Tuesday, 9 January 2018

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 4, Episodes 7-8

D7: Epiphanies
Airdates: 10 February 1997 (US), 4 September 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by John C. Flinn III
Cast: Bester (Walter Koenig), Minister Virini (Damian London), Psi Corps Official (Victor Lundin), Earth Alliance Pilot (Robert Patteri), News Anchor (Lauren Sanchez)

Date: 27-31 January 2261.

Plot:    The Shadow War is over and a great celebration is held on Babylon 5. Just as Sheridan starts relaxing for the first time in six months, events take a turn for the sinister back on Earth. In the Psi Corps Building in Earthdome, Bester is summoned to a meeting with a high-ranking member of the Psi Corps bureaucracy. He is told that something has seriously rattled President Clark and he wants Babylon 5 shut down as soon as possible. To this end Clark has launched a four-pronged plan involving the Psi Corps, the Ministry of Peace, Earthforce and Nightwatch to discredit the station. Bester leaves for Babylon 5 soon after. Meanwhile, ISN reports that the Earth Alliance Senate has imposed a blockade on all Earth Alliance jump gates leading to Babylon 5. From this time forwards all trade and cargo shipments to Babylon 5 are prohibited.

Garibaldi receives a transmission in his quarters, but the transmission is just a patch of swirling colours. Garibaldi, almost as if hypnotised, deletes all trace of the message. He then goes to see Sheridan and the command staff and tells them that he no longer feels able to do his job as Security Chief properly. Now the Shadows are defeated, what next? They can’t go home, they can’t wage war on their own people and Garibaldi doesn’t feel like staying on as Security Chief until he dies of old age. He resigns, telling them he plans to set up his own private investigations firm to help out people who lost belongings and lost other people during the war. Zack Allan is promoted to the rank of Security Chief in his stead.

Bester arrives on Babylon 5 and immediately alerts the crew to Clark’s plans. Bester thinks the abrupt departure of the Shadows has seriously undermined Clark’s confidence and he wants Babylon 5 neutralised before it can move against him. He tells them that in a few hours a Black Omega Psi Corps squadron will attack and destroy the Earthforce patrol guarding the jump gate in Sector 49. Babylon 5 will be framed for the attack and its credibility seriously undermined. In return for this information Bester wants Sheridan to take him to Z’ha’dum to see if the Shadows have left behind any technology that might be useful in saving Carolyn and the other telepaths ‘altered’ by the Shadows. Ivanova takes a Starfury squadron from Babylon 5 to intercept the Black Omegas and successfully destroys the Psi Corps squadron, much to the bemusement of the Earthforce patrol who are under attack.

The White Star 2 arrives at Z’ha’dum but detects activity at the local jump gate. They see a large fleet of alien ships passing through the gate, but are far to away to positively ID the ships. They realise they are seeing the Shadows’ allies leaving with whatever technology they have ransacked from their former masters. Moments later the entire planet starts to break apart. The White Star 2 manages to just get away before Z’ha’dum explodes with tremendous force. They return to Babylon 5 and a thwarted Bester heads back to Earth, pausing only to check on Carolyn’s cryo-freezer. Later, Sheridan confronts Lyta Alexander and points out that the timing of the evacuation was a bit too convenient and that, theoretically, a telepath altered by the Vorlons might have been able to send a warning to the Shadows’ allies about Bester’s impending arrival. Lyta agrees that is possible, but also points out that such a telepath would have to have good reasons, such as not wanting Shadow technology to fall into Psi Corps’ hands, working under hidden Vorlon orders or simply hating Bester and thwarting him in whatever he tries to do. Sheridan is annoyed that she went around him, even though he accepts her reasoning. Zack later arrives to help her sort out her belongings, now she’s allowed to have some following the Vorlons’ departure.

Londo and G’Kar return to Babylon 5 separately. G’Kar’s wounded eye is treated by Dr. Franklin who agrees that it should be possible to replace it with a prosthetic. Londo has left a Centauri minister loyal to the memory of Turhan as Regent until the Centaurum can select a new Emperor. G’Kar refuses to speak to Londo and tells him they no longer exist in the same universe.

Back on Centauri Prime, the Regent awakens in the night from a horrible dream. He looks down at his shoulder and sees a parasitic, one-eyed alien attached to it...


Dating the Episode: This episode begins immediately after the previous episode and incorporates a four-day round trip to Z’ha’dum.

The Arc: The Shadows are gone and Z’ha’dum and its secrets are destroyed by a self-destruct mechanism, but their legacy remains. Their mysterious allies flee Z’ha’dum and the Centauri Regent is taken over by one of the “Keepers” Sheridan saw in the future in C17.

