Thursday, March 08, 2007

Babylon 5: 5x19-5x21

After roughly five months, I’ve finished watching Babylon 5. ‘The Fall of Centauri Prime’ was pretty much the climax of the series, and these final four episodes are devoted primarily to saying goodbye, many times. I enjoyed this final run, particularly the last two episodes, but I also have some issues with the way things went out. This post will cover 5x19-5x21, and then I’ll do another post exclusively on the season finale.

The primary concern of the last three present day episodes is the transitions on the station, moving the characters we knew out and bringing in their replacements. This works better for some than others, but generally speaking, it’s well done and powerful. But, even with all the goodbyes, there’s still a bit of drama to deal with, most of it surrounding Garibaldi and Lyta.

Garibaldi’s drinking problem is resolved in a satisfactory way. It caused some trouble during the conflict with the Centauri, but never caused truly disastrous results. That was an interesting choice, normally you’d have some kind of complete bottoming out, not just a bumbling appearance at a meeting, to prompt him to change. But, it does give us an opportunity for Lochley’s only important action in this last run of episodes. JMS takes advantage of her backstory introduced in ‘Day of the Dead’ to shake Garibaldi out of his complacency. She recognized that what he really needed to turn things around was someone to care for him and prevent him from drifting off into his own mental fog. So, calling Lise was the perfect way to jerk him out of his downward spiral and get him back on the right path.

After seeing this whole season, it baffles me that people would have such negative feelings towards Lochley. I’m basically neutral on her, since she barely does anything. It’s not like she’s draining screentime that could have been given to our regulars, she only appears in a couple of episodes in the backhalf of the season. Would she be my first choice to bring back for the direct to DVD movies? Not at all, but in the series itself, she doesn’t factor much in the overall direction of things.

The assassination attempt on Garibaldi felt a bit incongruous so late in the series. Why were we spending time with random assassin guy? I could see having that element in the episode, but I don’t think it was smart to do scenes just focusing on that guy. I’m assuming it was a device meant to increase the suspense, and make the threat real, but it didn’t work so well. The actual shooting wasn’t executed so well, largely because the laser blasts still seem a little cheesy. It doesn’t have the visceral impact of real bullets, and even as the rest of the effects have vastly improved, those laser blasts aren’t so great.

But, it does a good job of snapping Garibaldi out of his descent and commit to marrying Lise. I like the fact that he remains a scheming guy even after getting married. I think he does love her, but a large part of his motivation in marrying her so quickly is to get access to the company resources. It’s perfect because he’s getting both things that he wants, the woman he loves and power, the power to get revenge for what the Psi Corps did to him.

This brings us to Lyta. Ever since her return, she’s been one of my favorite characters, and I’ve loved watching her exercise her power in a more aggressive way as the season has gone on. Most of the characters feel like their arcs are winding down, hers seems to be just starting, and one of the major things that frustrated me about ‘Sleeping in Light’ was the fact that it gave very little new information about the people I actually wanted to hear about. But, in the present, we get the great scene where Zack tries to capture her and she shows the extent of her power. By this point, she has become a master manipulator, and is able to wait them out once they put her in the cell.

The deal she makes with Garibaldi gives her the chance to definitively move forward with her goal of getting a homeworld for telepaths. I like how strong she is in the negotiations with Garibaldi, and the moral ambiguity inherent in what they’re doing. Garibaldi tries to justify the removal of the mental block by blaming it for his alcoholism and other troubles, but really it’s just revenge. Lyta is aware that she’ll be manipulating the mundanes, but doesn’t really care. She’s become a pragmatist, doing whatever she can to fulfill Byron’s goal. This scene makes the one with G’Kar, where she says she won’t read people, seem even more off. Clearly she’s willing to do anything to get what she wants, so unless she’s reading him and telling him what he wants to her, that scene undermines her character arc.

Lyta’s arc then goes on to intersect with G’Kar’s. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to feel about G’Kar’s rejection of his role as religious icon. On the one hand, these people really aren’t interested in him, they want their ideal of him, but it still feels cruel when he rejects the guy who came all the way to Babylon 5 just to see him. The scene where he tells them about God was a great one, why couldn’t he do more of that? Especially considering he was planning to leave, just play along for a little bit and leave them feeling good.

Perhaps he was trying to show them that they had to think for themselves, and not rely on him for all their answers, but he comes across as a bit nasty, and I don’t think that was the intention of the arc. JMS seemed to play most of that stuff for comedy, this horde of ever increasing Narn bothering him, but it would have been better handled with a bit more gravity.

I like the idea that G’Kar is going off to explore the galaxy with Lyta. The two have been connected since the pilot, and each of them have reached the point where they really can’t function on Babylon 5. So, it’s off to the stars. The scene where they leave the station was well done, particularly Zack’s furtive appearance, watching her go, but still not reaching out to her.

That first departure scene was powerful, by departure scene six, it didn’t have as much impact. One of the major issues with this run of episodes was that we spend so much time saying goodbye, there’s not much narrative drive. I like getting to just hang out with the characters for a bit, but the two ‘Objects’ episodes had me pretty much good byed out, making ‘Sleeping in Light’ feel a bit redundant.

After a bunch of good, but unexceptional stuff, the second half of ‘Objects at Rest’ brought things to a great conclusion. Sheridan’s departure from the station was fantastic, particularly the credits-echoing zoom to the new crew looking out at the old crew. It was a really powerful scene, and gave a great feeling of closure. All our main characters had been replaced, and the station seemed to be in pretty good hands. The jump to hyperspace was a really strong moment, a definitive break, and move into the future.

