WARNING: If you haven’t seen the show before and intend to watch it, SKIP THE FIRST EPISODE!!! That first episode should be the last episode, because it acts as a sort of epilogue to the entire fucking season (seriously, fuck them for putting that episode first and spoiling much of what is to come). That aside, there will be spoilers in this review, which may make that warning pointless.
So having watched Babylon5 and Farscape, I’m left wondering what else there is that is considered excellent among the best sci-fi shows ever made (ones that are live-action, have an actual ending, and isn’t Star Trek, because Star Trek is the default sci-fi show to fall back on in every situation). I heard about this one, so figured I’d check it out. After watching the first episode of the first season, I immediately purchased the whole series on eBay for roughly $20, a pricetag I thought was worth it just for the first episode alone.
The first episode of this series is a masterpiece if I ever saw one. Mind-bending, confusing, unique, different, dark, unpredictable. It contains a lot of elements that I hope to find in the sci-fi genre. You are dropped into the middle of a story with no background or information given; next thing you know the series jumps thousands of years into the future where we’re dropped into yet another setting with no information given. A dystopia planet where all but the high classes are slaves in a harsh slave-labor-intensive environment where punishment is harsh and common. Then a whole bunch of shit happens involving love slaves, undead assassins, talking brains, hellraiser-inspired shit, escape, and a ship capable of destroying planets with ease. I mean, good lord, the first episode set the bar so high for this franchise I wondered if it would be matched or raised in later episodes.
Well, for season 1, which only consists of 4 episodes, each 90 minutes in length (originally a Showtime series with a movie per episode), episodes 2 and 3 are largely filler episodes that do little to progress the story, but to allow viewers to become more familiar with the main cast of anti-hero protagonists, and they are fun in their own way. But episode 4 is when it starts to reach back to the heights of the first episode, adding up to a decent finale. The crew of 3 (plus a robot head) on a planet destroying ship going up against the Shadow (or the Divine Shadow). The fate of the universe is at stake. A crew of anti-heroes who honestly could be considered villains if you read into it enough, going up against a being who is most likely more evil than them.
Themes related to Brazil (the movie, not the country), rebelling against authoritarian rule, potentially being just as bad/destructive as those you are trying to overthrow (leaving nothing but destruction in your wake, while at least something existed under their rule), becoming independent, and how even the most powerful can become too arrogant and make mistakes leading to their downfall. Similar traits shared by all.
The first of the 4 seasons is a rock solid entry into the sci-fi genre. I dare not spoil who the protagonists of the series are for those who haven’t watched it. Just take my word for it, you have to see the first episode, if nothing else. The first episode is easily a 4/5 for me, maybe even higher upon repeated viewings. And if the franchise ended on that first season, and if it didn’t have a bit of a cliffhanger, I would say it’s one of the greatest sci-fi series ever made.
But then comes the next season, season 2. It starts out fine (even though it now resorts to be standard 40-50 minute runtime episodes), though you begin to realize that the captain of the Lexx is as big of a dunce as the first season implied. He becomes very difficult to root for much of the time. I’m pretty sure that’s the point, as the series wanted to do something different by having the main protagonists be those whom no one would want as a role model. They fuck things up, sometimes try to do good, but ultimately cause destruction usually doing more harm than good. It’s not a bad idea, but it needed a better script to make it work. That, and a little more budget. Seasons 2-4 don’t have the same quality as that of the first season when it comes to special effects and set design (though Season 4 does make the Lexx ship look its absolute best). But that’s the least of their problems. They opt for a more light-hearted goofy tone as opposed to a very dark and grim tone with some moments of humor thrown in here and there. It’s tonal whiplash from the first to the second season.
Aside from the first few episodes of season 2 (which does come with a shocking moment I honestly didn’t see coming), the first half of the season is a bit of a drag. Stand-alone episodes with only vague hints to an over-arching story, and many of them just aren’t that great in my opinion. But once the latter half of season 2 comes, the episodes become less stand-alone and begin to progress the plot episode to episode. And, to my amazement, it actually pulls off something that I normally despise, but makes it work. There’s a stage-play musical episode that delves into the backstory of one of the protagonists. As much as it sounds like this shouldn’t work and make it one of the worst episodes in the entire series, it’s quite the opposite. The episode is fantastic, somewhat emotional in its own way, and does its job in getting the viewer pumped for the finale. And the finale is actually quite good. So despite the bullshit that is most of the first half of season 2, and the overall decrease in quality, it actually feels worth it in the end. And it offers a more satisfying conclusion than that of the first season.
Themes of admitting one’s own faults, owning up to them and trying to turn things around, before you’re past the point of no return. And being courageous in the face of destruction.
If the series ended there, it would still be good, though flawed. A 3.5 / 5 rating. But it doesn’t end there.
Fuck this season in it’s dull monotonous boring as fuck asshole, with a sandpaper condom with cactus pricks glued onto it. While the first couple episodes may be interesting, and the season has every episode progressing the plot with no stand-alone episodes, the pacing is motherfucking slow! The crew gets continually stranded on the same 2 goddamn planets (while in the last couple seasons they usually visited a different planet each episode), where it becomes the same old shit over-and-over again. I wanted this season to end by the time I got to episode 6. But noooooooooo. They just had to drag it on for 13 fucking episodes. Here’s how each episode goes:
“We need to leave!”
“Let’s go to the planet to deal with so-and-so.”
“We did it, let’s get off the planet.”
“Let’s deal with so-and-so.”
“Ok, we’re back on the ship, let’s go!”
“Fuck you and fuck me and fuck everything and fuck this fucking season! GHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
This season should’ve been half as long as it is. But it isn’t. So it’s a slog to get through. I’d honestly recommend just watching the first 3-4 episodes, then skip to the last 2. You’ll be able to pick up enough information to get a general idea of what’s happened between that time. You’re not missing much, trust me.
Themes of what one can look forward to in the afterlife, facing punishment for all the harm one has done, or facing reward for all the good one has done. Yin yang with good and evil, though this aspect isn’t put forth anywhere near well enough.
This season drags the show rating down to a 2 / 5. But there is one more season.
Ok, yeah, it’s better than season 3. And on-par with season 2. But seasons 2-4 pale in comparison to season 1. The main reason to watch this season is to get to a more definitive end for the series, even if it doesn’t tie up every loose end (I think this is intentional for some thematic reason regarding the fate of this other group of people who aren’t the main protagonists). In this season, the Lexx gets to Earth, in the present day (though it’s sort of an alternate reality version of Earth; at least that’s my theory, otherwise it’s possible to drive rocket ships as easily as you can drive a car, sometimes with a joystick). There are some tidbits dropped here and there that link back to the lore setup in season 1 (which isn’t really developed at all in seasons 2-3). But these tidbits, in hindsight, aren’t satisfactory. This season acts as satire for the U.S. and its stereotypes and capitalism and politics. Some of the satire is great, some is so-so. But I can’t say I ever got completely bored with it. It does have some build-up to the finale, but season 2 had better build-up for its own finale compared to season 4. On the other hand, season 4 has a greater amount of entertaining episodes compared to season 2. Pros and cons, but at least neither are season 3. When it does get to the final episode, it does end by giving the best character in the series the ending he deserves (without this one character, I would’ve stopped watching the show long ago). So despite other protagonists still being around, who gives a shit? Once this guy ended, the series ended, and that’s fine by me.
Aside from the ending, there is a stand-out episode I rank up there with the stage play episode from season 2. The episode where these two guys are playing a chess game on some inter-dimensional plane. And it shows the full chess game with every move, with nice commentary between the moves. And the tension is high throughout, making you wonder if the protagonist is confident for a reason, or is being overconfident.
Themes of destruction and rebirth. A society doomed to fall, but hopefully has accomplished enough to carry on from the ashes. How love can cause one to do things terrible as well as things that are wonderful. The things we do for companionship.
At this point, I’d give the series overall a 2.5 / 5, which pains me because there are some great moments to be had here and there. It’s just that they get spread too far from each other after season 1, and are practically nowhere to be found in season 3.
