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Weekend Video Roundup
Bar Harbor
Watched some video stuff with kestrell on the Monday holiday. Short reviews: Torchwood season 2 has a first episode full of goofy fun. Babylon 5: The Lost Tales was ultimately disappointing. More details (and minor-to-middling spoilers) below the cuts.

Torchwood's first episode this season, "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang", features a plot which is cursory at best, with sketchy McGuffins and a last-minute rescue that don't even make *logical* sense, much less scientific. But hey, this is Torchwood, you knew all that going in. The show's strengths have always been in its acting and character interactions, and here, the episode shines.

A new (and I dearly hope recurring) character appears, an old colleague of Jack's from the future named (or pseudonym-ed at least) "Captain John Harker" (although he may well get stuck with the nickname of "Vera" in fandom). They have a love-hate relationship that doesn't bother about 'sub', it's all in the text. When they first meet, they alternate between passionate smooching and a fist fight violent enough to do serious property damage. This fight is reminiscent of the first Buffy-Spike sex scene for more than one reason. "John" is played by none other than James Marsters! While this character is *not* "Spike the Time Cop", he has a similar sense of dangerous snarky anarchy, that Marsters is quite comfortable with by now. While he is a vicious killer, he's also a bit of a lonely puppydog, yearning for love and affection from Jack.

"John" survives the episode, and even gets in an enigmatic last word that will, no doubt, lead to this season's continuing plot thread. And, one hopes, Marster's reappearance from time to time.

In other Torchwood news, they're shuffling the soap opera deck a bit; Setting up a possible Owen-Tosh affair, and implying more sexual tension between Jack and Gwen (who has gotten engaged to her long-suffering boyfriend between seasons). If the show lasts, they're eventually going to exhaust all the permutations. Oh well, they can always bring in someone new at that point :)

A few weeks ago, londo loaned me a copy of Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, the recent direct-to-DVD project. He added, "If you like it, you should buy yourself a copy, to encourage them to make more." While I applaud the sentiment, in fact I *didn't* like it. I'm not sure if I've outgrown JMS, or if he was just having an off day, but I found this disappointing on many levels. Also, as a small project, it had no room for JMS' greatest writing strength, the slowly unfolding story arc.

Of the two sub-stories, I thought the first was atrocious, the second merely passable.

In the first story, JMS explicitly writes several aspects of Christian theology into the B5 universe. He's always included religious themes and ideas in B5, but this is the first time he's endorsed a specifically religious supernatural element. Previously, things like this were always framed as either powerful enigmatic aliens, or (rarely) as "Might be science, might be magic, we dunno." This story could easily have been framed in similar terms, but it wasn't, and it bugged the heck out of me. (Kes wondered if JMS was a recovering Catholic, and also remarked on the phenomenon of avowed atheist SF writers who nonetheless have gobs of religion in their works.)

Another thing that bugged me was that there was no particular reason for this to be a B5 story in the first place. While Lochley does, in the end, figure out the 'puzzle', the story isn't *about* her at all. It's about the temptation of the priest character. The nature of the plot demanded that it take place 'in space', but B5 itself was entirely incidental.

The second story was better, if still not quite up to "good". The character arc in this one was squarely about John Sheridan, and his moral dilemma was an interesting (if somewhat cliched) one. I was a bit disappointed that Galen didn't get his own story, but was merely a functional element of Sheridan's. Moreover, his story function was one that they've used before, with these very characters! They do "hang a lantern on it" with Sheridan's reaction, but that doesn't make it feel any less 'been there, done that'.

Both stories feature a protagonist torn between two extremely difficult options -- who eventually takes a third option entirely. And (definitely in the first story, probably in the second), that third option is set up for them by another party, obviating the need for them to *make* the mooted difficult moral choice. Seems like rather a cop-out, in each case.

Lots of characters were mentioned without actually appearing, which only made their absence more keenly felt. There was a nice touch in referring to both G'Kar and Dr. Franklin as "off exploring beyond the rim" -- a sensitive way of acknowledging the deaths of the actors without entirely puncturing the fourth wall. The DVD extras included small-scale memorials for each of them.

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I just watched Torchwood s02e01 tonight, and also thoroughly enjoyed seeing James Marsters again. I pretty much agree with your assessment, particularly the last minute save. The whole thing felt like it might have made a better 2-parter. A little more time to flesh out the plot/maguffins, a little more chance to explore the angst of having John around, a little more opportunity to come up with a convincing save, and better reason to have to send him away after only 42 minutes of screen time.

I have no doubt those parting words set the thread for the season, and that we'll certainly see John again.

Exactly my sentiments on the B5 stuff. I was quite disappointed. I haven't seen Torchwood. My next wood will be 'Dead'. (as soon as we are done with season 3 of Slings and Arrows).

I'm embarrassed to admit that the "Why does this guy seem so familiar?" feeling I was getting from Vera lasted almost a third of the way into the show, before I twigged to it being James Marsters.

One of my biggest problems with the B5: Lost Tales was the basic concept that JMS thought that _that_ was what we had been waiting a decade for? Seriously?

I don't think it's a matter of outgrowing JMS -- this really just wasn't his best work. It wasn't even his *good* work. While my reaction was (as usual) slightly less negative than yours, I still thought it was unusually weak for him. (Especially the first half, which was just plain bad on all levels.)

The "outgrowing JMS" remark was referring not only to this video, but to the fact that I dropped both his Spidey and FF books out of dissatisfaction well before he was finished with the respective runs, and that I haven't felt at all inspired to check out his more recent Marvel work. (Possibly there's also some misplaced lingering resentment about the disappearance of Supreme Power before it actually got anywhere.)

Fair enough. But having been following all of his recent comics work, I think there are some clear gradations there. His Marvel work isn't as good as B5 was at its peak. But Lost Tales is nowhere as good as most of his Marvel work...

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