Friday, September 26, 2014

Beyond the Rim

An update from my mid-May post in which I confessed to starting to watch Babylon 5. I made it through: five seasons and 111 episodes of Babylon 5, from the pilot/prequel “The Gathering” to “Sleeping in Light." I enjoyed the series immensely. The overall story arc(s) of the Shadow war, the Narn-Centauri war, and the tensions between Earth’s fascist regime and Babylon 5 (and the alien races) were all interesting. Contained within those longer plots were smaller story lines and a great deal of character development. To paraphrase The Incomparable podcast devoted to the series, in Babylon 5 actions have consequences for the characters as well as the story, and actions often lead to characters reassessing their views. Consistent with that, no major character is purely good or evil; shades of gray abound. Even the “big bad,” the Shadows, turn out to be something less than the embodiment of evil that we initially think they are, and the “angels,” the Vorlons, have their own agenda and, indeed, don’t speak with one voice.

As I had been warned, Season 5 itself was a bit of a mixed bag. When the series was threatened with cancellation after Season 4, creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski wrapped up the conflict with Earth at the end of Season 4, leading to the lack of a big story arc in Season 5 when the show was ultimately picked up. As a result, Season 5 has some minor story lines (the conflict with the telepaths, issues with the Centauri, attempts to hold the Alliance together) and a lot of filler, including, it seemed to me, the last three episodes.

That problem aside, I thought the series worked much better than any of the Star Trek series, all of which had a fairly static universe through which the main characters traveled, but no actions were ever truly consequential – partly the result of self-contained episodes written by a host of writers, rather than the series-long story arc of B5, written primarily by Strazinski.

As a completist, I bought the movies and the short-lived spin-off series Crusade. While I don’t have high expectations for either, I’ll give them a shot.

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