Friday, February 11, 2011

Farscape S1 Ep6: Thank God It's Friday, Again

Thank God It's Friday Again indeed! This entry screamed for release on a friday. It's an unintentional FARSCAPE FRIDAY!








This episode is a real pisser too!
Following the impressive Episode 5, Back And Back And Back To The Future [literally over and over and over for John Crichton], Farscape appears to be picking up steam in its Season One debut with some unexpected ideas and less conventional storylines. Farscape, Season One, Episode 6, Thank God It's Friday, Again, feels like a bit of a step back or set back and easily receives the dubious distinction of the weakest episode entry of Farscape Season One.

The latest dysfunctional tale opens with Luxan Ka D'Argo in the midst of a Luxan hyper-rage. His rage directs anger toward males in particular. In his rager, D'Argo heads to the planet below. The others pursue him in the hopes he's had time to cool off. On arrival, Crichton, in typically humorous form, references his own pop culture to describe the planet, "I think I've seen this one. Mel Gibson. Tina Turner. Cage match. Oh, don't worry, nobody saw a third one anyway."

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This debate goes on ad nauseum, I know, but I beg to differ with our dear hero John Crichton regarding his reference to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. I'm not sorry, and I know Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is the much maligned third film in the Mad Max trilogy, but I would argue, and have, that it deserves better. I also know I'm in the minority in defense of the film, despite the fact everyone clamors for a fourth film. Mad Max will be forever linked to Mel Gibson in that titular role. Anything else will never be the same for me. It's also not lost on me that I am arguing with a fictional character named John Crichton. Anyway, I bring up the point because John Crichton slanders the film in his own way and quite frankly partakes in the party line on the general opinion of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. I'm here to stand by the fact I still find the film to be a strong, balanced, visual masterpiece, a genuine epic. For a wonderful take on the film and the commentary from detractors and advocates that ensued his write-up be sure to check out John Kenneth Muir's Reflections On Film/TV. Okay, brief side discussion concluded, but do you see how Farscape plays with us? It may be all over the map of pop culture and human nature, but it's always sure to have you thinking, guessing and entertained.

John Crichton, Aeryn Sun, Zhaan and Rygel look for their missing comrade D'Argo. The planet is home to the Sykarans, a colorful lot covered in red chalk. The locals seem happy enough, filled with drink, dance, music and merriment. Crichton spots D'Argo. D'Argo pounces on Crichton who strikes D'Argo in self-defense, thinking his crewmate angry, only to find D'Argo inebriated. He laughs overcome by the sight of Crichton. All is not what it seems in the latest planetside adventure.

Sun surmises D'Argo has been laboring and inquires why their warrior friend would ever do such a thing. Clearly this is illogical to the crew of Moya given their comprehension of the Luxan code. Sun smacks D'Argo on the back willing him to behave like a warrior. D'Argo points out he's been a fugitive and a prisoner longer now than he's been a warrior, suggesting once again that he is young by Luxan standards. D'Argo points out he has purpose on this new planet and with the women around him hanging on his every word it would appear his purpose is to get laid. Crichton suggest he's off to the "promised land," while Sun adds, "yes, and he's left his brain behind." Crichton spots two locals who catch his eye and look more or less sober by comparison to other Sykarans.
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The strange, but beautiful Angie Milliken.
A woman enters the festivities. She is in pure, near virginal white including her hair and face complete with the red eyes of a rabbit. She is an impressive visual juxtaposition to the rest of the population thanks to the amazing make-up team on Farscape. Her name is Volmae and she is played with very deliberate, vocal pacing by Angie Milliken who brings a unique, alien strangeness to the role. She welcomes them to Sykar. She is the leader of the Sykarans. The Delvian priestess Zhaan exchanges an alien hand greeting clearly familiar to Volmae. Rygel extends his own greeting with a BURP. As she speaks in her slow, almost-labored tone, Crichton looks to Sun in a kind of amusement over the arrival of this strange, new bird. I couldn't help but appreciate his reaction to the alienness of the situation once again. This is the hilarious exchange between Crichton and Sun that follows their meeting with Volmae.

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As D'Argo slinks off with a red-faced Sykaran babe, one would think his "it's been a long time" wait suggested in Back And Back And Back To The Future may be coming to a fruitful end as he welcomes the "wonders" of the planet. Crichton is thrust against a wall by a woman who informs him he must stay no matter what happens. Farscape is very physical and it certainly portrays itself this way often. There's an unabashed sexual and non-sexual physicality to the show that is refreshing for science fiction.

