Babylon 5 #131: Voices in the Dark: Over There

"There is hope, but it is at best a slim hope." "Yeah, well, I've never known hope when it wasn't on a diet."

IN THIS ONE... Galen tells Sheridan he must kill a Centauri Prince before he comes of age and attacks Earth.

REVIEW: While Over There feels a lot more like Babylon 5 than Over Here did, and it's always great to meet up with Sheridan again, the episode feels a little less worthwhile. There's rather more padding, for example, in the form of an unnecessary sequence with an ISN reporter sporting a cleavage cam. Is this just there to reference other characters or events? And though Sheridan is, like Lochley and her priest, tested by a moral dilemma and two impossible (and FALSE) choices, the solution is a lot more obvious, at least to this viewer. And if there's ambiguity in Galen's cryptic ways, much of it is dispelled by Sheridan making speeches about it. JMS and Christopher Nolan have something in common there. But being part of the same Lost Tales as Over Here means we get the same quality CG (future New York is just beautiful, Sheridan dreams of space battles, and the new Valen-class manta ship is pretty cool), similar shots tying things together (the spinning "epiphany" shot that wakes both Sheridan and Lochley up in their respective chapters), and of course, cutting costs by setting most of the action in dark rooms and in front of green screen.

The plot itself is very B5. Galen - who sadly, has nothing to reveal about Crusade - does his A Call to Arms thing and brings Sheridan a prophecy that would see Earth savagely attacked 30 years hence. Sheridan will be dead by then, but he can do something about it today by taking out a teenage Centauri prince who, as Emperor, will lead that action. Galen counsels murder, and the viewer may think Sheridan either squeamish or dense not to see this is the right course of action. Vintary is, after all, the son of the mad emperor Cartagia, and initially, it doesn't look like the apple fell too far from the tree. The kid threatens Vir, talks about deadly reckonings, etc. Is his a crazy psychopath, or just a sheltered kid who never learned or even experienced kindness? Sheridan anguishes over a staged Starfury accident and almost goes through with it. But the key is changing history, not killing the prince, and once Sheridan recognizes that, he offers kindness and sanctuary, adopting Vintari into his family, hoping for a different result. Hopefully, it worked. We have no reason to think it wouldn't. Sheridan's role as a historical "nexus" means he can literally change history. What he will do for Vintari is exactly what he's done for the galaxy: Put it on a better, more peaceful path.

Vintari's had fun this day, but he still finds it hard to put his trust in Sheridan. He doesn't trust his own family, so why trust outsiders? But then he witnesses the warmth between Sheridan and Lochley, and there seems to be no question that he's already on a brighter path. Sheridan will change the future through EXAMPLE. It beats murder any day. One final note: It's lovely how G'Kar has returned to explore the Rim, something associated with the after-life, for that's where Sheridan went on his dying day. The sad surprise that Dr. Franklin has joined him on this journey is likewise heartfelt. While these characters both return to the series' chronology - G'Kar on Centauri and Franklin at Sheridan's table - both actors had died by 2007. And are missed.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Pleasant enough, but a little obvious. It manages a certain amount of sweetness. Could do without the padding.

So end my daily reviews of Babylon 5, at least until JMS actually manages to get that feature film off the ground. Based on his track record trying to keep the franchise alive - Crusade cancelled; The Legend of the Rangers never going to series; and The Lost Tales abandoned despite plans for a Garibaldi/Londo follow-up - I won't be holding my breath. Thanks to everyone who's flooded the comments on these posts with appreciation and insight. Fans of this franchise have a real enduring (and sometimes tough) love for it, and I was happy to have this roving conversation with you over the last 4+ months. I don't want to have to miss you guys, so I hope you'll stick around. Next up: Doctor Who Series 8, because COMPLETIST.


Ryan Lohner said...

This was much more like it for me. A story much better fitting the B5 universe, tightly woven into a previous story despite the lack of actors available. And boy did JMS luck out that Peter Woodward doesn't seem to have aged a day in stark contrast to Boxleitner and Scoggins.

