SJ Review #409
Episode: 409 - Atonement
Director: Tony Dow
Guests: Reiner Shone (Dukhat)
Brian Carpenter (Callenn)
Sheridan briefs Franklin and Marcus on a dangerous mission they must undertake whilst Delenn returns to Minbar to face her past and her future...
There are many methods for analysing an episode and subsequently writing a review. The obvious ones involve taking a close look at the script, the acting, the special effects, the photography and all the other factors which (hopefully) come together to make a good B5 episode. However, there is another, much easier, method which can be used to determine the power of an episode:
The Jaw Test - in other words, what position was my mouth in whilst watching the episode? Fully closed signifies an ordinary, run-of-the-mill episode; occasionally open signifies a good story with some nice twists; fully open for the entire duration usually indicates a stunning episode that twist and turns throughout, somehow managing to take a plot thread which you had discarded many episodes ago and turn it completely in its head.
"Atonement" was very definitely in the latter class of episode. It had the sense of wonder present in other episodes such as "Interludes and Examinations", "Z'ha'dum" and "Into The Fire".
But let's take this one step at a time...
The episode began with a short humourous scene. After the last episode's decidely unfunny humour (see my previous review), it was a big relief to see that Straczynski can still write entertaining, realistic humour. This was the first of a number of in-jokes during the episode, which only the most avid viewers will fully appreciate (such as Ivanova going to a Drazi party with a green sash, and later returning from it with a crutch...); Jeff Conaway, the actor who plays Zack Allan, is well known for his complaints about the costumes.
There were two occurrences during this episode that were obviously place 'plot devices.' The first was G'Kar's eye, which can conveniently be used outside of his body - no doubt this feature will be used somewhere down the line (having said that, it would be typical of B5 to never mention the eye ever again!). The second was the whole concept of 'The Dreaming.' This Minbari custom, which has never been mentioned before, seemed to be thought up purely to create an opportunity for the Delenn/Valen/War revelations to unfold.
Having said this, neither plot device was disguised - they were both portrayed as if Straczynski was trying to say "here, these are plot devices. Now, forget that and enjoy the episode." As the episode progressed, we soon forgot about the rather convenient appearance of the plot devices.
"Atonement" presented all the qualities present in the best B5 episodes - convincing guest actors (particularly Shone as Dukhat); excellent performances from the regulars (especially Mira Furlan - see below); strong, powerful dialogue and awe-inspiring special effects.
The script had so much to reward regular viewers - the aforementioned scenes with Zack and Ivanova, certainly, but, most of all, the "I cannot have an aide who will not look up..." line from Dukhat. It is very rewarding when something relates to events nearly four years ago - it makes the effort of watching all those episodes seem suddenly worthwhile.
The highlight of this episode, for me at least, was Mira Furlan's portrayal of Delenn. She rarely gets a chance to reveal her true acting talents and, when she does, it is a true treat. The flashback scenes were very well done, although it would have been nice to see more of the battle and the Soul Hunters.
It is hard to find many bad points about this "Atonement." There are only two that spring to mind, and both concern the Mars mission. Firstly, we had Sheridan giving orders to Franklin not to tell anybody about their assignment, only to see Sheridan having a chat to Delenn about it whilst walking through a busy corridor! This was decidedly lazy writing, and let the episode down slightly.
Whilst many people are probably expecting me to criticise Marcus' closing song, I must admit I found it rather amusing and perfectly in character (after all, he is acknowledged to be the most annoying person on B5). What ruined the joke was the decision to replace the end music with the Gilber & Sullivan, especially as the recording appeared to have people laughing and coughing in the background and somebody, probably the director, saying "cut, cut" at the end (or something similar). Had it just been Marcus singing, thing's may have been acceptable. This sort of "blooper" snippet is more at home on a sitcom, where realism is not the order of the day. In B5 it just undermined the whole emotional impact of the episode, and made the show appear very childish.
The good points of the episode very much out-weigh the bad points, thankfully. The sheer horror of the revelations are almost enough to guarantee a good mark. Hopefully the quality of the show will continue like this for subsequent episodes, although the musical taste of the producers could be improved.