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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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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.

SF on TV

Two of the best television programs of all time will be rerun in the last half of August. "Two Fathers" (****) will air Sunday, August 15. "One Son" (****) will air Sunday, August 22. Both are on The X-Files, on Fox, written by Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter. Not only do you get a full explanation of most of what has been happening on The X-Files since the beginning, you get a compelling and sometimes shocking human drama. If you have not already seen these two episodes, the less you know about them before you watch them, the better.

I am afraid that Crusade will be remembered only as an odd footnote to Babylon 5. The latest episode aired (the second filmed) really bad. I can only guess that J. Michael Straczynski has been so stressed out by tilting at the windmill-headed executives in tv land that he has lost it. "The Memory of War" (**), by J. Michael Straczynski, shows every sign of burnout. It is a slapdash, carelessly written episode.


I do not usually give plot summaries. If you have already seen a show, you don't need one. If you are looking forward to seeing a show, you don't want one. And if you don't plan to see a show, you aren't interested. But the plot of "The Memory of War" begs to be taken apart. It sticks its chin in your face and says, "Come on. Hit me."

We begin with the discovery of a planet where all the people have died, but the cities are left intact. Gideon suspects a plague, which may give a clue to the cure for the plague infecting Earth. Galen mutters portentously that anyone who goes down to that planet will probably die, but offers no useful information. Gideon takes a large team down to the planet -- the plague-infested planet -- the deadly, dangerous, plague-infested planet -- wearing shirt sleeves. We know they have spacesuits. Wouldn't you think they would wear them?

The characters wander around the planet, doing high risk things as if they had no particular interest in living. Probes are dropped into the planet's atmosphere. Later, on the ground, one character picks up a small black sphere that bursts in a puff of dust. Must be one of our probes, he says, didn't know they could make it to the ground. And the characters keep stepping on these mysterious black spheres that give off puffs of dust that sure looks like deadly plague to me, and not once does anyone say, hay, why don't we take a closer look at these mysterious black spheres? Soon, several people die in various messy ways. Does anyone say, I wonder if it could be those puff balls we've been stepping on? They do not.

Galen finally decides to do something useful and flies down to the planet. Look, he says to Gideon, I'm wearing a force field. And he demonstrates by making the air around him all shiny for a moment. Later, someone throws a knife at him and it sticks in his shoulder. What happened to the force field? Must have forgot to turn it on.

Meanwhile, aboard the ship, the doctor finds out that a nanovirus is causing the people on the surface to kill one another than then forget they've done it. Gideon's solution to the problem? Everybody lock yourself in a room and throw away the key. No, I'm not kidding.

The nanovirus is signed by a technomage. Oh no, says Galen, one of my people has gone bad. I must stop him. Galen goes underground and confronts what turns out to be a computer simulation of a corrupt technomage who died long ago. Corrupted by money and power, two things I never thought the technomages were short of, the bad guy never-the-less could not resist the temptation of signing the awful, highly-illegal nanovirus he created. He gives a little speech about how, even though he is just a computer simulation now, he will certainly enjoy the glorious harm he will continue to inflict on everyone who visits his planet. Despite this speech, he does nothing to stop Galen from trying to foil his plot. In fact, he disappears from the story and is never heard from again. Deep underground, Galen finds a machine roughly the size of the World Trade Center which is controlling the nanovirus. He destroys it by throwing his staff at it. It explodes. Galen and Gideon, arms outstretched, leap away from a fuzzy pink fireball. Tons of earth and rock cascade down, burying the huge machine. Galen and Gideon walk out of the hole it leaves behind without a scratch.

There is more, but I think that's quite enough.

J. Michael Straczynski has written some of the very best science fiction ever shown on television. His script for the final episode of Babylon 5 may well win a Hugo Award at the Worldcon in Australia, which he plans to attend. I hope it does.

I have heard that J. Michael Straczynski writes ten hours a day, three hundred sixty-two days a year. Sir, I respectfully suggest that it is time for a vacation.

Copyright © 1999 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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