Monday, February 18, 2019

Not The One: Babylon 5, ''Babylon Squared'' (season one, episode 20)

Tonight, on an all-new episode: the mysterious reappearance of the vanished Babylon 4 station prompts Sinclair to lead a rescue mission to evacuate the personnel trapped there.

(season one, episode 20)

airdate:  August 10, 1994
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Jim Johnston

I've been looking forward to this episode ever since I began this project.  This is not to say it's one of the best episodes of the series, or even that it's a strong personal favorite; it is neither, though it is certainly an important episode and one that I enjoy.  I've been anticipating it, I think, because it is one of the relatively few first season episodes that takes a big step into the show's ongoing storylines.  Most of the episodes take small steps, and a few take medium-sized ones; but as far as big steps go, it's arguably just "Signs and Portents," "Babylon Squared," and the season finale, "Chrysalis."  Your list of these "big steps" episodes might be more expansive than mine and include things like "And the Sky Full of Stars," "A Voice in the Wilderness," and the like; but mine is a bit more restrictive, meaning that this is not only a big episode, it's one of the few season-one episodes that really matters.

As such, it's definitely a personal favorite among first-season episodes.  But does that mean it is inherently better?  I think it does, but not to that large a degree.  It has some of the same problems that have plagued all of season one: iffy performances and problematic production quality.  The tone is good, though, and the writing is continuing its upward trajectory in confidence.

I'd planned to write a good bit about all of that, but as I was doing my screencaps/notetaking rewatch, an unexpected thing happened: I kept falling asleep.

It's unexpected because this is a thing that rarely happens to me during blogging.  It's not been a great weekend around here, though.  I came home on Thursday night (technically Friday morning) and found both of my cats dead.  Both!  Just laying there, their little kitty souls passed beyond the rim to whatever awaits in the feline afterworld.  They were old cats; I took both in as strays, so I cannot say precisely how old, but Duncan Idaho (named for the character in Dune) was eighteen at minimum and Sheridan (named for a Babylon 5 character we have yet to meet) sixteen.  So while it was a surprise to find them both gone, it was not quite a shock.

A big bummer, though.  Let's not dwell on it.  The point is, I gave it a couple of days of being bummed out and then began doing my best to focus on the positives.  There aren't many of those, but among them is this: my apartment had long been organized in such a manner as to provide numerous cat barriers that would prevent my band of furry assholes -- which once numbered as many as six cats and one dog (!!!!!!!) -- from getting under/behind things.  Cats will cough up hairballs from time to time, and so one does what one can to limit the number of places they can do so.

I mention all that so as to divulge that I spent most of Sunday moving furniture around, transferring books from one place to another, dusting, vacuuming, taking down and rehanging posters (or in some cases creating places for new posters to be hung), and so forth.  I don't do that much housework all in a go very often, so when I sat down to work on "Babylon Squared," I found myself a little too tired to focus on it properly.

No turning back, though; this ship sails forward, and if the end result is that "Babylon Squared" receives short shrift, that's just how it is.  I'm not sure I actually have that much to say about the episode anyways; most of what I'd want to say will get said in future posts about the various episodes where its plot is paid off.  I suppose I could discuss some of that here and now, but I don't see any value in it.

You know what I do see value in?  Checking out some screencaps and then calling it a night.

This scene at the beginning is pretty funny.  Ivanova -- serially NOT a morning person -- is having trouble staying awake in the mess hall.  Sinclair decides to fuck with her a bit, and puts her back to sleep by droning on about his Jesuit upbringing.  Michael O'Hare is pretty great in this scene.

More humor comes in this scene, which involves Sinclair and Garibaldi taking a shuttle to Sector 14 to investigate the reports of Babylon 4's reappearance.  (It vanished without a trace four years ago, you may recall.)  It's a three-hour trip, so Garibaldi tries to fill the time with small talk, such as asking Sinclair the question of whether he fastens his pants and then zips them up or zips them up and then fastens them.  Sinclair is reluctant to answer, but does: fasten then zip.  Jerry Doyle is pretty funny when he smiles, satisfied with the answer because it's his answer, too.  Hey, I'll play along: I, too, am a fasten-then-zip guy.

