In the Babylon 5 movie The Gathering, I begin my journey. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start Babylon 5.
Hello, hello, hello! For many, many years, this has been a heavily requested show for Mark Watches. It was put on the schedule, and then removed when I worried that I would have SPACE FATIGUE. (Which I now realize is ludicrous because I’m gay and we love space, sorry, don’t make the rules.) After some incredible help from the community at large and specifically from rukbat3, I actually have a concrete viewing order for this show! You can check my Master Schedule here as well, which will detail when all the reviews will go up.
If you are new around here—there is always an influx of new readers as I start a new series—I am going to ask you to read all of the following, as it will help you get an understanding of what I do here and why it’s different than just someone reviewing the show.
1) Spoilers are not allowed in any form on Mark Watches. Please refrain from ever posting (in normal text) any sort of spoiler or reference to future storylines or developments while commenting on this site. This rule is probably a lot more strict than you’re used to, so if you’re warned about spoilers or if your comment is edited because of it, trust me. This is for a reason. Please visit the Spoiler Policy for guidance.
2) You may, however, post spoilers in rot13. You will inevitably see what looks like gibberish in the comments. We use rot13 to cipher all possible spoilers so that y’all can still have a conversation about each episode if you’ve seen the entire show. Please cipher all spoilers.
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I do like to let folks know what I am aware of before I start a project, so here’s what little I know of Babylon 5 before I started this movie:
- It is in space.
- It’s science fiction.
- J. Michael Straczynski is the creator and writer of the series.
- I vaguely remember someone who was on the cast for The X-Files being on this show?
- There’s a person with weird hair? It’s like a shield?
- I DON’T KNOW.
- It’s long?
- And complicated?
HERE WE GO FRIENDS. Because I don’t know shit about the show itself. I just know it’s beloved, people have been yelling about it in my direction for years, and I’M READY. I was not even ten years old when this came out, and the series didn’t hit my radar until I started going to science fiction/fantasy conventions back in 2013. People had recommended it to me once Mark Watches had started, but I didn’t hear about it regularly until I got more involved in the community. So I’m coming into it with more knowledge of the genre than I had five years ago. Which I think is a good thing! It’s pretty easy for me to settle into the series because certain elements and tropes are familiar to me, and thus, I felt able to pay attention to more of the smaller details. I don’t know how much of this film plays into the larger series either, but I’m hoping that it’s important because HOW DARE YOU LEAVE ME WITH UNANSWERED QUESTIONS.
As a whole, this felt like more of an extended episode than a film, but it’s a solid introduction to what I think will be the general aim of the series. Indeed, it’s the worldbuilding stuff that felt most exciting to me. The story itself is fine, but knowing how much I have ahead of me, I am going to be patient in terms of letting the show come into its own. So what did this film give me? How does it aim to introduce a new viewer to the world of Babylon 5? Well, more often than not, this film trusts the viewer. It accepts that you kind of know what you’re getting into with a science fiction story set on a diplomatic space station, so in terms of exposition, the movie never felt overloaded with it. It just existed, and the viewer gets to pick up on the details handed out to them.
I’m always fascinated by where stories begin, particularly since that’s something I’ve struggled with in practically every story I’ve ever written. I like worlds and characters that are rich with history, but as you construct them, you still have to choose where to begin telling your tale. The Gathering drops us in after the horrible war between the Minbari and Earth, after many failed attempts at bringing forth an alliance between the major alien species and humans, after four other Babylon stations were destroyed or lost. (AND YOU BETTER BELIEVE I WANT A WHOLE STORY ABOUT WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO BABYLON 4, DON’T YOU DARE DO THIS TO ME.) There are hints of the old Empire of the Centauri, of the oppressive regime they had over the Narn. But JMS (and I hope it’s okay to refer to him as such, since I’ve seen those initials a few times now online) chose to bring the audience into the fold as the fifth species, the Vorlons, finally decides to initiate negotiations to the Alliance. It’s a clever move because it allows him to show us an existing history that is complicated while putting us in the humans’ shoes as they welcome a fifth species into the fold. (Which I theorized was the reason for the “5” in the title, only to be proven wrong mere minutes later. I TRIED, OKAY.)
From that point, we’re given a story that isn’t exactly groundbreaking but is effective. We meet the various members of the crew—Commander Sinclair, Security Chief Garibaldi, Lt. Commander Takashima, Dr. Kyle—as well as some of the other major players on this station. There’s the Minbari ambassador, Delenn, who I found to be the most interesting character here. It helps that the film gave her a mystery right off the bat: why did her species stop a brutal war just as they were about to win it? Why is she willing to give Sinclair so many secrets? Why did she abstain from voting in favor of him during G’Kar’s ludicrous little hearing? WHO GAVE HER ORDERS?
Coming up in a close second is Londo Mollari, who could have merely been here for comic relief if it weren’t for the seeding of his people’s decline. That shit is fascinating, particularly since the first half of the movie sets up G’Kar as an antagonist and Londo as… well, not really a good character so much as an entertaining one. And then, halfway through this film, it’s all flipped. The Narn were oppressed by the Centaurians long ago, though how long ago is left unsaid. All we know is that the Centauri people were once part of a great and mighty empire, one that has more or less faded out of existence. There’s a hint of war crimes, which G’Kar uses to blackmail Londo with, and it suggests how brutal this occupation must have been. Again: this film hints at things, does not give me them, and expects me to take the bait.
I gobbled that bait up, y’all. I WANT TO KNOW MORE. GIVE ME MORE! Why did Sinclair lose 24 hours of time between his imminent defeat and the Minbari surrender? Why was that specific Minbari so dead set on destroying the possible alliance between the Vorlons and the others? Because this was serious dedication, y’all. That assassin had to do so many things just to get on board, and then they stole a changeling net (WHAT THAT’S SO COOL), and then they set about to destroy everything through Ambassador Kosh’s death. Oh god, I haven’t even talked about Kosh and Dr. Kyle yet. Y’all, WHAT THE FUCK ARE THE VORLONS? Are they just light inside those suits? (I’ll repeat what I said on video: the design of the Vorlons is absolutely incredible.) What did Dr. Kyle see? I mean, I’m inclined to believe he saw exactly what he said he saw, so… are there even bodies inside those suits? PROBABLY NOT. I don’t even know that I need any confirmation, as my imagination works wonders with what little information I’ve got. But I also expect that the Vorlons will play a large part in the series to come, given that Kosh survives.
We don’t learn all that much of the humans’ pasts, though. Sinclair has a relationship with another human, Carolyn, that seems important; we know that Garibaldi has been passed from station to station and was “difficult,” though there’s no real explanation for that, either. Lyta might be a permanent character, but I wasn’t sure, and there’s virtually nothing in the way of a history for Dr. Kyle or Takashima. Which is okay! It’s just the start, and I’m eager to see what the series itself does with these characters. What else is in store for them? How significant are the events of this film to other story arcs? Will there be a time jump between The Gathering and the premiere? I HAVE LOTS OF QUESTIONS, clearly, but I’m willing to see them through.
Onwards I go, friends!
The video for The Gathering can be downloaded here for $1.99.
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