Saturday, 29 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 19-20

A19: A Voice in the Wilderness, Part 2
Airdates: 3 August 1994 (US), 12 September 1994 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Janet Greek
Cast: Draal (Louis Turenne), Varn (Curt Lowens), Captain Ellis Pierce (Ron Canada), Lisa Hampton (Denise Gentile), Senator Hidoshi (Aki Aleong), Captain Takarn (Michelan Sisti), Rowdy (Chip Heller), ISN Reporter (Lenore Kasdorf), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Joshua Cox)

Plot:    The EAS Hyperion, an Earthforce heavy cruiser, arrives at Babylon 5. Earthforce has been monitoring events on Epsilon III and is keen to get its hands on the alien technology contained on the planet. Captain Ellis Pierce begins recovery operations, but the defensive fire is considerably stronger than that which greeted the original trip to the planet and Pierce is forced to back down.

The alien recovered from the planet, Varn, recovers in Medlab and tells Sinclair that he is the last guardian of the Great Machine, a device built 500 years ago for unknown purposes. The Machine is powerful and cannot fall into the hands of the unworthy, but Varn is dying and can no longer maintain it. Now he has been removed, the Machine has gone into self-destruct mode and will detonate in 48 hours, taking Epsilon III and Babylon 5 with it.

Draal, following a vision of Varn, meets with him and he and Delenn agree to take him back to the planet. Londo also volunteers to accompany them as a pilot. An alien ship comes through the jumpgate, commanded by Takarn, apparently of the same race as Varn. When Takarn’s demands that the Machine be turned over to him are refused, he opens fire on both Babylon 5 and the Hyperion. As a furious space battle rages Delenn, Draal, Varn and Londo reach the Machine and Draal volunteers to take custody of it. Varn agrees and hooks him up to the system. Draal forces Sinclair and Pierce to abandon all claims to the planet and blows up Takarn’s ship when the aliens refuse to heed his words. Pierce reluctantly returns to Earth space, whilst Delenn and Londo head back to the station (leaving Varn to die on the planet). Delenn later tells Garibaldi that they avoided telling Sinclair about their plan because she knew he would volunteer to take control of the Machine...and his destiny is greater.

Garibaldi makes contact with his ex, Lise, who is wounded but not badly. He starts to wonder about getting back together again, but Lise is now married and expecting a baby. They wish each other well and part company again. The Mars Rebellion has finally been quashed and once again Earth is in control of the planet.


The Arc: The Great Machine’s purpose remains debatable, although it (and Draal) crop up again in episodes B19 and C5. Something of the Machine’s purpose is confirmed in episodes C16 and C17.

Delenn owes Londo a favour after he piloted the shuttle down to the planet for her and Draal in this episode. He collects in episode C3.

Lise Hampton turns up again - in flashback - in the following episode.

We find out in episode B6 that, immediately following the Mars Rebellion, a Provisional Government is established on Mars to help restabilise the planet and maintain a degree of autonomy from Earth (stopping short of outright independence). Mars remains (relatively) stable until episode C10.

Earthforce’s obsession with new technology was previously touched on in episodes A4 and A9. It resurfaces in force in episode C8, with pretty apocalyptic consequences.

The Hyperion-class cruiser is actually Earthforce’s second most-formidable warship. We see the most powerful, the Omega-class destroyer, in episodes B1, B11, C8 and C10, among others.

Background: The Hyperion is named for its class, the Hyperion-class heavy cruiser. The Hyperion is an older class of Earthforce vessel that served during the Earth-Minbari War and does not possess rotating sections, so the crew spend their time on the ship weightless.

It does not possess gravity, but it does have a different class of Starfury to those on Babylon 5 serving on board, namely a slightly larger type of fighter with a rear-firing laser pod attached. This derivation is known unofficially as the Heavy Starfury (numerous other sources name the standard Starfuries we’re used to as “Aries”-class).

Takarn’s ship is a modular design which can split into four independent units to engage in combat from different angles.

The Centauri once launched a raid on a planet that, on original airing, sounded very much like “Balos XII”, possibly the same Balos that is a member of the League of Non-aligned Worlds and suffered a horrendous occupation by the Dilgar, as noted in episode A9. However, more careful listening and the use of subtitles reveals that the planet is actually called “Frallis XII”. The reasons for the raid remain unknown.

References: As well as the obvious nods to Forbidden Planet, the massive scale and strange, unknown events on Epsilon III are a tip of the hat by Straczynski to H.P. Lovecraft.

The EAS Hyperion is named after the message board where Straczynski discussed the series from its earliest gestation to having a post-mortem on each episode as it aired.

