The Babylon Diaries: Season 4

It was the year of fire.  The year of destruction.
The year we took back what was ours.
It was the year of rebirth. The year of great sadness.
The year of pain. And a year of joy.
It was a new age.
It was the end of history.
It was the year everything changed.
The year is 2261.
The place: Babylon 5.

 

 

 

This installment is Part 4 is a series. To start from the beginning, click here!

The Babylon Diaries: Season 4 – Introduction

3/06/2010

I’m supposed to be watching Batman Forever right now.  Yes, it only took about twenty minutes of Schumacher Gone Wild for me to send up a white flag and declare the failure of today’s six-film Batmanathon.  I’m craving real characters and intelligent acting.  I want complex, interesting plots.  I need directors who respect the audience.  I’m praying for dialogue that doesn’t make anyone say, “Chicks dig the car.”  In short, let’s watch some Babylon 5.

When last we left them, hard times had befallen the last of the Babylon stations.  Dr. Franklin is confined to a wheelchair following his assault.  Garibaldi’s Z-Wing has been captured and whisked away by the Shadows.  Captain Sheridan ventured to the Shadow homeworld of Z’ha’dum with his creepy wife and flew his explosives-laden ship straight into their base.  Ivanova is stuck with Marcus continually humping her leg.  It’s not looking good, folks.  But, as the box says, there’s No Surrender, No Retreat.  Let’s check it out.

Dramatis Personae in 2261

The Humans

Captain John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner)

Determined and unflappable, John Sheridan is the CO of Babylon 5. A decorated war veteran, he is devoted to the ideals of the Alliance, a dedication that was severely tested in 2260. As the administration of President Morgan Clark became increasingly dictatorial, he led the station in a secession from Earth in order to continue their struggle against the forces of the Shadow.  Now, trapped on the enemy’s homeworld of Z’ha’dum and facing hopeless odds, Sheridan remote piloted his ship full of thermonuclear explosives into the capitol city at ramming speed.  Just before impact, he heard a voice in his head and Sheridan leapt from atop a high balcony into the darkness below.

Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle)

Garibaldi is the skeptical, fast-thinking, fast-talking security chief of Babylon 5. At the end of last season, he had been deployed in a Z-Wing to defend the station against an incoming assault. The invading ships retreated, but not before taking Garibaldi as a prize. His current location is unknown.

Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian)

Commander Ivanova is Babylon 5’s second in command.  She has a dry wit and a steel backbone, which helps her deal with both the day-to-day operations of the station and fending off the advances of ranger Marcus Cole.  Last year, Susan was left in charge of the Babylon 5 when Sheridan agreed to a meeting on the Shadows’ homeworld.  Now, with Sheridan and Garibaldi missing or dead, the responsibilities of the station, her friends, and quite possibly the war rest on her shoulders.

Security Officer Zack Allen (Jeff Conaway)

Zack was promoted to Garibaldi’s right hand man in 2259.  He is friendly and loyal, but sometimes comes off a little naïve, especially compared to his boss. After joining the Nightwatch in Season 2, he shed the armband last year and helped Captain Sheridan and the others kick the organization off of Babylon 5.

Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs)

Driven and brilliant, Dr. Franklin is Babylon 5’s chief medical officer. Following an addiction to stims, Franklin resigned his position last year and went on a ‘walkabout’ throughout the ship, feeling he needed to find himself before he could ever take up the post again. He returned a little worse for wear, but with a new outlook and ready to resume his duties.

Marcus Cole (Jason Carter)

Marcus is the Babylon 5 representative of the Rangers, covert warriors dedicated to fighting the Shadows and their allies.  Although always chipper and occasionally goofy, Marcus is a formidable fighter and sits on Sheridan’s war council with the senior staff.  He also carries a torch for Commander Ivanova and, when not battling the forces of evil, doggedly tries to get her to notice him.

Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman)

Lyta is a P5-rated telepath and was Babylon 5’s original liaison from the PsiCorp. Following the events of The Gathering in 2257, she went on the run, returning briefly in 2259 and then for good in 2260. She served as a diplomatic assistant to the original the Vorlon ambassador, Kosh, and now serves his replacement in the same way.  Last season, we learned that Lyta has been altered by the Vorlon and may hold the key to defeating the Shadow forces.

The Aliens

Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan)

Delenn represents the Minbari government aboard Babylon 5.  In 2258, she cocooned herself with a Minbari relic and emerged the next year as a half-human/half-Minbari hybrid. Though typically patient and philosophical, Delenn has proved to be a fierce opponent when provoked and will let nothing get in the way of what she believes is right.  She has begun a relationship with Captain Sheridan, but its status is uncertain given the recent events on Z’ha’dum.

Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik)

Londo is the proud, cantankerous diplomat representing the Centauri Republic aboard the station.  He is an ally of the Shadows, at least in name. Their partnership has vastly increased his standing over the last two years, but he has gone from concerned to afraid to blazingly angry about the actions of his partners. When last we saw him, Londo had been promoted to Special Advisor to the Emperor and a “friend” warned him to get off the station as soon as possible.

