Farscape

The bad timing of 'Bad Timing': An oral history of Farscape’s surprise series finale

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Mar 21, 2018

Fifteen years ago, Farscape fans said what they thought would be a final goodbye to the beloved science fiction show as the series finale, "Bad Timing," aired on March 21, 2003. For four seasons, viewers watched as an astronaut from Earth, who ended up in a different part of the galaxy thanks to a wormhole, met an exceptional group of aliens that ended up together on the living ship Moya. Throughout their adventures, they did their best to survive as they made friends and enemies along the way, and eventually became a family.

Airing on the Sci Fi Channel — now known as SYFY, of course — the crew of the Moya made us laugh and cry as we followed their journey. It was a unique show that met an abrupt end in Season 4 and left fans with an unforgettable cliffhanger. More than a decade later, "Bad Timing" remains one of the most memorable endings to a series as it left the air with a "to be continued" and no word on when or even if it would ever be resolved.

On this anniversary, we wanted to revisit that incredible episode. SYFY WIRE interviewed cast and crew in separate phone interviews about "Bad Timing," the apparent end of Farscape, and more.

The Season 4 Finale

Before the cancellation news arrived, "Bad Timing" was just another Farscape season finale.

Rockne S. O'Bannon (creator): The thing that made the cancellation tough was we had been picked up by the Sci Fi Channel for a fourth and a fifth season both at the same time, so we were fully expecting to go into a fifth season. It was certainly typical of Farscape, and a lot of other shows, that we wanted to get to the end of the season and establish at least some cliffhangers, big cliffhangers, but we had no real idea of how we were going to get ourselves out of it. That had certainly been our experience in the past. We would always kind of set up these impossible cliffhanger situations and then leave it for our future selves to come up with what the solution was.

Obviously, the romance between Crichton and Aeryn, which was to me the centerpiece of the entire series, was certainly hitting an important milestone which could have been a conclusion. We closed off the wormhole to Earth, so we protected Earth. A lot of things were kind of settled, and then we had some great cliffhangers. Obviously, the final moments where they [Crichton and Aeryn] get shattered into pieces, but you have Chiana blind, Scorpius back among the Peacekeepers. There's a lot of fodder for a Season 5.

Andrew Prowse (director and producer): We thought we had a show that could run another at least one, maybe two or three more seasons. We finished up doing a lot of the stuff we were going to do in The Peacekeeper Wars. There was a kind of plan, but there was also this kind of undercurrent of will they, won't they because the commitment hadn't totally arrived and you never know with TV. You never take anything for granted. That's a terrible mistake. It can all turn on its head in five minutes.

Ben Browder (played John Crichton): We were officially starting to put together the romantic leads and wrapping up some stories and arcing into the next season and essentially heading towards where the miniseries ended, which is we were heading towards the baby. It might have been an entire season of domestic bliss in the midst of intergalactic strife, or maybe domestic strife in the middle of intergalactic bliss, depending on your point of view.

Gigi Edgley (played Chiana): We were such a strong family. We were so close and pretty much worked 16 hours a day together and everything was Farscape… I remember the exact moment when they said we're getting picked up for Season 4 and Season 5 is a given because that's how they want to work it.

Prowse: Like most of the seasons, nobody really knew where the story was going to go until they had to take the story somewhere. There were vague plans, but if you ever spend time talking to [writer] David Kemper about stories, you'd know his ideas, there were lots of them, and there were always far too many to actually do. You kind of listen to this and go "Okay, we could be going there or we could be going here, but we're definitely going somewhere and we'll figure it out as we go."

Truly Frelling Bad Timing: The Cancellation

The news of the cancellation came as a shock to the cast and crew.

O'Bannon: Nothing could be done, because it was not a creative decision. It was entirely a business decision. The Henson Company had been sold to some German investors, and the German investors were having all sorts of legal issues and problems. A lot of stuff was going on with that company. As I understand it, the Sci Fi Channel kind of just as a negotiating ploy, to see if there was some wiggle room on the licensing fee for Season 5, had said in that case we'll just cancel it, and the German company leapt on that because they didn't want to have to deficit another season of a show that wasn't an inexpensive show.

