Saturday 16 December 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 3, Episodes 19-20

C19: Grey 17 is Missing
Airdates: 7 October 1996 (US), 1 September 1996 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by John C. Flinn III
Cast: Jeremiah (Robert Englund), Neroon (John Vickey), Rathenn (Time Winters), Supervisor (Katherine Moffat), First Man (Eamonn Roche), Maintenance Worker (Thom Barry)

Date: October or November 2260.

Plot:    Telepaths from many races are arriving at Babylon 5 in response to Sheridan’s plea for help from humans and aliens with psi-abilities. He is trying to put telepaths willing to fight the Shadows on as many League, Minbari and Narn rebel ships as possible to slow down the Shadow advance. However, many telepaths are simply unwilling to go up against the Shadows. Ivanova goes Downbelow and finds Franklin, now deep in the grip of stim withdrawal. Despite this, she gets him to hand over his database containing information on the whereabouts of the rogue telepaths he helped to escape Psi Corps (B7). They should be more willing to repay the debt they owe to Babylon 5.

A maintenance worker goes missing in Grey Sector and Garibaldi investigates. He discovers that a religious sect has taken over level Grey 17 and is using it as a hiding place. The sect believes that they spiritually one with the universe and should return to the universe through one act of purity, namely getting killed by the Zarg they have hidden down here. Garibaldi manages to kill the Zarg and (presumably) has the nutters thrown off the station.

Rathenn, Sinclair’s former aide on Minbar, arrives on Babylon 5 with Sinclair’s belongings, which Delenn arranges to be sent on to his family on Earth and Mars. There is another purpose to Rathenn’s visit as well: Delenn has been almost unanimously elected as the new leader of the Rangers. She is startled but agrees to accept the honour. The Rangers begin gathering at Babylon 5, but another familiar face arrives as well: Neroon of the warrior caste, formerly of the Grey Council. He tells her that the religious caste is treading too much on the toes of the warriors by building ships and arming the Rangers. He suggests she surrender control of the Rangers to the warrior caste - him in particular - and when she refuses he indicates he might take the role of Entil’zha by force. Lennier, concerned for Delenn’s safety, goes to Marcus and tells him of Neroon’s presence. Marcus confronts Neroon and they battle one another, Neroon puzzled as to why the human is intervening in Minbari affairs. After the battle is over - with Marcus almost dead - Neroon realises that the Rangers respect Delenn in a way they would could for him and agrees to accept Delenn as Entil’zha.


Dating the Episode: Uncertain, but the recruitment of telepaths is proceeding apace and Sheridan is considering strategy, which seems to place this episode not long before the following one.

The Arc: Delenn regains some of the prestige and power on Minbar she lost after her transformation by becoming the new leader of the Rangers, replacing the departed Sinclair, who went back in time in C17.

The “weirdness” of Grey Sector has been referred to before, mainly in episode B16.

The cult in Grey 17 follows the same philosophy as the Minbari, namely the idea that the universe is sentient and has created life to try to figure itself out. This philosophy is very clearly explained in episodes A15, B4 and C4, most prominently.

Neroon indicates that the law that no Minbari shall harm another was tied to the existence of the Grey Council. Now the Council is no more, the law should not be binding any more either. This, and other hints of trouble brewing on Minbar, is expanded upon in episodes D11 and D13-D14.

Neroon claims that the religious caste are building warships. We find out more about these ships in episode C20.

The Rangers were founded by Valen during the last Great War. The organisation appears to have been suspended since then. We learn more about this in TVM1.

Neroon and Marcus were both taught the fighting pike by Durhan, a master warrior caste trainer. We meet Durhan in book NOV9 and episode E5.

There are references to Franklin’s time spent running the underground railroad of telepaths, as we discovered in episode B7.

Background: The Zarg was slipped onto the station as an egg. A line explaining this was cut for time.

Garibaldi’s grandmother worked as police officer in the Boston PD. Her weapon was a Smith & Weston .38 calibre revolver.

“Slugthrowers” – guns using bullets – are still in private use on Earth but have been phased out in favour of PPGs, which are more likely to wound without killing and are less dangerous on spacecraft and in pressurised domes.

Delenn’s father died ten years ago, his heart broken by the Earth-Minbari War. Delenn’s mother joined a religious order known as the Daughters of Valeria. Delenn has only seen her twice since.

Grey Sector has 30 levels.

A newspaper lying on the ground in Grey Sector has the headline, “SANTIAGO RE-ELECTED”. This may be a hint as to how long the cult has been in Grey 17: Santiago was re-elected in January 2258, during the events of episode A1.

The den’sha is the Minbari duel to the death. According to Straczynski, a Minbari who invokes the den’sha is surrendering their fate unto the universe, so the practice is exempt from the prohibition of one Minbari killing another, since they are accepting their own death.

