Babylon 5: Grail

b5As I mentioned, the heaviest concentration of non-JMS episodes happen in Season 1.  Grail is the next of those which is unfortunate coming off the pretty tame TKO.  But it does something interesting right off the bat.  It shows a hungry Kosh devouring a human mind.  Considering what we saw in Signs and Portents, this is somewhat believable.  Kosh has done nothing to show he’s a “good guy” unlike Mr. Morden who appears to be doing everything he can to help Londo out.  So is it possible that Kosh is actually a tentacled creature feeding on human thought?  Christy Marx, the writer of the episode, clearly wanted to make the most of the way Kosh has been so far and she does a good job for the time that it lasts.  Unfortunately, it becomes a pretty typical Incredible Hulk style episode with an extortionist pushing around the weak little guy and Garibaldi and crew working to beat him.  There’s some great comedy along the way with Londo and Vir, but nothing that pushes the overall story forward.

However the episode does some neat things with the characters, specifically Sinclair, but you have to remember other episodes for it.  Following on from Mind War, and The Gathering where Catherine and Sinclair quoted the Tennyson (respectively), we get more about the idea of a seeker.  Tennyson’s final line in Ulysses is “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.   Delenn sees Sinclair as a seeker and respects that; she treats it like a holy mission, but then, she is from her Religious caste.  She may realize that Sinclair remembers more about the Battle of the Line than he’s letting on, but she equally does not reveal this.  “We all seek a reason”, and that’s about as true as it gets!  The episode is heavy on the religious influences, obviously, as the Holy Grail is the object of the quest.  The question is where does religion end and superstition begin?  Jinxo believes his presence on the station is the only thing keeping it around.  He’s jinxed.  He even signs up to work on the station solely so it doesn’t get destroyed.  From his point of view, evidence does indicate that 4 times, after he’s left, something has happened to the last Babylon station, so he has more “evidence” to argue that he needs to be there.  Gajic (David Warner, the great) has less evidence that he’s ever going to find the grail.  The reality of it is that if there were a cup, it was a cup like any other and no one would know it from any other cup.  But Gajic is asking alien races if they might have that cup!  How likely is that.  Before you answer, bear in mind that the episode introduces a court system on Babylon 5 and from the start, we see a man suing a race of “Greys” for abducting his grandfather years earlier.  So the idea that aliens have been to Earth in the past is explored right off the bat.  I think it might have been more fun to explore the idea of Jesus being an alien, but that would probably be a tough sell for the networks, so instead the, ahem, quest for the holy grail is what we get.

One small item of note that might go unspoken in other shows that I really appreciated here is that when Londo finds out that there is a creature on the station, he runs to his room to hide leaving his credit chip in the casino.  Another show might have ignored it but Sinclair very clearly grabs it and turns to shout to Londo, but he’s already out of range, so he just shrugs, presumably thinking to return it to the Ambassador later.  It’s a small item but it shows the care the writers and producers put into the show.

So this was a slower episode overall, but maybe Susan is onto something in relation to the next episode: hopefully it will be bigger and have greater boom.  “Always a boom tomorrow.”   ML

The view from across the pond:

Why do we watch television?  What is it we are looking for?  What do we seek?  It might seem like a pretty basic question, and the obvious answer is “entertainment”, but maybe it’s a question more writers could ask themselves.  Top of the list should perhaps be stirring some emotion in the viewer.  That might simply be humour.  I’m happy to watch something that just makes me laugh.  Or a television show is fine in my book if it interests me, provides food for thought, or evokes feelings in some way.  What I don’t want is a complete lack of any emotional response, a lack of anything to interest me, and a feeling that I’ve spent the last three-quarters of an hour staring at a screen when my time would only have been marginally less productively spend staring at a blank wall instead.

So with that in mind, with a heavy heart I have to write about the Babylon 5 episode Grail.  In the interests of fairness, it is not totally devoid of good points.  I genuinely believed for a while that Kosh was really a tentacled killer, and that capitalizes on the enigma that has surrounded him from the start.  Unfortunately we’re back to the status quo by the end: he’s still an irritating, riddle-speaking mystery.  The “feeder” was a nifty bit of CGI for the time, and I’m always impressed when a sci-fi series actually manages to show us an alien that doesn’t look like a bloke in prosthetics.

What else?  Well, the attempt at humour with London Londo and Vir wasn’t funny at all, but there was a little moment of humour that I enjoyed:

“His great-grandfather abducted my great-grandfather and took him away in a spaceship.”

…and the reveal is a Roswell-ish alien.  So that was quite funny.  David Warner is of course a great actor, and I liked Delenn’s take on Aldous’s quest:

“He is a holy man. A truth seeker. Among my people a truth seeker is treated with the utmost reverence and respect. It doesn’t matter that his Grail may or may not exist. What matters is that he strives for the perfection of his soul, the salvation of his race, and that he has never wavered or lost faith.”

So this was about how searching for something is valid, even if you can’t ever find it.  That’s a sentiment akin to the journey mattering more than the destination, and there can be a lot of truth in that.  But it’s not a particularly novel or interesting message, and was delivered to us via the conceit of a man searching other planets to find the Holy Grail, which… well, let’s face it, that’s probably one of the stupidest sci-fi ideas any writer has ever come up with.  No wonder Garibaldi rolled his eyes.

In the end, the only feelings this stirred were boredom.  Just when B5 looks like it’s getting interesting, it keeps defaulting back to this kind of trash.  It’s got to get better than this, right?   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of Co-writer on Editor of
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