Babylon 5 #24: Points of Departure

"It was the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind… the year the Great War came upon us all. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5."
IN THIS ONE... Captain John Sheridan and Starfury pilot Warren Keffer join the cast. Sinclair's gone. A rogue Minbari cruiser makes a suicide run at the station.

REVIEW: Because Chrysalis wasn't really a cliffhanger, Points of Departure isn't all about resolving things hanging off cliffs. Garibaldi is still in intensive care and Delenn hasn't come out of her cocoon. Only 8 days after the previous episode which took place on January 31st - it's one year a season, folks - things are going to hell in a hand basket, partly because Sinclair's been quietly shuffled off the station. I suppose if you were into the behind the scenes material, this wasn't a shock, but watching straight through, it's strange as hell. Sinclair as ambassador to the Minbari makes some sort of sense, but not seeing it happen is extremely clunky, and the show goes out of its way to make us feel comfortable with the new guy. Bruce Boxleitner has a youthful vigor O'Hare didn't, and is immediately sympathetic. His John Sheridan certainly has the credentials. But more than that, he's already on friendly terms with Ivanova (they served together before) and he was the former president's choice to replace Sinclair, so it's not a Home Guard conspiracy, honest! His relationship to the Minbari is a little more complicated than Sinclair's, however, and they know him as Starkiller, the only human to score a victory over them during the war. Sheridan makes a good first showing, with room to breathe thanks to key characters being out of commission, letting himself be overwhelmed by events just as Sinclair did (an important element of the show), but his reactions are far less dour. He starts off fresher.

One of the things Sinclair misses out on by being off the show is the revelation that when he was captured by the Minbari, they discovered their greatest souls were being reborn as humans. Sinclair's certainly, but tests on other prisoners confirmed it. To preven harming their own oversoul, the Minbari stopped the war. An epic pronouncement, given context by the Soul Hunter episode early in Season 1. What Lennier doesn't tell Sheridan is that Valen's prophecy on the subject would have the two species who now share the same oversoul to join forces to defeat the Shadows. If the Earth-Minbari War was a holy one, the war with the Shadows would seem to go beyond that, into the metaphysical, Soul vs. (literal) Shadow. But this joining is complicated by Sheridan's tense relationship with the Minbari, and especially the warrior caste which was never told about the oversoul situation. Well, maybe it's time? Of course, the rogue warship plot is less about killing Sheridan (or Delenn, as the "traitor" who voted to end the war), and more about committing suicide by Starkiller. Here are people who devoted their lives to something and who have become highly irrelevant. Better to go out in a blaze of glory, especially if that blaze could incite another war. That it doesn't work probably makes Sheridan even more of a sore point.

The other new character introduced in the episode is Warren Keffer, who'll be able to give us the front line soldier perspective. He's a Starfury pilot, and in a sense, a grunt (the letters from home scene, etc.), and is a more sensible audience identification figure to have in space battles than Sinclair or Ivanova who really should have been in C&C when the laser blasts started flying. Sheridan presumably doesn't have Sinclair's death wish, so they've basically split the original character into two. There's a space battle in the episode, but Keffer doesn't really get to do much. What's really odd here is that he's already part of the inner circle, getting drinks with Ivanova and Franklin by the end of the episode without really having interacted with them. He didn't just arrive, of course, only just inherited the leadership of the never previously mentioned Zeta Squadron, so they might have known him from before and we never saw it. That's clunky too. Speaking of clunky, while I appreciate Sheridan wanting to give his lucky speech before his self-imposed 24-hour limit came up, who actually believes the C&C would EVER be empty like that? Doesn't seem to me like it would ever be closed, even for the sake of JMS' joke.

- The saga continues with cool revelations and action, and Sheridan is immediately likeable, but the necessary mechanics to introduce new characters needed a little more oil to work properly.


Anonymous said...

Agreed on the clunky. Fortunately, the series recovers quickly; they got the clunk out all in one episode.

