Spoliers and Portents: A Season One Review

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Michael Lee

Oct 30, 1994, 2:39:58 PM10/30/94
Babylon 5
Spoilers and Portents - Season One Review

"And so it begins" - Ambassador Kosh

see <A HREF="http://coyote.cs.wisc.edu:1213/reviews/chrysalis.html">for an
html version</A>

Spoilers ahoy!

Now that Chrysalis has been aired, I felt it was time to look at the entire
series of Babylon 5 so far. I won't summarize the season or Chrysalis : a more
complete summary than I would possibly create is at
http://www.hyperion.com/lurk/eplist.html after all. Just like the caterpillar
bears little resemblence to the butterfly, yet its fate is built into the
creature from the start, Commander Sinclair ends the episode declaring that
"nothing is the same anymore" and it is clear that the show has been leading to
this point from the very beginning.

Chrysalis features multiple story threads, all equally important to the show,
advancing each character forward into an uncertain future. Threads that started
all the way back in the pilot episode are tied together and expanded at this
point. The season which began with a Narn attack on a Centauri base and the
election of a president, ends with the destruction of a Narn base on behalf of
the Centauri and the assassination of the president who was elected at the
start. In between these events, we've been introduced to each of the characters,
learning their strengths and weakness, and the mysteries that surround each one.

So how does B5 as a series rate? It is not perfect. There have been elements of
weak dialogue, some weak actors, and some weak sets. The strengths of the
series, however, far outweigh the weaknesses. Delenn and G'Kar are two of the
finest aliens to appear in media Science Fiction; well acted, both alien and
believable. Londo is surprising -- the character at first appears to be a
parody, a strutting peacock teetering on the absurd, but this appears to be a
slight of hand to hide a darker fate.

The long term themes of the series are entertaining, uncertain, and disturbing.
This is what makes the series interesting -- what is Kosh, what are the Shadows?
Who is Morden? What is behind Dukhat, Valen, and the culture and history of the
Minbari? Why is it the dawn of the third age of Mankind?

It is rare to find a television show that encourages questions of this nature,
and it's why I can rewatch episodes of Babylon 5 again and again and gain new
insights and enjoyment. After an episode, past episodes gain new light, and new
elements appear. The creators of the show are willing to take risks that other
shows may not; I don't know what Babylon 5 will be like in a year, something
that makes it fascinating to watch and speculate about. The alien species are
multi-dimensional; just as there are multiple types of humans in personality and
belief, not all of the aliens are the same either, and each alien is not just a
series of stereotypes.

Another thing that distinguished Babylon 5 in its first season is that it hasn't
shied away from controversial subjects. Capital Punishment in Quality of Mercy,
labor relations in By Any Means Necessary, Religious differences in Believers
and the nature of the soul in Soul Hunter. And in each case, rather than
providing answers to the questions it raised, it left them for you to sort out.
The audience is taken seriously, and the assumption is we can handle these

The best episodes are those that deal with the main plot line of Babylon 5 -
Signs and Portents and Chrysalis. Both have the strong presence of Ed Wasser as
the Shadow representive Morden. For what we assume is a "big baddie" he is
underplayed, reserved, polite, eerie...and therefore very creepy. He's
fascinating to watch, and is the highlight of both episodes. S&P has the
advantage that it isn't a cliffhanger, and I can't fairly grade Chrysalis until
it is followed up on in the next few weeks. Both episodes, of course, ask more
questions than they answer.

And that may be a problem. The primary failure of Twin Peaks was that once the
questions were answered, there was little to keep the series going, and the new
questions that replaced the old questions were weak. Evaluating Babylon 5 is a
continuing process -- until the show is complete, I don't think a complete
opinion can be made; if the payoff is weak, the previous episodes will be seem
to be a setup for failure. If the payoff succeeds (which the few we've seen have
so far) the previous episodes will be even more amazing.

Where is Babylon 5 going? I'm not sure. It's clear that this a show where almost
anything could happen; something I haven't seen on SF TV since Blake's 7. I
expect characters to die -- Garabaldi's fate has been previewed in Babylon
Squared, and somehow I expect one of the ambassidorial assistants or Ivonova to
meet a nasty fate as well. And someday, BOOM.

So let it begin. I'll be there.

Michael Lee "The path to the web becomes deeper and wider"
mich...@cs.wisc.edu October Project, Paths of Desire

<A HREF="http://coyote.cs.wisc.edu:1213/">My home page</A>

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