Wednesday, 11 October 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 13-14


B13: Hunter, Prey
Airdates: 1 March 1995 (US), 2 May 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Menachem Binetski
Cast: Derek Cranston (Bernie Casey), Security Aide Zack Allan (Jeff Conaway), Sarah (Wanda de Jesus), Dr. Everett Jacobs (Tony Steedman), Max (Richard Moll), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Lurker (Damon C. Reiser), Aide (Debby Shiveley), Merchant (Robert Silver), Guard (Bryan Michael McGuire), Station One (Joshua Cox)

Date: July or August 2259.

Plot:    An Earthforce security agent, Derek Cranston, arrives on Babylon 5 alongside his team. Dr. Everett Jacobs, former the personal physician to President Clark, has gone AWOL with sensitive information which could damage the Earth Alliance. It is thought he is coming to Babylon 5, presumably to pass this information onto one of the alien governments. However, Sheridan is contacted by an agent of General Hague’s who tells him that they helped Jacobs escape from Earth. He has evidence proving that Clark didn’t really have the ‘flu when he got off Earthforce One at Mars, evidence that could help indict Clark when the time comes. Sheridan is ordered to find Jacobs and make sure Cranston doesn’t get hold of him. This task isn’t made any easier because Jacobs has an implanted beacon like all Earthdome personnel so he can be located in a hurry, although it will take some time before Babylon 5’s sensors can be adjusted to look for the signal. Sheridan despatches Garibaldi and Franklin into Downbelow to find Jacobs.

Ambassador Kosh speaks to Sheridan, confirming Sheridan’s guess that Kosh telepathically communicated with him during his recent trials aboard the Streib warship (B11). Sheridan wants to learn more about the Vorlons, but Kosh isn’t impressed by Sheridan’s attempts to interpret his obscure sayings. He decides to take Sheridan under his wing to prepare him for what lies ahead.

Jacobs is captured by two Downbelow criminals who plan to give him over to Earthforce in return for a fee, but Garibaldi and Franklin rescue him. They hide him in Franklin’s quarters but it is a temporary measure at best. Worse, Cranston has discovered that Babylon 5’s massive external sensor arrays can be recalibrated to scan the interior of the station for energy emissions (as in episodes PM and B6), such as that given out by the implant. Sheridan and Ivanova begin, slowly, reconfiguring the sensors. Ambassador Kosh’s ship leaves the station, though Cranston demands that it be scanned as well, despite the extreme unlikelihood of the Vorlons harbouring an Earth criminal. No trace of Jacobs can be found and Cranston leaves the station, puzzled. The Vorlon transport returns and Jacobs is deposited out of the ship, where he has been hidden in a comatose state. Despite his unconscious state he is sure the ship ‘sang’ to him in his sleep. Jacobs leaves the station for a safehaven prepared by Hague, but Sheridan is told that this is merely the start of the fight back. They need a lot more evidence to convince a tribunal of Clark’s guilt.


Dating the Episode: It’s been “a few weeks” since the events of episode B11.

The Arc: The Vorlons, as previously hinted (in episode A4), use organic technology, growing their ships rather than building them. Kosh’s ship is alive on some level that humans can’t understand. Vorlon ships are immune to both telepathic and standard scans.

Jacobs knew that Clark wasn’t ill when he disembarked Earthforce One at Mars (in A22). His evidence by itself is insufficient to implicate Clark in Santiago’s death, but it is a start. We hear about his evidence again in episode C8.

Kosh is going to train Sheridan for the path that lies ahead. We see some of this in episodes B14, B17, B21, B22 and C15.

Sheridan asks Kosh, “What do you want?”, sparking a furious response from Kosh. This is a nod at episode A13, where “What do you want?” is the question that Morden asks the ambassadors to find out if they are worthy of becoming allies of the Shadows.

Garibaldi mentions that Dr. Franklin’s track record with vouching for former teachers and mentors has not always worked out so well, nodding at the events of episode A4.

Cranston reminds the crew that they have twice before used the station’s external scanners to scan the interior of the station for power sources. This is a reference to PM and B6.

Background: All Earthdome personnel are injected with implants so they can be located in the event of accident or hostage-taking.

Vorlon ships are alive, possibly even conscious, aware and telepathic. They can prevent unauthorised personnel from approaching their ship by using an arm equipped with an energy weapon which extends from the hull. Vorlon ships can “talk” to people by spelling out words on the hull. As these phrases are in the Vorlon language, which non-Vorlons can’t understand, this doesn’t help much.