LiamKav said...

Not to rag on the DVDs again, but did your one have the error where they show "new" Delenn in the title sequence for this and the next episode? The original TV and VHS versions (and the UK DVDs) correctly show season 1 Delenn for the first two episodes, as well as having the original version of Sheridan's opening speech. (It was originally recorded by BB without seeing the visuals. After a few episodes, once the visuals were done, they got him to re-record it while watching the titles, so it flows much better. They also redid the CGI on the visor reflection and changes Ivanova's rank at the appropriate time, but I don't know if those two things happen even on the PAL DVDs).

Two quick thoughts: The colour scheme has changed. Much more reds and oranges rather than blues and greens. It certainly helps the Shadow ships show up in space scenes, rather than being almost invisible as in "Crysalis". Also, the CGI in general is much better, and will continue to improve drastically over the course of the season.

Oh, and on Sheridan having a "youthful vigor"... Boxleitner was born two years before O'Hare.

I don't know if you're aware of this, but Keffer was forced on JMS by WB, who wanted a "youthful" character to grab the "youth" market of "youths". In this case he used it for the good of the story, eventually. Compare this to Crusade, where JMS reacted to most of TNTs notes and reacted like a childish jerk. Apparently he never learned the art of managing network executives that most TV producers learn.

Siskoid said...

Opening sequence: Oh it's the spoilery one, all right. Obviously, 20 years on, I already knew what Delenn morphs into.

Boxleitner's age: That's why I used the term "youthful vigor" as opposed to calling him younger. I knew they weren't too far off in reality.

Keffer: I know very little of the behind the scenes stuff until I read it here in the comments. Sounds like standard (and ridiculous) network crap, and of course, it also sounds like JMS' usual Mr. Ego crap.

LiamKav said...

One thing that happens now that we know the story about what happened at the Battle of the Line, is that it makes the Grey Council memeber's comment to Delenn at the end of that episode ("If he should rememeber, he must be killed") make no sense. If they stopped the war because they don't want to kill Minbari souls, then surely they wouldn't be able to kill Sinclair later?

There's a comic that covers the events of this time from Sincair's POV. He meets Clark and a Grey Council memeber who tells him the same stuff Lennier tells Sheridan in the episode. And, as the Lurker's Guide points out, even Clark thinks that Sinclair is stiff: "Excuse me, Commander, but is that as much at ease as you get?"

CiB said...

Also, Sheridan's nickname from the Minbari is an in-jokey reference to that time Boxleitner was almost cast as a guy called "Luke Starkiller" in some 1970's space opera film, a part he lost to Mark Hamill.

As a call back to what you were reviewing before, in many ways Babylon 5 is a bit like an Eric Saward multi-parter. Part 1 (in this case series 1) is just a prelude with a lot of scene setting and introductions in order to tell the viewer what the "baseline" is before Plot Happens to it. While the start here is a little clunky, the show does get better from here (and in my opinion, the worst is over once season 1 is past, as the over long prologue is finished)

Madeley said...

The awkward transition is understandable from a production difficulty standpoint, and you have to feel some sympathy for any show having to deal with what they were dealing with, but of course we have to view the work on what was broadcast, and what was broadcast was a very hasty patch-up job that could well have sunk the show. It's a constant mystery how B5 managed to survive all the things that were thrown at it.

My memory of watching this first time, with no internet so no knowledge of behind-the-scenes shenanigans, meant that Sheridan's appearance was a complete surprise. I remember that it took a few episodes before I realised it wasn't temporary, and Sinclair wasn't coming back. I didn't warm to Sheridan immediately, and I wasn't convinced with Boxleitner's acting, either, but 14 year old me definitely liked him better after my Dad pointed out he was Tron.

Character-wise, I love how B5's guiding principle (no-one is what they appear) is expressed in Sheridan, in the fiction and on a meta level. To this day the short-hand for him is "space cowboy" to Sinclair's diplomat (and I use the short-hand myself) but this isn't really true.

