“Space. The final frontier.” That’s probably what astronaut John Crichton is thinking in the opening scene as he stares up at the NASA space shuttle at dawn. And he doesn’t have to wait long to go boldly where no man has gone before. Five minutes into the pilot, before the credits roll or the first commercial break, our hero is already thrust into a big alien space battle. Five minutes after that and he’s being accosted by weird, rude aliens on a freaky prison ship. And oh yeah the ship is alive. Welcome to Farscape!
Did you know all aliens have an Australian accent? Or maybe it’s a fault with the translator microbes John gets injected with.
As a sci-fi show made in 1999 it’d invariably be judged on it’s special effects, which happily still hold up today. But it’s the Jim Henson Production Company’s puppets and prosthetics that really sell Farscape’s aliens in a way not previously achieved in the Star Trek school of “mostly human with some forehead ridges” aliens.
Most sci-fi stories take place from the perspective of humans expanding out and discover/fighting The Other, but Farscape flips that on it’s ear. Our protagonist is a fish-out-of-water human in an unfamiliar galaxy full of aliens who’ve never ever heard of Earth.
There’s a deft two minute scene in that pilot that gives some nice exposition (and flirting) between two of the main alien characters. It’s a valuable chunk of time to spend in the pilot in a scene without our human protagonist, but that’s part of the point. That scene really humanizes the characters for the audience and shows it’s an ensemble show about aliens, with a human providing audience perspective.
It’s a well crafted pilot. Small seeds of character & plot bloom naturally later on in the episode and the season. In 44 minutes the show manages to get us up to speed on the universe, characters, their relationships, and desires. And it does so in a light-hearted, thoughtful way. And the show is funny! With all the unique characters comes a lot of grounded, relatable humor. Also fart jokes.
Of all the great scenes in the pilot my favoriate would probably be the reveal of Aeryn. A masked warrior jailed along with John, she takes off her helmet and proceeds to tackle and interrogate him about who he is and why he’s not in uniform like her. Zhann reveals that after doing some tests, while he may look like Aeryn, he’s definitely not the same species. So with even human-seeming characters not being able to be taken at face value, the pilot really leaves the door open for the series to ask a lot of interesting questions.
John: How do i know i can trust you?
Aeryn: That’s just another thing you don’t know.
(The full series of Farscape is available to stream on Netflix.)