Friday, 5 January 2018

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 4, Episodes 3-4

D3: The Summoning
Airdates: 18 November 1996 (US), 7 August 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by John McPherson
Cast: Lorien (Wayne Alexander), Emperor Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer), Verano (Eric Zivot), Ambassador Ulkesh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Ambassador Lethke (Jonathan Chapman), Drazi Ambassador (Ron Campbell), Hyach Ambassador (William Scudder)

Date: 17 January 2261.

Plot:    Ivanova and Marcus borrow a White Star ship to go searching for more of the First Ones. Ivanova wants to get some of the First Ones behind them when they attack Z’ha’dum and Delenn agrees.

Following up on G’Kar and Marcus’s discoveries, Zack Allan discovers that Montaigne, the man who found Garibaldi’s fighter and sold parts of it for scrap, has filed a flight-path for his freighter. Zack takes a squadron of Starfuries and shuttles and locates the freighter and disables it. It ejects a lifepod before exploding. Garibaldi is found inside the lifepod and returned the station where Franklin determines he hasn’t been badly injured. Garibaldi wakes up, confused about what happened to him.

On Centauri Prime, Cartagia is enraged that G’Kar will not scream under torture. Eventually, incensed, he has G’Kar lashed with the electro-whip. If he is whipped 40 times he will die. Londo urges him to scream, pointing out that the fate of both their worlds is at stake and G’Kar eventually gives in after the 39th lash, screaming like a madman. Cartagia is satisfied.

Ambassador Lethke of the Brakiri tells Delenn that many in the League oppose her plans to attack Z’ha’dum. The Drazi and Hyach ambassadors are organising a rally in the Zocalo to denounce her plans and Delenn and Lennier decide to attend in opposition. Lethke also tells Delenn that a Brakiri hyperspace probe has detected an alien vessel of unknown design passing through their sector of space. Its direction indicates it could be heading for B5.

Lyta Alexander is determined to find out what the Vorlons are up to and tries to psi-scan the ambassador. However, he is unimpressed and teaches her a lesson before telling her what they are planning, which horrifies her.

Ivanova and Marcus’s search for the First Ones proves fruitless until they hear of something odd happening in Sector 87-20-42. Along the way, near Sector 70-10-53, they detect an unusual “pocket” in hyperspace, some sort of cloaking field. The ship’s sensors could only detect it because of its Vorlon technology. They take the ship in to investigate and discover a huge fleet of thousands of Vorlon warships, including several more than three miles across. They quickly head back to the station.

The protest in the Zocalo begins and Delenn shows up to oppose them, but is shouted down. The ship detected by the Brakiri docks with Babylon 5 and Sheridan and Lorien disembark. Sheridan confronts the ambassadors and tells them that the Shadows can be beaten now and forever, not just for another thousand years but for good. He convinces them to assemble every last ship they can at Babylon 5 for a final battle to end the war once and for all.

Later, Sheridan, Garibaldi, Lorien, Ivanova, Franklin, Marcus, Lyta, Lennier and Delenn assemble in Sheridan’s office for a briefing. Sheridan tells them what he learned about the Shadows and Vorlons supposedly guiding the younger races but having a huge falling-out which has resulted in generational wars every few centuries (C22). Garibaldi is suspicious of Lorien but Sheridan vouches for him. Ivanova and Lyta then tell them about the Vorlon fleet. The Vorlons’ giant ships are “planet-killers” and have used them to destroy Arkada VII, a planet which was home to a Shadow base. They destroyed the whole planet and more than four million inhabitants just to destroy a few Shadow vessels at a single outpost. They have upped the ante and none of them may survive what is to come next...


Dating the Episode: The date is given in a voiceover.

The Arc: Garibaldi returns to Babylon 5. Although he claims to have amnesia, he still remembers flashes of being interrogated in D2. Again, we learn the truth in D17.

Sheridan returns to Babylon 5 and a hero’s welcome. He begins assembling a new fleet which takes shape over the next few episodes and is finally deployed in D6.

Garibaldi is suspicious of Lorien and uncertain about Sheridan’s return from the dead. This is followed up on in D4, D8, D10, D12 and D14-D17.

The Vorlons have unleashed a weapon of mass destruction, their fleet of planet killers, to destroy any world even remotely touched by the Shadows. This continues in D4-D6.

Background: Sector 70-10-53 is the location of a Vorlon fleet and a Shadow base (on Arkada VII).

Ivanova hasn’t “looked up and seen sky” for six years. Her only time on a planet on the show was on Epsilon III, which consisted only of subterranean tunnels. This also (incidentally) officially de-canonises NOV3, where she visits the Narn homeworld during the events of Season 2.

References: G’Kar wears a crown of thorns and is show walking around chained up to what resembles a cross. In case you didn’t get the subtle metaphor, G’Kar is basically Space Lizard Jesus. He is even whipped, as Jesus was at Pontius Pilate’s command.

