Babylon 5 #108: Thirdspace

"Well, maybe it's a learning experience for you." "If it is, it's a hell of a painful one." "Ain't no other kind."
IN THIS ONE... An ancient Vorlon artifact opens a door to a universe ruled by genocidal aliens.

REVIEW: Broadcast in the summer separating the two parts of "The Fall of Centauri Prime", Thirdspace actually takes place some time during Season 4, in between the Shadow and Earth Wars. Continuity is actually a little fugly, but if you're willing to accept the station had this big thing happen to it which was never mentioned again, and the odd wrong uniform snafu, then the telefilm is a cool, if disposable, done-in-one story with gorgeous effects, a creature designed by praised SF artist Wayne Barlowe, and gives the audience a chance to see Ivanova again. The trouble with a story that takes place in the recent past is figuring out how to make it relevant without contradicting anything. There are two key revelations on this front. One is the Vorlons' big mistake - their Tower of Babel - in trying to enter another universe and almost unleashing the apocalypse on the prime universe. The "artifact" used to do so was lost in hyperspace and been found again, an interesting parallel to the Shadow technology now floating about and causing problems. As above, so below, you might say. The other reveal is loquacious Zack telling Lyta he's in love with her, a bombshell she isn't aware of because the artifact or Vorlons have taken her over. He thinks he's been rejected and that's that, no continuity trouble. Apparently, this was a last-minute addition required because the movie ran short, but it's the kind of thing it should have been doing more of - building up characters that had been neglected while the larger stories were going on.

Taking to heart the fact it's a movie gives the production permission to wow us with visuals and plenty of action. We see maintenance bots and construction Furies like never before. The artifact is this huge, ancient thing that begs to be opened - Sheridan the benched explorer comes back to the surface, and Delenn teases him, but in the end, he WILL be the first/only man to go inside. There's some dogfighting involving the long-forgotten raiders, strange shared dreams of alien cities (could have done without Vir's sex stuff though, thankyew), etc., but the key sequence is of course the big blow-out at the end. It's at once ridiculous and epic to see Sheridan, in nothing more than a spacesuit, navigating through the massive battle. Once again, his solution is to nuke the problem, but at least there's a strategy to getting that done. How a blast that destroys the ships in its wake only pushes a spacesuited guy away like that isn't too believable, but it's not like they can kill off Sheridan, right?

Ivanova gets enough to do that we're not left unsatisfied, playing her as a fine commander, smart detective and good fighter. (What's wrong with most of the fight choreography, though? That huge brawl on the lower decks felt rather limp.) The oft-neglected Lyta also gets a big role, even if she's really playing out some Vorlon programming much of the time. I suppose it's a good episode generally for telepaths (apparently Vir has the gene too). One of these is Deuce, William Sanderson's criminal character from Grail. Cool to see familiar faces like this. Less successful is Shari Belafonte as Elizabeth Trent, a character that works fine as an over-ambitious foil for Sheridan who leaps to conclusions without justification because, well... because she's apparently read the script. Surprisingly, she isn't killed by the end of Thirdspace, but instead makes a 180 degree turn. Something about questioning her ethics. Well fine, I suppose that helps sweep the incident under the rug so that it doesn't get referenced again. So shush.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It looks cool and works as a one-off, one that might even work with audience who know little-to-nothing about B5, but it's produced in such a way that it can be isolated from the greater story very easily. Which means it's entirely jettisonable.


LiamKav said...

I wondered if part of the reason you were a bit down on "In the Beginning" was that it doesn't really work when watched in the middle of a one-a-day marathon. Thirdspace possibly works better because it's a break from the day to day to do a done-in-one action film. Especially as it's set in a different (arguably better) time. The main things I took away from this was:

1. I'd much rather watch our heroes run around in cool black uniforms than stupid "futuristic" business suits.

2. A status quo of "going up against their own fascist government whilst battling ancient evils" grabs me more than "bunch of people playing at running a UN club where half the countries are childish dicks".

3. I miss Ivanova.

Siskoid said...

Hear, hear, and hear.

LondonKdS said...

The fact that Zack gets through that big speech without noticing that Lyta's been possessed by something sums up, unfortunately, why I think it would never have worked and that he wouldn't have got out of the relationship alive.

Anonymous said...

Oh god that embarrassing Zack speech with Lyta looking lobotomized (or something). At least Lyta had an excuse for just standing there and saying nothing.

Ryan Lohner said...

The weird thing about this one is that despite the tight continuity JMS so prided himself on, various little factors make it impossible to place anywhere in the show's timeline. The main offenders are Zack in the black uniform and Londo being on Centauri Prime (ie, Jurasik couldn't do it).
Like The West Wing's Issac and Ishmael, it's a "storytelling aberration" that you can consider canonical if you want, but it'll take some work on your part. The best guess arrived at by The Lurker's Guide is that it happens DURING Atonement. Think about this stuff too much and you can actually feel your brain melting.

Cradok said...

Yeah, between the start of Atonement and the start of No Surrender, the cast are never all together, so it either has to take place after Zack gets fitted for his uniform in the teaser for Atonement, or beforehand and you just have to accept that he's getting his uniform fixed and adjusted... Anyway. Personally, though, I've always preferred the look of EarthForce uniforms to the Army of Light ones. My favourite Trek uniforms are similarly bulky, so maybe I just like the overall look.

