Al Does Babylon 5: The Gathering

b5gatheringposter“I suppose there’ll be a war now.  All that running around and shooting each other.  You’d think sooner or later it would go out of fashion.

The Scoop: 1993 NR.  Directed by Richard Compton and starring Michael O’Hare, Jerry Doyle, Tamlyn Tomita, and Johnny Sekka.

Tagline: None.

Summary Capsule: An assassination attempt on an alien diplomat sends the crew of Babylon 5 scrambling for the truth and the station’s commander on trial for his life.

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Al’s Rating: Who are these people and what are they doing on my space station?

Al’s Review: While wading through my Babylon 5 experiment, some of MRFH’s veteran readers pointed out that my initial confusion with the series mostly sprang from the fact that I hadn’t actually started at the beginning.  Unbeknownst to me, the story of Babylon 5 and her crew didn’t begin with Season 1, Episode 1.  It started instead with The Gathering, a two-hour pilot movie (in a different DVD box set) that serves as an introduction to the station, the characters, and the fragile peace that the races aboard Babylon 5 are striving to maintain.

After a series of devastating wars, the people of Earth created The Babylon Project, building a space station in neutral territory where all races were welcome to sit down and work out their differences.  After three instances of sabotage and one unexplained disappearance, only Babylon 5 remains as the galaxy’s last, best hope for peace.  It’s run by the slightly dramatic Commander Jeffery Sinclair, the slightly vanilla Lieutenant Commander Laurel Takashima, the slightly balding Security Chief Michael Garibaldi, and the slightly infirm Chief Medical Officer Benjamin Kyle.  Along with the ever-squabbling League of Nonaligned Worlds, the major alien presences on the station are Ambassadors Delenn of the soft-spoken but hardheaded Minbari, Londo Mollari of the decadent Centauri Republic, and G’Kar of the newly-freed Narn Regime.  It’s kinda like the U.N. except it accomplishes stuff.

In The Gathering, the denizens of Babylon 5 are busily working out final details in preparation for the arrival of a new ambassador, Kosh.  Kosh represents the last of the major powers in the galaxy, the mysterious and xenophobic Vorlon.  On the day of his arrival however, Kosh is found collapsed and dying in the landing bay and all evidence of the would-be assassin points toward Commander Sinclair.  Now, an irritated Vorlon fleet is on it’s way to claim custody of Sinclair and the race is on for Garabaldi, Takashima, and Kyle to prove his innocence and prevent an interstellar incident.

To be perfectly honest, if this had been my first exposure to Babylon 5, I don’t think I ever would have given the show a second chance.  The acting is pretty stilted and it’s obvious that some of the actors (Takashima in particular) just aren’t quite getting it.  The costumes look cheap and, although some of the sets come off well, a lot of the others are distractingly low-rent.  It’s pretty clear that whatever budget was granted to B5’s showrunners was spent on CGI (which, in 2009, has also aged pretty poorly).

There are still things to like, however.  The Asian XO and African doctor–who were both replaced in the series proper–lend a really multicultural feel to the station.  Claudia Christian and Richard Biggs, as much as I love them, water down the diversity in comparison.  It’s also interesting to see Babylon 5’s early alien makeup: Londo’s hair is a little too large and G’Kar’s skin is a little too brown.  Delenn, although still played by Mira Furlan, is unrecognizable in heavy, heavy prosthetics.

In fact, those are great examples of how everything feels in The Gathering.  It’s Babylon 5…sort of.  Nothing in it is wrong, yet everything about it is off.  Like a rough draft.  Call it Babylon 5, v1.0.  Were I a viewer in 1993, I have a hard time imagining myself getting excited about a series spawned from this movie and starring this cast, but, as an existing fan, The Gathering remains interesting, if only just to see where it all began.  You’ve come a long way, baby.

B5Gathering

I had a horrible vision! It was an unemployment line! And you were there, and you were there...

Intermission!

•    Kosh inexplicably has a human hand in Lyta’s vision of the attack.
•    Tamlyn Tomita (XO Laurel Takashima) got her start as Ralph Macchio’s love interest, Kumiko, in The Karate Kid, Part II.
•    Ed Wasser, who plays Shadow agent Mr. Morden in the series, appears in The Gathering as a background extra.  Despite much fan speculation, creator J. Michael Straczynski has confirmed the two characters are unrelated.
•    According to Straczynski, Delenn’s character arc was originally going to have her change from a man to a woman during the series, hence her masculine appearance in the pilot.
•    G’Kar is really clearly set up as a moustache twirling villain.  Interesting how things develop.
•    B5 command crew uniforms are missing the leather stripe running down the chest.
•    Laurel’s secret stash of coffee was re-used in the series by Ivanova in episode 307, “Exogenesis.”
•    So Doctor Kyle sees a Vorlon without its encounter suit and is never heard from again?  A conspiracy I tells ya!
•    Delenn has freaky pain rings.  Those might have been useful during the series.

Groovy Quotes

G’Kar: Would you prefer to be conscious on unconscious during the mating?

Londo:  I suppose there’ll be a war now.  All that running around and shooting each other.  You’d think sooner or later it would go out of fashion.

Londo: I’m here to grovel before your wonderful Earth Alliance in the hopes of attaching ourselves to your destiny like … what are those fish called on your planet that attach themselves to sharks?
Garibaldi: Remoras.
Londo:  You make pretty good sharks, Mr. Garibaldi.

[after surviving an explosion]
Delenn: Do you need anything?
Sinclair: Coffee.  Sugar.  Two creams.  And aspirin.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

•    Babylon 5: Season 1
•    Battlestar Galactica
•    Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

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13 Comments

  1. The doctor is referred to again later in the series. Seeing a Vorlon uncloaked got him whisked away from the station.

    I didn’t like the pilot movie either, and thus missed Babylon 5’s first two seasons until reruns. I was a devoted viewer from then on 🙂

  2. What was even worse, the original cut of the Pilot movie didn’t have Christopher Franke’s music, and the editing was just… off.

    Hopefully you are seeing the TNT re-edit with the better music. If not, I urge you to find the better version. 🙂

    Dan

  3. Another trivia note: XO Takashima was only supposed to be around for season 1 anyway – remember when Garibaldi was shot at the end of s1? Well, Takashima was the one originally planned to do it; when Tomita was replaced by Claudia Christian, Ivanova’s character showed up early and inherited the coffee stash, and another character (unnamed for spoilers, just in case) shot Garibaldi, thus giving him the trust issues that showed up during the Nightwatch arc – and at a lot of other times during the show, if I remember rightly.

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