I loved the beyond the rim tribute, though it's unfortunate that the nature of the Zathras character(s) meant it wasn't possible to include Tim Choate in there. And of course, Zack and Sinclair have since joined Franklin and G'Kar beyond the rim. That must be a pretty fun ship.

LondonKdS said...

Generally this was nice, but I have a couple of problems.

First, I'm a big Centauri fan, and have the Centauri become the people who are liable to try and conquer the galaxy AGAIN seems to take away from the show's general message that all cultures have potential for good and bad.

Secondly, Sheridan deliberately making a journalist vomit in public just because he's pissed off that the Great Leader has to talk to the press is unforgivable. Especially since he got tortured the same way, if you remember.

Siskoid said...

I don't know, LondonKdS, the Centauri were in such dire straights when we last saw them that you could understand why they'd become a threat again, à la Germany after the first War. Sheridan's tweak to history here may be exactly in concordance with the show's general message. The Prince can be "turned" and the Centauri government with it.

Completely agree on the journalist though. Sheridan and Delenn continue to be just the WORST at media relations, to the point of absurdity. I get the feeling JMS puts a lot of his own feelings about the media in these things, which is fine if you're writing about criticized genre writers working on the margins, but makes no sense when the protagonists are legendary world leaders.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your hard work with B5. I know there were some rough patches in there.

Am so waiting for the Peter Capaldi "Doctor Who" reviews. You know how I know RTD and Moffat know what they're doing? Because every new Doctor quickly wins me over and stays won over. Didn't happen with Baker, Davison, Baker, McCoy, or McGann. RTD and Moffat may throw in regrettable stories here and there, they may sometimes obsess over themes that just aren't doing it for me, but the Doctor himself works and continues to work.

Siskoid said...

I've been working on that first review all morning. Usually, my reviews stick to three paragraphs, with pilots and retoolings going to four. Deep Breath looks to be 6 or 7 paragraphs long!

Anonymous said...

Groovy, I cannot wait!

I freely admit to looking forward to your reviews, and actually being slightly glad you're on Atlantic Time (which means there's a +1 hour stronger chance I can start my day with a Siskoid review).

Siskoid said...

I schedule posts at 6 AM (though on weekends, I might post live, no scheduling, so later), which is 5 AM Eastern time and 10 AM in the UK.

abc said...

Thanks for the B5 reviews, awesome stuff! Also appreciated the comments, in particular coming out of the scriptbooks, which I was aware of, but never got a hold of myself.
Looking forward to the Who reviews and beyond...!

Siskoid said...

I'm likewise thankful of all the insightful comments the series has gotten over the last few months.

Cradok said...

Whenever I have cause to think of this episode - not often - there's two things I remember: the reporter's cleavage, and the Quantum Space thing that never really made much sense. I can never remember what the main plot is, let alone that Galen is in it.

It's been great reading your commentaries, and everyone's comments.

Madeley said...

Congratulations on another series under your belt! And thanks, too. I've loved revisit this series with your reviews, and it's reminded me of why I still love the show so much. Overall, what would you say your impression of the show has been? Worth the daily effort?

Also, having watched it all and knowing your love for Trek, what's your views on how the two shows related? For my part, these reviews have underlined that despite superficial space opera similarities, Trek and B5 are two very different things taking very different approaches, if occasionally carrying the same kind of message.

Final question: JMS has mentioned in various places that he pitched a new Star Trek series. Do you think a JMS Trek would have worked? I suspect myself it would have been a fascinating car crash.

Siskoid said...

Definitely worth the time I put into it. I was recently asked by a budding Who fan (who's given herself 5 years to watch everything from 1963 on and THEN watch every Star Trek ever) if B5 was worth her time. I told her yes, with the usual caveats (terrible-looking DVDs, and problematic 1st and 5th seasons.

