Last 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