Babylon 5: Midnight on the Firing Line

b5After a chessboard setup in The Gathering, the marvelously titled Midnight on the Firing Line is forced to do a second introduction.  From what we can tell, some months have passed since that pilot episode and business is as crazy as ever on Babylon 5.  In real time, the series premiere was almost a full year before episode one, so perhaps a commensurate amount of time has passed.  During that time, there have been some notable changes in cast with Talia Winters replacing Lyta Alexander and Susan Ivanova replacing Lt. Commander Laurel Takashima, so these replacements both need some form of introduction.  Susan comes off as very cold but at least explains her distrust of the Psi Corp, the organization behind Talia Winters.  Talia comes off as a bit of a damsel, a bit too coy for my liking at this early stage of the game. Also missing from this story is Dr. Kyle, who physically opened the Vorlon encounter suit and looked upon Kosh.  The opening credits mention a different doctor, but we do not meet him yet.

If this were any other show, I would be inclined to believe the cast was just changed due to other commitments but I know the way the B5 universe is constructed; everything means something.  That’s the takeaway here: there are very few meaningless moments.  The series is built on a real universe, not dissimilar to our own.  So when Earth Gov decides not to help the Centauri because a presidential election is imminent, there’s a sense of reality to it.  And like reality, presidential elections have merit on our everyday world.

Where in the World is Laurel Takashima?

Having watched this series before, it’s hard to talk about some elements because I have “future knowledge”, but one thing stood out to me this time that never hit me before.  I could not recall where Laurel Takashima went but we might have a hint when Garibaldi is found sitting at (an annoyed) Ivanova’s workstation.  Remember that Laurel had access to everything and was able to see any nearby ships, yet she failed to detect anything amiss when a small pod attached itself to the hull of the station in the pilot.  The ship is only detected when Laurel was away from her terminal, meaning someone else noticed it not the second in command.  The access to the lift that slows down Sinclair, preventing him from reaching Kosh, would also be something she had control of and could potentially have access to the logs as well.  Could it be that in the intervening months between that pilot and this episode, Garibaldi made a connection and now insinuates himself into Ivanova’s terminal because he only trusts himself?  Maybe Michael Garibaldi took as long as this Michael did to make that connection?  (It’s my 4th time watching this series and it only dawned on me now!)

As for Kyle and Lyta?  No indication is given yet, but both interacted closely with the Vorlon.  And there’s something very strange about that guy…

I found Kosh an utterly fascinating character.  When Sinclair visits him, his suit stands at an odd, almost quizzical angle, but it appears to be empty and there is a light behind a dressing screen.  Only when Sinclair turns to leave do we see a flash of light and the encounter suit closes and reanimates.  Kosh is back inside it.  How did he get into it so quickly?  And then there is the dialogue which is also fascinating.

Kosh: “They are a dying people.  We should let them pass.”
Sinclair: “Who, the Narn or the Centauri?”
Kosh: “Yes.”

Speaking of potential throwaway lines, can dreams be counted as important?  Londo mentioned a dream and claims to have identified G’Kar from that dream.  Is there anything important in a dream?  Is it a potential future?  As for G’Kar, he is again portrayed as a less-than-decent sort but it’s the gall of the man that really burns the viewer.  When Londo comes after him, having heard about the destruction of a civilian colony, G’Kar casually offers Londo some food.  For all the world, it appears that G’Kar knows nothing of what went on and Londo is instantly portrayed as the aggressor, but we learn that the Narn were not only aware of it, but perpetrated the crime.  Delenn takes a backseat, or rather a couch seat, in this episode, joining Garibaldi for some Warner Brothers cartoons and it illustrates a level of childlike wonder in her.  She was seen as intensely powerful as she crushed G’Kar’s ribs in The Gathering but is like a child when learning about another culture.  This will define her character even more as the series goes on.

The big question left open to us is this: how will the attack impact the overall story?  G’Kar humiliated Londo, discredited him.  The Centauri themselves are sitting on their hands; perhaps they are no longer the power they were, as Londo suggested in the pilot.  While Sinclair was able to bring the truth to light, forcing the Narn government to apologize, the damage may already be done.

I’ll leave you to consider this: it’s darkest before the dawn.  And this was Midnight.  It’s a long way to go before the dawn.  ML

The view from across the pond:

I am reliably informed that there was a year between the pilot movie of Babylon 5 and this episode, the actual first episode in the series.  Everything looks a little more slick, and there have been some good character changes.  Gone are Lyta Alexander and Dr. Benjamin Kyle, which is a relief because they were the worst actors by a mile.  It’s a shame that Takashima has also gone because I liked her, but in her place we have Claudia Christian as Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova, and she’s immediately great:

I’m in the middle of 15 things, all of them annoying.

