The folly of neutrality is explored, the reapings of hate are gathered, and this really creepy, snooty asshat comes on board so that we have at least one character to find outright vile. Welcome my friends. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
1. We Raise Our Cups
If you’re watching B5 as I am via Amazon Prime, you’ll notice, as I have said before, that the quality of the composite shots, and many of the CGI shots of the ships too, are very low quality, with a lot of static and degradation of the visuals. Most of the reason for that is because the streaming version is from the poorly mastered DVD versions, which itself is a result of mismanagement at Warner Bros during the creation of the widescreen versions (using tapes, from the PAL region no less, rather than the original negatives.) Compounding that is the poor insight on their part, as the CGI was created for 4:3, despite the rest of the show being shot so that it could later be converted to 16:9.
It’s a complicated mess that I don’t fully understand but suffice it to say, I bring this up again for two reasons. One is because it didn’t have to be this way. We could have had an HD Babylon 5 with clear, crisp CGI. . .although there would have been a trade-off. Widescreen, HD B5 is possible, though it is very costly to re-render CGI into HD, possibly bringing it to modern standards, as this post explains in a much better, and more accurate, way than I can. The other option was to take the 4:3 copy, complete with CG on film,that Warner Bros. created due to their archiving practices, from which we could get an HD but not widescreen version of the show. The textures would still look dated but the actual image quality would jump by leaps and bounds and we could judge them more on what they actually looked like, rather than the noise-filled, blurry version we’ve gotten.
(By the by, I couldn’t verify the Twitter link on the post because Twitter just. . .wouldn’t display the thread despite it clearly being one. I got to the first tweet. . .only after literally copying the url and re-pasting it. Twitter, the hell?)
The second reason I bring this up is because the designs of the ships firmly show that while it’s easy to make fun of the dated nature of the CGI in Babylon 5, in much the same way we do for the effects of Star Trek, it wasn’t the artistry or the utilization of the effects that was the problem. Instead, it’s a result of the age of the CG technology for modern eyes, compounded by this confluence of events that have conspired to turn a forward thinking show into a victim of its own ambition.
The artists modeling the ships and rendering the scenes, the directors, well, directing the action, and the writers thinking of how best to create scenarios that fit it all, it’s clear they were thinking more about how the technology fit the story rather than how to make the story fit the technology. It wasn’t a shiny bauble to be used at every opportunity but another tool in the toolbox, to be brought out when the story required it and when the budget demanded it.
Each design is unique and reflective of the cultures that would have created them, appearing alien to us but entirely in line with the design aesthetics and technological priorities of whoever is flying them. They appear built rather than designed, continuing to bring a level of reality to the show that helps set it apart from other sci-fi shows.
2. Nothing Changes
Woof, that was a lot, and I’m sure I missed a lot but that’s the fun of discussing the intersection of technology, business, and art at points of major shifts in one or more aspects. You never know what will come of it, and it’s often more complicated than you could have ever predicted. But enough of that, let’s move onto something a bit less complex, like the Narn/Centauri war.Continued below
Much of this episode is focused on G’Kar, following the fallout from the battle in the cold opening. He has three separate plots going on, surprisingly. The first is with the Narn/Centauri tensions brewing on the station and the challenges to his leadership, the second is with how his past has come back to conflict with his present, and the third is in his own internal struggle between the rage he feels on behalf of his people and his quest for justice through peace.
They’re all intertwined, making for an impactful and painful episode, but in the best of ways. It shows the dangers of letting revenge drive your every action, thus losing the trust of others when the time comes for it. It shows how violence begets violence and how the worst people are enabled by wartime and how it inflames their hatred. It shows how information and truth gets weaponized, so you can trust neither.
It’s an exploration of what happens when a person struggles so hard to believe in diplomacy, only to have it fail when they need it most, and what that does to a psyche.
