Friday, May 17, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Babylon 5 - Season 3

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Pays off previous two seasons with fast moving plot and dynamic characters
Cons: A couple of off episodes, most noticeably "Grey 17 is Missing"
The Bottom Line:
Pays off first seasons
Story arc is in full swing
I keep rewatching

"Far be it From Me to Talk You Out of Your Paranoia."

Back in the mid-90's Babylon 5 was something different for TV.  In the day were each episode was a story unto itself, Babylon 5 set out to tell one unified story over the course of five seasons.  Heck, even today, that's something unusual.  While we often get season long stories, I can't think of another show that has given us one unified story over the course of its run.  Anyway, season three is where the show truly began to gel.  There are fewer standalone stories, and every episode moves things forward.

The show is set on a space station deep in neutral territory.  The station is part trading port and part UN, with ambassadors from all the major races and most of the minor ones on board.  But the command staff has become aware of an ancient enemy building their forces and have been trying to prepare to defeat this ancient enemy.

Because of the nature of the show, I will be discussing things that have happened previously.  While I won't spoil any of the big secrets, I have to discuss some things.  This is your only warning.  I won't be spoiling too much of this season, however.

Season 3 kicks off in a world moving toward war.  The rest of the world now knows about the existence of the Shadows, meaning it is time to try to build an alliance toward defeating this ancient enemy.  Captain John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Minbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) continue to work hard coming up with some way to defeat them.  Part of that involves creating a war counsel to share ideas.  They also work hard to get support from the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, but with so many of them now fighting each other, will that work?  The work is helped by the introduction of a new space ship, the White Star.  Also, Marcus Cole (Jason Carter) is assigned to be the permanent ranger on the station to help in the fight.

Meanwhile, Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) has begun to think his alliance with the mysterious Mr. Morden (Ed Wasser) and his associates.  Unfortunately, they don't quietly go away.  Citizen G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) is convinced something major is happening on the station, and keeps nosing around to find out what.

Things have also been deteriorating on Earth since President Clark took over from his late predecessor.  The crew on Babylon 5 finally get some hard evidence that the previous president's death wasn't an accident but murder.  Will this make a difference or will President Clark's new security measures keep the truth buried?

Quite obviously, there is a lot happening in these 22 episodes.  And I haven't even touched on a couple of character arcs and the resolution to the mystery of what happened to Babylon 4.  They really do move quickly, cramming a lot of story into the time they have.  But it works here for a reason - we've already spent two seasons in this universe with these characters.  While it would be possible for new people to watch the show here, it would take some explaining from a fan for them to fully understand what has gone before.

But if you have that background, it all begins to pay off here.  In fact, you really have the answers to the big questions before the season ends.  The final two years of the show are how those answers pay off and affect our characters.

What is amazing is how cohesive it all is, at least for a normal TV show.  Series creator J. Michael Straczynski wrote all 22 episodes here, so there is a flow to things you wouldn't find elsewhere.  Yes, there are still some minor details that wind up contradicting each other, but I can easily overlook them.

Now this isn't to say that all the episodes move the story forward in big ways.  There are still some that are pretty much stand alones.  A few of these are pretty good, like "Passing Through Gethsemane."  "A Late Delivery from Avalon" feels like a throw back to season 1, which was decidedly more uneven.  However, the single worst episode of the series is part of this season.  The main plot of "Grey 17 is Missing" is pretty much a loss with its high cheese factor.  Frankly, there are many elements of it that make little sense.  However, you do still need to watch the episode for the secondary stories with contribute to the overall arc.

The reason I keep watching this show over and over again are the characters.  They are truly dynamic, changing over time.  This development is a dynamic outgrowth of the story, so it happens in small ways as an integral part of what we are watching.  Some of the biggest changes happen this season, so it is amazing to watch and see where things wind up.

The actors make these changes believable.  Much like the storytelling, the acting has gotten stronger as the season progresses.  While there are a few moments that aren't perfect, they overall acting is top notch.  It helps you invest in these characters.  And they also show remarkable range, being able to pull of the serious and dramatic moments and the lighter, comedic moments, sometimes in the same episode.

It's hard to believe the special effects had improved so much from the first season.  This show also broke ground with its use of CGI during the 90's, the first show to do so on TV.  Computers had come far enough by 1996 that you really do believe most of the shots here are real.  That's a good thing since so much more of the story is required to be told with CGI now.

The third season set contains all 22 episodes on six discs.  The wide screen picture is okay.  Some shots look clear, others show quite a bit of dust and grain.  The audio is full surround, and it sounds great.  Extras include a season intro, one commentary track by cast members and two by creator JMS, and a series of featurettes on the alien make up and the overall look of the show.  Finally, there are some data files and a hidden gag reel.

As much as I love this show, I admit the early seasons have their weak moments.  But those are behind us with season three of Babylon 5.  Sit down and hold on for the amazing ride.

Season 3 Episodes:
1. Matters of Honor
2. Convictions
3. A Day in the Strife
4. Passing Through Gethsemane
5. Voices of Authority
6. Dust to Dust
7. Exogenesis
8. Messages from Earth
9. Point of No Return
10. Severed Dreams
11. Ceremonies of Light and Dark
12. Sic Transit Vir
13. A Late Delivery from Avalon
14. Ship of Tears
15. Interludes and Examinations
16. War Without End, Part One
17. War Without End, Part Two
18. Walkabout
19. Grey 17 is Missing
20. And the Rock Cried out, No Hiding Place
21. Shadow Dancing
22. Z'Ha'Dum

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