Monday, October 10, 2016

Babylon 5 Re-Watch: Episodes 9-12 Deliver Two Excellent Stand-Alone Entries

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).

I have fallen behind a bit on this because I have been keeping up with beginning of the Fall season and several of the new premieres (here's how to keep up with all the shows currently airing at this link).  But I have made it through four more eps and hope to pick on steam on this next month.

S1 Ep 9: “Deathwalker”

The Dilgar woman known as Deathwalker arrives on Babylon 5, and many of the alien races demand that she be tried for the war crimes she committed thirty years prior.  But several of the larger governments have an interest in protecting her because she may have tapped into the secrets of immortality.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: Yes, but with a caveat. This episode has little significance to the overall story arc, but it is still one of the show’s best episodes.

Comments: Shows like Battlestar: Galactica (the 2003 reboot), The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones have come to be known for their hard-hitting stories and moral quandaries, but Babylon 5 beat them to that over a decade prior.  This is not only one hell of a good B5 episode, it is a stand out among all sci fi TV shows (though rarely recognized as such).  Deathwalker is obviously a loathsome person, but the politicians quickly look past that because she has something they want.  And if you think that any of the events in this episode are a stretch, go back to the history books and see what happened to many of the Nazi scientists after WWII with Operation Paperclip.  B5 never promised the brighter future that Star Trek delivered and instead revealed the very struggles we would have to overcome if we want to survive as a species.  This episode is one that really drives that message home.  SPOILERS TO FOLLOW (skip to next paragraph to avoid).  How right is Deathwalker when she says that humans will quickly fall upon each other when they learn they must kill one so that another can achieve immortality.  That’s a frightening moment that should make your hairs stand on end and lead to some significant reflection on the human race.   And Kosh’s final comment, “You are not ready for immortality”, is one of the most chilling in all sci fi.

As far as arc significance, we see some of the beginnings of Vorlon intervention in this episode, and we also learn a little more about the Minbari group known as the Windswords.  In addition, we get a better picture of where the League of Non-Aligned worlds stands in the grander scheme (not too prominently it turns out).  Apart from that, this is mostly a stand-alone installment, but one that really makes a mark.  I missed this when I was watching B5 during its original run, and if I had seen it then my opinion of Season 1 would have been more favorable at that time.  So who cares if it doesn’t play an important part in the grander story?  This is one damn fine episode that is definitely worth watching!

S1 Ep 10: “Believers”

Dr. Franklin faces a dilemma with an alien family when the parents will not allow him to operate on their son due to their religious beliefs.  Meanwhile, Commander Ivanova leads a mission to help a ship in deep space threatened by raiders.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: Not necessarily.  It’s a heck of a good stand-alone episode, but not tied to the overall story.

Comments: With this one, B5 delivered two excellent stand-alone episodes in a row.  It throws yet another gut-wrenching moral quandary at us and elects not to take the easy way out as far as resolving the story.  The show is demonstrating early on that it will not follow the typical television conventions and that it will present challenging drama.  Unfortunately, the episode does not quite have the impact it could because stilted directing, acting, and dialog drags it down.  This was quite common in the show’s first season and is in part why the early episodes are looked on as subpar compared to the rest of the series.  But if you can look past that, it is still a hell of a good episode story-wise and one that hinted that B5 was not just another sci fi show.  The writer of the episode was Star Trek veteran David Gerrold who penned the legendary “Trouble with Tribbles” for the original series.  As for the episode’s connection to the larger story, other than some additional character development—primarily for Dr. Franklin—it is mostly just a stand-alone entry.

S1 Ep 11: “Survivor”

Mr. Garibaldi is framed for a sabotage attempt on the station prior to a visit from Earth Alliance President Santiago.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: No. It is a good Garibaldi episode, but not vital to the overall story.

Comments:  This episode gives us a good look at Mr. Garibaldi’s troubled past and also lets us know that he has struggled with alcoholism.  The latter is particularly interesting, because it ventures into territory rarely covered in science fiction television at that time and again shows Babylon 5 breaking away from the expected TV norms.  And importantly, it doesn’t rely on soap opera asides to bring in these elements.  We learn about Garibaldi’s checkered history, which presents him as a flawed character.  But the series doesn’t wallow in these details, just keeps it as additional character development.  He has overcome his past demons, but we also learn that he is still susceptible to them at times.  This will come into play again later, and having seen this episode reinforces what happens down the line.   If you miss it, though, that won’t leave a major gap in knowledge.  But it does represent those nice bits of character development the show was doing early on.  And since Mr. Garibaldi is my favorite of the human characters on the show, I have a particular affinity for all the episodes that focus on him.  

S1 Ep 12: “By Any Means Necessary”

Because of under-staffing and under-funding, a deadly accident occurs on the Babylon 5 docks and the workers go on an illegal strike when they are told that no additional funds will be allocated to deal with the issues.  Meanwhile G’Kar needs a rare flower to perform a religious ritual and Londo is the only one on the station who possesses it.  You can read the full synopsis at this link.

Essential Viewing: No.  Other than some good G’Kar and Londo sparring, this episode is dispensable.

Comments: This is yet another padding episode early in the series’ run, and it is a particularly bad one at times.  The situation with the dock workers presents an interesting story and Sinclair’s resolution is a good snub to the politicians, but it that part of the episode is executed so poorly that it is often cringe-inducing.  The acting from the human actors is once again subpar and Orin Zento is little more than a cartoon villain.  And the main story has little significance to the overall story arc apart from fleshing out Sinclair’s combative relationship with the politicians on Earth (a situation which Captain Sheridan will later inherit).  As mentioned above, the G’Kar / Londo side-story offers a bit of a respite, and we get an early glimpse into the Narn ambassador’s position as a spiritual leader.  If you want to fast-forward through the episode to watch these scenes, it’s worth your time.  But take a pass on the main story.

General Thoughts: Despite one completely dispensable episode, the other three from this bunch are very good to absolutely essential.  The excellent stand-alone episodes would sadly become fewer and far between as the main story kicks into high gear starting with its second season, but “Deathwalker” and “Believers” demonstrate B5 stepping away from its main story arc and delivering first rate sci fi.  We also get some further character development as well as nuggets important to the overall story that show how well planned out the series was.  So even if you are watching more than just the essential episodes, your time is well spent.

Interesting Fact: JMS came up with the idea for “Deathwalker” when wondering what Hitler could have done to avoid execution for war crimes if he had survived WWII. 

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