You've got to know by now that my husband and I love science fiction. I used to say that I prefer fantasy over science fiction, but I realized only recently (within the last decade) that that's not true. I do love magic and alternate realities, but that isn't what I look for when I'm seeking out new things to read or watch. Though we are big ST:TNG and DW fans, more recently we've been watching and rewatching Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis and wishing there were more space exploration shows like them. Our friends suggested Farscape, and more recently The Expanse has become the thing to watch, so we thought we'd watch the older one first.
In case you're not familiar with it, the basic premise of Farscape is that scientist-astronaut John Crichton (played by Ben Browder, who later played the new leader of SG-1) attempts an experiment in a high-orbit shuttlecraft to prove his theory and accidentally opens a wormhole which deposits him far from Earth, in the middle of a fracas where a bunch of prisoners have taken over a prison transport and are trying to escape. As he has no way of getting back to Earth (while tech in the area is high, they don't have wormhole tech at all), he falls in with the escaped prisoners as they try to survive and return to their different homeworlds. The species are all non-humanoid except for one, the Sebaceans, a race that look like humans but have a very different biology and social structure. The justice system is maintained by the Peacekeepers, who are mostly Sebacean and who are vindictive, totalitarian, and in many cases, corrupt. During the prisoner escape, one of the Sebaceans, Aeryn Sun (played by Claudia Black, who also ended up as a regular on SG-1), is "contaminated" by Crichton (read: he talked to her, so she's no longer pure) and ejected, so she joins up with them.
This should have been the best series ever for us. Space exploration! A ragtag team of wronged prisoners fighting against their evil captors! A main character who's a scientist and not a fighter! A main cast of very non-human aliens! Yet, here we are, one season plus (out of four) into it and debating on chucking it in the bin. Granted, the Internet says to stay the course through season two, because that's when it gets good, but we're finding ourselves dreading each episode as it comes on.
So what went wrong?
First, I think the first season really didn't know what it wanted to do. The pacing was often very off, and they really liked slowing down the cinematography to heighten the aura of danger. They also wanted to make sure you understood all these aliens' cultures and motivations, so there were long monologues and discussions breaking the momentum of the stories. They actually did this classic bit of stupidity:
Crichton: Okay, I need you to go over there and do (a thing) right now.
Crichton: I don't have the time to explain. Just do it.
Aeryn: (Three minutes of complaining about all the things she just went through and why she's sick of the fact that the team doesn't trust her.)
Crichton: (Three minutes of complaining about all the things he just went through and why he's sick of the fact that the team doesn't respect him.)
Ya know, you could have explained the situation in less time...
It was only made worse by the fact that they were undercover in a society where everyone is forced to be happy, so there they were griping and yelling at each other while the Happiness Patrol (yes, I'm stealing from the DW episode) passed by multiple times without noticing that they were griping and yelling at each other.
Character development was also either jerky, non-existent, or inexplicable. For example, in the first episode, Crichton finds himself on the other side of the universe from home and stunned by an incomprehensible society, but also embroiled in a situation where he doesn't have the luxury to come to terms with things in his own time. That's great - the pilot episode got to promise the audience lots of action, exploration, and drama. So, you'd expect the second, and maybe the third episode, would deal with Crichton trying to figure out how he could get back home, or with the difficulties of simply relating to all these aliens and adjusting to life on the ship. Nope. Other than occasional scenes of him recording messages to his father on his little tape recorder, he exhibits few thoughts about home, and he fits into the ship's society just fine. He has details to learn about culture and technology, but that's about it.
Another resident on the ship is Dominar Rygel XVI. He's the deposed monarch of an empire of ten thousand planets, and he considers himself the ruler of the ship. He expects everyone (not just his shipmates, but everyone they meet) to serve him, and he's greedy and will take anything that's not nailed down or guarded. He also thinks he's got excellent diplomatic skills, so he tries to be the ship's mouthpiece. However, he's for the most part stupid and not respected, and so there are many episodes in which he tries to do something - negotiate for something, steal something, demand something, etc. - and it backfires, and most of the time, at the end of the episode, he admits either out loud or tacitly, that he caused the problem. The thing is, we're into season two, after 25 episodes, and he does it again, precipitating the conflict in the episode. He doesn't learn, and we're sick of him.
And then for "inexplicable", there's Zhaan, the blue-skinned Delvian priestess. They did a good job making her very alien, but sometimes to the point of "what????" At the end of a later episode in season one, her faith is shaken because she made an error in judgment and failed to help the right people, and she decides she no longer deserves to hold the title of priestess, so she puts away her robes and wears civilian clothing. Okay, that's fair. This goes on for a couple of episodes, and then suddenly she decides she's failed so badly as a priestess that now she's just going to sit in the ship and chant and refuse to do anything or help anybody. I honestly believe that the writers wanted to keep her and her abilities away from the main plot so that the rest of the cast had to solve the issue themselves, so they gave her a (stupid) reason to refuse to help. At the end of the episode, she admits that she was wrong to refuse to do anything and she - wait for it - reassumes her priestess title. Because failing all her friends is now a virtue? I don't know.
I think, though, the main things that rub me the wrong way about this show is 1) it's so damn talky, because everyone must explain their feelings about everything, and 2) John Crichton is a self-righteous arse. In one of the last episodes of season one, the enemy had them dead to rights and the team had to split up to do different things to try to escape, with the high probability that many of them would die in the process. The majority of the episode was spent having the characters meet up with each other and tell each other how much they meant to them, and then, at the end, having a big last-meal style party where they all, again, told each other how much they valued each other. It was actually done well, but also felt like such a waste of time. When a show's done right, the bonds between the characters are obvious, demonstrated through their actions, not their words.
As far as Crichton goes, this scene happens a lot with him:
Shipmate: My people asked me to do (thing). It is the highest honor that they chose me.
Crichton: Isn't that going to (hurt/maim/kill) you?
Shipmate: Yes. My name will be revered for generations and my son will be elevated because his father was chosen to do (thing).
Crichton: No! I'm not going to let you do that!
He started out this way, especially with respect to Aeryn, since she was a Peacekeeper and had very different ideas on how life should work, and continues to do this in season two. Of course, his attempts to make others bow to his moral code are often what precipitates the problem in the episode. He's supposed to be the person the audience can relate to, but he's the one that makes us scream at the TV.
The bottom line, though, is that the stories are rather subpar and the show hasn't yet convinced me to care about any one of the characters. Yes, the stories are supposed to get better in season two, but I can't convince myself to invest the time to get there, even though we are theoretically already there. We did, though, go back and watch Stargate SG-1's 200th episode, which had a short parody of Farscape, and now that we understand the references, it was hilarious. So, I guess that was worth it?