Babylon 5: Into the Fire

b5Last week John Sheridan said they were going into the heart of the fire.  We begin the aptly titled dawn of the third age of mankind with Into the Fire. 

But not before we open the episode with another captains log! Didn’t need that.  But what follows is a visual treat for any science fiction fan of the 90s.  We all wanted some huge space battle to happen on television for a long time and it took Babylon 5 to give us this astounding piece.  But B5 is more than a space show; it has a heart and a mind.  The episode focuses on wrapping things up on Centauri Prime, while the war itself is coming to an end by Coriana VI.  On Centauri Prime, Londo really becomes a hero and it’s about time.  His descent into the role of monster finally seems like it’s got an upward trajectory moving towards becoming a good man.  His defeat of the Shadows, killing those in the throne room and blowing up the ships on the island was a magnificent move, especially right after learning that Morden was responsible for the death of his love, Lady Adira.  Morden also finally gets what he deserved and Vir actually gets his wish (which is ironic; he’s the only one that actually got what he wanted after Morden’s question “what do you want” when the first met!)  The image of Vir standing in the courtyard waving at the decapitated head of Morden is a highlight moment of the series.  That does leave me with a couple of thoughts about the Centauri problem.  Morden says that the Shadows have allies that will “make sure Centauri Prime pays the price” for the betrayal.  Does that mean the future we saw in War Without End is still coming?  (Remembering the prophesy, is it possible that the murder of Morden is killing the one who “is already dead”?  He basically died on Z’ha’dum, even if he does appear to be better now.)

Meanwhile, Ivanova has helped accumulate the ornamental First Ones (I really didn’t feel they added much to the battle).  Going back to Season 1’s Mind War, we finally put that idea to rest: the things that walked at Sigma 957 were among the original inhabitants of the galaxy and they have come to help end a war.  They watch, along with everyone else, as Lorien broadcasts the confrontation between Shadows/Delenn and Vorlon/Sheridan.  And it had to be them, didn’t it?  Sebastian proved it in Comes the Inquisitor when he helps them realize that they are the chosen ones, the right people, in the right place, at the right time.  I doubt the Vorlons saw this coming though!  The paradigm is put before everyone, it has truly been a battle of beliefs: order vs. chaos.  (The imagery is amazing too but like so many other things, it took me until writing about it to realize.  Sheridan says the Vorlon are “frozen in place”, and it hit me: the woman is in ice.  The Shadows, by contrast, agents of chaos, speak with many faces, many voices!)  Sheridan and Delenn teach the others that the 3-edged sword means there is a choice beyond order and chaos; a third choice.  Sheridan makes that third choice and boots all of the First Ones out.  “Now get the hell out of our galaxy…”  Lorien leaves with them and we see his true form once more as he says goodbye to the friends he has made.  The sun rises on the dawn of the third age of mankind!

Marcus: “Did we just win?”
Susan: “Don’t jinx it!”

Speaking of great lines, this episode has a number of them.  The minister who comes to see Londo says a great one; he has found that “if you cannot say what you mean, you cannot mean what you say.”  I think that’s a profoundly wise sentiment.  Lorien says, “Only those whose lives are brief can imagine that love is eternal”.  I find this strangely comforting.  And the dialogue between Sheridan and Delenn is lovely as they end with “Now we make our own magic … Now we stop being afraid of shadows.”  But not all of the great lines have to be poetic.  What about Susan’s “Ah, hell” as she gives up trying to speak Minbari, only to learn that those same words mean “continuous fire”?  The best laugh though was Londo plopping down on the throne, and realizing he has made a faux pas.  He and Vir look at each other and Londo says “It felt very natural, though…”  Brilliant!

This could have been a series ending, but thankfully there is still another year and a half.  And that’s good because there are things left unfinished.  I can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever learn what was left on the Vorlon homeworld; now that they are gone, will we ever find out?  What did happen to Michael and what’s next for G’Kar? For now, it’s time for Sheridan to take back the earth.  They’ve come out of the fire, but I doubt they’re in the frying pan now.  Somehow, I think this will be harder; they are up against their own people now, after all.  ML

The view from across the pond:

So here it is, the moment we have all been waiting for. We have been building up to this big battle for a very long time, and it doesn’t disappoint. The script required a visual representation of “thousands of ships” and “over two dozen races working together” in battle, and it is admirable for the time that they managed to get that on screen and make it look convincing. But it is the human drama that really matters here.

