Babylonia!

If you’re new to the book club, links to the previous episodes can be found here.

This week, it’s Season 2, Episode 22: “The Fall of Night”

It’s difficult to discuss this show without occasionally wanting to discuss the next one (or the one after that, or the one after that), or referring to the pilot.

If you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them. Hey, if you use Firefox, there’s a simple plug-in that makes this as easy as highlighting text.

Everyone sitting comfortably? Then onward!

We open with Keffer’s (hey, remember him?) squad being drilled by Sheridan on fighting Centauri ships. He counsels caution when dog-fighting against aliens before Ivanova summons him back.

Vir and Lennier take a break to tersely share their mutual concerns while Sheridan and Ivanova meet with the Drazi and the Pak’ma’ra ambassadors. They report that the Centauri have started invading their worlds.

After the credits, Sheridan takes the opportunity to tick-off Londo, but he is rebuffed. Sheridan talks to Garibaldi about it, and Garibaldi notes that Londo’s behaviour is driven by the fact he is afraid – ultimately he’s not in control of this situation either. The meeting ends when Sheridan is informed that a representative of the Ministry of Peace has arrived.

Down in the fighter bays Keffer talks to one of his people about all the drills. She mentions that some other pilots saw what could only have been a shadow vessel. Keffer has encountered the Shadows before and this piques his curiosity.

Sheridan and Ivanova meet the Minipax delegation, which includes the guy from Minpax (Minipax rep), and a representative from the Night Watch (Night Watch Guy or NWG for short) and they’re keen to get down to business.

Keffer talks to a pilot about the Shadow sighting. Keffer is determined to prove he saw what he saw.

Ivanova and Minipax rep talk chew the fat for a bit before heading off.

Back up at Ops, Sheridan is surprised by a Narn heavy cruiser popping up behind the planet, where no one but B5 itself could see it. They beg for sanctuary.

Ivanova is visited in her quarters by NWG who intimates the Night Watch would be good for her career. Ivanova is not impressed.

Sheridan and G’Kar are discussing the heavy cruiser. When G’Kar hears about Minipax being on board, he takes this as a good sign and leaves elated.

The Night Watch are having a meeting and NWG chides Zack for not filing more reports. He and NWG argue about what is worth reporting as being potentially disloyal. This creeps Zack way the hell out.

Keffer and his fellow Shadow-spotter discuss how to find a Shadow vessel. The other pilot offers some help, and washes his hands of the whole thing.

The Minipax rep comes out of a meeting only to be buttonholed by G’Kar, but G’Kar is denied. Things continue in this vein, when the rep tells Sheridan that he’s not here to indict the Centauri, but to sign a treaty with them. He is determined to have “peace in our time” (subtlety is not one of JMS’s strong suits). This should come as no surprise though – G’Kar was happy for a moment, and as we should all know by now whenever G’Kar feels joy, something awful happens to him.

NWG is approached by a Night Watch member. Ooh, what could it be?

Ivanova and Sheridan exchange feelings of disillusionment when Ivanova decides to lighten the mood by giving Sheridan a Christmanukah gift – a prices of the Black Star, the Minbari ship he destroyed during the war. The mood is then re-dampened when Londo interrupts – he’s been told about the Narn! Sheridan stalls and goes into crisis mode.

The Centauri arrive, demanding the Narn ship. Sheridan refuses and readies for battle. And then the Centauri fire. The Narn cruiser escapes but the Centauri ship is destroyed due to the damage it suffered.

The Minipax rep is not happy, but Sheridan’s actions were legal and the Centauri did fire first. The matter will be dropped but Sheridan is ordered to apologise. Sheridan is not pleased about this.

While Keffer’s squad escorts the Narn cruiser to safety, he picks up evidence of Shadow activity. He decides to investigate and finds the Shadow ship, recording it.

While Sheridan makes his way to the ceremony Ivanova notices G’Kar hiding in the bushes. He wants to help, but Ivanova doubts that would be useful right now.

