Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars (2004) Mini-Series TV Review

Part One:

It’s back. “Farscape” resurfaces after a year’s absence, ushered back to life by fan outrage that was so loud The Powers That Be at the Sci-Fi Channel (which owns the show) saw fit to grant the makers of the series 4 hours (plus commercials) to tie up all loose ends and finally send the series off with a bang. Considering the lackluster way the series ended (with lovers Aeryn and Crichton turned into crystals by an alien ship, of all things), anything that erased the memory of such a lousy cliffhanger would be a step up.

With “Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars”, series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon and series writer David Kemper have decided to make a mini-series that continues the adventures of our favorite space fugitives instead of just tying up loose ends. In fact, ex-Peacekeeper Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black, “Pitch Black”) and human astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) gets literally put back together in the first night’s first 10 minutes. The two are told by buddies D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe) and Chiana (Gigi Edgley) that it’s been 2 months since their “death”, and the galaxy is caught up in a full-scale intergalactic war between the Peacekeepers and the intimidating Scarrans, a race that looks like a cross between a T-rex and an upright lizard. Very, very mean lizards.

Forced back into the fray by his arch nemesis Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), a Peacekeeper commander, Crichton has to put aside his plans to live happily ever after with Aeryn and raise their impending baby, who by a stroke of bad luck is presently growing inside the belly of ex-royalty Rygel, a floating, troll-like muppet voiced by Jonathan Hardy. Scorpius wants Crichton to create a weapon of mass destruction using his wormhole technology and defeat the Scarrans, but Crichton isn’t having any of it. Instead, Crichton reunites with Jool (Tammy McIntosh) at a relic temple where he hopes to find salvation in an ancient race of mediators. Alas, this is “Farscape”, and all of Crichton’s well-laid plans have gone to hell and back by the hour mark.

With an ear toward satisfying the show’s diehard fans, “Peacekeeper Wars” brings back everyone who ever appeared in the series for longer than two episodes (if they’re still alive, that is), and does it in such a way as to not appear pandering. Jool, for example, has a perfectly good reason to return. The same for Stark (Paul Goddard), who is as crazy and skittish as ever. Even when old regulars aren’t given much to do (David Franklin as Braca, for example), it’s still great to see them back. The script by O’Bannon and Kemper moves the characters around without any trouble, and the mini-series looks and feels like just another lengthy 3- or 4-episode story arc that the show is known for.

Speaking of which, the fact that the “Peacekeeper Wars” mini-series doesn’t really improve on the look and feel of the show may be its Achilles Heel. Except for hardcore fans that will watch anything with the “Farscape” moniker attached, there is a reason the show, despite being critically acclaimed, never caught on with the average fans — hence its cancellation at the end of a confusing and muddled Season 4. Having said that, I’m not sure if the mini-series will convert any new viewers to the series, which would be a shame if the mini-series was also a test by the Sci-Fi Channel to gauge interest in reviving the series. (The ratings for the mini-series will answer that question in a few days.)

On the technical side, except for some CGI space battles in the beginning, the special effects and sets are familiar. Which is to say there’s nothing overly extravagant or expensive to attract new eyeballs. If you liked the show, you’ll love the mini-series. If you never cared for the series, I’m not sure if you’ll even bother to turn in for the second night. If the mini-series was allocated a big budget, it doesn’t show up onscreen. Although this criticism may prove irrelevant, since this is only the first night. Perhaps director Brian Henson and company are waiting to bring out all the stops for the concluding second night. One can only hope.

Then again, it’s not as if anyone familiar with the show is turning in for the supposed big budget. It’s always been the characters that attracted most fans to the series in the first place. The interplay, the humor and biting exchanges, between the various characters come through in all their wacky glory, as if there had been no yearlong hiatus between the end of the series and this mini-series. No surprise, since the script by O’Bannon and Kemper has made it top priority to stay true to the characters. Also, the relationship between Aeryn and Crichton has continued without a moment’s pause. Still in love, alternating between cutesy love-talk and bad-to-the-bone professionals, neither Crichton nor Aeryn seems to have changed at all, which is a good thing.

It’s to Ben Browder and Claudia Black’s credit that their characters click so well. They’re so good together one is prone to suspect a romance between the two beyond the show. Of course the fact that they’re both married to other people may hinder that slightly. Knowing that there’s nothing going on in their private lives (as it relates to one another, that is) only makes their chemistry onscreen all the more incredible. Despite their characters having “hooked up” early in the show, Black and Browder have effortlessly maintain the spark through four seasons. Aeryn and Crichton’s love affair isn’t just believable, it feels real. Spaceships and lizard-like aliens notwithstanding, of course.

