Doctor Who 7.3 – A Town Called Mercy

At the end of last year, we watched all of The Mandalorian, enjoying it thoroughly. I gave our son a crash course in what spaghetti westerns were, so he could understand that it worked for us grownups on a slightly different level than him, and I was glad to see that he retained it. Tonight, the grownups briefly commiserated about what a disappointing story this is, but to its credit, it looks completely amazing. I told the kid that it was shot in Spain, where various studios keep standing “small desert town” backlots for filming. “So it’s a spaghetti western!” he said, and I was pleased that he remembered that. On the other hand, he didn’t recognize guest star Ben Browder despite watching thirty-odd episodes of Farscape. Of course, he disliked most of them. He loved this to pieces at least. Shame they haven’t made a Gunslinger action figure to help out his Doctors deal with their enemies on his bedroom floor.

Farscape 2.11-13 – Look at the Princess (parts one-three)

So midway through its second season, Farscape had a big, complex epic storyline about court intrigue on an advanced planet with very fragile relations with powerful neighbors in its part of the cosmos. It is the sort of precarious situation that this gang of misfits is certain to make worse, and do they ever. “Look at the Princess” is tremendously fun, piling one completely bizarre complication on top of each other, while depicting one of the most truly alien civilizations we’ve ever run into. This gang may look like us, but they’ve used their tech to come up with downright wild and outre solutions to the problems of ensuring peaceful dynastic succession.

Along the way, we get involved with double agents and triple agents and brutal solutions to internal politics, acid baths and old enemies. Our son was pleased by the acid bath and far less pleased with the return of Wayne Pygram as Scorpius. Unfortunately, a big brawl in the acid bath room, where Scorpius, D’Argo, and John join forces to take down a big mean alien agent with disintegration breath, was literally the only thing in these three hours that our son enjoyed, but I thought the whole thing was great.

It certainly wasn’t flawless – I think I’d have preferred it if they just gave Virginia Hey a couple of weeks vacation rather than distract from the court intrigue with her storyline, which doesn’t really go anywhere – and the alien city suffers from what I call “the Peladon problem” after a planet used a couple of times in Doctor Who. It never gels as a genuine environment, with no sense of spatial continuity between the rooms and gardens that we see. But it’s still a very, very good story, and a fine point to end on.

This is our blog’s last trip to the world of Farscape, although I certainly plan to continue with the show myself. The kid just simply does not enjoy this show anywhere as much as I hoped, although he has had a ball with some of the sillier installments. Reading ahead, it seems like the show takes a much more adult edge from about this point forward, so this is a good place to retire things. For the old romantics in the audience, I think I ended on a beautifully high note. John and Aeryn use an odd little “compatibility” drink that the civilization uses to quietly acknowledge to the audience – although not to each other – that they really can make things work as a couple if they can just stop being stupid to each other. Claudia Black smiled and my heart melted, and the kid missed it, because their testing smooch had him hiding under a blanket.

Farscape 2.9 – Out of Their Minds

“You are mentally damaged.”

So the bodyswap episode is as old as the hills, but sometimes the classics work. This one’s completely hilarious, and we all laughed all the way through it. So naturally I choose to illustrate it with a picture of Zhaan and one of the alien baddies, who don’t get bodyswapped.

The kid absolutely hated the first three we watched this season and really loved the next three. Good. I was starting to worry.

Farscape 2.8 – Dream a Little Dream

I’m afraid I confused the heck out of our son with this one. Reading ahead, I decided to skip episode seven because it seems really unpleasant, and read that episode eight had an interesting backstory. Apparently, this was one of the very first ideas that Rockne S. O’Bannon proposed for the series: a planet of lawyers, run by competing law firms instead of political parties. About 90% of the population are lawyers, and everybody else stuck in menial, subservient roles with very few rights. I enjoyed it. Litigara feels like one of those weird planets that Dredd would have visited in The Judge Child Quest in the early eighties.

This was originally intended as a story in season one, but it was held back and then filmed as the second season premiere, an adventure that half the cast would have while the others were still out in space. Season one ended on a cliffhanger, and then season two would start with this story before circling back to reveal that John, D’Argo, and Aeryn were still alive in the second hour. Happily, wiser heads prevailed and this was repurposed as a flashback story a couple of months later instead.

But I made the mistake of telling our son this two weeks ago, and I think one of the reasons he was so unimpressed with “Vitas Mortis” is that he misunderstood me, and thought that story was the one that was skipped, and he spent the hour trying to figure out how it could possibly take place before their rescue. I’m sure this isn’t the only time that a TV show has held on to an episode for several weeks and run it as a flashback. Hopefully, the next time he runs into it, he won’t have some clueless old man confusing the issue.

Farscape 2.6 – Picture If You Will

Thank heaven for this. The last three episodes of Farscape we watched went over like lead balloons with our kid, but this one’s terrific. I probably enjoyed it more than any other installment so far, in fact. It’s a follow-up to “That Old Black Magic” in season one and is about an indestructible painting that shows you your future before it eats you. It reminded me of Sapphire and Steel and Jumanji. I also really loved a bit where Zhaan gives Aeryn a very surprising command and Aeryn doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t pause, doesn’t flinch, just straight up does it. Of course, the kid was happy because it was a more easily-defined story with good guys and a clear threat, without this show’s frequent sense of pain or suffering. Nothing visceral, just a creepy and inventive episode with several entertaining surprises.

