Now we’re cooking! We finally seem to be getting into the real thrust of the series. The Ministry of Peace is becoming more invasive. G’Kar has knowledge he wants to share with Michael. The First Ones are still out there near Sigma 957 (the same beings G’Kar saved Catherine Sakai from in Episode 6 of Season 1, Mind War.) And our friend Draal is back, helping Sheridan’s “Army of Light” find something it can use in the conflict ahead. What’s really interesting is how Sheridan is caught in the middle of two conflicts: whatever is happening with the Shadows and the tensions at home. So much happens in this story and it’s exactly what I was waiting for.
I loved games like Star Flight where exploring the depths of space lead to amazing discoveries. The idea of Sigma 957 enthralled me when I’d first watched Babylon 5 and the idea of there being something wonderful out there is what I call “mind candy”. So when Susan goes looking for the First Ones, I was hooked. When she finds them, they aren’t what I was expecting; they looked like stone faces or faces from totem poles. It appears they were not what Susan expected either and they seemed quite perturbed by the mention of Vorlons. I have some ideas here but I feel obligated to wait for the right moment, and that won’t come until Season 4. (Chiefly it has to be asked: why would they be annoyed to hear of the Vorlons if they too were among the First Ones?)
This episode really shows Susan as a major player in the unfolding drama. She finds the recording that incriminates Clark in the death of Santiago, presumably due to her latent Psi abilities. Ironically this also implicates Psi-Corp. I can’t help but ask how admissible would it be? Could they make a case using this information? Let’s face it, even illegally recording a message with a regular recorder would be inadmissible in court. How does one justify a recording taken from an omniscient machine built into a planet with a Minbari working the “keyboard”? (The reason I point out the Minbari at the heart of the machine is because, with the Earth-Minbari war of a mere decade ago, would most of Earth accept the “evidence” or would they consider it doctored?)
This discovery does open a door, and not just one that the Shadows can peek through, though that’s scary enough. (I find myself chilled when Ivanova states that they know her name, yet I can’t explain why. What is the value in knowing her name anyway? I digress…) The door it opens is bigger than at first it might appear. Yes, we’ve been told that Clark was involved and we have been fairly certain Psi-Corp was also involved, but this episode validates that belief, both to the audience and the Army of Light. More than that, it brings so much else into question. IPX (Interplanetary Expeditions) is affiliated with PsiCorp and they fund ISN, InterStellar Network News. How much news has been tweaked to alter sentiment, change opinions, and change allegiances? I think of the Editor in the Doctor Who episode The Long Game who explains how the right words can “invent an enemy” (among other things). In other words, there is a high probability that they’ve infiltrated every aspect of life back home; life that has been very anti-alien for some time. Coupled that with Nightwatch and The Ministry of Peace, one might be inclined to say that Sheridan truly is all alone in the night. Babylon 5 is rapidly becoming a colony of its own.
Speaking of Nightwatch, a small thing stood out to me regarding Zach. He keeps complaining that the clothing he’s wearing doesn’t fit. I think it’s a metaphor that he’s a bad fit for Nightwatch and he knows it, or more accurately, it doesn’t suit him. Something nags at him and it’s just not sitting well.
Meanwhile G’Kar is sharing his knowledge with Michael. The Book of G’Quan has information about the Shadows which could be helpful to the Alliance. Of course, the real question is, how much trust can one give an account from 1000 years ago? Since the Shadows were defeated back then, maybe there’s something in it after all. Unless the Shadows were not defeated.
Overall, this episode really provides some much-needed power to Season 3. The troubles are really kicking in to high gear now. As if the crew needs more trouble… ML
The view from across the pond:
From Season Two of Babylon 5 onwards we moved towards an episode format that advanced the ongoing story arc, mixed in with the usual jeopardy-of-the-week episodes. These story arc episodes have tended to be the weaker ones, but here is the episode where that all changed. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why that is, although I think it probably comes down to two things. Firstly, and for no obvious reason, the standard of writing was higher. Secondly, the arc-heavy episodes tend to live or die on the quality of the ensemble cast, and we simply have a better line-up this year.
