Thursday, May 29, 2008

B5 S3 Ep4: Passing Through Gethsemane

One of many creepy moments in a powerful entry.

Wow! Babylon 5, Season Three, Episode 3, Passing Through Gethsemane, really stayed with me long after watching it. I actually ended up watching it twice. The message was so powerful in the story it was a bit like going to church when your pastor delivers his most powerful sermon of the year. It had that engaging quality to it. The writing was really something to behold.
The story begins over a chess match between Brother Theo, played by Louis Turenne, who quite simply is brilliant in the role. I've really enjoyed his recurring part though I made little mention of it upon his first appearance in Convictions. One Brother Edward is watching the match. Character actor Brad Dourif guests in the role. I'm always hot and cold on Dourif. Either Dourif [Deadwood] is the kind of quirky, eccentric character I’m not crazy about [Grima Wormtongue in Lord Of The Rings] or plays a part I really love [Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest]. Well, he plays the part pretty straight here, being a religious man, and it is a pleasure to watch his craft unfold. Despite my reservations he can unquestionably perform with the best of them.

Ambassador Kosh arrives in Bay 13 and the Vorlon ship contorts to create a doorway [love that Vorlon technology]. Lyta Alexander has returned. According to Lyta she essentially hitchhiked to the edge of Vorlon space. We know she has been drawn to Kosh since the beginning. Her story has it she was left floating in a lifepod with five days life support. Lucky for her she was saved and found herself on the Vorlon homeworld. Sheridan and the others inquire about her experience there, but she cannot discuss what she has witnessed. She tells them most would not believe what she has encountered anyway. How convenient. Try us Lyta. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. As luck would have it, Lyta will be working for Kosh, but be based out of Babylon 5. Her association with Kosh is of her own free will [unlike Sebastian of Comes The Inquisitor]. Kosh will also protect her from the nefarious Psi Corps. I'd have to admit I'd be just fine with Kosh as my bodyguard.

Garibaldi has this to say: “Nobody’s ever been to the Vorlon homeworld and back again, yet she goes, comes back like she just took a trip to the corner store and now she’s working for Kosh. Is anybody else as creeped out about this as I am?

Yup! Creeped Out!
Meanwhile, oddly, a black rose drops from the bag of Brother Edward. Someone is toying with the new addition to the cloaked brotherhood.

A conversation between Garibaldi and Delenn sheds some interesting light on the state of criminal justice in the Babylon 5 world of Earth society. It appears to be a kinder, gentler Earth [on the surface]. Mind wipe or “death of personality” has replaced the electric chair. Criminals receive a new personality to supplant their past and will do community service for the rest of time. It's kind of like a nicer version of the lobotomy if there was ever such a thing.

Delenn: “But you don’t agree?
Garibaldi: “No, I’m an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth kinda guy ambassador.”
Delenn: “So you support the system that would leave everyone blind and toothless.”
Garibaldi: “No, not everyone- just the bad guys.”

Now that’s my Garibaldi. He refers to the old code of Hammurabi of Babylon without actually saying it [interesting connection eh?].

In medlab, Dr. Franklin performs a physical on Lyta. Curiously she is in better health now than she was the last time she left Babylon 5.

Yikes, creepy wall scribbling, not a good Sign- literally.
Poor Brother Edward is showing signs of psychosis or is it? Arriving at his quarters he sees words on his wall that appear painted in blood. I always hated the 'wall-painted-in-blood' trick! You get the heebie jeebies! He alerts Garibaldi but when they return the message has vanished. You see, that's when you get the heebie jeebies! It's not right.

This sequence sees Londo attempt to work Lyta over and unsuccessfully charm her into giving him information about the Vorlons. Londo looks so pathetic when he tries these stunts, but they are fun to watch, and he wouldn't be Londo if he wasn't trying.

This is quickly followed by a moving exchange between Delenn and boy toy Lennier meeting with Brother Edward over the meaning of the soul. The Minbari believe it to be a "non-localized phenomenon.” The body is merely the shell that houses the soul, hence the concept of Minbari souls taking human bodies. Lennier eloquently explains the concept and keeps it succinct. It's the next part of the scene that was profoundly thoughtful, touching and noteworthy for me as portrayed by Dourif. What would you do?

I love that Straczynski constantly sets forth the idea that events are in motion and people can alter their course if they so desire or can they? Why can’t people stop and make things right? People just can't stop themselves damn it!

When Brother Edward arrives in Brown 17 he is touched by a Centauri telepath as he exits the elevator. He hears voices, sirens and sees the message again, “Death Walks Among You.” Edward finds a dead woman with a black rose stuffed in her mouth. Running through water, a tear runs from his eye. Ah, I started getting the mind wipe connection here. I know-I’m slow. Brother Theo attempts to dissuade Edward’s desire to probe into what these images mean. Edward accesses the station computer to cross-reference information like the black rose. The computer matches on the black rose killer, Charles Dexter. Brother Edward WAS/ IS Charles Dexter and was the recipient of the “death of personality” April 3, 2251. What a great story and the twists continue for Babylon 5.

Sheridan, Theo and Garibaldi uncover the truth. Edward now knows he was once a murderous monster or as he tells Theo, “the stain remains with the soul.”

