Sunday, 15 October 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 15-16

B15: And Now For a Word
Airdates: 3 May 1995 (US), 16 May 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Mario DiLeo
Cast: Cynthia Torqueman (Kim Zimmer), Ronald Quantrell (Christopher Curry), Psi Cop (Granville Ames), Johnny (John Christian Graas), Mother (Leslie Wing), Eduardo Delvientos (José Ray), Lt. David Corwin (Joshua Cox)

Date: The ISN report is aired on Earth on 16 September 2259. It was filmed “recently”, presumably within a couple of weeks previously.

Plot:    ISN broadcasts 36 Hours on Babylon 5, an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the controversial diplomatic space station, with interviews with diplomatic staff, station personnel and Earth politicians who are uncertain about the future of the Babylon Project. The ISN team arrives during the middle of a fierce argument between the Narn and Centauri. G’Kar accuses the Centauri of transferring weapons through Babylon 5 in clear violation of interstellar law. Londo denies it, but points out that since all cargo transfers take place outside the station, ship-to-ship, B5 legally cannot intervene. Narn and Centauri cargo ships start firing on one another outside and Sheridan impounds the ships on both sides. Londo tells Sheridan that if any of the Centauri ships’ cargo holds are opened the Centauri government will not be pleased. Sure enough, a Centauri battlecruiser arrives and blockades the station until their equipment is handed over, unopened. Sheridan decides to call the Centauri’s bluff by sending an unmanned cargo ship through the jump gate. The Centauri do not fire and agree to reopen negotiations. At that moment a Narn heavy cruiser jumps out right on top of the station and fires on the Centauri cruiser. Taking the Centauri by surprise, the Narn manage to destroy the Centauri warship, despite taking heavy damage. However, when the Narn ship activates its jump engines the ship explodes. After the battle Sheridan confirms that the Centauri were shipping weapons of mass destruction though the station and the Earth Alliance files an official complaint against the Centauri government, although again it is insufficient to get Earth to take sides against the Centauri.

On Earth senior senators question the need for Babylon 5 and an especially arrogant senator claims that diplomacy is unnecessary, since recent developments in Earth technology means that even if another war with the Minbari took place Earth could win with ease (!). The ISN reporter questions Delenn on why she has changed her appearance and wonders how the families of those killed by the Minbari during the war will react to this apparent insult. Delenn is left speechless.

In a final interview Sheridan tells ISN that Babylon 5 is essential if Earth and the other worlds are to be brought together in peace.


Dating the Episode: The broadcast date is given in both dialogue and an on-screen caption.

The Arc: The ambivalence felt by the Earth Alliance Senate to Babylon 5 is expressed in this episode. This plotline continues through episodes C5 and C8-C10.

The Narn-Centauri conflict is now at its height, with the Narn, for all their previous bellicosity, having lost six of the last seven major battles (and drawing the one in this episode). B20 is the next episode to focus on the conflict.

The Psi Corps transmit an advert during this episode. The ad has a subliminal message detectable by use of the pause control on your DVD or streaming service: “The Psi Corps is Your Friend. Trust the Corps.” There is also mention of an Office of Public Morale being set up on Earth. Both of these events set up the political situation on Earth that is highlighted again in B17, B19, B22, C1 and C8-C10.

The ISN broadcast is sponsored by Interplanetary Expeditions, whom we last heard about in episode A4 and will hear more about in episodes C8, C22 and TVM2, among others.

Episode D8 is, to some extent, a thematic sequel to this episode.

Background: Quite a lot of background information for the entire series is revealed in this episode.

There are “over” two dozen worlds in the Earth Alliance, separated across fourteen star systems. Not all of these are big colonies, as several are military outposts and research bases. These fourteen systems are the ones officially claimed by the Earth Alliance, making it larger than the Centauri Republic (with just twelve worlds in total) but not as populous, as the Centauri colonies have been settled for far longer. Known Earth Alliance colonies at this point include Mars, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Euphrates, Proxima III and Vega VII.

Minbar is the seventh planet of its sun and one-quarter of it is covered by its northern polar ice cap. Minbari cities are built out of crystal.

