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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

The X-Files, The Beginning (***)
by Chris Carter
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Ratings
Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

X-Files It is November. The leaves have fallen from the trees and lie sodden on the ground, and the Fall season of The X-Files has begun, with an episode composed of about equal parts good and bad.

We return to the story of Gibson Praise, the telepathic boy introduced at the end of the previous season. When we first see him, he is wide awake, undergoing open brain surgery. For the rest of the episode what was once a cute kid looks like Frankenstein's monster -- a powerful image. But the other "kid" in this episode, an alien gestated inside a human body who bursts free, is the real horror.

That's the good stuff.

There are two things seriously wrong with this episode, one entirely expected, the other completely unexpected.

Entirely expected: Mulder and Scully are ordered to drop the X-Files. Where have we heard that before? "The Beginning" opens with a recap of the events of The X-Files movie, as an F.B.I. board of investigation reviews Mulder's report. We should be glad they didn't appoint a special prosecutor.

I'm sorry, but this just doesn't make sense. Chris Carter wants to have it both ways. He wants Mulder to be an F.B.I. agent but he also wants Mulder to be an outsider who nobody trusts. The longer this uneasy balance between respected citizen and complete nut goes on, the harder it is to accept. After Mulder has told his story about the giant alien spaceship in Antarctica, there are only a limited number of possibilities. Either Mulder is crazy and ought to be locked up for his own protection. Or Mulder is following the most important leads in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Or both. But there is no middle ground. If the people on the board of inquiry even suspect that what Mulder is telling them might be true, then they are going to mobilize the entire resources of the bureau to find out. If, on the other hand, they are certain that what Mulder says is not true, then they are going to immediately dismiss him from the bureau. They are not going to simply reassign him.

The story arc of The X-Files has got to progress, or the program is, like Voyager, lost in space.

The completely unexpected bad thing that happens in this episode is something we find out about Scully. We already know that the behavior of Mulder and Scully is becoming increasingly strange. Up to a point, that is a good thing. But if they go too far, there is a danger that the viewers will loose all sympathy with the characters. Something happened in "The Beginning" that left me with a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Scully brings Gibson Praise, the telepathic boy, to the hospital. Gibson reads her mind and announces that she doesn't really care about him, only about his usefulness as evidence. He is, after all, a telepath. We have no reason to doubt what he says. But if Scully is really so devoid of human feeling that she doesn't care about the boy, then why should we, the viewers, care what happens to her.

A horror show should make you queasy. Maybe Chris Carter is moving in an interesting direction in showing the grim, fanatic, almost inhuman side of Scully and Mulder, as they increasingly isolate themselves from everyone except one another, and increasingly distrust even that bond. My first criticism was that The X-Files doesn't go far enough. Am I now saying it goes too far? In a way. But when a story goes to such extremes that you begin to dislike everyone in it, what is left to hold our interest? The horror. The horror.

Babylon 5, River of Souls (***)
by J. Michael Straczynski

Babylon 5 It is almost certainly too late to warn you, but if you have not already watched "River of Souls," wait until after the last episode of Babylon 5 before you watch it. It was inexplicably shown out of order, and you find out in advance things about the next two Babylon 5 episodes you may not want to know.

That said, "River of Souls" (also called "The River of Souls") is much better than "Thirdspace", the previous Babylon 5 movie. Martin Sheen returns as a soul catcher, a character we met in Babylon 5's first season. Straczynski is the only writer on television who has intelligent things to say about death and our reasons for living, and about the difference, if any, between the mind and the soul.

The movie stars Tracy Scoggins as Captain Elizabeth Lochley and Jerry Doyle as Michael Garibaldi, with Jeff Conaway as Zack Allen in a supporting role. Richard Biggs makes a brief appearance when a lost soul takes the form of Dr. Steven Franklin. Straczynski has said that the reason only a few of the stars of the series appear in these telefilms is the limited budget (only three million dollars per film!) and that he tries to spread the work around.

This is the first time Captain Lochley has really had much to do. She makes a stronger impression here than she has in the past, though I do not see her as a strong enough character to carry a movie. Fortunately, Jerry Doyle is excellent as always, though he seems to have taken ugly pills, now that he is a plutocrat.

The influence of Babylon 5 on Deep Space Nine has been obvious. In this movie, we see the first case of a clear influence going the other way. The back story, which neatly ties in with the main story in both the plot and the subtext, involves a holo-brothel. We always knew what Quark was really running, but it took Babylon 5 to actually say it out loud.

Copyright © 1998 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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