G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas)

G’Kar is a former ambassador to Babylon 5 for the Narn Regime, currently controlled by the Centauri following a war in 2259. Although he no longer has any official power, G’Kar is now an influential member of the Narn resistance and will do anything to free his people and avenge the injustices brought upon them.

Ambassador Kosh

Kosh is the second representative from the mysterious Vorlon, the first (also named Kosh) having been killed by Shadow agents aboard the station.  The Vorlon are among the oldest races in the galaxy and, while the first Kosh seemed a benevolent, guiding presence, his replacement appears far less interested in being helpful.

Other Persons of Interest

Lennier (Bill Mumy)

Lennier is Delenn’s faithful assistant and pupil.  Like Delenn, he hails from the Minbari religious caste and holds a calm and philosophical demeanor about most things.  He is intensely protective of his master, however, and defends her fiercely, no matter the cost.

Vir Cotto (Stephen Furst)

The well-meaning but awkward Vir Cotto was once Londo Mollari’s personal aide aboard Babylon 5.  After Londo’s alliance with the Shadows, however, Vir’s conscience proved too much for Londo and Vir was promoted to the Centauri Republic’s envoy to Minbar and sent off-station. He still makes regular visits, however, and has reestablished his friendship with the older Centauri.

Lorien (Wayne Alexander)

Patient and wise, Lorien claims to be the “First One” of the First Ones. His motives are mysterious, but he appears compassionate and sympathetic to the plight of the Young Races fighting against the Shadow threat.

Emperor Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer)

Raised into power by the political machinations of Londo Mollari and his friends, Emperor Cartagia now rules over the expanding Centauri Republic.  Unfortunately for them, he is dangerously insane and believes himself destined for godhood once he allows the Vorlons to turn Centauri Prime into a massive inauguration pyre.

Morden (Ed Wasser)

Morden is the human(ish) liaison between the Shadows and the races on Babylon 5.  He was discovered in 2259 to have been on the same ship that supposedly killed Sheridan’s wife five years before. Although once quite handsome, personal appearance fell off his list of priorities last year when Sheridan crashed his ship full of explosives into Morden’s home.

Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig)

Bester is a high-ranking PsiCop who has a habit of making life difficult for the crew of Babylon 5.  Last season, however, he found himself working with the crew on several occasions.  Whether this changes their relationship or not remains to be seen.

William Edgars (Ephraim Zimbalist, Jr)

A powerful industrialist on Mars and one of the richest humans in the galaxy.  Though he personally remains as hidden as possible, Edgars has powerful connections and a vast network of agents that help him attain the ends he seeks.

Episode 401: Hour of the Wolf
Grade: A

A quiet first episode, but a very good one.  We pick up seven days after the events of Z’Ha’Dum and everyone on Babylon 5 is in a funk.  Ivanova sleepwalks through her job, Delenn refuses to eat, the League of Nonaligned Worlds crumbles, and the new Vorlon ambassador is kind of a jerk.  It all feels very much like the Battlestar Galactica episode “Sometimes A Great Notion”: it’s not really concerned with moving the plot forward (although it does); it’s more about exploring a moment in time when everything sucks.  How do you feel?  How do you react?  What do you latch onto?

I’m also digging the Centauri plot they introduce here.  It appears we’ll be spending some time outside of B5, which is neat, and Emperor Cartagia looks like a great foil for Londo.  It *could* descend into parody, but I have faith that JMS is not going to let that happen.  All that plus a discussion of Daffy Duck as the god of frustration knits together for a stellar, if unexpected, start to the season.

Best Line
Have you ever heard of the Hour of the Wolf?  My father told me about it. It’s the time between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning. You can’t sleep, and all you can see is the troubles and the problems and the ways that your life should’ve gone but didn’t. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart. I’ve been living in the hour of the wolf for seven days, Lyta. Seven days. The wolf and I are now on a first-name basis. In times like this, my father used to take one large glass of vodka before bed. ‘To keep the wolf away,’ he said. And then he would take three very small drinks of vodka, just in case she had cubs while she was waiting outside.
[takes a drink]
It doesn’t work. – Cmdr. Susan Ivanova

Episode 402: Whatever Happened to Mr. Garabaldi?
Grade: B

There were two bits of plot I failed to mention in the last episode, but they’re both front and center in Whatever Happened to Mr. Garabaldi? The first is G’Kar’s hunt for the missing Security Chief, which started in Hour of the Wolf with an almost sweet scene between G’Kar and Zack Allen.  It picks up again here in a bar with the reintroduction of Marcus (which, surprisingly, got a cheer from me) and winds up with everyone’s favorite Citizen captured as a present for Londo and held for torture in the Centauri royal palace.  It looks like this is going to get really dark really fast.  I can’t wait.