The Shadow vessel spots Keffer, and destroys him, but not before he launches a capsule containing his recording of the ship.

Sheridan gets on a transport to go to Grovelfest ’59, but notices a needlessly-obvious bomb and jumps before he is killed. There’s no time for a rescue, so Kosh leaves his encounter suit. And now we know what Kosh meant when he would be recognised by everyone. Kosh appears to each spectator as an angelic figure from their own culture. He flies Sheridan to safety.

It would seem the Vorlons have “guided” other races into seeing them as divine figures. The Vorlons reach is much wider than we had been aware. As Sheridan and Delenn discuss this, they hear Keffer is missing.

Ivanova’s sombre monologue ends the episode, and the season. Babylon 5 was our last, best hope for peace – It failed. The Centauri continue to expand unchecked and Keffer’s recording is found. The Shadows are no longer hidden. The Great War is upon them.

And that’s us for Season 2. In Mindless Diversions tradition, I suggest we take a couple of weeks to give everyone time to acquire Season 3. Does that work for everyone?

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10 thoughts on “Babylonia!

  1. The Night Watch story arc is one of the most disturbing arcs in this series. Especially now, given current events, it reminds me of how easily decent folk (Zack) can be lured into behavior considered unthinkable only recently, but not is considered acceptable.

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  2. One of the things that made the Stasi work is the fact that everybody knew about it.

    If nobody knows about the Stasi, all you’ve got is a society in which people disappear from time to time.

    All that to say, I don’t understand how the Night Watch works.

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    • Understand that this is a nascent Stasi. They start off just being Earthforce personnel with special armbands. That adds the imprimatur of authority to the Night Watch, and increases visibility. Then they start shutting people down. What we saw at the end of the episode might be the first person disappeared by the Night Watch, or at least by B5’s Night Watch.

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  3. I remember reading that the executives wanted a hot-shot pilot character, so the writers created Keffer, gave him no screen time, then killed him. I know we’re supposed to root for the writers’ artistic vision over the evil studio guys (boo! boo!), but things would have gone a lot better if they’d all worked together.

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  4. I like the Night Watch arc. Yes, it is obvious, but you want this to be obviously sinister/evil, so everyone that watches gets it.

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  5. He is determined to have “peace in our time” (subtlety is not one of JMS’s strong suits).

    Oh, yes. This is the most egregious example in the show, and highly annoying to me. We already have Earth signing a peace treaty with a nation with a record of present and continuing aggression, the parallel is already blatantly obvious, directly spelling it out via famous quote just feels like JMS is saying he thinks he audience are utter idiots.

    I have similar issues with the X-Men films. I like them – at any rate, I like the good ones (X-Men, X2, First Class, and to a lesser extent DOFP) – but they could be so much better if they handled their metaphors and parallels with a somewhat lighter hand.

    The second highly annoying aspect of this episode is the utter disaster that is the special effects. I don’t expect this show to be great in this area, and the effects typically don’t both at all. But the stupid, obvious bomb with a ticking counter (if you want to assassinate someone, probably better to leave the bomb hidden and/or not obviously looking like a bomb, so they don’t notice it) combined with Bruce Boxleitner waving around in front of a green screen turns what’s supposed to be the show’s climactic moment into a farce.

    I agree that the Night Watch is creepy and that Zack’s gradual embroilment with them is a good depiction of how such organizations operate.

    The Vorlons’ actions are incredibly disturbing. I like it that Sheridan immediately draws the correct conclusion – that the Vorlons deliberately impressed themselves into the minds of early human society as angelic figures – rather than being fooled into thinking that just because Kosh looked like an angel, the Vorlons must be unequivocal good guys. Instead of this being an even that causes him to treat the Vorlons completely uncritically, it’s the moment he starts to realize just how thoroughly humans – and every other spacefaring species in the galaxy – has been manipulated. And we may have noticed by now that Sheridan’s not a guy who likes being manipulated.

