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Five Thoughts on Babylon 5‘s “Darkness Ascending”

By | September 14th, 2022
Posted in Television | % Comments

Lyta plays politics for her people, Garibaldi is taken to task, and Lennier isn’t the only one in great danger. Welcome my friends. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2262. The place: Babylon 5.

Spoilers ahead.

1. Lyta Intensifies

Was anyone else tricked by “Darkness Ascending’s” opening? Because I was! I was convinced we were seeing a flash forward, as most of the time when the station is destroyed like this and Garibaldi is around, we’re getting glimpses into the future. Or a future that may be. The jury’s still out on that one.

Richard Biggs giving his all in every scene.

Anyway, the game was given away once I saw the messages on the ground and then it became the other fun staple of Babylon 5: spooky guilt dreams, this time amplified by a newly unrestrained Lyta Alexander, complete with Vorlon power eyes that aren’t quite as freaky as in “Passing Through Gethsemane” but are definitely close. What’s so good about this scene is it establishes three things: Garibaldi is terrified of his drinking but can’t admit it (and hides his terror by, you guessed it, drinking more,) Lyta is mondo powerful and only her morals are keeping everyone safe from her, and this is the start of a conflict between the two, mark my words.

BALD. BALD. BALD. MY EYES! MY EYES!

Or, well, maybe. There are only 7 episodes left so who knows if Lyta will use this knowledge for leverage, if she’ll start giving people guilt nightmares to manipulate them, or if Garibaldi will realize it wasn’t all a dream.

2. Sneaky Sneaky Sheridan

I try to point out the times Babylon 5 does something fun with its shot composition and this episode had one of my favorites. It’s simple but I don’t think I’ve seen this kind of foreground, background utilization in a long time. Delenn is taking a call in Sheridan’s office and during that call, Sheridan walks up, overhears enough to know he needs to hide, steps aside and the call continues. There’s no cutting away to emphasize the action but it’s not hidden either. It’s a great use of the whole space and is just one more small touch that grounds the show.

Kudos to Janet Greek and to full utilization of fixed camera set ups.

And he stays out of focus the whole time! It's great

3. Lennier Leaps

If you’ll recall, Sheridan was kept out of the loop with regards to Delenn’s plan to send Lennier to gather proof of the Centauri’s involvement in the shipping line attacks because she feared he wouldn’t want to send Lennier into such a dangerous space. After Sheridan’s sneaky discovery, Delenn’s fears are proven right as Sheridan calls Montoya’s ship back, leading to two different outcomes: Sheridan and Delenn have a fight and Lennier goes rogue, risking his life to get the info.

I love, love, love this. From a structural standpoint, it’s a beautiful payoff of all the character work that’s been done during the season and the kind of escalating action and drama that unfurls naturally as a result of unforeseen complications. It’s clear the hand of the author is there but you can’t see it moving people into position, thus allowing for a clever bait-and-switch with Lennier’s mission and for it to be bolstered by the conversation between Delenn and Sheridan.

Delenn getting to dunk on Sheridan for making the wrong choices for the right reasons is always fun and if it weren’t for the acting chops of Boxleitner and Furlan, I can’t see that fight working as well as it did. There’s never a moment you feel that Sheridan is actually mad at Delenn and beneath both of their harsh words, there is love and understanding. Sheridan feels like they pulled a runner on him and is embarrassed and worried for Lennier and lets it manifest as his usual military bluster.

Delenn deflates that, bringing him around to her position while still conceding that she should have trusted Sheridan’s trust in her enough to have brought him into the decision earlier, especially as he’s in such a precarious position politically. (Try saying THAT three times fast.) It’s a mature conversation that’s still animated and human, full of foibles and failings. It’s a true joy to watch.

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Also, this was a tense episode and I was not expecting it to be! Lennier almost dying of oxygen deprivation nearly had me convinced he wasn’t going to make it back. Cutting to Delenn fretting was really effective and, in another beautiful piece of narrative connection, brought Londo’s plot crashing into Lennier’s once news of his safety, and the proof he carried, made its way to Delenn. It really hammered home the tragedy of what’s to come. For Londo. For Delenn. For everyone.

