Sunday, 12 November 2017

BABYLON 5: Season 2, Episodes 21-22

B21: Comes the Inquisitor
Airdates: 25 October 1995 (US), 8 August 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Michael Laurence Vejar
Cast: Sebastian (Wayne Alexander), Mr. Chase (Jack Kehler), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Narn Mother (Diane Adair), Centauri (Jim Chiros), Narn 1 (Mark Hendrickson), Narn 2 (Kim Strauss), Human (Craig Thomas), Guard (Michael Francis Kelly), Lt. David Corwin (Joshua Cox)

Plot:    In the Zocalo G’Kar is giving a speech, trying to rally support for the recently-conquered Narns. He claims that the Centauri will soon move against the other races, but his audience doesn’t believe him. Vir watches the speech, feeling tremendously guilty about what his race has done to the Narn.

A Vorlon transport comes through the jump gate, startling the C&C crew because Ambassador Kosh is still on board. Delenn sees Sheridan and tells him to clear an area that she can use. The Vorlons are apparently uncertain about Delenn’s readiness to lead the fight against the Shadows and have sent for an “inquisitor” to test her. The inquisitor turns out to be a human named Sebastian. He claims that the Vorlons took him from London, Earth in the year 1888 and he has served them ever since. He interrogates Delenn, questioning her belief in herself to lead the forces of light against the darkness. When she fails to answer his question, “Who are you?”, satisfactorily he begins torturing her with pain-givers. Lennier, concerned for her health, alerts Sheridan to what is going on and he tries to intervene, but Sebastian merely starts questioning him as well. Only when Sheridan and Delenn admit their willingness to die for each other and the cause does Sebastian become convinced they are the right people to lead this battle. Sheridan does get some revenge, though by pondering why a series of brutal murders in London’s East End stopped at the exact moment Sebastian was taken by the Vorlons. Sebastian merely replies that the Vorlons taught him the error of his ways before leaving the station.

G’Kar arranges to buy a shipment of weapons for use by the Narn resistance movement he is helping to establish on the homeworld, but has no way of smuggling the weapons onto Narn. Garibaldi helps him contact an old friend running an independent space station. The weapons can be smuggled through there for free. Garibaldi also arranges for the Rangers to smuggle messages from many of the families of the Narns still on Babylon 5 to them, proving that G’Kar is still worthy to be their leader now he no longer has any official standing.


The Arc: The Vorlons are testing Delenn’s resolve to lead the fight against the Shadows, suggesting she may have messianic delusions (as the Grey Council suggest in both B11 and C19). Sebastian also tests Sheridan’s worthiness as well.

Vir tries to apologise for what has been done to the Narn to G’Kar but he won’t accept it. Vir’s feelings of guilt explain his later actions in episode C12.

G’Kar consolidates his authority over the Narn on B5, fortunately in a more peaceful way than in episode B12. He plans a violent, military resistance against the Centauri, although this is challenged and transformed by the events of episode C6.

Background: The Vorlons, like the Shadows, use members of other races to serve them in various capacities. The Vorlons forced him to confront the error of his ways before employing him as their instrument of interrogation.

Sebastian is brought to B5 by a Vorlon transport of the same kind as Kosh’s, although this one has blue markings rather than red ones like Kosh’s.

“Who are you?” is the “Vorlon question” in the same way that “What do you want?” is the “Shadow question”.

References: The implication is that “Sebastian” is actually Jack the Ripper, who killed at least five prostitutes in the East End of London between August and November 1888 (most of the killings attributed to the Ripper were probably the work of copycats trying to cover their own crimes). Despite numerous theories, some of them well-supported, the murderer was never identified or knowingly brought to justice.

The Jack the Ripper murders ended on 9 November 1888 with the death of Mary Jane Kelly. Sebastian says he was taken by the Vorlons on 11 November 1888.

