Garibaldi has a crisis of faith, Londo continues to be deeply egotistical, and Ivanova tests her mettle as she discovers that diplomacy is not always easy, nor is it particularly sane. Welcome my friends. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
I’m always wary of technomages as a concept. Oftentimes it’s an excuse to include deus ex machinas or otherwise impossible plot devices into an otherwise grounded narrative, saying “oh, it’s not magic, it’s technology that we’ll never try to explain!” It’s a modern concept that comes across as cheap.
That is so totally not the case here.
Yes, there is the unexplained but their central conceit is that they use technology to simulate actions we associate with magic. So, visions, curses, teleportation, etc. However, everything we see in the episode is made manifest through easily identifiable technological means. Holograms, computer viruses, and. . .fortune telling? That last one stretches the boundaries but we have telepaths in this universe so, for the sake of atmosphere, I can forgive it. It’s also possible that there are other ways Elric got that information, like a prediction based on Londo’s actions and on some aura he detects with his future technology.
Whatever the case, I thoroughly enjoyed the way the order of the technomages were kept mysterious and threatening, like a monastic order that’s also an assassins guild. It was also pretty hilarious seeing the “Doom” monsters as the holo demons. In fact, this episode’s age may even make it better as the effects are far enough removed from the cutting edge, that they once again regain that mystery. When you can see the strings, it’s easier to believe that these things are possible in the world, rather than put upon it by the creators.
Also, for the curious as to why Elric’s voice may be familiar, Michael Ansara is the voice actor behind Batman: The Animated Series’s Mr. Freeze.
2. Revolution Centauri Prime
So far, season two has blazed ahead with its many subplots, continuing to lay the groundwork for whatever they become next, but with restraint. It’s nice because that means we’re not overloaded with plot points and the show can take its time developing them, while still keeping them in our minds. One of these is the political situation over on the Centauri homeworld. Last season, we learned about how this particular family was angling to get more power in the government by using the “rediscovered” gem in order to legitimize their claims and prestige.
This week, that’s taken one step further and plans for a coup are beginning. I’m intrigued, partially because Babylon 5 has done such a good job at getting me interested in the larger political struggles, but also because this is going to have some deep ramifications for Londo. The people vying for power are clearly hardliners, hawkish and desiring only conflict, which puts Londo in a difficult position.
Throughout season one, he has been presented as someone who still believes in the old ways, who desires a return to Centauri power in the galaxy, and someone who is motivated by pride more than anything else, a trait that seems to be at the heart of all the Centauri republic’s decisions. But he also believes in the power of diplomacy and of finding a solution that does not involve senseless slaughter, of working to change the world for the better.
We see this in his attempts to get the technomage’s blessing. He wants the symbol, for it holds power with the people he identifies with, and will do almost any underhanded thing he can to get it. When he is punished for that, when he loses face, he repents, albeit begrudgingly, his pride taking precedence. But, when the technomage tells Londo that about his future, of hearing billions of his victims call out his name, Londo is not taken aback in anger at the accusation but in fear that this is truly going to be his legacy. He cannot change, however, too set in his ways he is, and so we know this to be the future that will be, not the future that may be.Continued below
His flaws are too great, and his compromises too dire, and even with Vir attempting to be the closest thing Londo has to a second conscience, it is too late for Londo. We see the path before him and while we hope, we pray, that he turns from it, we know that to do so would be too great a challenge.
3. Give Life Back to Garibaldi
I was wrong about Garibaldi and Sheridan’s antagonism. I thought that would make up the bulk of the episode, or even their interactions going forwards, but instead we’re given some more fitting, and honestly, better. Season one Garibaldi was supremely confident and filled with a lot of righteous indignation and trust in his gut & the people around him. Those traits were shattered with the reveal that his second in command, whose name I still don’t remember but he looks like a vampire from Buffy, not only wanted to kill him but was a mole for Homeguard.
It’s crushing to his psyche and he doesn’t want to take the mantle back up. Sure, it clears up by the episode’s end but even just putting him on this path made for some great character moments. It gets him to question himself and, as this show has shown before, it will continue to affect him, in ways big and small.
