Meditations on the Abyss is a weirdly structured episode. We get three plots, none of which are particularly deep, but they all have a place: G’Kar and his teachings, the Centauri and the attacks on the Alliance ships, and Lennier being a trainee in the Rangers. Strangely the focus seems to be on the Ranger training and Season Five seems an odd place to add that. How far can we really go with it with less than ten episodes left? But let’s look at these “meditations”.
G’Kar elevates every scene he’s in. Whether getting a prosthetic eye, or being frustrated by his followers, Katsulas was a pro and we are diminished by his loss. His meditations come out as his disciples seek his lessons. They ask “what is truth and what is God”. G’Kar’s original answer is magnificently poetic, reminiscent of one Lennier offers back in Season Two, but the message falls on deaf ears. He settles with truth being a river and God being the mouth of the river. Perhaps less poetic, but no less deep and wonderful. Or is that just the way G’Kar delivers the message? To be fair, I rather like his first lesson: we can’t be free until we learn to laugh at ourselves. “And from laughter, comes wisdom!” Goodness, I must be the wisest man my wife knows!
Vir and Londo have a bit of fun. Londo’s mockery of the Drazi ambassador is quite enjoyable. Equally, Vir going berserk with a sword is outstanding. That Drazi stall keeper will never insult Vir again! I like that there’s a natural progression in this universe. Vir is to be the new Centauri ambassador when Londo leaves. It’s a natural flow. (Actually, taking a step back to the G’Kar story, even the fact that Stephen has to order the parts for G’Kar’s eye seems natural: this isn’t the magic of Trek’s replicators but a real world where things take time to arrive!) Anyway, the meditations here might be more about Vir’s future as the conflict seems to bring the leadership quality out in Vir that he will need to be the Centauri ambassador.
In the last thread, the meditation is quite literal as Lennier and Findell need to meditate to conserve oxygen. It’s apt that Lennier is back in the same episode that Vir returns. Shame they don’t get any screen time together, but I blame Delenn. She absconds with Lennier to a dark corner of the station to stroke his face and rub his nose in the fact that she’s married to Sheridan. Seems odd behavior for a Minbari! It also seems like Lennier likes the fact that she’s running off with him and not sharing something with her husband! So much for Minbari honor, eh? But Delenn’s task for Lennier puts him with Captain “Inigo” Montoya (you killed my ranger father, prepare to die!) This story initially struck me as weak because Montoya sends them on silly tests but the result is actually quite good. (I mean, who sends trainees on missions for an Easter egg hunt that could kill them, am I right?) The oxygen test proved that Findell had joined the Rangers for the wrong reason and Lennier calls Findell out on that. Interesting really, when we consider why Lennier joined. And it makes me wonder about Morden’s prediction regarding Lennier betraying the Rangers; a prediction that Lennier tells Delenn about at the start of the episode! (Again, I love that this is a “real world” with continuity!) But Lennier might be more in tune with the lessons than Findell and perhaps can avoid Morden’s prediction. In fact, he’s actually a reasonably good mentor to his friend.
Speaking of good mentors, I really liked Montoya as a captain. When Lennier thinks he has asked an impertinent question, Findell tells him that the captain feels that’s the only way to get to the truth of a situation. Lennier says he thinks he may have found a home! Later, after Lennier saves Findell, Montoya remarks that he actually knew what was going on the whole time. Lennier doesn’t try to deny it, but merely thanks him. I felt like thanking him too. His response was level headed and insightful. This could be a great character. I hope we see more of him. Even his punishment to Findell ends up being both important and meaningful: he sends Findell back to Minbar to make sure no one gets into the Rangers that doesn’t actually want to be there. It’s a punishment… but a very honorable one!
