18 thoughts on “Earhart’s: Spoiler space for “Midnight on the Firing Line””

  1. Next to The Gathering, this was such a strong episode! I had forgotten the demise of G’Kar/Londo was given away this early in the show – amazing. And boy it was good to see Ivanova and erase the memory of Takashima’s terrible acting. Hurry up guys I’m jonesing to watch Soul Hunter, despite that bad standalone movie.

  2. Talked about this on our own podcast (Skiffy and Fanty) but I was surprised just how worldbuilding gets squeezed into this one episode. Sometimes a bit clunkily. The Gkar-Londo relationship starts right here, though, and that’s wonderful.

    1. It is pretty amazing when in the first episode of this series we are told how the story arc of two of the main characters is going to end and that, as we much later learn, is exactly what will happen.

      I remember the first time I watched this series with my deep background in conventional TV shows, I never thought for a moment that what was being told here would actually happen.

  3. Midnight on the Firing Line is, on balance, a great piece of work.

    There’s stuff in it that I don’t think works so well, but it’s stuff that under the circumstances had to be there. Ideally, one would like to have seen something that didn’t wrap everything up neatly in one hour minus commercial breaks – but one could hardly have started a new series otherwise in 1994.

    Similarly, I find Sinclair’s role as the person who solves all the problems a bit gimmicky (especially the bit about “not being able to find Ivanova in time”), but one can’t imagine that the show could have done otherwise in its very first episode than give this role to its protagonist.

    On the other hand, what makes this not just a more efficient but also a better introduction to the show than The Gathering is that it doesn’t just introduce you to the station and the characters – it also demonstrates to you what the show is about. Diplomatic space opera isn’t the only kind of story that Babylon 5 does, but it’s a central kind that will recur over and over again in some of the series’ best episodes, in a way that murder mystery doesn’t.

    Plus, while The Gathering turns on characters like Del Varner and the nameless Minbari assassin who are essentially aspects of the plot of that particular story, this story turns on G’Kar and especially Londo, and therefore foregrounds what is perhaps the most effective strand in the whole five years to come.

    My one real complaint has nothing to do with this particular story, but with the failure to reference it in later stories. Specifically, Ragesh 3 is important. It doesn’t excuse what the Centauri in general and Londo in particular do between seasons 2 and 4, but it does make it more understandable. One would expect the Centauri to offer it as justification for their actions, and also to cling to it themselves as self-justification and as proof that they were just doing what the Narn would have done to them, and were going to, if they could.

    I’m not saying that the wonderful scenes between Katsulas and Jurasik in season 4 would have benefited from “Actually, G’Kar, you remember how you were involved with torturing or intimidating my nephew into reading a false statement that your people had been invited to take over our colony? Just saying.” But I’d like to have seen some mention of this background in seasons 3 and/or 4. (I can’t remember if it’s mentioned in 2.)

    1. Voord 99, I think you’re right about Ragesh 3, but it could also be argued that this sort of stuff happened between the Narn and Centauri all the time. The occupation had ended only perhaps 50 years before and the Centauri may well have ceded other, less important territory to the Narn in the past. There’s a whole litany of grievances justification the Centauri could offer supporting their war effort.

      I will, however, direct your attention to “By Any Means Necessary”….

  4. Hmmm. Guess I will post my reactions here, as it seems that the upcoming change in Commanders is being treated as a spoiler. Funny, because that is one of the few things I knew already going in.

    I am kind of surprised that I did not really like this more than “The Gathering” especially given the reactions of the podcasters (sorry Chip!). However, even if I liked this a bit less than they did, I think I liked the pilot a bit more, so over all still a positive result.

    I whole heatedly agree with Chip that I love Commander Sinclair here, and I admit that I ended the episode sorry that we would only get a season of him. The other character I ended this wanting to se more of was Ms. Winters the telepath. Great screen presence there.

