More Thoughts on Rewatching Babylon 5

Title beginning with “M” …

Anyway, I’m about half-way through Season 5 of Babylon 5, which is already abnormal for me since when I rewatch Babylon 5 I usually skip Season 5. But since I have the time I might as well watch the entire series.

As I commented before, I’m not a Sheridan fan. And maybe it’s because I’m binging on it more than usual — watching 1.5 to 2 disks (6 – 8 episodes) a day — but this time I found that the Sheridan/Delenn romance really, really grating. They seem to develop feelings for each other very quickly and it’s often really insipid. JMS has never really been good at romantic dialogue, but at least it isn’t as bad as the “Don’t touch me unless you mean it!” line. Still, I didn’t enjoy it very much.

Of course, perhaps I’m just not in a romantic mood, because this time I found Marcus’ sacrifice to save Ivanova more stupid than romantic. Although perhaps a big part of that was the fact that I was very aware that she wasn’t going to return for the last season this time. Still, if they had wanted to they could have used the machine themselves, and Delenn’s comment about sending her back to Babylon 5 to make her comfortable could have hinted at that. So it really does come across, when you know the outcome and preferred outcome, of trying to place a character in peril so that they could save them and eliminate another character. But since it isn’t followed up on since the actress leaves the series, it just ends up being a pointless sacrifice in the worst romantic tradition … and in the process eliminates a character that would have been very useful in Season 5.

Of course, we all know the story of Season 5: JMS was told he wasn’t getting one, wrapped everything up in Season 4, and then TNT picked it up and gave him a final season … but he’d already wrapped up the main plot, rushing through it in Season 4 (and Season 4 is very rushed). Now, he had all sorts of additional plots that he could talk about, but one of the main issues with Season 5 is that he tries to do all of them, and most of them are mainly character plots. He has Londo becoming Emperor, building the Alliance, Lennier leaving to become a Ranger (and potentially being a traitor), Garibaldi falling into alcoholism again, the Drakh’s campaign, introducing the new Captain (forced by the aforementioned actress departure), and the Telepath War. All of these take time, and so there’s little time to develop all of these plots.

The latter two are particularly hurt by this because they rely heavily on new characters that we don’t have a strong emotional connection to. And both of those characters — Lockley and Byron — are introduced pretty much as utter jerks. Lockley comes in talking about how the normal B5 chaos is a sign of bad leadership and that she’s going to make everything run smoothly, which we know from the past four seasons is impossible. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it is a relatively common trope, with the new person coming in saying that they will make the changes to make everything work. But there are two ways this goes. The less common is that they come in and actually do make things better. This is rare because it’s rarely dramatically satisfying. The more common one is that they end up having to accept that things can’t be made that organized. This is the one that would work here because we know from all the other commanders that B5 can never work that way. But neither really seems to happen here. Yes, later Lockley seems to accept that things are always that chaotic, but it’s not a character revelation for her. It just happens. So we are left with the initial impression that she’s merely arrogant. It doesn’t help that she gets into scraps with Garibaldi, but since we know and like him better than her this can never work out for her. If she wins, it can look like her winning by script fiat. For example, in one scene Garibaldi is pushing her for which side she was on in the Civil War, and she replies with a speech talking about how she only cares about loyalty, duty and honour, and giving up any of those would make the others meaningless … except that providing any aid to a government that was bombing civilians would likely force her to sacrifice honour at least, making it pointless. And she gets applause for this … from an audience of people who were against Clark in the war. This then comes across as pandering to her, to show her as being strong and capable, which they really have to do since she has to do important things later and we have to believe that she’s capable of doing them and not a screw-up. Which means that she rarely loses to Garibaldi, which is grating. But when she does lose, she just looks incompetent. Her character was really done a disservice by having to be parachuted into the role.

They try to give us a glimpse into her personal life in “Day of the Dead” with Zoey, but that comes a bit too late and on top of that it is interrupted by her trying to be extremely competent and grinding Garibaldi’s gears again.

Byron is just as bad. While he keeps expressing a laudable idea of pacifism, he’s a jerk to Garibaldi when Garibaldi comes to ask him for help as repayment for being provided a colony on Babylon 5 and expresses the same idea of telepath supremacy that people like Bester expressed, who are clearly the villains. Also, the revelation to him that the Vorlons created the telepaths happens too quickly and doesn’t have enough of an impact on his actions and beliefs as his speeches indicate. He started out demanding a homeworld, and after finding that out … keeps demanding a homeworld. He even barely uses that fact to argue for a homeworld, instead pretty much immediately instituting his pre-planned backup plan of gathering information from the ambassadors and threatening to reveal it unless they give him a homeworld. He keeps talking about negotiating and talking but then is never willing to compromise or offer anything other than various threats. As such, he doesn’t come off as someone pushed into a desperate situation but as someone who very quickly maneuvers himself into a no-win situation by being antagonistic and unrealistic. Of course, on the flip side Sheridan moves quickly to kick them out after their threat even while lamenting that talking would be better.

So Season 5 isn’t that great, which will surprise no one. I’m going to finish the last half, then watch the “Thirdspace”, “The River of Souls”, and “A Call to Arms” movies, and then the entire series — one season, of “Crusade”. And for the latter, I’m going to be watching to see if my main theory of Crusade holds true: if Galen is in the episode, it’s a good one, and if he isn’t, it’s “Meh” at best.

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