I often find myself saying “that was one of my favorite episodes” when referring to Babylon 5 and that’s a silly thing to say for two reasons. Most obviously, a favorite is the best. To have several, seems like an unfair claim because there can be only one. But with 110 episodes, it just means some rank higher than others. But the second problem compounds the first: Babylon 5 is largely one long story broken into 5 “books” with each episode representing a chapter of that book, so what would make this one fall into a favorites list?
I’ll answer that in good time. First, let’s briefly look at the book. This book opens with the opening spoken by each character. (Technically, every episode opens that way, but I only let it play on the first episode of a season, but the idea still holds.) Like the opening, with every player speaking, this story opens with Franklin giving his monologue to his “Doctor’s log”. So far, two episodes had the same style opening. Does this mean each episode will have an opening monologue to mirror the season opener?
Before I get to my favorite bit, let’s jump around. Delenn is still mourning John’s death but she gets a chance to see John’s video diary and it inspires her. His speech is moving as he realizes even after a war with Delenn’s kind, he has fallen in love with one. It gets her right in her heart. (And the sap I am, it got me too…) Her comment that she should have loved John less and trusted him more is heartfelt but what really got me was when she said she should have changed her heart more from Minbari to Human. Lovely moment.
In other areas, G’Kar continues to bring such character to the show. I realize now, he may have been the finest character to come from this show, standing tall with many other SF legends. But when he goes looking for Garibaldi because he “never had a friend who wasn’t a Narn”, I almost leapt out of my seat with joy. When Marcus is asked why he’s helping G’Kar, he replies that he “never had a friend who was [a Narn]” I think I did jump out of my seat. I love G’Kar’s passion even in the face of deadly danger because “compassion is a rare commodity these days.” Sure is! But after G’Kar is caught and brought to Centauri Prime, Londo is disgusted. This time, both Jurasik and Katsulas act their hearts out. Londo asks G’Kar for help! And G’Kar accepts but the price is freedom for his people. And Londo agrees. As Londo leaves the room, G’Kar is bathed in a brilliant white light and he smiles; he has hope. The sacrifice he talked about may finally be paying off. Truly an inspired scene.
And meanwhile, the title question is not answered. We do know Garibaldi is alive, but we don’t know where, and we don’t know why he’s being held against his will. Things are not looking good for him.
Now, I know this episode probably won’t be one of Roger’s top choices because he hated Mr. Cryptic and I’m sure he doesn’t like the heir apparent to the Cryptic Throne. But my best friend through my youth and I used to discuss so many things like Lorien does with the dead John Sheridan. If you are a prisoner of love, is it your duty to escape? What came first: thought or language. You can’t form a thought without language but you can’t have language without thought. These are exactly the sorts of questions we used to ask one another and I love that we get a little (unanswered) philosophizing here. Of course the deepest questions are: who are you and what do you want. Interestingly, these are the two catchphrases of the godlike beings who are currently at war: the Vorlon and the Shadows, respectively. But all the way back in Deathwalker, Kosh said an important thing: understanding is a three edged sword. It’s been said that it meant “your side”, “their side” and “the truth” lying somewhere in the middle, but Lorien offers another possible path. He says of John that only one he knows who he is, why he is, and what he wants, can he help his friends. Why he is?? Now that is interesting. Who says that? Is that key to understanding; the third edge to the sword? Leave it to one of the First Ones to be so cryptic.
That’s another thing. He claims he is the first one. The Shadows and the Vorlon are like his children and Z’Ha’Dum is where they know Lorien “lives”. Can he really be the first? Lorien echoes another throwback line: “It’s easy to find something worth dying for. Do you have anything worth living for?” I think it was Michael about Jeff (or vice versa, but I think it was when Jeff went after the Icaran monster in Infection), but all the way back at the beginning of season one when it was observed that people are always looking for something worth dying for. Does Sheridan have something worth living for?
So before we get to the part that still gives me goosebumps, let’s look at what we know. We know from War Without End that Sheridan is in the future, so he must survive (besides, he’s in the opening credits!). But after his jump, Lorien says he is dead, just stuck in the moments between tick and tock. Remember that prophesy of Lady Morella’s? “You must not kill the one who is already dead.” It seems likely that it refers to John. (Although it could be Kosh too; “Did you know there is a Vorlon inside you?”) Lorien also says that John has to “step into the abyss and let go”. Londo’s words upon seeing John in War Without End is “welcome back from the Abyss”. Does that mean that Londo and John do not see one another again for 20 years? Or is it just an expression?
