Wednesday, April 28, 2004

"The Year Is 2259..."

Yes, that's right, I've finally finished up with season 2 of Babylon 5! And, as promised, I'm now going to ramble on about it at great length. I'm also doubtless going to get into spoiler territory, so if you're even more unforgivably behind in your classic SF TV viewing that I am, be warned.

Right. So. I finished up season 1 feeling really, really good about the show and very much eager for more of it... Which makes it odd that it took me so long to get around to watching the second season, but, hey, I'm a busy geek. I must admit, the first handful of episodes left me... a little bit dissatisfied. The season starts out with a high proportion of more-or-less stand-alone stories, often variations on fairly standard SF plots. Some of these are a lot better than others (e.g., I thought "The Long Dark" was a great little horror story in space, very effectively creepy, whereas "A Distant Star" had me looking at my watch). None of these episodes are remotely bad, but there's something about them that sort of, well, lets the seams show through. There were several times when I found myself reflecting that, you know, the acting in B5 has a tendency to be rather stilted (at least among the guest characters) and the dialog a bit overblown, and is it maybe possible that my memory of what I saw of this show when it was on the first time is faulty, and it's really just Yet Another Space Show, one with embarrassing pretentious to High Drama?

Then I got about halfway through the season and hit a run of episodes that were so incredibly well-written and moving that they kept making me cry. And it wasn't just that I was in some weird, weepy hormonal state, either, because I watched them spread out over a period of weeks. They were just that good.

You know, I think Straczynski did absolutely the right thing in deciding to go with a big, sweeping story arc, not just because I personally like story arcs, but because his talents are very much suited to it. Those grand, dramatic speeches that seem wooden and pretentious in simple little episodes about being kidnapped by aliens or looking for lost spaceships or whatever feel very right as part of something that is unquestionably an epic. And JMS is very good at counterpointing sweeping galactic-scale events with intimate small-scale character drama, something he's said repeatedly that he was doing very deliberately with the characters of Londo and G'Kar. Of course, it helps immensely, I think, that he had two wonderfully talented actors in those roles. It's very hard to pull off grand oratory or quiet emotion when you're covered in layers of latex or wearing the world's silliest hairpiece, but Jurasik and Katsulas make it look easy, and they do such a marvelous job that it's utterly impossible not to feel for these characters as if they were real people. I spent pretty much the entire season desperately wanting to give G'Kar a hug, and equally desperately wanting to smash Londo's head into a table and then give him a hug.

Speaking of the characters, I guess I ought to mention the new Captain. Sheridan's introduction is interesting. For most of the season, he comes across as Mr. Affability. He's just so gosh-darned happy and likeable and downright cuddly that it's actually a little hard to take him seriously. There were a few times when he was trying to take a hard line with some intractable alien or other that I actually found myself wanting to giggle. "Aww, Captain Smiley's got his grumpy face on! Isn't that cute?" But then... Then you hit "In the Shadow of Z'Ha'Dum," Boxleitner proves conclusively that he can do dark intensity perfectly damned well, and Captain Smiley's Grumpy Face is suddenly no longer remotely funny, and never will be again. Good stuff.

And, oh, yeah, there's a war, and a "coming darkness" and all kinds of grand-scale plotty stuff that's utterly fascinating, even when you know how it all comes out. There's just something about watching events slowly snowballing, building up, inevitably, to something that you know is gonna be historic and ugly. It's like watching a galaxy-wide train wreck about to happen...

Anyway, now I'm very much eager for Season 3, but I think it's going to have to wait for a while until I've made it through some more of my DVD backlog. Sigh.

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