I'm back in New York for the next two weeks, on break from school, and it's going to be a big time for shows. I'll be happy when I graduate next year and can get to shows whenever they are, but for the past couple of years, I've been fortunate that there's been a lot of great shows in New York during my time off. Here's what I'll be going to:
3/10 - The Raveonettes @ Southpaw
3/11 - The Pipettes @ Luna Lounge
3/12 - Either The Raveonettes or Pipettes again
3/13 - Amy Winehouse/The Pipettes if I can get tickets
3/20 - The Colour @ Pianos
3/22 - North @ Sin-e
3/23 - Elysian Fields @ Joe's Pub
That's a lot of shows, my densest bunch yet, but it should be a lot of fun. The 3/22 show with North will feature a video backing designed by me. They played it at a show in January and apparently it went over well, so I'm eager to see my work in action. I'm heading out to The Raveonettes soon, and a review will follow.
Blog Critics Work
As part of my affiliation with Blog Critics, I've been getting a bunch of free CDs to review. I wrote up Amy Winehouse earlier this week, and I'm listening to The Colour right now. I also get the bonus of getting into the Colour show for free. It's a great setup for me, I'd write this stuff up anyway, so if I can get into places for free, that's a great bonus. The only issue is that there's so many people on the mailing list, most of the good stuff goes really quickly. I'd like to eventually get connected with these publicists for this site only, and have access to whatever I want to review.
Daft Punk Tour
The biggest news of the week for me was the announcement that Daft Punk will be doing a US tour this summer. Discovery is my all time favorite album, and I hear their live show is mindblowing. After hearing about the tour, I decided to watch a little bit of their Coachella set, and wound up watching the entire hour and twenty minutes on Youtube. The way they mix elements from all their songs, creating new compositions live is phenomenal. I'm not sure how much is actually done live and how much is prerecorded, but I'd enjoy just listening to their music really loud with other people who were into it, so hearing the live remixing is just a bonus. I've actually never been a techno show, so it'll be a fun experience. August 9th can't come fast enough.
New Tori Amos
This week we also got sneak peeks of two tracks off Tori Amos's new album. They both sound much better than anything off her last two albums, a bit edgier, more emotional. I love her first five albums or so, but I never really got into Scarlett's Walk or The Beekeeper. Maybe it's just I haven't listened to them as much, but they don't quite work. These new tracks sound right up there with the best she's done. 'Big Wheel' is a 70s style rolicking rock song, bringing back memories of 'God,' but with some Scissor Sisters in there. 'Bouncing Off Clouds' is more classic Tori, but with a bit of a trip hop feel, like a lighter Goldfrapp song. It's also great, and I'm curious if she can keep up this quality for the whole album. I'm pretty excited though, and I'd like to see her live when she tours around, perhaps even for free.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Thursday, March 08, 2007
‘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.
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.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Not since the final run of season four have I been as invested in the show as I was during these three standout episodes. The entire season, and for Londo, the entire series, was building to this, and for the most part, it did not disappoint. There have been better series, but I hesitate to think of another show with the scope of these galaxy-spanning wars that Babylon 5 does so well. Be it the Narn-Centauri conflict, the Shadow War or this war, JMS is always able to make the huge conflicts relevant on both a universal and personal level, and unlike a lot of writers, he is primarily interested in the devestation of war, in this show, a war isn’t won, it is stopped.
‘And All My Dreams Torn Asunder’ pretty much does what it title says, depicting the collapse of the alliance into jealousy and isolationism. The opening, with the Centauri government essentially on trial doesn’t totally work for me, I think that courtroom scenes in general are really hard to do, because they’re basically just people saying stuff we already know. The whole point of the scene is to build suspense for the verdict, but if that suspense comes at the expense of wasting time in the present, it’s not a good thing. I do like the intercutting of the testimonies with Londo and Vir in his quarters, but that’s not enough to sell it. Now, this might be a DVD viewing issue, if it had been a couple of weeks since I’d sent his stuff happen, a little catchup might have been nice.