Sheridan speculates that Vorlon technology is 1,000 years more advanced than Earth’s.

Pak’ma’ra can see into the ultraviolet spectrum.

“Extreme sanction” is an Earthforce euphemism meaning that lethal force has been authorised against a civilian without arrest and trial. It can only be invoked for treason.

References: Kosh’s ship “singing” led some fans to speculate that this was a nod at Anne McCaffrey’s novel The Ship Which Sang. Straczynski had heard of the book but this was not intended as an actual reference to that novel.

Unanswered Questions: Did Dr. Jacobs experience any long-lasting effects from his connection with the Vorlons, as Lyta Alexander did?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Earthdome personnel having location implant so they can be located easily in case of kidnapping makes sense. Them being incredibly short-range so you have to close enough to the person for the implant to work…does not.

Sheridan shines a torch to attract Sarah’s attention. A few seconds were cut in which Sarah would have responded to Sheridan’s torch with her own flash. In the finished scene she now has a torch which she inexplicably leaves behind at the end of the scene.

Sarah also leaves behind her bug-scrambling device in Downbelow. Sheridan talks openly with Ivanova about the situation in his office, suggesting he’s permanently set up such a device there.

Sarah’s method for telling Sheridan to meet up – tying a red ribbon to a column support in a busy public area – seems rather flawed.

Garibaldi’s “secret” message to Franklin (drawing text balloons on a video transmission with what appears to be Microsoft Paint) is also rather hilariously flawed and easily detectable.

The so-called area of “Downtown” is located between Grey and Blue sectors. However, most maps of Babylon 5 (and there are several conflicting ones) show Grey and Blue sectors being separated from one another by Green and Brown sectors.

During the station scan, the screen legend reads “Dr. Evert Jacoby” in error.

Behind the Scenes: J. Michael Straczynski liked the idea of the advanced starships in Babylon 5 – the Vorlon and Shadow ships – being alive in a literal sense, a natural evolution of the romanticised anthropological attributes given to ships by sailors and writers.

Richard Biggs appreciated getting out of Medlab and playing Franklin as being out of his depth in Downbelow, an idea the show would revisit on several later occasions (but most notably episode C21).

Jerry Doyle thought it was silly that Garibaldi would get caught by surprise and stabbed despite tooling up with a silly number of guns before heading into Downbelow, but the director blocked the stabbing so it made sense that Garibaldi would be caught by surprise.

Straczynski wrote the well-regarded conversation between Franklin and Garibaldi about the future, partially inspired by a conversation he’d had with Biggs about middle age and losing the sense of wonder that children have. Jerry Doyle also found the scene memorable, but only because he couldn’t get the candy he was supposed to be eating out of its wrapper without it being distracting.

Familiar Faces: Bernie Casey (Derek Cranston) was a professional American football player from the late 1950s to the end of the 1960s. He switched to acting in the early 1970s. He played Felix Leiter in Never Say Never Again and also starred in the TV mini-series based on Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, one of Straczynski’s favourite books. He also played Cal Hudson in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine two-parter The Maquis. S familiar face from American television and film, he died in September 2017 from complications following a stroke.

Tony Steedman (Dr. Jacobs) is a well-known British actor who also had a reasonable career in Hollywood. He played the titular character’s father in the 1970s sitcom Citizen Smith and Socrates in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He also appeared in Scrooged and The Thirty-Nine Steps. He sadly passed away in 2001.

Robert Silver previously played Mr. Reno in episode A13. Oddly, given he has a very distinctive face and voice, the shopkeeper he plays in this episode appears to be a completely different character, more cowardly and cautious (and less resourceful) than Reno.

Richard Moll (Max) is best-known for playing Bull Shannon on Night Court from 1984 to 1992 and for voicing Two-Face on Batman: The Animated Series and The Brave and the Bold. He also appeared as the villain Slan Quince in the pilot episode of Highlander: The Series. J. Michael Straczynski was a fan of his and considered bringing Max back in later episodes requiring heavies in Downbelow, but opted for new characters instead.

Review: This is a pretty decent episode, livened up by some good guest stars. Richard Moll particularly deserves credit for making Yet Another Downbelow Gangster come alive with some charisma and character. There’s some very fine dialogue and the episode elegantly combines a stand-alone plot with both the ongoing “Earth Alliance conspiracy” and “Vorlon mystery” arcs. ****

Franklin: “You ever consider climbing out of the barracks sometime and looking around at the world?”
Garibaldi: “Yeah, I will when people stop shooting at me.”

