Tag Archives: Delenn

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Three

As I had said in my review of season two, visually season two’s opening credits were my favorite.  That said, visually, season three’s titles were a pretty good successor, however,  musically, I think Franke hit this one out of the park.  The rising notes are a reflection of the season’s rising tension and the industrial sounding “hammer strike” as I like to call it gives season three an ominous feel.  We are definitely being set up for something dark and dangerous.

Season three is a bit of an oxymoron in as much as so much happens but nothing really happens.  Sounds kinda weird huh?  Bear with me, I’ll try and explain that statement.

Episode one begins with the introduction of yet another new character.  In the opening scenes of Matters of Honor we meet Marcus Cole (played by Jason Carter).  Marcus is a Ranger fleeing a drazi colony that, so far, has given the rangers safe haven but has now come under scrutiny from the expanding Centauri empire.  He comes to Babylon 5 to ask Sheridan to free the rangers from the hostile Centauri blockade.

I’ll be honest, when I first watched season three – what, sixteen years ago – I didn’t like the character of Marcus.  Looking back, I find it hard to remember why.  Maybe it was because I was happy with the character set B5 already had and I was unhappy that Straczynski had thrown someone else in to the mix.  Maybe it was because I was British and Marcus felt like every British stereotype I’d ever seen on TV before.  The plummy accent grated on my every nerve.  Honestly, I expected Marcus to break out into “Tally ho chaps!  Into the fray we go!” at any moment.  A leather flying cap and goggles felt more appropriate than a ranger’s robe and Minbari fighting staff.  Marcus should have been flying spitfires, not spaceships and the character just felt out of place to me on a sci-fi show.

What do you mean it’s not 1942?

In hindsight, I was a lot younger when B5 first aired and perhaps my dissatisfaction with Marcus’s character back then says more about me and my own prejudices than it does about Carter’s acting because, much like my initial over-critical assessment of Claudia Christian in the role of Ivanova, on a second viewing, Marcus is actually a pretty good character and a worthy addition to the cast.

So, back to Matters of Honor.  Since Delenn is the leader of the Rangers Sheridan has no real recourse other than to oblige Marcus’s request (a) because it’s the right thing to do and (b) because Sheridan also needs to do the right thing by Delenn who, by now it is clearly obvious, is his romantic interest.  As a result, Sheridan discovers he has a new ship at his disposal – the White Star – Minbari built with Vorlon technology, this thing tops out all the specs and has its own jumpgate capability.  Everything is set up for a first face-off with the Shadows.  Oh yeah – this is gonna be a good season.

As with every other season, the opening episode is a no-brainer.  You have to see this episode.  It sets up so much of what’s to come.  Similarly, with the previous two seasons I had said that the episodes not to be missed were those written by Straczynski.  In season three every episode is written by Straczynski – and that should tell you something.  This is not to say every episode is a “must see” in fact Convictions (Ep. 2) could be easily passed by were it not for Londo and G’kar.

In Convictions, a terrorist is setting bombs aboard the station.  Patrick Kilpatrick stars as the terrorist in an appearance uncannily reminiscent of John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire – but it’s not this plotline that makes this episode memorable.  What makes Convictions good is the interplay between G’kar and Londo, who, as a result of an explosion, are trapped in an elevator together. Together, they steal the show.  If you believe everything you read on the internet, apparently the following scene was supposed to be played seriously, but Andreas Katsulas (G’kar) decided to ad lib it and Straczynski let the two actors run with it.  Whether you believe that or not, it remains a truly memorable scene and many people cite it as a favorite.

The point is, there were episodes in season three that maybe weren’t quite as strong as others, but it was scenes like this that made each one worth tuning in for because you never quite knew what you were going to get.  Similarly, characters made choices or decisions in episodes which would go on to be significant subplots. Franklin’s stims addiction for example was subtly introduced in A day in the Strife (Ep. 3) and in the same episode Londo arranges for Vir to become an envoy to Minbar, effectively sending him away.  This is not because Londo dislikes Vir, on the contrary, he has actually become quite fond of his attaché.  No, Londo needs to get rid of Vir because Vir is fast becoming like a conscience to him, reminding him of all the missteps and poor decisions he has made and continues to make.  It is this that has become distasteful to Londo and the fact that he feels the need to send one of his few remaining friends away because of it further outlines the tragic nature of Londo’s character.  Yet both of these subplots are secondary to the main thread of the episode.

Now let’s get back to that opening statement of mine – So much happens but nothing really happens.  What do I mean by that?  Well, when I say nothing really happens I mean none of the major story arcs are concluded.  In season three everything is building toward the Shadow war and yet we don’t get to see the climax of the Shadow war (not yet).  In season three, the command staff of Babylon 5 find their position as a remote arm of Earth Gov as untenable but yet there is no war against Earth (not yet).

Here Straczynski is sticking to the basic tenets of writing – building tension towards a climax somewhere near the end of act two, where the story is a story of three acts.  Act 1 – Introduction.  Act 2 – Exposition.  Act 3 – Denouement. Now, depending on what school of thought you are from, you might have your three acts all an equal part of the whole, or, if you’re like me, I like my introduction to be about 25% or the first quarter of a story and then the exposition to be approximately the next 50% with the last quarter of the story allowing for a quick wrap up.  Either way, having your climax at the end of act two places it about 66-75% of the way through the story which, in Babylon 5’s case puts that climax firmly in the first half of season four (which is exactly what happens).  For my thoughts on that you’ll have to come back and read the next season review.

So, with all that said, season three was a perfect opportunity to explore some interesting subplots whilst the main story threads thundered onwards towards said aforementioned climax.  Babylon 5 was able to do this because it had established itself, it knew exactly what it was about and where it was headed and its fan base was on board and not going anywhere soon.

Thus, in season three we see Richard Bigg’s character, Dr Franklin, struggle with a stims addiction and that scenario play itself out.  More importantly Franklin’s character was written in such a way that we could all empathize with him because the truth is, we’ve all known people like Franklin.  People who can’t delegate, who believe that the only way to get a job done properly is to do it themselves and who, ultimately, pile so much pressure on themselves that they crack.

Franklin knows his days as doctor are numbered

Similarly, G’kar, who we have seen go from bitter, hate-fuelled warrior to freedom fighter, undergoes another transition in season three when he is incarcerated for attacking Londo in Dust to Dust (Ep. 5) . After weeks of being locked in the brig, G’kar emerges a changed Narn. The solitary confinement allows him time to reflect on his situation and the fate of his race.  This coupled with his vision in Dust to Dust results in G’kar becoming the Narns’ spiritual leader – a change that Katsulas handled with aplomb and which made the character of G’kar all the more likeable.

Delenn is also still also trying to find her own place in the universe.  Banished from the Gray council and outcast from her own people; neither human or minbari, Delenn is truly alone.

What becomes clear in season three (if it wasn’t before) is that ambassador Kosh – the Vorlon – is messing with people’s heads.  We know from the All alone in the Night (S2. Ep11), and The Fall of Night (S2, Ep.22), that Sheridan can hear Kosh in his head and that outside of his encounter suit, Kosh appears as different things to different people, but up until this season, Kosh has kept a low profile, seemingly on screen only when necessary to throw in a cryptic line or two.  Now that the Shadow forces are moving, Kosh is turning up more and more often – and the reason for that is half the battle in the upcoming Shadow war.

In the meantime, Earth is going to hell in a handbasket, with President Clark declaring martial law and the Night Watch on B5 becoming more aggressive in their tactics. Sheridan still has friends in Earthforce though.  A few generals on Earth who know when to keep their heads down and their mouths shut and a few renegade Captains who can bring some muscle to a fight in the shape of Earthforce destroyers.  The mid-point of the season  (Episodes 9 through 11) sees Sheridan deal with these challenges from within Earth Gov. Severed Dreams (Ep.10) was a Hugo award winning episode and provided one of the first major space battles of the show.  Extremely effects heavy, Severed Dreams had over a hundred CG shots and was literally being worked on until the last possible hour at which time it was rushed over to an uplink facility for broadcast.  Severed Dreams was also the episode in which B5 officially “goes rogue” and breaks from Earth.

Ceremonies of Light and Dark (Ep. 11), whilst not one of the stronger episodes of the season is worth watching just for the interplay between Londo and Lord Refa and for the last five minutes of the episode. In a rebirth ceremony organized by Delenn, each of our primary characters must reveal a secret that no-one else knows. For most of them their revelations are no great shock to the B5 fan, but Ivanova’s confession had me wishing I had a DVR fifteen years ago.  Wait?  What did she just say? Talk about a conflicted character!   WTF#4.

A Late Delivery from Avalon (Ep. 13), despite the guest star power of Michael York, is perhaps the weakest episode of the season, but from here on out, season three steamrolls on to its end.

Episode 14 – Ship of Tears – is another episode that makes me want to sidetrack and talk about the writing on the show.  I had said before how much I was impressed by Straczynski’s ability to drop references in to earlier shows, only to have them be much more significant later.  Ship of Tears is a case in point.

In Ship of Tears, Walter Koenig returns to Babylon 5 as the Psi Cop Bester.  Bester has information that shadow ships are transporting weapons and, with the help of Sheridan and crew, they can prevent the Shadows delivering their deadly cargo.  Sheridan takes Bester with him on the White Star to engage the Shadows and they capture the cargo vessel, only to find that its cargo of “weapons” is actually cryogenically frozen telepaths with cranial implants.  Bester is as astonished as Sheridan by this discovery.

Ship of Tears is an important and clever episode in as much as it draws many story threads together but also sets up things that will not come to fruition until late in season four.  Highly recommended.

Speaking of story threads coming together. Remember that hot mess of paradoxes that was Babylon Squared in season one? Well finally the B5 faithful will get all of their answers as to what that was all about in the form of War without End – parts 1 and 2 (Episodes 16 & 17).  It only took two seasons (two years in broadcast time!!!) but now the plethora of questions that were raised by Babylon Squared will have their resolution.  Tim Choate reprises his role as Zathrus and this time around, because we finally understand why Zathrus is behaving as he is and saying what he says, he actually comes across as quite charming instead of intensely irritating.  Babylon 4’s disappearance is explained and everything finally makes sense.  Kind of.  I think.

Of course, as well as plenty of flash-backs to tie all three episodes together and references from as far back as the Soul Hunter (S1. Ep.2), there’s also some flash-forwards to act as teasers and pique our interest in what’s to come much later on.

In War without End, again Straczynski employs one of the basic tools of a writer, that of making you, the viewer, omniscient.  Because we’ve seen half of the events already in Babylon Squared, we know a lot of what is going to come in War without End.  In letting the viewers be more aware of what is going on than the poor characters who are about to walk in to this mess gives us a vested interest seeing how the characters are going to resolve their predicament.  It’s a great ploy for sucking people in to a story.

It’s around this point in the season that Doctor Franklin goes all spiritual/aboriginal on us, decides to resign as the doctor of B5 and go ‘walkabout’ to find himself in an attempt to rid himself of his stims addiction.   I have to say I thought Richard Biggs handled Franklin’s addiction marvelously; from the initial stages of denial, through acceptance and then owning the problem.

Because Franklin is an integral part of the command staff his resignation and absence leaves a huge void.  On occasion other members of the command staff need information that only Franklin knows and so they go searching for him around the station.  Garibaldi does it once in Walkabout (Ep. 16) and then Ivanova does it again in Grey 17 is missing.  At this point Franklin gets quite upset and it’s understandable why.  Here’s a man trying to confront his demons on his own terms and nobody will leave him alone.  He effectively tells Ivanova that he’ll give her the information she wants on the condition that they never come looking for him again. Self-imposed exile won’t work for Franklin if people won’t leave him in peace.

Can’t you people just leave me alone!

I liked the stims subplot.  It was believable and well done and complemented the other story arcs.  Interestingly enough, because Straczynski was writing these episodes week-by-week, Biggs didn’t even know if his character of Franklin was going to make it.  In his commentary on Interludes and Examinations (Ep. 15), Biggs says he went to Straczynski and asked “I am coming back, right?”

Also in Grey 17 is missing, John Vickery makes a welcome return as the warrior caste Minbari, Neroon.  Neroon was another one of those bit parts that I always enjoyed seeing on screen.  He is to become much more significant in season four.

Neroon

And then we come to And the Rock cried out No Hiding Place (Ep. 20).  Rock is a brilliant episode because everything you are led to believe gets thrown on its head come the conclusion.  In terms of storytelling it’s almost diametrically opposed to War without End.  As I said, War without End gave us, the viewers, a great power over the characters because we knew much of what was to come.  In Rock, Straczynski sets us up to believe one thing and then throws us for a loop – something he admits to enjoying doing in his commentaries.  Rock is an extremely clever episode and was written very carefully.  I would suggest you watch Rock twice, the second time immediately after the first.  On the second viewing listen very carefully to what Londo says (and equally to what he doesn’t say).  All the clues are there if you listen for them.  Given all the political sparring that Londo and Refa have done before, Rock plays on the viewers assumptions to envisage an ending that never comes.  That said, when the ending does come it’s as shocking as it is brilliant and I challenge any of you who are fans of the show at this point not to be punching your fists in the air and shouting “Yeah!”

Shadow Dancing (ep.21) gives us the first major confrontation of the shadow war.  Up until now, every battle with a shadow ship(s) has pretty much been a hit-and-run affair with the use of one White Star.  Now, Delenn and Sheridan have convinced the other races in the league of non-aligned worlds to lend their ships to the fight and what we get is a CG treat in the form of two massive armadas going at one another.

In fact, Shadow Dancing is an episode of confrontations – Franklin’s stims addiction subplot finally runs its course as he meets and confronts his personal demon (and I mean that in more ways than one) and Sheridan is forced to face his wife, Anna, a woman he has believed to be dead for five years (WTF#5).

Yes, not only does Straczynski like throwing his viewers for a loop, he also does it to his characters too.  Despite everything Sheridan has been led to believe, his “dead” wife has returned.  As we learn in Z’Ha’Dum, the season finale, Anna has been living on the shadow’s homeworld for the past five years, unable to get a message out to her husband.  Sheridan can’t believe it.  He wants to believe it, but he can’t and then, in the end, he simply refuses to – because Anna’ reason for visiting is to take him back to Z’Ha’Dum and, as Sheridan has been told time and again by Kosh in Season three – “If you go to Z’Ha’Dum, you will die.”  Regardless, knowing that it is almost certainly a trap and undeterred by the advice of an ancient Vorlon, Sheridan agrees to go.

The observant among you will notice that the actress playing Anna Sheridan has changed since Revelations (S2. Ep2).  Apparently, the actress first used as Anna Sheridan was unavailable when it came time to shoot Z’Ha’Dum so, Straczynski, learning that Boxleitner was married to an actress (Melissa Gilbert of Little House on the Prairie fame) asked her to stand in.  Melissa agreed to do it for much less than her usual rate, but it did also mean that Anna Sheridan’s last message to her husband had to be re-shot.

“I’ve changed since you last saw me John – but I’m still your wife!”

Z’Ha’Dum is a powerful season ending episode.  For fans who have watched the character of Sheridan grow over the past two seasons; who have become invested in that character and grown to like him, it is difficult to watch him go to what is almost certain death.  Yet at the same time it is this that makes it riveting television.  All season we’ve been told that if Sheridan goes to Z’Ha’Dum he will die and perhaps we prepared ourselves for that eventuality (the foreshadowing has to be there for a reason right?). Perhaps we thought if Sheridan went it would be in some final confrontation with the shadows –  some gigantic space battle that would leave him mortally wounded – but now, here he is, walking in to the lion’s den of his own free will!  The first time I saw it, Z’Ha’Dum’s ending left me stunned.  Noooooooo! How could they leave us hanging (literally) like that?

So all in all a good season.  Perhaps the best season of all. By season three Babylon 5 had certainly hit its stride.  The characters were all well developed and the story threads were all woven together like a braid.  At this point, you missed an episode at your peril because watching Babylon 5 was no longer about tuning in each week for an episode, it was about seeing where the story went next and hoping you didn’t miss anything – whether that be a great scene between characters you had grown to love, or subtle references that were going to be significant later on (although you probably wouldn’t know it a the time!)

Season three was all about building tension – the title music inferred as much – and in that it succeeded. But season three was also about great change, so while the storylines sung like arrows flying toward their predetermined targets, Straczynski took some time out to play with his characters.

G’kar goes from freedom fighter to spiritual leader.  Franklin goes from doctor to addict – from healer to one needing to be healed. Delenn struggles to belong in the world and the command staff must come to terms with breaking away from Earth and becoming an independent outpost.

Looks like the costume department finally got a new budget

Even Londo tries to change in season three, realizing that his association with Mister Morden comes at too high a price, but events transpire to set him back on his dark destiny.

In previous posts I had broken down the season into what I thought were must see episodes and other not so important episodes.  I won’t do that here.  For season three I would suggest watching them all.  There’s a couple of weaker episodes but really each episode contributes to the greater whole.

Ep.1 – Matters of Honor – Introduction to Marcus.  Marcus’s backstory.  Londo tries to distance himself from Morden. Sheridan agrees to rescue Rangers from a training camp. Sheridan given the White Star.  First battle with a Shadow ship. Sheridan sets up war council.

Ep.2 – Convictions – A terrorist bomber threatens Babylon 5.  G’kar and Londo stuck in elevator together.

Ep.3 – A day in the Strife – A centauri appointed replacement arrives for G’kar .  Sheridan must deal with a first contact situation.  Franklin’s stims addiction story thread set up.

Ep.4 – Passing through Gethsemane – Lyta Alexander returns (again).  A man discovers he has been “mind-wiped” and was a serial killer in his former life.  Londo sends Vir to Minbar.

Ep.5 – Voices of Authority – A meddlesome envoy from the ministry of peace informs Sheridan she is his new political officer.  Ivanova & Marcus go on a quest for the first ones. G’kar begins to suspect there are private meetings going on behind his back.

Ep.6 – Dust to Dust – Bester returns to the station under the ruse that he is looking for a major dust trafficker. G’kar uses the psychedelic drug to invade Londo’s mind and learn his secrets.

Ep.7 – Exogenesis – An alien race symbiotically infects people with the aim of making their lives better.

Ep.8 – Messages from Earth – Sheridan learns that a Shadow ship has been discovered on Jupiter’s moon Gannymede.

Ep.9 – Point of No Return – Earth decrees martial law.  Londo seeks an audience with the late Emperor’s wife.  The Night Watch takes over security of B5.

Ep.10* – Severed Dreams – Rogue Earth Cruisers seek the sanctuary of Babylon 5 forcing the station into a full-on confrontation with Earth forces. Delenn confronts the Gray council.

Ep.11 – Ceremonies of Light and Dark – Delenn is kidnapped by Earth loyalists.

Ep.12 – Sic Transit Vir – Vir’s surprise arranged marriage exposes a secret and his bride is not what he would hope for.

Ep.13 – A Late Delivery from Avalon – A sword wielding man who arrives on Babylon 5 claims to be King Arthur.

Ep.14 – Ship of Tears – Bester returns again and enlists the help of the command staff to attack a shadow convoy.  The shadow ‘weapons’ cargo is a surprise to everyone.

Ep.15* – Interludes and  Examinations – Morden returns.  Sheridan confronts Kosh and enlists the help of the Vorlons. Franklin resigns as doctor of B5.

Ep.16 – War without End (Pt1) – The truth about what really happened to Babylon 4 is revealed.

Ep.17 – War without End (Pt2) – The truth about what really happened to Babylon 4 is revealed.

Ep.18 – Walkabout – Franklin goes walkabout and finds himself falling for a singer from the Zokolo.  Sheridan tests his hypothesis on Shadow weakness and engages a shadow ship.

Ep.19 – Gray 17 is missing – Garibaldi discovers a hidden level on the station.  A warrior caste Minbari challenges Delenn’s leadership.

Ep.20 – And the rock cried out, No hiding place – Londo plots to win himself favor at the Centari royal court.

Ep.21 – Shadow Dancing – Franklin must confront his personal demon(s).  Sheridan leads the races of B5 in a full on assault of the shadows. Anna Sheridan returns.

Ep.22* – Z’Ha’Dum – Sheridan agrees to go to Z’Ha’Dum and meet with the shadows.

* – Commentary available on DVD

Watch:

Them all if you can.

Meh:

Exogenesis (Ep. 7)

A Late Delivery from Avalon (Ep. 13)

Related Posts:
My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Two

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season One

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

My Guilty Pleaure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of Sci Fi adventure novels

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Two

As far as opening credits go, visually, I think season two was my favorite.  As someone who works in visual effects, I can tell you that using the 5 from the Babylon 5 logo as a mask to reveal the picture below is a basic and simple effect, but I never grew tired of watching that thing zoom out of the screen at me.

Season 2 Command Crew & Ambassadors

The year is 2259 and Babylon 5 has a new captain.  Wait?  What?

Season two’s first WTF moment hits you right out of the gate.  In Points of Departure (Ep. 1) Commander Sinclair has gone, reassigned as Earth’s first ambassador to the Minbari homeworld.  In his place comes Captain John Sheridan played by Bruce Boxleitner.

Bruce Boxleitner as Captain John Sheridan

I had said in my review of season one, that I thought Babylon Squared was a risky episode so late in the season.  Here again, I think in Points of Departure, major (but absolutely necessary) risks were taken.  There is no question, in terms of storyline, that Boxleitner’s addition to the cast was necessary, but from a viewers point of view it raised all kinds of unpleasant questions.  Firstly, just what on Earth (or Babylon 5) was going on? Secondly, if the show couldn’t keep arguably its most important character then was it really worth continuing to invest our time in it?  Personally, I think this major character change ran the risk of alienating (pardon the pun) at least some of the fan base that it had worked so hard to accrue.

Hey, don’t ask me. I only work here.

Simlarly, from a non-fan point of view, Points of Departure was not going to be an easy entry into the B5 universe.  For those people who had missed or dipped in and out of season one and thought maybe they would use the start of season two try and get back in to the show, Points of Departure made it very clear that this was not Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica (first time around) – this was something altogether different. Both Garibaldi’s and Delenn’s stories have spilled over from season one and there are references to Sinclair, the Gray Council and the Battle of the Line throughout.  To fully comprehend what was going on in Points of Departure I think you would have at least had to have seen either the pilot movie The Gathering and/or The Sky full of Stars (Ep. 8) and Chrysalis (Ep. 22) from season one.  So, as I say, a risky episode in as much as the show could easily have lost some of its fan base but also because it also made it difficult to build on that fan base at the same time.

I’ll sidetrack here a little bit and say that for me, personally, it was a thrill to see Boxleitner in the show.  Although he doesn’t know it, Bruce Boxleitner holds a special place in my heart since, early in his acting career, he starred in a show called “Bring ‘em back Alive” which was in part, inspiration for my own series of Project U.L.F. novels.  When Boxleitner joined B5 in 1995, I was writing the first in the series.  Seeing him on screen again, in a sci-fi show that I was growing to love, seemed almost fated.

Boxleitner as Big Game Hunter Frank Buck

What was immediately apparent was that Boxleitner was a very different actor from  Michael O’ Hare.  Boxleitner is a very non-verbal actor and by that I mean, he gets so much across by NOT speaking.  His lines are constantly punctuated by non-verbal cues – loaded pauses, a wry smile, a thoughtful “Hmm.”  To be honest, I had forgotten how often he did it and when revisiting season two, to begin with, it got a little irritating but when you get used to Boxleitner in the role of Sheridan those nuances become an integral part of the character.  It must be extremely gratifying to Boxleitner to know that the majority of B5 fans consider the show to have been at its best between seasons two and four – when he was at the helm.

But I digress…Episode 2 (Revelations) continues some of those major story arcs and as such I peg it as a must see.  Like Points of Departure, it is a great episode for fans, and for those who haven’t seen season one but want to start watching the show, this might be a great entry point.  There’s LOTS to digest here and LOTS of references to season one so a newbie might get a little bit lost, but the Shadows feature a lot, Morden makes an appearance and the seed of Babylon 5’s break from Earth, although planted in the last episode of season one, is also very evident here.

Whilst not essential viewing I’d also recommend The Geometry of Shadows (Ep.3) purely because it introduces the character of Lord Refa played by William Forward.  Refa is another of those small yet significant characters that flits in and out of the show and his appearance here goes to show us that perhaps Londo has no control over his devious, scheming ways – maybe he’s just hardwired that way.  For as much as those of the old Centauri republic talk about honor, what is clear is that they would happily say one thing to your face and then stab you in the back.  Political espionage seems to be the order of the day at the Centauri royal court and Refa is a fair-weather friend who seeks to align himself with Londo after “Londo’s” show of considerable power.

But Londo, sneaking around the royal court with hair this big is not easy.

Along with Refa, there’s two other subplots going on in The Geometry of Shadows, one which concerns a drazii dispute which personally I found a bit silly and didn’t much care for, and the second, which deals with the technomages who are fleeing the “great darkness” that is coming.  (Again, foreshadowing for what is to come).  Here, as in other moments in the show, Londo seeks an endorsement for his political aspirations.  It is a tactic that never ends well for him.

After the first few episodes, Babylon 5 returns to its episodic nature.  There’s a couple of self contained episodes (ep.4 – A Distant Star, Ep. 5 – The Long Dark) and then the show seems to veer off on a tangent that concerns itself mostly with telepaths and The Psi Corps.  I’m not sure any of these episodes contribute much to the greater story arcs. A Spider in the Web (Ep. 6) feels like it’s setting something up for later episodes/seasons but nothing really comes of it.  It may simply be the case that these episodes exist simply to paint the Psi Corps and its splinter factions as nasty organizations.  Regardless, Talia Winters features a lot and Bester returns – and both of these are good things.

Talia Winters…just because.

I consider Episode 9 – The Coming of Shadows – as the next must see episode. Again, there’s lots going on here and this episode is a good example of Londo showing his true colors once more.  With his life nearing its end, the Centauri emperor visits Babylon 5 to make amends for his people’s oppression of the Narn’s.  Of course, neither Londo nor G’kar know this and while Londo and Refa maneuver themselves politically, G’kar plots to assassinate the emperor.  Nothing goes as expected though and things go horribly awry.  Jurasik (Londo) and Katsulas (G’kar) really make this episode and their scene in the Zokolo showcases the two actors at their best.  Here again, the comic-tragic nature of both of their characters is evident – G’kar because he foolishly thinks the Centauri might have changed their ways and yet is ignorant of what has passed.  Londo because he has needlessly set wheels in motion that will have catastrophic results.   Other things that make The Coming of Shadows worth seeing are that Sinclair puts in an appearance, we are introduced to the Rangers and, for the first time, Vir actually gets a back bone.  Up until this point, Vir has always been portrayed as a bumbling fool; always willing to do his master’s bidding. What becomes evident in season two is that Vir is a conflicted character because for as much as he cares for Londo, he also finds Londo’s actions deeply troubling.  He becomes the perfect foil for Londo because as Londo resigns himself to the fact that his decisions are necessary and driven by a greater good, Vir continues to believe that it is not too late for Londo to change his ways and that he can make better choices.

I had said in my review of season one that many of the episodes of Babylon 5 worked on two levels and that is also true of season two, but at about the midway point of season two there was a definite shift in the way this was done. In season one, the stand-alone story in each episode made the bulk of the episode and information relating to the major story arcs was dropped in here and there.  By Ep 11 of season two – All Alone in the Night – this had changed.  At this point the character stories are all now intertwined with the greater story arcs.  Subplots continue and are self contained but become less of a factor and more a pleasant distraction.  From here forward, it gets very hard to pinpoint stand-alone episodes.  Interestingly enough, between now and the end of the season, there are only two episodes not written by Straczynski.  If you’ve read my review of season one , I said that the unmissable episodes in that season were those written by Straczynski.  I would suggest that the same applies for season two and really, you should watch every episode in the second half of season two. I would also argue that if you’re really not “digging” the show by All Alone in the Night you should probably give up on it.  For as much as I am a fan and I want people to enjoy Babylon 5 as much as I did/do, if all that has come before hasn’t got you hooked on the show at this point then I don’t know what will.  Maybe B5 really isn’t for you.

The next episode I think warrants a mention is And Now for a Word (Ep. 15).  In the B5 future, news is broadcast by the Interstellar News Network (or ISN).  In And Now for a Word, a news crew has come aboard the station to cover the escalating Narn/Centauri conflict and get reaction from the station’s ambassadors and command crew.

ISN news reporter Cynthia Torqueman in “And Now for a Word”

Babylon 5 had a habit of doing this and I think in each of seasons two through four there was at least one episode dedicated to a reporter or news crew from ISN being on the station.  In hindsight it’s understandable why – as things back on Earth start going sour, ISN becomes the media/propaganda arm of Earth Gov – so I think these episodes are in there just to remind us that ISN is there and that the truth of what is happening is being warped by the media (How about that?).  However, I never did like these episodes.  I found them to be very jarring, ripping me out of the main story threads that, by now, were steamrolling along.  Honestly I think Babylon 5 would be better without these “ISN episodes – or at the very least, the ISN subplot could have been handled more subtly.  I don’t think entire episodes dedicated to it really worked.

As season two draws to a close there were definitely a few highlights for me.  Firstly Episode 16 – In the Shadow of Z’Ha”Dhum – in which the cocky, arrogant and wonderfully sinister Mister Morden returns. (Basically any episode with the word “Shadow” in it is a no-brainer).

Remember me?

This is also the episode in which we are first introduced to the ministry of peace a.k.a. The Night Watch – an Earth Gov implemented program in which the security staff of Babylon 5 get an extra fifty credits a week to “keep an ear to the ground” (read: spy on their own people).  In his commentary, Straczynski refers to this as the start of the incremental lie – something that is presented as small and innocuous but soon becomes something much bigger and much more ugly than people ever gave it credit for.  The ministry of peace is billed as something to keep people safe during troubled and turbulent times but what it is intended to foster is a culture of paranoia that allows the ruling government to divide and conquer the people. (I’m beginning to think Straczynski was a brilliant visionary).

I think Episode 17 – Knives – is one of my favorite episodes of the entire season. Not because it is necessarily a must see episode but because it is an excellent character study of Londo.  It was about this point when I first watched Babylon 5 that I was really starting to like Londo and what Peter Jurasik was able to do with the character.  In Knives Londo runs the full gamut of emotions, from the opening scenes where he is laughing and joking with his attaché Vir (brilliant BTW), to the end where he is grief stricken.

In Episode 19 – Divided Loyalties – Lyta Alexader (Yeah, remember her from the pilot?) returns to inform B5’s command staff that there is a traitor among them.  WTF(#3)???  Nooooooooo!  That’s all I have to say about that. 😦

Remember me too?

The Long Twighlight Struggle (Ep. 20) is not only a great episode, it’s also a testament to just what the visual FX team could do.  This episode contains Babylon 5’s first major battle scenes as the Narn/Centauri conflict comes to a decisive end and is a taste of what’s to come in the seasons to follow.  Given computing power back in 1995 (they used a render farm of 486 PC’s and a single frame of footage could take an hour to render), it really is quite amazing what they achieved.  Yeah, it does look dated now, but even so, it still looks pretty good.

Centauri cruisers do battle

Season two’s finale (Ep.22) – The Fall of Night – is another good episode and a worthy end to the season.  It doesn’t pack quite as much of a punch as season one’s finale and ends more on a whimper than a bang, but that’s okay. The episode closes on an ISN report of a shadow ship seen in hyperspace.  There’s something out there – and nobody knows what it is.  (Except you, the viewer, and Londo Mollari).

“A spider big as death and twice as ugly.” – Nice.

Whereas season one’s final episode was more a case of “Oh my God! What just happened?,” season two had more of a thoughtful and reflective ending.  At this point, the whizz-bang cliffhanger ending wasn’t required.  Babylon 5 had its fan base and given the complexity of the story threads, it wasn’t about to add to it. Also, I think it is safe to say that those of us who were fans at this point were going to tune in for season three regardless.  Straczynski could have pretty much written drivel and I would have tuned in for season three.

So, all in all, a good season and better than season one.  As I did before I’ll give you a brief episode listing and then highlight those I think you absolutely need to see.  Please note that just because I’ve not listed all of these episodes as “Unmissable” or “Recommended” doesn’t necessarily mean you should miss the others.  It’s just that the other episodes are more self-contained and, to my mind, don’t contribute much to the greater story arcs.  Most are good episodes in their own right and, as in season one, some provide great character studies.  For me, the only episode I really didn’t like in season two was Ep. 15 – And Now for a Word.

Ep.1* – Points of Departure  – Introduction to Sheridan.  Garibaldi and Delenn’s ongoing stories from Season One. Lennier reveals why the Minbari surrendered at the Battle of the Line.

Ep.2 – Revelations – G’kar investigates Quadrant 37.  Concludes that a new race is responsible for its destruction. Frankin uses alien device from S1. Ep 21.  Sheridan backstory. Londo gets more mixed up with Morden. Delenn emerges from her transformation.

Ep.3* – The Geometry of Shadows – Londo seeks endorsement from the technomages who make an ominous prediction.  Green/Purple Drazi dispute.  Introduction to Lord Refa.

Ep.4 – A Distant Star – A surprise visit from an old friend has Sheridan questioning his ability. Shadows are seen in hyperspace.

Ep.5 – The Long Dark – Something nasty comes aboard the station from a long lost ship.

Ep.6 – A Spider in the Web – Psi Corps references.  Bureau 13.  First signs that Earth Gov policies are not very savory.  Subtle.

Ep.7 – Soul Mates – Londo must choose between his three wives.  Talia Winters’ ex-husband arrives on the station.  Talia’s backstory.  Good character study of Londo.

Ep.8 – A Race through Dark Places – Bester returns.  Talia learns some unpleasant things about Psi Corps. Someone on the command staff is running an underground railroad for rogue telepaths. References to Mind War (S1, Ep.6)

Ep.9 – The Coming of Shadows – The Centauri emperor comes to apologize.  Londo and Refa position themselves politically. Londo gets more mixed up with Morden and the Shadows. Ranger’s make their first appearance.  Sinclair features. Vir gets a backbone.

Ep.10 – Gropos – Franklin’s father commands 25,000 troops in to battle using B5 as a billeting station en route.  Good character study of Franklin.

Ep.11  – All alone in the night – Sheridan abducted and forced into death matches.  Delenn expelled from Gray Council. General Hague visits and reports his suspicions of Earth Gov.

Ep.12 – Acts of Sacrifice – Sheridan finds himself trying to be peacemaker in the midst of the Narn/Cantauri conflict. A new race (the Lumati) inspects Babylon 5 to see if it is worthy of their alliance.

Ep.13 – Hunter, Prey – Franklin’s old mentor and physician to President Clark is on the run and on B5. He has information that Earth gov and Psi Corps will kill for.

Ep.14 – There all the Honor Lies – Sheridan is accused of murdering a Minbari warrior.  Good study of Minbari culture and Lennier.

Ep.15 – And Now for a Word – ISN come aboard the station to cover events on Babylon 5 and the Narn/Centauri conflict

Ep.16* – In the Shadow of Z’ha’Dum – Sheridan unlawfully holds Morden prisoner in a desperate attempt to figure out what happened to his wife. Introduction to the Night Watch.

Ep.17 – Knives – An old friend of Londo’s comes seeking help but ends up challenging him to a fight for his honor.  Excellent character study of Londo.

Ep.18 – Confessions and Lamentations – An alien plague wipes out an entire species while Franklin scrambles for answers. Delenn and Sheridan’s relationship goes up a notch.

Ep.19 – Divided Loyalties – Lyta Alexander returns to the station with the news that someone on the command staff is a traitor.

Ep.20 – The Long Twilight Struggle – The Narn/Centauri conflict comes to a decisive end.  G’kar is stripped of his ambassadorial status.  Delenn puts the Rangers at Sheridan’s disposal.

Ep.21 – Comes the Inquisitor – Delenn is put to the test by the Vorlons.  G’kar goes from ambassador to freedom fighter.

Ep.22* – The Fall of Night – Sheridan offers sanctuary to a Narn battle cruiser while Earth seeks to sign a non-aggression treaty with the Centauri. The Night Watch’s methods become more aggressive.  The media first reports on the shadows

*Commentary/Special Feature available on DVD

Unmissable:

Ep.1 – Points of Departure

Ep.2 – Revelations

Ep.9 – The Coming of Shadows

Eps 11 thru 22 (with the exception of perhaps Ep.15 – And Now for a Word)

Recommended:

Ep.3 – The Geometry of Shadows

Ep.6 – A spider in the Web

Ep.8 – A Race through Dark Places

Meh – Watch if you have time:

Ep.4 – A Distant Star

Ep.5 – The Long Dark

Ep.7 – Soul Mates

Ep.10 – Gropos

Ugh:

Ep.12 – Acts of Sacrifice.  For what it’s worth, I found the Lumati subplot in this episode pretty lame. Again, I think because Ivanova was treated as comedic relief.  I watch the closing scenes of this episode and cringe.

Ep.15 – And Now for a Word

Related Posts:

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season One

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of Sci-Fi adventure novels

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

It’s been ten years since the Earth-Minbari war, a war in which the Minbari unconditionally surrendered despite dominating and being on the verge of complete victory. Babylon 5, mankind’s “last, best hope for peace,” is about to go operational or “on-line” and the last remaining factor to fall in to place is the arrival of Ambassador Kosh, the Vorlon. When Kosh arrives early, the command staff of Babylon 5 are thrown for a loop and as they rush to meet him, an attempt is made on the Vorlon ambassador’s life. What follows is a desperate race to identify the assassin and save Kosh’s life because otherwise, everything Babylon 5 is supposed to stand for – peace and neutrality – is thrown into jeopardy.

All right, to be fair, as pilot movies go, “The Gathering” was not the most auspicious of starts. Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this post, let me begin by saying that there are two versions of “The Gathering.” The first, is the original version (1993) that was aired on television and had music by Stewart Copeland of The Police fame. The second is a Director’s cut/Special Edition (1998) that Straczynski had the opportunity to go back and re-edit and which has music by Christopher Franke, the man who would go on to do the music for the entire series. This post is related to the 1998 version but much of it will apply to both.

In The Gathering we are introduced to, among others, the following characters:

Michael O’Hare as Commander Jeffery Sinclair
Tamlyn Tomita as Lieutenant Commander Laurel Takashima
Jerry Doyle as Security Chief Michael Garibaldi
Mira Furlan as Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari
Peter Jurasik as Ambassador Londo Mollari of the Centauri Republic
Andreas Katsulas as Ambassador G’Kar of the Narn Regime
Johnny Sekka as Doctor Benjamin Kyle
Patricia Tallman as Lyta Alexander
Ardwight Chamberlain (voice) as Ambassador Kosh Naranek

As expected, many of these characters would go on to populate the series. Some, however, would not.

The Babylon 5 Command Crew
- As never seen again

The Gathering succeeds in as much as it completes its story arc and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. Where it fails is that it has an awful lot of information to dispense to set up the five seasons that will follow and occasionally you get characters lecturing other characters with infodumps just so we know what’s going on at that moment in time and as reference for what is to come.

For the most part, The Gathering was well cast. Straczynski said that he wanted Babylon 5 to be multi-racial as well multi-species – “Almost like a United Nations in Space.” As a result you have Tamlyn Tomita as the Asian Lieutenant Commander and Johnny Sekka as the African American doctor. Unfortunately they are also two of the weakest characters in the movie. I think the reason I bought into Babylon 5 so heavily was because I had no prior knowledge of any of the actors who played the major characters. It wasn’t like Battlestar Galactica (Oh, that’s that dude from Miami Vice) and so it was easy for me to lose myself in these characters. However, when it came to Lieutenant Commander Laurel Takashima and Doctor Benjamin Kyle in the pilot, I’m sorry, I just wasn’t buying it. This is a shame because both actors have had long and successful careers (Sekka is now sadly deceased). Tomita gives a particularly stiff performance as the station’s second in command and, to be honest, I just don’t get the feeling that her heart is in it. Sekka, on the other hand, might just have had poor material to work with. His delivery of the old sci-fi/horror favorite “Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on here!” is so bad it’s almost laughable. In his commentary, Straczynski says that he wanted Sekka to play the doctor throughout the series but health issues prevented Sekka from doing so. To be honest, I think this worked in Babylon 5’s favor as Richard Biggs was then cast as Doctor Stephen Franklin and he excelled in that role.

Michael O'Hare as
Commander Jeffrey Sinclair

I always liked Michael O’Hare as Commander Sinclair. He would go on to star in season one of the show and gave Sinclair a level-headedness and confidence that you’d expect to see from a commander burdened with the responsibility of a gigantic space station and a few million lives.
Jerry Doyle also brought some Bruce Willis/John McClaine-esque hard nosed grittiness to the role of Garibaldi.

Jerry Doyle and Bruce Willis
Separated at Birth?

I’m sure his similarity to Willis was not pure accident given the massive success of the Die Hard franchise.

Now I have a PPG
Ho! Ho! Ho!

But Babylon 5 was not just a show about a station and its Earth Alliance crew and it was the other principal actors who played the alien ambassadors who were perhaps one of its greatest strengths. Mira Furlan, Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas brought Delenn, Londo and G’Kar to life, creating complex, mulit-faceted characters who were feisty, compassionate, devious, funny, tragic and inspirational all at the same time.

