Babylon 5 #9: And the Sky Full of Stars

"Maybe the universe blinked. Maybe God changed His mind. All I know is that we got a second chance!"
IN THIS ONE... An attempt to retrieve Sinclair's lost 24 hours through drugs and virtual reality.

REVIEW: They've really got to stop starting episodes at customs... Ok, so this is the first Babylon 5 episode I have a vague memory of watching the first time around (which was still in later, daily repeats because no way did we have TNT when the show was originally broadcast). The episode's tropes would have seemed familiar enough - the main character trapped in a mindscape that looks just like a darkened and empty version of his ship/station? Yeah, been there, done that. With some hindsight, an episode where Sinclair is trapped in his own traumatized mind, suffers from PTSD, hallucinates and eventually goes on a rampage, all the while doing "crazy eyes" is at the very least painfully ironic and potentially, a harrowing experience for an actor who was sadly struggling with schizophrenia at the time. Harder to watch with this in mind than as originally presented.

Leaving all that behind the scenes, And the Sky Full of Stars excitingly brings back the 24-hour gap in Sinclair's memory, the "hole in his mind" that would explain why the Minbari surrendered 10 years ago. So it's frustrating that it doesn't explain a damn thing. We already knew Delenn was a member of the Grey Council and that she was no doubt on Babylon 5 to babysit Sinclair and their plans for him. We could already infer that gap had the Minbari behind it. What do we actually learn? Well, the circumstances of HOW he was nabbed by the Minbari, and his nightmares regarding the people he lost, that he was about to make a suicide run on the main Minbari ship, and in the epilogue, that the Minbari leadership would have to kill him if he ever were to remember. A mystery deepened, and Sinclair now aware that Delenn is involved, but it's nothing WE didn't know, so it leaves us hungry. Never mind the somewhat unresolved question of who the "Knights" were working for, and why the credits refer to them as "Knights". And then there's Knight Two's addled statement at the end that they are "still inside", which is pretty creepy and if you like, could mean the rest of the series takes place in Sinclair's mind (it doesn't, does it?). Or possibly that there's an echo of Sinclair's mind rattling around in Knight Two's  head, an unusual and probably cruel punishment.

But see, this is an episode about teasing the audience. One scene that pops out at you, for example, is the one where Garibaldi is reading a newspaper, the camera lovingly panning across juicy, world-building headlines. The leader of the Home Guard captured on Earth. Psi Corps involved in an election scandal. The pros and cons of inter-species mating. Fun stuff. If you tease us, you should eventually let us get something out of it though. As is, the episode starts off slow, with too long a first act, then runs out of time before we can learn anything substantial. It doesn't even have time to resolve the Knight's reality-warping statement with a (perhaps clichéed, but always satisfying) game of "wake up but still in a dream" sequence.

Deep Space Nine would eventually do a couple versions of this premise, in Distant Voices and Things Past.

- Explores a worthy mystery, but doesn't advance the story enough for my tastes.


Ryan Lohner said...

The role of Knight Two (who oddly enough is the one with the bigger role, and even appears first in the credits) was originally offered to Patrick McGoohan. He had to decline as he was going through health issues at the time, so it was then offered to Walter Koenig. He couldn't fit it into his schedule, but that of course ended up working out very well for him as he was able to take the much larger role of Bester. We ended up with Christopher Neame, who's always had a steady career but never become a recognizable name. Though I do really like the thing he does where he seems to be an awful ham while interrogating Sinclair, but is much more subtle in other scenes, giving the impression that the character is deliberately putting on this performance to put Sinclair off his game.

The POV shots with the weird fisheye effect were going to be shot with a special camera lens, but somehow it got lost. So the cameraman pulled an empty punch bowl off the craft table and shot through it, and it worked perfectly. This has been your daily dose of the uses of regular household things.

