Tag Archives: sci-fi

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 17: Knives

If you are starting to wonder whether I have anything better to do than sit at my laptop and watch television and then blog about said television all day, the answer is no. No, I do not. I am loving my kitchen remodel, but it’s keeping me stuck at home (stuck is perhaps too negative a term), on hand to let people in and out and answer questions, but too distracted to do work for money. I balanced my checkbook already, and removing the hotlinks that I put in this blog before I learned that it was rude to have them gets pretty boring pretty fast. Why not write? I enjoy writing, and I definitely like watching B5, and even though the aforementioned episode was a little slow, the half of if that advanced the story arc was very good.

I’m just going to skip over all the Sheridan hallucination stuff and pretend it didn’t happen. It turned out to be a go-nowhere situation that maybe served the purpose of reminding viewers that there was that time slip/warp thing with Sector 14 that involved the Babylon 4 station, and really nothing else. OK, the vision of watching the Icarus ship explode reminded us that Sheridan’s wife died because of that monster on that planet, so that will probably come up again soon, too. It actually annoyed me when Sheridan started having those visions and those headaches, because I thought we were in for another round of morals and lessons by Kosh the Vorlon, but that wasn’t it. I can’t decide if a go-nowhere resolution (it was an alien in his brain that left no traces and did no damage!) is less annoying than a repeat of psychic training would have been. Remember that episode of Lost with Hurley finding the van? It was an adorable little episode when you were watching it the first time, but the second time, when you are reviewing that season before the next season started it, and you already knew that it would go nowhere, you just don’t want to bother. That’s what I am feeling right now, but only about the Sheridan stuff. Because this was Londo’s episode, and I wish we could have seen more of him, without padding.

Londo! I can’t make up my mind about him, which is a testament to the character or the actor, or the writers, or all of it. I hate him, I think–especially because of these flashes of conscience we see. I know he appreciates Vir, and I’m glad Vir is confident enough now to openly speak to Londo about his behavior, and to wantonly judge and implore and generally try to interfere with his plans, and it says a lot about Londo that he lets Vir keep harping on these points. But why Londo has just given himself up to Fate, or The Machine, or Greed, or whatever it is that he feels hopelessly entangled by, when it is so clear now that his choices are not requirements and war is not inevitable, is a mystery that bears watching.

If there was any doubt in my mind that perhaps the Narn were unreliable narrators and perhaps manipulating the sentiments of all observers to cast the Centauri as villains, it’s gone. The appearance of Londo’s friend Urza demonstrates that the ruling class of the Centauri is not a monolithic, arrogant, hostile crowd hell-bent on empire and galactic domination. Considering that Urza really had no knowledge of Londo’s involvement in this palace coup, I believe that when he says no one really wants another war he means most Centauri really don’t want another war. Vir is no longer just some lone opponent of evil–he is the desperate mouthpiece of a planet trying to get through to the one person who can halt this chain of events. I’m pondering whether that makes Vir more or less heroic; it makes him less of a victim, in a way, and less of an angel figure, and it makes the whole situation seem much, much more tragic somehow. Good is being trampled by evil, but also the will of an entire people is being trampled by the intrigues of a few.

The fight to the death as a strategy to put Londo in a position to help his friend was genuinely suspenseful. I knew Londo wouldn’t die, but I didn’t know how it would actually resolve. I liked watching the people in the background of the party, too, because I like what goes on with the extras in this show for some reason. And the Centauri men’s hairstyle fascinates me; all the bald women’s heads are strangely beautiful, too. We didn’t really need to learn about that particular tradition of Centauri House Dueling, and I can’t imagine how it would come up again, but it shows that Londo is aware of subtlety, and obligation, and the bonds of friendship, and has a sense of pride, and it makes it even more perplexing that he’s being so stubborn about this war thing. I am probably more interested in him right now than anything else on the show. Well, him and G’Kar. Of course, this mystery will likely be directly tied to the mystery of what lurks in the shadows and the hinterlands, and the evil thing that ate up the late Mrs. Sheridan’s science ship, so it’s a package deal. I can dig. So even if the Londo story didn’t really advance the story arc either, it was still worth it to see him as a character and it invested me even more in this story. I keep remembering now that he’s the guy who narrated the pilot/movie that starts off the whole show, and that means he’s around at the end of it all to tell the sad, sorry tale. Or inspiring, heroic tale. That makes him narratively the most important character of the story. We’d call him Ishmael if he didn’t already have a name.

I’ll have to think about how PsiCorp factors into all this. Earth Government feels like just a puppet of the PsiCorps, so I can throw them out of my calculations. PsiCorps, Centauri schemers, evil beyond comprehension, the persecuted Narn, and the Minbari/Vorlon freedom fighting alliance all add up to a space station placed precisely at the epicenter of disaster.

I have high hopes for the rest of Season 2; it’s got some very good titles coming up. And because I doubt that Hulu will scrounge up season 3 just in time for me to watch it (although that’s what happened with my Buffy viewing), it looks like I’ve got some reserving to do at the library. The county branch has everything on DVD. Thank you, taxpayers of San Diego!

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Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 14: There All the Honor Lies

It has been so long since I’ve seen this episode that I can barely remember it. I was just going to skip this write-up and move on to the next, but I’m in the middle of watching the next one which is the investigative reporter one and it is boring the crap out of me. It really, really is. I’ve watched episodes that threw me off wanting to see the next one and when I returned it was always better, but this is the opposite of that–I really enjoyed “There All the Honor Lies” but I got caught up in some stuff and then the Swine Flu (remember that?) kept me busy. So I searched out a recap of this episode and it’s coming back to me, so I’ll give a cursory review based on my impressions of what the characters were doing, but without any specific details. Frankly, the intrigue was confusing enough watching it live; reading about it at the TV.com website sort of made it worse. Here are the main topics of the episode with my feeble remarks, in no particular order.

The Gift Shop Stuff
I loved the gift shop stuff. Not a single part of it failed to amuse, and I enjoyed the satire of the gift shop phenomenon, even if it was blatant and cliche and easy to take shots at. Ivanova’s reaction to it seemed a little much, but not out of character, and Sheridan putting her in charge of the project was a good way to slough off some work that he really didn’t need to be dealing with. I loved the bits with the masks, where she didn’t know who was human and who was alien, and Londo’s reaction about the smooth pelvis of the Centauri Ambassador Figure was a crackup. It got me to thinking at the time if it was to make the figure suitable for children a la the Ken doll, or if the people designing the mold for the doll really didn’t know what genitalia to put. Have we seen any examples of interspecies sexual relationships? Because all the alien females have two mammary glands and wide hips, we assume that they resemble human women, but I don’t know. I’m sure that prostitutes of any species know how to service the people of every species one way or the other, but we’ve only seen Londo with his wives and with that dancing girl mistress of his. The shape of the Centauri genitals could be information inaccessible to the manufacturers. More likely, however, they were skimping on material weight to lower the per-unit cost. Adding genitals beneath the clothing would have required more plastic without adding value, and thus cut into the potential profits. As for that Sheridan teddy bear… anything that says “WORD-bear-WORD WORD” should be airlocked no matter whose initials are on the front. I hate the practice of adapting teddy bears to everything. The customize your own bear is OK for a kid activity, I suppose, but I don’t know what kind of person is shopping from the Vermont Teddy Bear company. That business model just confuses me.

Londo and Vir
Vir was right to be furious. I’m not at all surprised the dipshits who seem to be leading the Centauri down this Path of Darkness are dismissive and contemptuous of him, but I am very glad to see that Londo not only appreciates what Vir does but that he also has the attributes to stand up for him in public. Londo may have a conscience. What a relief! Even if he lacks the character to judge his own actions and anticipate the consequences, at least he can identify who the good people are and has demonstrated a willingness to follow them. Perhaps he will come to his senses just in time to call off whatever fracas he started that prevents the peoples of the galaxy from fully uniting to defend and protect themselves from their shared threat.