Back when the Centauri invaded Narn, with Londo the key to that victory, I felt like I no longer cared about the fate of Londo or the Centauri. When subsequent episodes featured their issues, it was hard to raise any enthusiasm for those, so it is a testament to the skill of JMS at character drama and world building that in the end Sheridan’s war felt like the sideshow and the drama that mattered was the one that was playing out on Centauri Prime. That’s because it was more personal.

I think that gets to the heart of the problem with a lot of sci-fi. Big starship battles might look impressive, but they are impersonal. It’s one special effect vs another. But what has taken place on Centauri Prime has been something akin to I, Claudius, and it’s ultimately impossible not to care about the individuals, even Londo. I never thought I would be saying that.

Now that’s not to say that JMS entirely nails the human drama (let’s just take that as shorthand for what it is, by the way – I realise they aren’t actually human) or even seems to understand his own characters completely. Mike’s always bigging up the continuity in B5, and I think the nuts and bolts of the continuity is excellent and he is right to do that, but I think sometimes what gets overlooked is the emotional continuity. The feelings of the characters need to carry through from one episode to another just as much as the events and details, and that simply doesn’t happen with Vir. It’s an enormous shame, because he’s such a great character, but last week we saw him crippled by guilt at having killed Cartagia. This week he has a flashback to some words he spoke to Morden:

“I want to look up into your lifeless eyes and wave like this.”

And then his “wish” comes true. Londo has had Morden’s head chopped off and placed up on a stake. I was completely convinced in that moment that Vir was going to look back on his words with horror and be traumatised by the sight and disgusted with Londo. Instead it was played as a joke and Morden’s severed head got a little wave from Vir. Yes, this is Morden, but that still doesn’t make Vir’s reaction in any way consistent with the Vir we saw last week. For a similar example, but one where JMS actually got it right, look how Londo lost his taste for revenge on G’Kar. Despite him being his sworn enemy, he was saddened by what happened to him. Likewise, Vir should have been exhausted, shocked and depressed from all the violence, which he has been thrown into the centre of. He was last week. It was entirely the wrong reaction to Londo’s “gift” to him.

Back to the main event, it took just a rousing speech from Sheridan to end the war. Words have more power than weapons in B5, and I like that. In the end it was all about getting a Shadow and a Vorlon in a room together and telling them both to sling their hooks. The divorced parents comparison worked brilliantly, and these two parents have been trying to push their children in different directions. The moment Sheridan really hit the nail on the head was when he pointed out it had become a battle to prove who was right rather than a battle to do the right thing by their “children”. What a powerful allegory that is. In the end, the child had to teach the parents a lesson, and prove that their children have grown up now.

“It’s over because we’ve decided it’s over. Now get the hell out of our galaxy, both of you.”

And there it is, the end of the war. I have never seen a drama series structured like this. We are six episodes into the fourth series and the big storyline that has been brewing from the start has just ended, with another series and three quarters still to go. It feels like this should have been the finale to the final series, so where on earth do we go from here? My guess is the Psi Corps will play a big part in what’s to come, because their story is the biggest one that remains unresolved, but it will take some amazing skill to avoid what follows on from this feeling like a huge anticlimax. It’s a funny feeling to have watched an episode that feels like a big finale, and it’s just episode six. In a way, it’s oddly refreshing.

“I don’t know what to feel.”

No. Me neither.   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.

6 Responses to Babylon 5: Into the Fire

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Thank you both for your reviews on my favorite Babylon 5 episode. It was a most pivotal chapter even though we knew that B5 would still go on for a time afterwards. So once again, we’re faced with the common question of where an SF can go after reaching such a significant height. It’s an episode that reminds us all how letting go of old paradigms is vital to our survival and freedom as the growing-up species that we still are in certain respects. Because of all that humanity faces in 2020, it’s all the more undeniable that there are points of no return to all that no longer serves us.

