Babylon 5: Rising Star

Babylon 5 Artwork

Artwork by Katie Marriott

This was almost the final episode of the series before the finale, Sleeping in Light.  It’s a tremendous episode and if the show had ended a year early, it would have gone out with two fantastic episodes back to back.  We’re still 22 episodes away from talking about Sleeping in Light, but Rising Star does wrap up some loose threads very nicely.  (And to think, we have one more episode to talk about this season… let’s wait until next week to discuss that!)

One of the things I love about the way JMS writes is that he can tell a serious story and still find a way to add humor.  Susan’s story concludes but not as expected: Marcus has saved her and she’s dealing with the hurt of his sacrifice.  Claudia acts her heart out for he second time in the last few weeks and her heartache is palpable.  But through it she does have some moments that have to make the audience laugh: she comments that God does have an English accent (because she heard Marcus talking to her just before she was ready to slip away).  She also tells Stephen that she should have at least “boffed” Marcus once.  Even Stephen has to laugh at this.  But that’s actually a very real part of grief; it’s how we cope.  Finding some way to hold on to the humor is important and I don’t for a moment believe that takes away from the sincerity of the scene.  (Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Franklin’s opening with his “Faster!  We’ve got to go faster!”  Something about it makes me laugh and I am certain it’s not intended to make me do that!)  Ivanova just gets a news bulletin “talking point” that she’s been promoted to captain and has asked for a transfer to a Warlock class ship.  (This, in one easy sentence, explains we she is missing from season 5.)

Lennier talks to Delenn about Susan’s sentiment that “all love is unrequited” and Delenn tells him that she was wrong.  I find that a painful sentiment myself.  I also felt this was leading him on but in some ways, it is putting the final nail in the coffin for Lennier if he thinks there’s any chance she will fall for him.  Speaking of love, Garibaldi gets Lise back.  Amazingly, she hadn’t married one of the mob henchmen because it was convenient.  I’m glad Garibaldi finds some happiness but boy howdy, either marry her or don’t let her out of your sight, man!

Londo and G’Kar have come a long way.  Londo jests with G’Kar about being “premature”, which is completely carried by G’Kar’s uncomprehending expressions.  As the realization dawns, one has to laugh, but the fact that they are becoming friends is a wonderful testament to the idea behind Babylon 5: that last, best hope for peace.   Later, G’Kar is asked to be the first speaker for the delegation which makes complete sense; everything he says captures the attention.  I had to laugh when Londo evaluated the merit of rice that it can’t be good if people throw it away at weddings.  And I wasn’t thrilled with G’Kar using his eye to spy on Delenn and Sheridan on their first night of wedded bliss but, creepy as it was, I had to laugh.

And Sheridan resigns his commission … but becomes the president of the Interstellar Alliance.  As great as the episode is overall, I find there’s a lot to unpack in Sheridan’s story.  “Morally I was right, but politically I was inconvenient.”  Sheridan did have ethics on his side; Clark was a monster, but because Sheridan saved Earth in an “inconvenient way” he has to pay a price.  Why is it that government and red tape don’t bow down to ethics?  Why do we accept that the opposite is true?   It’s also part of Sheridan’ story that Bester makes an appearance.  Bester compares himself and John to Reebo and Zooty (wonder if we’ll ever learn who they are…) and Holmes and Watson.  But Sheridan is nothing like Bester and that difference brought into sharp contrast when Sheridan is talking about how Bester likes to use people.  Sheridan explains that what he did, using telepaths as weapons, was not an easy decision.  He specifically chose people who had no families, like he did during the Shadow War, but as Bester points out, Caroline, his love, had no family.  Thankfully, Sheridan lost his own wife only to find her again and lose her again, so he doesn’t wish that on even Bester.  Again, this series does show us what heroism is: it’s not being flawless, it’s holding to your beliefs and doing the right thing even when it’s “inconvenient”.

“Rarely am I in the presence of living history.”  The season ends with the reminder that strength indeed comes from a multitude of voices.  The Interstellar Alliance is now formed and 2261 ends like a chapter from a good book.  We can get a glimpse ahead though and things are afoot.  Delenn references the telepath war and the Drakh war and trouble for the alliance.  But like the show itself, she say that what is built and loved endures.  “…and Babylon 5 endures!”    ML

The view from across the pond:

It might be an odd series structure to not end with the big finale, but this mopping up exercise doesn’t feel like an anticlimax. You know the epilogue at the end of a book, where the big dramatic stuff is all over and we’re just finding out what happens next for all the main characters? This is a bit like that, and in the same way that it can be an absorbing part of a book it is also an absorbing part of this series. There is joy and sadness, and there is also the very realistic sense that not all the problems have gone away.