Jack the Ripper is frequently used in science fiction stories: the Star Trek episode The Wolf in the Fold may be the best-known example, but another notable one is “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World”, a short story written by Straczynski’s friend and B5 creative consultant Harlan Ellison.

Sebastian refers to him self as “Diogenes with his lamp, looking for an honest man willing to die for all the wrong reasons.” This is a reference to the Greek philosopher, Diogenes the Cynic (412-323 BC), who sought an “honest man” in vain and slept in a big ceramic jar in Athens’ marketplace.

“No greater love hath a man than he lay down his life for his brother” is a paraphrase from the Gospel of Saint John.

This episode’s interrogation scenes were filmed as a tribute to Once Upon a Time, the penultimate episode of the 1960s television series The Prisoner, of which J. Michael Straczynski was (and remains) a massive fan. Sebastian’s dialogue, “Have you nothing of your own, nothing to stand on that is not provided, defined, delineated, stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved by others?” is also a riff on a Prisoner line: “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own!”

According to J. Michael Straczynski, G’Kar’s role in Season 2 was similar to that of the prophet Cassandra: gifted with the true sight but believed by none. This is reinforced in this episode when he foresees that the Centauri will move against other races but is not believed.

“Who are you?” is the core question of an American therapeutic treatment for drug addiction, developed in the 1950s by the Synanon organisation (later the Church of Synanon). The question was mean to provoke self-realisation and awareness as a way of overcoming addictive behaviour. However, the organisation later got embroiled in criminal activity and was forcibly disbanded in 1991; this may be a nod from Straczynski to the Vorlons having apparently noble motives which lead to destructive results.

There is no “Heresford Lane” in London (where Sebastian claimed to live in 1888). The closest is “Hereford Road”, of which there are four.

Unanswered Questions: How successful was G’Kar in getting weapons and supplies to the Narn homeworld? Later episodes are unclear if the Narns are even resisting that much (bearing in mind the Centauri promise to execute 500 Narn for the death of any Centauri) and G’Kar’s later change in tactics precluded further work in the military resistance.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: In the original release of the episode, Sheridan erroneously says that the Jack the Ripper murders took place in the West End of London. This was picked up on by the UK audience, where this episode aired months before the US, and was fixed with a (clumsy) voiceover for US transmission and the VHS and DVD releases.

The original UK broadcast somewhat bizarrely cut the scene where G’Kar cuts his hand, given it was not particularly bloody or graphic.

Behind the Scenes: Straczynski was criticised by some fans for identifying Sebastian as Jack the Ripper, as this was “too obvious”. However, Straczynski notes that Jack the Ripper is much less well-known in the USA and even after the episode aired people were asking “Jack who?” so he felt on balance identifying the character rather than leaving it more ambiguous was preferable.

Straczynski wanted to continuing the greying of the Vorlons, whom people had convinced themselves were good guys despite denying humanity immortality (A9) and nearly blowing up B5 (PM).

Mira Furlan enjoyed the episode, particularly the fact that Delenn was tried but did not break.

Bruce Boxleitner was not actually tied to the wall when Sebastian restrains him. Following the Los Angeles Earthquake of the previous year, TV and film-makers were careful not to restrain their actors in case they had to evacuate the building in a hurry.

Familiar Faces: Wayne Alexander (Sebastian) is, perhaps surprisingly, not British but an American stunt coordinator who switched to acting in the late 1980s. He impressed J. Michael Straczynski so much in this episode that he was later given several other roles, including G’Dan in C20, Lorien in D1-D6, a Drazi in D18 and a Drakh in E18-E19 and TVM4. His other credits include The Twilight Zone, Hypernauts, Frasier, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The X-Files, Mad Men and Scandal.

Jack Kehler (Mr. Chase) is an idiosyncratic American actor known for his twitchy performances and distinctive voice. His other notable credits include Love Liza (where he helps Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character come to terms with the death of his wife), The Big Lebowski, Deep Space Nine and Angel.

