Wednesday, April 30, 2008

B5 S1 Ep20: Babylon Squared [Redux]

"Not The One" [for Straczynski either].

Friends. I cannot help myself. I keep pulling my Babylon 5 Season One box set out of the drawer and going backwards, which is not helping me in my mission to move forward. Damn! I keep wanting to revisit information and re-examine scenes I did not appreciate enough, or give the weight to, that I should have on the first go round. I will get this out of my system soon and move ahead. I think. Or could I be stuck some strange time anomaly? This is a truly fascinating series.

The level of strategy, planning and preparation that went into this series boggles the mind. Babylon Squared from Season One speaks volumes about what Straczynski was trying to achieve with the novelization of his series. There are hints of many delicious things to come. This is where you knew Straczynski was a genius. I look forward to reading about the making of his story and when he conceived the idea when I actually finish. Some day that will happen.

This scene with Garibaldi has a touch of James Cameron's Aliens. The future is unnervingly chaotic and exciting.
So Babylon Squared [redux]...

Yup, ya gotta love the old tachyon emissions in Sector 14 trick. Tachyon emissions are very high here and that nasty time anomaly has sent me back to take another look at Season 1.

This was the second episode, next to Signs And Portents, from Season 1 that really began to pull me in and get my blood going.

It was interesting to watch O’Hare again after a full season of Boxleitner. I definitely prefer the latter. I think it's pretty undeniable the replacement was a fine executive decision by the Straczynski-meister.

Babylon 4 vanished 24 hours after going operational four years earlier in Sector 14. By the way, I love the Babylon 4 design, and it definitely has its own distinct look separate and apart from B5. I was definitely hard on the B5 station design in the very early going perhaps due to a lack of patience. I admit it. Fortunately, thanks to a much-improved special effects/ CGI team, it really began to take form. Furthermore, a variety of angles/shots gave glimpse to more information on the intended vision. I will even confess that I have since purchased a pewter model verison of B5 so that I can gaze lovingly at it as I watch the program. It's the bigtime kid in me! So, I definitely rushed to judgment prematurely on that one. So, yes, I think both stations are really cool and I even wish they had Titanium Ultra versions of both hanging on store shelves next to Battlestar Galactica ships. I can dream. : )

One of the scenes I valued more given all of the events that have occurred since initially viewing this episode is the Sinclair flash forward. This is the sequence where Babylon 5 is being overrun by an invading force. I suspect it is The Shadows boarding the station though we never actually see them. If this is a snapshot of The Great War I am anxious for its arrival indeed. It is unnervingly chaotic and exciting. Further, as I mentioned earlier, Doyle has a kind of Bruce Willis vibe [it's not intentional- he looks like him and offers a similiar likeable affect] and he gives his best Die Hard performance here. I look forward to the possibility of this sequence being fleshed out and expanded upon in the future. I hope it comes to pass. It’s wild to re-wtiness elements of the series with new eyes. Scenes I gave little thought to appear much more profound now. I will definitely rewatch the entire series someday. You can't say that about many shows.

Kent Broadhurst plays Major Krantz [of Babylon 4] and quite frankly his performance is atrocious. Watching it again, it is absolutely cringeworthy. With Babylon 4 shaking apart at the seams thanks to the time anomaly he looks at Sinclair and Garibaldi with the crazed stair of a madman. He delivers quite possibly the worst performance of the series with this one frantic utterance, “We’ve become unstuck in time commander, that’s why we have to get out of here.” If you watch closely, Sinclair looks back at Garibaldi with what looks like a near roll of the eyes as if to say, “this guy is a nut.” The whole scene is funny because it's not executed well. Broadhurst offers a classic cult B5 moment just the same and aids in making O'Hare look like a great actor.

When I had initially reviewed this episode I had acknowledged Tim Choate’s performance as Zathras as a real highlight. This was one of the main reasons I came back to the episode and my opinion has not changed. I also found some of what he was saying to have more of an impact on me based upon the events of Season 2. It really is a special, meaty role. Seeing it again speaks volumes about The Shadows/ The Great War arc and where it’s headed. I did not fully understand the events of this episode the first time around.

So, The One helped reveal B4 in order that its crew could survive. We see The One appear, like a ghost, made unstable by the time anomaly. Zathras hands him a time stabilizer. [I could use one of those myself. I often feel like time is moving way too fast.] When Sinclair tries to touch The One he is blasted back clearly indicating the two cannot meet within the same time space. Let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you've watched the show, and you know The One is a future version of a battle-weary Sinclair. It’s an exciting revelation, but one I suspected prior to his removal of the spacesuit helmet.

This is the final segment featuring Choate as Zathras. It’s quite amusing. He sleighs me. His intentions are at once noble and self-serving as he wishes to pull B4 through the time anomaly to save the galaxy and perhaps be recognized in history as a hero.

"Zathras annoyed by frantic and yelling Kent Broadhurst."

In the final moments, Zathras is disabled by falling debris and utters these final fateful words to Sinclair just before departing the crumbling B4: “You have a destiny.” Moments later, The One appears before Zathras. He is there to rescue him. “Zathras trusts The One.” We are now aware of his survival and narrow escape with the mention of his character in Season 2's The Long, Twilight Struggle.

