Here’s a bit of news: this episode won a Hugo Award in 1997. It’s not surprising either. This episode is a power house! Let’s dive in…
The episode opens with a bit of comedy as Londo speaks too freely about the people he is criticizing and ends up waiting on a line for several hours. We can’t help but laugh, but it’s the last chance for that for a while. Things decay rapidly when we start to focus on the Earth Civil war. The term Civil War is about as big an oxymoron as you can get. There’s nothing civil about war. Not when brother is fighting brother. As General Ryan says “That’s what makes this war different… we know everyone we kill.” The next 45 minutes is a tense build up. General Hague’s ship, hunted by all of Earth Alliance, is coming to the station and hell is riding hot on its heels. This is a fantastic war episode but for all the awesome space battles, I go for this one for the tension it generates and more importantly, how our heroes react to it. And that has to be the focus here. JMS gives us the needed background. ISN (the news network) is limited in what it can say: they are under the control of the government and the moment someone speaks out against that government, the network goes offline. Mars declares independence and is bombed even over pleas that there are women and children present. Clark’s control is nearly absolute. So what does Sheridan do?
John has a meeting with his chief advisors; an idea we saw frequently in Star Trek. He offers them an option: fight or surrender. And of course it comes down to beliefs. He believes in the Earth Alliance. He even expresses this to his bridge staff: “we wear the same uniforms… sworn to uphold the same constitution.” He is impressing on the people around him that they are one people. (This is another clever bit of foreshadowing to a document that will emerge in another season and a half!) The orders are ethically wrong. Susan, Michael, Steven… they agree because it’s not about being belligerent; it’s fighting for what is right. I have been pro-Sheridan for a long time but this episode gives him a hard choice. He made a commitment to fight the darkness and right now, that means fighting against his own people. People, as Ryan said, that he knows. I admire the level headed reasoning he uses: “while it’s our humanity that got us into this, our humanity is the only thing that’s’ going to get us out again.”
In a strange moment where real life impinges upon fiction, as I write this, my work and neighborhood are dealing with the fear generated by the Corona virus. The media makes it worse and it feels like we are looking at one another with such suspicion; who is carrying this virus? It’s a weird time, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, but I found comfort re-watching this episode, because it is that humanity that can save us. I think that is the very thing we need to remember in terrible situations: we need to be unified, and stand together and not let fear and panic control us. It’s not much to offer during a scary time, but it does prove that escapism does have a place in our world. (The difference is that I didn’t get a really cool camera effect when the realization dawned on me!)
While it’s a smaller element of the episode, the B plot is Delenn going against her own people. I’m reminded of Doctor Who here; she’s telling her people not to be so complacent and to actually help others. While I agree with the sentiment, I do question this. Wasn’t Delenn the one saying to lay low before? Or is this different because she knows Babylon 5 is a place they need to protect? If so, why? Is it just what it represents: hope? A place where many races can go to be one? Needless to say, her actions will tie in to the main plot shortly but for now, I appreciate her actions against her people. Like Sheridan, she’s standing up for what’s right.
Delenn isn’t the only thing that I questioned in this episode. John uses the hologram tech to make an announcement about what is going on back home. Immediately after finishing, Susan asks if they should ask Draal for help. Sheridan says he wants to keep Draal a secret. Um… where did that hologram tech come from again? Did I miss something? And I’m not blind: the image of Sheridan hovering in glowing light does paint him in a bit of a godlike image, but I’m not reading anything major into that. It’s just worthy of note.
There are also honorable mentions: G’Kar, lurking in shadows and barely a player in tonight’s drama, still manages to be amazing as he helps carry a wounded man to sickbay. Note what Delenn says to him: “I think you are no longer the same person I met when I came here 4 years ago.” Is he the one who is already dead, from Lady Morella’s vision? Dead in the sense that he is no longer the person he was?
Seeing John’s dad, consider the way he spoke of him before made us think he was dead, was a nice touch. John’s scene talking to his father was a heartfelt one. And that lesson, “never start a fight, but always finish it” will come in handy many times! (And I confess, I get teary over this as I remember calling my own dad way back during a particularly bad day in 2001!)
So now, I come to the scene that made the episode for me. The moment when the station had already sustained damage and more ships arrived. John assumes the worst, but Delenn appears on screen. B plot has just merged with A plot. And the dialogue is magnificent.
