"Only one thing matters, blood calls out for blood."
REVIEW: Though Richard Compton directed the pilot and this episode, Midnight in the Firing Line lacks the gorgeous lighting and atmospherics of The Gathering. It's all very flat and (pun not intended) unflattering. I can only imagine it was a question of time and money, the usual difference between what is essentially a movie, and the weekly grind of a TV series. At less than half the length, however, this reintroduction to Babylon 5 is far pacier, and a few clunky expositional pieces delivered by Garibaldi notwithstanding, a universe presented through action and character. Production issues aside, I'm much more a fan of this episode than I am the previous effort. And as far as the serialized format of the show is concerned, I quite like the way the seasons themselves have been given titles. Season 1 is Signs and Portents.
Three new characters are introduced, two of them replacing lost cast members (we'll have to wait a further episode to meet the new doctor, as well as some of the credited but non-appearing aliens, Lennier and Na'Toth). Susan Ivanova is a much improved version of Takahashi. Though Claudia Christian plays the same basic character - a second in command who is coldly authoritarian at work, but has a more vulnerable and relaxed personality underneath - she's a much better fit for the role. She may seem stiff and uncompromising, but she also has the flexibility Sinclair requires from her, as per the "plausible deniability" scene. The other replacement is Andrea Thompson as Talia Winters, the PsiCorps operative instead of Lyta Alexander. She seems to have a softer touch than Lyta, but then she's been personalized by matching her to Ivanova. She tries to check in with XO several times, but Ivanova keeps avoiding her. When cornered off-duty, the second-in-command tells the story of her mother, an unregistered telepath who took her own life when forced to take inhibiting drugs, and confesses the intense but mixed feelings she has about PsiCorps, and thus, Talia. It's that moment of real vulnerability we were missing from Takahashi, with loads more gravitas for the other half of the character. Vir is a totally new addition, an assistant for Londo (I keep wanting to type Lando, aren't I? Who knew I had some Star Wars love in me?), makes them a natural comic double act, though it did strike me as odd that he didn't have the same accent. Humans have many languages and accents, of course, but I did find it intriguing that both Londo and Delenn were characterized by strong accents no other members of their species seem to have!
Speaking of Delenn, she's hardly in this, but her make-over is notable. She's now clearly female, with no explanation (yet?), but the same wise and curious alien we met in the pilot. In a sense, she's playing the Spock/Data/Odo character, the alien intrigued/confounded by humanity. Here she gets to watch Duck Dodgers and eat popcorn with Garibaldi and find it all very strange (spoiler: the Martian connection!). At the center of the story is, once again, politics, and in particular the genocidal feelings shared by Londo and G'Kar. The Narns have retaken an old world since colonized by Centauri, and in a sense, they're in the right. It was theirs 100 years ago, and reparations should be made. But Babylon 5 is there to find diplomatic solutions, not military ones. As news filters in from Ragesh 3, the situation seems to change. Is it an invasion? A colony willingly splintering off? And what do those pirate raids have to do with anything? As with the pilot, the Narns are shown to be Machiavellian plotters, and Sinclair must resort to some badass cowboy diplomacy to force the situation into balance. But on the journey to the climax, the episode manages to flesh out Londo quite a bit. His prophetic dream that he dies 20 years hence, his hands around G'Kar's throat seems like something that should happen before it's all over, and his powerlessness when his government appears to care less about the invasion than he does almost drives him to desperate acts. This is mirrored in Sinclair also disobeying orders from Earth, a planet that wants to keep its hands clean until at least after its worldwide elections (spoiler: the incumbent wins). In both cases, they wanted justice, but isn't that what the Narns also wanted? Sinclair and Garibaldi succeed where G'Kar and Londo do not. Babylon 5 is definitely a morally gray universe, but does it nevertheless have an ethical bias? More to come, I'm sure.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: The opening sequence has an engineer in an evac suit welding a piece of the station, prefiguring DS9's improved opening sequence a couple of years later.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A deep political story, character-driven, but with enough action to keep things moving. It got to this point a lot faster than its Paramount cousin did, and I'm glad for it. Ivanova efficiently becomes a favorite character as well.