The first season is the one and only season that takes the premise and the content seriously and doesn’t ever really get tongue-in-cheek with it. That all changes for the worse with the other seasons, though they each still have some great moments in them (though season 3 only has a few, which isn’t enough to justify its 13 episode length, which is practically half the number of episodes in seasons 2 and 4). Seasons 2 and onwards gets quite pervy at times. I’d say the perviness goes a little too far in season 2 where every other episode is perverted in some manner. They ease up on it with seasons 3 and 4. Would’ve liked the show a lot more if the captain of the ship was a less annoying and more like-able character (though that might defeat the purpose, as the series wants anti-heroes as protagonists whom the viewers are supposed to get frustrated with at several points in times).
If there is any show that could use a reboot, it would be this one. And honestly, the timing is just about perfect for it. SJWs are prime candidates for satire, but the show can also get away with having a lamebrain wimp of a male protagonist who represents everything feminists and PC people despise to even things out. Hell, I think the series could do with a stronger female protagonist (aside from season 1, she didn’t really do all that much other than be naively innocent in her view of the universe and with her view on getting laid, despite her strengths and what she is capable of, which never really amounted to anything significant). The show can take shots at everyone, but should also take itself more seriously than the original version does (save for season 1). There is still potential within this series that has remained untapped due to the lack of good creative writing.
So despite the 2.5 / 5 rating, I can give the first season a rock solid recommendation, season 2 a cautious recommendation, but the rest I would advise watching at your own risk. The later seasons are good only for having a fitting end for one of the main leads (well, I guess a fitting end for 2 of the leads if you think about it). And even then, you have to slog through a lot of bullshit to get to the good parts.
PS: Oh, in case you were wondering, Babylon 5 and Farscape are leagues beyond this show. I’d recommend those for anyone who wants to get into live action sci-fi series (and Star Trek TOS and TNG, of course, which should be assumed to be included to any list such as that by default). From what I’ve researched, nothing else really comes as close as these when it comes to sci-fi shows to recommend, though Stargate SG1 and X-Files aren’t half-bad either. As for Battlestar Galactica, the old series was never finished. The Sci-Fi remake/reboot, however, turned into ass by the end, so I can’t in good conscience recommend that.
There are times when I get sick of watching movies, and seek out great television shows. Usually I seek out shows that have already been seen through to completion, and dive in at that point. Because I hate getting into shows that have no ending, that were cancelled before they really got going. I’m not one to get into ongoing shows, with some exceptions. So a while back I decided to get into this show, knowing its reputation, knowing that it was wrapped up the way the creators wanted (for the most part), and knowing that it wasn’t episodic in nature so much as each episode progressed the overall story in some way. A sci-fi show that lasted 5 seasons where each episode of each season progressed the overall story? And it’s considered one of the best sci-fi television series of all time? Couldn’t pass on this.
First, what the series is about. It’s about a space station, in space, orbiting a planet that is well away from Earth. The station is called Babylon 5. The number 5 is significant because there were 4 Babylon stations to come before it. The first 3 were destroyed either during construction, or soon after being built. The 4th mysteriously disappeared. So hopefully the fifth time’s the charm. The space station is meant to be a politically neutral place of existence, where all races from all quarters of the universe can send their people and representatives to for coexistence and having their say with planetary talks. No race is excluded, so long as they don’t go against the peace on board the station.
From there, Babylon 5 would eventually find itself to be caught up in a conflict that threatens the universe.
A Note on How To Watch This Show
So, if you should wind up diving into this show, there’s a certain order you should watch things in. There’s more than just the 5 seasons, there’s also a few tv movies that may be watched in a certain order.
First there’s the pilot episode, The Gathering. That is the episode that should definitely be watched before starting Season 1. It’s a solid introduction, but you also have to pay very close attention to what’s going on. Nearly every minute there’s information dropped about the species, the significant characters, and how they interact with one another. And yes, some information is significant and gets brought up later. Plus there’s a decent assassination plot storyline.
And honestly, the only other film I’ve seen that’s worth watching is Thirdspace, which should be watched in the middle of season 4 (best watched between episode 8 The Illusion of Truth, and episode 9 Atonement. It’s basically a Lovecraftian tale in the Babylon 5 universe, and some say it’s the best out of all the Babylon 5 movies. If its not the best, it’s close.
That being said, I can only recommend The Gathering (must-watch before starting any season) and Thirdspace (optional, but entertaining). The rest aren’t good enough to warrant a recommendation, especially since they don’t contribute much, if anything, to the main overall story.
It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It’s a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it’s our last, best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
The first season is when the show it at some of its cheesiest, 90s-est, episodic-est. It’s the season that will make first-time viewers wonder what the deal is with the show’s popularity? It’s not going to seem all that special compared to other shows out there like Star Trek: The Next Generation (on that note, there’s a bitter history between Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space 9, where one alleged that the other ripped off story elements from the one). I mean, it wasn’t weak or anything (at least by mid-90s standards when it came to the special effects). Just that it didn’t seem like anything all that significant compared to those that came before it like Star Trek. However, the first season is basically just laying the groundwork for all that is to come for the next 4 seasons. The stand-alone episodic nature of some conflict arising aboard the space station Babylon 5 (or off-board it) may seem random and just being there just to tell some made-up story to pad out the series, but it’s not random. At least 90% of the episodes contain some character, faction, race, story arc, that will be further developed or referenced in later seasons. This is basically a glorified introductory season to the universe of Babylon 5.
We get introduced to the Narn, Centauri, Minbari, and to a lesser extent, the Vorlons (they are expanded upon in later seasons, and left mysterious in Season 1). As we learn later on, it’s not so simple as to have each alien species listed anymore than it should just list the human species. There are factions within each species who each have their own agenda, in particular the psychic human faction who alienate themselves from everyone but other psychics (particularly the PsyCorp). However, just about every race except the Narns (for reasons given later on) also have their own psychics, some with telekinetic capabilities.
And, of course, we get introduced to the central characters in the show. Those shown in the above picture are the significant standouts for the alien races. Commander Sinclair, a veteran of the Earth-Minbari war who always wants to be first to enter the action when conflict arises onboard the Babylon station. Now, normally, stuff like this bugs the shit out of me in tv shows. You know, how the central character(s) are always involved (or get involved) with every conflict that arises, when it would be more realistic and practical to get others involved first. Like on that show Fringe, where the main detectives seem to be either the only ones on the scene of an ongoing crisis, or are always the one to put the villain of the episode down. You know, as opposed to having other detectives go in and get the takedown. Especially when there’s so much as stake with the central character for one reason or another. This isn’t a problem with superhero shows because, well let’s face it, the superheros intentionally go looking for trouble to fix, which in-turn results in trouble coming after them. I’m talking about shows with non-superheros in them.
While this show suffers from that problem (and let’s face it, a lot of shows have this problem to this day), it at least has a decent excuse for it. Sinclair, the commander of Babylon 5 and the central protagonist of season 1, has a habit of always wanting to get involved in the action. He views himself as a soldier first, a commander second, which makes him a bit rash and always wanting to take the enemies down himself, even if he risks so much doing so, as it would deal a huge blow to the station operations. He preferred being a soldier than being a commander, which gives him a reason on a personality level for always being at the center of the conflict in most episodes.
As for the conflicts, while there are some that threaten the entire station, most aren’t too major, at least by the standards that would be set in later seasons. The main significant conflict comes up during the last couple episodes, when something happens that breaks the mold of having a happy ending for each episode. Something that causes Sinclair to say, “Everything’s different now.” He’s right, and that change was only getting started.
If more of our so-called leaders would walk the same streets as the people who voted them in, live in the same buildings, eat the same food instead of hiding behind glass and steel and bodyguards, maybe we’d get better leadership and a little more concern for the future.
The first half of the season is more or less the same as Season 1, despite some character change-ups. Some revelations and profound insights to a couple races are revealed early on, but other than that, the show progresses basically the same as in the last season. However, some extra cheese is added, mainly with the new character Sheridan. Whenever he’s talking about his wife of the past, and his potential love interest of the present, the show just turns into a full-blown soap opera. The fucking dialogue and the fucking acting, it pained me just as much as it made me want to laugh. The good news is, when these bits come up, they don’t take up too much time in the episode they are in (10 minutes or less overall per-episode it’s in).