4. Jack Daniels Hiding

It’s tough seeing Garibaldi like this. He’s falling apart, spiraling more and more as his drinking causes him to make mistakes which causes him to drink which causes more mistakes and on and on. And no one notices because they’re all so busy, making it difficult to refute his excuses as to why he’s not answering messages or being as sharp as usual. At least, that is until Lise reappears on the scene.

I’ll be honest. I was convinced we’d never see Lise again after the sudden wrap up during “Rising Star” and Dodger’s ghostly reappearance in “Day of the Dead” but nope! Here she is, having more agency than ever and I am so glad. She starts sniffing out Garibaldi’s bullshit and knows something is up when she arrives and he’s still sleeping at noon. Then finding the bottle under the sink? That was a kick in the gut for sure.

I actually found the conversation afterwards to be fascinating as Garibaldi tried to argue he’s in control now. We’ve seen that he isn’t but other than an audience that can peek into his private life and his now dead friend Ta’fiq, no one knows he’s drinking again, let alone how much or how often. The tension on the screen is heightened by this knowledge and the question becomes how right is Lise, how much can she see, and whether or not her words – and the no drinking while I’m here rule – will have any effect.

Furthermore, Garibaldi doesn’t want to admit he has a problem again despite knowing he has one. It’s frustratingly good drama because I just want to pick Garibaldi up and shake him, ESPECIALLY when he goes and makes his coffee Irish. Not only is he lying to himself now, he’s breaking his promise to Lise, thereby proving her right. Maybe he’ll still justify it to himself but we know.

And what we know makes me afraid for the war to come.

5. Narn Negotiations

Let’s return to Lyta before we close things out. It’s been a few episodes since she really had a role to play. Now the head of the Telepathic resistance, essentially, she’s trying to negotiate for Byron’s dream of a homeworld and it’s going about as well as you expect. In fact, in a nice bit of paralleling, it’s just like her attempts to be a non-Psi-Corps commercial telepath in “Moments of Transition”.

The difference is she’s grown considerably since then. She’s more confident and less willing to accept things as they are. Hence, her acceptance of a deal from G’kar from way back in the Pilot episode – an episode I have not watched so I cannot verify – wherein he will give her anything she wants for the sequencing of her DNA in order to help reintroduce the telepath gene to Narn society. Also it’s from back when he was being written as far more of an asshole and a creeper so there was something about discovering her pleasure threshold?

Yeah.

G’Kar looked about as awkward as I felt when Lyta brought that up and then turned it back around on him. If Lyta gets no more scenes this season, that’s fine with me because it’s hard to have her top the absolute power moves she took here. She didn’t, however, push as far as she could have and that is important to note.

She preferred to use a more...subtle tactic: knowing what she wants. What did you think I meant? Oh. To be fair, verbal implications of seduction falls under that banner.

At the start of the episode, we were primed for a Lyta who would do anything and everything to get what she wanted. Yet she still has enough scruples to hold back on, at least to our knowledge, reading and pushing people telepathically to get what she wants. She’s still making deals and will give up anything to get it. But not actually anything because she refuses to have telepaths be used as tools again nor be used in a manner that would further the stereotype of them being duplicitous.

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These tensions are brought to the fore in her conversation with G’Kar and his testing of her moral character. It’s not that she didn’t want the dream of a homeworld badly enough; it’s just that she knows exactly what’s a sacrifice too far. G’Kar witnesses this and knows Lyta is the right person, at the right time, doing this for the right reasons.

That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for boycotts, collapse, and war on the station where we have to contemplate why we are here.

This is Elias. Signing out.

Best Line of the Night:

Delenn: “He’s not dead until I see a body.”


//TAGS | 2022 Summer TV Binge | Babylon 5

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after winning the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and has finally updated his profile photo again.

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