There are three Minbari languages. The language we hear most frequently is that of the religious caste, Adronato. The other languages are Feek and Lenn’a. In episode A21 we learned that there are also 97 dialects and sub-tongues.

250,000 humans died in the war with the Minbari. Given the desperate straits that the Earth Alliance was reduced to, this seems a very low number compared to the millions killed in earlier wars (including the show’s own fictional WWIII). This is later explained as part of the fact that only a relatively tiny percentage of the human race lives off Earth.

The Narn homeworld was invaded and occupied by the Centauri roughly 150 years ago. G’Kar was convinced into joining the Narn resistance when he saw the mistress of the Centauri household his family served in killing his father after he spilt a drink. The Centauri deny they mistreated the Narns, occupying their world for their own good and leaving when it was made clear they were no longer wanted.

G’Khamazad is one of the largest cities on Narn.

Babylon 5 is 8.0645 kilometres long (that’s almost exactly five miles). There are 6,500 Earthforce personnel on board and more than 1,500 dock workers. Aliens make up 42% of Babylon 5’s population. There are fourteen races living in the Alien Sector (ones seen so far include the Vorlons and n’Grath’s race, the Trakallans; future species seen living here include the Gaim).

There have been 50 deaths by violence since Babylon 5 was established.

Babylon 5’s casing weighs 2.5 million tons, but Straczynski confirmed that that the equipment, docked ships, inhabitants etc would increase that quite a lot.

Babylon 5 is located “near” Epsilon Eridani. It was confirmed off-screen that B5 is actually in the Epsilon Eridani system itself, orbiting the third planet of its system. Straczynski had previously considered having the station orbiting a star called Tigris or Euphrates, after the Iraqi river systems, before settling on “Epsilon” in Season 1.

Babylon 5 is managed by the “Babylon 5 Senate Oversight Committee”, as we have already seen in previous episodes. Senator Hidoshi, who appeared several times in Season 1, is now revealed as having retired or lost his elected seat. He has been replaced by Ronald Quantrell.

Sheridan’s middle initial is “J”. He was awarded the Earthforce Silver Service for Valour for his performance in the Earth-Minbari War.

Ivanova was born in the Russian Consortium but mostly raised abroad in boarding schools (explaining her lack of an accent). She graduated OTC (Earthforce Officer Training College) ten years prior to this episode, too late to take part in the Earth-Minbari War.

Kosh’s surname, “Naranek”, is spoken for the first time. It had previously appeared in publicity material and some cast lists.

Interplanetary Expeditions’ corporate motto is “exploring the past to create a better future.”

The Agamemnon and other ships of its class (including the Pournelle, glimpsed in episode B6) are Omega-class destroyers. They are a direct result of the Earth-Minbari War, sporting heavy weapons far more powerful than anything Earth had during the conflict. Episodes A1 and TVM1 indicate that these technological leaps came about due to Earth buying technology from the Narn (who in turn stole it from the Centauri).

Las Vegas is still the centre of gambling culture on Earth, although its supremacy is challenged by New Vegas. We learn in episode D8 that New Vegas is a city on Mars.

According to Earth Alliance opinion polls, 30% of respondents were unfavourable to Babylon 5 in March 2257. This has increased to 44% in September 2259. Of course, the same polls seem to suggest the President Clark’s approval ratings are sky-high, which is questionable.

In 2257, the odds of Babylon 5’s survival were 500 to 1 according to Lloyds of London, 350 to 1 according to Las Vegas and 200 to 1 according to New Vegas. By September 2259 those have dropped to 250 to 1, 200 to 1 and 5 to 1 respectively.

According to Straczynski, the Narn and Centauri cruisers didn’t “miss” each other per se, but they were both using electronic countermeasures to throw off their targeting systems. This is where the Centauri’s technological superiority usually helps in ranged engagements; the Narn were able to win (at least initially) because they jumped right on top of the Centauri cruiser and took it by surprise.

References: The title is taken from common TV parlance in the 1990s: “And now for a word from our sponsor.” Straczynski noted that the fictional sponsor of this episode (Interplanetary Expeditions) was significant.

