Sunday, 21 January 2018

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 4, Episodes 11-12

D11: Lines of Communication
Airdates: 28 April 1997 (US), 2 October 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by John C. Flinn III
Cast: Number One (Marjorie Monaghan), Phillipe (Paolo Seganti), Forell (G.W. Stevens), ISN Reporter (Carolyn Barkin), Emissary (Jean-Luc Martin)

Date: Within a few days of the previous episode.

Plot:    Forell, a member of the Minbari religious caste, arrives on Babylon 5 with disturbing news for Delenn. The Norsai, a peaceful, agrarian race living on the borders of Minbari space, have come under attack from unknown aliens. The Pak’ma’ra are also believed to have suffered raids. Delenn decides to take a taskforce of White Star ships out to investigate.

On Mars a hotel is bombed by elements of the Resistance working without the permission of the high command. Number One disciplines her supporters and Franklin and Marcus meet with the other rebels, offering Babylon 5’s full support. In return the rebels are not to hit civilian targets and are to keep a low profile until a plan for removing Clark and liberating Mars and Proxima III is fully worked out. In return, they will ensure that Mars is given its independence from Earth once President Clark has been removed from office.

The White Star taskforce reaches Norsai space and encounters a group of alien warships. Forell pulls a gun on Delenn and forces the White Stars to follow the alien vessels to their mothership. An alien shuttle docks with the White Star and a strange, humanoid creature who seems to shimmer in and out of existence comes on board. It identifies itself as a Drakh, although it refuses to disclose whether that’s its name or the name of its species (Delenn correctly identifies it as the species). Forell tells Delenn that events on Minbar are spiralling out of control. The warrior caste has evicted the entire population of a mixed-caste city and taken it over for themselves. The Minbari populace had to walk several hundred miles to the nearest city through freezing conditions and more than half of them died, including members of Forell’s family. The warriors are taking more and more power for themselves on Minbar and the religious caste is starting to oppose them. Forell fears that civil war may engulf the Minbari. He has contacted these aliens, the Drakh, and plans to ally them to the religious caste, even though Minbari do not use outsiders to settle inside affairs. Delenn agrees to further talks with the Drakh, but when the Drakh disclose that their homeworld was recently destroyed Lennier becomes disturbed and manages to warn Delenn that the Drakh may be the Shadow servants they saw fleeing Z’ha’dum several months ago (D7). Unfortunately, Forell mentions Delenn’s name, a name the Drakh recognise. Once the Drakh ambassador has returned to his ship the other Drakh fighters target the White Stars with their weapons. Thanks to some impressive manoeuvres the White Stars manage to escape to hyperspace, but Forell is killed in the battle. After effecting minor repairs, the White Stars return to normal space and destroy the Drakh fleet.

Sheridan, increasingly tired of ISN propaganda directed against Babylon 5, begins renovating the War Room with a new idea in mind. He plans to set up a rival news service, “The Voice of the Resistance”, with Ivanova as its main anchor. Ivanova isn’t thrilled about the idea but agrees to take part after her success in updating allied ships on enemy fleet movements during the Shadow War (D4-D5). Delenn arrives back on the station and tells Sheridan that there are troubles on her homeworld. She will be leaving for a while and hopes this time apart will also give Sheridan the resolve to deal with the situation on Earth. They have one last dinner together before she departs for Minbar.


Dating the Episode: It takes a few days to assemble the Resistance leaders on Mars, and for Delenn to return to Minbari space and then back to B5.

The Arc: Babylon 5 offers its support to the Mars Resistance in return for the promise of independence. This storyline continues to evolve over the next few episodes.

Sheridan’s role in putting down the Food Riots on Mars (mentioned in C16 and NOV9) in the early 2250s is well-remembered by the Resistance.

Mars and Proxima III are both holding out against Earthforce, but the fourth planet to declare independence in C10, Orion VII, is not mentioned again in the series. Presumably it has already been retaken by Earthforce.

The Voice of the Resistance (VOR) is established in this episode. We see it operating in episodes D12 and D14-D17.

We discover in this episode that the Shadow allies we saw abandoning Z’ha’dum in D7 are known as the Drakh. The Drakh know who Delenn is and presumably want revenge for her part in convincing the Shadows to leave the galaxy. The Drakh next appear in episodes E17-E18 and NOV13-NOV15. We discover from later episodes that the Drakh emissary who appears in this episode is not a true Drakh, rather a representative of the Drakh who actually belongs to another species.