And I wasn’t too crazy about the Sheridan character for a while. He comes off as too much of a goody-to-shoes, a guy who is flawless and too good-natured in-spite of his reputation of being feared by the Minbari because of his combat tactics. In other words, I feared this show was going to have a Gary Stu character (ie the male equivalent of a Mary Sue).
But then comes the point of Season 2 when the episode titled In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum happens (about 2/3rds through the season). Not only does this episode actually showcase some depth to Sheridan’s character by showing some faults within him, it brings a sense of dread and high stakes to the entire series. This is the episode that acts as a pivotal turning point for the entire show. It’s the episode that let’s viewers know their patience will be rewarded. The mysterious enemies, the Shadows, and the threat they pose to the universe is known, and how there are several parties within and outside of Babylon 5 that have a stake in all this, and their own motives, and their own knowledge that both the viewer and the central protagonists do not have. This was the episode that made me go all-in. This was the episode that made me look forward to the next, and the next, and the next.
So if you think the show is testing your patience too much, that you fear it may not be worthwhile in the end, try sticking though Season 2. That’s when the show starts to take the gloves off (including having the Babylon 5 station get involved in an actual space battle during the finale). The next season is when it would start swinging.
Everyone lies, Michael. The innocent lie because they don’t want to be blamed for something they didn’t do and the guilty lie because they don’t have any other choice.
When we get to this season, we get to see all sorts of shit happen. Stories regarding time travel, alternate realities, alien races beyond the outer rim, conflicts within each alien race, etc. This is the episode where everyone is getting revved up for a war against the Shadows. Think of this season as the equivalent Mass Effect 2 (tv season equivalent to game entry into that trilogy [anything beyond Mass Effect 3 is irrelevant as far as I’m concerned]). The Babylon 5 station beginning to realize how pivotal its role is with defending the universe from the Shadows by using its neutrality as an advantage. But it comes at the cost of realizing that they will have to take a side at some point, which will pit them against people they once considered friends. Plus there’s infiltrators, those who are allied with the Shadows, and characters who begin to go down dark paths they may not be able to recover from.And the season ends with one of the most intense and thought-provoking episodes the entire series is likely to ever have; making everyone eager for the next season, the season many consider to be the best out of all of them.
If I take a lamp and shine it toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth… for understanding. Too often, we assume that the light on the wall is God, but the light is not the goal of the search, it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the sense of revelation upon seeing it. Similarly, someone who does not search – who does not bring a lantern – sees nothing. What we perceive as God is the by-product of our search for God. It may simply be an appreciation of the light… pure and unblemished… not understanding that it comes from us. Sometimes we stand in front of the light and assume that we are the center of the universe – God looks astonishingly like we do – or we turn to look at our shadow and assume that all is darkness. If we allow ourselves to get in the way, we defeat the purpose, which is to use the light of our search to illuminate the wall in all its beauty and in all its flaws; and in so doing, better understand the world around us.
And this is it, the high point of the show. Everything was building up to this, and it does not disappoint. The Shadow war is in full string, and there are other civil strifes going on with each race, threatening to tear alliances apart that are desperately needed to go against the Shadows. The civil strife is also prevalent with the Vorlons, the one race fully capable of taking on the Shadows, yet it’s revealed they have their own ulterior motives that may go against that of the human race. And I won’t say anything about how/if any of this is fully resolved, but I will say that things won’t always go the way you think. There are victories, and there are losses, and there are bittersweet moments to show that even victory comes with a price of its own, just as some losses are complete devastating defeats one can’t recover from in some way.
The most intriguing episode of this entire season, in my opinion, is the one most relevant to today. Outside of the conflict and war episodes, there is one that showcases propaganda and biased news reporting. The episode titled The Illusion of Truth (fitting), where a news reporter from Earth is given a walkthrough of the station. Sheridan hopes for the best with the reporter reporting on things objectively, but during the last 15-20 minutes of the episode, we see how the news can twist facts around in the most extreme ways by only inserting partial truths amidst the whole lies, leaving out footage and dialogue, and altogether painting a picture that is meant to smear the Babylon station and unite Earth and its factions against it. It’s episodes like this that demonstrate just how intelligent and relevant the show is.
It should be mentioned, however, that you should skip the last episode of this season (The Deconstruction of Falling Stars). Save it for either after the last episode of season 5, or viewed just before the last episode of season 5. Personally, I’m thinking it should be viewed just before the last episode of season 5, for reasons I’ll give later.
I believe that when we leave a place a part of it goes with us and part of us remains. Go anywhere in these halls, when it is quiet and just listen. After a while you will hear the echoes of all of our conversations, every thought and word we’ve exchanged. Long after we are gone, our voices will linger in these walls for as long as this place remains. But I will admit that the part of me that going will very much miss the part of you that is staying.
The final season, and this one is a mixed bag unfortunately. Seasons 3 and 4 are the seasons everyone agrees are the best. Seasons 1 and 2 were warmups for those central seasons. And then there’s season 5, which starts out rough. The reason it starts out rough is because the show creators weren’t completely certain they would be renewed for a fifth and final season, so they crammed more into season 4 than they would’ve liked for pacing purposes (though it did result in the most intense season yet). Because of this, they had to make up a few stories they didn’t have penned down prior to season 5. The blunt of this is during the first arc, where this group of rogue friendly semi-hippy psychics show up and stick around for a while. They do too much to make these people seem happy and cheerful and innocent, it made me sick, and made me want to see them all fucking die. But to the show’s credit, it did partially give me what I asked for in that regard (spoilers by the way, like you’ll give a shit for that subplot). All that said, the subplot with the psychics did provide some intriguing revelations, and did serve as a turning point for some central characters in the show. A good kind of turning point.
In regards to the big question, “Does the show wrap up all plot threads in a convenient way?” The answer is no, but that’s a good thing in this case (probably the only show in existence where it’s a good thing). It carries on a theme that becomes more and more apparent as the show goes on. The theme that, “It never ends.” That every time one foe is (or appears to be) vanquished, another comes to take its place. For every victory, there is a defeat. For every moment of happiness, there is a moment of sadness and pain. When it seems like things will be fine now with all the previous conflicts dealt with and new ways of life that should improve everything, it turns out there are leftovers from previous conflicts that rise up to botch everything up. When a goal is accomplished, those that united to achieve that goal now threaten to dissolve into separatist factions.
In other words, there will always be conflict. It’s never-ending. Even if victory is achieved, that victory usually results in unforeseeable shockwaves that result in the creation of new enemies, despite the best of intentions. All we can do is make the best of it. But then again, conflict is a necessary evil. Conflict is what causes alliances, what keeps people strong (giving them a reason to maintain strength), what drives technological and diplomatic development. Conflict continues to allow us to grow as a society, as a race, until we are developed enough and wise enough to finally move on to the next dimension, to the outer rim. One day we may get there, but it will not be today. So until then, continue fighting the good fight.
In regards to the last episode of this season vs. the last episode of season 4, the last episode of season 4 deals with how history will remember important historical figures who have accomplished much. And it’s fascinating to see how opinions change and become more radicalized as the years/centuries go on. How those who were once revered can become tarnished by those who don’t know them yet judge them all the same. Similar to how many now judge the founding fathers of the United States. Season 5’s ending is about giving the protagonist a definitive end. The commander we’ve spent so many seasons with has his last goodbye before moving on. Revisiting old friends and old places, revisiting nostalgia, looking back on his life, before it all ends. While the conflicts may be never-ending, one’s story does end at some point.
We all believe in something… greater than ourselves, even if it’s just the blind forces of chance.
Don’t let the 90s sets and the outdated computer and green screen effects throw you off, this is a very intelligent sci-fi show that understands humanity (who we are, where we were, and where we are going) in many ways. It may take a while to get going, because it’s a show that understands the importance of build-up, of laying the groundwork, of not throwing everything at you so fast that it becomes difficult to follow. The pacing is deliberate.
