Wednesday, 23 August 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 3-4

B3: The Geometry of Shadows
Airdates: 16 November 1994 (US), 21 February 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Michael Laurence Vejar
Cast: Elric (Michael Ansara), Lord Refa (William Forward), Sergeant Lou Welch (David L. Crowley), Green Drazi 1 (Kim Strauss), Green Drazi 2 (Jonathan Chapman), Purple Drazi (Neil Bradley), Guard (Warren Tabata), Station One (Joshua Cox)

Plot:    A Centauri nobleman, Lord Refa, arrives on Babylon 5 from Centauri Prime for talks with Londo. Refa represents a faction of Centauri who feel, like Londo, that the Centauri have lost their way in recent decades and are now sliding into the abyss instead of reaching out to reclaim the stars. Refa offers Londo an alliance between their noble houses and others who feel the same way. Londo knows that Refa merely wants to attach himself to whatever allies Londo has used to destroy the Narn base in Quadrant 37, but agrees anyway. After Refa leaves Londo sees a group of three humans arriving. He recognises them immediately as techno-mages, a society with members from different races who use technology to achieve the effects of magic. They very rarely appear. Londo recalls that the first Emperor of the Centauri Republic got approval for his actions from a techno-mage before founding the empire and decides to win the approval of the techno-mages in endorsing his new alliance. Elric, the leader of the techno-mages, is uninterested and when Londo tries to trick him into making it appear he is approving of Londo, becomes angry and inconveniences Londo by making Narn opera blast into his quarters.

Sheridan has important news for Ivanova: she is to receive a promotion to full Commander. Sheridan has decided to train her in diplomacy and assigns her to deal with a problem among the Drazi. Once every five years the Drazi divide into two randomly-chosen factions, green and purple, and fight one another. The faction which wins becomes the governing force of the Drazi Freehold for the next five years. It is an anarchic situation and impossible to resolve without the use of force. Ivanova, after getting her leg broken in a fight between several Drazi, becomes frustrated at how to resolve the situation. She confronts the green Drazi, but they imprison her and use her comlink to arrange a fake meeting with the purple Drazi in a cargo bay. When they turn up the green Drazi will blast the purples out into space, thus securing command of the Drazi population on Babylon 5.

Sheridan pays a call on Garibaldi, who has not yet returned to duty. Garibaldi is suffering from a crisis of confidence after he failed to notice his own second was a traitor and spy. He notices something odd when Ivanova remotely uplinks some orders to the security office instead of directly talking to acting security chief Welch. Garibaldi investigates, rescues Ivanova and together they confront the greens again. They tell them they have locked the purples in the cargo hold and will hold them there a week, until the time of fighting is over. That way the Drazi will cause no further trouble on the station. The green leader points out their mistake: the contest lasts for a Drazi year, not a week. Annoyed, Ivanova rips off the green leader’s sash and is informed this means she is now green leader (the change of law to ban aliens from the contest has been caught up in a committee on the Drazi homeworld and hasn’t gone through yet). Ivanova orders the entire green faction to switch sides to the purple and they comply, ending the crisis. His confidence restored, Garibaldi returns to duty.

Sheridan has a meeting with Elric after discovering there are more than 100 techno-mages on board Babylon 5. Elric says that they are passing beyond the Galactic Rim for a while. Something terrible is about to engulf the Galaxy and they will not let their knowledge or technology be used for evil. Sheridan allows them to depart. Before they go, Elric agrees to see Londo. He tells him that Londo himself is standing at the centre of the darkness that is coming. He sees a great hand reaching out of the stars and the sounds of billions of people calling Londo’s name: his victims. Elric departs, leaving Londo to consider his words.


The Arc: The techno-mages eventually turn up again in TVM4. They have a larger role to play in the spin-off series Crusade and their society is described in greater detail in NOV16-NOV18. Londo sees part of Elric’s prophecy himself in a dream in episode B9.

Elric tells Londo that he will spend the rest of his life paying for his mistakes. Although true from a philosophical point of view, it’s also true from a literal one, extending all the way to episdoes C17 and E22.

Book NOV17 shows the flipside of events in this episode, featuring the techno-mages’ true motives for leaving, what they are actually doing on Babylon 5, and featuring a confrontation between Elric and Morden.

Ivanova’s actions in this episode win her the respect of the Drazi and she ends up getting invited to a Drazi party in Season 4.

