Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Babylon 5: 5x12-5x15

After the resolution of the telepath arc, the series is now moving into its final arc, one that will probably bring a lot of pain to all involved, at least temporarily. Certainly things aren’t looking good for Londo as we march unwaveringly towards the razed, captive Centauri Prime glimpsed in ‘War Without End.’

But, I’ll start with ‘The Corps is Mother, The Corps is Father,’ another experimental episode. While I enjoyed ‘A View From the Gallery,’ it was a fairly safe alternate perspective episode, keeping us closely tied to the goings on at Babylon 5. This one takes a bolder tact, spending the entire episode focused on a character who’s previously been pretty much a villain. Bester always had moral ambiguity about him, and it’s interesting to understand the world he’s coming from. There, he’s a hero, standing up to the troublemakers on Babylon 5. Bester brings the snark when he interacts with our heroes, but on his own, he’s quiet and resigned, just drifting through life, taking things as they go.

Seeing inside the Corps doesn’t provide too many surprises, rather it’s a different perspective on an organization we’ve come to know well over the course of the series. They are primarily concerned with secrecy, and view the mundanes as a threat to their sovereignty. Because they are have a lot of power, but are in a precarious position, they’re doing everything they can to keep that power. There’s so much paranoia and fear within the Corps, that’s why they don’t want any telepaths to remain rogue, having an alternative out there would render the Corps superfluous.

Bester’s two recruits were a bit too obvious in their naivete and enthusiasm for the job. Does anyone else think they were designed as a contrast to Bester’s worldweariness? Hmm, maybe. Sarcasm aside, the scene with Bester and Laura in his quarters was great. It was pretty evident was she was doing, trying any means she had to get closer to Bester, but he’s not quite ready to accept her. This brings us back to Bester’s frozen girlfriend, the tragedy that prevents him from enjoying his celebrity.

I liked the way that we saw Bester’s sarcasm as a clear defense mechanism. He and Zack are just playing roles, doing the same banter before moving on to their actual work. I particularly like the way that Lauren doesn’t understand the relationship they have, and wants them respect Bester more.

All this stuff was great, the only area where the episode suffered was in the scenes centered on the man they’re pursuing. The multiple personality stuff was pretty obvious from early on, and the fact that we knew it before Bester did made him seem slow on the uptake. In this case, it would have been better to keep audience knowledge and character knowledge on the same level. When he replayed that same clip three times, I was like isn’t it obvious? Now, in the real world, the guy saying “he” wouldn’t immediately jump out, but as a TV viewer, I went right to it. So, you’re left with the issue of trying to keep things real or taking advantage of the viewer’s generic knowledge. Ultimately, I’d go with using the viewer’s knowledge and having the characters figure things out a bit quicker.

So, this was a good episode, a nice broadening of the universe. Considering we’re getting down to business, I doubt we’ll see any more of these experimental episodes. But, they were fun while they lasted. In season one and two, I was frequently annoyed when JMS would indulge in standalone stories, leaving the arc unprogressed. I’d guess there were some complaints that this stuff is just filler, but in the fifth season, you have a very different relationship with your characters than in the first. As I’ve said countless times before, if your show is working, it’s fun to just hang out with the characters, and I could easily spend an hour with Bester, even without the multi-personality subplot. He’s just that interesting.

The other three episodes in this chunk are all about revving things up in the arc. As such, I’ll discuss them in character arcs rather than by episode. The two most interesting people here were, as always, Londo and G’Kar. At this point, Londo feels like he has atoned for his sins, and particularly after the heart attack, he had found a kind of peace. For a couple of episodes there, I felt like they were going too easy on him, but starting with the rediscovery of Na’Toth, it’s all been going down hill. The tragedy now is that Londo did legitimately want to reform, and pretty much succeeded, but his past weakness does not go away that easily. It was his hiring of Morden that led to the Centauri alliance with the Shadows, their current occupation and his eventual downfall. He just cannot escape the consequences, and it’s painful to watch his obliviousness as evidence falls into place all around him.

The scene that really worries me is when he gets the call from the Centauri homeworld, saying that someone is planning to frame them for the attacks. This will likely prompt Londo to claim that he has been set up, possibly by the Narn, throwing the Alliance into chaos, and potentially destroying his friendship with G’Kar. And, at some point soon, he’ll get the Keeper, it’s looking like that night with Adira in ‘Day of the Dead’ was the high point, and it’s all downhill from there.

Over with G’Kar, we’re witnessing the rise of a religious prophet. Thanks to the publication of his book, he’s become a figure of inspiration for the younger Narn, guiding them in spiritual discussion. This is the role he’s been building towards for the entire series, and I really enjoy the way his initial reluctance turns into a full embrace. One of the best scenes in this chunk is when G’Kar is talking about the nature of God. It’s really interesting stuff, and the sort of philosophical discussion you usually don’t see on a TV show. I love that they took the time out to explore those issues, and leave you thinking.

For G’Kar, it seems that the search is more important than the destination, by trying to find God, we will discover the best parts of ourselves. So, it doesn’t really matter if God exists, it is the desire to become something better that makes life worth living. I really like that message, and I think it’s a good way for JMS, an atheist, to reconcile religious behavior.

