Friday, December 14, 2018

My Shoes Are Too Tight: Babylon 5, "The War Prayer" (season 1, episode 7)

"We cannot turn our back on tradition."
"Oh, damn tradition!  Kiron may die because our glorious tradition values wealth and power over love!"
" 'My shoes are too tight.' "
"Excuse me...?"
"Something my father said.  He was old -- very old -- at the time.  I went into his room and he was sitting alone in the dark, crying.  So I asked him what was wrong, and he said, 'My shoes are too tight.  But it doesn't matter, because I have forgotten how to dance.' I never understood what that meant until now.  My shoes are too tight ... and I have forgotten how to dance."

Previously on Babylon 5...

Tonight, on an all-new episode: anti-alien violence perpetrated by a group of Earth-first isolationists causes big problems for Sinclair and Ivanova.

If you read that above exchange of dialogue (which is between Londo and Vir) and thought, "Huh, that sounds kind of lame," know ye that you are not alone.  It is lame; it surely is.
It's been kind of a rough ride so far, revisiting this series.  I've enjoyed some of it (I still like "The Gathering" and "Midnight on the Firing Line" despite their apparent flaws, and "Mind War"is solid, too), but much of it borders on the inept.  Even during the good episodes, I've found it necessary at times to view it the way I'd view a middle-school production of Cabaret: with an upfront acknowledgment that it was going to be crap, and a conscious effort to grade on a steep curve.
It gets better.  Never perfect; the production limitations are always there.  But it does get better.
Not this week, though.

In fact, I'd argue that this week's episode is the worst one yet.
(season 1, episode 7)
airdate:  March 9, 1994
written by:  D.C. Fontana
directed by:  Richard Compton
There are enjoyable moments here and there.  For example:
  • Mira Furlan is quite good in this one.  She's got a sort of Zen resignation/acceptance thing going on during the opening scene with Shaal Mayan, her poet friend; later, accosting Sinclair about Mayan's assault, she's anything but Zen or accepting/resigned.  But she seems like the same person in both scenes, which might not have happened with some actors.
  • "All I could see was a shadow."  Couldn't help but chuckle at this line of Mayan's to Garibaldi; it doesn't mean what I'm implying, but still.

  • I love the scene in which Garibaldi talks Ivanova into going and meeting the Centauri detainees by telling her he'll do it after a quick stop to take of an illegal coffee plant.  The coffee plant, of course, is Ivanova's (a plot point seemingly transferred from Takashima to Ivanova).
  • The actual Kosh scene blows, but I like the followup scene in which Sinclair and Ivanova talk about the unlikelihood of his poisoning (in "The Gathering") and the convenient reassignment of both Kyle and Lyta shortly thereafter.  It's just plot-hole covering, but still, why NOT try to turn that sort of thing into an advantage?  I think it works.

But there's a lot of lousy stuff, too:

  • Christopher Franke's "funny" music is appalling.  And it happens, like, three times!  It's not even good enough to qualify as sitcom-caliber music; it's more like Atari music or something.  I love his work for the series overall, but this episode is real rough in places.
  • Malcolm Biggs, the Homeguard dude who was once involved with Ivanova, is straight wearing a Cosby sweater in one scene.

  • Danica McKellar is flat-out inept as Aria.  

  • So is Michael Paul Chan, playing Roberts.

  • I'm finding Stephen Furst's mugging really difficult to deal with on this viewing of the series.  It improves as the series progresses, but sheesh...

Although he does have a few mildly effective moments when he stands up to Londo on behalf of Kiron And Aria.

  • What's with the Kosh scene?!?  Kosh seems to have bought a miniature Guardian Of Forever and is using it to study humanity.  Alright, look: there's no way Kosh doesn't already know everything he needs to know about Earth and humanity.  So I assume he's playing a long con on Sinclair here, and only wants Sinclair to think he's studying humanity.  That's nonsense, too, but I could accept that more than I accept whatever the scene actually is.

  • Tristan Rogers is pretty terrible as Malcolm.  It's a poorly-written role, and the direction helps not at all; but Rogers doesn't help a bit, either.
  • I don't buy Ivanova and Malcolm at all.  Claudia Christian and Rogers have zero chemistry, but beyond that, I just don't buy this as a person Ivanova would be attracted to.

  • We're back to shitty G'Kar again.  Katsulas is better at it this time than in weeks past, but this is a disappointing relapse that definitely points toward the fact "Mind War" was moved up in the airing schedule.
  • Garibaldi has such crystal-clear surveillance footage of Malcolm's visit with Roberts that he may as well have had a film crew in the room.  This is a problematic plot device: if the security cameras record to THIS level on B5, then there's little excuse for anything ever going unnoticed.  Also, isn't it a bit iffy from an ethical standpoint to record private conversations in that manner?
  • The entirety of the Sinclair-infiltrates-Homeguard subplot is unbelievable.  You'd have to be a damned stupid hate-group leader to just blithely let the commander and XO of the station "join" your group.  I guess maybe that's tempered somewhat by Malcolm trusting Ivanova, but doesn't that imply he'd have reason to believe she already held views like that?  Does Ivaonova have a secret racist (speciesist?) past we don't know about?!?  (Hashtag MEGA.)
  • Londo's "my shoes are too tight" speech, quoted above so as to make it clear right off the bat why this post bears the title I gave it, is embarrassing.  Even moreso later when he delivers the "...and children should be allowed to dance" punchline after deciding to help Kiron and Aria.  In theory, this stuff could play as a followup to Londo's post-Adira funk.  Maybe for some viewers it does play that way.  For me, it's embarrassing.  I've barely enjoyed Peter Jurasik at all during this rewatch so far, and it's honestly distressing me a little bit.
  • Wouldn't Sinclair's treatment of the fish-people aliens be kind of a major diplomatic incident?  first he shuns the lady at the reception; then he damn near lets her get killed in a hostage crisis.  

  • Plus, he's pissed off the League on Nonaligned Worlds AND at least half of the sitting ambassadors.  Honestly, Sinclair could probably get shitcanned for what he does in this episode.  I like Michael O'Hare alright in this one, by the way.

Bryant's rating:  * 1/2 / *****

This didn't fit into the conversation anywhere, but I like it visually and can't bear to waste a screencap, so there you have it.

Next up: "And the Sky Full of Stars."

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