Saturday, 22 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 15-16

A15: Grail
Airdates: 6 July 1994 (US), 15 August 1994 (UK)
Written by Christy Marx
Directed by Richard Compton
Cast: Aldous Gajic (David Warner), Deuce (William Sanderson), Jinxo (Tom Booker), Ombuds Wellington (Jim Norton), Mirriam Runningdear (Linda Lodge), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Mr. Flinn (John Flinn), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    Whilst Garibaldi attempts to ensure a thug and criminal in Downbelow, Deuce, is incarcerated after committing acts of murder, extortion and blackmail, Sinclair is intrigued when a “true seeker” arrives on Babylon 5. Aldous Gajic is a human from Earth, the last of an order whose objective is to locate the Holy Grail. Since Earth has pretty much been investigated in detail, Gajic now turns his attention towards space. Sinclair thinks the idea is far-fetched, but Delenn berates him for his lack of faith. The Minbari revere true seekers, those who live by pure faith alone, unencumbered by the need to know whether an event is true or not.

Meanwhile, Gajic befriends a lurker named Jinxo, who is hiding from Deuce, to whom he owes money. Jinxo is scared to leave Babylon 5, since he worked as a construction worker on the first four Babylon stations. Each time, when he went on leave, the station collapsed or exploded. Working on Babylon 4, he stayed until the station was finished. However, as his shuttle left the station upon completion, it vanished in a strange blaze of light. He now thinks some calamity will befall Babylon 5 if he ever leaves, so stays and makes a living in Downbelow.

Gajic and Ombuds Wellington, who is prosecuting Deuce, are both taken prisoner by Deuce, who plans to feed them to a creature called a Na’ka’leen Feeder he has hiding in a replica of Kosh’s encounter suit. Jinxo, Garibaldi and Sinclair intervene and Deuce is arrested. The Feeder is killed, but so is Gajic. Shortly after, Jinxo returns home to Earth. Babylon 5 remains intact.


The Arc: A reiteration from PM and A9 that the Vorlons are touchy about anyone meddling with their privacy. Also, the first sign of humour from Kosh when he expresses amusement when Sinclair tells him humans are nervous around him.

The first three Babylon stations were destroyed during construction. Babylon 1’s superstructure collapsed as a result of sabotage, whilst Babylon 2’s fate was uncertain, either the result of sabotage or an accident. Babylon 3 was definitely destroyed by a terrorist bomb. Babylon 4 vanished without trace after completion, though according to Jinxo the station “twisted” in space before it vanished. We learn more about Babylon 4 in episodes A20, C16 and C17. We get to briefly see Babylon Station (aka Babylon 1) at the end of TVM1.

Delenn seems to suggest that Sinclair is also a “True Seeker”, searching for a purpose greater than himself in order to justify his survival at the Battle of the Line (as Garibaldi suggests in A4). This factors into Sinclair’s journey of self-discovery, also seen in A8, A13, A20, A22, DC1-4, NOV9 and C16-C17 (among others).

Background: Na’ka’leen Feeders are voracious creatures who can mind-wipe their victims, feeding off their neural systems. They originate on an abandoned colony in Centauri space. The Centauri colony was wiped out and the Centauri have maintained a quarantine around the planet for decades. The quarantine was recently shut down due to the expense, but Londo’s intervention has it renewed.

Na’ka’leen Feeders move around using a mass of tentacles, allowing them to both “stand up” and overwhelm people and travel up and down walls and into restricted spaces. They are somewhat intelligent, able to mimic human speech (to a limited extent) and express the need for sustenance.

The alien at the start of the episode, who is being sued by Mr. Flinn for abducting his great-grandfather, is a Vree. We saw their saucer-shaped ships in episode A9 and will again in later seasons (most noticeably C21). According to the producers and writers, the Vree are a League race who stumbled across Earth in the mid-20th Century and spent some years studying the planet before moving on. The Vree are related to the Streibs, who appear in episode B11. The fact that the Vree communicate in visual symbols (similar to crop circles) presumably means why we don’t see them in the flesh very often and why they don’t attend council meetings. They do seem to like blowing stuff up, though.

Deuce runs a protection and extortion racket out of Brown 9, although he is clever enough to hide his tracks. His racket extends into even terrorising legitimate business-owners in Red Sector.