The Minbari Lie
Well, duh. Of course they lie. The powertripping they indulged in regarding Delenn’s place on the council and the strict divisions between the different castes is too extreme for someone to not be lying at some point. Delenn is virtuous and refuses to believe in the dark side of individuals, I suppose, but it’s not like she was being obtuse or naive. This death was a very touchy situation in a very sensitive context; there’s already one race war going on at Babylon 5, and no one needs the Humans and Minbari squaring off again. But it’s honestly not really that interesting who said what when and Lennier this and Earth that and my family my honor whatever. Long story short is someone wants Sheridan removed from his position as captain and discrediting/disgracing/imprisoning him is a good way to do it. We’ve known for many episodes now that the Dark Powers that Be at Earth aren’t real thrilled with him and that Sheridan is involved in a resistance movement against them. This Minbari character assassin, however, reveals that he is acting on behalf of a Minbari faction to discredit him, too. There is a reason that the Minbari stopped the war, and the official secret reason is that it was because the Minbari were hurting the Minbari souls that had been born into human bodies because everyone is cousins. Or so Delenn said, and since she has been painted so far as a trustworthy character, it’s probably true that was the reason. Or part of one. So this could be a petty revenge thing–Sheridan is the captain of the space station, and just instigating scandal there maybe is enough to satisfy some disgruntled Minbari on the grounds of doing something to harm those pesky humans who have gotten much farther as a species than they deserve.

TECHNICALLY SOME SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT ONLY ONE-HALF OF AN EPISODE AHEAD
I’ve seen part of the next episode, however, with that interview where Sheridan is being questioned by the journalist who insists that the Minbari surrendered to the Humans. As a viewer, I was pretty surprised to hear that. We don’t get a lot from human people’s point of view (just the corrupt politicians and the resistance leaders) and I’d never really wondered what most people thought the reason for the end of the war was. I certainly never the impression that Humans had “won” or that the Minbari had “surrendered.” I’d thought that the Minbari just withdrew and called a truce of sorts. It’s not so crazy, then, to assume that the Joe Average Minbari has the wrong information about why the Minbari/Earth war stopped. And if we’re assuming that one government is corrupt, why not two? The Council was already very mean to Delenn. I’m sure people that mean are capable of anything!
END ALL THOSE SPOILERS

Back to Delenn
I suppose it could be revealed later that Delenn was a dirty-dealing double agent laughing at us all this whole time, but I think she is being deliberately portrayed as a sympathetic, trustworthy character. She’s taken stands, she’s made personal sacrifices, she’s inspired career-ending loyalty in her assistant, and she’s been punished by her people for her integrity. There’s really nothing ambiguous about here, and if we discover later that we were all wrong, well, the textual clues leading up to the revelation are so far faint to invisible. She may choose, at some point, the “wrong” side, but the audience will be unsurprised and probably sympathetic to her reasons for doing so if she does, and she’ll acknowledge the downside of her decision, kinda like when General Lee agreed to fight for the Confederacy in the War between the States.


That Kosh Stuff with Sheridan

Like Sheridan himself, I was really not that interested in his Vorlon Communication lessons, even if watching him try to ditch class a few times was funny in his exasperation. The lesson about the pursuit of inner peace and self-knowledge leading to moments of bliss was pretty heavy-handed, but it’s only just dawning on me now (thanks to a detail in the episode recap that I read) the rich symbolism of Sheridan handing over his insignia to the monkthing. Even as external forces were trying to strip him of his rank and he was trying just as hard to resist them, he gave it up willingly for beauty and for wisdom and was rewarded a hundredfold. The moral lesson itself in that is also heavy-handed (rank and position are not what makes the man) but the portrayal of it was quite beautiful. It was a moment of perfect writing, and worth the other needlessly complicated and frantic chaos of the rest of the episode.

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 13: Hunter, Prey

So this was a great episode to have in the middle of the season. Obviously the underlying tensions caused by Earth politics have been prevalent throughout, but it is easy to forget (read: easy for me to forget) exactly what is going on. I’d forgotten all about the explosion/assassination and the conspiracy theory about the Vice-President-Now-President helping to orchestrate it; I’d forgotten all about the mysterious Kosh and Sheridan’s dream that he’d visited; I’d forgotten about Sarah Whatsername, and her reports from the bombed-out carcass of San Diego; I’d forgotten that Garibaldi owned a fedora. I also enjoy the marketplace/bazaar scenes, and appreciate the appearances of the downtrodden, so even though we’d just seen them, they added to the richness of this episode, too.

I’d gotten halfway through this episode last week, and really couldn’t remember if I’d finished it or not, and was not particularly enthusiastic about rewatching it, but I did, and it makes a big difference with this series when I sit and watch for details instead of having it on in the background while I’m doing the dishes. The series is well crafted and the plot is well written, but I have to confess that I don’t find the scripts very inspiring. When you are just listening to silly remarks like, “And you want that with mayo, too?” or hearing the dialogue delivered stiffly because it is so flat to begin with, you get impatient. This whole show felt like a stage production during season one, and I wasn’t too excited about how it fit in the television format. The lines are still a little stilted and the conversations don’t feel very authentic most of the time, but the setting and the detail of this show has definitely made up for it in season two. When you focus on the screen, you see that red ribbon tied around the girder that alerts Sheridan that Sarah is in town. One split-second image transmits so much information about their relationship, about Sheridan’s role as a captain and as a revolutionary, about the limitations of the space these characters move through. Having the market stall owner–the seedy one who gets his eyeballs threatened by Garibaldi–close up shop by drawing curtains evokes a very non-sci-fi time and place, and brings the context of espionage and intrigue a la Indiana Jones and Casablanca into the program, which adds oomph to the scenes of desperate chase and subterfuge.

(I wonder, however, just how inconspicuous Garibaldi was in that fedora. Maybe his security people really don’t see past his uniform to his person, but he was walking around with the ship’s doctor who was wearing a purple bomber jacket.)

As for the actual content of the episode…

The title was “Hunter, Prey,” but it seems too obvious for those words to refer only to the hunt for Dr. Jacobs by Mr. Cranston. Hunting and prey, if people are involved, seems very Dangerous Game-y. I know the straits were the most dire straits of all the straits, but the politics of it undermine the animal power that the words make me think of. Sure, the sides were sort of mismatched, but considering that Sheridan’s people showed up very early on in the pursuit to assist Jacobs’s escape, it made it more complicated. All the focus on Kosh, and establishing the deliberate mystery about motive and identity, and why Kosh was following Sheridan into his dreams, and just what war against legends that Sheridan needs to train for makes this still-unnamed danger lurking in the borderlands a better candidate. People wax enthusiastic at me about how everything in this show eventually ties in to the big picture, so I am always looking for where the details actually are headed. And for all that the introduction narration before the credits has changed from season 1 to 2, they both refer to Babylon 5 station being “all alone in the night.” Anyone who has seen even a trailer for a slasher movie knows that all alone in the night never means you’re all alone. Things so bad that they are only know within legends are out there, and Sheridan–the leader of this last, best hope of galactic civilization–is ill-prepared to fight it. That’s the real hunter, I think. What I am most eager to learn right now is if this hunter is specifically after this prey or if it just attacks whatever is in its path.

The Vorlon obviously have more information than humans. That is some background I am looking forward to getting, too. You could consider for a little while if the Vorlon are so secretive because they are casing the joint before attacking–like a hostile force helping its victim become a worthy adversary–but they were positively maternal in this episode. Part Patience, Young Grasshoppa and part Cradling Womb, the Vorlon prodded Sheridan to find his true self and sang lullabies to Dr. Jacobs until the danger passed. It’s obvious to me that the Vorlon have access to information that the ordinary sentient beings on the station do not (can they tap into extra dimensions? are they a race of ancients?), so I am interpreting that Kosh’s decision to help Sheridan hide his fugitive confirms (in case there was any doubt at all) that Earth People are bad and the revolutionaries are good. Compared to how reticent the Minbari and Earth governments were about interceding to help masses of Narn refugees even without getting involved in the war, this is very personal, intense intervention in another species’s problem. Of course, if it has to do with the dark forces gathering in space, it may be that it is a matter of such great importance that personal, intense intervention is required. In the grand scheme of things, the latest Narn/Centauri conflicts could be meaningless (although I predict they are very ill-timed and will get in the way of finding solutions to the bigger problems).

