Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mysteries Abound On Two Above-The-Curve Episodes Of Babylon 5!

The Good: Pretty wonderful plots, Good acting, Good character development, Excellent sense of serialization!
The Bad: Decent special effects, Somewhat simplified resolution to "Legacies"
The Basics: When Minbari arrive at the station banging war drums and Epsilon 3 appears not-quite-uninhabited, things change dramatically on Babylon 5!

Part of the fun of dusting off the old video tape collection is remembering how, before the advent of DVD, the production companies would try to really get a buck out of buyers. With Star Trek, the formula was simple: you want it, buy it, sucker! Every episode was a video tape that cost $12.95 (most places). Man, I love Paramount. They knew they had their audience and they weren't afraid to show it. Warner Home Video was a little bit more compassionate with Babylon 5; you got two episodes for about $9.99. But even then they had their ways of trying to get fans to buy more, like putting part one of a two-parter on one tape and part two on another! I guess that's just the way the episodes broke down in production . . . The latest one in my series of dusted off classics is "Legacies" and "A Voice In The Wilderness, Part I." I suppose one of the nice things about Babylon 5 is that it does not try frequently to disguise cliffhangers; when it's a two-parter, they let the viewer know right up front!

"Legacies" finds Babylon 5 playing host to a Minbari warship when one of the great Minbari warriors dies. The Shai Alit was the Minbari warrior who led the Battle of the Line, the battle which nearly wiped out humanity. He is brought to the station as part of a memorial tour to celebrate his life and greatness, raising tensions among the staff. While Sinclair deals with the edgy Minbari, made more so when the body of the Shai Alit goes missing, Talia and Ivanova discover a young orphan on the run, one who has just discovered she is a telepath . . .

"A Voice In The Wilderness, Part I" has the crew of Babylon 5 on edge when the abandoned planet below them, Epsilon 3, suffers groundquakes when it appeared to be stable. When an expedition is sent to investigate the geological mystery, it is fired on by weaponry from deep within the planet. Sinclair and Ivanova prepare to investigate as riots break out on Mars and an uprising there threatens the stability of the Earth Alliance. As Garibaldi tries desperately to contact his lost love on Mars, Sinclair and Ivanova discover that Epsilon 3 may not be what it appeared to be.

Both of these episodes do what much of Babylon 5 did right from the very beginning: they focus on character and they feature serialized plot and character elements. In "Legacies," understanding Ivanova's hatred for telepaths becomes clear when one has seen "Mind War" (reviewed here!), but otherwise is only vaguely discussed in the episode. Similarly, the Narn lack of telepaths is mentioned in the pilot episode "The Gathering," but not since. The Battle of the Line is heavily mentioned in "The Gathering" and is the obsessive pursuit of those who want to know what happened to Sinclair during it in "And The Sky Full Of Stars" (reviewed here!). In that same episode, it was revealed that a rift formed between the Religious and Warrior castes as a result of the abrupt end to the Earth-Minbari War and "Legacies" threatens to expand that rift. Delenn even implies that the disappearance of the body could cause a new war with Earth or start a Minbari Civil War.

Epsilon 3 has been largely neglected for the series thus far and its abrupt appearance as something of note (other than being simply a decent special effect behind the station in every episode) sets up future storylines. Similarly, the Mars Rebellion is the start of a huge series of plot events that resonate through the series. And Garibaldi's desperate search for Lise Hampton is an important character element for him. So, as you can see, these episodes are certainly enhanced by knowing the backstory of the characters and plots.

That is not to say they do not stand well on their own. Indeed, "A Voice In The Wilderness, Part I" is a remarkably well-contained episode, which is ironic as it is the first part of a two-parter. The episode introduces Gral, a mentor of Delenn's and serves as a launching point for future stories, not the least of which is "A Voice In The Wilderness, Part II!" And the nice thing is, by the time these two episodes come up, the special effects team has most of the kinks worked out in the special effects and much of the detail on the CGI work looks better than it has in the past.

