Thursday, April 24, 2014

Babylon 5: Born to the Purple

Babylon 5 Born to the Purple
I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series along with my teenage daughter. I have not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run, and Calista was just a few days old when the final episode aired back in 1998. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along with us and find out.

In Valen's Name: Centauri Ambassador Londo falls in love with a beautiful young Centauri entertainer/showgirl/stripper. It turns out the stripper is actually a slave, secretly owned by a nasty alien who wants to use her to steal state secrets from Londo damaging to the Centauri. She's torn about betraying her people, but what can she do? Londo gives her a priceless family heirloom, and she's so touched by the gesture she drugs him and steals the information. But on the way to her owner, she has second thoughts and hides. Londo wakes up, figures out where the girl is hiding, and foolishly leads her evil alien owner to her. At this point, Londo kinda sorta figures out what's up and goes to Commander Sinclair for help. Using Narn Ambassador G'Kar as an unwitting stalking horse, Sinclair has telepath Talia scan evil alien's mind to find out where the poor slave is being held captive, then arrests him on espionage charges. G'Kar is suitably outraged at having protected the Centauri Republic as well as saving Londo from personal disgrace and ruin. Londo, obviously learning his lesson, give the now-freed slave his priceless family heirloom again, even as she rushes to put as much distance between herself and Babylon 5 as possible.

What Calista Says: I didn't really like this episode. I thought it was very petty and dumb. In addition to that, or maybe because, I found it hard to pay attention to the episode. I thought the fact that Londo put so much trust in her was an extremely foolish thing to do.

What Jayme Says: An idiot plot is one in which the narrative advances only because all the characters make consistently stupid choices. That sums up this episode. I can't even remember the names of the slave or alien slave master. Look, the "honey pot" is a tried and true weapon in the diplomatic espionage game, but it's executed here in sloppy fashion. You can't have a political thriller without tension and thrill, two ingredients distinctly lacking here. Londo's love for the cute stripper is cut from whole cloth--there's no relationship we see that takes place out of the bedroom. Londo's shown as sentimental, nostalgic, impulsive and prone to making bad decisions, but that's all we've seen from him since the pilot. At no time was there ever a sense of something meaningful at risk here--the secrets stolen were maddeningly vague. Had the secrets been specific and damning, say, documented proof of a massacre of defenseless Narn or attempts to sell out Earth during the Minbari war, then there might be some moral ambiguity here and added weight and meaning. But the episode ignores the big picture in favor of focusing on the character relationships. Which is fine, but to do that the audience has to be emotionally invested. They're not, since everything is presented at once with no build up. Had Londo's relationship unfolded as a subplot over several episodes, it may have worked. Probably not, but as it is, the episode depends on the audience caring for characters they've been given absolutely no reason to care about.

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