December 5, 2011

Babble On, part 3: "Midnight on the Firing Line"

Londo (Peter Jurasik) vs. G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas).
An unprovoked attack on a Centauri colony by the Narn Regime leads to a threat of war between the two civilizations. Raiders are striking cargo ships near Babylon 5. The station receives its new telepath.

Produced and broadcast about a year after the 90-minute pilot, "Midnight on the Firing Line" is Babylon 5's first proper episode, and it represents an astonishing jump in quality.

The show feels tighter, better written and performed, and nuanced where the pilot had been fairly heavy-handed and stereotypical. It also smartly chooses to focus on its two strongest characters, alien ambassadors Londo Mollari and G'Kar.

My observations on this episode are:
  • The monologue during the opening credits, delivered by Michael O'Hare as Commander Sinclair, is laughable. It sounds like bad teenage poetry in places. It's not O'Hare's fault that it sounds so awful - this is pretty much Straczynski's dialogue at its worst. Sadly we're stuck with this opening sequence for another 21 episodes.
  • Londo gets an aide named Vir (Stephen Furst), who I remember becoming a lot more engaging as the series went on. Here he is deeply irritating.
  • The station's got a new first officer, Claudia Christian as Susan Ivanova. I'm not a fan. The character's dialogue is stilted, and Christian's deadpan delivery doesn't compensate for it. Unlike Vir, I don't remember becoming more interested in Ivanova as the series went on.
  • There's a new telepath too, Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson). I like her a lot more than Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman) from the pilot. She feels a lot more natural on screen, whereas Tallman felt very awkward.
  • We get a nice monologue from Londo: I'm rapidly finding my favourite bit of the series is whenever a character gets 90 seconds to just talk about themselves. Maybe it's bad TV - after all, we're always taught to show and not tell, but despite the theatrical feel of it I do like it when these characters tell rather than show.
  • There's some nice foreshadowing going on. It's another key strength of the show.
"Midnight on the Firing Line" gets a lot more right than "The Gathering" did. It's grabbed my interest. After the pilot I was doubting my commitment to stick with re-watching the series, but for now I'm enthusiastically back on board.

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