Babylon 5 season 1 episode 3: Born to the Purple

You guys, this episode was bad. It was well acted by Peter Jurasik but beyond that it had basically no redeeming value.

This week, Londo (Jurasik) falls in love with a dancer (stripper?) who tries to steal his (laughably titled) “purple files” and that’s it. It is silly, ultimately pointless, develops no relationships and just sort of…happens. What there is though, is terrible fashion!

Screenshot (69)Our story begins with Sinclair and G’Kar interrupting Londo at the station’s…um…”burlesque house” where a young Barbara Mandrell practices for her set at Lillith Fair.

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Meet Adira (Fabiana Udenio) our plot device for the week. She’s a dancer, a slave, an adventurous dresser and a much better actress than this show allows her to be.

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And apparently she lives in a genie’s bottle.

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Jerry Doyle looks just as shocked at this credit as I am. Really? Harlan Ellison?

Anyway

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Game Boys existed in 1994 so there is no excuse for Vir’s (Stephen Furst) janky handheld. Come on prop department, spend a penny

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Although the dreaded return of the 13″ CRT monitor tells us that budget is still a primary concern. Also, I swear this is the best image I could grab, I do not hate Stephen Furst.

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I know I bitched a lot last time about how stupid these commlinks are on this show but look at this shit, Ivannova’s is basically peeling off. The corner there might as well act like a fist weapon. This was such a stupid impractical concept and I will never not point out how dumb it is.

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Speaking of, Adira is tasked with stealing the access code to the purple files (so, so stupid) with this…butt plug? super headlight? Ink & quill set? God I hate you, Babylon 5 prop department.

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More props: these janky “flowers” with Christmas lights and shredded zip-loc baggies dangling from them.

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Also: “Universe Today” ha?

 

And now a triptych of “what the hell is Adira wearing why do you all hate Adira??” She wears this Victorian-inspired mess for the remainder of the episode. It’s so floofy and complicated and so out of place with everything else I just do not get it.

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Additionally, Talia’s “nude illusion” shoulders are so CMA Awards 1987 I can’t stand it. Why is there SO MUCH velour in the future, huh?

 

Follow. That. Bustle!

Okay. Now we come to the dumbest part of this very dumb episode. Londo and Sinclair are looking for Adira. They go to the burlesque house before they open to try to speak with the girls. Londo, wears a hood to at least try a disguise (never mind that he told us earlier that he’s there nightly) but Sinclair just puts on a coat. Face fully visible. Now, why they’re trying to be sneaky with this rejected Dick Tracy-villain who runs the club I don’t know -like, just ask to talk to the girls! But for the club owner to not recognize the COMMANDER OF THE STATION is ludicrous! Especially if he’s criminally-aligned!

 

I mean, if it was just and excuse for Michael O’Hare to use a crazy palooka voice and make weird faces… I’ll allow it.

Screenshot (93)These “dancers” (in quotes because I have no idea what this place is. Are they sex workers? ‘Cause that is fine if they just say that!) are so extra.

 

Wraparound glasses = alien bounty hunter

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So we’re all certain he didn’t make a copy of the IMMENSELY IMPORTANT SECRET FILES THAT COULD END YOUR CAREER? OK!

TROPES

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You knew there was an O2 mask. Of course there is!

QUESTIONS

Why? What was the point of all of this?

What are “purple files?”

Why did we need the subplot of Garibaldi creepily watching SUSAN’S FATHER’S DYING MESSAGE TO HER?????

Do all female Centauri look like Adira? Was she Centauri?

Why does Londo (and in this episode G’Kar) get an assistant? Where’s Delenn’s assistant (I gather from credits he exists…?)

Speaking of Delenn, I thought the Minbari were the “big” aliens for this show. Like the Vulcans were on Star Trek initially. Not even a mention of them in this episode?

Sinclair and Talia are gonna hook up, right?

This was BY FAR the worst episode yet. As I said before, Peter Jurasik gets some nice moments and his chemistry with Fabiana Udenio is really nice but I have never been more bored. This story was bizarre and the logic was non-existent. And no one was born to anything purple or otherwise, what does that even mean?

