Babylon 5: Hunter, Prey

b5Bearing in mind that I’m a fan of the Vorlons, this episode was going to appeal to me from the start.  But does it do anything special?  Not really.  That’s not to say I suddenly dislike it; I don’t.  I just recognize that this sort of story is what we’ve been getting since the days of Adam West’s Batman.  What I mean by that is that Batman will often have something introduced for an episode.  Let’s hypothetically make up a thing: The Bat-Shark Repellant spray.  Coincidentally, in that same episode, we’re likely to find a large rubber-looking shark biting Batman as he climbs a ladder.  (I know what you’re thinking: “this is just a crazy idea that would never happen anywhere”.  Still, stick with me!)  Now, this will be the only episode ever that we will see this contrivance, but it will save the day.  Batman will use it and the rubber-looking shark will fall off and never be seen again because it probably blew up right after falling off his leg.  Complete lunacy I know, but you get the idea.  Anyway, the point is, B5 gives us a similar structure with a “contrivance” to help save the day.  Our two threads are as follows: Dr. Jacobs, the aide to the former president, is on the run and bay 13 is off limits with Kosh’s ship being berthed there.  Interestingly, it’s not the ship that’s the one-off invention; it’s Jacobs.   But the two storylines converge when someone needs an unexpected way off the station.  Jacobs comes with news and wants to get away, while others hunt him because the information in his head is treason to the current regime.

What I do like about the episode is that there’s a lot of talk about organic technology.  “Some even think the Vorlon have it…”  But why that impresses me is that this idea goes right back to episode 4: Infection.  As early as that, we were given hints about it but season one is very much “monster of the week” format, so we may not have given it much credence.  This episode also mentions Dust, an illicit drug that made its first appearance in the pilot episode.  (Depending on which version of the pilot you watched might mean you didn’t get to see this.  Amazon offers a different version of the pilot, but the changes are too minor to warrant viewing both and the original omits an utterly brilliant line!)  Dust will make an appearance, significantly, later on.  Also, Dr. Jacobs is abusing stims.  It seems like a thing medical men may have problems with, especially the workaholic types.  We’re being set up, that’s what that means.

I do love the line about the future: “some assembly required”.  That might be the most accurate thing ever stated, usurping “Entropy increases” in one fell swoop.  But that idea speaks volumes here.  While Jacobs may be a one-off character (as is Night Court’s Richard Moll), he is bringing with him information that will help the future and JMS, who wrote this episode, is giving us the IKEA instructions.  It’s up to us to put it together.  And that again makes me wonder how people watched this in an age when binging wasn’t a thing.  So much comes together in a rewarding way when you see all the pieces lining up.  Sheridan’s awareness that things are bad at home is a small part of that; this season is about him learning just how bad, and Jacobs offers a lot of helpful information on this.  The living ships that we’re learning about are also foreshadowing what is to come, but it was going on right under our noses from early days, so the show can’t be accused of cheating.

Speaking of building a cohesive universe, there’s that scene with the Ranger.  What scene?  The unspoken one.  Note the subtlety: Garibaldi and Sheridan are walking down the stairs and a man dressed as a Ranger goes by.  Not a word is spoken about it, but Garibaldi doesn’t miss a beat.  He watches the guy until he’s out of sight.  Now, that’s clever writing.  We know Rangers are around but we don’t know what they are doing, but the point is they are there, and JMS adds a delicate little touch to let us know: this is a bigger world than most TV SF Shows inhabit.  Does it help us in any way with understanding why the Vorlon ship communicates with weird writing?  No.  But that’s not the point!  That said, I do wish there were some indication as to what it said.  What did the weird writing mean?  Kosh gives us other things to have fun with.  Let’s dive in, because I love trying to figure this stuff out.

