Monday, November 26, 2007

Babylon 5 Review: "Midnight on the Firing Line"

In her voice over for the third season credits, Commander Ivanova begins, "The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. It failed." I found myself thinking of that as I watched this episode, which wasn't that great as a storyline, and totally missed the mark as the de facto Babylon 5 pilot. In fact, I think it can only really be enjoyed by someone annoyed at the Arab-Israeli conflict on the eve of a pointless peace conference.

This main plot to this episode involves a Narn attack on the Centauri mining colony of Ragesh III. This wasn't a good choice, as no one cares about Ragesh III - not even the Centauri government, and certainly not the viewers at this stage. The secondary plot concerned space pirates. On a series that set out to tell an epic story such as The Lord of the Rings in television format, this was not a promising beginning.

It's instructive to compare this outing with season two's "The Coming of Shadows." Leaving aside the use of Turhan and the Shadows, there are, perhaps deliberately, lots of parallel scenes between the two episodes, none of which makes "Midnight" look better in comparison. I mean, compare Sheridan's confrontation with the murderous G'Kar to Garibaldi's with Londo here, and you'll see what I mean. This show also suffered from some of the meeting syndrome that plagues early Star Trek: The Next Generation. If you're going to use council meetings as our window into a galactic crisis, you at least need to get into some grand courtroom-style drama.

When we come to care about Narn-Centauri issues, it's because we care about the people involved and the series's larger plotline. At this point, there is no larger plotline and Londo and G'Kar just seemed smug and annoying. Instead of using personalized characters to give us a sympathetic window into their people, both are explained entirely through their people as a faceless collective. One sympathizes with the reported Earth public opinion that doesn't want to get involved.

Babylon 5 had some ambitious philosophical themes, of which the most important was probably the means by which we grow, both personally and collectively, creating the future through our own actions. None of that was even hinted at here, with Londo's cynicism about galactic peace carrying the day. If it weren't the pilot, that might have been okay, and in fact there was probably value in driving home the point that the station is more Nimbus III from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier than the United Nations. As it stands, however, this episode simply has no hook, and falls accordingly. I give it a 2/10.



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