the end of season four isn’t appreciably different from the man we met in season one. He’s a bit more monomaniacal in his goal of protecting wormhole technology from the bad guys, and he’s in love with Aeryn, but other than that, he’s still the gung-ho space cowboy we met in the first episode. Where Aeryn truly has an arc, John’s remains flat. Things happen to John (capture, torture, etc.) along the way, but he doesn’t change. Look at the recent incarnation of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and how much Adama changes from the miniseries to the final episode; your lead can have a strong arc over 80+ episodes. But Crichton has no arc at all.

This box set contains all four seasons of the show, comprising 88 episodes, but does not have the follow-up miniseries THE PEACEKEEPER WARS because of rights issues. However, what’s here is expertly done. All aspect ratios are intact, and sound is in 5.1. Colors are vibrant, and the extras, which are contained through the seasons and on two bonus discs, are plentiful.

I enjoyed FARSCAPE, definitely enough that I need to get my hands on the miniseries, and can recommend it for those looking for a strong, well-written dose of sci-fi. And having it all in hand definitely makes it something that’s easier to follow and appreciate. It has appealing actors, good stories, and genuine twists and turns. It’s pulp fiction done twenty-first century style. Just be prepared to pay attention.

Marc Mason  

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