Mollusk's Farscape Makes Me Think Pages

Opinions: Farscape is a really good show

The basic material for the plots of most Farscape episodes is actually pretty tired stuff that most will have seen before. Just check out the Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Cliches for examples of typical material. But being presented with energy and skill makes the drama compelling. Each episode has some remarkable performances that draw the viewer in, and the way the story builds as each episode introduces new elements to the characters and their setting is rewarding without being purile like most daytime television "operas".

This is kind of a stretch, but watching episodes of Farscape I find myself reminded of a production of Long Day's Journey Into Night that I saw in London starring Jack Lemmon. The tendency for directors working with that play is to build up to the climactic moments and use them for all they are worth, but for this production the director avoided that and instead gave the piece an intense, driving, nonstop, manic energy that continued to build through each of the major confrontations and at the conclusion left the audience astounded, having been completely caught up in the action on stage. Farscape is similarly differentiated from other made for television dramas, particularly other works of speculative fiction, in that the pacing and the strength of the performances maintain a level far above what most slow moving shows focussed on their few dramatic moments can provide.

High quality of production

The look of the show is well developed with a combination of excellent effects scenes, unusually creative alien evocations, and well captured scenes. The effort spent on the basics are particularly rewarding as the lighting, the camera work, the direction, and the pacing all contribute each episode. There is so much of floodlit, plodding, faceshots on television that the superior filming of Farscape stands out.

Notable performances

Having been a fan of speculative fiction for a long time, I've been exposed to a lot of incredibly bad acting. Not only can I watch Farscape with confidence that I won't have to watch wretched beginners nearly looking at the camera when they shouldn't and flubbing their lines, but every episode has at least one part that stands out as a particularly well handled dramatic performance that I bring up later and think about and talk about.

Sophisticated situations and development

One of the features of the setting of Farscape that is most appealling to me is the level of complexity of the world where the action takes place. There are a range of alien races and cultures balanced against each other, some allies, others enemies. And most interesting of all is that each part of the setting that gets enough attention for a relatively detailed examination turns out to be more complex than one might guess at first. For example, the Peacekeepers are fearsome, but rogue commanders checker their history, and many of their actions seem to produce far more chaos than peace.

Opinions: Bad science is a distraction


Fanciful elements can spice up otherwise dull or monotonic moments, and can provide foreshadowing for later drama. But it is easy to go too far and bridge to the merely annoying. Just look at the agonized looks on the faces of these two actors. Sure, it is possible they are both just getting into their roles during scene that depicts a situation trying to their characters, but I'd dare be so bold as to suggest that they are experiencing an unfortunate low moment where the pseodoscience supporting the action goes bad and actually causes the actors physical pain. Yow!

The Peacekeeper tech woman explains to Crichton that the two paddles will become attracted to each other, but must not touch since that would cause an explosion. An engineer would find any number of ways to use the materials shown on the set to keep the paddles apart without putting crewmates at direct risk, so this seems a situation where the writers went off on a limb to set up a tense moment that the episode might have been better off without. Moreover, this episode comes dangerously close to being just plain trite as it is, and as such this business of paddles and strong attractions astride the heated moments goes a bit too far for me. As always, your own mileage may vary.

Another low point of Farscape pseudoscience was the Hynerian farting helium in the first episode. Anyone with basic knowledge of chemistry or World War Two history should know that Helium is an extremely valueable inert material that is mined because it isn't easily produced with ordinary chemistry. It was only recently that the strategic Helium mine used during WWII was shut down. If having voices rise as Hynerian farts filled the air were important, then possibly some other light gas could be used, but again there are some basic problems with the Hynerian being very small, relative gas densities being hard to directly manipulate, and some form of generally effective air treatment and circulation system functioning on board Moya. Any way it's sliced the Helium farts amount to some astonishingly bad physics that totally wrecked my suspension of disbelief. I challenge anyone in a room with functioning HVAC to use even a tank of compressed gass to get the same effect. Better yet not because of the risk of suffocation...whatever.

But more distressing are problems introduced into the setting of the series through apparent oversights. In particular, the Peacekeepers are an extemely advanced space faring, combat oriented civilization that hasn't developed technologies for personal cooling. The way they are presented to the audience leads us to suspect that liquid cooled underwear could revolutionize the capacities of Peacekeeper forces, but the fact that they have tamed far away planets and continually traverse the depths of space leads me to think that they must already have at least some form of temperature controlled protective suit.

Most unfortunate for the series are the problems with the setup. While it might be interesting to speculate that the energies involved with a particular type of slingshot could in some circumstances create a wormhole, there are some basic errors in how the setup is presented. Most distracting to me was the appearance of a solar flare and radiation wave from out of nowhere. Because solar flares and radiation waves in space are extremely interesting, not to mention known to be dangerous, there are lots of instruments and systems for watching for them. When events like this happen near the Earth there is often quite a bit of warning. There doesn't seem to be a good reason to have leaned so heavily on the idea that the unusual conditions needed for the wormhole to form happened suddenly without being noticed. It is the nature of spaceflight that because of communication glitches and momentum that the experiment might have gone ahead despite knowledge of such events, and this might even provide more intense drama through foreshadowing.