You can really see we are putting the pieces together with this story, even if it’s a slower story. I will point out that this episode is extremely food-centric. Vir comes in with groceries for Londo, he smashes up a fruit stand, and he talks about eating at McBari’s (the golden headbones – brilliant!). G’Kar mentions that the Book of G’Kar has a coffee stain reproduced in every copy (which we first learned about two seasons ago!). Sheridan, Delenn, Stephen and Zack have dinner together and Garibaldi is in his room getting drunk and ordering pizza. I don’t know about you, but it made me hungry. But I can’t help wondering how long Garibaldi can keep his alcoholism a secret… Only a few episodes left to find out! ML
The view from across the pond:
Meditations on the Abyss features two different tests of ability, with the two ambassadors’ aides, Vir and Lennier. Both of them are moving on to bigger and better things, and both of them need to prove their suitability for their new lives.
Although it is the dramatically lighter weight of the two storylines, and doesn’t take up much of the episode, Vir’s (mis)adventures are a lot more fun. The comedy got off to a good start with the revelation that Vir eats at “McBari’s”. It came as little surprise that Londo chose him to be the next ambassador, and the way he proved himself to Londo without even trying to do so was hilarious. I didn’t see it coming, either. When Vir is told that he is weak and foolish and “will go away or I will swat you,” he slinks off with his tail between his legs, or so it seems, and I thought that would be it; gentle Vir, humbled by a bully… and then he grabs a sword and goes back again. Many fruits die a noble death in furtherance of Vir’s career.
“Now he is ready to be a Centauri ambassador.”
Lennier’s storyline was a little more frustrating. He was sent to secretly keep an eye out for Centauri involvement in the attacks on Alliance ships, but nothing happened at all to move that arc forwards. Instead, what we got was a kind of a character building exercise, but Lennier is really so self-assured and confident in his abilities that we don’t need that. The Lennier that ended the episode was unchanged from the Lennier that started it, so it was all a bit pointless. It didn’t even work as a character building exercise for Findell either, and even if it did we are a bit late in the game to be squandering an episode on a life lesson for somebody we just met. He lacked Lennier’s courage and calm, practical temperament, and nearly got himself killed on two occasions because of that. Seeing Lennier and Findell abandoned in space with very little air left was actually quite scary to watch, and as a test of abilities was pretty harsh. Strictly speaking, Lennier had the right idea with the meditation, but given the choice of spending your last hour of life talking to a buddy, or spending your last two hours meditating, I know which one I would go for. As for the second challenge…
“Commence exercise gentlemen. You may fire at Will.”
I feel sorry for poor old Will. People are always shooting at him. In the end, I thought the solution to the Problem of Findell was inspired: send him to a recruitment centre to weed out people who are trying to join the Anla’shok for the wrong reasons. At first it seemed like an insult, but then I realised that Montoya was quite right. It is an important job, and Findell is ideal for it. But this was an episode that lacked a punchline, because JMS never quite joined the dots at the end. Who else is trying to join the Anla’shok for the wrong reasons? Lennier, who is joining because of his anguished love for Delenn.
Apart from the developments with Vir and Lennier (or lack of developments in the latter case), there were a few other things going on this week. G’Kar got his new eye, presumably causing Andreas Katsulas to heave a sigh of relief behind the scenes with one less thing to do in makeup. I’m not sure we needed to see his old eye being tweezed out. Franklin attending one of G’Kar’s talks was a happy moment, and it’s nice to see Franklin learning something since his early days of stomping all over people’s beliefs. Then we had a cosy dinnertime chat between Sheridan, Delenn, Zack and Franklin, which did little other than to remind me of the oddness of their reluctance to confide in Londo. Delenn is quite right when she says she thinks he knows nothing about the Centauri involvement in the raids, so keeping him in the dark is quite a nasty little betrayal, and also a bizarre failure to utilise the one ally who is in a position to really dig into what’s going on. I mean, the guy’s about to be Emperor! Finally, we had a reminder that Garibaldi is still hitting the bottle. His pizza sounded tasty though. Did he really need to go into such detail about the toppings? That made me really hungry. Damn it, I’m off to McBari’s. RP
The sensation of all main characters moving on as a series nears its end is something I found an early appreciation for thanks to how M*A*S*H* ended. This final season for Babylon 5 marks a big time of change for its universe, whether the series finale leads to spinoffs, as Star Wars now gives us The Mandalorian, or simply leaves the fans to their imagination. For me, the spiritual adventures of B5 were the best reward. Thank you both for your reviews.
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