I know, it’s been a while. Life happened, and the blog got buried under things like getting married, moving, getting a new job, and getting pregnant.
But then my dear husband read this blog post to me this morning, and I was so furious that suddenly, I had to move fisking from the back burner to the front burner. And then he kept reading, and I had to move it out to the grill, and THEN into the blazing crucible out back.
Okay, I’m speaking figuratively, but that’s how bad this “critique” of Babylon 5 really is. It’s so horrifically stupid, I had to sit down at my computer and put on some opera to keep me from going insane while reading it.
Yes, it was so bad, I had to turn to Mady Mesplé to keep my brain from disintegrating and dribbling out my ears.
I suppose the author should be proud of herself; her style and content are both so disgustingly awful, it essentially forced me out of retirement.
So, who wrote this piece of tripe that wins the Most Asinine Garbage of the Internet Award . . . today, at least?
Introducing Jennifer Gesundheit . . . I mean Jennifer Giesbrecht (bless you) from that cesspool of scum and mediocrity, Tor.com. She asserts that Babylon 5 Is the Greatest, Most Terrible SF Series. Now, I’m not disputing her right to have an opinion on the show; she can think whatever she wants to about it. But when she lies about the content to further her own little agenda . . . well, she’s awakened the sleeping, (pregnant) angry blogger, and filled her with a terrible resolve.
This is going to be a very long one, because Gesundheit is very long winded, but as usual, the original content is in italics, and my response is in bold.
Babylon 5 is one of the best science fiction shows ever made. It also kind of sucks, and that’s okay.
Whiplash, much? If it’s the best, it can’t also suck. Make up your mind.
“I hope the future will be like Star Trek, but I’m afraid it’s going to be like Babylon 5.”
That’s a bit scary. You want the world to be a totally impossible left-wing liberal paradise with no money, rather than the regular-people world of Babylon 5 that actually makes worldbuilding sense? Okay, you go live in that scary utopia and leave me and Bab5 alone to be happy.
This is how a friend convinced me to watch Babylon 5 close to a decade ago, and it’s a statement that gets both more and less prescient by the day.
You can’t have it both ways. It can’t be more AND less prescient.
Babylon 5 depicts a future rife with stratified poverty,
Is this a reference to the Lurkers? There’s poverty everywhere, you moron. The fact that it doesn’t exist in Star Trek is not a compliment to Star Trek; it’s a slight against the scriptwriters. The fact that Babylon 5 actually bothered to depict this futuristic world like our own is a good thing. And it isn’t “stratified.” No one in the show pretends that living like a Lurker is a good thing, and they sure as hell didn’t deliberately create the Lurkers just to make themselves feel good. The Lurkers are always around, but that doesn’t mean anyone envies them. On the contrary, their status is a sad byproduct of the station being a beacon of hope and a place of opportunity. They move there for the opportunities, they can’t get a job when they arrive, but they can’t pay for a ticket home, so they’re stuck.
In fact, when a visiting alien decides to grace the humans with an alliance with his oh-so-advanced race (“Acts of Sacrifice”) because of the way they forced their “genetically inferior” into such a position of poverty, Ivanova tries to tell him otherwise, and he doesn’t believe her. Ivanova was insisting that their hardships were an unintended accident and something to be fought. That’s hardly something “stratified.”
union busting corporations,
Excuse me. You obviously didn’t watch this show. There is exactly one episode with any mention of a union — “Any Means Necessary” — and they don’t even call it a union. It’s a guild. The dock workers’ guild, which isn’t run by some faceless bureaucrat; it’s run by a woman who is down in the trenches with those workers, defending their rights. And in that episode, the guild in question is fighting the oppressive government, and they win, with the backing of Commander Sinclair and the top members of the station crew.
xenophobic hate crimes,
Which happen, yes (“The War Prayer”), but are never depicted as anything other than a horrible hate crime that must be stamped out without hesitation.
colonial legacies blossoming into new conflicts,
Yeah, the Marsies are fighting the Earth government. Good for them. It’s practically a rehashing of the American Revolution, with a sci-fi twist.
and the tide of fascism rising right in our own backyard.
Oh, look at that, you’re actually right about that one. The Earth government under President Clark is turning into a tyranny, complete with Nightwatch thought police working under the Ministry of Peace; essentially a callback to the Stasi and the Ministry of State Security in East Germany. Eventually, it forces Babylon 5 to secede, it’s so bad.
Wait. That wasn’t what you meant, was it? Too bad, that’s what the show depicts.
In J. Michael Straczynski’s imagined future, the smug neoliberal western hegemony that arose from the ashes of the Cold War really was “the end of history”, and the results are simultaneously anodyne and horrific.
