In the first episode of the first season of Babylon 5, good lord, this was a lot darker than I anticipated. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of imperialism, genocide, suicide.
What the hell, y’all??? There’s such a willingness within “Midnight on the Firing Line” to draw the audience towards an uncomfortable conflict and then shove our faces in it, and it’s riveting. This premiere is bold in a lot of ways because of this unflinching tone, and I’m still reeling from a number of scenes??? Oh my god, what the hell have you gotten me into???
This show opens with no introduction to anything on the screen and throws us into a bleak moment: an agricultural colony facing their imminent death at the hands of an unknown foe. You don’t necessarily need to have watched The Gathering, but let me be the first to thank all of you for guiding me through this viewing order because I AM VERY HAPPY I MADE SURE TO WATCH THAT FIRST. It provides such a huge bit of context to much of what we see here, and that information helped me appreciate how fucked up and complex this is.
And let’s start with that attack because… well, this show does not make it easy to pick sides, so to speak. Once it was clear that the Narn were behind the attack on the Centauri colony, a whole mess of political history is immediately unearthed. Even with just a cursory knowledge of this previous conflict, I knew that the Centauri had once conquered many Narn worlds. So, as unlikable as G’Kar might be, it’s hard to criticize his people’s want for revenge on the surface of all this. The Centauri oppressed them! Ragesh 3 used to be theirs! The kind of brutality that was hinted at in The Gathering—which G’Kar used to blackmail Londo—is not something you just get “over” in a century. The trauma from that is passed through the generations, and it informs the culture and society of a people. So, are they just supposed to let it all go?
Of course, the complication is just as obvious: the Narn attacked a colony that was made up of—at worst—people whose parents or grandparents were complicit in an attempted genocide. They certainly benefited from that, but do they deserve to die like this? G’Kar definitely believes so, and thus, you’ve got two groups who desire nothing more than the utter extinction of the other. And we’ve no idea of their history before their war! The audience has to work with limited information, but that’s not a disadvantage, necessarily. No, I felt like it kept me on my toes, eager to learn more about their history and what exactly happened that coalesced into the current problem.
It’s not the only history here, though. We learn that the Narn assisted Earth in their war against the Minbari, but not out of some sense of charity or ethical obligation. The Narn, as far as I can tell, seek out power and money wherever they can find it, and they crave dominance above all else. Which would make their current endeavor part of a long game to take… well, everyone out of the running. I don’t trust them as an ally because, as we’ve seen in just one film and one episode of this show, G’Kar is prepared to stab anyone in the back to get what he wants. And for what it’s worth, Londo is close to that, but at least he pulls himself back when Garibaldi stops him. So there’s some awareness there of right and wrong, whereas G’Kar appears to think, “Hey, will this thing get what I want? THEN LET’S DO IT.)
So, no Lyta, but Talia Winters is the Psi Corps character for the show, I’m assuming. HI, LET’S TALK ABOUT ALL OF THIS BECAUSE HOLY SHIT, I’M SO UNCOMFORTABLE. Again, as I said before, this show doesn’t make most of this easy to digest, and this is only the first episode. I, like Talia, was perplexed as to why Lt. Commander Ivanova kept ignoring her Psi Corps officer. Was she too busy? Did she find Psi Corps officers irritating and unnecessary? Wouldn’t she have to talk to Talia at some point? By the time we got to their actual conversation, it was clear that this wasn’t just the two of them missing each other due to busy schedules. Ivanova was actively avoiding Talia. That seemed like such an easy way to get off on the wrong foot, you know?
So, once Ivanova started apologizing, I settled in for what I thought was a recognizable trope: she was sorry for treating her badly, she would do better in the future, everything is fine. Yeah. No. Not even close. Because Ivanova reveals that her mother was an unregistered telepath, and in this universe, that’s massively, massively illegal. So the same organization that trained Talia, that raised her and helped her become who she is, drugged Ivanova’s mother so much and so badly that she eventually committed suicide. AND IVANOVA HAS NO REAL INTEREST IN EVER BEING FRIENDS WITH TALIA. Y’all, this character straight-up admits to a bias, and then promises to… not really work on it at all.
WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHOW. Oh my god, can we have a Psi Ops episode? They sound FUCKED UP.
I’m sad about the loss of Dr. Kyle and Takashima, since I wanted to know more about those characters, and as it stands, this cast is now pretty white. (I can’t speak to the actors in prosthetics.) I recall there being a doctor listed in the opening credits, but they’re not shown onscreen, so I’m hoping that we’ll get to meet them soon. For the most part, this is a dense episode that—and I’m guessing here—seeds a lot of stuff the show could use later. Like Londo’s dream of his own death, twenty years in the future, or his utter hatred of G’Kar and the Narn, which I highly doubt is resolved after this premiere. We technically see Kosh outside of their suit, and they appeared to be nothing more than a beam of light, so THAT’S PRETTY COOL. I don’t know how important the recently-elected president is, but I do know that Ivanova’s comment about the Vice President’s chins was… really not okay. AND I WANT MORE OF DELENN. Are we ever going to see those weird gravity ring things again??? Delenn is utterly delightful in the very few scenes they’re in in “Midnight on the Firing Line,” and there definitely needs to be more of the Minbari. WHY DOES SINCLAIR HAVE A GAP IN HIS MEMORY.
Don’t do this to me, I am already thirsting to know the answers to these questions.
The video for “Midnight on the Firing Line” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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