As the first night wraps up, one can’t help but get the feeling that the second night is determined to do something big. If the mini-series is indeed the final adventure of the “Farscape” crew, and with no prospects of a new series in the works, then I wouldn’t put it past the filmmakers to kill off either Crichton or Sun at the end of the second night. After all, O’Bannon and company have never made any efforts to toe the genre lines since the show’s inception, and I doubt if they’ll cut and run now that they’ve been given 4 hours to make their mark.

Part Two:

With the second night of the 2-day “Peacekeeper Wars” mini-series winding down, we do see more of the promised big budget. While still not as visually captivating as one would like for the series swan song, considering the platform (a made-for-TV mini-series), it’s not bad. Fans of the show will feel right at home, and newcomers will be slightly impressed. Slightly.

With the Peacekeeper-Scarran war in full swing, the crew of Moya find themselves lost at the bottom of the water planet and up to their necks in flooding ocean water. They make it to the surface, where they take refuge in a destroyed city, making a last stand that mirrors “The Alamo” and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s last hurrah. With his plans for a peaceful end to the war literally blown to hell, Crichton has taken desperate measures. With the knowledge of wormhole weapons unleashed within his mind, Crichton fights to stay alive, save his friends, and find time for Aeryn to give birth. What’s a human astronaut with one too many one-liners and pop culture references to do?

Although the ending of night two doesn’t close the doors on the series’ return from the depths of cancellation, the death of a major character certainly puts a damper on things. Then again, considering that the mini-series is concerned with war on an intergalactic scale, it makes sense, and is even appropriate, that not all of our favorites will survive unscathed. In fact, if you count some of the semi-regulars, the mini-series actually kills off three characters. One bit the dust on the first night, and another character is exposed to be a Scarran spy in the second night.

For the most part the script is still tight, hitting some good marks during the chaotic gun battles in the destroyed city. As Scarrans swarm all over them, our heroes must make one last stand after another, even as Aeryn struggles to, quite literally, give birth in the middle of exploding ordinance. The second night’s middle hour is probably the mini-series’ most brilliant sequence, with all the characters given their due. Chiana and D’Argo finally come to terms with one another. Also, D’Argo mends fences with his son Jothee (Matthew Newton), now a fearsome warrior and leader.

Unfortunately the film’s finale is a bit of a letdown, not only because it’s mostly anti-climactic, but also because the script seems encumbered by a need to deliver a ham-fisted message about war and peace and the means to achieve the latter. One could relate it to the current situation in the world right now, but that would be giving O’Bannon and Kemper too much credit, especially since the whole thing comes across as ridiculous and silly onscreen. Even so, the conviction with which Ben Browder delivers the hackneyed lines almost made me believe. Almost.

Nevertheless, as a send-off to the “Farscape” universe, “Peacekeeper Wars” is a major success. The conclusion is a lot more satisfactory than the nonsense that fans were left with at the end of Season 4, that much is for sure. Although it’s odd that O’Bannon and Kemper sort of chickened out at the end with the possible death of another major character. Why not just do it? Why make a sudden U-turn of Disney-esque proportions? Considering how the mini-series had off-handedly killed off a major character already, one wonders why the filmmakers were so hesitant to knock off another one, especially since the death of this particular character would have been much more impactful, not to mention making a lot more sense.

But of course the answer is obvious: if too many main characters died, and the ratings for the mini-series turned out to be spectacular, what would become of a second series? Money, as they say, talks. In this case, O’Bannon and Kemper sold out. Which is a shame, because “Farscape” has always been a show that didn’t compromise. To see it resort to deus ex machina to save one of its main characters reeks of pandering to the Powers That Be. As a diehard fan, I expected this particular main character to die. Not because I wish it, but because it makes sense, and because it’s the only logical way for the series to end.

Having said that, they better make a second series after such a blatant compromise of artistic standards. The old “Farscape” would never have stood for this. Then again, the old “Farscape” hadn’t been cancelled yet, and cancellation does strange things to people.

Brian Henson (director) / Rockne S. O’Bannon, David Kemper (screenplay)
CAST: Ben Browder …. John Crichton
Claudia Black …. Aeryn Sun
Anthony Simcoe …. Ka D’Argo
Gigi Edgley …. Chiana
Wayne Pygram …. Scorpius/Harvey
Raelee Hill …. Sikozu Shanu
Tammy McIntosh …. Jool
Paul Goddard …. Stark
Melissa Jaffer …. Utu-Noranti Pralatong
Duncan Young …. Emperor Staleek
Francesca Buller …. War Minister Akhna
Rebecca Riggs …. Commandant Mele-on-Grayza
David Franklin …. Captain Meeklo Braca
Matthew Newton …. Jothee
John Bach …. Einstein
Jonathan Hardy …. Rygel XVI (voice)
Lani Tupu …. Voice of Pilot (voice)

Buy Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars on DVD