Monday, February 19, 2007

Babylon 5: 'No Compromises' and 'The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari' (5x01 & 5x02)

After the massive tumult of season four’s closing episodes, pretty much anything was going to be a bit of a let down, particularly because we’ve got no cliffhangers carrying over. Instead, the season begins like most years of Buffy did, with everything at a relative calm, with only a standalone mystery to take care of.

‘No Compromises’ was the first episode shown on TNT, and there seem to be a lot of attempts to open the world to new viewers. The most obvious is the introduction of Captain Lochley. We don’t know too much about her yet, other than that she’s new and is a strict believer in Earthforce rules. Reading stuff online, I’ve seen a lot of venom directed at the character, probably because she replaced Ivanova, who was apparently a fan favorite. I was never a huge fan of Ivanova, so I’m not that angered by her loss, or dead set against her replacement.

However, at this point, I think it was a mistake to have a character so similar in temprament to Ivanova replacing her. We’ve already seen Sheridan dealing with a tough, standoffish second in command, what will we gain by using that same dynamic again? Considering the emotionally closed off nature of many of the crew, it might have been more interesting to have someone who was very emotional and open, with a lot of naiveté come in, as a contrast to all the battle hardened people on the station. Of course, JMS may have went this route for a reason, but right now, it seems like she will just bring the same dynamic we’ve already seen.

Outside of her introduction, this episode brings us a fairly standard standalone story, exploring the tension that lingers after Clark’s death. There’s not much of interest here, obviously Sheridan is going to survive, it’s just a matter of getting our people together and catching the assassin. The whole thing never had that much urgency to it, partially because of the way they respond. After he tries to shoot Sheridan, the guy runs out of the room and no one bothers to chase him, they just figure someone will catch up to him eventually.

A lot of times, shows seem to think that it’s best to do some standalone episodes, as a way of integrating new viewers into the world. Now, I can’t say for sure how a new viewer would respond to this, but I think they’d be more impressed by the scope and density of the early run of season four than they would be by the relaxed episode we’ve got here. I suppose things were different when this aired, before the DVD age. Now, you could show someone an episode like ‘Endgame,’ which would intrigue them enough to check out the rest of the show on DVD. Back then, new viewers would have no way of going back and seeing the whole series, so they’d need something like this to introduce them to the characters and world.

But, I always find it annoying when producers feel the need to compromise to bring in new viewers. Maybe JMS would have done this episode regardless, but I know with Battlestar Galactica, they frequently do standalones in an attempt to hook new viewers, but, considering the quality of those episodes, I don’t think they’ll do much hooking.

Ultimately, I feel like we do need an episode like this after all the tumult, it would be too much to go back into high drama. And, we do get the introduction of the enigmatic telepath Byron, and his group of telepaths, who will clearly play a major role later in the season.

I hope that the premiere hooked new viewers because right after that, JMS plunges deep into the series’ mythology for a thoroughly satisfying episode that has a standalone story, but a major significance for the series as a whole. I’ve talked before about the way that in their fifth seasons, Angel and The Sopranos scaled back on the serialization, instead presenting episodes with standalone plots that were heavily reliant on continuity, episodes that did some of the most illuminating character work in the series’ entire run. That’s what this episode does for Londo.

But first, let me cover the stuff with Lennier. In ‘Rising Star,’ Delenn seems completely clueless about Lennier’s feelings towards her, but we can see that her marriage to Sheridan is causing him deep pain. So, he makes the logical choice to leave Babylon 5 and do his own thing. The scene in Delenn’s apartment is the best material Bill Mumy’s had on the series, with both characters, and the audience, knowing exactly what’s going on, even though it’s never actually stated aloud. They’re in a pretty much unworkable situation, Delenn will not give up Sheridan, and Lennier is not happy with being so close to her, yet unable to go any further. It’s a conundrum with no easy answer, and I’m glad the show didn’t present one.

I like the way Sheridan functions in this episode, seemingly oblivious to what’s going on. He offers to talk to Lennier, but anything he says is just going to come off as patronizing. His joking about “three’s a crowd” works well because it emphasizes the fact that he is from a different culture than the Minbari, and will never be able to fully understand Delenn’s world.

