The Jim Henson Company's early 2000s serial space opera Farscape ran with multiple subplots, and some were more satisfying than others. As a viewer, the key to getting the most out of Farscape is to focus on the conflict between human hero John Crichton and his nemesis Scorpius over the development of galactic game-changing wormhole technology. Out of the series' 88 episodes and concluding miniseries, here are those episodes required for understanding the series' greatness.
In Farscape, wormhole technology — which is unknown to the show's spacefaring races — is placed in Crichton's head by an advanced race of ancient aliens. The psychotic antagonist Scorpius wants to extract the wormhole technology so he can use it to against the brutal and aggressive Scarrans.
In a nutshell, Crichton must decide whether it's better to give a cosmic weapon of mass destruction to a psychopathic sadist or to allow the even more psychopathically sadistic Scarrans to overrun the galaxy with their inferior, but still plenty potent technology. Got that? Now here are those episodes best suited for maximizing your Farscape enjoyment.
Premiere 1x01- The pilot is obviously a good place to start. It establishes the premise: John Crichton, human astronaut flying an experimental space craft he himself designed, falls into a wormhole on his maiden flight and emerges in the middle of a dogfight in deep space. He ends up on the run on board Moya, a living ship filled with escaped prisoners of varying alien races.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) for Crichton, the galaxy is ruled by a militaristic race of Peacekeepers called "Sebaceans" who happen to look exactly like humans, giving him ample opportunity in subsequent episodes not only for cover, but also for infiltration of galactic security.
Also, conveniently, John gets a dose of "translator microbes" which not only make it possible for alien races to understand each other, but also prevent Sebacean security forces from realizing that John is speaking some language that none of them have ever heard before...and that doesn't even contain recognizable phonemes. Anyway, moving on...
The "ah-hah" moment for me in this episode is that it is Crichton who comes up with the astrophysics necessary for the group to escape. And while the show will more than once play the standard issue Douglas Adams "dumb-ass human doesn't know shit about space" card, it's refreshing that Crichton actually knows a good deal more about astrophysics than any of his shipmates.
They've Got A Secret 1x10- We find out in this episode that Moya is pregnant. Moya becomes the glue that bonds all the characters together. She represents their common cause: each is seeking home, and each is a fish out of water. A deposed king, two dishonored warriors, a defrocked priest and a lost human. Moya gives them all something in common to love.
Till The Blood Runs Clear 1x11 - This episode gets the wormhole thread rolling and introduces the Vorcarian Blood Trackers (who will play a role in the upcoming episode Liars, Guns and Money) and Furlow, whose ethically-challenged point of view on the commerce of wormhole technology will make her the wild card of the third season. She's a wild card that always comes up snake eyes. Or something like that.
Durka Returns 1x15 - No John/Scorpius action here, but this episode introduces con woman, thief and all around artful dodger, Chiana, who happens to be totally awesome. Once you go gray, you won't stay away.
A Human Reaction 1x16 - An alien from an ancient mysterious race Jodie-Fosters his way into Crichton's head by taking the form of his father, Jack, and providing another piece of the wormhole puzzle.
Nerve/The Hidden Memory 1x19 & 1x20 - Nerve and The Hidden Memory constitute the first of many multi-part Farscape episodes and establish the Scorpius plot line. After placing him under interrogation in the mind reading/raping "aurora chair," Scorpius discovers the wormhole equations Ancient Jack placed in Crichton's head. Unable to extract the wormhole information from Crichton's brain, Scorpius implants a neural probe which takes the form of "Harvey," a phantom Scorpius who haunts Crichton's imagination and not too coincidentally provides an opportunity for dialogue between the hero and villain who would otherwise be separated by light years...sorry, make that "light cycles." Or am I thinking of Tron?
Bone To Be Wild/Family Ties 1x21 & 1x22 - These episodes introduce Moya's emotionally unstable offspring, Talyn. Talyn possesses the firepower the Moya crew needs to punch their way out of tough situations...and the bad judgment needed to get them into those situations in the first place.
Mind the Baby 2x02 - Parents always fear that their children will fall in with a bad influence. But when the child is a Peacekeeper gunship and the bad influence is Bialar Crais, it's good to have an aunt like Aeryn Sun in your corner.
