Monday, January 01, 2007

Babylon 5: 2x10-2x12

It's a big blog day today, later on I'll be posting the year end best lists for both films and music. But, first, more Babylon 5. With the start of the Narn-Centauri War in 'The Coming of the Shadows,' I wasn't sure how the show would structure itself. Would we go to a purely serial format? Not exactly, while the war hangs over everything, it remained in the background for the first two of these three episodes. Much like the Shadow threat in the beginning of the season, we always get some hints about what's going on, but the show is still mostly standalone episodes.

In that respect, the show's structure reminds me of The X-Files, where there was a clear divide between the standalone episodes and the mythology episodes. Thankfully, they do acknowledge major events in the standalones here, and most of them tie into ongoing plots in some way. However, it is still frustrating to go through these less important stories and have to wait for followup on the major events.

I had heard that 'GROPOS' was a really weak episode, and those lowered expectations meant I actually really enjoyed the episode. Anything's going to be a downturn after 'The Coming of Shadows,' but this one does an admirable job of thematically tying in with what we saw there, as well as developing the ongoing story of corruption in the Earth government. If I have one complaint about this episode, it's that it's using something of a stock story, and stock characters, with the soldiers on leave. I feel like I've seen this before, the fighting, the camaraderie.

But, I think that's partially the point, to show that these behavior patterns are always going to be part of being a soldier. Putting your life in danger means having a devil may care attitude, and that means starting a bar fight for no apparent reason. In the case of Dodger, it means seeking out small moments of emotional release wherever she can find them. In this case, I felt Garibaldi was rather misunderstanding in the way he treated her. He knew what she wanted, and when someone's just passing through your space station, it's not the time to talk about wanting a long term relationship. In most shows, you usually don't have one of your main characters having a one night stand without any consequence. Witness what happens to Skinner or Mulder in The X-Files. Here, they choose to emphasize Garibaldi's emotional pain and confusion, which forces him to ultimately push Dodger away.

A part of the episode that didn't work so well was Franklin's relationship with his father. This felt cliched, and also covered the same territory as most other Franklin storylines. He always has to proclaim his sacred duty as a doctor and defend that against some outside force. I'm assuming it's building towards some major crisis later on, but I think we get the idea by this point.

A more effective piece of the episode was Delenn getting bullied by the soldiers. In this, and the next episode, we get a great sense of how disconnected she is, caught between two worlds, but belonging to neither. For the people on Babylon 5 who are committed to diplomacy, that is the inevitable conflict, forced to place the good of the galaxy as a whole above their loyalty to their own world. When she's kicked off the Grey Council, B5 becomes her only chance to make things better.

The thing that makes this episode work is the finale, where we see that all of the soldiers we knew have died. The ending makes the episode because it puts their actions in context. All these people knew they could die at any time, they were prepared to accept it, but I don't think the people on Babylon 5 were. A major theme of the show is the idea that war is awful and destructive, and this ending perfectly conveys that.

Next up is 'All Alone in the Night,' an episode with a rather goofy A story, but a lot of good stuff in there as well. Sheridan's kidnapping just doesn't work. They always like to put the Captains in action situations, and that works sometimes, but here, the set looked fake and the story itself was pretty nonsensical, and, at a time when there's so many warring factions out in space, it seems odd to have it be a random ship that attacks the Captain.

That said, I loved the dream sequence. This one seemed inspired by Twin Peaks, with its ambiguous dialogue and heavy stylization. What do I pull from it? It looks like Ivanova will die, as anyone who's watched the Six Feet Under opening credits, a crow does not bode well for one's future. And, Kosh will apparently have some major role to play in the future, though he remains decidedly ambiguous now.

While I may complain about some of the show's pacing with regards to major story development, I love the fact that Kosh remains in the background, still mysterious. Today, I feel like people would be complaining by midway through the first season that they haven't gotten all the answers they want. I think people neglect to realize that answers are never satisfying, it's the journey there. Now, in the case of Lost, I think they forgot to develop characters and tell a story, instead they just teased mysteries, and that's why people were so frustrated.