This episode confirms that Lyta’s powers have been massively enhanced by the Vorlons, far more so than even episodes C4 and C18 hinted at. This is further touched upon in episodes D20, E17 and E19.

We see another of the four plans put forward to undermine Babylon 5 in episode D8. It’s possible that the Earthforce one is the one hinted at in episode D19.

Garibaldi resigns as Security Chief, which is followed up on in future episodes.

Bester, in his speech to the unconscious Carolyn, reveals that he created the Black Omega squadron as his own personal project and is annoyed that he had to sacrifice it (although he’d gladly do it again for her). He has something nasty in store for Sheridan and the Babylon 5 crew. We find out what in episode D17.

It is hinted that Zack is attracted to Lyta. This is explored further in TVM2.

The frozen telepaths altered by the telepaths that the station rescued in C14 are mentioned. Franklin confirms they’re alive and safe, but he hasn’t found a way of breaking their Shadow conditioning yet. The telepaths are referenced again in D8 and D20.

The “dark secret” Lyta is harbouring and Bester threatens to blackmail her over is revealed in book NOV11.

Background: Sector 49 is the nearest Earth Alliance jumpgate to Babylon 5. This may be the gate that’s six light-months from the Epsilon Eridani system mentioned in A13.

One of the Earth Alliance’s premier resort worlds is “Disneyplanet”.

References: Ivanova’s comment, “Reports of our disloyalty have been greatly exaggerated” is a misquote of Mark Twain: “The report of my death was an exaggeration."

Unanswered Questions: If this episode is the Psi Corps plan to undermine Babylon 5 and the next one is the Ministry of Truth plan, then what are the Nightwatch and Earthforce plans? The Earthforce plan may have something to do with the new ships in D19, but what about Nightwatch?

What was Zack Allen’s difficult past that he had to overcome?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: According to Ivanova in B19 she can tell immediately if someone is telepathically scanning her. This is backed up by that episode and a few others (such as A16). However, she doesn’t pick up on Bester’s attempt to scan the people at the briefing (including herself). Was Ivanova surer of her abilities than she should have been, or was Bester being exceptionally subtle, or did someone forget about Ivanova’s abilities?

Bester personally travelling to Babylon 5 seems a large risk, especially since he entered through the public customs area. Psi Corps will no doubt try to find out how news of the plan leaked and will scrutinise all members of Black Omega Squadron, including Bester, who now has a four-day gap in his schedule he needs to explain.

Sheridan asks where the Shadows’ allies are going, but he should know. In the flashforward in episode C17 Sheridan learns that the Shadow allies had gone to Centauri Prime after the war and laid waste to the planet.

Behind the Scenes: Garibaldi’s decision to resign as Security Chief made sense to Jerry Doyle, who noted he received a similar reaction to Garibaldi’s friends when he announced he was quitting a lucrative job in Wall Street in New York after nine years to try to become an actor in Los Angeles. Sometimes people just need a big shift in their lives or careers and need to try doing something that’s different.

The first of the three Elvis impersonators to board the station is played by Mark-Louis Walters, Babylon 5’s art director.

Familiar Faces: Lauren Sanchez (ISN Reporter) is a real-life news reporter and anchor, debuting as Fox News’s LA Entertainment Reporter in 1987. She’s also been a reporter on Fox Sport News and has been a guest host on The View. She also hosted the 2005 season of So You Think You Can Dance. She has portrayed newscasters in many films and TV shows, including Fight Club, The Agency, The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down and Ted 2. Babylon 5 was her first role playing a fictional character.

Victor Lundin (Psi Corps Official) has a very notable claim to fame: he played the very first Klingon ever seen on screen, an unnamed lieutenant, debuting in Errand of Mercy, a 1967 episode of the original Star Trek. He had recurring roles on Hondo and the 1960s Batman (playing Chief Standing Pat). He had a lengthy break from acting between the late 1970s and 1990s, returning to appear in Babylon 5. A frequent guest at Star Trek conventions, he passed away in 2013.

Review: After the war was concluded, some fans were forgiven for asking, “Now what?” This episode attempts to answer that question by introducing a new threat from Earth and Psi Corps and also showing that although the Shadows are gone, their allies are still around and up to no good. This episode also undercuts the idea that Bester was now a “good guy” after C14 by showing that he’s not bosom buddies with Team B5 at all. After the rushed intensity of the last nine episodes or so, it’s nice to get back to a more “standard” episode of Babylon 5. ****

G’Kar: “I have seen what power does, and I have seen what power costs. The one is never equal to the other.”