Creepy Centauri telepath!
Garibaldi finds the recorder that was left running that Theo lost while on Brown 17. He is being set up to remember his past. The blood red writing is a chemical that disappears. The intercom played on Edward’s psyche. The Centauri telepath was hired to break down Edward’s mind wipe. The children of Dexter’s victims want revenge and have come for him. Edward is missing and the Centauri will not relinquish information under questioning. Sheridan implements plan B. Garibaldi slides a bag over his head [whatever works in the name of justice] and Lyta enters to peel away his mind. The Centauri struggles but passes out. Lyta has the information. Edward is on Brown 42.
Creepy Brother Edward mode! My heart just broke for the guy. If Straczynski wanted me to feel bad for a murderer it worked.
I thought the darkened lighting was brilliant. Director Adam Nimoy and his team employed some terrific techniques to capture the mood. This image exemplifies the lighting effort as Edward’s face is skewed complete with red eye sockets. It really played on the whole concept of Edward as the monster underneath. It was really well executed by the creators here. In the end, Edward answers the question of whether or not he would have the courage to face destiny. He answers it by facing the victims of his former self's actions and proving he did indeed have the courage to face it. I thought Straczynski’s one misstep was to make a point regarding Gethsemane here. He didn’t have to go back to it. That scene was so powerful earlier on and resonated with me so much Edward’s actions spoke volumes and did not need to be spelled out for us, especially fans as smart as those who would seek out Babylon 5. The question I have, how do we reconcile whose soul was at play here, that of Charles Dexter or Brother Edward? Is it one and the same or a moving force like that which Lennier described earlier. My head hurts.

Always great to see Straczynski turn the tables on us by socking characters in the gut, even if they aren’t aware of it. Garibaldi [not unlike myself] exhibits much sympathy for Edward despite voicing his stance on the mind wipe as punishment to Delenn earlier. Everyone certainly approached Edward with sympathy while knowing he was indeed formerly a killer. Dourif is terrific just as Wayne Alexander was terrific in Comes The Inquisitor.

The subject of forgiveness is brought to the fore in the final minutes and it is a gigantic twist.

Straczynski’s words shine through Sheridan: “You take away a man’s life, memory, payment for his crime. It’s still not enough. Where does revenge end and justice begin? Forgiveness is a hard thing isn’t it Theo?” More than you know Sheridan.

And with those words Sheridan’s feet are held to the fire when he turns to meet the latest addition to the order in the form of the very man who murdered Brother Edward. Sheridan is visibly shaken but must put his words to the test as he painfully extends his hand after first denying the the new brother a handshake. Going back to Sheridan’s words earlier, “I believe in a little bit of everything. I’m eclectic, open-minded.” Indeed. He at least proves those words true.

Eww! Creepy gill implants!
The epilogue moment sees light beaming from Kosh’s encounter suit with his head placed by the side. Lyta absorbs light beams through her eyes and mouth. Her breathing is aided by those creepy gill implants. It’s all very odd indeed. Is Lyta changing? One thing is certain she looks like a damn addict.
This is a powerful work, which left me thinking about a lot of things, including the fact that the mind wipe could be applied to anyone, even one of our beloved characters. Still, I don't really believe that simply for the mere fact that our favorite characters are filled with way too much passion and that seems to nearly absent following the "death of personality."

Passing Through Gethsemane: A-

While some of my grading may be on par episode to episode, each one is populated with very different ideas and can be like comparing apples to oranges despite being graded similiarly and liking them for different reasons.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

B5 S3 Ep3: A Day In The Strife

Just another night on the town, or rather the revolving space tube.

The impressive character exchanges continue. Yes, it's just another day in the life or rather strife to be exact. One of the things I enjoy most about Babylon 5 is the endless interpersonal relationship struggles or friendhsips that happen for better or worse. I guess when you're stuck on a space station with nowhere to run you're going to get that. There were so many splendid little moments in Season Three, Episode Three, A Day In The Strife I began losing count. My video camera was working overtime. We get scene after scene in the day-to-day operations amidst the general chaos of Babylon 5 and the dialogue and drama between characters is flawless. It was yet another pleasure to watch it all unfold.

Unrest is building aboard Babylon 5 following the terror bombings in Convictions. The Transport Pilots Association is up in arms over the delays.

Sheridan greets the arrival of Na’Far, with bodyguard Ta’Lon, who has arrived to replace citizen G’Kar as the new Narn liaison to the newly assembled, Centauri-controlled Narn government. Na’Far is essentially a puppet of the Centauri. His hope is to remove G’Kar and thereby remove the primary influence on the armed Narn resistance.

Meanwhile, Garibaldi meets with Ivanova and informs her that he took a little looksy into Sheridan’s personnel jacket when he first arrived. I love how the good guys are always breaking the rules. I'm actually kidding, but it does seem necessary in this fairly uneven world of political power plays.

I like to know who I’m dealing with and who knew he’d turn out to be okay. According to his files, Sheridan’s a good tactical thinker. He can take an inferior defensive force and turn it into an offensive force capable of taking on a better-equipped enemy. He did it with the Black Star. He did it with the Mars Riots. He’s the one chance we’ve got to make it through this thing alive.”

I’m thinking that’s a fairly vital skill people. Yeah, I'd kinda want Sheridan on my team too.

This is a fairly chilling reminder of the Jekyll and Hyde that is Londo Mollari.

"Captain, I believe I just received a name. Yes sir, it is official. I have confirmation!"

Joshua Cox sports his best haircut to date and actually lands himself a speaking role in one of his meatiest appearances thus far. By the way, it not only talks, but I believe Joshua 'Tech No. 1' Cox has just been promoted in the credits to an official name. He now answers to Corwin.