One of the Narns meeting G’Kar is played by Dennis Michael, a CNN reporter who’d been doing a story on the B5 make-up crew, Optic Nerve, and was invited to be made up as an alien extra for the day.

Review: A psychologically interesting episode which tries to break down Delenn as a character, but because Delenn is pretty much straight-up doing what she thinks is best, there are no real revelations to be found here. Wayne Alexander gives a good performance, but he is given some very ripe lines and the “surprise” revelation of his true identity is so on the nose it’s a bit silly. The G’Kar subplot is more interesting with, as normal, a fantastic performance by Andreas Katsulas who is completely owning this season. ***½

G’Kar: “Dead, dead, dead. How do you apologise to them?”
Vir: “I can’t.”
G’Kar: “Then I cannot forgive.”

Sebastian: “No greater love hath a man than he lay down his life for his brother. Not for millions, not for glory, not for fame; for one person in the dark, where no-one will ever know or see.”

Sebastian: “When the darkness comes, know this: you are the right people, in the right place, at the right time.”

B22: The Fall of Night
Airdates: 1 November 1995 (US), 15 August 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Janet Greek
Cast: Frederick Lantz (Roy Dotrice), Security Aide Zack Allan (Jeff Conaway), Mitch (Rich Hamilton), Warleader Na’Kal (Robin Sachs), Mr. Welles (John Vickery), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain/Joshua Patton), Pak’ma’ra Ambassador (Donovan Brown), Drazi Ambassador (Kim Strauss), Narn (Mark Hendrickson), Lt. David Corwin (Joshua Cox), Station Two (Elisa Beth Garver)

Date: 22-24 December 2259

Plot:    The Drazi and Pak’ma’ra ambassadors call an emergency meeting with Sheridan and tell him that the Centauri have invaded both their territories. Sheridan angrily confronts Londo, who claims that the Centauri are merely constructing a buffer zone around their space. Sheridan is incensed at the Centauri’s arrogance in thinking they can just walk over other races and sends word to Earth, demanding action. Surprisingly, Earthdome agrees and despatches special envoy Frederick Lantz to the station to investigate the situation. Lantz is accompanied by Mr. Welles, a representative of the Ministry of Peace, who will investigate human affairs on the station, namely the expansion of the Nightwatch group.

A jump point opens on the far side of Epsilon III and a Narn heavy cruiser, the G’Dok, emerges. Warleader Na’Kal reports that the G’Dok is one of only a handful of Narn ships to escape either capture or destruction during the Narn-Centauri War. They have suffered damage in battle and request sanctuary until they can affect repairs. Sheridan agrees and repairs commence on the Narn cruiser. G’Kar offers Sheridan his thanks for his actions, though Sheridan is careful not to let Londo know what is going on.

Lt. Keffer talks to another pilot, Mitch, who has also seen something odd in hyperspace. Keffer wants to find out what the alien vessel is, his interest and anger raised by the death of Lt. Commander Galus at the hands of a similar vessel (B4) and Sheridan’s order to abandon his investigation (B18). Mitch gives Keffer a copy of the sensor logs from his Starfury and Keffer uses the information to programme his Starfury systems to scan for the distinctive neutrino trail the alien vessel leaves.

Mr. Welles is puzzled why Zack Allan hasn’t been filing too many reports recently with the Nightwatch. Zack is bemused, until Welles tells him exactly what the Nightwatch is expected to do. They are to watch out for signs of treachery against the administration and the President, stop the spread of lies and discontent against the Earth government and expose anyone working against the best interests of Earth, human or alien. Zack is slightly taken aback, but then confirms a number of reports about a shopkeeper in the Zocalo complaining about import regulations. Mr. Welles congratulates Zack on his patriotism. A little while later the shop is closed down for “sedition”.

