Saturday, February 22, 2020

''Babylon 5,'' Season 2

Well, folks, continuing the episode-by-episode looks at Babylon 5 proved to simply be more than I was capable of, time-wise.  So here we are, stuck with a season retrospective.
  
It'll have to do!
  
And without further preamble...
  
  
"Points of Departure"
  
  
(season 2, episode 1)
  
airdate:  November 2, 1994
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Janet Greek
  
About a week after the assassination of President Santiago, Babylon 5 receives a fresh blow when Commander Sinclair's (offscreen) mission to Minbar turns into a permanent reassignment.  He is replaced by Captain John Sheridan, an Earth Force officer known by the Minbari as "Starkiller" for his success against them during the war.  His first day on the new job is marked by strife as a renegade Minbari warship, the Trigati, resurfaces and begins making trouble.
  
  
  
The big news for the season-two debut is that Michael O'Hare -- and Sinclair -- is out and Bruce Boxleither -- as Sheridan -- is in.  Accounts vary as to what exactly prompted O'Hare's departure; conventional wisdom for many years was that O'Hare's stilted performance was blamed for the show's failure to become a hit in its first season, so he was shown the door.
  
J. Michael Straczynski has gone on the record, however, as saying that this was not the case; that instead, O'Hare suffered from serious mental-health issues and asked to be released from his contract after the first season.
  
Whatever the case may be, with the arrival of Boxleitner/Sheridan, the show's true star and protagonist has finally arrived.  Many aspects of the remainder of the Sinclair story would be folded into Sheridan's plotline, so while this episode certainly does mark a pivot point, it doesn't mean that what follows is wholly a compromised version of the originally-intended story.  Some plot threads from the first season go unresolved; many do not, even though they are modified.  So it seems, at least; it's hard to say for sure.
  
In any case, Sheridan is here, and he's not going anywhere, and that, my friends, is that.
  
As a Sinclair fan, that bums me out, but Boxleitner is a more dynamic performer in every way than Michael O'Hare was.  In this debut episode for his character, he's still getting the feel of things.  Sheridan makes an impression; he's confident, hard-edged, slick, charismatic, and maybe even a bit mysterious despite all that.
  
The bulk of the episode involves the Trigati trying to use Babylon 5 to essentially commit suicide by cop.  Sheridan doesn't fall for it; he's no easy mark for such shenanigans.
  
Elsewhere, Delenn is still in her chrysalis, Garibaldi is still in a coma, G'Kar is still away from the station, and Lennier still sucks.  We hear nothing from Londo, or from Talia (who is barely a character at this point in the series, so infrequently does she appear), or even from Na'Toth, though we do see the latter in the opening credits, long enough to know that Julie Caitlin Brown has been replaced by Mary Kay Adams.  Speaking of the opening credits, we are also introduced therein to a new character, Warren Keffler, a Starfury pilot played by Robert Rusler.  He's apparently a series regular.  Don't get used to it.
  
Overall, it's not much of an episode.  Sheridan makes a decent initial impression, but otherwise the show still feels cramped and cheap and undercooked.  It was this as much as anything else that moved me to a season-digest format.  See, I'd remembered that the show improved immediately with the debut of season two.  This is not the case; this episode is essentially still the same in the production department as it was in season one, and is maybe even a bit shabbier.  At least three of the show's better actors are entirely absent, so that doesn't help. 

Even worse, we get a big jolt of exposition about the reason why Sinclair is now on Minbar, and we get it via Lennier.  Bill Mumy is simply not a good enough actor to have been handed this task.  Lennier sucks.  Lennier sucked from the outset, and never improves; in fact, he somehow manages to get worse near the very end of his time on the show.  In any case, we find out here that the Minbari discovered during the war with Earth that their souls were somehow being reborn into Human bodies.  This is why Sinclair was brought aboard one of their ships; he was a test subject designed to verify this hypothesis.  And indeed, that is what the Grey Council learned.  They've been keeping an eye on Sinclair ever since; and they've also been keeping the knowledge from both the Minbari people and from humanity.
  
What's this got to do with Delenn's chrysalis?  Wait and see.
  
Bryant's rating:  ** 1/2 / *****


"Revelations"
  
  
(season 2, episode 2) 

airdate:  November 9, 1994
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Jim Johnston
  
G'Kar returns from a mission to the galaxy's edge to investigate a hunch: that Quadrant 37 was destroyed not by a new power, but by a very old one -- a deadly and powerful force spoken of in the Book of G'Quan (the bible of G'Kar's religion).
  
Meanwhile, Captain Sheridan wrestles with guilt over the death of his wife, still fresh though two years gone; Franklin uses the alien capital-punishment device (from "The Quality of Mercy") to revive Garibaldi, who in turn enlists the help of Talia to find out who shot him; and Delenn emerges from her chrysalis in a new form.  She now sports a full head of hair, and has apparently become partially human genetically so as to serve as a bridge of peace between Minbari and Humans.




If you're a fan of Babylon 5, I reckon it'd be hard not to be a fan of this episode.  So much of import transpires that it seems difficult to imagine someone who likes the direction the series takes NOT responding to the fact that so much of it takes a step or two forward in this hour.

That said, it's rather exposition-heavy, and feels like what it almost certainly was: an attempt to move the chess pieces into place for the next phase of the story.  As a self-contained story, it ... isn't.  So it's difficult for me to be too too enthusiastic about the episode.

THAT said, lots here to like, man.  Lots 'n' lots.

  • I'd argue that Sheridan pops here more than he did in his debut episode.  His best moment is probably when he visits Franklin right before the Doctor is going to begin using the alien "healing" device; he rolls his sleeves up and insists that Franklin strap him to the machine instead, because Garibaldi is under his command and therefore his responsibility.  Loyalty to the man before he's even met him.  Pretty good quality in a commander.
  • G'Kar is great throughout, but one of his finest moments of the series thus far comes when, upon his return, he is mockingly greeted -- in familiar fashion -- by Londo.  G'Kar responds in kind, but only perfunctorily; he quickly moves on from that to tell Londo that the time has come for their two races to put their differences aside, because a greater threat -- one that threatens everyone -- has emerged.  It's probably only in fantasy fiction that sudden shifts like this can happen, but for that very reason it is immensely satisfying -- and maybe a bit moving -- to see how persuasive G'Kar is in this moment.  And you see it work upon Londo, who...
  • ...even now seems to know already that he is lost and damned.  He's not a stupid man; a vain and reckless one, yes, but not stupid.  He speaks to Morden in this episode, and is clearly a bit panicked over the notion that his role in the destruction of the Narn outpost at Quadrant 37 might be revealed.  He's also concerned that he's going to powerless when the Centauri government ask him to pull off another strike like that one; what then?  What then, answers Morden, is that his associates will provide another; name the target.  "Why don't you eliminate the entire Narn homeworld while you're at it?" Londo asks sarcastically, with humor bursting out of him over such a ridiculous notion.  Morden responds, eyes dead and unamused, "One thing at a time, Ambassador."  A look crosses Londo's face then like he has just fallen through a hole in the universe.  In this moment, if not before, he knows that Morden's associates must be capable of actually doing such a thing.  Londo has unwittingly allied himself with a power capable of literal genocide; he is able only to hold on for dear life from this point forward.
  • He informs Morden of something G'Kar has told the council: of Narn plans to send a heavy cruiser to the ancient -- and supposedly dead -- world of Z'ha'dum.  The ship is destroyed the moment it exits hyperspace.  Z'ha'dum is not quite as dead as its reputation insists.  Z'ha'dum (pronounced ZAH-HAH-doom) is aurally reminiscent of Khazad Dum from The Lord of the Rings, and that's no accident.  Straczynski plays with Tolkien off and on throughout the series, and with Lovecraft as well.
  • The season two DVDs use the wrong opening-credit sequence for these first two episodes, and therefore ruin the reveal of Delenn's quasi-human form; the broadcast versions showed a season-one Delenn.  Ah, well.  That's not a thing to like, though, and I'm listing things to like.  One thing to like: the new version of Delenn.  I love that bit where G'Kar is reading Yeats to Na'Toth, and we cut to Delenn looking at herself in the mirror as the Narn ambassador wonders "what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born."  A bit on-the-nose, and quite a bit manufactured, but effective despite the transparency.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"The Geometry of Shadows"
  
  
(season 2, episode 3)
  
airdate:  November 16, 1994
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Mike Lawrence Vejar
  
Londo is visited by an associate, Refa, who is mightily intrigued by his accomplishments in Quadrant 37.  He has a proposition: he asks Londo to consider helping him plan an ouster of the current Centauri emperor, whom he sees as a weak fool.  Londo says he will consider it, and seems fairly excited by the prospect.  Into this mixture comes a visitor to the station: Elric, a Technomage.  The Technomages are an order whose members are devoted to using highly advanced technology in a manner which appears to the uninitiated to be magic.  Londo is enthused; the Technomages were once revered on Centauri Prime, and being affiliated with them would prove to be a sign of great power.  He has Vir try to buy their endorsement for him.  It does not go well.
  
Meanwhile, Ivanova is tasked by Sheridan with a diplomatic mission to go along with her new promotion to Commander: she will mediate a violent outbreak that occurs between dueling factions of the Drazi every five years.
  
Meanwhiler, Garibaldi gets out of Medlab and frets over whether to take his job back.





I'm not sure this episode would win any converts among people who disliked the first season of the show; it's a bit on the assy side, in some respects.  Does Londo holler a lot?  He sure does.  Does Vir engage in literal pratfalls?  Yep.  Garibaldi has some singularly unfunny moments, as well.

That said, I kind of love it.  My rating won't reflect that, but it's true; I do.