References: This episode has rather a more literal use of the Chekhov’s Gun metaphor (if a gun is put on the mantelpiece in Act I, it must be fired by Act III) than normal.

The Centauri Triangle is a reference to the Bermuda Triangle, an area of the western Atlantic Ocean where boats and aircraft are said to have vanished without a trace. Although the notion has mostly been disproven – the area is among the most heavily-travelled in the world and accidents and disappearances in the region, especially in modern times, are almost non-existent – it remains a popular idea in the public consciousness.

This wasn’t a conscious reference (unless Straczynski had prophetic powers we didn’t know about), but there is some interest in the fact that Straczynski later ended up as a producer and writer on Showtime’s Jeremiah, also the name of Robert Englund’s character in this episode.

Jeremiah is most likely named for the Book of Jeremiah, one of the books of the Old Testament.

Neroon vanishing into thin air when Delenn has her back turned for a few seconds may be a Batman reference.

Unanswered Questions: What happened with the cult in Grey Sector? Was Grey 17 ever reclaimed and cleaned up?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: From the dialogue, it sounds like Neroon is personally claiming to have killed 50,000 humans during the Earth-Minbari War, or roughly one-fifth the total number of human casualties. It’s more likely that Neroon was referring to his Star Riders clan, who were among the most enthusiastic prosecutors of the war.

The steam would have caused the bullets closest to the heat source – the ones at the back – to have gone off before the ones at the front, causing a misfire or explosion in the pipe.

Behind the Scenes: J. Michael Straczynski was not keen on this episode, feeling that the Zarg did not work as a monster and the costume was terrible. He later offered to personally apologise to every single fan for the episode.

Jerry Doyle also hated the episode. He preferred episodes that were strong on character relationships, not killing monsters.

Straczynski played a practical joke on Jason Carter for this episode, suggesting he was going to die in the fight with Neroon. At the end of the episode he wrote the line, “You can relax now, Jason” into the script after Marcus wakes up in MedLab.

John C. Flinn wanted a much more brutal and gritty fight than normal, so he mounted the camera on his shoulder and got right into the action. This worked very well in terms of shots, but he ended up getting hit in the legs and chest by the actors with the pikes. Flinn noted that he didn’t care, but did leave work with a lot of bruises that day.

The Zarg costume appears to be a redress of the Ikarran war machine costume from episode A4.

Familiar Faces: Robert Englund (Jeremiah) is, of course, best-known for playing Freddie Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street movie series. As a young actor he auditioned for the role of Han Solo in the original Star Wars and urged his housemate Mark Hamill to try auditioning as well, which ended up being successful. He has numerous TV, movie and stage credits, but is probably best-known outside of horror for playing Willie on the V mini-series and ongoing TV series.

Thom Barry (Maintenance Worker) started his career in radio and was a successful DJ in Cincinnati in the 1980s. He became an actor in the mid-1990s, quickly notching up roles on Chicago Hope, Space: Above and Beyond, Seinfeld and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He is best-known for playing Will Jeffries in Cold Case (2003-10).

Katherine Moffat (Supervisor) was a familiar face on American television from the late 1970s through to the late 1990s, appearing on many American series of the time. She had a starring role in the TV series Boone (1983-84) and played Scarlet Witch in the 1990s Marvel Iron Man animated series.  She appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation (The Game) and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Necessary Evil). She retired from acting in 1998, after a guest shot on Sliders.

Review: Very much an episode of two halves. The Grey Sector stuff is, to put it mildly, complete garbage and a waste of a very talented guest star in Robert Englund. The Zarg looks worse than most 1970s Doctor Who monsters and the resolution is a bit too similar to the Star Trek episode Arena. The Neroon/Marcus stuff is far superior, but is a bit underdeveloped. **½

Lennier: “I respectfully suggest that he intends to go far beyond harsh language.”

Garibaldi: “I hate Grey Sector.”

C20: And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place
Airdates: 14 October 1996 (US), 8 September 1996 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by David J. Eagle
Cast: Lord Refa (William Forward), Rabbi Leo Mayers (Erick Avari), Reverend William Dexter (Mel Winkler), Brother Theo (Louis Turenne), Minister Virini (Francois Giroday), Drigo (Paul Keith), G’Dan (Wayne Alexander), Singer (Marva Hicks)

Date: 7-11 December 2260, Z-minus 14 days to Z-minus 10 days.

Plot: Thanks to Franklin’s information, enough telepaths have signed on with the War Council’s member races to begin planning an effective counter-offensive against the Shadows. There is one problem, however, namely that the Shadow attacks are still totally random and there is no way to work out where the next attack will be. Until they can predict the location of the next attack, there is no way they can intercept the Shadows before they strike.