The Way We Weren't 2x07 - Relationships are strained when evidence arises that Aeryn participated in the torture and murder of Moya's previous pilot. While this story does not contribute to the Crichton/Scorpius plot line, it is one of the most emotionally powerful episodes in the series and provides insight into Aeryn and Pilot's relationship. It also punctuates the theme that sometimes we have to choose between having a home and seeing the stars.
Look At The Princess pt I, II & III 2x10, 2x11 & 2x12-This three-part royal court intrigue play pinions our heroes between Scorpius on the one hand, the Scarrans on the other, and the local politics of the planet of the week on the third, uh, hand. Here, we see that the central equation of the show is not as simple as "Crichton Good/Scorpius Bad." The Scarrans are a threat and they will have to be dealt with one way or another.
Liars, Guns and Money 2x19, 2x20, 2x21 - This is my personal favorite Farscape three-parter. The Moya crew's plans for heisting a depository are complicated by the untimely appearance of Scorpius. What is fun about these episodes is that the elements of the heist depend on several alien races introduced in previous episodes. Almost as if events in the past in the Farscape universe affect the future. Star Trek? I'm looking at yooooooou.....
Die Me, Dichotomy/Season of Death 2x22 & 3x01 - In this two-part cliffhanger bridging Seasons 2 and 3, Crichton attempts to have the Scorpius implant removed from his brain by a neurosurgeon, only to find that the bond between Scorpius and himself is closer than he had imagined (and the Hippocratic Oath is evidently an innovation the rest of the galaxy hasn't caught up with yet).
Eat Me 3x06 - An otherwise conventional enemy-of-the-week episode concludes with Crichton being split into two identical copies. The genre television trope of using the same actor to play multiple characters, via evil twins, alternate timelines, shapeshifters, clones or downloaded personalities is well played in subsequent episodes, as one Crichton goes off with Aeryn leaving the other behind to pine after the one that got away. Sort of.
Losing Time 3x09 - This cat-and-mouse episode raises the stakes for the Peacekeepers in the wormhole game. The Scarrans are preparing a massive assault on Peacekeeper territory. It may only be a matter of time before Scarrans rule half the galaxy. Time is running out for Scorpius. And for John. And for Earth.
Incubator 3x11 - In this episode we get some insight into Scorpius' upbringing and discover that even halfway across the galaxy, the abused often become the abusers.
Infinite Possibilities I & II 3x14 & 3x15 - The ancients return to confront John about the wormhole research being conducted by Furlow, the mechanic introduced in Till The Blood Runs Clear. Ancient Jack unlocks the wormhole equations in John's head, but John cannot access them without discovering them on his own. The knowledge will draw him to the right conclusions, give him flashes of insight, but he must work to comprehend the powerful technology that lives right on the tip of his mind.
I-Yensch, You-Yensch/Into the Lion's Den I & II 3x19, 3x20 & 3x21- Crichton must assist the Peacekeeper wormhole project in order to destroy it. But will that leave the galaxy vulnerable to Scarran domination? And could Crichton use the Peacekeeper wormhole to return to Earth? And what if the advanced militaristic races follow him home?
Into the Lion's Den ends the Peacekeeper wormhole project storyline and could serve as a reasonable ending to the series. Two more seasons of the show were planned, but Farscape was canceled after the fourth season cliffhanger and the storyline was finished up the following year in The Peacekeeper Wars mini-series.
The conclusion to the third season also introduces Commandant Grayza, the female Sebacean commander with the hypnotic cleavage. No, really, she had a gland surgically installed between her boobs that hypnotizes males. Don't look at me like that; I'm just the messenger here.
In the fourth season, Scorpius — having been discredited — joins the Moya crew in their struggle against Grayza's plans. In contrast to the genocidal Scorpius, Grayza is a Neville Chamberlain-style appeaser who believes the Scarrans can be dealt with diplomatically and are better outflanked with subterfuge than confronted with firepower.
If you've gotten as far as Into The Lion's Den, the fourth season and concluding miniseries should be enjoyed in their entirety. At this point in the series, the show is completely focused on the Peacekeeper/Scarran conflict.
Top image credit: The Jim Henson Company/2005.