That was good stuff, and it wasn’t even the best part of the episode. Londo has always been my favorite character on the show, and I always love dream sequences, so combining the two makes for something great. Throughout, I was thinking of the similarities between Londo’s experience here and G’Kar’s in ‘Dust to Dust,’ something that G’Kar mentions in the episode. In each case, the characters are made to confront their outdated notions of morality, and ultimately come to terms with their anger and move forward with a new mindset.

Throughout, there was a lot of great visual storytelling. Delenn’s outfit was interesting, recalling Ivanova’s in Sheridan’s dream. As in any dream sequence, there were a lot of subtle changes in appearance and location that created a nice, surreal feeling. A particularly strong visual was the heart under glass, which allowed for a strong moment of closure at the end.

Londo’s encounter with Sheridan is full of interesting stuff. For one, we get the evolution of Sheridan’s wardrobe, from Earthforce commander on. At one point, he’s wearing the same robes that Sinclair was wearing in ‘War Without End,’ possibly implying that he will take over control of the rangers with Delenn. After that, he wears a white Minbari robe, and vanishes in a ball of light. As we heard in ‘Deconstruction of Falling Stars,’ Sheridan was said to have died on Minbar, under mysterious circumstances. I’m assuming this is a preview of what will happen to him, that he will transcend his body and become pure energy. Why does Londo have access to this knowledge? We’re already aware that the Centauri have access to prophetic dreams, so it would make sense that his subconscious makes its knowledge of Sheridan’s future manifest.

I like the way that this episode plays with our knowledge of what will happen in the future. Londo claims that he cannot die because he’s seen himself in the future, something that the viewer is also feeling. Vir’s speech about prophesy as metaphor works both on a thematic level and as an attempt to restore some tension to the proceedings. I particularly like when Londo mentions that he’s always felt Sheridan would be there when he died, but never knew why. Sheridan has apparently not told him what he saw on his journey to the future. Has he even told Delenn the full story? I’m not sure.

The core of the episode is Londo’s confrontation with G’Kar. Watching the previous episode, I was thinking that, as much as I like Londo and G’Kar’s new bond, would G’Kar really get over having his homeworld destroyed so quickly? Londo seemed to have shirked the blame fairly easily. So, it was great to see an episode that made him own up to his crimes and acknowledge his responsibility. Throughout, we’ve seen him do bad things in moments of weakness, but always through intermediaries. He could play Morden or Refa for manipulating him, it was never his fault what happened. Yet, in the end, Londo made the choices and here he finally has to face up to that fact.

The callbacks to Centauri history are great. The bombing of Narn was one of the most powerful moments in the entire series, still holding a strong resonance in this callback. I also like the reversal of things in the whipping sequence. Even if it’s only on a metaphorical level, Londo is made to understand the extent of what G’Kar went through. His ego is broken down until he is force to acknowledge his crimes and ultimately apologize for them.

The scene at the end, where Londo apologizes to G’Kar is very powerful, it’s interesting how G’Kar seems almost overwhelmed by what Londo tells him. Is this what he’s been waiting to hear, or does it force him to acknowledge the fact that his new friend was responsible for so much death, a fact he had rationalized away. I’d imagine we’ll find out as things progress.

On the whole, this was a fantastic episode, taking full advantage of the series’ history to add power to an already strong story. I am a bit surprised that they sidelined Lochley and all the new stuff so soon, but I’m not complaining.

And just to wrap things up, I really enjoyed the new title sequence, though I don’t think it quite matches the epic season four opening. The major thing I’m missing is the preview of the season to come, I always liked seeing how JMS would foreshadow the events of the year right from the beginning. But, now that we’re at the end, I guess it’s fitting to start looking back.

And, one final thing, the top five episodes from season four. This was a tough one, but I’m pretty happy with this ranking…

1. Rising Star
2. The Deconstruction of Falling Stars
3. Into the Fire
4. Endgame
5. The Face of the Enemy


crossoverman said...

I know I didn't like Lochley because she was a replacement for Ivanova and she didn't seem different enough or interesting to be put in that position. Having rewatched Season 5 a few weeks back, I have changed my mind about her. I don't think she's wonderful, but I certainly appreciate her more this time around. I also know what's coming up for her, so don't assume she's exactly like Ivanova... there's a few extra layers to the character.

I don't mind "No Compromises" but the second episode is much more interesting, as you have noted.

