Babylon 5 Related Work: “Becoming Superman” by J. Michael Straczynski

There is no question that J. Michael Straczynski is the one who made Babylon 5 happen. He wrote it, he came up with the concept, he helped steer the story even in all the related works. Becoming Superman is his autobiography, telling the awful story of his childhood, his dreams, and his accomplishments, all of which intertwine in a compelling tale. I am going to post SPOILERS from the book in this review.

Straczynski is ever the storyteller, and it’s clear even reading his autobiography that he intentionally frames it in a way that engages the reader more than a simple A-B-C progression. Throughout most of the book, Straczynski teases readers with revelations about his family background. His family was stuck behind German lines in Russia until the end of World War II. His father and grandmother, though, apparently were much more collaborators than they liked to portray. Though Straczynski only confirmed this much later in his life, it is clear that his father’s obsession with Nazi ideology and awful abuse of all around him deeply influenced Straczynski’s writing career.

In Becoming Superman, we see how Straczynski discovered Superman and used the facade of the Man of Steel to get past the trauma in his own life. The toughness of this adopted persona impacts how Straczynski writes about trauma, as well. His comments about being a “victim” are particularly strong:

To be a victim is to be forever frozen in amber by that person’s actions at that moment. Victimization only looks backward, never forward, which is why my family was incapable of moving on or redefining themselves. If I allowed myself to be defined by what my father did to me, it would put him at the center of my identity. (110)

These comments about victimhood are intensely personal to Straczynski, but as a reader I wondered if this is his commentary on victimization in general, given the generalized way he comments that it “looks backward, never forward…” If so, I disagree fairly strongly with this assessment. One aspect of declaring oneself a victim is acknowledgement that wrong has occurred which demands justice and rehabilitation. To be a victim does not necessitate redefining oneself in those terms, but it does define the actions of the other–the aggressor–towards oneself. I am not an expert in the psychology of this topic, so I don’t feel comfortable making stronger comments, but I do think we should read Straczynski’s words here as a personal comment that helped him through a particularly difficult time, rather than normative for all who have been abused. 

The fascinating story of Straczynski’s time in the television, comic, and film industry is detailed over most of the book, and it is an incredible journey. I haven’t read much from writers in this field, but this seems one of the more honest and perceptive looks at the industry. Intermingled with this are such details as Angela Lansbury’s appreciation for his writing on Murder, She Wrote. That’s one of my all-time favorite shows, and I was shocked to see the maker of Babylon 5 was involved on one of its best seasons, as well. Sporadic details about Babylon 5, background story about how Star Trek: Deep Space 9 may have stolen from its concept, and more are found throughout this chapter of his life. Having only recently discovered Babylon 5 (see my journey through the series here), it was wonderful having these details from the show reported. 

Becoming Superman is a great read, as one would expect from a writer as talented as Straczynski. For readers interested in learning more about the brain behind Babylon 5, it’s a must-read. It’s clear that so many elements of Straczynski’s life appear in the show. 

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Wheel of Time Season 1 Episode 6 “The Flame of Tar Valon” Review

The Wheel of Time is one of the biggest fantasy blockbusters of all time, and I have read and loved the fantasy novels for decades. I was beyond thrilled to see that an adaptation was coming to Prime TV, and now that it’s here, it’s time to offer weekly reviews! Be sure to also check out my theology site for my look at the show and books from a Christian perspective.

The Flame of Tar Valon

I have a lot to think about after watching this episode.

First, Siuan Sanche’s background origin story was beautifully done. Having Berden get humanized so early on was a wonderful way to do it, and I admit as he sent Siuan off I had tears welling in my eyes. I also appreciate having representation of people with disabilities that aren’t automatically evil, which happens far too often in pop culture (see, for example, the countless examples of motivations for “evil scientist” type villains being driven by trying to “fix” disabilities). Overall, this scene was one of the strongest in the show so far.

I also was a huge fan of how they handled the Siuan/Moiraine perceived rivalry and then turning it into being love. The two are hinted at as pillow friends, if I recall correctly, in the books, and this just makes it much more explicit.

Moiraine and Loial’s brief interactions were also highlights of the episode. I loved how Moiraine approached Loial and sort of skipped ahead of all of his objections in their conversations. Truly, the casting in the show across the board is excellent, and there are several highlights of dialogue throughout already.