Anyway, the wrap up of this was strong. The government tells Londo to keep the party line, and under the direction of the Regent, he breaks away from the Alliance, tearing dreams asunder in the process. My issue here is that it’s sort of unclear how much the Minister knows about what’s up with the Regent. He should know that it makes no sense to attack the other worlds, so why would he go along with the Regent’s odd plan? Now, maybe he’s someone like Refa who opposed collaboration and saw this as a way to return the Centauri to glory, but if that’s the case, then wouldn’t he take issue with the fact that their plan makes no sense and is just about causing random violence. Perhaps he too is controlled by the Drakh, we can’t be sure.
Throughout this run of episodes, it’s tough to watch the dichotomy between Londo’s public persona and his internal doubts. He doesn’t agree with what his government is doing, and is clearly very suspicious about the Regent’s condition, yet he still presents the party line when he speaks before the Council. One of my major issues with this arc was his refusal to reveal his doubts to Sheridan and Delenn. If he had said, I think something’s up down there, help me to find out, he might have saved the government, instead he refuses to give them anything, and winds up bringing the attacks down on his planet.
Now, one could argue that it was his pride that prevented him from doing this, his loyalty to the Centauri tradition. But, I felt like his whole arc over the course of the series was to move away from this outdated conception of national pride and embrace the possibilities of the Alliance. It’s frustrating that he won’t open up, and I think it’s meant to be, but my frustration stems as much from it being out of character as from what he’s actually doing.
Throughout the episodes, I get a sense of resignation from Londo, like he is just playing out a pre-determined destiny. This is most notable during the scenes on Centauri Prime. After first, he maintains his fire, refusing to abandon G’Kar, trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on. In prison, there’s the great scene where a sudden white light bursts onto the screen and Londo undergoes an alien abduction experience. This scene ties back to what we saw with the telepaths, apparently the alien creatures are the ones who do body modification for the Shadows. It’s all very Cronenberg, with nasty organic technology messing with Londo. Reading The Inivisibles concurrently, I’m struck by the way this alien abduction imagery was so culturally prominent in the late 90s. This is right out of The X-Files, and I haven’t seen similar stuff much in the 00s. I think 9/11 caused a major change in the conspiracy subculture, and led to the decline of this kind of imagery. But, that’s a topic for another post.
I’m assuming this experience actually did happen, and they performed some kind of memory wipe after so he wouldn’t know about it. Londo has proven to be a worthy vessel for the keeper, and his ascension to emperor is now guaranteed.
Concurrent with this, we’re witnessing the Alliance tearing itself apart as a result of the Centauri attacks. I like the fact that Sheridan’s control over the Alliance slipped because a lot of their earlier conflict seemed to resolve too easily. He would pull some kind of trick and they’d realize the error of their ways, then move on. Now things are more complex, the actions of the Centauri have tarnished the notion that the Alliance has the authority to oversee these worlds and create peace, which combined with Garibaldi’s failures leads to the Narn and Drazi attack on Centauri Prime.
Garibaldi’s arc continues its downward spiral here. I liked the scene with Zack, though I felt they were hitting it home a bit too hard with the series of shots framing Michael through a glass. Maybe if those shots were quicker, it would work, but by doing dramatic pans and holding on them for so long, they oversell the visual metaphor. By the end of this arc, Garibaldi seems to be doing okay, I’m assuming that his troubles are just on hold, there didn’t seem to be any turning point that would indicate he’s overcome his problems.
The end of ‘Movements of Fire and Shadow’ features a succession of cliffhangers that are just overwhelming. Looking on IMDB, I saw that there was a four month gap between this episode and the next, which must have been painful to wait through. I was planning on going to sleep after ‘Movements,’ but the end of the episode made that impossible. There’s a revisiting of the image from Londo’s dream, this time he watches the Narn and Centauri bombarding his homeworld, not the Shadows. That was intense, particularly coupled with the shots in space of the Narn and Centauri forces opening fire. Everything is spiraling into chaos and Sheridan is powerless to stop it, even more so because Delenn’s ship is missing.