The second thread is happening simultaneously. During Season 2 we see Delenn literally rejected by the Grey Council and essentially banished as an outcast. Existing somewhere between the Minbari and the Earthers Delenn has come to feel very much alone. Of course she is blessed by the presence of her loyal attache and friend Lennier. Still, it is here in Babylon Squared where she first rejects the council’s ovations to make her one of The Nine. “We are grey. We stand between the darkness and the light,” declares Delenn. There is a feeling of neutrality about the council itself to be sure. Nevertheless, Delenn is hardly excited about the prospect of leaving her freedom on B5 behind for the confines of The Nine. She reflects upon the calling of her role in overseeing the prophecy. It is the calling of her heart to oversee the Earthers. Watching Mira Furlan’s performance is special. She nearly hints to a bit of Earther selfishness at the prospect of being couped up in the Great Hall. She knows she would never again leave there and she cannot allow that to happen. Delenn is the first to refuse her role within The Nine in 1,000 years. She has tasted the freedom of B5 and she is also aware of the change that is to come [see Chrysalis Season 1]. So it is interesting to see her rejection of the Grey Council and does lend some understanding of their rejection of her later in the series. Also, her role and the role of the Minbari concerning the future of the galaxy is indeed pivotal and curious.

It is a thread like this one that really permits the philosophical side of Straczynski's writing to shine. Take, for example, his optimism concerning humanity as expressed through Delenn. "They do not seek conformity. They do not surrender. Out of their differences comes symmetry. Their unique capacity to fight against impossible odds. Hurt them, they only come back stronger. The passions we deplore have taken them to their place in the stars, and will propel them to a great destiny. Their only weakness is that they do not recognize their own greatness. They forget they have come to this place through two million years of evolution, struggle, and blood. They are better than they think and nobler than they know. They carry within them the capacity to walk among the stars as giants. They are the future. We have much to learn from them."

The One. When precisely did Straczynski decide to relegate O'Hare to special guest I wonder?

As we know now, The Earth-Minbari War was halted by the Minbari, not because they lost, but because they saw prophecied an unfulfilled destiny by the humans. Delenn is the biggest advocate for the Earthers, which places her at odds with her own kind. They buck boneheads so to speak. Can you imagine Londo turning to Lennier and declaring, “you are such a bonehead.” Rather than take offense Lennier might reply, “why, thank you.” Better yet, “stop being a bonehead.” You see, that’s a tough one. "I'm afraid I cannot do that." How bout Lennier with "I've got a bone to pick with you!" followed by Londo's "You most certainly do." Or... I'm sorry, I got a little carried away there. Anyway, Delenn is forewarned that if she leaves the post offered her she may lose it. She knows consequences may be forthcoming. So, later in Season 2 when she is rejected by this body of nine it makes sense given her rejection of this prestigious, time-honored position here. Like Londo, she has chosen her path. Much of the story is weighted with self-determination, free will and the tenets of philosophy that fascinate Straczynski. Terrific stuff.

In the end, the council is split 4-4 on how to contend with Delenn’s use of free will. Her friend bestows upon her the gift of a triluminary. It is a special gesture and the instrument necessary for the cocooning. “These are curious times Delenn. I feel a great change in my bones. A new beginning, an end, I cannot say,” worries her friend. “We are surrounded by signs and portents and I feel a darkness pressing at our backs.”

The episode brilliantly pulls together Sinclair and [what we believe is] Delenn for the final scene. A scar-faced, grey haired Sinclair and the arm of Delenn appear on a deserted B4. The One tells her, “I tried, I tried to warn them, but it all happened just the way I remember it.” The question is whether that’s good or bad. Delenn tells him, “I know. It’s time. We have to go. They’re waiting for us.” Who is “they?” Could it be The Rangers? I am loving this show.

Babylon Squared: B+


Anonymous said...

You've certainly managed to pull together some of the cross-season plot threads. As someone who has watched the series many times over, all I can say is you are still in for many revelations, which may end up surpizing you still.

Anonymous said...

About Delenn's statement on the humans - contrast that with Deathwalker's statement: "Your kind takes blind comfort in the belief that we are monsters. That you could never do what we did. The key ingredient in the anti-agapic cannot be synthesized. It must be taken from living beings. For one to live forever, another one must die. You will fall upon one another like wolves. It will make what we did pale by comparison. The billions who live forever will be a testimony to my work, and the billions who are murdered to buy that immortality will be the continuance of my work! Not like us? You will become us. That's my monument, Commander."

He is saying that the humans are capable of being both much better and much worse than they think.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Judging from the comments above there is no doubt that I will need to press forward and go back and watch this series again. It requires multiple viewings when you talk about the depth of the dialogue. I'm sure there are surprises to come and new surprises when I go back. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

(coming from Bab5 Virgin site)

I'm glad you're rethinking some of y our reactions to season 1. A lot of fans at the time ended up eating a bit of crow over season 1, as well.

It is my contention that O'Hara played Sinclair exactly how JMS wanted the character played. Sinclair and Sheridan are completely different men with different strengths and weaknesses. Sheridan could not do what Sinclair does throughout the series, and the reverse is also true.

It is never a good idea to underestimate the "Great Maker."


Anonymous said...

Forgot to add:

About the CGI -- keep in mind that Bab5 was the FIRST TV show to use CGI at all. It was how they stretched their so-limited budget to accomplish the masterpiece they did.

Some of the CGI we take for granted now hadn't been invented, yet.

It's truly not fair to judge the EFX by today's standards.


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Your points are well taken Carolf and having read a bit without spoling the show for myself I have definitely got a pretty solid understanding of the tight budget and developing CGI the show was essentially a forerunner for. I must admit the computer graphics have really gorwn on me as I near the very end of Season 2 in my discovery of this amazing show. Thanks for contributing.

Anonymous said...

Re-reading your post, I can assure you that you *still* don't understand the full implications of this episode ;) - and you won't for another 20 episodes (counting from twilight struggle onwards).

Small correction: Delenn didn't reject her place within the Nine, she rejected becoming the leader of the Nine. She was part of the Nine when she arrived at B5 and she remained a member of the Grey Council until she was kicked in "All alone in the night".


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

M- Thanks for being there to set me straight on my novice Babylon 5 rendering. I appreciate the insight and I look forward to the developments to come based on your comments.