Thursday, March 08, 2007

Babylon 5: 'Sleeping in Light' (5x22)

‘Sleeping in Light’ is the last episode of the series, another series of goodbyes to the characters and station. I feel sort of conflicted about this episode, I thought it was quite emotional at times, and brought a strong sense of closure to the world, yet it kind of already was closed, and we’d already experienced this emotion. My major issue is that this episode doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, and as much as JMS may boast of his great planning and ability to make this either the fourth or fifth season finale, it definitely suffers from having been filmed a year before it aired.

The most obvious, and distracting, result of this shift is the return of Ivanova, without any explanation about her sudden presence. Now, it makes sense for the character, Sheridan and Ivanova had presumably kept in touch over the twenty years, but for the viewer, it’s really jarring to have her reappear without any explanation. If this was shot for the fifth season, part of the plot could have been about Sheridan and Ivanova smoothing over any differences they had as a result of her sudden departure from B5. That would have brought some tension to the episode.

Or, he could have put some references to Ivanova in the final fifth season episodes, just have someone say they talked to her, or she offered to bring her ship to help in the Centauri conflict, whatever, just remind us of her presence in the world. She had drifted out, and it was odd to have her suddenly there without any explanation.

The other major issue I have with the season shift is that it results in some clumsy expository dialogue that tells us things we already saw happen in the fifth season. Garibaldi is now head of a corporation, we already know that, same for Stephen. That scene with Garibaldi’s daughter was the worst offender in terms of infodumping. We already know all this, why are you saying it again?

We also already know that Vir will be Emperor, so there’s nothing shocking about seeing where these characters are. Their lives played out exactly as we would have expected, and that largely defeats the point of doing the twenty year leap forward. JMS has always shown us glimpses of the future, such that we could pretty much construct the happenings here before we were shown them. That works in some respects, but it means that the flashforward here isn’t as effective as the similar technique in Six Feet Under, where the montage provided us with resolution and efficient filling in of backstory. I wouldn’t have wanted to see an entire episode of the show set twenty years in the future, telling us the story visually was much more powerful.

Along the lines of Six Feet Under, I feel like a better route to take for this episode would have been to jump through time to show various events of the past twenty years, then end with Sheridan’s ascent and the destruction of Babylon 5. This would have allowed us to get final moments with Londo, G’Kar and Lyta, all of whom were sorely missing in this episode. The person whose future I was most interested in was Lyta, and she wasn’t even shown or alluded to. Why spend time telling me what I already know instead of giving me new information?

Maybe I had more affection for Lyta than other people, but I was really curious to see where she was. I think it would have been great to have a Ranger show up and find her in a really awful state, like in a mental asylum or homeless on some city street, just as a contrast to the contentment everyone else seems to have found.

That said, there’s a lot of great stuff in here. Once they all get together, the dinner scene is really nice, similar to Six Feet Under’s final gathering, toasting the characters who aren’t there. Vir’s story was a nice way of remembering Londo and the generally upbeat vibe was nice.

From there, things improved considerably, though JMS does indulge some of his worst tendencies. Even though I liked the Sheridan/Delenn farewell scene, I felt just exhausted of good byes by this point. No amount of eloquence could get through after seeing every single character leave Babylon 5, and now to be leaving again, I know it’s been 110 episodes of buildup, but I think a lot of this episode was redundant of ‘Objects at Rest.’ I was still feeling sadness, but not what I would have if this had come after season four, as intended. And, a lot of the scenes are really overwritten, with just too much dialogue. Let the visuals tell the story when possible.

But, from Sheridan’s trip to Babylon 5 on, it’s all good. Through his work, Sheridan has fulfilled the original purpose of Babylon 5, and made the station itself irrelevant. As in ‘Deconstruction of Falling Stars,’ the station feels really weird without sound and people bustling about. It just feels wrong to see him walking around the station like that, and it’s one of the greatest strengths of the episode. The scene with Zack and Sheridan is great, a really nice wrap up for both characters.

Sheridan’s move to the other side is also well done, starting an emotional run that builds to the episode’s high point, the destruction of Babylon 5. He gets away with yet another good bye, this one thankfully wordless, then destroys the station in a heartbreaking, powerful sequence. After seeing so much happen here, it’s sad to see it torn apart, pieces splintering off into the sky. The music here is fantastic, crescendoing with the final explosion. It’s really great stuff, and no matter my other issues with the episode, I’m really glad we got to see this.

The final moments of the series cause a couple of problems for me. For one, it’s jarring to see Ivanova again, after being absent for a season, I don’t like having her carry the primary emotional burden of the final moments. I would have had Garibaldi do her voiceover. Also, I found the scene with Stephen wheeling the gurney a bit goofy because it was so out of character with the rest of the characters, who were in a more still, contemplative state. The final image of Delenn looking at the light was really nice, but was interrupted much too quickly by the ISN breakin.

After 110 episodes, give us a moment to process this ending before breaking the illusion. Showing the crew, though it was a nice thing to do for them, did break the illusion for me, and I would have liked a little longer to process the end of the series before getting jarred out with goofiness. That group picture in particular was mistake. If they ended the series on a triumphant, slightly goofy note, that’s great, but with this more contemplative, somber finale, it didn’t fit.

