"We have to make people lift their eyes back to the horizon, and see the line of ancestors behind us, saying, 'Make my life have meaning'. And to our inheritors before us, saying, 'Create the world we will live in'. I mean, we're not just holding jobs and having dinner. We are in the process of building the future. That's what Babylon 5 is all about. Only by making people understand that can we hope to create a better world for ourselves and our posterity."
REVIEW: It's rare for a space opera show to go out on a limb and do a novelty episode like this one, in the style of a news special. It's a fun idea for sure, so the DVD formatting issues are doubly annoying. See, if there's going to be text superimposed on the news footage or interviews, and there frequently are, the image will be zoomed in, and in the case of interviews, badly cut people at the forehead. It. Is. AWFUL. Lots of blurry images too, and a distracting tendency to pop in and out of zoom-in mode. So gross. Even if I try to ignore the technical bugs (after all, the broadcast version had no such problems), the ISN Special Presentation isn't flawless. I'd say the main issue is that it doesn't know if it's straight news, a parody, or a sly comment on how people act differently in front of the cameras. It does all three at different moments, but these should probably be mutually exclusive.
Looking at the straight elements first, there's the actual story of the episode, or what the episode would have been about even if ISN's star journalist hadn't been aboard. Essentially, the Narn-Centauri conflict has come to Babylon 5, with ships blowing the crap out of each other right outside. Sheridan's forced to take action, which could compromise Earth's position with either power, and there's immense loss of life. Not that you'd believe it watching that smirking anchor. The characters we know and love are "real" even if they are trying to sell their agenda - disingenuous Londo playing hurt fowl, G'Kar playing the sympathy card, Franklin's outrage and impatience, Sheridan's great speech to make people realize the politicians are selling them a load of crap - but the journalist (whether it's the fault of the actress, director or writer, or all three) has failed to make a crucial choice. Is she a biased propaganda monger? An honest newswoman getting at the/a truth? Or a tone-deaf sensationalist (who, among other things, attacks Delenn just to see if she can make her cry)? I can't tell. It keeps shifting.
Babylon 5 does love its whimsy. Apparently there was a lot of horsing around on set. A fun show to work on, etc. Maybe, but when you're telling a story about war, maybe you want to reign in the onscreen shenanigans, eh? I'm not saying the episode isn't amusing - it is - and I'm not saying I disliked it - I quite liked it - but taken as a whole, the humor doesn't sit easily side by side with the tragedy. What works best is character-driven humor, things like Ivanova intimidating one of her crew during an interview just by standing a ways behind him, or the journalist saying her name wrong and describing her as "perky". But when they make jokes about the WORLD, I'm not so sure. The odds of B5 failing put up on the screen, or the cheesy PsiCorps commercial (the subliminal message is amusing if unrealistic), or the senator fawning over the journalist in his interview, well, those are stepping over the line into parody. I might also add the mixed metaphors and catch phrases (there's a Julie Chen moment in there), but those aren't so much parody as they are exactly what news programs do. At least the interviews are used to give us a little more background on the characters and their worlds. Delenn's crystal cities and G'Kar's tragic story about his father are highlights.
Ultimately, despite the tonal problems, the episode works because of its raw emotion. The camera dares stay on people a little too long, or capture them when they don't think we're looking, which is ironic, because the normal episode doesn't have a camera there at all, yet feels more rehearsed. Each actor in the regular cast understands his or her character well enough to show the right level of comfort, discomfort, media savvy or lack thereof that character should have. The outer space scenes, caught from floating cams around B5, foreshadow Battlestar Galactica's documentary style. In general, though the journalist could have shown more nervousness to sell her moments (coming closest when she catches a glimpse of Kosh), it's a good attempt at capturing the situation's urgent immediacy. It just could have been a little more improvisational to make it believable.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A worthy experiment (which actually rates lower on DVD because of all the technical problems) even if it is tonally compromised. There are a lot of nice speeches and moments in there, whether I think the montage is actually credible.