Babylon 5 comes back for a 4th season with a strong opener in The Hour of the Wolf. G’Kar recaps what has gone on over the last seven days since Z’Ha’Dum: Ivanova is burned out. Londo is on Centauri Prime where he has been called back to meet with the Emperor. Delenn has been fasting for 7 days believing Sheridan must be alive. And the Shadows have paused in their attacks, leading all the member worlds, pledged to protect Babylon 5, to return to their homes. And as G’Kar so aptly asks, “where is Mr. Garibaldi, and what happened to Captain Sheridan at Z’Ha’Dum?”
Let’s take a second to talk about the opening. If G’Kar says it, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be good. But I meant the opening credits, not the opening monologue. Every season has a different opening. The last three were descriptions of what was going on. This time, we’re given a litany of “It was the year of…” to the voices of the cast. It’s a good opening but I think it’s my least favorite. But I’ll sacrifice the opening credits for a strong opening episode and if this season can maintain the momentum, we’re in for a good season indeed, because this is a strong opener.
Unlike the standard A, B and sometimes C plots, this gives us plot threads that are clearly going to carry on through the season, at least to some extent. I’ll start with my most curious one: Sheridan. Vir, being the only good Centauri, has some information about what happened on Z’Ha’Dum and tells Ivanova. Explaining that he fell down a two mile drop before two 500 megaton thermonuclear bombs went off would probably be answer enough but no one is content with John’s potential death. Even both the Gaim (named for their resemblance to Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman) and the Vorlon remind us that no one who goes to Z’Ha’Dum returns. Still Lyta takes a trip to our multi-apostrophe’d planet to help Delenn check for any sign of him, regardless of the evidence. After developing absolutely gorgeous eyes, Lyta is detected by the “Eye” at Z’Ha’Dum and they have to leave having found no sign of him. John Sheridan is truly gone. But I can’t help wonder about that thing they called “the eye” considering there was a prophesy about saving the eye that does not see. I rule it out because it did see the White Star and Lyta, didn’t it? Or is sensing not the same as seeing?
Besides that, Lyta had already spoken to the new and much more sinister Kosh and he said Sheridan opened an “unexpected door”. She is instructed not to interfere. Well… that sounds dark! Whatever does it mean?
Meanwhile Londo finds out really how mad Emperor Cartagia is when he gets to meet him and that’s before we, as the audience, sees his chamber of talking heads! “If there’s a madman on the throne it’s because you and Refa put him there”, says the flaking Morden, who somehow survived the destruction on Z’Ha’Dum. He’s in a bad way (“I’m a shadow of my former self”) but he did survive. How, and could John really still be alive too? Cartagia is in control of Centauri Prime and he’s giving part of the planet to the Shadows. We are given that view which we were first introduced to in the very original episode, Londo watching the Shadows arrive. It’s an awesome and terrifying site. The Emperor intends to give the Shadows what they want in return for godhood. Londo has never been more sickened and recruits his one true friend, Vir, to help commit regicide. (If only Vir know about the heads… he wouldn’t look so disturbed by Londo’s request!) But there is another item of interest here that is a little hard to reconcile. Cartagia is not a good or sane man, but he says of being made a god at the expense of his people “some must be sacrificed for the greater good.” Remember G’Kar’s lesson: some are to be sacrificed if all are to be saved? Is the key here one of quantity? The needs of the many outweighing the needs of the one, for instance? Why do we agree to that for G’Kar, but not for Cartagia? Perhaps it would help to remember that at the time, G’Kar was being manipulated by Kosh, the Vorlon. Cartagia is similarly being manipulated by the Shadows. So, for whose good is all this really being done anyway?
And that brings us to G’Kar, the magnificent. Wandering about Garibaldi’s quarters, he is trying to remind himself of the soul of Michael. G’Kar tells Zack that Michael had the wisdom and friendship to see beyond who G’Kar had been and accept atonement and redemption, recognizing who G’Kar had become. For that, he intends to find Michael, even at considerable risk to himself. G’Kar is truly the hero of the hour of the wolf, eh? And how marvelously apt that he asks Zack about Daffy Duck, Michael’s “household god” of frustration? Brilliant moments. “Our thoughts form the universe…” If that were true, any universe occupied by G’Kar would be a good one!
