Thursday, 23 November 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 3, Episodes 3-4

C3: A Day in the Strife
Airdates: 20 November 1995 (US), 28 April 1996 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by David J. Eagle
Cast: Na’Far (Stephen Macht), Ta’Lon (Marshall Teague), Dr. Gonzales (Anne Betancourt), Lt. David Corwin (Joshua Cox), G’Dok (Michael Bailey Smith), Narn #1 (Neil Bradley), Narn #2 (Mark Hendrickson), MedTech (Larita Shelby), Troublemaker (John Saint Ryan)

Plot:    Na’Far, the new, Centauri-approved Narn Ambassador to Babylon 5, arrives at the station to take over from G’Kar as leader of the local Narn population. He tells G’Kar that unless G’Kar hands himself over to the Centauri, the families of the Narn still on Babylon 5 will be imprisoned and harassed. G’Kar resolves himself to his fate, but Na’Far’s bodyguard, Ta’Lon (the same Narn befriended by Sheridan in B11), convinces both G’Kar and the local Narn population that G’Kar can do more good for their world here on Babylon 5. Na’Far realises he will never be accepted as the Narn leader and returns to Narn. Ta’Lon decides to stay behind to assist G’Kar.

Londo is becoming concerned that Vir may be swept up in the troubles that he feels are coming. He calls in the favour Delenn owes him (A19) and has Vir assigned to Minbar as the first Centauri ambassador granted permission to live there for several years. Vir departs for the Minbari homeworld.

Garibaldi is becoming concerned that Dr. Franklin is relying too much on stimulants to stay awake and work extra hours. Franklin assures him he has the situation under control, but Garibaldi doesn’t know if he can believe him.

A robotic alien probe arrives at the station. It offers to give the inhabitants of Babylon 5 new technology, including medical advances and weapons, after determining whether or not they are worthy. If they fail to answer its 600-odd questions on physics and chemistry, it will explode and destroy the entire station. The answers are gathered, but Sheridan ponders why the aliens are using an all-or-nothing approach. He suddenly realises that if they answer all the questions then the aliens will realise they are advanced enough to be a threat and then the bomb will explode. Sheridan withholds the answers and the alien probe, convinced Babylon 5 isn’t a threat, leaves peacefully. Sheridan waits until it is well out of range and transmits the answers anyway, which causes the probe to explode and removing it as a threat from other races.


The Arc: The Centauri are still keen to get their hands on G’Kar. We find out the lengths they are prepared to go to in episode C20.

Although Vir heads off to Minbar in this episode, we still see him on a regular basis, in episodes C6, C9 and C12. C12 also explains why there hasn’t been a Centauri ambassador to Minbar for several years.

Londo mentions a favour Delenn owes him. This is in return for him taking Draal and Delenn to Epsilon III through the middle of a firefight in episode A19.

Franklin’s use of stims was first seen in episodes B17 and B18. It becomes important to the plot of episode C15.

Garibaldi visits G’Kar to ask him not to leave the station. This triggers an unlikely friendship between the two characters that is developed further across the rest of the season.

Background: A katok is a Narn sword. It can only be returned to the sheath once it has drawn blood.

Babylon 5's computer can decode an alien language from scratch in 2-3 hours. This is considered "slow".

References: The alien probe is called a “beserker”. This is a reference to Fred Saberhagen’s science fiction Beserker novel series, about a war between humanity and a race of alien machines left behind by an ancient civilisation.

The episode was inspired by a 1970s report from the US House Science Sub-Committee which recommended that, in the event of an alien probe arriving in our Solar system, the people of Earth should not respond to any reports in case it was a beserker. However, the general scientific consensus is that this would be useless given the vast amounts of data and transmissions pouring out from our planet as a result of everyday human activity.

Unanswered Questions: Who built the probe?

Why didn’t the probe turn around and fly back to B5 before detonating? It seems a bit dumb for it to just blow up in open space.

Why didn’t Londo get a replacement attaché from Centauri Prime? Did Londo not just trust anyone to do the job?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Several times we’ve seen Station Security confiscating knives and blades from visitors to the station. Ta’Lon is allowed to wander around with his sword freely. It might be permissible for this episode due to diplomatic immunity, but it is not the case in later episodes when he is working as a self-employed bodyguard and assistant to G’Kar.

This episode’s original UK broadcast featured an awful edit where the camera cut away from Franklin injecting himself with stims and cut back to him closing the drawer. This was due to UK broadcast regulations which prohibited scenes of drug use before the 9pm watershed. This resulted in a completely different interpretation of the scene, where it looked like Franklin was going to inject the stims and then changed his mind, whilst the uncut version confirms he did take the stims and his problem is getting worse.

