Tuesday, 19 September 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 7-8

B7: A Race Through Dark Places
Airdates: 25 January 1995 (US), 21 March 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Jim Johnston
Cast: Bester (Walter Koenig), Rick (Brian Cousins), Lurker (Gianin Loffler), Man (Eddie Allan), Bartender (Kathryn Cressida), Psi Cop (Judy Levitt), Shooter (Christopher Michael), Telepath 1 (Apesanahkwat), Telepath 2 (Diane Dilascio), Jason Ironheart (William Allan Young)

Date: 13 March 2259.

Plot:    At Psi Corps’ secret base at Syria Planum, Mars, a rogue telepath is interrogated by Psi Cop Bester (last seen in A6). Bester knows there is an “underground railroad” of rogue telepaths being shuttled through an unknown sorting area before they are sent on to neutral space. He kills the rogue telepath whilst tearing the information from his brain but it doesn’t matter: he knows the sorting centre is on Babylon 5. He leaves for the station immediately.

On B5 Ambassador Delenn arranges to have dinner with Sheridan. She is intrigued by human social customs and wants to learn more about them. Despite the lack of a common frame of reference, they quickly become friends and Sheridan starts to appreciate her intriguing view on the universe.

Bester arrives on Babylon 5 to a less than warm welcome from the command staff, but Bester invokes his authority to have Garibaldi and Talia Winters help him track down the rogues. The rogues, knowing the danger he represents, try to kill Bester but he manages to escape. Talia, however, is captured and taken to their secret hide-out in Downbelow. There they tell her why they are running from Psi Corps and tell her all about the illegal experiments run on them, the abuse of their basic human rights and the deaths of many of their friends due to Psi Corps’ willingness to expend lives as long as it serves the “greater good”. After hearing their stories - and scanning many of them to confirm they are telling the truth - she agrees to help them. Sheridan receives word that the rogue telepaths are willing to talk to him and he goes to meet their representative, but is shocked to find it is Dr. Franklin. Franklin explains that the clinic he set up last year in Downbelow (A21) is a cover to help rogue telepaths escape from Psi Corps. Sheridan is forced by law to report the rogues’ presence, but Talia points out that if Psi Corps stopped their search than Sheridan wouldn’t have to report the matter and could allow them to leave peacefully. Sheridan agrees and Talia and the telepaths use their combined mental powers to create an illusion in Bester’s mind of him and Talia killing all the rogues. The leader of the rogue telepaths used to be a friend of Jason Ironheart’s and realises he did something to Talia: a normal P5 shouldn’t have been able to deceive a Psi Cop like that. Bester leaves the station, none the wiser, and the rogues leave the station peacefully.

Earthforce orders Ivanova and Sheridan to being paying rent on their quarters since they need the extra money and their quarters are bigger than necessary. Furious, Sheridan uses money from the combat readiness budget to pay the rent, on the logic that he cannot be ready for combat without a good night’s sleep beforehand.


Dating the Episode: A title card at the start of the episode gives the date.

The Arc: The main plot follows the build-up of disturbing evidence regarding Psi Corps’ activities. This continues in episodes B19 and C6. Bester next appears in episode C6.

The leader of the rogue telepaths (he is credited as “lurker”) previously appeared in episode A22 as a friend of Stephen Petrov’s. He also knew Jason Ironheart, from episode A6. There are flashbacks to that episode as well. We discover that Talia Winters has gained the ability to shield her mind from even considerably more powerful telepaths.

The secret Psi Corps base on Syria Planum was last referenced in episode A18. This is the first time we see scenes set on the Mars colony in the series.

Talia Winters seems to be able to confide in Ivanova at the end of the episode. This is followed up on in episode B19.

Talia’s growing distrust of Psi Corps is part of a three-episode mini-arc begun in B6 and concluded in B8.

Dr. Franklin’s connection with the underground railroad of telepaths resurfaces in episode C19.

Background: An unofficial rule in Earhart’s means that no on-duty business can be conducted. Anyone caught flouting the rule must buy everyone present a drink.

In Earhart’s there is a collection of ship logos visible behind the bar, collected from ships that have visited Babylon 5. The emblem of the EAS Cortez (from B4) can be seen amongst the other logos.

If a telepath is measured above rating P11, they are automatically inducted into the Psi Cops.

During the dinner scene, Sheridan drinks wine but Delenn only has water, a nod at the revelation in A21 the Minbari cannot drink alcohol without turning violently psychotic.

There has been a 15% drop in Babylon 5’s revenue for the first two months of 2259, blamed on Earthforce convoys taking up commercial docking space.