In ‘Darkness Ascending,’ G’Kar makes a deal with Lyta to secure telepath DNA for the Narns. I like the callback to one of the more memorable scenes in the pilot. Lyta is carrying on Byron’s work, but in a more logical way. Rather than making herself a symbol and a martyr, she is pragmatic, trying to make a deal, not make a point. I wasn’t a big fan of the way G’Kar tested her by making her refuse to help him, that was a very TV thing to do. But, I really enjoyed their flirty banter and am happy the two of them came to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

I’m curious to see how Garibaldi’s dream factors into Lyta’s arc. I was expecting some sadness after Byron’s death, but she seems to be dealing well, and I’m not sure what would prompt to put her Vorlon powers to full use. But, if things go bad with the Narn deal, that could be the catalyst for a major act of rebellion against the mundanes.

Garibaldi himself seems to be headed downhill. In true show a gun in the first act fashion, his alcoholism has returned to the fore, and that human weakness could be what ultimately undermines the entire alliance. His relapse has come at the worst possible time, and Sheridan and Delenn are blissfully unaware of how bad things are. The visit with Lise produced a lot of awkwardness, and it seems like his dismissal of her could be the final farewell to a chance at a normal life.

His real addiction isn’t to alcohol, it’s to the job. He told her he would go to Babylon 5 just to get things rolling, then return, but he’s been putting that off. With the end of the series fast approaching, I’m guessing he’ll have a kind of bottoming out during this conflict, get some form of redemption then go back to Mars. But, maybe he’s destined to remain alone, things can’t go well for everyone.

Another plot development is Dr. Franklin’s plan to leave B5 for Earth. This would have a bigger impact if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s leaving after the series is over, so it doesn’t really affect us. But, I did like that scene for bringing back the doctor from the pilot. We don’t need him back in the flesh, but some verbal continuity was cool. It would be a fitting end to the series to have all our characters leave the station.

Elsewhere, we’ve got the issues with Lennier’s mission. The best scene here was the shadowy meeting between Lennier and Delenn on the ‘wrong side of the tracks.’ I liked the buildup in the bar, and their discussion under the pipes was emotionally charged. The knowledge that Lennier will betray the rangers casts a shadow over all his scenes. He’s already encouraging Delenn to keep things from Sheridan, and if he believes that he could have her, it could make him do something stupid. I don’t see good things in his future, regardless of the skill with which he trains.

The stuff with him and the Minbari who doesn’t really want to be a ranger wasn’t particularly good, though I did like the way it tied back with Marcus’s self sacrifice. I remember someone mentioning that a fifth season character was meant to go over to Crusade, and I’m guessing it was Montoya, he got a lot of screentime for a random character, though he comes off as a pretty generic, wise captain of the ship.

As the episode ends, we’re on the precipice of major issues, and if this season is true to form, once I go past 16 or 17, there’s no stopping. We really are approaching the end, there’ll probably be only two or three more writeups of the series. I guess it didn’t really hit me until I saw I was near the end of disc four. There had always been so much more to go, so much undiscovered, and now it’s almost all been seen. Well, let’s not get nostalgic yet, I’ll save that for the end. For now, full speed ahead to another war.


TGL said...

Your guess for Crusade is not correct and you should know, that there are some years distance between the two series. I've seen Crusade in January for the first time and it's a pity, that it was cancelled so soon. There are guest appereances from two B5-characters, but the main cast is completely new.

Are you planning to review the B5-films and Crusade, too? I would be interested in your comments.

Don't expect, that all B5-arcs will bei completely resolved in the last episodes, for example the final confrontation between telepaths and mundanes isn't covered.

Angie said...

Good call on Lennier's development. I must admit to not paying enough attention to this during my first run.

G'Kar's test of Lyta wasn't just a TV thing to do, but also completely senseless. If she wouldn't mind scanning everyone, she would probably be scanning him anyway, thereby recognizing the trap. Ah well, even G'Kar makes mistakes.

I so love his development in season 5. His philosophical side has been there all along (remember his speech about the ant in season 1?), but it's really coming into full bloom now. Beautiful.

Patrick said...

I figured a lot of stuff would remain unresolved, I've only got three episodes left and it's pretty clear we won't be seeing the telepath stuff resolved.

I will be reviewing Crusade and the films, though I may take a little break before doing Crusade. I'm not expecting too much from it, so pretty much any good stuff will be nice.

And the G'Kar stuff is great, particularly in these recent episodes at the end of the series. He might be the most changed character over the course of the series.

Chris Patterson said...

Hi Patrick,

I just want to say that I've really been enjoying your Babylon 5 commentaries. You've got a sharp eye for story arc and character development -- you saw many things that a first-time viewer usually doesn't catch on to.

You've still got quite a bit to watch. Once you've finished the series proper, there are still the TV movies, which range from bad to great, and Crusade, which is almost painful to watch due to its unrealized potential.

However, I really think once you finish B5, you should go back and watch it again -- at least season one. You might still be surprised by the amount of foreshadowing and background hints of things to come that occurred in even the first few episodes of season one. Most people gain a better appreciation of S1 only upon watching it the second time.

That's one of the reasons this show continues to be popular -- it holds up so well to repeated viewing.

Enjoy! And thanks again for sharing your journey with us!

Patrick said...

Thanks Chris, it's been quite an experience writing up the whole show, I think it's helped me to see it a lot deeper than I would have had I just watched them through.

And, I'm planning to watch most of the episodes with commentary, so I'll see at least some of the first season again. And, I will rewatch the whole show at some point in the future, probably a couple of years from now, and then I'd imagine the first season's a totally different experience. It was a big risk to make the first season so apparently standalone and disconnected. It makes it hard on a first time viewer, but it probably makes the rewatch infinitely more rewarding.