The Londo plotline is the most important, I guess, so here are a few notes on that:

  • The technomages are either super lame or totally rad.  Do I know which?  Man, no.  No, I sure don't.  Can I say both?  Elric is played by Michael Ansara, who was Kang in "Day of the Dove" back in the Star Trek days.  He's pretty great here, despite the fact that he is visibly reading from cue cards or some other aid in one scene.  (Bruce Boxleitner confirms this on the commentary track.)
  • Finally speaking to Elric one on one, Londo receives ... not an endorsement, but a prophecy.  "As I look at you, Ambassador, I see a great hand reaching out of the stars.  The hand is your hand; and I hear sounds ... the sounds of billions of people calling your name?"  Londo, astonished, wonders if these are his followers.  "Your victims," Elric clarifies.  Nothing like some, uh, foreshadowing.  Eh?
  • That episode title.  Man.
  • The humor between Londo and Vir is, in the manner of season one, kind of grimace-inducing.  Except it kind of works on me in this episode.  There's a funny bit in which Londo asks his aide if he believes in fate.  Vir launches into a ridiculous monologue about how he does and doesn't, and the punchline is clearly going to be that Londo tells him to stop running his mouth.  But Londo just nods sagely through it all, accepting every ridiculous turn the monologue takes, until finally...?  He hollers at Vir to stop.  The punchline isn't funny; all the seemingly-invested nodding in agreement is very funny.
  • It's also funny when Londo delivers his own brief speech about how he's going to go to the Technomages for an endorsement.  He's psyching himself up for it, and by the end of the speech, he's fixed his mind: he will do it.  Then he tells Vir to go set it up; he'll be in his quarters.  "I don't think I want to do that!" sputters Vir to Londo's back, which is receding farther into the distance.  Peter Jurasik is great here; and even Stephen Furst is pretty funny.  I know, right?!?

Also noteworthy: the Drazi/Ivanova subplot.

  • In what is either a piss-poor attempt to do Roddenberrian sci-fi metaphor or a brilliant satire of Rodenberrian sci-fi metaphor, we find out that the Drazi conflict is between two factions, one which wears purple sashes around their necks and one which wears green sashes.  Ivanova asks what the actual disagreements are so that she can work toward solving them.  "Purple," says the green leader, disgustedly pointing at the purple leader.  "Green," says the purple leader, disgustedly pointing at the green leader.  Ivanova persists, asking where the divide is apart from that.  The green leader clarifies: "We put green and purple in great barrel, equal to numbers of Drazi, and we reach in; we take.  Where there was one Drazi people, now there are two."
  • We know via dialogue that the Drazi conflict is occurring everywhere there are Drazi; not just on the station, but on their homeworld as well.  I am charmed by the notion that there might be a barrel big enough on the Drazi homeworld for literally everyone to have a sash within it.  Goddamn, what a line that would be!  I love it.
  • Anyways, Ivanova has a Kirkian idea: she takes the sash off one of the purples and hangs it around the neck of one of the greens.  She's in the middle of talking the ramifications through, and fuckin' chaos erupts.  The Drazi of both sides basically just get up from their seats and begin walloping hell from each other.  I mean, mahfahs are leaping through the air doing dropkicks and whatnot.  It's glorious.
  • Was Straczynski serious with this shit?  Do I care?

Solid episode.  A few rickety moments; some dodgy (but very ambitious) mid-nineties tv CGI.  But solid.  Won't turn you into a fan, but if you already are one, you'll likely dig it.

Points off for the lack of Delenn.  After the bombshell of the previous episode, I'm not sure that's acceptable.  No G'Kar, either.  ALWAYS points off for that.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"A Distant Star"
  
  
(season 2, episode 4)
  
airdate:  November 23, 1994
written by:  D.C. Fontana
directed by:  Jim Johnston
  
A former commander of Sheridan's visits the station in his Explorer-class ship on the way to the galaxy's rim.  After they depart, they become stranded in hyperspace and it is up to the station's Starfury pilots to rescue them.
  
Meanwhile, Franklin puts the command staff on diets.




No, I'm not making that bit about the diets up.  Oh how I wish I were.  You can't even believe how much "comedy" is milked from Garibaldi's plot to smuggle the ingredients for Bagna càuda aboard the station.

Not merely for that reason, this is a shabby episode, not much better than some of the lesser season-one episodes.  The Franklin-ordered-diets b-plot is excruciating, and everyone except Jerry Doyle seems embarrassed to be playing it.  The a-plot isn't a whole heck of a lot better.  Captain Maynard -- Sheridan's friend and former commanding officer -- is played by Russ Tamblyn, who is stone-cold awful.  He's a good actor; you'd never know it from this episode.  Then again, the episode is so poorly-written and poorly-directed that I'm not sure Tamblyn can be blamed.

Also awful: the actor who plays the Zeta-squadron commander.  Holy hell.  I don't know for sure, but this must have been a week when the show's casting director farmed their work out to an intern from the high-school a/v club.

Slightly better: Robert Rusler as Keffer.  Spoiler alert: Keffer doesn't make it past season two.

Another spoiler alert: this episode kicks off the attraction between Sheridan and Delenn that will later blossom into romance.  It's well-played by both Mira Furlan and Bruce Boxleitner, and there's so little of it here that some fans might object to my claiming that this is where that plotline commences.  Maybe it do, maybe it don't; I'm sticking with my read of things.

That's probably the episode's sole selling point, to be honest.  And to be further honest, I'm not sure it's a selling point for me personally.  The process of reviewing all of the first season made me realize that I was really quite invested in the obviously-intended Sinclair/Delenn romance.  These are Sinclair's story beats that Sheridan is horning in on!  I resent it on his behalf.

In fact, I am finding myself much more resistant to Sheridan than I ever expected to be the case on this rewatch.  In wondering why, I think it must be because for better or for worse, I lived with the first season of Babylon 5 on a weekly basis for the first time during this rewatch.  I wasn't there for the show on its initial airings (not past "Soul Hunter," at least); I didn't watch weekly until the fifth season.  When I caught up prior to that, I watched an episode per weekday when it reran on TNT, so I blew through the first four seasons in relatively short order.

Stated another way, this rewatch was by far the most time I'd ever spent with Sinclair as an active character.  Maybe under those circumstances it makes sense that Sheridan is having to win me over.

A lousy episode like "A Distant Star" does him no favors.

Bryant's rating:  ** / *****


"The Long Dark"
  
  
(season 2, episode 5)
  
airdate:  November 30, 1994
written by:  Scott Frost
directed by:  Mario Di Leo
  
A long-range exploration ship that left Earth over a hundred years previously comes within range of the station.  It still has a crewmember in cryostasis, so they thaw her out; her husband died while in cryo, but as it turns out, that was due to some sort of shadowy creature that they picked up along the way while they were asleep.
  
Meanwhile, a former Earthforce soldier -- who, like Garibaldi, was a gropo (groundpounder [i.e., infantry]) during the war -- goes batshit when the ship comes within range.  Turns out he once was fed upon by the creature, the same way it fed upon the woman who was in cryo.




Lt. Barclay himself -- or Howlin' Mad Murdoch himself, if you prefer -- shows up in this one.  Yes, Dwight Schultz is on hand to play the nutball gropo.  He's terrible.  Actually, he's fine in some scenes; but he's awful in most, and while I'm not sure Meryl Streep could have done anything if she'd been handed a lousy screenplay like this and had then been directed/shot/edited as indifferently as Schultz was.  So I don't blame Schultz, per se.  But he is awful.

Also awful: Dr. Franklin putting the moves on the young woman who just got out of cryosleep.  From her vantage point, her husband died in his sleep after they went to bed last night.  But here Franklin is, grabbing her shoulders too gently all the time, and touching her face at inappropriate moments, and trying to get her to stay on the station.  Dude is a creeper and a half this episode.  And I don't think the episode wants us to think anything other than that; Garibaldi even makes a little joke about it at one point.

Sadly, it doesn't matter.  The subplot sucks, and is awful, and I hate it.

I more or less hate the entire episode, actually.  Like "A Distant Star," this feels like a throwback to season one, and it would rank poorly even there.  There are a few mild mythology-building elements, but they aren't terribly interesting, and don't help overall.

Bryant's rating:  ** / *****



"Spider in the Web"
  
  
(season 2, episode 6)
  
airdate:  December 7, 1994
written by:  Lawrence G. DiTillio
directed by:  Kevin G. Cremin
  
Talia serves as the commercial telepath during negotiations between the Martian government and an Earth-based company called FutureCorp; these negotiations are apparently of great import for Mars, but they come to naught after the FutureCorp CEO, Taro Ishogi, is murdered.  Ishogi, who was apparently like a father to Talia, is killed by a Free Mars operative long thought to be dead -- and indeed, he was dead for a while, until he was revived by a black-ops group called Bureau 13.  Now, Talia must try to uncover the truth about Ishogi's killer and prevent any more chaos from occurring.




This isn't a terrible episode; you can certainly find worse episodes of Babylon 5, and you don't even have to leave the first half of the second season to do so.

However, it's not too great an episode, either, and it's rendered somewhat moot by virtue of the sheer number of false-start elements within it.  Here are a few:

  • FutureCorp is hinted to be some sort of major corporation, one that can cause severe trouble for certain factions within Earth's government by having successful negotiations with Mars.  Guess what?  They'll never be heard from again, so far as I remember.
  • Section 31 Bureau 13 is established in this episode, and they appear to be more or less a new player on the board for the series.  Guess what?  They'll never be heard from again.  (This is evidently because an unrelated game titled Bureau 13 was discovered to be in existence at some point after this episode's premiere, so Straczynski opted to scuttle this whole subplot.  And for the record, Bureau 13 on B5 existed years before Section 31 on DS9.  I'm sure it's just a coincidence.) 
  • I like the scene where Sheridan talks about making first contact with the race of aliens whose ship is a big green cloud.   Will we ever see them?  Nope.  Hear of them again?  Nosir.
  • A female PsiCop within Bureau 13 is glimpsed a couple of times and seems to be set up as a major antagonist.  Guess what?  Never gonna see her again.
  • Sheridan has a phone call with an unctuous Earth Senator -- played by Lucille Bluth herself, Jessica Walter -- who seems to be set up as an antagonist for him within Earthdome.  And hey, guess what?  Never gonna see HER again, either.
  • While I'm at it, I guess I'll mention that we'll also never see Amanda Carter (played by the wonderful Adrienne Barbeau) again.  There's no real expectation that we will, in this case; but I'd have complained not one bit for Barbeau to be on the series more.

