Babylon 5: In the Kingdom of the Blind

b5“In the valley of the blind, the one eyed man is king,” so the saying goes.  But which is the Kingdom of the Blind?  Byron’s people who are too blind to see that violence will not help their cause?  The general inhabitants of B5 who wander the station never noticing the people riding in elevators with them?  Garibaldi, who sits right next to Byron when Byron glares into his mind and he sees nothing!   Perhaps the Centauri who fail to see what’s going on all around their palace?  Or is the one eyed man, the single-eyed creature around the Regent’s neck?

Man does the Regent sell the terror of what is going on back on Centauri Prime, huh?  That guy absolutely nails the performance and I am certain it’s those mania-filled eyes that really get it.  Yeah, his highs and lows help but it’s the eyes, isn’t it?  Rather apt, for this episode, really.  I found every scene on Centauri Prime captivating.  The moment where Londo is almost killed was an unexpected one though.  I didn’t see that coming.  The creature that saves him does not claim who or what he is, but based on the appearance with those Sycorax-like helmets, I’m reasonably certain they are Drakh (although the Drakh moved in that weird slow motion so maybe not).  Whoever they are they have power and it will be very interesting to see where this story goes.  It’s not just that though!  Having G’Kar interacting with the Centauri is brilliant.  The scene where he is offered to whip the guard who whipped him is once again Katsulas at his best.  G’Kar has become such a source of inspiration in the series, that it’s hard to countenance that this was the “villain” at the start of the series.  And don’t you just love that he winks and blows a kiss at the nearby Centauri woman?   Besides that, I’m glad he’s there to help Londo.  (And the winner of best line of the episode goes to G’Kar: “Frightens you?  Well, I won’t be getting any sleep tonight!”)

By contrast, Byron’s story is tedious.  The continuity error due to the filming has Byron talking about what he learned “last night” about the Vorlons, which was actually two weeks ago episodically.  At the very least a full night went by during Day of the Dead so that just doesn’t tally but a production mistake could be overlooked if the rest of the story held my interest.  Byron doesn’t.  His people are idiots and he might as well be a rock, unwilling to actually do anything more than lurk in shadows.  (Come to think of it, it’s also apt that he lurks in shadows, considering the creatures on C. Prime are almost certainly Shadow allies!)   Did he really think stealing data and then announcing what he did was a good move?  Maybe it could have worked but telling them about it, threatening the council and then saying they would be helped, instead of asking, just added fuel to the fire.  Who wants to help that guy??  Sheridan isn’t wrong: ideally they do deserve to be looked after.   But the way Byron goes about it is wrong, then his people make poor choices and ruin the whole thing.  And some of it could have been avoided if they’d just listened and stayed put.  I never like watching things where I sit there yelling at the screen.  “Just stay in tonight… it’s one damned night!”  On top of that, when Byron’s associate is talking about how they are “free”, all I could think was: is that a freedom worth having?  The life they have is living in squalor and wearing the same clothes every day.  They are hunted and hated.  That’s “free”?  The only thing I did like about this part of the story was when Sheridan said that Byron did things the wrong way, “the inconvenient way”, to which Delenn reminded him that he was guilty of the same thing during his freedom fight.

Yes, I love dichotomy in stories.  I love the fact that what Byron wants isn’t wrong because I do agree that they should get a homeworld, but he handled the whole thing badly, exacerbated by his own people.  That was where Sheridan succeeded: he kept the team together.  Byron could not and things fell apart; the center did not hold.  And I love the dichotomy of the episode structure that goes between a good story and a weak one. The biggest question I have is: is it really that big a deal to give these dudes a place to live?  Surely there’s a moon or something?  Barring that the only other thing that I can see now is that the scene we had in the flash forward from The Deconstruction of Falling Stars might be forming right in front of us.  That makes for some interesting viewing.  I just hope we get more on Centauri Prime because that’s where my interest lies!  ML

The view from across the pond:

Maybe I was spoilt by the Neil Gaiman / Penn and Teller combo last week, but this is the first episode this season that felt like a bit of a disappointment. It wasn’t a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination, but… well, stories have beginnings, middles and ends, and this was very much stuck in the middle, particularly the ongoing storyline with Byron. I get the impression that we are pushing towards some kind of a conclusion now, but we are getting there slowly.

At least the cards are on the table now. The telepaths have been trailing around after the diplomats, learning their deepest, darkest secrets, and Byron uses that as a threat to get what he wants:

“We now have all your secrets. Give us a homeworld of our own and you will never hear from us again.”

His methods may be unethical, but what he is asking for is surely perfectly fair? He wants one insignificant world on the edge of somebody’s territory. Now, I realise things are never quite that simple, but even so “perhaps they are right”. That’s what Delenn says, the only one to look at the issue impassionately. I found Sheridan’s response a little out of character and actually quite baffling.

“They did it the wrong way, the inconvenient way.”

Inconvenient? We are talking about a race of people who have been persecuted and forced to flee across the galaxy to escape oppression and have recently saved the lives of their oppressors, asking for a place to call home. JMS has built his storylines around WW2 themes to such an extent, I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing here, and Sheridan’s response paints him in a very bad light.

Inevitably things escalate, and once again I was disappointed to see things escalate in such a simplistic manner, with the telepaths taking up arms against their Drazi attackers. It has already been established that they can attack people with their minds, so it seems odd that JMS is ignoring that. He’s missing a trick there, and diminishing Byron’s people from the dangerous force they should be to just a generic small group of revolutionaries.

The scenes set on Centauri Prime were much better, thanks in part to the brilliant chemistry between G’Kar and Londo, but also some fabulous guest appearances. Ian Ogilvy, best known for not being Roger Moore, was magnificent as the plummy voiced Lord Jano, but my favourite was Damian London as the Regent. He played insanity so well, mainly by managing somehow to stop blinking almost altogether. But the best moment of the episode belonged to G’Kar, offered his revenge on the guard who whipped him and turning it down with another classic G’Kar speech about holding the heart not the hand responsible. It’s at odds with what JMS normally does, railing against the “just following orders” excuse, but it’s still a great moment, and shows what an amazing character G’Kar has become… or perhaps has always been.

As the icing on the cake of the Centauri Prime storyline, we have a new monster hiding in the shadows, very frightening and effective. It does feel like we are starting to replay the Shadow War story, with the same old tactics: a race of ultra-powerful aliens hiding in the shadows; random military strikes to seed conflict among different races; making use of the Centauri to do their dirty work. It’s all the same old stuff… so far. Let’s hope JMS has a few more tricks up his sleeve.   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, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Babylon 5: In the Kingdom of the Blind

  1. scifimike70 says:

    When a series seems to be running dry of newer ideas near its end, it makes me contemplate how common this problem is for television and movie series. You can try some quite daringly bold for the hopes of avoiding that problem, as Chibnall recently did for Dr. Who and as the creative helm for Star Treks: Discovery and Picard. But it may actually make fans appreciate the problem more and the easier solution to end the series soon enough before ratings plummet. Babylon 5 had the best of five years, even with its share of disliked episodes, and so I was grateful enough for that.

    Liked by 1 person

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