Sunday, March 4, 2012

Perfection In The Resistance Of Tyranny: How Babylon 5 Created A Perfect Third Season!

The Good: Excellent use of cast, Great character development, Well-conceived plots, Special effects, Themes
The Bad: Nothing serious, one or two end plot reversals, "King Arthur"
The Basics: The pressures of a totalitarian government and a universe descending into horrific war are set against the backdrop of an isolated space station over the 22 well-crafted episodes that make up Babylon 5 Season Three.

There are some television shows that slip under the radar because they are classified as "genre" or "experimental" and they do not get the audience they deserve when they are on the air. There are television shows that are created at a time when it is safe to produce their subversive messages and then become a rallying cry for those who watch them when times turn darker. Babylon 5 premiered when Star Trek: The Next Generation was at its peak and was beaten to air by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It was seen by many as a fledgling television show trying to squeeze into a market dominated by Star Trek. Many fans of Star Trek refused to watch Babylon 5 and many people who dislike science fiction never opened up to this show either.

Those people are wrong and they need to give Babylon 5 a chance.

Season 3 of Babylon 5, "Point Of No Return," is a perfect season of television and in its DVD presentation, it quickly becomes something to watch over and over again. For those unfamiliar with Babylon 5, entering here in the third season is like picking up a novel at its turning point. It can be done, but it won't be fully appreciated.

Season 3 finds space station Babylon 5 adapting to the serious changes going on in the universe around it. As the Centauri/Narn conflict settles into a difficult occupation, the mysterious Shadows begin to re-emerge from the darkness, threatening everything. While Captain Sheridan and Ambassador Delenn try to bring together the forces needed to stop the Shadows, the treachery of Earth President Clark is revealed, forcing Earth into martial law and Babylon 5 into independence.

First of all, one of the bonus features on the Babylon 5 Season 3 disc is mislabled. On the first disc, there is a featurette called "Season 3 Introduction." If you have never seen the third season of Babylon 5, don't watch this! It is not an introduction (i.e. setting up the story based on the events and highlights of the previous two seasons), it is a review of season three. Thus, most every important plot point or character point is explored in the "Introduction," ruining any and all sense of surprise for the impressive way these events unfold.

"Point Of No Return," the season title, not just the episode within the season by the same name, is a perfect season of television. The problems with it are mostly in the timing. If one has not seen the previous two seasons, it is difficult to understand the magnitude of all of the events in this season. So, for instance, the revelations in "Messages From Earth" that confirm the President Santiago assassination that has long been suspected by Babylon 5 crewmembers, carry less magnitude when one does not see how the show has been building to it.

But the real appreciation for the show might be revealed now, in these dark times where the United States Federal government has become monolithic and repressive. Watching episodes like "Point Of No Return" and "Severed Dreams" remind the viewer of the power an individual might have to change the course of tyranny and resist evil. This is a show with a powerful message about making difficult choices to try to do what is right as opposed to doing what is easy or popular. "Point of No Return" illustrates that freedom is an idea that must be fought for responsibly and that overbearing governments must be resisted if the human spirit is to endure.

Like all great serialized shows, the stories turn on incredible characters, not simply on plots that are incredibly intricate. Here is how the third season finds the principle characters:

Lyta Alexander - Now Kosh's assistant, Lyta turns up with more and more frequency, trying to help Sheridan build alliances against the Shadows,

Marcus Cole - The Rangers take on an impressive role with the witty, quirky Marcus joining the station and quickly bonding with those aboard. He is intense and powerful, but filled with a humor that is uncharacteristic of Rangers,

Kosh - Now revealed (in the second season finale), the Vorlon Ambassador does what he can to aid Sheridan in planning to do war against the Shadows. Kosh's aid comes with a huge price, which will change everything,

Lennier - His bond with Delenn grows and is strained as he watches how close his mentor and Sheridan are becoming, yet his love for her never wavers,

Zack Allen - The resident security guard and member of Nightwatch finds himself in a tug of war over where his allegiances lie when Nightwatch begins to pressure him more and more to use tactics he is uncomfortable with,

Vir Cotto - In an attempt to do some good, Vir orchestrates a plan by which he is able to save many Narn lives. When Londo wants him out of the way, Vir finds himself becoming a special emissary to the Minbari,