References: Dr. Franklin quotes Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death!”) and James Otis (“No taxation without representation”, which is a misquote) whilst extolling the virtues of Sheridan’s resistance to Earthforce. Interestingly, he points out that Sheridan’s cause is hopeless and doomed to failure, but Sheridan succeeds, just like the American Revolution did. This might be reading a little too much into things, however.

Unanswered Questions: What became of Talia’s psychic superpowers?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: This episode was written and filmed when Straczynski had a very clear plan in mind for Talia Winters’ development. These plans were thrown out the window a short period of time later by events outside his control, and forced him to write episode B19 to compensate. The result of all of this is that this episode – and to some extent the events of A6 and A9 as well – is rendered considerably less significant on rewatches than it felt on original broadcast.

In the scene where Delenn and Sheridan agree to go for dinner, the edge of the boom mike can just be seen for an instant.

Behind the Scenes: This episode and B8 were flipped from production order for transmission. This episode required more post-production work, especially the huge number of PPG blasts in the final shoot-out. Although it sort of works that way around, the general feeling was that Talia’s much greater distrust of Psi Corps in B8 makes far more sense coming after this episode, not before.

Bruce Boxleitner had trouble with the dialogue during Sheridan and Delenn’s dinner scene, since he didn’t believe two people would talk in that manner. Straczynski pointed out that this was an extremely awkward encounter between two people who’d previously interacted in only a highly professional manner, not to mention the weirdness of Delenn’s transformation and the lack of shared cultural context for such a meeting. Boxleitner was then able to play the scene more naturally.

Mira Furlan wanted to play the scene a little more for comedy, since Delenn wouldn’t know what to do with chopsticks or how to dress appropriately. Straczynski reigned in that tendency as he wanted to play the relationship between the two characters rather than treating the situation for laughs.

Straczynski received a letter after the episode aired from an officer in the United States Army, confirming that the sort of bureaucratic insanity that sees Sheridan and Ivanova locked out of their quarters can happen in the real military.

Straczynski decided to bring back Walter Koenig because he got on very well with the cast and he also wanted a familiar face on the opposing side.

It was Walter Koenig’s idea that he stop and take one last quizzical look at Talia before leaving, as if he’s not entirely buying what’s happened. Koenig was concerned that the menace of Bester would be lost if he constantly showed up on B5 just to be thwarted by the crew and leave muttering darkly. This informed Straczynski’s writing decisions when bringing him back again (the next time, in C6).

Andrea Thompson made a rare decision to question the script. In the final scene, when Talia talks to Ivanova in her quarters, she takes off her badge but leaves her gloves on. Thompson wanted Talia to take off her gloves as a sign of her growing trust in Ivanova (since telepaths can pick up unintended thoughts and emotions more easily through physical contact) as well as emphasising the characters’ growing ease and intimacy, which Christian and Thompson both wanted to develop. Director Jim Johnston knew that going off-script was a major no-no, but called in Straczynski. After listening to Thompson’s argument he agreed to do the scene with the gloves off.

Some fans speculated that Ivanova and Talia became an item after this episode, but Straczynski later clarified that they didn’t and episode B19 would be the next time their relationship took a step forwards.

Familiar Faces: Kathryn Cressida returns from episode A18 as B5’s resident bartender Kat. She’s gone up in the world, moving from working a bar on the Zocalo to apparently managing Earhart’s.

The second Psi Cop on Mars at the start of the episode is played by Judy Levitt, Walter Koenig’s real-life wife. She reappears in episode C6.

Review: Walter Koenig is always great value for money and this episode shows him and Garibaldi working well together (something explored further in episode C6 and especially Season 4), which given Garibaldi’s hatred of him is extremely effective. Overall this is a strong episode with some good performances, but it’s all undercut by later revelations that make it feel like it’s setting up a lot of significant events which simply never happen. ***½

Garibaldi: “It’s damn ironic, isn’t it? The Corps got started because we were afraid of telepaths. Now they’re the victims of our fears. We took away every right they had and shoved it in a big black box called Psi Corps.”

Delenn: “No race can be truly intelligent without humour.”

