As much as Babylon 5 ever goes for comedy, this is one of the best. The show will attempt to pull off a few outright comedy episodes in the future (Zooty, zoot zoot!) but this one, for my money, does it better because it doesn’t derail the flow of the actual story arc that’s been building. The best way to maintain the momentum while still adding some humor is to have the typical A plot and B plot, so common in this series, but one can focus on being a bit more “light hearted”. I think the A plot is supposed to be the warring factions of the Minbari, but so much do I enjoy the B plot with Sheridan and his plan, that I really consider that the meat of the story.
The episode opens with Sheridan having a private little laugh while the senior staff has breakfast. It’s a rare moment of relaxation and he has a damned clever idea. He knows that the League of Non-Aligned Worlds will never give him access to patrol their borders if he asks for it, so he starts rumors. The member races start to figure things out in that they think something is going on. It’s a genius idea. It’s like dealing with 16 year old kids; if they think it’s their idea, it’s good, but the minute it comes from the parent, they rebel. But to pull off such a coup, Sheridan needs help. He has Susan make a comment on her “Voice of the Resistance” broadcasts about a sector of space where nothing happened. (Susan’s glare before going live on camera made me laugh out loud!) He also has Franklin ask for some additional blood supplies from each of the member races, “just in case”. Marcus is ordered to take three White Stars and fire at rocks. Even Londo is in on the fun, and watching a Drazi look confused is so thoroughly enjoyable. The deception is magnificent and Sheridan’s elevator ride to the sound of a gleeful “YES!” is fantastic. And that’s the rumors down!
The B Plot features Delenn as she tries to bargain between warrior and religious castes. She actually bargains with her own caste as well, after a near fatal mistake. Heartbroken over the devastation going on back on Minbar, she is distraught. Her musings of “did I do this?” to Lennier brings tears to the viewers eyes. There is an interesting moment where Lennier shares Valen’s wisdom and in that moment the writing leaps to a highpoint because Delenn has to remind Lennier that Valen was just Sinclair, not the religious figure they were lead to believe in their youth. Why I find this so appealing from a writing perspective is that it draws attention to how a lifetime of belief doesn’t fade easily even when the truth is known. Lennier needed that reminder because everything Valen said was until the point in time that Sinclair went back in time; everything after that is meaningless. It’s an interesting and subtle reminder of beliefs. Meanwhile Neroon wants to do what’s right by his people but he has been slowly realizing Delenn wants the same. Some mutual compliments, “after a fashion”, solidify the work Delenn is doing with him. It appears there could be peace between the two parties. But the religious caste has other plans and tries to sabotage their ship to become martyrs. Lennier saves the day, but at a cost. While recovering, he lies about what happened; something Minbari don’t do unless it’s to save face for another. And that’s the lies down.
I love the way Lennier tries to protect Delenn even though she is his mentor. As he explains, “In her world, we are better than we are…” This is an incredible outlook he has about her and speaks volumes about how she interprets the world around her. I also credit the writing for letting us know that extremists never view reality clearly. While Lennier is able to help prevent calamity, he also teaches the extremists in his midst the error of their ways while simultaneously forcing them to behave as better people. Well played, Lennier! You are indeed becoming a master.
And with that, Neroon leaves and relays a message to “Shakiri”. “Victory will be ours within the week.” (Ironic that it would be one week until the next episode… although this episode also establishes that Delenn has only been gone for 3 days!) But I could not help but wonder; this has another of those perfectly designed titles: Rumors, Bargains and Lies. Each is a plural word yet the only lie I saw was Lennier’s. Unless, that is, Neroon is also lying about something, which could be a shame because, for some reason I never could put my finger on, I have always liked Neroon. I guess the question is: is he lying to Delenn… or to Shakiri? ML
The view from across the pond:
At the risk of mixing tropes, Sheridan is a chessmaster this week, and he plays a Batman Gambit. This is where you rely on your enemy to behave in an entirely predictable manner in order to get the outcome you want. It’s a form of manipulation, and the aliens from the Non-Aligned Worlds are easy pickings for his gambit. They are the mildest, most cardboard-cut-out adversaries, who lack much in the way of characterisation other than (a) awkward and (b) stupid. As portrayals of alien races go, it’s not exactly the most enlightened. They are plot functions, not characters.
To achieve his gambit, Sheridan behaves in a very different way to usual this week, verging on being out of character entirely. Apparently his slightly unhinged behaviour was an ironic reflection of JMS showing the strains of writing every episode (of which decision the less said the better), but seeing Sheridan laughing at his own private joke like a madman on a train isn’t exactly in character. Neither is his treatment of his staff, although it was actually good to see him getting a backbone at last and expecting those who work for him to just damn well do what they’re told. It’s about time.
“May I ask…?”
“You may not. You have your orders. I have neither the desire not the inclination to explain them to you.”
This is an episode about deception, with both storylines aligning thematically, something that is far rarer than it should be in Babylon 5. On the station everyone plays their part in the deception, albeit unawares at times, and only Ivanova refuses to deviate from the truth. She’s quite right. The truth is their strongest weapon in the battle against the enemy propaganda. Seeding paranoia might get Sheridan what he wants but it’s not necessarily a wise thing to do. Luckily for Sheridan it doesn’t backfire on him, but it is the truth of Ivanova’s broadcast that secures him his victory, which is quite a nice touch. His enemies construct their own lies.
Delenn’s enemies do that too, illustrating my point about how paranoia can easily get out of hand. Here again we see everyone participating in some kind of a deception, and one wonders whether Lennier’s decision to protect Delenn from the truth was a white lie too far, robbing her of knowledge that could have been useful in future. It pays to know your enemies, especially when they are so close to home.
So this episode in the end was a step up from some of the recent tedium, aided hugely by the presence of the magnificent Guy Siner as one of the conspirators. As for the Minbari civil war, it’s hard to care much about yet another B5 conflict, especially one that seems so low-key compared to the Shadows, but it helps that Mira Furlan sells the emotional scenes so well.
“Did I do this, when I broke the Grey Council?”
That’s the problem with the Minbari though, and the reason why the scenes on the station came to life far more this week. We are being asked to become emotionally involved in the troubles of this race, and yet they are not the most interesting of aliens. It’s not just the council that’s grey. B5 needs to burst back into colour. RP