Capitalism invades in the guise of budget boosting instead of, you know, actually giving a larger budget, Vir gets his time in the spotlight, and Sheridan. . .well, we’ll get to that. 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.
While the A plot was technically more important, and the B-plot far more emotional, the C plot is where the idiosyncratic nature of Babylon 5 really shines. First up, Ivanova, perennially being given just all the worst duties by Sheridan, has been put in charge of overseeing the Babylon 5 gift shop. That’s right. Just like the Vatican has Popeners, Babylon 5 now has a gift shop for all your chachki needs.
Step on up! Want a plush of everyone’s favorite Narn ambassador? Desire a drink, featuring the Centauri’s favorite, and everyone else’s least favorite, ambassador Londo? Maybe you’d like a bit of Earth culture, all these many light-years away. Take home a baseball bat and find out why those silly Earthlings can’t figure out how to do anything without hitting things.
Yeah, it’s not well loved by Sheridan or Ivanova either but for us, it gives us a lot of opportunities to see the ridiculousness of it all. . .and then to crumble into a heap realizing that it’s the most accurate representation of our consumerist culture and the ways in which certain politicians will nickel and dime important organizations, forcing antithetical practices upon them, while other, more fighty, more destructive, more self-enriching projects get carte blanche. They have the money to upgrade the station’s guns when no one was asking for it but not the hangar bays. . .and then they want the station to raise more money because it’s “not making enough?”
And you wonder why Star Trek was set in a post-scarcity, socialist setting.
2. Gift-O-Ween II
But not all is doom and gloom with this plot point! Mostly because of the way Ivanova masterfully manipulates Londo and Sheridan so that the gift shop can be shut down. Yeah. You can see the gears turning pretty early on, when Sheridan appoints her to the thankless job of making sure the abomination isn’t too abominable, but it isn’t until she wanders through the shop itself that it seems like she’s willing to double down on the mischief.
First (of two), there’s the Londo doll. Clearly he didn’t sign off on his likeness being used but, more importantly, Ivanova definitely saw it and went, “This thing looks like cheap garbage and Londo will hate it. I wonder how loudly he’ll complain” and then left it so that he would eventually encounter the figure, knowing that if he does, she has a very credible reason to shut the thing down. I also love how his concern is less with the figure itself and more that it is without the “atributes” that we’ve seen before on his golden statue of Li and. . .*shudders* in the poker game.
Second (of two), there’s the Sheridan bear. I’m actually surprised at this one. I thought Sheridan didn’t have the authority to shut the gift shop down, and also wasn’t on board with it. Or maybe he was only slightly hesitant and I misread the opening. Either way, him being portrayed as a bear seem to really piss him off. Why? Is there some secret history here? Or did they just want the gag of him being like, “Oh. A bear me. Thanks, I hate it.” Who knows. What matters is that Ivanova successfully got the gift shop off the station and no one will have to look at any dolls of Londo again.
3. Gift-O-Ween III: Season of the Drazi
The mask scene is the best scene of the episode. Vir’s plot may be leagues more emotional but this scene is the highlight.
I don’t talk about it weekly but every so often I’m reminded of just how good the alien make-up is and how everyone looks unique and, well, alien, even if most are humanoid and the more peripheral ones begin to look similar in design. OK, fine, it’s not the most groundbreaking stuff but compared with the OG Star Trek’s “eh, give the evil soviet counterparts a bump on their head, that’ll show they’re an alien” mentality, I’m going to give the show high marks. Main cast, though, always gets A+.Continued below
Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. What was I talking about again? OH! Right. The mask scene at the gift shop. It’s such a clever moment and idea, to use the actual stage masks for a gag, and also to show how humans would be just another oddity in the gift shop because of course there’d be human masks. Who wouldn’t want to go back to their home planet with a floppy mask of a random human and then use it to scare the bejeebers out of little ones on whatever the equivalent of Halloween is? It also really gets you to appreciate how integrated the make-up is into the show. I had forgotten about the gag (I’ve seen all of season two once before) and when the extra pulled the mask off, I was taken aback. I had completely bought into the makeup and so I never expected this guy to pull a Lupin III by removing HIS FACE.
