I have a confession: I find Babylon 5 hard to write about. Don’t misunderstand for a second: I love the show. I think it holds up as one of the best examples of storytelling we’ve ever seen on television. Wonderful characters go on epic arcs, war is fought, ideas are shared… I mean, there’s a lot to love about the show. The special effects were state of the art, regardless of whether they’ve held up or not. The music is often stunning. And the most amazing thing is that all of this came out 20 years before binge-viewing. (And it absolutely lends itself to binge-viewing!) But it’s hard to talk about because of that binge-able nature. It’s like telling your kids about your day. You say: “Oh, I got up, went to work, came home, had dinner, and now we’re playing Fluxx!” Fine. Smooth. Most of all: quick. But when you break it down into an hour by hour explanation, it loses something even if at the time you lived it, it’s far more detailed than you can put into words.
Exogenesis follows the incredible Dust to Dust and, I don’t know about you but, I wanted more to happen to push the story forward! I’m moderately satisfied with hints when they show up (like finding out that Ranger 1 is on Minbar… you know that’s going to mean something at some point, but for now, we have to be content with the hint alone.) I also love the real world-building that goes on, like seeing Corwin get a promotion. It remains to be seen where this leads us with the otherwise background character. It’s that sort of “real life event” that gives B5 such added dimension. (Hell, even the line, “Your package should arrive in a week”, is probably a reference to the real timeframe that the next episode would be broadcast in a week during which time, something would be delivered.) But for me, Exogenesis is a copout. You see, long before I watched B5, I fell in love with another series: The Outer Limits. I don’t want to be too verbose here, because I happen to know that as we are posting our weekly B5 write ups, Roger is experiencing The Outer Limits for the first time, but some of the ideas in Exogenesis were first introduced to me in The Outer Limits episode The Invisibles. Exogenesis tries to make us care about the vagrants more than The Invisibles could, but that’s just because in a just 7 weeks, we’ve come to love Marcus and his compassion for Duncan makes us care about Duncan more. If not for that, none of the main crew are impacted so we can’t care for their plight that much. That being said, I did love Duncan. He was an awesomely likeable character. He made the episode, really, but… he shouldn’t have. The episode should have been made by the main cast, not the plight of vagrants.
Well, I’ve said all that, but failed to discuss their plight! Basically those vagrants, people who are (ironically) invisible to normal society, start going missing and we learn that they have become host to alien parasites. As the story goes on, we learn that the parasites are not, in fact, evil but are giving new life to these people provided they work as hosts. In return, they are given healthy bodies and they chronicle all that happens in the universe. Where the episode does succeed admirably is when Duncan’s parasite lets him go to prove to Marcus that they are good creatures; the resulting trauma kills Duncan and by this point, we actually do care about his well-being. It provokes the question of where to draw the line in helping these creatures but I always think of Chris Eccleston’s line in The Unquiet Dead: “it’s a different morality. Get used to it, or go home!” The creatures are not doing anything bad and are giving lost souls a chance to be something else in a community of like-minded beings. There’s a certain beauty in that. (Unless you see it as a religion, at which point one might take a cynical view of the events. Join the cult, leave your home, find peace with “us”…. That sort of thing! But I don’t think that was JMS’s intent, nor does it play out that way for my money!)
The story is a stand-alone episode, and that shouldn’t have been allowed. JMS is too good a storyteller to allow that to happen, but, frankly, he did! If you create a story about a species that are basically the universe’s record-keepers, by God, you have a scene where the main cast ask them about the Shadows. Even if not much is known, this was an opportunity wasted. Surely they would have known something that could have proved helpful! The only arc-based things that can be seen to happen is that Marcus and Franklin get to build a friendship. (And maybe I should count the relationship between Marcus and Ivanova going the other way as significant too, but it may be too early to tell!)
In the end, it’s not a bad stand-alone episode, but it was misplaced. It belonged before Dust to Dust, not after. On the plus side, it’s the last non-arc episode for a long while and that is good. By next week, it will be hard to talk about B5 for a totally different reason. And I welcome that challenge. ML
The view from across the pond:
This week on Babylon 5: nice chaps and horror. The first of our nice chaps is Marcus, who is proving to be a great addition to the cast this year. In fact, he’s so nice that’s he starting to make the others look bad. Garibaldi in particular doesn’t come across very well in this episode.
