Reviews: Babylon Five

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I strongly recommend this show.
Far too few shows are written with the care and preparation of Babylon 5. Each of the main characters has a five-year arc that plays like a novel. No single protagonist is painted as absolutely good, but by the show's conclusion few characters are left morally ambiguous. One thing I will note is that the show is an extended but not hostile deconstruction of the messianic archetype; all but two or three of the main characters have some aspect of this archetype, becoming saviors to their homeworld or returning from the dead at crucial moments. Biblical imagery is used sparingly to this effect. If any of this offends you, this show may not be for you. The special effects are love-them-or-hate-them stuff, no question, but the show has a dark nineties aesthetic to it that I like. The acting could be called, in places, uneven, but I think it shows a realism that more trained acting doesn't always convey.

It's epic, and it's my favorite show. You may not like it, but if dark sci-fi's your kind of thing, it's awesome.
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Will cramp your butt at times, but worth it
B5, a Tolkien setting in space with political intrigue. Half of the show is a fly by the seat of your pants, good vs. evil epic. The mundane side of station life, however, is handled with verisimilitude. We got Blue, Red, Brown sectors. We got Walther PPKs that shoot heated plasma (awesome). We have a huge metropolitan station which will take five years to explore fully.

Comparisons with Trek are inevitable, though as I just described, B5 is whole other kettle of fish:

Earth is not some hippie utopia; it was forced to adopt the worst of all utopias, the one-world government, out of grim necessity. Religion has followed us into space, and while the Mosiac religions are looking a bit neutered these days, the station is still full of vicars and rabbis doing their thing. B5's species, like Star Trek, are various placeholders for... the human condition. The decadent Centauri are ripe for collapse; the Narn want to join the Big Boy's club (refuting allegations of being 'backward') but are so hobbled by a century of exploitation that they slide right back into their fundamentalist ways; the pragmatic Minbari strive to improve themselves while stepping on any meddlesome races that get in their way, etc. The more things don't change, the more they stay the same, that's what I always say.

Refreshingly, unlike Trek, they can't easily be summed up as black hats or proud warrior races. When one of the aggressors get their comeuppance (and there will be many reversals of fortune), it's always tinged with regret.

Like I said, though, the setting may be hard sci-fi, but the plot is about as hard as jello pudding. This works well for the antagonist aliens, a Lovecraftian race of scheming beetles. Plot resolutions, however, are about as subtle as J.K. Rowling. Giant weaponized planets, angels, zombies, psychics, wizards: This show has it all. I found this to be the biggest hurdle, because it's so at odds with a carefully-crafted world, and it made me take long breaks from the series at times. The long-winded philosophizing sure doesn't help. Hey, Straczynski! It's called a visual medium!

I'm no good at wrapping up reviews, so: I like B5. It did what it set out to do: craft a tight story within a set five-year limit with unique, likeable characters.
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