What is there to say about In the Beginning that hasn’t been said already? That makes this probably the strangest of the B5 movies. Not to mention, it’s also a strange movie placement-wise because you can’t watch this at the start of the series, contrary to what one might expect from the title. If you do that, you’re going to spoil many of the surprises that are revealed as the series develops. Watching it at the end is probably the best option but maybe it’s best placed right after The Fall of Centauri Prime. One of the easiest reasons might be a simple one: that’s the episode when Londo complains about looking out the windows and seeing the devastation, to which Vir says “you could always board up the windows” which is exactly what he has done. Although perhaps that’s a tenuous reason to watch at that point. It’s evident from the last minute of the movie that this takes place at the same time as the time-jump from War Without End. The episode says it takes place in 2278, which is 15 years after Objects at Rest. The thing to remember about War Without End is that Londo is about to let John and Delenn go free before he and G’Kar meet for their last time. So this slots into a few places starting 10 years before the events of Babylon 5 and 15 years after. What we really have here is what might have passed for a bible for what was coming for the episodes. The problem with that theory is that season two introduces John Sheridan so this works more like a compilation of all that we learn about the Earth/Minbari war since a show’s bible is usually written in advance. Besides that, the loss of Michael O’Hare as Sinclair was not planned at the end of season one.
Remembering back to the pilot movie, The Gathering, it’s Londo’s voice we hear in the first 15 seconds of that movie. He says, “I was there at the dawn of the third age…” That’s how he starts his story here too. Does that mean that each episode represented the telling of the story? (It gives added significance to Sleeping in Light that it did not have an opening since by then Londo, was dead.) Even that doesn’t hold up too well, considering we know that after the children leave, Londo will soon be dead. So perhaps it’s just poetic license. That’s fine. But what do we get of this movie?
For fans, this is a great movie that consolidates all that we had learned into one place. It’s a bit like a puzzle, but a fun one. We’re not talking Lost where everything contradicts itself. This is more like a Quentin Tarantino movie where you need just a little work to put everything in place. For instance, the opening monologue features Delenn in half human form and G’Kar has the scar over his eye from where it was removed during season 4. (Again proving that this is not to be watched too soon!) Just look at all the other things we get to see: old friends who we had met while watching the series, such as Dukhat and Lenonn of the Minbari and General Lefcourt of the Earth Alliance. We see a young Susan Ivanova and witness the death of her brother before she joined the military. We see a glimpse of Michael York and see more of the events that took place leading up to A Late Delivery from Avalon and we get a close up view of the first contact scenario that lead to the war. We see the first meeting of Sheridan and G’Kar (when G’Kar was a bit more mercenary!) We also see his first meeting of Franklin who refused to allow his notes to be used against the enemy. And we see that John and Delenn met earlier too, but he can’t see her face and she barely spares him a glance. (You think she ever realized?) And we see Kosh, both of him. And on a personal note, I’ve watched this movie around 4 times and it took me until the 4th to help me realize I knew Morann, the Minbari. It was in his inflection that made the lightbulb go off. That was Byron, our long haired telepath from season 5!
The movie plays with the audience with all the reminders of the past. The Triluminary glowing with Jeffrey Sinclair reminds us of a major spoiler that, if we don’t allow this to unfold in the series, could devastate the enjoyment of that reveal. It also serves to remind us that Delenn is a child of Valen too. Speaking of reminders, when Londo asks the young boy “what do you want” the boy says “a story”. The woman who is looking after the children reprimands the boy but Londo says “he did far better with that question that I did.” This is, of course, a reminder of Morden’s question that lead to the Shadow war. Then it also fills in backstory about why the humans thought they were so important. As Londo says, they had just defeated the Dilgar (Deathwalker) and they don’t think anyone is stronger than they are! “Pride cometh before a fall.” Londo warned humanity how to approach the Minbari, but his words were ignored. And didn’t they do a great job making Londo look 10 years younger than when the series began, and make him look 15 years older than when it ended? The cinematics in this movie are wonderful and hold up well, but a remastering would do them justice. On the other hand, the music is magnificent.
A few quick notes: I like that Sheridan is a bit like Kirk in that he “doesn’t believe in an undefeatable enemy.” (Kirk didn’t believe in a no-win scenario. Admittedly not the same thing, but not a huge leap between them either.) I really like Lenonn’s quote, “to live is to risk”. (But I also like the Vorlon’s answer to things, like “the truth points to itself”, so that might not be saying much!) And I was pretty psyched when, with 12 minutes left to the movie, Sinclair showed up. It might seem silly, but I still love the moment he turns up even if we’ve seen all of that before. The movie ends with the start of the construction of “the Babylon station”, as there was meant to be just one. Things go a bit wrong, but that’s a story for another time. Hopefully, the children will be given the DVD boxed set for one of their birthdays. The little girl did want to know if they lived happily ever after. Londo tells her “that remains to be seen” but we covered it last week, so feel free to find out, here. Or you can just press on with us and see what other stories are waiting to be told… ML
The view from across the pond:
Well, that was boring. In terms of what JMS was trying to do with this special, it was a very competent effort, but a prequel is rarely going to hold my attention. I really don’t understand why making a prequel to a popular series is so common, because it’s always the moment a franchise starts eating its tail. We are covering ground we have already been told about, and seen little clips of (in fact, the sequence with Sinclair towards the end is entirely recycled footage), so we already know most of the details. That robs the episode of nearly all jeopardy, and there is rarely any doubt about what’s going to happen. It’s just a box ticking exercise. I think sci-fi really needs that feeling of danger for the main characters. They rarely get written out, but they can be. As soon as you start showing events that happened before the start of the main series, then “anything can happen” ceases to be your mantra.
So I don’t like prequels and I didn’t much like this episode of Babylon 5 without Babylon 5, but as I say it’s competent. JMS does a very good job of showing the downfall of the human race, one step at a time, as the result of a sequence of bad decisions. Londo sums things up well:
“Arrogance and stupidity all in one package. How efficient of you.”
The only right decision really was that of Franklin, who refused to allow his notes on the Minbari to be used to create a biological weapon. Apart from being a stunningly well-acted scene, it also provides some useful context for Franklin’s character. He often displays a lack of respect for authority and a certainty that he is right about everything, particularly in the first couple of seasons, and after being ordered to help in a genocide you can kind of see why that might be. I can’t fault the acting performances in this episode as a whole, actually. Bruce Boxleitner in particular is brilliant, making his voice waver just enough when Sheridan finds himself in a horrendous situation and deep down must be terrified, while on the surface he is trying to hold it together.
This was shown between the fourth and fifth seasons, and as I understand it was also used as a way to launch the whole series onto a new channel or something, but I am watching all the movies having completed the fifth season so am a little out of synch with this one. I found it a bit off-putting seeing Robin Atkin Downes in a different role to Byron, but that’s nobody’s fault but mine. However, I think I’m justified in having a moan about seeing Robin Sachs in his fourth different Babylon 5 role. As much as I admire the actor, the guy’s instantly recognisable, and there are other actors in the world.
I wasn’t very happy to welcome back Mr Riddles himself, and Kosh was up to his usual tricks, incapable of giving a straight answer to a question.
“Tell me what to do.”
(Ridiculously long pause)
“The truth points to itself.”
“I do not understand.”
I enjoyed the framing device with old man Londo very much, and it actually saved the first 15 minutes or so of the episode from completely sending me to sleep. Without that, it was a really slow burn start, with all the chatter about Earth sending a ship to Minbar (yes, we know), and then a bit of Minbari internal politics. It doesn’t exactly grab you. But Peter Jurasik just makes you care about this stuff because he’s such a great narrator for the story, helped by Londo phrasing things in such poetic terms.
“The quiet ones are the ones that change the universe. The loud ones only take the credit.”
In the end, although the space battles impressed me, I think it was only Londo’s scenes that really made me care. It was a very realistic portrayal of a man with regrets, nearing the end of his life, longing for the simple pleasures of happier days. Londo used to want power, status and glory. Now he just wants to take a stroll along a beach.
“How strange to have come so far, and to want so little.”
Of course, it’s not strange at all. It’s about finally reaching an understanding of what matters in life. I think age brings that perspective. Showing an old man, exhausted by wars, telling his story to young children who are thrilled by the excitement of the big battles, really drives that point home. We live and learn. RP