Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Classics: B5 4:22 - The Deconstruction of Falling Stars

Overall: 4.8

And in this way, sadly, Sheridan and Delenn begin their apotheosis.

Plot Synopsis:

The Lurker's Guide has a summary here.

The Skinny:

I'm going to cut and paste from an old Live Journal post of mine because the opinions I expressed therein pretty much still stand:

I felt my first twinge of displeasure watching Sheridan and Delenn express their reluctance to join in the festivities. This rang very false for me. And there's nothing worse than false modesty.

I felt my second twinge of displeasure when the futuristic computer screen signaled to the viewer that we would be watching historical files on Sheridan and Delenn... with the others being nothing more than supporting characters. In fact, in this multi-era look at the influence and perception of the Alliance, some individuals who rightfully deserve a mention are absent entirely. I am thinking particularly of G'Kar, who sacrificed a great deal for the Army of Light and served as the Alliance's answer to Thomas Jefferson. Where was G'Kar the Reborn in the holy books?


The references to the "Blessed Sheridan" in Deconstruction... were irritating enough, but the worst moments of this episode were in the first two acts, in which JMS erects a number of straw men that he then proceeds to "deconstruct."

Here is the essence of what was argued by the members of ISN's panel in the first act:

Speech Writer: Allow me to be as obnoxious as possible while I assert boldly that Sheridan is a power hungry, incompetent nimrod who can't possibly get these alien races to cooperate. The Alliance will implode from his mismanagement, and he will ultimately have to bring out the big guns to restore order.

The Others: That's not true, you big meanie! You should give him a chance! You're just being all mean and stuff because you worked for that fascist hoser Clark.

I see. So Sheridan is clearly in the right here because all of his opponents are remnants of Clark's weasle squad looking to score political points. Got it.

Let's get real - Sheridan's supporters in this broadcast made no effort to argue the feasiblity of the Alliance, nor Sheridan's qualifications to lead such a body. And it's not as if they don't have supporting evidence they can use - Sheridan did in fact pull together a massive and diverse alliance to fight a major galactic war.

And the representative for the opposition was ludicrous. As hard as it may be for JMS to imagine, you don't have to be one of Clark's toadies to stake out a different position on this issue. A look through history shows that the universe is frequently unkind to political entities like the Alliance. It could be argued, intelligently and convincingly, that maintaining the peace often requires the occasional military conflict. It can even be argued that large scale political alliances may do more harm than good by forcing you to commit your resources to ventures that are not in your interest. Whether or not you agree with any of these positions doesn't matter - they are legitimate, and they deserve to be put in the mouths of serious characters.

Now on to act two, a hundred years later. If the author were not so focused on elevating Sheridan to semi-godhood, he might've used this scene to seriously examine two influential views of history. The first of these - and the one JMS seems to be proposing - is what I refer to as the great man theory. This is the view that major political movements are brought to life and defined by their leaders - the power of one, so to speak. Great man historians study George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and so on to get at the character of the American Revolution. The second view of history is what I refer to as the societal forces theory. One of my favorite American figures, John Adams, articulated an early version of this theory when he stated that the American Revolution evolved gradually in the hearts of all American settlers long before the events of 1776. The "force of history" embodied in the individual lives, decisions, passions and preferences of many people is what drives events according to this theory... For what it's worth, in my view, I don't see these two theories as opposite sides of a dichotomy - I believe social forces and the vision of individual leaders can influence and enhance each other.

At any rate, what we get instead of an examination of how the leadership of Captain Sheridan may have influenced and/or been influenced by larger historical forces is two more obnoxious straw men blathering about hero worship and PR campaigns, thus setting themselves up to be smacked down by an ancient, righteous Delenn. Puh-leaze!

Do not insult us by telling us that Sheridan is a "good, kind and decent man." Show us. Convince us of his heroism by his actions. And further, acknowledge that criticism of Sheridan's decisions can be advanced by credible individuals. Questioning his decision to allow Byron to bring his teeps to B5 is legitimate. Questioning the decision of advisory council (under Sheridan's command) to keep one of their members in the dark about their suspicions regarding his homeworld is legitimate. Allow these arguments to take place and trust in the intelligence of your audience.

I sympathize with JMS's evident hatred of academics and their tendency towards undiscriminating iconoclasm. I also share his rather cynical view of modern-day public affairs shows. But this is still the most disappointing of the five season finales.

Writing: 3.0

As I note above, there's too much telling here and not enough showing.

Acting: 6.5

The performances are only okay.

Message: 5.0

I do believe in the power of the individual to change the world. I also believe in the importance of faith. Alas, JMS undermines both of those decent messages by laying it on way too thick.

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