When Takarn’s ship scans B5, numerous words flash up on the screen which are SF references. One screen lists a number of notable SF AIs and computer intelligences: ORAK is a misspelling of ORAC, from Blake’s 7; FORBIN is the computer from 1969 SF movie The Forbin Project; NOMAD is the computer intelligence in the original Star Trek episode The Changeling; and SKYNET, of course, is the hostile AI in the Terminator series of movies and spin-off TV shows and video games.

On the same screens, the name MCAULIFFE appears, another reference to astronaut Sharon Christa McAuliffe, killed in the Challenger disaster in 1986. There was another reference to her in episode A12. The phrase EYE AM KNOT A NUMBER AYE AMA FREE MAN also appears, a clear nod at The Prisoner.

More of a reverse reference, but it’s hard not to think of The Fellowship of the Ring’s overhead shot of the CG Fellowship fleeing over the Bridge of Khazad-dûm when looking at the overhead CG shot of the bridge over the Great Machine.

Unanswered Questions: The Great Machine’s purpose is addressed in later episodes, but the mystery of who created it and specifically why remains unknown.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Lise tells Garibaldi that she is planning to have her baby in September. However, this seems anomalous. The last securely-dated episode, A13 took place on 3 August 2258. So, either all six succeeding episodes also took place in August and Lise is having her baby in September 2258 (i.e. in just a few days or weeks), or she is planning to have her baby in September 2259 but hasn’t actually conceived (presumably 23rd Century fertility treatment being extremely reliable).

Later episodes (in Season 4) suggest that Lise’s daughter was born well over a year before late 2261, so either explanation is possibly correct.

Londo’s CG model is clearly not attached to the bridge in the Great Machine when he’s walking over it.

The Hyperion locks onto the alien cruiser and fires a devastating volley that fails to hit it (although this may be down to alien countermeasures rather than being a mistake).

According to Pierce, it will take nine days for the Hyperion to return to “Earthport”. However, later episodes establish it is only a two-day jump from Earth to Babylon 5. It’s possible that the Hyperion took heavier damage than it first appeared and will take a while travelling in normal space from the Io jump gate to Earth.

Behind the Scenes: Straczynski wanted to write an episode that highlighted the idea of service, of someone doing something selfless for another person. The Third Principle of Sentient Life and Draal’s “sacrifice” are overt nods to this (Straczynski’s later series, Sense8, is even more about empathy, sacrifice and co-operation).

A member of the production crew gave Peter Jurasik a California map. In between shots of the shuttle scenes, he’d pull the map out and ask the other actors where they wanted to go.

Michael O’Hare improvised the scene where Sinclair gets his arm caught in his jacked whilst trying to answer his link, as he felt it was a good moment of humanity for the commander.

Janet Greek worked with Jerry Doyle on the scene where Garibaldi tries to make a connection with Lise and it doesn’t pan out. Greek wanted to see more genuine emotion from Garibaldi (who is either serious or uses humour to hide his real emotions) and was also keen to help Doyle grow as an actor. Doyle felt the scene helped humanise Garibaldi a lot more.

Familiar Faces: Michelan Sisti, who plays Takarn, is a specialist in playing roles that involve masks or heavy make-up. He played Michaelangelo in the two 1990s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, the Ferengi Tol in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Bloodlines, and Charlene Sinclair in Dinosaurs. Since 1994 he has been a regular Muppets voice artist and continues in that role.

Ron Canada (Captain Pierce) is a veteran actor, debuting in the 1980s in The Man Who Wasn’t There. He played Judge Orrin Bell in the second season of Murder One and Mayor Lyle on The Strain. He will be a recurring actor on Seth MacFarlane’s upcoming Star Trek spoof, The Orville, playing Admiral Tucker.

Denise Gentile (Lise Hampton) has had a sporadic screen career, with Babylon 5 as her highest-profile role. She has also appeared on Walker, Texas Ranger, Murder, She Wrote, ER and Crossing Jordan.

Review: Like the first part, this is a bit of a silly episode, but for all-out action fun showcasing some (for the time) impressive CGI, it’s still reasonably entertaining and Peter Jurasik relishes his heroic role. If there is a problem, it’s that the whole Great Machine thing feels like an awkward plot element at best (since it means the characters have to constantly now explain why B5 is in danger when it has a super-powerful weapon right underneath it), especially given later changes in the story arc that leave it as an unresolved element. Still, a fun-but-dumb episode with an entertaining turn by guest star Louis Turenne as Draal. ***½

Ivanova (on Pierce): “Worst case of testosterone poisoning I’ve ever seen.”