An alien probe enters Babylon 5 airspace and begins circling the station. It has presented 600+ intelligence questions to the station crew to answer within 24 hours or face annihilation [I remember feeling that way in school]. Yup, just another day in the strife. Theoretically, if the station can return the correct answers they will receive much needed medical technology. If they cannot complete them in time Babylon 5 will be, as Ivanova puts it, hit with a “500,000 megaton weed whacker.” Oh yeah and they cannot simply destroy the probe of course. This is a terrific thread taking Darwin to the next level combining the alien and the technological.

Later, Londo meets with Delenn in an attempt to relocate Vir as a diplomatic envoy to Minbar. It is fascinating to watch Londo try to manipulate Delenn but with little success. Despite Londo’s roller coaster persona he continues to be such a sympathetic figure in no small part to Jurasik’s amazing talent. Still, Delenn is as shrewd as they come and her presence is all thanks to the amazing and beeautiful Mora Furlan. Lesser actresses would have destroyed this character. At the very least they wouldn't have had nearly the presence or range of physical emotion that Furlan can employ. It seems effortless.

Oh! This is another great sequence about friendship and human behavior. This is the beauty of the show. It is Straczynski’s ability to write dialogue that is so true to human nature. I love this exchange between Garibaldi and Dr. Franklin [and man they love to eat together!]. Hey look, I warned you, I told you there were a lot of scenes I just loved.

Over a drink, Ta’Lon meets up with Sheridan. If you recall, Sheridan first saved Ta’Lon from the alien abduction they both survived in All Alone In The Night. Elsewhere, Na’Far meets with G’Kar and the discussion goes less than smooth. Performance perfection continues!

So, following the Garibaldi/ Franklin sequence we witness Dr. Franklin in action. He’s overtired and on edge and reaches for the narcotic that keeps him going. Garibaldi’s words haunt him and ring true as he puts them away. He swore he was not an addict, but as his problems unravel he cannot deny the craving for relief he requires. He inevitably takes the injection to stave off withdrawal.

There is also a scene between Londo and Vir and most notably this line to Vir had me laugh out loud. “You have been promoted. You will earn more money, receive more attention, women may even come to find you attractive…in time.” Viciously funny! Londo is so torn between love for Vir and a desire to remove him from the pressures that continue to build upon his shoulders.

The Narn confront Na’Far in the corridors of Babylon 5 as a traitor and G’Kar intervenes in time to prevent bloodshed. If there is anything G’Kar will not stand for it is Narn-on-Narn violence. G’Kar agrees to return to Narn if it means Narn are left alone.

Garibaldi is not so keen on G’Kar’s decision. Like many of us, Garibaldi has a soft spot for the lizard guy and like everyone else, he knows he will be killed if he returns to his homeworld.

So, like I said, there were so many powerful meetings in this episode I began to lose count. In fact, I need to buy two new batteries for the camera.

Oh God, here’s another. When G’Kar attempts to leave his brethren but they stop him with a little love. Show him the love!

Furthermore, the Narn not only managed to keep G’Kar in their camp, but gained another in Ta’Lon. It is noted by G’Quan that an unsheathed sword must draw blood before being coveted again. He honors the word and cuts his own hand experiencing the pain required for freedom. It’s pure damn poetry people I tell you!

In fact, this is poetry that is also beautifully real. When Garibaldi reconnects with Dr. Franklin he apologizes to him for being presumptuous about a potential addiction. It is so sincere and then, ashamed, Franklin lies to his friend unable to exhibit weakness or let anyone know it. JMS is keepin' it REAL! We make mistakes. We have frailties. We suffer consequences. Straczynski lays it all out. These are people like you and me. And when Vir walks off Babylon 5 so bloody REAL! I couldn’t believe it! I was like NO WAY! You can’t go! Come back! Bloody hell Londo- stop him ya bastard! What’s wrong with you?! What an ass! Really amazing stuff.

Classic exchange between Sheridan and Ivanova:

S: “If that thing blows at least it’ll save me from one more annoying conversation.”
I: “Always finding the good in every situation.”
S: “Absolutely! If I didn’t I might end up like you.”
I: “Hey, what’s that suppose to mean… I swear if we live through this somebody’s gonna’ find their automatic shower preferences reprogrammed for ice water."

Ivanova can be tough as nails, but deep down she's a big ol' softy and an absolute sweetheart! Come on, look at that face!

A Day In The Strife: B

Friday, May 23, 2008

B5 S3 Ep2: Convictions

Beautiful Ivanova- looking very 'just rolled out of bed'. Love it!

Babylon 5 takes a small breath with a near standalone story in Season Three Episode Two’s Convictions. With all of the threads woven into Straczynski’s storyline is anything really standalone anymore?

Drazi missionaries arrive along with a dark, cloak-hooded sect led by one Brother Theo. A bomb explodes blowing a man to smithereens in the Down-Below. Straczynski sets the tone alluding to fanaticism taken to its extremes. I love how Straczynski weaves the thought-provoking into his own original story.

Later, another explosion rocks Babylon 5. Super Lennier to the rescue as he saves Londo and Delenn but is left behind a firewall that closes to secure the area. He is badly injured and slips into a coma. There is a sweet sequence once again illustrating Londo’s long forgotten heart as he speaks to the comatose Lennier in medlab. He tries to reach him and comfort him in his own way, ever thankful for Lennier's intervention. That’s twice Lennier has put his neck on the chopping block for Londo. Again, I love how Straczynski never portrays his characters as completely good or evil.

