Babylon 5 #4: Born to the Purple

"Just don't give away the home world!"
IN THIS ONE... A beautiful slave girl steals Londo's secrets. Meanwhile, Garibaldi tracks Ivanova's secret communications.

REVIEW: A more political episode, this one is really about kindness. Londo has fallen in love with a slave girl with a heart of gold (played by Latin beauty Fabiana Undenio, which you might recognize from Austin Powers), and can't even get angry at her when it turns out she's manipulating him into giving up state secrets (not the mind proooooobe?! sorry couldn't resist) because his feelings are genuine. And she really does have a heart of gold, and doesn't like what she has to do on behalf of her master. It's really rather sweet. Jurasik imbues Londo with a huge amount of pathos, and shows us a man bending under crushing loneliness who, for a fleeting moment, let himself believe his relationship with Adira was real, knowing she probably wasn't (at the very least, she was only attracted to his money). As disappointment gave way to embarrassment about the stolen files, he never blamed her, and surprisingly, even put her life before his own career. Speaks to the depth of the character, but there's also a statement made about Centauri culture. Londo would not have been in this situation had he been stronger, and his weakness is part and parcel of his species current decadence. Drinking, picking up exotic dancers, lavishing them with expensive gifts, and status be damned! Meanwhile, Vir is playing with his Gameboy at the negotiations table, and it's revealed the Centauri have slaves!

While the A-plot is all about Londo's romance and efforts to save the girl and recover his secrets, the B-plot involves Garibaldi tracking transmissions made through the super-secret Gold Channels. A bit of a head scratcher, and the kind of techno-plot used as filler on various Trek series, it eventually rewards you by ALSO being about kindness. It seems Ivanova was contacting Earth on the sly to speak to her dying, and formerly estranged, father. The kindness is hers for reaching out, her father's for admitting his mistakes, and Garibaldi's for looking the other way. And it's a sequence that showed why I love Ivanova so much already. She's so stern and dry all the time, that when she breaks down, lets emotion wet her eyes, I turn into a moist towelette myself. I want to reach out and hug her. If plots can't always be interwoven, they can at least work together thematically. But I was worried there for a second.

And though it's a melancholy episode, there is some fun to be had. The episode is bookended by comedy, whether that's G'Kar getting caught relaxing with the enemy by his new chief of staff, a real battleaxe who spits at people (Narn females are SCARY), or his finding out he inadvertently helped save the Centauri Republic from a nasty Fall. Each ambassador passing the buck to their aides, using the same line (quoted above) is pretty amusing too, especially given the irony of Londo making that statement. I love a good con, so seeing the evil Trakis gets cheated out of everything by Londo with the help of Sinclair and Talia certainly tickled my fancy (AND Sinclair getting the compromise he wants for his treaty in the process). Plus, an appearance by N'Grath, some gorgeous costumes (except for the goons right out of a 90s cop show), and the show opening on a song! Good production values. This is the first script not credited to JMS, but you'd hardly notice. Cartoon writer Lawrence G. DiTillio WAS B5's story editor, after all. He should know his stuff, and does.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Don't fall in love with the Dabo girls!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It sounds like I'm always giving the episodes rave reviews, but it's my natural reaction to rich writing. A "Medium" for B5 means it's all quite watchable, but that I'm still waiting for it to become more than alt-DS9.

5 comments:

Ryan Lohner said...

One major reason the whole show works as a single grand story so well is that it's largely the product of a single mind. Of the 110 episodes, a mere 18 were not written by JMS personally. And here we have the first of these, by Larry DiTillio. He and JMS had been friends since the very beginning of both their careers, and JMS dearly wanted him to be the show's story editor as they worked together so well, but the network was skittish about this unknown quantity. So he was given this episode to write as basically his audition for the job.

Though it got him the job, DiTillio was actually a bit disappointed by how the episode turned out. He had written a couple action scenes that had to be scrapped for money and time, and he also imagined Garibaldi's hacking would feature much more impressive effects. But in his introduction in the script volumes, he says he certainly can't feel regret any more, knowing how well the whole thing turned out.

Given the focus on the Centauri, I'll bring this up now: their hairstyle was actually the result of a practical joke. Peter Jurasik convinced the hair and makeup people to give him the "fountain" wig and told JMS it was his idea for the Centauri, expecting to be laughed out of the office. And JMS, baffled but wanting his actors to feel their input was valued, agreed. Jurasik was now too embarrassed to reveal the truth, and by the time it did come out it was too late to change. It did work quite well as a way to make the Centauri easily distinguishable from humans, but also caused some issues later that I'll get to at the proper time. Also, the wigs looked terrible for the whole first season but thankfully improved.

LiamKav said...

The thing is, the hairstyle perfectly suits their culture... it's ridiculously decadent and over the top. You can imagine it being one of those things where someone popular at the Centauri court started to wear their hair high, and then everyone copied him, and then over the years they just got higher and higher, with no-one ever daring to be the one to stop doing it. This is probably the same universe that led to TOS or the reboot movies where we've got all the way to the 23rd century without any women going "do you know what? I think I'm going to wear trousers for my work uniform rather than a miniskirt."

(There is a historical precedent for this that's slipping my mind at the moment.)

I also think it's intentional that the Centauri are the more human looking ones and the Narn are the more alien ones. It affects our initial impressions of them, and how those impressions are played with as the show goes on.

Larry DiTillio was, along with Bob Forward, a story editor/showrunner for Transformers: Beast Wars, which was the series that basically saved the franchise back in the late 90s. It was done by the same studio that did ReBoot, so he has experience with slightly rough but well meaning CGI. Also, Beast Wars was awesome.

Benjamin said...

Great reviews, I'm enjoying the vicarious revisiting!

And Ryan, thanks for the added comments from the script volumes. I was always curious about those...I balked at the (anticipated total) price when they first started coming out.

Chuck Lavazzi said...

FYI, Londo's feelings for Adira will lead to tragic consequences two seasons down the road. JMS often planted seeds that would not bear fruit for quite some time.

LiamKav said...

@Chuck

Siskoid has asked us to keep potential spoilers vague, just in case there are any people watching for the first time. I'd say that comment is a bit borderline, but you might want to be a bit more discreet.

And yeah, he did plant stuff that didn't play out for years. Of course, he also planted stuff that went no-where. Some of which was rewritten in to better stuff, but I think there's some things that were done in case of potential cancellation or cast emergencies.

 

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