Friday 26 April 2024

Lexx season 2 (1998)

Lexx is of course the greatest sci-fi TV series ever made. The first season (which I’ve also reviewed) comprised four TV-movies. It then switched to a more straightforward episodic format for seasons two, three and four. It’s the second season with which I’m concerned in this review. This is a series that completely ignores all the established conventions of TV science fiction. Or rather it takes those conventions and stomps them.

One of the reasons it’s so good is that it wasn’t British or American. It was a Canadian-German co-production. The Canadians and Germans were simply not constrained by conventional ideas about how to do sci-fi TV. If you’ve ever seen the 1976 Anglo-German series Star Maidens (which in its own way is almost as crazy and inspired as Lexx) you know that the Germans have their own ideas about how to do sci-fi.

There are three things that stand out about Lexx. Firstly, the stunning visuals. The visuals are not just spectacular - they display genuine imagination, style and wit. Lexx just doesn’t look like other sci-fi TV series.

Secondly there’s the outrageousness. This is wild crazy stuff. At times Lexx veers perilously close to being a spoof or a satire on TV sci-fi but it never totally crosses that line. There’s plenty of comedy but this is not a comedy series. This is not Red Dwarf. Just when Lexx seems to descending into goofiness it will take a dark turn. And the humour is very black.

And thirdly there’s the sexiness. Prior to this the only people who had ever thought of combining science fiction with serious sleaze were the Japanese (if you’ve seen Wicked City you know what I’m talking about). British and American sci-fi would never dare to venture into outright sleaze territory. Lexx is unapologetically sexy, sleazy and scuzzy. Lexx gets down and dirty. Lexx is totally unconstrained by conventional notions of good taste.

It’s fascinating to compare Lexx to Farscape which entered production a couple of years later (and shamelessly stole the living starship idea). Farscape is also visually impressive and also tries to be grown-up sci-fi but by comparison it’s very conventional, very tame and very safe.

What makes Lexx fascinating is that it takes a very conventional basic premise - four misfits adventuring through space in a stolen starship - and does insane things with it.

Lexx is also not afraid to be nasty. In one episode three human astronauts on board the Lexx get eaten by a monster and the crew of the Lexx are totally unconcerned. They don’t know these people so they don’t care. Insofar as they have any loyalties those loyalties are to each other. There is nothing touchy-feely about Lexx.

There’s also perhaps a slight existentialist vibe.

The background to the first season is that many many centuries ago there was an epic war between humans and space insects. As an indirect result an evil genius, His Divine Shadow, ended up in control of a vast galactic empire. This was definitely a dystopian society, a species of theocratic/bureaucratic totalitarianism. Don’t get alarmed. Lexx has no political axes to grind.

A very low-level security guard named Stanley Tweedle ends up in possession of the Lexx along with his three companions. 790 is a robot, or was a robot. Now he’s just a robot head. Kai is the last of the Brunnen-G. He has been dead for two thousand years. He then served as an assassin for His Divine Shadow. Now he’s given up killing. Well, mostly. Kai is dead but he’s quite lively for a dead man. He’s undead rather than dead. And lastly there’s Zev Bellringer. She was turned into a love slave but something went wrong and so she’s also part cluster lizard. What’s a cluster lizard? You don’t want to know. Let’s just say that you don’t want to make Zev angry. Mostly she’s a sweet girl who just wants love but when the cluster lizard part of her is awakened she’s a killing machine.

The Lexx is like a gigantic living space crustacean. It’s also the most powerful weapon of destruction in the two universes.

There’s an ongoing story arc in season two, just as there was in season one. This time the crew of Lexx face an evil of a different type, an evil of total chaos rather an evil of total control.The evil is Mantrid. Who or what Mantrid is is uncertain. There’s also arguably a second minor story arc but to say more would risk spoilers.

Episode Guide

In the first episode, Mantrid, Kai isn’t quite himself. He isn’t himself at all. For a dead man he’s suddenly highly motivated. He insists on a return to the Light Universe. He wants to find Mantrid, a scientific genius who also happens to be evil, perverted and insane. But Kai needs his help. It’s all about a giant bug. Given that humans once fought an epic galactic war against insects giant insects should be approached with caution. This episode features two of the creepiest villains of all time.

In Terminal Kai accidentally pulverises Stanley’s heart. The only hope of saving Stanley is an orbiting hospital. Unfortunately the administrators of the hospital are crooks and the doctors are both evil and insane. They have plans for Kai and for Zev, and for the Lexx. The doctors do make one mistake. They forget to check if Zev is entirely human before they start experimenting on her. Of course she is not entirely human and that has consequences. There are serious consequences for Zev as well but I won’t reveal them for fear of revealing a spoiler.

In Lyekka Stanley meets the girl of his dreams. Literally. He dreams about her, and then there she is. She’s cute, bubbly and friendly. She’s really sweet. Her name is Lyekka. The perfect woman. Well, almost. She’s missing something vital. And she might be more of a plant than a woman. There are other strangers to deal with - a spacecraft from the planet Potatoho. A planet famous for, well actually potatoes are what it’s famous for. They’re not hostile. They get to meet Lyekka as well. Perhaps they would have been better off not meeting her.  We will see more of Lyekka in later episodes.

In this episode the writers had to come up with a way of dealing with a major potential problem. Eva Habermann was leaving the series, to be replaced by Xenia Seeberg. Writing Zev out of the series was unthinkable so a way had to be found to explain why Zev now looks different, and why she is now Xev. In fact the writers found a rather clever way to deal with this but naturally I’m not going to spoil things by telling you any more.

