SJ Review #420

Episode: 420 - Endgame
John Copeland
President Clark (Gary McGurk)
Majorie Monaghan (Number One)
David Purdham (Captain James)
Lingela Brockman (Earth Force NCO)
J. Patrick McCormack (General Lefcourt)
Carolyn Seymour (Senator Crosby)
Julian Stone (Captain Mitchell)

Garibaldi leads the attack on the Mars military base, whilst Sheridan prepares to launch the rebel fleet into the final battle for Earth.....

The raw power of this episode leaves the viewer reeling for a long while after the show has actually finished. As with "Into The Fire" (406), the sheer scale of the unfolding events is almost enough to make the episode a winner. The key word in that last sentence was 'almost.' One of Babylon 5's main strengths is that the overall story arc is always humming away in the background, even in stand-alone episodes, making even badly executed episodes (of which there are, thankfully, few) enjoyable to the veteran viewer. Of course, in the case of well created episodes, the overall arc combines with the episode's individual merits to result in (hopefully) excellent episodes.

"Endgame" is one such episode.

Just as "Into The Fire" finished a major plot strand (what many, in fact, took to be *the* main plot), "Endgame" finishes off another equally important part of the Babylon 5 story - the retaking of Earth by the rebel forces. Consequently, "Endgame" had to be handled well, so as not to be a let down to all those who had been following the series over the course of four tumultous years.

Getting off to a good start, the episode then went from strength to strength, throwing incredible concepts and images at us throughout whilst, at the same time, remaining some touching character-based scenes which give an episode its personality. As usual, let's take one thing at a time...

Of particular note here were the special effects which were, quite simply, the best we have yet seen in Babylon 5, as well as being some of, if not *the* best effects ever seen on television SF shows. In fact, they were well up to the standard expected in big-budget movies, which is a remarkable achievement. Netter Digital have excelled themselves following their take-over from Foundation Imaging, who had handled all three previous season as well as the pilot. Many had feared the standard of special effects would drop or be less innovative this season - how wrong they were! The space battle scenes have been excellent throughout the season, particularly over the last few episodes. The final assault on the plantary defence platforms was thrilling and superbly 'filmed.' A more mixed bag this season has been the 'location' shots. At first we were treated to some wonderful creations: Centauri Prime, Minbar, the Narn homeworld. Earth and Mars got something of a rougher ride, however, with their visuals being obviously computer generated and decidedly unconvincing. This episode corrected those slight flaws entirely. Every single Martian special effect shot was outstanding, with no exceptions. Particularly impressive were the shots involving (presumably) CGI humans wnadering over the landscape, and the seamless merging of Lyta ducking whilst the White Star flies over head. Previouly the insertion of live action film onto CGI has been slightly disappointing, with minor but irritating lighting errors. Another great improvement over the course of the season was the gradual elimination of the evidently computer generated textures which made the ships often look unconvincingly shaded - close ups of ships no longer result in a loss of detail, leading to 'patchy paintwork' on the huls. "Endgame", in effect, removed the border between reality and illusion. This was the special effects team's finest episode to date.

Special effects, of course, do not necessarily guarantee a good episode. Thankfully, "Endgame" delivered in the other areas too. The acting was top-notch, with wonderful performances from the *entire* cast. Of particular note were Jason Carter (Marcus), delivering his best performance yet and, unfortunately, apparently his last; the commander of the Apollo; and Carolyn Seymour as the Senator - her subtle performance made the revelation about the defence platforms' targets even more chilling. All the other regulars delivered above-average performances, as well - Jerry Doyle shining, as usual this season.

Straczynski's scriptwriting prowess became fully apparent in this episode - everything was tightly scripted and the dialogue was carefully sculpted to each character. The humour was handled perfectly, with Straczynski resisting the temptation to go too far. Dialogue and action was expertly timed, keeping the pace of the episode at breakneck speed throughout, without resulting in the episode appearing rushed. This has to go down as one of the best Babylon 5 scripts ever written, in that it combines explosive action with subtle, intimate scenes without either getting in each other's way. The only possible weak point was in the Aggamemnon having to ram the defence platform, only to be saved by the Apollo jumping in at the last moment - a somewhat cliched event. However, the way it was filmed and acted saved it from appearing tired; Sheridan was not portrayed as the heroic leader, not caring about his own life in order to save the world - instead it was clear he did not want to have to sacrifice the ship and crew, or himself, but knew there was no alternative. It was handled in as much an un-Hollywood fashion as possible! This was emphasised in the ISN report: Instead of having a celebrating, happy reporter, Straczynski decided to have a tired, bitter, though still happy one, making things far more realistic.

Christopher Franke's music reached a new standard, too. As with the best film/TV music, it was never intrusive but still managed to increase the tension and excitement.

Binding all this together in a tight and coherent package was John Copeland's directing. There really is no way to criticise this in any way. From the frantic preparations portrayed in the Martian rebel base to the dark and chilling awakening of the Shadow-telepaths and the brilliantly paced action sequences, Copeland's directing style was perfect throughout; it enhanced the power of the script, acting and effects no end, without interfering and becomine obvious.

Rating: 10/10 - A thrilling episode that benefits from superb acting, effects, directing, scripting and music. Tugs at every single emotion and leaves us feeling stunned for hours after viewing.....

Points For Discussion: Can Franklin get in touch with B5 in time? Will Marcus be saved? What happened to the rest of the Shadow-Omegas? Were there any more? Why were the defence platforms so difficult to destroy? What is the full political situation on Earth? Who are the traitors in Sheridan's fleet? What other Shadow technology does EarthForce have? How come the active Earth Force ships didn't put up much of a fight at Mars?

Epilogue: Please comment on this review - discuss it! The whole point of this review is to generate some meaty discussion. Discuss the review itself, the points raised, say whether you agree with me or think I'm talking a load of horse-radish (to coin a phrase), add you own opinions - anything! If you reply to this review directly by email to me, please post a copy of your reply to the newsgroup as well, if you can, to help promote more discussion. I look forward to hearing your replies!

Simon Jones, reviewer.

1997 Simon Jones.