January 25, 2012

Babble On, part 7: "The Parliament of Dreams"

In "The Parliament of Dreams", religious festivals take over the station, Commander Sinclair reconnects with an ex-girlfriend, and Ambassador G'Kar goes on the run from an assassination contract. G'Kar also gets a new ambassadorial aide, Na'Toth (Caitlin Brown). Delenn finally gets one of her own - Lennier (Bill Mumy).

This episode is very much a mixed bag: for every element that works, there's one that doesn't. In the interests of fairness I flipped a coin to see which I would talk about first. Heads came up, so: the positive points, and then the negatives.

  • Caitlin Brown is excellent as Na'Toth. She's funny, interesting and an excellent co-star for Andreas Katsulas' G'Kar. She replaces Ko'Dath, after actress Mary Woronov found the make-up procedure too difficult to continue with.
  • The G'Kar storyline is great. It's not going to win any awards for originality, but it's well played and consistently amusing and engaging.
  • Michael O'Hare is continuing to impress me as Sinclair. I remember thinking he was the worst actor in the cast the first time around. Now all I'm seeing is very subtle and naturalistic acting. I think he stands out because so many of the actors in make-up are aggressively theatrical (Londo, G'Kar, Vir, Na'Toth, Delenn, etc).
Now for the negatives:
  • The idea of a station-wide festival celebrating religious diversity is a good one, but it's very disappointing to see the series fall into the hoary old cliche of all alien civilizations having monocultures. The Minbari has one religion, as do the Centauri, and as do - we are led to assume - all the other races. At the end Sinclair reveals the demonstration of human religion - a long procession of differing faiths (include some pretty obscure ones I found hard to believe would be on an intergalactic space station). For some reason this struck me as oddly racist. I say oddly because we're talking about fictional species' here, but there is a definite tone of "Look at the aliens and their silly religions - now look at all the diversity and wonderful variety in human religion". I think it was supposed to feel a bit profound. Instead it felt very slightly offensive.
  • The romantic subplot between Sinclair and ex-girlfriend Catherine Sakai is woeful. Both actors work the best they can with what they have, but what they have is a bundle of cliches. It's a really tedious collection of scenes that are leading me to pin down one of Straczynski's main failings as a writer: he can't write ordinary conversations to save his life.
  • Maybe it's the characterisation, maybe it's the actor, but Lennier always comes across like a deer caught in headlights. I seem to recall this slightly stunned performance style continues for the whole series.
Despite the above-mentioned faults, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy "The Parliament of Dreams". When it works, it's fine. When it doesn't, I just waited for the next bit that worked. So that's two good episodes out of five so far: the quality ratio just leaped from 25 per cent to 40.

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