“Smug neoliberal western hegemony”? Nobody ever mentioned the Cold War in the show, and I’ve watched it repeatedly. That sort of reference would stand out, especially with all the other historical references put into it (see the above on the Nightwatch).
Wait, are you talking about the government in the show being a “smug neoliberal western hegemony”? No way. They’re not smug, they’re sure not liberal, they’re anything but purely western, and they’re certainly not a hegemony. Diversity is something that is praised over and over again in the show (“Parliament of Dreams”).
You know what, this just makes no sense.
Psychic powers are real, but those born with them are enslaved by the state.
Yeah, that’s a bad thing. It’s something to be fought in the show (“A Race Through Dark Places”). You’re supposed to hate the PsyCorps; you’re supposed to want them to go down, and Walter Koenig playing Bester just makes the Corps and everything they do that much more hateable.
There are ancient terrors lurking on the edges of the map—civilizations who long ago ascended but refuse to let the children of the galaxy play unattended in the sandbox.
You started out okay . . . sure, the Shadows are lurking ancient terrors. But where did you get the rest of that sentence? They’re tyrants, pure and simple. They want to control the new races. And again, that’s something to be fought. Practically all of season four of the show is just them fighting the Shadows. Why do you have a problem with that?
People who live on the titular station still have to pay for their freaking healthcare in the year 2258.
Hang on a second. We have a breaking news announcement.
Why can’t people like you get it through their freaking heads that NOTHING IS EVER FREE. Doctors have to have money to pay for things like drugs, bandages, and x-ray machines. They also have to have money in their pocket to pay for their own food and rent and clothes. This isn’t Star Trek; we have an economy, and money still works the way it always has. Babylon 5 has an economy, and guess what? Dr. Franklin does exactly what people are supposed to do to counter the cost of things like healthcare: he opens a free clinic in Down Below to help people who can’t afford it.
Come to think of it, that’s what the Catholic Church has been doing for centuries. That’s why every other hospital in New York City is named after a saint: because the freaking Catholics built it and staffed with nuns who didn’t work for a salary, kept the cost down, and NEVER TURNED ANYBODY AWAY.
And everything was working just fine until the government got involved.
And, of course, let us not forget what happened to San Diego.
Um, why is there a footnote here? Let me go find it so that I can figure out what you’re talking about.
Good grief, did you have nothing better to do today than waste all these perfectly good words slamming my favorite show?
Okay, I found a footnote.
The oft mentioned but never elaborated upon destruction of San Diego always struck me as a hilarious bit of world building. Why San Diego? What’s in San Diego? Were they nuking Comic-con????
No, genius, they weren’t nuking ComicCon. So, San Diego was nuked by terrorists. The exact “why” there isn’t immediately relevant to the story, on one hand, and on the other, why do terrorists do anything? TO TERRORIZE. There. That’s why. It’s a small bit of history of the world that doesn’t have immediate relevance to the plot, so nobody mentions it. Get over it.
Here’s what Babylon 5 also has: a complete, pre-planned, serialized story arc that is arguably one of the first successful examples of such on American television.
Wow, you said something mostly correct. Actually, Babylon 5 was the first to do it that way entirely, but they weren’t the first to touch on the general idea. Miami Vice, with its season-ending cliffhanger and continuous plot about Crockett getting a head injury and believing his drug-dealing cover identity towards the end of the show actually did it first, but that was a small example of the early idea, not the complete arc that Babylon 5 pulled off.
Just as a sidenote, if you love crime shows and want to know how crime shows today got to be the way they are, go watch Miami Vice. Excellent stuff.
A bisexual second-in-command and a nod to legalized gay marriage (in 1994!).
Um. No. What orifice did you pull that out of? It is barely implied that Ivanova is bisexual, but an argument could also be made that the thing between her and Talia was simple friendship (“Divided Loyalties”). It’s portrayed so subtly, you can read it either way. There was no nod to legalized gay marriage, ever. Because, as you may recall, Talia turned into a bad guy and left the show. Ivanova then promptly fell in love with Marcus instead. You’re reaching, and misrepresenting the show.
An episode where “King Arthur” visits the station and knights an alien ambassador while drunk and actually this all has deep and ultimately painful relevance to the show’s immediate backstory, I promise.
That . . . sentence got away from you, didn’t it?
There’s a collective of time-travelling alien janitors all named Zathras who inexplicably become the most important hinge on which the stable time loop that ties together the first three seasons hangs.
Actually, there’s only one time-traveling alien janitor. And none of that plot line is inexplicable. And also, go get a proofreader.
The heroes of Babylon 5 quite literally tell the universe’s most powerful threat to “get the hell out of their galaxy” eight episodes into the penultimate season and then spend the rest of the series mopping up civil wars, succession debates and personal crises.