You WILL see Zack Allen again.  He's one of Garibaldi's security officer, making his debut in this episode.  He's played by Taxi alumnus Jeff Conaway, who never manages to become one of my favorite players on the series, but who certainly has his moments.  You wouldn't know it from his debut, but there's a reason for that.  Conaway, by this point in his career, was big-time down on his luck thanks to addiction issues.  He was determined to put his life and career back together, so he went out and started looking for any acting role he could get.  This led him to a cattle-call for a role on Babylon 5 as, basically, Security Guard #3; almost literally a nothing part, barely one step above being an extra.  But since he was Jeff Conaway, he got the part, and when Straczynski found out about the casting, he decided to create an actual character for Conaway to play.  Not so much in this episode, but later.  Cool, eh?

Also worth mentioning: this episode is referred to pretty much everywhere as "A Spider in the Web."  One place it isn't referred to that way: the episode itself, where the title card reads "Spider in the Web."  And so shall it read here, now and forever, amen.

Bryant's rating:  ** 1/2 / *****


"Soul Mates"
  
  
(season 2, episode 7)
  
airdate:  December 14, 1994
written by:  Peter David
directed by:  John C. Flin III
  
For the thirtieth anniversary of his Ascension, Londo is given -- by the (offscreen) Emperor -- the gift of being allowed to divorce two of his three wives.  But how to choose which one to keep?
  
Meanwhile, Talia is pestered by her ex-husband, who is apparently no longer a member of PsiCorps and who wants to show her how to get out as well.
  
Meanwhiler, Delenn has trouble with her hair and seeks help from Ivanova.  For real.
  



I'm not the kind of guy who calls things sexist or misogynistic or whatever, but if I were, you can bet I'd be calling this episode that.  I mean, one of Londo's wives is named Timov, which is "vomit" spelled backwards.

And so be it.  I mean, look, Londo himself is almost certainly a sexist, if not a misogynist; so it stands to reason that his relationships with women would reflect that to greater or lesser degree.  I can live with all of that; it's not something I enjoy, but I can live with it.

I am less able to live with the C-plot involving Delenn's hair problems.  And don't even get me started on the episode's final scene, in which Delenn asks Ivanova about these strange cramps she's been getting.  Womp-womp!  Peter David, are you fucking kidding me with this shit?

Look, it's reasonable to hypothesize that Delenn, newly quasi-human, would be going through some changes.  Guess what?  That was covered, pal.  We got all that from the fact that she had hair all of a sudden.  Having an episode end by Delenn trap Ivanova in an elevator and ask her undignified questions that Ivanova responds to by looking as if she was raised by Margaret White is one step above having Garibaldi trick the ambassador into thinking farting in public is a way to show respect to one's colleagues.

I blame Peter David for this, but J. Michael Stracynski, as head man in charge, okayed it; so ultimately, he gets an equal portion of the blame for this embarrassing subplot.

Some of the Londo stuff is moderately enjoyable.  The performances of the three women playing Londo's wives range from shrill to unctuous to vampy, and they'll either work for you or they won't.  Or maybe they'll both for you, which is the odd conclusion I myself come to.  Jane Carr is annoying as Timov, but she's also kind of weirdly sweet (and she sounds a bit like Angela Scoular, which is aggravating but also comforting); Lois Nettleton is servile and disingenuous as Daggair; and Blair Valk is pretty but kind of uninteresting as Mariel.  (And Mariel looks a bit like Adira, Londo's lost love from "Born to the Purple."  This is likely a coincidence in casting, but it kind of suggests some interesting things about Londo's attraction to Adira.  Also, regarding Mariel, there's an intimation that she's occasionally been schtupping G'Kar, which is pretty damn amusing.)

The Talia plotline is a failure for me.  Her ex-husband is played to smarmy perfection by Keith "Harland 'Golden Years' Williams" Szarabajka, who should have been put to better use.  He's great; he's also wasted on a relatively lame plotline in which Talia is used in a way that makes her look kind of pathetic and weak.  And that's not the idea; the idea is that Stoner is supposed to be a very powerful empath.  That comes across with other characters, but with Talia, it's played in a way that seems to me to be purposefully suggesting that she's being taken in by this guy based not on his empathic skills but his arguments.  THIS, in turn, is designed to further the subplot of Garibaldi's attraction to her.  So in other words, Talia is really just a chess piece in this episode.

I guess I shouldn't fret over that too much.  Talia has been poorly used by the series in general up to this point -- she's always disappearing (Deanna Troi fashion) anytime the plot of the week could really use her -- so it ought not to surprise me that this episode bungles her as well.  And yet, here we are.

Bryant's rating:  ** / *****, which is probably too generous.



"A Race Through Dark Places"
  
  
(season 2, episode 8)
  
airdate:  January 25, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Jim Johnston
  
Bester comes to the station following a lead that a underground railroad for telepaths is using it as a base of operations.  Meanwhile, Sheridan and Ivanova deal with bureaucracy in the form of being charged rent for their quarters suddenly.




A fairly strong episode, "A Race Through Dark Places" advances Talia's storyline considerably not only by deepening her distrust of Psi Corps but also by following up on the "gift" Jason Ironheart gave to her in season one.  Additionally, her relationship with Ivanova takes a step forward; the sapphic undertones are there if you want to see them ... and I do (he said, creepily).

Walter Koenig is in fine form as Bester, who somehow comes across as untrustworthy and nefarious but also as somewhat discriminated against.  Ivanova and Garibaldi may as well be wearing shirts that say "I HATE BESTER'S FUCKING GUTS" the entire time; yes, he's up to no good, but do they really have any firm reason to think so?  I'm not sure they do; their steadfast dismissal of his motivations and his jurisdiction feel somewhat petty to me.  I think this plays into the idea Garibaldi expresses about how Psi Corps is a monster of humanity's own making.  Interesting stuff.

Also good in the episode: pretty much everyone.  You can't assume you're going to get that on an episode of Babylon 5, certainly not at this point in its history.  But yeah, the acting is solid more or less across the board, even from most of the bit players.  Bruce Boxleitner is finally relaxing into the role of Sheridan, who is becoming very much distinct from Sinclair; Jerry Doyle has some strong moments; Claudia Christian and Richard Biggs, too.  Andrea Thompson is icily smooth as Talia, and Gianin Loffler is weird and memorable -- not sure if he's good or not -- as the leader of the telepaths.

I also like Mira Furlan quite a lot in this one.  She and Sheridan go out on a date after she asks him to better help her understand what it means to be human.  (Insert your own fan-porn jokes here.)  I'm still in wishing-that-was-Sinclair mode, but the chemistry between Delenn and Sheridan is beginning to assert itself; it won't really stop from this point forward.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"The Coming of Shadows"
  
  
(season 2, episode 9)
  
airdate:  February 1, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Janet Greek
  
The Centauri Emperor visits Babylon 5, which occasions both G'Kar and Londo to enact plots against him.  Meanwhile, Garibaldi receives a message from an old friend.




We've reached at least two turning points in reaching "The Coming of Shadows."  First, and most importantly, we've reached the episode where the series finally begins to truly work.  Now, not everyone will agree that the episode does work; all I can say is that it works for me, and that if it does not work for you, you probably need watch no further than this.  My sense is that if you're not invested by the end of this episode, you likely never will be.

Second, we've reached a point where it is going to be very difficult for me to discuss these episodes without getting into spoilers.  Not merely spoilers for the episode at hand, but potentially (as we move forward) spoilers I'd avoided for previous episodes, and quite possibly spoilers for future episodes.  I won't be spilling them from my keyboard willy-nilly, but I'm also not to gingerly avoid them.  You've been warned.

This is, for my money, handily the best episode of Babylon 5 up to this point in the series.  The overall plot of the series is moving forward steadily now, and takes several significant steps forward in this very episode.  Beyond that, both Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik do great work here.  Katsulas has been doing so for a while by this point; Jurasik has shown flashes of it, but this is far and away his most complete episode as a performer to date.  Unless one wishes to view his buffoonery during season one as a feature rather than a bug, in which case he's kind of been genius all along; I'm on the fence about that -- sometimes I can see it that way and sometimes I can't, but mostly I can't.

We also get good performances from Bruce Boxleitner (who begins to truly distinguish Sheridan from Sinclair and will never look very far back from this point on), all of the guest cast, and -- spoiler! -- Michael O'Hare, who has a brief but key role as the aforementioned Sinclair.  He appears only via a video message sent to Garibaldi, but there he is, bringing a bit of continuity by letting his old friend into the loop, informing him that a great darkness is at hand.  He's on Minbar working against it behind the scenes, and has formed a growing army of "Rangers" to help in the struggle that is coming.  Pun intended.