I can’t believe I’m going to say this but, when does Bruce Boxleitner get here? This is getting silly.

Next time: an Infection!

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Babylon 5 Season 1 Episode 2: The Soul Hunter

This is the first “real” episode of Babylon 5 the series and it is one of the most underwhelming episodes of TV I’ve ever seen. It’s boring, slow, and nonsensical. And, while it deals with Minbari mythology (kind of?) it really does nothing to advance the overall narrative of the series or explore who the Minbari are. Which is a shame as this is the perfect time to start exploring this world. But, no. The lion’s share of this episode is taken up by the titular Soul Hunter (played by William Morgan Sheppard here doing ALL THE ACTING IN THE WORLD) MONOLOGUING ALL THE WORDS!!! and Delenn alternately looking worried and/or moaning inconsolably while being tired to a piece of grating material. Ironic that this is all grating material (get it?)

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What. Is. With. The. Design. Aesthetic. In. The. Future?!?! Why does everything look a a balloon/fuse/headlight bulb? I guess I am just too used to the general sleekness of Star Trek ’cause these just look cumbersome

We also meet our new swagtastic Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) who already is leaps and bounds ahead of anyone on this show in terms of fashion. That coat/scarf combo is amazing in both looks and totally uselessness on a space station.

Screenshot (50)Last time I mentioned I thought there would be a fat Garibaldi story coming. Now I think we’re just being set up for him being useless as here Delenn steals his weapon with almost no effort on her part. Also in the background, the purple/O2 masks are back with us.

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Oh Michael O’Hare.

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The Soul Hunter’s whole deal is that they can sense on on coming death for the purpose of collecting the soul for archiving (and we later see, being extremely creepy with). This “death sense” is shown to us via watching this interminable 3-card monty game in which the conman is killed. This scene, the chase, the guy’s death and the Soul Hunter’s watered-down Vincent Price monologue lasts for at least 7 minutes. It’s exhausting.

All the while he’s just standing there. Like this. For the whole time. In that makeup. With…what the hell is his forehead? Is it supposed to look like that? I need an adult!

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Meanwhile the entire command staff is modeling the 3 possible ways to relax in the new uniforms.

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Farscape this is not.

This cracked me up. We start with Sinclair and Ivannova talking to Soul Hunter #2 on the requisite 13″ CRT monitor. Then, on the reverse, we see that while they’re taking to him, he’s on another bigger screen (15″ maybe) over their shoulders. There is no reason for this design, it’s wholly nonsensical and it makes me think that he’s looking at Sinclair’s ear during this whole exchange.

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Our baddie is eventually dispatched by his own machine that he was using to eat Delenn’s soul. While she needed to be exsanguinated and prepared over a few hours, this guy gets hit and just stands there for a full minute while getting killed. I assure you he easily could have stepped an inch to either side and left but he I guess chooses to just take it. Which begs the question: How does this process work?

No matter, Delenn is safe, the Soul Hunter is gone and the souls he acquired over the years can be released by Delenn in a sequence that I had to GIF becasue it looked fully insane.

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Questions

Besides what the fuck was Mira Furlan directed to do in the above?

Let’s talk comm links. I think this is the first time they’ve shown B5‘s personal comm system and it is actually stupid. It’s a giant speaker that is stuck in some manner to the back of the hand. Besides the fact that this is a really weird idea, like it’s clear you wanted to do a comm watch but thought the idea wasn’t future-y enough, your comm system can be negated by all sorts of things. Like the gloves worn in the flight suits you need to wear. And it’s cumbersome in that is seriously limits the range of motion (think hand-to-hand combat) of that hand. It’s also unsanitary unless you’re issued a new one daily.

Tropes

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We’ve already seen some O2 masks, purple lighting, and 13″ CRT monitors. So here’s 1 more purple and mask combo for the road. Richard Biggs is clearly thinking “what have I signed up for?”