Thank you for summarizing that amazing bit of storytelling for us. You don’t do it justice.
Yeah, that’s nearly two whole seasons the show keeps going without the Big Bad and most of it is very, very good (some of it is very, very not).
No, actually, it’s only one full season without one of the TWO big bad evil entities: the Shadows, and the Earth Government. What show did you watch, that you could MISS something so obvious? And that wasn’t even Straczynski’s doing. WB told him he was going to be canceled at the end of Season Four, and so he crammed two seasons of story into one. Then, when WB reneged and gave him Season Five, he didn’t have a lot to tell, and that’s why Season Five sucks compared to the rest of the show.
And any show ever aired is going to have parts that are bad compared to the rest of it. The day someone makes a perfect television show, the world will probably end.
Babylon 5 is both exactly as wild as it sounds, and utterly underwhelming in terms of execution versus expectation.
So . . . you watched this show, and you were underwhelmed because your expectations were too high? That sounds like a personal problem, sweetheart, not the fault of the show.
Because, honestly, a modern show with a Game of Thrones level budget would have a difficult time living up to the vision B5 presents in its five-year-arc, which attempts to suggest a history extending a million years in either direction; a great hand reaching out of the stars… and then doing absolutely nothing else.
Nothing else? Are you kidding me? Let’s just start with the high levels of character development, redemption of various characters, and very moving and personal relationships, and use those to prove you either an idiot or a liar. Then we can move on to the rest. But I’m not going to bother; this fisk will already take me two days to finish, because of the rate you blather on about nothing.
That Babylon 5 manages to grant us even a sliver of of that vision—like peeking through a crack in the door—is mind-blowing when you really examine all the things the show had going against it .
Going against it? Another freaking footnote, one moment please . . .
For example, the unstable ancillary cast that saw Straczynski playing musical chairs with narrative roles behind the scenes for over half the series, including the departure of the show’s leading man at the end of Season 1. And did I mention Warner Bros. losing virtually all of B5’s effects shots? Making a Hi-Def—or even normal def—version of the show a pipe dream.
I just turned to my husband, our site’s head honcho, and asked him if I could say this. He looked at what she wrote, and gave me permission to do so.
You didn’t even bother to look up why Michael O’Hare left the show at the end of Season One, did you? That poor man, God rest his soul, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. You can tell, if you watch Season One carefully, that towards the end of the season, Sinclair doesn’t have a lot of the same emotional reactions towards things. He says the right lines, delivers them fairly well, but his face is wooden, and his voice is barely changeable between surprise, anger, and joy.
That’s because he was taking medication for a serious psychological disorder. According to the story as it was told only AFTER the poor man died (at his request, the entire cast and crew kept the secret for him that long, and that makes me love them that much more), Straczynski offered to change the shooting schedule, and even suspend the show entirely for months if he had to, in order to make it easier for Michael O’Hare to continue the role. Michael O’Hare refused, saying he didn’t want to spoil it for them or for the viewers. He just went away very quietly, because he was ill. I recognized him in a single episode of Law & Order many years later, but he has almost no screen credits to his name after Babylon 5. Michael O’Hare died in 2012, and that’s when Straczynski finally told fans what had happened, at the Phoenix ComicCon celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the show.
Straczynski is quoted as telling Michael O’Hare that he would keep the secret to his grave; O’Hare countered that the fans eventually deserved to know why he left, and told Straczynski to “keep the secret to my grave.”
God bless you and keep you, Michael O’Hare.
And you have the unmitigated gall to say something like that about him and Straczynski? You’re not a fan; you didn’t even bother to look up WHY he left the show, you just went about casting blame. And you want us to believe anything you have to say about this show?
— which is kind of the critical equivalent of giving the show a gold star, or a participation trophy, isn’t it? This show won two Hugos once upon a time, but the legacy it has today tends to buzz around in the form of its “firsts” and the “in spite ofs”.
You didn’t watch this show, did you? If it was only worth a participation trophy, why does it have the cult following it does? Why do I still love watching it over and over and over again? You’re not a fan; you’re a mean-spirited critic.
Nothing else was doing serialization like this in the ’90s! Oh, it got cancelled, then un-cancelled! They never had the budget to do what they wanted! But… but! But, but, but!
Who cares about the budget? They did a great job with the budget and technology they had in the early 90s.
And I have to include your picture and caption, because it’s worth fisking all on its own:
You really weren’t paying attention during this scene, were you? She’s marveling at the oddities of English, because Sheridan said something about life “kicking you in the butt.” And she couldn’t figure out what he was talking about, because in her experience, the word “but” was only a preposition, not a noun. Stop lying about the dialogue to make yourself look smart.
So here’s the question I want to ask—is the show actually worth it, beyond the novelty of it simply being what it is?