Moments later, Rygel is literally at the center of a firestorm. He suggests someone may have tried to assassinate him. Sun accurately points out with perfect comic timing, "Nobody knows you here, it's only people who know you that want to kill you." A small explosion occurred while relieving himself suggesting his helium farts may have been adversely affected by his insatiable appetite for the local food sources. Sun takes Rygel back to Moya. Crichton tells Sun, "just get Spanky back to the ship." Crichton's always colorful nicknames and pop culture references remind me of the character created for Sawyer in Lost, who also had a flair for colorful language.

Crichton and Zhaan find D'Argo. It must be noted that Anthony Simcoe offers an expressive, big personality through all of the signficant prosthetic work and it is a testament to his talent in the role of D'Argo. Crichton and Zhaan want to return D'Argo to Moya. All is clearly not right in Luxan land. His behavior is influenced by something on the planet. Zhaan and Crichton decide to stay the night and this awkward little moment is the sort of thing fans of Farscape, myself included, love.

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Back on Moya, explosions are occurring and Pilot ascertains they are not ship-related. Sun is weaponized and cautious. Sun closes in on Rygel and he is instructed not to move. She swipes a snot sample from his nose and fires her weapon, which creates a small fireball. There is indeed something in the food on Sykar.

Crichton wakes and carefully relocates Zhaan's hand from his crotch. Sun informs Crichton that Rygel's body fluids have turned explosive. Crichton, the scientist, instructs Sun to isolate it, no fluids or foods, which certainly gets the appropriate rise from Rygel the devourer. On the planet, D'Argo and the happy denizens of Sykar head off to work in preparation for a major celebration. When aren't they celebrating?

Once again, the special effects and matte paintings surrounding Sykar are wonderfully realized and depict a truly alien place. In the earthy, red, fields, Crichton follows the young woman he met earlier to a train. He is grabbed by men and pulled inside the train where a worm creature is inserted into the body of Crichton. An older man insists Crichton must eat to stave off the pain. He must also not tell anyone of the worm he carries within or "they will kill him for it."

Crichton is clearly sickened by the thing within. Crichton relents to the pain and begins eating voraciously. In the fields, Zhaan inquires whether or not D'Argo wishes to stay on Sykar forever. She admits decisions can be made swiftly and reveals a bit about her Delvian background. As a former Delvian anarchist she was an imprisoned savage, but quickly sought to be a Delvian sikh. It was then she knew her true path. D'Argo and Zhaan unearth a kind of root crop. Zhaan, too, is falling under the planet's influence.

Meanwhile, on Moya, Rygel is frozen in cryo-stasis.

Elsewhere, on Sykar, Crichton is sick as a dog. The worm within Crichton protects him from the planet's influence. Crichton pleads with Zhaan to return to the ship. Crichton begins to tell Zhaan of his chance encounter, "they did something to me." Zhaan and D'Argo ask what happened, when Crichton realizes he's uncertain if they will harm him given what he knows. Zhaan and D'Argo aren't themselves and he heeds the warning of the Sykaran elder backing off his statement.

At the celebration on the eve before the day of rest, Crichton is met by his newfound friends. The elder assures Crichton it is the worm that protects him by absorbing the toxins from the crop. Crichton asks if they too have worms, but their immunity is natural. They assure Crichton he must act as though he is one of "them" so he can avoid detection. Creepy old Volmae arrives for this nifty little bit of acting as Crichton pretends to be a happy little Sykaran boy. Good stuff.

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His classic bit of pretending is so bad and so appropriately over the top we completely feel for Crichton as the regular guy that he is. His deception is deliciously brilliant.

Meanwhile, back on Moya, Sun must study Rygel in his now inert state. Pilot insists science can be tedious, but that Sun must continue to find the root [pardon the pun] cause of Rygel's dire situation. His life depends on it. Sun is clearly a bright woman, but not a natural scientist, like Crichton. Pilot explains he too has difficulty with "complex sciences." This next sequence says alot about the Henson company's talents in animatronics. Pilot is exceptionally real to us and so filled with emotion. The scene also speaks to his character, Pilot's vulnerabilities as a lifeform and volumes to Lani Tupu's own talent at rendering the voice of Pilot [alongside his role as Commander Bialar Crais], coupled with the amazing special effects work.

