Wednesday, 17 January 2018

BABYLON 5: Season 4, Episodes 9-10

D9: Atonement
Airdates: 24 February 1997 (US), 18 September 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Tony Dow
Cast: Dukhat (Reiner Schone), Callenn (Brian Carpenter), Morann (Robin Atkin Downes)

Date: This episode does not take place long after D8. There are extensive flashbacks to the early 2240s and mid-August 2245.

Plot:    Delenn receives a summons to Minbar by her clan and is compelled to obey. She and Sheridan spend the third of their nights together where the female watches and the male sleeps, before slipping away to the customs bay. Lennier intercepts her there and insists on accompanying her to the homeworld.

Marcus and Franklin are given new orders by Sheridan. Since Earth is playing dirty in its attempts to discredit the station (D7, D8), they have to do the same. He is sending Marcus and Franklin to make contact with the Mars Resistance and make whatever arrangements necessary to secure an alliance. Because of the blockade at certain jump gates, they’re going to have to go the long way around and won’t reach Mars for two weeks. They agree to the mission and set off.

Delenn arrives on Minbar for a meeting with the clan elders, represented by Callenn. They have grave doubts about her decision to take Sheridan as a mate, despite the fact that she is partly human. They want to know her reasons are pure and have arranged the Dreaming. The Dreaming is a holographic imaging chamber whereby the candidate, having taken drugs beforehand enhancing their mental powers, projects his or her thoughts and memories into the air for all to see. During Delenn’s first visit to the Dreaming she sees herself as a young acolyte some twenty years ago. She is assigned to watch over Dukhat during his own Dreaming. Intrigued by her wisdom and intelligence in one so young, he takes her into the Grey Council itself and tells her that the Council is divided over whether or not to make contact with a race known as the humans, who apparently the Centauri have had dealings with for some time. The warriors fear the military threat of the humans, the religious caste dislike of the idea of being exposed to alien belief systems and the workers are opposed to cheap imports at the expense of Minbari labour. Delenn asks about simple curiosity and Dukhat agrees that just being curious is a good reason in itself to contact other worlds, but the Council refuses to consider the idea. Dukhat makes Delenn his aide in return for embarrassing her before the Council. Over the next few years Delenn grows under Dukhat’s tutelage and is eventually elevated to the rank of the Council. When she swears the oath before the Triluminary, it glows. Dukhat goes to talk to her afterwards, but is interrupted by an alarm signal. The Minbari vessels have encountered an alien fleet approaching their space. Delenn confirms they are human warships, having studied Centauri reports. Morann, a warrior caste representative, tells them their gunports are open in the warriors’ tradition of showing respect to an enemy. Dukhat angrily tells them to stand down but the Earth ships open fire, convinced the Minbari are about to fire themselves. During the exchange Dukhat is killed and the Council becomes deadlocked about whether it was an accident or an act of hostility. Delenn, filled with grief and rage, breaks the deadlock by ordering the destruction of humanity.

Lennier is shocked and realises that the other Minbari will believe that Delenn is marrying Sheridan out of guilt for giving the order that broke the Council’s deadlock and began three years of bitter warfare, although he is sure that is not the case. Callenn announces that the Dreaming is over and tells them they will rest for the night and inform them of what they have discovered in the morning. But, in the night, Delenn suddenly realises that Dukhat was trying to say something to her when he died. She re-enters the Dreaming with Lennier and Callenn and they hear Dukhat’s last words, which Delenn herself did not hear at the time: “You are a child of Valen.” Afterwards Lennier raids the archives and confirms Dukhat’s words. Delenn, as hundreds of thousands if not millions of other Minbari, is a descendant of Valen himself. Since Valen was partly human, that means Delenn was partly human even before her transformation. It also means that most of the Minbari species has some trace of human DNA in their genetics, the true meaning of the humans and Minbari sharing the two sides of one soul. If the “purity” of the Minbari race hasn’t existed for a thousand years, then how can that purity be tainted by any children Delenn might have with Sheridan? Callenn admits that this knowledge has been kept secret for fear of confusing and dividing the Minbari race. They decide on a cover story, that Delenn is offering herself to the humans to further the spiritual bond between their species and as a sacrifice to the humans for their losses during the Earth-Minbari War, in the same way pre-Valen Minbari would marry the son and daughter of the two sides in a war to reunite themselves. Delenn is satisfied and heads back to Babylon 5.