God this episode was boring. I think they were trying to go for moody, mysterious, and atmospheric. But it came off as plodding, overwrought, and silly. These alien mythology stories are really hard to do under the best of circumstances but to hook it on the mythology of a species the audience doesn’t know yet makes for a shaky foundation.

Next time: The series 3rd episode dances towards either self-parody or retroactive justification with “Born to the Purple”

Babylon 5 Season 1 Episode 1: Midnight on the Firing Line

The first regular episode of Babylon 5 aired 11-months after the premiere movie. Now operating with a budget and a real cast in place, they began their series with “Midnight on the Firing Line.” 2 things right off the top: I hope they reran the movie before this premiered as this episode doesn’t set things up at all- The Gathering isn’t required to enjoy this (i guess…) but there is a certain barrier to entry that would be well eased by seeing all that world building (although, The Gathering is in no way referenced in this episode which I find odd to say the least.) Secondly, the title of this episode makes no sense as on screen text shows that this episode starts at 10:00 AM not midnight.

Anyway.

Episode 1 begins with a long cold open setting up the plot of the episode- and unmotivated attack on a Centauri civilian colony- and somewhat establishing the world of the station. We also get our first glimpse of the new uniforms

 

I have to say the leather lapel and collar really break up the fabric balloon effect of the original costumes. We also get our first shot of new XO Lt. Commander Susan Ivannova (Claudia Christian). As there’s no real way to determine how much time has actually passed since the movie- at least enough time to get new haircuts – there’s no way to really establish how integrated into the crew Ivannova is. That said, I can’t really say how close a relationship Laurel Takashima had with anyone either so I guess B5 isn’t super concerned about people and relationships just yet. One thing is certain, Christian is a far more confidant actor than Tamlyn Tomita was.

We also get our first look at our opening credits! I think I have mentioned before that I am kind of a credits sequence nerd and this is…over a minute long! The dour monologue, the restatement of the premise weekly (nicely sidestepping the need to ever reference the movie I guess) the line “Humans and aliens surrounded by 2 million 5 hundred thousand tons of spinning metal. All alone. In the dark.” It’s all so damn much for a weekly series.

The main plot about the Centauri colony gets folded into another plot about supply ships being attacked by raiders. In the movie it was established that Commander Sinclair was a pilot in the war so off he goes to investigate

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I kind of love how these fighters drop out of the station. It’s a cool re-imagining of the typical hanger concept. In the meantime it’s revealed that the perpetrators of the attack on the colony are the Narn! Oh no! Londo and G’kar get into a fight and Londo decides he has to kill the Narn ambassador. Before he can though he runs into (literally) new station telepath Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) who gives us B5 standard telepath is scared after a mind scan acting:

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Vague staring into the middle distance! Now we know it’s serious! But, no one gets killed, the Narn are defeated and the raiders are stopped to and everything is fine.

There are also a couple of subplots that are worth mentioning. There is some lip service paid to a Presidential election on Earth. Upshot is everyone is very concerned with voting so I guess that is a thing that gets better in the future. Secondly, the President is shown in a weird black & white photo and my first thought was that it was a news story about an ancient Hollywood couple? Why was it in black and white? Color exists! We’ve seen it!

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It’s one of the many aesthetic quirks about this show that I just do not get.

Moving on, there is also a subplot about Garibaldi’s (Jerry Doyle) “favorite thing” which is heavily implied to be sex. Every time he mentions it, there is a lasciviousness to his tone that is really gross. But, it’s revealed at the end that it’s really watching old Duck Dodgers cartoons (on the standard 13″ CRT monitors) while eating popcorn. He tries to get Delenn to join him in his frivolity.

It works as well as can be expected.

Questions

Since I am knew to the B5 world, there are some questions I have, things that I am super unclear on that the narrative has not fixed. Primarily with episode 1 is how the hell does hyperspace work? In dialogue, they seem to know far in advance when there is a hyperspace approach, I assume because there has to be some reservation on their “jump gate” (I think).

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But, at the beginning of this episode we see an…uh…hyperspace tunnel(?) open without a gate present

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Which begs the question: What is the point of the gate?

