Babylon 5 #23: Chrysalis

"And so, it begins."
IN THIS ONE... The Shadows "help" Londo by destroying a Narn outpost. Garibaldi is grievously wounded trying to stop the assassination of the president. Delenn begins a transformation, but into what?

REVIEW: I don't know whether to call it the end of a season, or a springboard for the next. Chrysalis is perhaps the season 1 episode that most feels like it's part of a serial, with no real attempt to tell a complete story. It advances story lines in a way that's fairly common on television today - and great for DVD devouring - but only the purview of soaps at the time. That the first time the show does this is just prior to a hiatus between seasons must have been maddening, and yet perfect for fans to invest further in the show, spinning off theories and getting hungry for more during those Babylon-less months. The most complete story strand, for example, is the assassination of president Santiago. Garibaldi investigates and uncovers some portion of the plot, but though he manages to tell Sinclair about it before being taken into surgery, our heroes can't prevent it from happening. Failure isn't a sign of an incomplete story, but by the end, we still don't know who was responsible. The Home Guard is a likely suspect, but how far does the conspiracy go? Garibaldi's security force has moles/traitors, but why does Earthforce refuse to believe the president's death was anything but an accident? Is the VP and new president Clark in on it? His first act is to reverse Santiago's position about humanity's openness to alien influence. With no villains getting their comeuppance, and no resolution to the mystery, this stands as one of many cliffhangers, and there are so many, it may make more sense to call them simply developing stories.

The president's ship isn't the only explosion, of course. A whole Narn outpost is destroyed by the Shadows at Londo's unintentional behest. The finally-named human agent of the Shadows, Mr. Morden, more or less tricks him into owing a huge favor and at the same time corrupting him. Londo is a lot more squeamish about the death of 10,000 Narns than one might have expected, but then, he's always talked a better game than he's played. Self-preservation is such a strong trait in Londo, it may well be dawning on him that he's let the genie out of the bottle (a wish granted but perverted) and gotten into bed with the wrong people. If we can call them people. Our first look at the Shadows, as insectoid-shaped, LITERAL shadows has a high creep factor that whets our appetite for Season 2 as much as anything else. G'Kar's reaction is also surprising. He doesn't blame the Centauri, but fears something new is on their doorstep. He's wrong. It's something old AND a certain Centauri had a hand in it, but perhaps this is why he's suddenly ready to believe his species has been acting like angry abused children. Something "adult" has come back to the universe for a harsh scolding.

Are the Shadows responsible for Delenn's transformation as well? We know she can sense them, and in this episode, she goes to see Kosh - a member of the other most ancient race on the station, those who know something of the Shadows - seeking confirmation of SOMETHING. It's a mysterious scene in which Kosh opens his encounter suit for her - are Vorlons related to Shadows, somehow their cousins or opposites, as we did see light behind a screen in the pilot? From there, she makes her teary goodbyes and goes into a cocoon to become... what? There was a reason we didn't see more than her hand in Babylon Squared's future sequence. Sinclair gets to her quarters too late for her to explain, as promised, what happened during his lost 24 hours. Having just gotten engaged to Catherine with a rough but realistic marriage proposal, he set himself up for a fall. Everything starts to fall apart around him. However, and this is the sad part, Michael O'Hare will leave the show for medical reasons, so though Sinclair may return at a later date, his eventual fate is far less immediate, and his departure must take place in between seasons, off-screen. But that's a disappointment for next time.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: This same year (1994), Deep Space Nine also ended its season with a dangerous "new player" joining the galaxy's political fabric - the Dominion. It too had been presaged earlier, of course.

REWATCHABILITY: High
- Lots of stuff happens to change Babylon 5 forever, but the most important, to my eyes, is the format, as the show finally seems to abandon discreet episodes in favor of a serialized saga.

14 comments:

Madeley said...

Oh man, this episode. Was it maddening when it first aired? Oh yes. But everything else about it was so exhilirating, and so exciting, it just elevated the show. For my money, no show has ever pulled off exhiting and agonising cliffhangers and closing episodes series after series as B5 has.

As a microcosm of why I like the show, Chrysalis has everything: a dark mythology being uncovered, political intrigue and conspiracy, and characters that change and develop in unexpected ways. I think the single part that I connected really hard to at the time was the revelation of the strange, invisible Shadow creatures: that was the bit where my brain went "Oh, wait, on top of everything else this show is telling a HORROR story!" And in many ways B5 really is as much horror fiction as it is SF&F.

Madeley said...

So exhilarating and exciting I appear to have lost the ability to spell.

LiamKav said...

Regarding Trek... B5 didn't do cliffhangers. It's end of season episodes were more set-ups for the seasons to come. This is the DS9 approach, rather than the TNG approach.

Also, slight spelling mistake... it's Mister Morden. He's one of my favourite characters. I love bad guys who are just so damn cheerful about their evilness.

Madeley said...

