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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Babylon 5, "Sleeping in Light" (****)
by J. Michael Straczynski
Other Babylon 5.1 Columns
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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.

Babylon 5 Endings are hard.

"Sleeping in Light", the final episode of Babylon 5, is set 20 years after the end of the Shadow War. John Sheridan is dying.

There are two ways a writer can end a story. The easy way, the standard way, is to end the story with a bang. "The dam broke! The volcano erupted! The price of foodstuffs skyrocketed!"

The other way, the quieter way, the more dangerous way, is to end by validating everything the hero stood for, and yet acknowledge that all good things must come to an end.

European fairy tales end, "And they lived happily ever after."

Arabian fairy tales end, "And they lived happily ever after until death, the sunderer of all delights, took them."

Which ending to you prefer?

Star Wars ends with a bang!

The Lord of the Rings ends on a quiet note. Tolkien tries the harder way. Does he succeed? In the published version, not entirely to my satisfaction. I prefer the last chapter that the original publisher asked him to remove.

The original Star Trek series ended with whimper. Gene Roddenberry told Desilu Studios, "Put Star Trek on in a decent time slot, or I quit." Desilu said, "So quit". And Roddenberry washed his hands of the third and final season. But he did come back for one last episode, and he did something that was, at the time, unprecedented. Instead of showing all the new shows and finishing with reruns, he held back the last episode until the end of the summer, so that it was the last show aired. At the time, no one suspected that Star Trek would take on a second life in syndication. This was to be the end. Roddenberry wrote the story, Arthur H. Singer wrote the teleplay. "Turnabout Intruder" (**) is a very good script. There are some things to look for if you watch it on the SciFi Channel. Some of the regular cast has already left. The director, Herb Wallerstein, obviously doesn't give a damn. William Shatner, playing a woman, has a blast. It was at least one of the better third season episodes, and the only one with the genuine Roddenberry touch. A passable ending for the series that brought real science fiction to television for the first time.

The final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was watched by a huge audience, and while "All Good Things" (***) was not the best TNG episode, it made a nice full circle, ending the series as it began, with Q.

How will Deep Space Nine end, six months from now? Time will tell, but I have high hopes, since every episode so far this season has been excellent.

And how did Babylon 5 end, you ask? Ah! That would be telling. Do you think I am the kind of reviewer who would give away an ending?

The X-Files, "Triangle" (***)
written and directed by Chris Carter

X-Files I am going to give away the ending of this X-Files episode, right after this:

spoiler warning

And I recommend you allow me to give this one away, because it may save you from throwing a brick through your TV screen. It's all a dream. That's right. The hoariest ending in the book. It never happened. How do you like them apples?

end spoiler warning

That said, the show has a lot to recommend it, in terms of acting, directing, and generally pushing the envelope of what can and cannot be done on television. (Including, for what it's worth, the first use of the "s word" on a prime time entertainment program. Big deal.)

This is the much hyped, enthusiastically reviewed time travel story, where Fox Mulder is thrown through time onto a ship lost in the Bermuda Triangle and captured by Nazis.

The entire episode is lightly letterboxed, to excellent effect, especially in the split screen shots and the wipes. It is shot in long, continuous takes -- tracking shots, in homage to Orson Wells and Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock shot his film "Rope" (**) in ten minute sequences because the camera would only hold ten minutes worth of film. Now, the steadicam will only hold eight minutes of videotape, but that's OK, because eight minutes is just about all we've got between commercials. The tracking shots generate tremendous energy. Also, the level of violence is greater than anything I've seen on television. This is not Jackie Chan comic violence, but brutality that sickens rather than excites. Some concessions are made -- someone standing in the foreground keeps us from seeing brains splatter -- but there are some shocking scenes, rare in a medium which constant excess has largely deprived of its power to shock.

And I will refrain from giving away one or two other "shocking" moments, in a story that is certainly worth watching.

But it could have been a great episode, if Chris Carter had come up with a better way to explain the inexplicable.

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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