G’Kar believes the Centauri are behind the bombings. Londo believes the Narn are to blame and tries to pin it on them for his political advantage. Sheridan knows it is premature to point fingers.

This is another of those amazing, what I like to refer to now as, ‘elevator moments,’ because they happen in an elevator [brilliant! I know].

Another bomb leaves G’Kar and Londo unintentional roommates. Here they are trapped together in a delicious sequence. It's this combination of dialogue and acting that really allows for Babylon 5 to shine.

Later, as G’Kar and Londo are fading, G’Kar sings a variation [slowed down I believe] of a song he sang joyfully in The Parliament Of Dreams, putting a little twist on the words.

Patrick Kilpatrick plays a tasty psychotic fanatic a la John Malkovich as the crew discovers Robert Carlson behind the bombings. He holds Sheridan hostage. Sheridan has a comlink in his underwear that bleeps and angers Carlson. Still, he manages to keep Carlson talking just long enough for the rest of the crew to find the bomb. The bomb is located next to the fusion reactor and would have been disastrous literally dissolving Babylon 5’s very existence, like a powder keg, but is hastily jettisoned into space in a nick of time. I am surprised more bombs aren’t smuggled aboard Babylon 5. I suppose the parts to make them could slip through easily enough. Based upon the breach of the fusion reactor it's a wonder why this space station doesn’t have a more sophisticated bomb-detecting system. It feels like an accident waiting to happen. In fact, remember Babylon 1, 2 & 3 folks! Hasn't anyone theard of the three strikes your out rule? Why wasn't this made an essential part of the design schematics for 5? Perhaps this should be kind of a top priority.

In the end, G’Kar’s desire to see Londo perish in the heat and smoke is foiled by their rescue.

Londo: "Bastard."
G'Kar: "Monster."
Londo: "Fanatic."
G'Kar" "Murderer."
Londo: "You are insane!"
G'Kar: "And that's why we'll win."

Good news for us. It would have been awful to watch Babylon 5 without our two favorite fanatics at each others' throats.

Convictions: B

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

B5 S3 Ep1: Matters Of Honor

What do ya think? Purple, Green or Dead Drazi?

Straczynski does for science fiction with Babylon 5's Shadows arc what the comedy sitcom does for friends who become sex partners. He just continues to build layer upon layer of tension, sometimes sordid, between characters. It’s like science fiction foreplay and it keeps bringing you back week after week hungrier for more. This is hot stuff!

In Valen’s name!” I really haven’t paid much mind to this Valen fellow that’s always mentioned. The Minbari even make a spot for the leader at their dinner ritual. I believe he had something to do with the founding of the Grey Council, but he is still a bit of a mystery to me. Without further ado, “in Valen’s name,” here we go, Babylon 5 The Complete Third Season: Point Of No Return, Matters Of Honor [Episode 1]. The season opener doesn’t skip a beat and picks up almost immediately following the events of Season Two's finale, The Fall Of Night. We witness repairs being made to the monorail system that blew in the final minutes of the aforementioned episode. Sheridan attempts to thank Ambassador Kosh who saved him after he jumped from the tram. The conversation, as always, is a conundrum. Sheridan begins to almost accept, with a grin, the double-talk of his savior and expresses his frustration with the Vorlon's riddles. "Good," concludes Kosh.

Starkiller & The Boneheads [definitely a great band name]!

The opening credits are new. The opening theme from Christopher Franke is quite frankly darker than ever no doubt establishing the mood of the forthcoming events of the season.

The story begins as a Drazi ship launches an escape vessel just prior to being destroyed by the Centauri. On board is a man of British decent frantic to escape the Centauri blockade of what turns out to be a cordoning of Zagros 7. We are also introduced to new Babylon 5 cast member Marcus Cole. He seems very promising.

I love this next scene. Straczynski always writes those intimate character exchanges with a sure hand and they are always a joy to watch by these seasoned actors. While invisible to the eye, listen for the unsettling sound of The Shadows that surround and accompany Morden.

Ed Wasser is so good, it’s hard to believe he was almost relegated to the role of crewman Guerra as noted in The Gathering.

Meanwhile Earth Force Special Intelligence has dispatched special envoy David Endawi to Babylon 5 to meet with Sheridan, Ivanova and Delenn. Endawi possesses a copy of Keffer’s video footage capturing images of the Shadow vessel and is attempting to learn more about it through the ambassadorships on Babylon 5. Delenn, of course, plays it dumb. She’s the best of the best at playing things dumb. She’s just so damn sweet, soft, gentle. She’s actually the saviest politician in the bunch. Londo is definitely troubled by what he sees and tells Endawi the truth. He has seen images from Keffer's footage fill the sky in his dreams. Further and unofficially, Endawi meets with now citizen G’Kar who has the most to share referencing the knowledge of the great spiritual leader G’Quan.

Later, Lennier and Delenn meet with Marcus in a furtive location. They are followed and hand-to-hand combat ensues. Marcus employs a Minbari staff weapon and the three evade injury to escape. Delenn goes from soft, sweet and gentle to wild attack animal. Marcus is one of the Rangers. It turns out Ivanova somehow knows everything about them. She must make such information her business as second-in-command she states matter-of-factly. Good point. She’s sharp! Equally well handled is the fact that Ivanova is not at all offended about being out of the loop. She is unaffected by the omission of such knowledge as the second-in-command should be. I thought really Straczynski stayed true to character here.