As for Trek vs. B5, I was always being cheeky with it. Space opera will always be comparable, but B5 isn't DS9 or Space 1999 any more than BSG is Star Wars. They might share identical tropes, premises and looks (depending), but they each tell their own stories, with their own characters, and have their own tones.

Anonymous said...

So, six months late, over the last day and a half, I've binge-read every single B5 review you've done, as well as all the comments.

It was tough, at times, but eye-opening. At some point it became clear that my views on the series differed WILDLY from most others', probably in large part because a) I was only 10-15 when I first saw it, b) I've re-watched it several times in the intervening decade(s? Shit), and c) *I was never a Star Trek fan*.

This last one was really grating: it's not a "stock Star Trek plot" if you didn't like Star Trek. There were legitimate reasons for even a lover of Sci-Fi to completely avoid the TNG era of Trek - poor performances, awful pacing and plotting, technobabble, a bizarre pseudo-socialist, utopian, pretentious set of "ethics" preached at you by various pompous blowhards... basically, it's unfortunate that at no point do you ever make even a token effort to allow the show to stand as its own work, especially early on - if it's not COMPLETELY serialized, it's compared immediately to Star Trek and it bores everyone. Well, I didn't watch Star Trek, and to me there was nothing wrong with an alien probe, or a strange creature, or any of the other "stock plots" which are only "stock" if you happened to watch a particular (pretty bad, for its first 2 seasons) series.

More frustrating were a few uses of the concept "Nice Guy Syndrome", which is popular psychobabble at best, terrible sexism at worst, and other misguided "SJW" terms like "appropriation", a condemnation of the basic act of cultural mixing by which all cooperation throughout history has been based, again used only in pop psychobabble and not in any actual sociological or anthropological science - a term that allows the user to be outraged essentially at will by the healthiest human trait of all, our ability to overcome cultural barriers and combine our cultures into more diverse wholes. A term used almost exclusively by those addicted to a contrived, sneering sense of outrage, a term which is in fact *incredibly racist*, as it decrees that only people of certain ethnic backgrounds should be allowed to act as they wish.

But what made me continue on was simply the wealth of different perspectives, especially from the core group of commentators. Byron-hate is fairly universal, of course, and although I'll admit that 14-year-old me thought he was just the best, probably because I was, at the time, something of a pretentious, quote-spouting ass with long hair myself (same reason I liked Marcus, but he ages slightly better) and because I missed Marcus, a much less irritating version of the same. But I was never involved with the fan community for this show, so finding people who HATED Marcus was new; understandable, but still new, and thus interesting.

I realize this is a huge block of pretty negative text but overall, I enjoyed your look at these episodes, despite your embracing of some really unhealthy, racist and sexist and chronically-offended Internet fads, and your stubborn inability to imagine the show as its own entity as opposed to simply an orbiting body around the almighty Star Trek - despite your above disclaimer, go back to your first 3 seasons' reviews, and you'll see you dismiss about half of the episodes because the main plot was done (or even done to death) on Star Trek; not compare and contrast, but simply outright dismiss.

Anonymous said...

My feeling on the show overall these days is that it just makes me too sad to watch. You literally get to watch one man's grand vision slowly die a death of a thousand tiny cuts over 5 years, as important character after important character must be written out or substituted because of real-life actor problems, and finally the show's epic climax of a thousand-year struggle is resolved in about 6 episodes of incredibly rushed and clunky grandstanding. And then there's a painful final act, where all the happy endings we've earned are washed away, and we just ruthlessly torment every character until the whole thing ends in a bitter mess of failure for everyone (except Garibaldi, whose happy ending seems decidedly unearned). Sleeping in Light is a grand finale, to be sure, but for me it's merely a moment to look back at the series, and what might have been, and instead what was.

Siskoid said...

Thanks for reading all that, it's quite the endeavor!

I've got to say that I stand by my "disclaimer". The only reason I ever compared it to Trek was that the fan communities did at the time, and I thought it might by a humorous way to tackle the material since the blog started with Trek reviews all those years ago.