Because so often Babylon 5 is recommended in terms of those novelties, a piece of art that only justifies its existence in a self referential, metatextual sense because of its place in history.
“Self referential?” “Metatextual?” What are you even talking about?
metatextual (adj): a form of intertextual discourse in which one text makes critical commentary on another text.
Are you kidding me? You’re trying to say that there’s metatext commenting on regular text in a television show? Basically, you’re saying that you can justify Babylon 5’s faults based on something that you and only you read into the show when it really isn’t there?
Did I suddenly walk into a modernist version of a literary criticism course?
How about you just talk about what the show actually portrays, and leave your imaginary metatext for some other fools to discuss with you?
self referential (adj): of a literary or other creative work: making reference to itself, its author or creator, or their other work.
You know, I never thought that Babylon 5 ever referenced itself at all. It references and makes fun of Star Trek, but that’s just plain funny, not some kind of super-meaningful “self referential” nonsense.
In order for a show to be “self referential,” it would have to break the fourth wall in order to talk about itself AS A SHOW. Never did that. Get over it. You’re just throwing random words together to try and prove you’re smart, aren’t you?
But aside from all that, is it really… any good?
I mean, obviously I think it is.
Then why have you spent all these words slamming almost everything about it?
It’s one of my favourite shows, and I’ve been known to be somewhat evangelical about it.
I’ve marathoned it with friends and family members no less than five times in the nine years since I first watched it.
Somehow, I don’t believe you.
I’ve witnessed more than one person cry during the series finale. My mother balefully admitted to me in a horrid whisper that she thought it was better than Star Trek.
She would be correct, and obviously has better taste than you do.
That it’s worth it seems self evident to me.
Then what have you been talking about this whole time?
B5 is not a straightforward recommendation. There are many things about the show that are bad. And not just “cringey” or “cheap”, but legitimately, objectively awful or misjudged.
Let me guess . . . because they don’t match up with your particular set of rose-colored lenses, am I right?
The thing is, I don’t think that these flaws particularly detract from Babylon 5’s goodness. In fact I think they enhance it.
How does that even make sense?
They are thematically cogent and cohesive with what’s good about it, and I think that it would lose something in translation if that Big Budget, technically “perfect” modern adaptation everyone is dreaming about actually happened.
So . . . you hate it for its faults, which make it what you love?
Don’t believe me?
Darling, I wouldn’t believe you if you said the sun would rise in the east tomorrow.
Well, consider Babylon 5’s cast: an eclectic mix of outstanding character actors, career genre gutter dwellers, and true amateurs, many of whom grew into their roles in various ways.
You started out okay, but then had to throw in that undeserved and insulting little blip right in the middle, just to mitigate the goodness of what you were saying. “Career genre gutter dwellers”? I dare you to call them that in front of any real Babylon 5 fans.
Can you really imagine any of these characters being recast?
It’s not controversial to sing the praises of the more colourful members of the dramatis personae, of course; Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik’s lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry as adversarial Ambassadors Londo and G’kar is legendary. Mira Furlan brings both her effortlessly luminous demeanour and sobering real-world experience with war, to the destiny-obsessed and destiny-defying Delenn in a performance that is as effervescent as it is complete. Claudia Christian might be the only one who loves Susan Ivanova more than we do, and everyone adores Captain Sheridan.
Well, a lot of fans these days actually hate Sheridan, who commits the twin sins of being both terribly earnest and also being right most of the time, but you can’t deny that Bruce Boxleitner bleeds sunshine out both his ears.
Yeah, I see a lot of smiles and sunshine in that scene.
There’s something wrong with him because he’s earnest and right? Since when is it a bad thing for the protagonist and hero to be both of those things?
Oh, I remember now. Since the left-wing crazy people took over judgment about the worth of all our entertainment. Everybody is supposed to be equally contemptible and corrupt, every single character in Game of Thrones being a case in point. People in real life are so horrible that there’s no point in making up stories about heroes. They can’t exist, so why bother writing about them? It will only make real people feel inadequate. Let’s write more stories like Game of Thrones, where everyone in it is a rapist, a murderer, a child-molester, a liar, a cheat, and a disgusting specimen of the worst of everything humanity has to offer. That’s more palatable than a hero who’s earnest and right.
It doesn’t stop there: No one forgets the first time they meet the slimy, self-righteous Psi-Cop Alfred Bester. The Ambassadorial Aides are irreplaceable [even Na’toth (especially Na’toth [the joke here is that she was replaced; it wasn’t the same])].
Enough with the parentheses.
Richard Briggs brings an understated naturalism to the ship’s head medical officer Doctor Franklin that makes him carefully invisible until his demons start to leak out.
I hereby direct your attention to a remarkable piece of punctuation, the comma.