References: The name “Gajic” is a nod at Goran Gajic, the respected Serbian director who is also married to Mira Furlan (Delenn). Gajic directed several episodes in later seasons.

The Holy Grail, of course, is a reference to the cup allegedly used to catch the blood of Jesus during the Crucifixion and was later brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea. The Grail’s first appearance in literature dates to Conte de Graal by Chrestien de Troyes (c. 1180 AD). It was later integrated into the legend of King Arthur and, of course, is the object of the knights’ quest in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and its stage show revamp, Spamalot!

Unanswered Questions: How long is a cycle anyway?

What did Deuce do between this episode and TVM2? Did he really stay on the run for three years on B5 and was never recaptured?

Why doesn’t Aldous visit G’Kar or the League ambassadors? Did they choose not to grant him an audience or did they just happen off-screen?

Why did Kosh agree to meet with Aldous given his lack of interest in other events on the station?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: After this episode was produced the production team decided to drop the references to “cycles”, mainly due to it not meaning anything but possibly due to conflicts with the Minbari calendar system as well (see A20). Minutes, hours and seconds are used after this point.

60 “cycles” pass in less than a day early in the episode, suggesting that they are not a replacement for “hours” and don’t seem to map to any timekeeping system that makes sense.

Lennier tells Gajic and Jinxo there are two castes of Minbar: the religious caste and warrior caste. We quickly learn this is erroneous, with the worker caste omitted from Lennier’s count.

Deuce isn’t arrested at the end of this episode and shows up again, still a player in Downbelow, in episode TVM2. It is highly unlikely that he managed to stay on the run on B5 for three years solid, so it begs the question about what happened to him in the meantime. NOV1 suggests he laid low for several months before being smuggled back to Earth, but given the novel’s officially non-canonical status this seems unlikely.

Behind the Scenes: Straczynski found it exceptionally difficult to write dialogue for Kosh, as he didn’t want him to be over-used or, going the other way, turn into Yoda. His preferred solution was to simply have Kosh give one-word answers that “scare the shit” out of people (see also A7 and his reported one-word answer to a question in A22).

JMS had a “discussion” with Christopher Franke about the “funny music” in this episode, most noticeably in the discussion between Vir, London, Gajic and Jinxo.

In the original draft of the script, Kosh turned up and fried the Feeder. This was changed as such overt action on the part of a Vorlon personally (as opposed to their ships, see PM and A9) seemed out of keeping with their secretive natures. Also, presumably, Kosh considered the whole thing rather small-fry. It mildly insulted the Vorlons, but Kosh didn’t care.

Straczynski dislikes this episode for several reasons, but unlike Infection won’t go into them out of respect for the fact that it was a) scripted by another writer and b) everyone else on the production team liked it at the time.

The trial scene at the start of the episode was written by Straczynski and inserted into the script to show how the legal process on B5 works. The character of Ombuds Wellington and his function on the station was created by B5’s creative consultant, Harlan Ellison.

This was the last episode of Babylon 5 to be directed by Richard Compton, who’d directed the pilot and several other episodes, as well as establishing the general shooting style of the show. Straczynski seems to have fallen out with Compton over editing, particularly of the pilot episode, and also the quality of his finished episodes (most notably this one and A4, Infection). According to Straczynski they “initiated a parting of the ways with Richard” and he was removed as a co-producer as well as a director.

Foundation Imaging and Ron Thornton told Straczynski and the other producers early on that they could do completely non-humanoid aliens on the show using CGI. This episode was a testbed for the concept. Writer Christy Marx originally envisaged the creature as a sort of floating jellyfish which would move around on air jets, on the basis that this would be easier to animate, but Thornton insisted on the creature being more complex and interacting more with the environment. Straczynski assessed the CG creature as being about “seventy percent successful”, noting that the two-week rendering time for its scenes made it difficult to do on a more regular basis. Unfortunately, the problems with the effects and resolution on DVD and HD TVs makes the Feeder look considerably less successful than it did on original broadcast on smaller CRT screens.

David Warner enjoyed working on the episode because he was frequently cast as villains, and he relished playing more of a heroic, warm and self-sacrificing character. Michael O’Hare cited him as an inspiring actor with an immense amount of charm and knowledge about acting.

