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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Four

Really Babylon 5? Really? After the past two seasons the best you could come up with is a curtain wipe with a dodgy dissolve. Meh. If the opening titles were anything to go by you could be forgiven for thinking that Babylon 5 was past its best. Fortunately that was far from the case. 

Warning: Spoilers ahead. 

Season Four begins as season three ended – with a monologue from G’kar. In The Hour of the Wolf, Captain Sheridan has not returned from Z’Ha’Dhum and is presumed dead. Mister Garibaldi and his Starfury are still missing and Ivanova is walking around in a funk because half the people she cares about are gone. Londo has returned to Centauri prime to find himself the victim of his own political skullduggery and in the service of an emperor, Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer), who is completely insane and Delenn is fasting because of the loss of Sheridan. 

Throughout episode one, we’re pretty much left hanging as to what has happened to Sheridan. We learn that the alliance of the league of non-aligned worlds that Sheridan worked so hard to forge is crumbling without his leadership and that the Vorlon, Kosh (2), refuses to attend meetings or assist in any way. Despite having sanctuary on Babylon 5, G’kar is willing to risk everything to go in search of his friend, Mister Garibaldi, and in a similar vain Ivanova, refusing to believe that Sheridan is lost forever, musters Delenn and Lyta Alexander to go on an equally dangerous recon/rescue mission to Z’Ha’Dhum. As a season opener, The Hour of the Wolf may not be as profound as other seasons’ first episodes. It is not so much setting things up for the season to come as it is a continuation of what has gone before. Certainly G’kar’s decision to go after Garibaldi will have profound consequences for him and Londo’s discovery that he is in the service of a mad man will force him into an unthinkable position – but these subplots intertwine and run their course in half a dozen episodes. As B5 fans, we already know we are rushing headlong toward the Shadow war. Really, there is nothing to set up. The burning questions left from season three are, as G’kar puts it – Where is Mister Garibaldi and what happened to Captain Sheridan at Z’Ha’Dhum? We’ll get no hints at the answer to the first question in this episode, but right at the end of The Hour of the Wolf, we get a glimpse of Sheridan alive – or is he? 

As we learn in Whatever happened to Mister Garibaldi? (Ep.2), Sheridan now exists in some kind of limbo, where he is accompanied by a strange being who calls himself Lorien. This was about as far as I had got watching the series when it first aired on British television, and I remember Lorien being a somewhat creepy character. If you can see past all the prosthetics and make up, those of you with a keen eye and a good memory will recognize Lorien as Wayne Alexander, the same actor who appeared as Kosh’s “envoy” in Comes the Inquisitor (S2, Ep 21). In both of these roles, Alexander manages to breathe life into a character that is somewhat unsettling.

Wayne Alexander as Lorien, Sebastian and a Drazi captive

Wayne Alexander as Lorien, Sebastian and a Drazi captive

Babylon 5 made a habit of reusing actors for different roles. In these reviews I’ve already mentioned how Ed Wasser went from C&C command staff in the pilot show to the sinister Mister Morden in the following four seasons. Similarly, John Vickery who was excellent in the role of the warrior caste Minbari, Neroon, also had a bit part as a member of the Night Watch in Point of No Return (S3, Ep. 4).
John Vickery - as Neroon and a member of the Night Watch

John Vickery – as Neroon and a member of the Night Watch

Alexander also shows his face again (or not as the case may be) as a drazi ambassador in Intersections in Real Time (ep.18 of this season). 

I liked the way the show handled Sheridan’s “situation” here, which Lorien describes as “between moments” because, whilst I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for a lot of things, resurrection from the dead I really can’t do. It’s one of the reasons why I really hated The Matrix. Wait! What? You’re a sci-fi fan and you hated The Matrix.   Yes. And here’s why. You cannot get me invested in a universe defined by certain rules, said rules espoused/infodumped by one of your characters (“If you die inside the matrix you are dead”), tag me along for a couple of hours thinking that I know the rules and then break all those rules at the end because you need your hero to survive. (“But Neo, you’re the one and I love you ). That’s nonsense. But The Matrix was a visually stunning movie you say. Yes. Yes it was. As a piece of film making it was goundbreaking, which is why it kept me entertained for a couple of hours, but as far as storytelling goes, you can’t set up your world and then break all the rules ‘cos you feel like it. Doesn’t work. You just cheated your audience. But I digress… 

So with Sheridan we’re treated to a couple of episodes of dancing around the “is he or isn’t he” (dead) question. Certainly the crew of B5 all believe he’s dead, and from a viewer’s point of view, it’s impossible to believe that he could have survived the leap of faith he took at the end of season three. BUT – Even though Lorien himself tries to convince Sheridan he has perished, through their conversations we learn that Lorien is not all that he appears. Indeed, his appearance may only be a palatable physical manifestation of a power or entity of truly God like proportions that has deigned to spare Sheridan’s life for a destiny that lies ahead. In his own words, Lorien admits “I cannot create life, but I may breathe on the remaining embers,” and so we’re left with the question – Did Sheridan truly die at Z’Ha’Dhum? 

This hanging around in limbo gets pretty tiresome after a while - C'mon people, I've got a show to get back to!

This hanging around in limbo gets pretty tiresome after a while – C’mon people, I’ve got a show to get back to!

Thus Sheridan returns to Babylon 5 in Summonings (Ep.3) as does security chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle). Both men have been irrevocably altered by their experiences – Sheridan in ways he knows and understands, Garibaldi in ways that he does not remember and will not learn about until much later on. Yes, after playing with many of the principal characters in season three, season four was definitely where Straczynski got to mess with Garibaldi. 

Meanwhile, on Centauri Prime, Londo finds himself in an unthinkable position. Firstly, that he is plotting against the most important person on his homeworld. Secondly, that he will need to enlist the help of his arch-enemy, G’kar, if he has any hope of succeeding. The two of them strike a pact that will have far-reaching repercussions for both them and their peoples.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

And so the Shadow war is upon us. (Into the Fire, Ep.6) For almost three seasons, Babylon 5 has been building towards this moment. There are a number of battle scenes but as we are to learn, the Shadow war is less about brute force and more about ideologies and thus Into the Fire has the potential to be a huge anti-climax. However, once again, thanks to some quality writing from Straczynski and the acting skills of Boxleitner (Sheridan) and Mira Furlan (Delenn) this episode provides satisfying closure to much of what has come before. 

After such a powerful episode and the Shadow war over so early in season four it would be easy to think that Babylon 5 would go into a slump. Indeed, it is safe to say that the tension and pace of the episodes that follow are ratcheted down significantly, but really these provide a moment for us, the viewers, to catch our breath, while Straczynski begins to put in place the elements that will lead us to the second climax of season four – the war against Earth. 

It’s about this time that Straczynski starts messing around with the character of Garibaldi. As in the previous season, where certain characters had their own tangential story arcs (Franklin, Delenn), in season four it is the turn of Garibaldi. Unable to reconcile his own off-station experience with that of Sheridan’s, the two men grow apart to such an extent that Garibaldi feels he has no choice but to resign as security chief. This is a welcome change. Doyle put in such a solid performance as Garibaldi, week-in, week-out, that it was easy to see the character as just a part of the station furniture. And so, perhaps one of the most surprising things about Garibaldi is that, for a main character and one that has been a major part of setting the story up to this point, when it comes to the climactic Shadow war, he was notably absent. Doyle was as true and honest to the Garibaldi character as the security chief was to the station. Thus, when Garibaldi’s world starts unraveling, it is an interesting departure for both the character and the actor. 

Using his contacts and skills, Garibaldi starts his own one-man private investigation firm. However, when he’s hired to provide personal protection, Garibaldi’s past catches up with him. His charge, he finds out, is his ex-fiancee Lise Hampton (Denise Gentile) who we first met in A voice in the Wilderness Pt.2  season one. Lise is now married to William Edgars, one of the richest men alive and now Garibaldi’s employer, and whilst Garibaldi has no idea what he’s getting himself in to, he’s happy to do it just to spite Sheridan. 