Lantz completes his talks with the non-aligned ambassadors, but refuses to speak with G’Kar. He tells Sheridan everything is in order and that Earth and Centauri Prime can now sign the treaty of non-aggression they have been discussing in secret for several weeks. Sheridan is stunned and furious, but so is Lantz when he finds out that Sheridan has been running combat drills using Centauri ship models. He orders Sheridan to suspend the drills. A C&C technician also tells Mr. Welles about the Narn heavy cruiser. He in turn tells Londo, who contacts Sheridan in a fury, ordering him to surrender the vessel. Sheridan realises that Londo would not give up the element of surprise, so Centauri reinforcements are likely on the way. He tells Na’Kal to take the G’Dok out of B5 space, but the ship’s jump drives are still offline. A Centauri heavy cruiser arrives, blockades the jump gate and begins targeting the station. Sheridan orders Zeta Wing to escort the Narn cruiser to the jump gate, but the Centauri open fire. Babylon 5’s newly-upgraded defence grid (B10) takes the Centauri by surprise, as it overwhelms the Centauri vessel with superior firepower. The Narn ship escapes with an escort commanded by Lt. Keffer, whilst the badly-damaged Centauri cruiser explodes in a massive fireball.

Whilst escorting the Narn ship through hyperspace Keffer’s sensors pick up an unusual reading. He moves to intercept and sees a Shadow vessel in the distance. He follows it, recording as he goes, but the Shadow ship senses his presence and turns around. Keffer manages to eject his recorder just before his fighter is destroyed.

Relations between Earth and Centauri Prime cool noticeably after the destruction of the Centauri cruiser and deaths of hundreds of Centauri military personnel. President Clark orders Sheridan to apologise in person to Ambassador Mollari about the attack. Sheridan agrees, although he really plans to tell Londo what an idiot his ship captain was to open fire on the station in the first place. He gets on the core shuttle and heads for the Garden, where the “apology” is due to be made, but Centauri terrorists have placed a bomb on board. Sheridan manages to leap out just as the bomb goes off, destroying the shuttle. Although there is zero gravity along Babylon 5’s spin-axis, the force of the blast and Sheridan’s leap push him towards one of the spinning interior walls of the station and gravity slowly begins to build up. Delenn urges Kosh to do something or Sheridan will die, so Kosh emerges from his encounter suit and is revealed to be an angelic-like being of light with wings. He saves Sheridan and is recognised by all the aliens present as something different, one of the religious figures from their own worlds, although none of them bar Sheridan and Delenn realise it is Kosh.

Later, Delenn tells Sheridan that this event will worry the Shadows, who know that the Vorlons would not reveal themselves unless they were ready to stand against them, even though they are not. But then ISN transmits a report about a messenger pod found in hyperspace. A Shadow warship clearly appears in the image...

Dating the Episode: New Year’s Day 2259 is “a little over” a week away. Ivanova gives Sheridan a Christmas present, which is traditionally only done on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The next episode takes place ten days after this episode but within 2260, so it cannot be any earlier than 22 December.

The Arc: The aftermath of the Narn-Centauri War continues to reverberate. Na’Kal and his ship return to Babylon 5 in episode C18.

The war between the Centauri and the non-aligned worlds continues to rage until episode C11, when it is effectively halted in its tracks.

The more sinister side of Nightwatch emerges in this episode, prefiguring the events of episodes C5 and C8-C10.

The appearance of a Shadow warship is now public knowledge. This is followed up on in episode C1.

Babylon 5 gets to use the new weapons added to the defence grid in episode B10. The forward cargo stabiliser is destroyed in the battle; we see it being repaired in episode C1.

Background: Earthforce recovered debris from the Black Star after it was destroyed by Sheridan.

Babylon 5 is rotating at 60mph. The axis itself is zero-gravity and the core shuttles, located just below the axis, are in a reduced gravity zone. This is why Sheridan doesn’t fall like a stone when he jumps out of the shuttle. As he gets closer to the ground he would start accelerating, but wouldn’t necessarily have been killed by the fall. As Ivanova says, he would more likely have been killed because of the hull rotation (it would be like getting hit by a car travelling at 60mph).