Jerry Doyle liked to cook, which was a trait transferred to his character. However, Doyle was not so keen on the “speed eating” trait given to his character, as it could make re-takes quite uncomfortable.

The starliner Mary Celeste is referenced again in this episode. According to Straczynski, it was named such as a dare to the universe, probably by an Australian company (since “they are fearless”).

Familiar Faces: The actor playing “Mr. Flinn” in the courtroom scene at the start is Babylon 5’s director of photographer (and occasional director) John C. Flinn III.

David Warner, hopefully needs to introduction. He appeared in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as two different characters, as well as playing a Cardassian interrogator the excellent Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter Chain of Command, where he has a stunning two-hander with Patrick Stewart (culminating in the legendary “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!”). He also had a recurring role on the second season of Twin Peaks and played Jor-El on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. He has appeared in movies such as The Man With Two Brains and Tron (alongside B5 stars Peter Jurasik and Bruce Boxleitner), as well as playing the villain in the Terry Gilliam movie Time Bandits. He would go on to star in the movie Titanic. In 2000 Warner provided the voice acting for Jon Irenicus in the video game Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, almost certainly the greatest video game villain of all time.

Jim Norton is best-known in the States for playing Albert Einstein in the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter Descent (opposite Stephen Hawking playing himself). However, in Britain and Ireland he is best-known for playing the utterly ruthless and unforgiving Bishop Len Brennan on the iconic sitcom Father Ted (particularly the episode Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse). He later returns as Ombuds Wellington in A21 but has an even more memorable role as Dr. Lazarenn in episode B18.

William Sanderson is best-known for playing J.F. Sebastian in the film Blade Runner and for his later roles as E.B. Farnum on Deadwood and Sherriff Dearborne on True Blood. He later returns as Deuce in the second Babylon 5 TV movie, Thirdspace.

This was Tom Booker’s (Jinxo) first on-screen acting role. He would later appear in shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Good Guys, as well as doing voice work, most notably playing Keel in the English dub of the Neon Genesis Evangelion movies Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion.

Review: This is one of B5’s strongest episodes in terms of guest star talent: David Warner, Jim Norton and William Sanderson really get everyone to raise their game, although Tom Booker is clearly a little nervous in some scenes (although this makes his character more believable, so that’s good too). A rather slight plot lets down the quality of the guest stars, but it’s nowhere near the disaster it’s often cited as (most notably by Straczynski, who claims it as one of the two worst episodes of the entire series, which is a bit much). ***

Aldous: “These two sides of your culture, do they ever agree on anything?”
Delenn: “Yes, and when they do it’s a terrible thing.”

Sinclair: “One person’s lunatic is another’s True Seeker.”
Garibaldi: “You’ve been hanging out with Delenn too much.”

Londo: “Fools to the left of me, Feeders to the right. I need to find a real job.”

Sinclair: “No-one knows exactly what you look like. That makes some people nervous.”
Kosh: “Good.”

Garibaldi: “No boom?”
Sinclair: “No boom.”
Ivanova: “No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There’s always a boom tomorrow.”

A16: Eyes
Airdates: 13 July 1994 (US), 22 August 1994 (UK)
Written by Lawrence G. DiTillio
Directed by Jim Johnston
Cast: Colonel Ari Ben Zayn (Gregory Martin), Harriman Gray (Jeffrey Combs), Sofie Ivanov (Marie Chambers), Sergeant Lou Welch (David L. Crowley), General Miller (Frank Farmer), Tragedy (Macaulay Bruton), Comedy (Drew Letchworth), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Date: Autumn, 2258.

Plot:    Colonel Ari Ben Zayn and Psi Corps liaison officer Harriman Gray arrive on Babylon 5 to conduct loyalty tests on the command crew following recent irregularities on the station. Sinclair angrily protests to Earthforce Command, to no avail, whilst Ivanova vehemently refuses to undergo a psi scan after what Psi Corps did to her mother. Harriman Gray tries to bring her round, telling her about how his dream to join Earthforce was wrecked when his latent telepathic abilities emerged: telepaths cannot join the regular military. The best they can do is serve as Psi Corps-Earthforce liaisons like himself. Ivanova is unimpressed and tries to resign to avoid the telepathic scan, but Sinclair refuses to accept the resignation. Ivanova is then tortured by dreams of her mother.

