Strictly speaking, this isn't a "first impression"; as it happens, I already saw this episode on UK Gold some time ago. I must admit I remembered very little of it, though.
On the whole, I liked this a lot better than last week's episode. But perhaps that's just because Brian Blessed wasn't in it. ;)
I notice that the last two episodes follow a formula typical of modern Trek: division into A-plot and B-plot. I suppose this is inevitable when you have a numerous cast and want to make good use of all of them in an episode. At this point in the series in particular, it's important to give every character some airtime so that we get to know them.
So on the one hand, we have the cryogenically-frozen aliens, and on the other, the destruction of the base on Saurian Major (and the whole of the planet from the look of things). I thought this was an interesting mix, because while the latter fits in with the main purpose of Blake's mission -- rebel attacks against Federation interests -- the former is a more classical sci-fi plot about dangerous aliens.
One could argue that Blake's decision to respond to the alien's distress call shows that he does care about more than the rebellion. He's basically a Decent Bloke who does the Right Thing when the opportunity presents itself. An unknown ship sends out a distress call and he rushes to rescue it, commenting "We don't have much option then, do we?". I'm sure that, had Avon or Vila been around, he would have been offered plenty of options. In fact, I'm rather surprised that Vila is the only one who objects in the next scene, though I have a theory why this is. I just hope that Blake's interest in passing aliens won't escalate to the level of, say, Captain Janeway's obsession with investigating various CGI nebulae. It wouldn't do that rebellion of his much good. <g>
The cramped alien vessel was an interesting idea, and reasonable considering the circumstances. I suppose I'd be showing what an anorak I am if I mentioned wondering how the transporter got Blake and Jenna to bend over in mid-transport so that they would fit in the vessel. (BTW, for American readers, an 'anorak' is a waterproof jacket Brits wear a lot, particularly pathetic Get-A-Life types who nitpick sci-fi shows ;).
While the aliens themselves were not exactly well-rounded individuals, I thought their role in giving Jenna and Gan a hard time was well done. It was of course reminiscent of any number of horror and sci-fi movies, but Jenna backing around that cargo hold with a very worried look managed to build the tension nicely. And amazingly, she didn't scream. Or if she did, her generally-competent handling of the situation erased it from my memory. As I mentioned before, these scenes were also Gan's opportunity to shine and flesh out his character. And I can see Zen's lack of cooperation being a problem in future episodes.
Considering they took place in the Gravel Pit and some local factory, I thought the planetside scenes were also surprisingly effective. The filtered lighting gave the landscape an alien feel, and I loved the idea of the carnivorous plants (not to mention Avon's reaction when Blake casually mentions them just as he reaches to touch one).
Cally's appearance was suitably dramatic, too. I must say I liked Blake's "What the--" exclamation as she kicked him down the gravel pit. A very human reaction. I did think Blake outwitted Cally a bit too easily when he got her gun away from her. Or more to the point, the moment was just a bit too slow to be effective.
OTOH, I'm probably used to the faster pace of modern shows; I also found the first scene rather stilted. Avon's repartees in particular seemed belaboured, though it might just be a teething problem in the show. But in spite of the slowness and technobabble, I did appreciate the bit where Jenna was teaching Blake to pilot the ship, as it shows that Our Heroes are humans who need to learn to use things. Another reminder of the humanity of the crew was the scene where Jenna discovers the alien vessel. Blake snoozing on the couch was a very nice touch indeed.
Well, I seem to have drifted off plot points and into character points, so I might as well section it off...
This episode is also when we get to meet Cally for the first time. I gather from my boyfriend's excitement at her appearance that she was popular with boys his age at the time (he was about 12 when B7 first aired). I'll admit that my man's enthusiasm makes it difficult to be impartial, but I think I'm going to like Cally. She looks intelligent and it seems her recklessness and combat abilities will complement Blake's team quite nicely.
So we now have a full team: Blake the leader, Jenna the pilot, Vila the doorman, Gan the heavy, Cally the hot-head, Zen the computer, Avon the tech wiz and... um, Avon the super-pilot?
Quite a lot was made of Avon's achievement in bringing the pod on board the Liberator, in particular with Vila's reference to his hands. I suppose this is to point out his meticulousness, and also to show that for all his poo-pooing of Blake's ideals, he is prepared to put himself through quite a lot to make sure the fellow is all right. Despite his studied calm, Avon is rubbing his hands repetitively before starting the manoeuvre, and is visibly relieved -- and exhausted -- when it's over. Last week, he was ready to leave Blake on Cygnus Alpha, but this week, he seems more inclined to make a considerable effort for Blake's sake. He didn't even protest at the idea of changing their course to save some unknown aliens in the first place.
Maybe being snapped at earlier in the episode has given Avon more respect for Blake. He certainly looked very surprised when Blake told him to shut up, even though his stunned silence didn't last long. Avon is probably the kind of fellow who likes to test the limits of the people he encounters, and will only respect and admire those who aren't intimidated by his barrage of ascerbic wit. Although Blake's "Enough, Avon!" isn't very diplomatic, I think it's the right way to handle him. It won't prevent Avon from sloshing verbal vitriol on any of Blake's projects, but I think it could mark the beginning of a change of his attitude towards his de facto boss.
His attitude towards Jenna, OTOH, is completely unchanged. That was some dirty look he threw her when she thanked him!
Talking about Jenna. It's a bit early in my acquaintance with the show to be backing any party of "shippers", but I'd say that Blake and Jenna get on very well and don't look particularly platonic. I suppose I got that impression from the way she jumped into his arms last week, and held his hand in the alien vessel this week. OTOH, I'm a great one for noticing the "subtext" that gives rise to so much fanfic. Even if that subtext is very sub indeed -- I'll spare you some of the other thoughts I had. ;)
When Jenna and Blake ask Zen to show them the alien vessel, all he displays is a close-up of Jenna's console. Blake obviously isn't fully awake yet, but you'd think Jenna would notice...
Jenna's injury somehow moved to her arm after she was hit in the back with the sort of plastic wrench I had as a toddler. Still, Gan managed to repair it with a blotter painted white with Lego bits stuck on the top, so it's OK. (And ST's Bones *did* use a salt-shaker, so medical wonders never cease in the future)
I don't suppose anyone missed the picnic hamper Blake's team took with them to that factory, so I'll just say my parents had a very similar one and leave things at that. The Federation installation itself seemed to be some kind of refinery or processing plant, all very familiar-looking (though having been built by the Federation, there's no reason why it shouldn't be). At least it boasted a more sturdy door than the one Jenna was wrestling with in the cargo hold. :)
I know I mentioned the "show, don't tell" rule last week, but maybe telling is a better idea in B7 after all. Any "exterior shot" that involved the Liberator flying through space or Avon's manoeuvres to get the alien vessel into the cargo hold looked absolutely awful. A pity, as Avon, Vila and Gan were really acting their socks off to tell us what was happening in that scene.
|JENNA||Together we can fly this ship manually.|
|GAN||I think we make a good team.|
|AVON||Well, hurray for us.|
|JENNA||We've lost them.|
|VILA||So much for federation pursuit ships.|
|GAN||At least we know we can outrun them.|
|VILA||Outrun them? In this we can out stroll them.|
|BLAKE||Up until now we've only been a minor irritation to the Federation. I think it's about time we hurt them.|
|JENNA||I don't like the sound of that.|
|AVON||Neither do I. I thought it was agreed we wouldn't do anything without discussing it thoroughly.|
|BLAKE||True. It was also agreed that anybody could opt out at any time. Just tell me when you want to leave.|
|AVON||Oh, I will. But in the meantime I think we have a right to know what it is you're planning.|
|BLAKE||Zen, set a course for Saurian Major, speed standard by two.|
|ZEN||Speed and course confirmed.|
|AVON||That falls a little short of my idea of a thorough discussion.|
|BLAKE||They've built a vast transceiver complex there. All Federation signals and navigation controls are beamed into Saurian Major, boosted and redirected. It's a vital nerve center in the Federation space control system. Destroy that, and you blind, deafen and silence them. That's what we're going to do.|
|AVON||A blow for freedom.|
|GAN||Yes, our freedom. For a clever man you're not very bright. Deaf, dumb and blind how are they going to catch us?|
|AVON||I'm sure Blake will manage it somehow.|
|BLAKE||He's taking his time.|
|JENNA||It's a delicate maneuver. He'll get there.|
|BLAKE||I'm breathless with anticipation.|
[[She *must* be going out with him!]]
|BLAKE||There'd be no point in going back. The world they left would be dead years ago.|
|AVON||No sign of any weapons. In fact there isn't much equipment at all. Either they were headed for a civilized destination where they expected a friendly reception or ... we are missing the point entirely.|
[[Not for the dialogue, but just the delivery and that sinister, cheery
smile that accompanies Avon back to the cryogenic capsules. My boyfriend and
I were ROFL.]]|
|BLAKE||Some species even have an intelligence rating.|
|VILA||That's a comfort. I should hate to be eaten by something stupid.|
|CALLY||May you die alone and silent.|
[[Now there's a scary curse. It's on the lines of one of my
great-grandmother's Irish curses: "May all your teeth drop out, save two
that don't meet".]]|
|VILA||I plan to live forever. Or die trying.|
|BLAKE||(closing door) Avon, can you do it?|
|AVON||(crouching near control panel) Five minutes. (pause) I know. Make it two.|
|[[He evidently thinks he's on the Enterprise :) ]]|
I couldn't help it; the minute Blake said "Saurian Major", the word "brandy" sprang to mind. ;) I've definitely watched too much Star Trek. In the same vein, I can't be the first person to notice that the TNG Federation's logo is the B7 Federation's logo tilted upright.
Since footwear came up last time, I noticed that Jenna is wearing a pair of high-heeled boots that put DS9's Major Kira's to shame. She was also wearing a pair of dolled-up Levi's, but at least that beat the painter's smock Avon was lumbered with.
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