Londo: “As a young and foolish Centauri, I swore that I would die on my feet doing something noble and brave and futile.”

Londo (as he flies through a storm of laser fire): “Who said the good old days are gone, eh?” (him, frequently)

Londo (as his ship plummets out of the sky): “If I were a landing thruster, which one of these would I be?”

A20: Babylon Squared
Airdates: 10 August 1994 (US), 19 September 1994 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Jim Johnston
Cast: Major Krantz (Kent Broadhurst), Zathras (Tim Choate), Lise Hampton (Denise Gentile), B4 Guard (Frank Costa), Grey Council Member (Mark Hendrickson), Alpha 7 Pilot (Douglas E. McCoy), Panicked Man (Tommy Rosales), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    Babylon 5 starts detecting an unusual energy emission from Sector 14, an area in the same system as B5 but almost three hours away at sublight speeds. A Starfury, Alpha 7, is despatched to investigate further. The pilot reports seeing a huge flash of light but all contact is promptly lost. His ship returns to Babylon 5 on autopilot and the pilot appears to have aged to death. The only clue is “B4”, scratched onto his belt buckle. It is confirmed that the unusual energy and tachyon emissions are coming from the exact place where Babylon 4 disappeared without trace four years ago. Shortly afterwards a distress call is picked up from Babylon 4. Major Krantz, the officer in charge of construction, reports that the station has been engulfed in some sort of strange energy emission. Sinclair decides to take out two shuttles and four Starfuries to investigate and see if Babylon 4 has really reappeared. He and Garibaldi set off, leaving Ivanova in command of the station.

Delenn is summoned to a meeting of the Minbari Grey Council. She rendezvouses with the Minbari flagship warcruiser and is conveyed to a meeting with the Council. Ten cycles have passed since the death of Dukhat and the period of mourning for his loss has been declared at an end. It is time for the Grey Council to select a new leader and Delenn has been chosen. Delenn is shocked and turns down the position, since she is needed on Babylon 5, for that is what the prophecy has ordained. The prophecy is the reason the Minbari stopped the war against Earth and it is the reason Delenn remains on Babylon 5, despite the others’ claims that the prophecy will attend to itself. The other members of the Council are angered at her decision, since no Minbari has ever turned down the position of leader of the Council. Delenn knows she has made a controversial decision, but stands by it. Before she leaves one of the other religious Grey Council gives her a device known as a Triluminary. There are three in total and she will need it for what she is planning.

Sinclair and Garibaldi discover that Babylon 4 has indeed reappeared and begin organising a mass-evacuation. Bizarre things start happening and Sinclair has a “flash-forward” into the future. He and Garibaldi are on board Babylon 5 as the station is boarded by an unknown alien force. The aliens burn through the hull and Garibaldi holds them off with a huge laser cannon, having set the fusion reactor to overload. Sinclair snaps back to the present and Major Krantz tells him they all keep seeing visions of both the past and future. He reports that several anomalies took place before the station vanished, including a blow-out of the sensors and malfunctions in the time-track system. Then the station shifted in time. The other anomaly is that an alien was found before the station disappeared. Sinclair confronts the alien, whose name is Zathras. Zathras seems to recognise Sinclair, but then dismisses him as ‘not the One’. Zathras says that Babylon 4 is being hijacked to serve as a base of operations in a great war against the forces of darkness. A humanoid figure in a blue spacesuit materialises outside in the corridor, but appears to be in distress. Sinclair tries to touch it, but an energy discharge blasts him across the corridor. In the confusion Zathras gives a device to the figure, who vanishes. Zathras says the device was his time stabiliser, used to “anchor” him in time.

Garibaldi has a flashback to when he left Mars and his girlfriend, Lise Hampton (last seen in A19). Babylon 4 is beginning to shift in time towards its final destination but the evacuation is not yet complete. Sinclair and Garibaldi get on board the last shuttle as it departs, but are forced to leave Zathras behind after he is pinned down by a falling column. Sinclair’s shuttle departs and Babylon 4 vanishes again through time. The blue figure, “The One”, rescues Zathras. The figure (or another just like him) later removes his helmet and is revealed to be Sinclair, twenty years older. He tells an unseen accomplice that he tried to warn them, but failed. The unseen accomplice, who sounds exactly like Delenn, tells him she understands.

The present Sinclair returns to Babylon 5 and tells Ivanova that he relishes a good mystery. He suspects that Babylon 4 will turn up again one day, and with it will come the answers.