Reading the Lurker’s Guide, I saw that there was originally more ISN stuff, revealing that the whole show was a recreation of past events, funded by the Garibaldi-Eggers company. I like that, it would have been a nice twist, but as is, the ISN breakin just seems pointlessly jarring. If ISN had just broadcast a 110 part series, I think they’d give their series a moment to let it sink in, and so should JMS.

Watching the final credits sequence was jarring, I hadn’t realized how different the early makeup for Londo and G’Kar was. They looked pretty goofy back then, no wonder I had such a bad reaction to the pilot. Vir and Lennier too, though most of the humans had aged fairly well. I would have liked to see Sinclair in the credits, or at least get a reference to him in this episode. I may not have liked him much as an actor, but he’s a crucial part of the series mythology.

Ultimately, I think this episode should have been swapped with ‘Deconstruction of Falling Stars,’ and remained the fourth season finale. It’s clearly designed to be a series finale, but it just doesn’t feel right after the fifth season. Now, if it had aired after the fourth year, I suppose it would have drained some of the tension with Garibaldi’s arc, but other than that, we know pretty much all that’s here by the end of the fourth year.

And, it would have felt better coming after the fourth season. Having set up this whole new Babylon 5 crew, it feels odd to not get any followup on how they did. Plus, the constant goodbyes to both characters and the station got a bit wearing. If this had been the end of the fourth year, we wouldn’t have just been through the exact same emotional beats, so both this and ‘Objects at Rest’ would have more significance.

Plus, I think the series’ greatest strength has generally been on the intellectual level, and that’s why ‘Deconstruction’ would have been an ideal finale. ‘Sleeping in Light’ goes for the melodrama, and while it generally works, I think ending on the ambiguous future history of ‘Deconstruction’ would have meant we got the melodrama beforehand and then a kind of galactic awe to leave the series with. I think ‘Deconstruction’ is an absolutely brilliant episode, and my opinion of it has only increased since watching. It’s ambitious and challenging in a way virtually no other piece of television is.

To go out with that million years in the future sequence would have been the greatest testament possible to the power of humanity to shape their world and grow into something better, the enduring legacy of Sheridan and his team. It’s haunting and ambiguous in a way this episode just isn’t.

I think my issues with ‘Sleeping in Light’ are as much a result of the structure of the end of the season as they are of the episode itself. ‘Fall of Centauri Prime’ was the climax of the season, and the last four episodes didn’t have too much to do. Now, I know I’ve said all along I wanted more time to just hang out with the characters, fewer events. But, these weren’t really hanging out, they were a series of exits, and how many times can one leave. No matter what he says, I think JMS would have done the episode differently had he written it after the fifth season, and I’d hope it would have matched better with ‘Objects at Rest.’

But, I’d rather have this extended goodbye than the way too abrupt Buffy wrapup, which desperately needed another episode. I know the idea is to leave them wanting more, but with Buffy I was frustrated, I needed some closure. Here, I got most of the closure I wanted. The only thing that frustrates me is that this episode had so much redundance and I still couldn’t get a wrap up on Lyta or Lennier. I could see not bothering with Lyta after year four, but she had become much more important in year five, and I needed some resolution. I guess it’s the same for Lennier, he came into his own in year five, and that meant he could have sustained a solo resolution where he wouldn’t have earlier.

But, it’s still a top notch episode, and a nice resolution to the series. I think it’s still too soon for me to assess the series as a whole, to see where it fits in the ‘pantheon’ of great television. It’s not quite at a Buffy or Twin Peaks level, but is it up with The X-Files? Probably, I’ll ponder and do a wrap up post for the whole series soon, with both my top five of season five and top ten of the whole series.

I’m really glad that I watched the series, for everyone who said stick with it through the first season, you were right, it was completely worth it. And, I’m really happy to have the movies and upcoming new material, it’s a great universe and I’ll be happy to spend more time there.

7 comments:

crossoverman said...

All the goodbyes gets a bit tedious when watching one after the other... but really, after five years of viewing, I was glad of it. Maybe after five months it's not quite the same.

Certainly the episode would have been different if written after season five, but I'm glad it's the final episode - because I'd much rather an emotional farewell than the intellectual "Deconstruction" ending.

Ivanova was one of my favourite characters and the fact she was missing from Season 5 was unfortunate, but she still works as the final voice, for me.

I agree the ISN stuff cuts in far too quickly after the emotional ending, but the end credits stuff works great.

Glad you at least like the destruction of B5, which makes me cry every time. It's so beautifully created and scored. Plus that one shuttle leaving it ties it directly to the vision of the stations destruction way back in Season One.

Anonymous said...

i think one of the points above is where you are at a disadvantage, Patrick. Babylon 5 was a very emotional viewing experience for fans. The depth of the world and characters really made all the goodbyes necessary... after suffering from the "will it get renewed? will we see the whole story" struggle each and every season, this heartfelt and triumphic stretch of goodbyes really pushed home a lot of feelings for the fans and provided an excellent sense of closure for us... at least for me. Sleeping In Light is a tremendous episode for the Day One watchers, I guess. JMS directing it and turning off the lights... I mean, it could be comical seeing him there, but his interaction with the community made it poignant. He was our friend, always making time to talk to people.

