SJ Review #503

Episode: 503 - The Paragon of Animals
Director: Mike Vejar
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Guests: Robin Atkin Downes (Byron)
Kim Strauss (Drazi ambassador)
Bart Johnson (Ranger)
Daniel Bryon Cartmell (Merkat)
Tony Abatemarco (Verchon)

Synopsis:
The Interstellar Alliance attemps to lay down its central principles, whilst the political scheming continues in the background...

Review:
Perhaps the most striking thing about the first three episodes of season five has been the sudden improvement in some of the regulars' acting. Stephen Furst has continued his development of Vir's character which began at the beginning of the fourth season, bringing new depths to the character in very believable ways, without compromising the previous three years of Mr Cotto. Jerry Doyle is also still improving by the episode; looking back at his acting in season one, it is stunning how he has grown as an actor - this is perhaps due to the meaty character twists Straczynski wrote for him in season four.

However, this season it is Bruce Boxleitner who has surprised the most. In his three years on Babylon 5 so far, he has never been *bad*, but has also very rarely been particularly good - certainly not up to the standards expected from Mira Furlan (Delenn) and the dynamic duo, Jurasik (Londo) and Katsulas (G'Kar). Whilst he improved towards the end of the fourth season, he was til very much giving a one-sided performance: the gung-ho military hero. His swearing in as the IA president has given him new material to work with, and he is using it wonderfully.
Boxleitner handles the political side of the episodes superbly; this is most notable in the council meeting at the beginning of "The Paragon of Animals", in which he delivers a performance full of subtlety; his dialogue-free communication with Garibaldi was brilliantly done, just as was his talk with Delenn about Lennier's departure in "The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari". We are seeing much more depth in Sheridan's character now, thanks to the new direction of the series' narrative, Boxleitner's improved acting and Straczynski's dialogue, which has, so far, been excellent this season (even in the lacklustre "No Compromises").

Whilst on the subject of Straczynski's writing, it was at its peak here. The script was very witty, managing to be funny without resorting to the crass and embarassing 'jokes' that he feels the need to drop in occasionally (Lyta's "I'll sue", anybody?). The dialogue was also very believable and sophisticated, notably the incorporation of a snippet of Shakespeare into Byron's conversation with Lyta, the ambiguous discussion of death between Garibaldi and Lyta and the Declaration of Principles, which was simply beautiful. Straczynski's ability to create a 'Declaration of Principles' without resorting to sentimental and schmaltsy language is extremely commendable. In fact, the Declaration was the sort of writing that can fire the imagination of a viewer (it now hangs on my wall!).

The supporting cast left a little to be desired in places - the Enphili actors were decidedly wooden, and Robin Downes as Byron failed once more to create any personality for his character - this could, of course, be deliberate; however, it is very frustrating. Knowing nothing about a character's history is perfectly acceptable, it adds to the mystery. Being in the dark over a character's personality is a little irritating, though.

The special effects were good - particularly the shot of the Whitestars hovering just outside the jumpgate (one of those moments when you almost feel sorry for the aggressors!) - but in short supply. It would have been nice to see a *little* of the battle between the Whitestars and the raiders, for example. Although B5 has never relied on big special effects space battles, after the build-up throughout the episode, it would have been gratifying for a few seconds of explosions...

The directing was very good throughout: the little personal details, such as Sheridan clearing away the dishes and Garibaldi with his feet on the tables in the council chamber, made everything feel very realistic; a particular trait of Mike Vejar, director of the stunning bar fight sequence from "The Face of the Enemy". There were a few other good directing moments but, overall, one can't help but feel that the talents of Vejar were wasted on this episode.

Vejar is a very dramatic director; he is at his best when directing major episodes, such as "War Without End", "No Surrender, No Retreat" and the aforementioned "The Face of the Enemy" (the last two both got 9.5 in their reviews). He is able to bring a unique touch to the episode, giving it a sense of originality rarely seen in episodes directed by others (Janet Greek excepted, of course). This episode was primarily political scuffles - hardly enough for him to get his teeth into. This is not to say he did a bad job; he did an *excellent* job. It's just that he wasn't given the opportunity to show his usual flair.

Rating: 7/10 - Excellent acting, directing and writing for the most part. The ending feels a little anti-climactic, though.

Best Quote:
DELENN- We may be able to get the Pak'ma'ra on board to help, but they are ging to need something in exchange.
LONDO- Oh, offer them me body. Another ten minutes of this and I'll be dead anyway.
G'KAR- I second the motion.

Points For Discussion:
o Is the rumour about Bester true?
o Can all teeps passively scan mundanes like Byron did with Garibaldi?
o How did Byron know that Garibaldi had sent Lyta?
o How are Byron's telepaths "trained beyond reproach" for covert activities? Are they ex-Psi Corps?
o What else are the Drazi up to?
o What sort of security is there near the council chamber? Both Lyta and Garibaldi casually stroll past during important and highly sensitive meetings.
o What's Lyta getting into with Byron (other than a bed)?

Epilogue:
Please comment on this review - discuss it! The whole point of this review is to generate some meaty discussion. Of course, those of you who know the answers to the Points For Discussion - don't spoil us!

BE AS CONTROVERSIAL AS YOU LIKE!!!

Simon Jones,
alt.babylon5.uk reviewer.


1998 Simon Jones.