Lost and Found, Part II

Written by Dan Carlson@minutiaeman@tenforward.social

Published August 4, 2007

It’s hard to not be disappointed with something (like a movie) when you wait for it for a long time, and then find out it’s not quite what you expected, or what you wanted. Even when you’re aware of this sentiment, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of criticizing simply because the story doesn’t match your ideal plot, your ideal characterization.

Ultimately, Voices in the Dark was unquestionably Straczynski’s story, and he told the story that he wanted to tell. (Special props should go to whichever executives at Warner Brothers agreed to give JMS complete creative autonomy; despite the way fans often talk, that’s still a gutsy move for Hollywood.) Can I fault JMS for not writing the stories that I wanted to see instead? That would be ridiculously impossible, especially considering that I’m but one of several million fans.

I think that the choice to focus on such a small-scale story was deliberate on several levels. First, the obvious logistical and budgetary concerns made it much easier to focus on two or three characters, rather than an entire ensemble. Keeping the settings simple allowed the story to focus more on the characters’ motives, philosophies, and actions. And perhaps, even, to present a message of some sort? Rather than diving in head-first, we get the opportunity to explore some aspects of life that are often overlooked, and to dwell on decisions that are often rushed or even made without thought.

Regardless of any disappointments, the result in Voices in the Dark is a typical Babylon 5 masterpiece: an exploration of light and darkness, of the tendencies in all of us that constantly pull at us from all sides.

“Over There”

The second chapter of Voices in the Dark was much stronger on several levels. Although “Over There” had the same narrow focus and tiny cast of characters as the first chapter, and the story seemed to flow much more quickly (for the most part). It was also a lot more interesting because it was set firmly in the Babylon 5 universe, and made great use the series’ rich back story.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Interstellar Alliance, President Sheridan gets the chance to make a trip back “home,” to Babylon 5. But rather than a triumphant homecoming, it’s instead an opportunity for introspection. Obviously some Minbari thought processes have worn off on Sheridan in the past ten years, but the initial major scene in which Sheridan grants an interview to an ISN reporter seemed to meander for too long before getting to the point.

I won’t go as far as saying that the ISN interview was a waste of time; certainly it was essential to establish some of the context. And the oblique references to the untimely deaths of Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar) and Richard Biggs (Doctor Franklin) were sad but welcome reminders of those absent friends whom we can no longer meet.

Despite Sheridan’s obvious reluctance to bare his soul to an ISN reporter (having been burned that way once or twice before), the entire scene seems to waste a bit too much time dancing around the issue at hand. And considering that the show had less than eighty minutes to play with, were jokes about Teryl Rothery’s boobs and the introduction of a new method of travel called “quantumspace” really that important? We could have learned more about what Sheridan (and the conveniently absent Delenn) have been up to with Alliance politics, about what Babylon 5 has been up to, and more. Once Sheridan’s ship picks up Prince Regent Vintari, though, the plot starts rolling and never looks back.

Galen the Technomage has popped in unannounced, as usual, to spout more of his usual predictions of doom and gloom. This felt a little conceited to me— since when could the Technomages actually predict the future? Sure, we’ve seen plenty of instances where they can know more than an average person could. And Galen, being his typical cryptic self, could easily be presenting to Sheridan as fact what to him are merely likely predictions. Still, for the sake of the plot, this is something we just have to accept and move on.

Keegan MacIntosh as Vintari absolutely steals the show, despite his youth managing to stand on equal footing with Bruce Boxleitner in every scene. He exhibits both a child-like exuberance and a sinister cunning in his mannerisms— and manages to fake the Centauri accent quite well, to boot. And as we are introduced to the person of Vintari (rather than just the specter raised by Galen), we dive into the heart of the story: is it acceptable to take one life in order to save millions, or billions? Or more specifically, to use the cliché, would it be acceptable to kill a villain like Adolf Hitler before he came to power and caused so much death and destruction?

It’s incredibly easy to jump to conclusions, even so early in the story. Once we meet him, we quickly find out that Vintari is the son of the dead Emperor Cartagia— a clear-cut villain if there ever was one on B5. And the plot device of dreams— the Centauri ability to foresee their own death— strongly implies that Galen’s warning was correct; that Vintari will eventually launch the Centauri on a renewed path of aggression and warfare.

These are the nuances that made “Over There” such a wonderful return to the Babylon 5 universe for me. Not just simple name-dropping, but a subtle weaving of new and old threads together to add a new section to the tapestry. We know that the Centauri have a strong tendency for aggression and despotism. And as a wise Centauri once said, “When you reduce a family tree to a family bush, you just can’t hide as much beneath it!” Could Vintari be just as insane, just as dangerous as his father was?

Ultimately, Sheridan makes the enlightened decision to spare Vintari from Galen’s planned assassination. As Galen acknowledges, assassinating Vintari was not the only solution, but still the easiest one. Sheridan’s decision echoes that of the ones he had to make during the Shadow War: that Humanity (and the other races) have grown up enough to make their own decisions, rather than just do as others instruct. He chooses life over death, just as he did with Lorien on Z’ha’dum.

One strength brought to the story from its tiny scale is the ability to reinforce the theme of both Babylon 5 and Sheridan as a nexus: people and places whom the universe metaphorically revolves around. It emphasizes the lesson that we have to choose our own destiny, or others choose for us. That’s the ultimate message: choice.

Overall, Voices in the Dark is unquestionably an excellent return to the Babylon 5 universe. Despite the weakness in some of the plotting and pacing, it is a worthy continuation of the story. (And the visual effects, especially of the station itself, were extraordinary.) Thematically, visually, and philosophically, JMS has managed to pick up almost where he left off many years ago. That’s an incredible feat.

Londo once said, “The story... is not yet over. The story is never over.” I for one hope that this story continues for quite a while.