G’Kar being whipped forty times is also a nod to Deuteronomy 25: 1-3, which confirms that forty lashes are a just punishment but no more than forty should be administered.

After Marcus confirms he is a virgin, he reports picking something up on the scanners. Ivanova asks him if it’s a unicorn, a nod to unicorns being attracted to virgins in mythology.

Unanswered Questions: How did Lorien’s tall, vertically-oriented spacecraft dock with Babylon 5? It’s far too big to fit in the docking bay.

How did Lorien and Sheridan leave Babylon 5 without the Shadows noticing?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: It’s said that it’s been “over two weeks” since Sheridan and Garibaldi’s disappearance. The correct time elapsed would be 27 days, or almost four weeks.

The scene where Ivanova asks to borrow a White Star from Delenn and Marcus was filmed for D2 but moved to this episode for time. This creates a continuity error, as Ivanova and Marcus would have then spent ten days or so searching for the First Ones. This episode makes it seem like they searched several entire sectors, discovered the Vorlons and made it back to B5 all in under a day or so.

The “Sheridan Speech” syndrome – where Sheridan makes a big speech filled with clichés and good hopes and everyone cheers and signs up without making any convincing counter-arguments – really kicks in during this episode. The main flaw is that everyone just takes Sheridan’s word for it that he died on Z’ha’dum but has returned as some kind of messianic figure to lead the rabble to victory. Even if you accept that the ambassadors have bought into this, there’s no real explanation either why the governments on the Drazi or Brakiri homeworlds are listening to the crazy reports from their ambassadors on a distant space station anyway, and giving over control of most of their militaries in the process.

Jerry Doyle had his hair shaved off at the end of the episode but had forgotten he had one scene left to film, where he is in the crowd when Sheridan returns. He had to have a small hairpiece attached and the director filmed him way back in the crowd to minimise the discrepancy.

Marcus Cole is a relatively good-looking thirty-something guy who worked as an engineer and corporate executive on a colony for years (and, as NOV9 confirms, had no problem meeting women who found him attractive). Whilst certainly not impossible, it’s maybe less than plausible that he would still be a virgin.

With Sheridan and Garibaldi MIA and Ivanova looking for the First Ones, Delenn is apparently in command of Babylon 5 in this episode, which is a bit odd as she is not in the station’s military or administrative command hierarchy. It’s unclear why command would not devolve down to Zack Allen, David Corwin, the long-missing Major Atumbe (B5’s third-in-command, oft-mentioned in Season 1) or, as a senior department head, Dr. Franklin.

It seems unlikely that Dr. Franklin would know the population of an obscure colony world in a remote sector off the top of his head.

At this point what are the ships defending Babylon 5 even for? They all ran away when the Shadows surrounded B5 in episode C22 and in this episode they just let Lorien’s ship dock without even challenging it.

The Vorlon planet-killers are said to be “three or four miles across” but they appear much, much bigger (maybe ten times that size!) when they are compared to the smaller Vorlon heavy cruisers (which are reportedly two miles long each) around them.

Behind the Scenes: Andreas Katsulas found the scene where he is tortured and screams to be very difficult and gruelling to film. Noting that he was not a method actor, he had to work hard to get into the mindset to deliver that scream.

According to Straczynski, he was keen not to follow the “hero’s journey” as espoused by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces (most famously used by George Lucas to develop the story of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy) too closely with Sheridan. He notes that George Miller followed the template without realising it in the first two Mad Max movies but then made the mistake of reading Campbell and trying to apply it in the third movie, Beyond Thunderdome, which made the film “bloodless”.

The Centauri garden set is another pretty-blatant redress of the Babylon 5 Sand Garden set.

This is the first regular episode of Babylon 5 to feature every single actor listed in the opening credits. The pilot also did this, but every episode of the regular series up to this point was missing at least one.

Familiar Faces: William Scudder (Hyach Ambassador) returns in just two episodes as the Centauri jester.

Eric Zivano (Verano) previously played Zathras’s friend/ally Spragg in episode C16.

Review: Sheridan and Garibaldi’s return from the dead is a bit convenient given how major their disappearances were, but at least both are (somewhat) narratively justified. Things are still moving fast and, like the previous episode, the accelerated pace sometimes feels exciting but sometimes feels a bit contrived. In particular, this episode marks the beginning of the “Sheridan Speech” syndrome, where Sheridan makes a big speech that doesn’t actually sound that convincing or logical but everyone signs up anyway. ***½

Lyta Alexander: “I have earned some respect and I have earned some answers.”
Ulkesh: “Respect? From whom?”

Drazi Ambassador: “We thought you were dead.”
Sheridan: “I was. I’m better now.”

D4: Falling Toward Apotheosis
Airdates: 25 November 1996 (US), 14 August 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by David J. Eagle
Cast: Lorien (Wayne Alexander), Emperor Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer), Morden (Ed Wasser), Ambassador Ulkesh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Centauri Guard (Tom Billet), Young Woman (Terry Cain), Worker (Khin-Kyaw Maung)

Date: 19 January 2261.

Plot:    Babylon 5 begins transmitting updates and reports on the movements of the Vorlon fleet. Tizino Prime, Ventari III and Dura VII have fallen to the Vorlon advance, whilst other worlds are taking in refugees. Sheridan is coming up with ideas about how to deal with the Vorlons, but refuses to divulge them to Garibaldi, whilst he seems happy talking to everyone else. Garibaldi is unhappy that Sheridan doesn’t seem to trust him anymore and that everyone accepts Sheridan’s return without question, whilst they are suspicious of him. He is, however, pronounced fit for duty by Franklin.

On Centauri Prime Londo learns from the healing Morden that the Vorlons are on the move. He doesn’t believe they will attack a world as large or important as Centauri Prime, but suggests having the bulk of the Centauri fleet recalled to defend the planet from attack. Cartagia agrees, but later tells Londo he was lying. When Centauri Prime is destroyed it will be an inauguration pyre to mark his ascension to godhood. Londo, shocked, contacts Babylon 5 and learns that the nearest Vorlon planet-killer is only seven days away. He speaks to Cartagia again, pointing out that if Centauri Prime is destroyed there will be no-one left behind to sing his praises when the Centauri are gone. Cartagia is troubled by this: what’s the point of being a god if no-one remembers or worships you? Londo suggests holding G’Kar’s execution and trial on the Narn homeworld. When the Narn see the wisdom and justice of Cartagia, they will remember and honour him. Cartagia agrees and preparations are made for a trip to Narn.

Sheridan meets with Garibaldi and tells him that he wants the Vorlon gone from the station. As long as he is on Babylon 5 he represents a threat to everything they have worked for. Garibaldi and a security team confront the Vorlon ambassador and order him to leave, but the Vorlon is protected by a forcefield which absorbs their PPG blasts and shoots out lightning bolts which render them unconscious. He then emits a whining sound which shatters their breathing masks and they have to flee his quarters. Lured into a false sense of security, the Vorlon becomes enraged when Lyta tells him that Sheridan is holding a piece of Kosh prisoner. She leads him down to Grey Sector, but it’s an ambush. Electricity is blasted throug his encounter suit and dozens of security personnel open fire. The Vorlon’s encounter suit explodes and the Vorlon emerges from within, now revealed as a glowing creature of energy. The Vorlon starts swatting the security guards around like flies and even threatens Delenn until Sheridan intervenes. Kosh emerges from Sheridan and battles the Vorlon, pulling him through the hull of the station and into space. The Vorlon transport begins shaking the station apart before escaping, but the two battling Vorlons collide with the transport and explode. All three are destroyed. Lorien revives Sheridan, who passes out during the battle.

Later, Sheridan tells Delenn that Lorien has extended his life by twenty years, but can do no more. Twenty years from now, he will die. He tells Delenn he loves her and asks her to marry him. She agrees.

Dozens of ships from the League, the Minbari and the Narn resistance begin arriving at Babylon 5, but this is only the beginning. Sheridan wants the largest fleet in history to end the war.

On Centauri Prime the Royal Party prepares to leave, but Cartagia becomes vexed by the way G’Kar is looking at him. He has his guards pluck out the Narn’s left eye.

Dating the Episode: It is two days since the Vorlon offensive began.

The Arc: Pretty much a continuation of D3 above.

The Vorlon ambassador who arrived in C18 dies, killed by Kosh, assisted by Sheridan and numerous PPG blasts.

This is the first time we really see what the Vorlons look like. What we saw in B22 was a mental projection telepathically generated by Kosh.

The Centauri storyline is resolved in D5 and D6.

Franklin confirms that Garibaldi has not been reprogrammed by the Shadows as one of their agents (using the same process as episodes C14 and C22).

It’s worth noting that Garibaldi is acting out of character based on his own terms: in C18 he berated G’Kar for not getting Na’Kal to follow the chain of command and trust in his commanding officer’s decisions. In this episode Garibaldi seems very suspicious of Lorien and distrusts Sheridan’s plan.

Background: Sheridan has known Ivanova for almost ten years, indicating that he served at Io (with Ivanova) around 2251.

The Vorlon homeworld is just called Vorlon.

The Vorlons are destroying jump gates in violation of six thousand years of tradition (NOV9).

In their “natural” form Vorlons are insubstantial, jellyfish-like creatures, although they can manifest glowing red eyes. PPG energy blasts pass right through them with no effect.

Vorlon encounter suits are equipped with an energy shield, similar to their starships. They can stun people with psi-blasts emitted via their eyepieces. They can also blast attackers with a lightning-like weapon. Both the shield and the suit itself can be overloaded with large amounts of electricity.

According to Straczynski (and episode D22), Minbari can live up to around 140 years, better explaining Delenn’s distress at losing Sheridan in just 20. Episode A2 confirms that the “average” human lifespan in the mid-23rd Century is 100 years (meaning people often go over that), so Delenn was expecting herself and Sheridan to comfortably have 60 years together and perhaps more.

It’s a three-day jump from Centauri Prime to the Narn homeworld.

Dr. Franklin suggests using Epsilon III to house the wounded. Epsilon III does not have a breathable atmosphere, but both Varn and Draal created a breathable atmosphere in the tunnels using the Great Machine, so presumably they can overcome that problem.

Garibaldi’s ship was found 12 light-years from Babylon 5.

Dura VII and Ventari III are among the planets destroyed by the Vorlons.

The area of the station where Ulkesh is taken out is Grey 24.

Straczynski clarified what happened in the final battle: once its encounter suit was destroyed, Ulkesh realised it had to escape. It ordered its ship to launch and planned to pass through the station’s hull and enter its ship outside the station. The Kosh fragment interfered with that, overloading Ulkesh and blowing both of them (and the ship) to pieces.

References: “Apotheosis” is a term meaning becoming or ascending to godhood. It was a common belief in the Roman Empire that individuals such as emperors would become gods upon their deaths.

Ivanova says “our greatest enemy is fear”, a nod to President Roosevelt’s “the only thin we have to fear is fear itself” speech.

In the novel I, Claudius, the insane Emperor Caligula executes Tiberius Gemellus for coughing in his presence. In this episode, Cartagia reports killing Minister Dugari for the same reason.

Unanswered Questions: What “cause” did the Vorlons tell Lyta they were pursuing that made her a disciple or believer? By this point she seems pretty disgusted with them.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Presumably the Vorlons would know of Ulkesh’s death and be pretty ticked off by it, retaliating against Babylon 5. However, they’re pretty busy at this particular moment, which may explain the lack of reprisals against the station.

Kosh and Ulkesh pass though the ceiling on their way out of the station. However, this would take them through the middle of the station; to get to the exterior, they should have gone through the floor.

Behind the Scenes: Although he later confirmed that the new Vorlon ambassador was named Ulkesh, Straczynski only named him as “Kosh-2” n the scripts. The production team referred to him as “Kosh Vader”.

Patricia Tallman felt the decision to murder Ulkesh was unethical and both Lyta and Sheridan jumped to hat conclusion too quickly. Straczynski agreed to an extent (bearing in mind the time and production pressures involved) but also noted that the Vorlons had changed the game by obliterating entire colonies belonging to the League worlds, effectively declaring war against them. He compared the decision to the one to nuke Hiroshima and Nagaskai at the end of WWII: horrendous, but did it save more lives (by avoiding a long, costly and bloody invasion of Japan) than it cost?

The scene where Ulkesh dies was supposed to be much more dramatic. The idea was that Ulkesh would be moving around more and the camera would then cut to a dramatic shot of his encounter suit’s head exploding and the Vorlon emerging. However, during the set-up someone triggered the pyrotechnics early, blowing up the head and showering the crew with debris. No-one was hurt but everyone was concerned with safety. Once it was confirmed everything was okay, they put a second head on, but as they backed off to start preparing a second shot, the head somehow fell off and smashed on the floor. With the shoot in danger of overrunning (Babylon 5 only had a handful of overruns during its filming, compared to other shows where it was routine), producer John Copeland told them not to bother as they would paint the head in using CGI and blow it up there.

One of the heads on Cartagia’s “shadow cabinet” table is a cast of Andreas Katsulas’s head.

Familiar Faces: Terry Walters (nee Cain), who plays the young woman in the teaser, has had a long career in Hollywood starting just before Babylon 5. She appeared in Ally McBeal, Diagnosis Murder and Desperate Housewives (among others). Her highest-profile role is arguably playing Sybil on Fawlty Tower Oxnard, a short-lived remake of the classic British comedy series, in 2007. Most recently she appeared as Mia in Santa Clarita Diet and a coffee shop manager in La La Land.

Review: This is B5 at it’s grimmest, with the Vorlons blowing away entire planets and slaughtering millions and Sheridan cold-bloodedly planning and executing Ulkesh’s murder, whilst G’Kar is tortured and his eye plucked out. The grim, determined tone is undercut by some contrivances however, such as Ulkesh sending off the initial security team with a spanking rather than killing them outright. Overall, a solid episode which confirms that victory cannot come without a steep price. ****

Cartagia: “Let it all burn, Mollari, let it all end in fire.”

Ulkesh: “A human? Imprisons one of us? Intolerable.”

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