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Five Thoughts on Babylon 5‘s “In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum”

By | September 19th, 2019
Posted in Television | % Comments

Sheridan continues to cement himself as a much more divisive captain than Sinclair, Vir gets in more great lines than Sheridan and he only has like, 5, and we finally learn what the heck we can call those creatures following Morden around. 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.

Spoilers ahead.

1. Age of Vir

This is the season of the Vir, y’all. With G’Kar and Londo off absorbing the collective consciousness of their warring governments, Na’toth off in TV jail, and Delenn & Lennier at odds with, and stressing over, their own peoples’ shift towards rage and death, Vir is the last of the humorous ambassadorial characters and he embraces that role with full force. More confident in who he is and not written to be the slapstick punching bag, fitting the more serious and dour tone of post-Narn/Centauri war season two than the jauntier season one, Vir gets some damn fine lines in against Morden.

That’s it.

What, were you expecting more? He’s on screen for, like, 2 minutes at the start and 1 more later on. There’s not much to talk about beyond Stephen Furst’s fan-fucking-tastic physical acting, enjoying every moment he gets to mess with Morden.

2. Doublespeak and Tripletalk

Speaking of shadowy plots and unsettling organizations, arriving on the station is Pierce Maccabee, a member of the newly created Ministry of Peace. What’s their job? Oh, to ferret out dissenters and re-educate them to fit the regime’s narrative — I MEAN, to promote peace and civility and to report any who are working to undermine that by expressing discontent and sewing a lack of harmony through their criticisms. With a name that clues you into his smugness right away, it’s no surprise that he is also peddling the creation of a second class of workers that answers directly to a newly created agency, directly under the control of President Clark, whose only job is to spy on people. . .I’ve read “The Wave,” I know where this is going.

What’s particularly important about how the Night Watch is introduced is that while we may see through the veneer of the organization’s purpose, the show makes sure to show just how easy it is to see why average joes might join up. For one thing, they offer extra pay. This is Zack’s motivation for joining up, since he has to do literally nothing different. For another, the language used is persuasive and hits at ills that, especially now in the age of the internet, have become much more prevalent.

They plant false stories. They undermine the public good. It’s not because they are necessarily evil it’s because they don’t know better. They’re unhappy. They lash out in the only way they can.

It can be hard to argue against someone who says that willful misinformation harms public discourse and that those who feel sidelined and alone will clasp onto whatever, and whoever, promises an easy way to regain control of their life, or an external threat to pin their woes on. However, clear in the rest of the quote is that these are just excuses to bolster the erosion of privacy and the punishment of thought by a political apparatus. Criticism is equated with

If we are made aware of these problems as they occur, then we can find these people. We can talk to these people. We can embrace them in the arms of society while at the same time protecting society from misinformation and harmful ideas. We’re less interested in actions than we are in attitudes. We must help protect society against its own worst instincts.

Who is we? What attitudes are deemed “against the public good?” And what happens when people are given the impunity to use state sanctioned violence against those they disagree with? Keeping tabs on those who criticize the powerful by using a network of neighbors with the power to spirit them away is not the mark of a healthy, or just, approach.

None of my above comments are new or groundbreaking thoughts but they feel necessary to reiterate.

Continued below

3. Play it Again, Sam

Did someone say abuse of power? Oh, it’s just you Sheridan. What’s this? The second time in three weeks that you’ve done something morally questionable and using your position to strong arm someone? I know he’s our hero, and were this a noir or a cop show, this kind of behavior would be baked well into the genre trappings, but you know you’ve crossed a major line when Garibaldi says you’re going too far and quits. It’s a pretty sobering moment and it’s very difficult to watch Sheridan go down this path.

Yes, Morden might be a grade-A asshole and right hand to a race of aliens who want to fuck everyone over, but that doesn’t make Sheridan’s actions less uncomfortable. It does, however, make this being an in character plot all the more worrying. If Sheridan is willing to throw everything out the window just to get an answer out of Morden, to fulfil his personal crusade, then what else would he be willing to do, if given the chance. . .if Anna is still alive.

4. Foundation

There is a fun irony to Ivanova and Franklin’s initial interaction this week. Franklin, who just at the start of the season was touting the necessity of a food plan to staying healthy, and mandating Garibaldi, Ivanova and Sinclair eat very differently, is now staying up for 36 hours straight and relying on stims to keep at it. It’s a self-destructive habit that, while admirable because it is in service of saving the wounded and the dying, as Ivanova says, he’s no good to anyone dead. . .or in this case sleep deprived and run ragged.

This leads to a scene later on between the two, where we get a little bit more a discussion of Franklin’s faith. Up until now, I had assumed he was an atheist, or at the very least an agnostic but it turns out he’s a Foundationalist, a religion in that had sprouted up in response to first contact. I love these kinds of meditations on what the purpose of faith and god is as well as Richard Biggs’ performance. I’m also a big sucker for monologues so Franklin’s talk about seeing God in the eyes of the dying was chilling and right up my alley.

5. A Nightshade by Any Other Name

Kosh, our big mystery, forever ensconced in his encounter suit, rolls up this week with some clear-cut answers! Well, not him exactly. We still know jack all about Kosh but we now know the teensy-tinest bit more about the Vorlons thanks to Delenn and we also know some more concrete information about The Shadows. Also, we finally get an in-universe name drop and I can finally put aside my self-imposed ban on using that name in these updates! Why did I do that? Because I hate making my life easy it seems.

Anywho! Delenn’s exposition dump is a tantalizing clue as to what the heck has been going on all season and in the few scattered set-ups in the previous one. We learn why Z’ha’dum is so important and why the crew of the Icarus went missing there, as well as how Morden survived. Much like the investigation into President Clark, they have to keep to the, well, shadows and hold their information close to their chest, lest the opposition know they’re onto them. Parallel narratives are fun and I cannot wait to see how this goes from here, now that Sheridan, and we, are let in on the secret.

Also, you remember Catherine? You know, Indiana Jones in space? Sinclair is (was?) her boyfriend? Yeah, I have a feeling she was supposed to be the one connected to Morden, or perhaps the Icarus, originally. Her being a semi-recurring character in season one felt like building towards that but then plans changed, as they often did and do with TV, and the narrative was rearranged to better fit the new changes.

That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for an episode with a sharp title, Sheridan experiencing strange visions, and Londo continues to see the effects of his decisions on the station that wraps humans and aliens in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night.

Continued below

This is Elias. Signing out.

Best Line of the Night:

Vir: “I’d like to live long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next 10 generations that some favors come with too high a price. I want to look up into your lifeless eyes and wave, like this: Can you and your associates arrange that for me?”

//TAGS | 2019 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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