The continued hints at layers upon layers of intrigue in the Tower are necessary and certainly well done, especially in light of what readers of the books know is going on. I also think that the many set pieces we’ve seen are beautiful. I loved the Amyrlin Seat, and on reflection I enjoyed how they showed the shawl of the Amyrlin as well. It’s much more subtle than I expected, but from what I understand, it’s a nod to the many fan depictions that have shown it with similar themes.

One downside is that the series continues to clip along at a frenetic pace, which is the main thing that has taken me out of the show so far. The Wheel of Time books are very clearly not oriented towards being quick reads or fast-paced action-fests. Due to the format of the show–only 8 episodes this season!–the creators are cramming each episode so full of events that it starts to feel like whiplash at times. Even when characters do try to slow things down, we move so quickly past the events that it seems we don’t get to reflect on the events. For example, Moiraine’s exile goes from her discussion with Siuan ahead of time to a meeting of the Aes Sedai to Siuan saying she’s banished and then immediately pulling out the Oath Rod (!!!) to make Moraine swear to abide by the ruling and then leaving. I was surprised to see there was no pause anywhere in this chain of events.

Full Book SPOILERS section and theorizing

Speaking of the Oath Rod–I was taken aback to see them decide to use it that way. The problem with a major piece like the Oath Rod is that if you use it too frequently, it becomes a prop more than an epic artifact. Indeed, one of the insidious things about the Broken Tower in the books is when the White Tower tries to use the Oath Rod to force people to swear fealty to the Amyrlin Seat. Weirdly, the scene in this episode skirts right along that border to the point that it felt kind of “yucky” as a fan of the books.

On the flip side, I can see the decision-making process for the showrunners, because featuring the Oath Rod prominently early on allows them to make a big deal about other revelations related to it later, such as the Black Ajah and others. Thus, I’m kind of torn on that scene.

I appreciated how they depicted the drawing of the darkness from the dagger out of Mat. While we viewers could see the weaves, Rand makes it clear all he could see was a bit of the darkness, which gives viewers the hint that others can’t see the weaving other than its effects.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I was a fan of this episode, apart from the caveats I mentioned. The series continues to offer a strong epic fantasy look at the Wheel of Time world, and the flavors it has from the book series make it feel much more unique than some of the other epic fantasy series out there. I am eagerly anticipating the rest of the season.

Links

Fantasy Hub– I have a post collecting all of my fantasy-related posts into one place!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Wheel of Time, Season 1 Episode 5 “Blood Calls Blood” Review

The Wheel of Time is one of the biggest fantasy blockbusters of all time, and I have read and loved the fantasy novels for decades. I was beyond thrilled to see that an adaptation was coming to Prime TV, and now that it’s here, it’s time to offer weekly reviews! Be sure to also check out my theology site for my look at the show and books from a Christian perspective.

“Blood Calls Blood”

Wow, there’s a lot to unpack in this one.

First, Loial. Loial was trending on Twitter after the episode dropped, and for good reason. The personality, the casting, the voice–it’s basically all perfect. I was surprised a little at the way they made him look, but the acting sold me and I’m all in on this Loial.

Second, the interactions between Warders continue to be a major highlight. I also love the juxtaposition of the Way of the Leaf with the distorted Way of Light. The Children of Light are clearly developing into major antagonists here, and it makes them feel quite serious as enemies.

Perrin finally revealed his accidental killing of his wife to Egwene, and it was a beautiful scene in which Egwene turned it around and tried to offer him forgiveness. I was curious about the wolves–wondering how that’s going to play out and what we’ll see soon!

Tar Valon is beautiful to behold, but I’d really like to see more of it. We did, though, get a sense very briefly of Mat and Rand seeing the place for the first time and being in wonder. Again, though, I worried they moved past that too quickly. That’s kind of something I felt this whole episode–most everything moved too quickly for my taste. We did get to settle in with the Warder plotline a bit, but everything else moved so swiftly. For example, Nynaeve is out of her room; then she’s told about the gardens; then Loial is busting her in to visit Mat and Rand in the very next segment; then she’s back standing with the Warders as they mourn. It’s just a surprisingly swift turn to each scene, and it’s clear there’s much going on off-camera. I’ve read the books, but it makes me wonder how those who haven’t are dealing with the speed of the plot.