That’s it for the episode. I ended up watching on YouTube a video compilation of all the opening credits of the pilot and the five seasons of the show, or at least the pilot and seasons 1 and 2 (I don’t want spoilers!). It was a nice little trip down memory lane to see what was emphasized in each of the different seasons. Londo narrating the pilot was a big surprise; of course when I watched it I didn’t know who anyone was, but now I actively wonder just who he becomes to have such status and authority as to be able to announce that he was there before it all the hit the fan, that he lived to tell the tale, and that he was given the platform to do so. I also wonder who the audience of this story will be, and how much I ought to be suspect of now that I know who is ultimately in charge of the telling. That technomage shows up in the credits of the first seaons–I had totally forgotten about him. I remember analyzing him in one of my write-ups (although I can’t remember right now what I said). That’s a group of people I’d really like to see again.

But Londo as the final storyteller is making me think. I figured he would be redeemed in some way, because they’ve already got Vir sitting in judgment on him and he already feels sorry about his villainous lot, but to be entrusted by the show’s creators with the history of all the people involved with Babylon 5? Wow. No narrator can be totally objective. I wonder what it will mean to the story to have it told through Londo’s filter. It’s positively literary! I feel very good right now that I can use my MA to watch TV. Lord knows I have so few occasions to use it.

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 10: GROPOS

You have no idea how fervently I count my blessings every day that I didn’t take upon myself the task of blogging about Lost. Christ, that show is complicated! It’s not helping me, either, that everyone’s name starts with the same frikkin letter. Don’t get me wrong–I’m loving it–but I’m just riding that wave. I have no original insight, and I never predict anything correctly, and mostly I just want to go to Hawai’i. And figure out what brand of eye makeup Richard Alpert uses so I can get it, too.

But I am blogging about Babylon 5, however sporadically, and there my responsibilities lie. I’ve stumbled on another episode I didn’t particularly care for, but rather than let it throw me off for weeks, I want to write it up and move on to the next one. GROPOS was OK; I didn’t hate it, and I did like it more than the Spiderweb one, but it was all function and very little plot or character. It had purposes to serve, and I appreciate why a story this intricate needs to pause for a moment and do some explicit storytelling (especially when there are events happening at the galactic scale and we really only ever see one station’s perspective). But it felt like an obligatory episode, and I feel like this is an obligatory write-up. Mostly I’m keeping things professional because I just found out from my mother that my aunt discovered this blog and sent her the link. I am already afraid of getting in trouble when she figures out how much time I spend writing this damn thing, and I have my fingers crossed that I haven’t said anything bad about my family on any of its pages. I don’t think I have. My brother might be annoyed at that bit I wrote about him and his old stuff, and the part where I copied and pasted from an email he sent to me, but he’s probably annoyed at me for other things. I think, anyway, that his girlfriend would laugh.

The GROPOS, I finally figured out, are the ground pounders, or the general infantrymen that run around and make a lot of noise with their feet. One of them is a kick-ass chick. Four of them die in an ill-fated attack that anyone could have seen coming, except the obstinate, arrogant, warmongering generals back on Earth. Well, more than four of them die, but we only get closeups of the good ones, the chummy ones, the ones with steel exteriors but hearts made of honey and love. Jumping to the end of the episode, I did think the scene where Garibaldi and then that other guy were reading the casualty lists was vaguely reminiscent of that scene in Gone with the Wind where the Atlantans are hanging out in carriages in the heat of the day waiting for the death lists to come off the telegraph from Gettysburg. It’s a terrible, sad situation, and I thought it was filmed well, at least so long as they were on the station. The gathering of people to witness a horror is a very universal experience, and the reactions of Garibaldi and the other guy (I am so sorry that I can’t remember his name; I actually don’t think I even know it) were very well played. Garibaldi really didn’t know Dodger, and the other guy had some rollicking good times with those fellows but they weren’t really friends. It’s sad to think of lives you’ve touched being extinguished, but the relative lack of grief for these people reflects how easy it is to be distanced from war–and thus how easy it is for conflicts to escalate far beyond what is necessary. It is a shame these vibrant people died. It’s a shame in theory, though. These were anonymous numbers sent far away to do some unpleasant stuff that no one really wants to talk about. So they let it go on.

Compare these scenes of mild disappointment (I am not criticizing these men) to the scenes of G’Kar’s balls-out anguish and hysteria. I don’t know if the producers of the show were trying to make a statement about the general public’s lack of understanding of the horrors of war–the blase’ attitudes people can take–but it was a very sterile treatment. I mean, the people of Babylon 5 were upset about it, but they made I-told-you-so predictions. No one is feeling it yet. They assume that bad things will happen because of it, but they aren’t viscerally anticipating them. Say what you will about G’Kar, but he thought his assassination plan through. He knew exactly what would happen. Babylon 5 is in a tricky position, and can’t really put up more of an argument against the troop deployment than it did, but they are still detached in a way that will take them further down the road than they mean to go. I am starting to speak in generalities, and I don’t have a firm mental hold on what my thoughts are, but there just didn’t seem to be a lot of personal involvement in the fate of those ground troops. My feeble predictive powers tell me that things will get worse before they get better, and hindsight will be 20/20, and regrets will happen. I am unhappy with my inability to get at my feelings and impressions better.

So I’ll stick with the simple stuff.

1. We learned that the doctor is a man of principle. We already knew that. Redundant. There was no reason to make the general the doctor’s father, unless down the road the doctor will have to choose between family and duty or something. We didn’t need the character development. And who was that actor anyway? He was like a poor director’s James Earl Jones.

2. We learned that the Earth government is arrogant and ignorant, and makes bad decisions.

3. We learned that war is hard.

4. We learned that Garibaldi is a sensitive man who takes women seriously, and who is capable of forming serious romantic attachments. We already learned that Sheridan was a worthy, eligible bachelor. Garibaldi has been sort of the bumbling fellow who doesn’t appear romantic, so this business of respecting the woman too much to want to hurt her (and this business of being completely unaware of what a woman wants) sort of plays against character (and sort of doesn’t). It’s a complexity, people! But we also hear quite a few unnecessary (to Dodger) details about his past attachments, and it’s not the first time we have heard of the woman who was swallowed up by Mars, so this sort of was a vehicle for getting us to think about his past and maybe–feeble predictive powers at work–learn what happens to her in a significant way. A little bit of bad Earth government, a little bit of Mars reminder… stuff is going to combine. I feel it!

5. We see an early version of the kick-ass sci-fi chick. They are a dime a dozen nowadays (Starbuck being a prime example), but I’m not sure when they first made their appearance. Well, there was Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien, but I think there was a long dry spell after that. Not that I’ve watched a ton of sci-fi, but the kick-ass chick is a fairly new phenomenon. So this was sort of a groundbreaking character as far as I can tell. I guess Dodger also was the lesson that war stresses people out and that women and men can be the same. The one thing that saved her from being totally cliche was her quick leap to the defense of Delenn. I don’t know exactly how badly Delenn was going to be hurt, but I really got the impression that something very bad had happened to Dodger in the past that made her ultra-sensitive to what those men were capable of. She sort of reminded me of the Susan Sarandon character in Thelma & Louise–that kind of history. But her character was way overwritten and the actress seemed too old to be playing a grunt. There was absolutely no reason for her to be plain old infantry–she could have been given age-appropriate responsibility without changing any significant plot points. The disconnect sort of was distracting, and detracted from her character. I dunno… maybe that was just the hair and makeup aging her. It doesn’t really matter.

6. We see that there are now two major conflicts involving Babylon 5, or the Earthlings, which is bound to cause problems. As the characters pointed out in the show, Babylon Station will lose credibility on one front if it arms itself too powerfully for another.

I don’t want to call this episode filler, exactly, but it was far more function than fun. 1440 words may contradict the next statement, but I don’t really have a lot to say about this episode. But I watched it, and I wrote about it, and I accidentally learned a minor spoiler while researching Marie Marshall’s age (and which I never found), and now I can move on.

I ate a lot of popcorn tonight, which means there’s a lot of salt in my system, and I am thirsty. This is as good a stopping place as any, I suppose.

