Pushing Away From the Table

I’ve never watched the 5th season of Babylon 5. I’m told that this was a wise decision.

I didn’t watch Babylon 5 when it was actually on the air. I caught the first few episodes, but it just didn’t take with me on its first pass through the filter. It was only a few years ago that I finally settled in, resolved to engage in the show’s rich mythology. Again, the first season nearly wore that resolve away, but eventually, as is true of so many shows I remember with great fondness, the show built its own momentum and found a distinct narrative voice, and I was hooked.

As is all too common in this modern age of television consumption, I binge-watched seasons 2–5. It was a torrid affair, and one that I remember fondly. As the episodes and seasons bled together, the story escalated and became increasingly layered, building to something momentous: a story resolution that I’d come to genuinely care about. Then it dismounted and stuck the landing, and I was happy, which is when I was presented with the choice.

It had been made clear to me at the outset of my adventure that I should disregard the final season of the show altogether, which is exactly what I did. I bring this up because I’ve found a new show to devour, and I’ve come to a similar, all-too appropriate crossroads. I find again that my inclination is to back slowly away from the table before the next course is served, and leave satisfied and happy.

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is the example most people seem to use to describe this phenomenon, and it’s a pretty good one. If you’ve not seen the movie, AI seems to land naturally at a final if bittersweet resolution, with even the good sense to seem to almost completely fade out – as though the credits might roll at any moment. But, instead, it trundles on into some twenty or thirty minutes of bizarre directionlessness.

“When you think the movie’s over, it is. Just stop it there.” People will usually say this when talking to someone who hasn’t seen AI, and it’s good advice. It’s what I wish I’d done, because I’d have this nice memory of a quirky but largely enjoyable story, and would think fondly of the film. As it is, having not stopped there, "fond" is not the word that rings to mind now when I think of AI.

For my wife, the example is Moulin Rouge. Moulin Rouge does not necessarily have a happy ending – unless, that is, you stop it at just the right place, which is what she does on the occasions when she watches it. It’s to the point where, even though in her first viewing she watched the whole thing, she’s changed the narrative in her head such that the inevitable fall that marks the story’s resolution just doesn’t exist anymore.

It’s like walking out of the casino when you’re up $100 at the craps table. Yes, there’s at least a reasonable chance that when you cash out, you’re leaving money you might have won on the table. What if you’d stayed, kept your head and come out with $1000 instead? But, of course, that’s how casinos make their money, with thoughts and temptations like that.

The show I’ve been watching of late is Supernatural. It’s a flawed show, but one that I grew increasingly charmed by as I watched its first few episodes. There was something familiar and likable in its pacings, its subject matter, its desire to balance comedy and horror. Most importantly, it was one of those shows that found better and better footing as I ran its marathon. The more I watched, the more cohesive and inventive it became. Most of the time it rewarded me for watching.

I didn’t actually enter my viewing spree with any kind of warning, or a clean roadmap of what seasons to watch and which ones to pass up. But I find I’ve come to a place in the show where I have that same instinctive sense as I did watching AI or Babylon 5. It’s reached a natural resolution, the root note hit solid at the end of an elegant progression, and I wonder if I might not just stop now, take my metaphorical $100 and cash in.

If I found out they’d never made another episode of the show, I’d be happy with what I’ve had. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and in fact to walk away now would leave multiple seasons on the table, and for all the resolution that exists where I am now, there are also a lot of unanswered questions.

I think I can live with that, though. Besides, I don’t necessarily mind narrative resolutions that don’t tie up every loose end. It’s more an emotional landing point that I’m looking for – some kind of ending that resolves the big idea, even if bits here and there remain tantalizingly ambiguous.

Still, it feels a little wrong, in that same way that just drifting away from a game you enjoy before you actually finish it feels a little wrong. My Steam list if chock full of these orphaned good games, where I reached a point where I felt satisfied, yet concerned that if I kept going I might actually lose that sense of satisfaction.

And, if I’m honest, most of the time when I ignore the voice in my head that says "stop," I almost always find myself having traveled further down the road and regretting that decision. Few and far between are the instances where I think to myself, “Thank goodness I didn’t stop watching this show when I’d planned to.”

The problem is, there’s a difference between "few-and-far-between" and "never."