And it is, without a doubt, the best sci-fi television show I have ever seen in my life. It blows Star Trek, The Expanse, Farscape, and Lexx out of the water. That doesn’t mean it’s flawless. The 90s cheese is still there (especially in the first 2 seasons), the special effects dated (but you can still understand what is going on, and after a while you get adjusted to them), and the acting is of typical 90s tv acting at the time (though many of the actors eventually work wonders with their characters). But it makes up for it with a truly epic tale that has many twists and turns, many complex characters, complex races, complex factions, and complex morals.
It does have that innocence of “the 90s good guys should win” semi-naivety found in most shows from the 90s and earlier, but it is one of the earliest shows that evolved its characters to become morally grey at times. It shows that while some characters stay the same through various scenarios, there are situations that can arise which can cause them to change under the circumstances, and they may not be able to go back to who they once were. Their intentions may start out good, but they are eventually forced to make difficult decisions where there is no right answer. Again, the 90s innocence is still there, but it does enough to go into the grey and dark areas to satisfy the more wise and mature of us.
But that 90s innocence is deceptive, as the show tackles a lot of heavy-handed topics, which are not limited to the affects of propaganda, racism, friends becoming enemies, enemies becoming friends, purpose, mysteries of life and the universe, where we are headed as a race, spying on others, the ethics of being able to read other’s minds (metaphor for government/technological spying), philosophies to live by, the best form of government, what it takes to unite those we have our differences with and the struggles to maintain such unions, the use and misuse of power, our personal ambitions and struggles compared with that of the struggles of all the worlds in the universe, how a religious figure-head can gain an image/reputation that is unwanted, etc. At some point, there’s an episode that deals with one or more of those, sometimes in a thought-provoking manner.
So, great story, memorable characters (especially G’Kar and his memorable sayings, though each character manages to have their own shining moment in that regard), memorable moments, some thought-provoking episodes. It all adds up to a show no one should miss. That being said, they did make a sequel show titled Crusades, but I can’t recommend watching it simply because it was cancelled after season 1, even though it had the potential to be as great as Babylon 5. But I can recommend something else for those interested in a sequel to the series. There is a book trilogy called Legions of Fire which takes place after the events of the series (minus the final episode of Seasons 4 and 5). It doesn’t take into account every dangling plot thread that was in the show (again, the conflict never ends), but it may fill in some plot details people were left wondering about by the time the show ended.
So overall, highly recommended show. There is nothing else quite like it, nor as epic (though Deep Space Nine tried, but that show ripped off this one and it’s overall not as good, so…). I kinda wish I could delve more into this series, but the only real way to do that is by reviewing it episode-by-episode, and I just don’t feel like doing that. Just take my word for it, start with the pilot episode The Gathering, then proceed with the rest of the show until the last episode of season 4; save that for the end of season 5 (just before the very last episode).
Rated: 3 / 5 (might improve sometime in the future when I decide to rewatch this show)
And slowly, you come to realize, it’s all as it should be. You can only do so much. If you’re game enough, you can place your trust in me. For the love of life, there’s a trade-off. We could lose it all, but we’ll go down fighting.
So I’ve been aware of this anime’s reputation for a while now. Some say it’s “the best anime no one has ever seen,” and by no one they mean Americans. Not sure how true that is (personally, I think that reputation should fall upon Legend of the Galactic Heroes, something I have completely downloaded, but have only seen a few episodes so far; didn’t stop because it sucked, just have the mindset, “Let me finish this, and this, and this first, before getting sucked into this.”), as I believe it has gotten the attention it’s deserved since its release, but viewers have to jump through a few hoops to get the whole thing. From what I understand, this only aired on the Sci-Fi channel (was it that far back, or was it SyFy at this point?) for a duration, and the last 15 or so episodes never aired, so most didn’t get to see how the anime would wrap up. Well, I’ve seen the whole damn thing. I won’t say how, but you could probably think of a few ways.
So, how was it? Not too shabby, despite a couple minor caveats here and there; up until the last 5-6 episodes or so when it does this stupid bullshit that a lot of animes do that irritate me to no end. I’ll get to what those are later, but for now I’ll just say they don’t fuck up the show to the point where I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Despite its faults, it’s one of the better anime series out there, and it doesn’t run so long to the point where it overstays it’s welcome (I mean, Inuyasha, Bleach, One Piece, holy fuck do those go on forever).
Oh, and there will be spoilers. Just sayin’.
So the show starts out with this master surgeon, Dr. Tenma, who is considered to be the best doctor in the country (the show primarily takes place in Germany, but the lead doctor protagonist is Japanese), conflicted with his choices of whether he should continue to do what his bosses want, healing the patients they demand and thus prioritizing the more wealthy/famous/political over the commoners, or not. The guilt of continuing this trend weighs heavy on him until he decides to disobey orders and do surgery on a young boy named Johan who was shot in the head, choosing to help him over the other more “important” individual. Because of his actions he becomes de-promoted, and his twat fiance (who is the daughter of the hospital president) shows her true colors in that she was only in the relationship for the finances and high position, so she ditches him for another. But the act has unforeseeable repercussions that extend beyond this. Soon after healing the boy, several of the hospital higher ups are killed via poison, leaving nothing in the way of Tenma moving back up in the ranks. And the boy patient Johan, along with his sister (who was admitted due to trauma/shock) disappear.
Years later, Tenma is successful, and glad to be rid of his fiance, who tried to come back to him (bitch, please). However, a patient of his raves and rants about a monster coming for him, and he runs out of the hospital with Tenma in pursuit, only for both of them to become confronted by the monster. The monster, as it turns out predictably, is Johan, the boy patient from nearly a decade ago. Johan kills the patient, spares Tenma, and leaves. Tenma also finds out that Johan is a serial killer, who has been killing many people over the years, which makes Tenma second-guess his philosophy that every life is sacred, and equal, and worth saving. Are there some lives that shouldn’t be held as high as others? Are there some lives that must be ended for the good of others? Well, Tenma decides to change his life, leave his job, and begin tracking down Johan across the country, trying to find him and eventually kill him.
That’s more or less how the opening 10 episodes go. And this is a series comprised of 74 episodes. I began to wonder, “The premise is interesting, but how in the hell can they keep this show engaging for that long of a duration? I’m seeing the setup for intrigue and deeper layers indicating that there’s more going on than what we’re currently seeing, but for another 60+ episodes?”
And the next several episodes began to worry me in this regard. Because despite how the first few episodes seem, this isn’t one of those shows that tells its story in a straightforward manner where we continually follow the lead protagonist most of the time. No. For several episode stretches and different intervals, we are introduced to other characters, and follow their stories, like Tenma’s arc during the first act was just one story amidst a bunch of other stories that encompass a giant conspiracy. In hindsight, this technique worked, but it demands patience from the viewer. There were times where I went, “Ok, this is nice and all, but what the hell is happening with Tenma!?” There are times when we leave him and then get introduced to some girl attending a college for a few episodes; or later on are introduced to some child of a rich man trying to become re-aquainted with his father; or follow a cop who’s a recovering drunk. But after a certain point, they all start to link together.
By the time the series was halfway over, I was down with this style of pacing. It accomplishes something that I desire in a lot of television shows. That the main protagonist is not the center of the universe. There are other pieces in the game that move independent of his actions/activities, who accomplish things that the protagonist is incapable of accomplishing, whether it’s because he’s not in the right place at the right time, or he doesn’t have the skill-set to do this sort of thing (ex: Tenma can’t really fight, and he’s just so-so with a gun, and most importantly he doesn’t know everyone anymore than he has all the answers). Plus virtually all of these other characters are interesting in their own way, thus I didn’t mind so much that I was spending time with them.
By favorite of these side-characters is easily the detective Heinrich Lunge, who pretty much chooses to have no life outside of his detective work, and can become obsessive with solving cases. And he has a technique for doing so. He is able to recall conversations and details with eerie accuracy, like he’s a computer who can record information at will. Yet his method does have a fault. Despite being able to recall conversations word-for-word, another character (who is a criminal psychiatrist) points out that Lunge utilizes this technique in a biased manner. If he has already predetermined a potential outcome, he will emphasize a tone/aura around his recall-ability, such as believing an individual said a line in a certain way (serious, lighthearted, grim, casual, a lie, a truth) when said-individual actually said the line in a different way. Because as objectively-minded as some people try to be, there will always be an amount of subjectivity to how they perceive things. Plus he does all his work at the expense of alienating his family; and there were times where I began to sympathize with this guy and begged for him to go to his daughter, a sign of good writing.