Suddenly Sci Fi Channel's going, "Wait a second, let's not be too hasty here," and the Germans went, "Nah, we're done." Sci Fi, from what I understand, certainly wanted it back for a fifth season and would never have posed this if they knew the repercussions of it, but there was no chance to come back, because our new parent company wasn't interested in footing the bill, and maybe they didn't have the money, I don't know.

Browder: There were difficulties with the parent company that owned the Henson Company at the time. It had been bought by a conglomerate, and they were bleeding money all over Europe. What is typical in Hollywood is there's a renegotiation between fourth and fifth seasons, because at that point syndication starts to become really valuable, so it's normal to have those renegotiations, and Sci Fi Channel wanted to enter renegotiations.

The parent company, unbeknownst to Sci Fi or even the Henson people at the time, pulled the plug. They went, "Great, we want out. No more." So literally the script's title, "Bad Timing," came because we basically had started shooting that script or were ready to shoot that script when the news came that there were difficulties, and then even while we were shooting there was a belief, I believe, that it was not going to be the end of the series, but merely going to take another minute or two to work out the finances. Then, economics being what they are, the finances didn't work out.

Prowse: What I remember is we picked a day when we had most of the cast and the whole crew hanging around, and the announcement was made, and everybody was very sad. I think it was actually while we were shooting one of those big deep meaningful moments between Ben and Claudia [Black]. They were the fun part of it. They were the emotional center of the whole series in a way, but certainly that episode.

Edgley: You can imagine the absolute heartbreak when Brian Henson came to set. I remember he came at lunch and politely gave us the news that we were going to be wrapping it up. It was like the most horrifying reality just smashed into our world. I turned around and grips were crying because we were such a close-knit family. It was devastating. It's the nature of the industry and there are always ups and downs, but it was quite upsetting because we were so in love with telling this story and so lucky to be a part of that world.

Browder: The reaction, I don't know if I've ever seen it anywhere. The cast and crew were called together and given the lay of the land and a speech was given thanking everybody for their tremendous efforts etc. and the grips were crying. Makeup artists were crying. Not everybody was crying, but there were a lot of tears from very surprising corners. The crew was invested in the show emotionally in a way that one doesn't normally see on television and film. I think they all knew they were doing something they probably weren't going to get the chance to do again for a long time if ever. There was a sense of shock and bereavement about the show being canceled.

It's kind of interesting because Farscape wasn't on air in Australia where we were shooting. Quite often when people work on a TV show, especially one that has some success, their friends and family know what they work on and they can say "Oh yes Bob's working on CSI. Jane's working on Criminal Minds" and [people] go "oh I love that show!" So they get that touch of hey the show's special because other people are telling them it's special. With Farscape, because it wasn't on in Australia and that's where we were 24/7 for years doing the show, people became invested in the day-to-day and what we were going to do next and how we were going to solve this problem. It was an amazing experience so when the show was canceled there was shock and bereavement.

From Season Finale to Series Finale: The Episode

While "Bad Timing" became a finale of a different sort, that didn't mean there would be massive changes to the episode.

O'Bannon: We had not completed editing the episode so there was a real opportunity to simply scissor off the last moments and let it just be Crichton and Aeryn, him proposing and her saying yes and she's pregnant and that can be a happily ever after kind of moment. In hindsight, it was the absolute right decision to put "to be continued" because instead of everybody thinking "OK, maybe someday possibly" it was more a matter of "Yeah, we really owe it to the fans and our cast and to ourselves to find a way to keep it going."

Browder: There was discussion [about changing the cliffhanger], but the decision was made levels above my pay grade, though my inclination would have been to stay true to the show and end on the cliffhanger or end on the death of John Crichton. This is where we are. These are the consequences. This is the story.