I think you have to view it as an epilogue in a lot of ways. Objects At Rest works perfectly as the end to a five year story, but Sleeping In Light is necessary to cap it off. Any time I rewatch these last 5 or 6 episodes, the endings and goodbyes still get to me... Objects At Rest perhaps even more than Sleeping In Light. Although, I cried like a baby at the various parts of Sleeping In Light. My heart always skips a beat during the gorgeous final scene with Delenn on the bench, the presence of John pushing forward, then disappearing. Shudder.

It's hard to put into words.
Keith

Colin Blair said...

You aren't along in wanting more Lyta, that is definitly one of the major threads that JMS has been keeping for himself. The Garibaldi/Bester and Centauri/World Without End threads have been finished out in book form but not Lyta.

Angie said...

I also wouldn't have liked for Deconstruction to be the finale episode. I really like it, but as crossoverman already said, it's just not emotional enough. It's not really about the characters, it's about the universe, and at the end of a show like that I want to say good-bye to the characters.

That being said, Deconstruction does actually increase the impact of SiL, at least for me. It just pains me to see Delenn (the scene where she grabs the pillow is particularly hard to watch) and know that she's going to live for at least 80 more years.

Also, Ivanova's reappearance didn't feel odd for me at all, but she is one of my favourite characters, so that probably helped. I don't think Garibaldi would have been a good choice for the final monologue as his life is far too good to fit the mood. It's something nobody would have bet on during the course of the show, but he really seems to be the one to have won the jackpot in regard to personal happiness.

Patrick said...

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the episode and I think it is a fiitting finale to the series. Even with the redudancies, I found most of it moving and emotional. I think one of my major issues comes from the fact that I never related to the human characters as much as other people seem to have. Londo and G'Kar were always my favorites, and their absence automatically put the episode at a disadvantage.

And I don't think it was helped by the fact that I watched the last three episodes all in a row, seperated by a week, and aware that this was the end of the show, I'd imagine each good bye was very emotional. The five years does make a difference because the story expands in your mind during the breaks. For me, it's still just what was actually in the show, not the additional feeling I built up in its absence. Plus, the return of Ivanova was probably a lot more affecting when it came after a year away from the character, rather than with just a couple of weeks off. Then it's a dramatic reintroduction, for me, it was just like "Oh yeah, whatever happened to her?"

As for Deconstruction being the final episode, I'm still going to stand by my claim. I still think Sleeping in Light should have existed, and would have worked well as the fourth season finale. Then we'd get the good byes and emotional closure of 'Objects at Rest.' I think 'Sleeping in Light' would have played a lot better for me if there hadn't been a fifth season, then there wouldn't have been the redundancies, and there would have been a real need for some catharsis and a chance to say good bye after the tumult of 'Rising Star.'

I think 'Objects in Rest' provided that closure, and then 'Deconstruction' would have broadened the scope, made us think about the way that the story of individuals we just watched would echo across time. It still does that where originally aired, so it's not a huge issue, but the way things went, it would have worked better for me.

But, I think I liked 'Deconstruction' more than most. It's an episode that really worked for me, as both an intellectual exercise and an emotional experience. The show has always been more successful on a thematic level than personal level, and my most emotional moments were the ones where the characters are caught by forces so much larger than themselves, like Londo watching the bombing in 'Long Twilight Struggle.'

So, watching humanity's journey across the ages, and the way Sheridan and his crew continue to inspire them would be a fitting summation of the series' themes.

But, I still really enjoyed 'Sleeping in Light' and am happy with the way things ended. I think the best way to make 'Sleeping Light' work better would have been to condense the two 'Objects' episodes into one, so a bit more of the momentum from the season's climax, in 'Fall of Centauri Prime,' carried over to the last episodes.

And, I can definitely see where people are coming from. With Buffy, I would have loved another hour to spend with the characters and say good bye, and over in 5x19-5x21, I mentioned that I needed a bit more time with Londo and G'Kar. So, I guess it's just a matter of the fact that the characters I was most interested in seeing weren't there for the farewell.

Seafroggys said...

This is over a year ago, but I saw this on Google so I have to chip in....doubt anybody will read this.

Since I was an original watcher of the series, this episode affected me very....very hard. Watching a new episode week after week, for most of the 5 years (I was 7 when this show first aired, so my early memories of Season 1 and 2 are vague until I saw reruns)....then ending in this. Wow. Tears like you wouldn't believe.

This whole episode is brilliant. I thought that when I first saw it, when I saw it on the Sci-Fi reruns two years later, and the two times I've seen it on DVD. Everytime.

To be honest, Objects at Rest is a weak episode. I didn't really feel that way the first time, but the subsequent times I did. The Goodbyes felt weak in Objects. The only two goodbyes in Motion and Rest that affected me was Garabaldi's and Sheridan when he turned the White Star around. Also, Sheridan's speech David at the end felt weak as well.

But this episode is brilliant on all levels.

comprar un yate said...

For my part every person ought to go through it.