Londo and G’Kar return once more, the cast’s personal lives begin to deepen and diplomacy is once again the name of the game. Welcome my friends. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
1. Characters Over Story
For newcomers, this is probably the point where some might begin to question why people regard this show so highly. For all the strengths displayed these last couple episodes, they’ve all been standalones and continuity-wise, don’t really reference each other. The A-plots have also been rather weak, for varying reasons. Yet, at this point in the show, that’s not what seems to matter.
The big narrative elements have yet to appear, partly because of how TV was made back then and partly because the show wants to take its time to develop the characters. The individual, episodic plot threads are less about moving the narrative along and more about moving the characters, redefining them, or giving insight into who they are. That’s the primary function this week too.
The actual story of “Born in the Purple” is not very engaging. It meanders its way across 40 minutes and could easily have been compressed down. Trakus has the same problem as the Soul Hunter, he’s not a deep antagonist and he’s not meant to be. He’s there to place stumbling blocks and to be an instigator for Londo to open up to the audience. Londo, too, doesn’t have a traditional arc. He doesn’t move forward, he doesn’t move back. But he reveals much about how he thinks and what he’s like.
He can be kind and sweet. He has a conscience and, through some great expository dialogue, we know that it’s not just Londo that’s prideful; it’s his whole species. It goes a long way to explaining why his government makes the decisions it makes, why he acts the way he does towards G’Kar and to humanizing him. The episode succeeds there and, for this episode, for this cast, that’s enough for me to look past the narrative faults and snoozes.
2. My Dushenka Moya
The other plot this week featured Security Officer Garabaldi and Lieutenant Commander Ivanova. Of the main human crew, these two are my favorite to watch interact. They’ve got great chemistry on screen but not in that usual, TV romance way. It’s banter, it’s wit, it’s friendship. It’s apparent they’ve known each other for years but they’re just now finding out more about the other and what Garabaldi finds out about Ivanova is pretty heartbreaking.
It’s also interesting that this is the place the writers chose to start Ivanova’s arc. Not with the knowledge that she’s been fighting with her father nor with the knowledge that her father is sick, instead, it’s at his death and with their reconciliation. This is usually the end of an arc but here, it’s used as the springboard for her own development and it gives us two of this episode’s best scenes. It’s heartbreaking to see their exchange, even if the acting is a hair wooden.
This also got me thinking about why the final scene with Garabadi and Ivanova was so much more satisfying than what I’ve been seeing in Supergirl or Riverdale, despite my enjoyment of them and I think the reason there is that Babylon 5 isn’t afraid to trust its audience to pick up on what’s left unsaid. Gestures are made, words are spoken but they’re obfuscating what the characters are really talking about in ways that aren’t cryptic or vague, just hidden. They don’t talk their feelings and actions, they DO them. It also feels genuine, born from the character’s personalities rather than what this episode’s plot demands. It also isn’t resolved right away.
3. Diplomatic Immunity
How come the diplomacy and politics in this show is so much fun? OK, maybe fun isn’t the right word but it is easily the part of this show I’ve come to love the most. You’d think that the other elements of the show would be more engaging but I want to know more about the trade relations between the Centauri and the Narn. What is it like on homeworld for Londo? How does his government act? How does Earth Alliance work? How crafty can Sinclair be while negotiating a deal between Londo and G’kar? What’s the dance they dance? This episode had less of it but each time they cut back to G’kar in the diplomacy room, I was ready to see what came next.Continued below
4. Annoying Ambassadorial Assistants
Koda and Vir are easily the worst part of this episode, which, I’ve come to believe, was on purpose. Having seen more of the show, I know Vir becomes more and more endearing and significantly more likeable while Koda is replaced by N’toth (N’toth!!). In this episode, however, they grate on the ears. Their presence is a nuisance, they serve little purpose in the episode except to provide a little comedy and to give a way out of the negotiations for G’Kar and Londo. The reason I say their annoyance as on purpose is because they grate on G’kar and Londo as well. The writers knew and because of this, I can forgive the episode while still being annoyed.
5. The Fun Bits
Gags, gags galore! I thought I could use this final point to run down a few of the moments and gags I found funny.
Koda punching out the creeper in the bar: gold and the one time I unequivocally liked her character.
Vir playing video games was funny but it was merely set-up for the true joke, G’kar playing video games! There’s something so wonderfully dissonant about G’kar getting frustrated while playing a game that was taken from someone who represents his enemy.
The mind probe: Is it just a metallic worm? It’s a mind slug! But, you know, made of tech instead of slug.
Near the end, when Londo and Sinclair are being hunted, one of the hunters looks like a discount Chuck Norris.
Finally, that awkward, awkward final kiss between Adira and Londo. It’s a sweet moment but Londo keeps his eyes open the whole time and it’s weird as heck.
That about does it for now. Join me again next week for some more diplomatic action on that station that wraps humans and aliens, in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night. This is Elias. Signing out.