Babylon 5: A View from the Gallery

Babylon 5 Artwork“Seems like every week something goes wrong around here…  Wonder what this one’s about!”

Straczynski has been writing a continual run of episodes since somewhere in the middle of season 2.  It’s an impressive feat.  With the Shadow War, then the war to take back Earth, then the arrival of the telepaths, there needed to be something a little different, and Straczynski delivers.  The backstory is simple: the Gaim have advised the command staff of B5 that an attacking force is coming.  But rather than experience the attack as we normally would, we have a unique experience of seeing things through the eyes of others, in this case, two IT and maintenance crewmen, Bo and Mack.

The episode is refreshing.  We still get the story, but rather than seeing how things play out from the heroic members of the station, we see what the “lower decks” crewmen see.  It’s handled well and with a degree of comedy that was unexpected.  The whole “tastes like chicken” bit was enjoyable as was the rising price of Spoo (pay attention at the end of the episode; in just one day, the price of spoo went up 5 credits per ounce, if you can believe it!)  Through Bo and Mack we get a bunch of commentaries.  There’s the admiration of Sheridan, a captain who gets his hands dirty and gets down in the trenches with his men.  (They refer back to the episode where Sheridan chased down Delenn’s attacker in Ceremonies of Light and Dark).  And they talk about the love so evident between the two.  They get to talk to Doctor Franklin who offers reasons why he believes in saving all life, even that of the enemy.  They talk about Lockley and what side she was on during the war.  This is an interesting look at how rumors spread and how they can impact the way a person is perceived.  Similarly, they discuss the departure of Susan Ivanova, referring to her wanting a promotion and more money.  (This was in part due to real life questions about why Claudia left and the speculation that she was demanding more money!)  And they meet up with Creepy Byron, who gets to know people after they die.  Overall, it’s a very clever way to share observations about the characters and to allow the audience to experience the story.

But, dear readers, you know me; I can’t leave it there.  I take issue with some of it because for years I’ve been the IT Support, which is very much what Bo and Mack are for the station.  I’ve worked with others in this role too; skilled, intelligent people of insight and talent.  Take the story as a tongue-in-cheek bit of fun, and sure, I enjoy it as much as the next guy.  But both guys are depicted as a little dull.  Mack blurts out a rather silly message to Lochley, Bo talks to a doctor about letting others die, and both men don’t know how to act around the telepaths.  Maybe I’m biased by the fact I work for a company filled with so many great, approachable people that I can’t relate to the military strata, but I know no one in my company is looked down on!  So for me, the episode does not depict the emotional intelligence, skill or talent of the IT professionals on the station in very kind terms.  In real life, they are not the silly little men who wander the station wondering what their floor cleaners do, who sit around eating sandwiches during a crisis or who gaze longingly at a married woman as she walks by arm in arm with her husband!  So, yeah, I did find that a little offensive…

Conversely, in the short time they are on screen, G’Kar and Londo steal the show.  I loved G’Kar’s analysis of Londo, carrying his shelter around with him.  He says, “….you did not grow up.   You grew old!”  If one thinks back to Londo’s story about his “shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance”, Londo knew that even when he was younger.  G’Kar just solidified it.  It’s a great discussion.

Look, it’s a fun episode, it’s different and it’s unique.  Do I like everything about B5?  No.  I didn’t like the portrayal of the “worker caste”, I didn’t like Lochley’s hair pulled back so tight she could see yesterday and I found it weird that the station seemed to take on more damage than during the Shadow War.  But not for a moment do I fault this series for trying something new.   ML

The view from across the pond:

JMS has made a few attempts to show life on Babylon 5 from different perspectives. It’s a tricky thing to do, but this episode is his first unqualified success at doing something completely different. Mack and Bo are two tech guys, far below the chain of command, but whose work is vital in keeping the station running. A good example of that is when Mack is working on a malfunctioning console in the command centre (because of an insect!) while war is going on, completely unfazed and just focussed on his own job. These are the people who keep everything together, but whose contribution to the station is perhaps taken for granted.

We see Babylon 5 at war, through the eyes of these two workers, and because they are sent where they are needed we get to see most of the main characters from an observer perspective. The genius of this idea is the way in which they function as reviewers and critics. Basically, they are the voice of the fans of the show. They gossip about Ivanova’s departure. They give their opinions about newcomer Lochley (and there’s a typical fan debate there). They spot problems with the narrative and ask the difficult questions fans ask, sweating all those little details:

“Why don’t they just shut down the jump gate when things like this happen?”

And they ask the moral questions too, with Bo challenging Franklin on his motivation to save enemies as well as his own people, inspiring perhaps Franklin’s best ever speech:

“So when this is all over I’ll be out there, looking for anybody I can save, on our side or theirs, because that’s what I do. That’s what I would want them to do for me or for you.”

Their outsider perspective makes us question, and makes us think. Their moment of respect for fallen fighters asks us to think beyond the flashing lights and space explosions to the people in those ships. Amusingly, they see what fans see in the G’Kar/Londo relationship, the way they act as if they are a married couple squabbling. In particular, that’s the Centauri style of marriage! The dialogue in this episode is sublime, especially that conversation between G’Kar and Londo, with G’Kar remembering the wartime spirit of his childhood and telling Londo that he carries his shelter with him, and “did not grow up”. He grew old instead. Londo has perhaps the saddest line anyone has ever spoken in Babylon 5:

“I was never a child.”

Then we have the most heart-warming moments of the episode: the interactions between Bo and Mack and Delenn. She takes the trouble to get to know them and remember their names, perhaps due to her respect for the “worker caste”. And they are right about her smile:

“Did you see that smile? It was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.”

I don’t know what the fans at the time thought of this, but they should have been clamouring for Bo and Mack to be added to the title sequence. Drop anyone else from the show if necessary, but keep Bo and Mack! In just one episode they made Babylon 5 so much funnier, so much more poignant and, most importantly, so much more real.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Babylon 5, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Babylon 5: A View from the Gallery

  1. scifimike70 says:

    As we near Christmas, we are easily reminded that the more real all our favorite shows and stories feel, SF and all other genres, the better.

    Thank you, RP and ML, and thank you to all whose comments have helped make 2020 a great year for the Junkyard. 🎄

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s