It's kind of killing me not to be able to do a full review of the episode, like the ones I did for the first season.  Alas, I just don't have the time.  But this is a strong enough episode that even Stephen Furst is pretty great in it; man, when Vir is good in an episode, you've got a hell of an episode.  And my inclination is to try and talk about as much of it as I can.  My time does not permit it, however; a pity, that.  So here is a list of things:

  • G'Kar buying a terrified Londo a drink is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the entire series.
  • Londo arranges for Mr. Morden's associates to destroy a Narn outpost in Quadrant 14.  This could mean the slaughter of something like a quarter of a million people.  We never see Morden this episode, but we see his associates -- they lay waste to the Narn space station and fighters in orbit around the planet.  And hey, do we still not know what they are called?  These mysterious aliens are the Shadows, and even though they have not been thus named as yet, we have certainly not seen the last of them.
  • The destruction is Londo's idea, spun off from Lord Refa's desire to find some way of making them and their faction stand out from the other Centauri nobles jockeying for the throne in the wake of the Emperor's death.  We first hear the name "Cartaggia" in this episode; a nephew of the Emperor's, Cartaggia will indeed ascend to the throne eventually.  We won't see him for a while yet, but he's a proper piece of shit.  Like, not quite as horrid as Joffrey on Game of Thrones, but horrid enough to almost have served as an inspiration for that character.  (Not that I'm implying any such connection; history has enough such heels to make that irrelevant anyways.)
  • The unnamed Ranger is played by Fredric Lehne, who makes an immediate impression and who I would have liked to see pop up again.  He doesn't.  Lehne has had a fine career, though, so don't feel sorry for him.
  • God damn, seeing Sinclair again excites me.  I had totally forgotten about this scene until right before it happened, so it was almost like seeing the episode again for the first time.  I remain mildly on the fence as to whether I wish Straczynski had simply recast the role; I guess I prefer the way it actually played out, with Sicnlair giving way to Sheridan.  But I'm a Sinclair homeboy, no question about it; this rewatch has solidified that.
  • The episode culminates with Narn declaring war against the Centauri.  We certainly haven't heard the last of that plot point.
  • We see Londo's death-vision for the first time, and it is pretty great/horrible.  Old Man G'Kar shows up in it, not to mention Old Man Emperor Londo.  Spoiler alert!  A great hand reaching out of the stars; shadows flying overhead in a clear blue sky; ominous shit.

Before I call this quits, a brief word about the Centauri Emperor is in order.  Played by Turhan Bey (whom was once romantically involved with Lana Turner, according to Wikipedia, and good for him if so), he is on the cusp of dying when he arrives on Babylon 5.  He tells Dr. Franklin that he'd really like to see a Vorlon before he goes.


Drowsing, the Emperor has precious little time left.

A shadow falls upon him; sensing it, he opens his eyes.


"How will this end?" he asks.

"In fire," comes the answer.


Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****


"Gropos"
  
  
(season 2, episode 10)
  
airdate:  February 8, 1995
written by:  Lawrence G. DiTillio
directed by:  Jim Johnston
  
A small fleet of EarthForce troop carriers arrives at the station and temporarily offloads 25,000 soldiers who are headed for a police action on Akdor, a planet which will give Earth an advantageous position for the Centauri/Narn conflict.




Let's talk about the episode's title.  It is commonly represented as "GROPOS," and in fact I believe this is probably the official way to spell it.  However, why would shortening the word/phrase "groundpounders" result in all-caps spelling?  That doesn't make sense to me.  We don't spell "vets" "VETS" when we shorten "veterans," do we?  Or "veterinarians," for that matter.

So in this dojo, it's "Gropos," and that's just all there is to it.

I'm monstrously tired tonight, which means that I'm going to have little to say apart from some semantic navel-gazing.  This is an okay episode; it's a little cheesy in places, and it shows its age by failing to have Garibaldi actually sleep with Dodger.  But it's okay.  The rarely-seen Keffer comes off alright in this one; Garibaldi is in fine form; Ken Foree is having fun as Large; the advancement of the overall plot is effective; and the show actually manages to make its slender roster of extras feel like WAY more people than you'd expect.

On the other hand, the scene in which Delenn is menaced is kind of awful.  She turns into a shrinking violet, which doesn't really fit her character very well.

Bryant's rating:  ** 1/2 / *****


"All Alone in the Night"
  
  
(season 2, episode 11) 
  
airdate:  February 15, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Mario di Leo
  
Sheridan takes a page from Sinclair's book -- the one about being irresponsible while in command -- and takes a Starfury out to investigate a mysterious ship that has been seen in a nearby sector.  He soon gets into hot water, finding himself abducted and forced to fight a Narn prisoner.
  
Meanwhile, Delenn is summoned to appear before the Grey Council; once there, she is cast out from its number -- and is replaced by Neroon, whose status as a member of the warrior caste gives that caste an undue and unprecedented majority of the Council.




The story takes a couple of medium-sized leaps forward in this episode.  After initially appearing to be a standalone action-adventure episode --and not a bad one -- it reveals itself to be primarily concerned with massive behind-the-scenes machinations in the governments of both Earth and Minbar.  Delenn is cast out from the Grey Council, ostensibly due to her unsettling transformation into a partially-human hybrid.  However, she discovers that her replacement is Neroon, a member of the warrior caste (we met him in "Legacies" in the first season).  Delenn is indignant that her replacement was not selected from the religious caste; the nine-member Grey Council has always, up to now, been evenly split with three members each from the religious, warrior, and worker castes.  Is some sort of coup afoot?  Delenn is in no position to find out.

Speaking of coups, we find out that General Hague fears that is precisely what has taken place with the death of President Santiago; and we find out further that he has tasked Sheridan with determining the loyalties of the Babylon 5 command staff before Hague enacts whatever plan he has to counter the pro-Clark forces (which he assumed to be controlled by PsiCorps).  The episode ends with Sheridan, Ivanova, Garibaldi, and Franklin meeting in the Captain's quarters, forming a conspiracy.

All of that comes only after Sheridan's abduction and eventual escape/rescue from the Streib ship.  It plays almost like an afterthought, except of course, this is by far the most important material we've seen from Sheridan thus far.  In retrospect, it might be that the Streib excursion plays like a misdirect.  The two plotlines don't sit entirely well together, that's for sure.  But there's more going on here than meets the eye, because while Sheridan is napping aboard the Streib ship, he has what seems to be an alarmingly ominous dream that involves versions of Ivanova, Garibaldi, Sheridan himself, and Kosh.  "You have always been here," Kosh says cryptically.

Once Sheridan is back aboard the station, he is briefly confronted in a corridor by Kosh, who repeats those words -- "You have always been here" -- to him.  So whatever that dream was, either Kosh was peeking in on it somehow or it was not quite so simple as a mere dream.

What's it all mean?  We'll find out some other week.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"Acts of Sacrifice"
  
  
(season 2, episode 12) 

airdate:  February 22, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Jim Johnston
  
As the Centauri war against the Narn progresses, tensions begin to spill out into the open onboard the station.  G'Kar tries to convince Sheridan and/or Delenn to talk their worlds into entering the conflict on the side of the Narn; Londo tries to convince Garibaldi to have a drink with him.
  
Meanwhile, Ivanova negotiates an alliance with a race called the Lumati, who consider themselves morally superior to everyone.  Things get pretty sexy on that front.  Ahem.




This is a solid episode that is very nearly ruined by a scene near the end that...  Well, we'll get there.

Most of what we see here is excellent.  There's a strong battle scene toward the beginning that involves a heroic sacrifice on the part of a shipload full of Narn soldiers -- well, three of them, at least (not much room in the budget for more than a tiny bridge crew, I guess) -- and that leads to a whole bunch of fine scenes involving G'Kar.  Andreas Katsulas does great work here; one of his best moments in the series may be when G'Kar is exiting a meeting with Sheridan and Delenn, having received news that is both good and bad; he stops in the corridor and has a small meltdown in which he is both laughing and weeping.

On the downside, G'Kar gets involved in a brawl with a fellow Narn who challenges his authority, and it's one of the worst things you've ever seen.  I think the idea is that the stunt choreography is trying to show us a Narn-centric style of martial arts.  It involves a lot of arm waving and unconvincing fight movements.  It's bad.  (And the very worst moment in it goes to Mary Kay Adams, making a rare appearance as Na'Toth.)

Oh, but THAT wasn't the scene I referred to above.  Nope.  The scene I referred to above is the, uh, climax of the Ivanova subplot.  She spends the episode giving the Lumati emissary a tour of the station and finding out the many ways in which his people look down upon those species who are lesser than his.  For example: the Lumati believe in survival of the fittest, and do not render aid to the unfortunate because doing so risks contaminating a species' bloodline with weaker elements.  This reflects some of the decisions other characters make in the a-plot, of course; not terribly subtly.  And it's also arguably a jab at the Prime Directive on the Star Trek shows.

There's an argument to be had about that, I suppose, but we're not here for that today; we're here to talk about Ivanova having sex with the Lumati.  Once he sees Downbelow and misinterprets the homelessness there as an impressive bit of self-cleansing on the part of humans, the Lumati offers to conclude the negotiations in the traditional way of his people: by getting nekkid and sexing the place up.  Ivanova, of course, is slack-jawed with surprise and dismay at this, and finds a way to delay it.  Then, a solution presents itself: she tricks him into having sex the "human" way, which involves her dancing in a circle around him while chanting and, eventually, screaming "yes!" at the top of her lungs.

THIS is the worst thing you've ever seen.  It's kind of a funny idea, and Claudia Christian is amusing in the moments leading up to the dance itself.  The rest of it must not be spoken of, ever; or, especially, seen.  Seriously.  If you are somehow watching this show for the first time and these words reach you in time to prevent it, just fast-forward through that episode, preferably with your eyes closed.  I'm pretty sure that if you DO watch it, your mother will develop shingles and you yourself will go to Hell.  You don't want that on your conscience, so best to avoid it.

We'll go out on a happier note, sort of, by mentioning that this is a strong Londo episode.  Peter Jurasik is great throughout, but especially in the scenes in which Londo tries to convince Garibaldi to look at him as something other than a monster.  The Centauri are not seen in a good light during this episode, and all of that stems from the actions Londo has taken this season; so it's amazing that Straczynski and Jurasik are able to still find ways to make us sympathize with Londo, if only momentarily.

I should also mention that the episode co-stars Paul Williams, playing the aide to the Lumati emissary.  He's good; doesn't sing once, which is unfortunate, but is also probably for the best.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****, which is after a half-point deduction for the Ivanova dance.  I wanted to deduct a full point!


"Hunter, Prey"
  
  
(season 2, episode 13)
  
airdate:  March 1, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Menachem Binetski
  
President Clark's former personal physician has gone on the run, and has supposedly made his way to Babylon 5 bearing state secrets.  An Earthforce intelligence team arrives to try apprehending him.  Meanwhile, Sheridan tries to forge a new understanding with Kosh; or is that the other way around?




