Farscape 1.01: “Premiere”

The first thing that happens when Crichton’s module is spit out of the wormhole is that he unintentionally causes the death of another pilot, whose ship accidentally clips Crichton’s as he flies by, eventually careening out of control and smashing into an asteroid. This pilot turns out to be the brother of Captain Bialar Crais, a mentally unbalanced PK commander, who later vows vengeance against Crichton, despite John not having had any control over the situation in the first place. While most of the time, John takes on the Alice role in the first season of Farscape, constantly being barraged by “curiouser and curiouser” creatures and events, here he is Dorothy, whose “house” “lands” in “Oz,” in the process taking out an enemy’s sibling through no fault of “her” own.

Shortly after, when he is finally pulled into Moya, the vast, living ship that looks something like an enormous whale, gliding in outer space, and he first encounters a DRD, he will also unintentionally harm it, when the canopy of his module opening accidentally flings it across the room, where it crashes and breaks one of its eyestalks. In the final scene, Crichton will demonstrate his nurturing side–again, not a typical masculine hero trait–when he gently pulls it towards him and fixes its light with electrical tape. He may not be able to bring back Crais’ brother, but that small kindness he can do, indicative of his desire to make things right, as well as to learn how to survive in this new, unwelcoming environment.

The DRDs are Crichton’s first real one-on-one exposure to this world, and they are a great example of Farscape‘s ethos in microcosm. Although they have no actual faces, their eyestalks, sounds, and movements imbue them with an enormous amount of personality and character, introducing us first to a more “primitive” form of puppetry in order to prepare us for the more extreme examples coming soon afterwards while also demonstrating how just the subtlest gestures can indicate to the human brain that something is alive. Furthermore, although they look traditionally “cute,” John soon learns not to underestimate them, when they turn weapons on him and march him to Moya’s bridge, or Command (as it’s called on Leviathans). He’ll soon learn the same of other Muppety creatures with whom he’ll cross paths; they may seem small, cute, and/or virtually harmless, but they are not to be trifled with.

And of course none of this, in the moment, prepares him for what he finds in the Command, namely an enormous, tentacle-haired, bearded warrior with a flat, bony nose, a beautiful, bald, blue woman in robes, and a few moments later, a small, slimy, sluglike creature with huge eyebrows, flying around in a levitating throne device. In short: from his perspective, a madhouse. It’s so interesting to rewatch this scene firstly due to how thoroughly alien D’Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel look in it. The scene’s pointed subtext seems to be, “You may not be in Kansas any longer, Dorothy, but you’re not in Star Trek, either.” These aren’t humans with a few minor surface prosthetics added. Two of them may be humanoid overall but they are entirely unique, with truly jawdropping detail. When you watch Farscape a lot, you can take for granted just how much complex make-up and special effects work went into every single character and shot, but it’s practically miraculous. And in those first shots, before John can even understand what the others are saying, and it all comes out in bizarre, alien tongues, you remember all over again how strangely beautiful, thoroughly weird, and even frightening these characters are at first glance. Significantly, as soon as the language barrier is surmounted via translator microbes (Farscape‘s answer to Douglas Adams’ babelfish), they start to seem a bit more approachable, but even with that, they are far from friendly to John in their first scene. Instead, they’re outright hostile.

In the DVD commentary, Browder points out what a fantastic “closed room mystery” this creates, because the first time you see the episode, you have no idea why they’re being so combative. You are dropped into the middle of this chaotic scene, with no frame of reference, just as Crichton is. Only on a rewatch do you realize that it’s because Crichton looks like a Peacekeeper. They are behaving the way they are because they assume he’s their enemy. And, of course, we learn soon afterwards that he happened upon Moya at the least opportune moment imaginable–just as the prisoners aboard the ship, along with the ship itself, were attempting to escape PK control.

In short, the show, in minutes of screentime establishes itself as being thoroughly unique. This isn’t a nice, cuddly space show in which an organized, trained team explores the galaxy together. It’s a weird, sometimes twisted space show in which a group of flawed and entirely alien creatures thrown together by chance and circumstance decide to travel together in the short term as long as their goals of finding their respective homes overlap. Over the course of the series, they will become a family, but that is far from guaranteed at this point. With the exception of Zhaan’s warmth, which allows her to get through to practically every character in “Premiere” other than Aeryn, most of them don’t like each other very much at this point. The aesthetic is also one-of-a-kind, with the Creature Shop creations such as the enormous, crustacean-like Pilot all the way down to the small, aquatic Rygel, and then Moya herself, who looks like no other ship I can think of in science-fiction, her rooms organic, round, and ribbed, like the inside of a vast beast, which she is.

Even the CGI effects have aged better than many other sci-fi series of the late 90s/early 00’s, because there is a surreal, slightly dreamlike, practically golden sheen to them–particularly the exterior space shots–that indicates that what we’re seeing isn’t meant to represent reality but a heightened version of such–a fantasy dream space (literally and figuratively). Brian Henson refers to the effects as being “majestic,” and that’s exactly how I’d describe them. Also, although Farscape‘s technology is technically far advanced from our own, there is also something oddly and intentionally primitive about its look. It isn’t visually dated now because it represents a completely different type of technology, fully removed from anything we Earthlings would or could ever produce.

Shortly after, we get a quiet but lovely scene between Zhaan and D’Argo that begins to subvert more of our expectations. We learn that these two actually don’t know each other at all and are only now getting the chance to really speak to each other for the first time, the last thing you generally expect when you have a protagonist like Crichton entering this sort of situation. You just assume that he is stepping into an environment that has been established for a long while before he arrived, when instead he actually arrives just when they’re all beginning to become acquainted. Through the conversation, we learn that Zhaan is a priest, which may not be the biggest surprise from her maternal demeanor (although I love that the word isn’t feminized to “priestess”), but the fact that she was arrested for being an anarchist? Intriguing, and instantly indicating a darkness we don’t yet see.

Author: Robert Berg

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2 Comments

  1. Great review. I agree with all of your discussion of Premiere. I look forward to reading future reviews.

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  2. It's safe to say, that by this review, you love and understand Farscape like a true fan. Can't wait for the next instalment.

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