The Well of Forever gives us the second story in a row focusing on Galen and it’s a second story that I’m not impressed with. I can feel something bubbling beneath the surface: potential. It’s there, but it seems to struggle to rise to the top. Michael Beck returns to the series, this time as an anonymously named Psi-Corp representative Mr. Jones. We last saw Beck in A Spider in the Web during Season Two of the parent series and he’s so recognizable that he can’t quite hide as a different character. Unlike the world’s most recognizable Drazi, Kim Strauss, or Minbari warrior Neroon, played by John Vickery, Beck is still a human and it does stand out. I kept expecting him to look for Talia Winters! As if that’s not enough to put me off, there’s the carry-over from B5 that we call the A/B plot. The B plot is almost a non-plot centering around Matheson being investigated by Beck’s Mr. Jones but serves little point beyond illustrating Gideon’s leadership skills. More on that in a moment. Meanwhile the A plot seems chock full of mystery and questions and boils down to a visit to a graveyard and no answers whatsoever.
On the plus side, there’s a bit of comedy around a race of beings that float through space called the Fen. (This may be an unsubtle mockery of fandom, attracted to shiny objects who lose interest quickly.) The Fen grab hold of the Excalibur and attempt to mate with it. Typically, I’d find such humor crass but when Gideon orders to engage thrusters, Galen’s comments bring it up a notch. It’s filler, though; there’s nothing to the exchange short of finding life in hyperspace that may or may not be interesting. Unfortunately, it seems the crew is not up on the reports that Sheridan and Lochley wrote, since things living in Hyperspace are not that uncommon. Did the crew of the Excalibur totally miss the news of the Thirdspace event?
So really, what is this episode for other than to show that Galen puts more stock in honoring the promise he made to a dead woman than to the safety of the entire planet Earth? Mostly it’s an exploration of the characters and the Babylon 5 universe, and it does that effectively. Through a bit of clever dialogue, we’re learning about what has happened to Psi Corp since the end of the parent series: they were disbanded by the senate. We are reminded of the power and mysticism surrounding the Technomages and that they possess greater tech than most Earth ships. And we get to understand the motivations of the crew better: Eilerson is a greedy jerk, Dureena wants someone to be motivated by altruism, and Gideon has some weight that he carries with him from the EAS Cerberus. We only get hints of this and Matheson’s back story; certainly not enough to build on, but it makes for some intriguing future storytelling. And Galen… oh, I think that would have been the most fascinating of them all. Alas, sometimes we are left with more questions than answers.
One issue that really stood out to me with this episode was something we’ve seen before but not quite to the extent it is here: Galen’s ship. First off, how are they so much more advanced than even the joint Earth/Minbari construction that is the Excalibur? And really, if they are so technologically advanced, why don’t they know what a lightbulb is? Surely gingerly touching behind ones ear and then touching a glowing orb isn’t exactly high tech. What happens during turbulence? And while I’m complaining about the series, the ending had Gideon say to Galen “you put us through all this…” What exactly did he put them through? At worst he didn’t release control of the Excalibur to Gideon one day early. Other than that, Galen helped them find an amazing thing in hyperspace. Surely, there was not a lot to be “put through”. The crew reached the goal they set out to find. I don’t see the problem with that. And Gideon gets to see just how high a value Galen puts on his word, so I’d call that a win.
Still, I like this crew. More specifically I really like Gideon. He does not report Galen’s insubordination because at the end of the day, he understands Galen’s motivation, but he will be more cautious around Galen going forward. But far more impressively, he pulls a stunt on Mr. Jones that I loved. He tricks Jones into transgressing the law to make a point. He doesn’t keep those cards close to his chest for long though; as soon as Jones reports the issue, Gideon explains the situation, but it’s effective because it establishes Gideon’s leadership. “What is the standard for a watchman like you?” Gideon is a very strong leader and I really like him. Admittedly, I was a fan of Gary Cole before I’d see Crusade which probably helps the character, but I do like the way he’s portrayed here.