The ending fits thematically with what I was saying before about Delenn. Sheridan is technically betraying the Earth military, his only true loyalty is to Babylon 5, and when he calls the others in, they too pledge loyalty to the idea of diplomacy over their own homeworld. This development is a perfect thematic fit because the whole point of the show is that Babylon 5 is the only hope for peace, while the homeworlds are only seeking power for themselves. Even the Minbari are now on the path to war, things are getting worse for the galaxy. This also confirms that the conflict with Psi Corps and the Earth military will be the show's major B-story going forward.

The best episode of these three by far is 'Acts of Sacrifice,' which gives us our first major insight in the Narn-Centauri War. The opening is very well done, both in terms of effects and in terms of emotional engagement. The sequence recalled the Rebels' escape from Hoth in Empire, and is one of the few works to capture that same reckless spirit of fighting against a seemingly invincible foe.

This moves us into G'Kar's quest to obtain military aid for the Narn cause. Both the humans and Minbari say that they would love to help, but can't get the homeworld to agree on it. If it was up to Sheridan, would he send in major military aid? I'm not sure, I think he's too canny to fully commit to one side, particularly when it would mean the potential loss of a lot of Earth soldiers. Delenn's reason for not helping G'Kar is a brilliant use of continuity. She knows that the conflict between Narn and Centauri is an ongoing thing that is only going to get worse with this war, and helping one side will just perpetuate the cycle of violence.

However, both she, and we the viewers, know that G'Kar is less to blame for what has happened. He's the one who was willing to make peace back in 'The Coming of Shadows,' and is justifiably trying to defend his people. He believes he can convince the Earthers and Minbari to offer him aid, and his attmepts to conform to their rules of behavior causes problems within the Narn community. This whole storyline is masterfully executed, showing how much G'Kar has grown. He understands how the Babylon 5 diplomatic system works, and is willing to play by its rules, even if it means subjecting himself to physical harm and eventual emotional reaction.

The scene where they tell G'Kar that they can only offer him meager aid is the high point of the episode. Here, we see that all his effort could not sway them. He will get help for his people, but nothing he can show, and nothing to aid in the war. It is a good thing, and the diplomatic side of him knows that, but the warrior side wishes he could have more. He has to keep his emotions in check, and thank them for hte aid, playing by their rules, but outside he breaks down, in a mix of laughter and tears. He's been spiralling downward over the course of the season and is likely headed for a major break in the future.

The other major storyline focuses on Londo. Following 'The Coming of Shadows,' I was wondering how they'd keep Londo as a regular character. He seemed to cross a line there, and that's reflected in this story. Rather than show him as an outright villain, we see the same guy, now forced to deal with the effect of his actions. He seems to have become a kind of mafia don, fielding requests from many friends he never knew he had. Londo is smart enough to recognize the hollowness of their affection, and he seeks true friendship from Garibaldi. Of course, Garibaldi is aware that Londo has crossed a line and is not really comfortable treating him in the same way he did before.

It's interesting that we're still made to feel sorry for Londo, despite viewing him as a total bastard in the G'Kar parts of the episode. The scene where he's at the bar at closing time is so sad, and even when he does drink with Garibaldi, it's a totally hollow feeling. I like how everyone is scared of him, even though he detects no change.

Elsewhere, Ivanova's Earth sex was one of the funniest things the show's done so far, a nice counterpoint to the dark stuff going on elsewhere. The humor on the show has definitely picked up, early on it was a bit sitcom, but the darker general tone means the humor stands out more. It's like on Buffy, season six was both the saddest, darkest season of the show and the funniest.

So, this was a strong run of episodes. I would have liked more on the Narn-Centauri War, but this last episode was fantastic, and I'm really excited to see where things go next.


Angie said...

The dream in All Alone in the Night is one of the things you can only hope to begin to understand after having seen the show at least twice.

Some of its meaning is pretty clear after you get there - in one case it's actually spelled out to you - but the most complex layers only got clear to me after I read a recent explanation by JMS. Great Stuff!

Also, you're getting pretty good at noticing where the characters are heading. That's one of the best things of the show. Firing up your brain actually gets you somewhere and doesn't just make you realise that the writers weren't thinking that far ahead.

Patrick said...

I love that ambiguous dream stuff. 'Restless' was my favorite Buffy episode, and that seems to hold new meanings each time I see it. I know Joss has a vague idea of what would happen down the line, but wasn't as cohesive in his planning as JMS. So, I'm guessing Sheridan's dream will reveal a lot more specific meaning as things move forward.