Discussion for Fans who have Read the Books (Read: SPOILERS)

My wild speculating self was going off on a tangeant about how they skipped Caemlyn so does this mean we just won’t have Elaine at all when a friend of mine pointed out Elaine has been cast already. So that seems… unlikely.

I love the way they’ve played up the relationships between Warders and Aes Sedai at an early stage. It makes it feel very genuine, and possibly moreso than in the books because we basically get told that rather than having it happen dynamically in the books. It’s surprising to me, though, that they’ve spent so much time on this–to the exception of plot that’s actually covered in the books. I wonder if this is to make sense of some of the much later scenes with Lan, Moiraine, and others. Or, if it’s just untapped character development they decided made sense for the show.

Episode 5 is clearly the biggest divergence from the books so far, in how much was skipped over before showing up at Tar Valon. I wasn’t too upset by anything, though, as a fan of the books. Definitely looking forward to more.

Links

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Wheel of Time, Season 1 Episode 4: “The Dragon Reborn” review

The Wheel of Time is one of the biggest fantasy blockbusters of all time, and I have read and loved the fantasy novels for decades. I was beyond thrilled to see that an adaptation was coming to Prime TV, and now that it’s here, it’s time to offer weekly reviews! Be sure to also check out my theology site for my look at the show and books from a Christian perspective.

“The Dragon Reborn”

I cannot get over how epic this episode was. From end-to-end it was absolutely packed with meaningful character moments, powerful action scenes, and thoughtful conversations. It’s a near-perfect piece of television, and as a huge fan of the series of books, I have to say I’m 100% bought in at this point.

First, I love the additional background being given to Logain. I think it makes huge sense for a number of reasons (some of which are from the books and I won’t get into more here). For one, it makes all the other scenes and character development surrounding scenes that he’s in have that much more weight. For another, it makes the shot of him being Stilled that much more powerful for viewers. It’s also good to see how other false Dragons have come and they may even be quite powerful while still being nothing compared to the true Dragon.

I absolutely adored every single scene with the Tinkers. They’ve nailed the feel of them, and the explanation of the Way of the Leaf–a leaf falls to the ground, dies, is absorbed as nutrients and then reborn again–was just beautiful. Each one of these scenes with the Tinkers was absolutely compelling, and we certainly got a look into Perrin’s soul with the line Ila asked him about whether he was happier or not having picked up an axe for battle.

Mat’s conversation with the little girl was another great scene, especially when she asked him where his sisters were. “Safe at home,” Mat replied. “With your mama and papa?” she asked. And then he just looks at her with dead eyes as we, like him, think about his household situation and how his parents basically just left his sisters to the Trollocs. Ouch. Thom has a series of good scenes here, including a great one-liner about “Nothing is more dangerous than a man who knows the past.” How true does that feel in our own time, as people clamor to outlaw things like critical race theory from our schools for fear of their children hearing about the awful civil rights history of the United States

The scenes with Nynaeve, Lan, and Moiraine at the Aes Sedai camp were all hugely important. Each was filled with tension, character-building, or just fun scenes. I loved Nynaeve listening to Liandrin Sedai and then promptly telling Lan “That woman is a snake” as she walks away. I adored seeing the several different warders and how they interacted in different ways, including the true-to-the-books notions of the Green Ajah and their… preference for several partners. The battle scenes here were awesome, and the closing with Nynaeve healing Lan, and Logain looking on clearly seeing how super powerful she is is just an epic moment.

As someone who’s read the books, I appreciate the effort going into throwing the scent off of who the Dragon may be. The feel of the show has captured the Wheel of Time quite well, in my opinion. I think more can be done with it, but we’re getting a sense of the bigness of the world delivered in small doses while also getting the sense of big political machinations, great characterization, and unique magic and social systems that Robert Jordan made up. I love it so much, and this episode was the best yet.

Links

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Wheel of Time” – Episodes 1-3 “Leavetaking,” “Shadow’s Waiting,” and “A Place of Safety” reviews

The Wheel of Time is one of the biggest fantasy blockbusters of all time, and I have read and loved the fantasy novels for decades. I was beyond thrilled to see that an adaptation was coming to Prime TV, and now that it’s here, it’s time to offer weekly reviews! Be sure to also check out my theology and apologetics site for my look at the show from a Christian perspective.