Refa returns in episodes B9, B20, C11 and C20. He mentions in this episode that the Centauri Emperor’s son has recently died, plunging the Emperor into grief. According to Straczynski, the Emperor’s son died in a boating accident, drowning in a lake. The guard assigned to protect him committed suicide out of distress a few days later. “But there are always stories…”

Background: It is extremely unusual to see more than one or two techno-mages at any one time and considered bad luck if three or more are around. Although all the techno-mages we see in this episode are human, most are alien since they have been around for centuries at least.

The first Emperor of the Centauri Republic gained the blessing of three techno-mages before claiming the throne. Episode E17 and NOV16 reveal that the Centauri Republic predates the techno-mages by some 1,000 years, indicating that it was the first Emperor of the interstellar Centauri Republic who actually gained their blessing. NOV17 sets this straight: the first Centauri civilisation was called the Centauri Empire. After defeating the Xon 1,000 years ago (A5), the Emperor reorganised the Empire as a grand Republic and sought the blessings of the techno-mages. He received such a blessing, but the techno-mages in question were renegades searching for a place of power and influence.

The Drazi are an aggressive species who enjoy combat and fighting, something that is borne out by later episodes.

There are around 4,000 Drazi living on Babylon 5 at any one time. A Drazi week is six Earth days. A Drazi year – a cycle – is 1.2 Earth years long.

References: Elric is named after Michael Moorcock’s infamous albino warrior, one of the many incarnations of his Eternal Champion character. When asked about the use of the name, Moorcock replied:
"I don't mind, since the Elric reference is clearly straight homage, and I'd do the same myself in the circumstances. It stops a long way short of being plagiarism, which I tend to pursue with my big black sword! Also, when you've been around as long as I have and done as much work, you have to get used to your ideas becoming standard generic tropes. It means I have to work harder all the time, of course, to come up with stuff which no longer uses tropes I regard as my own (law, chaos, balance, say -- the multiverse, as such, and so on) and this is probably good for me, too!"

“Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger,” is a quotation from The Lord of the Rings, where it is uttered twice, the first by Gildor to Frodo. There is some irony in giving a line from Tolkien to a character named in tribute to Moorcock, as Moorcock despised Tolkien’s work.

The techo-mages were inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s maxim that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

Unanswered Questions: What are the fourteen words to make someone fall in love with you?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: The Drazi apparently use Ivanova’s link to send a fake message, which we know from episode C7 should not be possible. However, the first message was sent before the Drazi captured Ivanova’s link, so they might have just been using the station’s communication systems.

A Minbari flyer appears to vanish just before it docks with the station, apparently an error caused by the flyer disappearing altogether rather than passing into shadow.

The cropping of the CGI on the widescreen edition of the series sees a large chunk of the impressive establishing view of Sheridan’s office disappear.

Garibaldi says that Ivanova has been aboard Babylon 5 for two years, when it’s just over one.

Claudia Christian resting her broken foot behind the scenes.

Behind the Scenes: Just as filming began on the episode, Claudia Christian broke her foot whilst chasing a bird around her garden. Straczynski quickly rewrote the episode to incorporate her injury as a plot point. This also required Garibaldi’s intervention to help save her, since originally Ivanova had escaped the green Drazi by herself but her injury made this implausible. This did neatly link up Garibaldi’s storyline with the main narrative.

The title refers to the techno-mages: “geometry” referring to their mastery of technology through mathematics and “shadows” indicating something mysterious or unusual.

This was Peter Jurasik’s favourite episode for a while, as it showed Londo moving from comedy to political drama to tragedy.

The scene where Garibaldi is playing with his PPG in his quarters resulted in a disagreement between writer and actor: Straczynski believes it was possible that Garibaldi was indeed contemplating suicide, whilst Jerry Doyle was more adamant that he wasn’t. Bruce Boxleitner improved a concerned look when Sheridan arrived in the quarters which Doyle wasn’t expecting and led to the consideration that even if Garibaldi wasn’t contemplating suicide, Sheridan thought he might be, resulting in a different shading to the scene.

The arbitrary nature of the conflict between the purple and green Drazi was inspired in part by Straczynski’s talks with Mira Furlan over the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and how labels (religious and/or ethnic) are used to justify neighbours suddenly killing one another after living alongside one another in peace for decades.

