Babylon 5: The Long, Twilight Struggle

b5While this season takes its name from another story, this episode may be one of the most meaningful to date and it comes down to one painful moment: the image of Londo watching with a mixture of horror and disgust as the Narn homeworld is blasted from space.  That image carries an enormous burden with it; Londo wanted to make his people great again, not become a murderer to do it.  And the action carries ramifications for all of the races: the Centauri have devastated an enemy and set themselves up as a major power, the Narn have been crushed, effectively wiped out, the Minbari and the humans are caught in the crossfire (and we’ll see more of that in two more episodes).  Londo sees that he has been a puppet the whole time, but I think he always suspected it.  (I’m reminded of a line from The Prisoner, “We’re all pawns, m’dear!”)  We can’t help but remember the dialogue between Kosh and Sinclair in Deathwalker, “They are a dying people.  We should let them pass.”  “Who, the Narn or the Centauri?”  “Yes.”

Londo is not alone in conveying pain through a look.  The magnificent Andreas Katsulas as G’Kar wounds us with his appeal to Sheridan.  Broken, humiliated, and above all, hurt over the destruction of his home, he now has to debase himself once more.  He goes into Sheridan’s office and asks for sanctuary. Following the orders of his government makes G’Kar a pawn to a certain extent also; a sad mirror image of Londo.  It’s a moving scene.  It’s made worse as Londo later tells the council that the Narn have offered a “complete and unconditional surrender”.  (Watch G’Kar wince at these words!)  The council chamber offers us more than just the (horrible) terms of a treaty though.  There’s the one blatant take away in G’Kar’s outstanding words: “No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever.  There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom.  Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand.  The Centauri learned this lesson once. We will teach it to them again.  Though it take a thousand years, we will be free!”  WOW.  Katsulas delivers a stunning monologue in that moment and it feels great.  As the audience, we believe his words.  He will be free again, though we hope it doesn’t take that long.  But there is another, more subtle thing that may go unnoticed: Londo coughs.  It’s a small cough; almost a throat clearing.  But we know the future of Londo and the old man with the cough that is 20 years in the future.  Londo is on the path.  And the world building continues!

While Londo and G’Kar are pawns to some extent, Sheridan may have been elevated in this episode to the man behind the board when he is given access to the Rangers.  This is interesting because, if we go back to the foreshadowing episode, All Alone in the Night, Ivanova calls Sheridan “the hand”.  In a way, he now has his pieces that he can move, like the hand of the chess player.  “Tell the other rangers, the ambassadors… everyone in this “army of light”: Babylon 5 stand with you.  Tell them… tell them, that from this place we will deliver notice to the parliament of conquerors that a line has been drawn against the darkness and we will hold that line, no matter the cost!”  Another outstanding monologue.  (Kudos to Boxleitner too, though.  I’m praising G’Kar and Londo for looks, but when Londo yells at Sheridan in the council chamber, I don’t see Sheridan as having been cowed.  I see the look he gives and it’s icy daggers.  Londo may have won the moment, but he’s on dangerous ground here!)

Now, while this makes up the bulk of the episode, the events going on with Draal can’t be ignored even if they are only setting something up that doesn’t pay off yet.  Draal (of the awesome voice) is offering help to Babylon 5.  Considering his potential power, this is a big thing but it clearly doesn’t help yet.  But it’s not what makes his involvement in the episode special.  It’s actually a far smaller thing.  He mentions that there are caretakers on the planet.  He calls out to one by the name of Zathras.  Now, that is interesting because, if you remember back at the end of season 1, we encountered a strange fellow by the same name who was involved in the abduction of Babylon 4.  I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more to the Babylon 4 story than meets the eye!

Lastly, a comment about aesthetics.  Back when I was in college, I shared a Philosophy class with a great friend.  We had hoped to be working on the same things, but we were divided and his topic was aesthetics.  Though that wasn’t my subject matter, it opened a door for us and 30 years later, we still discuss aesthetics.  This episode would offer us much to discuss because of the candles.  Aesthetically pleasing, if a potential danger on a space station, they represent hope.  When they are put out, we are reminded of the loss of a life, as we see here.  But those aesthetics impact more than that.  It is important to remember the Grey Council’s line about being grey, “we stand between the candle and the star”.  Grey is an in-between color but the two choices make the candle look small when compared against a star.  So is a candle that hopeful?  Or do you need something bigger?  So now add to that: Delenn refers to Babylon 5 as a “fortress of light”.  Sheridan calls the Rangers the “army of light”.  Sure, G’Kar snuffs out a candle ironically coinciding with the death of his uncle G’Sten, but there is hope in this episode.  We are reminded that when G’Kar last shook hands with someone, they were at war 24 hours later, but Sheridan stands his ground and extends the hand of friendship to G’Kar, offering to help him through this difficult time.  G’Kar looks at his hand after they shake, clenches his fist, and smiles.  He may have lost his place on the council, lost his homeworld, he’s even lost his uncle… but he still has hope.  And as this season comes to the final two episodes while focusing so heavily on war, that is a really nice thought to end on.  ML