Garibaldi - The security chief finds himself at odds with members of his staff who have joined Nightwatch and his work to keep the station secure and running efficiently lead him to discover a great deal about himself,

G'Kar - His homeworld decimated, G'Kar learns who is responsible for his people's enslavement and while imprisoned, he reaches a stage of enlightenment that allows him to understand his place in the universe and the importance of his role in fighting the Shadows,

Dr. Franklin - The doctor finds himself using stims (stimulants) more and more as the Shadows strike more and more targets, leaving people in need of a medic. Franklin's drug addiction forces him on a path of self-discovery that leaves him very much alone,

Ivanova - Takes on more and more responsibility as she aids Captain Sheridan in assembling allies against the forces of the Shadows. She finds purpose and range in bringing together those who have been apart for their common good,

Delenn - Is challenged by the growing schism on Minbar between the Religious caste and the Warrior caste. As she and Sheridan grow closer together, she finds herself more isolated from her people and in a dangerous position as a leader against the Shadows. She becomes an enabler to Sheridan, allowing him to do his most important work,

Londo - The Centauri Ambassador decides that it is time to end his dark alliance with the Shadows and free his people. He is dismayed to discover, however, that when he severs ties with the Shadows, Lord Refa and Morden conspire to continue the work he began, placing Centauri Prime in the hands of a new Emperor and at the mercy of the Shadows,

Captain Sheridan - Following his life being saved by Kosh, Sheridan realizes that the Shadow menace is upon the universe with little time to prepare. With the aid of a new Ranger ship called the White Star, Sheridan works tirelessly to bring together the various alien races to fight against the evil Shadows. As he works against the Shadows, he finds himself in the middle of prophecy, falling in love with Delenn and at odds with the oppressive forces of the Earth Government. When the government of Earth starts bombing civilian targets, Sheridan is forced to choose between following the demands of duty and doing what is right and standing up against oppression.

This is a complex story with incredibly rich, well-defined characters. "Point Of No Return" illustrates beautifully how complex issues become when fighting against regimes that are repressive, degrading and wrong. There is much to be learned from this show about recognizing tyranny and how to fight it.

A large part of the success of this season of Babylon 5 is in the character development, but the characters would be diminished were it not for the fine actors portraying them. As in previous seasons, Claudia Christian and Mira Furlan give amazing performances as Commander Ivanova and Ambassador Delenn, respectively. As well, Peter Jurasik continues his impressive portrayals of Londo Mollari. As well, Stephen Furst is given more to do and shines as Vir, bringing new vitality and charisma to the previously laughable Vir.

But in this season of growth and change, there are three actors who stand out like beacons in the night. Richard Biggs blows away everything he has done before on the show by portraying Dr. Franklin with depth and issues that he has not been able to until now. Even more impressive, Biggs delivers the greatest performances of angst and realism while working alone or acting against himself. Very impressive.

Easily on par or exceeding Biggs is the acting of Andreas Katsulas. Katsulas works the season like a pro, portraying G'Kar as a man who has lost so much that he has nothing else to lose until he has an epiphany of his true place in the universe. Katsulas takes G'Kar from being an adversary (first season) to pitiable (second season) to being well-defined and grand in the most tragic ways in this third season. It is Katsulas that reminds us of the power of the individual through his incredible ability to emote using the full range of his facial expressions and eye motions, not an easy task considering he is in heavy prosthetic make-up and wearing contact lenses. But he succeeds and he makes the character into far more than it has been.

The show hinges - quite often - on the performances of Bruce Boxleitner as Captain Sheridan. Boxleitner is a master at presenting the complex issues and emotions of Sheridan with the emotional weight that is appropriate. Sheridan is out changing the world and Boxleitner presents his decisions with a degree of finesse and gravity that make the journey of the character seem quite real and appropriate.

Who would like Babylon 5 Season 3? Anyone who enjoys a great story of political machinations, freedom fighting and/or great science fiction. "Point Of No Return" is an opera, a middle act that is remarkably accessible, even for those who have never seen the show before, where the limits of human endurance and the drive for human freedom are pushed with wonderful consequences and results.

For other worthwhile third seasons of genre shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The X-Files - Season 3
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Third Season
Angel - Season Three


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the shows I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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