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 use the “spoiler” functionality in the comment box (thanks to CK for that feature!)  Any plot point from any episode prior to this one, as well as (obviously) this episode itself, will not be considered a spoiler (so beware!).

This week, it’s Season 3, Episode 19: “Grey 17 Is Missing,” recapped by Katherine.

Everyone sitting comfortably? Then onward!

 

A little like the previous episode, the plotline this episode is named for is a weak one, but the arc plotline is strong.  I have a sense that B5’s episode naming pattern is mainly designed to avoid spoilers, so often the episode’s title doesn’t reflect its events.  Sometimes that means naming it after a subplot, sometimes it means extreme vagueness, à la “Interludes and Examinations”.

We start with a hilarious scene where Zack is trying to recruit telepaths, and rebuffing a guy who’s clearly not one.  Ivanova’s not comfortable about publicly recruiting them, but they’re short of options as they need as many people as possible, and there aren’t many who are willing to fight Shadows.  Sheridan suggests that Franklin might be able to get them in touch with some of the rogue telepaths he helped escape from the Corps (back in Season 2, Episode 8, “A Race Through Dark Places”).

A maintenance guy is working on an electrical issue in Grey 16 when something grabs him.

Delenn is at the Ranger base on Minbar, dealing with the fallout from Sheridan’s departure.  He has left behind little, only a few small items including a medal from the Battle of the Line (the last battle of the Earth-Minbari War).  The Rangers need a new leader, and wish her to lead them, even if it means the Rangers moving to Babylon 5.

Garibaldi has an old-style gun, and he and Zack have a bout of antiquarian enthusiasm with it.  He takes the bullets with him when he goes to investigate what happened in Grey 16 – a very literal and none too subtle Chekhov’s Gun.

Ivanova finds Franklin in Downbelow, going through withdrawal from stims – it takes a while to kick in, but is hitting him now.  Ivanova tells him they need his help contacting the telepaths, and he tells her where to find the information, but demands they not come looking for him again: he needs to deal with things alone.

Garibaldi, while investigating, finds that Grey sector has 29 levels instead of the 30 that it should have.

Sheridan is fully supportive of Delenn becoming head of the Rangers; Delenn is concerned there will be controversy over it.  Delenn will become their leader in a public ceremony on Babylon 5, bringing the Rangers out of hiding and into the light.  Between this and the telepath recruitment, the Vorlon strike and Kosh’s death seem to have been a decisive event in turning the Shadow War from a covert operation into an open conflict.

As Sheridan leaves, Neroon confronts Delenn, accusing her, and the religious caste generally, of seeking personal power.  He argues that tradition dictates the warrior caste should command the Rangers.  By breaking the Grey Council and now becoming leader of the Rangers, she gives the impression of trying to seize too much power among the Minbari.  If she refuses to step down, he threatens to stop her by any means necessary.

Lennier fears that Neroon means to kill Delenn, and urges her to tell Sheridan, but she flatly refuses and forbids him to do so either.

Since Delenn told him he could not inform Sheridan of Neroon’s threat, Lennier tells Marcus of his concerns instead.  A serious fight between two Minbari of different castes could set off a civil war, so Marcus, as a human Ranger, is ideally placed to be the one to protect Delenn.  All Marcus needs to do is delay Neroon until the ceremony is over.

Garibaldi is checking out the elevators in Grey sector, counting the time between floors.  Between Grey 16 and 17 there is a 6-second gap rather than the usual three-second gap, so he goes down three seconds and then stops the elevator and pries the doors open. to find the real Grey 17.  He gets out to explore and a creepy doll shoots him with a tranquilizer dart.

Garibaldi wakes up to find himself being watched by a group of people, with some kind of crazy philosophical leader.  Some of the stuff he says echoes Minbari ideas about the universe as a living thing, but this guy’s just a kook.  Garibaldi is ignoring him and just trying to get out, and becoming very annoyed.  Garibaldi’s exasperated faces are probably the best thing about this arc.  He fakes sickness in order to get away, but finds the bloody jacket of the maintenance worker.  Jeremiah says that the only way out is to find purity of mind, and then for the body to die, destroyed by a perfect predator, a zarg.  The zarg attacks, and Garibaldi hits it with a steam pipe, but only injures it a little.  He finds the bullets in his pocket and uses the steam pipe to kill the zarg.

Before the ceremony, Delenn talks with Sheridan about her family.  When she was young, her mother entered a religious order, the Sisters of Valeria, and Delenn has barely seen her since.  Her father died ten years ago, during the Earth-Minbari War; Delenn says that the war broke his heart.  V qba’g erzrzore guvf orvat zragvbarq ntnva va gur fubj, ohg vg zhfg nqq pbafvqrenoyl gb Qryraa’f srryvatf bs thvyg nobhg ure ebyr va fgnegvat gur jne.

Marcus finds Neroon preparing to gatecrash the ceremony, and invokes denn’shah, apparently a Minbari fight to the death.  Neroon claims to have killed fifty thousand humans during the Earth-Minbari War… presumably he was on a ship because the logistics of killing that many people hand-to-hand seem vanishingly unlikely.  Marcus takes a beating and but stays on his feet and defies Neroon’s suggestion that he walk away from the fight, reciting the Ranger Code.  “We stand on the bridge and no one may pass!”  (JMS, you stole that from The Lord of the Rings!)  “We live for the One!  We die for the One!”  Neroon defeats him and asks why he fought, when he knew he couldn’t win.  “For her,” Marcus says.  “We live for the One, we die for the One.  In Valen’s name.”