/blogging

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 9: The Coming of Shadows

Well, I finally worked myself to exhaustion last week, and so I’ve been anti-computer and pro-housework lately. Plus I’ve been sleeping. There were so many things I wanted to write about, too, that I’m afraid I’ll never get to now: a bad recipe to slam, a book that turned out to be interesting and the periodical lesson I learned again about reading reviews on Amazon before finishing, my adventures with lavender and Gold Bond medicated anti-itch cream, and HOA drama and gossip. But I can’t talk about those things right now. I have to blog about the most recent episode of Babylon 5, because I am itching–ha!–itching to see the next one and I have a pile of laundry to do and if I move ahead with the show before processing the last one–a good one!–I’ll get myself all out of sorts.

The Coming of Shadows
My Gentle Reader, nevermore, told me a very long time ago that this one was a very good episode. Pretty much once I make up my mind to like a show, I like everything, but because we agreed on the weakness that was the Spiderweb episode I was especially eager to get into Shadows. Yes, it was very, very good. I don’t want to say that it was thin on plot, because the plot was amazing, but it was definitely streamlined with minimal extra story arcs. Everyone’s side story–they didn’t drop the side stories–tied directly into the Centauri/Narn politics. These were separate characters with very different goals, but nothing detracted from the drama. And drama it was! We learned a lot about the show’s mythology, too. I guess I’ll start with Londo and move to G’Kar.

Talking about Londo means talking about the emperor first. That business with the perfectly matched telepaths was something else. I don’t want to call it startlingly original, but their ability did come as something as a surprise to me. Centauri culture seems to be built along the lines of medieval feudalism, but this veiled group of women evoked a very Far Eastern vibe. But just when you think the Emperor has surrounded himself with some young lovelies in purdah, you find out that they are performing this amazing service for him. I am horrified, of course, to think of how those women have been completely denied a life of their own, and have no will or voice of their own, and are totally under the control of the men and the politicians who have placed them in that role, but it was way cool to learn that they communicate with each other from so far away. I suppose it’s worse than what the PsiCorps does to people who manifest psychic powers, because those psychics are at least acknowledged as individuals and given some autonomy over their own lives, but it’s really a matter of scale and not of principle. I also don’t know if those women would be happier in some kind of sexual servitude to the emperor, either. At least they’d be acknowledged as people and partners (to some degree) instead of cogs in a machine. Regardless, revealing that the Emperor was traveling with what amounts to a very large and hungry Blackberry and not some party to go made me appreciate his character more at the end. It’s a shame about the veils, but I suppose that does become a matter of function rather than control. If these women can transmit everything they see and hear, the veils probably act as a filter. I like to think that they won’t be honor killed if a man glimpsed their hair or faces. I also like to think that they’ll be allowed to retire a la Minority Report if one of them dies or loses her ability or something. I know they come as a set and they can’t be replaced within the group, but I hate to think of them being harmed when they lose a member. I guess in medieval feudalism they’d go to a convent. Based on what I’ve pieced together about women from Centauri, I guess that wouldn’t be so bad…

Londo.
If I hadn’t already read a long time ago by accident that Londo would turn into an “uber-villain” I might still have hope that he could come back from this episode, but his fate has pretty much been sealed for me. I would like to remind you folks that in my post for “The Geometry of Shadows” I warned everyone that the skinny man in black robes was up to no good. Lord Refa, I’m onto you.

(And now that I go back to look up that post so I can link to it, I see that “Shadows” has been a key part of the title. I am expecting a future episode named “The ____ of Shadows,” and will pay attention to the themes in it against this decision.)

I also applauded Vir for being the voice of courage and reason, if not exactly goodness. He remains so. I like to think of him as much nicer than Londo, with fewer ambitions and a firmer conscience even if the glamour of the whole ambassador thing affects him a little. He goes along with Londo’s games to a large degree (because when Londo advances, he advances), but he knows that genocide is bad. And not just because it’s bad morally–he anticipates the galactic consequences of such an aggressive, hostile act and takes them seriously. He doesn’t know what they will be, and he probably couldn’t predict any specifics, but he is not blinded by racial pride and power-hunger to the point that he thinks the Centauri can get away with it in the long term. I suppose Vir represents the voice of Joe Centauri, with little to personally gain and much to lose, and Londo is the man who can risk everything in hopes of great rewards. I am not surprised at all that Vir spoke up to Londo, but I was somewhat disappointed that he made no protest larger than a verbal “you’ll regret this someday.” I have a feeling that we’re not done with him. He protests, but then does Londo’s dirty work without a fight. Still, he knows this is wrong. At some point, he’ll go down with Londo–morally and in actuality–if he stays in alliance with Londo. I am still fully expecting him to hit his breaking point and walk away. I hope he walks away soon enough to escape more than damnation, if not soon enough to be redeemed. That is, I’d like him to act against Londo and be redeemed, but I don’t know if he will.

Londo’s actions don’t surprise me. What surprises me is that he is absolutely convinced he has to do this thing against the Narn while absolutely being convinced that it is wrong. He doesn’t want to be Emperor, and he is having nightmares, so I wonder what he hopes to gain or thinks will happen by participating in this plot? I don’t get the impression that he personally hates or even thinks about the Narn as people; he is certainly jovial enough with G’Kar when they are together. Maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention to the show, but Londo’s behaviors hint at some deeper motivation than restoring the good name of his people or respecting and restoring Centauri tradition. He is not a man who has shown a great deal of respect for Centauri tradition to this point. There’s got to be some personal demon he hopes to kill or some personal slight he hopes to revenge behind this. Perhaps he’s mad at Lord Refa and cares more about this personal matter than the big picture. Totally selfish and tunnel-visioned I already see.

And I am allowing myself to believe that this episode proves the Centauri–as I predicted–have formed an unholy alliance with the creatures at the border, the ones foretold in G’Kar’s holy book and the ones spotted by that ship in hyperspace. They have short-term gains in mind and the arrogance to believe they can control this unknown force. They’ll be the ones opening the back door on the galactic peoples to let the evil in, without thinking about how that will hurt them, too. What will be interesting to find out is if everyone turns against the Centauri, if everyone takes pity and rescues the Centauri, or if it’s the Centauri that will be driven to the brink of (or beyond) extinction, in kind of a cosmic justice. Of course we’ll see the Narn act with grace when it comes down to it. The pastoral people always have an ancient and natural wisdom that achieves glory and teaches the city people about the true spirit of living. It’s country mouse and city mouse to the tenth power, with space ships.

And so we get to G’Kar.

Now his character never fails to surprise me. I haven’t seen him as just a Narn in a long time; he has been firmly established as a character for me, in a way that none of the other aliens (save Vir, maybe) have yet to become. When he felt so strongly about the Emperor’s visit that he vowed to take him out, it hurt to watch. He didn’t want to have to be the one to kill the Emperor, but it was necessary in his mind and he preferred the oblivion of death, the shame of imprisonment, and the possible agony of failure over the comfort of passivity. When he stands there and announces that the whole of his life will resolve in one of three ways, you have to admire his courage. I honestly thought we’d see something bad happen to G’Kar worse than facing this choice, that is). I was floored when the Emperor had a heart attack (or the Centauri equivalent) before G’Kar could get to him. I went into shock. He went into shock. I was so grateful that G’Kar was spared that awful destiny. Whether he had killed the Emperor or not, he would have triggered another attack from the Centauri and his people would have cursed his name forever. He was acting in their name, but since clearly the Centauri (or some of them) has this attack planned, he would have turned into a scapegoat. The second war would have been spun around G’Kar’s name. Now–thank god!–the Narn still have the moral high ground. How tragic would that have been?

Even though of course everyone watching the show knew that something bad was coming, it was exhilarating to learn that the Emperor came to apologize, that G’Kar was spared the awfulness of being an assassin, and his happiness that he lived to see a new day of intergalactic relations. He was ready to leave the unhappiness of the old G’Kar and the old Narn tragedies behind. Kudos to Londo, if such things can be given to him, for not ruining the moment when G’Kar shared the drink. Londo is a Prick Extraordinaire, but he isn’t heartless. He respects G’Kar and the plight of his people even if–to put it crudely–he wouldn’t give two shits for it. Londo hopes no one takes it personally, of course.