Still, I think I’ll push away from the table and not risk getting to that moment where I wish I hadn’t taken that one last bite. It’s been a good experience, and I can’t shake this nagging feeling that even if it stays good, it won’t keep getting better. I’ll get to the end and be among the crowd that says things like, “I enjoyed the whole thing, but the last few seasons just weren’t as good.” And I hate saying things like that.

Comments

But then sometimes you have to hold out until this moment:

IMAGE(http://media3.giphy.com/media/DHgmBovno9Mli/giphy.gif)

But I should warn you: If you stop watching Supernatural, you're going to miss a lot of classic rock.

The classic rock decreases dramatically after season 5. Timothy Omundson is splendid in Season 10, though.

I came to Babylon V similarly. I was attending cons regularly in the mid 90s when there seemed to be a Babylon V versus Star Trek disagreement hanging in the air like the funk of a pc gaming room on day 3. I just avoided both for the most part preferring Star Wars anyway at the time. A couple years ago my best friend and I started watching Babylon and binged episodes at a time like a gaming night when both of our schedules aligned.

We came to the episode that really felt like the end of the series and stepped away from the table. I wish I had done that with AI. Thank for the trip down nostalgia lane.

Seasons 6 and 7 of Supernatural are still worthy (7 more than 6). That said, 8 and 9 are increasingly show-by-numbers, and 10's been a bit of a dead cat bounce, but still no great shakes, relative to its heyday.

Wow! Who told you to not watch the fifth season of Babylon 5? While its not as great as the rest of the series because they were forced to resolve the major plot arcs there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact it closes many of the loose plot lines that got cut in favor of finishing the major arc. Watching it in no way diminishes the rest of the series which is what I think your worrying about. If anything I hope you watched the series finale episode as it was the original season 4 finale but got moved to the end of season 5 when they found out at the last minute they were getting one more season. The thought that someone may have stopped watching the show after the hastily thrown together season 4 finale is horrifying.

+1

The only downer about season 5 was thinking about how awesome it could have been if the arc had been allowed to play out over its designed span. Oh, and Ivanova not being there. But it's definitely worthy of your time and interest.

I used to watch these movies about these three wealthy Spanish land owners. They'd ride around and fight for the rights of the people and snuff out evil. But the last one was just about them spending a weekend in Manhattan. I didn't care for it. It tanked and they never made another movie again.

"Do you want to be president?"

"Yes?"

"Then put your hand on this book and say 'I do.'"

"I do."

"Good. Let's eat."

I suppose we can turn this thread into posting of great clips from B5 now.

If you skip all of Season 5 of Babylon 5, you get to miss Byron and a lot of wandering around that doesn't add up to much. And a really terrible Harlan Ellison authored episode.

On the other hand, you also miss the episode written by Neil Gaiman, the one from the perspective of the Psi-Corp, and "Sleeping in the Light" which really closes out the whole show.

The AVClub review series is actually a pretty good guide to the whole thing.

Also, I wonder what all this says about why my niece stops watching Frozen right after the last line of "Let It Go".

I feel the same way about The A Team, Quantum Leap and Firefly.

The final seasons of The A Team and Quantum Leap were terrible and the shows would have been better off without them.

My wife and I tend to pretend the last disc of the Firefly DVD box set doesn't exist. The villains are barely developed enough to be called cardboard, and some of the main characters break character in ways I don't like or understand.

This is just a problem that naturally occurs with TV shows. There's always the fear that the show will be cancelled or that actors won't stay on, and that can really mess with what they're able to do. I know with B5 on one of the commentary discs they said if they'd known they were getting a 5th season they would've re-upped Ivanova's contract.

I feel like it's less an issue today with all the cable goodness. I think the networks running those shows do a better job of offering stability to the producers. But you still run into situations where writers, actors, showrunners, etc. want to move on.

Gremlin wrote:

If you skip all of Season 5 of Babylon 5, you get to miss Byron and a lot of wandering around that doesn't add up to much. And a really terrible Harlan Ellison authored episode.

On the other hand, you also miss the episode written by Neil Gaiman, the one from the perspective of the Psi-Corp, and "Sleeping in the Light" which really closes out the whole show.

The AVClub review series is actually a pretty good guide to the whole thing.