D8: The Illusion of Truth
Airdates: 17 February 1997 (US), 11 September 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Stephen Furst
Cast: Dan Randall (Jeff Griggs), Dr. Indiri (Henry Darrow), Alison Higgins (Diana Morgan), Ramirez (Albert Garcia), Client (Andrew Craig), Parks (David A. Kimball)

Date: 29 March 2261-12 April 2261.

Plot:    Investigating a disturbance in Customs, Zack discovers an ISN team trying to smuggle their equipment onto the station. ISN reporter Dan Randall tells Sheridan that ISN, although forced to spout out Clark’s propaganda, are becoming more and more keen on getting the real story about Babylon 5 breaking away to the people on Earth. After much debating, Sheridan agrees to let them film events on the station and assigns Lennier as their liason. The ISN team interview Sheridan and Delenn, talk to Garibaldi, take a look in Downbelow and film Sheridan dealing with a complaint from the Centauri. They return to Earth and Sheridan hopes that they were telling the truth about what they wanted to do with their report.

Unfortunately, it seems not. The ISN report is biased and contains flat-out lies. Randall claims that a fleet of ships is being assembled at Babylon 5, possibly for a military strike against Earth itself (after filming repairs to the White Star fleet and other alien vessels following the Shadow War). He also reveals that they located a number of cryo storage pods in Medlab, each apparently with a living human inside them. What they are doing there is unclear. Worst of all is the interview with Garibaldi, in which Garibaldi expresses his belief that Sheridan is, or was for a time, under an undue amount of influence from aliens like Lorien. Tying these together with Delenn’s transformation and Delenn and Sheridan’s growing closeness, Randall concludes that Sheridan is suffering from “Minbari War Syndrome”, which makes the sufferer believe that aliens are superior to the point where they start wanting to become alien themselves. Babylon 5 must be conducting some sort of genetic alteration project based on Delenn’s cross-species transformation to create an army to invade Earth. On B5 the crew are stunned by the accusation.

Dating the Episode: The ISN report is broadcast on the 200th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space. That flight took place on 12 July 1961.

The Arc: This is presumably either the Ministry of Peace plan launched in episode D7.

Garibaldi’s uncertainty about Sheridan seems to be growing. This is addressed again in episode D10.

The anniversary of the founding of Psi Corps is mentioned. This event is depicted in comic DC11 and the Psi Corps novel trilogy (NOV10-12).

Despite corrupting the ISN Report, Randall in fact keeps his promise to Sheridan to find out what happened to his father: he mentions that the Sheridan family farm has burned down and that his father is missing. This is followed up on in episodes D17 and D21.

The Earth Alliance Senate has been reconstituted after it was dissolved in episode C10. The new Senate seems to be made up of Clark’s yes-men and is there to just rubber-stamp his decrees.

Background: Psi Corps was founded on 12 April 2161. The Luna Colony was founded on 12 April 2018. The ISN report is transmitted on 12 April 2261, 259 days after Mars was retaken by Earthforce (which makes that date 29 July 2260, between the events of C14 and C15).

Shokalla is a minor Drazi deity, the patron saint of pilots.

References: Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, on the Soviet Vostock 1 mission in July 1961. He spent 108 minutes in orbit before returning to the ground. He did not fly in space again but was a backup crew on the Soyuz 1 mission. He was killed in a jet crash in 1968.

One of the frozen telepaths is named John C. Flinn III, a reference to the show’s director of photography (and occasional director).

Sheridan references Lazarus. According to the Gospel of St. John, Lazarus was raised from the dead four days after his passing by Jesus as a display of his divine power.

Several people who have been creating “pro-alien propaganda” on Earth are named: Carleton Jarrico, Beth Trumbo and Adrian Mostel. These are based on writers Paul Jarrico and Dalton Trumbo and actor Zero Mostel, real people who were blacklisted after being forced to testify before the House Commission on Un-American Affairs in the 1950s, the infamous McCarthy witch-hunts. Similarly, the character of Lee Parks who gives this confession is based on actor Larry Parks, who was likewise blacklisted.

Paul Jarrico attended a Hollywood ceremony on 27 October 1997, just a few months after this episode aired, and received a standing ovation for his defiance of the McCarthy witch-hunts in the 1950s. Tragically, he died in an automobile accident the very next day.

Unanswered Questions: Did Randall really find out what was going on with Sheridan’s father and try to let him know, or was he just trying to rattle him?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: When Sheridan says, “Let’s see what’s on, it might be a commercial” the original US transmission cut to a commercial break. On Channel 4 in the UK (where commercials were staggered differently) and on DVD, it cut to the ISN broadcast, losing the joke.

In one of the show’s more jarring errors, Dr. Indiri refers to the Stockholm Syndrome as the “Helsinki Syndrome.” Of course, he might deliberately have made this mistake to let people know that his words and testimony are not to be trusted.

Yuri Gagarin’s surname is misspelt “Gargarin” in the ISN report, suggesting that spellcheckers will have been made obsolete by 2261.

ISN makes it appear that Londo is giving Sheridan orders by playing a recording of them without sound. However, anyone who can read lips on Earth will immediately be able to tell what Londo is saying and that ISN’s report of the conversation is incorrect.

Behind the Scenes: This is the first episode of Babylon 5 to be directed by one of its actors, in this case Stephen Furst (Vir).

Mira Furlan (Delenn) started her career as an acclaimed stage actress in Yugoslavia. As the nation began breaking up into its constituent states (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia), she saw first-hand how the media was corrupted and turned into a mouthpiece for one faction or another. Uncomfortable with the situation, she left with her husband and moved to Los Angeles. Her discussions with Joe Straczynski about what happened in her homeland tied into this episode.

Straczynski himself had been a journalist and seen both good and bad things come out of it. This episode, and the wider ISN arc, was really inspired by the idea of a journalistic outlet being gradually turned into a propaganda tool. He was also inspired by the American blacklist of the 1950s, where people even just suspected of having pro-Communist sympathies were prevented from working in Hollywood or news rooms.

Bruce Boxleitner and Jerry Doyle worked on selling the idea that Sheridan and Garibaldi could plausibly fall out. Boxleitner compared Sheridan to Ahab with Clark as his Moby Dick, and noted that during the American Civil War Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and that during WWII Winston Churchill could be very ruthless, despite being “good guys.” He could see Sheridan taking that approach and Garibaldi objecting to it, especially when accompanied by a messianic aura, which Garibaldi (the ultimate agnostic) would distrust.

The Starfury toy Sheridan is playing with at the start of the episode is an unauthorised fan model allegedly confiscated by Straczynski at a convention.

The statue of the Drazi god Shokalla is recycled for Ivanova’s office in episode E22, which makes sense given her partial induction to Drazi culture due to the events of B3.

Familiar Faces: Jeff Griggs (Dan Randall) is best-known to modern audiences as Chief of Police John Tenzer on Bosch.

Henry Darrow (Dr. Indiri) is a Puerto Rican actor, best-known for playing the role of Manolito Montoya in the 1960s TV series The High Chaparral. He also played Trooper Hancock in the movie The Hitcher (in the remake this role was played by Sean Bean). Darrow replaced Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Don Alejandro in the 1990s TV version of Zorro; ironically, Zimbalist will guest star later in Babylon 5’s fourth season. Darrow also played and voiced earlier incarnations of Zorro going back to the early 1980s, making him the first Hispanic actor to play the role.

Andrew Craig (Client) previously appeared as an extra with a couple of lines in B18.

Review: A rather bitty episode. Rather than go for an all-out news broadcast like B15, it’s an episode of halves, with one half dedicated to filming the report and the other to showing the final version. On original broadcast, my assessment was that the conclusion Randall draws is so ridiculously OTT that no-one would ever even begin to believe it. Add to that that most of the altered film’s impact can be reduced by lip-reading what has been eliminated from the soundtrack, and that Randall is obviously in a different room to Delenn and Sheridan when he is asking the new questions that Delenn and Sheridan’s answers are edited to fit, you come to the conclusion that a) humans in 2261 are morons, or b) this is a badly-written (although well-conceived), badly-acted episode. However, in the Age of Fake News, the episode resonates in a rather different way. It’s still far too clunky and obvious to be really powerful, but it is somewhat more effective than it was on first airing. **½

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1 comment:

madradena said...

Propaganda never aims people who do not believe in it. If you repeat a lie enough times, whatever stupid that lie is, some people who seek easy answers will start to believe it. In my home country, you wouldn't believe the stuff that the government tries to scare the people with (to get votes of course). The last one was: if migrants come into our country, our unique cuisine is in jeopardy, because migrants will make us eat insects! No joking. This came from a minister. Okay, I was like, who'd really buy this, it ridiculous, no one is as stupid as THAT. Now on FB, I'm seeing comments like: migrants, go away and eat your insects elsewhere! So I guess you get what I mean. I think JMS did this so "badly" on purpose. Because propaganda is like that, they don't even care to make it believable. Their audience will eat all of it anyways.