Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Wheel Turns To The End With Babylon 5 The Complete Fifth Season

The Good: Good character development, Interesting plots, Special effects
The Bad: Inconsistencies with prior seasons, "Tacked on" feel.
The Basics: "The Wheel Of Fire" finishes the story of Babylon 5, often after it is already ended.

The problem with Season five of Babylon 5 is that it brings outside (off-camera) issues into the series. Apparently, when season four was winding down, the network collapsed and the producers of the show were told to wrap the stories up. J. Michael Straczynski, creator and executive producer of the show, obliged and finished his five year novel-on-television at the end of year four. The series was then picked up by TNT, a new season finale was shot for the fourth season and the fifth season tried to get the momentum back that it had been forced to compromise with the ending of several significant storylines in season four.

The President of the Interstellar Alliance, John Sheridan, is sworn in on Babylon 5 shortly after turning control of the station over to Captain Elizabeth Lochley. Lochley and Sheridan have a past history, which Garibaldi becomes keen to learn about. While Sheridan and Delenn work to get the new Alliance headed in the right direction, a colony of telepaths is established aboard the station. While conflicts between mundanes (non-telepaths) and telepaths under the influence of Byron, the colony's leader, begin to erupt on the station, out in the vastness of space, shipping lanes are being attacked by raiders. Raiders who will forever change the destiny of soon-to-be-Emperor Londo Mollari of the Centauri Republic.

The stories that deal with this main plot work fairly well. The problem is, there's not enough to stretch those plots to a full season and with the addition of the new Captain, some time is spent dealing with things that have little relevance. Take "A View From The Gallery." The season's fourth episode finds Babylon 5 inexplicably under attack by a scouting party of aliens that we've never seen before and will never see again. It's the story of two maintenance workers who weave in and out of the lives of the main crew. Reminiscent of Star Trek The Next Generation's "Lower Decks," "A View From The Gallery" fails because Mack and Bo - the workers - aren't interesting and the story that revolves around them feels very forced. Coming on the heels of big character episodes like "The Very Long Night Of Londo Mollari" and "The Paragon Of Animals," that episode falls woefully short of maintaining interest, much less contributing to the overall narrative of Babylon 5. Sadly, it is not alone.

The telepath plot is an interesting one. Byron, a guest character, makes for an interesting addition and gives Lyta Alexander a purpose now that the Vorlons are gone. Byron becomes a blurred mix of leader and cult fanatic and his story is an interesting one, even if it feels a little drawn out. And, unfortunately, because of the season four finale, fans of the show know that the main purpose behind this whole arc is to lead to the Telepath War, which we do not see in the series. And amid all of the telepath stories in season five, we never learn what happens to the telepaths still in cold storage on Babylon 5.

The biggest loss in this regard is that of the character of Ivanova. When actress Claudia Christian left the show at the end of the fourth season, the well-developed character of Ivanova was lost. Her antipathy toward telepaths would have made the story so much more interesting and added some real conflict between her and Sheridan. With Lochley as captain, too much time is spent establishing the character to allow for such moments that seem to have been hinted to in the past. Again, the off-camera issues altered the story we see.

The other half of the plot, the alien force attacking the shipping lanes, sets up the final arc for Londo Mollari and that is fairly well done. The problem there is that it feels somewhat rushed. Centauri Prime has been undermined by the Shadow's allies, the Drakh, which was alluded to in season four. The rushed feeling comes in understanding the time line. The Drakh take control of elements around Centauri Prime for their own purposes, resulting in the planet getting bombed extensively. That's fine. Londo makes a supreme sacrifice to become Emperor and rebuild Centauri Prime. That's fine, too. However, in the film In The Beginning (reviewed here!), which has Mollari telling the story of the Earth-Minbari War in his last hours of life. Centauri Prime is burning in that and the question I have to ask is, who is attacking it then?! Is that the end of the Drakh War we hear alluded to at the end of Season 4? It's an annoyance only a fan of the story would actually make, but it illustrates the problems season five seems to have with making it feel like it's part of the story we've enjoyed all along.

That's not to say it is all incongruent or rushed. No, there is much here that works quite well. However, most of that is either character related or in the latter half of the season. So, it is prudent to see where our characters are in this final act:

John Sheridan - Now President of the Interstellar Alliance, Sheridan finds his duties much more broad and his ability to adapt tested by the needs of many minor alien races,

Delenn - Leading the Rangers and organizing the Interstellar Alliance leaves her often busy and political, neglecting her spiritual side,

Michael Garibaldi - Recovering from his run-in with Bester last season, Garibaldi finds his life spiraling out of control and into old, familiar patterns of addiction while trying to make it as the Alliance's new head of Covert Intelligence,

Dr. Franklin - Often neglected, the Doctor becomes the new head of xenobiological research for the Alliance and has the chance to study the various alien races,

Lennier - Feeling without purpose now that Delenn and Sheridan are married, Lennier leaves to become a Ranger,

Vir Cotto - Now representing the Centauri as Ambassador to Babylon 5, Vir finds himself having to deal with issues from a position of power now,

Zack Allan - Still Security Chief, Allan mans the fort while the telepaths cause problems around the station,

Lyta Alexander - Taken in by Byron, Lyta begins to explore her powers and identity, with consequences that threaten her life,

G'Kar - Being raised to the status of a religious icon after becoming Londo's bodyguard, G'Kar finds himself frustrated by how people treat his writings,

Londo Mollari - Now Emperor, Londo makes the choice to sacrifice everything for his people, which results in drastic and tragic consequences for him,

and Captain Elizabeth Lochley - A newcomer to the station and on the other side in Earth's recent Civil War, Lochley is tough-as-nails as the new commander of the space station.

The only character elements of note involving what we have seen in the past is that there seems to be no passion between Delenn and Sheridan this season. Yes, they're married, but all of the romance between them seems gone. C'est la vie. Everything else seems to follow fairly predictable character lines for where the characters have been and where they've been going.

The acting is all good, as usual. The entire cast works quite well, especially considering that most of the time, they are working opposite bluescreens.

All in all, though, this is a coda to a show that has pretty much already finished its story. It's not bad, but it's not for newcomers and it does not resonate with the same pop that the earlier seasons possessed. The DVDs have decent commentaries and that is a treat to the viewers. It would be impossible to recommend this to anyone who is not already a fan and, sadly, there is little essential to those who are fans. Though "Sleeping In Light" does nicely end the series, it's a very basic and straightforward end to the series.

For a (slightly) better idea of the specific episodes in this season, check out my reviews on the first six episodes (which are on the first two discs of this boxed set) at:
No Compromises / The Very Long Night Of Londo Mollari
The Paragon Of Animals / A View From The Gallery
Learning Curve / Strange Relations


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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