A solid little middle-of-the-road episode that is probably most notable for two reasons: (1) it furthers the conspiracy angle regarding President Santiago's assassination; and (2) it furthers the burgeoning association between Sheridan and Kosh.  I think it's safe to say we've not seen the last of either subplot.

The casting is noteworthy in that an Earthforce official is played by Bernie "Felix Leiter" Casey; the renegade doctor is played by Socrates from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures; and a thug is played by Bull from Night Court, not especially well.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"There All the Honor Lies"
  
  
(season 2, episode 14)
  
airdate:  April 26, 1995
written by:  Peter David
directed by:  Mike Laurence Vejar
  
Sheridan kills a Minbari in an act of self-defense which soon begins to look like murder, putting him in the hotseat.  Meanwhile, Ivanova deals with the station's new gift shop.




First things first: the merchandising/gift-shop aspect of this episode is embarrassing.  Not AS embarrassing as the Ivanova dance from a couple of episodes ago, but embarrassing.  I can only assume that it is a dig by Straczynski -- or perhaps Peter David -- at executives who were trying to push a merchandising line on the show in an effort to boost its popularity.  God forbid, right?  This comes off as a pointlessly petty bit of would-be high-mindedness, and it only gets worse when someone utters the words "we're not some deep-space franchise" in a clear jab at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  It's not a good look for Babylon 5 to put itself in the position of being a chihuahua yapping at a pitbull, and that's how this comes off.

The rest of the episode is at least competent and won't make you ashamed to be a fan of the series, but it's not particularly great.  The Sheridan/Minbari plot has some mild intrigue to it, but is also an excuse for Lennier to make silly Minbari-fu hand gestures, which brings us right back to embarrassment.

Then there's the scene in which Kosh takes Sheridan to a monk-chant session in Downbelow, which is too vague to be really impactful.  Sheridan is deeply impressed -- moved, perhaps -- by what he sees there, but as far as I can tell it's just some Gregorian chanting by guys in red robes.  Am I meant to think there is more to it than that?  Am I meant to think there isn't but that Sheridan thinks there is?  Am I meant to think there isn't but what we see is sufficient for Sheridan?  I just don't know what the scene is communicating beyond its impact on Sheridan; and that's sufficient, I guess, but surely there was a more effective way to dramatize it.

Final note: Sheridan's lawyer is played by Julie Caitlin Brown, the real Na'Toth.  She's good, but the role is tiny; this is a waste of Brown.  Again.

Actual final note: the subplot in which Londo prevents Vir from getting fired is solid, and probably worth an additional point.   But instead:

Bryant's rating:  ** / *****


"And Now For A Word"
  
  
(season 2, episode 15) 
  
airdate:  May 3, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Mario Di Leo
  
Presented in the form of an ISN special report, the war between the Narn and Centauri heats up around Babylon 5 when fighting breaks out between two ships outside the station, prompting a diplomatic crisis.




This is an ambitious, swing-for-the-fences high-concept episode that isn't entirely successful but nevertheless ends up working quite well, primarily thanks to presenting the show's characters and concepts through an atypical lens.  The concept is simple: one of ISN's personalities -- Cynthia Torqueman, who seems less like a reporter than like an opinionator -- visits the stations for a special report called "36 Hours on Babylon 5."  What we see is that program, with no break-aways to normal omniscient-narrative scenes.

Where the episode fails is either in the casting or in the direction, depending on how you look at it.  Either way, I'm not wild about Kim Zimmer as Torqueman.  She has four daytime Emmy awards to her name, according to Wikipedia, so she apparently has some talent; however, I don't think she's all that well-suited to this particular role.  She's got a glib quality that works, but she simply doesn't seem like someone who is quite charismatic -- or, for that matter, flashily opinionated -- to rise to the level Torqueman seems to have attained.  In other words, she feels very artificial in the role.

Now, if you were determined to do so, you could spin that into a purposeful quality and speculate that Torqueman is someone who IS, in fact, ill-suited to her job -- but has been installed there relatively recently for some obscure reason.  What reason?  Oh, well, you know, the usual: because she is ideologically suited to serve the purposes of whomever has installed her.  I came across an interesting quote from JMS on this episode's Lurker's Guide page, where he points at the title "And Now For A Word" and suggests that attention be paid to the way that phrase typically ends.  "From Our Sponsor," then, is the omitted back half of the title, and the episode has a single commercial: for the PsiCorps (complete with a clunky-enough-to-be-unmistakable "subliminal" message "buried" in the end).

This is all a piece of PsiCorps-sponsored propaganda, in other words.  From that perspective, it might make sense that Cynthia Torqueman isn't actually all that vibrant a news personality.  So does this work FOR the show, rather than against it?  Possibly.  It doesn't play that way for me, necessarily -- but after I read that quote and thought about it a bit, I certainly had to admit for the possibility.

Regardless of that, the episode has a number of high points which the episode's format reveals:

  • Both Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas are terrific this time, with Londo and G'Kar revealing interesting aspects of themselves to Torqueman's camera that say something about who these characters are.  In the case of Londo, practically everything he says seems like a transparent falsehood; but the lies he chooses to tell arguably reveal what the Centauri wish to be the perceived truths about themselves, and this deepens their role on the series.  As for G'Kar, I tend to take everything he says at face value as the truth, including his horrific story about his father's execution.  But who knows?  It's possible he's playing for the camera, as well.  I don't think so, though, nor do I think the episode wants us to think so.
  • There are occasional small reveals about things happening on Earth which are a bit chilling.  Torqueman refers to the recently-formed "Office of Public Information" and "Ministry for Public Morale," neither of which disguise their 1984 intent.  We already knew things were bad getting back home; and they appear to be only getting worse.
  • Speaking of which, all of this throws the existence of Babylon 5 itself into sharper relief.  As the tide of public sentiment back home rises -- or is pushed -- toward isolationism and extremism, the station itself seems like both a financial waste and an ideological affront to that side of the aisle.  The station itself would obviously, in a real-world scenario, be a very hot-button topic.  This perhaps makes a relatively small plot point like the gift shop in "There All the Honor Lies" seem more interesting, because that would be somebody's effort to counter that tide of public sentiment.  Which makes its lameness potentially useful as a story point!  Very interesting.
  • We find out that Senator Hidoshi -- who seemed to be more or less an ally for Sinclair -- is no longer in office.  I've got no clue if he was replaced by Senator Quantrell, who is seen in this episode, but it doesn't matter for our purposes.  "Quantrell," of course, makes one think of this guy, who was a bit of a villain.  So, we must assume, is Senator Quantrell.
  • We also find out how Delenn's transformation would be spun by this sort of propaganda: as an affront to people who lost family members during the Minbari War.  I don't actually like that scene; Mira Furlan is in shrinking-violet mode, which is not how I prefer my Mira Furlan scenes.  I'm sure it would be possible to spin this scene into one which works for Delenn's character arc rather than against it, but in this case, I can't do it.  She comes off as naive and weak, and it just doesn't work for me.

The overall result?  One of the show's best episodes to date.

Bryant's rating:  **** / *****


"In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum"
  
  
(season 2, episode 16) 
  
airdate:  May 10, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  David J. Eagle
  
While Sheridan is reviewing old information about the Icarus (the ship on which his wife was serving at the time of her death), Garibaldi recognizes someone who was on its crew: he doesn't know who the man is, but he knows he conducts business on the station, and viewers know him as Mr. Morden.  Sheridan takes him into custody and interrogates him, which leads to a major revelation from Delenn and Kosh.  And when I say "major," I mean major.




Here's another one of those episodes that makes me regret not covering the series one installment per post.  "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum" deserves a fuller consideration than the one I'm about to give it, if only so I can point and things and say, "That's cool."  Or "I dig that."  Or "Fuckin'-A."  Stuff like that.

Anyways, this is an almost wholly successful episode; yes, yes, it has the requisite problems that go along with its budget, but if you're still worried about that at this point, you oughtn't be watching.  The problems stay at the same level; the virtues are ratcheted up, even past the point they ascended to during "And Now For A Word" last week.

Things that are cool and that I dig:

  • Ed Wasser is great as Morden in this one.  He isn't always; it comes and goes.  But here, he's as oily and as menacing as he ever gets, and that's saying something.  This makes it possible...
  • ...for Stephen Furst to have one of his very best Vir Cotto scenes.  Vir, whose anger at and disgust for Morden outweigh his fear of him, delivers about as stinging a rebuke as can be delivered.  "What do you want?" Morden asks him, to which Vir replies in a very honest fashion that he wants to live long enough to see the other man's head on a pike.  There's more to it than that, but I won't spoil it.  It's pretty great, even if you dislike Furst as Vir (which I mostly do).
  • I realized during this episode that I really and truly wasn't thinking of Sheridan as a replacement Sinclair anymore.  He's just Sheridan here, and has been for a while.  I'm pretty sure I said that once already in this post, but it's worth re-emphasizing.  And Bruce Boxleitner is great in this episode.
  • Franklin had a scene in "And Now For A Word" that seemed almost like a throwaway, about how as a kid he saw a friend accidentally flush himself out an airlock during a game of hide-and-seek.  That doesn't come up again this week, but it did suggest that Franklin is a guy who has really deep-seated demons riding around inside him.  This week doesn't change that, and if you put the zeal he has here for pushing himself to the limit while trying to save Narn refugees together with that scene from last week, I think what you get is a guy for whom the demons come first and the medical obsession second.  He's using the latter to avoid the former.  It's a recipe for disaster; it's self-destructive behavior being disguised as hard work, and we certainly haven't heard the last of the casually-mentioned stim-taking Franklin refers to this week.
  • The Shadows are named for the first time, in that major info-dump during which Delenn and Kosh tell Sheridan some of the secrets of the galaxy.  The Vorlons are the only known surviving race of the "Old Ones," ancient beings who once stood against the Shadows, who themselves were ancient even before the Old Ones.  Not unlike Sauron, the Shadows come back every so often, and it requires epic struggles to keep them from overwhelming everything with their darkness.  The last time was a thousand years ago; the Minbari and the Vorlons defeated them, and things are brewing again.  Delenn pleads with Sheridan that he must let Morden go lest the Shadows become aware that their return is known; that would bring them into the open before the forces which will combat them have been readied.  All of this is enticing at a very high level.  It's an insanely ambitious backstory, and we'll see how it is executed as we proceed; sometimes well, sometimes less so.  There is no series more ripe for a scaled-up reboot during the Peak TV era.
  • The final scene, in which Kosh tells Sheridan: "If you go to Z'ha'dum, you will die."  Sheridan asks the Vorlon to train him anyway; the Vorlon agrees.
  • The scene in which Sheridan uses Talia by putting her in proximity to Morden against her expressed wishes is great.  Sheridan is a bastard in this episode; he's sympathetic in some ways, but he's decided that nothing matters beyond finding out the truth, and he crosses lines he shouldn't cross.  Smartly, the episode presents this as being a negative, and Sheridan seems at times almost like someone who could cross over into the realm of villainy.  (Spoiler: he never does.)
  • I guess I'll also include the Nightwatch stuff, which is a bit on-the-nose, but not ineffective.  It being on-the-nose speaks to how confident the people backing it are; and if they're that confident about such a plainly untrustworthy concept, then bad times must truly be afoot.  Zack Allen begins to turn into a character rather than a cameo here, too.
  • Garibaldi going toe to toe with Sheridan in refusing to be party to the Captain's abuses -- can't believe I almost forgot that!  Ivanova gets a good scene of that nature, as well.