The second is the journey of John Sheridan, who is indeed alive.  Except he’s not.  Or something.  We only saw him briefly last time, beat up and huddled around a fire in a Beckett play.  Now, he is joined by Ki Adi Mundi, who is apparently The First One of all First Ones.  Ki Adi Mundi convinces Sheridan that he is indeed dead, but promises to “breathe on his embers” and bring him back to life, as long as he accepts death first.  Or something.

To be honest, I wasn’t feeling that whole storyline.  Hopefully the next few episodes will either spin it in a way that makes sense to me or wrap it up quickly so I can forget all about it.

Best Line
If you’re falling off a mountain, you may as well try to fly. – John Sheridan

Episode 403: The Summoning
Grade: A

Wow, there was a lot going on here: New Kosh gets officially upgraded to Evil Kosh.  The Vorlons are officially upgraded to being just as big a problem as the Shadows (which is awesome).  G’Kar gets officially upgraded to Jesus.  We also get the return of Garbaldi, who is probably now a pod person, and the return of Captain Sheridan, who is all speechy and dramatical.

It’s really done well all around, I’m just a little irked no one seems to be dwelling on what’s up with Captain John being, y’know, alive.  I’m sure it’s gets addressed later, but that would be the first thing out of my mouth.

Best Line
Drazi: Captain!  We’re sorry.  We thought you were dead.
Sheriden: I was. I got better.

Episode 404: Falling Toward Apotheosis
Grade: A

There’s the explanation I was looking for!  Admittedly, twenty years doesn’t feel like quite the life-changing pronouncement I was expecting, but whatever.

This was another pretty jam-packed episode.  Out in space, the Vorlon fleet is on the hunt, obliterating every world touched by the Shadows (which is basically everywhere) and sending all the survivors fleeing for an overcrowded Babylon 5.  In the royal court, Londo is still struggling to reign in the Emperor and G’kar loses an eye (yowch).  Back on the station, Pod Person Garibaldi is acting suspicious as hell but returns to duty anyway and Sheridan enacts a plan to kill Evil Kosh, which he pulls off in pretty spectacular fashion.

It’s all really well done and a lot of fun to watch, but I don’t think I have a whole lot to say except “When can I see the next episode?”

Best Line
I just don’t like the way he’s looking at me. – Emperor Cartagia

Episode 405: The Long Night
Grade: A+

Hmm.  I think it’s finally happened: I’ve run out of things to say about Babylon 5.  I mean, I dug this episode.  A lot.  Emperor Cartagia is killed, Narn is freed, and Sheridan gambles at playing the Shadows and the Vorlon against one another.  So what is there to say about it?  The acting is great?  The story is gripping?  In a word: duh.

Since I don’t think I’ll get another chance, though, I do want to give major props to Wortham Krimmer for his performance as Emperor Cartagia.  The man made a seriously great villain out of a character who could have gone wrong in any number of ways.  Madness is tough to play, especially when you get into outlandish territory like talking to a room full of heads.  If an actor lets himself get too goofy or nonthreatening, it just kills his street cred as a bad guy and Krimmer never let that happen.  Even in his funny moments, Cartagia was always menacing and unstable.  Everyone walked on eggshells around him and every conversation was like navigating a minefield.  Those who weren’t quite so adept at it—like the poor court jester in this episode—made you cringing because you know, sooner or later, Cartagia will blow up in their face.  I miss him already.

Best Line
Your heart is empty, Mollari.  Did you know that? – G’Kar

Episode 406: Into the Fire
Grade: A

Wow, that was unexpected.  Only six episodes into the season and it seems that the Shadow War is over, a major character got himself perished, and the shows longest-running plot thread has been all tied up.  It kind of begs the question, where do we go from here?

I’m sort of writing this on the fly, so instead of creating something that sounds thorough and well thought out, I present to you small list of observations, made in no particular order:
•    I’m glad they made Lorien feel like something more than a plot device once before he disappeared.
•    I loved the payoff of Vir and Morden’s conversation from In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum.
•    Lyta’s new look, with the black leather and the Mara Jade hairdo, is totally hot.
•    I like the acknowledgment that the Shadow War is ultimately a war of ideas and, as such, can only be settled with a debate rather than of a duel.
•    That said, there was also a kickass space battle.  Yay!

Best Line
Marcus: Did we just win?
Ivanova: Don’t jinx it!

Episode 407: Epiphanies
Grade: B-

Hey look!  Humans!  I remember them!  Yes, after a whole five minutes of victory celebration, Epiphanies brings back Earthforce to mess with Babylon 5 and make everyone miserable.  It seems that President Clark is working in conjunction with the PsiCorp, Nightwatch, and the Ministry of Peace to paint our heroic crew as a terrorist organization.  This sends Alfred Bester—who just last night I realized is named after the guy who wrote The Stars, My Destination—back to Sheridan with an offer of information in exchange for help fixing his freaky girlfriend.

