Babylonia!

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

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, search Add Ons for “Leet Key” and you’re good to go.

Katherine’s editorial note:

A warning before reading: this time in particular, do NOT read any of the rot13-coded text unless you’ve watched the rest of this season and Season 4. There are major, major spoilers. As a final note – if anyone is willing to take on some or all of the next three episodes, I would really appreciate it.

 

This week, it’s Season 3, Episode 15: “Interludes and Examinations”, recapped by Katherine!

 

Everyone sitting comfortably? Then onward!

At the end of last episode, the station received news that the Shadows had begun attacking openly. Babylon 5 has hired more security to deal with the tensions and prevent potential infiltrators, but they manage to miss Morden’s return despite having visual records of him and despite him being the only Shadow operative known to the station staff and thus the first person they should be screening for. They should have every security camera on the station set up to send up an alert if Morden’s detected. Franklin is increasingly using stims, and being increasingly affected by them, contradicting Ivanova’s opening narration that “everyone’s handling the stress pretty well”. Morden’s return, and apparent murder of a man, is shown to Ivanova’s voiceover of “we should be okay for now”. It’s not subtle, but is still effective: things are going to get worse. And on top of all this, nobody’s seen Kosh in over a week.

For possibly the first time (or did we see them in “In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum”?), we clearly see the Shadows who accompany Morden. And for all the criticism this show’s special effects get, both the Shadow ships and the Shadows themselves are designed extremely effectively: impressive, unsettling, terrifying. Guvf orpbzrf rira zber vzcerffvir nsgre jr yrnea gung guvf vf gur erfhyg bs qryvorengr Ibeyba znavchyngvba, grnpuvat uhznaf naq bgure enprf gb nffbpvngr gur nccrnenapr bs gur Funqbjf jvgu greevoyr, sevtugravat, rivy guvatf, naq gb nffbpvngr gur Ibeybaf jvgu natryf.

The Shadows have deliberately been inciting the lesser powers to go to war with each other, in order to drain them of military strength and resources, and now those worlds under attack have no way of defending themselves. Guvf frrzf haarprffnel, nf gur Funqbjf jbhyq infgyl birecbjre nal bs gurfr tebhcf naljnl, ohg nf jr yngre yrnea, vg’f gur Funqbjf’ qevivat checbfr: fgneg jnef fb gung gur fgebatrfg fheivir naq cebterff, naq gur jrnx ner qrfgeblrq. Vg zhfg qevir gurz ahgf gung gur Zvaonev, gur fgebatrfg bs gur lbhat enprf ol n jvqr znetva, ner trarenyyl vfbyngvbavfg engure guna rkcnafvbavfg, naq guhf qba’g perngr na nezf enpr jvgu bgure fcrpvrf.

Those species who have not yet been attacked are not interested in supporting their neighbours, preferring to hope they may avoid the Shadows’ notice. They want Sheridan to show his side has power to match the Shadows before they join up. Which is pragmatic – why deliberately get involved in a war you’ve got no chance of winning? There’s no way the smaller powers have anything that can deal with a Shadow ship, not when even the much more powerful and sophisticated White Star can only defeat them through cunning tactics rather than head-to-head combat. A small chance of the Shadows ignoring you beats zero chance of defeating them in battle.

Franklin is arguing with another doctor about treatment for a patient and is clearly not thinking clearly and being affected by the stims, contradicting himself about the proper treatment and then blaming the medical staff for following his first set of instructions. When the other doctor calls him on it, he leaves in a huff. Garibaldi sees the dust-up and is concerned. He goes to visit Franklin, who is working pretty much continuously, and tries to get him to talk about things, and says he can help if it’s related to the stims. Franklin doesn’t want to hear it. Garibaldi more or less says he’s going to go over Franklin’s head to deal with the issue.

Londo is rapturously preparing for a visit from Adira Tyree, his lover from the first season. He wants to rent the largest suite on Babylon 5, and fill it with flowers. But when he goes to look at the suite, he instead runs into Mr. Morden, who is displeased with Londo forcing Refa to cut off contact with him, and with Londo halting the Centauri attacks on other species. He wants the Centauri attacks to restart, and he wants an agent in the Centauri court. Londo has realized that the Centauri are being used, and refuses. Morden threatens him, and we hear the Shadows moving around Londo. Londo, extremely short-sightedly given his recent reflections, says, “There is nothing you can do to me that has not already been done.” The Shadows ask whether they should kill Londo and Morden says no, they need him alive and there are other ways. (This makes the Shadows look rather dim for an Elder Race, needing advice from their human servant; I’d say they don’t understand things like affection, ohg gurve hfr bs Naan gb gel gb erpehvg Furevqna gryyf bgurejvfr.)