Actually, a question for those who've read the script books, or other behind-the-scenes info: Catherine Sakai's role is taken over by [spoilerz] later on in the series, and her replacement has a particular connection with Morden that Sakai can't possibly have. Any idea how Morden's identity would have shaken out in the original outline?

Ryan Lohner said...

Much of B5's first season can be mistaken for the usual episodic television of the time. There's the occasional hint of a broader story, but mostly we're treated to various one-offs that all contain important clues, but they only become clear in retrospect. And then comes this one, which can have as its final line "Nothing's the same anymore" and MEAN it. The ending has an atmosphere similar to that of the September 11th attacks, or the JFK assassination for older viewers (in fact, Clark's inauguration was a direct lift from Lyndon Johnson's, just like Battlestar Galactica would also do to great effect a decade later). The status quo has been upended, and history has gone off the rails, with no one having any idea what to do about it.

I mentioned earlier that I very much love the character Ivanova, but regretted one change in the story that came from her replacing Takashima from The Gathering. And that is that Takashima was planned to be the one who shot Garibaldi in the back, which would have had a far greater impact than Jack as it ended up being. Jack has appeared several times, but was never a very noticeable character, so that on my first viewing I had no idea who he was when the reveal came. In the end, the only thing that really counts as foreshadowing is his role in And the Sky Full of Stars, where in retrospect you can tell he's trying to lead Garibaldi in the wrong direction in his search for Sinclair, and walks off looking worried when he fails. Also, Takashima would not have just been a simple traitor like Jack is, but would have had an alternate personality implanted in her head by Psi-Corps which would have taken over at that moment, which would undoubtedly have led to far more interesting possibilities in the future: could the real Takashima come back, and even if she did how could anyone see her the same way again, even knowing it wasn't really her who shot Garibaldi?

Having Londo meet Morden in a hedge maze is a great subtle visual touch. He's at a point in his life where all kinds of choices are before him, and here comes Morden to guide him down what's clearly one he shouldn't go down, but as G'Kar said in Mind War, it seems like a good idea at the time, so he does it. This is also deliberately paralleled in Sinclair telling G'Kar they're at a crossroads, and G'Kar ultimately agreeing and heading off on his own path against the mysterious force who are making their presence known.

Ryan Lohner said...

And now, a subject serious enough that I felt it deserved a comment separate from my thoughts on the episode. Partway through filming this season, Michael O'Hare began acting more and more erratically, becoming paranoid around the other cast members and convinced that he was seeing secret messages that he became obsessed with deciphering. Upon being checked out, it was discovered he had a malformation in his brain that caused bouts of schizophrenia between more lucid periods. JMS, being the stand-up guy he is, immediately offered to put the show's production on hold so he could get whatever treatment was possible. But O'Hare, in a quite simply unfathomable display of self-sacrifice, knew the show would not survive such a hiatus and refused to be the reason so many people were put out of work. And so he finished filming the whole season, foregoing any kind of treatment until he reached a state JMS describes as "like clinging to a cliff by his fingernails." After filming wrapped for the season, he was finally willing to leave and get the help he desperately needed.

JMS offered to keep the truth hidden forever, knowing what an intensely private thing mental illness is. O'Hare countered that he should only leave it until O'Hare himself had died, saying it might help raise awareness of such issues, and it was important for the fans to know. And after making a now cringe-inducing statement that O'Hare and Richard Biggs would likely live the longest out of anyone involved with the show, JMS agreed, and put out an official story (which likely did contain a kernel of truth itself, as later advised on the show) that he'd written himself into a corner with the Sinclair character and couldn't develop him any more while keeping to his plans for how he would end up. O'Hare died of a heart attack in 2012 (by which time his condition had grown so bad that he'd hardly left his house in the past ten years, having never found a treatment that significantly helped), and true to his word, JMS revealed the truth after nearly two decades at a convention the following year. And as horrible as the whole story is, it really has been heartwarming to see the fan response to it, an outpouring of sympathy for the man with none of the vicious mocking both men had feared would happen (at least none willing to show themselves publically). And I hope it really has made a difference in the lives of other people with such a condition, showing them they don't need to be ashamed of it, and they shouldn't be afraid to seek help.

Ryan Lohner said...

I'd just put up a long post about Michael O'Hare's departure, which is gone now. Any way to get it back?

Siskoid said...

I guess it used keywords that made Blogger think it was spam. I just needed to tell it "Not Spam".

Siskoid said...

I'm betting the key words were "seek help".

LiamKav said...

"Actually, a question for those who've read the script books, or other behind-the-scenes info: Catherine Sakai's role is taken over by [spoilerz] later on in the series, and her replacement has a particular connection with Morden that Sakai can't possibly have. Any idea how Morden's identity would have shaken out in the original outline?"

I guess that you don't NEED the connection that is created for the story to work. I think it's more than JMS realised he could tie [spoilerz] and Morden together into the backstory of his new character, and went with it. Even without that, it's assumed that Sakai would have eventually gone to [spoilerz] and gone missing, so as long as Morden still has records saying that he'd been to the planet, you could still have the interrogation episode without much change.