The station maintains emergency jetpack crews to rescue people should they fall out of the core shuttle.

Earthforce regulations (General Order #47) require personnel to render aid to any ship in distress as long as it is not engaged in current combat operations against the Earth Alliance.

Shadow ships emit unusual neutrino emissions as they travel through hyperspace, which can be tracked.

Valeria is a Minbari holy figure. Droshalla is a similar Drazi figure. G’Lan is a Narn spiritual figure, previously mentioned in episode A5.

Christmas and Hanukah are both still celebrated in 2259. The lack of station-wide celebrations suggests that Christmas may be less of a cultural institution by 2259.

The comparative ease with which Babylon 5 destroys the Centauri cruiser compared to the problems the Narn had in taking down a ship of the same class (in B15) suggests that the Earth Alliance’s technological capabilities far outstrip those of the Narn Regime by this point, although they are not quite as advanced as the Centauri overall (and still a fair way behind the Minbari).

According to Joe Straczynski, the Centauri believe that each household god has his or her own afterlife. Centauri can choose to enter this afterlife or be reborn in the next generation. This results in a highly fragmented religious system that the Vorlons did not have great success in exploiting as they did with other races.

The Vorlons sometimes visited other worlds and left behind legends that grew into religious beliefs, and on other occasions they turned up much later and took advantage of pre-existing religious stories for their own benefit. So it’s not necessarily the case that “angels were real” and they were really Vorlons, it could be that they are myths and the Vorlons showed up later on to take the same appearance.

Also, according to Straczynski, if Babylon 5 looked like it was in danger of being destroyed, then Draal would have stepped in. However, Draal and Sheridan are trying to keep their alliance a secret, so he would only intervene if it was a situation Sheridan could not handle (the same is true in episode C10 as well).

References: Frederick Lantz is based on Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who declared that he had achieved “Peace in our time” with Nazi Germany at the Munich Peace Conference in 1938, only for World War II to break out a year later.

“Time on target” is a military term meaning that weapons are fired in such a way that the projectiles reach the target at the same time for maximum destructive impact (and in sufficient numbers to overwhelm the defences).

The Centauri locking weapons on B5 generates a sonar-like alarm in C&C, which is a reference to submarine combat movies like The Hunt for Red October.

There are some similarities between Kosh’s “real” appearance and that of the aliens in The Abyss. Steve Burg worked on the FX for both The Abyss and Babylon 5, so some subliminal influence may have crept it.

Unanswered Questions: Were the Centauri bombers ever caught?

Did Mitch report his conversation with Keffer?

Why on Earth did the Centauri captain open fire on Babylon 5 when there were many thousands of Centauri on board, not to mention representatives of other races (like the Minbari and Vorlons) who could squash the Centauri like bugs if they chose? The destruction of the (unmanned) forward cargo stabiliser hints that the Centauri may have been trying only to disable or disarm the station rather than obliterate it.

Why did the Shadows not find Keffer’s recorder buoy when it was emitted a distress call? Did the Shadows want the footage to be found?

Why did the Centauri cruiser not launch fighters to defend itself?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: The Drazi Ambassador seems fine with relaxing and shooting the breeze with Londo at the end of the episode, which is weird given that the Centauri have just started encroaching on Drazi space.

The odd “screech” explosion effect from B20 reoccurs when B5’s forward cargo stabiliser is blown off.

When the cargo stabiliser is destroyed, the Centauri weapons fire comes from behind and above the station. However, all of the other shots show the Centauri cruiser located in front of the station and on the same plane.

Behind the Scenes: The scene with Vir and Lennier at the bar was filmed for B21 but held over to this episode for time reasons.

J. Michael Straczynski was watching the filming of the bar scene. Bill Mumy suggested that he sit at one of the tables and just be there in the background, but Straczynski refused, and got quite annoyed when Mumy insisted. Straczynski later explained to Mumy that in order to write the show he had to believe in it, and seeing himself in it would destroy that illusion. That’s why he did not film a cameo with himself in it until the very last episode of the series (E22).

