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Old July 4th 17, 09:59   #1
vacantlook
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Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Virginia
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Rewatching Babylon 5.

So, I have decided that I’m going to rewatch Babylon 5. I originally saw the pilot – “The Gathering” – when it originally broadcast. It was luck. Living on a farm in the middle of nowhere central Virginia, I grew up without cable/satellite/etc, so I only had access to like 5 broadcast channels. One day, in the middle of the day, I happened upon Babylon 5. My TV could barely tune the signal. I turned it on on the TV in my dad’s room and brought my small TV (which I mostly used for playing video games on my Nintendo) into the same room, and I tuned each to slightly different antenna positions so that when the signal faded out on one it came in on the other.

I watched “The Gathering” and was in awe. The ships, especially the Vorlon ships, were so unlike anything I had seen before. And I grew up watching Star Trek The Next Generation. But nothing prepared me for Babylon 5. The unity of story across seasons, the whole idea that a story didn’t have to end at the end of an episode, that was revelatory to me.

This will be a combination of both my thoughts on the show, having now long, long since seen the entirety of it, but also I want to try to reflect on my thoughts of having experienced these episodes in their originality. I did not get to see every episode as it aired, so there are limits to what I can say, but still. Why not experience it again. And I invite you to share with me; please comment as you feel a desire to do so.

And now, Babylon 5.

So, watching it now with a more discerning eye and ear, of course, there are some things that are cloying. Bits of acting that don’t really spark me. Areas where the performances, or the effects, or sets, or dialog aren’t as smooth as would be nice. But, I do have a certain nostalgia, so I can gloss over those moments. The scene of the drug smuggler isn’t the easiest, well flowing scene this show has ever done, but it does have character moments. Sinclair’s simple statement, “Because I gave you my word,” tells you a lot about him as a person. He’s a man for whom honor means a whole lot. He handles the situation with an attention to the possibility that someone could get hurt “in the crossfire.” He’s not a standard action hero, but he also isn’t unwilling to use force. He’s complicated. Complicated in storytelling is good.

“Oh, [another thing] ….” This is a common thing Straczynski does in dialog: have someone go to leave a room and then interrupt that leaving with an “Oh, one more thing.” Sinclair uses it with the drug dealer. It’s an example of how Straczynski, while he might be great with speeches and dialog of larger moments, the bland, boring, everyday sort of speech is often formulaic. It’s too much TV-speak and not enough actual-people-speaking style. As someone who’s written a bit here and there, dialog can be tricky, and it can take a few runs through the writing process, and it often takes a willingness to read out loud as you revise to ensure it sounds like something someone would say. JMS hits some fantastic points of dialog in this show, but not all dialog he writes is golden.

“The Gathering” gives us introductions to all (intended) characters, of course. Londo is funny but with a tragic sadness. G’Kar is fiery and looking for a re-ordering of the standard ways of the known galaxy. Delenn is cryptic but supportive. Kosh is inscrutable and foreboding. Lyta is fresh off the transport. Garibaldi is closest to a standard Hollywood action hero slash sidekick (he’s most like things we’ve seen before and expect). Carolyn, with her history with Sinclair, suggests something we haven’t seen before: an actual on-going relationship for the main character. Kyle is a hard-working doctor, but little else; though, his inclusion by nature of the actor chosen was a way of showing that Earthforce included people who weren't so American. (Despite Ivanova's being from Russia, that is something that is lost.)

Of all the characters, Takashima is one that I am most sad to have lost when the show had to renegotiate between “The Gathering” and the show proper. Knowing that she would have been the one to have shot Garibaldi in the back. Knowing that she would have been the one to have been “Control” programmed by PsiCorps to gather information and betray the others, eventually to have been revealed and removed from the story before the end of season two, with a young, dour Russian to replace her. I would have loved to have seen Takashima’s character played to its end. I love how when we first meet G’Kar, she basically is like “Deal with it,” to him. She’s strong. She carves that line and then dares you to cross. I come to this show mostly with Star Trek The Next Generation as my experience with science fiction. She’s unlike Yar, who still needed authorization from Picard or Riker to act. Takashima is authoritative. And she’s unlike Troi, who was, shall we say, squishy. She’s a bit more like Leia in Star Wars. Commanding. Sure of herself. And it would have been nice to let the character go where it was going to go. It certainly would have hurt more seeing her shoot Garibaldi than it did the nearly miscellaneous 2nd in command of security.

The story of this show is, from start to finish, very political. It recognizes that it’s hard to build something and even harder to get others to help you do it. Such a station is not easy, and it’s always on the edge of falling apart. With Star Trek at the time, there was almost always a sense of, of course it’ll end okay for everyone. Babylon 5 takes a few before it can definitively prove to you that that’s not so here, but it starts laying that thematic framing from the beginning. The politics of ambassadors, of gathering support of alien governments, of different people having different agendas, which sometimes clash with one another, it all ties together to make the on-going story tense.

Sinclair has a missing period of time in his memory. This is not resolved by the end of “The Gathering;” in fact it’s pointedly left open to tell you that the story is not over. It’s serial, not episodic. That was new for me.

I wonder what will happen next.

Last edited by vacantlook; July 4th 17 at 10:28.
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