Babylon 5: The Summoning

b5It’s Delenn’s turn to open the episode with her “captains log”.  I imagine that’s a creative choice now, based on the way the opening credits begin for the season.  I don’t love it but the episode makes up for it.

So here’s the deal:  Ivanova is planning on taking the White Star in search of the First Ones.  (She finds something as mystical as a unicorn with Marcus – “I thought the first ones were rare” – and something as deadly as a doomsday weapon).   Lyta is giving us double entendres while trying to find out what the Vorlon are planning.  (“You didn’t have to pull out of me so fast.  You hurt me!”  Yep, she said that…)  Garibaldi is found, but before they find him, a light is cast on his face like that used during A Spider in the Web.  G’Kar is being tortured by the mad Centauri Emperor Cartagia, who is just looking for a little scream.  And a strange fish-like ship is bringing the captain back for one hell of an entrance.

Obviously a lot happens in this episode so it has to keep the momentum up  but some scenes are absolutely stolen by the sheer power of the Centauri Prime storyline.  G’Kar, always a scene-stealer, is impeccable in this one as he tells Londo that to give in to the scream is to make himself no longer a Narn.  As Cartagia pulls a page out of the bible to whip G’Kar 40 times, G’kar only breaks to help Londo’s plan and free his people.  His scream is palpable and his pain rips through the viewer.  Cartagia is a monster and Vir realizes there is only one way to deal with him.

Lyta’s attempt at finding out what the Vorlon are up to is staged well.  She knows something is up and that the Vorlon don’t care about humanity any more.  She tries to read the new, darker Kosh and he smacks her down, literally.  Then blasts her with his thoughts.  She’s left broken until she comes to tell the others what’s going on.  I need to pause to point something out: when Lyta is telling the new Kosh why she feels she deserves an explanation, she says “because I believed!”  I don’t know why it never struck me before, but “believed” what?  That the Vorlon way is right?  Or that these were angels doing the lords work?  Perhaps the former because, as Sheridan explains, it’s a battle of beliefs.  I’ll get to that in a second…

So Sheridan comes back and has a great return, but I have to ask why he didn’t communicate to let the station know he was coming?  Was the equipment on Lorien’s ship outdated?  And why does he have a ship anyway?  If we can get past that, we get one of those hero-scenes.  A rally is going on painting Delenn in a bad light when the Ambassador says, “No one who goes to Z’ha’dum comes back alive.”  The camera follows John as he walks up onto the catwalk and gives a rousing speech.  “We can win this.  Not just for the next thousand years, but forever… will you stand together?”  Rousing and amazing.  Delenns face conveys it all and I have never credited Mira Furlan enough, but that simple look said everything she needed to and it’s a lovely scene.

“I’m sorry Captain.  We thought you were dead.”
“I was.  I’m better now.”

So yes, there are a few issues here.  Not in the storytelling, but the events.  First of all, the catwalk scene reminded me of Sheridan’s dream in All Alone in the Night.  Recall, he’s on a catwalk, looking down.  He seems colder.  And he is almost certainly the one to fulfill Lady Morela’s prophesy of not killing “the one who is already dead”.  The interesting thing is, we can be fairly certain from the dialogue with Kosh in that episode, that Kosh planted that dream.  Kosh had been training Sheridan on how to fight legends.  That implies two things: he knew Sheridan might go up against the Vorlon at some point, as well as the Shadows.  Is he ok with that?  But it also should serve as a reminder of the danger of becoming a legend.  Like the adage about being careful when fighting with monsters, lest we too become monsters, Sheridan seems dangerously close to becoming a legend himself and isn’t that something to fight?  He claims to be the only man to come back from Z’ha’dum, but Morden also came back.  Altered but returned.  And that’s another thing: everyone is so happy to have him back, no one seems too quick to do a scan on him, but Morden and Anna both returned altered so is it not possible he has too?  He basically says as much by saying he got better from being dead!  Perhaps his speech was so rousing that he needed little additional proof.  (One might say the same of Garibaldi, but at least medlab did get to see him!)