Straczynski had not been happy with the character of Keffer, feeling he’d be fostered on him by the studio to have more action sequences. Although he thought the character was “okay”, Straczynski did take a perverse delight in not just killing him, but melting his face off with CGI! Keffer’s death and Talia’s departure also freed up room in the cast budget for a new castmember to be introduced the following season (Marcus Cole in C1) and for Zack Allen (Jeff Conaway) to be promoted to a regular character.

The scenes with Sheridan’s fall, the interior of the Garden and the revelation of Kosh’s real appearance were the most logistically complex sequence of events the show had ever attempted. An extra day of filming was allocated to the episode (doable as it was the last episode filmed in the season) and Bruce Boxleitner and Joshua Patton spent a lot of time on flying rigs in front of bluescreens. The Foundation Imaging crew were also very unhappy with the interior Garden CGI they’d developed in the pilot and Season 1 and took extra time out to make the interior of the Garden higher in resolution and much more detailed, which added a huge amount to the render time (but was clearly worth it).

The Fall of Night was the most effects-intensive episode of Babylon 5 filmed to date, with 64 effects shots. This record was later smashed by episode C10, which had about 100 effects shots in 44 minutes (for comparison, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring had 500 effects shots in a three-hour, big-budget movie; The Return of the King had almost 1,500 shots).

When asked what he’d seen in the Garden, Peter Jurasik originally adlibbed, “I tawt I saw a putty tat, I did!”

According to Straczynski, if Sheridan had followed through on the speech he would have delivered the same speech he’d practiced, down to his “I’m sorry the Centauri captain was an idiot” addition.

This was one of three episodes (along with B9 and B20) that was longlisted for the 1996 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Performance. Straczynski chose to withdraw The Long, Twilight Struggle and The Fall of Night to boost the chances of The Coming of Shadows (it duly won). It also allowed 12 Monkeys onto the nomination shortlist, which pleased Straczynski (who was a big fan of the movie).

Familiar Faces: Frederick Lantz is played by veteran British character actor Roy Dotrice, who (amongst many other roles) had played Amadeus’s father in the movie Amadeus and the role of “Father” on Beauty and the Beast. Eighteen months or so after filming this episode he would begin voice recording on George R.R. Martin’s novel A Game of Thrones, which would give him another burst of popularity and give him the Guinness World Record for the largest number of characters voiced by a single voice actor.

Mr. Welles is, of course, played by John Vickery, who more familiarly plays the role of Neroon (most recently in episode B11). Straczynski wanted to showcase him as an actor without his Minbari make-up as a thank you (this also gives actors episodes to put on their show reel showing how they look and act without heavy prosthetics). Vickery returns as Neroon in later episodes and also as Mr. Welles in an episode of Crusade.

Robin Sachs (Na’Kal) has previously played the Minbari Hedronn in episodes B1 and B11. He is (probably) best-known for playing the recurring role of Ethan Rom on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Review: An extremely strong season finale, notable for its downbeat and maudlin atmosphere. Some excellent performances – it’s a shame we don’t see Roy Dotrice again – overcome some ripe dialogue and the contrivances needed to set up the finale and the (somewhat predictable) revelation of Kosh’s true appearance. Keffer’s death is also refreshingly off-hand. ****½

“It was the end of the Earth year 2259 and the war was upon us. As anticipated, a few days after the Earth-Centauri treaty was announced, the Centauri widened their war to include many in the League of Non-aligned Worlds. And there was another war brewing closer to home, a personal one whose cost would be higher than any of us could imagine. We came to this place because Babylon 5 was our last best hope for peace. By the end of 2259 we knew that it had failed. But in doing so it became something greater. As the war expanded it became our last, best hope for victory, because sometimes peace is another word for surrender, and because secrets have a way of getting out.”

       - Earthforce Commander Susan Ivanova

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