Trouble has broken out on Minbar, as hinted at in episode C19. Civil war, unthinkable just a year ago, is now a distinct possibility. This storyline continues in episodes D13-D14.

Background: Although we don’t see them, the Norsai are a peaceful, agrarian race located just on the borders of Minbari space. They have been allied to the Minbari for several centuries. The alliance was organised and is maintained by the religious caste.

Marcus mentions that he is from Arisia Colony, which is the first time the planet is mentioned in-dialogue on the show itself, although it was previously mentioned in both background materials and in NOV9.

White Star 16 is the only ship lost in the battle with the Drakh, whilst the Drakh suffer a total fleet loss. This suggests that the Drakh warships are marginally inferior to Minbari technology.

The Omega-class destroyer Juno is seen orbiting Mars. By D15 it will have been reassigned to the Proxima III blockade.

Sikar is a mixed-caste city in the southern hemisphere of Minbar. It is located on the edge of the southern polar region and has recently been taken over by the warrior caste, who forced the religious caste to leave. The nearest city to it is Drogani. Dronya is another mixed-caste Minbari city that the warrior caste has taken over for themselves.

There are design similarities between the Minbari and Centauri PPG pistols.

White Stars have an “artificial intelligence matrix” which is quite sophisticated and capable of pulling off complex manoeuvres which Minbari warrior caste members normally take five years to master.

Three-pronged jump gates are located in Minbari space, as well as Centauri and Narn.

Interlac has been mentioned before, but this is the first episode to really delve into it. Interlac is an artificial language noted for its incredible ease of learning and use by multiple alien communities.

References: Arisia is a reference to the Lensmen space opera series by E.E. “Doc” Smith, which Straczynski has noted was an influence on him as a young reader.

“Interlac” is a reference to the DC Comics universe, where Interlac is the language of the 30th Century United Planets. A popular DC fanzine also used the name.

Unanswered Questions: What are the Drakh hoping to get out of their deal with Forell? A chance to infiltrate the Minbari like they have the Centauri? Why not just slap a Keeper on him?

Is the creature in this episode a Drakh or a member of a servitor species? What is the weird glowing effect around it supposed to signify?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: A Drazi ship is used to stand in for both the Norsai vessel at the start of the episode and a Pak’ma’ra one later on. It might be that the Drazi sell their ships to other races, but it would seem unlikely they would sell front-line warship designs to other worlds, given the danger of them using the ships to attack other people and then blame the Drazi for it.

Franklin sends a video call to Babylon 5. He transmits the message with his face clearly visible, but asks the recipient not to respond so EarthGov won’t know who he’s talking to. However, Franklin is known to be the chief medical officer of Babylon 5 so it’s quite clearly going to B5. This deception seems a little pointless.

Sheridan promises to give Mars its independence after Clark is unseated. That might be generous, but it seems rather undemocratic. Maybe promising a referendum on the issue might have been fairer?

The Drakh mothership moves towards the jump gate rather than generate its own jump point. It might be that the initial exchange of fire disabled the Drakh hyperdrive, but this  never confirmed in dialogue.

Behind the Scenes: Mira Furlan was dissatisfied with Delenn’s arc in late Season 3/early Season 4, where a lot of her character material seemed to be tied into Sheridan’s story and supporting him rather than taking action herself. Straczynski agreed, and had already been planning a new story where Delenn took charge of the situation more forcefully, which Furlan was very happy with.

The Drakh costume and make-up was considered to be sub-standard by the production team, so a shimmering CG effect was added to the creature in post-production to try to hide how bad it was. When we see the Drakh again, they have had a substantial (and much more successful redesign). Straczynski initially explained this by suggesting that the Drakh in this episode is an emissary of a different species. However, the Drakh’s head is covered by a hood and the poor facial make-up could also be explained away as a mask.

Jean-Luc Martin played the Drakh Emissary. He was under a lot of makeup and heavy costumes with electrical wires running into it (to power his translator unit). At one point the wires malfunctioned and he suffered a serious shock and slight burns. He carried on regardless, earning the respect of the rest of the cast and crew.

