Babylon 5: Messages from Earth

b5Man, I don’t know if it’s the drums, or the tense music in general, but this episode pulled me in like I’d entered the gravitational well of a gas giant.  There’s a lot that goes on in 43 minutes.  It opens innocuously enough with Susan getting a very special gift of bacon and eggs from Marcus but where it goes from there…

Marcus has helped get Dr. Kirkish on board.  She has special information about things happening on Mars and it’s not good news for the Army of Light.  Our old pals, IPX, have uncovered a Shadow vessel and are about to dig it out.  Sheridan and his people have to do something about it.  Meanwhile, the Nightwatch is turning its attentions on the command staff of B5 and with Sheridan’s absence, someone was bound to notice.

First of all, I have to comment on the music and the sound mixing in this episode.  The militant drumbeat is marvelous, but the scene when Kirkish is reminiscing about events on Mars from 7 years ago really hits a chilling high note.  Mind you, this is ten minutes into the episode!  The moment the Shadow vessel is “born” and that scream occurs, brrr… I got chills!  Later, when Delenn sees the one on Jupiter coming to life, her “In Valen’s name, it’s awake” is about as spine-tingling as Victor Frankenstein’s, “It’s alive!”  Great stuff!

Speaking of “great stuff”, G’Kar only gets a few minutes of screen time, but he’s still a main attraction.  He tells Garibaldi that there are many distractions “out there” and his prison cell has given him time to reflect.  He has gone through a change and I cannot wait to see what happens when he gets out.  “In here…  you cannot hide from yourself.”  Yet as great as G’Kar is, there are other things that are worthy of praise.  During the opening, when the episode credits are running, there is a news report discussing President Clark’s convenient departure from Earth Force One.  It’s a bit of foreshadowing that will play into what’s happening with Nightwatch.  Those power hungry pseudo-Nazi’s are going to use the “slanderous” statements to investigate everyone on board the station.  It’s an uncomfortable realization, and Zach is especially bothered by it.  During these news broadcasts, Keffer’s footage of the Shadow vessel plays on the screen.  He did more harm than good in investigating.  Probably for the best that he didn’t make it out alive.  (What, too soon?)

I also love the way they are building the relationship between Delenn and Sheridan.  When people say they are “taking it slow”, they should look to these two to see how it’s done.  But there is a lovely scene between them while in the White Star where John can’t sleep.  Between his anxiety and the beds on a Minbari ship (which add a humorous dimension to events), all he can do is reminisce about his dad, and how his dad used to use the hose to make the sound of rain to allow John to go to sleep when he was younger.  Delenn lies back and says something in Minbari and the sound of rain can be heard through the ship.  It’s a lovely moment.  It’s made even sweeter when she tells John “Sleep now, and I will watch and catch you if you should fall.”   I really love the way these two care about one another!

If there’s a complaint I have about this episode, it comes from both Garibaldi and Delenn.  Both have information they somehow never thought to share before.  Delenn tells John how the Shadow ships merge with a living person.  Why was this the first time it was ever discussed?  That seems like an important thing to have known before.  Maybe it’s not that important in the grand scheme, but I felt there had to be a better time!  But the one that really bugged me was Michael!  He talks about a time he saw a Shadow vessel and ended up with a Psi-corp badge as a result.  I’m especially disappointed that this came out only now.  It’s one thing if he hadn’t seen the footage of the ship, but he had.  And he clearly knew it was important because he had the burned Psi-corp badge with him at the meeting.  Considering he came to Babylon 5 before any of this was even a thought, that means for some reason when he was packing to be stationed on B5, he decided this burned Psi-Corp badge was worth taking with him.  It doesn’t ring true.  Yeah, it’s probably minor and maybe it was something he would have carried as a reminder of the deviousness of the Corp, but I just don’t buy it.

As if the episode wasn’t firing on all thrusters up until now, things get more intense when Sheridan makes an attack on the Shadow vessel.  Realizing they can’t beat it, he decides to anger it enough to chase him.  I’ll rewind your collective memories to A Day in the Strife.  Do you remember what Garibaldi said of Sheridan?  He can take an “inferior defensive force and turn it into an offensive force capable of taking on a better equipped enemy.”  And he does, leading the vessel into the gravitational pull of Jupiter.  It’s tense, alright; things are really shaking up.  After the Shadow vessel crumples like a dead spider, things don’t get easier.  John is up against his old ship, the Agamemnon.  Tough day indeed.  But the episode ends with a successful mission and Earth has no idea who was behind the attack.  But there’s one last bit of bad news: “President Clark has declared martial law today.”  It’s a chilling ending.

