Thursday, August 02, 2012

DVD Review: Babylon 5: The Lost Tales

When I talk to people about how much I love J. Michael Stracyzinski, one thing I frequently mention is that I don't know that he knows how to end things.

The perfect case in point is The Lost Tales. I understand completely what he was trying to do, and what limitations he had put on him. But when everybody was excited that he might do more B5 projects, secretly I've always cringed at the thought. "After" isn't always his strongest suite, as evidenced by some of the official epilogue short stories he's written.

Babylon 5 was an amazing thing, and as I've said many times, one of my favorite pieces of television ever. But the thing about B5 is that it's an epic story, meant to be contained to a specific piece of that epic. It's brilliant, interesting, and well told. But there are parts of it that don't always hold up under scrutiny, and the easiest way to create scrutiny is to expand the universe. Ask George Lucas or the Wachowskis, the more you tell about your universe, the more inconsistencies the audience will find.

Babylon 5 is no different, and The Lost Tales is one of the worst offenders. The first half, which focuses on Lochley, is convoluted and confusing. The show was always one that frequently talked about religion and spirituality but never came down on any one side or another. In fact, it frequently found a science-fiction explanation for religious miracles (time travel creates a deity, angels are actually aliens, etc). The show was never scornful of religion, but it never really made a stance that religion was fact just that sometimes faith is important and fanaticism is bad.

Which is why the first story about a demon possession on B5 is just too much. There is no part of this story that works for me, but especially the "twist" of the end which was no twist at all. It doesn't really explore any characters, it doesn't do anything for anybody, and it creates a mythology that was never there before.

The second story, which features President Sheridan and a Centauri prince, is much better and fits with the universe so much more. For one thing, it gives us a glimpse at another Centauri perspective outside of Londo or Vir. We see far reaching consequences to the actions we saw them take in the series, and we see the possibility of far reaching consequences to the actions taken in this episode. The first half ends up affecting nothing. The second half changes everything.

There used to be rumors about a feature film about the Telepath War, and I still would like to see that because I feel like it's the part of the expanded universe that JMS knows best, and set up the most. I wish that he had done that instead of River of Souls, Thirdspace, Crusade, Legend of the Rangers, or The Lost Tales. Because with each extra project, the legacy and the power of Babylon 5 was chipped away a little more. Now it would be extremely difficult to put together the money and the cast to do the story of the Telepath War, and it probably has the most chance of being something that brings the show together and creates an ending that we would all love. If all we'd had after the show was In The Beginning and The Telepath War, it would be hard for any franchise to challenge it's place. But like every other franchise I can think of, epilogue after epilogue took more away than it could have added.