I don’t know what I expect from subsequent episodes. I can’t see how anyone could allow Londo to remain on the station, although I am sure they will. I know they will. I suppose Londo will deny all knowledge, and the Centauri are being what everyone has decided will pass for cooperative, and the two percent of the survivors of the attack are being allowed to leave (I think that’s what’s happening; I can’t remember). G’Kar will manage to not kill Londo. I hope G’Kar’s feisty assistant comes back. I know she got sent on or left for some mission, but I miss her. What I am really waiting for, as is everyone else at the exact same point of the season as I am, is to learn what the dark, shadowy forces hiding in hyperspace and written about in holy books are going to be. But we’re not even halfway through the season yet! Something else is bound to develop, and I don’t even feel like guessing what that might be.

I think I have to go put calamine lotion on my back now. That’s part of the adventures with lavender I haven’t been writing about. I also decided that I am going to combine two gift certificates I got for a spa (it was literally years apart that I got these gift certificates) for a “Taste of Spa” experience that includes two hours of massage and lunch. I just have to figure out when I want to go. I think I want this rash to clear up first.

Japan Sinks

By Sakyo Komatsu

I have no idea where I got the idea to read this book. None. It’s Japanese sci-fi, in translation, from 1971. It’s not on any lists that I might have encountered, and I can’t think of what else I might have been reading reviews of that would have had someone mention this; people at Amazon often refer to other books that I fairly often investigate to some degree. But I went searching for this book, and requested it from Central Storage at the library. It was waiting for me. I don’t know how many registered patrons there are of our library system, but no one wanted it. Fate? Perhaps. Apathy? Perhaps. I read it in a few days but kept it for six whole weeks, and not once did anyone appear on any kind of wait list for it. It’s weird to think that of the millions of people who could have wanted to read it, I was the only one in the city who did. One could spin this circumstance in a variety of ways… I’ll stick with being a ridiculous dork. I already expressed my interest in plate tectonics in an earlier post. That’s probably why I went so far as to get and read this book.

The premise of the book is actually quite interesting: Geological processes are effecting a giant rift in the sea bed that topples the Japanese archipelago right into the chasms below. Everything is going to go. One lone scientist has predicted it. Who will listen? Is it even possible to evacuate everyone in time?

Nerds break!

You can’t really type and eat Nerds, and I can’t really have Nerds in the house and not eat them.

So this is a book I read in translation, and I’m not sure how that affected the book. It’s also 1971 science fiction, which is not like really like modern science fiction, in that the characters don’t have a lot of character. There are also no women in it, except for two, both of whom are brought into the story for the sole purpose of giving the main character someone to have sex with (not at the same time). Not having women in a novel really limits what the novel can do. The science actually wasn’t too bad. Now I’m no earth scientist, and I wouldn’t even call myself an educated fan (although I am a fan) but the phenomena described in the book–the ones that did all these horrible things–work for the story. They’ve got a high-tech deep submersible submarine, which is pretty cool. I forgot everyone’s names, sadly, but the two main guys are a skilled pilot of said sub and the Eccentric Scientist who makes the discovery. The two women end up having sex with Sub Pilot.

This is the first Japanese science fiction book I have read in a while, so I am not sure what uniquely Japanese science fiction conventions are at play that I am not recognizing. But basically no one believes the scientist until it is really too late to save everyone. That’s pretty common. In real life, I like to believe that with earthquakes killing people here and volcanoes killing millions of people there, at a frequency of about every couple of weeks, people would believe him and take action long before they do. More than the first half of the book is about the scientist gathering data and being frustrated and not being listened to, or being heard but no one in the government doing anything. The disaster stuff is horrifying at the edges, but you don’t see it up close until the very end.

By far this most interesting part of the book is the government’s confusion about what exactly they can do. The book is set in current times, and I have every reason to believe that it’s a pretty reasonable snapshot of Japan’s place in the world. The government really doesn’t know what to do. They are afraid to ask other nations to house their refugees. There is this striking several pages where officials are reporting on their discreet enquiries to Australia asking if it would be OK if five million or so people set up shop in the Outback if they promised not to be any trouble. The world is portrayed in the novel as generally hospitable and concerned, and countries step up with real estate and airplanes and ships to start evacuating, once the evacuation plans are in place, but it was so sad to see the Japanese characters worry about asking for help. No way would that happen in an American book. We get warning that this supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is going to blow in two years, we are announcing to all our friends and political relatives that we’ll be moving into their garages and that we’ll be bringing our pets. Japan has had a very unusual century, and it is even now struggling with balancing its past reputation with its present one. (I had some sense of this already but) Wikipedia tells me that the late 1960s were just when Japan was starting to pit itself against international manufacturing competition and finding success–and there were still plenty of former prisoners of war around that were still pissed off and talking. It’s never addressed outright in the book, but one gets the impression from the characters that the Japanese people don’t quite think they deserve humanitarian aide considering, well, you know.

The other noteworthy character dilemma is the struggle with what it will mean to the Japanese people and culture to establish a diaspora. Even though people are being relocated by the tens of thousands to the same places, it’s considered a death knell for the Japanese way of life. (Which it probably would be, although Jewish people have kept it up for a very good while now.) The government is by no means forbidding anyone to leave, and is actively negotiating with other countries for space, but it’s actually wondered aloud if it would be better for everyone to die and for the world to remember the great nation of Japan and its glorious history instead of letting it trickle away ingloriously. That is not anything you would see in an American book, at least not in a regular character. Maybe in an unintentional villain–maybe. TRITENESS ALERT: They say that a picture paints a thousand words, but that one sentence (I’d tell you which one but it’s gone back to the library already) captures just about everything there is to say about what makes this a Japanese book. /TRITE If I were more conscientious, I’d read it myself, or if I had a Japanese literature scholar friend I would ask, but I’m not and I don’t, so I’ll limit myself to wondering how this 1971 novel compares to a contemporary Japanese science fiction novel. I can’t personally think of any book I’ve read from any culture or era or genre that expresses that sense of futility and hopelessness and stubborn pride at the global level.

I overuse the word “interesting.” Sorry. But I am sick of thesaurusizing.

It’s interesting that the author shows so much of this mental and internal turmoil, especially when he shows a world that positively leaps to Japan’s aid when finally asked. The island disappears, but Sub Pilot survives, so it’s not even a particularly depressing book. It makes me think of Deep Impact, which I never saw. I have the impression that Deep Impact is very depressing. This book, though, is more of a disaster romp and political crisis than swan song. I will confess that I started flipping through pages towards the very end. One gets the point once all the decisions are made. Yep. Japan sinks way far down. Eccentric Scientist was right.

A few years ago they made a disaster movie out of the novel, with all the requisites of a made-for-cable-television production: Nihon Chinbotsu

Watching this trailer reminds me of that supervolcano movie that was on the Discovery Channel a few years back–the one that had an unusual amount of British actors and characters in it for a disaster set in the great plains of North America. They’ve obviously beefed up the role of women, by actually putting some in the film, although the main female seems to be cast in a nurturing and sacrificing role. I do like that graphic at the end of Japan seen from space, sinking below the waves. Poor Japan! This version appears to be one of those over-special-effected remakes of disaster movies from the 1970s, but with a power ballad a la Celene Dion in the Titanic. It’s compared unfavorably to the original 1973 version, which nonetheless has a worse review. One reviewer complains that no one in the film seems to feel like there’s any hurry, but that comes straight out of the book. Cataclysm movies are what they are. I don’t think I am going to seek it out. You’ve seen one bad disaster movie based on implausible science, you’ve seen them all. Some building fall down and waves rise up. People are crushed and drowned respectively. Old men meet terrible ends with dignity and courage. Beautiful young girls have superficial injuries, like breaking their wrists. Paper houses catch fire. Guilder, of course, is blamed for it all.

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 4: A Distant Star

Oh, dear. The black guy we never saw before this episode gets killed, and the other black guy we’ve never seen before is just another cagey smuggler happy to bend the rules for personal profit. It’s a good thing that I was in college learning about the glorification of White Male Privilege and its pernicious grasp on popular culture instead of actually having to watch it on TV or my brain might have exploded. Thank goodness our dorms didn’t have cable TV or Internet access. It was hard enough to be exposed to the damaging assumptions about masculinity and femininity that were present in books. And it doesn’t help that what sticks out most in my mind is this recipe for Bagna Cauda that Garibaldi makes and that I very badly want to try. Only four things are holding me back:

1. It’s still summertime.
2. It’s fattening.
3. I don’t, as a rule, like anchovies.
4. I need an occasion. Labor Day wasn’t it.