“Leavetaking,” “Shadow’s Waiting,” and, “A Place of Safety”

I’m lumping these episodes together because I just sat and watched them all together, and separating them in my head would be tough now. I suspect many others did the same! Obviously, SPOILERS follow.

Let’s get this out of the way first, yes, they changed things! I need to make this clear: I have been a fan of the series, as I said, for decades. I also have a fairly high tolerance for liberations being taken even with things that are beloved for me. I just like having adaptations, and while I’ll complain if I think something totally throws off the tone, feel, or intent, I largely just absorb the changes and move on. Two Rivers, for example, seemed a bit too big to me, and possibly had too many features that took away from its fairly idyllic setting in the books. Some characters I have quibbles about–like what happened with Perrin and his wife (!!!???). Overall, though, I do love the show so far. Here’s why:

There are several scenes that do fully capture the “feel” of The Wheel of Time. The strongest example, in my opinion, was when Moiraine was interrogated by a Questioner of the Children of the Light. She spoke words that were all true, but deflected his questions with answers that diverted his suspicion. She’s going to meet a “sister,” but all Aes Sedai are sisters; she came from a ferry town, which she did… after she left Two Rivers; and so on. It absolutely, in one single scene, showed how Aes Sedai can be masters of manipulation even within unbreakable vows. I just… loved it so much.

Another great scene was our group singing about Manetheren. It had that haunting feeling that I just loved, and Moiraine monologuing a history of Manetheren was just icing on the cake. Great worldbuilding, and it made it seem much deeper than it otherwise may have. Thom was wonderful, though maybe a bit more roguelike and less flamboyant than I expected. I think they cast him well, though, and his actor stole every scene he was in. I am definitely looking forward to more Thom, and it may just be that I don’t fully remember how Thom was earlier in the series.

I am also hugely anticipating more scenes with the Tinkers, Perrin, Egwene, and the wolves. I thought these scenes could be kind of a drag in the books, so I’m hoping they continue to spur the action and on and skip some of the lengthy exposition that happens in the books. Yes, I love the books, but let’s be honest–they can drag. I even thought the third episode here dragged a little bit in the middle with the long scenes of just running around a grassy field for… everyone.

The Children of the Light also seem more dynamic already, which I love. A friend of mine pointed out how they made at least one Child more empathetic than most of them were in the books, and that could be an interesting direction to take them. I enjoyed Mat’s casting and a deeper background. Instead of him being a kind of happy-go-lucky guy, he has more strength of character than he does in the books at first. I’m surprised to read that they re-cast him for the upcoming second season, because I thought he’s doing a great job in these first 3 episodes. Basically the whole cast is great. The Trollocs are suitably varied and terrifying, but perhaps not quite varied enough.

Yes, there are things I didn’t enjoy. Like the implied sex between Egwene and Rand–it just felt super out-of-place for what’s supposed to be a very pastoral, quaint setting in Two Rivers. Going along with that, the characters from Two Rivers just seem overall more worldly wise than they ought to be. I don’t know if this is on purpose, or if it will be forestalled later, but for now it just does seem to take some of the way the early books developed from us. That may be intentional–skipping all the “country bumpkins ogling at small villages because to them they are huge cities” scenes makes obvious sense for a TV show. On the flip side, Rand and Mat walking into a mining town with nary a blink of an eye was just a bit off to me.

Overall, though, I thought this was a great 3 episode introduction to the series. I am over the moon that they have adapted this series of books, and now I honestly feel some trepidation: with what is a pretty solid start, are they going to finish this all? It’s a monumental task, obviously, so I truly hope they get it done. This is one that it’ll hurt if they don’t finish it. Big ouch. So go watch it, share it on social media, and talk it up! Let’s make sure the show keeps going!

Links

The Wheel of Time – check out my posts on my theology blog in which I evaluate the books and show from a Christian perspective.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Babylon 5 Novels: “Accusations” by Lois Tilton

Having finally watched Babylon 5 for the first time (check out my posts for that series at my Babylon 5 Hub), I decided to dive into the novels. I’ll be reading them largely in publication order and reviewing them individually as we go along. Please do not spoil later books for me. There will be SPOILERS for the book reviewed going forward.

Accusations by Lois Tilton

Accusations is the second Babylon 5 novel, and, like the first, it’s an imperfect experience. The core plot here is about Ivanova and Garibaldi solving a murder mystery on Babylon 5. That’s certainly a plot that one would expect to be within their purview, and Lois Tilton does a good job integrating enough twists and turns to let this be the central plot for the whole novel.