I really loved how the interaction between Dr. Franklin and Garibaldi started the episode too. It shows the confidence the show has gained in its cold openings, not having to rely on big, bombastic hooks to keep audience members watching, and sets the tone for the episode. Well, most of the episode anyway.
4. Doin’ It Wrong
I have a confession to make: I’ve been using the rank terminologies wrong, at least since starting up season two. Sheridan and Sinclair were not Commanders but instead Captains, which makes Ivanova’s promotion to Commander, while still a big deal, not as impressive as I unintentionally could have made it sound. It caught me off guard because I was like, “Wait? Isn’t there only one Commander on the ship? What is Sheridan then? . . .Oh.”
While I found myself less interested in this plot than the others, as watching Ivanova fail to successfully achieve diplomacy isn’t my idea of a good afternoon, having more Ivanova is never a bad thing and it does broach two important topics for the show. One, it continues the march of time and the shifting of the status quo, so that now Ivanova is learning more and growing beyond her previous role. Two, it shows just how tough diplomacy can be as a third party because of the biases you bring to the table, and the knowledge gap that can be a hindrance.
It’s also a pretty thin analog for a “Hatfield and McCoy” situation and for national pride taken to its extreme, although that point is identified and argued against, but we’re clearly meant to see how, even with certain values propping up the pieces of cloth, it’s mostly arbitrary and that there are more things in common than different.
What I most appreciate about it, though, is that Ivanova doesn’t really succeed in her task. Sure, she finds a peaceful solution to the fighting but it is by accident. It required an outside perspective but she did not approach the situation with care — an argument could be made that sometimes that is necessary but that is neither here nor there — and was resolved with great difficulty and stumbling. But that is what is to be expected from a first time. Ivanova was even hurt and captured and still pushed on to find a way to stop the fighting, which was the important lesson to learn, and so, while she has a ways to go, this was a first step, and a very human one, filled with flaws and mistakes and all the difficulties of new responsibilities.
5. Harder, Better, Faster, Stonger
Originally I was going to do a fifth thought on Vir, the slapstick king, and talk about how it’s been a while since we’ve seen him but then I came across this article, published on Tor.com by Jennifer Giesbrecht, and I wanted to direct you all to it. For those who have not finished the series, it does contain spoilers, albeit broad, so I would be wary there. The whole thing is an unflinching look at Babylon 5, taking the good and the bad and really drilling down into what makes the show so unlike anything else then and now.Continued below
While I think the whole article is fantastic, I wanted to pull this paragraph, from near the end of the piece, and leave it here, mostly uncommented on because it gets to why I love this show so much and why every episode I watch, even the ones that make me cringe or question the naivete of certain themes, sticks with me and why I’m often quite harsh on the other shows I review here.
This structure is so effective that even the plot twists and status quo shifts which are poorly foreshadowed, or ill-explained, or over-explained feel natural and world-shaking because Babylon 5’s pace always gives you time to breathe, and the world is so believably lived in, that any crisis that strikes it feels immeasurably more impactful than damage wrought onto a world that we’re meant to understand changes from the get go. By the time the show starts hurtling along a set of truly serialized arcs in Season 4 there’s a feeling that anything could happen. It still feels fresh today, maybe even fresher than it did in the 1990s simply because very few people are making shows like this anymore. Modern serialized television asks you to be a voyeur to the chaos, to consume it as fast as possible, or to consume it as a communal project. You and your friends waiting for the next big bombshell and treating everything between like treading water. A show paced like Babylon 5 asks you to come live in those in-between moments. It wants you to watch the chaos from inside the world and to stick with it during the long silences.
It’s a show that grows with its characters, with a world that is as messy as our own and a simulation of what it is like to live a story, rather than be told one. And that makes it feel real and meaningful.
That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for nutritionist of the 23rd century, the appearance of an old friend, and probably something to do with the Vorlons on the 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.
Best Line of the Night:
Elric: It is within that ambiguity that my brothers and I exist. We are dreamers, shapers, singers and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit crystal and scanner, holographic demons and invocations of equations. These are the tools we employ. And we know many things.
Sheridan: Such as?
Elric: The true secrets. The important things. Fourteen words to make someone fall in love with you forever. Seven words to make them go without pain. How to say goodbye to a friend who is dying. How to be poor. How to be rich. How to rediscover dreams when the world has stolen them from you.