And on top of that, we get the cool sequence with Lyta and Franklin’s mission to the Drazi homeworld. I’m a bit torn on this because it’s weird that Franklin should suddenly turn into an action hero, I don’t think people use casual violence as much as he does, either on Drazi, or when defending Vir on Babylon 5. What happened to first do no harm? But, the rest of the Drazi stuff was cool. I loved the sweaty, dirty vibe of the place, and particularly liked seeing Lyta put her powers to full use. The scene where they broadcast to Sheridan had a really weird power for me. The shots that just showed them were conventional, but the effect they did for showing them in the ship, with the static, made it seem like the most urgent transmission of all time. Excellent stuff.
The moment I was most invested in was that buildup. It’s not that ‘Fall of Centauri Prime’ wasn’t a great episode, it’s just that almost nothing could live up to that fear about not knowing what’s going to happen next. I was totally in the moment at the end, loving every plot and curious to see what happened next.
‘Fall of Centauri Prime’ reminds me of ‘Rising Star,’ both really powerful episodes that are centered around the denouement of a larger conflict. The best scene was the Londo/G’Kar farewell. I got the sense that this was the last we’d ever see of the real Londo, and weighing over it all was knowing that the next time they’d see each other would probably be when they met in ‘War Without End.’
The next scene suffered from the same issues I was mentioning before, the fact that Londo seemed to be acting to fulfill a destiny, or play out predetermined plot points. My basic issue is that it doesn’t make sense to me why Londo would choose to take the keeper. He knows that the Regent has acted in a way that has put the Alliance in jeopardy, and is also pretty crazy. The scenes between the two of them had a great sadness, and I would have thought that would motivate Londo to try to save himself rather than just submit to the plan.
Now, the attempt at motivation is provided by the Drakh planting fusion bombs on Centauri Prime. That’s a nice reversal of what Londo did, and a great way of showing how his initial mistake continues to haunt him. But, I can’t help but feel like Londo should have told G’Kar what was going on, and at least tried to resist the Keeper process. Obviously he’s risking billions of lives by doing that, but it’s the silence that bothers me. If the Alliance knew what was going on, maybe they could help him. The scene itself was well done, with Londo taking off the outfit he’s worn for the entire series, standing there in just a black shirt, preparing for the change.
It’s painful to watch the manipulated Londo addressing the city after being keepered. His speech is the exact opposite of the message that JMS is espousing with the series. Since the beginning, the goal has been to move beyond individual differences and work together to help bring about peace. Londo is saying that the Centauri must serve their own interests, and retreat from galactic politics. It is a a dangerous road to take, and a broken, burning homeworld is the final punishment for the crimes Londo committed.
I’m still a bit uncertain on what was the Keeper here and what was Londo. I’m guessing that the speech and his talk with Sheridan was all Keeper, but when with Vir, the old him seemed to come through. I suppose part of the Keeper arrangement might be that he can’t tell anyone about it, or it will cause him pain, but I’m still not quite satisfied with how that all played out. Perhaps something in the next couple of episodes will clarify things, we’ll see.
The montage of Londo’s good times had some powerful images, but felt a bit too melodramatic. I think it’s the kind of thing that would work much better on the original airing, I still remembered all these moments well, but if it had been five years since I’d seen them, it would likely have been more powerful. Still, I love the closing image of him alone on the throne, aware that his life is essentially over.
The final positive act that Londo makes on the galactic stage is saving Delenn. I enjoyed the scenes with her and Lennier in the wrecked plane, you got a strong sense of the desperation they were feeling, though I’d imagine Lennier is getting quite annoyed at constantly being in situations where he’s running out of air. The man should strap an oxygen tank to himself at all times.
I have some issues with the way the “I love you” sequence played out. For one, it reminded me a bit too much of the scene in Almost Famous, where the guy in the band declares he’s gay moments before the engine rights itself. But, that wasn’t the big issue. I felt things were going great, even quoting The Empire Strikes Back to add to the epicness. But then, Delenn does the same sort of nice, but actually hurtful act she pulled back in ‘Rising Star.’ Obviously something was said and she heard it, it’s out there and saying she didn’t catch what he said only made it feel like melodrama. The more mature thing to do would just be accept that certain things can never happen, feelings can never be acted upon, even if they are out there. With only four episodes left, I’m wondering if we’ll get to Lennier’s betrayal of the Rangers. What’s left to drive him to that point?