    I was surprised at how much the Narn were portrayed as the villains here. My vague general knowledge of the series had lead me to expect a fairly even balance between them, so that was an unexpected place to start, but I assume it will change.

    I know Londo and G’Kar are two of the main characters going forward, and loved by many fans, but neither one is grabbing me just yet. I am still more interested in the humans at this point. I don’t doubt that everything you said about the groundwork of their relationship is actually there, but I don’t think it is quite as interesting on first viewing as it seems to be for those going back.

    The 90s CGI is oddly compelling for some reason. I seem to have skipped most of this era of special effects at the time.

    Overall, still not in love, but looking forward to finding out more.

  5. I was one of the CG artists on B5 (actually I was honored to be the very first person hired by Supervisor Ron Thornton) so I was there from the very beginning and can speak much on the history, issues and merits of the infamous cgi (Chip I plan to email you to see if you’d like me to make a more official contribution to the show, I greatly enjoy your work on TMTL and would love to help set the record straight (wherever possible) with B5).

    Note that “Midnight on the Firing Line” (original title: “Blood and Thunder” – dunno why JMS changed it) featured the very first zero-G space battle ever visualized on a TV show or movie. We spent A LOT of time doing R&D and having many discussions over just how realistic to be with the mechanics of a zero-G dogfight – should the ships fire the traditional (and probably expected) “pew pew” glowing laser bolts, or do we really go NASA with zero-G combat theory and have ships simply drop, say, a batch of ball bearings in the path of a pursuing fighter, which at the speeds in question would rip the ship to shreds? How would you even visualize such a thing? And would it be satisfying from a cinematic point of view?

    Ultimately we went with glowing laser beams (or, to be fair, charged plasma). It just looked more exciting and, let’s face it, we were making a TV show and in the end, you have to go with what looks and feels and pleases the audience best. Besides, can you imagine the horribly expository dialog we would have needed to constantly explain to the the viewer exactly how the zero-G combat concepts worked?!

    I think the biggest new visual concept that seperated B5’s combat scenes from it’s predecessors was the use of camera bank or lateral “roll.” It may sound like a simple thing, but the fact is it had NEVER been done before in visual effects since motion control cameras weren’t capable of such movement. Obviously, with cgi, we could do whatever we wanted with the camera, and “rolling it on the Z axis” perhaps became the signature look of Babylon 5, even if viewers never consciously realized it!

  6. I’m very pleased to have just found your podcast, I have recently become a fan of B5….having said that, it took me years to get past “The Gathering”…I finally had to jump into “Midnight on the Firing Line” just to see if it would get any better. I wound up watching and watched all the way way through and then went back and watched “The Gathering”.

  7. When I first saw this episode – and it was the first B5 I saw, when my friend sent me that box of VHS tapes – I wasn’t overly impressed. Now, I don’t quite know why. It’s quite a good story, with good effects (especially for the time – kudos to Mojo, above!), and some really outstanding, immediately compelling characters in Londo and G’Kar, as well as Talia and Ivanova. I didn’t find Ivanova overly cold at all in this rewatch – she’s simply being a professional, as well she should be. As Chip points out, she makes herself quite vulnerable to Talia at the end, and we also see flashes of her humor in the conversation with Sinclair about the election (“He has no chin, and his vice president has too many” – ha!)

    Holy cow, though – I had no idea about Michael O’Hare’s offscreen circumstances, or even that he was dead. (Hadn’t looked him up on IMDB.) Part of me feels bad for having always thought his was such a poor performance; on the other hand, the work is what endures, and I don’t think it’s very good, on balance. May O’Hare rest in peace. As for the character of Sinclair, I was just as glad when he left. (Don’t hate me, Chip!)

    I also found rewatching Londo’s nephew being intimidated into reading a statement by terrorists very and unhappily on-target for the moment in history the world currently faces with Islamic State. And, of course, if this episode had been written post-9/11, I wonder if JMS would’ve dropped “New York City” right after “Pearl Harbor” into the list of sneak/terrrorist attacks…

    Great conversation, as always where you all are concerned!

