Friday, January 25, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Babylon 5 - Parliament of Dreams and Mind War

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Two universe building episodes that are also fun
Cons: Some acting in the second episode could be better
The Bottom Line:
Building universe
With culture, character, plot
In a fun manner

Major Universe Building in These Two Babylon 5 Episodes

Any fan of Babylon 5 will freely admit that the first season is about universe and character building.  And there’s really no better example of that than the two episodes here - The Parliament of Dreams and Mind War.  The best part is they are fun in the process.

For those who have missed this gem of a show, it is set on a space station deep in neutral territory.  Our main cast are the humans who run the station and the aliens sent there by their governments to help foster peace.  Of course, there is also lots of commerce on the station as well, which helps drives some of the plots.

Up first is “The Parliament of Dreams.”  This episode was the fifth to air, and actually remains one of my favorites from the first season to this day.  It introduces Lennier (Bill Mumy) as assistant to Mimbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) as well as Na’Toth (Julie Caitlin Brown), the second assistant to show up for Narn Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas).  Yes, this long into the season they are still introducing opening credits cast.  That’s the kind of show it was.

There are two stories happening simultaneously.  The first involves the various alien races on the space station showing off their dominant religious beliefs.  The second, and the more compelling of the two, involves a death threat that G’Kar has received.  Someone on the station is an assassin sent to kill him.  Who might it be?

You might not believe it from that description, but this episode is actually very funny.  Two scenes in particular stand out in my mind because I always laugh out loud at them.  Even outside of those scenes, there are lines that are laugh inducing as well.

Beyond that, showing us the dominate religious beliefs of the Mimbari, Centari, and Humans really gives us a feel for their cultures.  We could get that in a data dump, but this is a cleaner way to do it that still entertains.  And through G’Kar’s storyline, we learn a little something about his past and politics on his home world.

The acting here is outstanding.  This is the cast’s first real outing in comedy, and they all shine.  From reactions to line delivery, things are perfect.

The second episode is “Mind War,” and it takes things in a decidedly serious and science fiction bent.  It is also our first real introduction to the PsiCorp, an organization on Earth that controls all human telepaths.  The story begins when residentBabylon5 telepath Talia Winters’ (Andrea Thompson) former lover escapes and makes his way to the station.  He is a telepath as well, so PsiCop Bester (recurring guest star Walter Koenig) and his partner follow him to the station to track him down and bring him back.  He’s brash and arrogant, but will his methods work or will they put the station in more danger?

While there’s been discussion of the PsiCorp before, this is the first time that we really get a glimpse of the inner workings of the organization.  It’s an organization we’d come to know well by the time the series was done.  That can also be said of Bester, who would show up quite a bit more over the course of the show, most noticeably in season 4.  While he’s a one note antagonist here, his repeated appearances would make him a more well rounded villainous character.  He’s one of those people we love to hate.

Unfortunately, the acting isn’t quite as good here.  Andrea Thompson can be a bit over the top when she needs to be dramatic, and that’s the case here.  Likewise, guest star William Allen Young who plays her former boyfriend Jason Ironheart is also a bit over the top at times.  Still, everyone is watchable, which is all that really matters.

Special effects are a bigger part of this show.  They do show a bit of their age, early computer effects in 1993, but they still work for the most part.

Of course, I don’t recommend trying to track down this VHS tape to watch the episodes.  Instead, watch them on disc two of the complete first season DVD set.

And certainly watch The Parliament of Dreams and Mind War.  Both are entertaining and both will help you understand things that happen later in Babylon 5.

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