As it turns out a ranger outpost and training ground is located on Zagros 7. The Centauri are barricading the planet. Marcus needs help getting the remaining Rangers off of the planet, but they will need to break the blockade to do so. Sheridan and company hops a jumpgate via shuttle and Minbari flyer to get there. There is a plan.

Meanwhile, Londo meets with Morden a second time to break their ties officially. Londo learns Morden has made a new arrangement with Lord Refa. All is fair in love and war. Morden has required the Centauri to clear from the sector surrounding Zagros 7. His “associates” require the area. Could the Rangers unit be their target? Londo inquires about the kind of vessels Morden utilizes in his work. Morden discards Londo’s question and minimizes his need to know such information.

Enroute to Zagros 7, the group takes a detour to introduce Sheridan to the new ship he will command. The craft is dubbed the White Star [appropriate ‘good guy’ name to counteract those nasty black Shadows]. Those Minbari and Vorlons are steadily working their magic behind the scenes, as sleek new craft is a hybrid of Minbari-Vorlon technology. By the way, that White Star is a sweet looking cruiser with a good bit of getup.

Back on Babylon 5 Garibaldi has been tasked with babysitting Endawi. This is pure classic Garibaldi doubletalk.

So when the White Star arrives in Zagros 7 airspace it begins efficiently clearing the mines surrounding the planet so the Rangers can escape. All is going swimmingly until the arrival of a Shadows vessel locks on to the White Star. Sheridan informs the crew they will not show their hand by opening a jumppoint, but rather allow it to pursue them into the jumpgate. The element of surprise is essential at beating the Shadows. The Shadows will not expect a ship the size of the White Star as capable of opening a jumppoint of its own creation [not relying on a positioned jumpgate].

Sheridan: “Tell me commander, have you ever wondered what would happen if you opened a jumppoint while inside a jumpgate?"

Ivanova: “No neither should you. Earth Force experimented with the idea during the Minbari War. They called it the bonehead maneuver. [looking at Lennier] No offense."

Lennier: “None taken.”

That was great. I loved that exchange, because I started making my own ‘bonehead’ and 'boner' jokes earlier. It just seemed so ripe for the picking. I was so glad to see Straczynski’s humor shine in that sequence. Hysterical.

So long sucker!
Sheridan maneuvers the White Star to escape the Shadows vessel and he does it again. The unstoppable Starkiller returns this time working WITH the Minbari! Go figure.

This is a splendid opener to Season Three.

In the frightening final moments of the epilogue Endawi returns to Earthdome Earth Alliance Central Government in Geneva, Switzerland with his findings. After he exits the room, an official greets Morden [to our surprise]. Morden is informed, incorrectly of course, that no one on Babylon 5 has a clue about The Shadows, except the Narn. A pleased Morden replies, “but I think we’ve neutralized that problem.” Yeah, wiping out a population has a tendency to do that. Ever since G’Kar escaped The Shadows in Revelations he’s been a kind of fly in the ointment so to speak. I kept wondering why The Shadows weren’t too worried about his escape, but clearly it was all part of their master plan to use Londo through Morden to de-teeth G’Kar. They silenced him politically and decimated his race and I think that sentiment is reflected here at the end. I suppose they really didn’t let that go really. I do think Morden and his associates display an arrogance that may be their undoing. The more we see the unconscionable hand of Morden and his unflinching work I cannot help but wonder what brought him to this position with The Shadows. I certainly hope we learn more about how his role came to pass and the fate of Sheridan's wife and the Icarus. There are many fascinating questions.

The news footage of the Shadows’ ship is “a complete mystery to all of them,” the official announces. “There’s no need to rush things.” A man [Psi Corps] sitting by Morden chimes in, “there’s something about this idea of a threat to planetary security I find very appealing. As long as we keep the real truth to ourselves, there’s no reason we can’t use this situation to speed up the program here at home.” Ick! What program? I had all these visions of people being incubated a la the original Battlestar Galactica film. Okay now this is getting scarier. Straczynski clearly ups the ante as they say.

The final moments also see Sheridan establish an official War Council. Members include: Sheridan, Garibaldi, Delenn, Dr. Franklin, Ivanova and the Rangers' station representative.

Delenn: “…the oldest of The Ancients are The Shadows, we have no other name for them.”

Season Three cast includes:

Bruce Boxleitner [Captain John Sheridan]
Claudia Christian [Commander Susan Ivanova]
Jerry Doyle [Security Chief Michael Garibaldi]
Mira Furlan [Delenn]
Richard Biggs [Dr. Stephen Franklin]
Bill Mumy [Lennier]
Jason Carter [Marcus Cole]
Stephen Furst [Vir]
Jeff Conaway [Zack Allan]
Peter Jurasik [Londo]
Andreas Katsulas [G’Kar]

Matters Of Honor: A-

Monday, May 19, 2008

Stargate SG-1: The Ark Of Truth

Escape From Witch Mountain!

I decided to step away from Babylon 5 for an entry just to look through these new Narn-enlightened eyes if you will.

I finally took time out to watch the direct-to-DVD film centered on SG-1, Stargate: The Ark Of Truth. It seemed like a good time to do it with the official break between Season Two and Season Three of Babylon 5. Let's just say it was an interesting viewing experience.

Fargate is back! This time we hunting weplicators!

