We had a fantastic episode last week with The Long Twilight Struggle and I didn’t think there was much chance we could compare to that. And yet, I’d say we did! The reason is that the previous week is a big episode impacting a lot of players, while this one is on a far smaller scale, but has a tremendous punch, as it should for the penultimate episode of the season. This time, we are dealing with Sheridan and Delenn, while last week focused on, basically everyone. In fairness, we also get some outstanding G’Kar stuff, but the thrust of the story is if Delenn and Sheridan are, in fact, the “chosen ones”. And what exactly does that mean?
Starting with the magnificent Andreas Katsulas as G’Kar, we get two fantastic moments. The first is the scene between Garibaldi and G’Kar when Michael asks about his gun-running. G’Kar does not lie and as a result, Garibaldi is willing to help him. The dialogue is wonderful because it shows that G’Kar just doesn’t have the strength to fight, but in being vulnerable and accepting of Garibaldi’s authority, he gains more than he bargained for. It speaks well of Michael too. But the scene is played wonderfully by Katsulas and Doyle. Then later we get a truly amazing performance as Vir finds himself in the elevator with G’Kar. At a loss for words, he apologizes for the terrible atrocities being done to the Narn. G’Kar has nothing to say and instead slices his own hand open and lets the blood drip. “Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead…” he says, as each drop falls. “How do you apologize to them?” Vir says sadly, “I can’t”. G’kar says with equal sadness, “Then I cannot forgive” and he walks off. Talk about a tour de force scene. MUST SEE TV. Both actors play their parts perfectly, but Katsulas elevates every scene he is in and this scene may make the episode even though it’s supposed to be all about John and Delenn. So let’s move on to see what’s happening with them…
Back in our review of Signs and Portents, I commented about the troubling differences between Morden and Kosh. We are given the impression that Morden is the “bad guy” and is working for the bigger bad guys. But he’s often the epitome of nice asking only what people want. Kosh, by contrast, is supposedly the good guy but is so cryptic that he’s earned Mr Riddles as a nickname from Roger. In the review, I very specifically asked “So who is the good guy and who is the bad? Why does it feel like the bad guy is Morden??” Now, at the end of season 2, Kosh brings an inquisitor on board who needs to test Sheridan and Delenn. (This leads to some stunning audio/visual combos.)
The question is, what is he testing for? His entire line of questioning seems to come down to one thing: “who are you?” Yet no answer seems to be enough. Now, actions may speak louder than words but the words seem to be the focus and when every possible answer is shot down, it does not look good for Delenn or Sheridan. When you start to think about it from Sebastian’s perspective, it is a far more difficult question to answer than one might expect. We know who we are based on the roles we play in life: friend, father, mother, worker, etc. How does one answer that “correctly”? It seems far easier to answer Morden’s “what do you want?” To get to the answer, Sebastian is willing to commit brutal acts of torture but it is clear that his victims don’t understand the question. Surely not the behavior of a decent person! Yet it seems he doesn’t want a verbal answer, for when he is satisfied it’s with an act of sacrifice; a near biblical response that Delenn and Sheridan are willing to lay down their lives for another. “No greater love hath a man that he lays down his life for his brother. Not for millions. Not for glory, not for fame. For one person. In the dark, where no one will ever know or see.” In proving to be willing to die for another, they prove to be the “right people, in the right place, at the right time”. Does that signify something down the line? We will have to wait to find out.
As Sebastian leaves the Station, he reveals some of the most damning information that makes me question the Vorlons even more. He admits that he too believed himself to be the chosen one and it took the Vorlon to show him the error of his ways. It would appear that back in 1888, he was trying to cleanse London of the filth that was destroying it. And now, 400 years of servitude later, his “holy quest” might come to an end. His mission from God lead him to be forgotten as Sebastian and be remembered only as “Jack”. Which means the “good guys” are using Jack the Ripper to interrogate people. More and more I wonder who are the good guys and who the bad? But then, maybe that’s far more realistic anyway. Maybe there is no “bad guy”, just someone whose agenda differs from what we consider normal. And isn’t that far more interesting anyway? ML
The view from across the pond:
After the excitement of the last episode, which felt very much like watching a season finale, there would have been very few ways to avoid the next episode feeling like an anticlimax. This isn’t one of them. We’re back in the same old A plot / B plot format, although it’s hard to say which one is the A because they both feel like Bs. Of the two storylines, the one centering around G’Kar is the best by far, with G’Kar establishing himself as the leader of the new Narn resistance.