G.W. Stevens, who played Forell, had problems remembering his lines, leading to numerous reshoots and multiple takes. Combined with Martin’s injury, this led to what Bill Mumy recalled as one of the most torturous days in the history of shooting the show.

The repurposing of the War Room as the Voice of the Resistance news centre allowed the production team to continue using the expensive War Room set which had been built for Season 3. Due to the curtailment of the Shadow War arc at the start of Season 4, the set had not been in use for anywhere near as long as had first been thought, so this change allowed them to get more use out of it.

CNN reporter Dennis Michael plays one of the Minbari reacting in fear to the Drakh emissary as he boards the ship. Michael was a huge fan of Babylon 5 and gave it positive coverage whilst it was on-air. He previously played a Narn in B21.

Richard Biggs enjoyed playing Franklin as being outside MedLab, getting involved in a romance and doing other things outside his comfort zone. He felt that Franklin’s experiences in “finding himself” (between C15 and C21) had given him back his confidence in tackling new challenges.

Familiar Faces: Paolo Seganti (Philippe) is an Italian actor who has starred in both American and European TV and movie projects. Oddly, he also played a character called Philippe on The Nanny in 1996 (perhaps a nod at unimaginative US names for European characters). He also appeared in L.A. Confidential, Pirates: Blood Brothers and Largo Winch. He most recently had recurring roles on One Life to Live and Cleaners.

G.W. Stevens (Forell) had previously appeared on Murder, She Wrote and Baywatch before appearing on Babylon 5. He continued to have occasional guest shots on shows including The X-Files.

Jean-Luc Martin (Drakh Emissary) is a former member of the Cirque de Solei and an experienced stuntman.

Review: An effective action/adventure story for Delenn is undercut by the Drakh Emissary looking like a giant disco-dancing monkey and some clunkily unimaginative CGI, not to mention a weak performance by guest actor G.W. Stevens (who apparently couldn’t remember his lines and you can tell). The scenes on Mars and Babylon 5 are more effective, with some good Franklin/Marcus and Ivanova/Sheridan material. Overall an episode that does more setup for the future than being fully satisfying in its own right, but eminently watchable. ***½

Number One: “You’re a liar but my kind of liar.”

Sheridan: “The duration is going to be a lot longer than the war.”

Delenn: “Humans form communities and from that diversity comes a strength no single race can withstand. That is your greatest strength.”

D12: Conflicts of Interest
Airdates: 5 May 1997 (US), 9 October 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by David J. Eagle
Cast: Zathras (Tim Choate), Lise Hampton-Edgars (Denise Gentile), Wade (Mark Schneider), Ben (Charles Walker), Mark (Richard S. Horvitz), Young Woman (Ebony Monique Solomon), Man #1 (William John Murphy), Man #2 (Wiley Pickett), William Edgars (Efrem Zimbalist Jr – uncredited)

Date: A few days to a few weeks after the previous episode.

Plot:    Garibaldi’s new investigations business is becoming more successful, but he gets annoyed when Sheridan sends Zack to confiscate his weapon, comlink and security identicard. When Wade offers him a new job in protecting his employer when he arrives on the station, Garibaldi accepts.

Sheridan holds a meeting with G’Kar and Londo. There are growing numbers of raids and attacks along the borders of many of the races. These may be pirates taking advantage of the cessation of the Shadow War to hit convoys and colonies whilst the governments are repairing their forces, but Sheridan is also concerned about the Drakh reported by Delenn. He wants to have the White Star fleet patrol the borders of all the major governments to keep an eye out for trouble, but thinks that the League worlds will prove troublesome. He wants the Narn and Centauri to set an example by allowing the use of White Star ships in their space. G’Kar and Londo both agree.

Franklin arrives back on Babylon 5 to find the transformation of the War Room into the VOR studio in full swing. Ivanova is worried that they don’t have enough power to get past the jammers preventing direct communication between Earth and B5, but Franklin suggests using the Great Machine on Epsilon III to bolster the power of the transmission. Annoyed that she didn’t think of that, Ivanova sets out for the planet below. She is surprised to encounter Zathras, despite the fact that he vanished back in time last year (C17), and is even more startled to learn that there are ten brothers in the family Zathras. This Zathras agrees to arrange the power link between the Great Machine and Babylon 5.

