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Old October 12th 17, 04:45   #1
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Reading Between The Lines - The Gathering

Reading Between The Lines – The Gathering

So reading between the lines of The Gathering I feel means looking at many facets of the Babylon 5 pilot including taking it from the perspective of someone who is seeing it for the first time with no prior knowledge of Babylon 5. I plan to speculate on this as well speculation and postulation about story aspects that can be derived from Reading Between The Lines of BOTH VERSIONS of The Gathering.

*DISCLAIMER: I am someone who does not feel that one version of The Gathering is better than the other. I give each version points for what I like and what I feel works versus the opposite. And as another part of the disclaimer I will say that I am not going to go line by line through the show, despite what you are about to read. And that this opening does get a little better as you go. LOL

Okay so diving right in, the opening narration. “I was there.” This sentence is in the past tense so we know immediately this story has already happened in this character’s life. If I am a first-time viewer I can assume this is a focal character and this voice is one of a person who is going to be there until the end of the story. This becomes important when Londo is introduced and those expectations take form in a character. It becomes even more interesting when you look at the role Londo ends up playing in The Gathering as he is not the focal character. He is more of a peripheral character who only gives exposition about his character and race with a little bit of plot momentum when the investigation calls for it. So here you have a narrator whom you know lives to tell the tale and is introduced as an important figure, but not a very significant part of the opening to the saga. Of course, this choice for narrator becomes even more fascinating when you look at the series and the path Londo chose.

I am going to skirt past Londo saying “The Third age of mankind” because I had way too much written about it and it all amounts to nonsense; an opinion many readers will have about every word I say in this post. Moving on to “Deep in neutral space.” If I am a first-time viewer what does this sentence mean? Does it mean it is far away from everything or that there is a big gap between portions of hostile territory? Also who decided it is “neutral space”? Wouldn’t unclaimed space be more appropriate? Of course, we learn later Earth Force seems to think of it as Earth territory. The point is that using the words “deep” and “neutral” intimates that there is plenty of non-neutral space, but it isn't too close.

“Port of call for refugees, smugglers, businessmen, diplomats, and travelers from a hundred worlds.” If I am a new viewer shouldn’t it really seem odd that the narrator just said B5 was a “Port of call for smugglers.”? Again this is being told in the past tense so the narrator knows that while likely not intentionally setup to cater to smugglers, B5 did end up catering to smugglers and criminals. As far as the other groups go it is great a great setup for exactly what you would expect for a space station deep in neutral space.

Londo says it could be a dangerous place, but coming there was worth the risk because it was the “last” hope for peace. This is significant because he is telling us it is a dangerous place that is also meant to be a place of peace. Quite obviously if I am hearing this for the first time I can assume there are wars that have just ended; current wars happening at this moment; or expected future wars. Using the word “last” says that they must all be on the brink of war.

A new viewer might also assume this character thinks the experiment that is Babylon 5 was worth risking something because of this quote. We don’t quite know if he thought he was risking his life, but it is safe to assume this character thinks it is important. We learn later in The Gathering and in the series that this really wasn’t the case when Londo took his assignment to Babylon 5. We learn Londo was given this post to get him out of the way. We learn that most Centauri thought Babylon 5 was not important. We learn that Londo thinks of himself as a “washed up old Republican.” who longs for the glory days. And even in this pilot movie we learn that he is there so the Centauri can “grovel” at the feet of the Earth Alliance. These first words of dialogue make our narrator seem to be a person of character, but we learn that in fact Londo did not think Babylon 5 was the “Last best hope for peace.” at the time he took up residence there. He did not think it was worth the risk, unless you intimate that he felt it was worth the risk that he not lose whatever standing he had in the eyes of the people who assigned him there. Or the risk was worth it because he thought he had opportunities there. I feel the latter of those statements is not true. Right from the start the Londo we are introduced to in The Gathering seems to feel his assignment to Babylon 5 was a cross to bear. He is not the same Londo who delivers this narration, which is a very interesting dynamic. The narrator sets it up like he is telling the story, so he sets up that they had noble reasons for being there and then shows his character really didn’t feel that way at the time. Reading between the lines of this narration and the character we are eventually introduced to tells us this is a person who is, at a minimum, going to go through big changes in his opinion about the importance of Babylon 5.

A big difference between the Original Edit versus the Special Edition is what is removed. This narration is no exception. Dropped is a bit about one person coming to B5 on a mission of destruction. Another dropped item is one of the oddest points of the Original Edit’s Opening Narration. Londo calls Sinclair the “final” commander. It is odd because we learn he is the first commander. If I am seeing this for the first time then I believe I would think it foreshadows a short life for the station. We learn when the story picks up the station is just getting up to full speed, so saying Sinclair is the “final” commander intimates that it is a short-lived situation. Reading Between The Lines you could say that this is telling us the narrator is speaking after the station is gone. This quote does disappear in the Special Edition and is one point I give the Special Edition over the Original Edit. It can work to let the audience know at the beginning that there is an ending, but I don’t like the suggested effect that this place is only around for a span of time covering one person’s command. I feel the quote, “Last of the Babylon Stations” suggests an ending with less finality. If I am a new viewer I think I might assume “final” says this might all be a waste of time, but just saying it is the “Last” doesn’t mean it doesn’t last.

On that last note I will move away from what first-time viewers might think for a bit to mention another interesting distinction between the two versions of the narration you only truly learn after seeing In The Beginning (1998); this narration was redone for the Special Edition version. In the Special Edition version Peter Jurasik’s voice sounds similar to the narration for In The Beginning. And isn’t it interesting that these two movies ended up being a Double Feature DVD?! You could even imagine that the narration in The Gathering is Londo telling Luc and Lyssa another story if you had already seen In The Beginning. (I still believe In The Beginning should be watched toward the end of any re-watch.)

So that is enough about the narration and enough of a start. I know it is a lot of obvious rehash of stuff you may have discussed or read in the past, but when you think about it there is a lot going on with this brief setup narration. JMS really worked that dialogue into something that grabs the viewer. My next post won’t be so specific about individual lines of dialogue, but I think we can all agree that this narration was meant to set the table to it deserves scrutiny.
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