23 July 2012

B5 Review: The Quality of Mercy & Chrysalis

So here we are at the final two episodes of Signs and Portents, the first season of Babylon 5. It doesn't seem like we've been watching it for that long (to me)!

The Quality of Mercy
Dr Laura Rosen Dr Franklin investigates an unauthorised practitioner in DownBelow with a strange healing device while a convicted murderer is sentenced to the death of his personality and Londo and Lennier 'hit the town'.

I realised that I had forgotten much of what actually happened in this episode as soon as it started. With Ivanova checking in on Franklin's DownBelow medical practice to start with and then the conviction of Karl Mueller for murder. I did remember the strange alien healing device and Londo and Lennier's catch-up (but thought that was in a different episode). 

Overall it provides a decent mix of suspense, action and humour. We also learn a lot about what goes on in the B5 universe, from the law as it applies to murderers and mind wipes, when the death penalty can be used and the state of DownBelow on the station, and we also learn that the Minbari have violent reactions to alcohol, the Centauri have a very different reproductive system it seems and perhaps that Security should be better equipped when transferring a fugitive.

I was also surprised to see Damian London playing the Centauri Senator at the beginning of the episode. A very uneventful scene that anyone would forget, but I know we'll be seeing that guy again in the future - it's just kinda nice to see him so early in the piece - a Senator no less!

While the stories themselves don't really hold any threads of importance to the bigger issues to come, we are introduced to something very important that will be seen again. For that, this episode gets a rating of 6.5/10.

Delenn prepares the ChrysalisThe Season Finale for Signs and Portents. Garibaldi embarks on an investigation after one of his informants dies claiming that someone is about to be killed. Meanwhile, Delenn meets with Kosh before preparing a Chrysalis within which she enters. As 2259 comes upon the crew, a dark cloud comes over the galaxy with the destruction of a Narn starbase in Quadrant 37 and the death of Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago with the destruction of Earthforce One.

This episode was great, even in a re-watch. From the very beginning we know something isn't right and Garibaldi's investigation takes us through to the realisation that something extremely bad is about to happen, and unfortunately that our crew can't do much about it. The scene of Earthforce One at Io is so perfectly put together and combined with Christopher Franke's 'Requiem' music still had me tearing up at what just unfolded. Brilliant.

In the other stories, Morden returns to Babylon 5 and offers assistance to Londo. The first step on his slippery slope that sees him attain greatness back home, but at a huge price that alerts G'Kar to the presence of another race - so powerful that they wiped out 10,000 Narns, some of their best warriors at their starbase in Quadrant 37.

Meanwhile, Delenn's 'device' that she has been constructing in her quarters for some time throughout the season is finally complete after she meets with Kosh - and he reveals something to her that confirms her actions. What did she see? What was the question she had Lennier relay to Kosh 'word for word'? What is happening to her in the Chrysalis?

So overwhelmed with what happened to President Santiago, Sinclair misses his appointment to meet with Delenn and find out what she was willing to share with him. But, amongst all this, he was able to propose to Catherine Sakai and share the news with good friends Ivanova and Garibaldi before all hell broke loose.

A truly fantastic episode and a worthy cliffhanger. Even Eleonor got caught up in the events and seemed to be in disbelief at what happened to Earthforce One at Io. 

9 out of 10.
I don't know what it could do to be a perfect 10, but a 9 isn't to be sneezed at.

So ends Season One. I have enjoyed watching through it again, picking up different pieces that I had forgotten or thought happened in a different order. I also have a renewed appreciation for Commander Sinclair. A strong character and a hell of a strategist. I asked Eleonor for her thoughts on the characters and she likes most of them, including Sinclair, Franklin, Garibaldi and Londo while not so much a fan of Ivanova (yet?) :)

I am looking forward to Season Two (will probably get to it once I finish Firefly), for as Kosh stated: 'And so it begins...'

14 July 2012

Sci-Fi Review: Dark Skies, Second Half

So I recently concluded my second watch-through of the sci-fi series Dark Skies. Following on from my review of the first half of the series, here is my wrap-up review.

Dark Skies 
The second half of the series really changed pace after the introductions in the first half and adventures in a new part of America each week. The episode, 'The Warren Omission' is a decent enough reintroduction to the series for those following and any newcomers as well as bringing in Jeri L Ryan as guest star playing Juliet Stewart, a Russian spy who literally explodes onto the scene threatening Loengard from testifying to the Warren Commission investigation into JFK's assassination.