B8: Soul Mates
Working Title: Pestilence, Famine and Death
Airdates: 14 December 1994 (US), 28 March 1995 (UK)
Written by Peter David
Directed by John C. Flinn III
Cast: Matthew Stoner (Keith Szarabajka), Daggair (Lois Nettleson), Mariel (Blair Valk), Timov (Jane Carr), Sergeant Lou Welch (David L. Crowley), Trader (Carel Struycken), Man (Brian Michael McGuire)

Plot:    It is the 30th anniversary of Londo’s “Day of Ascension” and the Centauri Emperor has granted Londo a special boon, namely any one favour he can grant. Londo choses to divorce his three wives, but is told he must keep one of them for ceremonial occasions. He summons all three - the shrewish Daggair, the beautiful but scheming Mariel and the short-tempered and brutally honest Timov - to Babylon 5 to make his selection, much to their disgust. At the celebration Londo is injured by a Narn booby trap hidden inside a Centauri statue bought for him by Daggair and Mariel. Londo starts to die and can only be saved by a blood transfusion. Timov, reluctantly, confirms she has the same blood type as Londo and agrees to the transfusion on the condition that Londo never learns she saved him. He recovers and decides that he will never be able to trust Daggair or Mariel whilst Timov, for all her faults, is at least always honest with him. Before she leaves, Mariel is told by G’Kar that he knows she was responsible for the attack (so she would get one-third of his estate) but will not tell Londo, apparently due to some prior relationship.

Trader Matt Stoner arrives on Babylon 5 and is implicated in Londo’s poisoning (it was he who sold the statue to Mariel). Talia Winters is horrified he is here and admits that she was once married to him as part of a Psi Corps genetic match-up. The marriage was annulled. Stoner tells Talia that Psi Corps botched an experiment on him and have removed his psi-abilities. If she is really serious about her doubts regarding Psi Corps (see last episode) then he can replicate the effects and get her out of Psi Corps as well. Garibaldi notices people acting oddly around Stoner and realises that Psi Corps actually increased his powers, giving him the ability to control and influence other people round to his way of thinking. He knocks Stoner out and he and Sheridan throw him off the station. Sheridan thinks Psi Corps wanted Stoner and Talia to breed a new race of telepaths with his superior mental powers. This increases Talia’s ambivalence towards Psi Corps.

Delenn is having problems adapting to her new status as a half-human, namely with washing her hair. Ivanova agrees to help her out, but is lost for words when Delenn starts asking about these odd cramps she has just started having...

The Arc: Psi Corps’ dubious practices are confirmed once more. Talia is now seriously considering leaving the Corps after discovering their true colours (in episode B7).

Both Timov and Mariel return in Peter David’s Legions of Fire novel trilogy (NOV13-15), which picks up on events on Centauri Prime after the end of the series, and both have significant parts of play (and also explain Timov’s absence from the rest of the series).

Background: Minbari secrete a fluid during their sleep which adheres to the skin and cleanses them before evaporating, removing the need for washing. Delenn no longer enjoys the full benefits of this ability due to her transformation and even if she did it would not help her hair.

Londo and Timov have been married for twenty years by the time of this episode.

Medlab has problems synthesising Centauri blood, a problem it doesn’t seem to have with human or Minbari (after episode A2) blood.

There is an abandoned Centauri colony in Sector 127 that has since been taken over the Narns.

References: Londo previously called his three wives “Pestilence, Famine and Death” after three of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and that was the working title for this episode as well as the inspiration for their characters. According to Peter David, Daggair is Pestilence, Timov is Famine and Mariel is Death. Of course, this means that Londo himself must be War.

Struggling to find character names, Peter David decide to reverse “vomit” to come up with Timov’s name. Actress Jane Carr only realised this halfway through filming and came up to David to tell him off for the joke.

Timov is the daughter of Alghul (or Ghoul), which means “The Demon”. Given both David and Straczynski’s love of comics, it may be a nod to Ra’s Al-Ghul (“Head of the Demon”) from Batman, most notably the fact that Ra’s daughter Talia (!) spent time as Bruce Wayne’s lover and bore him a child.

Unanswered Questions: How do G’Kar and Mariel know one another?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: If we want to get really picky, the three actresses in this episode do not resemble the three wives in the photo on Londo’s desk in episode A7.

The Matt Stoner/Talia storyline doesn’t make a lot of sense, given that Psi Corps could just recall Talia to Earth at any time or, based on episode B19, take further action still (although Straczynski hadn’t considered that storyline when this episode was being written).

G’Kar and Mariel seem to be flirting. This may be cover on G’Kar’s part, given his undying hatred of all Centauri, or it might confirm that his dislike of the Centauri as a whole can be suspended for individual Centauri who earn his genuine respect.

Behind the Scenes: Straczynski wanted a writer who could 1) handle dialogue, 2) handle humour and 3) was nuts, so called in Peter David, who was all three.

David watched the movie The Women on the advice of Harlan Ellison on how to develop the three wives’ personalities.

According to Peter Jurasik, the ludicrously massive portrait of Londo was hung on the prop department wall and they would occasionally invite him around to satisfy his ego. Jurasik’s wife refused him permission to bring it home and put it up in their house.