“Mass drivers” are weapons of mass destruction used by the Centauri. They are actually real – or at least really theoretically real – devices designed by NASA. They consist of engines attached to probes which land and dig into asteroids. The asteroid can then be moved onto a different course. This has been proposed as a way of moving asteroids away from colliding from Earth, but the Centauri seem to have found a way of developing the technology offensively.

The “subliminal” Psi Corps advert was deliberately made to last longer tha a “real” subliminal message, both for legal reasons and so careful viewers would catch it. The flash lasts for four frames or one-fifth of a second, two frames longer than the official US government definition of a subliminal message.

The structure of this episode is strongly influenced by Blood and Guts, the thirteenth episode of the tenth season of M*A*S*H*, which aired in 1982. In this episode a news team films a report on the activities of the regular cast and the entire episode is framed from the POV of the news report.

G’Kar mentions the phrase “Never again” as having special resonance for humans. This is a reference to the Holocaust and the determination after World War II to never let such a tragedy (a global war in general and the Holocaust in particular) take place again. However, the phrase was also widespread after WWI and failed to prevent the outbreak of a second world war.

Lt. David Corwin is named for broadcaster Norman Corwin, a radio journalist and writer active from the 1940s. He was a teacher, mentor and personal hero of Straczynski’s, especially for his defiance when he was labelled a Communist sympathiser and investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Corwin died in 2011 at the age of 101.

Cynthia Torquemund is named for Tomás de Torquemada, a prominent member of the Spanish Inquisition.

Unanswered Questions: Why did the Narn cruiser try to jump when it was severely damaged and no longer in immediate danger?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: The ISN report is broadcast as a surprise interruption to the evening schedule. Why? The next episode hints that the report was recorded up to three weeks earlier and scheduling the episode with a lot of trailers would generate a larger viewership.

This episode suggests that scheduled broadcasts are still the norm in 2259 rather than downloads or streaming. Given the way television has changed in just that last few years, this seems unlikely (although of course a much lower level of future technological development than is realistic is the conceit we need to buy for the TV show to make any sense).

You’d have thought Station Security would have kept the ISN crew away from Kosh’s quarters since they didn’t have permission to be there.

It is said in this episode that Babylon 5 was “established” in 2257, but episode A4 said that the station had gone online two years before that episode, circa February 2256. NOV7 tries to reconcile this, with the station indeed going online in February 2256 but not formally inaugurated until New Year’s Day 2257.

At one point Sheridan and Ivanova look out of the C&C window as ships are passing by and we see the starscape rotating. Moments later this is replaced by the normal stationary star curtain. According to Straczynski, it was impractical to have a rotating backdrop out of the window all of the time for budgetary reasons, but the transition in this episode is especially jarring.

During the space battle an explosion starts on the hull of the Narn cruiser before the Centauri energy bolt hits it.

President Clark is named “William” in this episode but was called “Morgan” in A22. Straczynski resolves the issue by later confirming that his full name is “William Morgan Clark”.

Behind the Scenes: Straczynski liked the idea of depicting a crisis solely through the public eye, with all the behind-closed-doors deliberations and events staying firmly off-screen, and hit on the news report device as a way of doing this.

Mira Furlan could relate to Delenn’s dilemma. As an up-and-coming actress in the former Yugoslavia she was constantly hounded by the press and asked questions that reporters didn’t really expect or want in-depth answers to.

Peter Jurasik enjoyed playing Londo as the man-of-the-people in full PR mode, complimenting his “good friends from Earth” and having a smoothly-rehearsed answer for every question.

Andreas Katsulas had read the script but not rehearsed doing the scene where he talks about the death of G’Kar’s father. The scene came out rawer than he’d planned, but he judged it more effective as it showed G’Kar with his guard down and in a rare moment of honesty, contrasting Londo’s smooth performance.

Bruce Boxleitner had his worst filming experience on the series during this scene. During the confrontation with the Centauri cruiser Boxleitner kept forgetting his dialogue. When he did remember, the take was wrecked by an airplane flying over or a camera malfunction. In total there were 27 takes needed to nail the scene.

Familiar Faces: Joshua Cox (sometimes credited as Josh Coxx), who had played a C&C technician since the middle of Season 1, was very happy for his character to get a name in this episode, David Corwin. After Babylon 5 he would star as a regular on Strong Medicine and guest star on shows such as CSI and Without a Trace. He recently had a recurring role on Nashville.