The two new regulars feature quite prominently in this episode, and they are both great new additions to the cast. Zack has been kicking around for a while as a supporting player anyway, but his character really gets fleshed out here. At first I thought we were heading for a major misstep, with his defining characteristics seeming to be vanity and lack of intelligence. However, by the end of the episode it is clear that he is perceptive and loyal, and struggling with his loyalties divided between two masters.
“I’m walking a tightrope here and I thought you’d understand.”
He has been placed in an impossible situation and one gets the sense that Garibaldi and the others should perhaps be confiding in him to secure his undivided loyalty. Zack clearly realises something is being kept secret from him and is deeply hurt. He values loyalty highly and it only seems to be running in one direction, from his perspective. It fits in very nicely with a similar storyline rumbling along, with G’Kar starting to figure things out and feeling hurt by being similarly kept out of the loop.
Also featuring strongly this episode is Marcus, and he is immediately a great character because he is just so funny. His defining characteristic so far is a sarcastic wit. He does little other than make clever little quips and crack jokes, but he’s absolutely brilliant at it.
“At least it tells us they understand our language. They’re just not willing to speak to us in it.”
“Who knew they were French.”
Meanwhile, Sheridan’s new “political officer” turns up. She is the clumsiest piece of writing this week, dispatched by the end of the episode and introduced to serve two purposes. Firstly she prevents Sheridan from visiting the planet, giving Ivanova and her latent psychic abilities a chance to shine. Secondly, she updates us on the political situation on Earth. Actually, she updates Sheridan. Why does he ask her about Earth as if he’s never been there? Things don’t change that much in a year, redefining things like homelessness and poverty on a global scale. Even if they have, he can’t possibly be that out of touch, so this was a clunky way to achieve the necessary exposition.
The events on Earth are an all-too-obvious parallel with Nazi propaganda, right down to the very familiar posters. Sometimes I wonder if JMS thought he was writing for an audience of idiots, and needed to hammer every point home. The comparison isn’t exactly subtle, and when that happens it tends to be at the cost of realism.
Julie Musante is one of those characters we love to hate, a ruthless politician with abhorrent views, who is willing to sleep with anyone to get what she wants. I loved the puzzled look on her face when Sheridan left her in the buff and said he would be right back. Perhaps she was wondering whether he was going off in search of his lucky undies. Ivanova gets the award for the comedy line of the series so far:
“I think you’re about to go where everyone has gone before.”
Ivanova’s own little mission to make friends with some Old Ones was fun, mainly due to her being teamed with Marcus. It took a bit of believing, and her plan to manipulate the creature’s sense of pride lessened its impact somewhat. We’ve being going great guns with building up these things as Lovecraftian superbeings, so a trick like this brings them right down to Earth, making them relatable in human terms. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, but it was funny. I had to laugh at this bit of clumsy writing:
“I know this place. I’ve seen it in the star charts.”
Um, it’s a planet. And she can’t have weighed up the star positions around the planet in an instant. The flaming stone face alien was a good effect though, much better than all the stuff with Draal appearing and disappearing, which was rather off-putting because the picture went very soft and a bit blurry for a few seconds before and after it happened each time.
I do need to mention something I don’t think I have ever commented on before. The incidental music was brilliant this week. I can only assume it has been pretty generic mood music up to this point because I have literally never noticed it (unless I’ve forgotten, which is entirely possible), but the composer did a great job of building up the tension this week.
All in all, this was the best episode of the third season so far, by a mile. We were also left with an interesting cliffhanger, with G’Kar giving Garibaldi his holy book to read, with the words, “I told you I could help.” Garibaldi points out that he can’t read Narn, to which he receives a one word reply:
It might be a while before this plot point gets resolved… RP