The writing isn’t half bad, either. Tilton captures Ivanova’s role fairly early on, and I enjoyed the tie-in at the very end of the book that basically bookends the novel with standard Babylon 5 operations. There’s a complexity to Ivanova’s portrayal here that makes it engaging. However, the problems with the book begin with Ivanova as well. She ends up at one point letting Talia Winters scan her, something that would never have happened with the Ivanova we know from the show, especially from later seasons. Accusations was published in 1995, so sometime during Season 2. But that makes it difficult to look back on with the knowledge from later seasons that negate this somewhat key scene.

If you’re willing to ignore such problems reconciling this book with the later series–something a reader could probably do by assuming the scan happened and Ivanova somehow convinced/coerced Winters to not tell too much afterwords–you’re going to get good mileage out of this novel. Tilton’s prose sometimes captures the conversational style punctuated with humor that the show does so well. At other times, it can fall flat. But for a tie-in novel, her writing does the job.

I do have to ask: Why is G’Kar even on the cover? He barely even appears in the book–so little that I’m questioning if I even remember him showing up or if I’m conflating it with the first book in my head. I was hoping he’d have a role in some of the plotting happening on the station. But he doesn’t, and neither do any other alien characters. This is a story almost entirely about Ivanova, Winters, and Garibaldi, with a cast of other humans thrown along for the ride. That doesn’t necessarily make this a bad novel, but it does take away some of the feel of Babylon 5. On the other hand, this hyper-focus on humans means that we get some insights into how far force, human corporations, and some workings of the politicking happening behind the scenes. It’s not a lot, but it is interesting to get just a glimpse into some background there.

Ultimately, Accusations is a decent read for fans of Babylon 5. It captures Ivanova’s character well–apart from the major flub discussed above–and mostly captivates readers with an interesting mystery plot at its core. There are also revelations about human forces shaping into potential for later conflict in the TV series, as we saw in later seasons. The book is an imperfect but satisfying read for fans, especially if they’re inclined to be forgiving when reading tie-in novels.

(All links to Amazon are Affiliates.)

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time, Crusade: Episodes 5-6

Best side character so far. I don’t know if she shows up again but I love her so much.

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Now I’ve finished the series, but am working my way through the movies, related works, comics, and books. Please don’t spoil anything from other works here! 

5: Patterns of the Soul

New worries abound as there is fear that the Drakh Plague is spreading. The Excalibur is dispatched to investigate and given a totally flawless defense against the plague–a nanoshield that will slough of anything that comes in contact with the lungs for 48 hours. Surely nothing could go wrong.

The colonists are infected, but there is also indigenous life on the planet. They believe the human colonists may have brought their destruction. When Dureena encounters the first people of the planet, they tell her about their arrival on the planet and we see a scene with the Shadows destroying their colony ship. For Dureena, this signifies a, as she puts it, “lost tribe.” The people here are a lost tribe from Dureena’s own people, and she is willing to put up quite a fight to ensure their safety.

The colonists capture Dr. Chambers and take off from the planet, quickly putting the Earthforce foolishness about not establishing a quarantine into perspective. Also, it seems there’s something seriously wrong with the apparent leader of these rebellious colonists. I don’t know if it’s just how he’s acting the character, but there’s a kind of stilted nature of how he’s speaking that seems to suggest an unhinged person.

Earthforce themselves, of course, are deeply involved in the plight of the colonists, and when Gideon uncovers it, he is… displeased. He helps the colonists have another chance to get back to the planet and not be removed. Dureena , in a conversation after this, notes that Gideon hides the truth and gambles with lives. Gideon seems to take it as the compliment is probably intended to be.

On Excalibur, our corporate interlocutor/archaeologist Max Eilerson attempts to sway Dr. Chambers to let him announce the discovery of Dureena’s people, an apparently profitable venture. Chamber upbraids him and he apparently feels enough a twinge of conscience that he covers up the knowledge of her people in his report to his company back home.

This episode was interesting but seems to have a lot of new stuff happening–the discovery of Dureena’s entire remaining people would seem to be a shocking development that requires more reaction than it gets.

