They said they wanted peace. They didn’t want peace. They said they wanted cooperation. They didn’t want cooperation. They wanted to fight. They wanted a war. We gave them a promise. They got their war.
Damn them. And damn us too.
Welcome my friends. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2262. The place: Babylon 5.
1. Heavy is the Face That Has the Goatee
Woof. What an ominous opening we get this week. Delenn, staring unblinking at a candle as it burns down in the middle of the night. Delenn, not sleeping in order to watch. Then the other shoe drops and we get a somber narration over the beginnings of the proceedings that’s been building for weeks. You feel the weight of the decision Sheridan and Delenn had to make and the seriousness with which they’re taking it, which is in stark contrast to the bloodlust the other Alliance worlds seem to have shown for the Centauri AND for getting an answer.
I love this cold opening, especially because it’s much longer than you expect. It provides a contrast to the idealism of the early episodes of the season with the stark, harsh reality of where they’ve ended up by preempting the theme and its triumphant music. I have to say, I wasn’t totally sold on the new theme at first but, as with most of the music, it grew on me and proved itself to be perfect for the tone.
It’s also really nice to see how this revelation about the Centauri affects Delenn & Sheridan privately. It informs their public actions and reinforces, for us, their sincerity and their emotional reactions, like when Sheridan has his rage at the Ambassadors’ thirst for blood. We know why he’s so angry and why he’s so raw. We know how this is different. This isn’t his usual bluster, or the bluster we saw when he was “mad” at Delenn for sending Lennier on a secret mission. This is a scream from his soul.
About the dream, now torn asunder.
2. The Faces We Show Others
I feel so conflicted about Londo in this episode and I love it. There’s a tension within him, between his pride as a Centauri and thus his faith in his government and the nagging feeling within his gut that not all is right on Centauri Prime, a feeling cultivated by his friendship with G’Kar and Vir, both of whom have a stronger innate sense of justice. In private, Londo frets and doubts. He questions and worries. Yet in public, he doubles down and refuses to give an inch. He lets the propaganda of the Minister dictate his talking points.
It’s what’s expected of him, as Ambassador.
In doing this, he fails not only the Alliance but himself and the rest of Centauri Prime. And yet, he continues to show growth. He ensures Vir remains on B5 and stands by G’Kar when things at the Royal Court take a turn for the Cartagian, being thrown in “the nice cells” along with him. He does not do enough, perhaps, but that is because he is grasping at the fraying edge of what he thought he knew and the systems he always believed in with the vain hope he can avert the disaster he knows is coming from within.
He cannot admit it is, and always was, broken, made worse by the Shadows and then exploited by their former minions, the Drakh to finish the job. He cannot. And because he could not, the galaxy suffers. Not because of his cowardice. Not because of his malice. But simply because who he was conflicts with who he wants to become.
3. Who’s Talking to Who?
Zach and Garibaldi haven’t had a lot of scenes together this season, which is a shame. Doyle and Conaway had an excellent repartee and it was nice seeing the two butt heads good-naturedly over the course of an episode. Sadly, that good-natured fighting isn’t what we get from “And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder.” Zach confronts Garibaldi about his drinking after figuring it out during their conversation about Garibaldi missing another important meeting.Continued below
I have to hand it to Zach. He stays remarkably cool as Garibaldi drunkenly lays into him, getting really personal. At one point, you can even hear him choke up. It’s a truly excellent scene and sets up Garibaldi’s absolutely brutal fall from grace when he fucks up his important assignment later on in the episode. But what’s fascinating to me about the whole conversation is how it feels like JMS is speaking to the actors through their characters.
Both Jerry Doyle and Jeff Conaway had substance abuse problems. Doyle drank pretty heavily throughout his time on Babylon 5 while Jeff had a past with drugs, though he was clean for much of the show’s run – I don’t have my copy of “Becoming Superman” so I can’t confirm whether or not he had relapsed during season 5, leading to a decrease in scenes. With Jeff it was actually so bad before coming on, according to JMS, industry people told Straczynski he was taking a huge risk by casting Jeff. He believed in Jeff, though, and that belief bore fruit.
I think by paralleling the actor’s real lives, it gave the scenes a greater depth but I also feel weird about it, you know? It’s like being passive-aggressively scolded. I know from “Becoming Superman” Jerry did not like it but I don’t know if Jeff saw this as a good thing, a neutral thing, or a belittling thing. Considering the context, it could go any which way, though my gut says it’s unlikely he took it personally.