I definitely enjoyed the film, but I must admit I didn't find it as compelling, engaging or as complex as those interpersonal alien/human relationships found in J. Michael Straczynski's epic drama. Sure, the special effects team does outstanding work here on The Ark Of Truth to be sure. Production values are clearly high. The acting is very good and the story centered upon wrapping up the ORI threat/ thread from Stargate SG-1 Season Nine and Season Ten, was also good. All in all, it felt like a bigger budgeted episode of the series. There was nothing truly revealing about it that caused me much pause. I went through the motions to see it through and the execution of the storyline was certainly exceptional as only Robert Cooper can do it. I loved certain action sequences, but I just felt myself yearning to get back to Babylon 5 nailbiting tale. I fully understand they are two different beasts and I'll always enjoy SG-1. It's kind of like a first love, but Babylon 5 truly astounds me at the moment. M! You kind of nailed it for me on a recent post. Part of the major allure for me to Babylon 5 is the three dimensional qualities of its characters. Thinking about it, they are far more complex than SG-1 whereby I think the changes are much much more subtle and slower to develop on that show. I also enjoy the downbeat vibe of Babylon 5. On SG-1, sure there are loads of loose ends [one of the great aspects of the show] that carry on from season to season and things don't always end well, but it is considerably more upbeat. Babylon 5 things don't end well ... often.

Anyway, that aside, I will get on with my overall impression of Stargate SG-1's The Ark Of Truth. Like I said, I liked it. It was solid, but it really didn't cover alot of new ground. In fact, it really works well as a final episode to Season Ten as it should to round out the ORI storyline. The effects were outstanding as one might expect on this decent direct-to-DVD budget.
First, why is it Michael Shanks gets to be introduced in the credits as "and Michael Shanks as Daniel Jackson?" I suppose he's the fan favorite and I like him just fine, but Amanda Tapping deserves an "and" as much as anybody. Personally, Browder and Black, while not on the show for the eight years prior [no pun intended], and introduced in Seasons Nine and Ten, are equally worthy of an "and." Oh well, egos I suppose, but I'm sure Shanks had a number of expectations if he was to return following his omission from Season Six. He had the weight of a sizeable fanbase clamoring for his rearrival.

As it turns out The Ark Of Truth is still very much in the ORI galaxy and the film is loaded with bits of fine action and some good exposition. There was a particularly good scene between Tomin, no longer with the ORI, and Teal'c that was quite moving. Tomin has returned with SG-1 to Cheyenne Mountain now fully aware of the ORI as "false gods" as the Jaffa would say. The IOA puts their fingers in the mix via an agent named Marrick.

Marrick joins SG-1 in the aptly dubbed vessel the Odyssey to traverse the ORI galaxy on their own odyssey.

"Say hello to my little friend!"

Teal'c, Daniel Jackson and Vala are down on the planet searching for the ark. Meanwhile, Marrick has unleashed his little back-up plan to destroy the ORI unbeknownst to Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell or Lt Col. Samantha Carter. The replicators have been programmed as ZAT gun-resistant. It's like a damn antibiotic-resistant Staph infection. There's a code to disable the replicators but only Marrick knows it. Carter begins to lose control of the ship while Mitchell battles a now transformed replicator-type Marrick. ORI motherships have arrived and are poundng the Odyssey's defenses. There is a three-front battle being waged here and it is exciting.

I have a little remedy for that backache!

Teal'c is shot, but struggles as only Teal'c can. He even receives a touch of help from ascended being Morgan Le Fay. Mitchell has found the replicator queen but continues his battle with Marrick. Daniel Jackson, Tomin and Vala are captured by the ORI and brought before the Doci [Julian Sands doesn't have to do much; he just looks cool] and then a fiery ascended Adria. Very cool effects thanks to Michelle Comens and her effects team.

Once again SG-1 prevails as Jackson unlocks the Ark's code and the Doci absorbs the truth, which is linked to all the priors in the ORI galaxy. Adria is weakened and Morgan Le Fay takes her out. Carter is informed of the code after Mitchell gets it from Marrick and those pesky replicators are wiped out. By the way, Samantha Carter is still pretty hot! It's going to be tough to see her go brunette for Sanctuary and I like brunettes.

Claudia "I look like crap" Black is always a sensation. The steely resolve of Christopher Judge is always the workhorse. Ben, 'the consummate professional, action hero' Browder never ceases to amaze. Daniel Jackson has fully transformed himself over ten years into a worthy leading man.

The Ark Of Truth is a solid conclusion, but not quite as good as Babylon 5 Season Two.

The Ark Of Truth cast:

  • Ben Browder [Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell]
  • Amanda Tapping [Lt. Col. Samantha Carter]
  • Christopher Judge [Teal'c]
  • Beau Bridges [Mjr. Gen. Hank Landry]
  • Claudia Black [Vala Mal Doran]
  • Morena Baccarin [Adria]
  • Tim Guinee [Tomin]
  • Julian Sands [Doci]
  • Sarah Strange [Morgan Le Fay]
  • Currie Graham [Marrick]
  • 'and' Michael Shanks 'as' [Daniel Jackson] ;)
Now, where's Richard Dean Anderson when you need him? He'll definitely get an 'and.'

I always knew Morena Baccarin was a flamin' red hottie!

The Ark Of Truth: B+

Friday, May 16, 2008

B5 The Movie Collection: The Gathering

Taking a tip from Babylon 5 connoisseur M, I have opted to check out the Babylon 5 pilot film, The Gathering [from The Movie Collection], before moving on to Season Three. So, here I am going backwards again, but at least this time I’m moving forward with something new.