OK so what made me love this story? It’s something I’ve noticed with Doctor Who too: music can change a mediocre episode into an epic. I don’t think this is a mediocre episode to begin with but that final scene is stunning. As Sheridan remembers what he has worth living for, we get some amazing music and Delenn saying “sleep now, and I will watch and catch you if you should fall.” As John falls into the abyss, he calls out her name. But it was enhanced by something. Just before he hears Kosh’s voice telling him to jump, a new image is shown: a hand reaching out to John. Is this his mind showing him Delenn? Is it Lorien? Maybe it’s Kosh, showing him Delenn? As G’Kar found out earlier in a room bathed in light, John now has hope. It’s a defining moment. With an echo effect put on the word, we hear “HOPE is all we have!” I love this episode. And maybe now John knows why he is. ML
The view from across the pond:
The inspiration for the title of this episode is presumably What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? which is about an ex-movie star being held captive by her sister. I doubt that’s a clue though. I would be very surprised if Garibaldi’s sister is on the other side of that jail cell. Nonetheless, captivity is a strong theme of the episode. Garibaldi hardly features at all, but instead the story concerns G’Kar’s failed attempt to track him down, with Marcus lending a hand.
“I heard you were looking for Mr Garibaldi, on the assumption he was in trouble. So I went looking for you, on the assumption you’d probably get into trouble.”
The two of them together are glorious, a riot of exquisite dialogue, delivered in the most plummy way possible. It shows the importance of friendship. G’Kar is going about things like a bull in a china shop. As soon as Marcus turns up things improve, and once he is gone G’Kar is captured. He is being a loyal friend and is single minded about Garibaldi, to the extent that he asks about him after his capture, when he is facing a grim fate, but although he is being a great friend he will not allow somebody else to be a great friend to him, and that’s his downfall, along with his pride. My favourite G’Kar moment this episode was a clever bit of actorly business when he is brushing his teeth. He rinses, looks for somewhere to spit, can’t find anywhere, so just swallows it. I think that says a lot about his character. He is a proud warrior with honour… and impeccable manners.
When he is captured, continuing the theme of captivity this week, he faces the prospect of a slow death under torture, something Londo describes in gruesome detail, before offering G’Kar a deal. A light was shone on Londo’s character this episode. It has been clear for a while that he has regrets and feels trapped by the path his life has taken, but his encounter with G’Kar shows the extent to which he is a broken man. He no longer even has a taste for revenge on his mortal enemy.
“Does this please you?”
“No, no it doesn’t.”
Before the war, he would have relished the situation with every fibre of his being. Now it just saddens this miserable man, a monster who is seeing the consequences of his actions at last. G’Kar is of course an unwavering genius of a tactician and latches onto the vulnerability of his enemy to strike a deal. The light hitting his face as he smiles with joy was a masterpiece of direction. I noticed in the opening titles G’Kar says this is “the year we took back what was ours.” The pieces are starting to fall into place for that to come true.
Back on the station Delenn is also a captive, to her grief, and is trying to starve herself to death so she can be with Sheridan. Ironically, Sheridan hasn’t been eating anything either, but he doesn’t need to:
If that’s true it’s the crummiest afterlife I’ve ever seen portrayed in a drama. If Lorien is god, can’t he manage to conjure up something better than a candle-lit cave? Some electric lights perhaps?
“It’s a terrible thing when your children fight.”
No, I don’t buy it. As much as I applaud sci-fi that embraces the reality of an afterlife and plays that straight (e.g. Buffy) this is certainly not the way to do it, and I will be amazed if this is anything more than a trick. Sheridan must surely be a captive as well, with his warder playing a psychological game with him. I’m not sure why the ruse would be perpetrated and what Lorien hopes to gain by convincing Sheridan of his death, but I’m confident that JMS is not that bad a writer that he doesn’t have a twist in the tale to spring on us soon, where Lorien is concerned.
“I am the first one.”
No, you’re not mate. My guess, for now, is that when he is chatting on about existing between the tick and the tock of a clock he has some kind of ability to control time, and Sheridan’s heart is not beating because they are frozen in less than a second of time. His metabolism is shut down. As I’m typing that I’m already thinking it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but something along those lines maybe? The old riddle-monger ain’t the Almighty, that’s for sure. This viewer isn’t falling for that trick.
One final thought: enough with the diary entries! Leave the logs to Trek. This week we had Franklin giving us a recap. JMS, get your characters to talk to each other! That’s the way to integrate your exposition, not with everyone keeping a video diary. Have we all become vloggers in the future? The thought doesn’t even bear thinking about. RP