And speaking of multi-dimensional characters, to my surprise, Tenma’s bitch-tits fiance ends up showing a sympathetic side to her, though you do have to get pretty far in the show to see it. And, of course, even the main villain Johan is shown to be multidimensional. There are no perfect characters in this show, no heroes that aren’t infallible, no villains that are pure evil (even if they do their best to convince themselves and others that’s how they are).
Getting into the character of Johan here, he does become a fascinating character. First one begins to wonder just how it is he’s able to brainwash/manipulate others into doing his deeds. Because as we soon find out, he usually prefers not to get his own hands bloody (though he certainly has no qualms about doing so), but rather getting other people to do things for him. Why? What is his end goal? Why is he doing this? Well, honestly, despite the hopes others have for him (there are organizations who have an interest in Johan, partly because they’ve put some investment into him in the past), he seems more interested in causing destruction simply because he likes manipulating others to see how they will all interact with each other, like interfering with the paths a line of ants would take, forcing them to follow different trails and seeing how they will adapt to new obstacles. And he is determined to show that no one really deserves to live, that there isn’t really any value in life. Which is why he became a bit fascinated with Tenma, intentionally bringing him into the game, wanting to see Tenma’s early philosophy on life proven wrong by having Tenma turn that very belief 180 degrees.
He also has an obsession with identity, or more accurately, lack of identity. Because he feels he himself has none. Because he is a monster; because his beliefs were built on the foundation of an obscure kid’s book titled, “The Monster With No Name,” something he was read to during his younger years. On top of that, he was also the subject to multiple experiments done on children, experiments designed to create a new Hitler, ala The Boys From Brazil, but more extreme. The experiments were designed to make the children intelligent, incredibly disciplined, and very acute. The main thing they were taught was on observing their surroundings, and learning how to read people, to anticipate how an individual with a certain type of personality would react to various general situations. Thus the children could grow up to become master manipulators. And lastly, and this is something implied more than anything else (though there are enough heavy hints dropped to convince me), that Johan wasn’t always a male. As a very young child, before he was separated from his sister, he used to be a boy, but due to surgery from the organization, he was turned into a boy (and thus to my shock, this series somehow pulled off an LGBT twist that didn’t come off as forced at all, and it was rather brilliant). It’s at this point that a lot of his questioning of identity and his madness begins to make a lot of sense, ultimately making him one of the more intriguing villains in anime history, with a very tragic backstory. His innocence was lost early on, thus he believed early on that innocence doesn’t exist.
And since he was trained to be a manipulator (though some in the organization admit that he was a prodigy compared to the other children, which is something that was bound to happen), he finds ways to easily manipulate others. Because if you observe one for long enough, you find faults in their character, regrets over sins of the past, or having no regrets and thus being prime candidates for doing evil deeds simply because they enjoy it. There are many faults to be exploited in humanity, and exploit them he does, not for riches, not for fame, but to send a message.
Fascinating stuff, and there are other complexities I haven’t covered yet, but I’ll leave those for readers who wish to seek out the show. And this would be as good a time as any before reading the rest of this, because now I’m going to spoil the ending (moving from spoilers to uber-spoilers). Because the ending is why I currently don’t rate the show higher than 3/5.
It’s not that the final outcome in of itself was bad, it’s just some of the bullshit that was done to get there, bullshit that was easily avoidable. So first off, about halfway through the show, there’s this big muscleman who gets shot and flies down the story of a building and into the smoke below where a fire had broken out. The way they framed this, the way it was shown, an alarm bell rang in the back of my mind, “He’s going to show up again. We didn’t see the life go out of his eyes, so he’s coming back.” That’s anime 101 logic (and most film logic for that matter, but animes pull this shit all the time, and it annoys the fuck out of me because it comes off as insulting my intelligence, what little I have). So I was (not) shocked to see him show up about a dozen or so episodes later.
But that’s just the warmup. During the finale, this bodyguard and Lunge get in a scuffle, and Lunge continues to do this stupid shit that keeps getting bodybuilder to regain the upper hand. One of these actions was so fucking stupid, the anime didn’t want to shame itself by showing it, so it happens off-screen and is mentioned later (you know what, fuck you, seriously). “Oh, I let him live and didn’t bother to handcuff him or anything, which allowed him to tackle me while I was walking down this stairs with my back turned to him. Yeah, it makes me sound like a fucking idiot doesn’t it? Good thing you didn’t see me being a fucking idiot, considering I’m supposed to be the intelligent one.”
And then, of course, there’s the tip of the finale. Where the main protagonist and others are face-to-face with Johan, guns pointed, people wounded, emotions running high. Johan is asking Tenma to end his life, by shooting him in the head. A part of Tenma doesn’t want to do this, because it’s not in self-defense, and he knows that he will be forever changed if he takes a life as opposed to saving one. And no one else really wants him to do this other than Johan himself, though many do want Johan to die because of all the lives he has taken. Long story short, some other semi-random schmuck ends up shooting Johan in the head, which was a lucky shot not only because he had never fired a gun before, but also because he was in a bit of a drunken state. It’s a pure lazy fucking cop-out, and it results in the show trying to give the happiest ending possible, despite everything that happened prior to this, from episode 1 and onward. It would’ve been interesting to see how Tenma would’ve handled himself after doing that, but nope, we’re not going to have any of that.
Plus the whole thing just seems naive to me. And I get what they were going for. Once you kill, you lose an element of innocence that you will never get back. I get it. But the fact remains that if someone had killed this psychopath far earlier on, a shitload of lives would’ve been spared his wrath, and many more would’ve lived. You can talk about losing innocence all you want, but that is why people exist who are willing to lose that innocence to protect others so that way others won’t lose their own innocence, much less their own lives from others who have no innocence left. But fuck that, the anime wants you to feel sympathy for this guy and demands that the viewer hopes for a redemption arc for Mr. kills-a-lot.
So yeah, all that stuff irritated me, and marred what had been a fairly excellent show, making it go from having minor annoyances to major annoyances. But despite that, the show it still good, has some fascinated scenarios and some thought-provoking concepts and philosophies (up until it fucking simplifies them in the last 2 episodes). And it is worth a watch. The things that cause me major irritations may only be minor or insignificant to you. So, there it is.
So you remember a while back when I did a review for both Jumanji movies, and briefly mentioned that there was an animated show back in the 90s? Well, I finally got around to purchasing a copy, and watched the whole thing. It was mainly nostalgia that drove me to revisit it more than curiosity. And how was it? It was a bit of a struggle.
The Vietnam War. Probably the most controversial war America has ever gotten involved in that has people bickering about it to this day. Why did we go in there? Was it ever winnable? Should we have ever gone in there? What were our initial intentions, and how did they change? What were the intentions of each individual high-ranking official in a position of power to influence the war? Do we have that much of a right to judge those who were involved when we are incapable of experiencing what they have experienced?
So I became interested with Ken Burns in particular after seeing his incredibly well-done Civil War documentary series from 1990. Both that miniseries and this Vietnam one were done on PBS. So I ended up getting this at Best Buy as an impulse buy. And for the first 7 episodes, despite a few slow bits here and there with emotional reflections put on by veterans and family members of dead veterans, I thought it was pretty good solid stuff. Like the Civil War documentary miniseries, it covered a good amount of historical ground, with events going as far back as 1858 leading up to the war, to the retreat of the French only to be replaced by the U.S., the political plays and disasters done by John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon, stories of the soldiers on the battlefield including Vietnamese from both sides, and so on. I felt I was getting my money’s worth…
… at first. But the thing is, when it comes to documentaries as ambitious as this, especially with Ken Burns involved, and with the tagline on the poster, my expectations tend to be high. And when they are high, I make double sure about the quality. And when it comes to documentaries, I am much more picky than normal about biases and context. There were a few things that I found a tad questionable, in that it seemed like some detail was being left out. For instance, the protests and calls for ending the Vietnam War in the United States, with many people, especially college and high school students, protesting the war, but not much given for those who protested against the anti-war protesters. The Kent State incident, how it seemed like there was more to it than the documentary was letting on (similar to how some details of Abraham Lincoln’s surprise re-election during the Civil War were left unsaid in the Civil War documentary). The testimonies of some Vietnamese, but not as much from the Southern side. The portrayal of Ho Chi Min as a saint who had no ill intentions whatsoever.
