Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Babylon 5 Re-Watch: Episodes 1 - 4 Have the Show Off to a Slow but Decent Start

The Babylon 5 re-watch is on!  These are my thoughts on the episodes as I work my way through the full five seasons (plus the movies).

S1 Ep 1: "Midnight on the Firing Line"

In this episode, the Narn launch an unprovoked attacked on a Centauri colony to reclaim a system they claim was once part of their empire.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

This episode offers a much better launching point into the grander story that the show will tell.  Less concerned with the exposition that pilot had to muddle through (more on that at this link), it gets to jump right into the thick of things and start demonstrating the tensions between the major races.  The Narn attack will have a significant impact on latter events and we really start to understand the hatred between the Narn and the Centuari in this episode.  We also get a notable glimpse of the Centauri as an empire in decline, which has much significance to the developing story.  Plus, this establishes Mollari’s personal connection to these events with his nephew on Ragesh 3 as well as his vision of his future demise.  Note also that G’Kar is set up in more of the villain role early on and we are much more sympathetic to Mollari at this point.

Apart from the main conflict, this episode establishes Ivanova’s antipathy toward the Psi-Corp and also adds other small touches like the Earth Alliance election and Garibaldi’s love of Daffy Duck (his second favorite thing in the universe).  All around, it is a heck of a good start for the first season proper and gets the story rolling, even if that does not become apparent for another year.

Essential Viewing? Yes.  A must see episode that sets things in motion important to the overall story arc.

S1 Ep 2: "Soul Hunter"

One of the nefarious race of Soul Hunters comes aboard Babylon 5 seeking to collect the soul at the time of death of one of the important figures on the station.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

This is mostly a stand-alone episode, but a decent one at that.  It builds further on the Babylon 5 universe and it also hints at the importance of Delenn to her people.  We also see more hints of Sinclair’s importance to the Minbarri which will play a pivotal role later in the show.  The Soul Hunters themselves are not that important as a race, though they do show up again in the in the 1998 TV movie Babylon 5: The River of Souls (which itself is mostly a stand-alone story).  Overall, this gives us a decent episode that moves the world-building forward a bit more.

Essential Viewing? No. But still worth a look.

S1 Ep 3: "Born to the Purple"

Mollari pursues a new love interest, a Centauri dancer named Adira, but his infatuation with her could prove disastrous to his career.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

This is a Londo-centric episode which is a good thing because he is one of the strongest characters of the series.  It shows us that he is more than just the blusterous politician that we see on the surface and we continue sympathize with him as a person.  His affection for Adiri leads to a major turning point later in the series, but also gives us some important character development.  The show continues to flesh out the other characters as well, even if only through quick glimpses.  The Garibaldi / Ivanova side story is not a major plot point, but it successfully gives a better window into both of those characters.  A good episode that continues to move things along.

Essential Viewing? Not necessarily.  Londo’s affection for Adira is re-established later, but if you have seen this episode it makes later events all the more poignant.

S1 Ep 4: "Infection"

In this episode, a former colleague of Stephen’s shows up with alien technology that ends up proving a threat to the ship.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

This is one of the padding episodes from Season 1 as it is mostly a stand-alone story the drags up the old sci fi trope of a doomsday weapon that gets out of control.  It does a decent enough job with that well-worn idea, but it doesn’t add too much that is original.   I like the idea it introduces about corporations raiding dead worlds looking for technology they can exploit.  Sci fi TV had not really addressed the idea of corporations as a significant presence in the future (with the exception of 1987’s Max Headroom), and B5 does get some mileage from that throughout the series.  We also get some more indications that the Earth Alliance is far from an ideal government plus some more character embellishment for the main human players.  But this does little to move forward the over-all arc.  With twenty-two episodes per season, that’s to be expected, and this wasn’t a particularly bad tale.  It’s just mostly dispensable.

Essential Viewing? No. Mostly padding with little significance to the main story.

General Thoughts:  The series is off to a decent start with one essential episode among these four and three moderate to good episodes (but no clunkers).  The show does feel somewhat derivative at this early point in the game, though definitely not a retread.  The dialogue is very stilted as that was not a strong point for J. Michael Straczynski at this point in his career.  This is particularly cringe-worthy in the interstitial scenes when attempts at banter or humor are worked in with the human characters (the aliens always do a much better job with this).  But you can see where the show was already demonstrating promise, and looking back you can also see how much story and character building is worked into each episode, even if it is only small bits here and there.  At this point, I am definitely pumped to continue with the re-watch because I know that the show is only going to continue to get better.

Buy Babylon 5 Season 1 on DVD from Amazon.com:

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