The episode ends with something moving in the caves… after a uniform bar falls, we know it has to be Sheridan, but how? And I remember that beautiful scene when Kosh has Sheridan crawl into a small space to hear chanting. It’s relevant because of two things: the color of those caves, and the fact that Sheridan gives up his command bar in return for the singing. Was Kosh preparing him for this event, even back then? Lastly, who is the leonine character with the supremely long fingers that just wants to share a fire with our Captain? Someone’s got some ‘splainin’ to do! Hopefully it won’t be Kosh, or we’ll be more confused by the time he’s done! ML
The view from across the pond:
After a bit of a recap, which is helpful after a break between seasons, we get some narration from G’Kar to bring us up to date, in the form of his diary entry. That’s fine by me. Andreas Katsulas could read the phone book and it would be worth listening to, and G’Kar has a poetic way of phrasing things. Then we’re into the new opening sequence, and once again they just couldn’t leave that music alone could they. In one respect it’s admirable because it’s part of an attempt to give each season an overall style, but it would help if they didn’t keep making it worse. Having said that, within a few episodes I’ll probably love the new version. This time round, everyone’s having a turn at the title sequence narration, which is a bit of a mess. There is stability in the main cast for the first time, with the only change being the addition of Lyta, who had already become a de-facto regular towards the end of the previous season.
Although I liked G’Kar’s narration, because it’s G’Kar, I was less keen on Ivanova’s diary entries. There are better ways to get the exposition across to the viewers, and the captain’s logs should be left to Star Trek.
In the absence of Sheridan and Garibaldi, you would think it would give an opportunity to focus on some of the other characters and how they are coping on their own. There is a little bit of that, although Franklin doesn’t feature and some of the others really only get fleeting moments, but the main thrust of the episode is Londo and his dealings with the new emperor, Cartagia. He’s obviously inspired by Caligula, although he has a long way to go before he reaches those levels of insanity. I was half expecting a horse to turn up as one of his advisors, although his pet severed heads were amusing. It got the point across anyway: Londo’s home world is now in the charge of a madman who doesn’t care if all his people die, as long as he becomes a god. So effectively at this point the Shadows are in control. Morden also turned up to stick the boot into Londo, and he has gone a bit crusty since we last saw him, and also just about as insane as Cartagia. It was quite revolting to see him sit there picking bits of skin off his hand. I could have done without that.
There was a lot packed into this episode, and a lot that I liked. Vir continues to be a brilliant character. He has come such a long way from where he started as the comic relief. His attempt to console Ivanova by gently putting a positive slant on what Sheridan’s apparent death has achieved was a touching moment. He’s a nice chap, doing his best. G’Kar wearing Garibaldi’s hat was worth the price of entry alone, and then his question about Daffy Duck being a household god (JMS taking inspiration from the Roman Empire again there) was the icing on the cake.
“I came here to remind myself of his soul.”
And then our hero G’Kar decides to go off searching for Garibaldi. What a guy.
As usual for Babylon 5 there were a few annoying things too. Lennier’s translation of Ivanova’s orders to his crew mates gets sillier and sillier. Does “take us in” really need to be “zin, dye a poo”? The special effects shots are still really blurry, and it would be better to have less of them if they have to look like that. Kosh 2.0 is even more annoying than the first Kosh. I get that we’re probably not supposed to like him, but there’s a problem with either the actor or the voice moderation or both. I suspect the actor’s enunciation is not clear enough to work with the voice moderation, or perhaps the distortion is set too high, but I replayed what Kosh 2.0 said a couple of times and couldn’t figure out half of what he was saying. It’s was probably just some irritating cryptic nonsense anyway. I was also not keen on getting another riddle-monger at the end. One is enough. We don’t need another alien who thinks its OK to answer a question with a question all the time, or dodge the questions altogether:
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
“How did I get here?”
“You were born.”
“Why am I alive?”
“Well, that is the question, isn’t it.”
Gee, thanks. I get that JMS was attempting to replace the mystery of whether Sheridan is alive with another mystery to take us forward, but there is a problem with that. Sheridan being alive or dead was never a mystery because he’s in the titles. And it’s hard to care about the new mystery, what with the new bloke being instantly annoying. There had also better be a good explanation as to why Sheridan is still alive in the first place. He just fell down a very large rabbit hole and he’s not Alice in Wonderland. It’s a shame he didn’t find a white rabbit at the bottom. Now that really would be something worth watching. RP