Jeff Corey’s Appearance on Babylon 5

Babylon 5 drew from many places for its guest stars. Genre stalwarts like Michael Ansara and Brad Dourif. TV regulars like William Sanderson, Melissa Gilbert, and Erica Gimpel. Special guest stars like Michael York and Robert Englund. Even fresh new faces like Bryan Cranston.

But one of my favorite appearances, even though it was barely a cup of tea in length, was by Jeff Corey. You might know him from Little Big Man, where he gave an incredible performance as Will Bill Hickok.

Jeff Corey as Wild Bill Hickok
Jeff Corey as Wild Bill Hickok
A creepy Jeff Corey in Conan the Destroyer.

Or maybe from Conan the Destroyer as the creepy Grand Vizier.
Or maybe you recognize his voice as Silvermane in the 90’s Spider-Man cartoons. Or the sheriff in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Or Tom Chaney (the main villain) in True Grit Or from one of the 100s of roles he played on TV, such as in the original Star Trek or The Outer Limits. He was everywhere, and he tended to be memorable.

His turn on Babylon 5 is a real treat. Without revealing any critical spoilers, he plays a mysterious man that wants something from a skeptical Captain Sheridan (Bruce “Scarecrow” Boxleitner,) and is delightfully strange and oddly persuasive. It’s a great piece of writing, where the series creator, J. Michael Straczynski¬†starts revealing what has really been going on for three seasons with some great dialogue and vivid imagery.

I have a clip with just enough to give you a taste without revealing too much.

My Shoes Are Too Tight

“My shoes are too tight. But it doesn’t matter because I have forgotten how to dance.”

I’m binge watching Babylon 5 on my commute, and this scene from the first season is one of the scenes that hooked me when the show first aired in 1994.

Londo Mollari is the Centauri ambassador to Babylon 5, a space station that is a center for interplanetary trade and diplomacy. It was a series that broadcast at the cusp of TV’s renaissance, overlapping with Buffy the Vampire Slayer for two years, and The Sopranos for one.

Centauri culture is steeped in tradition. While they call themselves “The Centauri Republic” they are in fact a monarchy, with all the trappings of an ancient feudal country; a class system, legalized slavery, arranged marriages, bigamy, and an often bewildering set of social customs. As you can see from Londo Mollari’s appearance, the men literally dress and wear their hair like peacocks. The higher the social status, the more ridiculous they look.

One of the better storylines in the five-season series is Londo’s struggle with his place in Centauri society and how his time living among other races on Babylon 5 opens his eyes. It’s a storyline that spans the entire series and has an incredible payoff. This scene is one of the first in which we see that he may be more than just a scheming villain.

Vir (yes, that is Flounder from Animal House) has come to Londo to try to convince him to help call off an arranged marriage between two young Centauri. Londo does not want to because of “Centauri tradition.” As we see from this clip, Londo has his doubts though.

The best science fiction (and fantasy, which B5 contains elements of) uses imaginary places, peoples, and circumstances to teach us about ourselves. Babylon 5 does this in the large, with themes about humanity, spirituality, and the nature of evil, and in the small, with scenes like this.

Star Trek taught us too when it was at its best. The original series, which is one of the times it was at its best, of course, did it wonderfully in City on the Edge of Forever and Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

But like most “franchises,” especially those that outlive their creators, Trek lost its way and became more about itself than about us. (See also; Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Star Wars, the Sopranos, and maybe even Game of Thrones after this latest season.)

Ironically, though, Star Trek’s last, best, gasp¬†for relevance was probably Deep Space Nine, which may have been at least partially “inspired” by a pitch made by Babylon 5’s creator.

I sometimes wish for a new Babylon 5 series. And then look around and the feeling passes.


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