At this point, I was wondering if Lennier’s betrayal of the Rangers was just a misdirection, or an allusion to something that would happen after the end of the series. But, they managed to fit it in there, in a way that maximizes the shame the character feels. The whole incident felt so utterly run of the mill, as Delenn says, just one bad decision in a moment of panic, it must have made it even worse for Lennier. Things end on a sad note for him, and we don’t know if he’ll ever see Delenn again. In twenty years, he’s dead, but it’s unclear why. Perhaps that’s the story for a DVD movie.

I guess after all the major events, it was good that Lennier’s betrayal was so mundane. On the scale of events they’ve been through, getting locked in with a malfunctioning vent isn’t too big, but that only makes it even sadder when Lennier tries to take advantage of it to kill Sheridan. On a technical note, the weird bluescreening killed some of the emotional impact on Lennier’s final message to Delenn.

That was good, and the next part was even better, with the surprise return of Londo. I really wasn’t expecting to see him again, that last of ‘Wheel of Fire’ seemed pretty definitive. I was thinking it was a dream or vision when Sheridan first saw him, but there he was, for a great final scene. I only wish G’Kar had been there, but I guess him and Londo had a solid wrapup a couple of episodes ago.

This scene is the closest we get to a followup on what happened in ‘War Without End.’ I have to say, I was pretty disappointed that we never saw Sheridan telling Delenn what he saw, particularly considering they were both aware of Londo’s oddly fluctuating personality. I don’t remember exactly what Sheridan saw in the future, but he clearly knew something was wrong, and I’m pretty sure he heard Londo say that when he drank, he could break the Keeper’s influence. This meeting is intricately connected to the goings on seventeen years in the future. I made the connection shortly after Londo said David should open it on his sixteenth birthday, the attempt to keeper him would be what drives Sheridan and Delenn to Centauri Prime.

The scene was full of tension, and sadness. I wasn’t sure if Londo would snap, and during the screwy vision shot, Delenn seemed to be aware of something wrong in him. But, it was primarily a feeling of sadness watching Londo knowing that he is betraying his friends, unaware of what he will do in the future. He has lost control of himself, and against his will, he is hurting these people he loves. It’s such a sad end for him, after all he’s been through, to wind up the victim of the forces he unleashed is fitting, but unfair. He’s changed, but his mistakes of the past still haunt him. In the end, the best he can hope for is an hour in control of himself.

The ending of present time is nice, but I really felt like I needed a resolution for Londo and G’Kar. We know what happened, but I wanted to revisit that moment from ‘War Without End’ again, and be allowed to feel it, knowing what we know now about their relationship. Everything fits together on a narrative level, but emotionally, it feels wrong to end on the cliffhanger of Londo on the ship, rather than the actual resolution of him dying. In ‘War Without End,’ I’m marveling at the coolness of what’s going on, and feeling surprise rather than sadness at the death. Reading the Lurker’s Guide, it’s pretty clear that others wanted a follow up on ‘War Without End,’ throw us something there.

I may actually pull out the episode later tonight, just to get that resolution I need. After all the goodbyes, would it be so tough to bring back one of the critical moments of the series? Other than that, I felt pretty good with the ending. Most of what was going to happen had been set up in advance, but the Londo scene was a shocker and brought a lot of emotion to the closing. Most of the characters are pretty happy, but not him.


Angie said...

"There are moments when we all become someone else, something other than what we are. It takes only a moment, but we spend the rest of our lives looking back at that moment in shame."

That's definitely something Delenn can relate to.

David Golding said...

Babylon 5 doesn't have lasers, it has PPGs - they fire superheated plasma. I think they're one of the best special effects in the show. Just had to say. :-)

Zack Kline said...

I'm a new reader to this blog--in fact, I happened to stumble on it looking for info on Babylon 5 in general. However, it occurs to me that there is a tie-in novel or rather series of novels which resolves a lot of the questions about G'Kar and the interveening 16 or so years between the end of the series and his death.
You might find the Legions of Fire trilogy by Peter David of some interest. Mr. David wrote some episodes for the series, so he's somewhat qualified to write about Centauri Prime, at least. I found them a fun read. If you're interested, the books are:
The Long Night of Centauri Prime
Armies of Light and Dark
Out of the Darkness
Interestingly, a lot of B5 novels and such are considered cannonical by JMS.
Hope you like it,

Patrick said...

I really enjoyed Peter David's new X-Factor comic, so I'm familiar with his work. However, I haven't gotten a chance to check out those tie in books. But, I still think something will be missing. G'Kar isn't G'Kar without Andreas.

Zack Kline said...

An interesting position, and one I can understand: the strange thing about it for me is that I'm totally blind, and so listening to the show--or reading scripts, novels, etc. is how I interact with it. The energy, which you so often describe in your reviews, is a little harder for me to pick up on. I've never had any sight, so an entire side of acting and such is rather lost on me. But I agree, it's quite a sad thing to see people we hold so dear pass away.
Now, I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of the first volume of the JMS scripts, if only to see how well my scanner will handle it. I hope it can give me some insight into the visual side of the show I miss otherwise.
Hope you do find the time to read those books, though. They're pretty nice, I think.
All the best,

Patrick said...

You must have a really different perspective on the series than others. It's interesting to think about. As for the script books, they sound pretty cool, but I'm mainly interested in the bonus material, not the scripts themselves, and I'm not sure it's worth the investment. However, I would love to read that last book, with the original five year plan included. That's the holy grail for B5 fans.