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There's also that intriguing moment when Pilot informs Sun he trusts her. Why? It is a revealing moment and will foreshadow a link the two share to be revealed in Season Two. Sun manages to cleanse Rygel of his explosive fluids. She assumes Pilot has aided her in the process of leaching Rygel's bloodstream, but he assures her that it was she that saved Rygel's life. Aeryn Sun is indeed finding she is something "more" as Crichton had suggested in Episode 1, Premiere. This is the kind of drama that really elevates Farscape above the pack. It's truly remarkable just how good this series is out of the gate.
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The always impressive tech of Farscape. There's plenty in the entry. Just look at the level of detail in the hard-to-capture shot above.
On the planet, meanwhile, Crichton informs Sun that things have gotten "complicated" due to the fact Zhaan is now under the spell. Crichton happens upon the cute, little blonde Sykaran tart that landed him his worm guardian. He wants to know how to remove it when he pulls her involuntarily inside the train car. Crichton learns a very important point from the girl. The root crop that is harvested is for another race who returns periodically to collect it. Crichton learns Volmae has a worm too and that the worm is very rare. The Skykarans look to Crichton for hope. They know he has Moya and that he could bring aid to their planet. Crichton is certainly sympathetic to their cause. Crichton wonders how Volmae could let this happen to Sykar. The Sykaran girl indicates she is under orders. Sadly, the planet's resources are being depleted by the harvesting of the root plant. Sykar was once bountiful, like a garden, but land is no longer fertile caross the planet's surface as a result of soil exhaustion. The people of Sykar are completely enslaved.
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Later, Crichton meets with Volmae. She asks Crichton about life in space. Actress Angie Milliken does a nice job walking the fine line of bizarre and mildly sympathetic while the scene is played absent of music. She really gets a nice moment here and again this is why we love Farscape.

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As they walk the camera pans by a symbol of the Peacekeepers, like those found inside Moya in which Sun and Matala did battle in Episode 5, Back And Back And Back To The Future Again. They enter a cargo hold populated by the militant Peacekeeper motifs. Volmae suspects the Tannot root [as it's called] must have value elsewhere. She demands Sun and Rygel return to Sykar immediately. Crichton appears to comply. Volmae desires to load Moya and leave Sykar. Perhaps even Volmae is the victim of imprisonment to a degree.

Speaking of Moya, Sun has saved Rygel's life. He dubs Peacekeepers killers. Sun reminds him, "so don't forget that this Peacekeeper just saved your life." Sun and Rygel return back to Sykar to aid Crichton. Crichton fills Sun in on Volmae's plan to exit Skyar. This is one of those building moments between Sun and Crichton in their ongoing relationship. They pretend happy as they butt heads and it's all unforgettably amusing.

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We love that about their fiery relationship. At the Sykar festivities, Volmae approaches Crichton. Volmae barks a few orders Crichton's way and he makes it clear he's no longer playing the Volmae game. Outside in the street Crichton demands Volmae return D'Argo and Zhaan, but D'Argo refuses to go anyway as a result of the root crop. Crichton gives Rygel the signal.

Rygel, from atop a bridge, proceeds to piss highly explosive bodily fluids on the partygoers below. As piss explodes into fire and rains down upon the Sykarans Crichton explains the Tannot root is fueling Peacekeeper weapons. The planet is enslaved by the Peacekeepers as a fuel source. The little happy plant is essentially mined for killing.

Ultimately, while exploding bodily fluids should pass for weird on Farscape the entry falls short. It's just not entirely successful in selling what was essentially a fairly routine plot as Farscape goes. The conclusion isn't stirring enough to warrant our patience for all that transpired earlier. Additionally, as Crichton reaches out to the people and more importantly his friends with the happy plant explanation and his Peacekeeper enlightenment on the issue, D'Argo and Zhaan appear to shake and supplant their stupor for reason and understanding. This is a problem. There's no explanation for the sobering return to reality. The plant-induced behavior that manifested itself ain their personalities just goes away. Huh? With the final act, all of that is washed away by Crichton's explanation. It defies logic. No matter how much D'Argo hates Peacekeepers or how clever Zhaan truly is, these two characters were drugged hook, line and sinker. They weren't going to pull out of their inebriation simply because Crichton willed it. Without that worm they haven't got a shot. It all flies in the face of the logical framework established within the story. Within mere seconds happy town's music is shutdown and the party comes to a screeching halt. Volmae attempts to regain control, but once again, without warning, the Sykaran people are completely on board with those Sykarans unaffected by the tanoot root. You're left to wonder if you missed a beat? Get it? Beat. Beet. Root crop! Anyone? Bueller?

Crichton' ability to use reason and diplomacy is certainly one of his strengths as he attempts to make sense of this new universe, but his abilities here are almost superhuman. We are simply unwilling to suspend our belief on this one. The Sykaran elder steps forward as a leader. Volmae comes to her senses a little too conveniently and Thank God It's Friday, Again is wrapped up a little too tidily for my taste.