Fuckin'-A.

Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****


"Knives"
  
  
(season 2, episode 17)
  
airdate:  May 17, 1995
written by:  Lawrence G. DiTilio
directed by:  Stephen L. Posey
  
An old friend and ally of Londo's comes to the station seeking help for his political misfortunes, leading to an unfortunate confrontation.  Meanwhile, Sheridan becomes a host for an alien entity that needs a ride home.





Remember how back in the day, seasons of American tv shows used to consist of 22 or more episodes?  Them were the days, right?  I guess that's open to interpretation.  In any case, I mention it so as to make this next fact I'm going to lay on you a bit more impactful.

"Knives" was written by occasional B5 scripter Larry DiTilio.  The next one, like many which came before it, would be scripted by J. Michael Straczynski, and the next episode of the series not to be scripted by JMS would be episode eight of season five.  That's right, Straczynski wrote the next 56 consecutive episodes of the show, not to mention a two-hour television movie which aired during that time.  And, for that matter, 5.08 was the only episode of the season JMS didn't write!  (Harlan Ellison co-wrote the story for two episodes, but Straczynski himself wrote the teleplays.)

As far as I am aware, there is no stream in television which compares to it.  And I'll grant you: for all I know, there are many which not only compare to it but exceed it.  That's possible.  If so, let me know.

I mention all that to be able to persuasively argue that "Knives" ends an era of Babylon 5: the era in which the series was collaborative from a storytelling standpoint.  I'm sure Straczynski took inspiration from others as the series went forward from here, but for all credited purposes, it was his baby and his alone from a writing standpoint for almost the entirety of the show's remaining run.  My feeling is that that was for the better; what comes after is by no means perfect, but if nothing else, it can be considered to be a singularly-authored piece of work in the way that very few television shows can (especially from this era).

"Knives" itself isn't a bad episode, but it's a somewhat forgettable one.  Its primary story is the one involving Londo and Urza, neither of whom seem like particularly formidable swordsmen.  I'm torn on the subject of whether I think the director should have used stunt performers to try and sell the swordsmanship a bit more persuasively.  On the one hand, Peter Jurasik and Carmen Argenziano certainly aren't up to the task -- they try, but they aren't athletic in that way, nor do they seem as if they ever were athletic in that way, and that's not really a fakeable thing.  On the other hand, though, any time stuntmen are used to double for regular actors in these sorts of scenes, they appear fake as hell and convince nobody.  So really, the solution here is to just not write that sort of thing into a screenplay.  You've got to know what you can produce and what you can't, and this was a "can't" situation.

I do find the story of Londo's friendship with Urza -- and their families' ages-long affinity -- to be impactful within the larger context of what is happening within the Centauri government and society.  Seeds are planted here for the road Londo will eventually try to take; I can't remember whether Urza is ever mentioned again, but even if he isn't, Londo's souring on Lord Refa obviously begins right here.

As for the subplot in which Sheridan picks up an alien hitchhiker inside his brain and has to return it to its own sector of space ... well, that's a b-plot for you.

Bryant's rating:  ** 1/2 / *****


"Confessions and Lamentations"
  
  
(season 2, episode 18)
  
airdate:  May 24, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Kevin G. Cremins
  
A plague begins sweeping through the Markab populace aboard the station, prompting a quarantine.
  



This episode has a great concept: we discover that the Markab race are suffering from a plague that is 100% terminal and 100% communicable.  We learn further that the plague devastated an entire island's populace on their homeworld long ago, and that because the island -- Drafa -- was a place known for the immoral excesses of its people, the rest of the Markab believed that what happened must be a judgment for those immoral excesses.  This is a concept I don't have much trouble believing, especially within the confines of a sci-fi television series.  So I can also believe that when Drafa (the plague named after the island) reappears among the Markab long after, the families of people who contract it initially react with shame and with the urge to hide it, thus hiding the taint of immorality that could impact their position and legacy.

All of this is engineered to permit the episode to end in the place it ends: with all the Markab aboard Babylon 5 dead; and, worse by far, the entire Markab planetary population of two billion reported to have expired.  Perhaps some Markab survive in other places, but for all intents and purposes, an entire race has suddenly vanished from existence.

That's an awfully big swing for a one-hour episode of television to take, and while I think Straczynski and company definitely got the bat on the ball, I'm less sure the end result is a home run.  I'm hard-pressed to convince myself that the entire Markab population would be so deep-rooted in evasion of the medical truth that word wouldn't get out.  Would this REALLY only come to light thanks to Dr. Franklin, who just happens to be one of the series-regular characters on the show?  It's a bit far-fetched.  I can live with it; I'm just saying, it's a bit less graceful than might be optimal.

That's true of much of the episode, to be honest.  There's too much exposition, and too much of it is of the type designed to tell the audience things rather than actually serve the story.  Again, this is acceptable enough for a tv show; one learns to tolerate such things if one watches shows like Babylon 5.  Less acceptable is a subplot in which Franklin's entire medical staff (or so it seems) evinces shrinking reluctance to work in proximity to plague-stricken bodies due to fears that the disease might be able to cross species.  From a storytelling standpoint, this basically serves to make Franklin seem heroic and brave and morally superior; but it also makes it seem as if his entire staff is full of cretinously incompetent people who do not actually believe in the profession they have chosen to ostensibly be their life's work.  Since we assume Franklin must have hired many of them, and gives them periodcal performance reviews, this makes Franklin look like the worst decision-maker possible from an HR standpoint.

I also had a hard time believing that Sheridan never talks to anyone in Earthdome the entire time.  I guess we can assume that maybe he does offscreen, but how many other episodes have included scenes in which Sheridan (or Sinclair before him) have to suffer through talking to some useless Senator or another?  And you're telling me that that wouldn't happen -- and onscreen -- during an episode in which the entire station is quarantined?  Creating what must certainly be diplomatic chaos?  I can't buy it.  Just a few weeks ago, we saw diplomatic chaos of that nature during the events of "And Now For a Word."  Surely this would be that times ten.  For it not to happen here makes the episode feel strangely uncharacteristic, as if Londo and G'Kar and Kosh simply weren't available that week ... or Vir; or the Narn Bigfoot herself, Na'Toth.  Do the Minbari representatives -- Delenn and Lennier -- care about this only in a spiritual sense?  Have they no diplomatic concerns?

For me, these concerns diminish an episode that is otherwise quite good.

A couple of moments I especially like:

  • Garibaldi intervenes when a Markab is attacked by a group of humans.  The Markab is on the floor, bleeding, and reaches a hand up to Garibaldi for assistance.  Garibaldi gives the potentially-infectious arm a solemn, considering look for a few moments; then reaches down and takes the man's arm, helping him to his feet.  That little scene tells you a lot about Garibaldi.
  • While in isolation, Delenn comforts a young Markab girl who has been separated from her mother.  Lennier is off trying to find the mother, whom we assume is almost certainly dead or sick.  Lennier does eventually show up, though, with the relieved mother in tow; at which point, the little girl stumbles and nearly falls in a dizzy spell which indicates that she has become sick.  Not every show would do that with a little kid; but, of course, Babylon 5 has done this sort of things before ("Believers").

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"Divided Loyalties"
  
  
(season 2, episode 19)
  
airdate:  October 11, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Jesus Trevino
  
The station's first commercial telepath, Lyta Alexander, shows up unconscious in a damaged vessel.  After her encounter with Kosh -- way back in "The Gathering" -- she was recalled to Earth, and eventually went rogue from Psi Corps.  She's been on the run ever since, and during her flight she recently learned that someone in the command staff of B5 had been programmed with a false personality which is waiting to be triggered at the right time.  She has the password, and as Sheridan contemplates allowing her to test his staff by sending it to them telepathically, he learns a new fact: that Ivanova is a latent telepath whose secret powers would, if revealed, earn her a one-way ticket to a Psi Corps detention facility.




There was a twenty-week gap between the airdates of episodes eighteen and nineteen, and here in the real world of 2020, it's been nearly two months since I watched "Confessions and Lamentations."  I didn't do it that way on purpose; as I've mentioned a time or two, I'm conducting this rewatch by mixing the episodes in with my Deep Space Nine rewatch, proceeding chronologically by airdate.  And THAT I'm doing along with the Mission Log podcast, which took an extended holiday break after the third-season finale.

There's no real reason to mention any of that, I guess; but I do like to note these things for the record every so often.