Tropes

B5 has already established a certain number of tropes to be uniquely their own. I’ve already shown you this week’s 13″ CRT monitors but let’s not overlook the…

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Oxygen masks!

Non-Spoiled future guessing

I am trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but I have watched A LOT of TV before so I have some thoughts.

— Garibaldi is going to have a weight problem storyline? As Chief of security, he needs to keep in shape, but all we ever really see him doing in his off time is eating. I already showed you the popcorn but check out this dinner

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That is ALL for him. And Ivannova gives him a look like “Really dude?” I’m just saying, I see a fitness story in the offing.

— This is less a prediction than a “what might have been” had this show aired a little later. I get the impression that there is a sub-textual flirtation brewing between Ivannova and Talia. Ivannova tells a long story about why she doesn’t like telepaths because of mom-related trauma. Talia is sympathetic. I’m not sure if it was intended, or the actors were just feeling a certain way or maybe I am just reading into it, but I think if this show had aired later than 1994 there would have been a relationship there.

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I mean, Claudia Christian can sure do longing looks, right?

This episode (and the next to be honest) was really boring. The raider plot and the colony plot merging was a nice touch but either one of them was likely enough for a full episode at this point in a series. I still don’t know really anything about the characters, the species, the reasons for any of this to be happening. They really need to step up the characters and relationships because this plot-driven nonsense is honestly really boring.

Babylon 5 Season 1 Episode 0: The Gathering

I have always loved science fiction. From the first time I saw Star Wars as a kid, I was hooked on stories involving weird aliens, amazing technology and far off worlds. I’ve discussed before my love of Star Trek, Farscape, and the various Stargates. But, for whatever reason the beloved 90’s sci-fi epic Babylon 5 never quite made my list.

Premiering in 1993, a month after the too-similar-by-half Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (which we’ll discuss more in a minute), J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 is still lauded by fans as an incredible work that, because of its perceived similarity to another show, never really gained the mainstream love it should have.  The story goes that Straczynski pitched B5 to Paramount in 1989 who passed on the series. He shopped it around and it was eventually picked up to syndication. But, right as B5 was announced, Paramount announced the third Star Trek spin-off, DS9, which was suspiciously similar to the show that they had passed on 4 years before. All parties have basically denied any copying but the initial similarities:

  • Takes place on a space station
  • Various aliens everywhere
  • Station has a centrally located casino
  • Political and religious intrigue take center stage

are hard to ignore. And, that DS9 has the obvious built-in Star Trek fanbase puts it in a better position for success right off the bat. But, as fans of both shows will point out, the series diverged from each other pretty sharply after the initial episodes and found their own paths (or in DS9’s case around season 3). As a die hard Trekker in the 90’s, B5 was never really on my radar. It wasn’t even a choice really, DS9 already plugged into something I was a fan of so dipping into this new world was not something I was looking to explore beyond seeing commercials and thinking “huh, that looks…what is with that guy’s hair?”

As the years wore on though, I heard more and more how amazing this show was. The last time I had heard such vociferous praise of a genre show was Farscape and when I finally saw that I was floored at how much I loved it. Which bring us here, now, with all (ish) of Babylon 5 being on Amazon Prime Video.

All 5 seasons, and the pilot movie The Gathering are available for streaming. The other movies (Thirdspace, In the Beginning, River of Souls, The Legend of The Rangers, A Call to Arms) as well as the spin-off Crusade and the final movie Lost Tales: Voices in the Dark are not currently available but from what I have seen those don’t begin in continuity until part way through season 4 so I think I have more than enough to really see if this show lives up to all the hype.

With all that preamble out of the way, let’s begin The Gathering

It’s important to note right at the beginning, there are HUGE differences between the movie and the first episode of the series. There are some differing characters and the aesthetic is slightly different. But, the crux of the world building done in the movie carries over to the series well.establishing shotWe get our first look at  our home for the series, the titular station Babylon 5. There’s some dialogue about why the station is designated 5- the first 3 were destroyed and the 4th vanished without a trace and that seems like a rather good time to retire the “Babylon” name but I digress- and nothing about why the station looks like a spark plug. I realize my DS9 bias as I immediately assumed that planet in the background is in someway important. It so far is not.