The Arc: Babylon 4 didn’t just inexplicably vanish in 2254, it was actually stolen by an unknown faction from another time to serve as a base of operations against an unknown opponent in a great war. The time rift through which Babylon 4 vanished turns up again in episode B16 and we see the “flipside” of events in this episode in C16-C17.

We later discover that Sinclair’s flash-forward to the fall of Babylon 5 is linked to the Lady Ladira’s vision (which he was allowed to share) in episode A13. This possible future is seen in more detail in episode C17.

The Minbari stopped the war against Earth because of prophecy and Delenn was assigned to Babylon 5 to make sure the prophecy was correct (this is presumably linked to her keeping an eye on Sinclair). We find out the exact circumstances about the surrender in B1 and learn more about the prophecy in that episode, B17, C16-C17, D9 and TVM1.

We discover one of the purposes of the Triluminary in episode A22. Episode A17 suggests it can also be used to completely immobilise people.

The Minbari Grey Council reappear in B11, when Delenn has to face the consequences of her actions in this episode and A22.

Lise Hampton vanishes from the plot for quite a long time, but eventually turns up again in episode D12.

The unnamed chairperson of the Grey Council in this episode – the religious caste member who gives Delenn the Triluminary – is almost certainly Jenimer. DC2-4 confirm that Jenimer is picked as the Grey Council leader in Delenn’s stead and NOV9 confirms he passes away (from natural causes) a year or so into the role. This explains why the Grey Council still doesn’t have a leader during the events of Season 4, three years after this episode.

Garibaldi had only met Sinclair twice before going to Babylon 5. We see this first meeting in comics DC5-8.

Background: A Minbari year is called a cycle. It is equal to approximately 1.3 human years (10 cycles equal 13 human years). This is based on Dukhat’s death taking place in July 2245 (as we learn in episode C11) and this episode taking place in the latter part (probably between late October and early December) of 2258.

According to JMS, Babylons 1-4 all shared exactly the same design (although TVM1 does somewhat contradict this) and were all much larger than Babylon 5, with B4 weighing in at almost twice the size (Zathras confirms that B4 was the “biggest of all the Babylon stations”). The first three stations were destroyed in the early stages of construction and the wreckage could be salvaged to help rebuild. When Babylon 4 vanished, the construction effort had to begin again from scratch, with a much-reduced budget and relying on co-funding from the other races. That is why Babylon 5 is so much smaller than the other stations. Despite its greater overall size Babylon 4’s forward command sections are identical to Babylon 5’s and have the same layout. For security purposes Babylon 4 was built in open space and would either be left there in orbit around Epsilon Eridani, or maneuverered into orbit around Epsilon III later: B4, unlike B5, has large engines allowing it to move if needed. Episodes C16-C17 reveal that the station also has a rear-mounted docking bay (as well as the forward one identical to B5’s).

Sinclair spent three years being taught by Jesuit priests.

At the moment B4 vanished, there were between 1,200 and 1,300 construction personnel still on board. This wasn’t everyone involved in the effort, however, as episode A15 confirmed that many construction personnel had already left.

On Zathras’s world, it is the year 4993. Episodes C16-C17 suggest where this calendar came from.

References: This wasn’t entirely intentional, but the spacesuit worn by “The One” is actually a Russian cosmonaut costume from the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact, based on a novel by Arthur C. Clarke (one of J. Michael Straczynski’s favourite SF novelists). Oddly, there would be a more overt reference to 2010 in episode B1, with the Earthforce Omega-class destroyers clearly based on the spacecraft Alexei Leonov from that movie.

The ID code for Babylon 4 is Elvis Presley’s birthday, a tip of the hat from one of the CG animators. Straczynski was irritated by this when he found out.

The real-life legend of the Flying Dutchman is mentioned several times. According to legend, the ship was trying to sail around the Cope of Good Hope and foundered in a storm. In some versions of the legend, the boat is cursed to sail the seven seas forever and never find its home port again.

Garibaldi’s last stand in the flash-forwards was a homage to the “last man on the bridge” trope extremely common from war movies, as well as Gandalf’s last stand on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm from The Lord of the Rings.

Unanswered Questions: If the Minbari Grey Council chairman isn’t Jenimer, then who is he and what happened to him?

What happened to Major Krantz and the other B4 personnel? Did they have trouble adjusting back to life at home again?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Delenn receives the Triluminary in this episode, but it was previously used in episode A17 to help her followers steal Branmer’s body. This is because originally A17 was supposed to air after this episode, but they were flipped because this episode had more visual effects requirements.

