It failed. (More Babylon 5)
Judging from my site stats, I was about the only one to read my last two posts about Babylon 5. I hadn’t planned on writing about subsequent seasons because of that. But I just can’t resist, even if it’s only for my own benefit.
As a reminder to anyone reading this, SPOILERS ahead. And if you haven’t watched my favorite show in the universe, it’s online for your viewing pleasure. Or it used to be. Only first season and a few episodes from second, now. Damn, the best episodes are gone from everywhere online. You can still get the DVDs, of course.
Anyway, I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet. Relatively, anyway.
I just finished watching the series of episodes ending with “Severed Dreams” tonight, so this covers second season and the first half of third.
To dispense with second season in a quick overview: it’s a better season one. Don’t get me wrong, some of season one will come back and play into the story, of course, so I’m not saying that season one sucked or should be ignored. But the second season uses the same basic episodic structure as first season, just better. For the most part, every episode stands alone, and while bits of story carry through there is not really a sense of the indivisible serial nature of the narrative. This came through to me clearly in the first half of third season. I had misremembered “A Day in the Strife” as being a mostly dismissible episode because of the apparent A-plot of the berserker probe threatening the station. Instead, that thread almost feels like a minor plot considering the other storylines: Franklin’s stim addiction comes to the fore, G’Kar confronts a collaborationist Narn sent to replace him, and Vir departs for Minbar. This is common in third season (and fourth as I recall): the episodes meld from one to another as the story arcs carry through serially rather than being background for episodic stories, becoming a novel rather than a series of interconnected short stories. I know I said this in my first two posts, so I’ll just confirm that as of the half point of season three, this analysis still holds and is very apparent. There is an almost complete tonal shift between the second and third seasons.
Quick word on the characters and acting: still melodramatic… as written, of course. Some can carry the theatricality and others can’t. The only obvious one to be remarked on that I haven’t already is Bruce Boxleitner’s John Sheridan. And I don’t have much to say there… he’s not a subtle actor. My roommate in college called him Smiley, and I guess that’s apt. But he’s got a warmth that Sinclair and/or O’Hare could never muster, so he’s fun to watch. Except when you’re cringing at the stupid words that Straczynski has put in his mouth. He’s actually rather good at speeches, so it’s unfortunate the few times that he’s written with a terse, gung ho, action movie cliche dialogue. I think maybe he naturally sounds too “nice” to give such declarations the growl they would need to sell them. (Yes, of course, I am thinking of the “Get the hell out of our galaxy!” line even though I’m a season away yet.)
Watching the last couple of episodes really brought home the lack of emotional depth in the show. The themes, plot, and the more grandiose dialogue and speeches are top notch; some of the best I’ve seen. But the show falters on interpersonal relationships and intimate details. They are often generic, like Garibaldi reminding his crew that he built over the last four years of the one he hooked up with a wife and the other one that he helped give a chance to when he was down on his luck. Really? Nothing more specific than that?
The rare one that had that telling detail was Sheridan’s recollection of his father making it rain for him. I wish there were more like that, and it’s made me want to re-watch Battlestar Galactica after I’ve finished B5, because I recall the emotional depth as being superior in it. Unfortunately, I may be moaning about the lack of thematic depth, character arcs, and plot consistency once I do. The grass is always greener. Oops, cliche. Well, no one’s read this far but me. 😛
Season three brings us to my favorite part of the arc. The point at which our heroes lose. But the story doesn’t end; instead, they must decide, “What now?” Admittedly, this is nothing new. It’s common for the middle act of movies; it was the structure of The Empire Strikes Back. But it was almost unheard of in television before this point, and has not really been pulled off since (as always, in my opinion and not that I know of). This is the transition, the breaking of the status quo, the point of no return, if you will. Imagine if Deep Space Nine had broken away from the Federation. Boom today.
“The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. It failed.”
Gives me chills every damn time.
Lastly, the paranoia of season three looks like prescience after events in the wake of 9/11. Admittedly, the Nightwatch and Ministries of Peace, etc. were modeled after the World War II era Nazis and Fascists, but it all looked pretty paranoid in the 90s. Gripping, but fictional. After Bush’s Presidency, and the failure of Obama to repeal or remove many of the executive overreaches of those years, the Office of Homeland Security doesn’t sound that far removed from the Office of Planetary Security. It often feels as if the darkness is gathering around us now, and that our own moment of transition will be soon.