Babylon 5: Epiphanies

b5The shadow war is over!  Babylon 5 is having a party to celebrate and the whole start of the episode might as well be the start of a new season.  It’s an interesting structure for a series, but life is rarely neat and this series illustrates just how that plays out.  I mean, think about the lockdown of 2020 which started in March.  It didn’t start on January 1st.  Babylon 5 has always broken each season out per year;  each season ends at the end of an earth year and major events carry over, because life is not neat.  To illustrate that point further, President Clark is putting a quarantine on Babylon 5 making it illegal to go to the station.  He wants to discredit those on the station by having the Psi Cops special forces commit murder.   Blaming B5 would certainly hurt their reputation, but Sheridan is nothing if not a strategist and he has a plan.  Admittedly, he gets what he needs thanks to the timely arrival of Bester.  But we all know Bester, he has a price: he wants to go to Z’ha’dum to get the technology needed to save his love, Carolyn.  He just doesn’t bargain on what might happen when he antagonizes Lyta.

The episode sets the stage for what will be coming in the rest of Season 4: Sheridan will have to deal with the situation on Earth.  It won’t be easy and things have been made even trickier by Garibaldi’s resignation.  Zack is the new head of security while Michael wants to carve out a little happiness.  In some ways, this story gives us a check-in with the various characters.  Londo is on his way back to Babylon 5 leaving a new regent in charge; that funny little fellow who thinks in pastels.  G’Kar is having his eye examined by Franklin and his appreciation of life is so enjoyable.  He manages to steal the show in every scene he’s in and he’s hard not to admire.  His comments on the extraction of the eye is very funny, but then he goes to see Garibaldi and he discusses his appreciation of everything he had been through is just looking at life with the glass more than half full all of the time!  (Who doesn’t love watching G’Kar menacingly approach Garibaldi, only to lift him bodily and welcome him home?)  On the other hand, his reaction to Londo is disappointing, even if it’s totally understandable.  I don’t disagree with it, I just wish he could forgive.  (I doubt I’d be able to if the roles were reversed, but I’d like to think I could!)

Zack has to have a conversation with Lyta and he plays the honesty card beautifully.  I actually really loved that dialogue, even on Lyta’s side who agrees that, deep down, she knew everything he shared but it was nice having someone be honest with her.  But she starts to go wrong here too.  When Zack offers to come by with pizza later to help her, she rolls her eyes in a way that says a very snarky “gee, thanks”.  Maybe that wasn’t the intent, but after his honesty, I wanted her to be more appreciative.  And her decline doesn’t end there.  I wondered about Z’ha’dum when it blew up.  I wondered if somehow Lyta did that.  It seems I was not alone!  Sheridan confronts her about it and while he emotionally agrees with her rationale (to hurt Bester), he has to be pretty harsh with her for not consulting him.  While he may be viewed as too hard here, he is the leader and needs to be aware of decisions.  It’s not a comfortable spot to be in, but he deserved to know.  And to think, this was after that amazingly great reply to Bester about taking Lyta in to the Corp…

“Oh, you could do that. And I could nail your head to the table, set fire to it, and feed your charred remains to the Pak’ma’ra. But it’s an imperfect world and we never get exactly what we want. So get used to it.”  (Loved it!)

It’s not the only great line either.  G’Kar shares his view on being asked to lead:  “I have seen what power does and I have seen what power costs; one is not equal to the other.”   Lyta, reminded that the Psi Corp is mother and father, says simply, “Then I’m an orphan!”  And perhaps the most visually clever scene has Zack saying that the next person to walk through the door may be the “second coming”, only to have the Three Kings come through instead… that’s 3 Elvis impersonators!  I also felt a certain kinship with Sheridan when he is described by Delenn as someone who needs a challenge and could not sit comfortably on a beach without having his head implode.  And Garibaldi’s comment about DisneyPlanet is rather fun too.

But with all I love about this series, I did have an epiphany myself that really bothered me.  I’ve been using War Without End as a sort of Rosetta Stone for a lot that has happened in the past and will happen in the future, but Sheridan fails to realize something and it’s because of what he says that put me off.  He says “I just wish I knew…” where the Shadow’s allies were going when they left Z’ha’dum.  But he does know!  He saw it in the future.  They go to Centauri Prime.  That was not a good thing to mistake; he should have known. And that brings us to the ending when the Regent wakes from his slumber, looks in the mirror and sees one of those same things Londo had on his neck in War Without End.  And the look on the Regent’s face sends a chill through the soul as we wait to find out if this is indeed the beginning of the fall of Centauri Prime.  ML

The view from across the pond:

The previous episode was so conclusive that it left me wondering where the series could go from here. My guess was the unresolved issue of Psi Corps, which looks like being a good shout, but also there are other unanswered questions. We still don’t know what happened to Garibaldi when he was captured, and Earth is still under the control of the bad guys. All these things feature in this episode. Despite that it still feels like an anticlimax, which I suppose was inevitable with this weird series structure. The opening sequence already feels oddly out of date by the way.