Bester is still a threat, although I enjoyed Sheridan’s amusement at the idea that threatening him might mean anything any more, and also the way he turned the tables by mentioning Garibaldi, who is going to be far from happy with Bester. Londo learns he is going to be the new Emperor, so that’s a prediction coming true. It’s something he would have greeted with great joy a couple of years ago, but now it’s the last thing he wants. He has seen what power does to people, and instead he is happy exploring his “very strange relationship” with G’Kar. Life on Babylon 5 has become enjoyable for him once again, and he’s not going to be keen to throw that away. Then we have the new Interstellar Alliance with the independent Rangers and Sheridan as the President of the Alliance, which is an interesting development for next year and something that could easily collapse when you think about it. Giving that much power to an independent group in the name of peace might be prone to backfiring. And of course we had the sad fact of Marcus’s death, and Ivanova trying to come to terms with a missed opportunity. As she says, she should have “boffed him”. Such pathos.

But the really interesting part of this episode was the question of how the new Earth President should deal with Sheridan. She was faced with an unenviable problem: a man who is a hero to everyone but also stands as a symbol of anarchy and not following orders. If she were to discipline him she would clearly have a riot on her hands, or worse, but if she did nothing about him then she would set a dangerous precedent. These are the kinds of intricate diplomatic issues that are so often overlooked in sci-fi in favour of big battles, but JMS really shows the value of exploring them here.

Luchenko is right, of course. If we set aside for a moment how wrapped up we have inevitably become in watching Sheridan’s heroism, logic dictates that his resignation is the best thing all round. He remains a moral hero, but acknowledges that his actions must by necessity represent the end of his military career. She has the right idea, but she goes about it in the wrong way, because she threatens him.

“You will be dishonourably discharged, court marshalled, and brought to trial.”

Try it, and see how many minutes you survive before your assassination. In fact, that’s exactly what Sheridan should have said. She clearly can’t do that and hope to stay in office, but I think Sheridan understood that resigning was the right thing to do. That could have come across a little better in the writing, because standing aside because he is “inconvenient” doesn’t really follow naturally from what we have seen of Sheridan. A little more insight into his thought processes would have been useful.

By the end of the episode things are all nicely set up for the next series, and we end on a lovely speech from Delenn: “Babylon 5 endures”. So that’s it then. Everything wrapped up nicely, ready for a fresh start next year… wait, what? Hold on a second. This is episode 21. I thought it was odd that last week’s episode wasn’t the finale to the series, but now I’m even more baffled. What on Earth could be happening next week?   RP

About Roger Pocock

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7 Responses to Babylon 5: Rising Star

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I’ve been contemplating a lot recently about what producers must go through to decide whether or not to proceed with a new season. Let alone how. Given how shaken up, either for better or worse or a bit of both, that Dr. Who has always been by its lengthy list of challenges and risks, it made me appreciate even more how changeable Babylon 5, certainly involving the characters, always had to be within a time frame just two years short of a planned Trek series. Creative availability may still be the biggest stroke of luck in most cases. But B5 did its best and was rewarded accordingly by all faithful SF fans including us on the Junkyard.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ShiraDest says:

    ML: “the fact that they are becoming friends is a wonderful testament to the idea behind Babylon 5: that last, best hope for peace. ” -exactly what I love about B5!! 🙂
    I had a difficult time with the new president’s attitude, or lack of gratitude, for Sheridan. He absolutely did the right thing.
    Shame that he had to protect the written Amnesty from officers who ought to have upheld the word of the President.

    Liked by 2 people

    • scifimike70 says:

      Babylon 5 had its own morally compelling line between leaders who try to impose their own views onto the majorities and leaders who genuinely uphold the equal and individual rights of the people. Science-fiction in its most thoughtful adaptations gives us freedom to ask and answer the most natural questions as a people. When the human elders of Cocoon, for their revitalized energies, face the dilemma of whether they or not they were cheating nature, it’s ultimately natural for them to do what feels right as individuals. But escaping or defying all the inevitable opposition proves yet again to be a common theme.

      B5 is by no means unfamiliar in this regard. But it reflected the times more profoundly than the Star Trek shows for proving what most realistic SF futures do. Namely that even in some grand future for humanity, majorities can easily face the dangers of losing their ways. So it’s good to have the beautiful love between Sheridan and Delenn to remind us all as a people of truly personalized values.

      Liked by 3 people

      • ShiraDest says:

        Yes, yet I love that melding of Delenn’s insistence on her communal values and rituals, reminding us of the importance that Star Trek put on the greatest good for the greatest number (though certain basic rights must always be guaranteed for each individual, as well). The balance of those personalized yet communal values, as you point out, is a delicate one.

        Liked by 3 people

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      See, Shira, I think you and I are probably kindred spirits there: we’re suckers for the idea of hope. When Lorien says to Sheridan during the flashback to his jump at Z’Ha’Dum, “Hope is all we have” and the word “hope” has an echo effect, I found that glorious and delightful and inspiring. (Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi) Hope is an even better emotion than love to depict on TV because love is overdone – not denying the need for it, or the value of it, just that every show or movie seems to dive into it. But the idea of HOPE… that’s what made the original Star Wars matter. It’s what made the final movie actually work: it brought back hope. Trek was hopeful; it made us look at ourselves as better than what we were and that we could aspire to more. (Remember Trek V?) And B5… B5 was about hope! It might end with a love story in that magnificent finale, but it was a series that was based on hope and for that, I will be a lifelong fan. ML

      Liked by 4 people

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