Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [1.01] – “Premiere”

Today, on Farscape

“I can’t be your kind of hero.”
“No, you can’t be. But each man gets a chance to be his own kind of hero. Your time will come, and when it does, watch out. Chances are it’ll be the last thing you expected.”

John Crichton, an astronaut with the International Aeronautics and Space Administration, launches a low-orbit mission just inside the Earth’s atmosphere. As he begins his experiment, his test module, Farscape One, encounters an electro-magnetic pulse and is whisked away through a wormhole. He encounters a prison transport escaping its Peacekeeper control and is caught up in an interstellar conflict he has no knowledge of. His module accidentally collides with a Peacekeeper’s Prowler, which spins off-course into an asteroid and explodes. The pilot’s brother is Commander Crais, who will stop at nothing to capture his brother’s “murderer”.


Kevin

One of the things I love about this series is how it handles exposition. The very first conversation we’re treated to is Crichton and D.K. talking about the upcoming experiment, and D.K. is gloating about the article that was written about it in Scientific American. It’s an absolutely fantastic way to explain to the audience exactly what’s going on without boring them or treating it like necessary exposition.

(Get a good look at D.K., folks, you won’t see him again for a while.)

The entire series plays like that, for the most part at least, where information is gained through natural and understandable sources. The characters actually ask questions, or they’re explained things that they didn’t know before, and the audience learns along with them. It’s reasonable because, despite what most fantasy and science-fiction authors claim, planets and even whole galaxies are big, really really big, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist but that’s just peanuts et cetera et cetera. It’s impossible for everyone to know everything. The whole of life is a learning experience, and I’m glad that Farscape takes that angle and runs with it as far as they can.

Crichton gets launched, the experiment begins, and right away things get interesting.

Let’s talk about the actual Farscape experiment for a moment, shall we? The experiment is based upon common knowledge that gravitational pull of a planet or similar body can be used to achieve a slingshot effect, granting sufficient velocity to achieve an escape trajectory. John Crichton proposed a way to take that even further; entering a planet’s atmosphere to gain even greater gravitational momentum, in an effort to slingshot away at tremendous speeds. What was this going to accomplish? Spaceflight, faster than mere engines can produce in a short amount of time, to go further than humans have ever gone. Keep that in mind for later on.

Farscape One hits a wormhole opening in Earth’s atmosphere, and gets sucked away. If you pay attention, you can see John’s father and best friend “realize” that he’s dead.

It’s the standard for this show, not the exception, that a lot of the characters have amazing “face acting”. When John pops out of the wormhole in the asteroid field, you can see that he’s a bit concussed from the ride. He’s slurring his words a bit, and he’s having trouble focusing on what’s in front of him, at least immediately.

The face acting continues when he gets pulled aboard Moya; you can see him just marvelling at the interior before he realizes – almost too late – that he should put out the landing gear. Even Rygel and Pilot have amazing face acting – even more pronounced considering they’re complete puppets, not Rubber Forehead Aliens.

(It’s actually a measure of how well the Henson company knows their puppetry when Rygel is probably one of the most expressive characters on the show. Then again, they’ve had decades to perfect their art.)

One other thing I want to point out is the design of the ships and interior sets. The Farscape Module is very American Space Shuttle in coloration and design, albeit on a much smaller scale. Peacekeeper vessels are pointy, angular, and usually marked in deep blacks and sharp reds. Moya is very warm and relaxing, with her smooth curves and earthy browns and oranges, a trait shared with most other Leviathans. Every detail is extremely well-designed to evoke emotional states.

Finally, remember the point of the Farscape Project? Overcoming atmospheric resistance to produce greater gravitational slingshot effects? This is where it comes in. Moya is outrunning Crais’s command carrier, and John convinces them to dip down into the atmosphere of the “commerce planet”. (Even Farscape falls into the Lucas-vision at times – that of “theme planets“.)


Noel

What strikes me most about this pilot is just how generic it is. John Carter of Mars. Flash Gordon. Buck Rogers. Science fiction is filled with classic examples of a square-jawed American zapped out of his everyday existence and dropped into an alien world of fantastical creatures and sights. This is no exception. Now, those who know the series are aware that it will eventually come to defy the trope of the white man going native and becoming a superheroic presence that completely reworks the society he adopts, but they don’t yet give us a sense of that direction. There’s the above quote about him being a hero. There’s the alien running up against a wall of set ways to whom he tells “You can be more.” There’s the big climax where he miraculously saves the day thanks to a repeat of the very experiment that got him into this mess in the first place. Hell, there’s even the complex biomechanical organism that he repairs with a simple strip of good ol’ fashioned human electrical tape.

