Wednesday, May 20, 2009

B5 S5 Ep4: A View From The Gallery

These two thoughtful chuckleheads are terrific!

A satellite is destroyed as Babylon 5, Season 5, Episode 4, A View From The Gallery begins. Captain Lochley's hair is pulled back and tight. She is tough and in charge here as she prepares her station crew for an oncoming attack by hostile alien forces. Defenses are launched in preparation for the attack. As things hit a red alert status the cameras draw in on two unsung, behind-the-scenes, hero-like, maintenance crew repairmen. The two carry on with their duties unaffected by the drama or commotions swirling about them. They simply get their jobs done.

Lochley recommends Sheridan and Delenn vacate the station, but Sheridan won't budge. Our two unlikely stars are Mack and Bo whose day-to-day activities appear to be in the background like flies on the wall as they witness the unfolding of politics, conversations and the comings and goings across Babylon 5 with hardly a notice. Their commentaries are amusing.

Would you not just want to drink with this guy?

As the credits roll it was interesting to note this was the first entry credited as "teleplay by J. Michael Straczynski" while the story was penned by him along with Harlan Ellison. I imagine the idea and comedy might have something to do with Ellison's input. As it moves along I get the sneaking suspicion this one will be focused on the two crewman. I'm reminded of Stargate SG-1, Season 6, Episode 6, The Other Guys starring John Billingsley [aka Dr. Phlox of Star Trek: Enterprise] and Patrick McKenna [Canadian actor best known for The Red Green Show] as the episode centered on the antics of those two unlikely heroes. I wonder if they got the idea from this episode? Granted TV has typically gone on diversions with secondary characters within TV shows for ages. There is often the hope of a spin-off, which is clearly not the intention here.
I was immediately drawn in by these two characters. I kept imagining what life must be like for these two working stiffs on the station. I mean they get up and go to work on a cylindrical tube and probably never leave. Are they best friends outside of work? Do they hang out in the Zocalo? Do they have family? It made me thing about station life on a more day to day, humdrum level as the men swapped sandwiches and stories. I was really digging it.
I was kind of laughing as a couple of the CGI shots made me realize how often the show reused shots due to budgetary restrictions. It reminded me of the classic, original Battlestar Galactica's use of shots over and over. The shots are certainly more sophisticated here. Then of course the new Battlestar Galactica's effects are just off the charts. Amazing quickly technology moves in the span of a decade.

Dr. Franklin grabs Bo for some repairs. I love how this particular entry points to the guys behind the scenes that kind of get things done. They rarely get any of the glory. These are guys I can relate to. I love this moment between Bo and Dr. Franklin. It makes you ask the questions, right and wrong, and what side you're on. I'm with Bo, but damn it Jim! I'm not a doctor! Straczynski makes a great case for preserving life here nevertheless.

Now that is one heck of a costume job!

Meanwhile Mack is doing his part in Command & Control during the heat of battle. Mack manages to pull a bug from the works and brings the primary weapons systems back on line. I don't believe we've had the pleasure of seeing those powerful green laser systems before. It may also be the first time I've ever had the pleasure of seeing a cockroach [a.k.a. B15] in costume for film. That little critter had quite the get up.

Mack and Bo discuss the new captain and Mack likes what he sees. The two talk about the "scuttlebutt" on Lochley and which side she was on. Mack tells Bo not to feed into the rumors, but these guys hear them all. Mack and Bo head to Brown 9 when Gariabldi and Lochley get into the elevator in the midst of a major blowout. I get the feeling the rumors may actually start with the repair crew. They witness and see and hear everything. Ha! Granted if they are getting just bits and pieces this could be a problem for the rumor mill. As the fight rages and Lochley exits one can't help but figure these two people, Garibaldi and Lochley, really don't like each other. Next topic of concern for the boys, getting good pizza. Those are the kinds of heady concerns I like to handle myself. I'm a big pizza guy. It has to be great pizza and it's hard to find. It has been a kind of mission of mine to try different pizza whenever I can. Yes, I like these guys.