Turhan Bey auditioned for the role of Elric but was turned down due to “being too nice”. Straczynski kept him in mind and cast him instead in episode B9 as the Centauri Emperor.

The Drazi prosthetics were redesigned in this episode, with ridges added to the headpieces. “Smooth-headed” Drazis from Season 1 continued to appear in later episodes, so the producers could maximise their use of prosthetics and budget.

By the time of this episode, the producers had created the “Alien Rep Group”, a group of actors comfortable in heavy prosthetics who had full head casts taken and could be rotated through different races (Minbari, Drazi, Markab etc) to provide a reliable group of mid-level actors who could play many different roles. Kim Strauss, Jonathan Chapman, Neil Bradley and Mark Hendrickson are among this group.

Some fans believed that the techno-mages were a nod at the Shadowrun roleplaying game, but Straczynski had never heard of the game before.

This is the first episode directed by Mike Laurence Vejar, who later became one of the show’s most prolific directors after Straczynski found he interpreted his scripts in a manner very close to Straczynski’s own view.

The opening title sequence is tweaked in this episode to show the new-look Delenn.

Familiar Faces: Michael Ansara (1922-2013) was a giant of American television, starring in Broken Arrow, Law of the Plainsman, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and, most memorably to SF fans, in three different Star Trek series as the Klingon warrior Kang.

Review: This is a great episode, working with comedy, science fiction ideas and some great character stuff, even if the satire on politics through the Drazi is a little simplistic. But both guest stars and our recurring cast give stupendous performances and it’s good to see Jerry Doyle being given quite a subtle dilemma to play on and doing a reasonable job of it. ****

Ivanova: “You can start by helping me to understand the precise nature of the conflict between the two sides that you’ve set up.”
Purple Drazi: “Green.”
Green Drazi: “Purple.”

Green Drazi: “Rules of combat older than contact with other races; did not mention aliens. Rules change caught up in committee, not gone through yet.”

Elric: “We know many things.”
Sheridan: “Such as?”
Elric: “The true secrets, the important things. Fourteen words to make someone fall in love with you, seven words to make them go without pain. How to say goodbye to a friend who is dying. How to poor, how to be rich. How to rediscover dreams when the world has stolen them from you.”

Elric: “As I look at you, Ambassador Mollari, I see a great a hand reaching out of the stars. The hand is your hand and I hear sounds. The sounds of billions of people calling your name.”
Londo: “My followers?”
Elric: “Your victims.”

A rare HD version of Babylon 5's CG work. The Babylon 5 and Cortez models are actually the original models from 1994, simply re-rendered in HD, with a new planet and nebula in the background.

B4: A Distant Star
Airdates: 23 November 1994 (US), 28 February 1995 (UK)
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by Jim Johnston
Cast: Captain Jack Maynard (Russ Tamblyn), Lt. Patrick (Daniel Beer), Lt. Ray Galus (Art Kimbro), Orwell (Miguel A. Nunez, Jr.), Lt. Ogilvie (Patty Toy), Comtech (Kim Delgado), Deronn (Sandey Grinn), Station One (Joshua Cox)

Plot:    The colossal Explorer-class starship Cortez arrives at Babylon 5 for resupply following a five-year stint out on the Galactic Rim, building new jumpgates to allow the expansion of both Earth and other races. The Cortez’s captain is Jack Maynard, Sheridan’s commanding officer when he served on the Moon-Mars patrol route many years ago. Sheridan is concerned that Maynard has achieved the ambition Sheridan used to have, exploring remote systems and living on the frontier. He realises that his role on Babylon 5 is turning him into a paper-pushing bureaucrat and wonders if he is willing to settle for that.

A delegation from the Minbari population on the station confronts Delenn. They are confused about her recent transformation (A22-B2) and ask that if she is no longer wholly Minbari, how can they continue to respect and follow her as the leader of the Minbari on the station. Delenn initially tries to reason with them, but is finally forced to accept their request to petition the Grey Council for guidance.

Maynard joins Sheridan, Franklin, Ivanova and fighter pilots Lt. Commander Ray Galus and Lt. Warren Keffer for dinner and tells them that some very odd things can happen, both in hyperspace and out on the Rim. Sheridan thinks he is just telling stories for the sake of it, but Maynard later confides that he once saw a huge ship, totally jet black, flying past out on the Rim. By the time he thought to activate his cameras, it had vanished. It was the scariest thing he ever saw and it still gives him the shivers today. Sheridan tells him that someone else recently claimed something odd was going on along the Galactic Rim (G’Kar in B2), but Maynard doesn’t know any more. The Cortez departs and jumps to hyperspace, returning to the Rim to continue its mission.