Garibaldi uses a back-up security card to get himself and Wade into the customs hall. Wade tells him there has been a change of plan and his employer can’t make it. He is sending his wife instead. Garibaldi is shocked to discover that his employer is William Edgars, the head of Edgars Industries, one of the eight largest megacorporations in the Earth Alliance and the richest man to live on Mars, and even more so that his wife is Garibaldi’s old girlfriend, Lise Hampton (A19, A20)! Lise tells Garibaldi she divorced her previous husband, Franz, but married Edgars because he provided for her and genuinely cares for her. She has been sent to negotiate with representatives of a secret consortium who are working for Edgars. Garibaldi gets them Downbelow to the meeting place and discovers that the consortium are representatives of alien governments. Edgars Industries has identified a genetic weakness in telepaths that might develop into a virus if left unchecked and is working on a cure. Alien scientists are helping in the development of the virus, but there are some who want all telepaths dead and will do whatever it takes to stop the cure getting to Mars. Sure enough, they are attacked at the meeting, but manage to escape. Garibaldi discovers that, puzzlingly, the attackers are themselves telepaths. He gets word to Zack to have them stopped and arrested, but they kill themselves rather than be taken. Lise gets off the station with the cure and back to Mars, whilst Sheridan warns Garibaldi again that he works on B5 at his sufferance and any more of these unexplained incidents will not be tolerated. Back in his quarters Garibaldi receives a transmission from William Edgars himself, offering to put him on a retainer for his services. Garibaldi accepts.

The VOR transmits for the first time and Ivanova begins broadcasting “the truth” to the masses.

Dating the Episode: Franklin and Marcus return to Babylon 5. Assuming they take as circuitous a route back as they did in, this episode takes place at least two weeks after the previous one. It may just be a few days later if they had a faster extraction route.

The Arc: The VOR goes on-line, powered by the Great Machine on Epsilon III. We see it in action over much of the next five episodes.

Sheridan makes the Centauri and Narn agree to let the White Star fleet patrol their borders. This pays off in episodes D13 and D15.

We learn that Garibaldi’s mysterious benefactor, and Wade’s employer, is William Edgars, the head of the eighth-largest company in the Earth Alliance. Edgars Industries thinks that there might be a genetic threat to telepaths and is working on a cure for use pre-emptively if necessary. However, at least one faction of telepaths (who may or may not be working for Psi Corps) want the cure for themselves, whilst other groups want telepaths wiped out for good. This plot strand continues in episodes D14-D17.

Curiously, the Psi Corps agent fails to shoot Garibaldi in the air vent and lets him go, whilst Garibaldi is similarly reluctant to shoot the telepath. This is explained in D17.

Background: The Earth Alliance administrative centre on Mars is called Marsdome (as opposed to Earthdome on Earth).

Babylon 5’s interior air ducts are made of a relatively light metal which PPGs can shoot through relatively easily. The bulkhead doors are much more formidable (as shown when the criminals have to burn their way through) and the exterior hull is much thicker, so is not in danger from PPG blasts.

The Aries – or Ares – colony is mentioned.

The Great Machine has a weather control system.

Lise Hampton was born on Mars. She had her daughter Deborah shortly after the events of A19, but her ex-husband Franz kept her after a custody battle. Lise hasn’t seen Deborah in over a year.

There are ten brothers in the Family Zathras. All are called Zathras, with slightly different syllable stresses which are undetectable to human ears. They are identical to one another.

Edgars Industries is the largest pharmaceutical company on Mars. It has facilities both on Mars itself and on its moons, Phobos and Deimos.

References: The Daffy Duck cartoon Garibaldi is watching is Duck Amuck! (1953). The cartoon sees Daffy realise he is being controlled by forces he can’t see or understand (in this case, the animator, who is eventually revealed to be Bugs Bunny). Straczynski noted this was a deliberate choice.

The Voice of the Resistance is inspired by the French Resistance in World War II, who broadcast clandestine radio news programmes from within Nazi-occupied France. It’s also a reference to Radio Londres (“Radio London”), a news service occupied by Free French journalists from London and broadcast into France to give more accurate news and information, as well as coded messages to the Resistance. For example, the first stanza of Paul Verlain’s poem Chanson d’automne was broadcast on 6 June 1944 to let the Resistance know that the invasion of France would begin within 24 hours. The service ran from June 1940 to late 1944, when the German surrender of Paris and subsequent military defeats effectively ended the need for it.