The first time I watched the show, I skipped The Gathering, so my impression of this episode was that it actually did show some real forward progress. With the pilot added I can definitely see where it could be frustrating, but I'm still fine with it, as simply knowing there's a plan in place for all this would make me confident that answers were coming, and not mind waiting for them. Unlike, say, Lost, where this kind of thing definitely got on my nerves.

Alexander Osias said...

This episode also visually seeds a TriLuminary. Can't say more or it's a spoiler.

Radagast said...

Note that TNT was not the regular broadcaster until season 5 - the first four aired in syndication like TNG and DS9. I'm not sure which broadcaster (if any) in your area would have picked it up.

Siskoid said...

Ryan: I've got to try that fisheye trick! As for the waiting game, it's often a byproduct of watching something daily. It's not the same experience as watching it weekly (at the time) or back to back (as you might with DVD TV).


Radagast: No idea. It possibly aired, I just know I saw it later.

Anonymous said...

PTEN was the syndicate that distributed B5, if that helps.

Ahh, Saturday afternoons in the 1990s. PTEN and the other syndicates made some awesome TV shows to have on in the background while you were cleaning.

Siskoid said...

It doesn't because Canada is another Worrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrld.

Madeley said...

I loved this episode when I first saw it. It was the first one, for me, that hammered home that there was an arc, that mysteries were there to be revealed, and that this show wasn't going to be anything like a one-story-per-episode series. And of course, the X-Files was doing something similar in terms of arc-stories round about the same time, and that was another show I was obsessed with.

Agree totally with Ryan re. The Gathering. I'm not sure I even realised there had been a pilot that hadn't been shown in Britain at this point, which I think helps in terms of feeling there was more progression in this episode than there actually was.

At the time, I remember being desperate to know exactly what had gone on at the Battle of the Line, and feeling this was the mystery at the heart of the show. It was odd to look back at this plot point a few years down the line, once the mystery was solved and other, bigger mysteries had taken its place.

In particular, I remember feeling, not disappointment, but maybe a little disengagement when In The Beginning was released, because there was nothing really new to show us, while thinking at the same time that had I watched it circa Series 1 it would have been a revelation (not, of course, that it was intended to be seen that way).

LiamKav said...

(posted on wrong thread. Whoops!)

I dunno. I think I read JMS saying that In the Beginning IS designed to be watched first. Any potential spoilers (such as Delenn speaking at the beginning, or the flash forward at the end) would most likely be forgotten once you then started on season 1 and were busy wondering where your leading man had just gone.

This episode also introduces the "Battle for the Line" music, which is one of the best pieces composed for this show. It's so good that it was retroactively inserted into The Gathering when they did the SE of it, at the point where Sinclair is reminiscing about this battle. And, of course, it's also used for the AMAZING season 3 title sequence.

I love that title sequence so much.

Madeley said...

I didn't realise JMS intends for it to be the first episode in retrospect. To my mind it doesn't work very well for that purpose, but that's wholly my opinion, of course.

The season 3 titles rock big time.

LiamKav said...

He compared it to Star Wars, saying if you were going to do prequels, you wouldn't keep the Anakin = Vadar (spoiler warning) studd a secret, because everyone knows it.

Might be slightly overestimating the impact of your show on the public conciousness there, Joe.

Anonymous said...

There's a few places where JMS' intended order doesn't work so well, and that's probably the biggest one. In The Beginning is such a product of of when it was made relative to the rest. Between the characters who will vanish, those that stick around acting completely different, a large number of mysteries going all the way up to mid season 4 being spoiled, and all the odd situations and references that only make sense when you already know what they mean, it's always seemed to function much more as a 'cap' to the first four years than as any sort of introduction film.

Cradok said...

Why am I Anon? I'm pretty sure I typed my name...

LiamKav said...

One thing I've noticed while watching this episode... they don't follow the Trek rules for "it's happening in their MINDS!" scenes. So while Sinclair is (apparently) walking around the deserted B5, we get both a CGI shot of the elevator and an external shot of an (unlit) station.

Siskoid said...

That's not just a Trek rule. I might call it a mistake, or playing unfair with the audience.


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