The b-plot for the episode involves Delenn traveling to a visit with the Grey Council.  She has been summoned there to learn that after a ten-year mourning period for their slain leader, Dukhat, the Council has chosen her to be the new leader of the Minbari people.  She will never return to Babylon 5 and her ambassadorship.

Not so fast, y'all; Delenn refuses the honor, saying that her work observing humans is not yet complete.  They are thought to perhaps be a vital part of ancient Minbari prophecy, savage and unwise though they can at times be.  Delenn speaks passionately for the potential of humanity, and says that determining whether they are truly the people the prophecy spoke of is her heart's calling.  This is a calling no order from the Grey Council can set aside.  This is an unprecedented decision; and it may well cost her her place on the Council.
Delenn is given a device by one of her remaining allies on the council: a "triluminary."  We'll see more of it soon enough.
We learn that Babylon 4 has basically become unstuck in time, and that from the perspective of the people onboard, nowhere near four years have passed.  Luckily, the station had only just become operational, and the support staff and workers onboard numbered only a few thousand.  Nothing like the quarter of a million people residing on Babylon 5.

I like the station's design; it's different enough to be distinctive, but similar enough to clearly be part of the same line.

Major Krantz, the commander of Babylon 4, is shocked to learn it's four years later than he thinks.  He's played by Kent Broadhurst, who might be familiar to Stephen King fans from roles in both Silver Bullet and The Dark Half.  He's not very good here, I am sorry to say.  He seems strung out, so much so that he feels as if he's spent four years (from his perspective) bouncing around in time.  In fact, it's not been that long, so I'm not sure his near-hysteria washes.  Granted, some of it is due to the fact that the people onboard the station are experiencing individualized time-jumps that place them in sometimes harrowing situations for brief periods of time.  This doesn't make a lot of sense, to be honest, and it's seemingly a device to show us a flash-forward to what appears to be Sinclair and Garibaldi defending the station from an invasion sometime down the line.  I like that stuff, so I'm not too down on this as a plot device; but I'm saying it probably doesn't make much sense.

Krantz introduces Sinclair to a prisoner, an alien of unknown origin named Zathras who simply appeared in a flash of light.

Zathras is played by Tim Choate.  Zathras is kind of like Yoda mixed with Jar Jar Binks with a side of Gurgi from The Black Cauldron.  I love Zathras; you may well have a very opposite reaction.

Zathras has a definite reaction to seeing Sinclair.

A mix of surprise and reverence.  He backs down from quickly, though, and sits back down at the table.  "Not The One," he proclaims.  "Not The One."  Sinclair is not whoever Zathras briefly thought he was.

Sinclair and Krantz leave Zathras's holding room to respond to reports of a disturbance outside.  Zathras sees his opportunity to make a break for it.

I've been laughing for years about how shitty the security guards on Babylon 4 are.  What are these two doofuses looking at?


The disturbance is the reappearance of a ghostly figure that has been spotted onboard from time to time.

THIS, as it turns out, is The One; it is The One who Zathras is there to assist.  "We live for The One," he says; "we would die for The One."  Whoever The One is, he's responsible for the theft of Babylon 4.  Yep, that's right: it's a theft.  He and Zathras and whoever else is involved in this rather significant heist have pulled this station (the largest and most powerful of the Babylon stations, we are told) through time to serve as a base of operations for a great war.  Is this in the future?  The past?  Zathras does not know; all Zathras knows is that without Babylon 4, all is lost.  And with The One, Babylon 4 is lost.

Zathras has been fixing The One's time stabilizer, and will, moments after this, deliver it to The One as he winks out of phase again.  Later, as the final evacuations of the station are taking place, Zathras will be injured, trapped beneath a steel girder that falls upon him.  The One shows up out of nowhere to help him.

After which, we find out who The One is.

An older, scarred Sinclair!  "I tried to warn them," he says; "but it all happened just the way I remember it."

An arm reaches out to comfort him.  Delenn's voice speak: "It is time; they are waiting for us."

The first time I saw this, it blew my mind, boy.  Blew it right the fuck away.  Still does, too.

Of course, this plot development raises a number of questions about what is actually going on.  Those questions will be answered, in time; this is not the appropriate time to do so, however.

It's pretty good, though.  I will say that; it's pretty damn good.

As for this episode?

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****

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