Also, I wonder what all this says about why my niece stops watching Frozen right after the last line of "Let It Go".

"Sleeping in the Light" was actually filmed as the 4th season finale, in case it was going to be the last. Which is why Ivanova is in it, and not Lochley. It was downhill after season 4, but I don't have the hatred of season 5 that everyone else seems to have. Or maybe I just don't remember enough of it.

Twin Peaks, anyone?

There are downsides to the new ways that we consume television, but the long tail of viewership means that there is a lot more reason to plan out a resolution with less uncertainty for the writers. I hope these things become less common.

Ha! I stopped at that same spot of Supernatural, I guarantee, and while my brother assures that there's good content, he also assures that the show is never as strong as those seasons.

I would say I made a good decision to let it end in my mind. Perhaps I'll link back to my thoughts from the supernatural thread.

deftly wrote:
Gremlin wrote:

If you skip all of Season 5 of Babylon 5, you get to miss Byron and a lot of wandering around that doesn't add up to much. And a really terrible Harlan Ellison authored episode.

On the other hand, you also miss the episode written by Neil Gaiman, the one from the perspective of the Psi-Corp, and "Sleeping in the Light" which really closes out the whole show.

The AVClub review series is actually a pretty good guide to the whole thing.

Also, I wonder what all this says about why my niece stops watching Frozen right after the last line of "Let It Go".

"Sleeping in the Light" was actually filmed as the 4th season finale, in case it was going to be the last. Which is why Ivanova is in it, and not Lochley. It was downhill after season 4, but I don't have the hatred of season 5 that everyone else seems to have. Or maybe I just don't remember enough of it.

Sleeping in the Light is easily one of the best final episodes of any TV series. You definitely need to at least watch that.

FYI to everyone: Dexter ends at Season 5.

Oh, and Battlestar Galatica ends about 1/2 through the final episode.

jrralls wrote:

FYI to everyone: Dexter ends at Season 5.

Oh, and Battlestar Galatica ends about 1/2 through the final episode.

i would go as far as saying that Dexter ended with season 4.

And The Simpsons ended around season 14 or 15. And I'd like to believe that as long as David Simon is involved, The Wire hasn't ended yet

ccesarano wrote:

Ha! I stopped at that same spot of Supernatural, I guarantee, and while my brother assures that there's good content, he also assures that the show is never as strong as those seasons.

The important take-away for me in this discussion is that it's good to be able to know when you've had enough, rather than presuming you owe a creative work some inherent duty to continue engaging with it.

I guess that's also a big part of the TL;DP thread and column.

wordsmythe wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

Ha! I stopped at that same spot of Supernatural, I guarantee, and while my brother assures that there's good content, he also assures that the show is never as strong as those seasons.

The important take-away for me in this discussion is that it's good to be able to know when you've had enough, rather than presuming you owe a creative work some inherent duty to continue engaging with it.

AKA, why I'll never finish The Wheel of Time.

"Sleeping in the Light is easily one of the best final episodes of any TV series. You definitely need to at least watch that." -Infyrnos

Sounds like I need to watch at least one more episode. I worry that if I go back to that table I'll binge the rest though...

In this day of binge watching shows on demand I find I'm pretty tolerant of weaknesses in specific episodes or parts of seasons. Ending Supernatural at the end of Season 5 is perfectly natural and respectable. But once a year I sit down and get through the whole latest season in a week or so and I still find real entertainment there. I can't imagine trying to get through the latest seasons week by week though.

And I'm the same with most TV shows, as long as they are on average fairly entertaining I can appreciate them as a collection.

Found my post wherein I reflect on the conclusion of season five.

I still agree that if the show were Supernatural without the Winchester brothers I'd probably give it a chance. If I were to make a comparison of any sort, it might actually be to DragonBall Z. It's great seeing Goku kill sh*t and save the day, but it also feels as if Akira Toriyama wants to step away from Goku and move on to Gohan repeatedly. Yet in the end, it is always about Goku. The fans always wanted more DBZ, and they always wanted more Goku. Toriyama wasn't able to move on with the universe and characters.

There's a lot of conjecture I can grab, but on the whole I feel like Supernatural could have existed without the Winchester brothers, seeing as their story hit a proper ending, but you'd lose nearly all of your fanbase that way.