Since most of the film works to establish characters it was fun to see this whole thing unfold. Clearly the pilot attempts to draw viewers and supporters into Straczynski's masterplan. At the center of The Gathering our characters are introduced and revealed amidst an attempted assassination on the life of Ambassador Kosh via poisoning. Folks, I even found the pilot film to be much better than I anticipated. Perhaps knowing what I know after two seasons had me enjoy the writing and characters in a way I might not have enjoyed as much had I been seeing this first. I’ll never know. Needless to say, this was a solid pilot and I could easily see why it was picked up.

Now, the pilot film I viewed indicated it was a “special presentation” by TNT. Interestingly, as I watched, I immediately felt that the special effects had been touched up particularly on B5 itself. The colors looked more vibrant than what I had been watching and the remastering of this pilot seemed sharper than some of the so-called remastering on the first two seasons to date. The Gathering appeared noticeably crisper and cleaned up for this DVD release. I don’t think it was my imagination. My eyes weren’t lying were they?

One of the things I have truly loved about Babylon 5, over Stargate SG-1, is the fact it is a science fiction show based in outer space. Unlike Stargate SG-1, you actually need space suits or masks [so far anyway]. You need airlocks and if you step out of the airlock without a space suit YOU WILL DIE! When SG-1 travels trough a wormhole, wahlah instant breathable atmosphere [with the rare exceptions]. Nearly every planet visited sports an oxygen-based atmosphere resembling Vancouver. I like the reality of Babylon 5’s space-based saga. Okay, not that Vorlons are real, but the rules in which the story is set apply some reasonable degree of scientific principle. I know it’s not perfect, but I buy into it mostly. I'm sucked in and suspend my disbelief where necessary.

So onto my observations concerning The Gathering, the pilot to Babylon 5 and the series that is fast becoming one of my favorites. I thought Michael O’Hare’s hair was a little better groomed here. It definitely seemed less bushy. How about G’Kar’s make-up? I love the way G’Kar has been established currently in the series, but it was interesting to see his flabby, amphibian-like neck skin. I’ll tell you, the make-up department really is an amazing unit on this series. When the camera is close-up on characters like Delenn or G’Kar, I always look for lines and imperfections in the work and I’m hard-pressed to ever find fault. It is flawless, impressive work on a TV timetable.

I loved the establishing shots of the B5 monorail running through the station’s center. Speaking of those train cars, how about those harnesses that hold the folks on board. Terribly constricting as far as seeing the actors. I’m happy to see they got rid of those for the series.

WHOA! How about that alien dude with the BIG ASS boots! That’s hysterical. I don't believe we've seen that little guy with those 'shit kickers' since.

Delenn’s production design has come a long way. She is loaded with make-up here and even sported G’Kar-like spots on her head. It must have been hard for her, as she has mentioned in some of my reading. I did recognize her voice and her smile; otherwise she was pretty well covered, though you can see her ears in this pilot unlike the first season. I think I prefer her Sinead O’Connor and bone mantle look for Season One, but ultimately I love her current human-Minbari hybrid appearance. She is a beautiful woman and it would have been a shame not to appreciate her in that way. I'm glad Straczynski allowed her to shine.

It was fun to look back at the Londo we used to appreciate as good-humored, wisecracking and even a bit buffoonish. He’s become so dark, troubled and dictatorial in Season Two. Oh how he has changed and fallen from grace. Vir nails it too in his exchange with Lennier in The Fall Of Night [Season Two finale] referring to Londo as a different guy. Everyone knows it including Garibaldi. It must have been one heck of an experience for Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas as actors to portray their respective roles and transform these characters across long-ranging arcs. Don’t say it! “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” : )

G’Kar’s proposition of telepath Lyta Alexander to join him for a direct mating exercise to harness her genetics a new kind of Narn was quite amusing. “The direct mating is far more cost effective. Now would you prefer to be conscious or unconscious during the mating? I would prefer conscious but I don’t know what your pleasure threshold is.” Hmmm, now that’s a confident Narn! Impressive G'Kar.

I also noted the score was quite sweeping in style and ambitious for Franke [working as always with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra] who didn’t allow it to sound too synthetic. Season One was more electronica-laced or as I like to call it “soft-core porn,” as I recollect. Season Two has been much improved for me personally in its style. I've enjoyed some of the pieces immensely that have complemented specific sequences. Good music tends to enhance a scene and certainly shouldn't detract from it. Often you won't notice a great score in my opinion and Season One I noticed the music accompaniment a little too much.

Now, as far as the character development goes, there were some nice moments with hindsight being 20/20. There is the scene where O’Hare speaks with the senator on Babcom when Garibaldi enters the room and he lends some background to the Security Chief’s character. The senator talks about how Garibaldi has been bounced from station to station and has little confidence in him. O’Hare refutes his testimony by backing his guy. Justifiable loyalty my friends.

Sinclair gets a bit of babe action from Carolyn [does Catherine Sakai know about this?]. By the way, is it me, or do any of you ever have those moments of pause before you utter the name Sheridan or Sinclair? I have this 'hole in my mind' to coin a phrase. It’s like traveling to England and driving there for two weeks and coming back to America. You have those moments when you’re in the car and thinking, “am I on the right side of the road? [Or is it left?].” I get really screwed up sometimes.