Franklin: “I think we lost interest in the future when all the things we were told were coming finally got here. Wasn’t what we thought it was going to be.”

Garibaldi: “Maybe somebody should have labelled the future: some assembly required.”

Sheridan: “What do you want?”
Kosh: “NEVER ask us that question.”

B14: There All the Honour Lies
Airdates: 26 April 1995 (US), 9 May 1995 (UK)
Written by Peter David
Directed by Michael Laurence Vejar
Cast: Guinevere Corey (Julie Caitlin Brown), Security Aide Zack Allan (Jeff Conaway), Ashan (Sean Gregory Sullivan), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Minbari 1 (Jonathan Chapman), Minbari 2 (Neil Bradley), Centauri Envoy (Vincent Duvall), Human Customer (Eliott Harold), Human/Alien Customer (Mark Hendrickson), Alien Customer (Michael McKenzie), Store Owner (Ossie Mair)

Plot:    A new shop opens in the Zocalo, selling merchandise based on the people running the Babylon 5 station, including the ambassadors. Sheridan doesn’t approve and gives Ivanova the job of finding an excuse - any excuse - to shut the shop down.

Sheridan is confronted by a Minbari warrior who attempts to kill him. Sheridan is forced to gun him down in defence. The altercation is witnessed by a young Minbari of the religious caste, Ashan, but Ashan claims Sheridan murdered the warrior in cold blood. Sheridan says he is lying, but Delenn and Lennier are both shocked by the idea. Minbari do not lie, ever. It is one of their most sacred laws, not far behind the law that no Minbari may kill another Minbari. However, Delenn smells a rat and attempts to investigate further. Her inquiries are stonewalled since most of the Minbari populace distrust her human face and many have lost respect for her since she was cast out of the Grey Council (B11).

Londo complains to Sheridan that the dolls of him on sale in the B5 shop are not anatomically correct. Sheridan is unable to shut the shop down on that basis. When he tells Londo something of what is going on Londo replies that Minbari can lie, but it must be for an honourable reason, like helping someone else save face (such as when Lennier lied to cover Londo’s transgressions in episode A21). Sheridan confronts Delenn and Lennier with this and they agree. They arrange a sting operation and expose Ashok’s lies. It turns out that Ashok and Lennier belong to the same clan - the Third Thane of Chudomo - and that many of their clan died when Sheridan destroyed the Black Star during the Earth-Minbari War. Ashok wanted revenge. Sheridan is exonerated.

Kosh continues to teach Sheridan about "himself" and shows him a moment of pure beauty, in the dark.

Vir is shocked when a diplomatic message from Centauri Prime arrives for him. The post of diplomatic aide to Ambassador Mollari is now too important for a non-entity like him and he is being replaced. Londo angrily tells the Centauri government that if Vir goes, so does he, and the order is rescinded.

Ivanova gives Sheridan a gift after he is exonerated, a teddy bear on sale in the shop inscribed with "Babearlon 5". Sheridan is amused...until he discovers that the ‘JS’ initials refer to his name. Unamused at being compared to something cute and fluffy, he orders the shop closed down. Later, Lt. Keffer is sent out to examine a sensor anomaly and flies straight into a certain teddy bear which has been dumped in space. He tells C&C they wouldn’t believe him and returns home.

The Arc: Kosh is making good his promise to teach Sheridan in the previous episodes. These teachings are explained, somewhat, in episode B17.

This episode is the first to explicitly state that Minbari clans and castes are not the same thing. A clan can have members from all three castes. This extends on what was revealed in episode A17 and what we see again in episode D14, namely that it is possible to go from one caste to another.

Delenn’s position on Babylon 5 is now held in open contempt by some of the other Minbari, as hinted in episode B4 and made worse by her loss of station in episode B11.

Londo refers to a time when a Minbari saved a Centauri diplomat’s honour by lying. He is referring to Lennier lying to help Londo himself save face in episode A21.

Sheridan gives up his stat bar to the strange “monks” in the moment of perfect beauty. This is some foreshadowing for episode D1, which Straczynski wanted to drop in to elevate an episode that was in danger of becoming too prosaic.