Garibaldi does some background checks and discovers that Zayn is a friend of the Psi Cop Bester (from episode A6) and was one of numerous officers passed over by the Minbari so Sinclair could take command of Babylon 5. After being relieved of command of the station (so Zayn can force him to submit to a scan), Sinclair confronts Zayn with this news. Zayn is infuriated and Gray discovers that Zayn is actually trying to take command of the station for himself. He uses his psi powers to disable Zayn and has him returned to Earth for psychiatric treatment.

Garibaldi gets back to his hobby – building a 1992-vintage motorcycle in his quarters – but is annoyed to discover that Lennier, who has been assisting him, has finished it for him. Garibaldi changes his mind when he discovers that Lennier has replaced the polluting engine with a Minbari power source, meaning that as well as looking at it Garibaldi can actually ride it. They go for a joyride around the Central Corridor.

Dating the Episode: Susan Ivanova was born on 30 August 2230 and is 28 at the time of this episode, so the episode therefore takes place after 30 August 2258.

The Arc: The factions on Earth who suspect Sinclair of being a traitor are now trying to ‘expose’ him by legal means, given that the illegal methods failed (in episode A8).

Telepaths cannot serve directly in the military, although episode C14 confirms the hint given in A6 that there are factions in Psi Corps allowed to fly Starfuries and engage in combat.

In this episode, we learn that Psi Cop Bester is still smarting after failing to kill Jason Ironheart in episode A6. Bester next crops up in episode B7.

As well as the reason given in this episode, there are other reasons why Ivanova doesn’t want to be scanned. Episodes B7 and B19 follow up on this plot point.

The revelation made in A13, that the Minbari specifically wanted Sinclair to command Babylon 5, is followed-up on and it is revealed that Zayn (and presumably others in Earthforce) are all too aware of connections between Sinclair and the Minbari.

Careful consideration of Ivanova’s dream sequence and the credit sequence reveals a link between this episode and episodes A6, A8, A12 and A22.

Harriman Gray plays a major role in NOV1, working alongside Garibaldi and Bester, although this was later deemed non-canon.

Gray notes that whenever someone mentions the Psi Corps, Ivanova immediately and strongly thinks of Talia Winters. Ivanova mentally links Talia with the Psi Corps, which creates conflict as she likes Talia on a personal level but despises the Corps; this dichotomy plays out in episodes A17, B7 and B19.

Background: Polluting engines which burn fossil fuels are outlawed in the 23rd Century following the catastrophic damage done to Earth’s atmosphere in earlier centuries by pollutants. It is certainly illegal to drive one round on a closed environment like a space station, explaining why Garibaldi cannot ride it until a clean Minbari fuel source is added.

Shaal Mayan is stopping off on Babylon 5 on her way back to Minbar from Earth (we saw her on her way out in A7).

According to Straczynski, Harriman Gray is a P10. P10s and higher can throw a person’s “pain switch” by triggering the mental memories and feelings associated with pain. They can’t blast a non-telepath’s mind at will, and Straczynski notes that Zayn would have shrugged off the pain pretty quick if Sinclair hadn’t been able to follow up.

Earthforce has a self-policing branch called Internal Investigations, sometimes called the I.I.s or “Eyes”.

New Jerusalem is a colony planet in the Earth Alliance, with a large Jewish population. Straczynski originally envisaged telling a story involving travelling to the planet, but ultimately ran out of time. Cyrus III is also mentioned, presumably a moon or planet.

When Ivanova leaves C&C, she pages “Major Atumbe” to relieve her. Major Atumbe is Babylon 5’s third-in-command. Straczynski kept meaning to show him in Season 1 but could never introduce him in a way that didn’t feel forced. By Season 3 Atumbe has presumably left the station, as Lt. Corwin assumes many of the qualities of the station third-in-command instead.

Station Phobos is a base on Mars’s moon. Lagrange 2 is a space station in the Solar system located near Mars.

Oxy-pills are a useful way of sobering up quickly.