The main threat to Babylon 5 now comes from Earth, and we learn that “the President wants Babylon 5 shut down, permanently.” This is not news, but he is stepping up his tactics. It’s convenient that he didn’t decide to do that during the Shadow war. Here we see the first inherent problem with the odd approach of ending the Shadow war mid-season, which felt like the biggest story and seems like it should have been the season finale. Sheridan has just commanded a fleet of over 1000 ships, from over two dozen worlds, to victory. Earth should be terrified of him, and begging to reconcile. A word in the right ears and he could send a fleet to Earth to take control. He has been built up as some kind of a messiah; everyone would follow him.

Instead Bester turns up on the station to cause trouble again, apparently followed by an Elvis convention. It’s a lame joke, and if the human race still has Elvis impersonators in the future we really are doomed.

But JMS is no fool, and I think he realised something important when he wrote this episode. The anticlimax was inevitable, but the one big thing he had in his armoury was a cast of fascinating characters. This week it’s the characterisation that matters, the personal dramas and issues. We have G’Kar dealing with the loss of his eye in typically matter-of-fact and heroic fashion, and also his reunion with Londo:

“My world is now free. You no longer exist in my universe. Pray that we never notice one another again.”

Then we have Garibaldi’s resignation, everyone’s reactions to that, his very valid reasoning, but also the nagging feeling that he’s up to something and can’t be trusted any more. Zack is still at the stage where he is being fleshed out as a character, despite being in the main cast for a long time, and pairing him with Lyta for a possible budding romance is a smart move. Speaking of Lyta, I never thought I could like the character so much, but she has just got better and better, and here we see the ruthless side of her that wants revenge for her past suffering and that of other telepaths:

“He has sent away so many loved ones, he deserves to find out what it feels like to lose someone he cares about.”

I didn’t like Sheridan’s reaction, and he is increasingly losing my sympathies. A couple of weeks ago we saw him send a man to his death, asking about his family while neglecting to give much thought to his similarly doomed Minbari crew. He was thrown into sharp contrast with Vir, who was also a man who had done what he had to, but it had traumatised him. Here he is faced with Lyta’s heroic actions, and throws a hissy fit because she kept him out of the loop, for the very sensible reason that Bester would be able to read his mind and it would have scuppered the whole plan.

“Well I’m glad we’re talking theory here Lyta, because as much as I may agree with your reasons, might even have supported the decision, if this were to happen again, if a command level decision were made without consulting me, I would turn you over to the Psi Corps and let them turn you inside out.”

It’s a great speech, and Boxleitner delivers it with stunning conviction, but Sheridan is like a petulant child who hasn’t been included in somebody else’s game. How many times has he been undermined by Franklin, who merrily keeps his job? And yet he threatens the sheer horror of turning the heroic Lyta, to whom he owes his life, over to the Psi Corps, who would effectively lobotomise her. I could be charitable and assume we are supposed to feel ambivalent towards Sheridan at this point, but I’m not so sure. Time will tell if JMS is making an observation about flawed heroism, or if it really is simply just a skewed morality tale.

I’m also not sure what to think about the twist at the end. It seems to suggest that the Shadow threat isn’t entirely over, but it reminds me of one of those moments at the end of the film where the killer comes back to life for the final scene. “Aha”, says the writer, “you thought it was over?” Sometimes people outstay their welcome. Sometimes a television series does that too.   RP

About Roger Pocock

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2 Responses to Babylon 5: Epiphanies

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I was quite shocked when I heard Sheridan talk to Lyta that way after her loyal contribution in Into The Fire. Particularly because I like Patricia Tallman in the role. After first seeing her as Barbara for the 1990 remake of Night Of The Living Dead, I knew what she could do in the SF universe. I suppose such ambivalent relationships between characters serve their purpose of trying to make the show remain interesting. After the height reached in Into The Fire, such a challenging scene may be just thrown in to peak our curiosity. But will the outcome be good or bad for B5 as an SF saga? We all know how tricky it can be even for the best TV and movie franchises.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. DrAcrossthePond says:

    I’m going to say, while I felt he was harsh and I did feel it was an extreme reaction to someone who he should appreciate, it’s evident that neither of you run a department or have people reporting in to you. You cannot successfully run a department when those who are supposed to work with you, actually work against you. In Sheridan’s case, he’s planning against a massive force and he has to be supremely careful. He isn’t fighting gods now; he’s fighting his own people and he is a patriot which is known by Earth Gov! He can’t have someone undermining him now more than ever. Simple as that. She needed to communicate with him, especially since she knows she IS strong enough to protect against Bester. After she mentally smacks Bester in the face, he knows it too.

    Where I agree more is with Roger’s comment that Earth Gov should be afraid of Sheridan but let’s not ignore that they may have hoped the B5 problem would be taken care of for them if John died during the war. His survival means they have to address the situation and they do it immediately after the war ended. That’s the truth of this episode and actually makes it a far stronger episode than I think either of you give it credit for. ML

    Liked by 1 person

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