And there you go, hiding an insult in a compliment. Franklin isn’t invisible, ever. He’s a great character, even when he’s still relatively minor in Season One. Standing up to his smuggling friend (“Infection”), starting a clinic in Down Below and helping to catch a convicted murderer (“The Quality of Mercy”), that’s good stuff right there. And it only escalates into even greater feats as the show continues, like running the psychic Underground Railroad to get unlicensed telepaths off the station (“A Race Through Dark Places”). His “demons” (addiction to stims) only make him more human, more lovable, because he conquers them.
Jason Carter? Who even is that guy even?
I have no idea, but he was so pitch perfect as the charmingly annoying and quixotic Ranger Marcus Cole that for the longest time I thought his British accent was fake. There’s layers.
So . . . you thought his accent was fake, therefore the character has layers? Or, because you were wrong about something, the character has layers?
Wait, I used that one already. At this rate, I’m going to run out of memes before I get to the end of this nonsense.
For example: Jerry Doyle—who played the station’s wise-cracking and entertainingly damaged security chief, Michael Garibaldi—had a notably short career as an actor, cushioned on either side by stints as a Wall Street trader and a right wing radio host. This is the kind of extra-canonical knowledge that would usually ruin a character for me but, y’know, I don’t like Garibaldi because I agree with him politically; I mean—he’s a cop.
You know all that about Jerry Doyle, but you don’t know anything about why Michael O’Hare left the show after Season One? Looks like you only bother looking up trivia in order to denigrate someone.
If you’re so immature that an actor’s former careers ruin his portrayal, I suggest you never watch television again.
And you don’t like him because he’s a cop? I’m surprised that you made it through the show at all, what with all the right-wing references, like oh, the fact that the station actually seceded from the Earth Alliance in Season Three.
I like him because he feels real, and he feels real because Doyle was on, some level, playing himself. You really can’t say there’s a single actor in the main cast who didn’t truly and thoroughly make the role their own. In the same way your high school’s production of Les Miserables might create a stronger visceral memory of the barricade scenes than Colm Wilkinson’s flawless recitation of ‘Bring Him Home’ in the 10th Anniversary Concert, it’s the imperfections that make this stagey, un-subtle, occasionally overwrought Space Opera seem authentic.
You’re comparing Babylon 5 to a high school production of Les Mis? No, I won’t have a more “visceral memory” of a high school production of anything than I would of a professional production of the same play. I might enjoy the high school play; I might appreciate the effort that went into it. But in no way does Strickland Middle School’s conglomeration of Les Mis music compare to seeing the 25th Anniversary version, even if I watched it on my home television and not live when it came out. A high school production might have its small charms, but only if you’re part of that community or related to one of the actors; they can’t move you to tears the way the real thing can.
And now it’s “stagey, un-subtle, and occasionally overwrought”?
Oh, it’s on now.
Did you ever notice that the episode, “Passing Through Gethsemane” is immediately followed by “Voices of Authority”? That doesn’t make much difference on the surface, but look at it this way. Gethsemane is the period of suffering Jesus endured before the trial and the Way of the Cross. So, the character of Brother Edward passes through his own version of Gethsemane before he dies, and Sheridan is there to witness it. Then, in the very next episode, we have the arrival of the Political Officer, the arm of the Nightwatch, laying down the law for the local residents and even trying to get Sheridan to dance to her tune.
Extend the Gethsemane metaphor just a little farther. She’s the high priest at the trial, the one who brings charges and continues the suffering previously undergone in Gethsemane. She is paving the metaphorical Way of the Cross for the heroes on Babylon 5, which eventually leads to the secession of the station from the Earth Alliance and all the death and destruction that goes with it when Earth tries to stop them.
That subtle enough for you?
And the next picture you put in here deserves more fisking:
Well, now we know where your brain is. Get your mind out of the gutter. Instead of commenting on this episode’s character development (“The Quality of Mercy”), how Londo and Lennier interact and learn about each other’s cultures, or the plain, simple comedy of their mishaps together, you decide to focus on . . . alien penises.
The only landmark there, honey, is how grossly obsessed you are.
That authenticity is underscored by the world these characters inhabit. Babylon 5’s production design is inspired. Unique. Gorgeous—I will not budge on this point.
Oh, so they did something right, did they?
I’ve seen the Season 1 Ambassador outfits in real life: they’re incredible works of sartorial art that the current DVD transfers simply do not do justice.
They’re still wonderful, even on the DVDs. Even in the midst of your compliments, you have to find a way to slam this show.
