Babylon 5: The Fall of Night

b5It’s nearly Christmas back home for those stationed on Babylon 5, and we’ve just passed it.  I love symmetry.  And The Fall of Night is a Christmas gift complete with angelic beings and the gift of sight.  In this story, JMS pulls together so much to end the second season on a whopper!   It does not disappoint.

War is imminent.  The Ministry of Peace is making its presence felt on the Station and Clark’s propaganda is spreading.  Nightwatch is infiltrating all levels of B5 including command.  And when a Centauri ship opens fire on a protected Narn battlecruiser, all hell breaks loose when Sheridan approves a retaliation.  (I’ll point out that this is when we finally see the upgraded weapons added during the episode GROPOS.)  Tension is so high, “it makes me nervous”.  The quote, from the meeting between Vir and Lennier is the humorous counterpoint to a very tense episode, but it sums things up nicely.

Back to the battlecruiser…  The structure of the episode puts as at just over 30 minutes before the Centauri cruiser is destroyed.  We have 13 minutes left to wrap the season.  Sheridan is ordered to apologize (which leads to another fantastic moment as he rehearses his speech in the mirror and finds himself unable to contain his annoyance).  As he gets on the rail car to go to the meeting site to offer that apology, someone plants on bomb.  Sheridan is forced to jump to avoid being blown up, but will likely die upon impact with the ground.  As the station rotates at “60 miles an hour”, Sheridan’s descent is not looking good.  And then it happens…

We come now to the 900 pound gorilla that makes this episode.  Delenn tells Kosh “you know what’s at stake.  If you’re going to do anything, you must do it now!”  This illustrates the importance of the previous episode, Comes the Inquisitor, because Kosh just received confirmation from his own inquisitor that Sheridan and Delenn are the chosen ones.  He is obligated to do something about what is happening now.  Furthermore, the answer Sebastian wanted to the question “who are you” was one of biblical proportions: they have to be willing to lay down their lives for another.  Kosh has to risk letting his secret out for another, and possibly laying down his life as well.  Sebastian’s “holy quest” may not have been a zealot’s quest, but a quest to find someone who understood something biblical, as it seems Kosh must as well.  And no wonder; recall back to The Gathering when Lyta and Dr. Kyle see inside the Vorlon’s suit.  Kyle said that there are moments when things crystalize, when things in life become perfectly clear.  Lyta fell in love with what she saw.  Whenever Kosh has left his suit up until this point, we’ve heard the flapping of wings.  And Kosh had said that if anyone saw him leave his suit, he would be recognized by “everyone”.  So when he leaves his suit, everything becomes crystal clear!  Everyone sees John Sheridan saved by an angel.  Everyone who looks upon that angel sees the face of one of their own species, but they all see a being of light.  (Also appropriate for a being of light to be part of the army of light in the fortress of light; terms all pulled from The Long Twilight Struggle.)   Straczynski has been building the story to this major revelation and there is no better word for it.  It is a revelation of religious proportions!  But that’s all!  I noticed while watching to prepare this write up that everyone is looking up at the recently exploded rail car and the falling Sheridan.  Delenn is the only one who sees Kosh leave his encounter suit.  While everyone sees an angel, there’s no reason for them to assume it was Kosh.  Furthermore, when Kosh puts John down, he deposits him in an uninhabited area of the garden and then flies off before people arrive.  John gets confirmation but he and Delenn have already proven to be the chosen ones so that’s not big deal for Kosh and allows the mystery to be maintained.  At least for a little while longer.

One would ask if everyone would recognize them, why does Londo say he saw nothing?  I’d argue that he is dealing with a crisis of faith, seeing that he has basically made a pact with the devil.  Perhaps it’s too much for him to accept; he knows only that something saved Sheridan from death.  (Or there may be another reason that has to do with the Vorlons never having visited Centauri prime, but I find that dissatisfying.  If that were the case, Morden would not have had to poll all the races when he first arrived in season 1.)  “It is a matter of perspective,” Delenn says, and that might be the best answer we have, but equally that may be all we need.  Yet when Sheridan and Delenn discuss it later, Sheridan is still a little unkind about the way he views the Vorlon agenda, referring to it as manipulation.  One might be inclined to side with Delenn considering Kosh just risked himself for John, but don’t hold it against our station captain.  Kosh has been teaching him how to fight legends and what is more legendary than angels anyway?

Oh, and let’s do one more flashback, all the way to the beginning in The Gathering.  This is the second time we’ve seen Kosh’s hand.  The last time, he was reaching out to shake hands with Sinclair before someone put a poison tab on his skin to kill him.  It’s nothing more than an observation but I make it to illustrate that from the very start, JMS knew where he was going with the series.   Otherwise, with everything we’ve seen of Kosh since that first episode, it might look like the hand was a “first draft” version of the character.