Honestly, though, this is probably my second favourite of all the B5 features, behind A Call to Arms. It's light with some impressive battles, and you can tell everyone is having fun with it.

Cradok said...

Oh, and while the scene with Zack and Lyta was excruciating, I always wondered why he didn't try again once he found out she was not all there when he did it.

LiamKav said...

Regarding the clothes, I think the issue is that with uniforms, my brain just goes "that's the Star Trek/B5/etc" uniform and gives it a pass. Casual clothes are also okay, because they can be thrown together or the character can not care. Something like Farscape is fine. But if it's going to be smart wear, we have an issue. Do you assume that suits are going to be unchanged? Do you just make basic tweaks, as B5 did? And whatever you do, how do you get around the fact that instead of your heroes wearing sci-fi uniforms, they're now wearing off the rack clothes that have been tweaked?

Also, one more point:

4. I hate Sheridan's stupid beard.

DustMan said...

Playing catch-up here, but I'm kinda surprised for the positive comments here. To me this was always the weakest of the TNT TV movies. Maybe it's my never being a Lovecraft fan or maybe it's struggling through the novelization (which seemed to spend the first half repeating variations on "They were all DOOMED!!!"), or maybe it's trying to fit a story that is utterly disconnected from those around it chronologically when major changes were happening.

The design of the artifact never made sense to me as a Vorlon creation. Everything we've seen of them is organic technology, but the artifact looks like a rock. When Sheridan's dropping the bomb off, all I remember thinking is that it looks like a cave on an asteroid, not a living machine.

Like you said, Siskoid, the Zack/Lyta scene stands out for the character work. LondonKdS is right that his utter disconnect from Lyta shows his immaturity, though I think it's still charming in a dorky way.

Note from the TV Movies Script Book: Apparently, the original conception of Thirdspace involved the Great Machine and the Sinclair/Valen transformation. He doesn't go into any detail as to how, so maybe he thinks he can get the story written in another way, or just couldn't make it work in the budget.

LiamKav said...

- The B5 Starfuries in this have the B5 sword and shield logo rather than the EA logo. It's a nice touch. Pity it was never done in the series. I always thought it was bizarre that the station continued to have EA logos all over the place even after they split.

- Speaking of things now shown in the series, the Starfuries are carrying missiles.

- Also, Zack can fly a Starfury! I think this is the only time we ever see him in one. I can't remember if his EA uniform had wings on the sleave. (Also, he's the one sent out to do a security overview of the thing? Is he trained in that? B5 can't make up it's mind what it's Chief of Security can do. Sometimes they just seem to be a a local sheriff, and othertimes they seem to have a Star Trek-style tactical officer job.)

- Lyta continues the B5 tradition of having all it's women sleep in silk. Swish. Thank god Lochley breaks thats (although she appears to sleep in just used exercise gear. Urgh).

- The Zack speech is embarrassing, but at least it's supposed to be embarassing. Also, I think Conway manages to bring more charm to that scene that Doyle ever managed in two years worth of scenes with Talia.

- Zack also hears the conversation she has with Franklin where she reveals that she doesn't remember anything that happened over the last 24 hours. He should probably put 2 + 2 together regarding his conversation in the lift.

- The show mentions once or twice that no-one knows who invented jump gates... they were just discovered by the younger races who then learnt how to build their own. This telefilm is the closest the show ever comes to out and out stating that the jumpgates were invented (and possibly left around intentionally) by the Vorlons. (The other big clue is that all the other First Ones have unique ways of entering hyperspace, but the Vorlons use the standard blue/red tunnels.)

- The amount of times Lyta is required to faint onto a hard floor, they really get their money out of Pat Tallman's stunt skills.

- Apparently Peter David (who wrote the novelisation) had some issues with the scene between Ivanova and Trent. He mentions all the things you shouldn't do in a situation where you suspect the only other person in the room is lying to you and might be dangerous, right before Ivanova does all those things.

- There's a weird time jump... the little ships come out of the gate and open fire on the Starfuries. We then have one scene with Sheridan, and another with Ivanova. We then cut back to outside, where the Starfuries are all lined up waiting for something else to come out of the gate. What happened to the little ships that were firing on them?

- I believe this is the only time we ever see an alien race with Star Trek-style shields. It's a nice way of differentiating them from the regular races. Even the First Ones didn't have shields.

- I think the reason that the fights feel a bit slow is because they're not a regular "outbreak of violence" fight. It's a bunch of hypnotised people vs a security force that trying not to kill them. Plus it seems go on for AGES. No wonder Zack looks destroyed at the end.

- Overall, I like this movie despite its flaws. As Cradok says, it's fun. Sheridan survives an nuclear explosion! Delenn hilariously talks about abandoning him in the depths of space! Zack and Franklin share a bro-hug after a massive fight! The main cast do a Big Damn Hero walk down a corridor for no reason whatsoever! Lyta sets up a sequel in such a blatant way that the thing might as well have ended with "The End...?"!


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