In one scene Bruce Boxleitner answered his link with, “This is Sinclair,” causing both cast and crew to break down in laughter.

In two scenes cut for time, Talia dramatically kisses Garibaldi in front of Stoner and later on hints that they could meet up socially. Although Jerry Doyle was in favour (as he and Andrea Thompson were now in a relationship in real life) and writer Larry DiTillio was keen, Straczynski found the budding relationship between Ivanova and Talia more interesting and wasn’t keen on either creating a love triangle or giving Garibaldi another doomed romance (since his long-term plan was to bring back Lise Hampton). As a result, the two scenes hit the cutting room floor. Doyle was unhappy with this, since it made Garibaldi look more like a sap, constantly chasing the woman who has no interest in him.

Mira Furlan was unhappy with Delenn getting in a tangle with her hair, feeling it demystified the character. Both Straczynski and David spoke to her, instead emphasising the fact that it was humanising Delenn and making her a more relatable and human character, which Furlan eventually accepted. However, she was less keen on the final “joke” that Delenn was having cramps, dismissing it as schoolboy humour. This line was kept because it hinted at a more important story point, that Delenn might now be genetically compatible with humans.

During the confrontations between Garibaldi and Stoner, the actors successfully got under one another’s skins and the result was some very intense shooting scenes. After filming one shot in which they really looked like they were going to kill one another, director (and regular B5 DP) John Flinn yelled “GOD THAT WAS GREAT!” instead of “CUT!”, to everyone’s confusion.

Familiar Faces: Writer Peter David is widely-regarded as the best Star Trek writer to have never written an actual episode of Star Trek, instead penning several of the franchise’s best and best-known novels (including the brilliant Borg novel Vendetta, as well as Imzadi) and comics. He was praised for bringing elements of humour into the sometimes po-faced franchise. He is arguably best-known for creating the New Frontier spin-off novel series. Outside of Star Trek he is best-known for a respected twelve-year run writing The Incredible Hulk and several other comic series, and for creating the TV series Space Cases with Babylon 5 actor Bill Mumy. David briefly appears in the episode, talking to Delenn and Lennier at the party scene.

Jane Carr (Timov) is a Royal Shakespearean actress. Almost all of her roles have been on stage, but she has occasionally appeared on screen (in films such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Hannah Montana: The Movie) and voice acting in films such as Postman Pat: The Movie. Peter Jurasik enjoyed sparring with her enormously, as they’d previously worked together on the series Dear John. Carr had worked extensively with Patrick Stewart and noted that they had now both played “bald SF icons”.

Lois Nettleton (Daggair) was a mainstay of Hollywood from her screen debut in 1946, at the age of nineteen. Her film career was short, but he TV career was extensive, appearing in everything from Dr. Kildare and The Twilight Zone to Hawaii Five-O and Murder, She Wrote.  She sadly died of lung cancer in 2008.

Keith Szarabajka (Matt Stoner) has had a long and successful career in Hollywood, with recurring roles on The Equalizer and Law & Order. He later had a recurring role on Angel as the vengeful Daniel Holtz. Although still an occasional physical actor, he has mostly switched to voice acting and has extensive credits on animated series such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Young Justice and Star Wars: Rebels, as well as too many video games to easily recount here (but including major roles on BioShock Infinite and LA Noir, which also features his likeness).

Carel Struycken (Trader) is a very well-known Dutch actor, probably most famous for playing the deadpan Mr. Homn, valet to Lwaxana Troi, on six episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and three of Deep Space Nine. He also played Lurch in the films The Addams Family, Addams Family Values and Addams Family Reunion. He also appeared on Twin Peaks, St. Elsewhere and Star Trek: Voyager (but not as Mr. Homn). He remains active, having recently appeared in Twin Peaks: The Return and the Stephen King movie Gerald’s Game.

Review: Very much an episode of two halves. The Londo stuff is all fine, with some biting humour and surprisingly ruthless character work: Timov is really not that nice a person, for all she ends up being the wife we (kind of) root for. The Talia storyline feels undercooked. Stoner’s motivations are not very convincing and there isn’t really much point to his story. This is a waste of a very good actor with Keith Szarabajka and his tension with Jerry Doyle is palpable, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. ***

Timov: “The secret of our marriage’s success, Londo, is our lack of communication. You have jeopardised that success and I would know why!”

Mariel: “Wearing shoes, Ambassador G’Kar?”
Daggair: “You are aware of the level of insult that represents?”
G’Kar (beaming): “Indeed!”

G’Kar: “If I were married to Londo Mollari, I’d be concerned.”

Mariel: “G’Kar, if you were married to Londo Mollari, we’d all be concerned.”

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