And then there’s the broader cast. While the costumes, makeup, and puppeteering are magnificently executed, none of the outcasts aboard the organic prison ship Moya feel anywhere near as alien as they look. D’Argo is the bearded, pierced, tattooed barbarian thug who spends his time polishing a blade when not picking fights or delivering a blunt tongue lashing (literally!). Zhaan is the elegant and wise “pagan” priestess who only resorts to quiet prayers when all other conceivable courses of action have been exhausted, and casts a playful smirk when people make mention of her sect’s sexual practices. Rygel is the bloated, entitled aristocrat whose respect of the rabble and their possessions is dependant entirely upon how useful they are to him. Pilot is the over-the-phone tech support who gets increasingly frustrated as people keep breaking the things he’s trying to guide them through repairing. Aeryn is the soldier; the badass who takes delight in following the rules of a supreme force; the fighter introduced as she drops our hero to the floor with a super groin straddle attack. Hell, even the villain Crais fits the Grand Moff Tarkin mold: a purebred in a crisp uniform leading a ship filled with purebreds in crisp uniforms as they constantly go against a rigid set of laws so as to enforce the authority of that rigid set of laws.

Yes, it’s all very well written and cast and directed and designed, but it’s still a very comfortable set of conventions and doesn’t push the utter alieness of everything nearly enough. However, there are two very good reasons for this. 1) For those who know Farscape, take a moment to think about all the disgusting, challenging, ballsy things they do in the years following. Got the image? Good. Now imagine pitching that show to network heads in an era when Farscape itself still didn’t exist. 2) Repeat all of “1”, but replace the network heads with the home audience. Sure, there are people who would have immediately clicked with the show were it to start where it eventually went, but it always had a struggle with the ratings and instantly hitting people with the Epic Weird would not help that.

To sum up, it’s a largely by-the-numbers pilot, but that’s because it needed to be. I don’t know if the show was meant to go the way it eventually did or if the creators just found their way down that road as it went along, but this is where it had to start, for better or for worse.

Now that I’ve got that epic lecture out of the way (sorry!), I need to take a moment to slightly disagree with Kevin. He’s right that this show does have an amazing way with exposition that lets us follow these characters as they casually tumble from weirdness to weirdness, but there’s some forced groaners in there. Exchanges like the one Kevin mentioned with D.K. and Scientific American or the “hero” quote roll out of their performers in ways that can’t hide their forced artificiality, as does

“She is a Leviathan! It is the single defensive maneuver that she is capable of!”

or

“Peacekeeper? You’re one of the ones out there attacking the ship.”

or

“Compassion? What is compassion?”

or

“It is my duty, my breeding. Since birth, it’s what I am.”

But I’ll admit that these are more glaring exceptions than the general rule. The scene where John first stumbles upon the command deck of Moya as she and her inhabitants are in the midst of a violent escape does a marvelous job of quickly laying out the situation and people involved. And then there’s a great conversation between D’Argo and Zhaan that not only firmly establishes their backstory and reminds me that D’Argo is still supposedly an adolescent, but sets up a surprisingly hot bit of flirting between the two. And then the meeting of John and Aeryn. Have I mentioned the super groin straddle attack?

Damn. Looking back over this wall of writing, I’ve come down a lot more on the negative than I meant to. It’s conventional, it has some stiff writing shortcuts, Zhaan’s skin isn’t nearly as sexily detailed as it will be down the road, but it’s still good. Really good. Really really good. It plays the notes so well that it’s a rare cover that reinvents the old tune for the new age. The characters don’t magically get along, with everybody already working their own angles against the broader group. The sets are colorful and textured and alive. The costumes and makeup instantly set the characters without feeling artificial. The extensive CGI is used just right and, over a decade later, still holds up astonishingly well. The music Weston mentioned is a wonder to behold. And there’s so many great little things. Our first glimpse of Moya. Rygel’s emissions. Naked Zhaan and John (the first of many times). Aeryn’s reaction as tables turn against her. Collar-bone piercings. The bug on the windshield. “It’s time for us to eat.” John holding the gun backwards. What looks to be that quadrant’s version of a spork. Have I mentioned the super groin straddle attack?

And the best moment sees our human hero on a grungy, back alley world covered with grime and pollution and poverty and criminals and likely more than a few diseases … and all he can do is gape in wonder.

“I’m on another planet.”


Weston

One of the first things that always hits me about this series is the alien-ness of the languages. Maybe it’s because they won’t have to deal with actual languages for the rest of the season, but for those first introductory moments, you’ve got two very strange aliens babbling at each other in two languages that you’ll never be able to reproduce, much less understand. Until you rewatch it, that is. Then you may catch “Moya” in the mess.

The music starts off weird and alien, most notably during the shuttle liftoff. It’s… odd, probably foreshadowing, that the weird alien music plays during an event that tends to be set to something more evocative of awe and wonder. This music leads into the opening credits, a tune that’s definitely different without John’s voiceover, and one that you’ll be getting used to over nearly fifty episodes. From there, the music over the opening action sequence takes a cue from Lexx – heavy guitars and amps. It’s less impressive.

I love how none of the characters has any previous (knowing) interaction with another, with one exception in Rygel. The way these characters interact when they’re in a group versus paired off with another introduces them to the watcher as much as each other, and reveals right off the bat the depth of their characterization. D’argo is aggressive but young. Zhaan is harsh but seductive. Aeryn is… well, Aeryn. Rygel is obviously duplicitous, and he has many layers thereof. Crais is two kinds of crazy. And Crichton… man, he’s all wide eyes and curiosity.