Anonymous said...

Lochley. I've been trying, but I've never really warmed up to the character. I can't explain though.

Delenn appearing clueless in "Rising Star" - I'd have to watch the episode again, but I really don't think she was. Minbari don't talk about things that would embarass another, which is also very clear in all the not-talking done in this episode, so she won't address it. However, I do believe she's aware of it.

About Sheridan telling her about his vision - sooner or later he'll have to, as in the future she knows. I also think it's a pretty safe bet he didn't tell her right away. I mean, they hadn't even kissed at the time, so he probably felt that telling her about their son was a little premature.

It's telling how long it takes for Londo to find the word. It was the first thing that popped into my head when first seeing the episode.

Angie said...

Anonym screwed up. That was me ;-)

Patrick said...

I feel like it's always tough to add a character this late in the series, they pretty much have to either take on a life of their own and just own the show, as in the case of someone like Spike in late season Buffy, or they'll just sort of be there, like Riley in late season Buffy. Having seen 'A View From the Gallery,' I feel like the problem with Lochley is that she has to carry stories on her own, when we have no particular reason to care about what she's doing. So, she winds up just doing stuff to forward the plot.

It might have been a bit obvious, but I would have put her in a closer relationship with one of the main characters, so that we get to know her through them, and then perhaps she can gradually move off into her own stuff. As of now, she's not strong enough to handle her own material and keep it interesting.

As for Delenn in 'Rising Star,' the way the scene played, she touched his face, talked about how not all love is unrequited and then left. If she knew Lennier's situation, I think she would have been a bit more sympathetic and not tried to dispute him on the issue. Now, maybe she was saying she did love him, just not in that way, but either way, it seems a bit harsh.

In this episode, she's definitely aware of Lennier's feelings, and it's a different attitude than what we saw in 'Rising Star.' But, I'd have to watch that original scene again to be sure, I may have been reading it differently than was intended.

And Londo taking forever to find sorry was great, I was pretty sure that was the word they were talking about throughout the episode, and it was a strong moment when he finally said it.

Angie said...

"Now, maybe she was saying she did love him, just not in that way, but either way, it seems a bit harsh."

That's how I took it. In any case, it wasn't exactly her best moment.

Havremunken said...

Lochley does actually have kind of a close relationship to some of our characters, but as usual, in a different way than might be expected. :)

And I feel like Lochley coming in late has a nice thematic resonance (excuse me if I garbled that, english is not my first (or second) language); By this point, we the viewers feel like we're part of this tight knit group of people. It's us and our pals over on B5. And who is this Lochley woman to jump into the middle of everything anyway? And that is of course how it actually IS to her. She's suddenly finding herself in the middle of a bunch of people who have fought a war and literally changed the galaxy together - she IS an outsider in almost every way. You can't compare how we feel about her to the way we feel about Susan. At the beginning, Susan was a very fatalistic russian career military woman. We warmed up to her eventually, and in her last speaking moment she devastated most of us with her reaction to Marcus' sacrifice.

And here's Lochley, many similarities, yet we know very little about her and care about her even less. It's very easy to think "You don't belong here!", and I think that is probably how the character must feel at several points in the story as well.

It also ties in with the themes of change and nothing lasting forever. We know that Sheridan, Garibaldi, Franklin, Ivanova and Babylon 5 itself won't be around forever. Things change. People move on. The story is never over. This is captured in a - to me - amazingly powerful scene in the second to last episode as well.

Anyway, don't mean to create a fuzz but I think you'll find that Lochley is who she needs to be, and that jumping into this group of people and dominating from the get-go would be very difficult for any kind of believable character.

Patrick said...

Havremunken, I definitely see what you're saying, and I'm pretty much in agreement. I think it actually works to have an outsider because it brings more tension to the show. One of my frequent complaints about the middle seasons of the show was that everybody bought into Sheridan's party line, which meant there wasn't much conflict between the main characters. Having Lochley shakes things up a bit, and so far it's worked out well. I've seen through 5x06, and am really liking the season, and I think it might actually have been for the best that Ivanova was replaced by Lochley. But, I'll ponder that mor when I review those episodes tomorrow.

Angie said...

Ah, but you don't know Ivanova's storyline yet ;-)

But we're getting there...