Meanwhile in other ISN news, Keffer finds the mysterious ship in hyperspace that he heard about earlier in the season.  In fact, attentive visitors of the Junkyard will recall that I pointed out the news article in the papers during season 1.  Keffer, who turned up this season like a main attraction, strangely even making the opening credits, finally finds that mysterious thing and dies in the process.  But does he do a “Rorscach”?  To explain, in the seminal 1986 graphic novel The Watchmen, Rorschach releases a journal that may undo everything that the entire story is based on.  (For those who have not read it, you absolutely should, but I’ll avoid any spoilers beyond what I’ve said here!)  Keffer’s release of that footage shows a shadow ship and now everyone knows what it looks like.  Has he just undone the work that the Rangers and the Army of Light have been planning?  We have to wait until season 3 to find out…

“Same time tomorrow?”  No, Vir, we’ll have to wait until next Friday but come back to see where we go from here!   ML

The view from across the pond:

“Half the time I’m so furious with the guy I could break his neck. The other half I feel sorry for him.”

I’m not sure about the percentages, but Garibaldi’s words must surely echo the viewer’s feelings about Londo, who has gradually followed a character arc from comedy guy to warmongering monster, and is now trapped in the role he has carved out for himself. When he has to attend a meeting of ambassadors for Sheridan’s “apology”, he stands alone, while G’Kar hides behind a tree. I think that tells us everything we need to know about the current status quo.

Interesting character dynamics aside, we have had exactly what I thought was almost inevitable after the thrilling 20th episode of the season (The Long, Twilight Struggle), an anticlimax. Much of this episode felt like a season opener rather than a finale, with Sheridan having to suffer political machinations. Typically for JMS, there were some blandly obvious references, first to the Ministry of Peace from 1984, which must surely have been a deliberate reference despite the reference not really complementing the storyline here (in 1984 the word “Peace” is most definitely a euphemism for “War”, but here it’s a euphemism for “Surrender”). Secondly, we got this, which made me groan:

“We will, at last, know peace in our time.”

…which is such a lazy reference to Chamberlain’s speech that I wondered for a moment if a teenager had written this episode after attending a history lesson in school. For the hat-trick of tedious references, we had mention of the Vorlons visiting races across the universe and becoming the source of their religious iconography. I’ve seen enough Von Daniken-esque stories like this to last me several lifetimes.

There were times when the episode did feel like a finale. The tense battle with the Centauri while Sheridan tried to protect that last Narn warship was great, as was his James Bond moment in a very convenient low gravity area. We also got to see Kosh at last, or at least we got to see what Sheridan sees when he looks at Kosh. It turns out he’s very shiny, and likes an unbuttoned shirt, like some kind of a Simon Cowell with wings. Londo the mass murderer of course sees nothing, perhaps signifying not just that he has abandoned all faith, but that all faith has now abandoned him.  Nah, it’s not that clever, is it.  The Vorlons simply didn’t visit the Centauri, presumably because they predicted what was to come.  Sounds like a self-fulfilling prophesy to me.

The death of Warren should have felt like a big moment, but really it’s almost like he was never there. He has barely featured in the series and never made an impact, so I’m glad to see that he has been written out. With him and Talia both gone, the success rate for the watchability of the main characters just shot up.

I have mentioned before that B5 does the same obvious thing as Star Trek with the chain of command. Anyone senior to (or sideways to) the captain is nearly always an idiot. This week’s idiot was Frederick Lantz the appeaser, played by the patriarch of the Dotrice acting dynasty, Roy. Across the pond here his daughter Michele will always be remembered for playing Betty in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, but her sister Karen achieved worldwide fame as a child playing Jane Banks in Mary Poppins. What a family! Roy Dotrice pitched the character of Lantz just right here. Although he was functioning as the villain of the week, working in opposition to our hero Sheridan, he avoided the obvious moustache-twirling route and instead played him as frustrated and impotent, no real threat to Sheridan in the end. That worked perfectly for a character who was trying to appease killers by signing a “non-aggression treaty” with them, giving the Centauri a chance to go after everyone else first and delaying the inevitable for Earth. Unfortunately for Sheridan, he was not acting alone but was there to deliver the peace/surrender he had been sent to achieve.

So this all sets up a fascinating state of affairs for Season 3. Sheridan is now at the head of a group of resistance fighters, secretly working in opposition to his own government. G’Kar is a broken man who may yet rise from the ashes of vicious defeat. Delenn and Kosh are united with Sheridan. But the Shadows know they’ve been seen now. The obvious route to take from here on in is for Season 3 to end with open war between the Earth/Minbari/Vorlon/Narn alliance and the Centauri/Shadow alliance, and for Season 4 to end with the occupation of the station. Go on JMS, do something original for a change. Surprise me.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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: Logo

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s