“This is Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari. Babylon 5 is under our protection. Withdraw or be destroyed.”
“Negative. We have authority here. Do not force us to engage your ship.”
“Why not? Only one human captain has ever survived battle with a Minbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else.”
And they turn and go… not another word spoken! It’s a glorious scene!
John sums it up later. Seeing her face on the screen was the finest moment of his life. In this instant, in the midst of battle and pain and loss, John realizes he loves Delenn. Her admission that he is “her partner” just adds to it, and the station is not alone in that applause. The end gives us a much needed victory against Clark’s Reign of terror.
But where does that leave us? John is out of uniform, unable to put it on again as it represents a belief now shattered, and the station has ceded from Earth. Dr. Kyle had said in the pilot that there are moments that crystalize everything; G’Kar talks about moments of transition. We are on the border of a transition and things have indeed crystalized. What we are left with may be a different thing entirely. ML
The view from across the pond:
“Fire in the hole. Repeat. Fire in the hole.”
Hold your noses, everyone. Or maybe that’s not a slang term that crosses the pond. Either way, Hague and the crew of the Alexander were raising a stink this week, with the civil war in full swing, and it really brought home the horror of fighting such a personal battle.
“This time we know everyone we kill.”
A quick google reveals that this episode won a Hugo award, and it was well deserved. I found it edge-of-the-seat stuff from beginning to end, and it was quite simply one of the best episodes of anything I have ever watched. It presses all the right buttons for the viewer, with the most heroic of heroes, fighting against injustice.
“Can you carry him very far?”
“As far as you like.”
G’Kar gets more heroic every episode. He is a fascinating character, because his response to adversity has been to become a better person.
“I think you are no longer quite the same person I met when I came here four years ago.”
When the breaching pod arrives it’s hard to watch so many of G’Kar’s loyal friends getting shot down, after all that they have been through with the Centauri. Perhaps the episode’s only fault is that the sacrifice of G’Kar and the Narn is not sufficiently emphasized, and we are never shown G’Kar’s reaction to the sight of his fallen comrades. I hope that next episode there will be a scene where Sheridan properly thanks G’Kar.
Sheridan is a more traditional hero, who decides to stand firm and draw a line in the sand. He takes strength from his father, who asks what was the first lessen he taught him? Now I’m a father myself, and if I had to answer that question I would probably have to say the first lesson I taught was how to blow raspberries on command. Sheridan’s father on the other hand was clearly envisioning a pugilistic child:
“Never start a fight. Always finish it.”
I would argue he only got that half right, and the finishing is entirely dependent on the manner of finishing the fight. Let’s not dwell too much on a fight between nations that was once finished with mushroom clouds. But we have to go there to a certain extent, because this episode inevitably provides us with an allegory for WW2. We have already had that very strongly with the propaganda and abuse of civil liberties, and now we have the news network shut down, but the most interesting bit is this:
“The Grey Council has said the problems of others are not our concern.”
If we’re looking at a WW2 allegory here, then there’s one country that is a perfect fit for that sentiment, and it’s the very country that made Babylon 5. Luckily Delenn flies in to the rescue, and what follows defies the viewer not to collapse into blubbery tears.
“Seeing your face at the moment was probably the single finest moment of my life.”
If that doesn’t finish you, the applause for Sheridan at the end will. There was a sense by the end of the episode that the tide is turning. Babylon 5 is not alone in declaring independence, and now have the Minbari on their side. As Delenn points out, the only Earth ship to defeat them in war was allowed to do so. The news station being taken over violently and while on air should also remove any doubts from their viewers that civil liberties are being suppressed. So the story from here on feels like it should be a mopping up exercise… except we know that this isn’t really going to be the big story for Babylon 5. There is a bigger threat still lurking in the shadows. RP
Morally and ethically difficult choices have always made great drama in SF. Some examples seen in our favorite shows may be looked at much differently after many years. Certainly with how they improved the dramatic elements for shows like B5 around its time. Most certainly dramatizing the consequences of our actions, even if we make the right choices in the name of justice.
The timeless saying: “Never start a fight, but always finish it.” feels most traditional for a show like B5 and unlike Star Wars, could add adequately newer dimensions to its own specific good-vs-evil battles. The progressively beautiful bond between Sheridan and Delenn was enough to keep me tuning in.
Thank you both for your reviews.
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