Farscape 2.5 – The Way We Weren’t

I asked our son “Is that three in a row?” He just growled and sighed, “three in a row.” He’s really not enjoying this run of episodes, and as we commiserated and reminded him that the Farscape universe really is a tough, mean universe, he said that the only place in the Farscape universe he’d ever like to be is Earth. Marie reminded him that the beach planet seemed like a nice place, far away from Peacekeepers, but he wasn’t sold.

This episode is a partial flashback to Aeryn’s days as a Peacekeeper, and everybody coming to terms with atrocities that she committed while she was one. I think Teal’c in Stargate probably racked up a bigger body count when he was a baddie, but his friends on Earth didn’t spend the many years imprisoned and tortured that more than half this cast did. So there’s a lot of angst and forgiveness and of course the kid didn’t like it much. Aeryn and John spend the last several seconds of the episode just looking at each other silently and my heart just about melted, but the kid’s certainly didn’t.

Farscape 2.3 – Taking the Stone

The main plot of this story isn’t just tonally wrong, it’s tonally blockheaded. Chiana gets word that her brother, who was in a clan / gang / cult, has died, and so she goes to join them, and John gets really self-righteous about talking her out of it, and eventually he does. Everybody’s annoying in this one.

The comedy B-plot is far more entertaining. Rygel decides to do some grave robbing since the clan hangs out on a cemetery planet, and brings a cursed item back on the ship. Probably couldn’t stretch that to fifty minutes, but we laughed twice during his story, which was the only satisfaction we got from any of it.

We’re going to skip the next episode; it seems incredibly unpleasant.

Farscape 2.2 – Vitas Mortis

And now back to March 2000 as we resume the second season of Farscape. I’m not going in quite as blind as I was before; it was clear that I enjoy this show more than everybody else already, but even I’m not in a hurry to run into any more squicky, gross, body horror episodes like we saw in the previous season’s “DNA Mad Scientist”, so I’ve cut episode seven from this run as I’m reading ahead.

Also, my good pal and reg’lar reader Matt cautioned me there’s a kid-unfriendly sex scene at some point. Found it in episode eleven and it is a bit much; the boy’s eyes’ll be covered for that, thanks.

But despite a few fun moments with Chiana getting her legs caught in frozen washing fluid and Rygel getting his rear jammed in a hull breach, our son didn’t enjoy this story at all. He went on to explain that despite some comedy and explosions, the tone of the show really bothers him. It’s not that it’s dark, it’s that our heroes keep losing. Every time they think they’ve found something good – D’Argo thinks he’s found a new lover, the first of his species that he has even seen in many years – they not only lose that, but they lose something else as well. I think it’s just splendid, but I certainly understand his point. I’ll have to bear that in mind as we go on, and possibly make some adjustments if necessary.

Farscape 2.1 – Mind the Baby

Well, that was just tremendously entertaining and fun. I really like how this story ends with very little resolved in our heroes’ favor, and more problems than they started with. Scorpius has taken over the role of the ruthless lieutenant obsessed with Crichton’s capture, and Crais is now a wild card, flying around in the newborn Leviathan ship. There are so many great moments and character beats throughout. I enjoyed it hugely, and our son went on some endless rant about how this five-parter totally blew his mind and made him feel like… I dunno, he started yammering about infinite armor and explosions, and I quit listening, but I’m pretty sure he liked it.

Overall, this has been a pretty solid success with me so far. There were admittedly some really weak episodes in season one, but I like the characters a lot and the more intricate storytelling of this longer story that introduced Scorpius shows what they could do when they got away from the Trek-lite approach of telling one-and-done stories about this strange planet or that with basic adventure TV plotting. I frequently didn’t know where this was going, and while it didn’t honestly surprise me a huge amount, I can bet that it well in the future.

That’s all from Farscape for now. We’ll put it back on the shelf to keep things fresh and resume season two in late November. Stay tuned!

Farscape 1.22 – Family Ties

As I’ve mentioned in a few recent posts, we’ve been talking about multi-part stories up front instead of surprising our son with cliffhangers. What seems to be part four of five – and the finale of the first season – ends with a completely splendid one. Our heroes are backed into a corner, and Scorpius is closing in, and they’ve risked everything on their one way out, and it all falls apart on them. It’s wonderful! I’d have loved/hated having to wait three months for the next episode. The kid’ll just have to wait six hours; he can stand it.

Probably because this was made before they knew for sure they were coming back for a second year, just about everybody who might be dying on this possibly-suicide mission gets a farewell scene with another character. I loved the way it acts like it’s building up to John and Aeryn sharing a big final moment, only to have them briefly say “I wasn’t going to say goodbye.” “Neither was I.” Aw, my heart melted. Hope it ends brilliantly.