Babylon 5 #26: The Geometry of Shadows

"As I look at you, Ambassador Mollari, I see a great hand reaching out of the stars. The hand is your hand. And I hear sounds of billions of people calling your name." "My followers?" "Your victims."
IN THIS ONE... Ivanova must stop two factions of Drazi from killing each other. Garibaldi considers leaving his job. And techno-mages flee the known universe like rats.

REVIEW: Sometimes, you find pleasure in the little things - finally a Centauri with Londo's accent, Garibaldi's relatively slow (for TV) recovery, the show's ethos clumsily described in Vir's philosophy, of all people - because the big things... Let's start with the political satire of the Drazi "election". Just as plot, it's fine, if disposable fluff. I like that Ivanova gets a promotion AND additional responsibilities. I like that it shows Sheridan as more of a delegator than Sinclair was, less hands-on and probably better able to stave off a meltdown than his predecessor. And the idea of the Drazi's random political process/war is, on the surface, cute, with an amusing resolution. And I'd rather think of it as simply that. As a satire on the American political system, I don't think it holds water. The U.S. is highly politicized and even if I were to buy into the concept of "both parties are essentially the same", Conservatives and Liberals obviously don't THINK the same. The Drazi's complete lack of ideology is a nice absurdist, Kafkaesque idea, but its follow-the-leader approach isn't quite right. It's true that many people, especially those of a certain age, will vote a certain "color" all their lives, regardless, but the people they vote for will still have to present their ideology for it all to make sense. Here in Canada, where there are more parties, the two main colors ARE essentially the same, give or take. They might present themselves as different, but both are just right of center, at least in practice. But the Drazi aren't commenting on practice, they're commenting on ideology and process. Not an allegory, just an absurd extreme, and that's fine. I don't need to make more of it than is there, though I imagine JMS would want me too.

The other big thing is the introduction of the Technomages, though because they're leaving the known universe to escape the Shadow war, they won't become important again until, as I understand it, Crusade. So despite a major guest-star (to SF fans anyway) in Michael Ansara, and a couple of nice exchanges between him and Sheridan and then Londo, the only thing it really adds to the show's tapestry is that very powerful people are running from the Shadows, which makes what's coming all the more terrifying. And that's fine. I just think the Technomages could have been a little more engaging as a whole, or perhaps been introduced long before. As is, they show up, they leave, and in between they make fantasy references from Tolkien, Moorcock (Elric? really?) and AD&D (tell me that monster didn't come right off the original DuneonMaster's Guide). Again, their presence leads to some amusement, mostly in Londo getting cursed, but their brief presence doesn't make the best use of Babylon 5's novelistic structure.

The third story thread belongs to Garibaldi, who believes he's at a crossroads. The man who brought him onto Babylon 5, his only trusted friend, is gone, and he doesn't know this Sheridan. And because he failed to uncover a conspiracy right under his nose, he's not sure he's competent to be security chief anymore (I AGREE!). So a lot of soul-searching when we know very well he's not going anywhere. The show will eventually prove someone can leave the station and remain in the cast, but as of now, Garibaldi's been in EVERY episode (unless I'm very much mistaken, it's close if not, and he'd be joined by Sinclair and Ivanova if you take their predecessor or successor as the same basic character). The resolution is inevitable, which takes away from his personal journey and his need to prove to himself he's still relevant. We're again given insight into Sheridan's management style, but again, no great revelation. On character that's noticeably absent is the All-New Delenn, which seems inexcusable given her recent transformation. What is she doing during these events? Teaching herself to brush and wash her hair? JMS left us hanging on that one, and you can't tell me she has no opinion on the Technomages.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Michael Ansara played one of the original Klingons, Kang, in another episode about people fighting for no reason, "Day of the Dove".

- A waste of a great title. While not without its moments, it really feels like a throwback to the first season's plots of the week.


Ryan Lohner said...

Even if Garibaldi's taking his job back is inevitable, I do very much appreciate that he takes the time to go through this journey, including implying that he's considering killing himself in the scene where he keeps loading and unloading his PPG. He also acts as the voice of the audience during this time, as we're also wondering if we can really trust this new lead character that's been suddenly thrust upon us.

Claudia Christian had broken her ankle while chasing a bird through her backyard late at night (that's literally all JMS says about it in the script volumes, saying the context of this action is best left to our imaginations), necessitating that Ivanova be given the same injury. Her cry of pain in that scene is very real, and actually started a rumor that it's where she was injured, though it's actually just because she landed on it awkwardly. This also had the nice effect of her being unable to take a physical role in her own rescue as intended, letting Garibaldi rediscover his mojo in a quite natural way.

The technomages didn't have much impact on the show itself, but they are the focus of the tie-in novel trilogy The Passing of the Technomages, which are utterly fantastic and the only novels of the franchise that could easily stand on their own as great sci-fi literature apart from the B5 tie-in. Half of Book 2 focuses on Elric during this episode, and reveals there was far more he was doing than is apparent here (for one thing, Morden was also on the station). Definitely worth checking out if you can find them.

