It’s Dec 7 on Babylon 5 and it’s Z minus 14 days. Whatever that means, it can’t be good!
If last episode felt like a departure from the arc, it was to make way for this, the 20th episode of the 22 episodes that make up the season. And what an episode it is. The opening lets us know that something is coming and Ivanova’s breakdown of events sets the stage. Stephen is still involved in helping only himself and Sheridan is struggling to find a pattern to the Shadow attacks. And the station has some visitors coming: one Reverend William A. Dexter is coming to bring some hope and some good advice. And Lord Refa has come to rub Londo’s face in all the power he’s accumulated. Meanwhile Londo has a plan of his own, and he’s looking like a proper jerk to his one true friend, Vir.
The episode builds on Sheridan’s backstory, which we actually learned about in season 2: he’s a brilliant tactician and he’s struggling to find the logic behind the Shadow plans. But he’s worried, becoming grumpy, and more than a bit disagreeable. The reverend shares that there is still a resistance to Clark back home, reminding us that while the Shadow conflict is going on, there’s more to this war than just the alien element. But the strategy isn’t what wowed me about this episode. It was the wisdom of a burden shared is a burden halved. Rev. Dexter reminds Sheridan that a “worry tank” needs to be emptied from time to time and helping those we love is often helping ourselves. It’s a good message. Especially when contrasted against the other message during his service. Fear, ignorance and hate will divide us. “Hate will turn on you, and that same hate will destroy you!” If there’s a message here, it’s that hate divides us and love binds us. It’s a message that is well timed for our society today, but it’s just as important to remember every day.
Meanwhile, Londo’s terrible behavior leads him to threaten Vir in order to get G’kar down to Narn and have him “dealt with”. He tricks G’Kar using his lost aide, Na’Toth as bait. Alas, no sign of the missing Na’Toth… it is merely a ruse. But here’s where Vir’s stint as Abrahamo Lincolni pays off to Londo’s benefit. (Yet another episode that needed to happen to give more credence to Vir’s words, and get G’Kar to believe him!) By using Vir to deliver the message, he ensures G’Kar goes to Narn, but Londo has a trick up his sleeve too. He’s used Vir knowing Refa would have him scanned. While Vir is not happy about being treated the way he was, one has to admire the cunning! The only sad thing is that he truly believes Refa was responsible for the death of his love, Adira. That, or he’s dealing with his problems one at a time!
At this point, this already-impressive episode takes a mad leap for one of the most amazing of the series to date when we find out what Londo really planned. Surprisingly, he’s not against G’Kar at all but rather, Refa. During this wonderful whooping he brings on Refa, back on the station, a song is being sung: And the Rock cried out, no hiding place. During this very upbeat song, we watch the slow motion attack on Refa. The music is perfectly sync’d with what’s going on, flashing back and forth from the revelry on the Station to the slaughter on Narn. Of interest, G’Kar has come so far in his own spiritual development that he does not take part in the killing. In fact, the moment the woman sings the line about Jesus, the camera focuses on G’Kar! He allows Refa to be killed because he knows it must happen, but he does not take any part in it and walks away when he knows Refa can no longer escape. Yes, I think Delenn nailed it when she said he is no longer the person she met when they first arrived on the station. He is so much more! And he is easily one of the greatest parts of this series!
Of special note, I love that the hologram of Londo is “out of sync” in that it plays in front of Refa but doesn’t line up quite right. The moment Londo moves his arm and passes through Refa’s face is a nice touch. The tech is not a miracle; it’s a well-designed technology that can’t determine where people are standing. Beyond visuals, the music is great in this story. I’m not overly fond of choir music, but this worked brilliantly for the episode, but it wasn’t until the end music played that I got chills. When Delenn shows Sheridan that the Army of Light has a few more ships at its disposal, the music is deeply emotional and incredibly beautiful. Delenn has just given John hope and to solidify the deal, they kiss as the White Star looks on a field of more White Stars. Amazing what happens when John shared the burden with his girlfriend. They are ready for the war! Z minus 10 days… ML
The view from across the pond:
Z Minus 14 Days, Z Minus 13 Days, Z Minus 10 Days
Well, I’m not sure what the “Z” stands for, apart from maybe signifying the end, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a big battle with the Shadows. By the end of this episode we had learnt that Sheridan was ready for that battle. But he had to get ready emotionally as well as tactically, and that meant taking a step back.
“It makes sense. It’s what I’d do.”
Delenn is naturally shocked by his ability to put himself in the shoes… well, tentacles of his enemy, and drags him off to a sermon.
“The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance.”
Actually the enemy is the Shadows, but the anti-hate message is a good one. It did, however, not sit comfortably with the Narns killing Refa. There was a clear juxtaposition, with the gospel music accompanying Refa’s death (a stroke of genius, by the way), but his death was retribution more than hatred. It was the Narns’ retribution for the death camps, and it was Londo’s retribution for the death of his girlfriend. Maybe that last one was where we crossed over into the realms of hatred. Just when I was wondering why he didn’t simply use the poison which had been established before, Londo explained that killing him wasn’t enough and he was going to set him up as a traitor to discredit his house. That is perhaps where Londo shows himself to be the monster that he is. He makes his retribution political, and he widens it to the innocent. Refa’s family must suffer for his sins.
Also suffering from Londo’s plans, at least on an emotional level, was Vir. He has always been the only good Centauri among a race of genocidal power-seekers, somebody who we can’t help but love for his morality and innocence. Seeing him blackmailed into tricking G’Kar to his death (or so it would appear) and his family threatened, cements Londo’s position as our resident monster.
One loose end troubles me though, and it needs to be picked up on. As jubilant as G’Kar would logically be about the opportunity to dispense with Refa, in that moment he must have realised he had been used as a pawn in Londo’s game. That must surely have stuck in the craw, and what the episode lacked was G’Kar’s realisation and reaction to that revelation.
As I have flagged up several times, this season of Babylon 5 has been an allegory for WW2, with many episodes tackling different aspects of the war, from the death camps to the alliance of enemies, to the reluctance of other powers to get involved, and plenty more. This week it was the turn of the US nuclear bombing of Japan to be referenced, and once again I have the utmost respect for JMS’s bravery in being so critical of the US military past, something that is surely enormously rare. Hiroshima and Nagasaki get name-checked here, and the comparison is that of a military power tactically avoiding a particular area in order to maximise the damage when they eventually strike.
It’s kind of a half-truth, and the comparison doesn’t entirely hold up. The Shadows are driving refugees into one area in order to kill them all in one hit. Whilst it is true that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were spared the firebombing that devastated over 100 Japanese towns and cities, along with other potential targets such as Kyoto and Yokahama, this was not done to drive the civilian population to those areas before the nuclear strikes. Had that been the motivation, a greater population centre would have been the target. The reason was much more clinical: the ability to assess the damage accurately would have been compromised by pre-bombing. Interestingly, Kyoto was saved because the US Secretary of War had spent his honeymoon there. Maybe tourism will save the world one day.
Or maybe love will. Sheridan received two gifts this episode: a fleet of White Star ships, and a big smackeroo from Delenn. The one enables him to be a fighter, while the other keeps him human. Just like the love of a man for his wife and the memory of a honeymoon in Japan once saved a Japanese city, maybe Sheridan’s love will be the key to him coming out the other side of this war with his soul still intact. In contrast, I suspect it’s far too late for the lonely figure that is now Londo Mollari. RP