6: Ruling from the Tomb

Lochley! Mars! Lochley gets absolutely wrecked by a Mars cop in a debate over how many people she needs to protect something on Mars. Kind of an epic conversation. Anyway, Gideon shows up and he’s at a conference of doctors trying to figure out a cure for the plague. But killings start to happen and we get some major religious underpinnings to those killings in the background.

There is apparently some kind of doomsday cult named Sacred Omega that is behind the killing. Alain LeBecque is hearing a voice that purports to be telling him the will of God as he continues down the violent path following the voice–of Joan D’Arc? Babylon 5’s broad obsession with the Medieval era continues. The strong casting for Lieutenant Carr meant she stole every scene she was in. I mean that in the best way–Juanita Jennings owned that character.

This episode was a mix of ideas and feelings, blending nostalgia for the original B5 series with flashes of brilliance. But overall, the central plot–a deranged religious killer endangering a conference about the plague–isn’t very strong. The mystery is never allowed to be a mystery because we essentially know what’s happening from the get-go. Moreover, though steeped in religious language, the episode doesn’t cash in on the subtle looks at religion Babylon 5 had throughout the entire series. Instead, we just have the death of LeBecque as he sees himself being, by God’s grace, in paradise. The lengthy discussions at the end with Gideon, for example, saying he conditions his belief in God on whether the plague is cured and the other main characters sitting around talking about the difficulty with interpreting religion do add some thoughtfulness to the mix. It just seems like not enough payoff–or perhaps not enough buy-in–for the episode to carry.

Also what the hell is with the credit music in this one?

(All Links to Amazon are Affiliates Links.)

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time, “Crusade”: Episodes 3-4

You are in pain.

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Now I’ve finished the series, but am working my way through the movies, related works, comics, and books. Please don’t spoil anything from other works here! 

3: The Well of Forever

The crystal with coordinates built into it was an awesome idea. Galen shows it off, an artifact that can lead the Excalibur to the Well of Forever. Meanwhile, a telepath is coming aboard to do a deep scan of Lieutenant Matheson–himself a telepath–to check out his security clearance or… something.

The deep scan itself reveals to the telepath that the ship is on the way to the Well of Forever, and he reacts somewhat poorly to the news. As the Excalibur gets closer to the Well of Forever, it encounters some gigantic jellyfish looking creatures which Galen assures them are “barely sentient.” As they try to drift through, one of the creatures grabs the ship and begins, well, mating with it. It’s a moment of some levity during a rather tense situation.

Galen also has apparently taken control of the ship, and he’s unwilling to allow Gideon to turn around once they discover there’s nothing in the space where the Well should be. Ultimately, they do find it and it turns out to be a huge amount of valuable materials. But the Well is apparently a kind of Mausoleum for Technomages and others. And Galen’s insistence on going there was to say goodbye to his love.

Gideon then sets up the adversarial telepath to illegally probe Dureena. He then blackmails the telepath into not blocking Matheson’s promotion. It’s a pretty hardcore moment for Gideon.

The whole episode feels a bit strange to me. Apparently Galen was willing to hijack the Excalibur to say goodbye to his love, and Gideon’s conversation with Galen at the end is surprising. Gideon chooses not to put the offense on the record because he values Galen’s skills. But does that mean the whole trip is off the record? That’s a lot of data to expunge or cover up for a big crew.

4: The Path of Sorrows

Gideon and others find a kind of stasis sphere in some ancient archaeological site. After it appears to interact with Gideon, the Captain insists on bringing it aboard the Excalibur. I had a strong sense of foreboding about this, which was certainly reinforced by the music and lighting surrounding the object in the opening scenes.

This episode has quite a bit of character development, which is great. So far, they’d pretty much all seemed fairly thin characters. We especially got more about Gideon’s background, as we see that he witnessed the destruction of his ship. Then, as he floated in EVA, he watched the ships belonging to the technomages fly past and ignore his distress call… until one came back for him. That one was, of course, Galen.

Later, Gideon wins an “Apocalypse Box” while gambling. It’s a rather ominous scene, as the man he won it from immediately “frees” himself by stepping in front of an air car.

Matheson also gets some flashbacks, letting us see into the heart of the telepath’s compound as he is assigned to help control a rogue telepath, but in the process, he gets used as a dupe to destroy the Psi Corps base. Only this alien in the stasis capsule is able to tell him, and then mysteriously tell Matheson “I FORGIVE YOU.” Right as Matheson leaves, Galen approaches and ominously tells the creature that “I know you.”

