SJ Review #411
Episode: 411 - Lines of Communication
Director: John C. Flinn III (also regular Director of Photography)
Guests: Majorie Monaghan (Number One)
G.W. Forell (Forell)
Paolo Seganti (Philippe)
Whilst Marcus and Franklin arrange a meeting with the Mars resistance and Delenn takes a small fleet of White Stars to investigate random attacks along the Minbari border, Sheridan contemplates how to counter the propaganda being spewed out by ISN.
This episode was something of a mixed bag. On the whole, it was full of everything that is good about B5; it also contained the seemingly obligatory parts which make fans cringe - the sort of things that always occur just as you are trying to convince somebody that the show is mature science fiction and worth watching.
The main plot strand, the confrontation between the White Stars and the former allies of the Shadows, was fairly well handled. There were a few problems, unfortunately. Firstly, the good points: The special effects, for a start, which were very good. Although the new CGI team have yet to settle down and create their own individual style, the effects in this episode were quite exhilerating. Perhaps the best imrpovement this season, special effects-wise, is with the close-ups of ships. The pixellation and loss of detail seems to have been almost completely removed now, especially with the new ship designs.
Another good part of this plot was the air of tension that hovered over the whole scenario. The Drakh alien was very innovatively portrayed - to have such a seemingly powerful and frightening alien move in such a carefree, child-like manner (or drunken manner, as it could also be interpreted) made it seem all the more scary. Unfortunately, the Drakh alien is also the target of a major criticism: The mask. Whilst most masks in B5 are of high quality - the Pak'ma'ra masks are usually very convincing, despite just being wobbling rubber - this mask appeared to be just an immobile, unimaginative design that looked extremely unconvincing. This also undermined the blurring effect used on the creature; whereas that effect would ordinarily have been interpreted as being part of the alien's make-up, it instead appeared that it was there to cover-up the terrible face.
Talking of terrible faces, the make-up on the Minbari appeared rather sub-standard. Delenn's 'skin' had crawled onto her bone, for some inexplicable reason; unless this is a subtle mini-arc (as in, she is becoming more human), the only assumption to be made is that it was made make-up. Lennier also appeared much paler than usual during the battle sequence.
A major problem with the battle itself was the swaying about of the White Star crew. This has never occurred on the show before, and seemed curiously out of place - in fact, it would belong far better in another well known SF television show. Aside from the fact that this was a ridiculous concept (how could they perform flip turns as seen at the end of the battle, if a simple turn nearly throws them out of their seats?), the shot was not even handled particularly effectively. The actors appeared to be thinking the same as the viewers - what's the point of this??
The rest of the episode was much more enjoyable, especially from a character point-of-view. The scenes between Ivanova and Sheridan were amusing as well as being well scripted - all the dialogue appeared natural. The only slight problem about this is the length of time it has taken Sheridan to realise what he has to do - still, he has been busy.
The Mars sequences were handled well. The scenes between Marcus and Franklin have been very entertaining recently, in "Racing Mars" and this episode. For the very first time we are seeing the true Marcus. The heavy criticism that Jason Carter has received is often because he has been given feeble lines - in "Lines of Communication" his lines were excellent.
Although Carter is at last being given good lines, Majorie Monaghan, as Number One, definitely is not. Her conversation with Philippe, the other rebel leader, was terrible - her "I could feed you brain to cats in ten seconds" speech was awful; it is typical of the sort of writing Straczynski uses when he is at his worst.
The main problem of recent episodes is the calibre of the guest actors. At the beginning of season four, we were treated to the talents of Wayne Alexander (Lorien) and Wortham Krimmer (Cartagia), as well as numerous smaller parts which were played very convincingly. Of late, the guest acting seems to have become worse. Captain Jack could have been handled better, as could have Wade (both from "Racing Mars"). Most of the guest actors in this episode were not up to the sort of standard we should be able to expect.
Once again, B5 delivered a brilliant ending to the episode. However, instead of the chilling shot of the Keeper ("Epiphanies") or the look of silent anger upon Sheridan's face ("The Illusion of Truth"), we got a very funny scene that is played with just the right amount of subtlety. The scene adds a whole new way of interpreting Marcus' constant fiddling with his fighting pike....
Rating: 8/10 - another highly entertaining and exciting episode, let down by occasional bad dialogue and dodgy actors.