Anonymous said...

We promised to get political for this episode (and probably only this episode), so I'll start with the "both parties are the same, derp" crowd: I understand why you say that, it's the quickest route to feeling like you're smarter than everyone else without doing any of the research that intelligent, informed people do. But you're wrong out of willful ignorance, so be proud of that, if you can't bring yourself to be ashamed.

LiamKav said...

I might have done all my ranting on the prio thread, but I agree. If the aim was to do a "all political parties are the same and any differences are arbitary", it's insulting and stupid. If not, then it makes the Drazi out to be the most moronic alien race ever (a trend that will continue. I don't like the idea of making our heroes look smart by making all the League races stupid).

This episode also begins an annoying habit of "vague episode titles that don't really explain what the episode is about". Sometimes, I wish JMS would adopt the Friends-style of episode titles: "The one where the Drazi are politically stupid and Kang gives a cool speech to Londo." This episode has very little to do with the Shadows at all, beyond the vague "something it coming" idea, which meant that for ages I'd get it mixed up with "The Coming of Shadows".

(By the time we get to season 4, this issue is pretty terminal. I have no idea which episode is what without a guide.)

I also think this is the second time Londo is referred to as a "hand". Symolism!

David said...

So, I don't think any of this is actually what was intended, but...

It could be alluding to the Mimbari / Human split. Two halves of the same "oversoul", arbitrarily divided, fighting against one another.

Alternately, if we're trying to tie it in to the Londo/Technomage side of the plot a bit more... maybe it's supposed to be saying that everyone in the show is like the Drazi -- bickering over ultimately pointless differences, and someone needs to step up and make them get in line so the real threat can be dealt with.

But really, it was probably just JMS being "lol politics".

LiamKav said...

"maybe it's supposed to be saying that everyone in the show is like the Drazi -- bickering over ultimately pointless differences, and someone needs to step up and make them get in line so the real threat can be dealt with."

That is a plot we're certainly going to be hitting full force over the coming years/weeks.

LiamKav said...

With this episode, Delenn's face it changed in the title sequence into her new look. I have no idea how common this was in US TV at the time... it always struck me more as a soap opera trick. It's effective too. At least, as long as you're not watching the US DVDs which have been showing her new face for the past two episodes...

Madeley said...

The Technomages are maybe the one ongoing thread in B5 that I can't stand. Hopelessly derivative, uninteresting, mystical crap for the sake of it, and yet another breed of Warrior Monk that JMS seemed particularly distracted by. Luckily they don't really feature in this show again, but every spinoff seems completely fascinated by them. JMS's obvious preoccupation with making them the centre of any future B5 related endeavour is the main reason I can't really get excited about the prospect of any future movie set in the same universe.

LiamKav said...

Finding pleasure in Lord Refa's accent is not a "small pleasure". It's a big, massive, scenery chewing meal of a pleasure. He's one of my favourite recurring characters. He's clearly looked at tapes of Peter Jurasik, and his voice, delivery, is just someone who "gets" what works and what doesn't on Babylon 5. He certainly does a lot better than prior (and later) Centauri.

There's a great example of JMS's inability to leave anything to visuals. We see Elric, and Londo says something like "to see one is rare. So see more than one is considered a bad omem." The camera then shows that there are three of them, and they all walk past Londo and Vir. All that's needed is a worried look between them, but because JMS doesn't trust his directors or something, we have Londo say "Three. This is a very bad sign." Argh!

Likewise, Londo asks Vir if he believes in fate. Vir then gives him a reallylong response, going on and on before Londo loses patience and says "yes, or no?!". This is hilarious for someone calling out the show for overwriting dialogue. It's also hilarious because Londo listens to Vir for way longer than any sane person would before cutting him off, but I guess he's just become numbed to people over elocuting.

Ivanova sounds pretty clued upon the Drazi situation when she's briefing Sheridan at the beginning, but then she getsdays and years mixed up? They do this thing every 5 years... there's no way aspects like that aren't common knowledge amoungst people who mix with Drazi by now.

Also, this thing has presumably beeen going on for years, but NOW is the time they choose to start killing each other? What happens if family are on different sides? Children, wives, babies? And you can get promoted just by taking the cloth from the leader? Argh stupid plot stupid!

That's now three episodes in a row that have ended at Earhart's. Getting our money's worth out of the new set!

jdh417 said...

I don't feel like ranting about the real world here either. Besides, I'm not sure any real world analogy comfortably fits with the Drazi nonsense anyway. It did make you think your own political beliefs look though. Maybe that was the intent.

LiamKav said...

Something I did find interesting here that would have been mentioned in the unfilmed Crusade season finale... apparently the Technomages would have been revealed to be the Shadow versions of the Rangers.

This has no bearing on Babylon-5-the-series, but it's an interesting titbit.


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