Galen reveals that he has done research and believes the creature feeds of the emotions of others because it has none of its own. But the creatre responds to Galen’s accusation arguing that it exists on forgiveness, and then launches Galen into a flashback of his own. His flashback is of his love dying, and as hecomes out of it he says “Damn you” to the alien, then asks “You want me to forgive God?” He doesn’t believe whatsoever in a beyond or an afterlife. His rage leads him to almost kill the alien, but he’s interrupted by Matheson and Gideon.

The incident, however, convinces Gideon to send it back to where it was housed. A haunting shot of Galen riding alone through the Excalibur as Gideon’s voice over says “No way out… no way to go” is one of the best moments so far in the series. After they drop the alien back on its planet, another approaches, being told “YOU ARE IN PAIN” as the alien said to all the others. We’re left with a closing as Galen gets a message that seems to reflect his lover’s words that there is a beyond, and that she’ll send him a message to let him know she was right. But Galen throws the message to the floor before walking away.

This episode has me fired up. So far, I have to admit, I wasn’t fully sold on the series. But with this episode, we have the characterization and wonder that I’ve loved about Babylon 5. There’s depth here far beyond the previous 3 episodes, which were each fine. This episode, however, is something special.

(All Links to Amazon are Affiliates Links.)

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time, “Crusade”: Episodes 1-2

Space Archaeology: Even Cooler than Archaeology

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Now I’ve finished the series, but am working my way through the movies, related works, comics, and books. Please don’t spoil anything from other works here! 

1: War Zone

It’s always exciting starting a new TV series, and I was doubly excited going into this series as a newly minted Babylon 5 fan. Nothing like having more Babylon 5! It quickly becomes apparent in this first episode that special effects is being more heavily utilized. We see a bunch of different locales fairly swiftly, including one of my favorite sci-fi tropes, the future archaeological dig. I was also excited to apparently have a technomage on board from the beginning? They were one of the intriguing side adventures left largely unexplored after the end of Babylon 5’s run.

The stories in this episode seem to open into a bunch of potential paths. There’s the archaeological team of questionable legal status trying to figure out what to do about a crashed alien ship. I enjoyed this little plot. then, there’s Captain Matthew Gideon and his newly assembled crew, including Dureena Nafeel–a thief, Dr. Sarah Chambers, the science nerd (I think? we don’t get a great picture of her yet), and Lieutenant John Matheson, a telepath.

The ship they help crew, the Excalibur, is almost comically huge (more than a mile long, I believe they say). I always wonder about obscenely huge ships in science fiction like this. Where do the resources come from? What makes such huge ships worth the investment when they can’t cover nearly as much space as many smaller ships? It’s a complaint I have a lot, but I’ll bury it for now.

I thought the aliens on the planet where the archaeologists were at were a bit silly looking. Also, the acting seemed more forced than it did on the main Babylon 5 series.

Since watching this first episode I learned that the continuity is strange and the viewing order is all messed up. Oh well, I think I’ll just keep going in the order they have on DVD. I thought this was a decent series opener. I’m interested in watching more, for sure.

2: The Long Road

So there’s a dragon… in SPAAAAACE! I gotta say, I love the idea of a dragon in space. My first impression, though, was that this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever in the universe of Babylon 5. Anyway, the dragon appears to only be the, er, biggest of the problems on the planet. There’s any number of other prank-like efforts to thwart mining the planet. That’s a problem, because the planet has some mineral that potentially helps humans fight the Drakh plague.

Anyway, Galen, the technomage, is highly amused by Captain Gideon’s attempts to blend in with the local populace, who are apparently… somewhat displeased by the efforts to strip mine their planet as well. After a mob comes to tell them to get out of town, Alwyn, a local technomage (?) intercedes and saves them. Galen seems even more amused by this, which is interesting to me.

Alwyn is the cause of all the troubles for the mining operation, and he is extremely displeased by how the planet he is trying to serve is being destroyed by the need to be efficient and speedy. (As an aside, Alwyn is also unhappy with the “cowardice” of the technomages for leaving just as the Shadow War was breaking out.)