Instead of streamlined and sterile, B5 is rich and gaudy and grandiose. It’s peak ’90s pop art aesthetic, and it’s bargain bin film noir: smokey and dark and grimy, shot through with bursts of neon and pastels. Lounge singers are backed by bands with Christmas lights glued to their guitars to make them look “space”-y. The drum-sets have glowing fluorescent rims. Every room on the station is crafted with a careful eye for detail that often gets lost in the sumptuous shadow-drenched lighting.
You love hearing yourself talk, don’t you?
Colours mean things in Babylon 5, they have thematic and character associations. Hazy reds dominate G’kar’s living quarters and illuminate his steps as he treads the path to prophethood. The dazzling, abstract shards of light in Minbari architecture express both their complex, sharp-edged fragility and the Platonic foundations of their religious beliefs. The peaks and valleys of Londo Mollari’s fall-from-and-rise-to-grace are marked by him literally changing his coat. That last one’s kind of gauche, I know, but so is the character, so it works.
Now Londo is gauche? Are you kidding me?
gauche (adj): lacking ease or grace; unsophisticated and socially awkward.
Londo? Yeah, right.
The show does its best to break monotony in the endless parade of flat-lighting, shot-reverse-shot film-making popularly seen in network spec shows pre-dating the revolution brought about by later seasons of The X-Files and Buffy. Which isn’t to say the directing is good—it’s not. In fact, sometimes it’s laughably amateur, the kind of dumb camera tricks I’d have thought to do if someone handed me a Super 35 in high school and told me to to go nuts; dutch angles, weird zooms, filming a tense exchange from the most obscure angle in the room possible… but there’s a sort of artistic innocence and freedom that comes from that lack of expertise, from filming a show that doesn’t need to be as safe as the TNGs of the world. Often the camera is doing something really stupid, but it’s rarely resting on its laurels.
So, you and your Super 35 can do better than the entire award-winning production team?
You don’t think much of yourself, do you?
The show is at its worst—visually and atmospherically I mean, but also in terms of writing, yeah—during its fifth season, when it had the financial security to “look good”. Something is lost in the transition. It loses the fervent passion and becomes workmanship-like. The lights have come on and chased the shadows away.
Very much no.
The problem with Season Five is that Straczynski ran out of story. Instead of following his carefully planned five-season plot arc, he tried to cram five seasons worth of story into four seasons, because he was told he was going to be canceled at the end of Season Four. Then he wasn’t. So he had to make that whole extra season using a bunch of filler, and it didn’t work. The problem is the script, not the filming. You’re reading way too much into it.
Which only makes sense. The literal Shadows are gone from the galaxy too, and all the wars are over. The fifth season weaves so many narrative threads—some elegant, some nearly unwatchable—together that the plot hooks could set up a whole other five-season arc.
Yeah, because he’d ALREADY TOLD HIS STORY, and was grasping at straws to fill up another season he didn’t know he’d have.
Telepaths demanding the postponed freedoms they were promised, servants of the vanished Old Gods trying to fill the power vacuum left by their departed masters, beloved characters falling prey to destructive patterns and desires you would have hoped they’d overcome, while other members of the cast prosper in their roles as historical figures in the making. None of it is wrapped up.
Did you even make it to the series finale? It might not have been “wrapped up” in the sense that every single plot line had a definite story ending, but it was wrapped up in the sense that the characters we’ve been following for five seasons were either finished with their part in that particular fight, or had their roles changed into something different that removed them from the immediate fight. Granted, I’m reaching a bit on that one, trying to defend Straczynski’s show, but he deserves at least some credit for making it work at least a little bit when he’d had the rug pulled out from under him by the network.
Which is the point—that peace is difficult to maintain and there’s no magic fix. That when you kill your Gods you have to find something to replace them.
You have no idea how accidentally right you are. Just look at modern society — God has been killed by modern, spoiled brat, disbelieving jerks, and look at what it got us. Misery and destruction. You wanted to live in a godless society; well, I hope you’re satisfied, because now you’ve got it.
That the needs of the truly oppressed are often treated as an after-thought by the bigwigs fighting the war, and their freedom will be used as a bargaining chip.
There you go with your agenda-driven rose-colored lenses again. The whole show is about meeting the needs of the truly oppressed. That’s why Sheridan and the others sacrifice everything to defeat the Shadows; why Londo finally realizes the harm he’s done to the Narn and tries to make up for it; why Alfred Bester of all people crosses the PsyCorps to help the Babylon 5 rebels to defend the woman he loves from oppression and misery; that’s why Dr. Franklin opens free clinics in Down Below; that’s why Delenn tries to foster understanding and kindness among the various races, and even defies her own people to keep fighting the evil oppressors; that’s why Garibaldi keeps the peace, even when it would be more convenient for him to ignore it; that’s why Sinclair risks his career and makes enemies in the Earth Government defending the aforementioned Dock Workers’ Guild. I could go on.
