Babylon 5 #91: No Compromises

"On my world, we have learned that an inauguration is simply a signal to assassins that a new target has been set up on the firing range."
IN THIS ONE... Sheridan's inauguration brings with it an assassination attempt. He approves a telepath colony on the station. And Tracy Scoggins comes aboard as Captain Elizabeth Lochley.

REVIEW: If the fifth season is "denouement" in a normal 5-act structure, just how interesting can that be spread over two dozen episodes? We're past the climax here! Obviously, this isn't Season 5 "as planned" because JMS crammed everything he could into Season 4, etc., which could exacerbate the problem. They can still salvage this, however, if they go back to the political drama that made up the best of Season 1, as we watch the new Alliance take its first steps. The other stuff we've been told will happen - the telepath wars, battles against the Drahk - can act as background for this, but I can't get too enthusiastic about it. The show got a bit spoilery when it thought Season 4 was the end, and though I'm hopeful we'll get some surprises, it feels like we'll be watching a lot of the "process" of getting from one known point to another. Certainly, the new opening sequence is the worst of the lot by a big margin, using a recap strategy that's not altogether successful instead of the more epic proclamations of the past, and the music... what is that? The new Alliance's anthem? Fine if it is, but it's not very exciting.

Replacing Ivanova in the cast and Sheridan in the role of station captain is Tracy Scoggins' Captain Lochley. I like her, though there's definitely the sense that she's being written much as Ivanova was, and Takashima before her. Is this the only female officer JMS can write? She's a strong woman, but cold and blunt. She lacks Ivanova's humor (to date, anyway), but might make up for it in a stronger streak of no B.S. I enjoy. The question of which side she was on in the civil war seems clear, so I wouldn't call it a developing mystery. I was surprised, but encouraged, that Sheridan really did leave her to do the job without any backseat driving, something contrasted by Garibaldi's micro-management of Zack. Mr. G gets to save the day, balancing the scales when it comes to Sheridan, and gets a new job as covert ops intelligence guy for the Alliance, which will keep him in the loop and able to travel to Mars (and other places). That's a good evolution for the character, moving forward and not back. Note Lochley's attitude towards Garibaldi: She dresses him down for trying to be an insider when he has no official capacity, but then seems ambivalent about how his new job makes him an insider. Her playbook is the chain of command, rules and regulations, efficiency. She has no skin in the game; hopefully, her arc will have her discover B5 isn't that simple.

Sheridan hasn't been marginalized, of course, and he basically wants to be Action President. A new kind of leadership? That's perhaps the point he's trying to make early on in his domestic scene with Delenn, telling the nonsense story of a former C.O. who washed his own socks so he'd always have a task to come back to alive. Nonsense because Sheridan's pledge to do the same so long as he was in uniform doesn't resonate now that he's OUT of uniform, and should give Delenn more of a twinge seeing as it's about living forever when they both know his days are counted. The inauguration thread features some excitement and dovetails nicely into the telepath colony story. I do wish the assassin had been better characterized - turning it into a personal revenge story is far less interesting than misguided patriotism for a fallen regime or retribution for the deaths Sheridan DID cause in the Civil War - and that security on the station wasn't its usual level of abysmal - the assassin gets in with a weapon after being scanned, the young telepath just runs in, the guards can't shoot for crap, and a Starfury is easily stolen and only Garibaldi notices. Sheridan's life is saved by a young telepath at the cost of his own, projecting the assassin's murderous thoughts to everyone in range. This sets up both a reason for Sheridan to owe the exiles and give them some space on Babylon 5 and opens the telepaths up to a greater variety of powers (not just for Lyta, conspicuously absent from the proceedings), which might make the coming war more interesting. The things I most like about the inauguration story are the political details, like G'Kar being asked to draw up the declaration of principles, and the fact Sheridan has to swear on a combination of every Alliance world's holy texts. That after standing tough with no protection from the assassin's Starfury, they finish the job with a comic anticlimax doesn't make the most sense, but does get us out of more speechifying. I guess I'm glad about that.

- A perfectly fine premiere, moving some pieces around and introducing new ones. Anything after Season 4 would probably seem anticlimactic.


Anonymous said...

"Is this the only female officer JMS can write? She's a strong woman, but cold and blunt."