Arms-trading is allowed at Babylon 5, but weapons are not allowed through the station and have to be transferred ship-to-ship.

References: Some B5 fans noted a similarity between this episode and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Drumhead. However, DiTillio had not seen that episode when he wrote this one. Straczynski was irritated by the suggestion of plagiarism, especially as The Drumhead were written by Jeri Taylor, a friend of his.

Tragedy and Comedy (the figures in Ivanova’s dream) are fairly standard representations of the two concepts from British theatre. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) uses them on their logo, for example.

Unanswered Questions: What happened to Zayne? Pulling a gun on fellow officers is clearly a court martial offence.

What happened to Garibaldi’s bike?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Bester assigned Gray to Zayn, but apparently had never met Gray, didn’t have any kind of personal loyalty relationship with him and must have been aware that Gray was a frustrated Earthforce officer and would have sympathies to Earthforce personnel. Did Bester want Zayn to fail, or was he distracted dealing with some other matter?

Behind the Scenes: This was the last episode of Babylon 5’s first season to be shot.

This episode was a last-minute addition to the season when another script by another writer fell through. Joe Straczynski was at home with flu working on A Voice in the Wilderness and The Quality of Mercy, so Larry DiTillio had to write the script in just five days with a directive not to have any CGI or large action set-pieces. He found this challenging, but hit on the idea of having Sinclair have to answer for his decisions during the first season.

Gregory Martin, who plays Colonel Zayn, was undergoing some kind of personal crisis whilst filming the episode, which affected his performance. This created problems for the director and other actors, who had to get him to reign in anger and intensity.

Kawasaki agreed to sponsor the show in some territories, which resulted in Warner Brothers requesting some product placement for their motorbikes. DiTillio and Johnston decided to have fun with the storyline and ended up fighting Netter and Copeland to include the scene at the end of the episode where Garibaldi and Lennier actually ride the bike. Due to insurance issues, they could only have a brief actual shot of Jerry Doyle and Bill Mumy riding the bike past Claudia Christian and Michael O’Hare; the rest of the sequence was filmed using (rather poor) CGI.

The director decided to have Bill Mumy intoning a Minbari mantra over the bike before starting work. Mumy decided to make up some words, one of which was Zabagabee, the name of the Greatest Hits album by one of his bands, Barnes and Barnes (not the Jenerators, as some media report after Mumy himself confused the two bands in an interview). Straczynski caught the reference and asked him not to do that again in the future.

Jerry Doyle had a fear of motorbikes, stemming from a (very small) accident involving a Triumph 650 when he was younger. Straczynski was under the mistaken impression he was an enthusiast.

Familiar Faces: Jeffrey Combs (Gray) is best-known for his recurring role in the long-running ReAnimator horror movie franchise and for his many appearances in Star Trek, particularly his role as the Vorta Weyoun and the Ferengi “Brunt, FCA” on Deep Space Nine (once, memorably, playing both characters on the same episode). He later played the Andorian Shran on Star Trek: Enterprise.

Gregory Martin (Zayn) is the son of Beatles producer George Martin. He had a stint of acting credits in the USA in the late 1990s (also appearing on seaQuest 2032 during this period). He moved out of the film and TV industry in the 2000s to focus on theatre work, and continues to act on stage in both the UK and USA, including developing a one-man Broadway play.

Macaulay Bruton plays Tragedy, one of the two figures in Ivanova’s dream. He more usually plays Jack, Garibaldi’s aide. Straczynski says this was a deliberate Easter egg thrown in for viewers to pick up on later (although unless you study the end credits of each episode carefully, it’s easy to miss).

Review: In a lazier show, this would have been an excuse for a clip episode. Fortunately, this production team are better than that and crank out an episode that follows up on all the dodgy decisions that Sinclair has made in the last year. Unfortunately, the episode never really comes together: Gregory Martin is blustering rather than menacing and this material doesn’t give the brilliantly multitalented Jeffrey Combs much to do. The motorbike subplot does raise a few smiles though. ***

Sinclair: "Enough people have played with my brain this year."

Garibaldi: "If I knew who God was, I'd thank her."

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1 comment:

Mike said...

FYI William Sanderson is also famous in the U.S. for his role in Newhart. "Hi. I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl. This is my other brother Darryl."