The final straw that made me want to take a look outside of the box came when the whole Jane Fonda thing happened, where it showed how she was not only against the war, but seemed to hold a hatred for American troops yet had sympathy for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. Yes, it did highlight her voiced opinions on the matter, and how some (if not all) veterans felt betrayed by her (and rightly so in my opinion). She also called the POWs liars for claiming they were mistreated by their captors. However, there was/is a rumor that she did more than that, that she shook the hands of some of the prisoners, and one of the prisoners handed her some small paper scraps with the POW’s social security numbers, indicating that they wanted her to take the papers back to their families in the U.S., to let them know they are alive. But she ended up giving the papers to the prison guard instead, who then severely beat the POWs. Now, from what I’ve researched, this rumor is false, but it was one of the things that made me want to take a closer look. Sometimes, what a documentary shows is all there is, and the rest is baseless conspiracy theories. Stuff I’ve been careful of ever since wising up about 9/11 truthers.
However, there is stuff the documentary did leave out, that did really happen. First, Ho Chi Minh. The documentary portrays him as a somewhat peaceful man who desired a united and independent Vietnam country, and even quoted the Declaration of Independence by the United States. It states that he admired the message of the U.S., of their desire for all countries to be free and independent. How he didn’t really want a war, but it was really more of the prime minister’s doing for instigating the conflict in Vietnam, Le Duan. It basically puts Ho Chi Minh in a similar light as Gandhi, yet he was also a rebel when he needed to be, helping the Vietnamese against the French armies. However, the documentary completely overlooks how repressive his regime came during the mid 1950s (after successfully driving out the French, but remaining in the North half of Vietnam, similar to how there’s a North Korea). How due to the state of that portion of the country, he asked for assistance from communist Russia and China, began agricultural reforms, and became more brutal and oppressive as a result (Source). How brutal and oppressive? How about being responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of his own people (perhaps even hundreds of thousands)? In a Soviet-style land-reform campaign (Source). The fact that this was left out is unforgivable for a documentary series like this, especially when its tagline claims to be going over multiple truths in the war, indicating that it will highlight many of the grey areas. Besides, whenever anyone is portrayed as purely angelic or as pure evil, I become skeptical. I believe they should be portrayed as they were, as human. And humans are flawed beings, with some good things about them, and some bad things.
Doing a little more research, I’ve also learned of incidents leading up to the first Indochina War (prior to the U.S. involvement). A good amount is covered, but a few significant events were left out. The miniseries did not cover France granting Cambodia independence in 1953 (Source), which at the very least portrays the French as less assholish and authoritarian-like when it came to their Asian involvement (though that doesn’t mean they should be left off the hook, it’s just better to have more facts like that to give more food for thought). Little to nothing is said of the Japanese involvement as well (and there-bye completely overlooking president Truman’s involvement in the war), which is something fascinating in of itself, that America would entrust Vietnam to the Japanese for a brief period of time within a decade after defeating them in WWII.
The documentary covers the riots and protests not just in the U.S., but also around the world; though it’s very frustrating to show the international riots yet give no mention as to what they were about or why they were happening; you know, for those of us not as well educated. International rioting aside, not enough detail is given regarding the U.S. protests when it came to the organized groups, like the Black Panthers or the Weather Underground. Since the documentary indicated it was going to show not just how the Vietnam War affected things culturally, but also how a wave of civil rights was going on at the same time within the country, you would think details like that would be a bit more important than another 5 minutes of some soldier reflecting on some emotional moment in his/her life (there’s more than enough of that as-is). Giving details as to what these organizations were, what their goals were, and some of the stuff they did. No mentions of blowing up buildings or shooting people, thus indicating these protesters did bad things outside of just trashing streets and destroying cars and damaging property (by breaking windows). Seemed too much in favor of the protesters. The film is very much on their side when it came to the anti-war portrayal. Hardly any time is given to vets and/or citizens who were against the anti-war protests, and thus not shedding any light on the perspectives of those who voted on certain gallup polls (which were mentioned) which was split on the protests, or mostly against them. If nothing else, I would go so far as to say there’s a hint of contempt for that majority who voted as such in those polls. The closest that I can remember regarding an alternate view is some woman saying something along the lines of, “I respect your right to protest, as that’s your free speech privilege. But if you come knocking at my door again, I’ll blow your head off.” And that’s it. Every other interview ranges from support of the protests, to “It’s amazing that this is happening.” That’s because virtually all the Vietnam vets that are interviewed for the documentary were a part of “Vietnam Veterans Against the War”. I sense bias.
Then there’s the Kent State shootings in May 4, 1970, where National Guardsmen opened fire on the students in the parking lot, killing 4, wounding 9. The documentary portrays it as a random act, letting the footage imply the guards turned and fired suddenly, as if alerted to something going on behind them. But other than the footage speaking for itself, the narrative seems more on the side of the protesters, implying that the National Guard was in the wrong, and that this was a sign of the government forces turning on civilians, calling into question the purpose of the government being for the people by the people, and asking what exactly were the soldiers in Vietnam fighting for if all this was going on. But the film never really goes into detail about the incident, such as how the National Guard felt they were in danger, becoming surrounded, cut off from escape by both the protesters and a fence, that several guardsmen had rocks thrown at them, and they felt firing was necessary because they felt they were threatened. The documentary also doesn’t mention that several of the guards fired into the air to scare off the campus protesters, while others actually fired into a group in the parking lot, thus indicating there was confusion amidst the chaos (Source). But the documentary did bring up an interesting point about how the burning of the ROTC building at Kent State by protesters, combined with the fact that the National Guard were anything but anti-military, implied that this created enough tension as-is, making a disaster like this borderline inevitable if the protesting continued on. Still, would’ve been nice to have more detail and grey area shown, which wouldn’t have been difficult if more narration was provided over the footage.
The documentary also doesn’t mention the Hmungs, among others, who also fought alongside U.S. troops to combat the North Vietnamese. It also doesn’t mention the atrocities committed against the Montagnards, Hmung, and Nungs after the war ended.
Richard Nixon is definitely portrayed as a worse individual than JFK and LBJ, despite the bad/stupid shit LBJ did (JFK though, if anything, was slightly overdone with his role in sinking the U.S. further into the war; yes, he did the stuff shown in the documentary, but it’s left unsaid some of the other things he did trying to prevent the U.S. from sinking so far into it). Look, the bottom line is that all politicians are assholes, they all lie, but they also try to do some good things too, even if that’s ultimately secondary to staying in power. This is more of a nitpick than anything else compared to all the other faults in the documentary, but it’s clear that Burns and/or Novick has it in for Nixon, going a bit beyond just stating facts when it comes to showing his faults (and very little of his successes, and even then underplaying them).
The infamous footage/photo of that guy getting shot point-blank in the head and dying, it highlights the reaction, viewing it as a terrible thing, yet fails to mention why the guy was getting executed. It was because he killed the wife and 6 children of a police officer. No single truth in war, remember the tagline!?!?
While the miniseries does show the instance of that Vietnamese girl getting burned by napalm in that famous photo, and stating that she lived and later moved to Canada, it failed to mention that she moved to Canada to escape from the Communist regime of Vietnam, because they wouldn’t let her attend school or get a real job because they were more interested in using her as a propaganda piece.
There isn’t enough information given regarding the disparity of U.S. troops, as in how they acted. Not all U.S. troops acted as despicably as those in the My Lai Massacre, not all U.S. troops treated the Vietnamese like shit. There was a decent number of troops that acted as respectful as one would expect and hope, especially back in the day when we had this naive belief that we could do no wrong. On that note, and I believe I’m repeating myself a bit here, the documentary doesn’t really mention much of anything regarding how similar atrocities were done by the North Vietnamese (or the Viet Cong).