A group of religious leaders arrive from Earth, including the Baptist preacher Reverend Will Dexter, Rabbi Leo Myers and Muslim and Buddhist leaders as well. Officially they are paying a goodwill visit to the faithful on the station, but they have also smuggled messages to the station from both crewmembers’ families back home on Earth and the various resistance movements against President Clark’s rule. Dexter notices that Sheridan is becoming stressed by the Shadow situation and suggests he get some help from other people on the station. Sheridan discusses the situation with Delenn and they suddenly notice that, right in the middle of a group of sectors attacked by Shadow forces, there is one area that hasn’t been hit at all: Sector 83. Refugees have been flocking there for months. Sheridan realises the Shadows have been corralling refugees into this sector over the past few months and plan to destroy them all at once, delivering a crippling blow to morale against the races opposing them.

Centauri Minister Virini arrives on Babylon 5 with Lord Refa. He has been ordered by Emperor Cartagia to resolve the feud between House Refa and House Mollari before it causes any more problems at Court. Londo suggests that if he proves House Mollari’s superior worth to the Republic than that will resolve the problem to the Emperor’s satisfaction. Virini agrees. Londo summons Vir and orders him to go to G’Kar and tell him that his former aide Na’Toth is being held prisoner on the Narn homeworld. Londo knows this will send G’Kar back to Narn where he will have a trap prepared. The prestige gained from delivering the last free member of the Kha’Ri to the Emperor will be considerable and cause House Mollari’s star to eclipse that of Refa. G’Kar takes the bait and, with help from the Rangers, is smuggled back to Narn. Refa, anxious to find out what Londo is planning, has Vir taken prisoner and scanned by a Centauri telepath. He goes to Narn personally to prepare a trap of his own. However, the whole thing is an enormous double-bluff: Londo fed Vir false information precisely to entrap Refa. Refa’s guards, paid off by Londo, abandon him and G’Kar and the Narns, informed by Londo that it was Refa’s plan to bomb the Narn homeworld against Londo’s objections, tear Refa apart. G’Kar returns to Babylon 5 in secret and Londo plants evidence making it look like Refa was a traitor to Centauri Prime. Minister Virini gives his full thanks to Londo and returns to the homeworld.

Delenn takes Sheridan on the White Star to a special rendezvous. They find a whole fleet of ships identical to the White Star waiting for them. Delenn tells him that they are now ready to confront the Shadows and she and Sheridan embrace before the whole fleet.

Dating the Episode: Ivanova’s log gives the episode start date as 7 December 2260. Captions provide the legends “z-minus 14 days” through to “z-minus 10 days”.

The Arc: Sheridan and Delenn discover that the Shadows are planning a major assault on Sector 83, where many refugees from their previous attacks have gathered in a safe haven. This is followed up on in episode C21.

The White Star is now revealed to be just one of many ships of the same class. There were hints in C1 that it wasn’t supposed to be just one of a kind and there was an explicit mention in C19 that the religious caste were building a fleet over the objections of the warrior caste. Although specific figures are never mentioned, there are at least 27 White Star-class ships (White Star 27 is the highest ship mentioned before the end of the series), although more than 50 can be seen in the final shot. According to JMS, around 150 White Star-class ships have been built by the Rangers.

Refa, who’s been knocking around since the start of Season 2, finally meets his end. It’s made clear that Londo kills him not just for the murder of his friend Prime Minister Malachi (in B9) but also in retaliation for Adira’s death in episode C15. He doesn’t yet know that it was really Morden who arranged her death. There are further developments here in episode D6.

Londo poisoned Refa in episode C11 so, in one sense, he is “already dead”. Londo killing him in this episode may be him failing to avert his destiny as prophecised by Lady Morella in C9 (“Do not kill the one who is already dead”).

Na’Toth is mentioned for the first time since episode B12. We discover in this episode that she was presumed killed during the Centauri bombing of the Narn homeworld (in B20). We learn her true fate in episode E10.

Delenn and Sheridan finally kiss in this episode. They previously did in C17 but that was in the future. They almost did in episode C12 but were interrupted.

Background: It takes only a few hours (less than one day) to travel from Babylon 5 to Narn, making it the closest major alien homeworld to B5 (confirmed by episode A12, which places Narn at 12 light-years from B5, two light-years closer than Earth).

According to Straczynski, the Centauri did not kill 500 Narns in retaliation for Refa’s death (as required by the rules established in episode B20). Their feeling was that Refa basically got himself killed through his own stupidity, not a terrorist attack by the Narn resistance. It’s possible Londo influenced this decision as well (or his offer to free 2,000 Narn POWs was meant to outstrip the losses).

The War Council/Alliance against the Shadows now appears to consist of Babylon 5, the Minbari, the Narn Resistance, the Drazi, Pak’ma’ra, Brakiri, Vree and Gaim.

Both House Mollari and House Refa are powerful in the Centaurum, but House Refa has somewhat more influence.