LiamKav said...

I can see your post, Ryan, but I couldn't when I made my prior post. I guess it was stuck in transit in someway...

Really interesting stuff about O'Hare. I do think that purely from a production point of view, BB makes a better (if more traditional) lead, and his character has more connection to the upcoming arc stuff than the season 1 and before arc stuff (which apparently was largely going to be answered shortly into season 2 anyway). So from a character point of view, I do prefer JS #2. None of this takes away the tragedy of what O'Hare went through, though, and I have the greatest respect for the man.

LiamKav said...

Are you going to do a RPG style thing for this series, Siskoid? It kinda makes a lot of sense, especially if you throw in stories about how the GM has to cope with actors leaving. Or maybe a character sheet for any actors that leave? I can understand if you don't have time.

Here's what Doyle once said about O'Hare:

"My first season of Babylon 5 working with Michael O'Hare, he's a whack-job a complete lunatic. He flies out from New York, he gets the gig, we're doing our rehearsels he says to me one day "Uh can you give me a ride out the the set?" yeah sure! "Wanna stop and have breakfeast?" yeah good! He gets in the car and he's playing with the buttons in my car trying to turn the radio off and I'm like what are you doing? And he goes "I don't want any sound" and I go well why dont you just ask me to turn it off? And he goes "I dont want to talk today!" And I say well why do you want to go to breakfeast and he goes "you talk, I'll listen!" so obviously we hurry through breakfeast, we go out to the set and I realise I'm dealing with a complete nut-job here.

After we finished that first Friday night we go to this bar in Santa Clarita and I'm off in one corner talking to this actress Pat Tallman..just chatting her up having drinks we just got done shooting. He comes over and sits between us and I go oh ok...he was number 1 on the call sheet, he was the lead. He was the guy that got all the media interviews..because he was the lead on the show, and the face and voice on Babylon 5. So he's chatting her up and I'm like "Oh..ok..I'll just talk to the bartender here..." and order 3 more drinks. He turns around, looks at the 3 drinks and says "What is that?" and I say "umm...I'm buying a round..", and he says "Dont try to control me!!" and I went "oh..o...k..." this guy is a complete lunatic!

Now outside of the fact that he sexually harrassed an 18 year old makeup artist and hair gal because he's talking about how its lonely to be on the road and well he did certain things at night with her in mind I thought thats a very nice thing to address to an 18 year old that was interning on a show, not making any money trying to work her way up in the union.

He punches a female actress on the set. He comes after me we have the big meeting. Finally I say to him "Michael is there an Indian behind every tree?" and he says "maybe..you and I will settle this May 26 after we wrap production" And at the end of all this I went back to the guys and said you know what? I don't need this crap..I dont need the money


He almost certainly didn't know about the mental health issues. I'm not Jerry Doyle's biggest fan, but I can see his point. If I was forced to work with someone who was acting erracticly, I'm not sure I'd think "I wonder if he has mental health issues" rather than "this guy's a dick". It also explains a bit about WWE, but I'll wait until we get there before saying anything.

Siskoid said...

No plans to do B5 up in role-playing style. Doctor Who was a one-off because I was into the Doctor Who RPG.

I've often complained about, well, not necessarily "dicks", but troublesome colleagues, several of which have turned out to have mental health issues (none as bad as O'Hare, but you know, social anxiety, bipolar disorder, that sort of thing). Because of the stigma attached to mental health issues, there's a veil of silence that makes you not think these people have an actual problem. I think I've grown more empathetic over time, but incompetent work is still incompetent work no matter what the reason is.

LiamKav said...

Thoughts on the episode:

- Interesting that it begins as a parallel to "Midnight on the Firing Line". The Narns are being aggressive and there's nothing the Centauri can (apparently) do about it, aside from make empty threats like "Keep this up, and soon you won't have a planet to protect".

- Things you can only pick up when rewatching the series: the references to Garibaldi never watching his back. Pity one was in TKO, but still. It's the sort of thing that one a second viewing makes you go "oooooohhhh".

- The scene with Londo and Morden appears to take place at night. I can't remember if there's been comments about B5 dimming the lights to adopt a day/night cycle. I don't recall it happening again (especially not next season, which by and large is much more brightly lit).

- When Kosh opens his encounter suit, we hear a sound like flapping wings. Which implies that the Vorlons look different that the Shadows appear to...

- Ah, I was wrong about "Signs and Portents" - the Shadow ships are still stationary while "uncloaking". I wonder if it was supposed to be cloaking technology at this time. Certainly the individual Shadows appear to be able to turn invisible.

- When I first (re)watched this series with my brother who was watching it for the first time, I tried to subtly point out Garibaldi's aide in prior episodes. Ryan is right, though, if you're not paying attention it would be really easy to not notice him, especially as (by this point) he still hasn't been given a name. I guess everyone had figured out that Takashima was a mole based on clues in "The Gathering", and so JMS figured that switching it to Ivanova would have been too obvious.

 

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