Raising Our Geek Quotient 

When Netflix and summer reruns intertwine, you have little choice but to watch Babylon 5 from beginning to end. 

Recently, R3 and I finished watching the entire series of Babylon 5, the second-most popular sci-fi TV series of the sci-fi mad 1990s. I was adamantly a Trek fan in those years, and studiously avoided contaminating my enjoyment of what I believed was the purity and intelligence of ST:DS9 by trying to juggle two space opera sci-fi shows set in different universes. I like to think of myself as one who can easily get by without television, so when I do get attached to a show I typically get attached to the exclusion of anything generically similar to that show. Set thus in my ways, I have little interest in breaking out of the particular "universe" being explored by my current attachment, particularly when it comes to sci-fi.

So I watched about one half of an episode of Babylon 5 during its original run (I think it was the first season). I immediately ran into a problem with the aliens: I mean, come on, sentient alien races who are reptilian and insectoid? Perhaps I'd been watching too much MST3K, but it all seemed a little too close to cheap B-movie (is that redundant?) horror/comic book thinking and with no place in "hard" sci-fi. And, I couldn't find anything compelling about this. It all seemed so desperate. How could any of those characters compare to the intrigue or coldness of Gul Dukat or Weyoun (played to perfection by Marc Alaimo and Jeffrey Combs, respectively)? How could another show come up with writing and story enough to produce something like "In the Pale Moonlight" or the entire Dominion War arc?

Ha. Shows you how much I knew. Flash forward to 2005 and I decide it's time to revisit Babylon 5. After all, I know several people whom I respect who had (and continue to have) exactly the same feelings about their show as I did about mine. Apparently, B5 is also like "alternative rock" compared to the corporate schlock that was Trek. Then I read that the entire series is essentially one pre-planned arc and was intrigued further. The reviews on Netflix mentioned that if you could get past the first season and into the second and third you'd really like it. So I gave it a shot, and while I did have to look past the relatively basic special effects of the early episodes, the reptilian problem wasn't so bad and I got hooked rather quickly. It became almost a nightly occurrence for us after R3 scolded me for watching a few early episodes without her (I didn't know! I didn't know!).

The underlying reasons for my admiration of DS9 was most likely a good reason I began enjoying B5 -- both are "static" in the sense of their exploration of life in a single locale -- a space station that serves as something of an international hub of commerce and politics. However, the brilliant move on the part of B5 was to present its universe as as thickly as possible. Seemingly minor details like Sinclair and Garibaldi walking out of the men's room, or the entire episode dedicated to a strike by the station's dockworker union injected a kind of complexity unheard of in DS9 (or any other Trek series). Granted, these kinds of stories were relatively rare (B5 is a space opera after all), but they were always in the background. The sense that the human future was not the utopia depicted in Trek (Section 31 notwithstanding) was refreshing.

And then G'Kar (the reptilian ambassador linked above) provided the voice-over at the end of the finale for Season 3 ("Z'ha'dum") and I was blown away -- the writing of that speech symbolized the incredible craft that had been running throughout the show. That episode, along with "Coming of Shadows" from Season 2, became B5's "In the Pale Moonlight" and G'Kar became my favorite character (imagine that!). His verbal jousts with Londo Molari, though a bit predictable by Season 5, were brutally incisive and thoroughly compelling.

In all, if you have a few months free I'd say go for it. 

Posted: Fri - November 4, 2005 at 01:06 PM          

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Published On: Nov 05, 2005 11:41 AM
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