    PS to Chip – You said, “When I was a Star Trek fan…” – Are you not anymore? That would be a shame! I’ve come to think that fandom should be a matter of addition, and rarely subtraction. 🙂

  8. I just restarted watching and am enjoying this stimulus to revisit Babylon 5, and watched two more episodes tonight. I had the first season on dvd from probably 10 years ago. I’m going to try to catch up to where you are over the next few weeks. Not sure yet what I will do for the rest of the series.

    I listen to the podcasts on my commute to or from work. The discussion about cast changes remind me of one show… even though it is a totally different genre… MASH. I know it had a much longer run and not really that many personnel changes, and I am not old enough to have watched it in its original run, but I think both Col. Blake and Trapper John left the series fairly early.

    Anyway, thanks for inspiring me to rewatch this show!

  9. First of all, great Podcast. I’ve listened to a few episodes but now I am re-listening and watching the episodes to comment.

    First, I’ve been watching the Trek series on Netflix for a while and I forgot how polished the B5 world is right off the bat compared to the Trek shows it was running against.

    I’m watching the show about 2 feet from my 50 inch plasma screen, so some CGI shots made me wince a little but I know it gets better in the future. But I also forgot how dynamic and ambitious the shots were too. I a pleasant surprise.

    I liked the exchange between Ivanova and Winters at the end. You could tell Ivanova had been mulling over what to say to Winters for a while and the dialogue comes off as just so genuine. vPlus it setups up the whole psicorps thing from the very beginning. JMS has such a gift for that.

    Nitpicks abound but this ain’t no “Encounter at farpoint station.”

    1. To be honest…Star Trek TNG is so hard for me to re-watch anymore. Don’t know if because it really looks dated or perhaps the characters are too perfect. Don’t know…mind you there are some good episodes out there but it is almost too “just there” when going back to watch it. I like the real, complex characters of Babylon 5.

  10. Also, I loved all the things they did to show they were on an O’neill station. Especially the interior chamber and garden. Looking at the end of *SPOILER* Interstellar makes me wish JMS had done more stuff like that with B5.

  11. I just discovered your Podcast and I am starting at the beginning. Let me preface in saying I have a life, a BUSY one and I honestly don’t have time to watch much new shows. So really, if I want to unwind, I stick on Babylon 5…I re-watch the series over and over again.

    You are totally correct…even if you don’t have time for an immediate re-watch, after SLEEPING IN LIGHT, go ahead and watch MIDNIGHT. Trust me, it will help from the emotional experience that is SLEEPING IN LIGHT.

    Now that we know about Michael and his mental health issues, I cut him a lot of slack for his Sinclair character and acting. I think on multiple re-watches, I tend to like him more and more. But looking ahead to War Without End, it almost looks painful for him to get through each line.

    But back to Midnight, this is a great episode and one of the top of the seasons (for me, that goes to Believers)…a very good start to the show.

  12. I just discovered this podcast today, and I love the structure with the more general discussion first followed by the “by fans for fans” in-depth analysis.

    I don’t currently have time to actually rewatch the series, but I’m still planning on listening to the discussions, largely because of how much I love the show.

    Regarding the question of whether or not one could start the series with this episode as opposed to The Gathering, my personal feelings on the subject are that MotFL gives you everything that you absolutely NEED to know in order to understand the first season and the series’ overall narrative arc, which honestly makes The Gathering somewhat obsolete and unneeded aside from giving you some context as to who Lyta is once she shows back up towards the end of the series and a few hints (depending on which version you’re watching) as to the ultimate resolution of Sinclair’s story arc even following his departure from the station.

    I also have to mention that, like Chip, I really like Sinclair; I think the way his character is portrayed and characterized works really well for the overall arc of the first season, and like the way he plays off the other characters.

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