Babylon 5: Revelations

b5Babylon 5 really was a show ahead of its time.  We now live in the era of binge watching and Netflix, where series are released all at once.  We can sit and binge, as many of us do, and pick up on all the little nuances.  By contrast, Babylon 5 was a weekly show that had season breaks.  Now, in fairness, it wasn’t that long a wait for some of the revelations – we have longer season breaks now.  Look at the Netflix series Lost in Space as an example of that; by the time it comes back after 18+ months off the air, who will remember what happened?  In the case of B5, The Quality of Mercy aired in August of 1994 and by November, we had Revelations. The wait was not that bad.  But what was clever was that the healing device introduced in The Quality of Mercy seemed like a throw away device; I was convinced we’d never see it again.  Was I wrong!  JMS had planned that out and after waiting to find out if Michael Garibaldi would be alright, the wait was over.  Franklin and Sheridan break out that old alien healing device to help Garibaldi get back in the game.  Meanwhile, also from the previous August, Delenn gets revealed: we will finally know what happened when she emerges from the Chrysalis.  This is a longer game though because she’s been working on that device on and off all season long and we had to wait until the end of the season to see why, and now we’ll see the end result!  On top of all that, let’s not forget the news, a background feature throughout all of season one, has another day in the papers as the Psi-Corp scandal is discussed.  And one item that caught my son’s attention was that when the Shadow vessel was destroyed, it moved like it was alive.  This struck a chord with me because way back in season 1, at the very start of the season, the episode Infection talked about organic technology, the one tech Earth had not yet developed. All of these things are trademarks of an era we are very familiar with today, but did we know what to do with it back then?  I sure didn’t.  I needed to wait for syndication before I fell for this series!

Then there’s building up for the future: Sheridan’s wife died 2 years ago.  Well, that statement sounds suspiciously like a past statement, but it’s building to more as we get to understand John Sheridan.  There’s also G’Kar’s revelation about knowing the Shadow ships of old.  This sets the stage for the “year the great war came upon us all.”  This latter revelation does make one wonder though: if the Narn are a younger race, as established right at the start of the show, how did they encounter the Shadows before?  Again, this all sounds suspiciously backward looking.  But the way Babylon 5 works is like a good book.  I remember reading Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and early on a piece of dialogue pops up over how a piece of cloth can slow a descent if falling.  I knew instantly this would play a role later, and I was a little bummed to realize it.  I knew that the history of G’Kar’s people would play a role later, but I did not predict how.  (This is the mark of a good writer.  No offense Dan Brown, I still love your writing but that was a blatant giveaway!)

When I watched the series this time, my fourth time through it, I had my wife and son watching with me.  This was a joyful thing but they don’t talk a lot about the shows we watch when they’re over so it was weird as having dinner with a Vorlon when we had a debate about the guy who shot Garibaldi.  How did he get away?  Why was he transferred?  How long was this planned?  But the more we talked about it, the more we realized there was no evidence against him short of a glimpse Garibaldi has which is recovered as if by hypnosis.  (Yes, it’s pulled by a telepath, but is that admissible?  It’s very similar to hypnosis in that regard and may not be substantial enough to make a difference.)  In the end, all we were left with was questions: how many episodes were compromised by this aide?   And even if he were found again, could he be tried based on a memory recovered by a telepath?

This is the last part of what felt like a 3- or even a 4- part story starting at Chrysalis (or potentially The Quality of Mercy if you count setting up the healing machine).  Chrysalis is a massive episode and it takes two additional episodes to wrap up what was going on and set the season straight.  Now the pieces are in place for season 2 to begin.  We can just start to make out the geometry of shadows…   ML

The view from across the pond:

Weep for the future, Na’Toth. Weep for us all.

The most quotable character from B5 is back after far too long an absence, and he has “looked into the darkness”.  An interesting character, G’Kar.  He comes from a race that has apparently been travelling among the stars for so long that they have built a legend, almost a religion, around their space-travelling past.

After 1000 years the darkness is come again.

That in itself is fascinating.  When we watch sci-fi we can’t help but think of space travel as a new development, so a race of aliens who have been doing it so long that it has become woven into their myths and legends is the sci-fi path less trodden.  Plus, there’s more than a hint of Lovecraft about all this and that’s always a bonus for adding to the atmosphere:

Something is moving, gathering its forces, quietly.