It’s so much fun looking forward to his development. >:D

Get used to some of the external CGI. The extreme close up of the Command Carrier, the prowler leaving the hangar for the planet, the Moya flybys. That’s par for the course with this kind of series, but a nit to pick at. Especially when you see one in season four.

Crichton’s attempts to bring Earth culture to the ass end of the universe hits repeated stumbling blocks from day one – a lack of common reference points completely shuts him down.

The big dramatic moment at the episode’s climax is kinda cheesy, but still neat in how it demonstrates John’s greatest strength. His technical aptitude is pretty amazing, but his lack of familiarity with the technology level he’s stranded in is a significant weakness.

“And there’s life out here, Dad. Weird, amazing, psychotic life.”


Adam

One thing I like about this episode is the interplay between Crichton and his dad. The relationship between the two is shown in a very short amount of time, but you get a good sense for both of them in that short period. The dialogue in general for this one is very good, with enough exposition to the general idea without bogging down. Crichton’s dad seems concerned and proud at the same time, and it adds a lot to the first episode to have them talk like this.

The puppetry and animatronics in this episode are especially good, especially the DRDs. It’s amazing how much personality the little guys can have, especially without any real “face” to speak of. All of the puppets are superb, with Rygel and the zergy merchant on the Commerce planet. I think the best things about Rygel are his eyebrows, they remind me of a very old, very pompous old man. Pilot also has a very interesting design, well suited to his role on the ship.

One thing I’d like to touch on is the costume design for the Peacekeeper forces. Lots of leather, buckles, and metal plates on these uniforms, it’s almost fetish gear in some ways. The helmets on the rank-and-file troops are especially silly, with semi-opaque visors that look like they’d serve as more of a hazard in a firefight than any protection. Someone at Peacekeeper HQ needs to read the Evil Overlord list, if only to save themselves embarrassment. The other costume work is pretty interesting, especially D’Argos outfit. Lots of reds, with a low front to show off his tattoos and the hoops that are pierced through his collarbone (ouch!). Zhaan’s blue outfit is a good contrast, with Crichton’s beige outfit striking a bit of a balancing point between them.

Definitely a strong first episode which sets up future plot points. I’ll be interested in seeing how Crais and Crichton develop as the series continues.


Prelude || Episode [1.02]: I, E.T.

« Previous post

9 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. CantStrafeRight

     /  July 15, 2010

    I wish I knew you guys were doing this a month ago because I just re-watched seasons 1-4 over the past few weeks and I’m just about to watch the Peacekeeper Wars.

    Reply
  2. Weston

     /  July 16, 2010

    Don’t. Peacekeeper Wars only ends in tears. Tears drawn not from the plot itself, but from how much BETTER it could have been as a whole fifth season.

    (getting ahead of himself)

    Reply
  3. CantStrafeRight

     /  July 16, 2010

    Its kind of interesting going into Peacekeepar Wars with seasons 1-4 fresh in my mind, because the first time I saw Peacekeeper Wars it was about 3 years after I had last seen the show, and certain characters I didn’t remember and others got merged into one character in my mind.

    Anyway I’ve subscribed to the RSS feed here, and I’ll share my opinions in the comments for the episodes that I really liked/had problems with. As I said I wish I knew this was happening because I had tried to get my friends to watch the show with me, but none were interested so I just speed through the show myself.

    Reply
    • Sorry about that. This site pulled together pretty quickly so we didn’t have much of a chance to spread the word. Not to mention that, for the most part, we’re just humble fans without a wide web presence. 🙂

      Thanks for the subscription, CantStrafeRight. It’ll be great to hear your thoughts.

      Reply
    • Glad to have you aboard! Like Noel said, this came together pretty fast – within a couple days of the concept, actually.

      Reply
  4. Susie

     /  August 16, 2011

    I just followed a link to your site and am happy to be here! I stumbled onto Farscape in a hotel that had the SciFi channel. “Nerve” was the first episode I saw. I had no clue what was going on, – why were the “Peacekeepers” anything but peaceful? How did Crichton get mixed up with all these aliens? Who or what was Chiana? But I was immediately hooked and wasted no time upgrading our cable when I got home to get the show. I’m so glad people are still interested in it! I didn’t see the first season in order, but I really enjoyed when I got to catch “Premiere” and saw how it all started. One of my favorite lines from this episode: Crichton: “Don’t move! Or I’ll fill you full of.. (looks at pulse pistol)…little yellow bolts of light!”

    Reply
  5. Hello there! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from
    an established blog. Is it hard to set up your
    own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things
    out pretty quick. I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not sure where
    to start. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? With thanks

    Reply
  6. Iraqi critics say security firms act with little bother to check their references and then find a contractor, you
    will not be the instance of an area provide which has gone essentially unnoticed.
    Association often suggests integrity:There are two kinds
    of correctly rivet and weld a provide metal building together.
    Don’t bother to look then you will probably also feel much
    more if overtime and weekend work to the temporary worker, employed by a professional concrete contractor Chicago.

    Reply

Leave a Reply