I have to take a moment to breath when I see that we’re watrching yet another non-JMS episode. This is one of Peter David’s episodes. He wrote Soul Mates earlier this season. That was far from my favorite episode. What did this one do for the arc? Did it help it or not? I’ll give it this: whether you like Kosh or not, he does help us attain “one moment of perfect beauty”. This scene alone has sent chills down my spine each and every time I view it. The “moment” is nearly 4 minutes long, and consists of little more than Gregorian chanting, but it’s beautifully done and something I have loved since the first time I saw it. If we use our brains a bit, it’s not a very sensible scene though. Who are these hermits? Are they people who left Down Below to live in Down In The Tightly Cramped Areas? Are they human? Are these creatures Kosh brought on board? How did Kosh know they were there unless he got into those spaces himself? Does it matter? Is it just a chance for John to explain the color bars on his badge? Perhaps it’s just there to buy us 4 minutes. Or maybe it’s just to help John center himself with the situation he’s gotten himself into in this weeks episode. Whatever the reason, I’ll shut down the logic center of my brain for a few minutes of beauty. It may not add much to the story, but it takes nothing away. There can be “beauty… in the dark!” And in that beauty, he realizes that even in a bad situation, he can find peace if he gives himself over to it. (Now, I will remind those of you who have not watched the show 4 times: Kosh told Talia to “listen to the music, not the words” all the way back in Deathwalker. Perhaps this is a continuation of that message, or the same message intended now for a different member of the crew!)
As for the rest of the episode… Sheridan kills a Minbari in self-defense, and that leads to trouble. We can call this the A plot. Cleverly, what we shall call B plot is about Londo learning that he was considered a joke, as was working on Babylon 5. This is a bit sad, but also a realistic warning about prejudging things. We can speculate how Londo is being viewed back home, but we won’t have to speculate for long. Things are changing and we will see more of that. Meanwhile Sheridan’s plight is pretty by the book as far as this style of story goes. Nothing is added that helps it stand out from any other episode. He’s framed, we know what he did was in self-defense, someone is out to get him and by the end, he’s going to be free of the accusation. It’s textbook. It’s all about seeing how it plays out and if I’m honest, it is well played. The story does hold the interest but like the “beauty in the dark”, you don’t have to exercise your brain. It’s all about how the episode feels, and it does feel good, contrary to the textbook plot. I still love seeing Sheridan come out on top. Sadly, I think his legal representative is there solely for the benefit of the viewer: she’s the same actress who played Na’Toth but she adds nothing to the story!
On the other hand, one area of success for the episode is back to the binge-able nature of the show. “A certain Minbari once had to protect a certain Centauri…” We are in season 2, on episode 15. Season 1, episode 21, A Quality of Mercy, had Lennier save Londo some embarrassment by doing what Minbari never do: lie. But the lie was done to save face for another, which is considered honorable. Even with all that is going on with the Narn/Centauri conflict, Londo remembers that. It’s a subtle thing, a thing that could be ignored, but it isn’t and I love the reality that it brings to the show. Again, it’s that bigger-than-television world building and I have yet to see another show do nearly as good a job with it as JMS did with it here. Then there’s the humor. I love Ba-Bear-lon 5… or was it Bear-bylon 5? Whatever it was, the reaction Sheridan has to it is fantastic. The final scene of it floating in space is hilarious. (Although, would that really have shown up on radar?) Equally fantastic and weird is the image of Londo finding his “action figure”. The fisheye camera angle is both inspired and disturbing. (And here too, we can laugh considering Londo’s doll is not “anatomically correct” , which effectively … emasculates him in the eyes of his people!) But my favorite line from the episode is a jibe at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. “We’re not some deep space franchise! This place is about something!” Let me take a moment: when B5 came out, I skipped it. I did not skip Trek and when people tried to tell me how much better B5 was, I laughed. Of course it’s not better than Trek! And DS9! That was an epic Trek … that trekked nowhere. Still! Trek was classic! … When I finally watched B5 all the way through, I was converted. So when I watched it a second time, this line really made an impact. Babylon 5 is no deep space franchise. Alas, I don’t expect it to age as gracefully as classic Trek did and may never attain the status Trek still has to this day. It will always be my favorite until someone else writes something as epic but for the populace at large, it may just be a 5 year blip. But even a blip can offer us a moment of perfect beauty. ML
The view from across the pond:
Honour and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part, there all the honour lies.
(Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man)
For the second week in a row we have the story of the week taking precedence over the season arc, and these continue to be the most watchable episodes. This one is a straightforward crime drama, with Sheridan being framed for a crime he didn’t commit (well, he did kill the Minbari, but the question is one of self-defence). In terms of the genre it does nothing remotely original, and the resolution comes via a simple act of bugging the culprit, but it is still a competent execution of this kind of story.
Writer Peter David uses the premise as an examination of xenophobia, but he fails to ask the right questions, never moving beyond the obvious, which is all very B5. Ashan is motivated by xenophobia, and he also has a deep hatred of Delenn, because she is different:
“I answer to other Minbari, not freaks.”
We are supposed to tut tut along to this, but in contrast we get the following comment from Sheridan played for laughs:
“Bald, with a bone on his head.”
All those Minbari look the same, you see. It’s funny, yes, but in an episode that is apparently trying to speak out on the dangers of xenophobia it’s awkwardly positioned. I’m not sure the writer quite realised what he was doing here, but casual racism is still racism.
“He’s still Minbari, with all the baggage that brings.”
All it needed was one line somewhere to indicate that the writer was not oblivious to the irony, and we shouldn’t be either. The attempts to burst the bubble of the Minbari clan ethos work much better, and at times the writing is near-sublime:
“You can’t have larger ideals if the smaller ones get compromised. It’s like building a house without foundations. It can’t stand.”
It’s a bit of a strange one this week, with the episode constantly veering back and forth from great writing like that and moments that seem astonishingly unambitious and dull. A good example is Sheridan’s “lesson” where Mr Riddles sends him off to see some chanting monks for “one moment of pure beauty”. If he thinks a light show and a song qualify as “pure beauty” then he really needs to get out more. He should have said “one moment of pure cliché”.
The B5 Emporium stuff is also nothing more than pure padding, a bit of silliness to pad out the running time, with an in-joke for JMS’s benefit at the end (apparently the teddy bear eventually turns up in another show written by David). It’s funny (just about), but comes across as some kind of on-screen advertisement for B5 merchandise, and all that stuff with the Londo doll made me impatient for the episode to actually get on with things.
There were so many insignificant distractions throughout the episode, it was all like being thrown a load of crumbs and a meagre main meal. Even Talia popped up at one stage, just when I had blissfully forgotten about her existence altogether. But I did enjoy the B plot… no… C plot… D, E, F?
But I did enjoy the Z plot with Vir’s self-doubt, and Londo standing by his friend and building up his self-esteem and standing among his family. A couple of weeks ago Londo was looking for a real friend. His simple act of kindness this week showed that he was not quite “all alone in the night”. RP