I think the series was off to a slow start, but it clearly has a strong cast and a lot of potential. This episode is slow and ultimately a world-builder without much going on, but that’s ok; sometimes you need those episodes to flesh out the characters. I’d say I’m well and truly interested now. ML
The view from across the pond:
What’s this? Something from the B5 franchise not written by JMS? It’s not like him to allow somebody else to play with his toys. Unfortunately it’s not a huge success. Although it’s only early days, I have been struck by how much Galen is the new G’Kar, always ready with something funny or thought-provoking to say. Not here. In fact, Fiona Avery fails to make any of the main characters spring to life in the way JMS was doing. She isn’t helped by the screwed up episode order, which places two Galen-centric episodes back to back, throwing the problem into sharp contrast. Whereas I loved Galen in the previous episode, here he irritated me. It’s almost as if JMS was trying to make him like G’Kar, while Avery instead turned him into a Vorlon, all enigmatic and unreliable and frankly irritating:
“What is your question Galen?”
We don’t need another Kosh in our lives. One was enough.
I’m not quite sure why the network messed around with the episode order, but I always like to experience a series in the same way as the original viewers, so I’m watching this third in the series. It shouts out at the viewer as a mistake. There is a strong dynamic of a bunch of people who have been working together for a while, rather than a crew who has just embarked on their mission.
It also puzzles me why the network would want to bring this forward in the episode order, because it’s not as if it’s even a strong episode. Galen promises “a focal point of immense power, like Stonehenge”, and it should be clear from that point that we are heading for a disappointment. Anyone who has visited Stonehenge and opened their eyes knows how unimpressive a sight it presents, and it holds as much power as you would expect a bunch of rocks to hold: i.e. none. Maybe it was clever writing, because Galen’s destination is similarly useless to anyone other than Galen, despite his promises of finding something for plague research. I suspected he was making all that up from the start.
Presumably because the premise of the episode is paper thin, Avery throws in a distraction, with an encounter with some jellyfish en route to not-Stonehenge.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
It’s a jellyfish. Actually, it’s a horny jellyfish.
“Thrusters? Oh Captain, you’re giving it all the wrong signals.”
The name Avery gives to the creatures, “Fen”, makes me think that Avery is baiting sci-fi fans in a way that JMS probably wouldn’t ever do. I like the term about as much as “Whovians” (yuck), but “fen” is used by some sci-fi fans as a plural for “fans”, so what do we have here? A monster who won’t leave a spaceship alone, and wants to mate with it. That’s a pretty nasty swipe at the fen… sorry, fans.
Nothing a good shower won’t fix.
It turns out Galen just wants to fulfil a promise to somebody called Isobel…
“…her tiny frame lost in an enormous overstuffed chair, her feet curled beneath her.”
OK so Isobel must have been his cat. Galen has done it all to lay his cat/girlfriend to rest, but why not confide in his friend instead of all the sneakiness?
“If I had you wouldn’t have come.”
“You don’t know that.”
I really don’t think Avery understood the character dynamics here at all. Of course Galen would confide in his friend, and this attempt to paper over the cracks really doesn’t work. I also don’t quite know what she was trying to do with the character of Max, or what anyone is going to do with him for that matter. I’m hoping this is just a misstep, but he’s the one who is most vehement about not wanting to head off to discover something. I thought he was supposed to be an archaeologist? Where’s his sense of curiosity? All he does is stand around looking grumpy.
In the end, perhaps the biggest disappointment was Galen keeping the universe’s greatest chat up line to himself:
“Every technomage knows the fourteen words that will make someone fall in love with you forever.”
Yeah, well I already know the answer to that, so there. And I won’t keep it to myself either, like spoilsport Galen. Have this one on me.
“Would you like to have a look at my collection of Doctor Who figurines?”
(PS, if you just counted those words on your fingers then the chat up line won’t work for you.)