Farscape: “Back and Back and Back to the Future”

11/29/2011 § Leave a comment

Season 1, Episode 5. Writer: Babs Greyhosky. Director: Rowan Woods. Rating: B-.

I keep saying that Farscape is going to get pretty far out there: perhaps I’m suffering from the case of temporal dislocation that Crichton comes down with in this episode, after rescuing a disintegrating shuttle and being exposed to the runoff from a quantum singularity (i.e., a weaponized black hole). Yes, that’s right: it’s the oldest science-fiction staple in the book: the time-travel episode. The twist is that Crichton is being propelled forward in time, instead of back,  but the effect is one we’ve seen before: it’s basically Groundhog Day for our hero, who must convince a smitten D’Argo and skeptical Ilanic scientist, Verell (John Clayton), that his shipmate, Matala (Lisa Hensley), is actually a Scorvian spy with some really good genetic surgery.

The first few flashforwards are artfully done, as disorienting to us as they are to Crichton, as he keeps finds himself being raped by Matala, who arches her tongue, pins him to the wall by his throat, and then prepares to absorb his essence, bellybutton first. It’s enough to make him wonder if this particular species’ power revolves around having a “psychic Spanish fly,” although a jealous D’Argo swiftly disabuses him of this unwanted fantasy. But as he begins to catch up with some of his other flashes, deja vu style, he realizes that he’s not hallucinating: he’s seeing the future. Experiencing it, to be exact, although he just keeps making it worse, first getting himself killed, then D’Argo as well, and finally Moya itself, in one wonderful black-hole fueled implosion.

Unlike Steven Moffet’s writing on Doctor Who, however, Babs Greyhosky’s writing lacks a consistency to the “laws” of this so-called time travel. Things happen because they’re convenient or fun to watch: it’s unlike that an undercover Matala would ever risk exposure by attempting to “pleasure” Crichton, and it’s odd that Crichton keeps snapping forward into moments of peril, sometimes even two or three times in a row. It makes telling the story more dramatic, since we keep upping the stakes, but we can see all the cheating going on behind the scenes, which makes it all feel unearned. And given all that, Crichton’s not even the one who saves the day: it’s a fatally injured Verell, triggering a dead man’s switch that releases the quantum singularity as Matala tries to steal it. (Not a bright idea on her part, leaving the safety controls behind.)

It’s fine to fill an episode with witty, quotable lines, but the plotting should never be so apparent. Likewise with the direction: Rowan Woods is so eager to find the right framing for an overhead shot that he makes a “workout” (read: fight) between the two alpha females, Aeryn and Matala, appear incredibly staged. This poor fight choreography extends to the climax, in which Matala holds Verell hostage, instructing D’Argo to slide his Qualta blade over to her. Instead, he slides it into a crevice between two crates in the docking bay, which makes no sense: if you’re going to disobey, why do it in such a way that you’re still disarmed? The answer is that Woods needs for Crichton to go scrambling for the blade, and that it would look cool if D’Argo were to flip the crates out of the way: I get that there has to be a climax, but does it have to be so telegraphed?

These complaints aside, it’s still fun to see time-travel in action, and this D’Argo-centric episode does well to flesh out his character: “I am normally unaffected by females in a crisis,” says D’Argo, “but it has been so long.” That’s the closest to an apology you’ll get out of a proud Luxan warrior; chances are, we’ll learn what D’Argo’s true crime was — which is hinted at in this episode — long before we hear him do so again. I only wish the episode has managed to find a more integral part for Zhaan and Rygel; they’re good for more than exposition and comedy.

Random Observations: 

  • Zhaan: “He says he’s experiencing the future.”
    Aeryn: “The future? He can barely function in the present.”
  • Rygel, determined not to share his rations with the Ilanics, goes on a food binge: “Very difficult to start once you get started.” Consider that the Hynerian version of licking one’s food to claim it.
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