Babylon 5: Lines of Communication

b5Having seen Babylon 5 in rapid succession, I had a different feeling about it than I believe Roger did.  In fact, I’ve seen this with everyone I know.  Until now, I’ve been perplexed about the different reactions people have to it because I saw the show, especially seasons 3 and 4, very quickly.  The thing was, since my wife and son were enjoying it so much with me, I wasn’t about to stop.  But when I work on these write ups, I go back to each one individually to pull out what little out things I can and this was the first time I saw it: a sense of things slowing down.  Now, as part of the bigger whole, this episode makes sense and works, but as an individual story, I can’t help but feel it was a weaker one and was probably viewed that way during the original run.  The advantage of binge-worthy shows is that they effectively work as a long episode/movie/book etc.  But when a binge-worthy show is aired on network television over weeks, it breaks that down and you lose a little something.

This episode is about setting up lines of communication.  Susan is put in a position of being the Voice of the Resistance, getting back into a role she had occupied during the Shadow War.  Now she’s put in place to help stem the tide of misinformation including some of the negativity about the station and John Sheridan.  Franklin and Stephen are opening dialogue with the resistance on Mars and making headway with their leader, Number 1.  And Forell is opening lines of communication with exiles who are in need of a home.  He hopes they will help him bring peace to his home world in return for his help.

The story on Mars is far too slow.  Number 1 has had many lovers and Stephen is one of many.  Ok, and?   The resistance bombs hotels and Franklin has to convince them to stop.  Alright, so…?   The story makes sense, but it’s a slow burn.  However, this scene does drive home a point to those viewers who are watching as I was.  Franklin and Stephen are both quick to point out that Sheridan is “the right man” and can basically do the undoable.  This was originally an idea presented by Sebastian in Comes the Inquisitor when he called Delenn and Sheridan “the right people, in the right place, at the right time”.  Unfortunately, that was for the Shadow War.  What does it mean now?  What this is doing is confirming Garibaldi’s claims about the cult of the individual with Sheridan as its center.  Now, in fairness, Number 1 and her Mars resistance wouldn’t know that but it does serve to make the viewer question if JMS is undermining his war hero.  Is this clever or is this an error?

Delenn, meanwhile, gives us a more enjoyable story meeting Forell’s friends, the Drakh.  First off, I just need to interject here that they look great in all their shimmer.  I love the way they are slightly out of sync with everything else.  That adds a delightfully alien quality.  But Delenn realizes where these exiles are from and that turns the mood sour.  We get a great battle.  But once again, like with Sheridan, we are left to question Delenn’s position.  She actually tells Lennier in this episode that she would not make the same mistake twice, having been with Dukhat when they met the humans.  At the time, she is the one who made the decision to destroy all humans.  We just learned all about that 2 episodes ago.  Yet what does she do here, after they escape?  She tells Lennier they are not leaving, then goes back to wipe these creatures out.  “End this!”  And so our second hero murders all the Drakh.  I’m not saying she was wrong to kill potential enemies, but she runs away, only to come back and destroy them even as their flagship tries to escape!  And that brings us back to the start of the episode when Delenn reminds John that while she is happy he cares for who she has become, he should not forget who she was and what she can do or what she is capable of.  We are shown that she can be brutally destructive.  This episode might be about opening lines of communication but I’m not liking what I’m hearing!

That doesn’t mean it’s not fun!  I loved when Sheridan wakes Susan and he makes the comment about not noticing that she’s in her nightgown.  Her reaction is quite funny.  I also laughed when Marcus makes a bet with Stephen that Number One likes him and then is proven right.  (“Come on, ya cheap bastard!”)   In general, I still think everything that happens here is important because it opens the door to what’s to come. Delenn should “never have been away this long” and is going home to address the problems brewing there.  That will be a part of the focus of the remainder of the season.  She tells John that this will give him the chance to be dangerous and to do things that have to be done.  It’s a needed moment and well timed; this is the 11th episode of the season, exactly half way in.  The premise for the next 11 has just been set.  It’s time to see how dangerous things will get…   ML

The view from across the pond:

Sheridan has had a brainwave this week, and he’s like an excited child, rushing off to see Ivanova in the middle of the night. She’s understandably annoyed about that, and even more annoyed when he doesn’t even notice what she is wearing, because she’s a woman dammit. It’s an interesting reflection of how things have moved on from the 90s that a vision of humanity’s future nowadays would be unlikely to include a woman berating a male colleague for not making a comment about her appearance.

Sheridan’s idea is to set up his own television channel as a rival to the Earth propaganda news channel: the “voice of the resistance”. And so JMS plumbs new depths of silliness and tedium. It’s not just that the storyline inspires nothing but indifference in the viewers (well, this viewer, that’s for sure), it’s the lack of logic in it. Sheridan cites the Second World War as an example, and I get that it’s JMS’s big source of inspiration for his war stories. That much has come through loud and clear over the last couple of seasons of B5. But technology has already moved on a very long way from WW2 and if a country nowadays doesn’t want their population to access foreign media then they block it pretty easily. So it’s certainly hard to conceive of a way this could work in the distant future, especially as JMS has already established quite clearly that Earth is successfully blocking B5 from getting any channels from Earth apart from the news. Sheridan couldn’t even get the Adult channel last week. He has to make his own entertainment in that respect, but Delenn is too busy on her own mission this week.

There are a lot of betrayal stories going around at the moment, and this week Delenn has a spot of bother with a Minbari named Forell (not Williams). He has some interesting ethics:

“Minbari do not kill Minbari, but when it is the elements at night, the cold, is that truly murder?”

Erm, yes it is, old stick. Using a less obvious weapon doesn’t stop it being murder. Come on, Forell, get real here. Clap along if you feel like freezing somebody isn’t murder. Sometimes there seems to be little consistency in the portrayal of the Minbari as an enlightened race. Forell is keen to introduce Delenn to a new friend: Skeletor from He-Man, who seems to have been drinking too much because he’s stumbling around and a bit blurry. There’s never a friendly skeletal race, is there. You can’t judge a book by its cover, unless it’s the book of Babylon 5.

It looks like the races who used to work for the Shadows are going to be a problem, and I have to admit that examining the aftermath of a major war is something sci-fi rarely does. The big victory would normally be the conclusion, and showing how life goes on and what post-War challenges crop up is relatively unexplored territory. However, it does still feel like we are peering at the crumbs on the table after a feast.

In the meantime, Marcus and Franklin are still enjoying Life on Mars.

“The captain wants you to stop bombing civilian targets. It does no good and it never has.”

…which was an interesting quote in light of what was happening in the UK at the time of this episode, and the tragedy the US would face in five years. But we ended up in much more light-hearted territory for the Mars storyline this week, with Franklin asked to a meal with Number One, while gooseberry Marcus was sent off on guard duty. The episode ended with Franklin clearly enjoying his dessert, while lonely Marcus just played with his own tool in the dark. It extends impressively though.

“Why do you keep watching that rubbish?”

That’s what I ask myself as well if I ever stumble across a news channel. What surprises me after the brilliance of Season Three is that I am now asking myself the same question about Babylon 5. Five lousy post-war episodes have been hard to stomach.   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.

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