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Posts Tagged ‘A Late Delivery from Avalon’

After all the arc-related, format-shifting stuff going on in the second quarter of Babylon 5‘s third season, the sudden appearance of a Wandering Loony episode feels a bit like the return of an old friend. I should probably have made the most of this, as this may well be the very last one .

Having already treated us to visits to B5 from Jack the Ripper, Sugar Ray Robinson, and an ex-accountant searching for the Holy Grail, in A Late Delivery from Avalon JMS gives us his take on Arthurian mythology, as someone claiming to be King Arthur of the Britons turns up on the station. (Not surprisingly his sword and chainmail set off the metal detectors in the customs area.) A fight is averted when – oh dear – Marcus turns up and starts humouring the guy and talking the same cod-mediaeval argot.

Now, given that King Arthur is played by Michael York, best-known these days for playing Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers films, and Marcus is played (as usual) by Jason Carter, you would expect the results to be unwatchably embarrassing. And they nearly are. But at the same time the naive silliness of it is rather charming.

basil

Oh, behave!

Eventually King Arthur decides to go all Charlie Bronson and clean up the crime-infested areas of the station (the revolution and declaration of independence doesn’t seem to have made any difference down here), and finds himself assisted in this by the newly-philanthropic G’Kar. We even get the start of a fight scene in which the duo take on some crooks, Arthur waving Excalibur about and G’Kar doing the angry-kitty-cat Narn martial art I have occasionally commented on in the past.

It gets a bit more serious in the end, and turns into a story about idealism and guilt: it turns out King Arthur is actually a bloke called Dave who accidentally started the Earth-Minbari War and then had the poor manners not to die in it. It’s an okay idea, but the presentation is very stagey – just a couple of actors in a set, often monologuing at each other. Then again, Michael York is a fine actor, even when required to perform straight down the camera lens, and there’s certainly some imagination in the writing and direction.

It’s a very odd episode, not toned down much by a housekeeping B-story about Sheridan and Ivanova put together a new defensive alliance for the station, and a comedy C-story about Garibaldi falling out with the Post Office. Speaking of the station defenses, exactly how big is a Minbari war cruiser? The ones in the establishing FX shots pass behind the station and stay visible, which (given that Babylon 5 is five miles long) means they must be enormous, much bigger than they were implied to be in the first season.

Oh well. Walter Koenig and his possible-you-know-what return in Ship of Tears, a much darker, mildly horror-inflected episode in which the achilles heel of the Shadows is finally revealed. Well, sort of. The exact details of when the Shadows woke up and why, and how they infiltrated the government of Earth, remain rather murky and possibly even become more confused; I’ve stopped keeping track of all the references. Koenig is always fun though; I thought I remembered a concluding scene where he gets a big soliloquoy he delivers to his popsicle lover, but either it’s been cut from the DVD release or it’s in a different episode.

The next episode, Interludes and Examinations, follows on virtually directly, with the Shadows finally on the march, and desperate measures being required to stop them. It all goes a bit bish-bash-Kosh in the end, but the demise of a character who’s basically a strange confluence of curtains, Christmas lights and a plastic bucket is oddly moving when it comes. Elsewhere Morden gets up to some skulduggery involving Londo’s old girlfriend from the first series – the way Londo falls for this smacks of melodrama, to say nothing of Peter Jurasik’s wracked-by-grief acting – and the Frankin’s-drug-habit plotline rumbles on. If Richard Biggs wasn’t such a good actor this would really be a slog, but possibly JMS is mainly including this thread to give Biggs good material.

And so to the main event of mid-to-late season 3, War Without End. This is the other end of the story we saw bits of in season 1’s Babylon Squared, as the gang – or selected members of it – go back in time to steal Babylon 4 and send it back to the last Shadow War. Along for the ride is Jeffrey Sinclair, and if you thought Michael O’Hare’s performances were restrained when he was in charge of the station you ain’t seen nothing yet. You might expect a scene with both O’Hare and Bruce Boxleitner in it to be vaguely reminscent of two men fighting over a parachute in free fall, but it’s not too bad, and JMS wisely keeps them apart a lot of the time.

You can’t fault the ambition of the series for attempting such a complex and challenging story, but the problem is that towards the end one gets a definite sense of this being an exercise in connecting the dots rather than telling a story per se. There are obvious places where Babylon Squared and War Without End just don’t match up, which surely defeats the object of the exercise. The scope and barely-suppressed craziness of it – past, present, and various alternative futures all whirl around each in mildly confusing style – make it a novel change of pace, though.

(JMS-Dialogue-O-Meter Roundup: After a quiet few episodes things perk up in this batch: we have a Get The Hell… in Ship of Tears after Bester pinches Sheridan’s seat, and another Straight To Hell in War Without End, referring to the alt-future Garibaldi gets a message from. They’re still less common than it felt at the time.)

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