Last week we heard that the war with Centauri Prime was likely to begin by morning. Things are bad and they will only escalate from here. From a story perspective, this is a great episode. But taking B5 as a living universe, it’s a hard one to stomach. It never lets up for a second but you almost wish for everyone’s sake that it would. Even the ending, with John and Delenn sitting in front of a candle, is not a light weight affair, no pun intended. This is not the standard B5 two-plot episode. This is the prelude to war.
The episode plays out with Londo being excluded from council meetings, which actually strikes me as particularly unfair. He says he has every right to be in there, and I think he does. I think what’s been going on, considering G’Kar was able to vouch for him, proves that Londo should have been allowed access. I can’t help but wonder how much of this puts him on the path to the future we saw in War Without End. However, telling him could put everything at risk which makes this one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t moments! In the chambers, Franklin gives evidence of the way the ships fire and Garibaldi provides evidence of a button. Both are very highly circumstantial and do not prove the Centauri are behind the attacks. They almost seem like unnecessary pieces of evidence. But Londo and Vir are humbled by the footage they are shown. Londo calls his government and gets that smug minister who says it’s all a fake; the Centauri are not responsible. While I love that Londo backs Lennier’s character saying he knows that Lennier would not lie, the irony is that the minister is, strictly speaking, correct. Someone or something else is pulling the strings. The Centauri are not actually responsible. Not that it exonerates them; in the eyes of the Alliance, they are still to blame, but Londo neither knows that, nor can he prove it!
Now, I specifically said this is not a standard two-plot story. There is a second thing going on; Garibaldi’s alcoholism is starting to have a cost associated with it. Zack figures out what’s happening and a part of me weeps for Garibaldi. He thinks he just needs time to overcome this demon and Zack tries to give him the benefit of the doubt. Garibaldi even tells John, “you can rely on me!” (Now, even in my not-war-level job, we have backups, and I can’t help but wonder why everything was left to Michael without a backup planned, but that’s just me. Kosh forbid he was just in the shower when the call came in!) Garibaldi’s inability to answer a call is really responsible for the war. His drinking has now cost lives, on a very literal level! In just one episode, the Centauri withdraw from the Alliance, and then go to war with their former allies.
This is an episode of amazing visuals. It starts when John is holding his shoe (slipper?) and drops it. I was reminded of the expression about “the other shoe” dropping. The sound of it hitting the floor merges with the sound of the gavel in the council chambers. Also notice as Michael is unconscious with the glass in front of him: the image is mirrored. Garibaldi lies with his head to the left, but the reflection shows it to the right. It’s as if a mirror self has emerged and the real version is trapped in the glass under the alcohol. But the scene that really blows me away is Sheridan’s “you want war” speech. For each thing he says, the camera changes between two angles. We are getting a visual version of two sides of a discussion, much like Garibaldi’s image in the bottle. Each line brings the camera back and forth, the music steadily rising to the breaking point.
“That’s enough. I said that’s enough! Now, we gave you a promise. And we are bound by that promise.
And damn you asking for it.
And damn me for agreeing to it.
And damn all of us to hell, because that is exactly where we are going.
We talked about peace.
You didn’t want peace.
We talked about cooperation.
You didn’t want cooperation.
You want war. Is that it?
You want a war? Well, you’ve got a war!”
Intense! The episode also does a few other impressive things. When G’Kar comes to speak to Londo, he does so as a friend and not to testify, even after all the history they have. G’Kar has come a long way. Delenn says as much too, and her compliment is only overshadowed by Katsulas’ superb delivery that she has already told him, not in words, but in her eyes. It’s a stunningly beautiful scene. And that ending! As Delenn speaks about how we are each like a candle flame; each unique and once our light goes out, there will never be another quite like it. Genuinely beautiful and all the more heartbreaking to realize the war has begun. A tough episode. We are given one single laugh as Londo says the Minister would not lock up his own Prime Minister. A beat goes by and Londo stands proudly in a prison cell.
Now, this is the sort of storytelling that makes you want to binge the rest. But I’ll persevere. JMS really knew how to keep up the pace and draw us in for what promises to be a stunning conclusion. Is this where things spiral out of control, as we saw in War Without End? Just another step along a dark path for Londo and his people? Or can the future be changed? Stay tuned to find out. ML
The view from across the pond:
All of a sudden I seem to be watching a series where all the heroes are idiots. The lesser of those is Garibaldi, who at least has the excuse of alcoholism for his stupidity. He is long past the point where he should have ‘fessed up, and Zack is also a lesser idiot this week for failing to report him. Loyalty and friendship, yes, I get it… but lives are at stake here. Lots of lives. Garibaldi is key to Sheridan’s war plan and falls asleep on the job with a glass in front of him, resulting in many, many deaths. Maybe I just don’t understand alcoholism, but it beggars belief that he wouldn’t ask Sheridan to get somebody else to do the job, and beggars belief even more that he wouldn’t immediately have a complete mental collapse afterwards at what he has done. How can he live with himself now? But the really big idiots here are Sheridan and Delenn. Make no mistake: Sheridan starts this war. Let’s look at the chain of events this episode.
As we knew would happen, Sheridan and Delenn call a meeting and exclude Londo. When he says to Zack “this is wrong, this is unfair, and I should be in there,” he is right. What follows looks a lot like a trial, with witnesses presenting evidence. What’s missing from the trial is the accused, who cannot defend himself. Bizarrely the evidence is delivered to his room, so he is aware of what is going on, but doesn’t have a voice in the proceedings, while nonsense like a button (I discussed why that’s such a silly piece of evidence when it was originally discovered by Garibaldi) is presented to the kangaroo court. Franklin confirms the weapons used, as if that was some kind of proof of who pulled the trigger. Everything mentioned could just as easily be a stitch up, even the Centauri cargo ship with no crew getting attacked, so it’s no wonder Londo attacks the evidence as “circumstantial” and “unfounded assumptions” when he finally gets to speak. And he does eventually get to speak, but only when most of the evidence has been presented, so what was the point of keeping him away for the rest of the meeting? He is allowed back in to give his big speech, which happens just before the last, key piece of evidence is presented. It looks like a blatant attempt to make a fool of him. It’s inflammatory and it’s cruel, and Sheridan and Delenn are not just nasty pieces of work to do that to him, they are fools.
It doesn’t end there though. After months of failing to confide in Londo, Sheridan drops that bombshell on him and then immediately escalates the situation, demanding an apology and reparations and announcing a blockade until he gets it.
“As of now, the Centauri Republic stands alone.”
What, right now? No chance for Londo to even talk to his people first? He has minutes to try to sort out the mess of Sheridan’s making, and predictably there is nothing he can do to stop the war. Sheridan eventually gets a blisteringly furious speech, shouted at the other delegates, and it’s an amazing moment, brilliantly acted by Bruce Boxleitner:
“You want war, well you’ve got a war!”
… but he’s the one who deserves to be shouted at. Sheridan, the great warmonger. When his right-hand fool, Delenn, goes to see G’Kar, he seems to be the only one who has a grasp of the situation. Not that he gets a free pass for that, because he could have spoken up before, but he understands Londo:
“Sooner or later he will find out what is going on and I believe he will try to stop it. In the long run he may be our only hope of ending this. He must be protected at all costs.”
As we soon find out, it’s a bit late for that. If Londo had been fully in the loop originally he could have had time to deal with the situation in a careful, tactical manner. Instead, he arrives on Centauri Prime in the midst of a war that has been sprung on him out of the blue, and is promptly thrown into prison.
If it seems like I’ve been very critical of what I imagine will probably have been a very popular episode, that’s because of an alarming failure of logic in JMS’s writing. When everyone starts acting out of character and behaving like complete imbeciles, that’s a problem. Despite that, I have to admit this was a hugely exciting episode, which kept me glued to the screen for every last minute, and was packed with great moments: Franklin and Vir vs some thugs; G’Kar and Delenn close to tears at their parting and mutual respect; Zack’s acknowledgement that he has been where Garibaldi is now, and the whole dynamics of that friendships; Thomas MacGreevy being utterly brilliant at playing a tosser in a position of power; and the much-needed light relief at the end, with Londo and G’Kar maintaining their old-married-couple vibe through thick and thin:
“I didn’t say anything.”
It was an abomination of an episode, and I loved every minute of it. RP