It’s all good stuff, even if it’s missing the urgency of the last few episodes.  I’m interested in seeing where this super-psychic angle with Lyta goes and I’m frankly happy to see Garibaldi resign—he’s gone from funny-grouchy to obnoxious-grouchy lately, so if they’re going to drag out his whole Manchurian Candidate thing, I’m happy keeping him offscreen.  I’m not sure that I’m feeling the idea of ‘dark servants,’ though.  At this stage, it just feels like they’re setting themselves up to rehash old ground.  I dunno.

Best Line
The only reason that [Londo] is still alive is that half the time I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. – Zack Allan

Episode 408: The Illusion of Truth
Grade: A+

I so totally loved this.  Of course you know it’s going to be bad news when an Earthgov reporter turns up on Babylon 5 and of course you know what’s going to happen when you hear some of the things that come out of people’s mouths with the camera on.  We’ve seen it and heard it a hundred times before, but the sensational fantasy news report they create in this episode is a piece of genius. The leaps of logic that the news team makes and the little details that are brought up out of context create a paranoid conspiracy that would make Oliver Stone jealous.  It’s brilliant and devastating and, even though I was fully expecting it, I slow clap in their general direction.

Best Line
Let’s see what’s on.  With our luck, it’ll probably be a commercial. – John Sheridan

Episode 409: Atonement
Grade: A-

Have I mentioned how much I like the new saga sale at the start of the credits this season?  I don’t think I have.  It’s got an intense poetry to it that I’m very into, especially in contrast to last seasons short, direct “last best hope for victory” speech (which also worked very well).  I’m not liking the credits as much, though.  They seem like a step back from last year’s ‘starburst’ credits.

Anyway, AtonementAtonement felt very much like a throwback to the old, prewar Babylon 5, which was kinda nice.  The plot is serious without being fate-of-the-world dramatic and it’s funny without being gallows humor.  It features Delenn being whisked back to Minbar to face the judgment of her clan over her relationship with Captain Sheridan.  She and Lennier embark on ‘the dreaming,’ which ostensibly is to prove to her people that she isn’t doing anything wrong, but is really about allowing us inside her head to show us why Delenn is the way she is.

In particular, it features the Minbari side of the disastrous first contact that led to the human/Minbari war, which is a neat counterpoint to what we heard from King Arthur in last season’s A Late Delivery from Avalon.  I like when we’re given little peeks into the strange-yet-familiar alien cultures on B5, so I was really enjoying this even before they went and layered it up with connections to Valen and the First War with the Shadow.

And then, after all their hard work at crafting a great episode, the whole show gets stolen out from under them by Marcus singing Gilbert and Sullivan.  Ha!

Best Line
I am the very model of a modern major general
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral
I know the kings of England, and I quote from fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical.
– Marcus Cole

Episode 410: Racing Mars
Grade: B+

Marcus and Franklin on a road trip to Mars?  And it’s worth watching?  I’d never believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Maybe it’s because they just haven’t been around as much this season, but Marcus and the Doc seriously bring the funny as they try to make contact with the Mars Resistance only to find that no one’s heard of them.  Their brief stint as a gay couple was fantastic (and I totally dug the fact that it managed to be funny while also making it totally clear that ‘gay’ wasn’t something to be reviled in 2261.)  It also features another creepy crawly that looks suspiciously related to the Shouldereye from Epiphanies.

Also, allow me to take back what I said about Garibaldi leaving.  The passive-aggressive thing got under my skin in a bad way, but now that he’s out of the Sheridan-hating closet, I’m really enjoying it.  I’m curious about where it’s going—especially since he’s obviously a pod person—but I’m liking the discord.

Oh yeah: A female Pope!  Yay, progress!

Best Line
Marcus: Worst of all, I’m married to you.
Franklin: Well, that’s not my idea.
Marcus; Oh, you say that now!  Tell that to your mother.  She never stopped calling us about it!  “So when’s the big day?  I’ve got to pick out patterns!  Your father isn’t going to live forever,” and on and on and on and on.
Franklin: I hate this.  I really hate this.
Marcus: You’re just nervous.  That’s all.  You get used to it.  Next thing, he’ll be locking himself in the bathroom all night.

Episode 411: Lines of Communication
Grade: A-

Well, we’re back to firing on all cylinders.  Not that they ever stopped, I guess, but Lines of Communication really snapped the show back into focus for me.  On Babylon 5, we get the tease of the Ivanova News Network that our heroes will be using to combat the propaganda of ISN.  On Mars, Stephen and Marcus continue to impress me as they organize the collapsing Resistance movement and get cozy with cute, blonde cell leader Number One.  And in deep space, Delenn meets some freaky rubber Predators and gets angry at them.

I’m not so sure that I’m 100% behind her big speech at the end (I just can’t get worked up over her ‘you only have twenty years left to live’ issue) but I like that they’re addressing the inevitable reconstruction and rebuilding that follows a war like the one they just survived.  It’s easy for a story to go out Rocky-style and roll credits at the big moment of triumph, it’s much braver to turn the page and deal with what happens the next day.