In Luvliner Stanley and Xev both have a problem. They both desperately need to get laid. They can’t do it with each other because Xev just doesn’t go for Stanley. When they make contact with the orbiting brothel Luvliner (that caters to ladies as well as gentlemen) it seems like a godsend. Stanley and Xev head over to Luvliner for some serious bedroom action. Sadly the Luvliner is the crummiest most down-market most scuzzy brothel in the two universes. And there’s another problem - two very nasty sleazebags who want to steal the Lexx.

Lafftrak is typical Lexx with a totally off-the-wall opening sequence about a war between two planets over TV ratings. The Lexx encounters a strange object which is a kind of mini-planet. Stanley and Zev decide to investigate and find themselves cast as characters in TV series. They find that TV stardom is not all it’s cracked up to be and it has unexpected hazards. There’s some merciless mockery of television and the desire for celebrity status. in this episode. It’s totally insane and outrageous but this is Lexx so you expect that.

The whimsical oddball craziness of Lafftrak is followed by a very much darker episode, Stan’s Trial. Stan has been accused of horrific crimes that took place ten years earlier and has to stand trial after being captured on board a high-class orbiting brothel. In any other TV sci-fi series we would be relieved to find out at the end that Stanley is totally innocent but characteristically Lexx throws some curve balls at us. In fact Stan may be guilty, in a way. In another way, perhaps not guilty of horrible crimes but guilty of cowardice and dereliction of duty. This episode displays the interest that the show’s writers had in the ambiguous nature of justice and guilt and in the temptations that power brings. It’s also an intriguing and complex study of evil.

In Love Grows the sexual desperation of both Stanley and Xev leads to disaster and the Lexx and its crew are infected with a virus that has very disturbing results.

In White Trash the crew of the Lexx find themselves reluctant hosts to a family of space hillbillies. They’re not overly thrilled although Stanley starts coming around to the idea when the daughter indicates that she’d be a very willing bed partner. Xev thinks she might get lucky as well. The son is a long way short of her ideal of the perfect man but he is at least a man and if he wants to do the humpy-jumpy with her she might consider it. Of course it doesn’t end well.

Wake the Dead is Lexx spoofing slasher movies. Lexx picks up five annoying teenage delinquents on their way to summer camp on a summer camp planet. They accidentally put themselves into cryo-sleep for 287 years. Now they’re aboard the Lexx and they find themselves stalked by a psycho killer. In fact the psycho killer intends to kill everybody. These kinds of whimsical spoof episodes were sometimes done in sci-fi series but this being Lexx it’s done with real edge and nastiness. It also has the juvenile humour, the crassness and the obligatory nudity of a slasher film.

Nook is a planet that is all ocean, with one small island. It is inhabited by monks living a very simple life. The monks find the arrival of Stanley, Xev and Kai very disturbing. They have never seen a man like Xev before. Explaining to them that Xev is a woman does no good. They have no knowledge of the existence of women. Some of the brothers do however notice that this strange man is oddly attractive. Stanley gets accused of murder. Xev finally gets to do it - yes, after so much frustration she finally has sex with a man. In fact with several men. Quite a few times. She’s now a very happy Xev. It’s a typical Lexx story with some weirdness, some creepiness and a sting in the tail.

Norb is a young boy marooned in space, or at least that’s how it seems. Appearances can be deceptive. The crew of the Lexx are about to be engaged in a deadly battle with an old enemy.

In Twilight Stanley becomes very ill. A nearby planet appears to offer some hope of medical help. The only human in habitats of this world are the last surviving member of the Divine Order, his wife and their daughter. This is a spectacularly awful dysfunctional family and they’re not to be trusted. Especially the daughter who is giving Xev some rather lustful glances. There are also plenty of non-human inhabitants here. They combine the most unpleasant features of zombies and ghouls. And Kai is behaving very strangely.

Patches in the Sky
presents the Lexx’s crew with a serious problem - the stars are going out one by one. Meanwhile Stanley is sampling the delights of the NarcoLounge which allows a person to control his own dreams. Unfortunately Stanley gets trapped in a very very bad dream.

In Woz Xev has a problem and may have only a few days to live. The only technology that could save her is on the planet Woz. There are two bitterly opposed factions on Woz and initially it’s by no means clear which faction represents the good guys. There’s what appears to be a religious cult but intriguingly (and daringly) the writers have chosen to make it more an ideological cult than a religious one. And it’s another episode that demonstrates Lexx’s willingness to get pretty dark.

In The Web the Lexx is caught in, you guessed it, a kind of web in outer space.

Brigadoom is the all-singing episode of Lexx. It’s a riff on the Lerner and Loewe musical Brigadoon. The Lexx discovers a theatre floating space. It only comes into existence at lengthy intervals. Otherwise it exists in a kind of non-existence outside time and space. The theatre company always performs the same play, a musical version of the story of the Brunnen-G. It’s an original offbeat way to give us Kai’s backstory and the history of the Brunnen-G. This episode is even more clever - Kai, Xev and Stanley all learn about themselves and how to face their fears. This is the kind of off-the-wall episode that makes me love Lexx so much.

In Brizom the Mantrid story arc kicks into high gear. Brizom is a bio-engineer. He’s a deeply unpleasant man but he has his good points - he hates Mantrid and he may the knowledge needed to stop him.

The End of the Universe may actually mean the end of the universe, unless the crew of the Lexx can find a way to defeat Mantrid.

Final Thoughts

In this second season all the main characters either have to confront their pasts or learn to come to terms with their true natures. Even 790 discovers that he’s not quite what he thought he was. They also learn that their only hope of survival is absolute in-group loyalty. They don’t owe anything to anybody else but by the end of the season they do owe a lot to each other. They have all perhaps grown up a little.

It’s a very strong season and it’s very highly recommended.

I reviewed Lexx season one not too long ago.

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