Sheridan says Kosh called out to him, presumably a reference to a few episodes back when Sheridan was on the alien ship (All Alone in the Night).  “You wanted to see me?” he asks.  Kosh replies, You wanted to see me.”  I’m guessing he doesn’t mean as in “wanted to have a meeting” but rather “want to see what you look like under the encounter suit”.  Sheridan verifies this.  “They are not ready.  They would not understand.” Says Kosh.  Why wouldn’t they understand?  And who does he mean by “they”?  Assuming the populace at large, they know something will be unexpected about Kosh, so once you get past that, why hold back?  The main reason to hold back is the same reason you don’t show the face of the killer at the start of a murder mystery: you’ll know the killer.  In that case, you can’t really try to figure out who the killer is, because you already know.  In this case, the answer might be more profound but the end result is the same.  This ties in fantastically with the end of the dialogue.  In anger at being dismissed again, Sheridan addresses Kosh: “What do you want?”  Kosh is surprised!  “Never ask that question!”  Of course!  That’s Morden’s question and there is a cost involved in it.  We’ll come back to that later in the season.  But for now, the peace returns and Kosh offers to teach Sheridan “to fight legends.”  And with that, answers are revealed that won’t make full sense until later in the season.  It’s like watching a gardener place seeds that will grow to a mighty tree.  I can’t wait to see the end result.

I think the reason I love the Vorlon episodes is because they give me a chance to figure things out.  I never watched the show when it was weekly so I don’t know the frustration of waiting.  I had to wait one day to the other but that was a long time ago and 4 viewings back.  It’s interesting to hear Roger’s take on it, from a first time viewers perspective.  Let’s see what he thought of the episode…   ML

The view from across the pond:

“Armed or otherwise, if he gives any resistance, our orders are to shoot to kill.”

Like they always do anyway then. I suppose as a viewer there is little choice but to accept this very bleak version of the future and roll with it. Franklin actually sums it up very nicely this episode when he compares the future with a toy you ask your parents for that turns out to be a disappointment. The danger, of course, is that Babylon 5 itself is metaphorically that disappointing toy, but at least a miserable future can act as a springboard for interesting stories. This one is a fugitive story, but with the added twist that the good guys are trying to help the fugitive instead of capture him. The new status quo on the station with the main characters now acting as resistance fighters in secret is starting to spark off some more interesting material.

Maybe it was just the superior acting this week that put me in a good mood, but I quite enjoyed this one. Tony Steedman (Jacobs) was one of those reliable British character actors who cropped up in all sorts of films and television shows without ever becoming a household name, and always put in a solid performance. Right off the bat he’s excellent here. Denied the chance to get fake ID because “you want it too much” he just plaintively says “oh no, please…” and he comes across as such a helpless old man that you can’t help but root for him right from the start.

Then we have the undercover stuff with Garibaldi and Franklin. I never thought I would say this but against all the odds I’m starting to warm to Franklin a bit, and he actually forms part of a great double act as the straight man to Garibaldi’s comedian.

“I have an excellent disguise.”

… which is a hat. The hidden message in Garibaldi’s video was fun, and clever, but most of all it’s great to see the relationships between the main characters starting to gel so well. It has taken a while, but finally there’s a bit of genuine and believable camaraderie. Perhaps it’s the resistance stuff that’s bringing them together and making it work, but for the first time I’m buying into these characters as having friendships with each other, rather than just being individual characters sharing screen time.

“He’s got a plan. I can tell. He’s got that look.”

But I still can’t stand Kosh, even if his ship is a nifty bit of CGI for the time.

“I sought understanding. I listen to the song. Your thoughts became the song.”
“Has this ever happened before?”
“Once.”

No, that’s fine old chap. Don’t enlighten us about that. Later on, Kosh summons Sheridan and then just keeps repeating what he says like an annoying child. Having said absolutely nothing of any use, he tells Sheridan to go. What I really enjoyed here was finally seeing somebody call Kosh out on being an irritating riddle-monger. It’s about time, although it didn’t go far enough.

“Dammit, what do you want?”
“Never ask that question.”

Kosh is just that irritating nerdy kid in school who knows all the answers and won’t help the other kids. I was the nerdy kid who helps others – note to nerdy kids everywhere: this is the one thing that makes the difference between popular nerd and hated nerd. Maybe that’s why Kosh is so annoying. He’s that kid in school. But although he refuses to say much of any use, he did at least help Sheridan, in a rare example of the A and B plots coming together coherently.

“There’s always a next time, isn’t there.”

For once, I’m looking forward to it.   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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s