Dating the Episode: Episode C13 established the starting date of the Earth-Minbari War as taking place between 3 July (C12) and 24 July (C14) 2245.

The Arc: Sheridan decides to take action against Clark’s recent propaganda attacks on Babylon 5 by sending Marcus and Franklin to Mars. This is followed up on in episodes D10-D11.

This episode reveals a great deal of the hitherto unrevealed history of Delenn and her relationship with Dukhat and the Grey Council. We learn that she was Dukhat’s aide and after several years became a member of the Grey Council itself. When Dukhat died, the Grey Council couldn’t decide whether the Prometheus’ attack was an attack or a result of some kind of misunderstanding. It was Delenn’s vote to attack the humans that broke the deadlock. Much of this is covered, along with additional information (like why the Minbari flagship cruiser itself happened to be in that area of space) in episode TVM1.

Sinclair, after his transformation into Valen in episode C17, married and had children. After Valen’s disappearance (his body was never found), his children, with their part-human blood, mingled with the Minbari populace and over a thousand years their blood has spread through a sizeable fraction of the Minbari population. The racial purity the Minbari are so keen to continue has been a myth for almost ten centuries, although the bulk of the Minbari population is unaware of this.

There is a hint in NOV9 and comics DC12-DC15 that Sinclair’s fiancée, Catherine Sakai (last seen in A22), finds her way back to Sinclair and marries him after all. This would explain why human blood remains detectable in so many Minbari, if they are descended from two humans with artificial Minbari physiology.

The absence of the Grey Council (which Delenn dissolved in episode C10) means that the clans are taking more and more authority for themselves and the castes. The result of this building tension can be seen in D11 and D13-D14.

Ivanova is still regarded as the honorary “Green Leader” of the Drazi (after episode B3) and wears her sash to the celebration, despite the rest of the Greens on the station converting to the Purple faction. Presumably the five-year struggle for leadership of the Drazi Freehold was suspended or cancelled outright due to the war against the Centauri and then the Shadow War.

Background: Minbari society is made up of clans, large extended family groupings. There are many clans in each of the castes. It is possible for someone to switch castes whilst remaining in the same clan (explaining how Lennier’s clan has both warrior and religious caste members as noted in B14).

Delenn is of the family or clan of Mir. The “enn” suffix to her name is part of her clan identity, as noted by the name of her clan-mate Callenn. Callenn apparently would be a distant relative, a cousin several times removed, and is not part of Delenn’s immediate, close family.

Callenn is possibly one of the Clan Elders. NOV9 established the Council of Clan Elders, twenty-seven (nine times three) elders from the clans who see to the day-to-day governance of the Minbari whilst the Grey Council sets overall policy. The Council of Clan Elders is providing leadership to the Minbari Federation following the dissolution of the Grey Council in episode C10.

As well as Dukhat, several other members of the Grey Council were killed in the first confrontation with the humans.

Of the human ships that fired on the Minbari warcruisers, most managed to escape the initial engagement, due to the Minbari’s shock. However, they were then obliterated by the Minbari reprisal attack a few hours or days later. The Prometheus was destroyed, but at least some of its crew (including David MacIntyre from C13) escaped and survived.

Minbari genes are probably more dominant than human ones: if we assume that the Triluminary makes recipients of the process 50% human and 50% Minbari, then Valen’s progeny by Catherine Sakai would be 75% human. However, their descendants are physically indistinguishable from humans so the Minbari genes grew stronger and overwhelmed the human ones. The total number of Minbari descendants from Valen might be as high as eight million assuming a 30-year generational gap, although this would only still be a small fraction of a total Minbari population stretching (presumably) into the billions. The fact that Valen’s descendants, although numerous, are not overwhelmingly common is backed up by the Triluminary glowing in response to Delenn being seen as an unusual event.

G’Kar now has a prosthetic eye which, amongst other things, can be removed from the socket and used as a makeshift spy camera.