“I thought the war was over.”
“You were misinformed.”
The episode was worth watching just for the scene with G’Kar and Vir in a lift. It starts off awkwardly, with G’Kar’s unnerving stare, and then Vir (the only Centauri whose heart seems to be in the right place) attempts an apology.
“I’m sorry. I wish there was something that I could do, but… I tried telling them, but they wouldn’t listen. They never listen. I’m sorry.”
It’s a genuine moment of remorse, and G’Kar’s response is to cut his own hand and use every drop of blood as a symbol for a lost Narn life.
“How do you apologise to them?”
“Then I cannot forgive.”
Once again G’Kar seems to be on the verge of tears. Once again, it’s a haunting performance from the amazing Andreas Katsulas.
…and then we must reluctantly come to the other storyline this week. The moment we were told that Sebastian was from 1888 I was immediately thinking: Whitechapel murders. My next thought was that surely JMS wouldn’t want to rob B5 of all its credibility this week by doing something so ridiculous as having Jack the Ripper turn up on the station. Oh, actually he would.
So I struggled instead to get into the mindset of the viewer who didn’t have a basic knowledge of history, and see if the episode still worked on any level, but it really doesn’t. The spectacle of Delenn subjecting herself to the tortures of this bullying, arrogant, Victorian toff (even without the knowledge that he is a serial killer) is hard to watch, and makes no sense on any level. It seems to be all about testing her faith:
“Call out, Delenn, call out to the Universe. If it hears you surely it will respond.”
I’ve mentioned previously about how the “Universe” is being used functionally as a substitute term for “God”, in a very New Agey way. Well, maybe the “Universe” doesn’t want to be tested by a murderer, or a deeply misguided woman who willingly places herself in the centre of such a ridiculous charade. Why does Kosh want to test her faith anyway? What is the relevance to their pact? In the end she passes, by being willing to sacrifice herself for the life of one person, without fanfare or recognition, cheerfully ignoring the fact that she is clearly in love with Sheridan anyway so this actually proves nothing about her. Not that her integrity or bravery needs to be tested in this way anyway. Kosh has been sold to us as some kind of an all-seeing oracle. If he’s so wise, why can’t he see what any viewer can see without going through such a bizarre test?
All that was left to do was to confirm the identity of “Sebastian”:
“This may take a while.”
Er, try a census, Ivanova. You’ve got the address. Or some basic knowledge of history might help. 1888, Ivanova. 1888. Ring any bells?
Mike often praises the B5 approach of having one writer doing virtually all the scripts, and yes, it is making for a remarkably coherent body of work. If the number one thing you are looking for when you watch a television series is accurate continuity, then I can see how this is the peak of that approach. But from what I’ve seen so far, 2/5ths of the way through B5, it comes at a high price. One writer simply cannot come up with enough high quality storylines, and the last two episodes illustrate the problem perfectly. Every time we get a great episode like The Long, Twilight Struggle (and they have been very rare), we get dragged back down to Earth with a bump, with an episode like Comes the Inquisitor. We already had somebody searching for the Grail among the stars. Now we’ve had Jack the Ripper on a space station. Even Doctor Who would struggle to make stories like those work, and JMS is certainly no RTD. The one thing he does do well, as evidenced by G’Kar’s resistance movement this week, is to tell compelling war stories. Let’s hope he gets back to that for the finale and leaves the past in the past. RP
SF war stories as opposed to non-SF war stories, speaking from how Saving Private Ryan greatly impacted me when I first saw it in the cinema, are always intriguing for how the creative powers in their SF talents make the warring battles realistic enough. Special effects aside, there’s the effect that the fighters can naturally dramatize for us and this was quite evident in the climactic battle for victory against the Death Star in the first Star Wars.
Star Trek: Deep Space 9 had both the Dominion War and Section 31. Dr. Who had several testing examples from The Dalek Invasion Of Earth to The Time War. For Babylon 5 which is the dynamic drama of struggling to replace space-age wars with peace, it justly centres on the human and alien characters looking within and conquering whatever demons sparked their conflicts in the first place. But flexing its own creativity to allow more diversity into each new episode is of course the biggest challenge.
Thank you both, ML and RP, for your reviews.
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