Friday, April 8, 2011

1997 Hugo for Dramatic Presentation – “Severed Dreams,” BABYLON 5

Back to B5 with its second, and final, Hugo win. I chronicled my B5 watching history last time: there’s no question that the long, intricately planned arcs are ground-breaking and influential. However, horrible production values marred the series’ first season. By season 3, the production values have improved quite a bit. It seems to be in the same range as a show like early Buffy (whose production values I have no problem ignoring). However, even in season 3, at the show’s creative peak, I’m still not entirely won over by the characters and plot.

In the last Hugo-winning episode, Babylon 5’s quest for peace was collapsing as the evil “Shadows” manipulated alien races into attacking each other. These problems continue, but the newest threat is from within. An alliance of Alfred Bester-inspired psi-cops, the Shadows, and an evil President have taken over Earth and declared martial law. Under Commander John Sheridan, Babylon 5 breaks with the new Earth government and becomes a beacon of resistance. A lot of fighting ensues, and the production team really does pull out all the stops to make the battles look relatively decent…and even better.

I’m still not entirely sold on this series though. I wish I knew more about the Shadows. I wish everything wasn’t framed as a titanic struggle between pure good and pure evil. I wish the characters weren’t cookie-cutter clichés. I wish JMS could dial back his love of melodrama and preaching from the soap box. I wish a lot of things. There’s so much to admire about this series, but there continue to be a lot of little things that bother me. I doubt I’ll be a convert in the end, but I really do appreciate the layered, continuity-heavy storytelling that the show represents.

Unlike last time, I don’t think this episode was up against extremely strong competition. DS9’s “Trials and Tribble-ations” was a fun, nostalgic romp, but it was also very gimmicky. First Contact is also fun but flawed – more in the JJ Abrams school of Trek movies than the Nicholas Meyer school. If I were to pick an alternate winner, it might be a previous B5 episode called “Messages from Earth,” wherein we learn that the evil Earth government has found Shadow ships on Mars and Ganymede. It’s got a great archaeological mystery and an action sequence that may not be as elaborate as this episode’s but is more exciting (and less inevitably headed toward dues ex machine).

Grade: B

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