As Delenn is about to be proclaimed Ranger One, Neroon walks into the ceremony with a bloody staff.  “There is now blood between us, and there is blood between the warrior caste and the humans.  I do not think that they would die for me, but they would die for you – Entil-zha,” he says, giving her the title of Ranger One.  Lennier runs off to look for Marcus, and finds him alive, if barely.  We can see a parallel to the Earth-Minbari war in this, where the Minbari defeats his opponent but chooses to stop fighting.

In Medlab, Delenn is displeased with the idea that Marcus could have died to protect her, but Lennier says that everyone knows they will die; what matters is how, and for what.  He says that for all to live, some will have to die; that is part of fighting a war.  Neroon arrives, wishing to speak to Marcus, even if Marcus cannot hear him.  “Denn’shah,” he says.  “A fight to the death…and the death was mine.  To see a human invoke the name of Valen, to see a human willing to die for one of my kind when I was intent on killing her…the rightness of my cause disappeared.  That a human in his last moments should be more of a Minbari than I.”  He is willing to accept that Delenn may be right that humans and Minbari are akin: “If we are not of the same blood, then we are of the same heart.”  As he is leaving, Marcus wakes. “The next time you want a revelation, could you possibly find a way that isn’t quite so uncomfortable?”  Neroon cracks up.

We end with Garibaldi telling Sheridan about his terrible day.

It’s pretty clear that Garibaldi’s misadventure was mainly just to keep him away from the Ranger ceremony so that the Neroon plotline could unfold the way it did.  It’s a good plotline, and really brings into focus that for all the Minbari are most technologically advanced species on B5 (aside from the Vorlons and Shadows), and for all that they’re often presented as the most socially advanced, their society is incredibly fragile, to the point where something as comparatively small as a fight between two opposing caste members could ignite civil war.  We see that the centuries-long rule that “Minbari do not kill Minbari” is breaking down.  And yet they’re still honourable enough that Neroon, who’s opposed Delenn at every step thus far, is willing to back off from a fight to the death when he becomes convinced that he’s in the wrong.  It adds new dimensions to the picture of Minbari society we’ve had thus far.  It also reinforces that Marcus, for all his sarcastic wit, is a deeply idealistic person.


Guest Author

Katherine is a Christian with a particular interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, international development, peace, and social justice issues. She has a master's degree in International Affairs and lives in Canada.

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5 thoughts on “Babylonia!

  1. In war, it can happen that one combatant gets an advantage, and they press it. Hard. War is not a fair fight. But it is a protracted and emotionally taxing effort even for the victor with an advantage. wars in B5 seem to reach decisive points, when one side has a very dominant hand over the other. What then? How to square the attainment of power with the objective of war?

    I think of the price the Centauri paid to defeat the Narn. Conquest cost them their honor, their autonomy, the respect they formerly enjoyed. And it was not complete, for they had to constantly patrol against rebellion thereafter.

    The Minbari realized that an enlightened society cannot afford that moral cost. So they develop cultural safeguards against situations that demand paying it, and endure and thrive. The price they pay for that prosperity is ambiguity about victory when there is conflict. No caste is allowed to dominate the others. After defeating the Terrans, the Minbari back off rather than make the killing blow.

    Knowing that we are seeing all of this as points within the conflict between the Shadows and the Vorlons — between Order and Chaos — it frames the question of what victory even is. All of this is moral training for Sheridan.

    And for us the viewers. This is an argument in the real world that war has a place and a purpose, and that the rhetoric of war is not the same as its objective or its cost. If we claim our arms bring peace, are we truly prepared to use them? A tough question to ask an audience in the years immediately following the “victory” of the Cold War.

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    • Yeah. In The Third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond devotes a chapter to genocide, advancing the claim that it is a basic human behavior, which other chimpanzees demonstrate an inclination toward. Or at least toward similar behaviors.

      This got me thinking about why groups might do it, and I think you are touching that reason. They don’t want to live with the problem any more, they want to eliminate it. To never think about it or devote any resources to it. But rarely is something that simple. Political issues are almost never like that.

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      • Doctor Jay,
        yeah, genocide is something basic about humans. It competes against “steal their women and have more babies”.

        War was a thing long, long before we had the concept of peace.

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  2. That “kook” was Robert Englund! The guy who played Willie in V!

    When he’s not playing Freddy, I find it exceptionally easy to mix him up with Brad Dourif. They’ve both got this “intelligent version of totally nutso” thing going on.

    Anyway, the whole parallel to the Earth-Minbari war was awesomely done. I thought that that very little thing was the thing that made the episode. I agree that the Robert Englund thing was just a device to keep Garibaldi from shooting anybody… but, if you’re going to have a silly device, one that shows that the devicee is exceptionally competent at doing his or her job is the best way to do it. So I didn’t mind the goofiness of this episode so much.

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