Kim Zimmer (Cynthia Torqueman) is noted for her long-running roles in Hollywood soap operas, particularly One Life to Live and Guiding Light. She won four Daytime Emmy Awards for her role in the latter series. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she worked in both New York and Los Angeles, but frequently returns to Grand Rapids to appear in theatrical productions at the theatre where she got her big break.

Christopher Curry (Ronald Quantrell) – by coincidence also born in Grand Rapids, Michigan – has appeared in numerous American drama series and films. His most recent roles include stints on The Young and the Restless, Glee, Castle, Hart of Dixie and the movie Sully: Miracle on the Hudson.

John Christian Graas (Johnny, the kid in the Psi Corps advert) is best-known for his child actor career, appearing in shows like Quantum Leap, Murphy Brown, Doogie Howser MD and Seinfeld by the time he was 10 (he was 13 when appeared in B5). His other big SF credit is appearing in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Disaster, as one of the kids who is trapped with Captain Picard on the stricken USS Enterprise.

Review: A very strong episode which overcomes some contrived elements to deliver an awful lot of new background information on the series whilst showing us a new side of the station and its characters. Some of the acting is a bit off compared to what we’re used to, but Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas absolutely smash it out of the park, especially Katsulas in his monologue about his father’s death. ****

Corwin: “It’s a calm, pleasant environment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone get upset here.”

Garibaldi: “I guess I keep hoping that someday, somewhere I’ll make a difference, that at the end of the day, everything that we’ve been through here over the past few years will mean something.”

G’Kar: “Why does any advanced civilisation seek to destroy a less-advanced one? Because the land is strategically valuable, because there are resources that can be cultivated and exploited, but most of all, simply because they can.”

Delenn: “Humans share one unique quality: they build communities. If the Narns or the Centauri or any other race built a station like this, it would be used only by their own people. But everywhere humans go they create communities out of diverse and sometimes hostile populations. It is a great gift and a terrible responsibility, one that cannot be abandoned.”

B16: Knives
Airdates: 17 May 1995 (US), 30 May 1995 (UK)
Written by Lawrence G. DiTillio
Directed by Stephen L. Posey
Cast: Urza Jaddo (Carmen Argenziano), Lord Refa (William Forward), Centauri Noble (William Dennis Hunt), Lt. David Corwin (Joshua Cox), Station Two (Elisa Beth Garver)

Date: August 2259 (but see “Dating the Episode” below).

Plot:    A Centauri nobleman, Urza Jaddo, arrives on the station to see his old friend Londo Mollari. They discuss matters on the homeworld and Urza tells Londo that Refa was behind Prime Minister Malachi’s death (B9). Londo learns that Urza’s house is falling from grace due to his opposition to Refa’s new order. He asks Refa on Centauri Prime to reverse this trend since House Jaddo is an old ally of House Mollari, but Refa is unimpressed, telling Londo that Urza is a traitor to the Republic. Urza, angered that Londo is putting his influence ahead of honour, chAllanges Londo to a duel to the death. Surprisingly, Londo wins and kills his old friend. He later tells Vir that Urza wanted him to win, since by the rules of Centauri duelling society the victor must take the loser’s family into his own house. This way, Urza avoided having his family shamed by his dishonour, even if it were undeserved. Londo feels drained and more alone than he has at any other time. For the first time he questions the road he is taking, but dismisses Vir’s suggestion that he can change.

Garibaldi tells Sheridan about the ‘Grey Triangle’, namely that odd things happen in the lightly-populated Grey Sector of the station. Sheridan goes to have a look and finds a Markab corpse. He is then overcome by some kind of energy emission. He starts seeing odd things: he is attacked by a hallucinatory flying beast in his quarters and has a vision of his wife’s ship, the Icarus, exploding in deep space. Sheridan realises that some kind of alien force has possessed him and learns that the Markab passed through Sector 14, the same area of space where Babylon 4 vanished five years ago and briefly reappeared last year (A20). He flies out to investigate and the alien leaves his body, travelling back through the temporal rift that appeared when B4 vanished. Sheridan is unsure what to make of the experience, save he doesn’t think the alien was hostile, just frightened.