Dr. Franklin is using Garibaldi and Ivanova’s recent injuries (A22, B3) as an excuse to put the senior staff all through a physical. He determines none of them are eating healthily and draws up diet plans. Sheridan, Garibaldi and Ivanova try to get around it, but Franklin is watching them like a hawk to ensure their compliance. Garibaldi smuggles some high-cholesterol food on board past Franklin, but Franklin finds out what he is up to. Garibaldi tells him it’s his birthday and he always makes a certain meal to honour his father, who made the same meal. Franklin gives in, on the condition Garibaldi lets him join him for dinner.

The Cortez suffers a massive power failure whilst in hyperspace. The fusion reactor goes off-line, preventing the ship from jumping back to normal space, and reserve power is insufficient to fire the engines and keep them from being swept off-course. They send an SOS to Babylon 5 and Sheridan assembles a rescue mission. Babylon 5’s Zeta Wing of Starfuries will form a chain extending into hyperspace, each fighter moving to the limit of the others’ sensor range whilst the last fighter keeps a check on the position of the jump gate. That way they can extend several thousand kilometres into hyperspace to find the Cortez’s last known position. The plan succeeds, but just as Lt. Keffer and Lt. Commander Galus are about to make contact with the Cortez, a Shadow vessel jumps into hyperspace on top of them. Galus’ ship explodes and Keffer’s is severely damaged. He manages to fire his guns in the direction of the jump gate and the Cortez escapes back to Babylon 5. The auto-repair systems reactivate Keffer’s engines but he is too far away to get a lock on the jump gate. Another Shadow ship flies past and by comparing the courses of the two ships, assuming they are going to the same place, he is able to work out the way back to the jump gate and return to Babylon 5.

Back on the station Keffer is promoted to squadron leader for Zeta Wing. He tells the others about the alien ships. The only clue he got about them was that they were on a hyperspace vector like nothing he had seen before. They were going a long way to remote parts of the Galaxy. He resolves to find out who they are and what they want. Sheridan has a talk with Ambassador Delenn and she tells him everyone is in the right place to do what must be done with their lives. Feeling strangely better, he decides to remain on Babylon 5.

The Arc: Morden’s associates, the Shadows, are clearly being very busy, hurtling around hyperspace like nobody’s business. Keffer’s quest to find out who they are is mentioned in B18 and resolved in episode B22. We ourselves learn more about them in episode B17.

Keffer mentions reading an article “a few months ago” in Universe Today about how some sort of alien race might be living in hyperspace. We saw this article being read by Mr. Garibaldi in episode A8 (the same one which mentions the Psi Corps/Vice-President Clark scandal).

The Minbari suspicion of Delenn following her transformation continues in episodes B11 and B14, whilst the general human point of view about her change is revealed in episode B15.

Background: The Cortez (registry number C-199) is an Explorer-class starship. Although run by Earthforce and sporting some weapons for close defence, it is not a warship. It is designed to be self-sufficient for years at a time and is designed to explore deep space and build jump gates from scratch.

Earthforce only has a few Explorer-class ships and they are rarely seen within Earth Alliance space, spending most of their time in unclaimed, neutral territory far beyond the Alliance’s borders. They are miles long, with the Cortez almost rivalling B5 itself for length (but certainly not for breadth or height, and has considerably less populated space).

Hyperspace is a dimension considerably smaller than our own but simultaneously interphasing with it at every point. There are strange dimensional eddies and currents in hyperspace which can sweep a ship off course easily, unless they have a jump gate beacon they can lock onto.

We learn that although Sheridan, unlike Sinclair, was mainly an officer aboard warships during the Earth-Minbari War, he started his career as a fighter pilot on the Moon-Mars run before the war.

Delenn, and as we later find out G’Kar, are not only ambassadors but also the de facto leaders of their respective populations on board Babylon 5.

The key Minbari religious belief is that the universe is attempting to comprehend itself, and sentient life is part of that understanding. This philosophical viewpoint, rather than a belief in gods or the supernatural, becomes the central Minbari belief from this point forwards (earlier episodes mentioned gods, suggesting that the Minbari religious belief was more traditional, but this is retconned from this point on).

