Thursday, March 3, 2011

Best of/Worst of 3

Best of/Worst of 3
Kevin Scott Bolinger

          Greetings and salutations. Welcome to the third of my Best of /Worst of series. Today I will be switching things up a bit. It is obvious I am a science fiction fan. So, it would seem logical that somewhere out of all the myriad science fiction and fantasy shows that have graced the airwaves over the years there would be one that I would consider the best. So today, I will bring you the series I have come to love, one that can make me laugh, gasp, and in the end, even cry. I bring to you the great labor of love from J Michael Strazinski, Babylon 5.
     Where to begin about this fantastic show. Some of you may have watched it, and for you, this will be a simple refresher. For those of you who have never seen the series, I really do not want to spoil too many major plot points. I will try my best to get across the gist of the show without letting too many of its secrets slip by.

      First off, a bit of back story. The show is set in the twenty-third century, ten years after Earth and humanity had almost become extinct at the hands of a race know and Mimbari.  It was decided that in order to avoid the mistakes made that lead to the war, a place would be created in neutral territory where all the know races in the galaxy could meet and work out their issues. This was known as the Babylon Project. The first three stations, known simply as Babylon 1,2, and 3, were all destroyed by terrorists who wanted to see Earth free from alien influence. Babylon 4 , however, mysteriously vanished twenty-four hours after being brought online. The project almost vanished with it. However, the Mimbari believed so strongly in the need for such a place, that they funded construction of one more, Babylon 5.
      The station itself is five miles in length, though a great section in the center is hollow, inside being a huge park area as well as ambassador quarters. It spins along it’s axis to create gravity.  Ships docking with the station need to match this rotation to enter. It was built in the orbit of Epsilon III , in the Epsilon Eridani system. Faster then light travel was available through access to hyper-space. For smaller ships, this was made possible by what are called  Jump Gates, permanent structures fueled by fusion reactors that would open up a jump point into hyper-space, or for those wishing to exit, a jump point out. Larger ships, such as warships and exploration vessels, could create their own jump points.
A shining beacon in space, all alone in the night...

     The station was far from defenseless. Numerous forms of laser cannons were hidden in her superstructure, and there was even an upgrade done in 2259 to allow far more firepower to be deployed. She also had numerous fighter bays, equipped with fighters known as Star Furies , small one man craft with multidirectional thrusters for high maneuverability. The creators of the show had NASA consult them on the design, to which NASA replied that if there was to be a one manned fighter for space combat, it would look just like that.
      That brings me to a point about this show, the technology show was not so far removed from what we currently have. There was still television, ships closely related to shuttles still were used to land and take off from planetary surfaces, Earth ships, the larger warships, had rotating middle sections to create gravity. Unlike Star Trek, this show used practical solutions for it’s technology, not techno-babble. In the universe of Babylon 5, humanity had slow ships to explore, until they met a race know as the Centauri, who gave them jump gate technology, at a premium cost of course.
     I suppose I should mention a few of the main races in the show. Besides humans, there were many major aliens that had an effect on the outcome of the main plot. First off, the Mimbari, a race divided into three castes, worker, religious, and warrior. They were ruled by the Grey Council, made up of representatives of all three castes, three from each, so no one cast had a deciding vote. They were nearly human in appearance, but instead of hair, they had large boney structures about the backs of their heads. Their technology was far in advanced of Earth, their ships used gravity drives, which gave them artificial gravity on their ships. The relied heavily on ceremony to accomplish anything.
   Next up, since  already mentioned them, the Centauri, a race that once held a great empire in the stars, but had recently fallen into obscurity. Most longed for the days of glories past. They were very human looking, but had sharper fangs. In fact, when they first came to Earth, they claimed it was a long lost colony, but DNA later proved humans were nothing like them. One-hundred years before the show begins, they had enslaved the Narn. This leads to many confrontations during the shows run.
    Moving on to the Narn, since they tie close to the Centauri, they are a race evolved from lizards. Orange  skin, spots and red eyes are their main traits. They were proud warriors who fought a war of attrition to be free from the yoke of the Centauri. However, the cost was the devastation of the Narn home world.
   Next we come to the Vorlon. This race is old, very old. They walk around in encounter suits. No one knows what a Vorlon really looks like. They speak in riddles, that is, when you can get them to talk. They look upon the other races as children.
    Next come the members of the League of Non-Aligned  Worlds, a small confederation of numerous races that work together on occasion. Some of the main races in the League are the Brakiri, Drazi, Pak’Ma’ra, Gaim, Markab, Vree, and many others. Funny thing about the Vree, as a side note, they use flying saucers, and are the race responsible for the kidnapping and probing of humans in the twentieth century. There is even an episode where a human sues the Vree for one of his ancestors.
   Earth, the Mimbari, the Centauri, the Narn, and the Vorlons made up the members of the Babylon 5 advisory council. Each was represented by an ambassador, or in Earths case, whomever was commanding the station. The first commander was Jeffery Sinclair, a survivor of the last battle of the Mimbari war, a battle know as the Battle of the Line. He was hand picked by the Mimbari, despite Earths protests. He came aboard in 2257 when the station came online, but was reassigned shortly after new years of 2259. He was replaced, much to the protest of the Mimbari, by Captain John Sheridan, the only Earth Force Captain to survive and defeat a Mimbari warship.
Captain Sheridan and his crew from season 2