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The 1993 graphics are on full display. This was a random shot I grabbed but they’re all bad in a Starfox-meets-VR Troopers sort of way

not the promenade

And, again this station has a Not-the-Promenade casino centerpiece.

 

 

Here’s a quick glimpse of the aliens that populate the station, on the left is a proto-Farscape muppet-like creature and on the right is a refugee-from-the-planet-of-the-apes-cum-bartender.

And, don’t forget the cultures of Earth being represented

 

 

In their traditional garb and all…Yes that is a beret. Because of course.

 

 

Here’s our first glimpse of the XO Lt. Commander Laurel Takashima (Tamlyn Tomita). Her job appears the be to control all traffic entering the station and standing in disco lighting all day. Takashima doesn’t make it to the series. She doesn’t die (as far as I can tell) but her character disappears after this movie.

uniform hate

Other things that don’t survive this movie are these uniforms. Which, if I was Tamlyn Tomita I would have quit after looking in the mirror. If the uniforms didn’t look…um…uniformly bad (sorry) I would say the costumer hated her so very much. Additionally if you plan on watching this, please note that Tamlyn Tomita is a great actress and you should not judge her ability based on this movie. The acting in this movie is pretty bad across the board but Tomita’s performance is almost as fake as the graphics.

Babylon 5 (as the opening narration of the series proper will endlessly drone) is a place where humans and aliens can meet and coexist. Humans have in the recent past completed a devastating war with the Minbari , and the station is to serve as a diplomatic post to prevent future wars. There are to be representatives from all of the major races; Humans (who run the station), the aforementioned Minbari in the person of the mysterious Delenn (Mira Furlan), the Narn represented by G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas), and the Centauri represented but Londo (Peter Jurasik) who is also the most ridiculous being I have ever seen

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I mean…

The last of the ambassadors, Kosh of the Vorlons, is set to arrive as the movie begins. I gather the Vorlons are the mysterious warlike race of this world as no one has ever seen one and they are spoken about in hushed tones.

The Gathering is the story of Kosh’s arrival and the assassination attempt that follows. One of the things that is made clear is that most of the aliens need specific environments to breathe. This leads to what seems to be Babylon 5‘s favorite things: OXYGEN MASKS!!

 

 

So many scenes feature actors trying to act through giant oxygen masks. The scene on the left is station commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) leading new station telepath Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman) to her quarters while explaining the station’s environs and population. Because of the mask it’s all done in voice-over while the actors gesture vaguely and move their eyes a lot. I have so far watched up through episode 2 and this trend continues. On the right, station doctor Benjamin Kyle (Johnny Sekka) works on a dying Kosh. Sekka also doesn’t continue to the series and again he spends a lot of time in this mask so I wouldn’t blame him if he quit.

Sinclair gets implicated in the assassination plot and a trial ensues. The ambassadors and Lt. Commander Takashima are the judges- the words conflict of interest are not uttered- and the witnesses get sent to the Phantom Zone, I guess

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How the hell is anyone supposed to concentrate on their answers with all of that going on?

As the trial continues, the crew continues to try to save Kosh, which requires eye-searing purple lighting

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And concerned looks. And conversations with people back on Earth (and Sinclair’s totally pointless girlfriend) via the future tech of grainy 13 inch CRT monitors

 

 

I understand it was 1993 but damn that looks terrible. If Star Wars could have holographic communication in 1977 they could have found a more futury looking communication technique in their budget.

Anyway, eventually they figure out that the real assassin is using an illegal shape changing tech to hide on the station. The tech is…not going well

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But luckily the Doctor is on the case using this super helpful display

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Somehow playing 3 different types of Tetris helps save Kosh. Hooray!

The Gathering is…not good. Had I watched this on original airing it would not have excited me to watch a forthcoming series set in this world. It’s boring, poorly paced, badly realized, and badly acted But, knowing how it all shakes out, I am still planning on watching the rest of the series because I have been assured that it gets so much better .