Prowse: I think from memory I vaguely remember a conversation with David where his attitude was, we can still come back and still do a Season 5 if some miracle happened. There wasn't a lot of attempt to wrap things up in an end-of-series kind of way. It was a bit defiant really. We hadn't had a chance to work through all the things we might work through if we had half a season's notice so we're just going to make it end as if it was the end of a season rather than the end of the series.

O'Bannon: ["Bad Timing"] was a very correct title for the piece in general and then it obviously fit the external situation very well. The opening narration was something that was reconfigured. It hadn't been written yet, the "previously on" and then the previously on didn't just show like they usually did moments the audience needs to be refreshed on so they can easily enter into this particular episode. It was basically scenes from the entire first four seasons and then prophetically Crichton's voiceover is "and finally on Farscape" so that was a little adjustment for the audience who, most I assume, were aware this was going to be our last episode. It was a nice nod to them and the situation.

Looking past the cancellation news and the series finale aspect of the episode, many other parts of it still stick out to the cast and crew after all this time.

Browder: I never thought I was going to propose marriage on screen. I remember that day very clearly. That was really near the end of the shoot, right near the tail end of the shoot so we're shooting that day and there's the sense, this is over? Ok, this is where it ends. There was thinking at the time, maybe we can just leave on this happy moment where she says yes, but that wouldn't have been true to the show and also it really would in many ways have left us hanging if we had had a fifth season. So I think there was an effort to just stay true to the show there. Proposing marriage in a boat. I remember that day pretty well.

O'Bannon: To me, it's one of our perfect episodes. I can say that because I didn't write it. It kind of had everything. It had incredibly huge stakes. Earth itself is at stake. Pilot has to offer to have himself severed from Moya, which we know from previous episodes is a huge, huge thing. Other characters get very much involved and have to make their own personal sacrifices often with physical pain and all that. Chiana loses her eyesight and there's a ton of humor in it too. It's this kind of Farscape stew that's incredibly well represented.

Then there's this awesome scene between Crichton and his father Jack, Kent McCord, with Crichton saying goodbye to him. It's wonderful and Kent McCord, god bless him, really has a moment there. If you go back and look at the episode, he really pauses and gets very choked up as he's expressing his love for his son knowing that it's unlikely he'll ever see him again. I always wanted to get Crichton standing on the moon so it was great to see him standing on the moon.

Prowse: What I think about it is the strength of the emotional story in it. I have to say I never looked at Farscape as a science fiction story. I always thought it was a big soap opera and the emotional stories were always the things that kept me interested. The window dressing was great and the prosthetics and animatronics and CG were all fabulous, but really it was the emotional stories that drove the whole thing. This was like the climax of John and Aeryn's journey. That's mostly what I remember about it. I think they were both incredibly aware of that while we were shooting it. Just watching the cold open of it, they're really strong those two and they're fabulous together. They're still fabulous together 15 years later. It's just extraordinary.

The other thing I remember most was the emotions because it was sort of an emotional episode, and then along comes the cancellation. It also brought out the whole emotional connection between the crew and cast because there was incredible commitment to the show from the people who worked on it. I don't think I've ever really experienced anything quite like it in terms of deep commitment and affection for what we were doing and what we were trying to do and respect for the ambition of the show. Still when I look at it I go "Oh my god we actually attempted to do that on that kind of budget? That's ridiculous." It still has that effect when I look at it. Not that I look at it very often these days. Its kind of weird to go back. You told me it's 15 years, but it could easily be 10 or five.

While there was no word on a future immediately after "Bad Timing," after four seasons the characters had come a long way.

Browder: [John Crichton's] character development was a complete anomaly at the time. On TV particularly in episodic television and sci-fi television, there seemed to be a reset button. The characters were the characters were the characters. You got basically the same character. If it went for ten years, it was the same character for ten years. Nothing new, nothing changed. Farscape was one of the first series to do something where the characters really evolve over a period of time particularly in science fiction. It's much more typical now. You see that kind of long arc writing. It's very typical with the streamers and shows on Netflix, on HBO, but that wasn't generally occurring in television elsewhere. It's kind of like you could pick up at any time and it's the same character.

