25 years ago, a science fiction show aired that changed the way TV operated. Building upon and strengthening the idea of Star Trek’s five-year mission, this show proved that sci-fi TV could be something grander than an episodic adventure. 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.
Last year, I covered all of season one of this seminal show just as it was coming to streaming for the “first” time on Amazon Prime (see here for what I mean.) The stream may not be the best quality, thanks to WB, now owned by AT&T, but it’s still nice to have ease of access to a show that for years has been slipping farther and farther out of reach. Feel free, for those who are new or long time veterans, to follow along with me as we continue to delve deeper in the mysteries of this show with season two’s inaugural episode, “Points of Departure.”
1. Requiem for a Commander
As a title, “Points of Departure” is a curious one. On its surface, it seems to refer to the transportation term or the docking stations of Babylon 5. But it can also refer to ideological splinterings, the places where schools of thought differ and break off, where schisms happen and once unified ideas are torn asunder. This is what drives the A-plot this week and informs the revelations from Lennier. However, there is another meaning behind the title, and it is a bit more sad.
You may have noticed that our good friend and commander, Jeffrey Sinclair, is conspicuously absent from the episode, the opening, and the credits. He left the show after the end of season one for, as then unspecified but amicable reasons. In the years since his death in 2012, we’ve learned that he suffered from paranoid delusions and hallucinations that intensified as season one went on. It’s a shame, as we were finally getting used to the character and his trajectory, but obviously, the mental health of an actor takes far more precedence over a role. Here’s a link to an interview JMS did on the late Michael O’Hare.
As for the character, he returns, once or twice, to close off his arc but in his place as commander of the Babylon 5 is a new character, John Sheridan, one who’s attitude, personality, and history are vastly different from Sinclair’s, providing another point of departure. He is much more aggressive, more military oriented than Sinclair was, and is not well liked by the Minbari. He’s a fighter, much more than Sinclair was. Yet, he is still kind and fair and his tactical mind makes him a good leader for knowing how best to defuse a situation.
This change adds a new wrinkle into the dynamics of the station and the show and it’s going to be interesting to see how it will play out.
2. Once Again, We Return to This
Sheridan isn’t the only change to manifest itself either. G’Kar and Londo are both absent from the episode, with G’Kar mysteriously off station, Garibaldi is still in a coma from being attacked, meaning no one knows about how deep the conspiracy to assassinate the president goes, Delenn is in a cocoon, and we have another new cast member.
This all makes for a really interesting season opener. The status quo is most certainly not maintained from the previous season, with major shifts for every character save Doctor Franklin, and there are newcomers added into the bunch to really mix things up. There are some moments when it’s clear JMS and the writing team are trying to catch everyone up after the break, which, on the whole, are well integrated. It’s clear this is for the benefit of everyone watching, not just newcomers, as there is a lot of groundwork that needs to be re-established, chief of which is that it’s only been a week since the new years eve assassination of the president of Earth.
It’s small details like that that help Babylon 5 stay grounded and the world feel whole.Continued below
As far as the new character, I’m not entirely sold on Keffer. His intro feels. . .off, somehow. Maybe it’s the somewhat wooden acting, which feels out of place when compared to Boxleitner and the rest of the season one crew. Maybe it’s because he’s trying hard to fill that Garibaldi shaped hole in the snark but can’t capture Doyle’s pitch perfect delivery. Maybe I just really don’t like the “flyboy” type character exemplified by Poe Dameron and Top Gun. Whatever it is, he doesn’t do it for me and I’d much rather see more of Caitlin Brown’s Na’toth.
Speaking of. . .
3. New Actress, Who Dis?
Na’toth has a new actress and Delenn’s got a new look! Both of these facts are not established in the episodes themselves because Delenn is still in her strange cocoon and Na’toth doesn’t appear at all. It’s quite funny, actually, how credit sequences can undercut reveals in an episode. The mystery around why Delenn was in this cocoon remains but that bit of mystique, of “what is she going to look like now” is removed. It’s a minor complaint but it struck me nonetheless.
4. Curtains Made of Chocolate, Villains With a Sweet Tooth
That villain of the week, oh, that villain of the week. He was something else. He ate that scenery like it was a rubbery steak, chewing and chewing and chewing. Over-the-top does not even come close to describing that performance and yet. . .it was so much fun to watch him. Sometimes characters like these annoy me but this time around, I was having too much fun laughing at his ridiculousness to care. There was nothing subtle about him or his mission, while perhaps worked to the episode’s advantage as it kept the red herring up for a good while longer.
Thankfully the episode around him was much better, otherwise I think I’d have a less favorable reading on it, like some of those early season one episodes.
5. Introducing Batman Lite-Box, I mean Bruce Boxleitner
Supergirl wasted their Boxleitner (and Lynda Carter before that) and I want it on the record that THIS is why I was so bummed. He had the ability to bring out so much more. But here is not the place to discuss that. Instead, let’s talk about season openers.
It’s interesting to compare these two season openings and how they handle their introductions of the characters. “Midnight on the Firing Line” had to set up a lot more, meaning it couldn’t give the same kind of character treatment we get here with Ivanova. However, all that heavy lifting was done gracefully and with style, priming us to want to know more and follow along. This means that, because season two starts on more solid footing, some of the things that flew in the series opener, such as the rockier dialog and acting, doesn’t fly. Bruce Boxleitner benefits, then, from the more polished scripts and a cast that is very comfortable with their roles, which helps him sell his character’s nervousness and his underlying charisma.
I took to Sheridan as a character much faster than I did Sinclair, which isn’t to knock what O’Hare brought to the character or his introduction. I think the reason for it is that as I laid out above, combined with Boxleitner’s acting chops and a character built to be seen as an outsider at first. Unlike in “Midnight on the Firing Line,” Boxleitner is not the audience proxy, instead being a force of friction into the world we’ve spent 22 episodes getting to know.
The episode splits its time between deepening Ivanova’s character and ingratiating us to Sheridan, all while highlighting the things that will be sources of tension throughout the rest of the season. It’s great. My two highlights have to be him giving a speech to no one while holding an orange and Ivanova’s first real moment of openness of the episode, where she vents about having to be “strong” when all she wants to do is be human.
5.5. Cheating Bonus Mystery
I reached this point and realized didn’t even talk about the biggest reveal drop in the series thus far! We finally resolve what was hanging over Sinclair and Earth’s head for the last decade: why the Minbari surrendered despite winning the war. Remember how there was that whole thing with the Soul Hunter and how the Minbari believe that the soul of the Minbari are a collective? To destroy one is to diminish the whole?Continued below
Well, it turns out that humans are somehow being born with pieces of or whole Minbari souls.
And apparently, that’s not even the whole story but beyond Lennier’s cryptic hints of a great war coming, it’s more than enough to fuel the speculation. Why is this the case? What does it mean for the Minbari and their culture/religion? I don’t know if these questions ever get answered but just having them gets me more invested in the show and is a sign of the deep thought JMS and the writers room put into the larger ramifications of their plot points on the universe of Babylon 5.
That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for Londo’s return and, perhaps, something a bit more sinister 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:
Ivanova: “And as far as I’m concerned, the transports can wait until the sun explodes! And if you’re not happy with the seating arrangements, I will personally order your seats to be moved outside, down the hall, across the station, and into the fusion reactor!”