Delenn and Sherridan are stuck this week. They must answer to their governments, both of which want to stay out of the Narn/Centauri conflict, although their reasons are opaque and most certainly self-serving. However, they know that there is a great need for aid and so they come up with a plan to help, unofficially. Now, in a different show, this would be a triumphant moment, sticking it to the man and a strike for justice. But here, it’s framed as making the best of a terrible situation, and not even a great solution at that. Both Delenn and Sherridan are clearly frustrated and distraught that this is all they can do. That while the Narn civilians are being helped, it is a tenuous and fragile aid, contingent on silence and based in second-hand materials and sneaking around.
G’Kar is heartbroken that he is unable to get anything official, and therefore unable to use it as a piece of propaganda or even to broadcast it so that more can be helped, but more than that, it proves to him that not even the clear and present danger to his people can motivate other governments to come to the aid of the Narn civilians. Not military aid, not weapons or fleets, but food, water, and safe passage away from the fighting. If all his work to solve this peacefully gets him is a secret promise to help and only spare resources, what hope does he have for getting anything substantial done through the official, peaceful process?
For G’Kar, the answer may very well be nothing. . .and how could we blame him?
4. Road to Hell
And then we have Londo. He has risen through the ranks, now counted among those who hold great influence in the Centauri Republic. He is surrounded by new “friends” who all want things of him, and is now wearing a new suit: blue, dark, foreboding. He is miserable and alone, despite technically knowing more people than ever before. Should we be sympathetic to his plight? To his troubles, while knowing he is the cause of it all?
To that I answer: maybe. On the one hand, it is easy to empathize with Londo because we know him. We have spent a season and a half learning about his wants, his fears, his weaknesses and his humanity, for lack of a better word. We can see how his newfound “fame” is harming him and we feel for his plight. Who wouldn’t chafe against false friends, born of a desire for connections and wealth, rather than a desire to know the person behind it all?
On the other hand, we also know the deals he made to get this power. The people he betrayed, the factions he has thrown his lot in with — they are not good or just. They desire war and conflict and pain and reward Londo for his help in making that possible. He is the reason there is a war at all and so, the hollow feeling he has while celebrating his new status is deserved, same as the shame he should feel at holding such hatred in his heart.Continued below
But on the other hand, there remains the hope that the good we know is in Londo will resurface, and that he will fight to make amends. At the moment, he and G’Kar are trapped by the war and the long-buried tensions it has unearthed and remade into actions. But these moments of regret and pain and sadness remind us that Londo is still a complicated Centauri, one with flaws, weaknesses, and with prejudices and biases that have allowed him to slip down a path of destruction and pain, but with redemptive possibilities as he grapples with his choices and the goals he once thought were oh so important.
5. When the Chips are Down
The final plot of the week is. . . well, I don’t really know what to make of it. It’s so incongruous to the rest of the episode and bafflingly strange. Ivanova has to give a tour of the station to a pompous, elitist ambassador whose entire species believes in eugenics (not even gonna touch that one yet) and then, to seal the deal, has to have sex with him.
The episode treats it as shocking and uncomfortable too, and Ivanova nopes out of his presence very soon after, but it’s still one of those moments that makes you wonder why this decision. It’s an age-old trope too, the “alien culture treats intimate/taboo human activity as commonplace.” Thankfully, Ivanova’s solution is hilarious. It simultaneously pokes fun at his ignorance disguised as aloof, superiority, gets her out of doing anything even remotely sexual, and gives the audience a chance to laugh at some of the more ridiculous things humans do and say before and after sex.
Still, it’s placement in this particular episode felt off and I think it could have done without it. Although, he does make for a good stand-in for those pseduo-intellectuals who hold appalling ideals masked by a thin veneer of respectability and superiority. . .Still don’t like it though.
That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for a doctor on the run, Cell but as a spaceship, and the most on screen Kosh since, well, the movie on the station that wraps humans and aliens in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night.
This is Elias. Signing out.
Best Line of the Night:
Londo: “It is good to have friends, is it not, Mr. Garibaldi? Even if only, maybe, for a little while?”
Garibaldi: “Even if only for a little while.”