Babylon 5 partway though Season Two

Geek Night continues on Wednesday evenings at our house. Sometimes we have as many as 3 other couples, plus our 5-year-old who watches the first of typically 2 episodes each week. He doesn’t eat the food that’s part of the deal. Each week we select a theme for the next week’s pot luck. In recent weeks it’s been I’ll grill what you bring, or tropical, or a taco bar; this week it was food you make with booze. Next week it’s use 1 ingredient: pork. This shouldn’t be a great challenge, and I might end up grilling.

Season 2 of Babylon 5 is progressing about as you’d expect. That’s not really a fair comment, of course, since we’re watching it on DVD. But most of the attendees at Geek Night didn’t watch it in any of its broadcast runs, so it’s new to them. Last night we watched “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” and “Knives” which are episodes 17 and 18 (as originally broadcast). It turns out that they should have been broadcast in reverse order, which is how they were produced, or something. There’s a detail in “Knives” that plays out in “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum.” It doesn’t much matter, though. “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” would over shadow anything in “Knives,” I think.

What’s interesting to me about how this season is playing out is both how fast it’s moving through the story (I mentioned this in previous posts), and how slowly it’s building. It’s year two of a five year TV show, and the opening credits say it’s “the year the Great War came on us all.” It’s not giving too much away to say that season five is largely (though not completely, or even mostly) about the aftermath of the first four seasons. I know better, but cannot recall exactly how this happens, but at the current pace, it seems like the entire story might be wrapped up by the end of Season 3. So then what’s Season 4?

Yet, an episode like “Knives” comes along. It felt a little slow watching it. Of course I was full of food made with booze from the pot luck portion of Geek Night, so this is not a criticism since I was getting sleepy. Each season of Babylon 5 is structured so it takes place over the course of a calendar year in-universe. The first episode is right around New Year’s Day, and the final episode is right around New Year’s Eve. “Knives” looks like it takes place in the course of about (or even possibly fewer than) 36 to (at the outside) about 48 hours. A lot happens in those few hours. Sheridan is possessed by an energy being (a fairly Star Trek–TOS–plot, with an X-Files set-up), but it touches on the larger story. This might be the B-story, but it gets about equal time as the A-story, involving Mollari, an old friend of his from an allied house, and Centauri imperial court machinations. And this touches on the larger story.

But neither story in this episode really advances the larger story. It’s not really a place holder, or at least doesn’t feel like one. Mollari’s story is more interesting, because Londo is such an out-sized character. Anything he does is more interesting in the moment than just about anything any other character does, with the exception of G’Kar. Sheridan’s just not all that interesting. We feel for his problems, because he’s a good guy (different from Good-Guy). Sheridan is under the tutelage of Kosh, so we know he’s going to be really interesting, because the Vorlons seem so mysterious there must be some pay-off. And in “In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum” we are told how powerful and important the Vorlons are. But Londo is still more interesting to watch. (Peter Jurasik does a great job with the character, from the very first time we see–hear, really–him in the pilot, when he is established as one of our primary Point of View characters.)

A Great War is coming, Babylon 5 will be a major location in the war, and it’s out in neutral territory. Which means out of the way of anything anybody wants, but not so far out of the way that nobody is willing to go there. Which means, logistically, it might take another two-and-a-bit years to wrap up the war, just given the distances involved. Even with jump gates.

So that’s how you get from half-way though Season Two to the end of Season Four. You get reminded that the Great War isn’t all that’s going on, and that the great events are driven by the characters you’re seeing drawn carefully and as rounded-out people.