Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Babylon 5: 3x01-3x03

Season three starts off pretty strong, then settles in for a couple of solid, but unexceptional episodes. In season two, JMS started with a burst of energy, carried over from season one, then scaled things back for a while, doing a bunch of loosely connected standalone episodes. Things didn't really rev back up until 'The Coming of Shadows.' In those standalone episodes, it would typically be a standalone plot, with some connection to the overall Shadow development revealed at the end. Here, we have a standalone story that draws on the events of season two to fuel it. Other than 'Matters of Honor,' none of these really pushed the arc forward, but they're all important to fleshing out the current status quo for the world.

Let me start with the new credits sequence. I love that they change the credits every year, and provide hints for what will happen in the credits themselves. Ivanova is now doing the voiceover, picking up where she left off in 'The Fall of Night.' Previously, I'd just assumed that the Captain did the voiceover, I'm not sure if there's a significance to the switch. Most of the images we see are from season two, so it's tough to comment on the future, but things generally do not appear to be going well. It's a very somber voiceover, backed by images of violence and conflict. Talia has definitely left the show, as has Na'Toth, who never seemed to appear after the original actress left. Joining up are Zack and the new character, Aragorn, oh wait, Marcus Cole. I was surprised Talia didn't make the credits, but considering she is on the cover of the season box, I'm assuming she'll make her presence known shortly. One other credits issue I'm curious about is why Peter Jurassik and Andreas' credits changed order.

The opening of the season is quite exciting, with Marcus escaping from a Centauri attack on the Ranger training base. The scene is very well constructed, dropping us right into the tumultuous world, and establishing the desperate lengths people are going to to escape the Centauri attacks. Marcus definitely seems like a Lord of the Rings character, I'm assuming the Rangers name is drawn from there. But, I think he'll be a good addition to the show. He's only been in one episode so far, but I could see him developing in an interesting way. Hopefully they'll actually invest the time to do that, rather than just have him appear occasionally without any real focus, like Warren in season two. I'm not sure if Warren was ever meant to be a real character, or just there to die at the end of the season, but it seemed like no time was invested in making him human. Hopefully they won't do the same thing here. Even if he is there just to die, make us care about him, and that payoff will be a lot more emotional.

This episode finds Londo regretting his continued alliance with the Shadows, deciding to 'go straight,' and break things off with Morden. Unfortunately, it's much too late to mean anything, Morden happily breaks things off because he's already working with Lord Refa. Refa lacks Londo's moral troubles over what the Shadows are doing, so he's perfect prey for Morden. Morden makes it clear that the Shadows don't want to be challenged, they want the Centauri to take over a specific part of the galaxy, I'm assuming they want to consolidate enemy power, so when the time comes, they can defeat the Centauri and take over the entire galaxy. It's possible they don't want the Centauri to expand for the obvious reason, they don't want to be attacked on their own territory, but I think they're too powerful to worry about that. Instead, I think they don't want the Centauri to overextend themselves and weaken their own forces. Clearly, it's in the Shadows' interest to have the Centauri in power, but it remains unclear exactly what their endgame is.

Earth clearly has some major factionalism going on in its government. As we find out at the end of the episode, Psi Corps and at least some other parts of Earthdome are in alliance with the Shadows. Is the guy they sent to Babylon 5 aware of this? It remains ambiguous, but clearly this alliance will pose major problems for Sheridan and Babylon 5. How can they find a war against the darkness when their own army is against them? Will battling the Shadows mean turning themselves into outright outlaws? Part of the reason for strengthening the relationship between Delenn and Sheridan was likely to make it clearer which was the good side and which was the bad. Because we're aware of Delenn's goodness, Sheridan can turn against his own government, confident that he's doing the right thing. I'm really curious to see how the Earth/Shadow/Centauri alliance develops, it's not touched on again in what I've seen so far, so I'm still waiting for some further development.

I was surprised that Londo said outright that he saw that ship in a dream. I would have thought he'd be more canny about revealing that, but maybe he was just so shocked, he said it without thinking. Or, it might have just been a way to remind viewers of his dream. It made more sense for G'Kar to talk about the connection, he's been saying this for so long, yet no one listens to him. I'm guessing that down the line, G'Kar will join the Ranger alliance, he's clearly got the respect of Sheridan, but nobody's made the connection between what he was warning them about and the Shadows yet.

Elsewhere, Sheridan gets his new ship, the White Star. The ship is pretty cool, and their battle with the Shadow ship is great. They get a small victory here, but I'm assuming the trap them into a jump point tactic won't be a good longterm strategy for victory. From a narrative point of view, giving them this ship makes it easier for the action to expand beyond Babylon 5. Now they can travel wherever they want to go and still stay on a set. With a war this big, action will certainly be happening off station, and now it's easier to cover those territories.

'Convictions' is an episode that's probably more politically relevant today than it was back when it aired. In light of a war, civil liberties are being restricted and a mad bomber is on the loose, blowing stuff up and causing havoc. This is more 24 than Babylon 5, and I think this sort of story doesn't work to the show's best instincts. It always feels a bit off when the Captain goes into action himself, be it Sinclair or Sheridan. It makes sense within the story, but the show doesn't do hand to hand combat so well. It usually works best when we see the people on the station commanding their influence over space battles. That actually feels more personal and relevant than the sort of action scenes we see here.