For that matter, what’s left for the series to cover? I’m guessing that Lyta and her telepath quest will be one of the issues, though it seems like too much to do in just four episodes, perhaps one of the future movies can focus on her. She’s easily the most interesting human character on the show, and I hope she continues to get good material as the show winds down.
I particularly liked her line about the Vorlon homeworld, and the fact that humans won’t be able to go there for a million years. That clarifies the end of ‘Deconstruction of Falling Stars,’ and reinforces the idea that by that point, humans have become what the Vorlons once were. And, there’s a nice connection between the telepaths, children of Vorlons, seeking a homeworld and the Drakh, children of Shadows, with the same quest.
What else have we got? There’s the restructuring of the Alliance, the resolution of Garibaldi’s alcoholism, further clarification on Londo’s situation and presumably the move of Sheridan and Delenn to Minbar. But, on this show, it could jump anywhere in time to provide closure.
I loved this run of episodes. It’s always good when you reach that place where you just need to watch the next one, and I got that here. It’s fascinating to watch all the pieces fall into place, and gradually bring us to the world we saw in ‘War Without End.’
And that brings me to my final question, when will Sheridan tell people what he saw during his time in the future. He has to tell Delenn at some point, but shouldn’t he at least consider the fact that Londo may be under the influence of the same thing he saw then? Does it take him seventeen years to go back and try to fix things down there? I really hope he brings that up, because it’s so critical to the viewer’s understanding of the series, it’s odd that the characters never mention it. Perhaps he’ll recount the tale at the end of the show, as a way of bringing that information back and resolving Londo’s story for viewers who didn’t see ‘War Without End.’
I could see myself finishing the series tonight, so look for a review of 5x19-5x21 soon, and then I’m assuming the final episode will be worthy of a standalone review. At least there’s these new movies coming out, that makes the end a little bit easier.
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.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
My reaction to this episode is tentative, really depending on whether or not Kara's actually dead. It's clearly one of the most well constructed, interesting hours of the back half of the season, but if Kara is gone, it's a mess of wasted opportunities, and a major mistake for the future of the series. If she's not, then I'm pretty happy with the way things went.
First off, I just want to say that the production values on this show are absolutely phenomenal every single week. The effects shots here were gorgeous, moody and evocative. The show has passed the point where the effects are just about being realistic and credible, they're now as aesthetically beautiful as anything else in the episode.
On top of that, there's a bunch of fantastic visual moments in this episode. The teaser, with Kara and Leoben having sex in paint was amazing, a striking, emotional visual. Later in the episode, I loved the way the plane seemed to blur with Kara's memories of both her mother and Leoben, really exciting stuff. Even when I take issue with the narrative direction of the series, I can't fault the look.
Kara has always been one of the strongest characters on the series, with her strength so powerful it becomes a shield, keeping her emotions in and others out. This episode shows us what previous episodes only hinted at, that her mother instilled this mindset in her, helped build the Kara Thrace we now know. I loved the scene where Kara remembers playing the trick on her mother with the bugs, the joy she got out of this prank.
I also loved the scenes where she and Leoben watch her past. This isn't the cylon Leoben, it is apparently some external force taking on the guise of him, because in her mind, he is the one who holds the answers. He implanted the idea of a destiny in her brain, and she feels like he's the only one who can tell her for sure what that destiny is. If she really is dead, then they wasted a huge opportunity by not giving us another scene with the two of them together. I loved the subplot of her capture in the early going, and I've been waiting for followup on it ever since.
It can be tough to accept a random guest actor as a critical part of a character's life, but Sackhoff and the actress playing her mother totally sold those scenes, the passive aggressive negativity they pass between each other. The bedside death scene had a really powerful aura about it, something very special.
But, that's not what people are talking about from this episode, it's all about the ending, which presents us with the apparent death of Kara. Now, most of the discourse seems to assume that she's not actually dead, either she's a cylon or she was rescued by the raider, or she's crossed over into that land between life and death and will perhaps return from there in the future. I really hope that she isn't dead because this entire episode seemed to start with the goal of getting Kara to kill herself, it didn't come organically out of the story. It's similar to my issues with Byron's death over on Babylon 5, the character didn't seem to get to that place where they'd commit suicide. This episode sold it a lot better than that one did, but the way things played out, it felt like a copout to avoid dealing further with Starbuck's issues.