So onto the episode!

I’ll get the formulaic plot elements out of the way right away: Yeah, yeah, Sheridan’s friend comes from exotic locales afar and Sheridan starts to chafe under the tedium of routine. He questions his motivations aloud, lashes out at innocent people close to him, is told that adventure will find him (which it does), solves a terrible crisis with minimal loss of life and great gain, discovers a new enthusiasm for his desk job, and manages to tidy his desk. Did you really not see that coming? That’s my big complaint. I forget sometimes just how much better TV is now in general than it was ten years ago, and how much skill audiences have learned about reading television’s visual cues and relying on genre expectations. Ten years ago this was probably still a cliche, but it was certainly a novel setting for it. And it’s not like cliches are bad or uninteresting; the literature of the ages recycles plots in order to show off characters, and I think this has shown us some things about Sheridan that we didn’t know yet. Although I have now forgotten the Egyptian blessing twice (something about gods standing between you and bad things), it was touching, and it was interesting to hear him quote something so poetic. True, he didn’t necessarily read it for himself, but he has carried it with him. That’s twice now he has invoked religious sentiment (the other time I remember was when he was talking with Elric the Technomage). It’s interesting to see a religious sentiment in a science fiction story, especially with alien races contributing to the discussion, and in conversations between captains and staff. I wonder if there’s going to be some faith plot arc, in either a mystery-verified or crisis-of scenario.

Another telling detail shown to us about Sheridan is that he passionately endorses a far-out rescue mission basically to save his friend and his confidence in his dreams that puts the lives of his pilots in serious danger and actually kills one. I don’t know what kind of pre-pep talk happened, but I really got the impression that this was not a volunteer mission, and that Sheridan really should not have required anyone to risk his or her life on a hare-brained scheme. He was lucky that it only killed one person (and a person who should have been expecting it–see above). I can’t help but compare Sheridan to Admiral Adama, who never would have made the rescue attempt mandatory and who would have gotten 100 percent commitment anyway. If I work really hard I can come up with a justification for it involving scientific discovery and the possibility of defense against an unknown enemy, but mostly I think it’s an oversight. Either Sheridan is selfish and playing games with the lives of his crew or the writers and producers didn’t think about it or the scene was cut for time and it was edited out. And we did get some spectacular and thrilling shots of the Explorer Class Cortez, complete with theatrical and inspiring music. That ship was magnificent, and it was as exciting to see arrive as Sheridan had promised it would be.

So onto Ivanova. I have learned some things that I did not particularly care to learn, because I was mucking around a discussion board I knew I had no business mucking around. Oh well. So I am pretending that I never learned it, and am going to stubbornly point out all the silly wink-wink-nudge-nudge-elbow-leaning that goes on between Ivanova and Garibaldi in this episode. All of you wiser and more experienced viewers may be laughing right now at my naivete and looking forward to the day when I find out just how fully the joke’s been on me, but Ivanova and Garibaldi have been and are still flirting with each other and that’s that. I am not crazy for seeing it and I am not totally cherry-picking details to fit my theory. But I will expand my theory a little… Ivanova, Garibaldi, and Sheridan really are alone on this station. It is unreasonable to expect them not to find companionship in each other and it is inappropriate for them to be chumming it up with their subordinates and residents. Perhaps there aren’t casual three-ways happening off camera just to get it out of their systems, but this group of three is the entire audience with whom they can flirt and play sexy games without undermining their authority. Sinclair had a fiancee unrelated to the business of the station; Sheridan is a widower with still-vivid scars. But it would be harsh to expect Garibaldi and Ivanova not to enjoy some of life’s smaller pleasures with their equals.

Besides, although I’ve heard what I’ve heard, I’ve also read that it is implied and not definitive. I hope I can mount a vigorous rebuttal and save face without stretching reasonable explanations too far. Curse you, Interwebs! For revealing information to me in places I sought out!

I am at a crossroads: If I don’t quickly wrap this up right now I’ll end up dragging it out all day or week. So I guess all that is left are my…

Random Thoughts: There is a disproportionate number of “9s” in television and movies, mostly because saying “niner-niner” sounds so cool. Much cooler than saying four-niner-eight or seven-two-two. Speaking of numbers… why are there so many frikkin blue pasta spoons in Sheridan’s quarters? Were those all purchased off his wedding registry from a store not to careful about updating the list? It is refreshing, however outdated, to hear a TV doctor tell a TV patient that she needs to gain weight without resorting to a very special episode about eating disorders or cancer (even though I don’t think the actress looks particularly skinny or scrawny in the show). Delenn totally distracted the doctor from his line of questions about how the other Minbari were accepting her transformation; she absolutely knew what Bagna Cauda was and why the shipment was secret and wanted to avoid admitting her own fears and problems even though it meant causing problems for someone else. Speaking of which, it is always good to see that an entire race of beings is not portrayed as a monolithic thought. There is the Minbari Priest caste and the Minbari Warrior caste, but even within them there are different opinions and goals. This episode portrayed the incredible controversy that must be brewing over Delenn, the humans, the missing Minbari souls, and racial identity in an efficient and believable way. The reference to Carl Sagan and Star Stuff was just lovely. The completely coincidental non-reference to “Universe Today” was just a crack up. Simple things like that make me happy.

And now I am officially redorkulated.

War of the Worlds–Tom Cruise Version

Movie Night! We’ve have War of the Worlds from the library for a whole week now, but I renewed it online and we finally sat down to watch it in our living room that currently has two couches and two armchairs. It’s like our own little movie theater, if movie theaters had fuzzy pictures and the stench of brandy. Husband is drinking brandy for reasons I do not understand. It is cheap brandy we only have on hand from some egg nog recipe Christmases ago. We had cheap beer in the fridge, and I don’t understand why he isn’t drinking that, unless it’s gone. Let the record show that I did not purchase the cheap beer, although I drank some yesterday and today and remember why I make such a pretense about fancier beers. I’m not going to say that Foster’s is Australian for piss or anything, but it’s not very good. It doesn’t even get you drunk. Not that I wanted to get drunk, but last night I could have used a bit of a buzz. Today I just went through hundreds of baby clothes I have no real recollection of acquiring. Mother took them out of the house and to a donation place before I let them sit in bags on my floor where my entourage could redistribute them instead of telephoning a place to come get them.

You know, as crazy as Tom Cruise has been portrayed lately (be it fairly or unfairly–you decide!), I really don’t mind him in movies. Some actors say something stupid in an award acceptance speech and I hate them forever. Some actors play a character I hate, and are tainted in my mind forever. But Tom Cruise did a good enough job in a movie that wasn’t as good as the book and that just didn’t make any sense. Like, I’m not worried about the blatant character developments or the weird ending that I thought was a dream sequence and thought was a dream sequence until BAM! Credits rolled. I’m not complaining about the fuzzy lapse of time or the implausibility of aliens and humans being four feet away from each other in a basement and the aliens not seeing the humans. (Dude. Chill. This isn’t a spoiler. It is just like in the book, which was written more than a century ago. By the way, Soylent Green is people.) That’s special effects drama for the sake of drama, and I have tolerated worse for lesser movies. This isn’t me bitching about the bad science or inconsistencies that someone as ill-educated as I can recognize (like the EMP stuff and that digital video camera that mysteriously worked) or colorful characters brought in for one scene to impart information rather than making the narrative or setting do the work. It just doesn’t make any sense why the aliens were here in the first place and what they really hoped to accomplish.

And not just any people...

And not just any people... Sockless people.

The special features included some promo piece about designing and CGIing the aliens and had interviews with all the key people. Someone that might have been Spielberg but upon further reflection I think was someone else (it did not have my complete attention) practically boasted that they didn’t spend a lot of time explaining how and why the aliens are on Planet Earth and that they really cared a lot more about how their legs moved. There was some faulty science in there, too, but I think that they maybe should have done a little more thinking about how and why the aliens were on the planet.

