RUNNING SCARED

From Cult Times #62

See also: Part 2 here

Sci-Fi are just about to embark on an uncut run of every episode of Farscape so far.

What, you may ask, has been achieved in that time? Why does Crichton start acting so strangely? And, more to the point, who’s responsible?

Despite Crichton's threats to tickle them mercilessly, D'Argo and Chiana weren't going to tell him how the season ended

David Kemper has almost finished his final polish of the top-secret script for Farscape’s cliffhanging second season finale, Die Me Dichotomy, and feels simultaneously terrified and thrilled by the episode’s epic ambitions and daring plotline.

“When something scares me, I know we’re taking a chance,” elaborates Kemper. “If I’m not afraid of it, I don’t think it’s as good as it could be. But if a script freaks the writers out, it will freak the directors out and every single department will just freak out. They will all be freaked out for a while. And then they’ll figure out how to meet the challenge and they’ll make it work and make it a great show.

Out of Their Minds was probably the most frightening episode we’ve done, because of all the weird things we did with the characters. You’ve got our lead actor going to the bathroom and another lead actress sexually looking at herself! We were also real worried the audience wouldn’t know who was who. If you didn’t believe that they had swapped bodies, everyone would have said, ‘What a disaster! What a mistake!’... The biggest triumphs could be the biggest disasters,” he adds philosophically. “When people put men on the Moon, the risk was that these guys were going to crash and die.”

Kemper is contemplating the closing hour of Farscape’s second year during a cold Thursday evening at the show’s production office in Homebush Bay, Australia. Sitting in the writers’ conference room with the series’ story editor, Lily Taylor, and associate producer/director Andrew Prowse, Kemper is happy to lead a group discussion of John Crichton’s extraordinary adventures in a galaxy of Jim Henson Company-created aliens, and offer an insight into Farscape’s unique tone.

From the offset, Farscape’s scripting has striven for unpredictability. “I’d distrust a TV show enormously that has 22 episodes outlined before you start" explains Prowse. "What’s also good about our approach is that as soon the show settles down, Mr Kemper here turns it around and turns it on its head. The show shift gears. The arc is evolving.”

“If you predispose an ending to everybody, people will go, ‘Okay, that’s the ending. I’ll stay within the guidelines to get there,’” adds Kemper. “Here we’ve shot way out into the wild, then we come back in and get to the ending.” In keeping with this anarchic master plan, both Farscape’s opening year and its second season have indeed developed clear thematic arcs.

“I think Season One is about Crichton being lost in Space and trying to survive,” notes Prowse. “In the second season, you could say Crichton learns to be an alien. He learns how to survive in that environment.”

“Season Two is a lot more cerebral,” elaborates Kemper. “We have a lot of stuff dealing with the mind: the interior of the mind, hallucinations, flashbacks… things like that. But by going inside these characters, we’ve learned a lot more about what their desires are. Their relationships have blossomed. And by the end of the year, at least one of our people will have achieved a goal that that person has wanted for many, many cycles.

“The year has a horrific beginning and a horrific end,” he says, referring to events in the newly-penned season finale. “But in the balance of that, some people get what they want and other people don’t get what they want. It’s a lot more about desires and there’s a lot more passion, I think, in this year than last year.”

Without giving anything away, a great deal of Season Two is also driven by Crichton’s ongoing battle with Scorpius. That part of the story arc was actually prompted by events in the season’s hastily-written fourth episode, Crackers Don’t Matter. “That episode told me what I wanted to do with the year,” recalls Kemper. “It suddenly became so clear. Once we discussed it, we developed that aspect and it became what the season is about.

"The interesting thing is that viewers won’t know that when they’re watching the season. You’ll find out [how Scorpius really fits into the season] by around episode 18 or 19. But when you sit back and look at the year from beginning to end, you’ll see there’s definitely a common thread running through the whole year...”

If David Kemper is planning to top Farscape’s most shocking moment to date, he’s not the only one who should be scared.

David Bassom

• This is just an excerpt. Get Cult Times #62 for the full feature....

• Go to Part 2 of our online feature, and meet the monster-makers...

Don't miss this issue of Starburst, #267 - Rockne O'Bannon discusses creating Farscape inside!

Starburst #267

Images © The Henson Company
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction.