Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Dawn of the Third Age of Mankind: Babylon 5, "The Gathering" (pilot movie)

Babylon 5 was a Warner Bros.-produced television series that ran in syndication from 1993 to 1999 or so (it kind of depends on what you count as being the series and what you count as a spinoff, but let's just say 1999).  Its origins are mildly controversial in some ways relating to a certain other sci-fi series; we're not going to get TOO deep into that here, though.

The short version of the story is this: sometime around 1989, J. Michael Straczynski (a television writer and producer best known at that time for his journeyman work on shows like The [New] Twilight Zone and Shelley Duvall's Nightmare Classics, as well as longer-running stints on The Real Ghostbusters and Murder, She Wrote) pitched an idea for a science fiction series called Babylon 5 to Paramount.  It was about a space station where interesting things happened.  His pitch included a series "bible" (a lengthy summary-of-concept document) and capsule ideas for a full season's worth of episodes.

Paramount passed.

Fast-forward to the summer of 1991.  Warner Bros. announced that they were launching a venture called the "Prime-Time Entertainment Network."  Not actually a full-scale network, this was instead an alliance of independent television stations that (according to Wikipedia) covered about 93% of the nation at its peak.  It would eventually go under (in 1997), but Warner Bros. made a go at it for a while there.  Anyways, among the series they announced at their launch was Straczynski's Babylon 5.

This made sense.  Original narrative programming in syndication had been made viable almost single-handedly by the astonishing success of Star Trek: The Next Generation, so it's easy to see why Warner Bros. would hope a major new science-fiction series could and would be a valuable asset in launching a new (quasi-)network.  Babylon 5 would indeed be a major new series: one set not on a starship but on an enormous space station, but nevertheless with a sensibility and an aesthetic sense that would be reminiscent of other sci-fi shows yet also possess a tone and focus that was something new.

Fast-forward again, to a couple of months later in 1991: Paramount announced a new sci-fi series of its own, a third entry in the Star Trek franchise.  It would be called Deep Space Nine, and it would be set ... not on a starship, but ... on an ... enormous space station...?  Hey guys, doesn't this sound kind of familiar?  Hello?  Guys?

At the insistence of Warner Bros., Straczynski opted not to go ballistic and sue Paramount, but if you care to read up on the issue, you'll find that JMS remained a little bitter about it for quite some time after.  How long?  Well, it's ... what? ... 2018 now?  How many years is that?

I don't think he's wrong.  There are significant similarities in the concepts, not merely in the core idea (space station instead of starship) but in the then-unusual push toward serialization in the storytelling; the emphasis on mysticism and religion in the alien races populating the series (and in the fact that the human commanders VERY much become embroiled in these religions); and, in some instances, minor specifics in the plotlines.  Heck, there are even at least two instances of characters with nearly-identical names: Leeta/Lyta and Dukat/Dukhat.

So did Paramount kinda/sorta steal the idea for Deep Space Nine from J. Michael Straczynski after opting not to buy Babylon 5 from him?  To some degree, I think that is absolutely a yes.

And beyond that, I'm not sure it matters much.  To Straczynski, it must matter a very great deal; and on his behalf, it bothers me.  But even if 100% of his insinuations and allegations are true, so what?  Pick a couple of random episodes.  Let's say ... season three, episode 14 of both shows.  Was one actively influencing the other at that point, in a theft-of-intellectual-property sense?  No way.  The stories were different, the productions styles (and abilities) were different, the casts were wildly different.  Even if you want to call this theft, the shows began to diverge immediately, even within the respective two-hour pilot episodes.

I think it's important to at least mention this stuff when conversation of either series comes up, if only so you can do what I mostly do: e.g., shrug and move on to a discussion of the merits (or lack thereof) of whichever of the shows you want to discuss.

WE are here to begin a discussion of Babylon 5.

Before we get going, howsabout a brief history of my association with the series?  Good, I knew you'd love that.

Circa 1993, I was about as into Star Trek as I've ever been in my life.  I'd been a rabid Next Generation fan since episode one, and had never looked back.  Deep Space Nine was the first major American sci-fi show (with an outer-space setting, at least) to debut after that.  I was onboard that train from episode one, as well.  It debuted the week of January 3, 1993.

A bit less than three months later, the pilot for Babylon 5 aired on PTEN affiliates.  I can't remember anything about the circumstances of how I knew the show existed; I'm sure that it was either via seeing commercials for it, or seeing an article in the newspaper, or something like that.  Whatever the case, I tuned in.  My memory is that I thought it was okay.  Okay enough to entice me to tune in for the next episode, which did not air until January 1994.  Nearly a year, for God's sake.  A year!

That's how pilots work, of course; most pilots -- certainly in those days -- would be filmed during a completely different season than the rest of the series, and if they turned out well and the network that commissioned it liked what they saw, they'd put it into production to debut during the next season.  Ever wonder why pilot episodes sometimes have different castmembers, or if there's a kid on the show why they suddenly look a year older in the second episode?  Wonder no longer.

Anyways, I tuned in for that first episode of the true first season, and I tuned in for the episode after that, and then ... I did not tune in again.  Frankly, I didn't like it.  The word I'd probably have used was "cheesy."

Fast forward to late 1996.  I am standing in line to for an evening show of Star Trek: First Contact on opening night.  I'm on a work trip in a completely different state (South Carolina) than my own (Alabama), so I'm all by myself, just listening to the people around me.  I eventually get drawn into a conversation about Deep Space Nine with some folks.  Some other guy who was there joined in, and sagely informed us that the best show on television at that moment was Babylon 5.

I told the guy I'd tried to get into that show when it first aired, and couldn't do it.  Yeah, yeah, he said, I know, but trust me, it got WAY better.

At some point during the next year, I made a new friend who was also a fan of the show, and he convinced me to begin watching the show in reruns when TNT began airing them.  No idea exactly when that was, but I was fully caught up by the time new B5 began airing on TNT, which was early 1998.  From that point, I have been with it all the way; not that there's been all that much of it since, but still.

Alas, my feelings about it now are that it hasn't fully withstood the test of time.  The production is really rickety in places; the acting is sometimes wonderful, but (especially toward the beginning) sometimes very much the opposite of wonderful.  The cheese factor remained in place the entire way.  And I'm sorry to say that even the grand ambition of it all has become dulled a bit by time; only a bit, but what seemed downright revolutionary in 1997 seems a bit more standard these days.

In no way is that the show's fault.  Blame it for some of those other things, but for that, not for one second.  I'd compare it to John Carpenter's Halloween, which was so fresh and influential that it practically spawned an entire new subgenre and which influenced filmmakers for literally decades afterward.  The impact of those intervening decades' worth of imitators has arguably dulled the impact of Halloween itself; one now has to force oneself to see it with 1978's eyes.

I'd argue that Babylon 5 is much the same.  See it with 1993's eyes, and you'll be doing yourself a favor.

And then there's the issue of the effects.  You cannot find good-looking versions of Babylon 5 to watch in a high-definition era.  The best you will find are the DVDs, and even they look horrendous when you try to watch them on any kind of a television you couldn't have owned during the late nineties.  (See also Deep Space Nine.)  Me?  I've still got my ancient 1998 Zenith, and so when I watch Babylon 5, I watch it at the resolution I'd have seen it in back in the day (i.e., fuzzy and kind of awful).

And yet...

And yet, I think -- hope -- there is still a lot to enjoy here for sci-fi fans.  It's a given if you're a sci-fi fan who has an appreciation for the history of the genre on television; you'll enjoy it from that perspective if only in an archaeological sense.  Everyone else, it's a maybe.

Me?

I'm going to watch it side by side with my current one-episode-per-week Deep Space Nine rewatch and find out whether I can truly recapture my love for it.  I'm slotting it in in the order the episodes aired, so it's going to be a while before we get to the actual first season.  But that's okay; it was a while back in the day, as well, so this seems proper.

*****

Alrighty, with that long preamble out of the way, let's dive into that pilot movie.


"The Gathering"
  
  
(pilot movie)
  
airdate:  February 22, 1993
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Richard Compton
  

A word about the format.  I'm not sure if you know this -- you probably don't -- but "The Gathering" exists in two distinct versions.  Straczynski was never happy with the original broadcast version and so when TNT bought the rights to the series, they offered to bankroll a new edit of the pilot.  This special edition had some scenes added back in, some rickety scene removed, a new musical score, some new effects, etc.  That's the version you can find on DVD.  The original is harder to locate; some say that that is what you see when you stream it on Amazon, but I can't actually find a streaming version on Amazon, so ... I can't really say for sure.

I got it via other means (don't ask), and I assume that it is indeed the originally-aired version.  Can I swear that it's 100% it?  I cannot, but it definitely has the original musical score, and it's definitely a different edit than the one on DVD, so it's either legit or it's an incredibly convincing fake.

And it is that version we are going to look at today.  I will not be considering the TNT Special Edition at this time.  Why's that, you might ask?

Simple: I believe it is a mistake for newcomers to the series to watch the special edition.  There is a very specific reason for that: one line of dialogue (added via voiceover) that hints at a plot point which really ought not to have been hinted at thanks to the spoiler potential it carries.  I've never understood why Straczynski thought this was a good idea.

So my official recommendation is that if you can't watch the original edit, you simply skip to the first hourlong episode, "Midnight on the Firing Line."  You'll be alright if you do it that way; you might miss out on a wee bit of exposition and setup, but you'll get all of that via other means in other episodes, so I think it's fine to go straight here.  I mean, don't get me wrong: try to find the original version of "The Gathering," and watch it if you can.  but if you can't, don't feel like you HAVE to watch the special edition; in my opinion, you don't, and shouldn't.

This post, then, will be entirely based on the broadcast edit from 1993, and it is going to be a mixture of plot summary with screencaps and commentary.  What format subsequent posts (when we get to them) will take is unclear to me at this time; in theory, I'd like to make them hybrids of this post and the types of posts I've been doing on the original Star Trek.  But I'm not sure; we'll cross that bridge when we burn it.

For now?  "The Gathering" ho!

We begin with a black screen and a voiceover by a vaguely European-sounding person (we will eventually find out this is Londo Mollari, the Centauri ambassador assigned to Babylon 5).  What's he say?  Glad you asked.  He says this:

I was there at the dawn of the Third Age of mankind.  It began in the Earth year 2257 with the founding of the last of the Babylon stations, located deep in neutral space.




It was a port of call for refugees, smugglers, businessmen, diplomats, and travelers from a hundred worlds.  It could be a dangerous place, but we accepted the risk because Babylon 5 was our last, best hope for peace.  Under the leadership of its final commander, Babylon 5 was a dream given form: a dream of a galaxy without war, when species from different worlds could live side by side in mutual respect . . . a dream that was in danger as never before by the arrival of one man on a mission of destruction.




Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations.  This is its story.





All of this has been delivered over the top of a montage of activity inside the station: various aliens, a few crewmembers, cheesy-looking extras, at least one puppet, and so forth.  It's a bustling, seedy-looking place; very much on a budget, but for 1993 television, not half bad.  Effective enough.  And I think Londo's words are an interesting gateway into the series.

We cut from that exterior shot of the station to the command center inside, where Lieutenant Commander Laurel Takashima is supervising routine business, comings and goings and the like.





She receives a call from another officer (the security officer, Michael Garibaldi), who asks where the Commander is; a recent arrival requires his personal approval for boarding the station.  Takashima says he's on the way, and should be just about there.

We cut to a shot of a guy getting off an elevator and walking into what appears to be a boarding area; this is Commander Jeffrey Sinclair.




And here we come to one of the major stumbling blocks for the series: Michael O'Hare, who plays Sinclair.  O'Hare passed away in 2012, and I don't wish to speak ill of the dead, but ... he's a bit on the wooden side as Sinclair.  Many new viewers apparently find his performance to be so awful that they tune out and never come back.

I will allow that he's pretty bad in much of "The Gathering," and I'll further allow that he remains wooden throughout his run on the show; but I'll allow something else as well: I like O'Hare in the role, and I love Sinclair as a character.  The reasons for both of those things are only fleetingly present in "The Gathering," so you might well think I'm on crack if you've got only this to go by.  Fair enough.  But as the character develops, O'Hare's woodenness turns, weirdly, into a sort of virtue; and he does also get better as the series progresses.

Regardless of such concerns, Sinclair is there to meet Lyta (pronounced "Leeta") Alexander, a registered telepath sent from Earth Central.  It's about time they had one, Sinclair says.




Lyta is played by Patricia Tallman, who appeared (typically as a stunt performer or as a glorified extra) on multiple episodes of multiple Star Trek series and is perhaps best known for playing Barbara in the Tom Savini remake of Night of the Living Dead.  I like her; she's not doing award-worthy work or anything here, but she's got a nice presence.

Sinclair gives her a brief rundown of the rules -- no unauthorized mindscans, no gambling allowed in the casino, etc. -- and offers to show her to her quarters, and then we cut to a logo and what I assume to be a commercial break.




When we come back from the break, we are back in the command-and-control center, where Takashima is accosted by Ambassador G'Kar of the Narn Regime.




G'Kar is furious over the fact that a Narn supply ship is being denied permission to dock.  Takashima reminds him of regulations: without submitting to a weapons scan, nobody is allowed to dock, and the supply ship is refusing to submit.

G'Kar is played by Andreas Katsulas, who played the Romulan captain Tomalok on four episodes of The Next Generation.  He was also the One-Armed Man in the movie version of The Fugitive, and had a lengthy career guest-starring on tv shows both before and after playing G'Kar.  Katsulas was a great actor, and I don't think it's too egregious a spoiler for me to say that as Babylon 5 develops, he is handily one of its MVPs.

You wouldn't know it from this scene; here, he's pretty bad.

Not, however, as bad as Tamlyn Tomita, who plays Takashima.  SHE is worse even than O'Hare; she's so bad you almost can't believe it.  But hey, we know Katsulas was a major talent, and Tomita herself has had a long career (and is still working steadily to this day).  So what gives?

One is tempted to blame director Richard Compton, but I think that would be short-sighted.  Compton had been directing television for nearly twenty years by that point; he'd done fourteen episodes of The Equalizer and eight episodes of Miami Vice, among other things (including the first-season TNG episode "Haven").  He'd go on after this to do five first-season Babylon 5 episodes, so the producers must have liked him pretty well.  After that, he'd do twelve episodes of Sliders, a couple of X-Fileses, and so forth.  So what I'm saying is, this is not the kind of guy who would be apt to get inept performances out of his actors.

And yet...

If you want my official guess, I'd say that budget was a major factor here.  I have no idea how many days they were given to film this two-hour pilot, but my gut tells me it was a shorter amount of time than the industry standard, and that that was done so as to trim some money off the budget.  You DO hire a guy like Compton if you want to make sure that a heavy workload can be completed in a relatively brief window of time; that tracks for me as a hypothesis.  That's all it is, of course: a guess, really.  But a shorter filming window by necessity means fewer takes, which in turn can very easily mean that the editor has to settle for takes that are not up to snuff by normal standards.

I have a hard time explaining it any other way.

Anyways, G'Kar protests that everyone knows the Narn are a peace-loving people, so why the need for a security scan?  Takashima says sure, everyone knows that, except maybe for a few worlds out on the fringes who say the Narn have invaded them.  Either way, regs are regs, and for all she cares that Narn ship can sit outside for the next solar year.  If G'Kar would like, she could send them some fruit baskets...?

He storms off, not placated in the slightest.

We cut back to Sinclair and Lyta, who are taking a shortcut to her quarters through "the alien sector."  Is this being done just so Sinclair can show off the station to Lyta?  Nah, it's being done so he can show it off to us, the viewing audience.  Not sure he should have bothered; it's a bit of an embarrassment, and what is supposed to be an intriguing display of multi-atmospherical living quarters ends up looking a lot like a zoo for puppets and iffy makeup effects.





Straczynski agreed with me, evidently: this entire sequence was cut out of the special edition.

But there are a few nifty ideas squirreled away in there.  It's kind of cool -- and definitely ambitious -- to suggest that a station like this has to be capable of sustaining species that breathe methane or whatever.  They can even accommodate different gravity needs by varying the rotation of certain sections of the station.  This is very cool.  I dig this.  Look, I'm demonstrably a Star Trek fan, but it's kind of true that those shows tend to present the vast majority of alien species as being basically just like humans, but with funny-looking heads.  And that's fine; the various Treks are primarily concerned with exploring different aspects of humanity via using aliens as metaphors, and so it makes sense that they'd be mostly very humanoid.

It also makes sense from a television-production standpoint.  That's still true in 2018, and it was hella true in 1993.  So by introducing this "alien sector," one has to marvel at the ambition: Straczynski and team had the insane notion that they might actually be able to explore ideas of that nature on the $7.99-plus-ham-sandwiches-per-episode budget their series seems to have had.  Prudently, those ambitions -- as regards this specific set of ideas -- would be trimmed back quite a bit as the series progressed.

coughrebootbadlyneededcough

Huh?  What wuzzat?  Anyways, Lyta says she's heard that all four of the major alien governments have ambassadors assigned to the station.  Sinclair says not quite, the fourth is due to arrive soon; they function as an advisory council, "like the U.N. on Earth before it was dissolved."  Graceful exposition there, guys; no way Lyta doesn't already know these things.  But hey, so be it; it's clunky, but fuck, man, it's just nineties teevee.

"One last thing, Commander," Lyta says before she goes to her quarters.  (Do you sense more exposition?  Maybe YOU are a telepath.)  "Why is it called Babylon 5?"

Sinclair tells her that Babylons 1-3 were sabotaged and destroyed during construction.

Babylon 4 vanished without a trace twenty-four hours after becoming operational.





"Swell," deadpans Lyta.

Cut to a briefing in Sinclair's office.  He's meeting with Takashima, Gaibaldi, and the station's medical officer, Dr. Benjamin Kyle.




They are discussing the impending arrival of the station's final ambassador: Kosh, the representative of the Vorlon government.  Takashima says that the Vorlon ship is currently out of communication, but based on her previous conversation with Kosh, it should arrive in about forty-eight hours.  Sinclair shows some life, and asks her if she spoke to Kosh via audio or video; audio only, she says, clearly disappointing Sinclair.

He asks Garibaldi for a security analysis.  Garibaldi says it's inconclusive; to this day, no human has ever seen a Vorlon, so he really can't analyze much of anything.





"What about medical?" Sinclair asks Kyle.




Same: no info available, really.  The atmospherics team is still setting Kosh's quarters up; the mix he will require is "pretty thick stuff; high level of methane, sulfur, CO2."  Sinclair seems frustrated, but undaunted; he says when Kosh arrives, they'll have all their ambassadors in place, so "let's not mess it up now."

Cut to the outside of the station, where a small craft of some sort emerges from beneath the shadow of a larger ship (the Narn supply ship, although I don't think we are necessarily supposed to know that).

The smaller ship flies toward the station, and latches itself onto the hull like a tick on a hound.





Let's talk about the CGI effects for a bit.

They's pretty bad, y'all; they's pretty bad.  But so what?  This was freaking 1993, after all; this pilot episode aired several months prior to Jurassic Park's debut ushered in the dawn of the CGI era.  There had been CGI in movies prior to that, of course, ranging from the great (The Abyss, Terminator 2) to the tacky (The Lawnmower Man).

These are like The Lawnmower Man on a budget, but I'd argue that even in 2018 they DO still function; they tell the story, which is what they were designed to do.  And for 1993, they're ambitious as hell; they look vastly better than the titular monsters in the television miniseries The Langoliers, and that was in 1995.  So on a television budget -- especially the budget Babylon 5 had -- these are cutting-edge animation effects.  They are iffy by today's standards; but judging them by today's standards is itself iffy, so let's not do that.

Cut back to inside the station, where Sinclair is walking down a hallway.  He gets a call on his space watch, which is definitely not a flip phone or a chest pendant.




No, it's not actually called a space watch.  Anyways, it'll look different by the next episode, so don't worry about it too much.

He's received a message that Ambassador Delenn (of the Minbari Federation) has asked to see him; she is in the garden.  Wherever that is, it's seemingly in a different section of the station altogether, so Sinclair hops onboard the el train and goes there, affording us a view of the interior of the station:







It's a moving (meaning "in motion") effects shot, so getting a non-blurry screencap was not all that possible.  Still, I appreciate the fact that a show would even consider trying a shot like this in 1993.  (There's a very cool and MUCH more convincing effect in the recently-aired third season of The Expanse, by the way.  You should be watching that series.  Trust me.)

We see a clearer shot of it once Sinclair arrives at the garden:




It suffers from not being in high-definition, but otherwise, that's a solid effects shot.

Sinclair greets Delenn, and tells her he's seen her in the garden before; almost every other day.




He begins to ask her (I presume) why she is drawn to this place, but she interrupts him.
 




"Notice," she says, "the waves, each moving in its own order; predictable, unchanging.




But drop in a single stone, and see how the pattern changes.  Everything around it is altered.

This is from your world?"

Sinclair confirms that that is so.  "It's a Japanese stone garden," he says, smiling.  He explains that since space on the station is at a premium due to hydroponics and oxygen reclamation, setting aside a spot for the garden up was tough.  "The designers called it a pool for Zen skinny-dipping: all you do is think about doing it."




Delenn says she is glad the garden is here; on her homeworld, there are thousands of books that speak to the idea of one mind changing the universe, but none of them say it so clearly as this.

She goes on to say that she is looking forward to meeting a Vorlon for the first time, and the two of them talk about how Earth knows basically nothing about Kosh and his people.  The Minbari know perhaps a bit more than that; Delenn unexpectedly offers Sinclair a copy of her own government's files on the Vorlons.  Sinclair is gratified, but confused as to why she is being so forthcoming.  He points out that while the war between humans and the Minbari has been over for ten years, there are still people on both sides who would hang the two of them for this kind of information-sharing.

"Commander," she replies, "you know everything about your stone garden, but clearly you have not spent nearly enough time looking at it."  She wishes him a good day and departs, and in her passing, "night" falls on Babylon 5.







This is a rather lovely little scene.  Michael O'Hare is actually pretty good here; interacting with Delenn often brings that out of him.

Delenn is played by Mira Furlan, whom you might know from playing Danielle Rousseau on Lost.  Her performance is a little bit off here in comparison to what she would do as the series progressed -- she, like Katsulas, is one of the show's undeniable MVPs -- but she is still pretty good.  Her work draws one in, makes one wish immediately to know more about who she is, what her agenda is, and so forth.

All in due time.

A note on her makeup: the original intent behind Delenn was for Minbari to be androgynous.  The production experimented with dubbing Furlan's voice with a male actor's to try and play up the androgyny; this did not survive into the final cut.  (Although that said, I've read a few sources that say it DID make it into the final cut, and I myself have a vague memory of that being the case.  I don't trust it, but I do have it.  So this makes me wonder: is this version I'm reviewing actually some hybrid intermediary edit?  It almost certainly comes from the VHS release, so that's a possibility; the broadcast version might have had some differences that got replaced for that initial home-video release.  Fascinating!)

Cut to command-and-control, where a bunch of lights are flashing and alarms are going off and shit like that.  Takashima asks W the F is going on (no, not literally), and a crewman tells her that a jump-point is activating.  But, like, there's no traffic scheduled to come through any time soon, except...














Takashima says, "Damn, that's a Vorlon ship, all right!"  She's not wrong.

Spoiler alert: I love the Vorlons.  Their ships are righteous, and for my money, these effects hold up.

Cut to that douche-looking guy (Del Varner is his name) from way earlier, the one Londo's voice-over says is here on a mission of destruction.  He's letting a visitor into his quarters.  "About time," Varner says, and as the door closes, there's the sound of a weapon of some sort being fired.

After talking about the impending arrival of Kosh (who is a couple of hours away) with Takashima and Garibaldi, Sinclair takes a private call in his quarters.





It's the Commander's girlfriend, Carolyn Sykes, who is arriving unexpectedly; he's clearly glad to see her, though, so that's fine.  She's bringing Carnalian bedsheets, which are supposedly completely frictionless.  Yay...?

Elsewhere in the station, G'Kar approaches Takashima and tells her the Narn ship will be submitting to the weapons search after all.  What with the Vorlon ship having arrived and all, it hardly seems like the time for petty squabbles, so search away.  Takashima asks him if he's feeling well; never better, he says.  Nothing fishy about that, right?

Cut to the casino, where Garibaldi is following through on an assignment Sinclair gave him earlier: find Londo, the ambassador for the Centauri Republic, so he can be present with the other ambassadors for Kosh's arrival.





Londo isn't super happy about it.  He's a party man, you see; a good-time fella, drawn primarily to gambling and drinking and (one assumes) pussy-hounding.

Londo is played by Peter Jurasik, who is yet another of the indisputable MVPs of this series.  He is a bit much in this pilot movie, though.  That's not to say that his performance is bad, or inconsistent with what he does later; it's not, and it isn't.  It's just that Londo is a bit like Neelix on Star Trek: Voyager in that he's purposefully off-putting.  (McMolo has just stopped reading.  Sorry, McMolo!)  Not AS annoying as Neelix, I would argue; but annoyance is a highly personal and subjective thing, so who can say?  Certainly the hair was a stumbling block for many a prospective viewer, who took one look at this fucker and said, "Nope, I'd be embarrassed to ever be observed watching this shit," and decided not to risk it.

The hair is there to stay, too.  The idea is that it is a Centauri status symbol; the bigger and grander your hair, the more powerful and influential a man you are.  Women?  Bald, every single one, although that is not necessarily the mark of dishonor you might assume.  As the series progresses, the filmmakers will rely on viewers to understand on sight what the Centauri hair means to the individual wearing it; the series puts this reliance on its viewers to good use in later seasons.

Londo loses money a couple of times while Garibaldi is trying to convince him to join the ambassadorial party, and he laments the fact that he'd allllmoooost perfected his new gambling system.  He's overheard by Del Varner, who seems interested in the system, wondering if it's a sure thing.  Londo, sensing a prime sucker-fleecing opportunity at hand, joins Varner at his table.

Elsewhere on the station, Lyta is at work, sitting in on a business transaction between a guy who wants some stuff delivered and another guy who wants to deliver it.  Guy #2 is kind of lying about how soon he can make it happen, and Lyta calls him out on it; the guy says okay, sure, he can get it there quicker, but only by cutting his own profits in half.  Guy #1 shrugs a that's-your-problem shrug, and the deal is concluded, not entirely to Guy #2's satisfaction.






Guy #2 has some harsh parting words, and Lyta seems like she's heard this kind of thing before.  She is soon thereafter approached by G'Kar, who has some words she ain't never heard before: a proposition that she partner with him for the purpose of having some half-Narn babies with telepathic abilities.  See, the Narn people have no telepaths of their own and are therefore at a tactical disadvantage compared to the other major races, and gosh it'd be swell if they could fix that.  Cloning is an option, but it's a trickier and more involved process, so her payment would be proportionally smaller.  A direct mating would be the more cost-effective method.

"Now," G'Kar asks, "would you prefer to be conscious or unconscious during the mating?  I would prefer conscious, but I don't know what your . . . pleasure threshold . . . is."






Katsulas is great in this scene, and Tallman is pretty great her own self.

The scene would seem to be mostly unrelated to anything else in the episode; you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a bit of fluff designed to (a) make people laugh and (b) serve as fanfic bait for sci-fi fans.  (It's also kind of red herring for an upcoming subplot, I suppose I should admit.)

Here's the thing about Babylon 5, though.  Whatever else one may say about it, one must also say that Straczynski was playing the long game.  There are things in this pilot episode that go nowhere, vanishing like bad ideas and never appearing again; and then there are things that seem like they will never appear again, but might well pop up four seasons later, having been there lurking in the background all the while.  There's more of that going on here than you might think, too; some of it is trivial and some of it is very much NOT trivial, and which (if either one) this particular scene is, I shall not say.

Cut to the command center, where Takashima is supervising the docking of the Vorlon ship.





Takashima informs Sinclair that Kosh has arrived, and he says he is on his way to the docking bay.  En route, his elevator stops between floors due to an unexpected power loss.  Time delay: a coupla minutes.

In the docking bay, the door to the airlock between ship and station opens, giving us our first look at Kosh:







I honestly don't know if the Vorlon-environment-suit design is cool as fuck or cheesy as hell.  It's probably both, which seems like a contradiction but probably isn't if you're a fan of sci-fi television.  I'll say this for sure: the way Kosh's suit is filmed in this pilot is unfortunate at times.  There's one shot where you see Kosh "walking" down the ramp; it's clearly a suit propped on a cart that is being wheeled down the ramp by some grips.  Then, as Kosh is looking around and wondering why nobody is there to greet him, the suit looks like the sort of thing that would be propped on a coat rack during a Halloween party in an elementary school.

But hey, it's a pilot; they were figuring it out as they went.

Speaking of figuring things out, Sinclair and Garibaldi arrive at the docking bay, and when they go inside they figure out they are in deep shit: Kosh is laying in the floor, unconscious (and looking like a really cheap prop, too):




Commercial break.

When we come back, we are in the medlab, where Dr. Kyle is sciencing.






Takashima comes in and says she's heard from the Vorlon High Command.  They have instructed her that, for security reasons, the ambassador's environment suit is not to be removed, PERIOD.  "That's insane!" objects Kyle.




Dr. Kyle is played by Johnny Sekka, a British guy who originally hailed from Senegal.  I like him; he's got a very distinctive way of speaking (you can tell he wasn't born in England, but he sounds as if he is trying to be the most British-sounding dude you ever met ... and it's kind of working).  He's not really like anyone else who'd ever been in a sci-fi show in this capacity.  Nobody I'm aware of, at least.

Sinclair pinpoints the problem the Vorlons have; they don't want anyone seeing what they look like under those encounter suits.  (Spoiler alert: he's not wrong.)  They all look like the contents of Marsellus Wallace's briefcase, I bet.

"They'd rather let him die?" Kyle objects.  Takashima affirms that that is indeed the case.  Sinclair says nope, not happening; Kyle is bound by an oath of confidentiality, which is good enough for him, so her orders that all recording cease, and tells Kyle to do what he's got to do.  Takashima is very flustered by this.




I don't blame her.

She tells Sinclair about a conversation she and Kyle had the other day, where he mentioned a legend about a human once having seen a Vorlon.  He turned to stone.






"It's probably just a legend," Takashima says, unconvincingly.  "Probably," replies Sinclair forlornly.

Cut to later, in his office, where Sinclair is talking to a Senator from Earth about the Kosh situation, informing him that the Vorlorn might still die.





The Senator says he hopes not, because the Vorlons find it reaaaaaaal suspicious that Kosh was out of his suit for less than a minute before getting ill.  The Senator wants to know who's handling the investigation; Sinclair says Garibaldi, his chief of security.

"Is that wise?" the Senator asks.  He opposed Garibaldi's hiring, anyways; the guy has been bounced from place to place.  Little does he know Garibaldi is sitting right there the whole time.




Sinclair says Garibaldi has his full confidence; and that's the end of that conversation. 

Garibaldi is played by Jerry Doyle, who, like entirely too many Babylon 5 cast members, is no longer among the living.  He always reminded me of a bargain-bin Bruce Willis, but don't anyone take that as a knock against him; Doyle is really good throughout his run on the series, and he's good in this movie, especially in this brief scene.  I find it hard to fathom somebody liking Babylon 5 and not loving Garibaldi.

Sinclair tells Garibaldi he's giving him full diplomatic access for his investigation; that's cool with Garibaldi, who tells him he's going to begin by questioning Londo.  See, the Centauri ambassador was supposed to meet them at the docking bay for Kosh's arrival, but he never made it.  That's kinda fishy, eh?

Cut to Sinclair entering his quarters.  He's been up for thirty-six hours, and needs sleep; shit's probably gonna be gettin' real pretty soon, so rest is essential while it is possible.  Alas, Carolyn is there (presumably with her frictionless bedsheets), so rest appears not to be in the cards for ol' Jeff Sinclair.  "This isn't a good time," he says gently.

"I know.  Let me make it better," replies Carolyn.  They kiss and presumably make space whoopee.

Cut to medlab, where Dr. Kyle has NOT turned to stone, but does look rather troubled.




He's been reviewing the computer's analysis of Kosh's condition.  Prognosis: terminal.

He calls Sinclair, who is sleeping the sleep that comes of having delivered a deep dicking.  Kyle gives him the bad news, and says that the evidence points toward poison.  No idea what kind; even for an alien, "this one is pretty alien."  If they knew where to begin looking, maybe something might be possible, but as is...?  Not much to be done.




Sinclair calls security and tells them there is evidence of an assassination attempt; therefore, according to the Earth Alliance regulations, he's shutting down the station.  Nobody comes or goes until the investigation is complete.

Cut to Delenn's quarters, where G'Kar is trying to talk her into believing that Londo must be the responsible party.  G'Kar is trying to leverage this incident to forge an alliance between the Narn and the Minbari.  "We have unlimited manpower and the will to use it," he boasts.  "Can you imagine what we could achieve together?"




"I can," replies Delenn, "which is why it must never be allowed to happen."

She continues, and it's pretty good stuff, so I'll just transcribe it:

"Your perceptions are colored by your history with the Centauri," points out Delenn: "as former slaves of that government, you would seize any opportunity to raise a force against them."

"We were never slaves," G'Kar protests, less in anger than in prideful indignance; "our world was invaded, our people..."

"The word was ill-chosen.  My apologies; but my decision stands.  Thank you for coming, Ambassador."

Now the anger comes out of G'Kar.  He screams a wordless scream of fury.  "I should have known better than to waste my time!  You're even worse than the Centauri; they're beyond the dream of conquest!  But you...!  You had the Earth Alliance on its knees; one more stroke and you would have defeated them!  But you surrendered.  Why?!?"

"We had our reasons," Delenn answers, in the tone one might take in explaining to a cat why you waited so long to feed it.

G'Kar now launches into a diatribe about a rumor told on the Narn homeworld: that the decision to surrender came from the Minbari "Grey Council," a group of, as he calls them, weak and frightened old men.  He has his back turned to Delenn while saying this, and does not see her open a hidden panel in her wall; there is an array of differently-colored rings on pegs.  She removes one, slips it onto her finger.




She holds her hand out when he turns to face her again, and he begins gasping for air as though he's displeased Lord Vader.  "You are being held by a force of two gravities," Delenn tells him.  "Six would turn your ribs to jelly and explode your heart."  She demands that he never again speak of the Grey Council in her presence.

She ups the force to three; to four; to five...




G'Kar never screams (despite how that screencap makes it appear); never begs for mercy.  Delenn relinquishes and suggests that he leave now.

"Oh, Delenn," breathes G'Kar.  "I gave you a chance for greatness and you threw it away.  Whatever happens now, let it be on your own head."




These Minbari power rings will never, ever be seen again; it's a pretty great little scene on its own accord, but for the fan who is familiar with the entire series it -- like several things in "The Gathering" -- stands out like a first-draft sore thumb.

Cut to the Zocalo -- it's basically like a grimier version of the Promenade on Deep Space Nine -- where Garibaldi questioning Londo.  He's doing so in front of a bartender who appears to be a remote-controlled gorilla, and no, I'm not making that up.




You will never, ever see that gorilla bartender again.  But when I am someday given a billion dollars and a greenlight to reboot this series...?  You're gonna see that gorilla bartender a lot.

Garibaldi wants to know where Londo was during the time of Kosh's arrival.  Londo says he was at the gambling table.  He name-drops Del Varner as an alibi, and points Varner out to the security chief.  He says the new telepath, Lyta Alexander, can vouch for this, too; she talked to Varner shortly thereafter.
  
"If I knew who did it, I would tell you," says Londo; "I'm not here to make trouble.

Do you know why I am here?  I'm here to grovel before your wonderful Earth Alliance in the hopes of attaching ourselves to your destiny."  Like fish (remora) that attach themselves to sharks.  (Unclear how he knows so much about Earth fish, but sure, whatever.)

"You make very good sharks, Mister Garibaldi!  We were pretty good sharks ourselves once, but somehow, along the way, we forget how to bite.  There was a time when this whole quadrant belonged to us!  What are we now?  Twelve worlds and a thousand monuments to past glories, living off memories and stories; selling trinkets.  My God, man, we've become a tourist attraction!  See the great Centauri Republic!  Open nine to five . . . Earth time."




"Anything else?" Londo asks. 




Garibaldi says no, and his questioning of Londo is seemingly at an end.

Takashima and Kyle are having a conversation elsewhere, in her quarters.  He suggests asking the new telepath to scan Kosh's mind to try to find out who tried to kill him.  Takashima is aghast at the suggestion, but ends up agreeing to go along with it; only the two of them will know, so that if things go sideways, it will be on their heads alone.

Tamlyn Tomita is incredibly bad in this scene.  A couple of her line readings are so piss-poor that you almost can't make sense out of what she's said.  For example, at one point she says a sentence beginning with the phrase "If you wanted a promotion."  It's in reference to her former tenure on Mars Colony.  She inserts a verbal comma between "wanted" and "a promotion" and causes the sentence to read in the same manner as if she were saying something like "If you wanted, we could go to the grocery store later."  Just utterly inept.  And she does something else similar a few sentences later!




Cut to medlab, where Lyta says, simply, "No."




Less simply, she asks Takashima and Kyle if they know what the penalty is for unauthorized mindscans; she could be thrown out of the Psi Corps!

Takashima points out that if Kosh dies, the Vorlons will retaliate, and likely against Babylon 5 itself; thousands will die.  Heck, if she were them, she'd have a warship parked in hyperspace just waiting for the word go.  Does Lyta want that to happen?




Even telepaths can be suckers, and Lyta falls for it.  She says that when she's "inside," it will be a subjective experience; she'll feel what Kosh felt, but she will see herself in his place.  It could get rough.

She begins trying to make mental contact, and protests that she can't see Kosh through the encounter suit.  "Trust me, it's better that way," says Kyle in a haunted voice.  "Just do what you can."  So Lyta begins moving her hands around, like she's trying to make a connection.  The aperture that opened for Kyle earlier (and apparently had xenon bulbs or whatever inside it) begins opening again, but it's no good; Lyta says she can't get through at all, the environment suit must be shielded.

"Is there any way to intensify contact?" Kyle asks.




There is: direct physical contact.  Lyta sounds reluctant, but she takes off one of her gloves, begins moving her hand over the suit again; the aperture opens wider, and she reaches with her bare hand into the suit, to touch Kosh.
  
  

  
  
It works.
  
Lyta begins seeing what happened to Kosh.  (I guess his memory was just queued up to that scene.)  It is indistinct at first, but soon becomes clearer:
  
  






  
  
Lyta begins screaming, and staggers out of the isolation chamber.  Kyle begins trying to help her, and they ask her if she saw anything useful.
  
  
  
  
Poison, she says; in a skin tab.
  
"Who did it?" asks Takashima.  "Who poisoned the ambassador?!?"  Almost as if she is waiting on the assassin to walk through the door so Lyta can point at him and say "He did it!"
  
  




  
  
"He did it!" spits Lyta, pointing out Sinclair, who's conveniently just walked in.
  
Commercial break, obviously.  When we come back, we're outside the station, where a team of maintenance drones are scanning the station.  The small vessel that latched onto the hull earlier destroys one of them when it gets too close.

Back inside, Del Varner follows a maintenance tech into an elevator.  The tech seems to recognize him and (re)introduces himself; as the elevator doors close, there is the sound of a weapon of some sort being fired.  When the doors open again, only the tech walks out.
  
In Sinclair's office, he meets with his senior officers and advises them that an important communique from Earth Central is coming through.  
  
  
  

They've found out that "a witness" has come forward and identified Sinclair as the would-be assassin; they've also been in contact with the Vorlon government, and the end result of all of this is that Sinclair will no longer be involved with the investigation.  The advisory council will be meeting soon to figure out where things should go from there; Takashima will replace Sinclair as Earth's representative.
  
We jump forward a bit in time then to the advisory-council meeting, which plays out rather like a trial, with G'Kar filling the role of prosecutor.  
  

   

  
G'Kar asks Kyle why the station's records show no sign of a power failure in the elevator Sinclair was supposedly stuck in; Kyle has no idea.  Delenn asks who the witness who identified Sinclair is; Kyle says the witness has asked to remain anonymous.  Londo has no questions.
  
G'Kar has a killer final question for Kyle: what type of poison was used in the assassination attempt?  Kyle has no choice but to answer: fluorazine, a rare poison which comes from only one system -- the Damocles sector, which just so happens to be the location of a trading expedition Carolyn (Sinclair's "woman," as G'Kar points out with relish) recently returned from.
  
No further questions.
  
Cut to a brief montage in the Zocalo, where Londo, clearly rattled by everything that is going on, is attempting to drown his sorrows.  G'Kar approaches him and says, smugly, that he wishes to discuss Londo's vote with him.
  
  
  
  
Meanwhile, Sinclair is conferring with Garibaldi, who says he doesn't trust Lyta's version of events; in fact, he doesn't trust telepaths at all -- never has, never will.  He's been investigating Del Varner, the guy who Londo says kept him from being present for Kosh's arrival; Varner has been seen with Lyta, and it turns out that Varner has a rather lengthy criminal record.  Sinclair suggests Garibaldi have a little talk with Mr. Varner.
  
Sinclair is then called back to the council, which is reconvening.  G'Kar makes a motion: that Sinclair be remanded into the custody of the Vorlon Empire for trial on their homeworld.  He puts the matter to a vote; he, of course, votes yes.
  
Takashima votes no; Delenn abstains; Londo votes yes.  The vote is a deadlock!
  
Except it isn't, says G'Kar.  He's reached out to the Vorlon government, and they vote yes.  
  
Elsewhere, Garibaldi is trying to obtain access to Del Varner's quarters, but nobody inside is answering, so he uses his security clearance to go on in.  He finds Varner's dead body.
  
In Medlab, Kyle begins looking into the time and manner of Varner's death.  He also tells Sinclair and Garibaldi that he's figured out what type of antidote Kosh needs; he doesn't have any, but he's got something that is close, and he's in the process of altering its molecular structure so it will save the ambassador's life.  But time is running out; it's going to be a close call at best.
  
Afterward, Sinclair and Garibaldi take a walk, and the security officer says that maybe somebody else really should have his job.  Sinclair gives him a pep talk, and this is by far one of Michael O'Hare's worst scenes.  Take a look, and watch out for the little arm movement he makes when he says, "Sometimes, you're a pain in the ass."
  
  
  
  


Holy gee, that's pretty terrible.  So how come I like the scene?  Some form of sci-fi Stockholm syndrome, I assume.
  
Other stuff happens: Takashima is informed a maintenance bot has gone missing, and she orders the techs to find out what happened to it; G'Kar is lurking in the alien sector, and meets with Lyta ("There's been a complication," he tells her); Londo meets Garibaldi in the casino and apologizes to him for his vote, saying that he only went along with G'Kar because he found evidence of atrocities committed by his grandfather during the occupation of Narn, and was threatening to make it public.  Londo agreed to vote yes only to spare his family that scandal; and anyways, he had no idea his vote would actually matter.  Garibaldi asks if he would have voted differently if he had known; Londo regretfully admits that he would not have.


Garibaldi never actually touches his drink.  Huh; wonder if that tiny detail might be important as the series progresses...

  
In somewhat awkward fashion, we cut to Sinclair's quarters, where he and Carolyn are having a conversation about his service during the war with the Minbari.  Turns out he was at The Line, a crucial battle that more or less ended the war.





Carolyn has found the medal and doesn't understand why Sinclair never told her about it.  He didn't want to talk to anyone about it.

"I was squad team-leader when the call came in," he says.  "We all knew it was a suicide mission; the Minbari had broken through, closing in.  Every ship we had left was ordered to circle Earth; we had to stop them ... no matter what it cost.  They came at us out of nowhere; we never had a chance.  The sky was full of stars, and every star an exploding ship; one of ours.  My team was blown out of the sky in less than a minute: twelve ships.  I managed to take out a fighter before they hit my stabilizers.
  





I was losing power, I'd lost my team ... and I figured if I was going to die I'd take some of them with me.  So I targeted one of their heavy cruisers, hit my afterburners.  I was going to ram them head-on.  The last thing I remember is hurtling toward that cruiser, filling my screen: big ... my God, so big!  Then something passed in front of my eyes.  I guess I passed out from the acceleration.  When I came to twenty-four hours later, the cruiser was gone.  I checked in; they told me the war was over.

The Minbari had surrendered."

"Because of the Line!" Carolyn enthuses.

"No," Sinclair insists.  "We were beaten. We didn't stop them, they stopped themselves.  And I wish to hell I knew why."




Cut to Medlab, where:


Lyta walks in, saying in a less-than-friendly tone that she thought she'd stop by to see how Kosh was doing.  Kyle is distracted; he's just completed the autopsy on Del Varner, who has been dead for long enough that it makes no sense that either Lyta or Garibaldi would have seen him in the casino.

Kyle does not notice that Lyta is going around and turning off all the med systems, presumably in an attempt to reverse Kosh's improving condition.  Kyle notices finally and asks her angrily what she's doing.  She whoops his damn ass, and then retreats (receiving a nasty burn from a medical laser apparatus Kyle fires at her on her way out the door).

Outside, she runs into ... another Lyta?!?

She literally hisses in fury.


She starts to fire on the second Lyta -- who, of course, is actually the real Lyta -- but Sinclair shows up and stops her.  She beats a hasty retreat into the bowels of the station.  Kyle tells Sinclair he's pretty sure he got to Kosh in time; there has been no additional damage.  Elsewhere, we see "Lyta" collapse against a wall; she screams, and her face distorts into ... something.

Later, Sinclair and Garibaldi investigate the wreckage of the small craft that was previously shown to have latched onto the hull of the station.  It's been destroyed, and the wreckage brought inside for analysis.  (For some reason, this is conducted in what appears to be a hallway.  Ah, budget limitations!)  It's a one-person transport vessel whose passenger seemingly used it to burn their way through the hull and obtain access to the station without being registered.  Sinclair says it's a short-range transport; a larger ship had to bring it here, meaning it's likely that whoever was inside has support of some kind on the station.

Takashima calls and says the two of them had better come to Del Varner's quarters.  They do, and she tells them what she's discovered: that Varner had obtained a "changeling net," a dangerous piece of technology that can be used to make one person look like another.  This, she presumes, is who Kosh saw; not Sinclair, but somebody using a changeling net to appear to be him.

Allow me to interject.  This is a somewhat silly idea.  I can buy the notion that a race of shape-shifters could exist, and I can buy the notion that a piece of technology could cause one to look a bit like someone else, or maybe even sound like them.  I'm not sure I believe a piece of technology could effectively render one into a shape-shifter, however.  What if you're not the same height as the person you're doubling?  How would it know what clothes would be natural for the person you're doubling to wear?  Does it also change the voice?  Give the user some special knowledge of how to say the right things to avoid detection?

I am inclined to forgive it all, because hey, sci-fi show; comes with the territory.  But it is silly.

Anyways, changeling nets put off a specific and powerful type of energy, so Sinclair realizes that the station's sensors can be set to scan for it.  So get to scanning, you all!

They do, and locate what they're looking for pretty quickly.  Sinclair and Garibaldi put on riot suits, grab (silly-looking) laser rifles (they're actually called PPGs, for "phased plasma gun"), take a drone recorder with them, and rush into action to apprehend the real assassin.





They'd better hurry; the jumpgate just opened, and a bunch of Vorlon ships came through it ... escorted by a much, much larger one.


    


The Vorlon captain (so we and Takashima are told, at least; we never hear it for ourselves) is demanding that Sinclair be turned over.  Hey, I've got a question: earlier, when Kosh's ship came through the jumpgate, it took him several hours to reach the station.  How come these new Vorlon ships seemingly get there right at once?  I believe they may literally have arrived there through the plot hole.  (Don't come at me on this.  I'll grant you there are reasons it could make sense.  For one, there might be multiple jumpgates in the relative vicinity; these ships might have come through a different, closer one than the one Kosh used.  Or they may simply be going faster; Kosh, earlier, might have been pulling the Vorlon equivalent of a Sunday-afternoon-drive.  Or maybe Sinclair and Garibaldi have been adventuring in the bowels of the station for longer than it seems.  ANY of those options COULD be the case.  But otherwise, this is convenient plot-enabling bullshit.  Which, to be clear, I don't mind all that much; just wanted to point it out so you were aware of the fact that I'm more than willing to point out this show's flaws.  That way, maybe when I praise its [many] virtues, it's more persuasive.)

Anyways, them Vorlons is pissed, boy.  They (entirely off-camera) tell the station to hand over Sinclair in five minutes or they will open fire.  Takashima -- in some more bits of truly bargain-bin-level acting from Tamlyn Tomita -- literally tells them to get stuffed.  More usefully, she orders the feed from the drone recorder to be broadcast to all ships in the area; she's hoping that Sinclair's pursuit of the actual would-be killer will be enticing enough to get the Vorlons to back off a bit.

Below decks, Garibaldi has been shot; he's not badly hurt, just stunned and temporarily out of commission, so Sinclair goes it alone.





He's attacked hand-to-hand style by the wielder of the changeling net (whose gun must be dead, I guess).  The baddie cycles through his various disguises -- maintenance tech, Del Varner, Lyta Alexander, Jeffrey Sinclair -- in a series of screencap-resistant (but fairly effective) 1993-style morphs.  Sinclair has had enough of this shit and flings the baddie into what I assume to be an open power junction of some sort.  (The B5 equivalent of OSHA ought to have some words with Sinclair about why there are open power junctions one could literally stumble into.)




This shorts out the changeling net and reveals the true person who's been using it: a Minbari.  Sinclair is shocked by this.  Not the same way the Minbari baddie is shocked, though; didn't mean that as a cheap joke. 

Outside, the Vorlons are powering up what appear to be pretty badass weapons.






Back inside, the Minbari assassin is thrown across the room by the power overload.  He (?) lies on the floor, stunned.  Sinclair asks, "Why?  Why did you do it?"

"There is a hole in your mind," the Minbari replies.  He twists his wrist in an unnatural manner, which seemingly sets off some sort of chain reaction.  Sinclair recognizes it for what it is: a suicide bomb hidden inside the Minbari's body.  He orders Takashima to seal off the section and bolts for safety, barely making it in time before the explosion, which rips a hole out into space.




This sets off a sequence in which the station's rotation begins to degrade, which would cause it to tear itself apart if uncorrected.  So they correct it and re-establish their proper position.  The day has been saved.  Sinclair meets up with Garibaldi, who -- somewhat unexpectedly -- is accompanied by Delenn.  She asks Sinclair, in rather tender tones, if he needs anything; he says he needs coffee, two sugars, and aspirin.

After a commercial break, we enter the wrapup phase of the episode.  Carolyn takes her leave of the station, after halfheartedly trying to talk Sinclair into quitting his job and going with her; Kyle says Kosh is expected to make a full recovery.




Delenn apologizes to Sinclair for the fact that a Minbari was at the root of this crisis, and tells him that after examining the footage from the recorder, she recognized the assassin's markings as those of her world's warrior caste.  She's reached out to her sources and has obtained a complete record of the assassin's recent travels; she says Sinclair will find them to be most interesting, and gives him another file.

Some time later, G'Kar enters Sinclair's quarters.  The commander proposes a toast before the reception (which will be the long-delayed welcoming of Kosh to service on the station).




G'Kar is a little confused, but sure, why not?

"To a fully operational Babylon 5," Sinclair proposes.

"To the future," G'Kar counters, and they both drink.  G'Kar expresses his relief that the Vorlons dropped all charges; Sinclair tells him about the Minbari assassin being a member of a warrior caste that split off from the government after the war with Earth.  G'Kar asks if they've found out anything else, and Sinclair says yep, sure have: they've found out that the Minbari had recently been in the Tigris sector.  Funny; wasn't that where the Narn supply ship had just been?

G'Kar, who now knows what's up with this little meeting, becomes indignant.  But it doesn't last long; Sinclair lays out the entire plot, but G'Kar just smiles, says he has no proof, and takes another sip of his drink.

Sinclair smiles right back and agrees; he has no proof.  What he does have is nanotechnology, such as the tiny device G'Kar just swallowed.  Nothing harmful; just a location tracker, the frequency of which is held by members of Sinclair's own warrior caste back on Earth.  It'll probably dissolve on its own in about five years, but before then, if anything should happen to Sinclair...?  Bad news for G'Kar.  Sinclair holds a device up, points it at G'Kar, presses it; a light flashes and a beep beeps.  G'Kar is startled, outraged; but also defeated, at least for the time being.

He storms out, tries to get in an elevator, and is temporarily unable to do so: Garibaldi and Londo are exiting it.  Garibaldi looks at him, points a finger-gun and says "beep-beep" as he passes.  Good stuff.  "It must be Earth humor," a confused Londo says to a flustered G'Kar.  "Who can figure a species like that?"

Garibaldi and Sinclair have an amusing little conversation, the content of which I'm disinclined to summarize.




After that, we cut to the reception, where Kosh is formally welcomed to the station by Sinclair.  Kosh doesn't say a word, but gives a sort of aw-shucks-guys nod of his head (it's pretty awful).

Cut to the garden, where it is once again night on Babylon 5.




"You left the reception," says Delenn, who has obviously noticed Sinclair's absence and intuited his location.




Sinclair is disturbed.  He tells Delenn what the Minbari warrior said to him: "there is a hole in your mind."  Delenn, who appears rattled by this and whose next statement is obviously a lie, tells him that it is an old Minbari insult; nothing for him to worry about.  Maybe, Sinclair agrees; but there is a twenty-four-hour period of his life -- from the war, specifically -- that he has cannot remember.

Sinclair asks her if she's holding anything out on him.




Delenn replies, "Commander, I would never tell you anything that was not in your best interest."




"Well," replies Sinclair, "we'll talk about this again one of these days."  But his demeanor remains friendly, and the two of them return to the reception together.

Music begins; we cut to an outside view of the command center.  Babylon 5, we hear Takashima say, is open for business.

End episode.

Watching this again after having not seen it in probably a decade and a half, I'd say it both does and doesn't hold up; it's not as ragged as I was expecting, but it definitely shows its age, and that's an understatement.  If you're the type of television viewer who has no ability to put on 1993-tinted glasses and watch with an eye not biased by unrealistic expectations, I'd suggest you not even consider watching Babylon 5.  If you DO own such a pair of mental glasses, and are also a fan of sci-fi television, I think you'll probably get a lot out of it.

That said, as I mentioned earlier, I think you owe it to yourself to skip "The Gathering" (for now) unless you can find a copy of this original broadcast edit to watch.  The special edition is in most ways the superior cut, and by a wide margin.  But there's that one added little bit, man; it just gives away too much.

Which is hopefully a crime I myself did not commit here.  I done m'best, ma!

To celebrate the effort, how about a handful of leftover screencaps:


This little bit comes from the montage that plays beneath Londo's opening monologue.  I'm guessing G'Kar is communicating with some old guy on Narn, or perhaps watching a Narn movie.  It looks like that's an Engineer from Promethues wearing Narn prosthetics!

I didn't mention the score, did I?  It's by Stewart Copeland (formerly of The Police).  It's ... okay.  It's kind of rock-guitar-based in some places, and a little synthy in some places.  Most people seem to dislike it; I think it's ... okay.









Lookit that dude in the shorts!  I swear that was a sandwich-delivery guy who wandered into the shot.  Not really, though.  One of the design aesthetics of this show is that when you see tourists/travelers from Earth, more often than not they look either like they escaped from Blade Runner or from a Walmart.




And that, for now, is that.  It's been a lengthier post than I expected, and also a shallower one.  But I had fun with it, so there's that.

I'm planning to continue writing about this series alongside Deep Space Nine over the next few years.  As mentioned above, I have yet to decide what format that will take.  I want to be a bit more in-depth with Babylon 5 than I'm being with Deep Space Nine, so my inclination is to do posts on each episode.  They'll be nowhere near this long, however; no plot summaries of this nature will be happening again -- I wanted to do this for those hypothetical people who might want to watch the series but were inclined to take my advice and skip "The Gathering" for the time being.

My feeling about how to go about writing episode-by-episode posts would be this: keep them brief, and break them into two distinct sections, one for non-spoiler reactions and one for spoilery discussion that can and will address certain aspects of the episodes within the context of the entire series.  But part of me also wants to avoid that; so I'm kind of tempted to go ahead and write those spoilery sections as I go, but hold them aside for a separate series of posts once our stroll through the series is concluded.

In any case, there's no need to decide on it now.  As I've said, I'm watching this in tandem with Deep Space Nine, and I'm doing so having compiled a master list of when each episode of both series aired.  "The Gathering" aired on February 22, 1993, sandwiched between episodes nine and ten of Deep Space Nine's first season. 

The first actual episode of the first season of Babylon 5 did not air until January 26, 1994, which was between the twelfth and thirteenth episodes of season TWO of Deep Space Nine.  By my calculations, at a one-DS9-episode-per-week pace, that means I won't get to the next B5 episode until approximately mid-October.  So we've got time to figure out the format of this stuff.

If you've got opinions, do feel free to express them and/or make suggestions in the comments below.

Be seeing you!

Oh, and I almost forgot:

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****

2 comments:

  1. I decided to throw something on randomly from my BABYLON 5 files. I landed on "Legend of the Rangers." I liked it - was a little baffled here and there, but hey, that's par for such a course.

    I looked up a little about it just to see what I watched. But not a whole lot. I'll double back round to it once I get to it in production order.

    Looking forward to jumping into this. The decks are actually cleared, and I might do at least the first season before finishing VOY s6.

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    1. I'll give you some really good news about that: "Legend of the Rangers" is by far one of my least favorite B5-related things. I only saw it the once and felt underwhelmed as fuck by it.

      So if you liked that, I suspect it means you're going to like the series itself.

      I'm still planning on tackling B5 alongside Deep Space Nine one week at a time, and they will begin dovetailing in about five more weeks. I'm looking forward to it!

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