Neil Bradley is one of Babylon 5’s “alien rep”, a group of actors who were very comfortable acting in prosthetics and usually played minor roles as a Minbari, Narn, Drazi, Markab etc. However, he has a distinctive slim build and a very distinctive voice, leading to the conclusion that the Narn he is playing in this episode is Kha’Mak, the Narn liaison with the Kha’Ri that G’Kar reported to in episodes B9 and B20 whom Bradley also played. This does not appear to be the case. Similarly, but less immediately notably, Mark Hendrickson previously played the commander of the Narn fighter squadron defending Quadrant 37 in episode A22 where he was killed by the Shadows. Clearly these are both different characters.

Ivanova sends out a recovery time to search for debris from the probe. It should be noted that a 500,000 megaton nuclear explosion (which is 2.5 million times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) would atomise the casing it was held in an and everything around it. There would be no debris to recover.

Behind the Scenes: This is the first episode where Joshua Cox’s character is officially credited as “David Corwin”. Previously he’d been credited as “Tech 1”, “Tech 2” etc even after his character was named for the first time in B15.

This is the episode where Stephen Furst left the show to star in a sitcom called Misery Loves Company. Originally, he was going to only make guest appearances, but the producers made a deal which allowed them continue using Furst on a sporadic basis. However, the sitcom was cancelled after six episodes and Furst returned to Babylon 5 full-time.

Straczynski contacted Richard Biggs before filming began on the season to discuss the idea of giving Franklin an addiction storyline. Once Biggs was satisfied that the story was not going to descend into the usual clichés, he was happy to pursue the storyline. He researched the phases of drug addiction and noted the first phase was denial, which he played in this episode.

Familiar Faces: Nelson Drake reprises his role as Ta’Lon from episode B15. He also played Nelson Drake in episode A4.

Stephen Macht (Ta’Lon) is a highly experienced American actor. He had recurring roles on Knots Landing and Cagney and Lacey, as well as appearing in three of the Trancer films. In 1987 he was nearly cast as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and was Gene Roddenberry’s main choice for the role. However, Roddenberry was overruled by Paramount and co-producer Rick Berman, who preferred Patrick Stewart.

John Saint Ryan (the tall troublemaker at the Transport Association meeting) is an English actor but has specialised in playing American roles. Active in both the UK and US acting scenes, he is arguably still best-known for playing the charismatic Charlie Whelan on Coronation Street in 1994 (a love interest for Bet Gilroy). Amongst many other roles, he would return to the Babylon 5 universe a few years later when he was cast as a Technomage on Crusade.

Review: A minor and slightly boring episode. The Narn stuff is excellent (Katsulas is great as usual, Stephen Macht does a lot with a small role) but the alien probe storyline feels so rote and Star Trek-ish that no-one seems to engage with it with any enthusiasm. ***

Ivanova: "I don't want to get killed because of a typo. It'd be embarrassing."

C4: Passing Through Gethsemane
Airdates: 27 November 1995 (US), 5 May 1996 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Adam Nimoy
Cast: Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman), Brother Edward (Brad Dourif), Brother Theo (Louis Turenne), Malcolm (Robert Keith), Centauri Telepath (Mark Folger), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Business Person (Natalie Brunt), News Anchor #1 (Steve Gonzales), News Anchor #2 (Lynn Blades)

Plot:    Brother Edward - one of the monks who came aboard a few weeks ago (episode C2) - is troubled by a series of strange events. He sees writing on walls, has horrible nightmares and strange visions. By looking through the station news archive he discovers that he actually used to be a brutal serial killer who was captured and mindwiped for his crimes. He is sickened and goes to Brother Theo for help, but Theo is at a loss as to what he can do for him.

Lyta Alexander returns to Babylon 5 after an absence of about three months. She tells Sheridan and Ivanova that after leaving the station last time she paid a transport captain to take her to the edge of Vorlon space. She bailed out in a lifepod and waited, transmitting telepathic signals in all directions, until the Vorlons came for her. She has spent most of the time since on the Vorlon homeworld being...retrained. She has now returned and is to serve as Ambassador Kosh’s aide. Garibaldi is investigating the situation with Brother Edward and discovers that a Centauri telepath has been used to trigger his hidden memories. Lyta takes the information she needs from the telepath’s mind and Garibaldi goes to rescue Edward, but it is too late: one of the brothers of his victims has murdered him. In a shocking irony, the murderer himself is mindwiped and joins Theo’s group of monks.

Meanwhile, Lyta prepares to leave on her first assignment for Kosh. Before she goes, strange beams of light arc between her and Kosh’s encounter suit...