On this episode’s original release, Garibaldi’s eyes can be seen glowing red briefly during the flash-forwards combat scene. This is because the animator doing the massive PPG minigun shots got bored and coloured them in for a laugh. He forgot to delete the frame afterwards. This goof was fixed for later repeats and the VHS and DVD releases.

Why did Alpha 7 scratch “B4” into his belt buckle rather than use a voice recorder, radio B5 or type something into his console? This seems unnecessarily dramatic and time-consuming.

At one point, Krantz says “Ship’s damaged,” rather than “Station’s damaged.” But he is under a lot of stress.

When Zathras is looking for a way to escape, he is only caught because he can’t run into the matte painting of the central corridor in the back of the shot! This makes sense production-wise, but not from Zathras’s point-of-view.

In episode A4 Garibaldi says that Sinclair was his friend a lot longer than his commanding officer, but this episode and DC5-8 show this wasn’t really true.

Babylon 5 makes an uncharacteristic Star Trek mistake here, by showing the stars visibly moving outside the shuttle even though it’s travelling far below the speed of light.

Given the low speed and fuel capacity of the shuttles and Starfuries, “three hours away in normal space” is still going to be pretty close to Epsilon III, and the planet should still be visible in the distance, but it isn’t.

Behind the Scenes: The B4 sets (a cargo bay and one of the central corridors) were the traditional B5 ones with changed signage and a different lighting scheme.

The actor playing the Grey Council chairman – probably Jenimer – is not credited. This was down to the actor’s choice, according to Straczynski. The original plan was for him to return later on, but ultimately he declined to do so.

Straczynski had to block out the “other half” of this episode when he was writing this one, so when he got to the “other story” years later it would make sense. Unfortunately, between the making of this episode and the “other half” of the story, the story arc itself would radically change and there would be major cast changes meaning that the two halves don’t hang together entirely organically, although Straczynski gave it a hell of a shot.

Jerry Doyle had fun filming the scenes at the end of the episode when B4 starts “going down”, but got a bit irate with how enthusiastically the stage hands were throwing debris around, so started throwing stuff back at them.

During the flash-forwards scene, Garibaldi was written as just letting out a primal yell as he opens fire with his PPG minigun. During shooting, Doyle and the director decided this wasn’t working so improvised some tough guy lines, which came out sounding a bit like Aliens. Straczynski was not keen on this when it happened.

Director Joe Johnston had already seen the scripts for episodes A13 and A22 and guessed that the station was being invaded by the Shadows, so filmed some sequences showing disturbing shadows being cast on the walls during the fight. Straczynski had these taken out, because at this stage in the planning of the arc, that’s not what was going on.

Ron Thornton was not entirely happy with how his design for the B5 station turned out, feeling it was rushed due to the constantly changing requirements and compressed pre-production time. He spent a lot more time on Babylon 4 and was much happier with how it turned out.

Familiar Faces: Tim Choate (Zathras) began his career in Hollywood in 1979. He appeared in numerous films and TV shows (including Jake and the Fatman, Highway to Heaven and Cagney and Lacey) before getting the role of Zathras on Babylon 5. He impressed J. Michael Straczynski so much that Straczynski brought the character (and his brothers!) back several times, and also cast him on Crusade. Tim Choate sadly passed away in 2004 at the age of just 49.

Kent Broadhurst (Major Krantz) had a similar career trajectory, beginning his career in TV shows in the early 1980s. He also worked extensively in theatre and worked as a playwright. His most recent TV credit was in 2011 on Person of Interest.

Review: An extremely good episode, one of the best of the first season. It has some of Straczynski’s better gags, Babylon 4 is a tremendous piece of CGI design and the tension and mystery is very well-handled. Tim Choate also gives a superb, bizarre performance as Zathras. As usual, some production issues (the painfully obvious re-use of existing sets) and occasional ripe lines of dialogue let the side down, but this is really the first episode of Babylon 5 to show the true possibilities of “holographic” storytelling, with a story that works well by itself and even better when rewatched with knowledge of later events. ****

Delenn (about humans): “They are better than they think, and nobler than they know.”

Zathras: “You take, Zathras die. You leave, Zathras die. Either way, it is bad for Zathras.”

Zathras (to Sinclair): “You have a destiny.”

Sinclair (from the future): “I tried to warn them but it all happened, just the way I remember it.”

Jenimer (probably): “We are surrounded by signs and portents and I feel a darkness pressing at our back.”

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy series is debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read it there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

1 comment:

Erik said...

Hmm... this is speculative, but there's a chance that Major Krantz in "Babylon Squared" is a reference to Gene Kranz (no "t"), the NASA flight director, who was played by Ed Harris in Apollo 13. He is a supervising engineer-type.