Friday, January 05, 2007

Babylon 5: 'Knives' and 'Confessions and Lamentations' (2x17 - 2x18)

These two episodes have some decent stuff in them, but generally feel like a break before the season revs up for the final run of episodes, in which we will finally see the moment when "the great war came upon us all." Having that statement in the opening credits, along with the image of the Shadow ship, has definitely affected the way I viewed the season. Early on, everything seemed to be buzzing around them, and I figured that the outbreak of the war was imminent. But, the Narn-Centauri conflict came up, and the Shadow story has stayed on the backburner. It's barely touched on in these two episodes, at this point we know pretty much all the background on them, the next step if for the Shadows to make themselves known and instigate a war that will engulf the galaxy.

For now, we continue to develop things slowly. The most interesting part of 'Knives' is Londo's storyline. Again, we see him dealing with the consequences of his search for power. First, I've just got to comment on how brilliant the picture of him in his quarters is. It's the ultimate representation of his ego, and can be used to show him as either a comic fool, or a menacing figure. It's a small thing, but adds another visual layer to all the scenes there.

To some extent, this story is a retread of what we've seen before. It's not news that Londo is power hungry, and that that hunger is distancing himself from everyone around him. What this episode adds is further evidence that Londo has chosen the wrong allies on all counts, with both Morden and Refa. Refa is clearly a devious figure, and I don't know that Londo is fully aware of that. Sometimes he seems totally lucid about the actions he's taken and other times you get the sense he thinks he's acting in the good, unaware that he's a puppet of these larger interests. I don't say that as a criticism, I think it's a great ambiguity, and ties in with the fact that he probably goes back and forth on that very issue.

Londo claims he is acting in the service of returning the Centauri to glory, but in the service of that goal, he is destroying the very proud tradition he hopes to restore. The two most noble Centauri we've seen are the Emperor and Urza, and Refa has acted to destroy them both. However, Londo has gone too far, and now must play out the consequences of his actions. It's tough to watch the scene at the banquet where he realizes that he must fight Urza. He thought it would be easy to manage his power, but he's now placed in an awful situation where he has to kill his friend.

The duel itself could have used a bit more pizazz, but the end was great. I like the fact that Urza went to the ship on a suicide mission, and Londo's eventual realization that this was so. He's drifting further into melancholy, as it becomes clear things aren't working out as he planned.

The story with Sheridan is a bit more obvious. The playing out of the story itself isn't particularly interesting, it was clear that Sheridan was having some kind of visions, transferred to him by this dead guy. Where it got interesting was in the final moments, where we find out Sheridan served as the host for some kind of time-traveling entity, and get our first followup on the mysterious appearance of Babylon 4. I feel like this story was meant to let us know that they haven't forgotten, that story is still in play, and presumably Babylon 4, with future Sinclair aboard, will return at some critical point in the story's future.

As with the Sheridan storyline in 'Knives,' the main story in 'Confessions' isn't that interesting as it plays out. The plague storyline isn't something particularly original and I feel like we've seen five episodes with Franklin desperately racing against time to cure some disease. I guess there's only so many stories you can do with the character, but I think we've seen the same behavior too many times now, there's got to be some payoff to his obsessive commitment to his work. Give him some negative consequences rather than just continue to tease that something bad might happen to him as a result of his work habits.

So, the actual playing out of the episode wasn't particularly notable, however, the ending worked very well. Much like 'Believers,' this episode sets up a typical TV problem and leads us to believe they've found a solution, only to pull everything out from under at the end and give the bleakest ending possible. The scene where they open the isolation area and find all the dead bodies was quite powerful, particularly Delenn's emotional breakdown. The fact that the entire race was wiped out, to no particular concern of most people, was a good capper. Perhaps it will be the knowledge that if he had only worked faster, he could have saved this race that will finally push Franklin over the edge.

Beyond the main story, the thing that left me wondering about this episode was Delenn's relationship with Sheridan. We've seen the two of them on a 'date' before, and now they do the same Minbari style. Her tearful embrace of John at the end was clearly more about the death of the Markab than anything else, but I definitely feel like something's going on between the two of them. I'm curious to see if the show will cross species lines with a relationship, the possibility is definitely there.

According to Keith, things intensify after episode 18, I'm very curious to see.


Keith G said...

From here on in, every episode of the series is written by JMS. (Except for one in season 5, written by Neil Gaiman... after whom the Gaim are named [/trivia])

Now every episode written by one man *sounds* like madness, but he's really the only person who understands the universe so well - and he makes it work beautifully.

I imagine you'll watch the next four episodes and then do a review of them all. I'm really, really enjoying your reviews - it takes me back to when I first watched the series... almost a decade ago!

Patrick said...

I could definitely see why he'd want to write them all himself, if this massive story exists in his head, he's going to want to translate it as directly as possible. From reading through the Lurker's Guide, I get the sense he's much more specific about what he wants than someone like Joss. Joss seemed to work around the actors and do a collaborative show, while JMS has a specific idea and views the production process as an attempt to fulfill that vision.

Both are certainly valid approaches, I think Whedon's way gives the characters more life, and lets them take on more dimensions. But, the careful structure of B5 allows for a singular narrative, where virtually every piece has an impact down the line.

I think you mentioned before that JMS wrote all of seasons three through five except for one episode, and I was curious about who wrote the other episode. The fact that it's Neil Gaiman is fantastic, he's one of my favorite writers and I'm really curious to see what he does with the B5verse. Have you read Sandman, his comic series? I'd highly reccomend it, it's really fantastic stuff.

Keith G said...

I finally got around to reading Sandman last year - and it's easily his best work. Other things I've read of his have been lacking. But Sandman is great - and his episode of Babylon 5 is sensational.

Patrick said...

I feel like everything he's done has drawn on the same basic themes as Sandman, which means if you've read Sandman, there's no need for anymore. That's not to say it isn't good, it's just he's got a few pet themes and keeps going back to them.

That said, his work on Miracleman is fantastic. Alan Moore started the series, then he took over and did some great stuff. Unfortunately, there's a ton of rights issues, so the book's been out of print for a long time.