B5 is at its best when telling a big story and keeping us interested.  I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for more… ML

The view from across the pond:

We start this episode in a down to Earth manner, with Sheridan and Garibaldi complaining about having the same breakfast for three years while Ivanova enjoys a gift of bacon and eggs from Marcus. I love these moments of realism, because of course the future is never quite the wonderful vision of perfection that sci-fi often sells us. We’ve already reached the future of Back to the Future and I want to know where my hover board is? And as for Space: 1999… B5 even makes the senior officer’s having breakfast look like a canteen. It’s real, and it’s accompanied by some more friendly banter that humanises the senior officers:

“We’ll just sit right here.”
“And watch.”

Meanwhile, Marcus is busy fighting a whole gang of thugs in one go, without much difficulty. It seems that in a four-against-one fight against Marcus, the four are actually the ones who are outnumbered. For a moment I thought I had tuned into an episode of Buffy by mistake. Is there no end to his talents? Also proving to be multi-talented this episode is G’Kar.

“Sometimes I even sing.”

He is using his incarceration as an opportunity rather than a hindrance:

“There are no distractions in here. You can learn much from silence.”

Have I mentioned how much I love G’Kar? What a great line that is. Garibaldi has been trying to read G’Kar’s book, and it’s predictably slow going.

“I just wish there were a translated version I could read.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Two words. Google. Translate.

All of this was just an appetiser for the main course: Sheridan’s first big fight with a Shadow ship. The moment was built up to brilliantly. Seeing an archaeological dig turn up a buried ship which had been there for thousands of years was very creepy, and it was even more creepy to see if fly off after being rescued by another ship. JMS has done a great job of building up the Shadows as this all-powerful, ancient foe, but unfortunately he squanders a lot of that this episode because Sheridan’s victory is just too easy. Yes, he defeats the ship with intelligence, and that’s great, but I don’t buy a race that is as ancient and powerful as the Shadows falling for that trick. It was clever, but not clever enough, and all of a sudden the scary, all-powerful ancient aliens aren’t looking so scary and all-powerful any more. It was a missed opportunity.

They do say the journey is more important than the destination though, and Sheridan had a great little moment with Delenn, trying to get some kip on one of those silly sloping beds. He opened up to her about his past, and it was a lovely little moment of vulnerability:

“He stood there making it rain until I fell asleep. I sometimes think he would have stood there for days if he had to. I miss him.”

The look of sadness on Bruce Boxleitner’s face when he delivered that line was a great bit of acting. For any viewer who has lost their father, that must be a tough moment to watch, and one that resonates.

To cheer us up we had a moment of unintended jollity, when Sheridan ordered the weapons guys to prepare to fire and their little dodgems cars slid into position together. Looks like fun.

Back on the station, new regular Zack Allen was suffering some more political shenanigans from his Night Watch friends. We have had a building theme this year of people putting on a uniform as a power trip.

“Sometimes watching them like this, without them even knowing you’re here, makes you feel a little like God, doesn’t it?”

Did anyone notice at the time how gloriously anti-establishment B5 was? This series we are being shown how quickly things can go wrong when people in authority start stomping over civil rights. The historical parallels are obvious (a little too obvious, as I mentioned before).

“Just how far does this go anyway? Do we start suspecting everybody?”

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a witch hunt. The big revelation at the end of the episode is that Earth is under martial law, which is no surprise at all. I’m guessing things are going to start getting very uncomfortable for Sheridan and his friends. It’s a good job he’s got Marcus the Vampire Slayer on his team.   RP

About Roger Pocock

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1 Response to Babylon 5: Messages from Earth

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The point on Babylon 5 being at its best when it tells us a big story and keeps us interested is why I think it sufficiently diverged from Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Even when DS9 had big stories like war with the Dominion or its series finale, its own ‘big’ stories were told in ‘small’ ways. B5 had a set the tone for many following space-age TV dramas that ‘big’ dramatically binds us all. With DS9, as with most Trek shows, it was mostly the focus of one or two ensemble characters for the pivotal story of the weekly episode. Not that fans couldn’t still enjoy that. But B5 opened its own scope enough to make us feel like everything and everyone equally always mattered in the same story.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 2 people

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