    So it’s most timely that Into The Fire can find its most thoughtful reviews here on the Junkyard at this point. It will always remind us of a decade where SF drama and adventure on television had blossomed in preparation for the 21st Century.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jared Moore says:

    Oh, how I wish this was the S4 finale and this season was strictly all Shadow War. S5 should have been the war with Earth and the Clark Administration in and of itself but JMS was forced to squeeze this all into one season unfortunately before he learned that TNT would eventually pick it up back in the mid 90’s. Not sure why the original nework (star 64?) decided to ax the show is beyond me. I do remember though that B5 immediately followed Lois and Clark with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher which was also one of my favorite shows growing up on the old network….. I constantly think about what Season 5 could have been but we can’t that on JMS I suppose.

    Enough about that, there is a conversation in this episode when Lorien is talking to Susan that I wrote an essay on in High School. It is such an incredible piece of writing when she tells him that she doesn’t speak to her heart anymore which ironically also foreshadows her reluctance to have anything that resembles a romance with Marcus or even a night of “Boffing” on her premise that all love is unrequited.

    “only those who’s lives are brief can imagine that love is eternal.. you should embrace that remarkable illusion. It may be the greatest gift your race has ever received” which leads me to this:

    Is JMS saying that the human race is the only race on the station or in the universe for that matter that has this ‘remarkable illusion?’ It seems as though all of the other races on B5 view “love” as something far less emotional if not transitory for the exception of Vir and Delenn. Vir doesn’t ever act like a tradition Centauri as it is and the only Character in the entire series who seemingly doesn’t change from the first episode and the latter largely in part due to her becoming half human. Mira Furlan does an exceptional job showing more and more of her humanity shine through after the end of Season 1 until she eventually falls in love with Sheridan which is just another reason why she was perfect for the role. I would love to hear your take on this! I am definitely looking forward to reading another review involving Bester in the coming episode… as much as I love to hate him, he is a magnificent character and one of my favorites.

    Liked by 1 person

    • scifimike70 says:

      Granted, the history of many love stories, from Romeo & Juliet to Titanic, reminds us how the truest of love can feel more eternal when physically bound life is more ephemeral.

      Thank you for addressing this, Jared.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      Jared, thanks for sharing. I love how fans of this show are very enthusiastic and I really enjoy reading comments like this. I too loved that line and I considered it a blanket statement for all the short-lived species (most by Lorien’s standards) but you are right: he does say “your race”. Perhaps humans do love more and that is played out in the series because it’s the humans who bring everyone together – surely that’s a characteristic of love?
      I do think Vir changes very little but he does change. I mean, he starts off as a good man and remains one throughout, but he does grow. His arc may be among the least dramatic, unlike Londo and G’Kar, whose arc take them from one extreme to the other. I also loved Delenn and her integration into humanity was very well portrayed. We have more to go before I want to comment fully on that.
      I will also end by saying I too did papers on Science Fiction when I was in college – my first time back in the 90s with a paper on Ontology using Star Trek as the foundation and then again last year with another Trek themed paper. I have never tried a B5 one. I would be fascinated to read yours. Thank you for sharing with us!

      Liked by 1 person

      • scifimike70 says:

        Vir is a character I may not think too much of. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was played by Stephen Furst who I first saw in National Lampoon’s Animal House and St. Elsewhere. For characters like Vir, who may often appear relegated to supporting and least-dimensional characters, in regards to comedy relief, which often is a limiting factor, I for one don’t see so many such characters in shows and movies today as it did during the last century.

        Vir’s speech of comeuppance to Morden is delivered most exquisitely by Furst and so seeing it realized here, thanks to how happy Londo was to make it real, also helped to nourish the bond between Vir and Londo which I thought was very special. So even if Babylon 5 didn’t give Vir much beyond that, he can still be satisfyingly remembered by fans as part of this universally appealing ensemble.

        R.I.P., Stephen.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s