Sunday, May 29, 2011

Babylon 5 Eye Rant

Okay. Minor spoilers that come in Season 2, Episode 16: One of the major characters on this show has a pair of black "shadows" following him around that are alien beings. They can be seen only if you look at them in ultraviolet or infrared light (the show isn't clear on which). Until the Captain (who is human) employs special scanning equipment to view the other character and his attach├ęs, nobody on Babylon 5 has seen them.

This is bullshit. Bogus. Bad storytelling. Why?

First of all, there were plenty of opportunities for the creatures to be seen (the character doesn't shun public places) and we're told that the creatures never leave his side, so it's clear that they could've been seen. We're also told that these creatures are hugely distinctive and feared, so there would've been some noticeable reaction if they were seen.

The second reason has to do with the other aliens on this show. This is a Star Trek-type universe where most of the aliens walk on two feet, have two tool-using hands, speak English with only a mild accent and the biggest apparent difference is some makeup on their faces or heads. And that's perfectly fine, even if it's wildly implausible. The thing that allows me, the viewer, to pretend that they are alien--even when they all look basically human--is our lack of knowledge about them. Why do the Centauri have oversized hairpieces? What is the function of the ring of bone on the M'bari's heads? Is there a pattern in the Narns' spots, and what purpose might it have originally served, evolutionarily speaking?

Did they all just have a horribly bad application of suntan lotion?
The point is, what we're seeing may not be what the aliens are exactly, and that helps preserve some of their intrinsic alien-ness. But the business with all of these alien species--over 20, we're told--being unable to see the creatures is frankly just bad storytelling.

Hands I can accept. English I can accept. But there's absolutely no reason why every one of these species should see in the same range as humans! The visual spectrum, colors red through indigo, is totally arbitrary; it's just how our eyes are adapted! There are plenty of creatures, even on Earth, that see in the ultraviolet or infrared ranges, or even beyond, and that has to do with how they've had to adapt. Is it plausible to imagine other races on other planets growing up in different environments than us, under probably different starlight, and having the exact same eyes that humans do?

I don't think it's a huge deal, and we may very well find out that the Shadows cast some sort of distortion field, or protective camouflage for whoever looks at them, or something of that nature that would explain the lack of alien eye diversity. But for now, it just feels like Babylon 5 is getting kind of sloppy.

(P.S. Space was at such a premium that they were charging the officers money for their own quarters a few episodes back, but B5 has room for an entire baseball field?)

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