Crichton evolves radically. If you be real about it, if anyone of us got flung across to the far distant end of the universe and was surrounded by aliens and was shot at, literally cloned, all of the things that happened to him, fell in love, lost the girl, all those things had a huge effect on him. There's a period of time where he was literally suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in addition to having all the other things that had been done to him.

Typically, the hero on a science fiction show is a solid character that at the time didn't have a lot of development or movement off of what they were and who they were. Crichton was radically different from day one to the end of year four and five. You wouldn't recognize him as the same character and I think that's great. It's great to play it, to be on something where story runs that long and the arc is so interesting character wise. How can I be dissatisfied with that? It's a gift. It's really an amazing thing.

Edgley: When I was invited to create Chiana, I was like, "This is fantastic. I can come up with anything because there are no rules. Nobody knows what an alien is like." If I could go back to my younger self and tap her on the shoulder and go "You know one day you're going to be part of this family and you're going to be telling this story," my head would have exploded. It's such a cool, awesome, surreal thing for me so when I had the opportunity to be on set.

Initially, it was for one episode, so every second, every microsecond I was like I just want to enjoy every minute. I want to create an unbelievably believable creature that will fit seamlessly into the Jim Henson world because every single character is so out there but you totally believe them because they exist within your heart and soul. Even Kermit. His eyes don't move, he's a bit of felt, but we laugh with him. We cry with him. We've been inspired by him.

After "Bad Timing": The Miniseries

Eventually, a way to resolve the cliffhanger from the episode presented itself.

O'Bannon: Much to Brian Henson's credit, in the same way that when we originally developed the series which we did for the Fox Network in the early '90s and they didn't proceed, Brian just wouldn't give up. We kept pitching it places and ultimately TV came up with the network we needed, which is the Sci Fi Channel dedicated to science fiction. In the same way that he just wouldn't let go of it back then, and actually we kind of muscled it onto the air, he wouldn't give up after Season 4 either.

It took a while for the money to come together and all that and to reassemble pretty much everybody certainly cast wise and behind the scenes as well. Most telling was the fact that the sets which normally you would just destroy if you think your series is canceled and will never come back, but Henson foot the bill to store the sets in anticipation of hopefully getting it up and running again and we did.

Edgley: It was such an interesting journey because straight after, we got invited to do an autograph signing around the U.S., so I think we flew into New York initially and then we had this tour planned to go around the States and there were these amazing supporters everywhere we went. These fans were so intent and totally convinced that it would come back.

I said, "Look guys, we appreciate the enthusiasm but I'm going to be honest with you, I've seen Moya ripped apart. I've seen Rygel packed up into a box and sent back from whence he came and there was no way in my eyes it was ever coming back." Then, sure enough, it wasn't that long after I was at another convention and a fan was like "You know it's been picked up" and I was like "What?" I always knew that the fans' love and adoration was a huge part of coming back, but I didn't realize if enough people do put their foot forward and put their hearts out there and say we want it back, you will bring it back. To me, there is something still within me that very much believes it's not done yet.

Browder: You never count on things until they're actually happening. There was discussion early on and obviously because of the fan reaction there was some discussion about yeah, it seems like we might come back. I stayed in Australia to finish out the school year for my kid so I was there for four months and also at the same time trying to figure out where do I move in L.A. I don't have a place in L.A. but I have to go back because the Australian government is kicking me out so there's a couple of weeks where it's like well maybe this is going to work out even after we finished shooting and then they started taking down the sets.

A couple weeks after the series ended the sets start coming down, which is not a good sign, but then there's still the rumblings that something was going to happen. So basically about a year passed and I got a call from Brian Henson saying you know we might be able to do a miniseries. I'm going to get some more work, pay some bills. I had moved back to L.A. and they're going to shoot in Australia and then rather rapidly I guess in November of 2003 it became a go and then I was working on a small film and got the news. A month later I'm on a plane back to Australia for another five to six months. Fall of 2003 the rumblings became something more solid, but a full year had passed for us from the point where we wrapped the series.