He's an action man, but he's actually a lot less reckless than Sinclair. I think it's fantastic that he's viewed incorrectly *in*-universe too. The other characters expect him to be a gung-ho anti-alien war hero jingoist, and as we'll find out this perception of him becomes a key plot point.

Ryan Lohner said...

One interesting thing about the script volumes at this point is that JMS insists he will NEVER tell the full story of why Michael O'Hare left the show, and that's as it should be. I can only assume this is because he was still under the assumption that O'Hare would outlive him. This section also includes a bit that's very sad now, when he says he'd love to work together with the man again given the opportunity, which he knew full well at that point (2005, when O'Hare had already been in full social exile for a few years) would never happen.

So, John Sheridan. JMS originally wanted a British actor for the role, and his dream casting was Michael York. Who was then contacted and said he'd love to do it. But then the whole deal was scuttled by PTEN, displaying the same staggering non-logic as their reasoning for firing Tamlyn Tomita by saying that combined with Patrick Stewart on The Next Generation, they didn't want to give the impression that all space captains in the future were British. Every new detail revealed about these people just makes it more and more obvious why the network sank even before B5 finished.

So instead we got Bruce Boxleitner, which gave JMS a bit of a problem. His two best known roles were the lightweight detective series Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and the Disney special effects showcase Tron, which had given him a reputation as a "puff" actor who couldn't possibly be believable with heavier material. So his response was to play directly into that perception, introducing the character as Smilin' John Sheridan, who cares most of all about finding a glass of orange juice and getting a shower. With this character established, the show could then start layering in the darker elements of the character while the audience was busy laughing over him, like a sleight of hand trick.

Unfortunately, the need to establish Sheridan as our new leading man means devoting the entire season premiere to him, and the absence of all three major alien characters (though completely understandable in Delenn's case) is sorely felt. Luckily we still have Lennier to fill in some of the gaps, and the reveal of the Minbari reason for surrender is quite gratifying. This is what shows like Lost built around their big mysteries typically don't understand: you can't just sit on them for years and make the show a giant cocktease. People will lose interest when it's clear you have no intention of answering any of the questions you've raised any time soon, and when you do deign to give the answers, it's likely to be a letdown because of how huge you let the build-up become. While this is likely a bit earlier than the mystery would have been resolved if we still had Sinclair, I imagine the reveal would have happened by the end of season 2 at the very most.

I do have some thoughts on Keffer, but I'll wait until later when he has a bigger role to discuss.

Siskoid said...

To me, Boxleitner will always be Scarecrow, and that was a selling point, initially. I did make me buy into the space cowboy image, though in retrospect, knowing a bit about the future (what I can remember) and having just watched Season 1, Sinclair is likely the bigger "cowboy".

Sinclair's brand of diplomacy felt most like Captain Kirk's. Sheridan, with just one episode under his belt where he tells his fighters to hold off from firing, just pulled a Picard.

LiamKav said...

Small things... Tech #1 (who was Swedish, not Jewish) left the show between seasons. I think this promotes the former Tech #2 up to number #1, which is probably why he's got a haircut. Still a few episodes until he gets a name though, I believe.

Are we saving Robert Foxworth's "On the other side of the wormhole" for when he actually goes through that wormhole?

LiamKav said...

And one more thing now that I've watched it properly... the CGI has definitely taken a step up. That scene of the Grey Council having a conversation while the battle rages around them still looks good to this day (especially for a CGI scene on these DVDs). I love that bit where Delenn turns around while a ship explodes behind her head, no-one reacting (as if they're above it all).

I should double check, but I have a feeling that they leave it untouched when it's used during "In the Beginning".

jdh417 said...

Forgive me as a big Tron fan for this trivia. Bruce Boxleitner and Peter Jurasik (Londo) were both in the movie, though they didn't have any scenes together.


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