Sunday, February 04, 2007

Babylon 5 - 'Atonement' (4x09)

I've been having some major issues with my DVD player, so I've been unable to watch an episode since watching 'Atonement' a few days ago, but they've been resolved and I'll be moving forward again shortly. But, I shall write up this episode anyway, while it's still at least somewhat fresh in my mind. It's something of a departure for the show, focusing exclusively on one character, Delenn, on her journey away from the station, a journey into the Minbari cultural past.

Flashback episodes are tricky because presumably we've already seen everything that's crucial to a character's development, if a character is well developed, there shouldn't be some magic key we can get four years in that will make everything that's come before click into place. This episode doesn't try to do that, so much as add in a pain that Delenn is dealing with, one that has haunted her and perhaps influenced her closeness to humans.

The episode reminds me of Battlestar Galactica's 'Hero,' in which we find out that Adama may have been responsible for the start of the Cylon War. Of course, it's not a direct responsibility, but there's still the need to deal with guilt about how one bad decision may have brought on the massive destruction of the war. I think this episode handles the issue better than Galactica, largely because Delenn has a more logical reason to feel guilty. In Adama's case, he was only obeying orders, Delenn had an emotional lapse that led to the escalation. That's a more compelling issue to deal with. I also like the fact that this episode doesn't have Delenn find some easy solution to her issue, she's already dealt with what happened, found a way to live with it, even if it is troubling to her.

As for the twist itself, I think it fits, but the episode in general suffers from the fact that we don't really care about Dukhat. He just pops up here, so we don't share Delenn's rage at his death. If we did, then the moment would be more powerful, but we'd have to go through a whole bunch of backstory to establish Dukhat, and that's not really needed. Ultimately, I'm more interested in what's going as things move forward than in revisiting history, so this revelation isn't of huge interest.

The other major revelation is that Delenn is a distant descendent of Valen a.k.a Jeffery Sinclair. I think this fits better, and creates a nice loop of connectedness between the three who make up the one. One thing I'm uncertain of is how much Sinclair knew about his past life when he was on Babylon 5. He had a connection with Delenn, but it would presumably be her who was drawn to him, he wouldn't have known that she was a descendent of his. So, in something only possible by the time travel loop, Delenn's sheperding of Sinclair helps to eventually bring about her own birth. One thing this leaves me pondering is if Sinclair had stayed on the show, he and Delenn would have presumably had the relationship that she now has with Sheridan. So, then I'm guessing she wouldn't have his DNA. So, I'm not sure how this whole story would play out, the idea of Sinclair marrying Delenn doesn't match up well with him being Valen.

Visually, the most interesting element of this episode was the Dreaming. I liked the smoke filled room, though I wish they could have somehow incorporated the scenes from the past into that room rather than doing them as simple cutaway flashbacks. I'm assuming this was a nod to Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. I also noticed that the Gaim aliens, named after Gaiman, are apparently modeled after the headgear that Morpheus wears in the series. Very cool, I'm eager to see the episode that he wrote for season five.

It was odd to see Delenn back in the season one makeup. When she first changed, I remember thinking it was odd looking, but now they are styling her to look more and more human, most notably in the scene earlier in this episode where she's wearing the slinky dress. The primary technique seems to be to put her hair lower over her face, to cover the lack of eyebrows. Going back to the bald head look was jarring, and a bit tough to accept this as the same character. I guess that's evidence of an effective character transition over the course of the series.

So, this episode was pretty solid, but not too noteworthy. I am curious to see where the Marcus/Franklin mission goes, and to get further into the new status quo post Shadow War.

1 comment:

Starstuff said...

Funnily enough, I liked Dukhat even though he was only introduced - and killed off - in this episode. For some reason I found him absolutely charming, I can't even put a finger on something specific to explain it with.
But you are right, it's great that Babylon 5 stays on course and doesn't offer easy solutions for problems. Since I only finished watching season 4 I wonder if Delenn will ever need to tell Sheridan about her role in the Earth/Minbari war. That would be a tough situation.
Nice review!