Fans of the show who revisit the pilot will notice that Delenn’s make up is very different in the movie. She has more facial prosthetics and patterning on her head which is somewhat similar to G’Kar’s. (Not the blue mandelbrot set – yeah, what was that all about??? – that would go on to adorn her shiny palate in season one). Her head bone prosthetic also looks like it could do with a bit more glue!

Wait! You're not supposed to change until the end of
season one!

The difference is because Delenn was originally intended to be a male character who would undergo a much more radical transformation at the end of season one, changing from male to female. There was work done to enhance/alter Furlan’s voice but in the end it just didn’t work and so that plot detail was discarded and Delenn’s “change” was something a bit less fantastic.

G’Kar’s make up (arguably one of the best in sci-fi) was also slightly different in the pilot.

Andreas Katsulas as G'Kar

The Centauri hair piece was never intended to be quite so large, but apparently after it was fixed to Jurasik’s head and before it was trimmed, Jurasik walked in on Straczynski and as a joke said something along the lines of “I like it like this,” and Straczynski said, “OK, we’ll keep it.” So the joke ultimately backfired on Jurasik and for five years he, Londo and every other male Cantauri character was stuck with big hair. The other nuance that Jurasik brought to Londo was that accent. (No, Peter Jurasik does not talk like that in real life). On set, to get into character, Jurasik would repeat the oft used line that B5 fans got to know and love – “Ah, Mister Garibaldi!”

You should be glad I am not sitting in front
of you at the movie theater - yes?

On a personal note, G’Kar and Londo would go on to become my favorite characters because of their ongoing feud. Katsulas and Jurasik played off each other extremely well and made each of the character’s growth over the course of the show a smooth and believable progression.

Patricia Tallman is our first introduction to telepaths and the shadowy organization that controls them – the Psi Corps. In The Gathering, her character is mentioned as being Babylon 5’s resident telepath although, despite returning in later seasons, her character is replaced in seasons one and two by Talia Winters played by Andrea Thompson. That said, her inclusion in the pilot is essential due to her direct contact with Kosh (no human has ever laid eyes on a Vorlon outside of their encounter suit) and what is to come much later in season three.

Patricia Tallman as Lyta Alexander

Again, fans of the show might recognize another notable face on the command staff of B5 in this pilot. Ed Wasser, who would go on to be excellent in the role of the sinister Mr. Morden plays one of the operators in the observation dome or “C&C” as it also became to be known. It’s only a bit part and he is sadly cursed with the job of computer operators in all sci-fi shows – namely repeating anything the computer tells him in frantic tones (“Hull breach in brown five!”) or stating the completely obvious, (“There’s something coming through the jump gate.”) Nevertheless, it is both a shock and a pleasant surprise to find him here.

Hull breach in brown five! ...my associates and I could not care less

Wasser was originally employed by Straczynski as a reader – to read the script opposite other auditioning actors. Straczynski gave him his bit part in the pilot but when it came time to cast someone in the role of Mr. Morden, Wasser immediately sprang to mind. He was suave, debonair, dashingly good-looking and his deep voice was perfect for the role. He played Morden to a tee, being perfectly charming and yet casually indifferent.

John Iacovelli, B5’s production designer joins Straczynski on the DVD commentary and it’s interesting to hear him talk at length about the sets. Babylon 5 was shot on an extremely low budget that required the crew to improvise and be innovative in their set design. The modular nature of the station itself helped in this respect, allowing walls from one set to be used in many others. In fact, many of the sets doubled as two or three locations on the station. One of the things Iacovelli says he wanted to incorporate into Babylon 5 was a lot of texture and color and again, this helped him bring Babylon 5 to life. Many of the areas of Babylon 5 were color-coded and so to give the impression that characters were in different parts of the station all that was required was to change the strip lighting on the sets. Winding corridors were also shot one way and then the other to give the illusion that Babylon 5 was indeed a vast space station.
Many of the sets that were constructed for the pilot were used throughout Babylon 5’s five season run.

The other thing about The Gathering that is worth mentioning is that it is in this pilot that we are first treated to the CG that would become the signature effects for the series. Babylon 5 was unique in that it was the first sci-fi series to rely totally on CG and not models for its external station/ship shots. Despite looking a bit dated now, given the time that Babylon 5 was produced, the CG effects are actually pretty good. For a good chuckle at the technology used and a deeper appreciation of what they managed to achieve with the CG, check out this article.

And so, as I come to the end of my thoughts on The Gathering it is worth mentioning that at the end of the movie, when the mystery is solved, one of the characters informs Sinclair that “there is a hole in your mind.” It is this cliffhanger/revelation that is central to the whole Babylon 5 story and the hook that is supposed to make you continue watching the show.
As Sinclair admits earlier in the movie (remember those infodumps I mentioned?), he fought at the battle of the line, the final battle of the war and mankind’s last-ditch effort to repel the Minbari before they inexplicably surrendered. During that battle Sinclair, giving up all hope, set his Starfury fighter on a kamikaze style collision course with a Minbari war cruiser. Just before impact though, Sinclair believes he blacked out and for a twenty four hour period he can remember nothing. When he comes to, he discovers the war is over.

Did I like The Gathering? As a fan, yes. I think it does a good job of telling its own self-contained story whilst foreshadowing a lot of what was to come in the seasons that followed. It’s only from going back and watching the pilot again that you can actually pick up on all the references and events that will have so much meaning later on, so in that respect, it’s interesting for fans but I’m not so sure how interesting it is for non B5-o-philes.
The acting from some quarters leaves a lot to be desired and the writing could have been better in places – but again, with so much information to get across and ninety minutes to do it in, you can understand and maybe even forgive The Gathering for its infodumps. All that said, I’m not sure The Gathering succeeds as a pilot and by that I mean I’m not sure if it’s strong enough to convert B5 newbie’s to instant fans (clearly it succeeded in getting the show green lighted). I think there are stronger episodes in season one that I would recommend to people before I’d have them watch The Gathering.

I have written this post with the aim of giving my overall impressions of the Babylon 5 pilot and without going in to too much plot detail. For an alternate view and a complete summary of the plot (with spoilers) check out this post.

If you enjoyed this post, jump back soon for my thoughts on season one.

Related posts:

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of sci-fi adventure books

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