Unanswered Questions: Why do the telepaths – presumably Psi Corps agents – kill themselves when discovered? Are their paymasters worried that Lyta Alexander will rip important information from their minds? Given how few and valuable telepaths are, simply letting them die seems extravagant.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: The ship exiting B5’s docking bay in the teaser looks far too large to actually fit in the docking bay.

Based on signage, Garibaldi and Wade pass through a bulkhead door in Grey 8 and arrive in the main docking bay, which given the station’s internal layout is physically impossible (Grey Sector is at the other end of the carousel, about four miles from the docking bay at the far end of Blue Sector). I suspect that this was supposed to be Blue 8 but there was a mistake either in the script or by the set dressers.

When Sheridan meets with Zack in his office, the lights are turned way down low for no apparent reason.

Garibaldi gives Lise the wrong location to head to (Docking Bay 3) so she’ll broadcast it in a panic to any telepaths listening. However, telepaths require a direct line of sight to pick up thoughts, and indeed this episode confirms this by having the telepaths only pick up Garibaldi’s information about Lise and Wade when they see and scan him. So Lise thinking about the wrong location in the vent out of any line of sight from a telepath shouldn’t work.

Actress Denise Gentile is visibly laughing at the conclusion of the air duct scene, then seems slightly surprised when Jerry Doyle goes on with the next line and recovers to complete the scene. It feels like the wrong take was used or the scene should have been reshot.

Not necessarily a mistake, but Lise not being able to see her daughter Deborah because she has no resources and being married to one of the richest men on Mars seems like a contradiction. It seems like William Edgars’ significant financial resources and government contacts should have allowed her to get access, at least.

Behind the Scenes: Straczynski wanted to do more scenes where the actors could show off their skills. He wrote the Ivanova/Zathras scene as a continuous, four-minute take with no cuts or edits and was very happy to see Claudia Christian and Tim Choate nailing the scene perfectly. Just to be sure, they filmed the scene seventeen times from start to finish, but it was the second take that was used.

Babylon 5 was shot and is owned by Warner Brothers, which also owns the Looney Tunes, which made getting permission to use the Daffy Duck cartoon easier than from an external company. However, Straczynski still needed to convince the WB brass to let them do it, which required “some manoeuvring”.

The air duct getting shot up was achieved with small explosive squibs and then CG shots being painted over the top. The shoot required the actors to climb directly over the squibs before they went off, which caused director David Eagle some headaches in terms of safety (especially after the “Ulkesh head incident” from D4), but eventually they pulled it off without a problem.

Familiar Faces: Charles Walker (Ben) started his career in the 1970s, appearing in shows like The Bionic Woman and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Other roles included guest shots on Matlock, Quantum Leap, Columbo, Picket Fences, The Practice, Charmed and Everybody Hates Chris. His most recent TV role was as a minister on a 2012 episode of comedy show Community.

Richard Horvitz (Mark) is a prolific voice-over artist. He is best-known for playing Kaos on the various Skylanders video games and spin-off TV shows.

This episode marks Tim Choate’s final appearance on Babylon 5 as Zathras (or a Zathras). He does reappear on Crusade as a different alien.

Review: Bringing Garibaldi back to the fore and giving him a story where he can be heroic is a good move, wrong-footing the audience who expects him to become a villain. For an actor whose inexperience was painfully obvious in Season 1, Jerry Doyle has improved a lot to this point and is handling everything Straczynski can throw at him. Unfortunately, the episode feels a bit rushed with some schoolboy directing and editing errors (not reshooting the scene or using a different take when Denise Gentile starts grinning like a loon before realising the scene isn’t over yet is a bit painful). Londo and G’Kar are also a bit lost in the mix at this point and feel shoe-horned into the episode to justify their fees. Ivanova as the voice of B5’s anti-propaganda news channel feels like a weirdly timely idea today and it’s always fun to see Zathras doing Zathras stuff, even if it’s the very height of self-indulgence.

Wade: “At this point, Mr. Garibaldi is eminently expendable.”

Ivanova: “You can’t kill the truth, and the truth is back in business.”

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