Thursday, January 13, 2011

In the Home Stretch With "Babylon 5"

This post will contain spoilers for the fourth season of "Babylon Five."

Since my last post, I've finished off Season Four and now I'm about five episodes into Season Five, the show's final year. My worries about "Babylon Five" jumping the shark after the conclusion of the Shadow War turned out to be unfounded. After a brief transition, the show moved right into the struggle to free Earth and Mars from a corrupt tyrant, and Season Four ended in a totally different place than I thought it would. So I'm giving Season Five the benefit of the doubt, even though the action has slowed down again and we've lost two more major cast members.

What I really loved about the latest batch of episodes at the end of Season Four was that the story maintained such a broad scope and really felt like the climax to a full-fledged space opera. I love science-fiction stories that aim for the moon, tackling big ideas and big conflicts that require a tremendous stage to fully explore. In "Babylon Five" battles are fought over planets and wars can engulf galaxies. You have dozens of different alien races in the mix and the main characters are constantly searching for common ground with multiple, disparate cultures and peoples. And then there's one of my favorite science-fiction tropes: giant leaps in time. One episode, which would have been a great coda for the show if Season Four was the final season, charts the effects of the characters' actions over millennia. It was a little clumsy in execution, which is how I feel about "Babylon Five" in general, but you have to admire the guts and ambition it took to put it on television.

At the same time, the personal stories also saw some major advancements. One of the central arcs of "Babylon Five" is the romance between Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and the Minbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) I was a skeptic in the beginning, but their relationship progresses so naturally over time, by the end of Season Four when they reach some major commitment milestones, it feels right. And then there was the unrequited love story between Commander Ivanova (Claudia Christian) and Ranger Marcus Cole (Jason Carter) that had been playing out since the middle of Season Two. Boy, what these two lacked in screen time they sure made up for in emotional trauma. And then there's the ongoing "Odd Couple" re-enactment that Ambassadors G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) and Mollari (Peter Jurasik) have been treating us to. Since the major fisticuffs seem to be over between them, they're mostly acting as comic relief now. But they're so good at it, I don't mind.

There were some missteps in Season Four. Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) had a very involved subplot that took him to Mars to confront some of his personal demons. It wasn't a bad concept, but the what they did with it was lousy. To say that Garibaldi's actions felt forced during this whole adventure is an understatement. I never bought for a second that he was ever going to turn traitor or leave Babylon Five behind forever, so his storyline got pretty tedious as I waited for events to play out. Fortunately Marcus and Dr. Franklin (Richard Biggs) were also on Mars - I complained in the last post that they weren't getting enough to do, but they got plenty of action in the second half of the season. These episodes also introduced one of my favorite minor characters so far - Number One (Marjorie Monaghan), the leader of the Mars resistance.

Season Five is still in the process of ramping up toward a new conflict and has introduced two new major characters. First there's Captain Lochley (Tracy Scoggins), who is brought on as the new commanding officer of Babylon Five. Scoggins replaced an actor who didn't return for the new season, and her transition was actually handled much better than I had expected. I like the character and her actress is decent. I'm less impressed with Byron (Robin Atkin Downes), the leader of a group of telepaths who are trying to establish a telepath colony on Babylon Five. Every time these telepath characters are onscreen, I feel like I'm in the middle of a very bad early 90s acoustic rock video, with all the long-haired men, the candles, and the new-agey spiritual schtick. Good Grief. Downes isn't a bad actor, but he does not make a credible messiah figure.

I hope Byron's budding relationship with the troubled telepath, Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman), and all these heavy forewarnings of a "Telepath War" lead somewhere interesting. Lyta's the only one of the show's regulars who still seems to have any pressing issues left to resolve. For most of the others it's business as usual running the station, and a few like Londo Mollari and G'Kar seem to be taking a break from any strenuous activity before destiny inevitably catches up with them.

The end is in sight. I hope "Babylon Five" still has a few surprises for me in these last twenty-odd hours. I'll post again after the last episode with some final analysis.

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