Archive for the 'Babylon5' Category

Tower of Babylon 005: Infection

November 13th, 2021

Possibly the worst Babylon 5 episode? Certainly every bit as bad as I remembered, from the rough performances from the guest actors, the pointless action sequences, and a terrible ending.

The only positive to note is that there are good ‘bones’ to the story here – it moves along well, has good beats and could have been a better episode. But nearly everything else goes wrong. When the supposedly intelligent adversary just lumbers around shouting ‘Protect’ it’s hard to get a sense that it’s a major threat.

And then to top it all off we have a ‘expose the logical fallacy in the alien’s reasoning leading to a self destruct’ ending, which was terrible when Star Trek did it in the 60s, and it’s terrible here.

Well, at least it’s up from here.

Tower of Babylon 004: Born to the Purple

November 13th, 2021

For me a mixed episode (my brother liked it a lot more). I found the basic plot to be very by-the-numbers 1950s pulp, with very little in the way of surprises. But Londo’s performance across the episode is wonderful, and it’s the saving grace for the story. Sinclair, on the other hand, feels like he’s from another series entirely. There’s little character continuity with the Sinclair that we’ve seen to date, and little justification for the way he runs off or acts during his helping of Londo.

(As an aside – why does the Centauri Republic have an emperor? Seems like a strange mix of terms).

The B-story, with Ivanova secretly getting in touch with her father, is a very strange one. Surely an officer of her seniority can arrange something more formal for cases like this. And Garibaldi’s quest to nail down the anomaly was never very well justified either. Just seemed like a plot line that added little to the episode, and didn’t really advance characters notably.

Tower of Babylon 003: Soul Hunter

November 4th, 2021

Ooof, very nearly as bad as I remembered. The ‘monster of the week’ episodes were never a highpoint, of the show, and exposition heavy monster of the week is even worse. I’m not sure if the idea could work better with a different approach to the implementation, or if it’s just a bad idea, but the bottom line is it just doesn’t work.

The only redeeming note is the use of even this fairly silly story to advance the plot, this time around what’s going on with the Minbari. But even that is honestly pretty heavy handed, and maybe overloaded. It would have been nice to have a slightly slower roll on some of it.

One other note of interest is the alien ‘fixer’, N’Grath. It’s a nice idea to show aliens who are something other than humans with clay on their nose. Ultimately it’s a bit too ‘puppet’ like, and again falls short. But the attempt was worth the effort.

Tower of Babylon 002: Midnight on the Firing Line

November 4th, 2021

Season one starts with an episode that I remember as being relatively strong, so I was pleased when it mostly held up. There’s a lot of adjustments that need to be done here to move on from the pilot, but they’re pretty smooth for the most part. Some smart moves, like not bringing in all the new cast at once, make that a lot better. Claudia Christian in particular is great as Ivanova, a character who is given much better characterisation than Takashima. There’s still some clumsy bits (the interactions with Talia for instance), but overall the writing is much stronger.

I was most interested in the G’Kar/Londo relationship and characterisation, knowing where everything would go. Londo works well – the sad clown who will go on to be a monster, and then redeem himself. You can look at him here in the knowledge of where he will go and feel satisfied. G’Kar works less well for me (although my brother suggests it’s an intentional mislead) – he’s simply too scenery chewing and one note, there’s not even a glimpse of the later complexity.

Finally, on the CG. It doesn’t hold up, and with the benefit of hindsight the models used by some other series have lasted better. Although the CG will improve over the years. But it has two great strengths. First, the designs. The Star Fury is one of the great SF ship designs – practical and beautiful. And second, the use of ‘show don’t tell’ – it’s really obvious compared to other series that this is a show that’s going to put the action on screen, not in dialog. It’s compelling and enjoyable, and is ultimately only possible because the CG makes every second a little cheaper. I wish more shows would learn from it.

Tower of Babylon 001: The Gathering

October 9th, 2021

As promised some time ago, I’m adding to my overall nerdry by doing an episode by episode review/commentary for Babylon 5, the SF TV show I love more than Star Trek. It’s been a while since my last watch, so it will be interesting to see how much it’s held up. Overall Babylon 5 was ground breaking in a lot of ways, particularly in terms of the overall series arc. But that’s something that’s common in TV shows now.

This is, of course, all triggered by the September 2021 announcement that a reboot of the show is coming, thankfully with the original creator jms still at the helm.

I’ll be watching everything in more or less the ‘as produced’ order – that is, as it was originally shot, but in the order that the producers intended for things to be seen. So I won’t be watching “In The Beginning” first, and I won’t be delaying “Sleeping in Light” until after Crusade. I’ll be joined by my brother who will be contributing some comments into the reviews as we go – and so it’ll be a slower burn than the Trekathon, just an episode or two a week. It’ll be done before the new show appears I’m sure.

Standing spoiler warning – all reviews will be from the perspective of remembering the series and the events ahead. So go watch it all first if you care. I won’t be otherwise flagging spoilers though.

So first up – the original pilot “The Gathering” (TNT special edition, because that’s what I have).

From the opening words of “I was there, at the dawn of the third age of mankind” I’m all the way back into it. I’ve always thought the opening narration is a great example of writing – it intrigues you and promises a story, and sets a tone from the start.

The production is overall a bit on the ‘obviously cheap’ side. Babylon 5 was always done for far less money than other shows, but the edges are showing here. The CGI hasn’t held up well (although it’s better in exterior distance shots), the sets are very close to shaking all the time (especially when doors are closed). But It has its moments of strength – for instance, the uniforms continue to be some of the best around. They read like they were designed by someone who had seen military uniforms at some point in their life, unlike most of Star Trek.,

The writing oscillates between fantastic and incredibly prosaic and dull. The backstory scenes, largely two-handers with a big monologue, are pretty good, But the ‘we need to finish the scene and move to the next one’ writing comes off as very forced and unnatural. My brother suggests this is likely reflecting where the time and effort went in.

The performances are uneven (with a lot on the ‘scenery chewing’ end, to use my brother’s term). Londo is the best overall, clearly had things fully established from day one. G’Kar is a little too much a one-note villain, needs more depth. And Delenn is just very slightly off – too arch, not enough heart. The others are mostly OK when they get the spotlight, but struggling to make the rest work. And Takashima is, I’m sorry, just not good. Not much to work with in the writing, but still didn’t pull it together.

Sinclair in particular is not given a lot to do, but has a strong start. Something just feels off in terms of the pitch and emphasis. But ‘The Line’ section is a strong part. It will be interesting to watch the rest of Season One now knowing the very tragic backstory for his departure from the show.

Watching this knowing where it all goes, it’s impressive. Especially the set up for Londo and G’Kar. It’s also relatively reserved in terms of setting things up – with a couple of exceptions, a lot of what’s set up her is resolved within the first season or so. But it definitely feels more like contemporary TV in terms of setting up arcs than what was going on at the time in other series.

A few shorter comments:

  • Glad they dropped the whole identity card cutaway thing. And the alien zoo stuff. Overall clearly learned a lot from the pilot about what works and what doesn’t.

  • I get why TV shows want to have their leads be Commanders and Captains, but it doesn’t make sense. Facilities like this would be commanded by Commodores or Brigadiers at the very least. Yes, I know there’s an in-canon answer to this later, but still.

  • Nice to see Ed Wasser (later Mr Morden) in the background in the C&C.

  • The doors are really janky. You can see them intermittently jam and wobble as they’re pushed by the stage hands.