That's it. I said I'd do it, and I'm doing it. I'm watching the entirety of "Babylon 5" from beginning to end.
Some background. "Babylon 5" was one of my formative nerd obsessions. When I was in high school, it came on after "Deep Space Nine" in local syndication, and I gradually abandoned DS9 for its dimmer, grungier warrens. I was in college when the awesome central seasons were running, and weekly "Babylon 5" nights became a fixture of our sci-fi club. My friends and I devoted no small amount of time to deciding which of us would have which character as his or her personal love slave. (Mine was Vir. I have...types.) Then I drew comics about the love slave selection process. No, you may not see these comics. Then Season Five rolled around and the joy kind of died, but I try not to dwell on the bad times.
The plotting of my webstrip Narbonic
owes a lot to the five-year plot arc of B5, what with the time travel and weird foreshadowing and all. In the ten years since college, however, I've avoided rewatching it. Part of the reason is that, as any B5 fan knows, the series has two huge problems: the beginning and the end. Season One and Season Five contain some seriously bad television. Final season of "Soap" bad. (I'm watching "Soap" right now too. How does a show that brilliant go that bad? They even made Jodie straight. It's insane.) But it's getting to the sweet, creamy center that worries me the most. Can even the best of "Babylon 5" live up to my bright college memories? Before you try to reassure me, keep in mind that, at this very moment, the show's creator is writing a comic book in which Superman walks across America having boring conversations with people. The tagline is, "You will believe a man can walk." So my concerns are not unfounded.
But nonetheless, by the grace of Netflix, here I go. "Babylon 5," from the beginning.Season 1, Pilot: "The Gathering"
As the Babylon 5 space station prepares to open for business, Ambassador Kosh of the Super Secret Vorlon Empire is poisoned by an assassin. Commander Sinclair and his suspiciously Bruce-Willis-like muscle, Garibaldi, have to solve the crime before it sparks a war with the Vorlons--but things get complicated when a telepathic scan fingers Sinclair as the killer. SPOILERS: Turns out it was the work of a guy in a shapeshifting suit, probably hired by Narn ambassador G'Kar, because he was evil then.The Title Means:
Um, people are...gathering? At the station? While the whole murder mystery thing is going down? I think that's about as deep as it goes.Comments:
Good lord, is the B5 pilot boring. It's like two hours long, and it's got maybe twenty minutes of non-boring material. The rest is mostly stilted dialogue, short-lived characters, and some amazingly bad acting. Tamlin Tomita, who plays never-again-seen Laurel Takashima, delivers every line with Shatneresque levels of projectile emotion, as if about to break down in tears while guiding ships into port, although Wikipedia says her terrible performance was partly the fault of Warner Bros. for demanding that she make her character act more "feminine" and less, well, competent. Most of the eventual regulars, however, are already bringing their A game, especially Andreas Katsulas as the awesome-right-from-the-start G'Kar. Maybe it's easier to get into a sci-fi character while masked by layers of protective latex.
The murder mystery plot is kind of interesting until the resolution, which might have been more satisfying if it had been mentioned previously that shapeshifting suits, you know, exist. That would have been useful information to have. This is the kind of thing that used to make people say it was impossible to write a good mystery set in a sci-fi or fantasy universe--you can always have the solution be "a wizard did it"--until Isaac Asimov got mad about it and wrote The Caves of Steel
Although the concept is kind of interesting and the CGI is pretty good by mid-1990s standards (i.e., terrible), I'm honestly surprised "Babylon 5" got picked up on the strength of the pilot. The elements that made the series good--the characters' personalities and interactions, the detailed setting and backstory, the sense of a sprawling, ambitious ongoing plot, the dry humor--are nowhere to be seen here. It feels like the work of people who were none too confident they could really make a sci-fi TV show.
Weird aside: I was very excited when Mira Furlan first appeared on "Lost," and had to explain to Andrew, who is only a nerd about comic books, that she was Delenn! From! "Babylon 5"! I also have some degree of prosopagnosia, difficulty recognizing faces. When I pointed out Delenn to Andrew in this episode, he said, "You can't identify faces, but you recognized her
?" (To be fair, Furlan later appears on B5 with a lot less sci-fi makeup. And I recognized her on "Lost" mainly thanks to her very distinctive voice. And, well, it's Babylon 5