In regards to first seasons, my brother calls it "first season sickness". Firefly and Supernatural are anomolies, as they didn't really have first season sickness. I'd say Heroes as well, another show that was originally intended to be a one season story if I recall (I'm too lazy to research right now). Farscape was decent, with only a few really terrible and cheesy episodes in the first season, but the characters develop in such a way that the first season is definitely the weakest of the bunch. I didn't mind the first season of Buffy, but a lot of folks seem to think it's terrible.

I suppose Chuck is one of those shows that you could argue should end at the finale of season two? It cliffhangers, but people weren't quite as pleased from season four onward. I think that was more due to the pressure from the studio where you had to be careful that you might get canceled at any moment.

Maybe the mid-point of season four would be a good end? I dunno. Depends on your thoughts towards the show's actual conclusion.

One big factor here, when we're talking about television, is that American television is produced in strict season-sized chunks, with no idea of how many more seasons the show will have. One of the things that made Babylon 5 so unique is the strictly planned ending, one of the reasons why the fifth season stands out so badly was that the show almost got canceled and so had to jumpstart a bunch of plotlines to make season five work at all. Arguably, what season 5 really needed was a season 6 to build towards.

A bunch of other shows suffer similarly: Stargate manages to find new things to do as the show goes on, but they finished several seasons not knowing if it would be renewed, so there's a stopping-and-starting to the thing. Legend of Korra has the same weakness: they only got one season at first and couldn't hire back all of the writers that worked on the original Avatar, so they came up with a self-contained plot that they spent the next season trying to write their way out of.

Rowan Kaiser uses that AVClub retrospective of Babylon 5 talks about the shift in American television from disconnected procedurals to connected serials. Arguably, having a defined plan in place for the ending makes it much easier to make a unified whole with a working conclusion.

I'm actually intensely interested in what it takes to write an ongoing television show where you have to adjust your plans on the fly, and still have the overall plot make sense. I see a lot of overlap with a roleplaying game master who lets the players explore, or developing interactive plots for videogames.

Personally, and I'm sure this will come as no surprise being the Official GamersWithJobs Weaboo, I'd like to see the freedom to make more television shows with a planned ending like you get in a lot of anime. Note, I don't mean all anime, but we're at a point where people want good stories and continuity in their television. So why do we also need a television show to last forever?

I like the idea of a show ending definitively, and then follow it up with "From the folks that brought you blah blah blah". I mean, we already rely on it for marketing material anyway.

ccesarano wrote:

I like the idea of a show ending definitively, and then follow it up with "From the folks that brought you blah blah blah". I mean, we already rely on it for marketing material anyway.

Is this the place for me to complain about anime based on manga that never manage to reach a conclusion because the manga isn't finished yet? And then never follow it up with another season? Because I can do that.

That is a legitimately valid complaint as well. Personally I'd rather someone wait until the comic is finished before releasing a show based on it, but I suppose you want to strike while the iron is hot.

I'm worried Game of Thrones is going to hit the same wall soon. George needs to hurry up with a book or two.

Stele wrote:

I'm worried Game of Thrones is going to hit the same wall soon. George needs to hurry up with a book or two.

They can do the same thing Fullmetal Alchemist did, and spin off their own ending. Then, when the books finish, we can go back and have Game of Thrones: Brotherhood.

Or they can make up filler until the next book comes out.

IT'S SLEEPING IN LIGHT.

And yeah, Season 5 has some significant charms, pretty much all revolving around G'Kar and Londo plus the final episode. But Byron and his crew of Loreal cast-offs was tiresome in the extreme, as much as the 'Telepaths as left over weapons' plotline was interesting.

I'm going to break my long lurking trend, because I'm standing at the Season 5 precipice for Babylon 5.

Well, technically not me. I watched the whole thing first-run, warts and all. But now I've got a young teenager who I've introduced to the series. I cajoled him through Season 1, and by the middle of Season 2 he was hooked. By Christmas we had watched all of Season 4 except for "Sleeping in Light". Binge-watching Babylon 5 is our "thing".

We have yet to purchase Season 5 on iTunes. My son has been chomping at the bit to watch the rest. I'm afraid that we're going to have to dive into the rest. Maybe even "Crusade".

But not "Legend of the Rangers". Screw that. For the love of God, he's still just a child.