But the essential elements are always the character elements and these episodes are rich with them. In "Legacies," the a-plot seems to focus on Sinclair, who is forced to play host to some of the very Minbari who were shooting at him a decade prior. He is on edge, but committed to peace. At one point, in speaking with Garibaldi, he admits that he has to keep reminding himself that the war is over. This is a wonderful touch and an essentially human and very true moment. Overcoming history, hatred and fear is not about repressing the thoughts that lead one to feel something about a supposed enemy, but rather about tempering those feelings with reason. In short, writer D.C. Fontana wisely recognizes that a decade after humanity was almost exterminated, the fear and hatred against the enemy still exists, but the actions taken are much more important and Sinclair is a man who is very much in control of his actions.

"Legacies" appears to be about Sinclair, but it takes an abrupt left turn near the end of the episode to focus on Delenn. I shall not ruin the plot/character surprises that come from that twist of attention, but I will say that while the resolution is satisfying on one level, it is a bit oversimplified on another and that might be why I find myself not rewatching this one as much. This episode also introduces Neroon, who is one of the leaders of the warrior caste and who will resurface throughout the series.

On the b-plot front, character may be even more important. Talia and Ivanova are characterized almost completely as opposites and this episode serves to push them together in an adversarial way yet again. While Talia tries to enlist the orphaned girl into the Psi Corps, as is law among humans, Ivanova tries to give the girl other options. Ivanova seeks to thwart Talia and prevent the Corps from gaining a useful asset. Over the course of the episode, the two manage to not pussyfoot around their hostility toward one another and they act like adults in how they attempt to resolve their differences. This is refreshing, even if their issues are not completely resolved.

"A Voice In The Wilderness, Part I" is a little more plot-focused simply because it is an ambitious first part that sets up a number of elements for the second episode. The main character elements focused on involve Gral's planned departure and Delenn's reaction to the "retirement" of her mentor and Garibaldi searching for the woman he loves from a distance among the complete chaos of political revolution. Garibaldi's story is one that is very vital and may be appreciated by anyone who has a friend in harm's way and is worried about them. But it also sets up Garibaldi as someone who has a heart, which has not been evident in his character before now. We know of his troubled past, the viewer had no real notion that he had not gone through all of it alone.

What works consistently in the course of these two episodes is that the acting is pretty solid. Outside the young woman who plays the orphaned telepath, the acting is all-around impressive. The performer who plays Gral only appears in this episode and the second part (the part is recast for subsequent appearances), but John Vickery, who plays Neroon, makes an auspicious debut and becomes one of the actors who shines as a guest star such that one looks forward to his next appearance.

The main cast is much more honed as well. Andrea Thompson plays Talia with much more consistency in these two episodes than she had in prior episodes. It seems like she has become more comfortable with performing in a science fiction environment, which did not always appear to be the case in earlier episodes. Michael O'Hare is able to explore more of his abilities as Sinclair. We finally see him excited and elated in "A Voice In The Wilderness, Part I." His performance (nothing in the script) infuses a sense of exploratory desire and adventure into the Commander that had not been present before now. It's a nice touch and it works quite well for him.

But the real winner in the two episodes seems to be Mira Furlan. Furlan, who impresses viewers with her recurring role of Rousseau on Lost (reviewed here!), gives two performances that establish her as a true master. Burdened by prosthetics that almost completely obscure her ability to make more expressive facial expressions (she cannot, for example, furrow her brow in frustration), she is forced to act through her voice and her eyes. She has the ability to bring steely resolve to her eyes that perfectly expresses her character's mood of guarded resolve. And in the second episode, we see her smiling for one of the few times in the first season and her performance alongside her mentor is delightful and strikingly different from many of her others, yet she still makes the performance feel like it is in character.

These episodes work best for fans of science fiction and especially those who like Babylon 5 already or are interested in committing to the five-year story arc. "Legacies" is an interesting episode for those interested in dramas involving the difficulties with being at peace with an old enemy. "A Voice In The Wilderness, Part I" is very much for fans of science fiction. But they are both worthwhile.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Babylon 5 - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!

“Legacies” – 6.5/10
“A Voice In The Wilderness, Part 1” – 8/10
VHS – 7/10

For other television reviews, please visit my specialized index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment