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Old June 13th 16, 13:59   #9
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: UK
Posts: 423
Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

Originally Posted by Jan View Post
BTW, hoping I didn't come across as adversarial - I was in a hurry when I posted.
Not at all! I was worried I was sounding too critical. :-)

Having said that....

The Paragon of Animals

This is a curious episode. It's a solid if unspectacular piece of television; there's no sense of things being rushed as there was with No Compromises, and Mike Vejar puts in his usual high standards of directing. The script mostly holds together too, but there's a worrying change in tone or, for want of a better word, the morality of some character's actions and I really don't see what JMS was aiming for. Perhaps its just the way the world has changed in 2016 compared to 1997, but given this weekend's awful, tragic events it does't sit right that Delenn can say things like "Terror is a form of communication too" as though it were a good thing. Then there's the whole spying on people with telepaths - shades of the revelations about our intelligence agencies that were leaked by Edward Snowden? I'm still not quite sure how, in the free and democratic society that the Alliance portrays, that Garibaldi, Delenn, Sheridan and JMS himself thought that spying with telepaths was an acceptable thing.

Now, I'm aware there was an abandoned plot line where Sheridan and Delenn's son was going to travel back in time to want them not to veer too much into dictatorship. While I think that would have been the highlight of the season, on the other hand I wouldn't have believed that the Sheridan and Delenn that we see in seasons 1 to 4 would need to be warned of that. But then here we have The Paragon of Animals and they are definitely making dubious decisions. Did JMS have the storyline with their son in mind when he wrote this episode? Because otherwise it doesn't paint a good picture of the new Alliance. No wonder the League didn't want to sign the declaration of principles they hadn't had any say in the writing of the declaration! It was just being forced on them.

And it feels like a real clash in the scene near the beginning when they're talking about the declaration of principles and then about using the telepaths for spying. How can they possibly talk about the two things without feeling the slightest bit hypocritical? I'm guessing JMS is hoping that's how we will feel about it, but it's just presented as though it's all alright.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with having your characters make dubious decisions but the audience has to be allowed to then have the debate, are they right or are they wrong? Here, things are just presented as is, as though there is nothing wrong with the decisions they make. Sheridan might talk about a slippery slope but he's ignoring his own warnings. And lo and behold, it backfires on them later when the telepaths blackmail the Alliance an event that is put into motion in this episode.

Of course, the telepaths are a whole other problem. First, why couldn't Garibaldi have used telepaths belonging to the Rangers, or another of the Alliance worlds? And is JMS deliberately writing Byron as a pious, smug and thoroughly unlikeable individual, or are we meant to like him and how clever he thinks he is? JMS, with his experiences of cults, should know how dangerous cults can be, and yet just like with the Alliance's dubious decisions, there is again no exploration of Byron's little cult and whether it is dangerous or whether they are good people we should be rooting for - it's all just presented as though we should like him.

Of course, Byron is just as racist as those who shun telepaths, claiming that telepaths are "not human beings, but better". I guess (I hope) that's meant to raise warning flags to the audience.

Lyta fares much better this episode. In fact, her scene in the Zocalo where she talks to Garibaldi about what it's like to be in the mind of someone dying is probably some of her best work on the series. What has happened to Garibaldi though? This isn't the blue-collar guy who sympathised with the docker's guild in season 1 or resigned when Sheridan went too far with Morden. Garibaldi doesn't trust telepaths, and now he wants to hire a bunch that he barely knows to start spying on people? I just can't see the Garibaldi of earlier seasons going along with that. Plus, aren't there people far more qualified to be Head of Covert Intelligence? Either it's Sheridan giving jobs to his mates (and on that point, surely the Alliance should have its own equivalent of the 'West Wing', yet we never see it, which is a shame as B5 used to be so good in showing how politics worked), or it's pandering to the fans to make Garibaldi something important. Plus, Garibaldi used to be able to charm anyone, think about the scene with Talia in the elevator in Spider in the Web. He seems to have lost all his charm this season, in particular when Garibaldi finds Lyta in the Zocalo and doesn't even bother asking how she is.

Other notables:
Good to hear the Abbai get name-checked. Is that the first time since season 1?
The aliens are a bit Star-Trekky, with just a few bumps on their forehead. Perhaps a sign of the smaller budget for season 5?
Londo has miraculously gotten better since his heart attack. How much time has passed since the last episode? It would have been nice continuity if maybe we'd just seen him taking medication.
How much is Garibaldi behind the idea of the Alliance? He keeps describing it to Sheridan as *your* empire, rather than 'ours'.
Was there just one Ranger on that damaged white star? And how on Earth did raiders manage to damage it? They should have had no chance against a white star. Same for the end where they were hoping to lure the white stars into a trap. The Drazi nor the raiders should have had a chance.
Byron says something about how horrible humans are, after 6,000 years of blood, murder and slavery. He's definitely a glass-half-empty person. Think about how Delenn saw things when she said in Babylon Squared (paraphrasing), "Humans have reached where they are despite 10,000 years of recorded history, of struggle and blood, that they are greater than they know". Delenn sees something in humans that not even Byron can.

To sum up, it's a competent episode but with an underlying dark tone that I know runs through the fifth season and for me taints some of the characters and JMS' writing. I'll address how I see this more in future episodes.
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