Babylon 5: Knives

b5I mentioned in last weeks post that Knives was supposed to come before In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum, so technically, we should have been in a run of JMS episodes that would last almost until the end of the series.  As things didn’t happen that way, we get this blip written by Jovian Sunspot drinking Larry DiTillio.  The fact that this is out of order and doesn’t impact anything really tells you a lot about the episode.  Typically, a story told out of order has more of an impact on the flow and since this doesn’t, it’s a safe bet that this is going to do little for our arc.  However, it does “humanize” Londo, showing that he still has friends, and he even has a nickname.  Paso Leati is a great nickname, too; it sticks in your head.  Of course, that could just be the way Londo’s pal, Urza Jaddo, says it.  The relationship between Londo and Jaddo is interesting and if you think the idea of Jaddo effectively committing suicide is ridiculous, think again.  Straczynski took the idea from Roman times.  In order to prevent their families losing everything, this was a common practice.  But the story is designed to show how Londo’s “star is rising” as he is taking his people back to the stars.  As a result, we get some more backstory to what’s happening back home on Centauri Prime.   We learn that there is a new Emperor in control, one Emperor Cartagia.  Considering this is not a JMS episode, one might be inclined to think it will just be background world-building.  As it happens, we will become very well acquainted with Cartagia in the future.

Having said that, the B plot has to do with Sheridan picking up a passenger; one that rides around in his mind.  And what an interesting mystery: from the creature in his room to the destruction of the Icarus, his wife’s ship, Sheridan’s visions were more intriguing to me than Londo’s story.  That’s not because Londo’s story wasn’t good, but because I wanted to know what was causing these visions and moreover, would it have a greater impact on the overall story?  The thing is, DiTillio wrote this one, not JMS.  Chances are it was easier to use some ideas about the Centauri than reusing an idea of a random visitor from beyond.  Let’s not forget, this is Babylon 5, not Star Trek.  Trek was all about the one time monster; effectively every episode of Trek (primarily classic, but really every spin-off barring DS9) was about a one-time threat.  This is almost a B5-does-Trek story.  And it’s a shame because the time-travel nature of the creature, heading back to Sector 14 (the same place B4 disappeared) is very interesting.  And one wonders, why is that area of space still prone to temporal anomalies?  Will we ever find out?  I’d say the infamous line about time will tell, but that seems too cheap at this point.

That said, Babylon 5 still does it better than Trek and believe me, I am a fan of Trek through and through.  It’s just that you have so many more “real” moments, in my opinion.  For instance, I love the opening of this episode as Londo and Vir walk down the corridor comparing their favorite operas.  There’s something so true about that.  Yeah, Picard and them played Poker, and Sisko played Baseball, but two people talking about their favorite music… that’s something we can all relate to.  (Yes, Sheridan plays baseball too, which does count; I was not taking that from him or Sisko, but my point is that music is something everyone can relate to!)   We can also all relate to mild comedy, like when Garibaldi tries to calm Sheridan down about the creature he believes he just saw.  Or what about the wonderful line when Franklin orders Sheridan to get some rest?  Sheridan says, “you know, you’re just like your father,” having met him earlier this season in GROPOS.  Franklin’s reaction is a proud “thank you”, reminding us that, differences aside, Franklin loves his father.  It’s a simple thing, but it means a lot.  Then there’s one other thing that the series does well: it subtly keeps our memories sharp.  When Sheridan is with Franklin talking about the possible reasons for his hallucinations, Franklin says “I know a good Markab doctor…”  It’s a minor thing, but it reminds us of the Markab.  That’ll be very handy, very soon when we meet that good doctor.

No, this is not a favorite of mine, but I don’t dislike it either.  I just wanted more by now, knowing what’s to come.  It almost feels like a relic of season 1.  But this really is it now.  It’s JMS all the way though into season 5 when Neil Gaiman will break the run, before going back to JMS!  And are we in for a heck of a ride!  I can’t wait…  ML

The view from across the pond:

One step forward, two steps back. It’s always the way with Babylon 5. Just when you think things are getting really interesting, they throw in an episode like this where we are right back with the same old problems: two unconnected storylines, neither of them in the least bit original or particularly interesting. Just a bog-standard episode of a bog-standard sci-fi show.

The Londo sub-plot was especially unambitious. It reminded me of the Ferengi episodes of Star Trek: DS9, trying to be funny, breather episodes, but in the end the most disposable and generally boring ones; the ones that try the viewers’ patience. The problem is, this kind of episode just doesn’t matter. You could skip it and miss nothing of any importance, and avoid wasting 45 minutes of your life.

Urza Jaddo turns up to see Londo, and have a drink from some golden glasses that are so huge that you can almost see the actors puzzling out how to drink from them without splashing the liquid all over their faces. In the end their clumsy attempts make them look like farm animals diving into a trough. It’s soon apparent that he’s one of those kinds of friends, who turn up for the first time in years because they want something. In the end we get an inevitable fight sequence between the two of them. I can’t stand actors pretending to fight in sci-fi. Those scenes are meant to be exciting but they are always just so dull and I want the story to move on. I also can’t stand all that “die with honour” rubbish.  Maybe his widow would have preferred the company of her husband in her old age, even if that meant forfeiting her honour and status.  If she doesn’t she’s not worth dying for anyway.

The other lucky dip this week from the selection of random sci-fi plots was Sheridan getting possessed, and I groaned as we crawled through all the usual plot beats that come packaged with this kind of story: the victim waiting far too long before going to see a doctor, and then the useless doctor not being able to find anything and telling him to go and get some rest.

“I have run you through every test I know. There is nothing wrong with you.”

Gee, thanks Franklin. That’s really helpful. Sheridan wandering around Grey Sector was probably the highlight of the episode, although one has to question why they don’t just turn on a few more lights if they don’t want bits of the station to be so creepy. The imaginary bat monster was a decent bit of CGI for the time though.

One line for me summed up the problem with this episode:

“Why make history if you fail to learn by it.”

I’ve seen a lot of episodes of B5 now, and I’m not seeing much evidence of a showrunner learning from his mistakes. You could drop this week’s two storylines right back at the beginning of Season One, without noticing any shift in quality. We’re stuck in the same old rut.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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3 Responses to Babylon 5: Knives

  1. ShiraDest says:

    Hmm, I think that a detail got left out of the widow concern: he wanted his family not to be naked on the streets and starving, which is what would have happened had he allowed the matter to stand. As he died at Londo’s hand, it meant that his widow and kids would not be homeless, as I understood it.

    I’ve cited this review in a rather short post on this episode, apologies for being swamped this week!

    Liked by 1 person

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