To be fair, there was a lot of that going around; Joss Whedon and the "Buffy" TV show were still pretty new, so he hadn't yet figuratively written the book on how to write women. (And it's not even like Joss was the final word on the subject; in retrospect there are tropes he can't help but invoke. But he did set a better standard.)

As it works out, the movie "Alien" stumbled into the simplest solution to how to write women: first assume all characters are androgynous, then at such point as you assign genders to the characters, they'll all be human and not gender caricatures.

LiamKav said...

Before I say anything about "No Compromises" what happened to "Thirdspace"?

Siskoid said...

Liam: As stated from the beginning, the movies will be tackled, regardless of in-series continuity, when they were broadcast. For Thirdspace, that's July 19, 1998. No Compromises came out in January of that year.

Ryan Lohner said...

There's another rather unfortunate link to Star Trek with this one: just like Nicole De Boer on DS9, poor Tracy Scoggins replaced a popular character and actress for the show's final season, and bore a ton of fan ire for the unforgivable crime of not being her predecessor. And I've really gotten soured on Claudia Christian since reading up on it, becoming much more inclined to trust JMS' word over hers for the simple fact that as far as I can tell, she's the ONLY person involved with the show who has these kinds of problems with him, kind of the inverse of the "if you meet assholes all day, you're the asshole" rule. Even Andrea Thompson, whose departure was even more acrimonious, has had good things to say about her time on the show since.

But moving on from that, the major problem going into season 5 was of course that almost all of the mytharc had already been shoved into season 4. This resulted in a season 5 nigh-universally considered the show's weakest, which is even born out in the DVD cases. Seasons 1 to 4 have bold, shiny cases in orange, blue, green, and purple, while season 5 is a dull, muddy brown. And of course there's the opening credits issue, where JMS decided the only place to go after having everyone narrate was having no one narrate, and simply feature the show speaking for itself.

Which brings us to Byron and the telepath colony. This storyline is a bit tricky to talk about without spoilers, but it'll also be awkward just to bring everything up at the end of it, so after a while of thinking, here's what I'm comfortable sharing so far: the original intent of this storyline was to have Ivanova heavily involved, finally coming to terms with her own telepathic abilities as Byron taught her to hone them for as little as they could be improved. Which means that with her gone, this story didn't actually need to be told, or at least not in the same way. Just one problem: while JMS was at a convention, a hotel maid threw out his notes for the season, and for whatever reason the telepath colony was the only part of them he retained a clear memory of.

Robin Atkin Downes is also quite unpopular with fans, which I'll get into more later, but for now I'll just say were they really serious with that Fabio hair? My best guess is they needed a feature easily identifiable from the back, to make us identify him with the guy we saw apparently execute Garibaldi in the season 4 finale. Still, I definitely think they could have done something less laughable.

Cradok said...

Season 5's intro grew on me, but I always hated JMS's name etched onto the back of the station. He said when asked that it was 'his one indulgence in five years'. Moving on. The music has always seemed to be two different pieces smashed together, with the first half being a meandering mess whose beat doesn't match what's being said or shown, and a second half which, as you put, does have that militaristic pomposity that you might expect from an anthem.

Robin Atkin Downes these days is an incredibly respected voice actor with hundreds of credits, but Byron was only the fourth role he'd played, with Morann of Dukhat's Grey Council being one of the others. As mentioned, he wasn't well regarded as Byron. He was picked in part to resemble Marcus for the Ivanova portion of the story. That hairstyle is his own, though, and it's how he still wears it, although he has a goatee now too, which makes him look ever more like Marcus.

LiamKav said...

"As stated from the beginning, the movies will be tackled, regardless of in-series continuity, when they were broadcast. For Thirdspace, that's July 19, 1998. No Compromises came out in January of that year"

Ah, sorry. All I had in my head was that "In the Beginning" and "Thirdspace" were between seasons 4 and 5, and "River of Souls" and "Call to Arms" was after. My bad.

"And I've really gotten soured on Claudia Christian since reading up on it, becoming much more inclined to trust JMS' word over hers for the simple fact that as far as I can tell, she's the ONLY person involved with the show who has these kinds of problems with him

Of course, she's also the only one of them that found herself on a date with him just after the pair of them had come out of serious relationships without her having any idea what was happening. I do understand your comment about "assholes", but I'm also thinking about the one guy in the office that everyone loves apart from the person who he hit on.