I think it could have worked to have Kara's psychosis drive her to the point of suicide, but if they were going to go that route, it would have been better to slowly develop that during the recent standalone episodes, and bring it to a fore here. Now, obviously the clues are planted, but those moments have lost their emotional immediacy. And, after all this talk of her destiny, it would be pretty anticlimactic for her to just die here.
I really enjoyed the hour, but it's hard to assess now. If this really was Kara's death, I think it was a mistake, she's one of the strongest characters and as the last three episodes show, the series is worse without her. If she's not dead, then maybe this was the jumpstart the character needed to develop further. Either way, I'm excited for next week's trial of Baltar, and the buildup to the season finale.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
You’ll notice that I’m a bit behind on this review, what with the next episode having already aired. But, I’ve reviewed the whole season so far, and I want to get some quick thoughts on ‘Dirty Hands’ in before I watch Maelstrom. Perhaps the greatest statement I could make is that it took me until Thursday to even watch the episode. It’s not so much that the past couple of episodes have been bad, it’s more that they’re just there. One of these mixed in with a really strong episode isn’t a problem, but stacking three of them back to back has totally drained the season of any momentum.
Now, I’m sure in a couple of weeks I’ll be raving about the show again, but it’s not smart to have such obvious peaks and valleys in the schedule. You can pretty much assume that the season will start out strong, dip for a while, come back at the midpoint, dip again, then get a final burst of momentum to close things out. Now, this is true of a lot of shows, but seldom are the filler episodes so obvious as here.
I don’t think the show has to focus on the cylon mythology to avoid being filler, but the nature of these episodes is such that they don’t feel connected. The characterizations shift all the time, from Baltar as war criminal menace to Baltar as underground folk hero, depending on what’s needed to serve the individual story. Roslin and Adama in particular seem to shift motivations all the time, becoming basically abhorrent in this episode, to the point that it’s hard to come back next week and support them again. For me, they crossed the line from morally ambiguous to just nasty, particularly with the threat to kill Callie. And, how has no one brought up the fact that Baltar was elected president, and Roslin, who had previously attempted to steal the election, got back into power through some pretty questionable means. It’s not a monarchy, and even if there is support for Roslin, at least question the way she got back to power.
Plus, I’d still argue that Baltar made the right choice by settling on New Caprica. Things have gone pretty bad during their time back on the ship, and there’s no guarantee they’ll ever find Earth. Of course, being a TV show, they probably will, and we’re not going to end with them just starving and gradually dying out to lack of resources. But in reality, that would be a very real possibility.
It’s very frustrating to have Baltar and Six on the sidelines while we spend so much time with B-list cast members. At least get me a decent Six subplot in one of these episodes before doing two about Tyrol. And how about some more on Sharon, or Kara, especially considering the rumors about Maelstrom. Don’t pull a Lost and focus on a character just so they can die at the end of the episode.
Again, it’s not so much that this was a bad episode, the union stuff was tense and compelling, but that’s more a testament to the acting and filmmaking than the writing. I don’t get the sense of any real direction, and even a fantastic end to the season isn’t going to make up for the wheel spinning we’ve seen in the middle.
Entropy in the UK features a fairly linear present story, with King Mob being interrogated by Sir Miles, juxtaposed against a fractured jumble of narrative digressions into fantasy and memory. The arc begins with King Mob’s vision of himself as Gideon Stargrave, but as it progresses, the fantasies slip away and we get what are presumably flashbacks to King Mob’s real past. During the middle issue, we get a bit of both in another fantastic piece of pop storytelling.
I've taken down my posts on The Invisibles because they're all coming out in book form. The book, Our Sentence is Up, features revised and expanded versions of each blog post, covering every issue of The Invisibles, plus an extensive interview with Morrison himself. Visit your local comic store and order a copy now!
I loved this show right from the first episode, and it’s always been great, but the past couple of episodes have taken things up another notch, with every aspect of the show working incredibly well. This episode was no exception, full of tension and emotion.