It's also kind of interesting to me that a weeks-long gap was created accidentally in precisely the place where one existed in 1995 between the episodes.  And it's also worth mentioning that I think a gap between "Confessions and Lamentations" and "Divided Loyalties" makes a certain amount of emotional sense.  After all, that episode ended on a big old note of darkness, with Delenn collapsing into Sheridan's arms in the aftermath of the plague which brought the Markab people to an end.  It seems clear that some time has passed in the story when "Divided Loyalties" begins, for everyone seems to be more chipper and upbeat than they were at the end of that previous episode.  So time must have passed; nothing else makes sense.  And therefore, it makes sense for some time to have passed for the viewers, as well.  Was this planned on the part of the network when the episodes aired?  Likely not, but it's nice when things kind of work out.

As for the episode itself, golly, I sure do like Lyta.  I'm not sure Patricia Tallman is all that skilled an actor, but then again, even the best actors on this series sometimes seem stiff an encumbered.  Wait until we get the one where Martin Sheen plays a Soul Hunter.  (Not making that up, either.  The River of Souls, one of the tv movies.  Look it up.)  And I'm kind of freshly enamored of Tallman as a performer after finally seeing the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, in which he starred.  She's great in it, and so when I see her pop up again in Babylon 5 for this episode, I'm kind of seeing her through fresh eyes to some extent.

Spoiler alert: Talia Winters is revealed to be the mole.  "Mole" is the wrong word; she's been brainwashed and given a dormant personality, which Lyta discovers and causes to come screaming to the surface.  It's pretty well done; we're pointed in the direction of Ivanova for the entire episode, and I think maybe most first-time viewers will assume that what is going to happen is that Ivanova will be unmasked and Talia -- with whom Ivanova has become decidedly more friendly (more on which later) -- will somehow help her keep her own personality dominant.  But no, in fact it's the end for Talia.

This was the result of Andrea Thompson deciding to leave the series; it was neither the first nor the last time an actor's departure would toss an obstacle in the show's path around which it would have to navigate.  Lyta's re-emergence into the story was no mere coincidence, either; she'll be gone again after this episode, but only for a while, and when she comes back again-again, she'll be back to stay, and will bring with her the salvageable parts of whatever was intended for Talia in the long-term plan for the series.

I remain of a mixed opinion about this.  On the one hand, I always kind of liked Talia; but on the other hand, I do prefer Lyta.  On the one hand, I wish the story of Babylon 5 had been able to unfold in the originally-intended manner; but on the other hand, Straczynski's dodges and weaves are kind of compelling in their own right.  Here, he's able to turn the shock of Andrea Thompson's departure into the shock of Talia's unmasking, and he does so on at least two levels: he sets up the notion that Garibaldi is about to bring Talia in on the conspiracy among the senior B5 command staff; and then he also accelerates the relationship between Susan and Talia so as to give the telepath's "death" an extra emotional resonance for Ivanova.

I cannot for the life of me remember if I actually understood that they began a sexual relationship in this episode the first time I watched it.  If I had to bet money on it, I'd bet on not having understood it; I have a dim memory of someone pointing it out to me and me being all like, "Ohuh?!?"  Which is kind of how it was filmed/edited (if not performed): with an eye toward leaving it at least somewhat ambiguous for the dense among 1995 viewers.  For 2020 viewers, I think it's pretty freaking obvious, though.  I mean, Talia wakes in the night and stretches out a hand to find the expectedly-sleeping form of Susan missing.  So they wuz sharin' the same bed, and probably also genitals at some point.  Just seems likely to me, you know?  Pretty tame stuff by 2020 standards, but it's riskier than is typical for 1995.

The episode also gets a good amount of punch from the scene in which Ivanova divulges to Sheridan that she herself is a latent telepath; probably not even a P1 on the psi-scale, but enough for the Corps to show up and take her away -- permanently -- if it were to get to their ears.  Suddenly, her series-long aversion to telepaths in general (and Talia specifically) seems earned and understandable.  And Straczynski has been able to metaphorically intertwine this with a subplot about Susan being either gay or bi (or one of the many other options which would not have been apparent to 1995 Bryant and which are barely apparent to 2020 Bryant either).  That's pretty well done, Joe.

Less well-done: a cringey opening scene in which Sheridan and Delenn bond over the newspaper-recycling machine, and an equally cringey scene later on in which Delenn is confused by the word "butt."  Although the latter scene does have its moments, including Sheridan's boyish exclamation of "abso-fraggin'-lutely."  I always liked "frag" as a fake sci-fi cuss-word replacement for "fuck."  Battlestar Galactica gets all the shine for using the variant "frak," but for my money, B5 and "frag" got there first.  Never forget!

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"The Long, Twilight Struggle"


(season 2, episode 20)

airdate:  October 18, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  John C. Flinn III
  
Sheridan is contacted by a projection (from the surface of the nearby planet) of Draal, whom you might remember from having taken over as the steward of the Great Machine.  Draal has been watching Sheridan, whom he has decided to be a pretty good guy.  He invites the Captain (along with Delenn) to the planet for a meeting, during which he pledges to Sheridan the powers of the planet in the upcoming struggle.
  
Meanwhile, Refa has summoned Londo to a different planet: Centauri Prime.  There, he divulges a plot to exploit some recently-gained intelligence regarding a Narn assault on their supply lines.  While the Narn are thus engaged, Refa and Londo will lead a Centauri fleet to the Narn homeworld, which they will devastate with mass-drivers (think a cannon which fires asteroids).




This is, for my money, a great episode of Babylon 5.  I wish it was also a great episode of television, but there are simply too many moments of cheesiness for that to be the case.  Don't get me wrong; those moments are outweighed (and then some) by the episode's many virtues.  But there's a scene in which a riot on Babylon 5 breaks out thanks to violence resulting from the breaking news of the Narn homeworld being attacked by the Centauri fleet, and during that scene a regular-Joe-type Centauri dude literally does a flying roundhouse kick on a Narn.  VanDamme style, man.  What it looks like is that an intergalactic stunt-person convention was happening on the station, and that a group of Narn stuntmen got pissed and attacked a group of Centauri stuntmen.  That's what it looks like, and it's a bridge too far.

So, I'd argue, is the impossibly hammy performance of John Schuck as Draal.  The original actor of the role is gone, and so instead we have the Klingon ambassador from The Voyage Home.  And I like that guy, so I'm glad to see him, even if he is at an eleven here when a six would have done just fine.  Still, it's a  mild problem.

But if one focuses on those aspects of the episode, one is missing out on some great stuff.  Babylon 5 is a series which wishes to suggest a vast universe of activity.  I think it mostly does a good job of that, and once in a while it manages to actually depict some of that.  Here, I think the feel of a genuine political nightmare is put onscreen with even greater impact that with President Santiago's death at the end of the first season.  You feel it building when Refa, in snakelike fashion, foists his plans upon Londo; you realize along with Londo that events have accelerated too rapidly for even him to control.  Sure, his "associates" could probably step in, but this would require instigating a Centauri civil war or something similarly calamitous.  Things have progressed too far for such to be feasible, and this is largely his own doing.  So when he stands at an observation window of one of the invading ships, witnessing literal devastation being rained down upon the Narn homeworld, he knows that this is only happening because of decision he himself made.  All of a sudden -- and not necessarily for the first time, but for the most impactful time to date -- the many scenes earlier in the series in which Londo is kind of just a pathetic semi-nobody gain considerable weight, because his desire to become a somebody once again turn out to have far-reaching consequences.

And so when we see Londo striding back onto Babylon 5, he is no longer a pathetic figure; he is close to being genuinely terrifying.  (Peter Jurasik is great in this episode, and especially in that scene.  Also great in that scene: Jerry Doyle, who plays Garibaldi -- Londo's onetime friend -- with what strikes me as a combination of fury, diplomatic respect, and perhaps even a touch of fear.)  And when he screams at Sheridan during the meeting of the Advisory Council, he does not come off as desperate or shrill; he comes off as commanding and imposing.  This, in turn, makes Sheridan seem all the more impressive for refusing to yield or bow down or be otherwise intimidated by him.  This, then, is a man who can stand against a figure of actual galactic weight and import.  So if we doubted it before in any way, we need doubt it no further: things of true scale are happening on this station.

And then, of course, there is G'Kar.  He is cast down from his ambassadorial position here, cut low and forced -- against his will, at the order of his government in its dying throes -- to beg Sheridan for sanctuary.  Andreas Katsulas plays his scenes here with perfection; you can see that if it were up to G'Kar, he would almost certainly find a way to commit suicide via an attack of some sort against the Centauri.  But that is not to be his path, and the emotional price he pays for this is beyond the ability of words to convey.  And yet, he's got some pretty damn good words for Londo, promising his nemesis that the lesson his people taught the Centauri once is a lesson they can and will teach them again, though it take them a thousand years to do so.

I'd also like to single out composer Christopher Franke for some praise.  He does marvelous work here, primarily in the two space-battle scenes (the Narn "attack" on Gorash which results in the annihilation of their fleet being the first, and the Centauri assault on the Narn homeworld).  It is tense, exciting, powerful stuff, and Franke's music combines with the excellent CGI effects to push the series to a new level of cinematic heft.

We'll end on a complaint, since I've been generous with my praise: why can nobody in the episode say "mass drivers" correctly?  The idea is that these weapons drive masses of physical matter -- perhaps not literally asteroids, though they sure do look to be of similar composure -- into a planet's atmosphere, where they will crash and cause literal devastation.  These are literal weapons of mass destruction, pun intended.  And yet, everyone says the phrase as though the weapons are drivers of some sort which are being adjectivally described as "mass."  Like how you'd say they are smelly drivers, or fat drivers, or salty drivers.  Instead, you want to say them the same way you'd refer to truck drivers, or horse drivers, or go-kart drivers.  These are drivers which drive trucks, or horses, or go-karts.

This, I feel certain, is a mark against director John C. Flinn III, who ought to have known better.  but given how well most of the rest of the episode plays, I can't hold him to all that much blame for it.

Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****


"Comes the Inquisitor"
  
  
(season 2, episode 21)
  
airdate:  October 25, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Mike Vejar
  
Ambassador Kosh arranges for Delenn to be questioned by an "inquisitor" who aims to discover whether she is genuine in her beliefs or instead seeks only glory.  Meanwhile, G'Kar arranges to purchase a cache of weapons to send to his people on the Narn homeworld, only to discover that he is not fully trusted among his people on the station.




A truly bizarre idea lurks at the heart of this episode.  I'm going to not mention it, not specifically; those of you who've seen the episode know the plot detail of which I speak.

I am surprised to find myself aggravated by that plot detail this time around.  The role of Sebastian is played excellently by Wayne Alexander, and Mira Furlan is perhaps at her very finest in the role to this date; but the specifics of what is going on here just don't work for me.  Why would the Vorlons do such a thing?  Surely there's a more expedient, efficient, and reliable way to find out if Delenn is on the level than by ... well, by doing the various things which are done during (and well before the events of) this episode.

It brings me back to one of my central problems with Babylon 5: all too often, it feels like a show which is being written.  It feels engineered; made up; concocted.  It feels, I am sorry to say, like bullshit.  Not all the time.  Last week's episode felt like anything but.  This week, though, you've got a guy in a tophat with a cane torturing Delenn in a British accent.  He spouts a lot of mumbo-jumbo at her about how she thinks she's right when the world says she's wrong, and while the performances are fantastic, I just cannot help but feel that what's really at stake here is that J. Michael Straczynski needed to make sure that we understood (A) that Delenn is pure of heart, (B) that Sheridan and Delenn have formed a rather close bond, and (C) that the Vorlons are enigmatic and dangerous despite being the allies of our favorite good guys.

We already know all of those things.  Maybe -- maybe -- the reminder about the Vorlons is useful in both a broad context and within the context of what's getting ready to happen in the next episode.  I don't want to rule that out.  But to me, on this particular rewatch, "Comes the Inquisitor" struck me as mainly being about JMS following us around and reminding us of things that he'd already told us, insecure in our ability to remember them.  Or, perhaps, he might have just been in love with that big, goofy idea I'm not spelling out.

Either way, this episode which was once a favorite of mine struck me as being decidedly middle-of-the-pack this time around.  Not bad, but no longer a favorite.
 
I do still love the elevator scene between G'Kar and Vir, though.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"The Fall of Night"


(season 2, episode 22)

airdate:  November 1, 1995 
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Janet Greek
  
A representative from Earth's Ministry of Peace arrives on the station to deliberate upon the Narn/Centauri situation, which is complicated by the arrival of a Narn heavy cruiser whose captain asks Sheridan for sanctuary.  Sheridan grants it, only to find himself facing down a Centauri warship which demands the Narns' surrender.  They don't get it; they do get the full firepower of B5, which destroys the ship and puts Sheridan very badly under scrutiny for jeopardizing the just-signed non-aggression treaty between Earth and the Centauri.  Sheridan barely survives an assassination attempt, and in fact does survive only by the intervention of Kosh, who leaves his encounter suit -- revealing himself to be an angelic figure who is seen differently by all races, but as a deity by all who see him.
  
Meanwhile, Night Watch steps up their presence and influence, pressuring Zack into doing something he'd rather not do and offering Ivanova a would-be-enticing deal.
 
 
  
 
By no means is this a bad episode -- it's just fine, actually.  It's isn't one of the stronger B5 season finales, though.  I think part of what weighs it down is that the big reveal of what Vorlons look like is a bit too ambitious for the effects of the era to convey, at least at the budget Babylon 5 had to make it happen.  It's a cool idea: Sheridan is falling (slowly, thanks to the gravity differential) to his death, and Kosh leaves his suit in order to fly up like Superman and save him.  In so doing, Minbari see a Minbari angel flying through the air, and Drazi see a Drazi angel, and humans see a human angel, and so forth.  All of which implies that even outside his encounter suit, Kosh is showing his true form to NOBODY.  This is all a manipulative sham, a game being played by one player: the Vorlon.
 
All of which is cool and creepy and effective.  But the effects just aren't there, man.  The guy who plays the human-looking angel -- it's possibly the same extra in all of Kosh's guises -- is unbelievably stiff; he has to nod at Sheridan at one point, and this guy looks like he'd never heard of the concept of nodding until right before the camera was pointed at him.  It looks like they had one take, and he blew it, but they were stuck with it, and now so are we.
 
Other aspects of the episode are better.  The characters who represent Minipax and Night Watch are an interesting mix: the Ministry of Peace fellow is a kindly-grandpa figure, whom you believe to be genuine in his beliefs that what he is doing is for the bettermen of all mankind; meanwhile, the Night Watch bigwig is obviously an untrustworthy snake-oil salesman, and one who seems awfully confident in the success of his operation.  He's played by John Vickery, who is arguably a bit too obsequious in the role ... but at the same time, I think that's likely on purpose.  Wells is a cobra inside a henhouse; he can act however he wishes.
 
This, clearly, is a problem for anyone on the opposite side of Night Watch.  Will this play a role in the third-season storyline?  Well, we'll find out, won't we?
 
All of the Earth-politics stuff is pretty good.  Once again, though, it's the Narn/Centauri politics which really captivates me.  Londo doesn't have a huge amount to do, but he does get to throw some bluster around, and Peter Jurasik is excellent at conveying the extent to which Londo believes he is untouchable.  At the end of the episode, he is seen waving both arms at a meeting of the representatives from the Non-Aligned Worlds; he's got both hands balled into fists, and he is loudly berating or threatening them, and he's kind of terrifying, because you know that whatever he is saying, he can back up.  This is a man who is in the process of going mad with power.  Or perhaps he merely wants people to believe that he is emboldened to that degree; we've seen (not in this episode but in others) plenty of indications that Londo is not quite as brazen as he might appear to be; I'm not sure you can say that's merely playing a role, but if you know him, then you know that there's more to what is going on than a mere relishing of a newfound authority.
 
The result of all of this is that scenes which involve Londo (and/or G'Kar) absolutely crackle with import.  The rest of the series will be defined, at least in part, by the depth of these two characters, who by this point are well-sketched enough that it permits viewers to fully understand the range of emotions that exist within them both.  So even when we see Londo making demands of, say, Sheridan, we also see a man whom we know to be terrified of the genies he has let out of the lamp.  Imagine!  This depth grew from the buffoonery of the Londo of season one, who was at times cringe-worthy in his shallowness and his silliness.  That jackanapes who was crawling on a table and howling drunken invocations in "The Parliament of Dreams" has become someone else entirely, and yet ... he arrived there organically, and you can still see occasional hints that the previous Londo is still present with the current one.  Expertly-done stuff.
 
Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****
 
I'll close with a brief ode to a dearly-departed friend of mine: my old Zenith SDTV set, which issued a death rattle not too long ago and sighed out its final breath.  This was sometime in the early morning on Valentine's Day, as I sat down to watch "Comes the Inquisitor."  The tv tried to turn on, and just couldn't do it.
 
I bought this tv for myself a college graduation present way back in 1998, and even after I upgraded to an HDTV years later (and then a larger HDTV years after that), I hung onto my good old Zenith.  There were certain things that I simply preferred to watch on that set.  Some DVDs -- Babylon 5, for example, with its aggravatingly fuzzy lo-res effects shots; Deep Space Nine and Voyager were further examples -- simply looked better to me on this old-school television than on a newfangled one.
 
But in the early morning of Valentine's Day 2020, it passed beyond the rim at last.  Lovingly and with great ceremony, I hoisted it upon my chest, walked it down the steps of my apartment complex, and carried it over to a dumpster, where I gave it a modest burial.
 
Farewell, Zenith!  You were a good pal for many years.
 
And with that, another season of Babylon 5 has reached its end.  It's a better season than the first in nearly every way; by no means perfect, but by this point, we've begun to get the best the show has to offer.
 
We haven't seen the last of it.

2 comments:

  1. (1) I alas still have seen only the first few episodes of the show, but it's fun to read these overviews just the same.

    (2) That picture of Koenig for "A Race Through Dark Places" makes me happy.

    (3) That's a pretty sad story on Michael O'Hare. Just wiki'd him and saw the whole deal.

    (4) Maybe they're just yelling? ("GROPOS")? I wish they'd added an exclamation point, to quell dissenting opinions.

    (5) Cool screencap, there, for "All Alone in the Dark."

    (6) I'm afraid you've sold me on precisely the opposite of this scene you describe in "Acts of Sacrifice!" I'll tell Hell that Bryant sent me.

    (7) Very intriguing re: "And Now For a Word"!

    (8) "The next one, like many which came before it, would be scripted by J. Michael Straczynski, and the next episode of the series not to be scripted by JMS would be episode eight of season five. That's right, Straczynski wrote the next 56 consecutive episodes of the show, not to mention a two-hour television movie which aired during that time." That is seriously nuts. And awesome.

    (9) Your description of "Comes the Inquisitor" reminds me of how I feel about most of the Doctor Who episodes I've seen.

    (10) RIP to Zenith, a faithful friend in whose frame you saw both the future and the past.

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    Replies
    1. (1) Thanks! I try to make them at least somewhat readable for someone who is unfamiliar with the episodes.

      (2) Me too! I'm glad Koenig got a meaty role like this one on a different show than Trek. Many of his fellow Trek co-stars never managed to fare as well.

      (3) I'd never actually read that until just now. Sad indeed. It's a rough old world, and being famous (or semi-famous) is no guard against it.

      (4) "GROPOS!" Oh, yeah, that's absolutely an improvement. Good call!

      (5) I like that one, too. It's a very simple set, but is a good example of trying something different to help make up for a severe lack of budget. Not all of the show's tries at that are successful, but I like that one.

      (6) Ha! Yeah, it's rough stuff.

      (7) That one is imperfect, but very worthwhile.

      (8) Less awesome at some times than at others, it must be admitted. But it must be a hell of an achievement to merely have gotten it done, much less to have gotten it done relatively well.

      (9) Ooh, that's an interesting comparison. And a fairly appropriate one, too. Especially for this particular episode!

      (10) That's a great way to put it, and very true.

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