Babylon 5 #19: A Voice in the Wilderness (Part 1)

"Physics tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. They hate us, we hate them, they hate us back. And so, here we are, victims of mathematics!"
IN THIS ONE... Delenn is visited by an old friend, civil war explodes on Mars, and the planet below Babylon 5 is sending messages and missiles.

REVIEW: JMS is back on sole writing duties for the rest of the season and you can really tell. For one thing, it's chock-full of arc elements. For another, his favorite wit-delivery engines are front and center, specifically Delenn (wise wit) and Londo (entertaining wit). It makes for a highly quotable episode. Regardless of the plot, the episode really lives in the "padding" of their subplots. Londo is particularly expendable and yet, he gets all the best scenes, whether it's his negotiations with the Minbari (where we might finally understand Sinclair's role as mediator rather than ambassador), his frustration at human nonsense songs, or his infectious high spirits saving Garibaldi from his doldrums for the (hidden) cost of a drink. Through Delenn's mentor Draal, we find the poetry inherent to Minbari culture, and how the "retire" to the Sea of Stars in the end. Draal feels expendable himself as his post-war culture migrates from the values of duty to those of self-involvement, and surely, his teasing Delenn with a philosophical question about self-sacrifice is a sign of things to come. It's all quite intriguing and well-written.

And it overshadows the plot of the week which, on paper, should have stayed the main draw. I'd been wondering about the planet under Babylon 5 for a while now, whether it was just a lifeless rock providing some measure of gravitic stability to the station, or if it had been chosen for a reason. Neither is the case (so far as we yet know anyway) and it turns out something ancient is still ticking away under its surface. After some somewhat repetitive action from would-be archaeologist day players, Sinclair and Ivanova exercise their space opera prerogative to go down there alone, even if they are the two highest-ranking officers on B5. A bit of SF Indiana Jonesing later, they find themselves in a giant room right out of an Irwin Allen production, and then rather too easily save the planet's sole inhabitant who brings tidings of discomfort and whatever the opposite of joy is. More to come, since this is a two-parter.

The perhaps more important event is the revolt on Mars, which will have important ramifications through the end of the series (as I remember it). On a personal level, Sinclair is a Martian, but it's Garibaldi who is the most affected, having served and still having ties there. He's especially keen on getting through the communications blackout because a former lover presumably still lives there. Let's just say it's obvious we haven't heard the last of Lise Hampton. Interesting name, Lise. It's French and you don't see it much on English speakers, but then this is one of the ways JMS presents the future, by mix-and-matching names between ethnicities, as if to show how the global village evolved over the next 150 years. I don't mind, though I do wish the casting was sharper for many of these roles. Colonel Ben Zayn and this episode's featured TV reporter, Derek Mobotabwe, for example, seem to infer white people will absorb everyone and everything. DNA should follow names is all I'm saying. But then, this is more easily explained by television production realities than the strange bit where Talia thinks Garibaldi is stalking her in every elevator. I don't see the point of that except as JMS' strange sense of humor.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A very witty episode, with lots of important introductions. I can easily forgive its flaws.


Madeley said...

JMS's explanation for Sinclair and Ivanova both going down was that after the disastrous first meeting with the Minbari EarthForce protocol was to make sure the highest ranking trained officers were the ones to make first contact, reasoning that it's better to lose a couple of expendable officers and balls up the local chain of command a little rather than risk starting another war.

Which if you ask me is a reasonable explanation for the Commander going, but is sending both of them a good idea really? I mean, who's third in command on B5? Can't be the security chief, surely? Leaving an important EarthForce military base in the hands of a Lieutenant can't be a good idea.

Specifics aside, I always did like how JMS considered explanations for adventure SF's tendencies to put commanding officers in harm's way against typical present day military procedure. In Sinclair's case, it's post-Minbari first contact protocol plus trauma, survivor's guilt and a death wish. It'll be interesting to consider Sheridan's excuse.

Cradok said...

B5's third-in-command at this point in the show is Major Atumbe. Never seen on-screen, but mentioned a few times. He's eventually replaced by an on-screen, but much duller character. *ahem*

Atumbe was never meant to be seen, and was namechecked in situations relating to the chain of command, simply because JMS never liked the idea of nobody ever being left in command when all the mains went off doing their thing. His rank would indicate that either B5 is a multi-service station rather than just naval, or that EarthForce ranks aren't really meant to be closely examined.

Ryan Lohner said...

There's a lot of padding in these two episodes, as the story really doesn't have enough meat to be a two-parter. The decision was made for purely practical reasons: there were several major set pieces required, and they needed twice their usual per-episode budget to make it all happen. So then it's very much to JMS' writing credit that it's barely noticeable how stretched out the script is. Only the stuff with the science team really feels like it's going on longer than it should, with the rest being great character bits full of witty dialogue.

I'll save the rest for part 2, though I do have to say, bless Ivanova's marvelously realistic reaction to the Great Machine's chamber. Oh, and the rather limp cliffhanger ending is the result of last-minute scene shuffling between the two episodes; the intended ending for part 1 was alien saying everyone would die.

Madeley said...

Oh yes, completely forgot about the Major.

Regarding the ranks used, I always assumed EarthForce vaguely used US Air Force ranks (with their Majors and Generals), but JMS fudged it a bit with Naval Commander ranks. Or maybe the excuse it's just that it's the future and traditions changed when a planetary armed forces was created.

LiamKav said...

Was Garibaldi's rank ever actually states on screen? Or Zach Allen's? I know they were both the "O'Brien" and I'm assuming non-coms, but the titles seem to treat "Chief of Security" as a rank rather than a job title.

Cradok said...

Garibaldi is a Chief Warrant Officer. One would imagine that his various seconds are all plain warrant officers, although I don't think it's ever said.

LiamKav said...

I never quite got the B5 rank structure as well as I got the Trek one. (I have a similar blind spot with the TOS movie rank insignia).

Did Zack and Lou Welsch ever have a scene together? Or were they ever in the same episode? I'm trying to keep my eye out for when one disappears.

Cradok said...

Trek movie insignia are complicated, but the general guideline is that the more triangles you have, the better, and that circles are better than bars, which are better than nothing. The non-commissioned ranks are exceptions to this, as they start as a diamond and end up as a circle, but they wore very different uniforms anyway, the jumpsuits with the tan shoulders.

And, no, there's no episodes where both Welch and Allen appear. There's a brief crossover in their appearances, with Zack appearing first in 2x05 and Lou last in 2x10.


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