One of the things I loved most about Buffy was the way the show could shift from extremely intense drama to hilarious comedy instantly. This show manages to do that as well, the comedy bits are as funny as anything on television, particularly any scene with Landry. The Buddy Garrity subplot here started out with intense drama, the scene with him arguing with his wife. I love the way that was played from the kids’ perspective, we’ve seen that same argument in countless other shows and movies, shifting the perspective makes clear the impact that their potential breakup would have on the family.
From there, it shifts to a broad bit of comedy, starting with Tami talking about “something moving” on their stoop, and segueing into some great bits with Buddy as awful houseguest. The high point for me was when Buddy deduced who Eric’s meeting was with using a little something he picked up from Magnum P.I. I was laughing for a good thirty seconds after that line, mostly because of how seamlessly it flowed in the dialogue. On a sitcom, you’d have some laugh track there, letting us know that it was meant to be funny. Here, there isn’t that prompting, so the comedy feels more organic to the universe. I think comedy is always funnier in a real world setting, that’s what The Office showed us,, when you’re using the rules of real world interaction, outlandish behavior is a lot more funny than in a world where that kind of behavior is acceptable.
Anyway, from there we shift to an intense scene with Eric and Buddy arguing about his future. Buddy has no argument, not only is he squatting at this guy’s house, he’s spying on his stuff to find out personal information. Yet, he feels like he owns a piece of the Panthers, and as a result, has the right to know everything about Taylor’s plans. It brings some edge back to the relationship between Taylor and the town. Buddy is not likely to keep quiet about what he knows, setting up the dual conflict of the town wanting to win, but also wanting to know whether Taylor will be back coaching next year.
The fact that the series’ future is uncertain makes the situation a bit more tense. If the show’s coming back, obviously he won’t take the job. But, if it’s only doing one season, having Taylor move on would be a good closer. I really hope it does come back, but the convergence of that plot with the end of the season would be a good way to wrap up the series.
Pretty much every plot was working for me here, but the highlight was the continuing development of Tami’s unease with Julie’s rebellion. The implicit issue here is that Tami used to be just like Tyra, and doesn’t want to see Julie go down that same path. That really came out in her speech in the last episode, about not wanting Julie to have sex before it would mean something, but it’s also present in her empathy towards Tyra at the end of the episode.
When the party scene first started, I thought Julie was headed for some kind of major meltdown down the line, a significant act of rebellion against her parents. Now, I’m not so sure. There seemed to be a reconciliation between Julie and Tami at the end, but the logical direction of the arc would be to push them further apart. Tami now recognizes that Julie needs some space to do her own thing, so in the future, we might see Julie testing those boundaries.
It was a bit odd that Julie chose to call her mom, despite knowing how mad she’d be, but I think it worked well to demonstrate that Julie is the only one with a stable home life, and, no matter how much she might dislike the restrictions her parents place on her, in the end, she has something that none of the other characters do. Regardless, that gave us the great scene between Tyra and Tami, where they clean up the house. Again, we get a kind of resolution, but the issues linger. That seems to be the way the show wraps up episodes, finding a moment of calm to give us some closure, but always with the awareness that you can’t resolve differences that easily. The other highlight of this episode was Landry’s toast.
Yet another great subplot in this episode was the stuff with Jason and Lyla. I’m not usually a fan of these two, but this episode worked because it brought the irreconcilability of Jason’s old life and his new life into focus. Jason has found a new crew to replace his old friends, and he loves being with them, but Lyla lingers, a reminder of his old life. She has some major issues with his new friends, and I think the trip to Beijing could be disastrous for them. Again, we get a seeming resolution, with the two of them together, but it won’t last.
I even enjoyed the Tim Riggins and kid and mom subplot, something that wouldn’t work on most shows, but does here because the acting and filmmaking is just so good. By shooting the show in this realistic way, a lot of the manipulation is masked, and you just accept things as they are. If you shot this plot in the style of Gilmore Girls, it wouldn’t work, but here, it goes over. Same for the Smash and Waverly stuff, which is on the border of melodrama, but works because of the intense commitment of the actors and the fact that her behavior is genuinely unnerving.
This was another great episode, and I’m eager to see the next one. I know the show is poorly rated, and I’m pretty much assuming it won’t see a second season, but I’m confident they’ll finish strong, and maybe we’ll get the bonus of some more next year.