Mack and Bo give some good insights into the workings of the jumpgate technology in their casual discussions. I remember casual discussions ages ago with a midnight crew stocking grocery shelves in a supermarket when I was younger. Those were some weird dudes to work along side. One of them always had the freezer section and he always wore one of those hats where the flaps come down and cover the ears like Snoopy's Red Baron cap. I think the cold air was getting to that dude's head to boot. I'm glad I didn't have to handle the frozen TV dinners section.

The attack on the station is ON by these very opportunistic aliens.

Some alien breaching pods connect to the station and civilians are asked to take to the shelters. Aliens board as our "other guys" are caught in the heat of battle. Zack and friends are kicking ass and getting some ass kicked of their own. Mack and Bo add a little of their own fight to the mix and then begin crawling on the floor to make their way out of the firing range. Wow! There is working through rain, sleet or snow, but firefights ain't in the job description. Whoa!
Mack and Bo run into the friendly neighborhood telepathic weirdos of Brown sector and Byron tells them to rest with them. A recitation on death ensues by Byron. Mack tells them they'd be safer in a shelter when an alien appears. Byron and friends pull the old Jedi Mind Trick and the alien lowers its weapon and walks away. Those are some handy skills to have in a gun battle when you don't have a gun. Bo wishes he could be out there flying when Byron does a mind trick on him giving him the allusion he is in the fight. These are powerful telepaths with powers we have not encountered in the telepaths to date.
G'Kar and Londo are sheltered and give us one of the rare, special moments by the two characters in quite some time.

I thought it was interesting to see G'Kar speak honestly with Londo and for Londo to listen, digest handle, and take it like a man rather than avoid it. These men continue to grow and their relationship continues to change.

Throughout the battle, Babylon 5 is incurring substantial damage and fires are raging as robots are doing their best to put out fires and make repairs. Mack and Bo's shelter time comes to an end as they are needed in Red sector.

Mack and Bo happen upon one of those many day-to-day events on Babylon 5 with a squabbling Delenn and Sheridan as Sheridan tries to place Delenn in a lifepod. Sheridan tasks Bo and Mack with getting Delenn to a lifepod safely. Do visions of R2D2 and C3PO come to mind? How can you not think of that original Star Wars movie when it comes to lifepod escape sequences? The two men witness a big smoocheroo before escorting her there. Delenn asks for their names and compares the two men to her own worker caste. True. Good point. These are the people that make things go. Delenn convinces them both that she will not be leaving and that she will stay on the station where she calls home.

The violence is quelled quickly as the White Star fleet arrives to save the day.
The station is in complete disarray and in some disrepair. In the end, Mack and Bo witness Dr. Franklin tending to the dead. "They get all the glory, we get all the mess....well, maybe not all the mess," as they notice with heavy hearts. It's a sobering moment to see all of the dead lying still under the blue neon lights of WELCOME TO BABYLON 5.

This was clearly an episode in the experimental category of Straczynski's wish list. I really enjoyed the interactions between Mack and Bo, played by actors Raymond O'Connor [a character actor I've seen many times] and Lawrence LeJohn respectively. They play those parts perfectly and on the whole it was good. I liked its off the beaten path stroll through Babylon 5. It was an interesting character study.
Still, what I liked most about this episode was the writing centered on the friendship and life of these two station hands. Whether it was sharing a tale or small talk over "tastes like chicken." This is special stuff. This is the stuff of real life. Surprising I would be so excited over real life when I completely immerse myself in sci-fi escape. Still, you need the real in science fiction for it to work.

The final moment is sweet when Mack calls out Lochley's name to tell her "I know you're new here and all and uh, I just wanted to say, you're okay in my book ma'am." He almost speaks for us with his welcoming words. This is followed by Delenn saying hello to Mack in the hallways. Sweet stuff.

A View From The Gallery: B


TFKoP said...

This is my favorite B5 episode.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I can see why! This has a lot of the qualities in character-based stories I love. It has been my favorite of Season Five as of the first seven episodes. It also has some of the qualities I enjoyed in the last three 3 of Babylon 5. On the whole this has been a very awkward season to date. Hope all is well J.