So we’ve got these beings that Morgan Freeman promises are of a greater intellect than our own, who live very, very far away. They come to our planet and plant these giant machines underground. So far underground, in fact, that not a single one is ever discovered in exploratory oil drilling or geologic core samples to investigate antropogenic global warming. OK. They’re very, very far down. But they’re just machines, right? They have to be controlled by organic beings that beam down inside lighting. But why are they here? To colonize the planet? They are killing people for a reason, although not other mammals, and it can’t be to drink them. How did they know humans would evolve? Why not just take over the planet in the first place? Occupy this desirable ecology before anyone else claims it. That way, you spare yourself the trip. I’m pretty certain that a million years ago the planet was just as inhabitable as it is now.

Furthermore, just how many different kinds of aliens are there? The creatures poking around the basement are more or less human sized, but the arm that unfolds out of the machine that goes down in Boston is much, much longer than any limb on the creatures we saw. And they’ve got all these viney attachments for picking up single humans and putting them in baskets. I guess they are collecting people to feed the machines they are traveling in? So are the machines semi-organic or cyborgs? Were they alive for a million years underground not eating humans and mammals? Did the little occupying aliens trigger some spore in the machine that made all this organic stuff grow? If so, it grew really fast. Really fast–like in an hour. And were the baskets made underground or after they figured out what size people were now? If the machines were so big, was picking up humans one by one the best way to go? If humans are so small compared to the cyborg tripod things, and you need so many to sustain the machine, why vaporize so many? And what is so special about cotton fabrics that skin, muscle, and bone atomize but clothes just float down? How come the tripod things weren’t immune to the microbes after living on the planet for so long? And what was all that orange crap that flooded out of the tripod machine? Even the larger version of the organic creatures could not have vomited that much. If they were just sadistic freak parasites roaming the universe sucking planets dry and then moving on to the next one, why not take care of it the first time you arrive instead of investing all this time and money in these elaborate machines on a planet and hoping nothing happens by the time you get there. And is this seriously the first trial run? You weren’t expecting microbes? Are all other planets that support intelligent life to drink the blood of sterile?

I wasn’t expecting Tim Robbins. I wasn’t expecting all the plate glass windows in Boston to be intact. But the guy with the dark hair who took the minivan away from Tom Cruise looked awfully familiar. I couldn’t find him in the credits and I can’t quite name who I thought at first that he must have been but I have the face in my mind. The closest I can get in the credits is “Man Fighting Ray–At Car.” Oh well. I hate to cruise the IMDb boards but I may have to. This could bug me for a while, and when I am bugged for a while I don’t get any work for money done.

And I’ve got work, believe you me. And I need some money. And I have plenty already to distract me.

Remember: It’s people. And the boat sinks, and the boy shoots the dog, and she goes home to Tara. But long story short is to just read the book in the first place and you won’t have to worry about what you read here.

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 3: The Geometry of Shadows

I really liked this episode. I missed that G’Kar wasn’t in it, because I’m all into his character after the last episodes revelations about him, but I thought there was a very good balance of wrapping up old story lines (like Garibaldi), advancing new ones (like toppling empires and malevolent presences), and character development (like Ivanova’s promotion and Sheridan’s temper). Plus the Drazi stuff with the sashes was just funny. It really was.

I’ll start with Garibaldi, because he opens the show and because it’s a straightforward conclusion to the season one cliffhanger. He gets better–fully, apparently–and resumes his post. There’s the nagging doubt and embarrassment and perhaps touch of fear that serves as suspense before he dons his uniform again, but then there’s a flash of insight and a great show of experience and competence that saves the day. Of course, that he comes to the aid of Ivanova fuels my little fantasy that they are being set up for each other. The actor also suddenly looks much thinner than he had. True, in the show he’s been in a coma for a while, but there’s also a television habit of sprucing everyone up second season. Delenn with that hair, Ivanova ditching her braid, Londo getting a personal stylist… the colors have seemed toned down, too, and in this episode I was struck suddenly by the opulence of Londo’s suite. I think the set has been overhauled. Of course, it’s timed perfectly with a new captain, kind of like how all the First Ladies get to redecorate the White House.

Ivanova’s promotion was well-deserved, and her bumbling around with unreasonable people was hilarious, especially with their stubby English, but it was mostly comic relief. We did get one important reveal about her character, though: She is not successful when she denies her own impulses and acts as she thinks others would do. It wasn’t until she caved into her temper and just grabbed the damn sash from the leader and took over their faction that she solved the problem. Garibaldi saved the day following such an impulse. If Garibaldi and Ivanova only ever become a professional alliance because they have the same style, that will still enhance Sheridan’s prestige as an innovative diplomat with a style all his own. I’ll stop predicting romance now. I don’t particularly want Ivanova and Garibaldi to end up together, but coupling off characters is sort of a cliche and it sort of happens in most shows. I just want the world to know that I saw it coming if it happens. And if it doesn’t, I’ll applaud the producers of the show for breaking with tradition.

Now, at the surface, the Londo storyline isn’t particularly insidious. If the Centauri are running a monarchy or empire or something that needs a strong leader to hold together, then it’s not immediately villainous to plot to take over power when the leader dies. It could certainly be interpreted that way, and the presence of a skinny man with an accent dressed in dark clothes broaching the idea to Londo reinforces it, plus the fact that Londo is complicit in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands (whether or not you agree that he’s blame-able). It does seem shady, and it’s obviously a dangerous idea to discuss aloud. Still, succession is spotty and a good case could be made for stepping in to prevent the toppling of a government structure, especially if you are trying to preserve a culture. The whole scene with Lord Refa actually reminded me of the part in Shogun where Toranaga and Blackthorne are discussing the mitigating circumstances that make rebellion against a liege lord acceptable: If you win. Londo is right that the winners will write the history. And he has shown himself to be a master politician. On paper he could be the very person to lead the Centauri to new and glorious heights.

That said… he lacks mad intrigue skillz. He can persuade and lead, but he cannot plot. He is either naive or unimaginative, but he is pretty easy to manipulate. Perhaps he believes in the inherent good of people (the demonized, faceless collection of Narn being the exception). His dancing girl certainly worked him over, though, as did Winnie Cooper and her boyfriend, and the guy that took him through the hedge maze and masterminded the genocide, and the technomage–twice. I’m not saying that I think Londo covets power for its own sake, although I think he appreciates and desires the material trappings of power. I do think he believes that he would make a good leader of the people and that he acknowledges the unsavory underhandedness in which he would have to engage to achieve that position. What he cannot see at all is how easily he can be played. He’s just not as smart as he thinks he is–if he even analyzes it, which I don’t think he does at all. He is not really self-reflective and he isn’t even lying to himself about his chances. He’s just oblivious. Even if he overthrows the dynasty, he’ll only ever be a puppet. He can’t even disentangle himself from this Warren Keffer business. Granted, he’s not trying very hard–even though the threat has been made aloud to him about extincting the Narn for once and for all, and even though Londo heard and reacted to it.

I wonder, suddenly, just what’s going on in Vir’s head. He plays kinda dumb and obsequious to Londo and he does his hair and his bidding, and he’s got one of those round faces that is supposed to indicate that he is innocent and trustworthy, but the mere fact that it was stated aloud by Londo to Lord Refa that “he can be trusted” seems like he cannot be. Of course, the real question is trusted by who? If Londo is entangled in a genocide and has stooped so low as to place a clumsy bug in the captain’s room (wouldn’t that bug have been spotted the minute Sheridan went to load the dishwasher?), and if he’s plotting to take over his government, if Vir betrays him does that make Vir untrustworthy or trustworthy? Vir did put on a good show of quaking and trembling in front of the technomage dragon, but he stood there long enough to get Elric’s attention and to pass along a coherent message. Plus he’s getting opening credits billing with a close-up now, too. He definitely represents the ordinary Centauri viewpoint. They can’t be a monolithic mass of Narn-hating Narn Haters. And who better to blow Londo’s insidious plans sky-high than a peon from the inside?

This man wants to save your people.

This man wants to save your people.

Elric the Technomage was more plot than character, I think. He was obviously a stand-in for a mythology, a race, a prophecy, a skill set, a conflict (between Sheridan and Londo) and a mystery. It’s good to have independent corroboration of G’Kar’s fears, and I found the conversation about advanced technologies being indistinguishable from magic intriguing, if underdeveloped. It seemed out of place to have Sheridan invoking the Wonder of God, but then you could say that Elric undermines the concept of a deity by almost claiming the position for himself and his brothers. The word “brothers” also makes me wonder if this is a league or a race of people fully committed to sexist language. No women? Are they eternal and in the shape of men for the advantage it gives them right now in a patriarchal television society?