Dating the Episode: According to Franklin, Sheridan has been on Babylon 5 for seven months, putting this episode in August 2259. This would seem to conflict with the previous episode taking place in mid-September. However, it is possible that the ISN report was filmed in late August 2259 and this episode takes place after it was recorded (i.e. after the events depicted) but before it was broadcast.

The Arc: We are reminded in this episode of the death of Sheridan’s wife, the Icarus, previously mentioned in episode B2. This vision triggers the events of the next episode.

Urza’s death and his revelations about Prime Minister’s Malachi’s murder have a long-lasting impact on Londo, particularly on the events of episode C20.

Urza is the hero of the epic Battle of Gorash. Gorash VII is a Centauri colony, as we learn in episode B20, and presumably Urza fought there. It’s possible that the Centauri seized Gorash from another race decades earlier.

In episode C9 Londo is told that he has squandered two possible moments to save himself from his destiny. This episode is likely one of them, particularly when Vir tells him he can choose another path and he refuses.

Londo is still thinking about Adira, his lover from episode A3. This is touched upon again in episode C15.

The temporal rift Babylon 4 vanished through in episode A20 is still open. We find out why in episode C16.

We learn more about the “Grey Triangle” in episode C19.

The flying creature that attacks Sheridan is native to Janos VII, which he has visited. Janos VII is mentioned in B10 as site of a major Earthforce military campaign led by General Richard Franklin.

Dr. Franklin mentions a good Markab doctor friend of his, whom we meet in episode B18.

Background: Some Centauri nobles still follow the old duelling society ways of their pre-interstellar ancestors, fighting with swords and following a code of honour. Centauri who follow these ways as known as Cour Prido, “Proud Knives”. Urza’s nickname was Scotura (“Proud Beast”) and Londo’s was Paso Leati (“Crazed Leati”).

Vocator is a Centauri rank or honorific. Bravari is a Centauri drink, possibly a kind of ceremonial wine. The morago is a formal duel to the death where the winner agrees to take responsibility for the loser’s family. It is usually undertaken only when a family is at the risk of disgrace or dishonour. The kutari is a type of Centauri sword.

Markab religious ceremonies involve the use of psychotropic drugs.

This episode gives names to the Centauri Prime Minister and Emperor of episode B9 – Malachi and Turhan, named after the actors who played them – and to the new Emperor, Cartagia. According to Urza, Cartagia is not a particularly worthy Emperor, as we find out in episode D1.

Sheridan’s baseball cap has a picture of his old ship, the Agamemnon, on it.

References: The Centauri duelling culture seems to be inspired by European noble customs of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Unanswered Questions: Given Earthforce hushed it up, what happened to the crew of Babylon 4 after they were evacuated in episode A20? You’d think that the sudden reappearance of over 1,300 people previously declared missing, presumed dead would be a major news event on Earth, but Sheridan has never heard of the incident.

What was the alien that possessed Sheridan and what happened to it?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: As noted below, this episode was written and shot before In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum (episode B17), but was flipped with it due to CG issues. The two episodes have remained transposed ever since, resulting in a continuity error where Sheridan sees the Icarus explode in open space, even though he knows (after B17) that it was actually abandoned on the surface of a planet.

A little bit unfair this one, but the actor playing Sheridan’s father in this episode is not the one who shows up in episodes C10 and D21.

It’s a bit weird that Babylon 5’s Garden, where space is at a premium, would have a full-sized baseball pitch (as noted below). The presence of robot garden tenders suggests that the space may be adaptable and could be used for other sporting events, in which case it makes a bit more sense.

Behind the Scenes: Knives was filmed prior to In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum, but Foundation Imaging found it difficult to get the CG flying creature effect ready in time for broadcast. The two episodes were flipped for initial transmission, but were never swapped back again and are still routinely broadcast in the wrong order. They’re even placed in the wrong order on the DVD box set, resulting in the continuity error noted above.

