Babylon 5: Phoenix Rising

Babylon 5 ArtworkThe bloodhounds have arrived to wrap up the Byron story.  Phoenix Rising is the second half of the story that began last week and it seems like there was precedent for splitting it between two episodes: there was just too much to fit into the 43 minutes.  This entire episode is dedicated to the telepath conflict, so anything that happened last week would never have fitted in.  But was it worth the wait?

My last viewing of Babylon 5 was in binge-format and these last 11 episodes were a tough slog.  Working it out weekly for the Junkyard gave it a different feel.  The story played out better.  It wasn’t a story that needed binge viewing.  For me, that was largely because I never took to Byron or his plight.  The request for a homeworld never seemed like a big deal.  Give them a moon, for Kosh sake!  His kumbaya attitude never worked for me either and these telepaths resort to the same tactics as mundanes, thus establishing that they are no better than those they fight.  In fact, Byron the Noble was once Byron the Partner of Bester and Murderer of Mundanes.  This is a fact that Lyta tries to learn only to be told not to ask questions for which she won’t like the answers.  Not the sort of character I take to.  But then I guess in the end this isn’t a far cry from where he ended up: he still becomes a murderer.  He ends up taking his own life and murdering those who loved him.  Yeah, they had a choice and chose it, but it’s no less death.  Come to think of it, it’s even worse than that!  When he points the gun at the explosive chemicals, shouldn’t someone have told him that they are on a space station and the hull could rupture killing far more people than just his little group of hippie telepaths.  “And we will all come together in the vacuum of space… the vacuum of space…”  On top of that, it’s not just that this story isn’t that compelling to me; Byron’s story also breaks Lyta’s to some extent.  Wasn’t she so powerful she could activate a Shadow planet into self-destruction from miles away?  Why can’t she take control of the hostage-takers and make one attack the other?  Maybe disarm them before they start shooting Michael, Stephen and the rest of the med-staff?

On the other hand, the allusion to this episode during The Deconstruction of Falling Stars was fantastic.  I never thought Garibaldi would die on the show, but who could say for sure?  Sheridan did go out of his way to point out all that Michael had survived during his time on the station.  Maybe that was to be foreshadowing!  (I loved that Sheridan still considers Michael a friend considering all that happened during season 4!)  Alas, what befalls Michael might be worse: he goes back to the bottle.  After learning that Bester hit him with “an Asimov”, a neural block which prevents Michael doing anything bad to Bester, Michael buys himself a drink.  This can lead to nothing but heartache.  However, as bad as this is, it might not be without merit.  It is possible that drinking could cause the neural block to fade, much like we see with Londo and the Regent on Centauri Prime.  The thing is, will he be able to test it?  If he gets drunk, how will he find Bester?  Can he use the alcohol to his advantage, or is this just a one way ticket to hell?

Oh, tell me you didn’t want to hurl Bester out an airlock!  I wondered why Sheridan didn’t.  (When Sheridan asks Bester what happens if Michael is killed, Bester says “Zack gets his room”, and you could see the fury in Sheridan’s eyes.)  So yeah, why doesn’t he put Bester down?  It’s the question I was asking myself during the shootout too.  When the shooting starts, Lochley and Sheridan start firing at the surrendering telepaths but they only were opening fire because of Bester forcing the issue.  Bester, however, was right next to Sheridan and Lochley – had either of them turned and shot him they’d have been getting rid of a pestilence that had been on the station since season 1 and maybe saving a bad situation from escalating as it did.  Then Byron wouldn’t be a martyr; he’d still be alive to calm his people.  Instead, that rotten misery goes free and now people on earth will go around wearing black clothes and buying expensive hair products to “remember Byron”!

Elsewhere, observations abound!!  When Garibaldi is flung onto the desk, a monitor is seen being knocked over.  Those enormous monitors were out of style 10 years ago!  Can you imagine them being used in the 2260s?  Peter’s telekinesis could have used a bit less close-ups on his face as the actor gave himself whiplash!  It was painful to watch.  Trek had it right with Gary Mitchell, calmly looking at what he wanted to move and making it happen.  The corpse in the elevator seemed a bit drastic but it did make the point!  And speaking of points, I like that Bryon reminds Sheridan what it means to be a symbol for people.

