Thursday, October 8, 2015

Farscape S1 Ep14: Jeremiah Crichton

"Since I left home, I’ve been hunted, beaten, locked up, shanghaied, shot at. I’ve had alien creatures in my face, up my nose, inside my brain, down my pants.
This is the first time, the first place, where I’ve felt peace."
-John Crichton-

The truth is John Crichton ain't seen nothin' yet!

That aforementioned quote of frustration accurately reflects why Farscape (1999-2003) is so refreshing as a genre-bursting science fiction series. Farscape, in effect, is the antithesis of Star Trek's orderly, sterile world, of which so many series attempt to emulate and mirror. Not Farscape. It's the anti-Trek. This is a series entirely its own. This is world-building often fueled by discord, disorder and downright chaos. Rather than the hierarchical, military-style command structure of humans and aliens found in everything from Star Trek to Stargate to Babylon 5, we generally glimpse a window into familial anarchy of alien and human co-habitation. There is indeed love there amid the functional dysfunctional of our space-faring castaways.

In fact and in truth, Farscape, for me, is at times so radical, so genre-defying, so flip, it flies in the face of my usual tastes for science fiction. In other words, as brilliant as the series is, I can really only tolerate Farscape in small bursts, or small starbursts if you will.

As much as I truly enjoyed each riveting installment of Season One, I found myself unable to sustain that same enthusiasm for the series beginning with Season Two despite some stand out entries (The Way We Weren't). Farscape is so brave and transformative with science fiction conventions it's almost a bit too much for my tiny little brain. Okay, that's not really true.

As the series progressed it became even more risky and adventurous in its sci-fi approach heading into uncharted waters as much as it did the Uncharted Territories at every pass. It's one series you both applaud for its creative magnificence and/or potentially grow weary of as an entertainment if consumed like an unrestrained glutton.

I can binge watch a good amount of television including Game Of Thrones (2011-present), Stargate Universe (2009-2011), Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), Breaking Bad (2008-2013), Fargo (2014-present) and Homeland (2011-present), but Farscape, as I've come to discover, is not one of them. It's a playfully challenging series and one for which I genuinely need to be prepared or in the right mood.

Jeremiah Crichton is Farscape's variation on a theme, its own version of Robinson Crusoe, the novel by Daniel Defoe first published in 1719. It's a story that has inspired popular culture, TV and film since what seems like the beginning of time itself.

Lost In Space (1965-1968), Gilligan's Island (1964-1967), Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964), Castaway (2000) and much more have all extracted inspiration from the Defoe survival classic. At first glance this appears to be the most obvious pop culture reference, but, more matter as a matter of fact, the truth is Jeremiah Crichton was more directly the influence of the film Jeremiah Johnson (1972) starring Robert Redford, a Ben Browder favorite. The film centers on a jaded (like Crichton) Mexican War (1846-1848) veteran who looks to escape into the solace of the West to essentially take refuge there as a mountain man. This echoes Crichton's own desire to escape and ultimately, inadvertently, live off the land, grow a beard and establish a new life.

Farscape, Season One, Episode 14, Jeremiah Crichton, would, ironically, be one of the least convention-defying entries of Season One.

Tired of the onboard shenanigans by his newly forged family, John Crichton takes an escapist ride in his ship.

Meanwhile, Moya, the living female leviathan/vessel that is home for these space misfits and castaways is once again suffering from a health-related issue forcing Pilot to starburst essentially deserting Crichton.

As a result, Crichton takes residence or stows away on a nearby planet, grows a beard and befriends the residents of its seemingly peaceful world.

Elsewhere, Moya's health problems are an ongoing source of anxiety for the crew throughout the Farscape series. The U.S.S. Enterprise and other man-made vessels have had their fair share of technical problems forcing repairs from time to time, but here, Moya, the leviathan, a female, experiences troubles that are generally biological in nature, not least of which is her pregnancy. This, of course, is a constant source of concern for Pilot, essentially Moya's voice throughout the series, and the others. Problems here for the ship are directly attributed to her pregnancy and a risk to her fetus. This is all perfectly logical and normal in Farscape's world

The writers of Farscape, by not only including a good number of strong female characters aboard Moya, have made Moya a female herself and thus infused the series with a good many issues that directly speak to and with the female voice.

Another significant theme that is underscored in Jeremiah Crichton is loyalty and the family-like bond that continues to form for all aboard Moya. Now missing for three months, KaDargo, Aeryn, Zhaan, Rygel and Pilot finally find John. He believes he was marooned and left a castaway by a makeshift family that turned their backs on him, but is quickly proven wrong. His grudge quickly dissolves when he discovers that Moya and company have searched for him since the day Moya starburst away for her and her child's own safety. Once again, Jeremiah Crichton, serves up another character-driven and emotion-driven tale that explores the complex dynamic of all aboard the living ship. All of these lives matter. No one is expendable and this is out of love.

Jeremiah Crichton is no means a bad episode. In fact, Jeremiah Crichton is a visually great-looking episode given its location shooting. Everything in Australia either looks beautiful or strange and that difference gives every episode a kind of otherworldy feel because we rarely see science fiction television framed in such a setting. It makes refreshing use of its landscape and offers a nice take on the science fiction world as much as England did for Star Wars (1977). It's certainly a nice alternative to Vancouver, British Columbia (The X-Files, Stargate SG-1).

Despite the visuals, Jeremiah Crichton is also one of the weaker turns in Farscape Season One. But this is Farscape and even a weak entry has plenty to offer on one level of production, performance or another.

One of my biggest issues with Jeremiah Crichton is its use of the primitive peoples storyline. It could have leaned more heavily on Crichton surviving alone on the planet, which would have been even more compelling, but devolves into a story with primitive peoples. Okay vibrant primitive peoples. This is like the Farscape version of Stargate SG-1Stargate SG-1 was a great adventure series but one not averse to the use of primitive peoples. Those SG-1 stories are some of my least favorite and this particular episode reminds me of the less challenging episodes of Stargate SG-1. An episode like Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 3, Emancipation comes to mind. These are sometimes the least engaging and interesting to me in general. No matter how you slice it, it becomes difficult looking passed all of the bad, primitive clothing meaning no offense to production team. It's just not science fiction enough for my tastes. There's just not enough outer space accoutrements or trappings. But this is a minor quibble and fortunately Farscape spends very little time on stories like this one. Yet, given all of the crazy in Farscape, in some ways a story like this one is almost a welcomed respite.

My look at Jeremiah Crichton also marks the first Farscape entry to be analyzed using the much maligned and critically beleaguered Blu-Ray release. The images are all taken from the Blu-Ray release. While it is not a remarkable improvement over the DVD release, some improvements are notable (and the images included here offer evidence of that). But this, as critics have suggested, is not a substantial upgrade from any of the previous DVD issues. Nevertheless, again, it's Farscape, you buy it! Onward and upward with all sci-fi upgrades when the wallet or purse permits!

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