Babylon 5: A Late Delivery from Avalon

b5There are a lot of amazing episodes of Babylon 5 and the overall arc is a fantastic one but A Late Delivery from Avalon is filler.  Barring using the title anytime I’m getting something done a little later than I had intended (not that anyone around me ever gets it), I find this a pretty throw-away episode.  That’s not to say there are not some redeeming features, but it just doesn’t wow me.  Michael York (forever Basil Exposition in my mind), is an incredibly likeable Arthur (as in the one with the round table), come to the station on a mission no one quite understands.  The conceit of the episode hinges on whether this man could in fact be the legendary knight but his dreams give us reason to doubt it.  What we are actually faced with is a man suffering severe PTSD; a result of the Earth-Minbari war.  But there’s a part of the viewer that still wonders.  We’ve seen that the Vorlon have preserved people, like Jack the Ripper in Comes the Inquisitor. Marcus even makes a point about this (though how he knew about Sheridan’s encounter with “Mr. Sebastian” remains to be seen, since he arrived on the station after the event.  Yes, I know, he could easily have learned about it!)  We also know during season 1’s Grail that there was a religious order searching for the Holy Grail.  Is there a chance this man could be who he says he is?

By virtue of his heritage and that only the English can pull off medieval and cool with such panache, this becomes a Marcus episode.  And he does pull off cool very well.  It showcases what makes him awesome while watching him help a man who has been broken by a war.   He seems to be the only one who can get through to him.  (Whether this is the recognition that exists between members of a civilized culture or just the result of both characters being awesome remains to the viewer to decide.)   This carries through until the end when Marcus has to see his new friend leave.

Meanwhile, Franklin actually brings up a good point that doesn’t get much airtime, but as the audience, we shouldn’t lose sight of the words behind that idea.  “Legends are legends because they have a certain power over us.”  Recall: Sheridan has asked Kosh for help learning how to fight legends.  Michael causes Franklin to dismiss the idea, but the viewer should not be so quick.  Is this one of the legends Sheridan has to fight?  (Kosh makes a cameo at the end of the episode, making me wonder if it was part of the lesson after all!)

G’Kar, always amazing, improves this episode immensely.  G’Kar has been the symbol of the underdog since the Centauri started crushing his people.  We automatically want to see him prevail.  (Like him, the audience has come a long way with the character since the start of the series.  Beep beep!)  When he sees another underdog, he jumps into the fray, ready to help.  And while we may not see the fight, we see the outcome and the revelry.  G’Kar, quite drunk, enjoys the story of how “we were the good guys; they were the bad guys!  And they made a very satisfying thump when they hit the floor.”  Possibly the best scenes of the episode is watching a drunk G’Kar as he becomes the next one to make a satisfying thump upon hitting the floor.  There is also a fantastic description of G’Kar as warrior born but of a priestly nature.  Yet one more step in G’Kar’s journey.

The dialogue between Arthur and G’Kar in a nutshell explains the whole of the situation with the Minbari war.  Later Franklin (in his typical arrogance) forces Arthur to confront the issue.  We are again shown how humanity misunderstood the Minbari action of approaching with gun ports open and started the war.  That horror lead to the PTSD that “Arthur” suffers and the episode takes a depressing twist.  York plays it perfectly.  Then when Franklin and Marcus realize what is needed, an incredible scene takes place between York and Delenn without a word spoken.  York finds peace in Delenn’s unspoken forgiveness and all is right in the world once more.

Now, I do admit that the whole thing with Garibaldi picking up the mail is absolute comic gold.  I love seeing the inner workings of how the people on the station get mail, and you’ve got to consider that it makes some  sense.  But the whole subplot of Garibaldi getting his package, while mostly there as filler, is fun.   “Yeah but this is the post office; this could get us in real trouble!”  I am still happy that he wins in the end; there is a certain sense of Warner Brothers humor that goes on between the post master and Garibaldi, isn’t there?  Rather apt, really.