I'm beginning to think alien antiques was a bad career move

I’m beginning to think alien antiques was a bad career move

What Garibaldi will later learn is that he is being used as a pawn in a plot far messier than a toddler eating spaghetti. It will not be until The Face of the Enemy (Ep. 17) that we will get the answer to G’kar’s second question – Whatever happened to Mister Garibaldi?

Anyone order a shrink-wrapped Garibaldi?

Anyone order a shrink-wrapped Garibaldi?

Amongst all this, Delenn also has another tangential story arc. She returns to Minbar to find that her dissolution of the Gray Council has thrown her people in to chaos and pushed them to the brink of civil war. Through her trials and tribulations we get to learn what really happened at that first-contact meeting that resulted in the Earth-Minbari war and understand the resentments that have long bubbled under the surface between the warrior and religious castes. John Vickery makes a welcome return to reprise his role as Neroon.

And so, once our ensemble cast is all reunited, we are thrown headlong in to the war with Earth.

Now if you’ve read any of my other B5 season reviews, oh, I don’t know, say here, and here and here, you will have heard me talk about Straczynski’s writing with reverence before but nowhere is his brilliance more evident than here. The reward for sticking with Babylon 5 through those early, somewhat hammy episodes of season one is here, at the end of season four. If you’ve watched Babylon 5 religiously from the first episode, then you’ll recognize elements that were dropped into seasons one, two and three comng together here. Straczynski brings numerous different plot points together as he concisely wraps up season four. 

That said, the end of season four feels a little rushed and there’s a very good reason for that. As Straczynski mentions in his commentary on The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, because of the impending demise of PTEN, the network that had carried the series so far, he was told to wrap Babylon 5 at the end of this season. As a result, his five-season story arc was being truncated to four. It was only after Sleeping in Light had been shot as both the final episode of the show and as a precaution against cancellation that Straczynski was told that TNT would be picking up Babylon 5 and he would indeed be getting a fifth season. This meant that Sleeping in Light would still remain as the final episode but was pushed out to the end of season five. The Deconstruction of Falling Stars was hastily shot as the season ending episode of season four. 

Another unfortunate consequence of the uncertainty of whether or not B5 would get picked up for its fifth and final season was that the options that held the cast members to an obligation to be available for shooting that fifth season could only be extended by thirty days according to their contracts. WB and TNT informed the B5 production office that they would have their decision about the fifth season “by late June or early July of 1997.” Since the options on the cast expired in mid-June, this was cause for some concern. That put the “drop-dead date,” for concluding all agreements relating to a fifth season, at July 14, 1997. The major ramification, should all contracts not be concluded by that date, would be that the production office would have to re-negotiate contracts with the actors. This would certainly involve haggling over raises, and since production had already cut everything down to the barest penny in order to get WB and TNT to agree to go ahead on a fifth season, this would effectively kill the fifth season and end the show. 

The details of what happened next are still in dispute with Straczynski and Claudia Christian claiming different things, but the bottom line is Christian did not sign her contract before the deadline passed and as a result she did not reprise her role as Ivanova in season five.

What do you mean I'm not going to be in season five?

What do you mean I’m not going to be in season five?

Given the popularity of the character and the fact that Ivanova was slated to take over as B5 commander in the final season, this was a massive disappointment for fans who took their ire out on Straczynski and Christian on internet newsgroups. This in turn, drastically affected how Straczynski interacted with fans. Up until this point, Straczynski had been very interactive with fans on newsgroups and messageboards – indeed he could be considered one of the first people to really embrace the Internet for making himself accessible to fans. However, following the backlash Straczynski spent much less time responding to posts and emails and has publicly stated this will be his policy in future. 

All that said, for me, The Deconstruction of Falling Stars just does not work. For starters, it’s a massive anti-climax to what is arguably Babylon 5’s finest season. Secondly, it is so alien (pardon the pun) to all that has come before that it just feels out of place. This isn’t Straczynski’s fault. The fact that he came up with anything at all to end the season is a testament to his creativity. I think the reason I dislike this episode so much is because it’s purely a stand alone episode to fill a void and as such it feels like the show is regressing back to those early hit or miss episodes of season one. It certainly doesn’t feel worthy of being the season finale after all that has come before. Not only that, but there’s nothing in it to get us excited about a season five. You could very well be forgiven for thinking that Babylon 5 truly does end here. 

However, the real shame in all of this is that there was ever a question of whether Babylon 5 would get picked up for its final season. As fans we can only wonder what might have been had the show been allowed to complete its full five-season arc unmolested – but alas, that is something we will never know.

Ep1. – The Hour of the Wolf
Londo finds himself in the service of an insane Emperor and enlists Vir’s help. G’kar vows to find Mr. Garibaldi. Ivanova, Lyta and Delenn take a White Star to search of Sheridan. Sheridan discovers he is not alone on Z’Ha’Dum

Ep2 – Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi
Sheridan meets Lorien. G’kar is captured by the Centauri. Londo begins to plot to overthrow the emperor.

Ep 3 – The Summoning
Ivanova and Marcus go in search of the First Ones. Garibaldi is found. Sheridan returns. G’kar suffers at the hands of Emperor Cartagia.

Ep.4 – Falling towards Apotheosis
Garibaldi is suspicious of Sheridan and Lorien. Emperor Cartagia makes plans for his Godhood. Sheridan decides he must deal with Kosh and reveals the price he must pay for going to Z’Ha”Dum

Ep.5 – The Long Night
Londo plots against Cartagia. Ivanova is sent to search for more of the First Ones. Sheridan sets a trap for the Shadow fleet.

Ep6. – Into the Fire
The Climax of the Shadow War.

Ep7 – Epiphanies
Garibaldi resigns as chief of security. Bester returns to tell the command staff that President Clark is plotting against them.

Ep 8 – The Illusion of Truth
An ISN news crew reports its version of the truth about Babylon 5.

Ep. 9 – Atonement
Delenn returns to Minbar for a dreaming ceremony. Sheridan sends Franklin and Marcus to Mars Colony to reach out to the resistance.

Ep.10 – Racing Mars
Franklin and Marcus make contact with the resistance. Garibaldi and Sheridan are no longer seeing eye-to-eye.

Ep.11 – Lines of Communication
Franklin and Marcus relay Sheridan’s offers to the resistance. Delenn is forced into an unpleasant encounter.

Ep. 12 – Conflicts of Interest
Garibaldi gets a surprise client for his PI business. Babylon 5 starts broadcasting as the voice of the resistance.

Ep. 13 – Rumors, Bargains and Lies
Delenn seeks to form an alliance with the warrior caste to prevent civil war on Minbar. Sheridan fools the members of the league of non-aligned worlds.

Ep. 14 – Moments of Transition
Delenn returns to Minbar in an attempt to stop the civil war that has erupted between the warrior and religious castes. Lyta strikes a deal with Bester.

Ep. 15 – No Surrender, No Retreat
Sheridan recruits allies from the league of non-aligned worlds and takes the war to President Clark. Londo and G’kar form an unlikely alliance.

Ep. 16 – Exercise of Vital Powers
Garibaldi returns to Mars to confront his new employer. Franklin continues to work with the Telepaths rescued from the Shadows.

Ep. 17 – The Face of the Enemy
Garibaldi commits the ultimate betrayal before learning what really happened to him when he disappeared. Franklin and Lyta take a strange cargo to Mars.

Ep. 18 – Interssections in Real Time
Sheridan is interrogated.

Ep. 19 – Between the Darkness and the Light
Garibaldi pleads his innocence and mounts a rescue attempt for Sheridan. Ivanova foils an ambush by Earth forces.

Ep. 20 – Endgame
The battles for Mars Colony and Earth

Ep.21 – Rising Star
Sheridan returns to Earth and is faced with an ultimatum. Delenn has a proposal.

Ep. 22 – The Deconstruction of Falling Stars
The legacy of the characters of Babylon 5 as seen from different points in time.

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

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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