References: “Mir” is the Russian word for “Peace.” It was also the name of the Russian space station that operated in Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001 (and was still operational when this episode was written). It was also a nod at Mira Furlan’s name.

Unanswered Questions: How exactly does the Dreaming work? It appears to use technology to holographically image telepathic images from someone’s mind, but this mixture of technology and psi-powers is something we’ve never seen before, and never will again.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: The EAS Schwarzkopf (from B10 and C9) and the Hyperion (from A19) are both depicted as being present at the first engagement between the Minbari and humans. However, the Hyperion is show as having its bridge destroyed by a Minbari warcruiser, but seconds later appears to be completely intact. The Minbari then report that they pursued the human fleet back to its base and destroyed all the ships present, so those ships should never have been around in later episodes.

Of course, the real explanation is that Netter Digital simply reused Foundation Imaging’s earlier models when the script called for a Nova-class and Hyperion-class ship to be present and didn’t bother to change the name markings. Co-producer George Johnsen claimed at the time that the Hyperion being present was in fact on purpose (the Schwarzkopf’s name is not nearly as prominent) but it’s unclear if this is accurate or damage control given the criticisms the production team were sustaining at the time for Foundation Imaging’s dismissal from the show.

The Earth Alliance cargo ship at the end of the episode is shown as not having a rotating section, so Franklin and Marcus are shown strapped to the wall with cargo floating around them in zero gravity. However, leaving aside the dangers of having unsecured cargo in the first place (which is far more dangerous on a starship than it ever was on a sailing vessel), the ship is also shown firing its engines. This should create the illusion of gravity as the force of acceleration would push everything on board towards the rear of the ship, but this is not the case.

The prosthetic eye is a nice idea, but it is shown to deliver rather sub-optimal images and is prone to interference. Wouldn’t this be massively distracting and make it difficult-to-impossible to actually generate a decent 3D image?

Soul Hunter ships are shown approaching the Minbari flagship, but they are not shown boarding the flagship and trying to get to Dukhat as related in A2. It might be that Delenn and the Soul Hunter in that episode were speaking metaphorically, with the “wall of bodies” instead being their ships. It’s also worth nothing that A2 established that sane Soul Hunters only take the souls of the willing, so it’s unclear why there would be conflict anyway, since Dukhat was not willing (and died before they could arrive anyway).

Behind the Scenes: With only three listed castmembers besides the regular cast, this episode has the smallest guest cast list of any episode of Babylon 5, astonishingly one less than the deliberately tight and claustrophobic D18.

This is the first episode since B1 in which Mira Furlan appears in her Season 1 Delenn makeup.

Mira Furlan had an unexpected medical response to the dry ice used in the Dreaming scenes. She started shaking uncontrollably and almost passed out. This created a major problem as they had to hurriedly re-shoot the scenes with her standing further away from the ice (using close ups, smoke and other tricks to make it look like she was in the middle of it). Brian Carpenter was also only available for two days of shooting and couldn’t wait whilst Furlan recovered, so the director used close-ups of the two actors and stand-ins. Furlan, who had worked with dry ice before with no problem, was baffled at the incident.

Actor Reiner Schone played Dukhat as powerful, authoritative and charismatic, but also with a sense of lightness that seemed to go against the script. Straczynski noted that having built up Dukhat for three and a half seasons, it was possible that the actor would be unable to live up to the expectations, but Schone blew everyone away on the set and was also very well-received by the fans.

Straczynski was driven to write the episode by his profound dislike of the notion of “racial purity”, since modern humans are a hodgepodge of descendants from different nomadic tribal groupings which have been mingling for tens of millennia. This is the same instinct that drove the writing of A4, although this episode handled it rather better.

For the final scene on the Earth cargo ship, the crew brought in a special “floaty” camera that had been used to simulate shots in zero gravity. It promptly broke, so the crew used a normal camera but hinged in an unusual way with bits of wood jammed into the mount to get it locked at a very unusual angle. To everyone’s surprise, this worked really well.

An additional scene was filmed between Marcus and Franklin discussing their childhoods and Marcus revealing his fondness for literature. The scene was cut as the episode ran four minutes overlong.

Jason Carter was a fan of the Gilbert and Sullivan song “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” and was determined to sing the whole thing from start to finish. This inspired Richard Biggs, staying in character, to start yelling at him to shut up. Straczynski found this amusing enough to play it over the end credits, complete with Franklin’s complaining yells.

Familiar Faces: Reiner Schone (Dukhat), a German actor, started his acting career in the 1960s. He starred in German theatre and film before pursuing work in Hollywood. His break-out role was starring in The Eiger Sanction (1975) alongside Clint Eastwood. His other main genre credits were playing Esoqq in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Allegiance and the main villain in the movie Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. In 2002 he permanently moved back to Berlin and has acted mostly in German television and film since then.

Robin Atkin Downes (Morann) is best-known for his colossal credit list in both video game and animation voice acting: his very first role was voicing Legolas in the 1990 video game version of The Lord of the Rings. His first two live-action roles were Machida on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (in Reptile Girl) and Morann on Babylon 5. He later returned in the same role in TVM1 before playing Byron in nine episodes of Season 5. His list of vocal credits is almost unfathomably vast, but includes the EverQuest, Doom, Halo, Call of Duty, Metal Gear Solid, Knights of the Old Republic, Quake, Kingdom Hearts, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gears of War, Total War, Valkyria Chronicles, STALKER, Transformers, Ratchet & Clank, Uncharted, Dragon Age, Dawn of War, StarCraft, Final Fantasy, Skylanders, Saints Row, Far Cry, Clone Wars, Elder Scrolls, Witcher and Rebels series. His most recent roles include voicing multiple characters on Star Wars: Battlefront II and Netflix’s Voltron series, as well as voicing the Master on The Strain.

Brian Carpenter (Callenn) has had numerous Hollywood roles, appearing on shows such as Murder, She Wrote, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Chicago Hope.

Review: A very solid episode, anchored by Reiner Schone’s statesmanlike performance as Dukhat and the revelation that Delenn pretty much caused the Earth-Minbari War (or at least ensured it would spin out of control). The revelation about Valen’s children is logical and the fact that the Minbari seem to be in severe denial about the situation is amusingly hypocritical. Overall, a very strong episode that shines an interesting light on Minbari culture. Also, some bonus points for being the first episode this season that doesn’t feel like it’s been written and produced on speed. ****

Morann: “We are a world gone mad.”

D10: Racing Mars
Airdates: 21 April 1997 (US), 25 September 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Jésus Treviño
Cast: Dan Randall (Jeff Griggs), Number One (Marjorie Monaghan), Number Two (Clayton Landey), Wade (Mark Schneider), Captain Jack (Donovan Scott), Smuggler #1 (Geoff Meed), Smuggler #2 (Brian Tashash), Guard (Timothy Starks), Brakiri Woman (Carrie Dobro)

Plot:    Franklin and Marcus are approaching Mars aboard an Earth starliner and meet Captain Jack, a jovial merchant who turns out to be their contact with the Mars Resistance. Jack gives them food and passports claiming they are a young couple on their honeymoon. When they talk about the Shadow War, Jack is mystified: he hasn’t heard anything about a war (aside from very vague rumours), but is nevertheless glad “their” side won.

Back on Babylon 5 Sheridan’s anger against Clark’s tirades against the station is growing. Ivanova, sensing this may be the last chance in some time, forces him to take the day off and relax. Sheridan goes to see Garibaldi to find out why Garibaldi spoke out against him on the ISN report (D8) and they seem to approach some kind of understanding, but then an alien woman suddenly identifies Sheridan as some sort of religious figure, because he came back from the dead on Z’ha’dum. Garibaldi is disgusted to the point of anger and starts yelling that Sheridan is just an ordinary human being, not the Second Coming. When Sheridan intervenes, concerned that Garibaldi is hurting the woman, Garibaldi punches him. Sheridan coldly tells Garibaldi that he operates on Babylon 5 at his sufferance and he will not tolerate him hurting the cause. A man named Wade and his associates contact Garibaldi and tells him they represent a faction on Earth who, whilst not keen on President Clark, are worried that Babylon 5 and Sheridan may do something to seriously endanger the peace and cost thousands of lives. They want to help Sheridan, who has clearly been traumatised by his recent experiences. Garibaldi agrees to help them, but only under the guarantee that Sheridan won’t be hurt or killed. Wade agrees to provide that guarantee.

Ivanova contacts a consortium of smugglers and manages to blackmail them into helping get food and weapons onto Babylon 5, now that the trade embargo from Earth has started to hit the station hard. To sweeten the deal, she offers free repairs and parts for their ships and the smugglers agree.

Franklin, Marcus and Captain Jack reach Mars and made their way underground to the secret Resistance base. Their credentials are checked but found to be fakes: Captain Jack swapped their real and fake passports around. The Resistance prepare to execute Marcus and Franklin as spies, but the Resistance’s Number One – a woman in her thirties – intervenes, wanting to know what is going on. Captain Jack tries to shoot her but Franklin saves her life. Marcus and the other rebels shoot Jack as he tries to escape and manage to hit some kind of alien creature perched on his shoulder. Jack vanishes and Franklin discovers that the alien parasite was controlling him in some manner. They contact Jack on the comlink and tell him they know he wasn’t responsible for what happened, but Jack tells them the creature is growing back. He detonates a thermal grenade and kills himself and the creature. Number One, shaken but confident that Franklin and Marcus are now on the level, agrees to summon the leaders of all the resistance cells for a meeting.

Back on Babylon 5 Sheridan and Delenn perform a Minbari ritual designed to allow them to discover each other’s “centres of pleasure”. However, a number of Minbari remain on guard outside Delenn’s bedroom to make sure they do not go too far. Lennier regards the ritual as a sacred event and questions Sheridan on his use of the phrase, “Woo-hoo.”

Dating the Episode: It is two weeks since the events of D9.

The Arc: Garibaldi’s paranoid distrust of Sheridan reaches new heights. This plot strand continues over the next few episodes.

Captain Jack is under the control of a Keeper, an alien creature similar to the ones seen controlling the Centauri Regent at the end of D7 and the future Londo in C17. This indicates that whilst the connections between the Shadows and President Clark have been broken, their allies remain a threat. This paves the way for episode D11.

The Martian Resistance is a catch-all term for former terrorists (like Free Mars, who were strongly active in the first two seasons) who have banded together with the general opposition to President Clark to fight against his rule.

Background: The Pope in 2261 is female. Crusade, which is set six years after this episode, names her as Pope Bernadette II.

The vacuum-sealed train tubes on Mars are so strong that even a thermal grenade explosion cannot damage them. They are so tough as they need to survive occasional micrometeor strikes.

The ship that Marcus and Franklin are travelling on at the start of the episode (after transferring from the cargo ship at the end of D9) is a liner similar to the Asimov, complete with a rotating section to simulate gravity. It may even be the Asimov itself.

The Keepers consist of a central brain controlling numerous microfibres which act like synaptic relays. When placed on the neck of another being, the Keeper can take control of the host body and force it to do their bidding.

Deneb IV is a major Earth Alliance colony world.

ISN’s typical audience reach is about a billion humans and aliens.

There are fifty Minbari rituals involved in a typical courtship. Even some Minbari tire of the endless rituals and elope, but most Minbari see them as a test of a couple’s resolve and commitment.

References: Deneb is a real star, located between 1,500 and 2,800 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cygnus. The star has a dramatically varying brightness (between 55,000 and 200,000 times brighter than the Sun) which makes it difficult to ascertain a reliable distance.

The Mars Resistance leaders calling themselves “Number One” and “Number Two” are another reference to The Prisoner, J. Michael Straczynski’s favourite TV series.

“Captain Jack” is a reference to the Billy Joel song of the same name.

Unanswered Questions: Are the Keepers actually insubstantial as well as invisible? Marcus puts his arm around Captain Jack’s shoulder and doesn’t seem to feel the creature.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Deneb is an Earth Alliance colony despite lying ludicrously further away than any other mentioned real-life star. A kink of hyperspace travel may put Deneb in range of the other colonies despite being much further away in real space, but this nevertheless seems unlikely.

Deneb is a blue-white supergiant with a luminosity approaching a quarter million times that of the Sun and a very high radiation output. The chances of any planets circling the star being inhabitable by humans are very slim indeed.

Ivanova says that Sheridan hasn’t taken any personal time in nine months, not since before they split away from Earth. However, this episode easily takes place (based on the dates from D8) 12-13 months after the split from Earth.

This is the first episode of the series to feature extensive sequences set on Mars (episodes A18 and B7 had brief sequences set on the Red Planet). No attempt at all is made to simulate Mars’s gravity, which is only approximately one-half that of Earth (and Babylon 5) normal.

Behind the Scenes: Bruce Boxleitner and Jerry Doyle had become quite good friends by this point (Doyle noting that Boxleitner had let him crash at his house when Doyle was between apartments), playing tennis together and sharing a make-up trailer. However, they didn’t feel any need to rehearse their confrontations too much, each trusting the other actor. This was fine up until just before the fight scene, where Doyle started getting worried he’d punch Boxleitner by accident. Luckily this didn’t happen.

Boxleitner was not a fan the “centres of pleasure” storyline, feeling it was “nonsensical.”

Straczynski noted that Sheridan getting a day off might have been his own subliminal cry for help as this episode falls at roughly the half-way point of his marathon three-season writing stint for the show, with him only having one week’s break between episode B17 and the end of the series.

In one scene, Jason Carter read all of Marcus’s lines as if he were a number of Monty Python characters. Despite being funny, the director regretfully insisted he perform the lines properly as the tone was off for the episode (not to mention the copyright issues).

Carter told Straczynski about the idea of “American Myopia”, the idea that events in the rest of the world, no matter how bloody or important, would be ignored by US media if no Americans or American interests were involved. Straczynski realised this was a way of not letting the Shadow War overshadow (so to speak) events on Earth and Mars: some people may have heard some things, but because the Earth Alliance was not directly involved, it was not seen as being important.

Straczynski received some negative messages from viewers for insinuating that the Pope was female in this episode. He had a more positive reception for the idea of gay marriage.

Familiar Faces: Carrie Dobro (Brakiri Woman) will return in a bigger role to the franchise by playing Dureena in TVM4 and Crusade. She previously appeared briefly as a doctor in episode C7.

Jeff Griggs (Dan Randall from D8) is credited, but only appears in material from the ISN report he recorded in that episode. He has no new material.

Donovan Scott (Captain Jack) is best-known for playing Cadet Leslie Barbara in the movie Police Academy.  He also played the Deputy in Back to the Future III. He still acts today, recently appearing in Days of Our Lives and Somerville.

Mark Schneider (Wade) made his name playing Sammy on Paper Dolls in 1984, Matt Houston as Detective Marlowe on Matt Houston (1984-85) and Paul Marshall on Santa Barbara (1987). He continues to act, mostly on stage.

Marjorie Monaghan (Number One) started her career playing Jean Ballantry on 1990 TV show H.E.L.P. before appearing in guest shots on shows such as Quantum Leap, Law & Order, Murder, She Wrote and LA Law. She was a regular on the short-lived SF show Space Rangers, which is almost forgotten now, but back in 1993 it was heralded alongside Deep Space Nine, seaQuest DSV, Time Trax and The X-Files as part of an “SF Renaissance”. She later appeared in Star Tre: Voyager, JAG and Andromeda. Her last screen credit is for The Great War of Magellan, a short written by and starring Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica).

Review: A bit of a mixed bag, this episode. The CGI on Mars is extremely poor by the show’s previous standards (excepting the risible Psi Corps skyscraper in D7) and the comedy and tragedy don’t come together to create as much pathos as Straczynski intended. The “Minbari comedy rituals” running gag is wearing thin by this point. The Sheridan/Garibaldi confrontation is dramatic gold, however, with the actors (especially the underrated Jerry Doyle) really selling their conflict so it feels real, not the results of Obviously Crazy Weird Stuff going on with Garibaldi. ***½

Garibaldi: “Why don’t you go back to playing God and let the rest of us mere mortals get back to business?”

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