There is no mention of the role opium played. The only indication of opium is that a decent number of U.S. troops got addicted to it. There was more to it than that (something hinted at in the more recent TV show Quarry). That opium was utilized in Vietnam by U.S. forces (I would assume the CIA) to help finance not just the Vietnam war, but also the Korean war. And this financing eventually led to its spread into the United States (it wasn’t just the Colombians helping Americans getting hooked on that shit).
And lastly, the documentary doesn’t cover anywhere near the level of atrocities committed by the Communist regime after the war in Vietnam (or hell, even during the war; there’s more focus on the atrocities committed by the U.S. troops and by South Vietnam). The only implication we get is that they got a hold of classified information regarding those who helped the U.S., and thus created a “blood list,” a list of those for the Communists to hunt down and kill. It doesn’t mention anything beyond that implication, just that the war ended, China invaded briefly, and they suffered from trying out Socialism for 10 years with disastrous results before recovering and turning into a decent country.
This documentary is selective in its focus, lies by leaving out important details, and without a doubt has a bias extreme enough to cause a very tiny alarm in my head to ring at me when I saw that it was made by PBS. “But the Civil War documentary was also made by PBS,” I said to myself. “But that was 1990, not 2017,” I should have responded to myself. A lot can change in 27 years. The details it leaves out are focuses in a few specific areas, and the fact that they are focused in what is left out confirms my suspicions. It leaves out much of the atrocities the Communists wrought upon the Vietnamese (it’s mentioned to a small extent, infinitesimal compared to how much is focused regarding the amount of atrocities committed by the South Vietnamese and the Americans to the Viet Cong and civilians). It leaves out much of how North Vietnam and the Viet Cong were still able to function so well and in an organized matter despite the losses they were taking (such as by being supplied by the Chinese and Soviets). Most importantly, most of the Vietnamese that are interviewed are of Viet Cong or North Vietnam origin. The only bits dedicated to the South are of how corrupt their government has become, how poor their military conditions were, how much they disliked the Americans, and so on. Nothing is ever really mentioned of the “victories” the U.S. and South Vietnam achieved during the war (such as the Battle of Dong Ha Bridge); it paints a grim picture of constant ambushes and inability to hold taken ground without showing hardly any evidence to the contrary (aside from coverage of the battle portrayed in the film We Were Soldiers, and holding out against the Tet Offensive), plenty of which does exist.
This documentary is a glorified rehash of the defeatist zeitgeist of the 1970s. It paints the picture far too heavily on the traditional, “America fucked up by getting involved,” narrative without clearly displaying the fact that other countries were clearly involved as well. In essence, it was a sort of proxy war between the U.S. and the Communists, a proxy war we lost thanks in part to having no clear strategy other than body count, bad intelligence, bad military decisions made by politicians and due to pressure from anti-war protesters. That doesn’t in any way take away from the blunders and atrocities and levels of hypocrisy done by U.S. soldiers/generals/politicians, but it does show that this was a picture far less simple than the documentary lets on. On top of all that, the documentary from the very beginning is clearly on the side of the message that states that Vietnam was a war the U.S. had no chance of winning, a message many disagree with; it never even considers the alternative that there may have been a way to win the war, even when there are some books written on that very idea. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were right, but concluding from the start that the war was unwinnable leaves their opinions out of the picture, opinions that I believe are worth pondering. The fact that it is dedicated to its very core towards keeping the picture so simple is a shame.
To quote an Amazon.com review of the film:
A veteran is quoted at the end of the film saying, “We have learned a lesson…that we just can’t impose our will on others.” While that daffy aphorism sums up the documentary, in real life the opposite is true. Alexander imposed his will upon the Persian empire. Rome indelibly imposed its will upon Carthage. After the Civil War, the Federal government imposed its will upon the Confederacy. Following World War II, we imposed our will upon Nazi Germany and bushido Japan. In 1975, the North Vietnamese Stalinist government imposed its will upon the South Vietnamese. — Joshua Welte
If they really wanted to do a good job covering as much as possible with the war, it needed more focus. Part of that focus should have included what life was like for various Vietnamese in the North and South, before, during, and after the war. How their lives changed, what hopes they had at various times, if America was affecting those hopes in a positive or negative way, how they viewed Ho Chi Min and Russia and China.
There is more that is left unsaid with the documentary that should’ve been covered at least for the sake of trying to be fair and balanced, but I’ll leave that for those who want to research further into the subject.
Now, with that being said, all those bits of historical facts that are absent from this documentary series isn’t enough for me to completely hate it. There’s still plenty of good stuff to be had here. Like showing how Nixon secretly went behind many people’s backs to prevent a peace meeting between the North and South Vietnam from happening so that he would have a better chance at winning the election, something LBJ was aware of, and could prove it, but wouldn’t do it because he had acquired this information illegally. The documentary also goes into nice detail (albeit briefly, but justifiably so) of Vietnam’s history with the French leading up to the 1960s-70s war (though leaving out the bits with the Japanese). Despite the bias, I currently agree that this was a war America should never have gotten into, as it did much more harm than good (though some still debate to this day if it was winnable or not; though I wouldn’t deny that any chance of victory for the South was fucked from the start due to political corruption and dumb political decisions from both the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. government), it just didn’t need to be so biased and anti-war to get that message across. And it has a decent epilogue regarding the Vietnam Memorial (and how it came to be), and how our relations with Vietnam have improved since then, as we learn to make peace with the past. Regarding that last sentence though, it showed Bill Clinton going to Vietnam to instigate peace, and it showed Barack Obama doing the same, but skipped over George W. Bush making the visit during his term in 2006 (Democratic bias much?). So it is worth watching, but with a large grain of salt and with a critical eye. Don’t be fooled in to thinking this documentary gives enough perspective to be considered satisfactory.
While there is enough information in it to make it worthwhile despite the bias, I just can’t in good conscience give it more than a 2.5 / 5 score, considering the flaws. That being said, I’m going to search for another Vietnam documentary series that is less biased than this, and has more in-depth information. A few films aside, this search has led me to an old 1982 documentary series titled Vietnam – A Television History. Now while it has gotten a DVD re-release courtesy of American Experience, it has a serious problem. From what I’ve gathered, it trims down on the fucking interviews! It censors the original version and throws in more advertisements! And I fucking hate censorship! So now I have to track down a fucking VHS collection of the goddamn thing, watch it that way, likely download it onto my computer through Pinnacle/Dazzle (and I’m all ears for a better alternative than that software), and then put it in a safe storage space online somewhere so that it doesn’t get lost through the ravages of time. The censored American Experience (there’s an ironic name for a company in this context if I ever heard one) version can currently be viewed on youtube, but I’m sure as shit not watching it that way.
PS: For a fascinating yet gut-wrenching case study that gets right down to the horrors of war, atrocities committed by Americans at My Lai and how the effects carried on after the war, I know of two things I can recommend watching. It will show soldiers who have regret, and will make you wonder if they can be forgiven, when they can’t forgive themselves, and have instilled a permanent hatred amongst their victims. It is raw and powerful stuff, and I recommend watching them in this order: My Lai (by American Experience; yes, I’m recommending a documentary done by them after bashing them for censoring a previously made documentary), and Four Hours in My Lai (hosted by a show called First Tuesday). Back-to-back, it becomes more clear as to how decent American citizens can devolve from being decent soldiers to being capable of committing some of the most atrocious acts imaginable.
Edit: Ok, so Ken Burns is definitely a leftist, as made clear with a speech made at the 2016 Stanford Commencement Address, which is hypocritical of him giving the context of the rest of the speech, not to mention flat-out lying with some of his statements. A pity too, because he makes some really great statements in the speech. Guess it sums up some of the pros and cons of his more recent documentaries in a nutshell.