Sector 900, recently mapped by the Cortez, is located on the Rim.

The term “Rim” can refer to either the Galactic Rim, the physical edge of our galaxy, located 20,000 light-years further out from the core than Earth (and the entire galactic neighbourhood where most of Babylon 5 takes place), or the Rim of Explored Space, which expands outwards as ships and races investigate new territory, build more jump gates and expand the frontier outwards.

There are Earth Alliance jump gates in the Euphrates system.

References: The Cortez is, presumably, named for the Spanish conquistador who destroyed the Aztec Empire and conquered Mexico.

The “Egyptian” blessing, “God be between you and harm, in all the empty places where you must walk”, is actually from a Harlan Ellison short story, “Paladin of the Lost Hour”.

Delenn’s “starstuff” speech may be a nod at Carl Sagan’s documentary series Cosmos, which uses similar wording.

Unanswered Questions: Are there planets or analogues in hyperspace? Given that the other races have only been able to explore tiny parts of it, it may be possible.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: The Cortez’s fusion reactor accident presumably knocks out the jump drive, preventing it from jumping to normal space, but no-one mentions this in dialogue.

Garibaldi sentences the shoplifter to community service, but it feels like this should be a job for the Ombuds. Perhaps with minor offences, Station Security has some discretionary power?

The by-now-annoying cropping of the CG shots on the widescreen version of the episode mean that the shot of the Starfury flying under the Cortez is almost entirely lost.

The jump drive appears to have a SPOF (single point of failure) design flaw, which is a huge problem in a ship which is supposed to operate autonomously for half a decade at a time. This could be averted by the ship having a backup fusion generator.

Behind the Scenes: Straczynski wrote a very simple outline for the episode: “a ship gets lost in hyperspace and our heroes have to work out how to get it back.” Dorothy Fontana noted that this was not very detailed and started developing a lot of her own ideas for the script.

Straczynski wanted to push the button on how hyperspace actually worked in the Babylon 5 universe and introduced a lot of concepts built on in later episodes.

Bagna cauda is a firm favourite dish of the Fontana family.

Mira Furlan sympathised with Delenn feeling outcast from her own people, having herself fled the ethnic violence in the former Yugoslavia and no longer sure what to call herself or where to call home.

The opening title sequence is tweaked again, this time to reflect Ivanova’s promotion to Commander and also features a re-vamped narration by Bruce Boxleitner, read out by him whilst he could see the visuals, so the timing and synchronisation is improved. The space worker’s faceplate was also improved.

Straczynski asked for the accident on the Cortez not to be too big and over the top (possibly after the constantly-mocked inexplicably exploding consoles on Star Trek: The Next Generation), but felt the director still overdid it with some odd gouts of flame shooting out of the computers.

Familiar Faces: Russ Tamblyn is a familiar Hollywood figure with a formidable credits list, debuting in The Boy with Green Hair in 1948, at the age of just 14. He achieved a breakout role in the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), Tom Thumb (1958) and West Side Story (1961). His more recent film roles include Drive, Django Unchained and Hits. In television, his most famous role is as Dr. Lawrence Jacoby in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks; he reprised this role in the 2017 reboot of the series, making him a working actor across eight separate decades.

Review: There’s a cool disaster movie plot in this episode, but our lack of understanding of how hyperspace works (at this point) makes the stakes a bit opaque. The episode is a busy one, packing in lots of character stuff for Keffer, Delenn and Sheridan, but whilst this makes for a fast-moving episode it does come at the expense of tension in the Cortez rescue story. Also, Russ Tamblyn, possibly the most experienced actor to appear on B5 at this point, gives an oddly variable performance throughout the episode. ***½

Ivanova: “All my life I have fought against imperialism. Now, suddenly, I am the expanding Russian frontier.”
Franklin: But with very nice borders.”

Sheridan: “If the primates that we came from had known that someday politicians would come out of the gene pool, they’d have stayed up in the trees and written evolution off as a bad idea. Hell, I always thought the opposable thumb was overrated.”

Delenn: “We are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out.”

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Erik said...

Wow, where did that HD shot come from?

After weeks of cropped SD shots, that looks so good I want to cry. Now I'm dying to have all the space shots redone in HD widescreen. What do we have to do to make this happen?

Adam Whitehead said...

From the B5 Scrolls website and their Facebook page.