Sunday, March 24, 2013

Two (Mostly) Detached Episodes Of Babylon 5 Make For A Disappointing Volume: “Survivors” & “By Any Means Necessary”

The Good: Moments of character, “Survivors,” Themes of “By Any Means Necessary.”
The Bad: Frequently stiff acting, “By Any Means Necessary” is clunky and filled with stereotypes, Very little character development, Medium issues
The Basics: The video of “Survivors” and “By Any Means Necessary” has two episodes that are awkward early episodes of the series, neither of which has truly lasting consequences.

As I go through Babylon 5 with my wife (her first pass through the epic series), there are a few episodes where I find myself cringing at some of the episodes. It is hard to make her sit through the episodes that are far less compelling or connected to the rest of the series. "Survivors" and "By Any Means Necessary" are two such early episodes that make me appalled for how they fail to connect to the rest of the otherwise highly-serialized television story.

"Survivors" is the first episode that focuses primarily on Security Chief Garibaldi and works to flesh out his alluded-to tragic backstory that led him to take the position on Babylon 5 that has been characterized as his last chance to make good. As a follow-up to the Presidential Election on Earth in “Midnight On The Firing Line” (reviewed here!), the newly re-elected President Luis Santiago is on a goodwill tour of the galaxy. In advance of his coming, EarthForce Security sends Major Lianna Kemmer and her security force to secure the station for his arrival. Kemmer is bitter over her “Uncle Mike” and his role as chief of station security of Babylon 5. When there is an explosion in one of the Cobra Bays, Garibaldi begins an investigation. Soon, though, it appears that Garibaldi was paid off . . . by the Centauri and Kemmer hunts Garibaldi into down below. As she follows him on a relentless pursuit of personal vengeance, Garibaldi tries to find who the real culprits were in sabotaging the station and planning to assassinate the President.

In "By Any Means Necessary," a Narn ship visits Babylon 5, where the dockworkers have been overwhelmed by the demands of the job and the cuts in the Babylon 5 budget. When the Narn ship makes a maneuver, against Ivanova’s orders, the damage leads to casualties and damage to the station. The union leader for the dockworkers quickly organizes the beleaguered workers, including the brother of the worker who died. They approach Sinclair to resolve the understaffing and overworking problems.

As EarthForce sends in Zento, their top negotiator, to prevent an illegal strike of the dockworkers on Babylon 5, G’Kar has his own fallout from the near-destruction of the Narn transport. The cargo ship was carrying an exceptionally rare flower, the black G’Quan Eth, a flower he needs for a religious ceremony he has to perform. When the Centauri virtually enslaved the Narn homeworld, they left the planet virtually unable to grow the rare flower. Londo, however, has a G’Quan Eth of his own, which he wants to use for its hallucinogenic effect in his drink. After trying to buy the flower and have Na’Toth steal it for him, G’Kar turns to Sinclair for intervention.

“Survivors,” in addition to having an incredibly awkward and obvious bluescreen shot that makes the monorail look super cheesy, is a rare Babylon 5 episode that lacks a b-plot of any significance. While Garibaldi struggles with his past and his battle with alcoholism, “Survivors” works hard to belabor that with the relationship with Kemmer. Garibaldi is given a decent reason for Kemmer to go after him; her father was a good friend of Garibaldi’s and his death left Lianna fatherless. Lianna grew up, after Garibaldi left in disgrace, to become an integral part of EarthForce.

Unfortunately, the character arc for Lianna is exceptionally predictable and formulaic. At least as important, it is never followed up upon, robbing it of even marginal importance in the overall Babylon 5 Saga. Given how the first season ends, it is disappointing that Kemmer’s fate after this episode is never addressed. Elaine Thomas, who played Kemmer, is stiff, though her role required some emotional distance to make the part work.

John Snyder in “By Any Means Necessary” is not given a compelling character hook for why his character of Zento seems inhumane. Snyder seems to be simply trying to trade on his good looks and he delivers a performance virtually identical to, and as passionless as, his one-shot on Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “The Masterpiece Society” (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, “By Any Means Necessary” is thematically heavy-handed. The dock worker is the only Latino character viewers see in the Babylon 5 Saga and the union leader is little more than a baiting brawl-organizer who acts as a loudmouth without really presenting an enlightened view or an articulate argument.

It matters little, though; “By Any Means Necessary” is referenced once more and never again. “Survivors,” which should have been more integral to the overall arc of Babylon 5 is not afforded that courtesy, even though the Home Guard does pop back up multiple times. As a result, “Survivors” becomes a somewhat tedious character study that suffers from any number of “early episode” problems and is harder to truly care about.

[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!

“Survivors” – 5/10
“By Any Means Necessary” – 2.5/10
VHS – 3.5/10

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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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