The Narn homeworld has been covered in clouds since the bombing (in episode B20). The global temperature has dropped and the planet will be decades in recovering.

Between 5 and 6 million Narns have died in the bombings and occupation (but see Mistakes below).

This is the first time we see the Narn homeworld in the series.

References: The title of the episode and the closing song is a reference to Revelations 6: 15-17.

Unanswered Questions: If the explored part of the galaxy is so huge and the Shadows are attacking across it, why has everything in Babylon 5 so far happened in just a few dozen light-years of the station?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: The episode shows Rabbi Mayers singing enthusiastically along with the gospel choir at the end, which Straczynski highlighted because he misremembered the Biblical lines as coming from the Old Testament and being shared with the Hebrew Bible (thus it would be acceptable for a Jewish religious practitioner to join in with the song). However, the lines actually came from the New Testament. Straczynski acknowledged the error and noted that he might have just been polite.

Only 5 or 6 million Narns dying in the planetary bombardment seems highly improbable. The planet was pummelled from low orbit by asteroids for days on end, particulate matter has been hurled up into the atmosphere and countless Narns have died from starvation and exposure. NOV4 suggested a death toll closer to 600 million, which seems far more credible.

Londo’s plan is only effective if Refa chooses to go to Narn personally (which is not a given) and if he doesn’t take his own guards with him. If Refa sent minions to do the job instead, or if he had taken a dozen trusted men, the plan collapses.

This episode raises the “Babylon 5 Galactic Scaling Problem” in full force. All previous episodes of Babylon 5 have suggested that the scale of the show is very small, occurring over just a couple of hundred light-years. Centauri Prime is one of the more remote alien homeworlds and it’s still only 75 light-years from B5, for example. However, this episode shows a map of the Shadow attacks which spans approximately one-sixth of the width of the entire galaxy, or around 16,700 light-years! This scaling problem continues with the placement of Z’ha’dum, which on the Galactic Rim should be about 20,000 light-years from Babylon 5 but people fly to it and back pretty quickly.

Behind the Scenes: Once again, the actress singing the song at the end was a professional singer.

The juxtaposition of the song with Refa’s brutal death was a nod at a scene in Cabaret where the cabaret owner is being beaten up by Brownshirts whilst everyone else is having a good time in the club.

The tunnels on Narn appear to be a redress of the Epsilon III underground tunnels set.

William Forward, who plays Refa, was upset at being killed off. J. Michael Straczynski contacted him and told him it was the opposite, that his performance had been outstanding and that was why killing him off was a good move, because if he’d been awful no-one would have cared. Straczynski raised the possibility of Forward coming back in a later episode under alien prosthetics, but ultimately this did not take place.

Peter Jurasik was sorry to see William Forward leave the show, feeling that he’d been a great foil for Londo.

The hologram scene took four hours to film, since they had to act it with Peter Jurasik there (for dialogue reference), then without him (for the take) and then the other actors had to leave and Jurasik had to do the scene again by himself (to be matted in later). Andreas Katsulas loved the plot twist and G’Kar having to return to his destroyed world, but was less keen on the “high-tech” stuff.

Familiar Faces: Erick Avari (Rabbi Leo Mayers) is a well-known American actor of Indian origin. He is probably best-known for playing Kasuf in both the original StarGate movie and its TV spin-offs (a rare case of an actor transferring from the films to the TV show), and also played Dr. Chandra Suresh, the father of Mohinder, on Heroes. His other roles include Dragnet¸ The West Wing and The 13th Warrior. He has also played different characters on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. His most recent appearances include The Brink, Madam Secretary, Warehouse 13 and playing Master Rahool in the Destiny video games from Bungie.

Mel Winkler (Reverend Dexter) is known for his recurring voice role as Aku Aku in the Crash Bandicoot video game series. His other roles include Oswald, NYPD Blue, The Shield and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

Marva Hicks (Singer) is an American actress, composer and singer. She is best-known for Labour Day, Virtuosity and for playing Tuvok’s wife, T’Pel, on Star Trek: Voyager.

Louis Turenne (Brother Theo) makes his final appearance in the Babylon 5 universe in this episode.

Wayne Alexander (G’Dan) makes his second appearance in the Babylon 5 universe. He previously played the sinister Sebastian in episode B21.

Review: A very solid episode, although Londo’s overly complicated plan to kill Refa feels like it shouldn’t have worked. Still, Londo getting the upper hand is entertaining, his willingness to use and abuse Vir is chilling and the discovery of the Shadow plan is very effective. ***½

Vir: “Londo, they could have killed me.”
Londo: “Nonsense! You’re not important enough to kill.”

Reverend Dexter: “The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is the one who tells you that you must hate that which is different. Because, in the end, that hate will turn on you and that same hate will destroy you.”

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy series is debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read it there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

No comments: