Wednesday, 19 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 13-14


A13: Signs and Portents
Airdates: 18 May 1994 (US), 8 August 1994 (UK)
Working Title: Raiding Party
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Janet Greek
Cast: Lord Kiro (Gerrit Graham), Lady Ladira (Fredi Olster), Morden (Ed Wasser), Reno (Robert Silver), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Raider (Whip Hubley), Customs Guard (Lynn Red Williams), Freighter Pilot (Hector Mercado), Man (Garry Kluger), Pilot 1 (Lee Methis), Pilot 2 (Douglas E. McCoy), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Joshua Cox), Station Three (Anita Brabec)

Date: Wednesday 3 August 2258. It is now closer to eleven years than ten since the Battle of the Line.

Plot:    Lord Kiro and his aunt, the Lady Ladira, arrive from Centauri Prime to see Ambassador Londo Mollari. Londo has recently brokered a deal with a dubious merchant, Reno, to recover the Eye, an ancient Centauri artefact possessed by the very first Emperor of the Republic. The Eye has been lost for a century. The Centauri have paid a huge amount of money to recover the Eye and Kiro and Ladira are to take it back home. Ladira is a seer who has prescient flashes of the future, once telling Kiro that he would be killed by “shadows”. She finds Babylon 5 unnerving and keeps seeing an image of the station under attack by strange forces in the future. Kiro tells Londo that he, and many other nobles, bitterly resent the loss of the Republic’s prestige and power in the Galaxy and wonder when the Centauri lost their will to rule.

A human arrives on the station. Going only by the name Morden, he arranges meetings with Ambassadors G’Kar, Delenn and Londo. He asks each of them a simple question: “What do you want?” G’Kar tells him he wants revenge on the Centauri, to blacken their skies and burn their cities, to kill their parents whilst the children watch and to utterly destroy them, as the Centauri broke the Narn a century and a half ago. However, G’Kar’s ambitions do not extend beyond that. He has no wish to see the Narn rule other races or conquer the Galaxy. Delenn ponders Morden’s question, but suddenly the sigil of the Grey Council appears on her forehead. As she watches, Morden becomes engulfed by darkness. She throws him out of her quarters, horrified at what she has seen: “They are here.” Londo tells Morden that he, like Kiro, despairs of what the Centauri have become and wants a renaissance of power, for the Centauri to be restored to their rightful position as rulers of a huge empire. Morden seems most pleased by this answer.

Sinclair tells Garibaldi about his recent experiences with flashbacks to the Battle of the Line (episode A8). He asks Garibaldi for help and he agrees. Garibaldi quickly comes up with something odd: the Minbari Federation co-funded Babylon 5 on the condition that they could veto the Earth Alliance choice for command. They vetoed everyone but Sinclair, who was way down the list. The reason is unknown.

The Raiders are mounting a major series of attacks on cargo ships headed for the station and Sinclair is determined to wipe them out once and for all, although he is puzzled at how the Raiders are getting in and out of hyperspace so fast when their attacks are taking place hours away from the nearest jump gates. The Achilles, a cargo ship from Earth, reports an attack and Ivanova takes out Delta Wing to investigate. Sinclair notes that the Achilles is two further sectors away than the other attacks and realises it is a diversion. He recalls Delta Wing and prepares Alpha Wing for launch under Garibaldi. A Raider operative on board makes his move, taking Kiro and the Eye hostage and commandeering the Centauri vessel. Sinclair shuts down the jump gate so they can’t escape, but a Raider command carrier – large enough to generate its own jump points – jumps in and launches a large number of fighters at the station. A full-scale battle erupts, but the Raider fighters are decimated when Alpha and Delta wings catch them in a crossfire with Babylon 5’s own defence grid. The Raider carrier jumps out with Kiro and the Eye on board. On the station Morden bumps into Ambassador Kosh, who tells him in no uncertain terms that he must leave at once. The time is not yet right and the lesser races are not ready as yet. Morden doesn’t answer and Kosh becomes more insistent and threatening.

The Raider ship re-emerges in open space and Kiro congratulates the Raider captain on a job well done. However, Kiro’s plans to use the Eye as a rallying symbol to topple the Emperor are ruined when the Raiders plan to just ransom the Eye and Kiro back to the Republic for an immense profit, enough to replace their lost fighters and buy two or three more command vessels. Suddenly an immense alien ship appears out of nowhere and destroys the carrier, precisely dismantling it with massive cutting beams. Kiro and his “friends” die. Ladira feels her nephew’s death back on Babylon 5 thanks to her prescient abilities.

Londo feels dejected, thinking he will be lucky if he isn’t stripped of all rank for this fiasco. Morden appears with the Eye, telling Londo that he has associates who sometimes do him favours. Morden leaves, promising to call back one day. Ladira also takes her leave of Sinclair, but before she goes she leaves Sinclair an image of her vision, showing Babylon 5 being destroyed by unknown forces. She tells him it is only a possible future.


Dating the Episode: Ivanova’s wake-up alarm gives the date and even time that the episode begins: 0430 hours.

The Arc: A continuation of the Centauri feeling they have lost their way, first aired by Londo in episode A1, but also setting up virtually the entire series to come. Morden turns up to see Londo again in episode A22, when the main story arc really gets moving.

Morden claims that he has been doing some exploring out on the “Rim” for the last couple of years. This is expanded upon in episodes B2 and B17, among others.

The future Ladira sees for Babylon 5 is most directly tied into the events of episodes A20, C16 and C17, although some have speculated it is also a vision of episode E22.

The Raiders cease to be a problem from this episode forwards, although they are occasionally mentioned. They don’t turn up again for another three years, until episode TVM2.

Sinclair was the only person the Minbari wanted to command Babylon 5, for reasons unknown although it is possibly tied in to what we learned in episode A8 (about Sinclair being taken by the Grey Council and scanned at the Battle of the Line). Episode A16 shows that this point hasn’t gone unnoticed back on Earth, fuelling the idea that Sinclair is a Minbari agent. We find out what the Minbari are up to and why they want Sinclair where they can keep an eye on him in episodes B1, C17 and TVM1.

Delenn seems to sense what Morden is, or at least whom he represents. The Vorlons definitely know what he is up to and aren’t happy about it. We get a full and total explanation of the ties between the Minbari, Vorlons and Morden’s unseen allies in episode B17. The triangle on Delenn’s forehead previously appeared in episode A8.

Kosh and Morden confront one another again in episode C15.

According to Straczynski, Morden was under orders not to approach Sinclair or any Earth Alliance representative. Episode C1 goes some way to explaining why.

The current Centauri Emperor has not been seen in public for almost a year, leaving the Prime Minister to lead in his stead. We later learn this is in grief following the death of his son and heir. We meet both the Emperor and Prime Minister in episode B9.

Kosh’s ship docks in Bay 13, which becomes important in (appropriately) episode B13.

Background: Babylon 5 contains stand-up urinals. People clean their hands afterwards with blasts of germ-killing radiation from what appear to be UV emitters.

The Eye is the oldest symbol of Centauri nobility. It was crafted for the first Emperor of the Centauri Republic over a thousand years ago, who was then of Lord Kiro’s family. The Eye was lost over one century ago at the Battle of Nu’Shok.
There is a famine on Narn’s southern frontier (continent?). G’Kar notes that the Centauri strip-mined the planet over generations, which has left the planet in dire straits. Londo also notes that the Narn have continued to exploit their planet’s natural resources.

Councillor Tu’Bar is a member of the First Circle of the Kha’Ri, the Narn ruling body. He authorised Morden’s meeting with G’Kar.

According to Straczynski, this episode was meant to confirm that Sinclair was serving as both Babylon 5’s military governor and commander, and also the Earth Alliance ambassador, at the request of the Minbari. Otherwise there would be a separate Earth Alliance representative on board.

The next-nearest jump gate to Babylon 5 is six light-months from the Epsilon Eridani system.

There are at least nine cannon arrays in Babylon 5’s defence grid, capable of firing at least out to 5km from the station.

References: “Morden” is a nod to Prince Mordred of the Arthurian legends (something noted in episode C13), as well as Mordor, the stronghold of the Dark Lord Sauron (sometimes called the Shadow) in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

An Earth transport is named the Mary Celeste, which is named after a ship whose crew vanished without a trace at sea in 1872, which may be reflected in the Raider carrier which, if it wasn’t for Ladira’s vision, would have simply vanished without trace.

Another Earth transport is named for Baruch Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher of the 17th Century noted for his influence on the Enlightenment.

“The Shadows” are a reference to the Jungian notion of the Shadow, the part of the brain that is rooted in desire and destruction.

The Raider agent on the station – “Six” – was named as another brief homage to The Prisoner.

This episode’s title – which is also the title of the entire season – is a nod to Norman Corwin, particularly his radio drama On a Note of Triumph, celebrating the end of World War II: “Signs and portents! It was no furtive tapping on the window sill at night, but clamorous pounding in the public square.”

Lt. David Corwin is also named for Noman Corwin. Oddly, Corwin first appears in this episode, but he is not given a name until episode B15.

The space battle features a nod to the original 1970s Battlestar Galactica: a B5 gun battery fires three times, missing a Raider twice before anticipating and hitting with the third hit. This was a frequently-used (over-used, as BSG’s effects were incredibly expensive) shot from BSG, with Galactica’s turrets missing twice before hitting a Cylon Raider with a third hit.

Unanswered Questions: Why did the Narn and Centauri governments authorise Morden to speak to their ambassadors?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: 3 August 2258 won’t be a Wednesday. Straczynski probably missed a leap year somewhere in counting up the days (or just guessed). Or perhaps there is a calendar realignment somewhere between now and 2258.

During the battle sequences, memory limitations meant that keeping the full, massive-poly B5 model, the Starfuries and Raider fighters all in shot at once became very difficult. A lower-poly, less-detailed model – effectively a “smaller” version of the main station model – was utilised during the battle sequences. Unfortunately, at several points it’s clear that the station is out of its normal scale: the Starfuries are clearly bigger than they should be when they fly out from behind the station. On the true widescreen edition of the show (it’s less visible on the cropped DVD release), you can also see very big Starfury shadows passing over B5 at the end of the battle, which are clearly a mistake.

Delta Wing consists of eight fighters, but only seven return to B5 at the end of the episode; the eighth presumably was left behind to escort Transport Achilles home. However, “Delta 9” is reported destroyed in the battle. It might be that another Delta Wing fighter was down for repairs during the battle and did not fly, reducing the number of fighters available for the battle. Episode B22 suggests that Alpha and Delta Wings consisted of older fighters that were frequently down for repairs, whilst Zeta Wing’s fighters are more state-of-the-art.

When Delta Wing spin around to head home, you can see that the engine exhaust elements are not fully integrated into the engines.

Sinclair tells Garibaldi to ignore the fighters and hit the carrier. Garibaldi acknowledges, but immediately engages the fighters in a dogfight. It feels there was a line cut here where Garibaldi had to switch to engaging the fighters instead.

Behind the Scenes: Shortly after this episode aired, Ed Wasser was recognised by a florist whose shop he was in. The florist kept asking Wasser, “What do you want?”, briefly confusing Wasser until he realised the reference and was flattered. Unfortunately, the florist thought it was from an episode of Deep Space Nine.

Straczynski noted a discrepancy in this episode’s depiction of Morden and Kosh and the audience’s reaction. Morden is nice, polite, leaves Delenn’s quarters when asked, helps Londo avoid embarrassment and political censure, destroys a potential future enemy and restores some of the Centauri’s lost pride. However, the viewer is left with the feeling that Morden is a “bad guy”. Kosh terrorises Talia Winters for no apparent reason, withholds vital information from our heroes and blows away Deathwalker, but the viewer is left feeling that he is a “good guy”.

According to Straczynski, who studied psychology, “What do you want?” is a powerful question, as is its companion question, “Who are you?” Both are important questions on Babylon 5, and their replies are even more important.

The scene with Londo and G’Kar arguing over the head of the human bystander in the corridor was meant as an allegory for the Centauri and Narns arguing with one another with the Earth Alliance caught in the middle, which happens several times in the first season.

Most of Babylon 5’s sets were fully-enclosed spaces, designed to be shot from any angle. Director Janet Greek takes advantage of this at one point to have a 360° shot of Sinclair walking around the briefing room in a circle whilst talking to Garibaldi.

Ladira’s vision (as well as the “flash-forwards” in episode A20) was originally of the final episode of the entire series. Between Seasons 1 and 2, Straczynski radically reconceptualise the story arc which meant that this event never happened. Episodes C16 and C17 were later written to give a new reason for the vision (to a questionable degree of success).

Garibaldi’s Starfury launching vertically, flipping and nailing the Raider with a single shot was one of Thornton’s favourite shots and one he’d been planning for a while.

Familiar Faces: Ed Wasser had worked behind the scenes on the pilot feeding lines for the actor auditions. J. Michael Straczynski was impressed by his verbal cadence and gave him the role of Lt. Guerra, one of the observation dome techs. Feeling he was up to a bigger role, Straczynski created the role of Morden specifically for him.

Gerrit Graham (Kiro) later appeared as a member of the Q Continuum in the Voyager episode Death Wish.

Fredi Olster (Ladira) later had a recurring role as Judge Winters on Walker, Texas Ranger.

Whip Hubley, the less-than-impressive “Raider Six”, actually ended up having a stronger career than most of his co-stars on this episode, playing recurring roles on More Tales of the City, Flipper, The District, Further Tales of the City. His numerous guest star roles include episodes of CSI: Miami and Homeland.

Robert Silver (Mr. Reno) later appears in episode B13 as a merchant in Downbelow. It is unclear if he is supposed to be the same character, but if so he clearly fell on hard times in the year or so between episodes.

This episode marks the first appearance of Joshua Cox as a dome technician. His young-but-determined performance won the approval of Straczynski. When Marianne Robertson’s “Station One” technician left at the end of the season, Cox was promoted in her stead. He was given a name, Lt. David Corwin, in episode B15 and was given his own storyline in episode C7.

Review: Signs and Portents is one of the best episodes of the first season of Babylon 5. Up until this point Babylon 5 appeared to be an episodic, Star Trek-ish show with the recurring mystery of the Battle of the Line. In this episode Straczynski fires the gun on the main story arc. Morden and the Shadows first appear, there’s a kick-ass space battle, intriguing Centauri politics and a threatening prophecy of the future destruction of the B5 station. It’s with this episode that Babylon 5 goes from being a small story to a big one, with hints of galaxy-spanning consequences. This is spoiled a bit by cheesy guest star performances, but it remains an effective episode, rooted in the charming performance of Ed Wasser as Morden and in Peter Jurasik’s fantastic speech which has such apocalyptic consequences. ****½

Londo: “I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the Galaxy. I want to see the Centauri stretch for their hand again and command the stars. I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power. I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to look back or look forward. I want us to be what we used to be. I want it all back the way it was.”

Kosh: “Leave this place. They are not for you. Go. Leave. Now.”

Ladira: “The Shadows have come for Lord Kiro. The Shadows have come for us all.”

A14: T.K.O.
Airdates: 25 May 1994 (US), 21 January 1995 (UK)
Written by Lawrence G. DiTillio
Directed by John C. Flinn III
Cast: Walker Smith (Greg McKinney), The Muta-Do (Soon-Tech Oh), Caliban (Don Stroud), Rabbi Koslov (Theodore Bikel), Gyco (James Jude Courtney), Andrei Ivanov (Robert Phalen), Migo (Michael McKenzie), ISN Reporter (Lenore Kasdorf), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    The League of Non-aligned Worlds is holding a fighting event known as the Mutai on the station and disgraced Earth boxer Walker Smith decides to participate, helped out in training by Garibaldi, an old friend, and an alien named Caliban, who is motiveless. Smith eventually triumphs in the arena and returns to Earth a hero.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Koslov arrives on the station to help Ivanova get over her father’s recent death (in episode A3) by arranging for her to sit shiva. After initially deciding not to, due to her struggles with her father’s lack of love for her during life, Ivanova eventually decides to do so, and is able to process the experience of his death.

The Arc: Not a lot, apart from Smith’s “Watch your back” line to Garibaldi, a clear piece of foreshadowing to episode A22.

Background: Boxing is still a popular sport in the 23rd Century.

The Ivanovas have been living in Russia since the late 19th Century.

The Minbari don’t take part in the Mutai as it “ain’t their thing”, according to Straczynski.

A treel is a type of Centauri fish.

References: “Walker Smith” is the real name of Sugar Ray Robinson, one of the United States’ most famous boxers.

The Harlan Ellison book Ivanova is reading is entitled Working Without a Net. It is Ellison’s planned (but as yet unwritten) autobiography. Apparently, Ellison himself made off with the mock-up of the book after the episode was made.

“Caliban” is the name of the monstrous slave of Prospero in The Tempest, although there’s no real connection with the character in this episode.

Unanswered Questions: What is Caliban’s deal? Do any other humans do well in the Mutai?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Not an in-series one, but one about production. TKO was supposed to be the penultimate episode of the season (coming between Babylon Squared and Chrysalis) and Quality of Mercy was supposed to air 14th in the series, but Warner Brothers accidentally flipped the two around when it sent its scheduling information to TV Guide magazine. Rather than let TV Guide be wrong (and TV Guide, especially at the time, was the American public’s Bible for watching television; it giving out wrong information would probably trigger mass rioting, property damage, etc.), Warner Brothers just flipped the episodes as well.

Behind the Scenes: T.K.O. was proposed by Larry DiTillio who wanted to do an episode about sport on the station, and also wanted to follow up on Ivanova’s father’s death in episode A3. Straczynski initially shot the idea down, but director Jim Johnston and producer Doug Netter decided they could make it look good. Johnston later had to bow out due to his duties on episode A20, so Babylon 5’s Director of Photography John C. Flinn III took over instead.

Straczynski was not keen on the kick-boxing element of the episode at all, but felt the scenes with Ivanova contributed to her character growth a lot.

T.K.O. was not aired during the original run of the series on Channel 4 in the UK. At the time UK television had a strong proscription against any series featuring martial arts, “ninjas” or lots of simulated hand-to-hand combat. This was the same proscription that resulted in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being renamed Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in the UK. The episode was instead aired during a late-night special run of programming about violent TV shows and films that could not be aired before the watershed, part of a season of programming that also included the movie Akira. Needless to say, most viewers were baffled given the relatively tame levels of violence in the episode.

Familiar Faces: Theodore Bikel is a well-recognised face on American television and film, having debuted in the 1950s. Amongst genre audiences he is probably best-known for his portrayal of Lt. Worf’s adopted human father in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Don Stroud, who plays Caliban, played the villainous Heller in the James Bond movie Licence to Kill (1989). He also returns to Babylon 5 in episode C11.

Soon-Tech Oh, who plays the Muta-do, is a veteran Korean-American actor with a long list of credits stretching back to the 1960s, including The Invaders, Logan’s Run, Airwolf and Highlander: The Series, as well as the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.

Greg McKinney, who played Walker Smith, had a history of playing action roles in Hollywood, appearing in movies such as Mortal Kombat, Eraser and Beverly Hills Cop III. Tragically, McKinney died at just the age of 41 from a brain aneurysm.

Review: A very mixed bag: Ivanova confronting the death of her father and dealing with unresolved issues is handled superbly by guest star Theodore Bikel and Claudia Christian, but the entire Mutai story is bafflingly pointless, despite a reasonable performance by Greg McKinney. The only high note is that the fight scenes are, for once, pretty decent, with McKinney and his opponent actually doing most of their fight scenes for real. But mostly, a forgettable and meaningless episode. **½

Walker: “One of these days, Garibaldi, you’re going to learn to watch your back.”

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