Best Line
End this. – Delenn

Episode 412: Conflicts of Interest
Grade: B-
This was… okay.  Conflicts takes a look at Michael Garibaldi, P.I. and shows us how he is adjusting to life as a civilian.  It was nice to learn that he hasn’t become a total jerk and that he’s actually doing fairly well for himself in the ‘finding stuff’ business.  We also get a closer look at Garibaldi’s new friends (who are all kinds of skeevy) and his new boss, William Edgars, a filthy rich Martian who doesn’t like to be seen, which probably makes him a bad guy.  I also just want to say I’m not liking Garibaldi’s shaved-head look.  It’s a small thing, but even so…

Elsewhere on the station, We also get the first broadcast of the Voice of the Resistance, which was a little stirring, and the return of Zathras, who is actually the brother of Zathras, as well as Zathras, Zathras, Zathras, Zathras, Zathras, Zathras, Zathras, and Zathras, who all live down on Epsilon 3.  It injects some much needed humor into an episode that is otherwise just passable.

Best Line
No one manages poor Zathras, you see. So Zathras talks to dirt. Or to walls.  Or talks to ceilings. But dirt is closer. Dirt is used to everyone walking on it. Just like Zathras. But we have come to like it. It is our role. It is our destiny in the universe. So, you see, sometimes dirt has insects in it. And Zathras likes insects. Not so good for conversation, but much protein for diet. – Zathras

Epiosde 413: Rumors, Bargains, and Lies
Grade: A

These episodes are definitely starting to feel more like Season 2 and less like Season 3.  Not that this is a bad thing in any way, but the temperament of the show has changed back to a slow boil instead of the rock ‘em sock ‘em war stories I’d gotten used to.

This time, we focus on Delenn’s preparation for her return to Minbar.  It seems the Warrior caste and the Religious caste are at each other’s throats, trying to fill the power vacuum left by the dissolution of the Grey Council during the war, and Delenn believes only by rebalancing them can she save her people.  I couldn’t help thinking, though, where the Worker caste fits into all this.  They never seem to make waves or have opinions or do anything of consequence at all.  They’re like the Minbari Hufflepuff.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Sheridan solves his problem of mixing the White Star fleet with the League of Nonaligned Worlds by going Canadian Bacon on everyone and dropping hints about a fictitious enemy.  The premise is a little trite, but it’s damn funny to watch and the look of accomplishment on the faces of the League at the end is just priceless.

Best Line
If I had told her the whole truth it would have destroyed her belief in the strength and wisdom of our caste. Delenn does not walk in the same world that you and I walk in. She does not see the same world that you and I see. In her world, we are better than we are. We care more than we care. We act towards each other with compassion. I much prefer her world to that of my own and I will not allow anything to threaten that. – Lennier

Episode 414: Moments of Transition
Grade: A+

Now this was good stuff.  On one front, we have the tragedy of Lyta Alexander, who is out of work with the war over and running out of money.  The legitimate jobs all want a PsiCorp-approved telepath and the illegitimate ones all require her to comprise her morals.  And speaking of compromising morals, Alfred Bester is back on the station and he wants Lyta’s body (which is just as creepy as it sounds).  I can’t help thinking, as I watch him, what a shame it is that Walter Koenig will forever be remembered as Chekov.  I mean, I like Chekov, but he is magnificent as Al Bester and his personal log entry here might be the best he’s ever been.  It certainly eclipses anything I’ve seen him say in fake Russian.

Also going on here, though, is Delenn’s increasingly futile efforts to end of the Minbari civil war peaceably.  The Warrior caste grows in strength and authority as the Religious caste retreats and retreats.  Soon it seems that surrender is the only option.  Her ultimate solution is both clever and elegant and shows Delenn for the Otto von Bismarck-style badass that she’s always been.

Then, to top it all off, it looks like Sheridan’s kid gloves are coming off!  We’re going to the mattresses!

Best Line
Personal Log.  Bester, Al.  August 3, 2261.  By provoking Mr. Garibaldi, I’ve put him even further at odds with his former associates and further on the path I need him to follow.  What I came here to get, I got.  Even her.  Guess you could call it a bank shot.  Yes, I’ve had a nice day.

Episode 415: No Surrender, No Retreat
Grade: B

Well, it definitely wasn’t my favorite “episode with the same name as the season” episode, but No Surrender, No Retreat was good, solid piece nonetheless.  Captain Sheridan finally goes on the offensive against Earth and takes on none other than Bob Kelso, Chief of Medicine for possession of a refugee planet.  There’s a pretty nifty space battle that fills most of the episode and really shows off how far the special effects of Babylon 5 have come since Season 1.  There’s a certain lack of tension, though, that the episode never quite escapes.  Is Sheridan really going to botch the job?  Or slink away in defeat?  Not likely.  Then again, we watch to see our heroes win, so I can’t really complain.

