Babylon 5 #47: Convictions

"These are chaotic times, captain! I'm simply an instrument of my time."
IN THIS ONE... A mad bomber puts the station in jeopardy.

REVIEW: Though this isn't director Michael Vejar's first episode, he really steps up his game in Convications. Shot begin at strange angles and behind objects, the camera searching for the action much as the crew searches for the bomber, and there's a lot of immediacy thanks to dynamic hand-held work. The episode has a slick, modern look I quite appreciate. The twist is that the bomber isn't a Centauri or Narn terrorist, but a disturbed human being, and while Patrick Kilpatrick's scenery-chewing performance as Carlson is textured and terrifying - he's a Batman villain - I'm a little disappointed no link is ever made (rightly or wrongly) to the bomb that almost killed Sheridan only weeks before. Without ties to the greater story arc - except thematically, as I'll accept Carlson is a symptom of a diseased Earth society - Convictions feels like a a stand-alone throwback to an earlier season. Still strong and dramatic - the sparking explosions and the people affected by them, Sheridan going in alone as negotiator, outer space action with CG astronauts... it works. But Convictions might have wrung a little more irony out of its premise if Londo and G'Kar had been hurt by their own people.

Because Londo and G'Kar trapped in the same damaged elevator? Priceless. The latter laughing hysterically at the situation because it means he gets to watch Londo die without having to kill him (which by the terms of the Narn surrender would put 100 Narn to the sword) is one of the high points of the episode. G'Kar realizes he would rather see Londo dead than survive himself, and their rescue is actually painful to him. Wonderful stuff, and it's too bad there isn't more of it. These guys are, as ever, living in a perpetual gray moral zone. We feel for G'Kar, but have just spent some time with Londo sitting at a comatose Lennier's bedside, entertaining him with bad jokes as thanks for saving his life almost at the cost of his own. There's a kindness to Londo, but like most of us, perhaps, he doesn't extend it to everyone. Of course, Lennier is ambivalent about saving Londo's life. As a Minbari and one of the army of light, he believes every life is sacred, but worries the person whose life he extended will cost many more.

Given the intense nature of the episode's (connected) A and B plots, the C stories are light, though one of them connects to the greater arc. Since Kosh showed himself as various divine beings, pilgrims have been coming to the station. It's become a holy site. That's an interesting and logical notion. One of these groups is human and apparently quite good at going through video footage looking for possible terrorists. What other odd jobs are these guys going to get before the end? Are we seeing a change in the station's population, where you can come and make a life there without it being an assignment? This universe does seem to need an island of neutrality these days. And then there's the disposable scene with the obnoxious man talking Lennier's ear off, in which JMS forgets that irritating characters irritate the audience just as well as those around them in the story. Because it's a comedy scene, it makes the bombing at the end of it more surprising and shocking, but it's not FUNNY. So I was shocked and surprised out of my boredom. Not the intended effect, I would surmise.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The direction has some flair, and the performances are uniformly excellent except for the day players', but its stand-alone story isn't quite in keeping where the series is going.


LiamKav said...

Apparently JMS wanted the Londo/G'Kar elevator bits to occur incomplete darkness, and was upset when the network wouldn't allow it. Whick, frankly, shows him to be incredibly naive.

Anonymous said...

As I've commented before, sometimes that roiling mass of evil known as "The Network" knows what it's talking about.

Can you imagine if JMS were to write comics? Why, he'd probably do a story where Superman decided to walk across the country (acting like a bully and making only the most superficial commentary on events at every stop), and JMS would probably walk away from the whole mess after five issues or so. Fortunately, editors play the same role as "The Network", which is to rein in writers.

Ryan Lohner said...

JMS actually calls himself out in the script volumes for doing such a standalone story right as he went into the season where that would supposedly not be possible. The way he justified it to himself was that the episode wasn't about the bomber himself, but the effect his actions had on the characters.

I've never heard the darkness story, but there's another great story attached to the scene. As written, G'Kar simply laid out his reasons for refusing to help in a very calm, zen manner. Then while walking around the set he was surprised to hear hysterical laughter, and headed over to find the scene being shot, where Andreas Katsulas sheepishly explained he thought G'Kar might actually find the situation the funniest thing ever. JMS asked them to do it again, and was crying with laughter by the end. He still considers it the show's funniest scene.

Originally Lennier would have simply saved a random Centauri woman, but then JMS decided it would have more impact if it was main character Londo. Though this does mean that a supposedly random bombing campaign managed to get Londo twice. However, he never received a single complaint about this, so he figures it's one of those things you don't notice until it's pointed out to you. You're welcome. Also, the obnoxious guy was written for Harlan Ellison, but he was out of town at the time, so the show's director of photography John Flinn stepped in for his second cameo after the guy suing the descendant of the aliens who kidnapped his ancestor.

LiamKav said...

"I'm a little disappointed no link is ever made (rightly or wrongly) to the bomb that almost killed Sheridan only weeks before."

G'Kar makes exactly that link, and Garibaldi shoots it down.


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