Long story short:
For all these reasons, toppling oppressive regimes can have unexpected consequences that persist for years. For decades. The heroes have brought down the pillars of corruption with in such a way that the structure is still standing, and so they are forced to rebuild with the tools they already had.
And . . . this is a bad thing?
Face it, honey. Human beings can be counted on to screw up anything and everything. Defeating the Shadows and the Earth Government didn’t change the nature of human beings. They’re still fallible; they still make mistakes; they can still be evil as hell. That’s the point Straczynski was making. You can improve your world, you can defeat an evil oppressor, but you have to maintain your vigilance. You can’t fix humanity as a whole; you have to fix yourself, and so does every individual in the galaxy. It’s all about the individuals, not the collective crap you seem to be spouting.
But what if they had new tools? This is a possibility the show never even considers, and while there is a strong degree of intentionality to that point, Babylon 5 makes a big deal from the word go about the fact that we are supposedly witnessing the beginning of a “New Age”, so I think it’s valid to ask if perhaps the show could muster a bit more vision in its soft revolution.
You weren’t listening, were you? They had new tools; what they didn’t have is an altered, perfected version of human nature (which, in this case, applies to aliens, too).
Okay, this next paragraph is a special kind of stupid. Let’s take it one part at a time.
The literal text of the show
The “literal” text of the show? Are you serious? Go get a dictionary and look up the word “literal” before you use it again.
suggests that the natural result of Capitalism’s decay is a re-emergence of Fascism,
WHAT SHOW WERE YOU WATCHING? Not this one, because capitalism is never mentioned outright, just shown working beautifully throughout the show, even after the station secedes from the Earth Alliance, even after the war with the Shadows hits a high point, and even after they win against the Shadows and turn to free the Earth Alliance. It works; it doesn’t need to be addressed. Only crazy, left-wing ideologues seem to find a need to talk about it all the time.
And fascism didn’t “re-emerge” in the show; it was emerging as we watched, as the Earth Government decays from a nice democracy into an insane, murdering tyranny.
and Earth is already locked in what we can now recognize as a familiar pattern of increasing technocratic censorship paired with a loss of political efficacy on the part of normal people when the series begins.
technocratic (adj): relating to or characterized by the government or control of society or industry by an elite of technical experts
There’s nothing about the Nightwatch or President Clark that is remotely like “an elite of technical experts.” I thought you were insisting they were fascist, anyway. Either they’re fascist, or they’re technocrats. Make up your mind.
You did get one thing mostly right: there is a lot of censorship (the episodes about ISN interviewing them and then perverting the result into propaganda — “And Now For a Word” and “The Illusion of Truth”). The “loss of political efficacy” isn’t as right; the problem isn’t that people are being ignored in that election; there’s no hint of anyone committing voter fraud. Instead, people just vote badly; they elect the guy with the bad VP who assassinates the president and takes control, although the voters could hardly have known that at the time. Even the persecution of the psychics doesn’t have an effect on the election itself — they’re not prohibited from voting. Neither are the Marsies. Everything is on the up-and-up . . . at least until you get farther into the story, which is exactly how good setup works.
There’s an election going on in the first episode and the conservative party wins on the basis of what we are to assume is reactionary rhetoric.
Where did you get that garbage? Neither of the candidates in the election has any sort of party affiliation mentioned, or ideology. They’re referred to as “the incumbent,” Luis Santiago, and “the challenger,” Marie Crane (“Midnight on the Firing Line”). That’s it. The only platform or policy mentioned is in a small line after the election about how incumbent Luis Santiago ran on a promise to “fix the Earth Alliance budget.” I am pretty sure they also mentioned something about him decreasing alien influence on Earth, but I can’t be sure if that was him, or Clark later in the show.
If you really think those two sort of ideas were exclusively conservative in the early 90s, you don’t have a flying clue. They are now, but this wasn’t made recently; they were working within the society we had in the 90s, and the story will reflect that. If you really want to look at something with a modern slant, then President Clark, the tyrant, definitely acts like a modern Democrat.
Also, there’s no “reactionary rhetoric” anywhere in the first episode. That only comes later, when Clark is in charge, and is spinning his propaganda machine to make sure he stays in power. Pravda would have been proud of him, actually. You saying that reveals what you are: a spoiled, delusional left-winger who just can’t believe that their high-and-mighty ideology could ever lose on the basis of merit, or lack thereof. If the other side wins, they must be cheating, right?
Take off those rose-colored lenses; they’re blinding you.
He’s not the guy our protagonists were supporting, but the whole thing is treated with a shrug.
No, actually, the only person who mentions at all who she’s voting for is Ivanova: “I think I’ll vote for Marie Crane. I’ve always thought a leader should have a strong chin. Santiago has no chin, and his vice president has several. This, to me, is not a good combination.”