Delenn and Kosh

   The Mimbari were represented by Delenn, a female who was full of many secrets. She is the driving force behind the main events of the series, as well as becoming Sheridan’s wife later on as things progress. I would say more, but that would include more spoilers then I wish to give.
   The Centauri are represented by Londo Molari, a man who would be happier gambling and drinking then negotiating. Londo is perhaps the most tragic of all the main characters on the show. Some go from loving him, to downright despising him. His fate was sealed long before he came to the station.
   The Narn are represented by G’kar, a proud and wise being, though he does not start out as such. His fate is intertwined with Londo’s, the yin to his yang so to speak. He is dragged through hell, yet comes out the other side a far better being. Easily one of my favorites.
Londo and G'kar, forever entwined by fate.

   The Vorlons are represented by Kosh Naranek, though he goes by Kosh. Being a Vorlon, I cannot tell you much about him, he is mysterious, vague, aloof, and downright stubborn. He has a yellow-green encounter suit. He is later replaced by Ulkesh, who has a purple encounter suit, and is far less tolerant of the other races.
    There are many other main characters, and supporting cast, though if I went into each one, this would become a novel. They each have personal issues to deal with, and those are portrayed in a very realistic way. No quick fixes, not antidotes given within the course of one episode. Choices they make, actions they do, have real consequences, there is no resetting at the end of an episode to the status quo.
     This brings me to a point about this show, it is not like most science fictions shows , which are know as episodic television, in which a problem arises, is resolved, and at the end, a magic reset button is applied. Episodic television can be watched from any point in a series run, and you can get the gist of what’s going on. Babylon 5 is a single story, told over a five year period. Each season represents a year in the history of the station, episodes flow linearly. A decision made in one episode might not be resolved until the next season. This was a refreshing change.
     This however did lead to a few problems in the beginning. The pilot, a TV film known as “The Gathering” was not as well received as was hoped. The effects and makeup’s for the aliens not finalized. Season one of the show was dedicated to a lot of character development, with only a few hints at the main plot. Some have a hard time getting through season one, but please, stick with it, by mid season, the show hits it’s stride, and major plot developments begin. Also, during season three, it was decided the show would be cancelled after season four, so season four became a condensed version of what was to be four and five. The shows finale was even filmed at this time, which in hindsight was fortuitous due to the leaving of a major player. In the middle of filming season four, the show was saved by TNT, who would produce the fifth and final season. This cause a few issues, in that many of the major plots had been wrapped up in season four, which lead to season five not having a strong start. It does however end on a high note, of sorts, but more on that later.
    I really cannot give a season by season breakdown due to the amount of spoilers that would occur. I will however bring up two major plots, since they are intertwined. The first is the main villain of the show, simply known as Shadows. Their ships are powerful, can phase in and out of normal space, very hard to destroy, looking like a nightmare spider come to life. They have a human representative named Morden who interacts with other races on their behalf. His calm visage can be disturbing, his smile deadly. His fate, well deserved. The coming of the Shadows also brings about a civil war between the station and Earth, due to illegal orders and the slaughtering of innocent civilians across the galaxy. Earths colonies on Mars and Proxima, along with Babylon 5 are ordered to declare marshal law. They all refuse and are blockaded , however the station has allies, which quickly turn back the forces from Earth. These major plots are completely taken care of at the end of season four, with that season being one of the darkest and most heart wrenching of any science fiction ever brought to the screen.
A child's worst nightmare, a Shadow vessel

     I wish I could tell you more, but this truly is one that needs to be seen and not heard about second hand. I know many may argue that Joss Whedon’s   Firefly should have been number one, however, I have never seen it, and it only lasted a few episodes before cancellation. I know as of this writing it is being brought back for new episodes to air on the Science channel, however, since it was not a full series, it really cannot be added to a list of best of. Babylon 5 on the other hand was a tale that was fully told, almost exactly how it was envisioned in the mid nineteen-eighties by it’s creator. It was a hard fought battle and it was well won. The phrase I use as my sign off for these blogs even comes from the show.
    Babylon 5 makes use of and references many great literary and historical stories that have come before, from the tales of Agamemnon, to The Lord of the Rings, and even the legends of King Arthur. It was a labor of love, with a finale that still brings a tear to my eye every time I watch it. To me the finale ranks up there with M.A.S.H. for being an emotional roller coaster ride. Give the show a chance, it may surprise you in more ways then one. Till then, remember, we are the universe trying to find it’s voice, we are one!

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