The Arc: We find out what the strange energy streams linking Kosh and Lyta are in episodes D1, D3 and D4.

Lennier says that Valen was a “Minbari not born of Minbari” and that he appeared out of nowhere 1,000 years ago to found the Grey Council. We find out more about this in episode C17.

Background: This episode reinforces the idea that the various governments have embassies directly on each other’s homeworlds as well as on Babylon 5.

Lyta Alexander now has gill implants to allow her to breath the Vorlon atmosphere. We see that G’Kar had these implants in episode PM. Interestingly, the implants did not show up on Franklin’s examinations. The Vorlons have also “fixed” a number of minor health issues for Lyta.

There is an “Earth Colony 3” in the Orion system. This might be a reference to either Orion IV or Orion VII, or a city on one of those planets, which are confirmed member worlds of the Earth Alliance.

References: The title refers to the Garden of Gethsemane, an olive tree garden in Jerusalem where, in the Bible, Jesus was arrested by the Romans and taken to his eventual execution.

Brad Dourif’s character was originally called “Charles”, which in the United States is frequently rendered as “Chuck”. This is likely a nod to Dourif’s longest-running role, voicing the possessed doll in the Chucky series of horror comedies since 1988.

When Garibaldi says he believes in “an eye for an eye”, Delenn responds that this would lead to everyone being blind. This is a reference to Gandhi’s saying, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”

Unanswered Questions: What is the Vorlon homeworld like?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: According to Lyta Alexander, it’s been about a month since she left Babylon 5 in episode B19. However, the events of episode C2 would place this episode in very late January or (more realistically) February 2260, whilst Lyta’s visit to B5 most likely took place in October or (at the latest) November 2259. It might be that Lyta’s experiences with the Vorlons resulted in a “lost time” phenomenon (a side-effect in many stories of alien abduction), but if so it is odd that none of the rest of the crew correct her.

This episode identifies a huge number of problems with the logic behind the “death of personality” as a punishment for crimes. Unless accompanied by extensive plastic surgery, the perpetrator of the crime can still be identified. It also seems to be a pointless punishment for high-profile criminals whose crimes were heinous and they can still be identified years later.

Behind the Scenes: Straczynski originally wrote this episode for Season 2, but whilst he was developing it a fan suggested a similar idea on a Babylon 5 message board Straczynski frequented. Straczynski had to delay the episode whilst he got a legal waiver from the fan to confirm that he hadn’t ripped off the idea, delaying the episode (to Straczynski’s frustration).

This episode and C5 were filmed in the reverse order and swapped when the CG work on C5 proved more extensive than first expected.

Straczynski wanted this episode to be his Twilight Zone homage in the Babylon 5 universe. Straczynski worked briefly on The New Twilight Zone in the 1980s alongside Harlan Ellison.

According to Straczynski, there was a convent in Chicago where the nuns would watch the show every week and discuss its theological and spiritual implications afterwards. He sent them a signed copy of this episode.

Familiar Faces: Director Adam Nimoy is the son of Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock).

Brad Dourif is arguably best-known for playing the role of Grima Wormtongue in the Lord of the Rings movies The Two Towers and The Return of the King. He also played Doc Cochrane in Deadwood, Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Piter De Vries in David Lynch’s version of Dune and, of course, has voiced the character of Chucky in the horror comedy series of the same name since 1988.

Review: An interesting episode with some intriguing moral questions, but the overall effectiveness of the episode is weakened because the whole mindwipe idea, although clever, runs into massive problems of credibility when any kind of logic is applied to it (is it really that easy to discover your true identity?). This mars an otherwise fine piece of drama, rooted in an absolutely outstanding guest performance by Brad Dourif. ***½

Delenn: "The soul is a non-localised phenomenon."

Delenn: "We are the universe, trying to understand itself."

Theo: "Forgiveness is a hard thing, but something to ever strive for."

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1 comment:

madradena said...


I've been enjoying your rewatches as I'm rewatching the series myself, and I learned a lot of very interesting stuff so far from your blog, so thanks for the excellent work!

I'd like to point out one small thing in Episode 3, after the sub-title "Familiar Faces": Marshall Teague played Ta'Lon (you wrote the name Nelson Drake twice). - I wouldn't have noticed, if I wasn't looking for the name actually, because I was surprised to find ONE Narn that could be considered quite handsome despite the prostetics and all. :P I was curious, how the human underneath looked (surprisingly less handsome :D ).

Also I'd definitely include Ivanova's remark in the Quotes section, about her surviving the job without losing her mind would be of Biblical proportions (and Corwin says some snarky thing afterwards too), I thought it was pretty funny :)

Keep up with the good work! Now, off to watch Episode 4! ^^