Sheridan talks to Delenn over the problems of organizing an alliance against the Shadows. Over and above the usual challenges of trying to get many groups with many different agendas to cooperate, they genuinely don’t have anything that can fight the Shadow ships effectively. One victory would be enough to bring some more people on board. With some prompting from Delenn, he strikes on the idea of asking the Vorlons to fight openly.

Garibaldi goes to talk to the doctor who Franklin was arguing with earlier. He asks about Medlab staff’s responsibility to submit regular blood tests, and learns that Franklin’s the only one with the authorization to view the results of the tests. Garibaldi asks her to pull Franklin’s records for the last year. He could do this through Security channels, but that would get Franklin in official trouble if the samples showed he’d been overusing stims, and could end his career. The doctor refuses to get the information unofficially. She does agree to tell him where in the computer system the information is stored. Franklin arrives just in time to see that the two were meeting with each other.

Vir gets an entertaining moment being profoundly embarrassed by Londo’s shopping list for Adira’s visit, and then notices Morden’s presence. Morden asks if he can do anything to help. “Short of dying, no; can’t think of a thing,” Vir responds. Morden always brings out the best in Vir. Morden goes back to talk to the shopkeeper and learn what Vir was asking about.

Garibaldi asks the computer for the data on Franklin’s blood tests, and Franklin walks in while he’s doing it. (Shouldn’t one keep the door closed when accessing that kind of confidential information?) Garibaldi aborts the request before he sees Franklin. Franklin asks why; Garibaldi says, in essence, that he wants Franklin to tell him himself. Franklin said he ran the tests himself after Garibaldi started asking questions, to prove Garibaldi wrong. Instead, he found that Garibaldi was right and he had become addicted and lost track of how much he was using. There are times when Franklin’s inflexible empiricism can be useful; if the data say he’s addicted to stims, then he has to admit he is.

Sheridan urges Kosh to fight against the Shadows, just enough to win one battle to get other species on board with the Resistance. Kosh says they are not prepared yet – and he’s speaking in real sentences, and not in symbolism! That seems to indicate some level of respect for Sheridan. Sheridan’s not taking “No” for an answer, though, and gives Kosh a thorough calling-out. He doesn’t like being used as a pawn of the Vorlons any more than Londo likes being one for the Shadows. “You said you wanted to teach me to fight legends? Well, you’re a legend too, and I am not going away until you agree!” Kosh attacks him with some kind of lightning and orders him to leave. Sheridan refuses and gets ruder. Kosh attacks again, this time drawing blood. “So, the real Kosh shows his colours at last. You angry now? Angry enough to kill me? Because that’s the only way I’ve leaving. Unless your people get off their encounter-suited butts and do something, I’ve got nothing to lose!…How many people have already died fighting this war of yours? How many will die before you come down off that mountain and get involved?” Kosh attacks him again, choking him. “Well, maybe one more death will balance out the books. Go on, get it over with.” Kosh lets him go and agrees to send a Vorlon force against the Shadows: “But there is a price to pay. I will not be there to help you when you go to Z’ha’dum.” Kosh has previously told Sheridan he would die if he went to Z’ha’dum. Sheridan accepts this as a trade-off, a refusal of help. “You do not understand,” Kosh replies, “but you will.”

Vorlon ships destroy a Shadow force that is attacking Brakuri space. In response, many non-aligned worlds join the Anti-Shadow alliance. Morden walks into Kosh’s quarters, and the Shadows attack and kill Kosh. To say farewell, Kosh appears to Sheridan as his father, telling Sheridan that he was right, and not to blame himself. The words “At my age, you get kind of set in your ways,” are really quite funny coming from a being that is likely millennia old. Kosh apologizes for attacking him, and says he was afraid to die. His last words are, “As long as you’re here, I’ll always be here.” Upon waking from the dream, Sheridan instantly knows its significance.

Londo goes to meet Adira’s ship, delighted at the prospect of being with her again, but does not see her disembark. Then a body is wheeled out on a medical gurney. It is Adira; she was found in her cabin just before docking. The doctors do not know the cause of death, as they can see no physical violence. Londo remembers poisoning Refa – a traditional Centauri method of political intrigue – and jumps to the conclusion that it was Refa who poisoned Adira, to get back of him. (As opposed to suspecting Morden, the guy who just threatened him.)

To compound this stupidity, he goes back to Morden. Morden says that Refa was very upset with Londo over being poisoned, and had mentioned something about “evening the score”, but after that Refa cut off contact on Londo’s orders – otherwise Morden could have found out what Refa meant and stopped him. Londo, idiotically, believes him,
allying with him again in order to wreak retribution on Refa. Love is blind; and so is hate.

Franklin meets with Sheridan and tells him that he’s addicted to stims in order to keep busy, not just so that he could do his work but to distract himself from the fact that he had lost any life or identity outside of his work. He’s resigning as Chief of Staff of Medlab, before he gets someone killed and before circumstances force Sheridan to fire him.

The Vorlons ask the station staff and Delenn not to tell anyone that Kosh was killed, as it will frighten people; given how little Kosh mingled with other people on the station, they can send a replacement in several weeks and no one will be the wiser. The Vorlon government also asked that Kosh’s encounter ships and all his effects be placed in his ship, which flies into the sun.

It’s quite clever of JMS to deliberately give this episode – one of the most climatic in Season 3 – an incredibly mundane title.

There’s a clear parallel between the Vorlons and Shadows in this episode, one that’s very much in the Vorlons’ favour. Both Londo and Sheridan reject being used as pawns, and both of them use the same phrase, saying that they have nothing left to lose. The Shadows respond by finding something they can take from Londo, murdering his lover. Kosh responds by knowingly sacrificing his life. Jr yngre yrnea gung guvf npgvba vf zber ersyrpgvir bs Xbfu crefbanyyl guna bs Ibeybaf nf n jubyr, ohg nf bs guvf rcvfbqr ur’f fgvyy gur bayl Ibeyba jr xabj.

Franklin’s plotline, though….It isn’t bad; it fits his driven, job-focused, perfectionist personality very well. And if this was a different type of show – something more like it was in Season 1 or 2, mainly episodic with strains of continuity throughout – it could work well. But in this season, it’s completely disconnected from the large, wider plot of the war between the Shadows and Vorlons; and that war is increasingly central to everything that happens. It makes him Franklin the only one (except for perhaps Garibaldi) who isn’t a huge part of that war. And that weakens the plotline by making any time spent on it feel irrelevant to the larger story.


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Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution. ...more →

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2 thoughts on “Babylonia!

  1. A lot of good stuff in this episode:

    1) I think there was some merit in having Franklin taken out of play for this ark. It helped sell the weight of what the crew was dealing with. He just couldn’t handle the stress, and that makes the pressure of their situation feel more real.

    2) I agree with you on Londo’s stupidity. It seems his tragic flaw is his inability to see Mordin as a threat. Vir is a much less experienced political operator, but has no trouble seeing Mordin as Bad News. It’s almost as if Londo is so stuck in his ways that he can only contextualise threats in terms of courtly intrigue or Narn aggression. If someone not either a Narn of a Centauri noble he can’t see them as anything but a tool or a nuisance.

    3) Gur zbfg cbjreshy lbhatre enpr vf vaqrrq vfbyngvbavfg, naq pybfryl nyvtarq jvgu gur Ibeybaf. V’z fher gung’f abg n pbvapvqrapr.

    4) On the Shadows’ dimness – it’s worth bearing in mind that the Shadows are really, really different from the younger races. Empathy is the act of using your brain to simulate someone else’s, and if that someone else is culturally and evolutionariliy really different to you it would be really hard to understand them at all, that’s probably half the reason why they even bother with Mordin. Sure the Vorlons are better at it, but they’re telepathic.

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  2. I think this is when I really start to love this show. It is the clever writing and the intrigue of this war that sold the show for me.
    1) Never cared for this story ark. Franklin could have just stayed in the background and I would have been fine with it.
    2) Agreed. Londo still thinks the universes revolve around the Centari Republic. It also helps that Morden is the one that has helped Londo achieve the power he has, so I think he still views him as an ally.
    4) When we see their motivation later on it is easy to see why they have no knowledge of empathy or kinder emtions. I agree that this is why they brought on board so of the humans to give them that knowledge. V org gur Naan zbir jnf fhttrfgrq ol gur uhzna nqivfbef nf jryy.

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