Mr. British Left “Because Time Warner Pays the Bills” Winger is back. And as spiteful of Trump as ever. Time to critique. And don’t worry, I don’t plan on making a weekly thing of this. I’m planning on making stuff like this just a once in a blue moon deal, because politics is stressful and anyone talking about it will make anyone listening to it stressed out. That and I don’t want to give his youtube vids too many views, so I’ll just stick with 1 video.
Now to be fair, he does bring up good points. How Trump continually exaggerates things and makes up some bullshit to make him seem grander than he really is. His narcissism is greater than most, if not all, presidents from the past. I’ll agree with that. But the disagreements begin 45 seconds into the video.
“He said the election was marred by mass voter fraud with no real proof of that.”
No evidence of voter fraud. John, I expected better from you, considering how in the past you tended to go the extra mile in digging up facts on things that actually matter, and voter fraud matters. But you are likely someone who will never go into that sort of thing, mainly because of Time Warner, but also probably because of your personal preference on believing the Democrats more than, well, anyone else, Republican or Independent. For starters, you never bring up the Project Veristas videos, where they show how voter fraud can be done and more than likely has been done.
My point being that there is evidence of voter fraud. So do some better fucking research John Oliver! And don’t just rely on PolitiFact. Speaking of which:
Trump lies 69.9% of the time.
Now, honestly (I guess that’s a pun in this case), I don’t know how exactly Politifact determines these statistics, but I would say that there’s no real way to determine how much statistically a president (or presidential nominee) lies. But I can state that this statistic can’t be relied upon when you consider the other examples. Politifact states that Obama lied only around 25% of the time, and Hillary Clinton lied around 26% of the time. You have got to be fucking kidding me. The woman who lied about how sick she was until video footage showed how sick she was, when lying wasn’t of any benefit to her at all in that situation indicating just how much of a pathological liar she is, plus all the other times she lied which can be shown easily with any quick Internet or video search (Benghazi, Keystone Pipeline, emails, etc). PolitiFact says she only lied about 26% of the time. Yeah, you know what, PolitiFact is full of shit.
But don’t get me wrong, I know Trump is a liar (pretty easy to tell when he’s lying too, which honestly I’d say is a pro for the American people, not that he lies, but that you can easily tell when he is). As John said, all politicians are liars. What is important is what they lie about. So far from what I’ve seen, Trump tends to lie about petty stuff much more often than he does the stuff that matters. Besides, if he does lie about something important and significant, which shouldn’t be difficult to catch him on if he does and if he lies as often as PolitiFact says he does, he’ll be caught and impeached easily enough.
“How did we get a pathological liar in the White House?”
Pretty sure we were in a lose-lose situation in that regard with the 2016 election.
Trump lied about Obama’s birth certificate. Or so John Oliver says. If I recall correctly, he didn’t lie. He said he hired some experts to check to see if Obama’s certificate is valid. Granted, it ended up being a waste of time (as many rightly stated from the beginning), but I don’t believe Trump ever just flat-out said, “His birth certificate is a fake and I can prove it.”
That aside, John does call bullshit on various things that Trump should be called out (and even made fun of) on. It’s nice that Oliver makes the connection between cable news on television and Trump’s tweets (8:33) The problem is that Oliver is stating that certain issues that Trump is raising are also lies, when in fact they’re not.
Breitbart headlines pointed out, stating that they’re bad, and that Steve Bannon is bad, and that makes Trump bad for using them as a source of information. Well, I decided to take a look into those pages (and I usually don’t read Breitbart).
Headline #1: Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy
The article basically states (with sources from sites such as TheHuffingtonPost, EurekaAlert, LiveScience, and CBS News) that some birth control pills can cause women to increase in weight, gain an unsexy voice, jiggle wrong, choose the wrong mates, makes women sluts, makes men unmanly, gives you fat thighs, and destroys the institution of marriage (the latter subject of which is highly questionable considering it has no source nor any indication of how it got the statistics for the graph they use). Since the article has sources and makes some points (albeit in a blunt politically incorrect and borderline trolling fashion), I’d say it’s up to each individual to go to the site and decide for themselves if Breitbart (or at least the author of the article Milo; yes, THAT Milo) is full of shit or worth considering. Either that or take the time to go into the article in detail on the show and point out why exactly it’s a bad article. And stating that the headline is offensive isn’t good enough you cheeky bastard.
Headline #2: Racist, Pro-Nazi Roots of Planned Parenthood Revealed
Ok, yeah, I find some of the connections this article is making to be a stretch. Something about how the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was a Nazi supporter in 1938, supported the idea of creating a superior species in that those who are “unfit” should be sterilized so that they do not make children of their own, and that somehow this belief still lives on in Planned Parenthood to this day. Consider me skeptical, at the very least, of this.
Headline #3: Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage
Ok, I’m not too keen on the idea that one should be proud to hoist the confederate flag (even though that wasn’t the official flag symbol among several others used during the civil war). That just doesn’t seem right considering that the flag tends to be a symbol of racism and pro-slavery. That being said, the article does make some good point on how ridiculous censorship had gotten (at the time the article was written, 7-1-2015). To quote from the article:
Google blocked digital ads that showed the flag and manufacturers pledged to stop producing it. But Nazi and Communist flags continue to be marketed on many American websites. At the outer fringe of irrationality, film critic Lou Lumenick, in the Washington Post, made a scathing attack on Gone With the Wind, the most iconic American film of the first half of the 20th century. It also resulted in the first award of an Oscar to a black actor. Lumenick did not, as some people stunned by his diatribe assumed, call for a ban on the film. But the attempt by the left to deride people who thought a ban was coming ignored the fact that any liberal denunciation of a cultural work almost routinely leads to a prohibition, so the reaction was perfectly logical.
Flags, statues, church windows, street names, films, novels, even an elementary school in California named after Robert E Lee – all are threatened with being swept into oblivion by a tsunami of destructive liberal triumphalism. The object is to disinherit and eradicate the historical memory and distinctive culture of millions of Americans. It is a second scorched-earth devastation of the South, cultural this time rather than material. This is Obama’s March to the Sea.
Plus the article points out that many people look at the flag considering things other than slavery. The confederate flag means more than that, or something other than that as some would argue. And the hypocrisy of allowing other flags to still be sold out there, flags which promote an idea much worse than the confederate flag does, but not sell this flag. It’s an interesting think-piece, with some caveats.
To further hit on Breitbart and Trump for using Breitbart as a source of news, John Oliver points out that Trump stated that there were swarms of muslims on rooftops celebrating the 9/11 act soon after it happened, but that Bill O’Reilly stated that isn’t factually correct, and then Trump bring up a Breitbart article that supports Trump’s claim. Now, I can’t say for certain of Trump is right or wrong on this, but there were plenty of news sources during that time period which supports this idea, all of which are cited by this article. Sources such as CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Post, CBS, and a former NYPD commissioner. So if you’re going to bash Breitbart, you’re going to have to bash those sources as well.
Ok, yeah, I fully support making fun of Alex Jones from InfoWars. Holy Christ is that guy entertaining for all the wrong reasons. That guy deserves the bashing he receives here on John Oliver’s show, and more. And I do find Trump’s association with that guy a bit worrisome.
More on John Oliver stating that the whole illegal voting theory is BS. I’ve already said my peace on that, and Oliver does nothing to put a crack in any of the sources I cited above. That’s part of the problem with John, there are some sources on some issues that he either just flat out ignores, or seems unaware of, the latter of which seems impossible considering what Oliver’s show has been able to dig up in the past.
John Oliver is apparently under the impression that the mainstream media is more reliable than Trump claims. Nevermind that Wikileaks has shown how far media bias had gone during the 2016 election, nevermind that I’ve pointed out John Oliver’s bias in the past, and nevermind that Time Warner, who owns HBO which thus owns Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, is a Clinton donor and thus a Democrat supporter. The media is biased, whether it be John Olover’s program, Fox, CNN, Breitbart, Democracy Now, and whoever the hell else is out there. Every news/entertainment media outlet is biased to some extent. It’s in my opinion that anyone and everyone should listen to several sources which have different opinions, and make up their own minds with logical reasoning. John Oliver seems to promote this idea, but pretty much implies that you should check every news source, check to see if they’re reliable, but avoid what Trump and Breitbart say at all costs.