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    • I agree with all your points. The “Peace in our Time” line isn’t just unsubtle, its bad writing. No diplomat is ever going to use that line in defence of a diplomatic action. In the DVD commentary, JMS explicitly names him as a Neville Chamberlain figure, and if he really did want to convey that idea, he should have had Sheridan describe the peace mission in those terms and have Lanze try and argue back e.g:

      Nonsense, this is nothing like the Nazis. The Centauri didn’t attack the Narn at random, this was part of a centuries-long feud. This is a delicate time now Sheridan, The Centauri have conquered an enemy that less than a year ago was posing a grave threat to their sovereignty. Its very important right now that we don’t provoke them into seeing enemies everywhere. If they see that the interstellar community has no hostile intentions then there is no reason to believe they will want to keep fighting, rather than consolidating their gains. Comparing everyone you dislike to the Nazis is bigoted, inflammatory and will potentially lead to needless bloodshed and no one wants that.

      This would be wrong, but it’s something I could imagine a thinking human being actually saying.

      And the special effects … ugh. Obvious bomb is obvious. Why not have Sheridan see it hidden under the seat out of the corner of his eye? In fairness to the badness of the free-fall effects, JMS does agree with your assessment in the DVD commentary.

      But I agree that the Sheridan reaction to the Deus ex Vorlon was very well done, in particular in contrast to Delenn. She sees this as a miracle, and it shows that while Sheridan may love Delenn and be on her side, he doesn’t share all her perspectives. So JMS can do nuance sometimes at least.

      I also like the Night Watch stuff, even if it isn’t subtle either. The slide into tyranny is something that doesn’t get enough attention in fiction. It’s easy to create static societies labelled “free” or “tyrannical” and changes from tyranny to free pop up fairly often (though not often handled well), but the reverse is far too rare outside of “tyrant invades and takes over”.

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      • this was part of a centuries-long feud…an enemy that [poses] a grave threat to their sovereignty…Its very important right now that we don’t provoke them into seeing enemies everywhere…If they see that the [international] community has no hostile intentions then there is no reason to believe they will want to keep fighting…Comparing everyone you dislike to [any negatively-viewed historical entity] is bigoted, inflammatory

        Wow. I don’t want to assume this is intended as tacit agreement with views I’ve voiced on other (political) threads. But, regardless, every word of this is intensely familiar to me, and has been deployed against me, on numerous occasion, in debates on one particular issue. Don’t antagonize them, don’t make them see threats, don’t make unflattering comparisons, they didn’t even start this fight, the only way to make peace is through a position of unquestioning support…

        You may be getting a sense of some of the roots of my support for G’Kar (in addition to G’Kar’s general awesomeness).

        The slide into tyranny is something that doesn’t get enough attention in fiction.

        Yes, and here it’s even done in a slightly more subtle manner than other works (such as the Star Wars prequels). It’s a slide that people slowly, tacitly consent to rather than purely a case of everyone being hoodwinked. Which is far more realistic.

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      • I merely considered what I thought was the best argument for Earth signing a treaty with the Centauri and wrote it up. I don’t think it would be the right call in that situation, but it’s the sort of thing I could imagine a real diplomat saying. And a desire to avoid war and de-escalate chaotic and violent situations is often (though not always) laudable. If Europe’s leadership had more people like Lanze in it when Franz Ferdinand was killed, we might have avoided World War One.

        A lot of writers make the mistake of closely paralleling a political error by a character to one of History’s Great Blunders. But almost everyone who committed one of History’s Great Blunders had what felt to them like solid and defensible reasons for doing what they did. To make a character like Lanze believable you need to show that they are more than a fool – that they have logical (if erroneous) reasons for doing what they are doing.

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      • This is what makes the show’s bouts of heavy-handedness so frustrating. We’ve all sat through lamer sci-fi, with Ming the Merciless type villains. B5 aspired to something better. If you spin off the road in a Porsche, you’re just driving badly.

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