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Old July 22nd 16, 19:15   #31
Springer
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Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

In the Kingdom of the Blind

The thematic heart of this episode isn’t about telepaths or nefarious happenings on Centauri Prime – it’s about the legacy of the Shadow War and is just as much an ‘arc episode’ as those directly involving the First Ones. I love that everything boils down to the legacy of the actions of the Vorlons and Shadows – here we see the beginning of the downfall of Londo that comes as a result of his relationship with Morden and the Shadows, while on the station we see the consequences of the Vorlons creating human telepaths. The fact that we get to see that legacy on the show and in this episode is incredibly impressive, particularly during a season that has been quite light on ‘arc’ episodes.

However, while I do think this episode sums up the best of B5, it also highlights some of the worst things about this season. I’ll start off with the negative things so we can end on the high points.

After a couple of good episodes, the telepath story returns to the contrived storytelling we saw earlier in the season, with several characters acting without even a modicum of intelligence.

Let’s start with Byron. His feeling that the galaxy owes telepaths something for their services in the Shadow War is compromised by his homo-sapien only viewpoint. Alien telepaths seem well regarded by their individual civilisations, and aside from Lyta it seemed to be mostly Minbari telepaths that we saw employed during the war. Human telepaths barely took part (the human teeps handed over to the Shadows by the Psi Corps being the exception, but then Byron should then direct his ire at the Corps). Byron’s anger against the Alliance seems totally misplaced. Nor do I understand why he didn’t simply take his proposal for a telepath homeworld to Sheridan and Delenn. At least try a reasonable approach first, especially with people who are sympathetic to their cause. I’m mean, Sheridan’s the President of the Galaxy – he can pull strings if he wants to.

Instead, Byron takes the worst course of action, which results in everyone on the station turning against the teeps and Byron’s gang having to blockade themselves into Down Below. Byron even has the audacity to say that cooler heads might prevail in time and that alien races might rally around their cause when they hear about the teeps starving in their self-made blockade. These would be the same alien races you’ve just tried to black mail, Byron? Great plan.

On the Alliance side, we have Sheridan at his reactionary worst, Garibaldi’s continuing change in character to a completely unlikeable person and only Delenn talking sense. Why didn’t Sheridan just have Byron arrested there and then in the council chambers? There’s other story contrivances. Byron claims to have knowledge about the attacks on shipping lanes and Garibaldi allows him to present it to the council without first knowing what that information is or double checking it? For all Garibaldi knows Byron really does have information. What if Byron’s information was wrong? It could worsen the situation. That whole scene just screams contrived. I really hate how Garibaldi is just plain rude to Byron as well in that scene. I really don’t know what has happened to the writing of Garibaldi but I really don’t like his character this season. It feels like JMS is still writing the Garibaldi from season 4 who’d had his personality altered.

There’s also this issue of the telepaths being attacked every time they step out of their territory. To those Drazi, the human teeps just look like normal humans. How are they distinguishing them? And how do ordinary Drazi know about what is going on at a political level? Again, it’s contrived.

Zack’s mumbling on his PA announcement made me laugh.

Season 5 also seems to be plagued by slow-motion fight scenes that look really, really, really terrible and there’s another one this episode. Director David Eagle ain’t John Woo. I can’t tell if these slow motion fights are a deliberate but ill-advised style, or just trying to cover up crappy fight choreography, which I’ve never felt B5 was very good at.

But then we’ve got the events on Centauri Prime, which are much better. There’s intrigue, backstabbing and mystery – everything we’d hope for from a Centauri story! Ian Ogilvy is a touch of class in a season that has been distinctly lacking in good guest stars, while Damian London as the Regent continues to chew the scenery in delightful fashion – I love his range of bewildered and terrified expressions as he brings Lord Jano to his death. “I think we’re well beyond pastels now” is the best line of the season so far.

I do have some nitpicks. Budgetary reasons I’m sure, but why does Londo – the Prime Minister – stay in such a pokey little room in the Royal Palace? Surely he’d have a big, grandiose house! And is the way from his quarters to the Regent’s quarters really through a dimly lit, rocky tunnel? That made no sense. There’s also more overly dramatic and intrusive music – a common occurrence this season which I’ve mentioned before – when they find Jano’s body.

I did laugh at the Centauri women being attracted by G’Kar and his reptilian magnetism! :-) I also liked the transition from Londo wondering what they’re doing with the Centauri fleet to the battle scene in space – but that was a Brakiri battle cruiser, why did it have no weapons? And the dialogue there is so terribly trite, it felt like little thought had been put into it.

I apologise for such a long review of the episode, but the varying quality of the two halves is quite startling. As an aside, Byron describes the events of Secrets of the Soul as being “yesterday” so that confirms that Day of the Dead is in the wrong order (I know it aired out of order, perhaps it would have been better being moved to after Phoenix Rising on the DVDs).
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Old July 22nd 16, 19:32   #32
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Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

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Even if the character doesn't acknowledge their flaws (and I maintain these particular flaws are out of character for the way those characters behaved in earlier seasons) the *story* must acknowledge them. Let the viewers decide if they are right or wrong, fine, but at least present it as a dilemma.
I disagree that the story needs to be that explicit. It wasn't a dilemma to Sheridan at the time; but it ended up spinning out of his control. That is the story showing consequences.
Having now watched In the Kingdom of the Blind, I'm still unhappy with the ethical stance of Sheridan and company over this. Sure, using the telepaths backfired on them, but they seem more chagrined at being caught out by the black mail, rather than the ethical considerations of whether using telepaths to spy on people is an appropriate thing to do. The show has just presented that whole notion as though there's nothing ethically wrong about it and that viewers shouldn't think twice about it and that's what's wrong with it. Maybe it's because in the 21st century, after Snowden, we're a little more keyed up on notions of privacy, but I'd like to think ethical considerations of privacy weren't too much different in the 1990s or, indeed, in 2262.

Last edited by Springer; July 23rd 16 at 08:11.
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Old July 24th 16, 21:38   #33
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Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

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Season 5 also seems to be plagued by slow-motion fight scenes that look really, really, really terrible and thereís another one this episode. Director David Eagle ainít John Woo. I canít tell if these slow motion fights are a deliberate but ill-advised style, or just trying to cover up crappy fight choreography, which Iíve never felt B5 was very good at.
B5 was never on the level of a high end Hong Kong actioner but I actually felt that a lot of the previous fight choreography could be pretty good, at least relative to Trek of the same era. The Narn and Centauri especially I think had some well done stuff with a strong sense of physicality to it that again I think Trek often lacked.
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Old July 25th 16, 11:21   #34
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Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

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Season 5 also seems to be plagued by slow-motion fight scenes that look really, really, really terrible and there’s another one this episode. Director David Eagle ain’t John Woo. I can’t tell if these slow motion fights are a deliberate but ill-advised style, or just trying to cover up crappy fight choreography, which I’ve never felt B5 was very good at.
B5 was never on the level of a high end Hong Kong actioner but I actually felt that a lot of the previous fight choreography could be pretty good, at least relative to Trek of the same era. The Narn and Centauri especially I think had some well done stuff with a strong sense of physicality to it that again I think Trek often lacked.
Actually you're right, and I'll take back some of what I said. Some of the smaller punch ups on the show were pretty good – Garibaldi and Sinclair vs the alien thugs in Survivors, Sinclair vs Neroon (always loved that Sinclair beat Neroon*), TKO, Marcus vs Neroon, G'Kar vs the Narn in Acts of Sacrifice. I just felt that a lot of the large riot scenes weren't filmed very well, for example the riots in The Long Twilight Struggle and Thirdspace, you see lots of punches that are nowhere near landing, and they looked a bit fake – but I was ok with that, it was a TV show shot on a weekly schedule, I accepted that simply for reasons of time and budget not everything was going to be perfect.

The slow-mo fights in season 5 though, in my opinion, just look a bit rubbish and I just wondered why they chose to do them like that. That's why I mentioned John Woo, as he's kind of the master of slow-mo fights.

* Sinclair may have been the most accomplished fighter on the show – I think it was in the novel To Dream in the City of Sorrows where he surprises the Minbari by being adept at the pike, I think because he was trained with the staff while he was learning under the Jesuits. Would have loved to have seen a Sinclair vs Neroon fight using the pikes, bet he wouldn't have been battered like Marcus was. Sinclair was awesome :-)
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Old July 25th 16, 13:23   #35
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Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

The slowmo stuff was patchy I'd agree, Refa's death and G'kars capture were I think done very well but some of the latter fights it seemed like a bit of a cover.

One thing I always liked in the riots were those high kicking Centauri, they obviously got some well trained stuntmen there and I think it got across the idea that there was a dangerous side behind there outward foppishness very well.
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Old July 27th 16, 20:11   #36
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Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

Before I talk about the next episode, I just want to go back to the appearance of the Drakh in the previous episode, when the Drakh saves Londo’s life. The implication is that they are telekinetic (though I suppose they could have equally stopped the knife in mid air with some kind of technology). I wonder if their telekinetic abilities were originally created by the Vorlons? Maybe it was the knowledge that they’d been manipulated by the Vorlons that pushed them to side with the Shadows? It would have been an interesting counterpoint to play with this idea later in the season, comparing the Drakh to the reaction of Byron when he discovered telepaths had been created by the Vorlons. It would have been a nice way to unify the two halves of the season.

Anyway, onto A Tragedy of Telepaths.

Like Point of No Return was the midpoint in a trilogy also including Messages from Earth and Severed Dreams, A Tragedy of Telepaths is also the mid-point of a trilogy, except this one is even more serialised than the season three trio. As such, this episode features a continuation of storylines rather than being its own story, so viewing it in that context it works really well. The pace is good, there’s no contrivances like the previous episode, and the arrival of Bester in the second half of the episode sets up the finale in Phoenix Rising.

We’ve also got the Centauri plotline unfolding – and hey, there’s Na’Toth! A little worse for wear though. The scene with Londo smuggling her through the Royal Palace is glorious. That feels like another loose end in the show tied up. Londo’s parable about why things are done just because that’s the way they’ve always been done and nobody questions it could apply to a lot of things in real life. It’s also another indication that the Centauri really don’t have the adaptability to really develop their civilisation much further. As Kosh said, they are a lost species.

A few little notes/nitpicks:

Shouldn’t Lochley be wearing a white shirt beneath her jacket as part of her uniform? Or was it just an excuse to get her in a tight top? I thought B5 was above that kind of thing, though the sexualisation of Lochley in River of Souls suggests that perhaps it isn’t.

Surely Lochley requesting Bester’s help has to be as huge a mistake as the one she thinks Sheridan made in allowing the telepaths to stay on the station in the first place. Sheridan, Lochley and B5 security could have dealt with the telepaths – like Garibaldi says, the ones who have barricaded themselves in aren’t a problem, and those that got out would eventually be captured or negotiated with, so why call in Bester and the Psi Corps just to inflame the situation? Maybe as an Earth Force officer she was obliged to, but still, it was a poor decision on her part.

There’s yet more over the top, intrusive music in this episode - the music playing over when G’Kar gets angry in the cells stood out to me in particular. The music really wasn’t this intrusive in previous seasons; imdb says the editor for this episode was Kathie Burr, who only became editor in season 5, so I’m guessing it’s her choice?

What makes Brakiri metal unique to any other metal? We also get more background on the Brakiri, that they’re pack rats, who take or buy technology from other species rather than invent it themselves. I love the amount of info we’re learning about the different alien species this season, definitely one of the plus points of season 5.

Though you do wonder, given the attitude of the different ambassadors – Brakiri, Drazi etc – whether they wanted the Alliance in the first place, as they don’t seem to want it to work. It’s the old characterisation of the ambassadors as short-sighted, self-interested idiots.

Overall a terrific episode that really sets up Phoenix Rising – hopefully it can maintain the standards set by this one!

Last edited by Springer; July 27th 16 at 20:26.
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Old July 27th 16, 20:22   #37
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Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

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I wonder if their telekinetic abilities were originally created by the Vorlons? Maybe it was the knowledge that theyíd been manipulated by the Vorlons that pushed them to side with the Shadows? It would have been an interesting counterpoint to play with this idea later in the season, comparing the Drakh to the reaction of Byron when he discovered telepaths had been created by the Vorlons. It would have been a nice way to unify the two halves of the season.
Hm that's an interesting thought. The Drakh are a bit underdeveloped. Joe had a funny line in his script books saying he "created skeletor [from He-Man] as a species"

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The music really wasnít this intrusive in previous seasons; imdb says the editor for this episode was Kathie Burr, who only became editor in season 5, so Iím guessing itís her choice?
The way the music worked in the show was that JMS would sit with Chris Franke and "spot" the episode - marking exactly where Joe wanted music and how long it would last and of what type (sad, fast, funny, etc.), and then Chris would compose it.

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Though you do wonder, given the attitude of the different ambassadors Ė Brakiri, Drazi etc Ė whether they wanted the Alliance in the first place, as they donít seem to want it to work.
Yep...
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Old July 27th 16, 20:29   #38
Springer
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Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

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The music really wasn’t this intrusive in previous seasons; imdb says the editor for this episode was Kathie Burr, who only became editor in season 5, so I’m guessing it’s her choice?
The way the music worked in the show was that JMS would sit with Chris Franke and "spot" the episode - marking exactly where Joe wanted music and how long it would last and of what type (sad, fast, funny, etc.), and then Chris would compose it.
While the spotting is part of the problem, as is the composition, it's also the audio level it is mixed in at. I don't recall there being this problem in the previous seasons but it seems quite prevalent in season 5.

And Skeletor as a species might have been quite fun... or quite grating. Hard to say really! Not sure we really got that with the Drakh though.
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Old July 30th 16, 00:22   #39
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And Skeletor as a species might have been quite fun... or quite grating. Hard to say really! Not sure we really got that with the Drakh though.
With the high-pitched voice and all? That would have been awesome! Ha.
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Old July 30th 16, 17:08   #40
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Re: Is it time to give season 5 another chance?

Phoenix Rising

It seems fitting after Jerry Doyle’s passing this week that Phoenix Rising has the best Garibaldi scenes of season 5 so far (and with The Ragged Edge coming up next, there’s more to come from his character). The final scene, with him returning to the bottle, is perhaps the most chilling ending to an episode since the door closed on G’Kar’s eye in Falling Towards Apotheosis.

So the Byron storyline is at an end. Byron is generally quite maligned by the fans, but his story wasn’t too bad over the last three or four episodes once it got going. Robin Atkin Downes was a solid addition to the cast, it’s just unfortunate that he was saddled with some weak dialogue and characterisation at times. The telepath storyline probably dragged on three or four episodes too long, and I wonder how the season might have looked and how the telepath story would have been received had the ending to the Earth Civil War been in season 5 as was the original plan, making for a tighter season.

As it stands, Phoenix Rising is a good episode, but I think to really make the telepath story worthwhile it needed to be a great episode and it’s just lacking. It feels anticlimactic, that its going through the motions. There’s no build up in tension that we might have expected from the build up to the climax. We should be biting our fingernails, but there’s just not the emotional content with the telepath characters for us to care enough. Sure there’s Byron and Lyta, but what about the other teeps, especially those that took hostages in Medlab? They felt very one-dimensional, unthinking, one-note characters. It would have helped the telepath storyline and Byron’s character immensely if a few of the others had been fleshed out, so Byron could interact with them on a more complex level.

I wasn’t particularly complimentary about David Eagle’s directing in In the Kingdom of the Blind, but he does a good job in this episode, I thought. I did like the camerawork in the scene between Sheridan, Lochley and Bester in Sheridan’s office – the floating camera gave it a sense of fluidity and immediacy, a bit like the camerawork in something like NYPD Blue. A shame it only appeared in just that scene, for some reason.

I’m a little confused about the legalities of who can claim jurisdiction over the rogue telepaths. They committed their crimes on Alliance territory (B5) against Alliance members, the ambassadors of alien governments. Shouldn’t the ambassadors be demanding their extradition, like they did for Deathwalker? Surely they wouldn’t want those telepaths, with whatever sensitive information they essentially stole from the ambassadors, going back to Earth where they could conceivably give that information to EarthGov, to potentially be used against the League worlds?

I do wonder whether Lochley is now regretting bringing in Bester, who basically inflamed the whole situation leading to Byron’s death. If she hadn’t made that call, Byron would likely still be alive, in Alliance hands and the situation would be resolved.

It’s striking how the rogue telepaths would rather die than go back to the Corps. Bester says he truly doesn’t understand it – I wanted Sheridan to tell him, that’s ultimately why this all occurred.

The best scene of the episode is the Asimov laws scene between Garibaldi and Bester. I like how both actors play it – Bester feigning concern before revealing his trump card, and Garibaldi’s initial frustration at himself while Bester makes himself comfortable was a nice touch to the scene. I love how Garibaldi really throws himself into the telepaths in Medlab and I’ve already discussed the conclusion to the episode. It’s also ironic that Bester uses the analogy of sending the nerve impulse to raise his hand as an example to explain what he’s done to Garibaldi – ironic in that Bester can’t actually open that hand because of his own mental block.

A couple of note/nitpicks:

Does Medlab not have any security?
Could a few flying objects (a scene reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back) really stop Zack’s security team armed with flak jackets and PPGs?

Lyta, searching for a way out, shows how powerful she is. I wonder how much hyperspace would amplify her powers?

When Bester goes to speak to Byron telepathically, why is Bester stood in a regular station corridor that looks nothing like Brown Sector, while on the other side of a sealed door there’s all the pipes and griminess that you normally find down there? Shouldn’t either side of the door look pretty much the same?

Do they really have hazardous, highly flammable chemicals running through exposed and easily damageable pipes? That seems like a health and safety failure right there!

Lyta seemed to be transferring the details of Byron’s contacts to the other rogue telepaths the same way we download apps. Can telepaths really have total recall of info and the ability to compartmentalise it into nice, ‘downloadable’ parcels? There’s never been any indication before that that’s how telepathy works

Now we’re halfway through season 5, it seems fair to take stock. There’s been some good stuff this season, some bad stuff, and a lot more average stuff than you’d expect from B5. It is startling how one-note the season has felt, and I really do feel that bringing in some outside writers would have helped add some much-needed colour and variety to the season, as they did in season 1. It seems to me that the extra emphasis on the various alien cultures, which I’ve noted on frequently in these reviews, would have been right up Larry DiTillio’s street (I know he was on Beast Wars by this time, but maybe they could have got him back for an episode or two?)

The most telling thing about the way I view season 5, at least the first half, is the colour I give it. I know that sounds a like a strange thing to do, but it’s a mixture of the cinematography and sets used that give a sense of colour, at least to me. I associate season 1 with the metallic blue-grey of C&C (it’s interesting that season 5 has spent hardly any time in C&C, I think just episode 4, and a bit in episodes 6 and 8?), season 2 the rosy colours of Earharts, and so on. The first half of season 5 is a murky brown in my mind, and I think that sums up how much of this season has felt so far.

(I’d be interested in finding out if anyone else does this crazy thing of giving the seasons colours!)
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