Babylon 5 #95: Learning Curve

"Meditation shapes us. It makes us strong but keeps us flexible. As fluid as thought itself."
IN THIS ONE... Ranger trainees come to the station and put down a mobster down below.

REVIEW: Lennier recently left to go to Ranger school. We now go to that school, but Lennier is nowhere to be seen. Instead, let's follow a kid called Tennier. Damn, that's frustrating. Now, he IS referenced, as his teachers have concerns about his motivation and how he's pushing himself too hard, but Learning Curve is a lot more concerned with people we've never met facing off against people we've never met. This is especially annoying considering that we've just been through an episode about yet more people we've never met. I suppose there is interesting in seeing how Rangers are trained, and we get a lot of zen Minbari philosophy thrown in, and some wit as well, at least from the Religious Caste teacher. Delenn's IDIC solution to integrating other races (specifically the Pak'ma'ra - we learn more about these guys here than in all previous episodes combined) into the Rangers is a cool bit from her, and her grace continues to be one of the series' best elements.

However, it's hard to sustain interest in guest characters when so many of them are stock archetypes - and framing the final fight as an archetypal one only makes one focus on this more - the two rookies are essentially two sides of an argument made manifest. I don't see them as particularly rich characters in their own right. The villain of the piece, Trace, a sort of bargain-basement Colin Farrell, is just as two-dimensional, a bullying thug with delusions of grandeur. He doesn't just get beaten at the end, but humiliated by smug Minbari, in a fight built up to be the proverbial can of whupass (all that talk of terror), but turns out to be JMS making speeches about bullies. Meh. The only good thing about this lame underworld aspect is that N'Grath rates a mention, though he/it is sadly gone from the station and it's this loser who filled the power vacuum. I miss the bug-eyed low-life. If we're supposed to take something away from this exercise, it's that the Minbari don't have it in them to back down, for cultural reasons. And it's easy to take that away from the episode, because Garibaldi insists on hitting it right on the nose. Look, nothing about this is BAD, but because we're essentially dealing with a cast of guest-stars, it's hard to get worked up about it.

Which leaves us with the Lochley story, and Garibaldi's quest to find out why Sheridan would trust her when she didn't fight for the rebellion. If he doesn't know he's being a jerk - implying that he STILL doesn't trust his boy Sheridan - the first clue should have been when people at the commissary applauded Lochley's speech about duty. We're supposed to find her a curious choice as well when Delenn catches her opining that some decision isn't "like" Sheridan. So they have a personal connection, clearly. It wasn't just a case of "looked at your file and thought you'd be good for it". The truth isn't revealed by the end of the episode, but it's something that makes Delenn jealous because she goes to bed angry. (By the way, I am dead tired of seeing the President and his wife in bed together in almost every episode. Let's mix it up a little.) Of course, I DO know what the connection is because among the DVD sets' many sins is the fact the next episode's play menu spoils it. So when I was setting the episode for tomorrow's viewing... Sheesh. Let's hold off on discussion it 'til tomorrow.

- What you might call a mercenary story. It really needs more of the regular (or at least, recurring) cast involved in its action.


LiamKav said...

And I thought we'd done a relatively good job not spoiling the Lochley thing. Not stopped anyone making sarcastic comments about John's prior relationships, but apparently we were subtle enough that you didn't notice.

I do get the whole idea behind showing someone who was on "the other side". The problem for me is that pretty much since Nightwatch appeared, the show went out of it's way to say that "just following orders", or "it's not my job to set policy and decide what's right and wrong" is a massive crock at best, and dangerous thinking at worst. Even at the end of last season, when people were saying "we disagreed with our captain but didn't have a choice" Ivanova was shooting them down with "the courts will determine your guilt". So why should Lochley be treated any differently?

Siskoid said...

Obviously, it remains to be shown just what part Lochley took. If the ship wasn't involved in any battles or atrocities, then it would not have come up. She tells Garibaldi her role is to follow orders until an illegal or unethical order comes down the pike, so presumably, she was never given one.

Ryan Lohner said...

This is one of JMS' own most hated episodes, which he says he'd like to go to every fan's house and apologize for. The big problem is that in a television series, you typically don't want to center an episode around guest characters, and when you do, you certainly don't do two in a row. By the way, my gold standard for this kind of thing is The Zeppo from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a brilliantly structured episode that presents what would usually be a comic relief B-plot as the main story while we only get the barest glimpses of the apocalyptic threat everyone else is dealing with. Another big advantage it has over something like gallery is that the story is still centered around a major character.

Another thing he's now kicking himself for is making the same mistake Lost did in its final season: introducing a whole new conflict that will never get the chance to be properly explored given everything else that has to get done in little remaining time. I definitely appreciate his not wanting to make Lochley just Ivanova by another name, but the result is a character we're just barely able to scratch the surface of, and only ends up frustrating.

N'Grath disappeared after season 1 because the puppet became irreparably damaged during the hiatus. No idea why JMS waited this long to acknowledge it; maybe it was just one more instance of being desperate to fill out a lesser script.

LiamKav said...

"If the ship wasn't involved in any battles or atrocities, then it would not have come up. She tells Garibaldi her role is to follow orders until an illegal or unethical order comes down the pike, so presumably, she was never given one."

Which is fine, if the show also didn't bang the "the only thing needed for evil to thrive is for good men to do nothing". If Lochley was there saying "sure, other EA ships are killing civilians, but we're just off looking at this moon so I'm not bothered", it's not gonna sit right.

(I've just realised I can't actually rememeber how this part of Lochley's story plays out, so I might have to hold on another couple of days.)

LondonKdS said...

My problem with this episode is that it depicts the Rangers as a bunch of might-makes-right paramilitary thugs who think they're above the law even in one of the democratic societies they're supposedly protecting.

After hearing about JMS's mugging incident, it makes me wonder if it was a bit of wish-fulfillment along the lines of "and I should totally have learned kung-fu, gone back and kicked those dudes' asses".

Anonymous said...

There are a few creators whose real life tragedies follow them into their work, and I am sympathetic to what they went through, but I also have to say it doesn't improve their work. JMS is one of them, and we've seen a lot of it in his Superman efforts (e.g. "Grounded" and "Earth 1"), where Superman spends too much time showing that he won't be pushed around, and not enough time showing that power is a very different thing from license.

That's JMS. How about Frank Miller? The story I heard was, the minute he first set foot in NYC he was mugged (he wasn't hurt but his stuff got stolen), and since then he's written about almost nothing but crime-ridden urban hellscapes and the men who beat the crap out of muggers.

In comics for sure these days, both JMS and Miller are best served if they have an editor to help them rein it in, because when they're given the opportunity to really cut loose, bad things happen.


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