September 22, 2011

Revisiting Farscape's "Kansas"

Chiana (Gigi Edgley) does not get along with locals in Farscape's Kansas.

My introduction to Farscape happened pretty recently, and it's too bad it took me so long to check out this refreshing show. I watched the entire four-season run during a few months at the start of 2010 for a PopMatters review. I quickly fell in love with this wonderfully creative journey into the far reaches of space. My words from that article describe my reaction: "Farscape is a show for true geeks who adore unpredictable, imaginative shows. It's funny, irreverent and ridiculous without ever becoming a self-parody."

I knew little about Farscape going into that marathon, so it was a revelation to watch the long-running story arcs play out so unconventionally. Although it covers life-and-death situations, the highly enjoyable show retains its sense of fun. The writers take major risks and venture into territory rarely seen on even the best sci-fi adventures. They can take these chances because we're so engaged with the characters. To give a very quick overview of the premise, John Crichton (Ben Browder) is an astronaut whose ship accidentally falls through a wormhole to a far-away world. He boards the Moya, a living ship connected organically to its Pilot but having a consciousness of its own. Its passengers include the tough-as-nails Peacekeeper Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), the Luxan warrior D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), the small Hynerian Dominar Rygel XVI (voice by Jonathan Hardy), the pale-skinned and energetic Chiana (Gigi Edgley), and many others.

The Farscape episode Kansas with John Crichton flying in space.

This week, I'm taking another look at a few classic time-travel episodes from some of my favorite TV shows. Airing during the fourth season, "Kansas" finally gives Crichton the chance to return home and see his family. The catch is that he's arrived in 1985 instead of the present day 18 years later. His arrival has changed the future, placing his dad (Kent McCord) on the crew of the doomed Challenger. Before heading back to his own time, Crichton and the gang must find a way to keep him off that shuttle. They also must try not to alter the future in other ways. This is not an easy task, especially for this curious band of misfits. Since the humans on Earth don't have translator microbes to understand alien languages, communication will be difficult.

While providing an interesting look at Crichton's past, this episode includes plenty of classic "fish out of water" moments for everyone. Rygel has the best moments as he goes on a sugar binge of Kit Kats, Reese's Pieces, and other candies. They've arrived at Halloween, so candy is everywhere for the food-loving Hynerian. Meanwhile, Aeryn studies Wheel of Fortune (when they still chose prizes!) to learn more English words, and Chiana heads out to explore this strange world. Predictably, they're not able to keep a low profile and are forced to repeatedly divert the attention of a curious cop. Thankfully, Noranti (Melissa Jaffer) has a powder that induces forgetfulness, but it's not entirely successful.

This episode nicely balances the silliness with an effective look at Crichton's teenage life. In just a few scenes, we catch a believable glimpse of the relationships among his dad, mom, younger self, and that guy's girlfriend. Browder does a great job showing the impact of this visit without overplaying the emotions. It's a tricky proposition and could easily fall into corny territory, but it never goes there. By this point, we've spent more than three seasons with Crichton, so we're right with him. It's also good to see Chiana meeting him as a young guy and getting a better understanding of his life. The easy route would be to use his love Aeryn in this role, but it wouldn't really match her personality or their relationship.

D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) in the Farscape episode Kansas.

"Kansas" includes so many great moments that it's impossible to describe them all in this post. Another silly one has D'Argo trying to start a car by yelling "Machine! Go!" and then getting really confused. It only lasts a few seconds, but it brings a smile to my face just thinking about it. There are plenty of examples of this type of moment in this story. Farscape's best episodes provide wonderful entertainment on their own while furthering the major arcs. The follow-up, "Terra Firma" keeps the gang on Earth as they move to the present and encounter suspicious humans. These two-part story ranks among the best of the fourth season and offers a perfect example of this amazing series.

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