Just goes to show you. If you can get an audience to accept a certain level of visual falsehood, the story can shine that much brighter.
4. A Nightmare on Vir Street
What to say about Vir. In season one, he was nothing more than a joke, someone to be laughed at as he performed slapstick antics with all the energy of a Three Stooges routine. In season two, he’s become the conscience for an ambassador who is slowly losing what was left of it. The last time I really gave Vir a point was about a month ago in The Coming of Shadows but he deserves one again, especially because we finally get a little bit more of his backstory! If you had asked me in season one if I would have wanted Vir’s backstory, I would have said I don’t particularly care. Ask me now? And I’ll start sobbing because I realized that I was acting just like his family. The pathos this one episode brings to the guy! It helps that, unlike Londo, who is spiraling into a pit of vile acts, Vir has strong morals and those are the kinds of characters that are easy to connect with emotionally.
I keep saying it, and I know this won’t be the last time, but Babylon 5’s attention to the complex inner lives of these formerly one-note characters really is the best part of the show. And on top of that, they grow, they change, for better and for worse, and we get to be alongside them as they do.
5. One Angry Captain
OK. I put this off until the end, despite it being the A-plot, because. . .well because the show’s A-plot this week has a lot of problems that probably weren’t as apparent, or discussed, back in 1995 as it is today. Well, that and Sheridan’s insufferable moralizing, which is great as a character trait but less great to watch and have the show position as being correct, rather than Sheridan overstepping and being in the wrong while still being correct.
Basically, the scene we see is that Sheridan has his communicator stolen, accidentally runs into a Minbari, who shoves him to the ground, and when Sheridan tells him to back off, screams “death first” and is shot by Sheridan. The only witness, another Minbari in the area, tells Lennier that the Minbari was surrendering, hadn’t done any provocation, and was shot by Starkiller out of prejudice. See where I’m going with this?
We know it’s a frame up. We know there is no love lost between the Minbari and Sheridan and that tensions are high and the Warrior caste holds unprecedented levels of power, and thus affects public perception and what hate-filled individuals feel they can get away with (see: the burning of the Amazon under Bolsonaro or white supremacist terrorism under Trump.) The problem here is the conflict between the police brutality analog (which I think was unintentional) and the rise of ideological fundamentalists, under the banner of fascism, willing to do whatever it takes to purge the world of people unlike them analog (which was what they were going for most likely.)
Peter David — yes, that Peter David — probably was trying to construct a dramatic scenario that would highlight the divisions in Minbari culture at the moment, the rising rhetoric of hatred towards those who are not “like them,” and to remind us of the problematic nature of Sheridan as B5 leader, due to his past with the Minbari and the prejudices he still holds. In universe, the logic holds and this is something that could conceivably happen on B5, given the high volume of other conspiracies. It also highlights another bit of Minbari culture and serves as another entry in the theme of the importance of honor and the ways it can be weaponized.Continued below
However, the optics of it all is troubling and watching Sheridan, a white man with power and influence in a police/military field, angrily accuse the only witness to a killing, who is a minority on the station, of lying, over and over again, harms the episode more than it helps. It doesn’t take the time to really interrogate that, and I wouldn’t expect it to, though if it came out today I definitely would, and furthers the narrative that accusations against powerful law enforcement officers aren’t to be believed. The scenario in the show goes out of its way to plant a number of fishy elements (sudden gun, stolen com, no recordings, shady witness) but that doesn’t diminish the problems with the whole thing or even with my statement right there that “fishy elements” act as proof of a grander conspiracy of delegitimization, when “fishy” can be just as easily twisted.
. . .I feel like I’ve strayed a bit. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t stoked about this week’s A-plot and I think they failed to consider how else the scenes could be read. Putting aside the greater implications, it was mostly good (again, Sheridan’s insufferable moralizing) but it could have been a lot better.
Peter David did a bang-up job with the dialog, and the other plots, though.
That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for first person view Babylon 5, fake commercials and what TV news was like before people really realized what the removal of the fairness doctrine could do 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:
Vir: What you wish. What they wish. I don’t even know what I wish! Back home, I’m swallowed in silence, and here I’m swallowed up by secrets. I’m caught between fire and flood, and if there’s a way out, I sure don’t see it.