“It’s not my jurisdiction.”
Why has he turned into an idiot all of a sudden? Another of our nice chaps is lovely old Duncan, who has a stall selling tat, which nice guy Marcus buys as a favour to the old duffer. He’s such a gentle old soul that it really pulls on the heartstrings when he goes missing, apparently falling victim to the icky burrowing alien insects. It’s about time B5 had a go at a proper horror episode, and this one has not just body horror but also a few of the old tricks, such as a scary tunnel covered in web that our heroes have to venture down.
While all this horror stuff is going on, we have a B plot for light relief, with yet another nice chap, Corwin, who mistakes Ivanova’s investigation of him as a date, and looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights when she asks him over for coffee.
“It’s not like that yet… I think.”
He’s one of those people where what you see is what you get, and such an innocent, gentle chap. When Ivanova doesn’t realise the flowers are from him he is too nervous to correct her. All together now… awwwww.
Marcus also has romance on his mind, and once again Ivanova is the lucky girl.
“I sense in her a key as yet unturned.”
Ever the party pooper, Franklin is keen to rain on his parade though.
“Marcus, you’re so far from being her type that you’re practically in different galaxies.”
How does he know? Maybe she would like Marcus to turn her key. He might have a knack for it.
When he’s not trying to turn women’s keys, Marcus spends most of his time quoting classic literature, and phrasing things in his own special roundabout way.
“That would be essentially correct, yes.”
So polite. He is such a fun character and so well written. I just hope JMS doesn’t kill him off after a year like he did with the new guy last year (who was so insignificant and boring I’ve already forgotten his name). Once again, Marcus gets the best line of the episode:
“Where I come from one man from three leaves two.”
“Where I come from is a far more interesting place.”
I’m starting to see why JMS is highly respected as a writer. What I thought was so clever with this episode was the path it takes us on, from seeing Duncan as a victim to the revelation that he chose his fate. Something icky becomes something beautiful, a living record of different races across the universe. That takes some skill to bring the viewers along on that journey, and it’s cleverly signposted too. Duncan calmly giving up his pitch makes sense in terms of somebody making a life decision, not being captured by a monster, and the voluntary decision fits in perfectly with the choice of “victims”: a bunch of no-hopers rather than the important or influential people on the station.
“I was going to live and die here, never live up to any damn thing.”
Instead they become “keepers of the past, the present and the future.” It’s written with such wonderment for distant knowledge and exploration that it almost makes me want one of those bugs myself.
“We remember music that was played before your kind learnt to speak.”
Abba? No, no, surely not… Elvis? On second thoughts, I’ll pass. I’ll just put on a CD instead.
Overall though, things are looking up. This is turning out to be a much better series of Babylon 5 than the first two. The writing was great this week, and Aubrey Morris and Jason Carter were brilliant together, two talented thesps playing characters who just kept making me smile.
One question remains though: Marcus is waiting for a package to arrive from Mars, but what is it? Chocolate bars, maybe. With Shadow vessels gathering on the edge of Centauri space, I’m guessing he’ll need all the energy he can get. RP
Understanding where to draw the line in regards to helping others, whether it’s on moral grounds or purely for self-preservation, is one of the most repetitive dramas in SF. The realization that we may not always be given the same solution for everything quite often comes into play. But I appreciated enough at an early age since Star Trek and Dr. Who weren’t always telling the same story over and over. It’s the bluntness that you’re not getting a so-easily moralized story, even if it still gets its own happy ending in some fashion, that reminds us that we’re not just watching our favourite SF shows to be simply lectured.
I liked B5 for being flexible enough as opposed to how compact the Star Trek shows often were. I suppose the last best chance for galactic peace that B5 most pivotally dramatized may still remind us all today of how the newest SF shows, as Orphan Black was during Dr. Who’s 50th or Manifest during The X-Files’ 25th, are critically the bravest.
Thank you both for all your equally thoughtful B5 reviews.
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