Thursday, November 30, 2006

Babylon 5: 1x01-1x03

After watching the pilot, I wasn't thrilled with Babylon 5. But, as promised, things improve as it goes into the series. The first episode is basically a revised pilot, introducing us to the new characters and re-establishing the status quo on the station. What stands out immediately is the loss of most of the really bad actors. Ivanova has a lot more personality than Takashima, it's always good to have a contentious supporting cast rather than people who totally believe in the mission. With Ivanova, I see a lot of potential for future development, and we even get some more layers here, with the death of her father and her story about her mother. Plus, it's nice to see Bill's mom from Freaks and Geeks getting some work.

There's a lot more tension here. In 'The Gathering,' there's very little actual conflict, but the attack on the colony lends urgency to what's going on. Plus, it allows for some humanization (or Centauriazation) of Londo. After three episodes, I'm still not sure about Londo. He's a very entertaining character, but sometimes feels a bit too broad. He was better in the third episode, gradually becoming more than just funny hair and an accent. It doesn't help that his assistant seems to be right off of a bad sitcom. It's hard to take a character seriously when he's dealing with such goofy help. On Buffy, there were a lot of complaints about the goofiness of Andrew, but I always found him funny in a smart way. This assistant guy just isn't funny, and that makes him only annoying. I think the guy could bring a bit more realism to the acting.

The Captain is also still a question mark. I really didn't like him in the pilot, and I don't know if it's that he's improved or that I've gotten used to him, but he's definitely less offensive. That said, I still don't buy him as the center of the show, and it feels odd that he's always involved in the action. We never see Bill Adama going out in the Viper, and similarly, I don't know if the head of this whole station should be out on fighter missions. Admittedly, it's needed for the plot, but I feel like it might have been better to make a seperate pilot hotshot character and captain character. Of course, that could just be the Battlestar influence talking.

The effects were a real problem in the pilot, but I'm getting used to them a bit more. The rendering is pretty bad, but I think they are successful in terms of free camera movement. You can do more with these CG ships than with models, and the fights are pretty well done. However, the basic issue remains that they're clearly fake, and the story has to be better to compensate for that. In any sci-fi show, you must willingly cross into the universe. Sometimes when I catch a snippet of Buffy or Angel out of context, it looks absolutely ridiculous. But when you're watching the show, it feels perfectly natural. I'm still not quite at home in the Babylon 5 world.

A simpler trouble arises in the second episode, a standalone that feels a lot like a bad X-Files episode. The Soulhunter is a decent idea, but so much time is spent on drawn out dialogue scenes, the episode never really comes together. It's a visual medium, and I understand the budgetary limitations, but a snappier pace is needed to keep things interesting. We do get some interesting teases about the future, and possible developments with the Minbari, but that's not enough to make the episode work.

I'm hoping that there's not a long period where every episode is a standalone. I get the need to set up the universe, but I feel like there are more exciting stories that could have worked to set up the Minbari world. For example, the next episode does a good job of setting up Centauri culture and developing both G'Kar and Londo. It wasn't a particularly unique plot, but it was the most emotionally involved I've been in an episode so far.

I'm curious to see if relationships become central to the series as it goes on. So far, the show seems pretty cold, and I don't see the potential for a relationship with the fire of a Buffy/Spike, or more accurately, there's no indication that kind of storytelling is a priority for JMS. The Captain has his girlfriend, but other than that, everyone just seems to be there.

So, I'm not fully sold on the series. The standalone structure isn't what I usually like, and there's too much of a sitcom style, set up conflict, resolve it all by the end, have a nice happy ending structure, but I was more entertained by each episode here than I was by the pilot. I'm really curious to see how it develops and how all of the hints dropped here eventually play out over the course of the series.


Keith G said...

As always, I say stick with it. Londo and Vir become much more interesting with Vir certainly becoming less annoying later on.

YMMV, but I don't really think there's a relationship that quite challenges the heat of Buffy/Spike - but there is certainly more focus on relationships as the series progresses.

Antimatter said...

A word of warning on the next episode - Infection - it is possibly the weakest episode in the whole series.

Regarding Londo, he becomes way more than just funny hair and an accent, as does Vir (his assistant).

Effects wise, it gets continually better as the show progresses. Based on your reaction to the first few episodes in comparison to the pilot, I think you'll get used to them.

There are no direct continuous arc episodes coming up, but there are elements of these episodes that link together, and events that occur have future repercussions (in this season and beyond). And the alien cultures and politics are continually developed.

I suggest you stick with it, because most of the elements you disliked in these episodes gradually disappear, and most of the elements you liked are further developed as the show progresses. The happy ending resolutions are not the norm!

Patrick said...

I would say there's no relationship in any other show that challenges the heat of the Buffy/Spike relationship, so I'm not expecting that, just a more well rounded look at the characters, and development over the course of the series.

And, I'll definitely stay with the series. It sounds like it took them a while to find what worked, and if the show's as good as people say it is, sitting through a few bad episodes isn't a problem.