Peter Jurasik was not a fan of opera or a singer, and ended up relying a lot on help from Stephen Furst, who is a big fan of the medium. Jurasik’s father also helped him practice, sending him tapes featuring a similar kind of music. Christopher Franke composed the opera pieces used in this episode whilst Larry DiTillio wrote the Centauri language pieces.

Jurasik enjoyed working with Carmen Argenziano. They put a lot of work into selling their relationship and learning how to fight with swords. Jurasik was relieved to learn that although Londo was supposed to have been good when he was younger, he wasn’t necessarily anymore, so could get away with looking out of practice.

DiTillio wanted to write Urza as a sympathetic Centauri, feeling that apart from Londo, Vir and may Timov, we’d met few sympathetic Centauri. He was keen to show Urza as a great warrior, but also one traumatised by what he’d seen and now a keen believer in peace, unaware that his old friend Londo is the one who has plunged his race back into war.

Straczynski liked the Centauri storyline, particularly the way it further isolated Londo, but was less keen on the “alien possession” story, although it was his idea. DiTillio had originally planned to have Sheridan confronting his father suffering from an illness, but Sheridan didn’t want to keep relying on family members of the cast for drama. The alien possession story wasn’t to anyone’s satisfaction, but DiTillio got more enthused when he realised he could tie it into the Babylon 4 story (which, by this point, Straczynski had decided to revisit the following season). DiTillio planned a follow-up expanding on the aliens, but Straczynski chose not to follow that story thread.

Boxleitner was a big baseball fan, particularly of the Chicago Cubs, and enjoyed doing the baseball scenes. DiTillio thought it was ridiculous that B5 would have a full-size baseball field, given that space is at a premium, but John Copeland wanted to do it as a showcase for the CG team and virtual sets.

This is the last episode of Babylon 5 to be written by Larry DiTillio, who left as Script Editor at the end of Season 2. According to Straczynski, the split was amicable and practical. Once he decided to write every episode of Season 3 (and, as it turned out, Season 4 as well) himself, there was no need for a script editor since Straczynski was senior to him and it saved the show a small amount of money.

However, according to DiTillio he was more curtly dismissed before Season 2 finished airing, and was told to clear his desk because “Warner Brothers doesn’t like your writing”. DiTillio was surprised by this because the feedback he’d received had been more positive. After leaving Babylon 5 DiTillio got a writing gig on the CG animated series Transformers: Beast Wars, writing many of the best-known and highest-rated episodes of that show.

This is actually the last episode of Babylon 5 written by anyone other than Straczynski for the entire rest of the series, bar only one episode in Season 5 (written by Neil Gaiman).

Familiar Faces: Carmen Argenzio is a prolific American actor, having started his career in 1969 on Judd for the Defense. He appeared on almost every major US TV series of the 1970s and 1980s. He had recurring roles on Booker, Heartbeat (a US drama series, not the UK one), Melrose Place and LA Law, among others. His other main SF credit is playing General Jacob Carter in 25 episodes of StarGate SG-1. He continues to act frequently today.

Review: Typically, DiTillio saves possibly his best for last (although arguably Deathwalker was slightly better). The “possessed Sheridan” stuff is fairly workmanlike, only getting more interesting when the B4 connection is raised. The Londo storyline is much, much stronger, really forcing Londo, for the first time, to confront the people he’s gotten into bed with (he never sees Refa quite the same way again, and Jurasik layers a level of suspicion into all his dealings with Refa from hereon out). It’s not a classic episode by any means, but it’s decent enough with some great performances. From here until the end of the series (bar a Neil Gaiman drive-by in Season 5) it’s now all Straczynski, all the time, which is great up to a point, but it’s a shame to lose the perspective other writers bring to the show. ***½

Londo: “You know Vir, you have what the Earthers call a negative personality.”
Vir: “No, I don’t.”
Londo: “There, you see?”

Urza: “You cannot build an empire based on slaughter and deceit.” (go tell that to the Romans)

Vir: “Disgrace is preferable to death.”
Londo: “There was a time when I would agree with you. That time is past.”
Vir: “Londo, this is insane!”
Londo: “Insanity is part of the times! You must learn to embrace the madness, let it fire you!”

Londo: “The blood is already on my hands. Right or wrong, I must follow the path to its end.”

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