Sheridan, unlike Garibaldi, comes back from the place where no one comes back from and he has a friend with him who he gives no information about, which seems very sketchy to me, even if I do think he’s a great captain.  Then Sheridan puts everything into perspective and it’s exactly as I explained before and may explain Lyta’s “belief”.  It’s a battle of paradigms.   Vorlon are the loving parents who guide by telling the kids the right way to do things, and the Shadows teach the kids that conflict strengthens us.  Both are very real beliefs and both have merit, but as I said before, there should be a middle ground.  Lyta might have thought the Vorlon way was the better way, and that might have swayed her, but Sheridan adds the “kids” to the equation.  The humans and the “younger races” are the kids caught in the middle.  They are the ones caught between fighting parents and the moment the Vorlon decided to raise their hand against the Shadows, they may have made the point that the Shadow paradigm is right.  Through conflict, they hope to destroy their enemies.  Yes, in the end, that would only leave their way for future generations but then… maybe Kosh knew that?  Maybe Kosh always knew it was nearing the end and the only way to shift the balance was helping one of the kids once he found one that proved to have grown up.  He may have seen in Sheridan that one of the younger races had grown up enough and no longer needed the parents to show them the way.  Maybe that was why Kosh even said goodbye to John, a proud parent seeing one of his children grow up, graduate to the level of the parents.  There’s still a piece of the old Kosh inside John and maybe one day we will find out what he was thinking all along.  But for now, we have to contend with a massive fleet coming to destroy everything.   ML

The view from across the pond:

“Engines at full high power hatrack ratcatcher to port weapons brickbat lingerie.”

Sometimes the humour in B5 is a little on the obvious side, and it’s almost like Claudia Christian has forgotten how to act between seasons. Her reactions are hammy and her line deliveries are staccato and disjointed, but fortunately this does improve as the episode progresses. It also helps that she is paired with Jason Carter a lot, who is faultless as Marcus. I’m not quite sure what the point was of the shock/horror revelation that he’s a virgin. There’s no shame in that, but it does surprise me that any woman could resist that luscious hair.

“It is a desperate mission, but these are desperate times.”

But not too desperate to keep a diary. It’s Delenn’s turn this week to make JMS’s life easy by being a narrator. What’s with everyone keeping a diary all the time now? Why not try scrapbooking instead, or knitting? Lyta would struggle to do that though, because she has been doing some major decluttering. Sometimes you can get overenthusiastic about that and take things so far, and now she has nothing but a bed. Her bully Kosh 2.0 is the problem here, and the storyline is functioning very cleverly as an allegory for an abusive relationship, in which the man is controlling the woman’s life.

“You didn’t have to pull out of me so fast.”

JMS didn’t need to go quite that far with the allegory though.

“You felt cold, hard.”

Too much information. Also cold and hard this week, but in a different way, was G’Kar, who withstood horrendous torture without letting it break him. It was uncomfortable to watch him dressed up as a jester, bloody and humiliated. The euphemism of “pain technicians” says it all about the Centauri civilisation: outwardly advanced but really just Caligula’s Roman Empire of the future. Even harder to watch was G’Kar being whipped 39 times, shown in full to get the maximum squirm from the viewers. I don’t think it was about seeing a man broken though. G’Kar is too good for that. I think it was about a man who had realised that he had to swallow his pride for the good of his people, but was not going to do that until it was absolutely essential. I often find heroes boring to watch in sci-fi, but this man’s a true hero and I am glued to the screen every time he appears.

By the way, I wonder if anyone else noticed the supporting artist who fails to catch the cloth thrown by Cartagia? You could tell it was the extra’s big moment and he was going to make the most of it. Talk about a scene-stealer!

After a couple of episodes of build-up we had the return of Garibaldi and Sheridan to the station. Questions remain over the reappearance of both of them. Garibaldi seems to have been mentally manipulated in some way, while Sheridan thinks he has come back from the dead and is accompanied by god. He gives a stunning speech to rally the troops and then we get our moment of soppy romance at the end, slightly undermined by these two lovebirds getting back together after Delenn thought Sheridan was dead, and then having a very chaste hug. Don’t they kiss on Minbar?

The big revelation this week was that the Vorlons can’t be trusted. They are fighting a war with the Shadows and if anyone gets in the way they don’t care about killing millions of innocent civilians. Their battle lines are drawn on a philosophical issue: should progress come from evolution or conflict? It’s an interesting thought.

“We could barely stop the Shadows. How do we stop them and the Vorlons?”

With heroes like Sheridan and G’Kar. That’s how.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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