(Also, Foundation Imaging also have plenty to say about JMS/the producers, so it's not just CC.)

The first half of the opening music is on the confusingly titled "Babylon 5: Voumw 2 - Mesages from Earth". Said CD has the first 4 opening themes as standalone tracks, and then another 4 tracks which are 10-15 minutes pieces of various music themes on the show edited together. I believe it turns up in the track called "Voices of Authority", which has nothing to do with the episode of the same name.

I'm tempted to frontload my issues with season 5 here, but I'll wait until later so I don't feel like I'm forcing my opinions on others. And, hey, they might change. Maybe.

My thoughts on Lochley will also wait for a bit. Still, with her wearing an EA uniform we are now in the really silly situation where the chief security officer and chief medical officer are wearing one uniform, the station commander is wearing another, and neither of them match what everyone else is wearing.

Anonymous said...

"This resulted in a season 5 nigh-universally considered the show's weakest"

Nahh, for me, season 1 was the worst. I won't deny that season 5 was a step backwards from season 4, but that was inevitable.

"He was picked in part to resemble Marcus for the Ivanova portion of the story."

Ye gods, yet another dashing British guy, who I think JMS figured would be irresistible to the ladies (same as Marcus Cole). And the name "Byron", could it be any more on-the-nose?

"Still, with her wearing an EA uniform we are now in the really silly situation where the chief security officer and chief medical officer are wearing one uniform, the station commander is wearing another, and neither of them match what everyone else is wearing."

Sorry guys, the tailor you need is n The Other Side Of The Wormhole.

LiamKav said...

- JMS saying that having his name etched into the station was his "one indulgence" would ring more true if I hadn't just watched an episode end with a title card basically saying "fuck you, everyone who thought we wouldn't late 5 years! You were wrong! Yeah!". Or the knowledge of a scene that would have already been filmed that occurs in Sleeping in Light. Or the habit he had in season 1 of dropping references to things he liked into the show. Or any of his million other indulgences, really.

- The "socks" conversation shows one of the main issues with season 5. One year ago the show was about Sheridan having something to come back from the dead for, and that thing being his love for Delenn. Now the thing that will keep him from death is a dirty pair of socks. Quite a come down.

- Originally I liked the titles, but I'm less keen on them now. Partly because by making them a "greatest hits" package, your constantly reminded of all the awesome stuff the show has done (hey, remember Sinclair's missing 24 hours? Remember when Narn was bombed? Remember when B5 declared independence?) It is very brave to dedicate an entire season into essentially winding down, rather than ramping up as most TV series do (Sheridan's conversation about moving to Minbar makes that clear), but you shouldn't be going into every episode thinking about the cool stuff in the past, rather than what's going on now. Also, the actual credits part of the titles have been different for the past 4 seasons. This time they're just a duller version of season 4's (one shot of everyone rather than two).

- "first page of every holy book" made me think of two things. First, the joke from Red Dwarf: ("Archaeologists near Mount Sinai have discovered what is believed to be a missing page from the Bible. The page is currently being carbon dated in Bonn. If genuine it belongs at the beginning of the Bible and is believed to read 'To my darling Candy. All characters portrayed within this book are fictitous and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.' The page has been universally condemned by church leaders.) And second, wouldn't the first page of every declaration of human rights make more sense? I'd rather "We the People", the Magna Carta and all that be in there than the story of a guy doing some redecorating of the universe in 6 days.

- Speaking of the comment about the logical place for the Alliance headquarters being on Minbar... why? B5 is a free port. Anyone can go there. It already has ambassadors from many worlds. It's neutral ground. And the IA are planning on buying it anyway. To me, that makes much more sense as a headquarters than the capital planet of the space elves.

- I hate Sheridan's goatee. I get the argument behind making him look more mature, and I didn't mind when it was a full beard, but as a goatee is just looks stupid. (I've never really got goatees. They seem to have the bad side of having a beard whilst also having the bad side of having to shave.) Also, is it just me, or is Sheridan looking more ginger than before?

- I tried to go into the 5th season with an open mind. That latest until the end of the teaser, when I realised that we were going to have ANOTHER plot about a slightly quirky assassin. And are there really no weapons detectors at the entrance to the ambassador's quarters?

- Byron, you don't get to say you have little money whilst standing there in a suit whilst having fabulous hair. And you definitely don't get to do the Batman vanishing trick.


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