Monday, March 19, 2012

A New Beginning, Fraught With Consequences, Marks A Decent Babylon 5 Video!

The Good: Established cast is wonderful, Interesting plots, Great character development, Decent effects, Resolutions, Serialization
The Bad: Awkward acting with new performers, especially the telepaths, Similarly awkward writing in "No Compromises."
The Basics: When a new Captain takes over Babylon 5 and Londo lays near death, transitions and consequences conspire to make an interesting video set.

It was a rocky road that concluded the saga of Babylon 5. After two seasons that were intense, driven and heavily serialized, the network the show aired on collapsed and the fifth season was a crapshoot as to whether or not it would be made. A cast member left, the show radically altered its direction and new characters arrived that required time and attention. The plot was a bit more shaky and there was a lack of a strong sense about where the series was going. And yet, the show managed to complete its fifth year. But it started with "No Compromises" and continued with one of the best episodes of the season, "The Very Long Night Of Londo Mollari."

"No Compromises" finds Captain Elizabeth Lochley, John Sheridan's hand-picked successor, arriving at Babylon 5 to take command of the station. Efficient and brusque, she isolates some of the staff almost immediately. As John Sheridan prepares to be sworn in as President of the new Interstellar Alliance, he finds himself the target of death threats. While G'Kar works to establish the inaugural oath, Garibaldi investigates who might be hunting Sheridan. Lochley, dealing with the change in command, finds herself approached by rogue telepaths request asylum; a request she does not seem inclined to grant.

"The Very Long Night Of Londo Mollari" is a very simple pair of character studies that explore the serious consequences of the actions of two of the main characters. Londo's left heart gives out, threatening to kill him well before a replacement can arrive on the station. While Dr. Franklin works to save his life, Londo enters the dreamlike state near death where he is forced to admit the wrongs he has done against the Narn, specifically G'Kar. While Londo lays near death, Lennier decides it is time to move on and he leaves Delenn to join the Rangers.

These two episodes, which share the same video tape, are a great example of the strengths and weaknesses of Babylon 5. The first is that Babylon 5 tells a highly serialized story. "No Compromises" finds that story very much in transition following the climactic events of the fourth season (reviewed here!). "The Very Long Night Of Londo Mollari" is almost all about consequences. As a result, viewers who do not know the history of the character will be almost entirely lost. The episode heavily references events between Londo and G'Kar, most notably the torturing of G'Kar in season four by Emperor Cartagia. Again, lacking the backstory, the episode is a bit hard to grasp for all its nuance. Sure, one is clubbed over the head with the idea that "Guy who's done bad things lays dying, feels some remorse," but that's nowhere near as sophisticated as the show actually is.

Indeed, the character moment that defines the episode, the apology the spectral forces in Mollari's mind all seem to be demanding, may be predictable, but the payoff is still amazing for fans of the series. Fans of the series will be excited to see Londo's moment of epiphany and remorse, regardless of how it might be foreseeable.

In "No Compromises," the intriguing elements are all character related. Lochley is replacing Ivanova, who was set to take over Babylon 5 when Sheridan was muscled out of EarthForce and selected as President of the new Interstellar Alliance. Sheridan's choice of her - as defined in this episode - is partly symbolic, a healing gesture, which prompts Garibaldi to hound her about which side she was on in the Civil War back home. That Lochley does not necessarily agree with Sheridan's approach to ousting President Clark, makes for a wonderful character trait that clearly establishes her as someone different in the Babylon 5 universe. She is not a mouthpiece for the viewer's expectations and that makes her interesting to watch.

Similarly, from her first episode, Lochley establishes herself as more of a by-the-book, law and order type than many of the characters who have lived on Babylon 5 for years. As such, she takes a dim view of rogue telepaths and has less ambiguity about their presence on what is now her station. It's an interesting twist and a niche - arguing that telepath ought to be part of Psi Corps or on the sleepers - that has been empty in the principle cast since the departure of Talia Winters.

Lochley, then, leaps right in as an interesting enough character. She is played by Tracy Scoggins, who is a very nice person in person. I had previously only been familiar with her work from the episode "Destiny" from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (reviewed here!) where she managed to perform fairly well around some serious prosthetics. Scoggins seems a little stiff in her first episode, like she's stepping into an all-boys club and is aware she's the only woman in the room. While her character is intended to start as direct, strong and principled, she seems a little awkward with the role initially and seems more stiff than commanding.

This acting problem is exacerbated by the appearance of Robin Atkin Downs as the telepath Byron. Downs is thrust into the role of a telepath, a fairly awkward role for one not accustomed to such things and he, too, has an initial stiffness. Unfortunately for him, unlike Scoggins who just seems to have some normal fitting in problems, Downs is given some truly terrible lines to deliver. When he introduces his little band of merry rogue telepaths to the new station commander, his names and descriptions for them are just a collection of really bad, lines, plain crummy dialogue, and his performance does nothing to improve what is on the page.

Conversely, the principle actors who have been around, do a wonderful job in the episode. Andreas Katsulas is wonderful as G'Kar and Bruce Boxleitner takes on an added inner strength that makes him seem, well, presidential.

"The Very Long Night Of Londo Mollari" is a wonderful example of what happens when great actors play great characters in a series that is not afraid to deal with consequences to actions. Peter Jurasik gives a wonderful performance - often on his back - as a deeply wounded and remorseful Londo. Gone is the pride and arrogance and in its place is a character whose life hangs on his willingness to make amends. He gives an astonishingly good and nuanced performance.

Andreas Katsulas gives one of his most diverse performances in the episode as well. Stern, serious and commanding one moment, he takes on the parody role as the Emperor in a reversal of the torture done to him the prior season. And he makes it work. It's an impressive performance and he pulls it off like the pro that he is.

Supporting actors Stephen Furst and Bill Mumy give decent performances as Vir and Lennier. Vir has always represented Londo's conscience and as that external role is internalized by the Centauri Who Would Be Emperor, Furst plays it quite naturally. Mumy, who played Lennier for seasons with a sublimated love for Delenn, manages to understate the obvious torment the character feels now that the woman he loves is married to another. Mumy is excellent at creating a performance that is nuanced and conveys what does not need to be said with his body language. Despite his b-plot in this episode, he manages to steal the scenes he is in.

But for the most part, these episodes are for the fans of Babylon 5 only. The series is heavily serialized and the feeling of transition in the first and the heavy references in the second make for an oppressive or confusing tone for those attempting to leap into the series at this awkward junction. It's the beginning of the final season and while the transition might create a new series for some to get into, it's a tough sell. Strangely, the heavily referential second episode is more universal with its character struggle that can be understood by anyone who has wanted forgiveness for the wrongs they've done in this life.

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

“No Compromises” – 6.5/10
“The Very Long Night Of Londo Mollari” – 9/10
VHS – 7.5/10

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

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

No comments:

Post a Comment