Back on Moya, Sun has removed the worm from Crichton. Crichton asks Rygel "what's up" with Aeryn. He answers, "Oh she thinks she's a scientist now." Sun assures she's no scientist, but that she is however certainly far "superior." Sun and Crichton usher out with a fine bit of character development followed by a lovely exchange between D'Argo and Zhaan.

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It is these small connections made within each installment that fill our cups with satisfaction. There are some fine moments in the entry but the sum is definitely not greater than the parts in this case. Farscape takes steps to bring understanding between the characters despite their innate alien natures to pull away, push away or distrust. These six crew members, seven if you include Moya, ultimately rely on one another and need one another and somehow I believe this co-dependence is sinking in.
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Ben Browder and company give Farscape a real magic.
In the end, Crichton remains the fulcrum or foundation for this group of reluctant travellers. With each episode the characters teach each other something new and despite their differences that their needs are really not that dissimilar. Cricton teaches them here to stick together and never give up on each other. Just like humans, Crichton is complicated. Despite this stories flaws or weaknesses, and it's a great looking episode, the strong ensemble cast once again makes the most of it, because they are so entertaining to watch. The actors are so well cast they surely elevate the material even during the weakest story moments.

Thank God It's Friday, Again: C
Writer: David Wilks
Director: Rowan Woods

Pop Culture Reference: Crichton [referring to D'Argo]: "Woodstock has done something to his head."

6 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hi SFF:

Great write-up of this early Farscape episode. I think you nailed the episode with your assessment of the gorgeous visuals, and good humor, but strong sense that something is a little bit off.

And thank you for the shout-out to my Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome review. I agree with your assessment of that film: it's a pretty strong third installment in the movie franchise (especially the first hour or so); it's unnecessary to criticize it in a way that doesn't make any sense.

Crichton says nobody saw the third Mad Max movie? Huh? It had the big Hollywood release in 1985, and had Tina Turner in it. Everybody saw it...certainly more people than who had seen the original 1979 Mad Max.

Usually, Crichton's pop-culture jokes are dead-on, but this one doesn't even make sense.

I like the sexual hijinks in this episode, and the alien costumes and locales are gorgeous. Rygel peeing explosive green urine is a hoot too. But I agree with you that this isn't one of the better Farscapes.

Interesting, however, that Star Trek ("This Side of Paradise"), Space:1999 ("The Guardian of Piri") and Farscape ("Thank God...") all feature a segment dedicated to the ideas surrounding work, or rather productive work.

In each episode, an outside force exerts authority over our heroes and adjusts their approach to living, working and relaxing. Seen as a kind of homage to "This Side of Paradise" or "The Guardian of Piri," this episode of Farscape works a little better than it may have.

But I agree with your rating. Maybe a C+?

A really great review, and great illustrations to go along (as usual, my friend!)

best,
John Kenneth Muir

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

So finally getting a chance to sit down.

John- thank you so much for the compliments and for the always thoughtful commentary.

I really loved the fact you took my original annoyance and point to its logical conclusion because I really didn't take it there.

That Mad Max comment is pure nonsense from the writers. As comedy, it could be an off hand remark of a man of Earth simply giving his perception of the third film regardless of the facts. We see people do it all the time. So it is the character's opinion even if it's completely wrong and the writers got it all wrong. So thanks for noting that.

As far the production and set design etc.- top of the line as always. It's really something.

I really loved your perspective of the "work ethic" idea as employed in other sci-fi programs. I agree Farscape does a pretty nice job with it and in many way that is what Farscpae does. It deconstructs or offers a new take on old ideas. It's refreshing really.

In factm once again brother you have read my mind. I was leaning toward C+. Especially notweworthy is the Pilot and Sun exchange. A+ material really. Also the bedroom moment between Crichton and Zhaan is terrific. So yes those moments have a great quality to them. I'd have to go with the C+. Cheers my friend.

le0pard13 said...

Another of your splendid FARSCAPE episode expositions, SFF. You've included some gorgeous, and ahem... interesting visuals for this one. I've got to get into this series! Thanks, my friend.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thank you L13 as always my friend.

Will said...

Great music in this episode (it reminds me of the rave scene from Matrix 2 but actually relevant).

Good review. Like the redesign.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks Will. A great guest appearance from our man Will. We all miss you brother. Keep us posted if you get rolling again. Keep us up to date on your writing!

Thanks for the comment and saying hello pal.
SFF