Her mother’s tragic back story, which prejudiced her towards Talia Winters (not much better than Lyta Alexander, sorry), throws up an interesting moral dilemma scenario.  How would society adapt to telepaths?  Clearly they are handling it badly, but you can understand wanting to protect the privacy of others.  Two of the three choices offered to telepaths being prison or drugs that lead to suicide is pretty sick though.  This is not such an optimistic view of the future as Trek.  Sadly, it’s probably a lot more realistic.

So what about the story itself?  Last time we had a fairly straightforward enemy infiltrator story.  This time it’s another old standard: a contrived misunderstanding to start a war.  For the Who fans, this is Frontier in Space.  Both episodes rely on the quest for information and proof to avert a crisis that could lead to war.  Both episodes are functionally whodunits with the same culprit.  Andreas Katsulas as G’Kar is a brilliant villain: polite, confident, self-satisfied.  Those kinds of antagonists are so much more interesting than the unhinged, drooling maniacs.  Katsulas has a very rich voice, which is so important for an actor who is wearing prosthetics.  But Babylon 5 can’t consist solely of his metaphorical moustache twirling, with our steadfast heroes foiling his dastardly schemes surely?  It would still be a fun series if it is, but presumably the writer will need to realise that what he is writing only has future potential as a comedic farce, if this keeps happening.

What can I say?  You’re getting the reactions of a newcomer to B5 here.  I hope that something akin to the contemporary thoughts of a viewer when it was first broadcast will offer at least some insight into what went right and what went wrong.  So far there’s more right than wrong, so that’s good, although personally I wouldn’t be launching a new series with Doctor Who’s equivalent of a mashup between Frontier in Space and The Space Pirates.  Ambassador Kosh in his shower made me laugh, as did Delenn and Garibaldi watching cartoons.

There were quite a few interesting ideas here too, including the fascinating prospect of a race of people who get a premonition of their own death, with London Londo seeing himself twenty years in the future with his hands around G’Kar’s throat.  The interactions between these two are going to be interesting.  London Londo’s murderous reaction when his nephew is endangered is played convincingly, as is the way Garibaldi (every time I type that I want a garibaldi biscuit) handles it.

But once again, the key moment of the episode went to magnificent Delenn, who is vying with G’Kar for who can be my favourite character.  Last time she imparted that lovely bit of wisdom about one small decision creating ripples that change everything.  This time, she was the one who could see that Londo and G’Kar are heading for a vicious circle, a destructive and self-destructive spiral of revenge.

It’s no good.  I’m off now to engage in a self-destructive spiral of eating garibaldi biscuits.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Babylon 5, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Babylon 5: Midnight on the Firing Line

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I admire your point about Babylon 5’s success was greatly indebted the bulk of its episodes being written by its series creator. Because it was the same with Sapphire & Steel whose Assignment 5 was the only written by someone other than its series creator. It was actually written by one of the previous Doctor Who writers, which may say a lot, and it was openly a potential variation even if it was still relatively well perceived. It can depend on how our familiar stars of the show still work all their magic with newer material. Thankfully B5 always had a great cast including its guest stars. I remember Kim Zimmer (Guiding Light’s Reva) guest starring in one B5 episode as an intergalactic media anchorwoman. So as far as attracting famous guest stars is concerned, B5 could make the ideal choices as did each of the Star Treks, The X-Files and of course Lexx with Rutger Hauer and Malcolm McDowell.

    Thanks again for your B5 reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    Babylon 5, in reflection of all the inevitable difficulties for Star Treks: DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, J J Abrams’ Treks and now Discovery, can be an affirmation of how Star Trek’s appeal may nowadays be living long and prospering through other SF shows influenced by Trek, like Stargate, Farscape, Andromeda and most recently The Expanse, rather than more Trek continuations. The same may also be said for Dr. Who (even with its no-end-in-sight success via Big Finish) in further reflections of all the Junkyard has specifically reviewed from the Anime universe.

    In my own reflections, Babylon 5 succeeded for me personally as a reminder that there’s always a new place for SF adventure, even in the equilibrium between familiar and divergent to assure B5’s own unique identity. The SF areas that the Junkyard could review somewhere down the line after B5 should consequently prove equally worthy of more enhanced reflections from SF fans.

    Liked by 1 person

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