In any case, just because Carl Sagan is dead doesn't mean there aren't scientists around that folks can talk this sort of thing over with before writing it into otherwise professionally prepared work. Filmmakers shouldn't feel they are burdened to accurately duplicate all the details of life on the screen, but avoiding gross errors in core subject material can be worth the significant effort involved. Have doubts? Go ask some scientists! Seriously! Not to castigate Farscape too much--they clearly all try hard to avoid this kind of problem and for the most part do. It's difficult to present a complex, speculative situation without leaning heavily on the willingness of the audience to suspend disbelief.

Opinions: Count the gay people


There aren't any. The closest Farscape comes to having one, as I see it, is the scavanger from the The Flax episode. This character helps save Aeryn and Crichton from the Flax, and offers to transport D'Argo to a Luxan ship also caught in the Flax, and even engages briefly Rygel in a gambling game. But apart from being helpful this character is also the butt of jokes: She appears to be basically masculine and acts a fairly masculine role, but when her pants are dropped so that her pirate tatoos can be seen her genital configuration is found to be not only nonstandard, but mysterious.

This is a kind of initial danger sign. Although research tells us that human genital variations such as hemaphroditism are much less rare than is commonly accepted, the possibility of unusual genital configurations continues to be a big draw for alien creatures in speculative fiction.

Then as the last act of this scavanger's appearance on Farscape, she asks D'Argo to accompany her indefinately. Comic relief is all well and good, but I came away from that scene with a feeling that a situation had been set up specifically to make an undesired advance from a sexually nonconforming person into a joke. At least it wasn't the depths I've grown used to where such things are used as an excuse for violence, but it still wasn't impressive.

Farscape is so good that it is hard to fault it for failing to get beyond one of the most common problems with modern speculative fiction: pervasive heterosexism. And yet, this heterosexism gets linked with a kind of elementalism that extrapolates almost every dramatic unfolding from a set of primordial standards. I'm way out on some limbs on this, of course, so go with me on this if you can and then reject this argument after hearing out the reasoning behind it.

Even the insipid drive for the appearance of political correctness that has caused lots of typically white male gay neo-characters to appear briefly on many television programs isn't immune from pervasive heterosexism. These gay characters are almost always plainly tokenized, and rarely contribute anything beyond at best some coloring of the setting and at worst mere irrelevant distraction and annoyance.

There isn't much sign of an agenda here since, hell-pit that is corporate Hollywood aside, those in the theater and the dramatic arts tend to be sympathizers to gay causes. Yes, all those red ribbons are still very much appreciated! The problem is that the society as a whole is heterosexually dominated, so the writers and the producers and the actors are also heterosexually dominated, and so also the pool of dramatic contexts that is most often drawn from is heterosexually dominated as well. Without harboring even remote hostility toward homosexuals it becomes easy to avoid acknowledging us in any way. One production after another is circulated with the usual small fraction of gay energy one would expect. If it isn't possible to hang around the theater without coming across gay people, then why is it that so many dramatic productions avoid integrating gay characters?

Think about this: Toward the end of the David Kemper internet chat just recently, Browder compared the amusing audience asides in Farscape to those in Shakespere. All well and good and quite true and well said of course, but underlying this is the awkward problem that straight people who look to Ye Olde Englishe Dramatique Tomes for their inspiration and guidance limit their capacity to integrate modern homosexual realities into their dramatic performances. There are other parts of the Farscape series that highlight these limitations in a slightly different way, such as D'Argo's interspecies relationship, but those are essentially extrapolations of established, standard heterosexual contexts. Homosexuals remain inaccessible, hidden, and excluded from this vision because the entire production is dominated from the start by heterosexuals focussed on the dramatic potential of their heterosexuality to the exclusion of the rest of reality.

So why not integrate a gay character into the show as a real contributor and not just a showpiece? This suggestion doesn't imply having to force some same sex kiss scene with one of the existing main characters, or have D'Argo lose his wits and fly off with some wierdo garbagewoman. Just make the show more believable and inclusive and less elitist. After all, much of the making of the show happens in Sydney, a place that comes unglued every year for Mardi Gras with all of the homosexual energy that is a part of that. How can folks there continue to cling to the idea that portraying dramatic situations with all that edited out is best, or even reasonable? Realistically, relative to this particular detail, most visions of the future are palsied, an unfortunately Farscape is no exception. I just hope we don't have to deal with some isolated gay themed episode that visits the issue ever so briefly, and then flees as if to reenforce the untouchability of this everyday yet still controversial material.

Why is this so important? We are and will continue to be, if anything increasingly diverse racially, culturally, and also sexually. When some group is consistently missing it shows and makes a statement. This is particuarly true of Star Trek, a show which in terms of moral pose and narrative structure shares much with Farscape. And in Star Trek, even though there is clearly an effort to portray a Federation that is diverse in many ways, there are no gay people. The Federation eliminated through social development poverty and common diseases and...where are the gay people? There just happens to be a vast blind spot right where I and my kind stand, and an accompanying implication that we shouldn't exist and the universe would be better off without out us. Even though homosexuals like me have more to gain from an enlightened future than anyone, we're excluded from these visions because no one has the guts or the capacity to see past this blind spot and really integrate us into mainstream dramatic works.

In going on and on I've made this yet another call for gay liberation dominated piece, but the real point is that there should be normalization. Gay issues shouldn't matter. I'm really more curious about what Moya eats. And I'd like to see Crichton home.

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