But for all that Elric is just a plot device, he’s a great one. I’ll have to look up the symbolism of oranges later, but a great show was made about orange juice and its pulp early in the episode with a great show made about the magic orange blossom at the end. Just by saying that Sheridan should not inquire where they are going turns their destination into a place of supreme interest and importance. And you know that he only accepted Londo’s “hands of friendship” for the chance to engage in extended physical contact in order to do something. The prophecy he made about millions of people calling out Londo’s name was chilling, but I don’t know if that’s what Elric got from the arm holding or if he’s gleaned/enacted something else that will show up later. Maybe it was just a chance to distract Londo long enough to look for the recording device and blow it up. But if they can see such things and know such things and gather only to flee a place for good, I totally understand why you wouldn’t consider it lucky to see more than one at a time. I assume, too, that a prophecy made in a show like this will have to come true. The interpretation, however… that’s the real fun of drama and literature. Interpretation! Will Londo be a hero? A villain? Or will the writers surprise us with an unexpected, amazing third option? And what exactly does he mean when he says that the technomages are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers? I feel some fabric of the universe coming on. We’ve also got four things to watch for in future episodes.

So I sneaked a peek at IMDb to look up a name and saw that people consider this episode sort of filler. The Drazi stuff was the least significant, but it did give us information about Ivanova and the rest of it added to specific plot lines and introduced new developments. Like I said, I really liked it. And I hope we’ve all learned that we must never, ever trust skinny men in black.

Unless they show up wearing masks, of course. In that case, we should marry them.

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 2: Revelations

So here I am, another episode of B5 wiser, wondering how to respond to it. I have only seen it once, and that a few days ago, yet I dare analyze it, hoping that my memory is good, the other comments about this episode online are rare, and that the fans keeping me honest are in a tolerant mood.

I’ll start with the aliens this time, Delenn being my favorite (mostly for the hair). I was really starting to get nervous about how close to her cocoon Lennier was putting all those oil lamps, especially considering that he kept walking away from it for long periods of time. I get that they showed reverence to someone who has given up part of herself for the benefit of her people, and I get that he couldn’t maintain a constant vigil having her duties and his own to fulfill, and I assume that each suite on the space station is firewalled (in the literal sense), so the danger to others is minimal. But I’ve seen videos of butterflies busting out of cocoons and it’s a pretty violent act that takes up a lot of space. Had Delenn come bursting out of her shell like this little guy…

…she would have been in a world of hurt. Fortunately, she was able to discreetly crack open her shell like Dana and Lewis in Ghostbusters and crawl into a heavy, gray hooded cloak that Lennier had left lying around (unless she went and got it out of the closet before returning to the floor to huddle) and did not get burned or tip over any lamps.

I admit, the suspense of what was going to happen to Delenn and the nagging question of whether or not she would ever grow beautiful hair or if she was going to be crusty for the rest of the series was undermined by her rosy-skinned glory in the opening credits from the very first episode. It’s nice that she transformed into some Human/Minbari hybrid as a show of good faith for Captain Sinclair coming to live on her planet; it makes me wonder if he is going to be similarly transformed the next time we see him (and I’m sure we’re going to have to see him, what with the time travel stuff and this genetic or spiritual connection between the races that exists). He has part of a Minbari soul, after all.

The G’Kar trip to the edges of space, or galaxy, or sector (I forget which) to discover a dark planet waking up was definitely the most interesting part of the show, and should prove to be a major plot development that carries across seasons in a way. In the first place, the reawakening of malevolence is always a good tale, as is the story of ancient legends and documents that depict current events (like in Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a ton of books that I have recently read). It is an interesting conflict to see if two enemies can unite in the face of a third, more powerful force, as well as if the individual representatives of two races can overcome their personal egos and hangups in order to tackle larger problems. This is the first episode in which I’ve really seen G’Kar as a character and not an attitude or the “face of the Narn.” I found the character of Na’Toth many, many episodes ago, but he was just a stand-in. This time, though, seeing him on the ship investigating this anomaly, and interacting with the ship that knew it was doomed, and pleading with Londo back at B5… I am very interested in him, now. I think his story is my new favorite. Just the idea that ten years ago these people were mostly agrarian (if I am remembering right) and had to forcefully evolve their culture or die is amazing. These sorts of achievements change destinies–which makes it even more interesting that these prophecies and lore are coming true. (I begrudgingly acknowledge a tiny bit of the cliche about people who live “natural” lives in “harmony” with the universe are the keepers of ancient truths and wisdoms, but I qualify it by saying that’s such a generic cliche so loosely applied that it’s probably a coincidence and not an artifact of some technological bias on Straczynski’s part.)

I liked how the psychic saw the face of the villain in a mirror in Garibaldi’s memory. I absolutely knew the minute the new president asked for the villain that he was in on it–and why oh why did they send the original documents without making copies? Wouldn’t they need to keep their own records of incidents that had happened on the ship? I liked Londo’s fear and compliance–he’s impulsive and kind of stuck on himself (which is why he agreed to shady dealings) but he will play along rather than have the extinction of the Narn on his conscience… that’s going to be major. I thought Kosh’s appearance added little to the episode, but we do need reminding that he’s around. I’m sure he’s going to play a greater role eventually but for an ambassador with the status and responsibilities of the other ambassadors, he seems to do jack. You don’t have to build episodes around him if you want to preserve his mystery, but he really should be better integrated into the drama than he is. I found his presence kind of startling, actually, which makes me wonder if he was trotted out in the same episode that this malevolent planet thing started because he’s connected somehow. That way, viewers rewatching the series (surely even in the 1990s producers were thinking ahead to video cassette box sets) and armed with knowledge about future events would find significance in him walking out of the conference room.

My biggest complaint this episode is Sheridan’s storyline. It was all exposition for the sake of revealing plot. Important stuff, sure, but hard to finagle gracefully. It was a lot of talking in a way that real people wouldn’t be talking. I mean, his wife died two years ago and he and his sister would have hashed out most of these feelings one way or the other and would not be stating them so clinically and clearly over dinner. (Side note: Why did they give that actress chopsticks? She obviously cannot use them and couldn’t even hold them properly; it was distracting. Surely they have forks.) Yeah, yeah, I know the writers threw in the line about how they hadn’t seen each other for a while, but I didn’t buy it. Regardless, here is a list of important things we needed to learn somehow:

1. There is an archaeological site out there so dangerous to someone that people had to be killed for it.
2. Sheridan is the kind of captain who will put himself at risk for his crew, even when he hasn’t met some of them (and nice callback to the alien technology that sucks your energy to make sick people better!).
3. Sheridan is a widow who was a loving husband and is available as a single gentleman character to make a deserving woman happy.

I’m positive that Dr. Chang, the archaeologist whose ship exploded, is going to tie into G’Kar’s malevolent planet and historical documents. I went searching online to see if he was the same archaeologist in that episode in which that guy caught some virus that turned him into a weapon, but he wasn’t. I was tickled, though, to find this comprehensive fan site. It looks very old and not new at all, but it’s awesome: The Lurker’s Guide to Babylon 5

We were talking about the Internet the other night at dinner, trying to remember when it first became ordinary. I remember being wowed by modems in Wargames, but by Weird Science modems were specialized equipment that some regular people had. By Sneakers everyone knew about hacking to the point where you didn’t really have to explain what it was. My first experience with the Internet was in college, on those old Unix machines with green and amber displays, sending email and IRC chat and finding lists of users online at other universities. It wasn’t until I was at teacher school in 1996 that I ever really pointed and clicked anything, and Netscape confused me. I especially didn’t understand what revealing a page’s source code could show me.

Despite its age, this Lurker’s Guide is exactly what a fan site should be. I am so impressed with its layout. I don’t want to call it a forerunner to all fan sites that have come since (because I don’t really frequent fan site), but I think we should all give shouts out to Steven Grimm, who hosts the page.

W00t, Steven Grimm. You are a 733t website hoster. I salute you and your Lurker’s Guide and the other items in your Cavalcade of Whimsy.

())-| (turn 90 degrees clockwise and raise it to the sky)