More interesting to me than the big explosions was Londo’s wish to help Sheridan by issuing a joint statement of support for Babylon 5 with the Narn.  His speech is impassioned and poignant and G’Kar’s rejoinder is absolutely crushing.  It’s a wonderful scene made even better by the followup at the episode’s end.  “I will sign… but not on the same page.”  Progress, inch by inch.  I like it.

Best Line
Lt Corwin: I was noticing the new paint job on the Whitestar 2.  Won’t they… know it’s him?
Ivanona: I think that’s the point, Lieutenant.

Episode 416: Exercise of Vital Powers
Grade: A-

I really, really dug this episode. Given the limited budget they were working with, the Dashiell Hammett dialogue and Carol Reed cinematography really sells Mars as a bleak, mysterious, and above all dangerous place to visit, let alone live. I think I’ve made it pretty clear by now that I haven’t had a whole lot of use for Garibaldi since he drank the Kool-Aid, but he is great here as a disenfranchised gumshoe, working for a rich, shadowy benefactor and haunted by memories of the woman who got away.

Also on the plus side is Dr. Franklin’s work with the Shadow psychics. Hearing Garibaldi rant and rave about Sheridan doesn’t really have much of an impact on me anymore, but seeing other people start to react similarly suddenly gives him an awful lot of credibility. I still don’t know if I believe that Sheridan is fundamentally different or untrustworthy, but this show hasn’t been big on red herrings so far either.

Sadly, the big negative of the episode is the return of Lyta Alexnader in her PsiCorp getup, meaning that the sexy leather outfit is probably gone for good.  Dang.

Best Line
Mars. Three times before, this place almost killed me. And now, I’ve finally finished the job. I can’t feel anything anymore. I don’t know what I care about anymore. Except Lise. I screwed up both our lives pretty good. Now I get to make up for it. Assuming any of us can ever make up for anything we’ve done in the past. Maybe we can’t. Maybe we just have to live with it and get on with it and do what we have to. Never what we want to. It has to be done. I hope he can see that one day. – Michael Garibaldi

Episode 417 : The Face of the Enemy
Grade: B-

This was a good episode, but lacking somehow.  We got lots of answers, which I appreciated, but none of them were very surprising. We already knew Garibaldi was being held by the PsiCorp (or, if we didn’t, I was feeling pretty sure about that). We knew he had been reprogrammed in one way or another. We knew that Ephraim Zimbalist Jr was messing with psychics.  Even a most excellent Bester appearance isn’t a shock when you put his name front and center in the opening credits.

You know I just figured it out.  The Face of the Enemy was no fun.  No zingers, no clever lines; just lots of anger and division and tragedy. John Sheridan is betrayed and captured, Garibaldi finally wakes up (finally!) and realizes his life has been destroyed. Franklin and Lyta get the cold shoulder from the resistance. Everything sucks in The Face of the Enemy.  Except the ISN newslady; she cracks me up.

Best Line
Tell them if he turns up on the station, I want that son of a bitch shot on sight. – Susan Ivanova.

Episode 418: Intersections in Real Time
Grade: B+

The breaking of John Sheridan.  I had a feeling this was coming.  It’s not that I dislike torture or interrogation episodes, they’re often well done and whatever mind game the screenwriters come up with is usually pretty good, but they’re all predictable.  It’s unlikely that our hero is going to crack, but he’ll certainly be brought closer and closer to the brink and before dramatically pulling back and asserting his superior willpower.

I certainly had hoped it would add up to more than the sum of its parts.  The Illusion of Truth was pretty formulaic with the hatchet-job news report, but it also managed one of the best episodes of the season so far.  Everything happened exactly the way I expected, but it was done so masterfully that it seemed completely exciting and original.  Intersections in Real Time never quite gets to that level.  It won me over eventually; everything was skillfully produced and well acted.  In particular, I liked the one-act play aspect of it.  We never leave Sheridan’s cell: there’s no B-story, and there are almost no other characters beyond John Sheridan and the man charged with breaking his will.  In the end, however, it was pretty by-the-numbers for this sort of thing.

Best Line
Do you have any conditions or allergies I should know about?  Have you had any problems with your heart? – The Interrogator

Episode 419: Between the Darkness and the Light
Grade: B? A? F? Aww, what does it matter?

!!!
Aw, what the hell?  You couldn’t have gone for the obnoxious doctor?  Or the flaky ranger?  Come on!

Geez, I’m so depressed. Someone better get their ass kicked over this.

Best Line
Who am I? I am Susan Ivanova, Commander. Daughter of Andre and Sophie Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance and the boot that is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth, sweetheart! I am death incarnate, and the last living thing that you will ever see. God sent me. – Commander Susan Ivanova

Episode 419, attempt #2
Grade: A

Sorry about that.  I’m better now.