So far, this series feels very different to the previous one.  Season 1 was very much along the lines of the Star Trek style of storytelling, with each episode telling a different tale.  There was a story arc of sorts, but it always played second fiddle to the story of the week.  In contrast, Revelations doesn’t really tell a self-contained story at all.  It just moves all the various ongoing plot strands along a little bit more.  It will be interesting to see if that is the approach from now on.

This is a get-to-know-Sheridan episode, more than anything else.  What makes the new commander tick?  We get some backstory, with an obligatory tragic past.  He attributes losing his wife to being “too damn busy” and paradoxically seems to be dealing with all that by throwing himself into his work.  When they last spoke he was so busy that he forgot to tell her he loved her, which is a very poignant story and makes you think how it’s important to live in the moment and put the important people in your lives first.  Unfortunately, Bruce Boxleitner doesn’t sell all this stuff terribly well.  Mike might have a go at me about making a shallow point, but his hammy acting is really getting on my nerves, and we’re only two episodes in to the second series.  I want Sinclair back!

Meanwhile, Delenn goes all crispy and then makes a grand entrance with a hood over her face.  Who makes those cloaks with the hoods that cover the whole face, anyway?  I mean, hoods are good for keeping the rain off, but that’s taking things too far.  If this were The Orville she would walk into the room and trip over her own feet.  Then comes the big reveal, with Delenn turning into a human (at least in appearance), as a “bridge between two worlds”.  Good grief, B5 is unintentionally depressing sometimes.  Does an understanding between two races have to be conditional on appearance?  Is the human race going to be that… disappointing in the future?  There must surely to be more to her change than that, or it’s either (a) a nasty bit of casual xenophobia, commenting on how peace is conditional on looking the same, or (b) one of the bleakest visions of the future of humanity a sci-fi series has ever offered us.  Not great choices, those two.   RP

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About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyardview.wordpress.com Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
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7 Responses to Babylon 5: Revelations

  1. DrAcrossthePond says:

    RE: Sheridan, I think that’s supposed to happen. You’re supposed to see the contrast. As for his hammy acting, I think it’s actually very subtly meant to be that he’s not settled in his new role yet. He’s still acclimating to command of a station. Perhaps I’m being overly generous.

    Re: the hoods, brilliant. I too wonder that. Talk about a race obsessed with a little drama.

    As for xenophobia – I didn’t see it that way at all. She looks Minbari to me with more humanized characteristics, like the hair. She still has the head bone and the dominant brow ridge. She’s a mix. Sort of a “best of both worlds” combination to let both sides know they are not that dissimilar.

    But maybe I’m just too generous… ML

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      I would say generous on both counts, but a matter of opinion! I think my point stands just as well with her making herself more human as it would do if she looked completely human. It’s still somebody changing her appearance to gain acceptance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ragaius says:

    Interesting reading your takes on these first episodes of season 2. Both episodes seemed a little stilted to me, concerning dialog and the individual story. But apparently they (JMS) are dropping a lot of plot devices for future development. I’m liking the actors more and more and I’m curious to see where it goes, particularly Delenn’s story line.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Anonymous says:

    But the pay off is worth it!
    Thanks for joining us and welcome officially to the Junkyard! ML

    Liked by 2 people

  4. scifimike70 says:

    Your point about how sitting and binging is a serious problem with much TV shows these days is a naturally valid one. As rare as it may be, what attracts me to one of a few TV shows these days is when it’s refreshingly unpredictable. For me this obviously includes Dr. Who and now includes the relaxingly paced Black Mirror, along with Manifest and The Rook. Babylon 5 was indeed ahead of its time for going against the grain of specific expectations for TV shows. It was the 90s when our newest SF shows at the point, like The X-Files and Lexx, were much easier for us to enjoy without relegating them to the TV binging category.

    As for the potential for concentrating too much on the bigger picture, that too is a valid point. So I found the individually enjoyable episodes in B5 all the more noticeable. With a new development for Delenn at this point, ‘individually’ is the operative word.

    Liked by 1 person

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