Babylon 5: And the Sky Full of Stars

b5A number of B5 episodes have two concurrent story lines going at a time.  There’s a main plot and a subplot and sometimes we have to wonder which is the important one.  Often the title would give that away, but sometimes it’s less obvious.  And the Sky Full of Stars doesn’t leave things ambiguous in the slightest: we are going to find out more about that hole in Commander Sinclair’s mind.  This is the first solid piece of backstory we are given about the war and it drives home just how much the post of commander means to Sinclair considering how he treats the Minbari on the station.  He fought a war against these people and lost close friends but when the spoo hits the fan, he keeps it together.  With the revelations we have in this story, Sinclair is fleshed out more.  Let’s take a look…

At this point, we’re getting to know these characters fairly well.  And the Sky Full of Stars gives us more detail about what happened to Commander Sinclair during the Battle of the Line.  We are also given more background into Dr. Franklin and Delenn.  Let’s start with Dr. Franklin.  Here’s a man who traded his services as a doctor to travel the universe.  During the Earth-Minbari war, he had details on Minbari biology that were to be used for biological warfare.  So he burned that information rather than let his data be used for evil.  He felt it was in violation of his sacred Hippocratic oath.  Good man!  Now that he has baseline medical data on a healthy Minbari from Delenn, could his research be turn to something terrible yet again?

Dr. Franklin was comfortable answering Delenn, but when the question of her involvement during the war is turned on her, she evades it.  However, Sinclair’s memories show us more.  To some extent, we already knew she was part of the Grey Council (see The Gathering) but to see her involved during Jeff’s abduction is a surprise.  She has a triangle marking on her head which is interesting, considering in Parliament of Dream we see that Minbari instruments are 3 sided.  On top of that, a device is held up to Sinclair that looks like a triangle.  And the grey council was shown with 9 people in a circle; 3 x 3.  (There will be more about it later, but that’s 3 members of all three castes: worker, warrior, and religious.)

Sinclair’s missing 24 hours is a concern for a mysterious group who call themselves Knights.  Like many, they seem unhappy about the alien influence taking over on Earth.  They believe Sinclair is a tool for the Minbari since many other, more qualified, officers were turned down for command of B5.  Their virtual reality probing of Sinclair’s mind reveals some items of significance.  Notably, he lost at least the bulk of, if not the whole of, his squadron during the Battle of the Line.  He was abducted and brought to the Minbari and something was done to him during which time he encountered Delenn, a woman he refers to as “old friend” earlier in the season.  Considering the war was only 10 years ago, how “old” can that “old friend” be?  The probe also reveals how intelligent Sinclair actually is, piecing together how to use his physical body while tied into the VR.  This is a man of determination!

One additional item of significance is that during Sinclair’s visit to the Minbari ship, he forcefully demands “what do you want?”  It is the only statement that gets echoed around the room.  Nothing else echoes.  What do you want will be an important question, one that cannot be asked lightly, later in the season (see: Signs and Portents).  It’s the sort of subtle foreshadowing that a good writer employs that I love!

This story is fairly focused on what’s happening to Sinclair but there is a subtext and it’s very subtle.  I focus again on the news articles.  (I had to look some up, because I could not catch them all).  Is there something living in hyperspace?  Well, that’s interesting because we haven’t really seen hyperspace yet, only the jump gates.  What does this mean?  Homeguard leader convicted.  Are the Knights part of homeguard?  An offshoot or another organization angry about Earths involvement with other alien “freaks” (See, The War Prayer).  Narn Settle Ragesh 3 controversy refers back to the first episode (post pilot) Midnight on the Firing Line, though how it’s “settled” remains unclear.  EA promises balanced budget by 2260.  Remember, this is 2258 and the series takes place over 5 years.  How will that play out?  Psi-Corp in election tangle corresponds to the accusation by Jeremy Ironheart (Mind War) that the Psi Corp is pulling the stings back home.  How much will this impact Bester and his people?  The station?

The episode ends with the Knight turning to Jeff and suggesting “maybe we’re both still inside”.  Presumably he means in the simulation, but perhaps he means something else.  Perhaps it was just the deranged ramblings of a madman.  Perhaps we’ll never know…  Be seeing you.  ML

The view from across the pond:

If you will not give me the information voluntarily, I will deduct it from you. I’m sure there is much else in your mind that will interest me.

Whoops!  Wrong series!  That’s Skagra, from the Doctor Who story Shada, played by Christopher Neame.  He’s a brilliant actor, and always judges his performance just right, with the requisite amount of ham.  One thing’s for sure.  When Neame is on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off him.  It’s always a BIG performance.  Let’s try again…

Maybe you’re asleep. Maybe you’re insane. Maybe you’re dead. Maybe you’re in hell.

Like Skagra, Knight #2 is trying to extract some information from somebody’s mind, and the way he goes about it is to borrow the idea of the Matrix from Doctor Who (which even gets namechecked: “all tied up in a cerebral matrix”), even to the extent of being able to flit around in an instant like the Valeyard.

Wherever you are, wherever you go, you’re mine.

Just like the Doctor vs Goth, Sinclair is in a domain that is completely under somebody else’s control, and similarly he discovers that he can fight and inflict pain.

Well well, looks like the pain is real for both of us.

I love this kind of story, something that takes place in the realm of the mind, and the only fault I found with this iteration of the idea is that it isn’t surreal enough.  The opening moments of Sinclair being trapped in the simulation are fantastic, with Sinclair finding himself alone on the station, perhaps alone in the universe.  That’s really scary, and the episode could have capitalised on that moment a lot more, but instead the creepiness is squandered too quickly, when the computer informs him of “one other life form detected”.

Before we get to that point, just a little sidenote: I’m loving how real the lives of these people feels.  Take a look at Sinclair’s quarters – pleasingly cluttered and a bit untidy, and contrast this with the standard futuristic minimalism of Trek living quarters, or just about any other sci-fi series.  B5 gives us realism, something you could actually imagine being a home.

This is Sinclair’s episode, through and through, and focuses on a question that has been bubbling away from the start: what happened in the war, and why did the Minbari surrender when they were on the verge of victory.  Something in Sinclair’s latent memory holds the key to that, and by the end of the episode we don’t have the answers, but we are a small step further forward.  Seeing Delenn among Sinclair’s captors was clearly supposed to be a big moment of revelation, but there was never going to be anyone else under that hood, was there.  Speaking of which, the length of time the episode took over spotlighting those eight cloth-headed Minbari one by one was sloooooow.

But this episode really drew me in, representing the moment where I started enjoying the series for the sake of an interesting story, rather than just the pleasure of watching a couple of characters who entertain me.  And if Delenn under the hood was something I saw a mile off, the episode confounded my expectations when Sinclair went rogue.  I was certain he was going to go after Delenn and try to kill her, as his Minbari enemy, thinking he was still at war, and then something very different happened.

And then that final comment from Knight #2: “maybe you’re still inside”.  Other genre series have devoted entire episodes to challenging the nature of reality, including Buffy and DS9, both of which did it stunningly well.  As an afterthought it doesn’t quite work here, because we’ve seen the simulation and it was never anything approaching a replication of everything and everyone on the station.  So there were ways to make that line a real sucker punch, and the episode dropped the ball on that, but you never know, perhaps that line represents something different.  I’m just guessing.  We’ll have to wait to find out just how clever this series really is…   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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