In the end, it was a good episode to wrap up the Byron story, but boy am I happy it’s over.  Now we can get on with the good stuff for the last 11 episodes of this fantastic series!  ML

The view from across the pond:

Well, that was a little disappointing, after so many weeks building to this point. The lead up to this episode has been really interesting, but to end it all with Byron and his most loyal followers going up in flames is about as downbeat an ending as you could get. Maybe I just dislike unhappy endings, but I found this all rather unpleasant to watch, although I can’t deny it was effective, and I have to confess to feeling quite emotional when I was watching Byron’s final moments.

I can see the point of it. Byron has become a martyr and the end of the episode made it clear what he has achieved. He has become a symbol for a new movement, with telepaths now attacking the Psi Corps. The interesting thing will be finding out whether Garibaldi helped with that or not. He didn’t seem to react to the news at all, so it remains to be seen whether he was blanking out the whole world while he hit the bottle again, or if that news report was an indication of why he was hitting the bottle. Mind you, he has enough reason to feel a bit down, after his failure to kill Bester. Was he really about to commit murder in cold blood? It certainly looked that way. I suppose what happened to him at the hands of Bester has to count as extenuating circumstances, but even so it was hard to watch one of our heroes reach such a low. I presume a final confrontation between Garibaldi and Bester is being saved for later in the season, because it needs to happen. Ironically, if Garibaldi wasn’t so prejudiced against all telepaths, he could simply had talked to his captors about what Bester had done to him, got them to remove the block, and worked with them to put an end to Bester once and for all. Instead, hostage and hostage taker, who should have been working together against a common enemy, just fought like thugs.

That brings me to the most important reason why I felt this whole storyline went so astray. I get that JMS wanted to make Byron a martyr so the phoenix of an anti-Psi-Corps movement can rise from his ashes, and that does actually make for a very interesting story, but I don’t think he knew how to make that happen convincingly, and instead threw all logic out of the window and ignored facts that are already established. As I mentioned in a previous article, we were shown telepaths attacking people with their minds several weeks ago. They can stop attackers in their tracks, inflict pain, brainwash them, make them turn back. They have all sorts of tools in their armoury. Instead, all that was ignored, and they ended up fighting with conventional weapons, a desperate ragtag bunch of terrorists being hunted down by the authorities and taking hostages, which was never going to work. Sheridan’s hands were tied. He simply couldn’t negotiate with hostage-takers, setting a precedent to encourage future terrorism.

“If we open that door even one, we will never be able to close it again.”

So instead of telepaths battling with their minds, which would have made them a powerful force and made the whole story much more interesting, eleven weeks of story arc in the end boiled down to a small oppressed minority group taking up arms for their rights, and inevitably failing as an amateur army of a couple of dozen people at most. Their best weapon was one unusual telepath who could throw things around using his mind, leading to a laughable scene where Zack ordered a load of troops with guns to retreat, just because some debris was being thrown at them by one aggressor… because random things being chucked around is much more of a threat than guards with guns of course. In the end it all relied on a writer ignoring all the much more realistic ways this could have played out and presumably hoping we wouldn’t notice. We weren’t supposed to notice that these were powerful telepaths who were not using their own natural inbuilt weapons, for no reason at all. We weren’t supposed to notice that Byron was failing to publicly expose Bester’s mass murder of “mundanes”, for no reason at all. Maybe we’re still not supposed to notice that Lyta isn’t doing that either, although she is clearly now in possession of the information. But hey, that’s life isn’t it. The journey is so often more fun than the destination. Some brilliant episodes led to this moment. I loved the journey, but in the end I didn’t think much of the place we ended up.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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2 Responses to Babylon 5: Phoenix Rising

  1. scifimike70 says:

    When characters are battling it out or solving everything with only their minds, there’s always the ensuing question of how much writers can get out of that. It may work mostly in small stories like between the Doctor and the Master in The King’s Demons. It may work in bigger story finales, like Freejack thanks to the better visual effects naturally. But as for the physical dynamics for both the actors and the characters, it can make all the physical activity for the classic Star Trek all the more visually accessible for the audiences of the times.

    In the 90s when we can spice up such mind battles with improved visuals and vocal dynamics that give the actors obvious challenges, it can be either exciting or tedious. So for a show with an alien race of telepaths, it helps to mix it up enough to make us appreciate exceptions, as Spock tolerated despite the mind meld or the Doctor despite the mind wipe.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. scifimike70 says:

    R.I.P., Mira. You breathed such lovely life into Delenn and you will be greatly missed. 💓

    Liked by 2 people

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