After the situation escalates into a hostage crisis, the technomages show up. They’re a tad put out. The Earthforce people who try to stop the situation beleive the technomages are only able to create “smoke and mirrors,” and after they fly straight through the Dragon, this seems to be true. But then Galen and Alwyn show up and wreak havoc with some holo-demons Alwyn designed which apparently can interact physically with people. But the situation continues to escalate, until Alwyn decides to take it upon himself to end it all. His preparation of a devastating spell prompts Captain Gideon to use his main gun to stop him. Alwyn appears dead, but he is alive–apparently using himself as a distraction to force Gideon to destroy the mining operation with the Excalibur. It’s a poignant moment when he talks to Galen after this. He sees the “glassed over monument” of the mining pit as a good reminder and warning.

I think this episode has me buying in to the series a lot more than the first episode did. The technomages are awesome. I actually thought about the show Firefly quite a bit during this episode. It felt like an episode of that show, with all the wheeling and dealing and balancing the interests of a big military power with the interests of the locals. It’s a fine episode of television.

(All Links to Amazon are Affiliates Links.)

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer seasons 3 and 4

It turns out that there are a lot of shows I’ve wanted to watch for a while but never got around to. I’ve been catching up, though! I recently finished my first-ever watch-through of Babylon 5 (check out my posts on the series) and I’m 4 seasons (well, at the beginning of season 5) in Buffy. This show is… phenomenal. My discussion of the seasons 3 and 4 follows, and will have SPOILERS for those seasons. Please do not spoil later seasons for me!

Season 3

“Anne” was a good episode to set up the rest of the season–seeing Buffy so distraught while watching her group of friends attempt to make up for her not being around was a solid thread. Having Angel return is a huge lead on the whole time, and I kinda wish I didn’t know a separate show for Angel exists. That made me fairly confident going in that he was going to leave. And of course he does pull what I call the “Spiderman.” The Spiderman is when someone decides they can’t be with the person they love for some allegedly honorable or noble reason but it’s really just annoying because their decision doesn’t resolve the alleged problem to begin with. Anyway, Angel gives Buffy the Spiderman, and a bit of it goes in the other direction. I am sure there’s all kinds of fan fic dedicated to having them end up together forever (and I guess it is theoretically possible they get back together in-universe at some later point–there’s a lot of the show to go).

There are other threads, of course. Willow’s own burgeoning power(s) is a fun one. Faith is an exciting character, and I didn’t really expect them to take her in the direction they did. It’s pretty awesome to see more of the Council and the interactions they have with Buffy.

At this point I’m totally into the show. I love its lore, I love the characters, and I think it has built an exceptional amount of story to build upon. I’m glad to see there are comics and novels that explore more of the series. If you have any (spoiler-free!) recommendations, please let me know!

Season 4

Season 4 started off a bit rough, in my opinion. The new setting, a group of new characters, and having a bunch of other characters get introduced and then killed off right away made it start feeling a bit like a monster-of-the-week scenario. But then the storylines that continued to draw threads through the season really got their feet under them and the season just became a series of high point after high point. Honestly, it’s my favorite season so far.

One obvious high point is the episode “Hush.” I don’t like horror movies. I just don’t like thinking about all the grossness that goes into the awful ways people devise to kill people in horror movies. Here, the established characters and extremely creepy makeup and music combined with eerie silence of everyone involved make it a haunting and amazing experience. It’s honestly one of the best episodes I’ve seen of anything.

Oz? Oz came back as a one-off!? What the heck? I honestly didn’t expect them to bring him back and then tie him off as a character all at once. It makes me wonder if something was happening behind the scenes because he was such a fun character, and I loved having werewolves around. I guess it did get tedious having to have episodes where he was stuck in werewolf prison off and on, but I also thought they could have taken him as leader of a werewolf pack around town and run with it. I wonder if we’ll see more of him someday.

Faith’s resolution (for now? who knows) is another great twist. She was a good villain, and the hints at the end of this season about the “darkness” inside Slayers is interesting.

“Superstar” was one of the most fun episodes of television… ever. It was surreal in a way that was never horrifying or frightening (looking at you, “Hush”), but delivered the goods on plot, fun, and character development. I hope Jonathan shows up again. Adam and all the secret agents I haven’t really discussed at all to this point, but I thought they did a fabulous job. Like I said–the threads that started early in this season truly give great payoffs later. It’s a delight all the way through. I can’t wait to watch more.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.