I’d call it little more than a character piece; the episode doesn’t do a lot but it seems to leave off on a comical note with Marcus figuring out the who’s who in the Arthurian legends based on those on the station.  He wraps up stating that “Sheridan is ‘Arthur’… I think we know who Mordred is.  So the question is: who is Morgana Le Fey?”  Is this a throw-away line, or is there more to the legend than we realize.  And is Sheridan indeed ready to fight it?  ML

The view from across the pond:

What kind of a postal service makes the recipient pay? The Babylon 5 postal service, that’s what. And that sets the tone for the BURP silliness to come. Before we’ve even got to the title sequence we’ve had King Arthur on a spaceship finding his sword amongst a load of dry ice and a wind machine. It all looks like a very bad video game.

“I am Arthur.”

Yeah, right. This one strains credulity to the limit. There was an attempt to ameliorate that by referring back to the Vorlon alien abduction of Jack the Ripper (although it would have been extremely lazy writing to play that same trick twice anyway), but as Franklin quickly points out Not-Arthur’s speech patterns are far too modern.

I did enjoy the heroism though, especially when G’Kar joined the party. Recovering the picture in a frame for the old lady was a lovely gesture, even if leaving it in her hand without waking her up was surely likely to get it stolen again before she wakes. Never mind though, G’Kar was BURP having a ball, and that was the main thing. In fact, it was the one thing that saved the episode. I especially enjoyed seeing him and Not-Arthur ironically sitting around a very small round table in a bar and getting drunk, while Not-Arthur gave G’Kar a knighthood. We’ve seen many sides to G’Kar’s character, but I think this is the first time we have seen him drunk, and he was magnificent.

“Do you mind if I ask you a BURRRRRRRP question?”

Have I ever mentioned how much I love G’Kar? I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned how much I don’t like BURP Franklin, but that was a while ago. He was very hard to like during the first season in particular, but recently he has functioned much better as one of the heroes. Not that there’s anything wrong with a flawed hero, but when the flaws are too severe you don’t really have a hero at all. That was the case during Season One, where Franklin was arrogant to the point of an unwavering belief about being right about everything, with no respect for medical ethics, the beliefs of others or the chain of command. It has been a while, but this week the idiot doctor is back in full force.

“Better the illusions that exalt us than ten thousand truths.”

Marcus begs Franklin not to reveal the truth to Not-Arthur, but there’s no reasoning with the man who is always right.

“Your hippocratic oath says do no harm.”

What’s does that matter to Franklin? Medical ethics always play second fiddle to Mr Know-it-all. So he goes ahead and tells Not-Arthur the horrible truth, sending him into a catatonic state. His recovery from that state simply meant that Franklin got lucky. He rolled the dice, and could just have easily been responsible for destroying what was left of the man’s life.

The episode briefly came to life when it was revealed that Not-Arthur was in fact the man who fired the shots that started the Minbari War. He was cleared of wrongdoing as he was acting under orders, but we’ve been looking at a lot of WW2 allegories throughout this season of Babylon 5, and the just-following-orders argument clearly wasn’t sufficient to stop Not-Arthur feeling terrible guilt for what he did. Nor should it have been. If anything, the episode goes far too far down the line of absolving a man who was key to starting a war. Firing the first shot in a first contact situation based on an assumption is surely Franklin-level stupidity.  Not-Arthur didn’t make that decision, but he pressed the buttons rather than being a decent human being and taking a step back.  The lives of innocents surely come before a man’s career.  In the end there was not a sufficient focus on those kinds of issues, which could have gone a long way towards making up for how disposable this episode felt.

The previous episode surprised me. I thought it was going to be a disappointing, silly comedy episode, and then it pulled the rug from under our feet and turned the comedy into horror. I was hoping for the same this week, but it never quite happened, despite some attempts at the same thing. It was the most disappointing episode of B5 for quite a while. We seem to be on a downward spiral from the dizzy heights of a Hugo-winning episode, and it feels like we’re marking out time until bigger things happen. The opening credits have been promising a “Shadow War” for 13 weeks. It’s time JMS set aside the BURP silliness, and started delivering on that promise.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Babylon 5, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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