Saturday, 1 November 1997:

The Deconstruction of Falling Stars

Slept in today. Got a call from my friend Jim Rittenhouse this morning before I woke up; he said he'd call back, but he never did. Hmm. Well, if he doesn't call tomorrow, I'll see him next weekend at Windycon, no doubt.

Made a little more progress on Riven, but I'm still feeling a bit stuck. I've figured out how to access the mysterious spinning globes, but haven't figured out how to get them to work. And I finally accessed the rest of the big dome on the initial island. I'm actually running out of puzzles I know I need to solve, and I'm stumped on the two or three I'm still sitting on.

I find I do best if I only play for a few hours and then put it away and think about it in the back of my mind the rest of the day.

I spent an hour or so playing with Painter trying to figure out how to get it to create transparent GIFs, but didn't have much luck. I find most painting programs to be amazingly complex and obtuse, though perhaps that's because I only want to use them for a few (seemingly) very simple things. Sigh.

Tonight I watched the final episode of season four of Babylon 5, "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars". Turn back now if you don't want it spoiled for you.

Simply put, this episode should not have been made.

And even if it were going to be made, I think Straczynski made just about every conceivable wrong choice in working through it. It could have - and should have - been a solemn, powerful and moving piece. Instead, it oscillates between wry comedy and meaningless feelgoodyness.

First of all, treating it as a retrospective from a million years in the future was a big mistake, since the format limited the scope of what we could observe. Hence we get a couple of highly cheesy, even painful, newscasts, with remarkably bad scripts and acting. Sometimes I think one can be a little too much the student of the medium; using a framing sequence was entirely the wrong approach here. It would have worked much better to have told it from an omniscient point-of-view, rather than the limited one we saw. We could have seen the points of view of real people with real motivations, rather than media types.

The whole scene with the holographic B5 members was ridiculous. Even if we grant that a real computer system could be compromised in that way by its own program, it was just outright silly. We get to see Jerry Doyle ham it up, but it would have been more interesting to have gotten a glimpse of the real political situation rather than this half-assed deus ex machina.

The scene in the abbey was reminiscent of Walter Miller's novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, which I suspect was intentional. It was the best of the future sequences, but again was played rather for humor, and its punchline - that the abbott was a Ranger - was painfully obvious early on. And the final scene, from a million years in the future, was essentially meaningless, as there was no hard evidence for us to base our reactions on.

What are we left with? Hints of what we'll see over the final season, the potential undercutting of the dramatic premise of the possible sequel series, and an extremely unsatisfying train of events with some small connection to the actions of our cast members.

I think it was possible to have pulled off this episode, but I think it needed a better dramatic setting, and it needed to restrict itself to the results of the events we've already seen, dancing around events yet to come. Unless Straczynski plans to pick up some of these far-future threads in season five, this episode needed to be dramatically fulfilling on its own. What was actually aired was just a big mess.

A disappointing end to what was, overall, a disappointing season. As I've said before, I think Straczynski is much better at setting things up than at working through the resolutions (well, from what we've seen so far). Perhaps part of the problem is that he keeps adding new plot threads even as he resolves old ones (such as the shadow-hybrid Earth destroyers, an irrelevant frivolity when you get down to it), so the episodes are just getting too busy, too unfocused. What he really needs is an editor.

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