April 23, 2014

Babylon 5: "Sic Transit Vir"

Centauri ambassador to Minbar Vir Cotto returns to Babylon 5, encountering a pleased Londo Mollari, a potential wife hanging on his every word, and some difficult questions from the Babylon 5 command staff. Meanwhile Sheridan asks Delenn out to dinner, and Ivanova is plagued by bad dreams.

I'm finding Vir to be one of the best characters in Babylon 5. He doesn't appear a lot, mainly because Stephen Furst juggled playing him with other roles in other shows at the same time, but every time he does appear he's well worth the time. J. Michael Straczynski writes him well, and Furst performs the character brilliantly. I can't help feeling badly for Vir: he's the Jiminy Cricket archetype, the voice of reason and sense squashed flat by an uncaring Pinocchio. We get that in spades here: he's surrounded by Centauri diplomats and civil servants, all making jokes about the mass genocide of the Narn when he - seemingly the one good man in the Republic - is secretly smuggling Narn prisoners to freedom underneath his own government's noses.

That's the upside to this episode. The downside is that Straczynski devotes the rest of the hour to comedy, and if there's one thing the last two-and-a-half seasons have demonstrated, it's that Straczynski can't write a good joke. The humour is terrible here. It's leaden, awkward and hopelessly predictable. In Sheridan and Delenn's romantic dinner we even get the well-worn 'eating food you hate while pretending it's good' schtick, which was old when they were doing it in I Love Lucy 40 years earlier.

Meanwhile Ivanova has a dream where she's naked in C&C, and spends the rest of the episode being reminded of it by unwitting puns made by the rest of the cast. It's like fingernails scraping down a blackboard, and pretty much ruins any chance of enjoying the episode's good aspects.

So once again we're in a position where an episode could have been good, but the poor humour drags it down. Straczynksi can write the hell out of a monologue. He can draw on other people's themes and riffs and make them into gripping, albeit often derivative, television. But he can't tell a joke.

12 episodes in. Eight have been good. Season 3 drops down to a quality ratio of 67%.

This is the 750th post on The Angriest. Thanks again for reading.

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