Sunday, 29 May 2011

Saffron Threads - What do motorcycles, Zen and diplomatic intrigue have in common?

Well, there's the book about “The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance” but the action in that doesn't look out of the USA, and is not hallowed for being particularly accurate on either Zen or motorcycle maintenance, instead being a setting for deep philosophical discussions. Anyway, that isn't what I'm going to write about today.

My topic for this month is Babylon 5. I know, I know, I'm waayyy late to the B5 party given that it stopped airing in 1999. I first heard about it when it was in its second or third season* and was assured my by sci-fi aficionado friends that it was pointless trying to pick it up at that point, and I should just wait until it had finished then start from the beginning. I'm not sure they expected me to take a further 11 years to “get around to it”.**

So, I'm watching B5 from start to end. Thus far, I'm spoiler free too: I was aware of the character of Londo – thanks to a regular (female) sci-fi convention guest who would remain in character for the weekend – and the Nimbari (or so I thought they were called), but that was it. Everything and everyone else was brand spanking new to me. I'm about seven episodes out from the end of Season One at the moment, which by common consensus means it's just about to start getting Really, Really Good.

I have several favourite parts or themes thus far. The first is the point where Garibaldi is restoring an old Earth motorcycle in the episode “Eyes”. I've just taken my CBT, with plans to get my full license later this summer, so the sight of gleaming black and chrome certainly piqued my interest. Up to this point, Lennier was vaguely irritating to me, in an adoring puppy kind of way. It baffled me how the Minbari could select someone as serene and quietly powerful as Delenn as their ambassador, yet send the keen and oh-so-eager-to-please Lennier as her deputy? Perhaps it was what my old boss would have euphemistically called a “development opportunity” for them both? Anyway, in this episode Lennier still retains his over-eagerness, but this time channeled through a love of history and a desire to immerse himself in the language and workings of the bike – and its Japanese instruction manual.

The scenes between Garibaldi and Lennier show another aspect of Babylon 5's writing that I love: it's the familiar banter and small talk discussions that happen in every day life between people who live and/or work together. All to often, this is absent from TV (and book) writing: dialogue is there to drive plot forward, provide exposition, or to establish a character's current mood or personality. It's rarely there to make the setting of all those elements more believable.

Sticking with the Minbari theme for the moment, the Zen Garden introduced early on in the season intrigues me. In a station described as “two hundred fifty thousand tonnes of spinning metal”, to have devoted the time and space to something as apparently pointless as a space for tranquility and rest is wonderful. Thus far, the garden has been used for some shady information trades, but the only one who appreciates it for its true purpose and beauty is Delenn. I have a suspicion, though, that the serenity she radiates conceals a much, much darker side: her flash of temper when her Grey Council membership was mentioned in public; her membership of it in its own right; her cryptic references to the “hole in your (Sinclair's) head”, and the implication at this point that the Minbari had a strong hand in Sinclair being given command of the station over the heads of many more qualified and senior candidates. Time will tell how much of this is borne out and becomes important...

Finally, I'll own to to being shallow enough that any TV series I watch in its entirely has to have at least one character I find strikingly attractive. It's not a guarantee that I'll watch it (even Eliza Dushku couldn't save Tru Calling for me) but it's definitely a prerequisite. In this case, it's Claudia Christian, playing the dichotomous Lt Cmdr Susan Ivonova. I'll leave you with this image:

* I'll dig my geek card out and hand it back soon

** random trivia point: a shop in my local market town when I was very little used to sell plates saying “This is a round tuit. Now I have no excuse not to get on with all those things I've been putting off”. To this day I regret not saving my pocket money up to by one.

This week, Saffron is still stressing about exams, and Lindy Hopping her socks off in a bid to forget about impending exams

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