The others just don’t say who they were voting for, but it’s made into a fairly big deal throughout the episode that they’re all voting, which is hardly treating it with a shrug. It’s brilliant, subtle setup. In the very first episode, Straczynski manages to set the tone for the entire show: the politicians who control the actions of the soldiers out on Babylon 5 and elsewhere (as we see specifically in that episode, with Sinclair arguing with a Senator about what they’re going to do about the Narn attack on Ragesh 3) are being voted in as the action is going on. This is decidedly NOT a shrug. It’s mentioned repeatedly throughout the episode, not just by the main characters, but by every news broadcast being played throughout the station. You need to get over yourself, and actually pay attention to what’s going on in the show before you open your mouth.
It eventually leads to a civil war.
Yeah, it’s called setup, genius.
We’re immediately thrust into a cynical world wracked with bureaucratic inertia and callow appeasement.
Oh, you mean like modern American society, even in the 90s?
And the “appeasement” is “inexperienced and immature,” is it? Please. Go get a dictionary. Stop using big words to look smart. Appeasement of a villain by a bureaucracy is never “inexperienced” or “immature.” It’s the opposite: it’s been carefully cultivated to make someone in power look good, and it usually ends in disaster. Just ask this poor fool:
Our heroes emerge as heroic because they choose to reject apathy, normalization and compliance.
Look at that, you got something else right.
Now, why do you say it like this is unusual for heroes?
Watching Earth inexorably slip further into violent authoritarianism is gripping stuff, brilliantly played as background noise for the first two and a half seasons and just as novel as it was in 1994 even when expressed in the silliest possible terms (Earth Gov is really out there literally quoting Nineteen Eighty-Four on its propaganda posters, huh?).
Once again, I draw your attention to a mighty piece of punctuation:
Yes, it is gripping setup. Yes, it is brilliantly played. No, it isn’t novel; it’s a new portrayal of an old, old problem: what to do about men in power who get to be too big for their britches. Julius Caesar was doing the exact same thing back in the days of the Roman Empire. The problem itself is hardly novel, but that’s part of the appeal: the show is a new setting of that old problem, the same one I mentioned earlier, that human nature doesn’t change. Only the tools we have to either promote or destroy the evil ever change. That is what makes this show brilliant.
And another thing: “even when expressed in the silliest possible terms”?
Oh, I see. You’re mad because George Orwell in 1984 was calling out your pet ideology as a load of evil crap, and you don’t want anyone to realize that your so-called favorite show was actually slamming that same ideology, using the prophetic and still-true words of a great author as a way to draw the viewers’ attention to the evil of that particular ideology.
You’re so transparent. Go watch something else, if this disgusts you so much.
But I’m not sure how cognizant the show is of its own political subtext, or, y’know, text in general.
I can’t believe this. Of COURSE the writers of the show were “cognizant” of the “political subtext” of THEIR OWN WORK when they wrote it. How the hell else would there BE any political subtext UNLESS THEY DELIBERATELY PUT IT IN THERE?
You’re just pitching a little hissy fit because the show doesn’t support your own ideology, even though you wish it did.
And please explain to me — I dare you to try — how a television show in the English language can’t be “cognizant” of “text in general.”
Because, you know, it has to use, um, TEXT. In . . . oh, right. ENGLISH.
Actually, the real problem is that I am sure.
Oh, you sure act like you are. So, why do you keep flip-flopping back and forth over it?
Okay, I’m done here for the day. You wrote nearly five thousand words about how much you hate this show . . . I mean love . . . I mean . . . I don’t even know anymore. And, of course, the Asymmetric Bullshit Principle applies here.
So I’m taking a break. I can’t go through all of this idiocy in a single sitting. I have to stop and spoon my brains off the floor and somehow dribble them back into my ears before I can continue.
So, tune in Monday for Part Two of this Babylon 5 fisk. (EDIT: You people in the future can click here instead.) I’m sure it’ll be another barrel of laughs.
What an idiot. 😉
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There was legalized gay marriage. It comes up in one of the Mars three-parter’s, in a bit where Franklin and Marcus go undercover as a gay married couple.
There *was* a nod to legalised gay marriage, when Steven and Marcus go to Mars. It’s unremarkable, the way it should be. It’s not played for laughs, but Marcus plays it for laughs, taking the piss somewhat out of Steven 🙂
your article is bad, full of more lies slander and utter bullshit about the show then the thing your supposed to be debunking… you should feel bad. very bad. weight of 10 gravities bad.
*the whole blog shudders under the weight of that powerful, overwhelming, eloquently-argued rebuttal and its painstaking exploration of the facts*
(By the way, that was sarcasm. Just in case you had trouble seeing it.)
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