This episode does have some good bits, particularly the Londo/G'Kar elevator sequence. So far, they've each been in all three episodes, and I'm hoping they're bumped up to every episode cast member status. To some extent, it makes their appearances less special, but both of them bring such great energy, it's good to have them on. G'Kar's high pitched voice taunting of Londo is great, if a bit broad. But, on the verge of passing out, I don't think he's concerned about keeping his comedy subtle. From a thematic point of view, the elevator storyline reveals their critical differences. Londo is always looking out for his own self interest, and expects other to act accordingly. However, G'Kar has been burned before and would rather take Londo down with him than save them both.

On the whole, the episode has some good stuff, but isn't totally satisfying. The main story is rather perfunctory and, while it may be thematically fitting for this era of the show, it's just not particularly exciting to watch.

'A Day in the Strife' is stronger, though still not quite at great status. Here, we get a cornucopia of plots. The least interesting is the probe sent to the station, this is a season one level occurrence with a pretty anti-climactic resolution. JMS clearly enjoys talking about philosophy, and a lot of those conversations are great, but the issues raised by this aren't particularly interesting.

More interesting are the trade guild negotations. The thing I really liked here is that there's no resolution whatsoever. It's an impossible choice, you cannot work fast and safe without charging more, but people aren't willing to accomodate the changed conditions, they want things to be like they were before. As the episode ends, the negotiations rage on, no end in sight. I also really liked the resentment aimed towards our main characters from the average citizens. None the groups are able to appreciate what the others have to do.

Also, Na'Far, a representative of the Vichy government, is sent to Babylon 5 to coerce the Narn into going along with Centauri rule. I liked that Na'Far wasn't a cardboard villain, you could understand his point, he was just trying to work within the system to protect his people. But, it turns out that these people would rather put themselves and their families at risk than give up on the hope of freedom. Londo was right when he said their pride was not yet broken, I love his totally callous treatment of Na'Far, talking to him like a slave, and Na'Far has no choice but to take. Londo can see just a flicker of pride in him, and chastises Na'Far for it. Rarely has Londo been so outright nasty to someone, he has so much more power, there's no reason at all to be the least bit diplomatic.

G'Kar is ready to sacrifice himself for the people on Babylon 5, but they wind up stopping him and supporting his rule. G'Kar is the Narns' last, best hope for freedom and they're willing to sacrifice anything to ensure he has the chance to work. While last season was about totally destroying G'Kar, here we're starting to see things turn around. He has the support of his people and Sheridan, and is already building a resistance against the Centauri. It's still not good, but I could see things getting better for him as the season progresses.

Londo arranges to have Vir sent away, effectively ridding himself of his conscience. He appreciates Vir, but too often Vir is bringing up legitimate points about Londo's moral corruption. He doesn't want to face what he's done, and as a result, he arranges to have Vir shipped off. In getting rid of Vir, Londo is further isolating himself, he now has no one he can talk to left on the station. While Delenn may meet with him and do a favor, she pointedly tells him that they never talked, they were never friends, and she is not likely to have much affection for the man who instigated genocide against the Narn.

The final plot thread here was Franklin's addiction to stims. I think the dinner scene with Garibaldi was a bit cliche in its "I don't have a problem" obviousness. Yes, that may be what someone would say, but I'd seen that scene too many times before. I like the fact that we're finally getting some consequences for Franklin's work/stims addiction and I'm curious to see where the plot goes. While I had issues with the rest, I loved the final scene where Franklin lies to Garibaldi and says he worked the whole night without doing any stims. I like that there was no obvious commenting on his lying, he's very casual about it and the only thing to let us know something is awry is our knowledge of what actually happened.

So, the show is going along well now. I'd like to see things rev up a bit with the Shadow War, but we're still exploring the new status quo, with the Centauri in control of the Narn. Presumably, JMS wants to do stories about that before moving on to the next stage in the war. I'd guess there'll be three or four more semi-standalones before revving things up to the next level with the Shadows.


crossoverman said...

Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurassik's credits swap positions every year, which I think is very fitting for their characters.

You're right, the next few episodes continue to explore the world - with the arc heating up again with episode 8. I suggest watching 8 through 10 straight through - because they are basically one long episode, each picking up the moment the previous one ends.

Angie said...

You're right about Keffer. In short, the character was forced upon JMS, he didn't like him and was determined to kill him off at the first opportunity. So, no, he wasn't ever meant to be a real character.

As for G'Kar, his predictions and nobody seeming to make a connection, remember his advice from first season: "No one here is exactly what he appears." ;)

I also strongly recommend you do episodes 8 to 10 in one swoop.

Havremunken said...

Yep, you're definately on your way into hot territory now. I'll throw in my vote with the others, turn up the volume and see 8-10 in one go. Just remember to breathe!

Patrick said...

Sounds like I'll definitely have to do 8-10 in one go. I've seen four already, very good, so I'll probably get to that run over the weekend, and do a major binge. I saw that they've got the season's titular episode in there, which is always the sign of something major.

comprar yate said...

To my mind every person have to read it.