The series takes us to the Vietnam War in 'White Rabbit' where we find an alien ship has crash landed. Loengard and Bach are sent along to destroy all evidence but are captured by the Viet Cong. We also go to Russia in 'Strangers in the Night' when their equivalent to Majestic-12 is attacked. 

Loengard and Sayers are brought back into Majestic for much of the second half of the series after their failure to reveal the truth as intended in 'The Warren Omission' and as another means to get their message out - working from within.

Kim Sayers' storyline takes her on a new path where she goes from the loyal girlfriend to one acting in desperation in 'White Rabbit' when she kidnaps Bach's wife and reveals his true occupation to her and then to her ultimate destiny after giving birth to hers and Loengard's child in 'Burn, Baby, Burn'.

The season and series finale, 'Bloodlines' ties up everything but hints at so much more that the series could have offered us, particularly with references to 'singularity', a collective consciousness and a tenth planet that would intersect with Earth's orbit in the year 2000. John finds his son aboard the alien mothership in orbit but what was the plan for him? What would happen to Majestic-12 under Albano's command, particularly after what he reveals to Bach after he is discharged? So many questions left open.

Strangely, the DVD set I purchased put the opening pilot 'The Awakening' among the special features on the last disc, so I watched the pilot episode last. It included clips and important bits of information that were played and referred to in episodes like 'The Warren Omission', as well as showing Kim's abduction and other key points on the first meeting between John Loengard and Bach (with his Majestic agents). If I were to watch the series again in the future, I would have to remember to start from the pilot!

The Dark Skies Bible (PDF) outlines that there would have been 5 seasons leading up to the turn of the century. It really would have been interesting to have seen the events played out through the 70's-90's including possible involvement in the Space Program, Chernobyl disaster, Challenger, terrorist attacks and other conspiracies. Sadly, this never got to happen and it appears like it won't likely happen in the near future either.

It is a shame the series only last 20 episodes, but it was a good ride.

11 July 2012

Trek Review: The Pirates of Orion & Bem

Returning to the Star Trek universe again, we approach the end of The Animated Series...

The Pirates of Orion
Enterprise faces off against an Orion shipAnother virus has struck the Enterprise crew and has a noticeable effect on Spock. Out of range from any supply of a cure, Kirk and crew must rely on a freighter to deliver it in time. The matter is complicated when the freighter is attacked by Orion Pirates putting Spock's life in greater danger. 

Kirk and crew once again join together to save Spock in this episode and it involves a stand-off with an Orion Captain and crew who seem to be acting against the orders/wishes of their government, leading them to drastic action to keep their honour. As a result, this episode sees a bit more action and apparently, it's the first time we see a male Orion of any sort in the franchise.

Still, enjoyable and we get to see a new ship in an interesting space environment. I give it a rating of 7/10.

Commander BemThe Enterprise plays hosts to Commander Ari bn Bem from the planet Pandro who insists he accompany a landing party to look at a newly discovered planet. However, his strange actions endanger himself and the landing party in the process.

This episode again demonstrates the advantages of animation with regard to Bem's character and species. The mystery of Bem plays out through the episode where we eventually learn that he is observing the crew and seeing if the Federation is ready for diplomatic relations with his people. 

We get to see Uhura in charge on the bridge again here and she is convincing in her role which was good to see. We also learn the true meaning behind the 'T' in James T. Kirk, it is Tiberius, and it was unveiled in The Animated Series - there you go!

Overall Rating: 6/10

These two episodes actually mark the beginning of a short lived second season for The Animated Series. I think there's only four left so I'll save my overall review until the series has finished.

03 July 2012

B5 Review: A Voice in the Wilderness, Part II & Babylon Squared

The first season is about to wrap up as we look at two significant episodes in the Babylon 5 story arc. Of course, at this point I probably shouldn't even know that :P

A Voice in the Wilderness, Part II
Londo piloting his shuttle
With the alien named Varn from Epsilon 3 now aboard Babylon 5, an Earthforce heavy cruiser arrives with orders to assist and provide a show of force. Changing the situation from one under wraps to something much more noticeable.

Sinclair butts heads with the incoming Captain Ellis of the EAS Hyperion who takes over the situation against Sinclair's wishes. Things are further complicated with the arrival of aliens like Varn arriving in their own ship, claiming Epsilon 3 is theirs and for the others to leave.

Meanwhile, visiting friend of Delenn's, Draal is called by Varn and realises he is being called to serve. The three enlist the help of Londo to return to the planet and stop it from exploding - a chain of events that started escalating since Varn's removal from the machine down there. Londo's ship sparks a skirmish between Babylon 5 and the Hyperion and the alien ship. Ultimately, the aliens are destroyed by the renewed defences on Epsilon 3.

This episode wraps up the events from Part I (as most concluding parts do) and features a number of important events, including the installation of Draal as the new guardian of the machine on Epsilon 3. At this point, we have no idea the significance of this event. We see Lise Hampton, who Garibaldi is able to finally get a channel to. Unfortunately for Michael, she has moved on from where they were two years ago.

As a ship geek, we get to see an Earthforce Heavy Cruiser, the Hyperion and we get to see it in battle too. There is also the strange alien ship which appears to separate into multiple targets during the battle. Babylon 5 seems to have some teeth but still, as a 5 mile long stationary target it takes a bit of a hit in the attack. Still, it's an interesting idea now that perhaps Epsilon 3 could be on hand should Babylon 5 ever need significant defending from an enemy attack?

Overall Rating: 7/10

Babylon Squared
Sinclair and The One
We all know the first three Babylon stations were sabotaged and destroyed while Babylon 4 disappeared shortly after going on line. So, when strange readings and transmissions come through from Sector 14, the exact location where that station went missing, the B5 crew head out to investigate.

Inexplicably, they discover Babylon 4 and begin to piece together how this has happened, evacuating the crew and meeting a strange alien named Zathras who appears to be involved in whatever is happening to the station. Elsewhere on the station, people are having time-flashes into future or past events and a strange figure in a space suit shares an encounter with Sinclair.

Meanwhile, Delenn is summoned by the Grey Council and appointed to be their leader. A calling she has trouble accepting.

I couldn't help but get chills at everything going on in this episode, only because I know it's key to the overall story. The clues at the end, an aged Sinclair in the space suit, the unmistakable voice of Delenn off camera, even Sinclair's timeflash showing a dire situation with Garibaldi... These scenes had my wife a bit confused as to what was going on. It made explaining things a bit difficult except to tell her that she's seen all she needs to see for now.

For answering some questions and then creating even more questions by its end, I'll give this episode an overall rating of 8/10.

Two episodes remain for this season. It feels like we have gone through them quickly, but it might be due to the story keeping us involved throughout. Or just that I'm eagerly watching through the series because it's exciting and taking us somewhere as opposed to other our other sci-fi screenings.

01 July 2012

B5 Review: Legacies & A Voice in the Wilderness, Part I

Sinclair and Neroon
An adolescent thief is discovered to be an orphaned telepath, Susan and Talia present her with options of what her future holds now that she has been discovered. Meanwhile, a Minbari War Cruiser comes to Babylon 5 to display the body of decorated war hero Shai Alyt Bramner.

In this episode we find out much more about the Minbari and some new and important details about the Earth-Minbari War such as how it started (with the death of Dukhat, leader of the Grey Council) and that it ended with a controversial surrender order. We meet Neroon, of the Warrior Caste for the first time and he makes his presence quite known in his interactions with the Babylon 5 staff during his stay. 

Delenn uses her power and authority in this episode but she's still hiding something as we learn from our rogue telepath and the investigation that ensues following the disappearance of Bramners body.

There are a couple of important points and cues that come up in this episode, I give it a 6/10.

A Voice in the Wilderness, Part I
Sinclair and Ivanova with Varn
Babylon 5 orbits the planet Epsilon III, thought to be stable and uninhabited. All of that changes during the course of this episode when an exploration team is nearly shot down by defenses emanating from below the planet surface.

Delenn is visited by an old friend and mentor named Draal, while Sinclair and Londo both see visions of a strange alien calling out for help. Meanwhile, trouble breaks out on Mars which has much of the crew concerned about family and loved ones.

This episode mostly consists of build up for Part II but we do get to see the terrorist attacks escalate on Mars and find out that there is more to the planet Babylon 5 is orbiting than meets the eye. Of course, we only know that it has a defence system and is booby-trapped once you find the artificial landing bay. What is the purpose of all that technology and power down on Epsilon III and why is there an alien down there, attached to some contraption and asking for help?

After 'coming back' to Babylon 5 during it's third season run on television, I looked to fill in the gaps and, along with The Gathering, this two-parter episode was the only thing we could hire on VHS from the video store at the time. I remember it for the new action scenes shown and a lighter side of Londo, particularly when he cheers up Garibaldi. 

Overall Rating: 6/10

The action continues to rise with the conclusion to this episode as well as the final few episodes of Season One...