Captain Hornblower Rates the Farscape Episodes

The Captain gives "Constellation of Doubt" a rating of:

2 Moyas

Captain's Rating Scale:

5 Moyas-one of the best episodes
4 Moyas-an excellent episode
3 Moyas-a good episode
2 Moyas-a fair episode
1 Moya-a not so fair episode
0 Moyas-a poor episode


"Constellation of Doubt" was a very interesting episode for its balanced mixture of satirical and serious social commentary on how human society and the media might react to the visitation of Moya's crew to Earth. This kind of a story has a history going back some years now in the science fiction television genre. The X Files did some episodes like this. Babylon 5 did this kind of story several times as well with provocative genius. This Farscape episode adds a well done chapter to that legacy.

As mentioned before, what is so well done with the presentation of this story is that it is a mixture of the satirical and the serious. The media tabloid program Crichton is watching about the crew's visit to Earth (using his nephew's video taped footage), and intertwined commentary from various "experts", often times makes one laugh with the absolute stupidity of what humans are saying about characteristics of Moya's crew. The best example was Rygel supposedly trying to corrupt and weaken humanity with subliminal messages to consume more fat and sugars.

At other times, the thought processes of the commentators could actually be taken rather seriously. Sometimes they were right on in their assessments, such as Chiana being a troubled teenager in much of her personality (that's a pretty good description of at least one side of her persona). Once or twice, with differing opinions from different commentators, I suspect even we the audience could not say for sure who was right and who wasn't. One clear case of this was the debate about whether Chiana was coming onto Crichton's 13 year old nephew at one point-I still am not sure if she was or not.

What is so startling is how realistic the reactions in the tabloid show were. The media sensationalized the visit, the government covered parts of it up, crackpots came out of the woodwork, certain actions of the aliens were misinterpreted, and everyone from scientists to military men to sociologists to religious clerics weighed in on things. All very well done and well written into a story that does make one think about our society and just how advanced we really are as a people.

So why doesn't this episode get a higher rating? The simple, frustrating answer was that the story was so poorly placed in the context of the overall storyline of the series at this point.

If this was an episode of Enterprise or Stargate SG-1, then it really wouldn't have mattered much where they placed this story in the order of the episodes. Those shows don't really have multi-episode storylines going on, at least ones that aren't meant to be multi-seasonal storylines. Farscape, for better or worse, has become a more arch-oriented show, with multi-episodes storylines that run as a current through the episodes. Thus, attention must be paid to the multi-episode plots in story placement, for it does have an effect on the enjoyability of the individual episodes.

What was so off about the placement of this episode is that the audience is distracted by one overriding question-how is Crichton going to get Aeryn back from the Scarrens? Even though the reason why Crichton was watching the tabloid show in the first place was to try and figure out where he had heard the name of the Scarren base where Aeryn is being held, the messages of the documentary itself are still easily perceived by the viewer as unimportant noise at this point in time. Throughout this episode, as I viewed the documentary program Crichton was watching, I kept saying "I don't care about this right now, I want to know how they are going to find Aeryn." For an episode that is meant to make one think more deeply about the social commentary being presented, this sort of distraction is bad, and hurts the story of the episode and the impact of the commentary presented.

Since Babylon 5 did this sort of episode three times, it is good to draw a lesson from that experience. Each time such a media/social commentary story was used, it was done so in an episode placed at such a point in the show's storyline where it wasn't a distraction. In each case, there was a lull in the overall story arch of that season, and thus the audience was not distracted by other concerns with the show's characters and story.

It was a mistake to put this wonderful, thought provoking story in the middle of this new storyline just introduced in the previous episode. Aeryn's imprisonment by the Scarrens, and the efforts of the crew to get her back, were too much of a concern not to distract from what this episode itself had to say. If the producers had positioned this story in an episode right after "Terra Firma", and before introducing the new storyline with Aeryn, it would have been much better placed and much easier to enjoy and consider for its intellectual interest. "Constellation of Doubt" would have definitely gotten a 3 Moya rating, maybe even a 4, if not for the incredibly poor timing in its presentation.

Thus, with the blunted impact of what this story had to say intellectually, and the rest of the story (Crichton's trying to recall where he heard the name of the base before) mildly interesting, the episode is only deserving of a 2 Moya rating. But, in the future, when the results of the search for and rescue of Aeryn story is seen after upcoming episodes, and one can go back and view this episode again with this as of yet unrevealed knowledge in mind, the story of the episode might be fully appreciated, and the rating could be raised.

What did you think of "Constellation of Doubt", or this review? Feel free to share your thoughts. Feedback is always welcomed.

Captain Hornblower
Keeper of Jenavian's Jewel Gun
Worshiper of Aeryn's Remarkable Vessel


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Originally aired in the US February 14, 2003

Written by David Kemper

Directed by Andrew Prowse

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