Background: Many members of the Third Fane of Chu’domo (Lennier and Ashan’s clan) died when the warcruiser Black Star was destroyed by Sheridan during the Earth-Minbari War.

The exact same “Babearlon 5” teddy bear turns up again in an episode of Space Cases, written by Peter David (the writer of this episode) and Bill Mumy (who plays Lennier), where a character asks in disgust what kind of monster would throw a perfectly good teddy bear into space.

References: The monastic chant Sheridan hears is a Gregorian chant which draws from lines in The Bible.

Unanswered Questions: What does the moment of “perfect beauty” really mean?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: You can clearly see Delenn, Garibaldi, Sheridan etc all hiding behind the translucent doors in Delenn’s quarters, so one wonders why Ashan couldn’t.

Behind the Scenes: J. Michael Straczynski invited Peter David back after liking his script for episode B8. David’s original idea was that it would be Garibaldi who shot the Minbari and the station store would be shut after someone bought a replica PPG and was almost killed in a case of mistaken identity. Straczynski suggests changing the shooter to Sheridan, given his history with the Minbari.

The “Babearlon 5” bear was given to Straczynski by Peter David’s wife, who had the initials “J.S.” put on it. Straczynski hated “cute” and spaced the bear on the show. David later recovered the bear and put it in his show Space Cases, in an episode featuring the “Straczyns”, an evil race who wanted to conquer the galaxy but didn’t have the budget for it.

The “space bear” scene required one of the vfx technicians to stand in front of a greenscreen, holding the bear aloft with a plastic pole rammed up its behind whilst it was filmed spinning. Straczynski considered this to be hilarious.

Several Londo dolls were made for the episode. Prop master Kurt Phillips offered Peter Jurasik one of the dolls as a memento, but Jurasik turned him down. His wife expressed disappointment he didn’t get one of the dolls, but by the next day they’d all gone to other members of the cast and crew. Jurasik later saw them being sold for over $100 each and noted he missed the boat on that one. Straczynski seemed to indicate that he ended up with one each of the Londo and G’Kar dolls.

The Babylon 5 model seen in the shop was later moved to Sheridan’s office. Straczynski took possession of it after the show ended and put it in his office.

Stephen Furst appreciated the opportunity to show Vir’s more serious side, and the struggle he was facing with supporting his friend and mentor Londo, even when this meant acting against his conscience. Jurasik agreed it was good to take their relationship to a more respectful level and show that Londo, for all his bluster, really appreciated Vir.

The line about Babylon 5 being “important” in contrast to other Deep Space (Nine) franchises was put in by Peter David, who expected it to be cut and was surprised when Straczynski decided to keep it in. David was a fan of DS9 and wrote several novels for that show (having written dozens of books and comics for The Next Generation and the original series), so the line was meant as more of a good-humoured joke than a nasty ribbing.

Familiar Faces: Julie Caitlin Brown (Guinevere Corey) previously appeared in Season 1 as Na’Toth. She left the series to pursue a film career and after experiencing some issues with the makeup. Disappointed with her replacement as Na’Toth (Mary Kay Adams, who’d been unofficially written off the show by this point), Straczynski wanted to get her back in a different role.

Review: This is an episode of two halves. The stuff with Vir keeping his job, Ivanova dealing with the store and Kosh teaching Sheridan is all great, amusing and enjoyable to watch. The Minbari framing story never really gets going, however, because we know Sheridan is innocent and even Delenn and Lennier know Sheridan is innocent. The threat, that Sheridan’s credibility will be destroyed, is never really brought home. In addition, the endless waffle about Minbari honour risks this feeling like one of a less-than-inspired Klingon-heavy Star Trek episode. Despite this, the comedy scenes in the store bring the show back on-track. This is also probably Babylon 5’s genuinely wittiest script, with Claudia Christian getting some excellent lines. ***½

Ivanova: “Welcome to Babylon 5, the last, best hope for a quick buck.”

Ivanova: “This is demeaning! I mean we’re not some Deep Space Franchise, this station is about something!”

Vir: “Back home I’m swallowed in silence and here I’m swallowed up by secrets. I’m caught between fire and flood and if there’s a way out I don’t see it.”

Ivanova: “It must be working. You’re beginning to talk just like a Vorlon.”

Ivanova: “You feel like you’re being symbolically castr…in a bad light?”
Sheridan: “Well put.”

Sheridan: “I never thought there could be anything worse than being all alone in the night.”

Delenn: “But there is: being all alone in a crowd.”

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