I always referred to him affectionately as “Commander Woodenhead”, but I was terribly fond of Babylon 5‘s Michael O’Hare. Actually, scratch that. I was incredibly fond of Michael O’Hare. The news has just broke that he’s died and I’m shocked. Stephen Biggs, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conway, now O’Hare. The mortality rate in the Babylon V main cast is distressingly high and it really shouldn’t be. All of these people left well before their time was done and well before we got a chance to tell them how much we loved them.
The nickname – I maintain – is more a comment on the rather more animated comedy Shatnerisms of his successor, the blessed Boxleitner, and the abilities of some of his colleagues to take a line of dialogue and kill it stone dead (yes, it is indeed “The Hour of the Wolf”). Without O’Hare that first season would have been a whole lot less impressive. Sinclair reminds me a lot of Koenig in Space : 1999, actually – perpetually worried-looking with a furrowed brow, but utterly reliable – a man who will hold things together, no matter what the odds, who’ll stand fast and let the madness swirl around him, then get the job done quietly, with no fuss or flash. He was superb.
I ate, slept and breathed B5 when it first aired – it hooked me in almost from the first, despite the manifest problems it exhibited right from the beginning (JMS’s wayward way with dialogue, the somewhat “stilted” performing abilities of some of the regulars, the ridiculous episode titles, and always – *always* – Joe’s tendency to follow a really, really enormous plot-changing revelation with an episode that jogged along doing precisely hee-haw squared).
The incredible scope and ambition of the thing, though – that dragged me along and it knocked me for a loop on more occasions than I can remember with sudden twists and plot developments that – although usually hiding in plain sight and incredibly obvious in retrospect – totally blindsided me on first viewing. I’ve never gone back to it because I strongly suspect that now I know where it was going the niggling distractions mentioned above might make the second journey along the road somewhat less pleasurable.
So many fantastic things in it, though – characters I grew to love. Christopher Franke’s music. Any script written by Peter David (not that many others got a look in, thanks to Joe’s insistence on writing the majority of it entirely by himself). The Centauri hairstyles. Patricia Tallman and Tracy Scoggins, holding together the last season almost season-handedly after everything had been resolved at the end of year 4 leaving the story with nowhere to go for the final season. Jerry Doyle’s quips. And when O’Hare reappeared – as he infrequently did – it was always a pleasure to see him. He was a lot quieter, less flashy than many of his co-stars and I think that’s what perhaps made him suffer in comparison. While Katsulas and Jurasik were showboating in the foreground during season 1 he was getting on with the groundwork of making the damn plotlines move.
He was bloody great, and 60 years old is too damn young. Especially when I’m looking at it suspiciously from an altogether closer distance than I used to.
As one of the major series that almost completely dominated my viewing habits in the nineties I’ll always have a place in my heart for B5 and I’m so terribly sad to see so many of its main cast leaving us ridiculously early. These people should have had a lengthy afterlife attending conventions, basking in adoration. They deserved no less.
Bye, Michael. You’ll be missed, by more than just me.