Despite the death of Ivanova (sniffle), there was a lot of other, really excellent stuff in Between the Darkness and the Light.  First, I loved seeing old Garibaldi back.  His reacceptance as one of the Good Guys was a little too easy, but I’ve really missed the joking and good-natured sarcasm and whatnot.  I also liked the League of Nonaligned Worlds finally taking a stand with the Centauri and the Narn firmly behind Sheridan. I admit to being totally suckered by the misdirection before Londo explains what’s going on.

Lastly, the human/Shadow hybrid ships were pretty neat.  I guess they didn’t really *do* much besides get shot up and explode, but the callback to the Shadow technology was appreciated since I don’t really see that thread popping up again soon (wasn’t the Centauri government being infiltrated or something?).  All and all, this was a pretty great run-up to the end of season four, even if everyone couldn’t be there to see it happen.

Best Line
Politics and morality on the same side?  That doesn’t happen every day, Delenn. – Vir Cotto

Episode 420: Endgame
Grade: A

So, Endgame seems to wrap up the whole series quite nicely.  Of course, I have another full season of the show to watch, but it certainly feels like a satisfying climax so I’m happy to take it for what it is.

The newly freed John Sheridan and his Battle Beard take the White Star fleet on the road to lay down the law first at Mars colony and finally on Earth.  Honestly, the show has given us more exciting space battles in the past, but the payoff of the Shadow psychics was clever and I really liked the heartfelt return of the non-Stepford ISN anchor.

Reports of Ivanova’s demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated, I’m happy to say.  I will be similarly annoyed if this means Marcus punks out and dies in medlab, but at least I won’t have to go sit shiva or anything.  All in all, good job, Babylon 5.  But where the heck do you go from here?

Best Line
For justice, for peace, for the future—we have come home! — John Sheridan

Episode 421: Rising Star
Grade: C-

Okay.  So if Endgame was the climax of our story, Rising Star is clearly the epilogue.  Except (again), not only is there still a Season 5 to be watched, there’s still an episode left in Season 4!  I’ve been told that another season had been sort of unexpected, but this honestly feels like the series is over.  Sheridan is off being President of the Alliance, Ivanova is promoted and transferred to her own battlestar, Marcus is indeed dead (which stinks. I spent most of the series disliking the guy, but I’d rather he went down fighting or at least had his relationship with Ivanova explored in a less irritating way).  I just don’t see Dr. Franklin and Zack Allen holding down the fort too well against psychics and Drahks and whoever.

I hate to say it, but this was all pretty tepid. It felt clunky and rushed, and I don’t like the idea of Earth having a president who looks younger than I do.  Plus, they spent a long time in previous episodes talking a whole lot about how Clark was just a figurehead for a massive conspiracy and then made no mention of accomplices once he kills himself. Where’s the accountability, Earthgov? I’m writing my congressman.

Best Line
Londo: Stop eating that! You don’t even know what it is.
G’Kar: Something called…”rice.”
Londo: Yes. And if it was any good, do you think they would have been standing there, throwing it at people?

Episode 422: The Deconstruction of Falling Stars
Grade: A+

As much as possible, I’ve tried to do my writing for these articles directly after watching the episodes. I like to get fresh impressions and unfocused thoughts down on paper and then mold something coherent a little while later. This entry, however, is being written a few days after.

I felt a little hesitant to write anything cavalierly about The Deconstruction of Falling Stars.  It more was than just a great episode of television, Babylon 5 has had plenty of those before.  This was great science fiction, like a chapter out of Foundation or A Canticle for Leibowitz, and it’s frozen me at my keyboard for almost a week.

Deconstruction has no plot per se, because—let’s face it—the plot’s over. Instead, the four-year journey of the crew of Babylon 5 is examined by exploring the ripples it creates in the years to come.  We are taken 100, 500, 1000, and finally 1 million into the future, glimpsing snapshots of each time period and seeing the evolution of the society that sprang from the actions of our crew.  It’s fascinating and provocative and, if you can’t tell, it kept me utterly transfixed.

It might just be that this episode happens to click with my current frame of mind, but I really think that this show has outdone itself in a way I never expected. I mean, how many other shows have the guts to entrust their season finale almost entirely to a bunch of day players?  And, not only does it work, but it’s one of the best episodes of the series?  I’m just blown away.

Best Line
This is how the world ends—swallowed in fire but not in darkness. You will live on.  The voice of all our ancestors, the voice of our fathers and our mothers to the last generation. We created the world we think you would have wished for us, and now we leave the cradle for the last time. – Evolved Man

Final Thoughts on Babylon 5: Season 4

So, Season 4 was interesting.  Comparing my grades to prior seasons, it would seem that this was a more stable and higher-quality season than anything I’ve seen before. But that isn’t quite true (and should tell you something about how just how well-planned my grading system is).

In retrospect, my grandiose proclamation in episode 405, “I’ve run out of things to say about Babylon 5,” was a clear exaggeration. I never really ran out of little moments or aspects to the plot that I could talk about, but those first few entries are pretty sparse and it definitely reflected the way I was feeling at the time.  I was ready for the Shadow War to end, even if I didn’t know it.  The episodes never got bad (or even close to it), but everything in the early part of the season was starting to feel a little… stale.

