Thursday, August 25, 2016

Babylon 5 Re-Watch: Episodes 5-8 Have Some Important Moments for the Overall Story Arc

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 5: “The Parliament of Dreams”

While a week-long festival celebrating the different religions and cultures of the races takes place on Babylon 5, G’Kar receives a death threat from an old rival among his people.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing? No. It adds some character development moments, but nothing that is vital to the overall story.

Comments: As is to be expected from a show with twenty-two episodes per season and a planned five-year arc, there will be some episodes that are mostly dispensable and this is definitely one of those.  It does introduce us to some of the differences in the races and also adds some background for each.  Plus, we meet G’Kar’s aide Na’Toth for the first time as well as Delenn’s aide Lennier (played by former Will Robinson actor Bill Mumy).  The character Catherine Sakai also joins up in a recurring role as an entrepreneur/explorer and Commander Sinclair’s love interest.  She will have some important moments in the first season, but later gets written out of the show when the progression of the story arc makes her dispensable.  Overall, it is not a bad episode and it has some good Londo and G’Kar moments, but this is far from a high point for the show.

S1 Ep 6: “Mind War”

Alfred Bester from the Psi-Corps arrives on the station in pursuit of the rogue telepath Jason Ironheart who was a former instructor and lover of Talia Winters.  Meanwhile, Catherine Sakai explores the ominous planet known as Sigma 957.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing? Yes. While not one of the show's greatest stories, it has plenty of significance to the overall arc and it introduces Bester while also giving us a better look at the sinister workings of the Psi Corps.

Comments: This is actually one of the first episodes I remember watching after the pilot (I missed several of the first five), and I remember it feeling very derivative at the time.  The story of Jason Ironheart as a man given power beyond his control has been covered quite frequently in the genre, and this episode did not add too much that idea.  But what I didn’t see at the time was the importance of the introduction of Bester as well as the malicious nature of the Psi-Corps.  We had a brief glimpse of the latter in “Midnight on the Firing Line”, but this episode establishes that the Psi-Corps is truly a sinister organization that holds far too much power.  And that will become much more important later in the story.  Bester, of course, also becomes a primary antagonist for Babylon 5 and one of the show's better characters.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Catherine and G’Kar scenes have major significance as well. Up to this point (and continuing on through the first season), the Narn ambassador has played more the role of the villain.  But in this episode we see a different side of him that will be explored much further in later seasons.  And the unknown beings that Catherine encounters suggest the ominous forces that exist beyond the races we have seen thus far and they will play their part as the story develops.

Note that this episode has some of the most wooden acting, and that comes—as is typical—from the human characters (I blame the directing more than the acting because this is a recurring trend).  Walter Koenig will have some classic moments as Bester in the series and he plays the character with sinister grace at times.  But there are also some points where his performance falls flat as when he deadpans out “You.Don’t.Know.What.You.Are.Doing!”  He is not the only problem with the episode, but that particular moment stands out.  Still, a lot happens in “Mind War” that impacts the overall story and we get some important introductions, so it is a must-watch episode.

S1 Ep 7: “The War Prayer”

Two young Centauri’s flee to Babylon 5 because they want to marry each other instead of the arranged marriages their families have prepared.  Meanwhile, a xenophobic Earth group known as Homeguard launches attacks on aliens aboard the station.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: No.  It introduces the anti-alien sentiments brewing on Earth, but this is covered better and in more detail later in the series.  It also gives some more development to the Centauri and Londo in particular, but nothing really essential.

Comments:  This is a decent enough episode, especially if you are a Londo fan like myself.  We get a better look at Centauri culture and their arranged marriages as well as the impact of that on Londo.  And the introduction of Homeguard is notable, but we get much more about that later in the series.  We also get an explanation of why Lyta Alexander and Dr. Benjamin Kyle (both appeared in the pilot but then disappeared) are no longer on the station (they were re-assigned to Earth due to their direct contact with the Vorlon).  This episode would have fit in well as the launching point for Season 1 because the linking explanation, but the actual first S1 episode “Midnight on the Firing Line” is a stronger story and a better starting place.  Of interest, Star Trek veteran D.C. Fontana wrote this episode and she would also go on to contribute to two more eps for the show: Season 1’s “Legacies” and Season 2’s “A Distant Star”.

S1 Ep 8: “And the Sky Full of Stars”

Commander Sinclair is captured and his mind is probed to find out how he survived the “Battle of the Line” and what happened during that twenty-four hour period when he allegedly blacked.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: Possibly. This covers some important back-story for Sinclair, but much of that is later covered in more detail in the movie “In the Beginning”.  To keep up with the story as it aired, though, this ep is probably important to watch.

Comments:  This episode starts to dig deeper in Sinclair’s past which we have already had hints about.  It is a particularly good one for Michael O’Hare as an actor as he was really starting to get up to speed with the character.  I know that many prefer Bruce Boxleitner as Sheridan in the lead role, but I always liked Sinclair.  Sure, O’Hare’s delivery could be overly wooden at times, but that was true of most the human characters in the show.  Sinclair had more of an intensity and darkness about him whereas Sheridan always seemed all too chipper.  Not that I didn’t like Sheridan, I just preferred Sinclair between the two.  Also in this episode, we see more than just hints that the xenophobia that manifested itself in the prior episode is not just hysteria among the people.  There are forces at work back on Earth that want to eradicate alien influence, and it appears they have allies in the Earth government.  This episode also gives us a look at the Minbari Grey Council and suggestions of Delen’s links to Sinclair.  The story is definitely picking up a bit of steam at this point and introducing some interesting mysteries to unravel (that will eventually get a satisfying resolution, unlike later shows that followed a similar arc-driven format).

General Thoughts: Even though these four episodes are not among the stronger entries story-wise, we do get some important advancement in the grander arc and some very important introductions.  Plus, these episodes continue to develop all the characters involved at this point.  You can definitely see where JMS is taking every opportunity to lay the groundwork for what is to follow, even if it is just the smallest detail.  And looking back it becomes obvious that he had a very good plan in place as he began this journey, and he followed it pretty closely.  That’s not so obvious if you have only seen the first eight episodes and the pilot, but it all starts to link together as the ball gets rolling in the show’s second season.

Interesting Fact: In the episode “And the Sky Full of Stars”, Walter Koenig was originally approached to play the role of Knight Two.  He was unable due to health reasons, but would instead take on the iconic role of Bester (“Mind War” must have been filmed later even though it was aired earlier).  Patrick McGoohan was then offered the role but had to decline due to scheduling conflicts.  British actor Christopher Neame eventually took that role and he is likely a familiar face to sci fi fans for guest starring roles in Blake’s 7, Beauty and the Beast (1989), Superboy, MacGyver, The Flash (1990), Earth 2, Star Trek: Voyager,  Star Trek: Enterprise, and more.

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