The view from across the pond:

It has felt like a long, twilight struggle to get through so many dull episodes, but it finally feels like we’ve reached the point where Babylon 5 is an exciting series that I would be keen to tune in to watch each week, even without this writing project with Mike. This was a brilliant episode.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was really, really good. To get the main little annoyance out of the way first, Draal is back, but it’s not the Draal we know. I hate it when they recast parts like that with no sensible explanation. That’s not to say they didn’t attempt some kind of an explanation:

“To be fair Delenn he didn’t exactly look how he does in the station records.”
“No, he looks stronger, more fit, just as he did when he was my mentor.”

Oh, and he’s a completely different person too. Lampshading it isn’t necessarily the best course of action for a recast, because it does kind of draw attention to it. But the caretaker of the Great Machine on Epsilon 3 pledging his loyalty to Sheridan was just an appetiser for what was to come. The main thrust of this episode was the war between the Centauri and the Narn reaching its conclusion.

From the beginning this war has been a one-sided affair, entirely due to Londo being in league with the all-powerful Shadows, via Morden. It has resulted in an interesting shift in our perceptions since the first season. Originally Londo and G’Kar were principally comedy characters, with their rivalry played for laughs. Some viewers might have rooted for one or other of them, although personally I always preferred G’Kar. That’s all in the past now, and it would take a very odd viewer to still feel like they are on the side of Londo, who has become a monster. The horrified look on his face when the Narn homeworld was being bombarded was a masterclass of acting and a powerful moment. One wonders to what extent what happened there was intended as an allegory for the atomic bomb:

“This one move will end the war in days instead of months.”

G’Kar’s life, in contrast, begins anew as one of the good guys in the minds of the viewer. It’s actually quite cleverly set up, with Franklin openly confiding in him, and then after G’Kar’s great speech Sheridan pledges his loyalty to him. He is no longer a shady alien delegate to be kept at arms length and mistrusted. He’s now a friend, a victim, a part of the inner circle of heroes, a freedom fighter.

“We will be free.”

And just a word here for Andreas Katsulas. I’ve praised him right from the start of watching B5. He has always been the best thing about this series, and in the second season he hasn’t featured as strongly as I would have liked. But this week he gave us a tour de force.

It wasn’t just Sheridan pledging loyalty to G’Kar this week, and Draal pledging loyalty to Sheridan earlier in the episode. There was a lot of that going around this week. The truth about the Rangers (which Sinclair told Garibaldi about earlier in the series) was revealed to Sheridan, and he now finds himself at the head of a band of loyal followers, fighting against a common enemy. That means the Shadows, and I suppose now it means Londo as well. This is going to be interesting.

It feels like I’ve just watched a season finale, but there are still two episodes to go. That means one of two things. Either we are going to get an anticlimax, or things are going to get even more dramatic and exciting. I hope it’s the latter, but it would take some doing to top this.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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1 Response to Babylon 5: The Long, Twilight Struggle

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Babylon 5 came in a decade where new SF television could feel particularly atmospheric. Because B5 could have a specifically wider margin for its regular characters than any of the Treks at the time regarding flexibility, it has recently made me contemplate how its dramatic and adventurous formula might have worked as a Trek prequel series as opposed to Enterprise or Discovery.

    Given how Trek prequels have for obvious reasons done more harm than good in the eyes of many Trekkers, the potential for SF newness is educationally the exciting challenge. Dr. Who could have sufficient newness with Genesis Of The Daleks, Devious and Big Finish’s War Doctor Era. But the main success was not needing to rely too much on going back to basics. We could still improve on the basics as Genesis Of The Daleks certainly did. But B5 proved how earlier-future conflicts may refreshingly play out between galactic civilizations including our own while working to finally form a United Federation. That’s the kind of Trek prequel I think I would have enjoyed. So even though I still enjoy B5 for being its own franchise, the “what if” potential as with Dr. Who and Trek still perks our imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

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