When the crew continues its investigations of the unknown assassin, Sinclair finally orders a shutdown of Babylon 5 based upon Earth Alliance Regulations. I thought, as commander, he waited too long to give that order. The guy could have been long gone at that point. I felt given the nature of Babylon 5 as a very defined and self-contained off-world site it might have been best to lock it down immediately. It's a very containable incident. By the way, I think Babylon 5 needs a cloaking device to protect itself from unexpected assaults. With all of the technology at its disposal it would seem like a good idea, of course funding might be the issue in this very reality-based universe [well, reality is a relative term in science fiction, but you know what I mean].

I love this scene between Delenn and G’Kar because it hints to all kinds of information concerning the series that might not make sense until you've seen at least the first two seasons. It would be one of those moments I might not fully appreciate had I watched it first. In fact, I know I wouldn’t remember it. It’s a great allusion of things to come. How about those crazy Minbari rings and Delenn using some sort of hand energy to open the wall to get them?

A reference to Centauri history is laid out between Garibaldi and Londo in a great exchange in the Zocalo. Ahh, those were the days.

WHOA! Look at this! Another crazy lookin' dude! I don't believe we've seen this fella again.

So Lyta scans Kosh and finds Sinclair, or someone impersonating him [so I'm thinking shape shifter at this point], has poisoned Kosh with a poisonous skin tab. As a result the senator takes measures to remove Sinclair and place Laurel Takashima in charge. Hull testing commences around Babylon 5 and an undetected ship attached to the hull destroys one of the station probes. Sinclair is placed before the council and it is recommended by G’Kar he be deported to the Vorlon homeworld to stand trial.

The vote finds G’Kar and Londo in favor of sending Sinclair to Vorlon space while Delenn abstains. Sinclair’s woman is quite displeased with Delenn's inaction.

Oh and then I come across the G’Kar ‘gill implants.’ Does he still have those things? Cool, but I don’t recall his neck having those same kind of skin flabs. It's funny they were made notable because earlier in this entry I thought he did have an amphibian-like appearance, where by he looks a bit more reptilian in the series. The changes are subtle, but they are there.

By the way, the Centauri have a kind of vampiric-like quality in some ways with those canines. Granted there doesn’t appear to be any bloodsucking going on as far as I know, well at least not literally. The Narn situation is certainly debateable.

Later a second attempt on Kosh occurs at medlab by the shape changer this time impostering Lyta, but Sinclair arrives to save the day. Meanwhile the intruder vessel is discovered and contained. As it turns out the invader is utilizing an advanced technology referred to as a ‘changeling grid.’ Very cool. I didn’t suspect that angle. Now if they have that kind of technolody how about a cloacking device. Is Babylon 5 too big to apply such a mechanism?

Tamlyn Tomita is pretty damned cute as Takashima, but she doesn’t hold a candle to our Ivanova. I’m glad she was bumped in favor of Claudia Christian. I love supple-lipped Ivanova! The doctor was an upgrade to Richard Biggs as well and clearly Straczynski had an African American actor in mind for the role based upon the Doctor portrayed here in the pilot. He kind of reminded me a little of Sidney Poitier just not quite as good looking. Biggs hasn't panned out to be quite what I had hoped so far in the series, but he has his moments.

The Vorlon Empire arrives to acquire Sinclair, but Sinclair is with Garibaldi doing their best to hunt down the assassin. Could those guns be any bigger and more cumbersome in a dangerous situation? Hell, they're freakin' massive! No wonder they downsized to the PPG, I mean, those guns are Aliens-like-styled ridiculous. They look like super soakers!

The final third of the pilot essentially goes on autopilot and gets a bit routine, but understandable, since Straczynski was attempting to draw an audience and get his show picked up. At last, the perpetrator is identified as a Minbari. He touches upon Season One’s big mystery. “There is a hole in your mind” he tells Sinclair before enabling a self-destruct mechanism. The suicide Minbari explodes taking out an area of Babylon 5.

Hey look! It’s Morden as crewman Guerra. I have a feeling the producers/ Straczynski liked what they saw in the actor and altered their plans. Perhaps they even asked Ed Wasser, “what do you want?” ; )

In another twist, it turns out G’Kar had his hand in getting the changeling grid on board Babylon 5. Sinclair does a nice job deducting how it all transpired. It was this early period that definitely turned me off to G’Kar. His motives were unclear and perhaps a bit misguided. Actually, that's not true, G'kar and the history of his people is clearly one of oppression and this narn clearly begins with a vengeful heart. I was reminded of Soul Mates [Season Two], thinking back, when he used one of Londo's three wives to poison Londo with the darts if I recall
. So he looks a bit despicable here and he has had his moments along the way where we as fans were clearly less sympathetic.

Sinclair asks Delenn about the “hole.” Delenn reacts awkwardly and replies, “I would never tell you anything that was not in your best interests,” as certain questions are setup to draw interest in for the potential series. Thank God someone took a chance on Straczynski’s work!

The Gathering cast includes:

Michael O’Hare [Jeffrey Sinclair]
Tamlyn Tomita [Laurel Takashima]
Jerry Doyle [Michael Garibaldi]
Mira Furlan [Delenn]
Peter Jurasik [Londo Mollari]
Andreas Katsulas [G’Kar]
Patricia Tallman [Lyta Alexander]

Is it me or is that a digitally-enhanced tree in the mix? It was even moving as if from a breeze. Babylon 5 must have one heck of a ventilation system!

So, what film should I watch next and where exactly should I insert over the course of the final three seasons without giving anything away?