The Garibaldi story probably ranks in the negative column as well.  It served it’s purpose and had  its highs and lows, but overall it left me dissatisfied.  It wasn’t so much what they did, it was what the whole brainwashing thing wound up taking away.  Jerry Doyle interjects a refreshing brand of humor into Babylon 5, but when you turn his character into a mistrustful outsider with no one to crack jokes to, you rob him of his greatest strength and the show is worse off for it.  It’s not an overbearing loss or a dealbreaker for the season, but when we get the real Garibaldi back ever so briefly in Between the Darkness and the Light, it made me realize how much I missed him.

Despite all that, I still really enjoyed the majority of Season 4. The return to an Earth-centric plotline was a welcome change, even if behind-the-scenes stuff wound up truncating the story. We’d spent so much time fighting off invisible spiders that I had honestly forgotten how much of the series had dealt with other problems.  I’ll forgive any issues I had with the ending, because I know there were circumstances dictating a lot of what had to happen.

Looking forward, I admit to being anxious.  Season 5 has a reputation of leaving viewers filled with something between “lukewarm acceptance” and “lukewarm vomit.”  I have faith that part of that venom is just hyperbole and internet nerdrage, but I also can’t shake the feeling that the writers are out of stories to tell.  Not every plotline has been resolved, but The Deconstruction of Falling Stars sort of gives them permission not to be. Whatever may come of Alfred Bester or President Clark’s cronies or the eyeball in the Centauri guy’s shoulder, we know it’ll turn out okay in the long run. The season finale has made it clear that our characters have already done the most important thing they’ll ever do. Everything else is secondary.

In other words, it looks to me like Babylon 5 is over.  Except it isn’t.  So, I guess there’s only one way to figure out if that’s a good thing or not.

7/31/2010

15 comments

  1. Speaking as a Babylon 5 fan and in response to your trepidation over series 5, I would say that it’s about 60/40 each way on whether you’ll enjoy it. The plots are generally pretty solid, but the new characters are problematic (without going into too much detail, Lochley took three or four episodes to grow on me, and Byron started out English but turned really annoying after about 5 or 6 episodes). But the Neil Gaiman episode is awesome and A View From the Gallery is at least something different.

    • I’m trying to remain cautiously optimistic about Season 5. I figure if I can sit through nine seasons of Smallville, I can handle some less-than-stellar sci-fi. I hope. Thanks for the input!

  2. As a note, the TV movies In the Beginning and Thirdspace are essentially fourth season material which got cut due to the fact that it looked as if the show would be ended prematurely (as the syndication company handling the show was going belly-up). Originally, Intersections in Real Time would have been the season finale.

    You may or may not have noticed it, but Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi is the only episode in the whole series where all of the opening credits characters make an appearance.

  3. Fully agree about the brilliance of The Illusion of Truth. Of course Garibaldi’s interview and the fact that they caught Franklin in a lie didn’t help matters.

    As a point of interest, I believe the Farscape episode A Constellation of Doubt was trying really hard to be like TIoT. Needless to say, it was an Epic Fail.

    • I can definitely see the parallels between the two episodes, but I’ve got to disagree with the Epic Fail. A Constellation of Doubt wasn’t the pinnacle of the series or anything, but I liked it a lot.

      We spend so much time in Farscape getting to know D’Argo and Chiana and Zhaan and Jool and everyone else that we (or at least I) tend to start thinking of them as humans with bumpy foreheads. I felt A Constellation of Doubt had a lot of moments that helped refocus me on the fact that these are *aliens* and, in a lot of ways, are very, very different in their thoughts and tendencies than we are. For example, I got the impression Rygel didn’t just steal stuff because he was greedy (although I imagine, even for a Hynerian, he was). He stole stuff because it was a part of his culture, maybe even a part of his biology, like a moth to a flame.

      And, of course, the episode was also a fun reminder that there is no event too great or too important for human beings to trivialize, disregard, or turn into an aggressive, self-centered conspiracy.

  4. Another item of interest. Dilbert creator Scott Adams has a brief cameo in Moments of Transition as the guy who wants to hire Garibaldi to find his cat and dog (who are plotting to take over the galaxy).

    • As a Dilbert fan, I nearly fell off my chair when he said that! It’s those little moments that really push B5 over the top.

  5. Yes, Sheridan’s “I was. I got better.” line is one of my favorites of all time.

    Love your reviews of B5- I own the entire series, have watched it through 4 times, but this gives me a chance to remember it without having to spend 120 hours. Of course, my wife just started watching it again, and by season 3 I’ll be watching it again.

  6. Count me as one of those that wasn’t so thrilled with season 5, or pretty much anything that came afterwards. It was good stuff, but it just didn’t feel the same. When Bab5 switched channels they should have started up a new show instead of just doing one season of left-overs. Or gone straight into tv movie after tv movie developing plot lines like the Telepath war.

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