Secondly, when I dismissed a plot for being too Star Trek, it's because B5 wasn't hatched in a vacuum. Trek existed and B5 struggled at times with defining its own identity. When I dismiss a plot for being too Trek-like, I'm saying B5 ought to be better than that because it eventually was. It's a dig at Trek, if anything, which became a highly formulaic franchise over time. As a consumer of genre TV, I really didn't need other shows to regurgitate those formulas at me, whether that's B5, Stargate or SeaQuest, and yes, I will criticize a show for being too derivative. I think that's fair.

I, of course, never claimed these reviews would include any other perspectives than my own. And my own perspective has watched a lot of Trek.

Some of your other criticism seems to be leveled at the comments rather than the body of the article because I'm not sure what you're talking about. I never used the term "Nice Guy Syndrome"... I feel like I walked into an ongoing fight with parties unknown when you start on those points, so I can't really address that.

LiamKav said...

To explain (from 3 years in the future ooooh don't vote for Trump ooooh)

"Nice Guy Syndrome" is exemplified in a male character saying "why does the girl I like always go for bastards rather than me? I'm a nice guy."

One spin on it would be that it's a legitimate complaint against a society that values macho looks over thoughtfulness and sincerity.

The negative spin is that it's a complaint said by people (usually guys) who view women as prizes and think that by being nice, they "deserve" to be rewarded, not realising that relationships are messy, complicated things that require both parties to do things that make them desirable, and that "not being a dick" isn't (or shouldn't) be something that makes you stand out.

I was guilty of using the phrase in regards to Marcus, and I stand by it. I like Marcus, but he definitely qualified. He was attracted to Ivanova. He would have liked a relationship with her. He would have liked to have the sexytimes with her. And he was a nice, thoughtful guy who would definitely have treated her right in a relationship. So he showed this by telling her that he was a virgin and doing absolutely nothing else to get said relationship. His kissing her whilst she slept saying "you'll never know" was the worst part. She would know, Marcus, if you told her! And the result was that Susan felt guilty because she "knew" he liked her but did nothing because she's a woman who "goes for the wrong people", and would it have hurt her to have slept with JMS, sorry, Marcus at least once.

I do have sympathy for some versions of the first take. It's true that I knew several women at university who made terrible partner choices. What I didn't realise until I was older was that lots of the men were also making terrible partner choices. I just wasn't trying to sleep with them and so I didn't judge them as harshly. Also, lots of people in their teens and twenties (and older) make terrible decisions. Doesn't mean that they are all responsible for women not wanting to jump me.

(As I might have said in the older comments, it rang badly because I was exactly the sort of guy who, in his 20s, wondered why I couldn't get a girlfriend. I made no efforts to get one, but I was civil to women. In my mind that meant I should have been getting lots of sex, because apparently I thought that "being polite" was all that was required.)

Siskoid said...

Thanks for leaving that for posterity Liam - we're really talking at each other from across time - though an Anonymous commenter has left no way to get an alert when someone responds. Safe to say that his comments about SJWs means he probably never got your timey-wimey warning about Trump and indeed voted for him.

The appropriation (there's one of those words again) of the term Social Justice Warrior by the alt-right pisses me off because it will never sound like an insult to me. WHY WOULDN'T YOU FIGHT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE?! Dude saw Trek as a tool of PC culture without ever watching it, so he definitely had an agenda.

I think your comments about Marcus are fair. It's a common TV trope and certainly speaks to a segment of the viewership, but it's the kind of thing that hasn't aged well, not because of INVASIVE PC CULTURE but because we (should) understand minority points of view better. The Nice Guy trope (as it is used) is definitely a "boy" thing that has an ugly side (the incel movement) and there's absolutely nothing wrong with noting it, especially in the context of honest discourse (admitting you've felt that way, as have I). Saying counter-racism and counter-sexism is racist and sexist - as the commenter did - is an old alt-right trick (be it used on purpose or because you've drunk the Kool-Aid) that only serves to destroy context and call the thing attacked absurd as a result of one's own decontextualizing.


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