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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Other Babylon 5.1 Columns
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The X-Files
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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.

An entire season of Star Trek and no Q. That hasn't happened since 1993-94. On the other hand, I appreciate the fact that Star Trek has not overused Q, one of their most popular characters. They seem to wait for a really good script. Here is a mini-checklist of Q episodes.

Q Episodes
Star Trek: The Next Generation Deep Space Nine Voyager
1987-88 Encounter at Farpoint    
  Hide and Q    
1988-89 Q-Who    
1989-90 Deja Q    
1990-91 Qpid    
1992-93 True Q Q-Less  
1994-95 All Good Things    
1995-96     Death Wish
1996-97     The Q and the Gray

It's been a long Summer, and it's not over yet. The first new episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine doesn't air until the end of September. For new Voyager's and Babylon 5's we have to wait until mid and late October. And The X-Files season doesn't start until November!

Looking backward, this past season saw some astonishingly good Deep Space Nine episodes, especially the retaking of the station at the beginning of the season. Four star episodes included "Statistical Probabilities", "In the Pale Moonlight", and "Tears of the Prophet." But the best episode of a very good year was "Far Beyond the Stars." I lived through the 1950s, and in terms of both race relations and science fiction this show was spot on. We catch a glimpse of an issue of Galaxy magazine that I have in my collection.

The X-Files was almost as good. The season premiere and the season finale lived up to expectations, and four star episodes included "Unusual Suspects", "Postmodern Prometheus", and "Bad Blood".

Babylon 5 had a disappointing fifth season -- or half season, since many of the episodes still have not aired -- but still produced several memorable shows, especially "A View from the Gallery" and "The Corps is Mother, The Corps is Father".

Voyager was the weakest of the Big Four. (Sorry, Xena fans, but I call 'em as I see 'em.) But at least one episode, "Mortal Coil", was memorable, as Nelix wrestled with his own mortality and his belief in an afterlife. I was waiting for them to wimp out, and they did not.

Major changes, including weddings, births, and deaths, wars and rumors of wars, made for an eventful television season. While we wait for the new season to start, a review of a classic (almost) episode.

The X-Files: The Erlenmeyer Flask (***)
by Chris Carter

X-Files This episode, the first season finale, has everything. It opens with a well staged car chase, includes major revelations about alien/human hybrids, and ends with the death of an important character. Unfortunately, along with all of the virtues of the best X-Files, it also has all of the flaws of the worst.

Mulder wants to investigate a mysterious high speed car chase. Scully is dragged along. One of the cars involved has been replaced by another car, a clear indication that someone is covering something up. They interview a scientist who owned the missing car, and he is too busy to hear the news that his car is missing and has apparently been used in a crime. As they leave the laboratory, we have a Mulder/Scully moment. Mulder is dogged, Scully skeptical. What is wrong with this picture?

What's wrong is that nobody, nobody human, is too busy to react to the news that his car has been stolen. The scientist is acting guilty as hell. The substitution of evidence is also a clear sign that dirty work is afoot. But Chris Carter wanted a scene between Mulder the believer and Scully the unbeliever, so he stuck one in, despite the fact that the events we had just witnessed were evidence that a hard-nosed investigator would never ignore. This happens a lot on The X-Files. Yes, Scully is a scientist. But scientists don't ignore evidence. They demand evidence.

Same song, second verse. Mulder locates a warehouse where alien/human hybrids are being stockpiled. As he is leaving the warehouse, he is chased by Men in Black. (Wouldn't a cameo by Will Smith in the next X-Files movie just make your day? Maybe a ten second bit, where he flashes the little memory eraser thing-a-ma-bob at Scully and walks away, leaving Mulder speechless.) Anyway, back to the story. Mulder escapes from the Men in Black, and the next day brings Scully and Deep Throat back to the warehouse. And he's surprised when there is nothing there! Come on! Mulder is a believer, but he's not stupid. The Men in Black knew he had discovered the warehouse. He knew they knew. And he expects the evidence to still be there when he gets back?

Third time's the charm. Scully and another scientist are discussing the alien/human DNA. And the other scientist explains to Scully what DNA is. Please! We're supposed to believe that Dr. Dana Scully doesn't know what DNA is? Or that anyone would think for a minute that she needed to have DNA explained? It is clear what Chris Carter wanted to do here. He wanted to convey information to the viewer, who may never listen to National Public Radio, and so might conceivably be ignorant of DNA. And so he had one character explain DNA to another character. This is a standard writer's ploy. But he could have found a way to do it that didn't shout its implausibility to the world. Did Spock ever say to Kirk, "The galaxy is big, Jim. Really big."

Now, after all this, I must say that I enjoyed "The Erlenmeyer Flask" a lot. But I would have enjoyed it more if it had avoided some of the clichés that lie at the heart of bad science fiction.

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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