Prowse: There were all kinds of discussions. There was talk of a movie at one point. Some of the enthusiastic fans attempted to raise money. They thought they could raise enough money to make the next series as a crowdfunded [thing]. It was crowdfunding before we'd ever heard of crowdfunding, but that didn't really work.

I think we thought it was dead and gone, except for this vague idea of potentially a movie until Brian Henson came up with somebody who was prepared to finance it who was a huge fan and I think that was kind of accidental. There weren't any plans. We thought it was gone. We didn't really expect to do anything else and it was a year before we got going and made The Peacekeeper Wars. I think we thought it was all over and gone and went well, that was fun now what do we do? You think "I'm probably never going to work on a show like this again" and that's kind of true. It was unique.

Edgley: It was so exciting and so mind-blowing to get back on that set again and work with these amazing people and I don't think we're done.

Remembering Farscape

Looking back at the series now, cast and crew have fond memories of the show… and hopes for the future.

O'Bannon: [Farscape] was the perfect storm of all the things you would want a TV series to do for you and for the audience and in terms of the experience of making it, of just really good incredibly creative people all coming together at the right time. Pretty significant among those things is producing it in Australia which was initially just a financial consideration, but ultimately it turned out to be one of the top reasons why the show is as distinctive as it was. Add to that the cast, which is terrific led by Ben and Claudia who are terrific. David Kemper who was my guy I brought in and wrote that last episode, got it and embraced it. Richard Manning the other executive producer who was with the show from the beginning.

All these folks were just amazingly in tune with what it should be so that to me was the most awesome thing. When I look back at the show occasionally I'll find it somewhere and I'll watch a few minutes of it and the pace of it, I'm impressed by that and proud of that because so much stuff happens. It's so extreme and it's still something you don't see a lot of even now in television. That I'm very proud of. It's a runaway train from the beginning of the episode to the end.

Edgley: I have this funny feeling in my heart and soul that there's something more to come. Brian will call me up now and go "what did you say?"

Browder: The eternal question is where are they now? What are they doing now? Still flying around with a spaceship with a gaggle of kids? Imagine raising kids on a spaceship with that crew. That would be pretty awesome. It's a little more like Lost in Space, but only twisted.

Prowse: One of my favorite memories is when I first met David Kemper and Rockne O'Bannon. They were in Australia and this was like a year or maybe six months before they actually got the show going and I met them and they told me what they wanted to do. This show about one human lost in space and everything else would be aliens and I kind of listened to all this and went "I like you guys but there's no way in the world this is ever going to happen."

It was just so different from everything that I knew in television at that point. I think I must have looked cool to them because I wasn't overenthusiastic or diminishing anything, I loved the idea but then I get a message a couple of weeks later that they want me to direct the pilot. Then it got kind of scary like what do we do? How do we do this? How do we make this thing? That was the first half of the first season, was working out how to make it because it was a hard show to figure out. It took seven or eight episodes and then we hit our groove in Season 2 and 3 and we were getting a new groove back in Season 4 just dealing with massive ideas and that would have been nice to continue in five.

Its scope and ambition were admirable. There wasn't anything that we were scared to try and so many TV shows pull away from the hard stuff and go that's too hard, that's too expensive. We would take on big logistical things like a space battle. Messy war between these fleets of craft and on our budget, that was absurd. It was ridiculous and then it also took on these huge emotional ideas of what loyalty is, what love is. The scenes were clean and clear and strong and that I will always be grateful for.

Edgley: Farscape to me was like a lifetime in a heartbeat. It felt like it passed so quick and then sometimes I see an episode and I'm like "oh yea this happened and that happened." It's so close to your heart. There were many amazing things about the whole journey.

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