Saturday, November 21, 2015

Babylon 5: “Objects in Motion” (Babylonian Productions, Warner Bros., 1999)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The TV shows shown at last night’s “Mars Movie Night” — an episode of Babylon 5 from its last season (in fact, there were just two more episodes after this one) and two shows from the interesting series spinoff, Crusade — proved surprisingly compelling, and after last week’s events in Paris these shows (especially the latter Crusade episode, “Ruling from the Tomb”) seemed deeper and richer than they might have otherwise, especially given that they were written and produced in 1999, two years before the 9/11 attacks brought the “war on terror” home to the U.S. Babylon 5 was originally based on an idea by Harlan Ellison, a marvelously creative writer but also notoriously tetchy and protective of his ideas. Ellison gave interviews before the show went into production saying that he wanted it to be the ultimate “answer story” to Star Trek, for which he’d written one of the best and most highly regarded episodes (“The City on the Edge of Forever”), but the producer, J. Michael Straczynski, took over, rewrote the whole concept and used so little of what Ellison had provided that he got listed as “creator” of the series while Ellison got only the nebulous credit “conceptual consultant.” Later, when he spun off Crusade for Turner Network Television (TNT), it was Straczynski who had to fight off notes he got from the bosses at TNT, including their insistence that the first episode begin with a fist fight (why?), so it was Straczynski who got to enact the role of the put-upon Artist forced to compromise his vision at the behest of the “suits.” (Karma — ain’t it a bitch.) I hadn’t watched any of either of these shows until I started seeing them at the Mars movie nights, but as nearly as I could tell from what I’ve seen so far of Babylon 5 it seems to center around a spaceship called Bellerophon which gets involved in what amounts to a war between Earth and its former colony Mars, in which the human outpost on Mars helps dethrone a corrupt Earth President and declares its independence.

The main dramatis personae on the episode we watched last night, “Objects in Motion” (which was followed, almost inevitably, by “Objects at Rest,” though the cultural referent that occurred to me was “ … may be closer than they appear”), in addition to the series regulars (led by Bruce Boxleitner as John Sheridan, the captain of the Bellerophon — or was it the Agamemmnon, as I recorded it the last time I posted about this show?), were Tessa Holloran (Marjorie Monaghan), first president of the newly independent Mars (she’s also referred to as “Number One” and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was an oblique reference to the character of “Number One,” the cold, emotionless woman who was going to be the second-in-command on the original Star Trek until the first pilot, “The Cage,” was rejected and her coolly logical demeanor was grafted onto the Vulcan Mr. Spock to give Leonard Nimoy the character all Trekkies know and love); and Lise Hampton-Edgars (Denise Gentile), who’s just inherited ownership of one of the biggest companies exploiting Mars’s resources in its colonial period. She’s also engaged to Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle, second billed to Boxleitner on the series’ regular cast list), who as the episode begins she’s helping detox from a long spell of heavy-duty drinking (so he hardly seems like a prize catch), but whose help she needs to get rid of a corrupt board of directors who tried to have her assassinated because they were worried that she and Garibaldi would uncover their corrupt machinations and get them jailed for ripping off both the company and the Martians.

Another part of the plot concerned the farewell party being given for G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas), one of the indigenous Martians on the show — you can tell the indigenous Martians because they’re wearing ugly and pretty blatantly fake-looking helmets to make their heads look bulging and their skin look mottled — which is where Garibaldi and Lise figure the hit people hired to kill her will strike. This episode had the look and feel of something being drafted to tie up loose ends before the show completed its run (indeed, one reviewer, the quite prolific “planktonrules” from Florida, wished the show had ended with this episode because “the final two were amazingly depressing and maudlin”), and it seemed quite beautiful and moving even though one would have to have a lot more knowledge of what happened in the previous 4 ¾ seasons to appreciate it fully. But then I’ve long felt that is one of the annoyances of TV serials: whereas episodes of classic series like Law and Order and its spinoffs were self-contained and you could generally enjoy them without having to have watched them all, too many modern shows tell you basically that in order to enjoy them you have to watch all the episodes in sequence, and when TV producers tell me “all or none,” they’re pretty well guaranteeing I will watch none.