All that said, because JMS remains an excellent writer, the content of Zach & Garibaldi’s fight doesn’t feel out of place and works beautifully to illustrate Garibaldi’s continued descent and the kindness of Zach for his friend in need, a kindness he will almost certainly regret.
4. Stephen Franklin: First Blood
I figured, after all that dourness, I should have at least a little levity so can I briefly mention the MVP of the episode, Dr. Stephen Franklin? I think if I had to pick my favorite character of the show…well, I couldn’t do it, frankly. They’re all too good. Franklin is certainly one of the best to get a short cameo in an episode that doesn’t have much for him to do though. And what does he do this week?
That’s right. He beats up a bunch of Ambassadors with Vir. What an absolutely joyous scene in a very serious and somber episode, serving as a release of tension without breaking the tone. Like, things are still tense and Vir is still in danger but the fist pumping nature of the short but sweet fight provides just enough of a break to keep things from being dour and dismal the whole way through.
Plus, it’s more Franklin! Who can’t say no to more Franklin?
5. The Flames of War
What makes someone want to go to war? That is one of the questions at the heart of season five. We already saw the reasons one must fight a war, and the ways wars begin, but why would one want to initiate one? Partially this was being explored through the slow radicalization of Lyta, and Byron, for the “Telepath War” but here in “And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder” it takes on a more explicit tone. It’s a good question and if we’re to read the Alliance as a UN analog in the late 90s, then a particularly apt one.
We’ve seen time and again how the many member worlds were never too keen on actually working together for peace. Too many petty squabbles, too much history and too many large egos in one room only created a tinder-box waiting to go up. Add in a singular party who sparked additional distrust and corrupted an already hollowed out power to fan the flames and it was almost impossible to avoid the subsequent conflagration.
I don’t think “And All My Dreams” answers the questions posed above. I don’t even think it answers the corollary: can we truly create an organization that works for peace from scratch? However, I do think it poses these questions with a clear purpose and then asks us to evaluate the ways in which things could have gone differently, and the ways in which this was inevitable.Continued below
It’s easy to look at Londo or Garibaldi or even the Ambassadors and point the finger and say “that is the moment the wheel turned.” I even almost oriented these five thoughts around the failure points JMS highlights in the episode but doing so ignores the chronicle of events and choices, large and small, intended and unintended, we’ve seen over these 16 episodes that led to their fateful actions or inactions.
This is not to say the weights of all these events & choices are equal nor to absolve the culpability of those pushing for destruction and hatred, profiting off it, or passively sitting by with full knowledge. Instead it is to point out the tension between our desire for clean stories and the messy, impossible to fully grasp nature of reality and how beautifully Babylon 5 captures and presents this.
In the story of the Alliance-Centauri War, “And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder” is the spark as well as the sticks needed to feed the fire of war, blaming them and them alone. In doing so, it obfuscates the truth: it takes a lot to start and maintain a serious fire.
You need mountains and mountains of kindling, sticks, and logs. Not every spark catches and not every stick has the same provenance – some are neatly placed, some are dropped without intent and still others fall off a tree smashed by another tree felled by an ax with the best of intentions. Some are wet and green and others are dry and brown. It isn’t something one can do with some lighter fluid, a match and a piddling pile of loose wood.
But that’s a better story. And we are nothing, if not storytellers when faced with a campfire.
That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for ship building adventures, the official start of the fighting, and the Drazi, once again, being the worst on the station where, at the point of no surrender & no retreat, we learned if we had anything worth living for.
This is Elias. Signing out.
Best Lines of the Night:
1. Sheridan: “The Centauri have an ego the size of the galactic core but they’re not stupid.”
2. Sheridan: “What does the candle represent?”
Sheridan: “Whose life?”
Delenn: “All life, every life. We’re all born as molecules in the hearts of a billion stars, molecules that do not understand politics, policies and differences. In a billion years, we foolish molecules forget who we are and where we came from. Desperate acts of ego. We give ourselves names, fight over lines on maps. And pretend our light is better than everyone else’s.
The flame reminds us of the piece of those stars that live inside us. A spark that tells us: you should know better. The flame also reminds us that life is precious, as each flame is unique. When it goes out, it’s gone forever. And there will never be another quite like it. So many candles will go out tonight. I wonder some days if we can see anything at all.”