Monday, August 8, 2011

The Best Characters in Babylon 5

Brief introduction: this week I will be reviewing the sci-fi TV show known as Babylon 5. For last Friday's brief round-up of the show and the schedule, please click here. Today's post (duh) will cover the best characters in B5; tomorrow will cover the worst. If you enjoy this post, keep comin' back! 

G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas), Narn Ambassador to Babylon 5* 
An ordinary actor made to wear red contact lenses, orange-and-black face paint and a ridiculous tunic, and wave his hands like a cat when he gets in a fight might turn in a shit performance. Katsulas turns in an excellent one. From the series’ opening TV movie to its final season, he is consistently one of its two best actors. In addition, G’Kar becomes one of the most deeply nuanced characters. He is a villain, a chef, a writer, a warrior, a religious person and a knight (literally, in one case). G’Kar is a focal point for his race’s rage against the Centauri, and Katsulas does an excellent job of expressing that.

Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik), Centauri Ambassador to Babylon 5
Peter Jurasik makes the absolute most of Londo Mollari. In succession, Londo is sympathetic, pitiable, villainous, unscrupulous and finally heroic. I think he’s my favorite, now that everything’s over, because in a world of moral purity (I’ll come back to this in the Worst Things post), Londo is flawed! He drinks, he screws, he cheats at cards, he’s petty and vain and selfish and power-hungry, but he’s a good guy underneath it all. That’s something the viewer finds out over a long period of time, and watching him evolve is really an amazing thing.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the splendid connection between Londo and G’Kar. Their complex relationship is the single strongest aspect of the series. The two have an extremely complicated dynamic, which shifts from worst enemies to close friends and back again over the series’ run. I think some of the best episodes of the series came when Straczynski put the two characters in a situation and just let them bounce off each other (the Season 1 episode where Londo denies G’Kar access to a sacred plant is a classic).

Lennier (Bill Mumy), Minbari Diplomatic Attaché
A quiet, well-spoken servant type, Lennier does his job and doesn’t screw up. Bill Mumy plays him as very restrained, but as someone who’s capable of deep feelings. When he falls in love in Season 3, it brings a whole new dimension to his character (then again, I’m an easy target for male characters in unrequited love, so this one is subjective).

Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian), Lt. Commander of Babylon 5

Ivanova probably wouldn’t work as a starring role, but she is a capable No. 2 for the commanders of Babylon 5. A deeply pessimistic Russian Jew, Christian’s character is sometimes fiery and sometimes depressed. She brings some much-needed punch to the B5 command staff, which can be bland at times. Ivanova’s Jewish-centered episode in Season 1 is in my top three of the whole series.

Zathras (Tim Choate)
He’s only in four episodes, but all of them are great ones. Zathras guides the characters through time and space with his own particular brand of broken English and backhanded wisdom. Definitely the funniest character in the series.

Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig), Psi Cop
Bester is a good villain because he does what he thinks is right, which often conflicts with the B5 crew's idea of right. Most of their conflicts come from this simple effect. Bester is calm, calculated and utterly devoted to the Psi Corps. If Koenig’s character has a weakness, it’s his general lack of emotion, but that usually serves to make him a bit more villain-esque. Every time he’s on screen is a good time.

Morden (Ed Wasser)
Ed Wasser is the best pure villain on the show, which isn’t saying much (Londo, G’Kar and even Bester all have their heroic moments). As emissary for the Shadow race, he gets plenty of chances to be dark and menacing and makes the most of them (he’s especially effective in season 2). Zero nuances to his character, but who really cares? His interrogation scene with Sheridan at the end of Season 3 is a classic.

Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), Babylon 5 Security Chief
The best way to describe Garibaldi is sort of a poor man’s Bruce Willis, circa Die Hard crossed with Pulp Fiction. Doyle gives his character a hard-ass mentality and a penchant for sarcastic quips. He’s kind of an asshole, actually, but he’s extremely crafty and good at his job. Garibaldi generally isn't a very complex fellow; the one major change in his character turns out to have been caused by outside forces. At his best when he’s kickin’ ass. (Incidentally, a garibaldi is the state fish of California. #randomfacts)

In the conversation: 
Vir Kotto (Stephen Furst), Delenn (Mira Furlan, who played Danielle Rousseau on Lost), Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) and Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins). Vir and Delenn have good acting and terrible acting in pretty much equal parts. Sinclair and Lochley are impressive, but neither gets as much time as they should have had. The eccentric Draal (Louis Turenne) was one of my favorites.)

Coming tomorrow: the worst of B5! Cover your ears and grab your popcorn, because this series has some awful performers on it.

*Many of the characters' job descriptions change as the show goes on, so for the sake of making sense, I'm listing the characters by the first jobs they hold on the show.


YZF said...

No Kosh? Come on.

Andy said...

I liked Kosh as a presence on the show, but we never really get to know him.

Anonymous said...

Came into this thinking, if G'Kar isn't top of the list I'm leaving! : ) kudos on the write up! I thought Lennier's character was ruined by being made to betray Sheridan in the end...thought that was out of character. Never did like the Garibaldi character "...we never really saw him carry out any of his threats, would have liked to see that dog actually bite once in a while! Anyway thanks for the reviews! Good to see the fan base are as vocal as ever!

Anonymous said...

Hey! What about the fabulous Vir? From bumbling sycophant he grows by making tough choices. LOVE this character, as much as Londo and G'Kar!

Anonymous said...

Londo - this would not even be close had a few different writing decisions been made.
G'kar - you are right.  The dynamic between he and Londo was one of the best parts of the show.
Garibaldi - another spot on assessment.  Poor man's Bruce Willis is right.
Vir - took some time but I eventually warmed up to him

Very much want to add Bester but the truth just does not allow.  Just think what Jeffery Combs could have done with the part.  Show would have been better served too had they rode out Talia Winters instead of switching.  Wished the technomages were given more story.

Anonymous said...

Vir was the only pure good guy.

Anonymous said...

And they made a very pleasing thump.

Eugene Frisinger said...

What about markus?

Glenn Euloth said...

Honestly, you can make a top 10 if you wish but there wasn't a bad character in the entire series. I was so impressed with this series and its characters. Everyone from, Shon, the child in the Believer's episode to G'Kar were really just awesome. I loved each and every episode. The stories were awesome and J. Michael Straczynski was just an amazing storyteller... I'm sad there wasn't more but happy the story had an end.

John E. Guzzardo said...

Minor correction - Draal was only played by Louis Turenne once, afterwards by John Schuck, who did a marvelous job of "rebooting" Draal as the Great Machine brought back his youth.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... WHAT??? What about, The Doctor??? Such good acting, so overlooked!

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