Babylon 5 #34: All Alone in the Night

"Why am I here?" "You have always been here."
IN THIS ONE... Delenn is kicked off the Gray Council, and Sheridan is kidnapped and tested by unknown aliens.

REVIEW: Sheridan should know better than to ask what could possibly go wrong when he takes a Starfury out for a spin, but at least he's not trying to get himself killed like Sinclair often was. Forced to eject, he's captured by an asymmetrical monstrosity, later identified as a Streib ship. The Streib are an intriguing race, despite their clichéed modus operandi, abductors who test other species and set them against one another. Well, they're only intriguing if Sheridan's dream was one of their tests, but the real Kosh saying the same lines at the end makes me doubt that. The surreal encounter with B5 regulars with birds on their shoulders, and their cryptic message, could be an actual dream (dreams are part of B5's vocabulary) or a telepathic message getting through from somewhere. Sheridan as a PsiCop, "You have always been here", and so on. It plays initially like it IS a test. If it isn't, we're left with a torture table, trials by combat, and an "Enemy Mine" set-up with a pessimistic Narn (unnamed, but whom we'll see again). I suppose the Narn are pessimistic by nature after a century of occupation. An escape attempt is inevitable, and it succeeds with a little help from Sheridan's friends. Standard.

There's another character being tested in this episode, and that's Delenn, who appears in front of the Grey Council and is exiled from its presence. She's no longer completely Minbari and besides, her spot on the Council, normally reserved for someone of the religious caste, has been taken over by Neroon of the warrior caste (we met him in Legacies). He doesn't buy the whole oversoul argument. With 4 votes on the Council, the warriors have basically taken control of the Minbari government (with Earth and Centauri, that's three coups in a row) and they've decided the new wars brewing are a good time for isolationist policies, even though the prophecy counsels crucial alliances. More difficulties thrown into our heroes' way. Rejected, Delenn returns to Babylon 5, the loyal Lennier still at her side. If there's a character who might be exactly what he seems, it's him. The purest soul. The biggest surprise JMS could spring on me at this point is revealing Lennier has some kind of secret agenda. In a final, twisted irony, Delenn proves more useful to humanity than the Minbari by giving B5 the lowdown on the Streib and helping defeat them. Particularly ironic, because her actions are war-like.

The Delenn subplot reminds us there are shadows to be fought from within as much as without, and so it is with Earth's political situation as well. General Hague, while useful in the context of the plot to bring the big guns necessary to save Sheridan, is a patriot who wants to enroll Babylon 5's help in fighting one of those shadows within. Sheridan had a side-mission to spy on the other Earthforce characters, but that's not the reveal. The reveal is that it was he was asked to do so in aid of a larger secret mission to uncover and expose/defeat the conspiracy that led to President Santiago's assassination and Clark's assension. We can't be too surprised the whole crew joins the cause, but that scene, symbolically played in civilian attire, feels like another turning point. JMS is really stacking the deck against the crew, and you can feel the tension appreciably rising.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: The quote above is right out of the Prophets' first (so-to-speak) encounter with Sisko. Trek's been doing the test-the-captive bit since forever, most recently (broadcast-time) in "The Search" where the Founders tested the crew in a VR simulation. On the flip side, B5 is first to use Robert Foxworth as a paranoid superior officer.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- The A-plot is the least interesting here (especially since the Streib aren't ever mentioned again, at least on the program); the politics are where this episode lives, and lives dangerously.

4 comments:

Ryan Lohner said...

For the most part, this is what's known in TV lingo as a Run and Jump, a lightweight action piece named because they typically feature a lot of running and jumping. In fact, JMS makes a joke (as much as you can in print) out of being unable to keep from laughing while trying to make a pretext that there's some deep meaning behind everything. But he does use the format well in another way: with the audience so conditioned to expect nothing but a fun action movie out of the setup, he lays two major turning points at us later on in Sheridan's dream and the reveal of his true mission on B5 (first hinted at in his debut, where we didn't see Hague giving Sheridan his mission and were left to assume it was just about taking over command). That dream is full of foreshadowing for later events that I'll spell out once we get to them, except for the dove, which symbolizes that JMS thought it would be funny to make Jerry Doyle stand around with a bird on his shoulder. Oh, and you may recognize Marshall Teague as the captive Narn as the guy taken over by the Ikarran war machine in Infection.

Neroon was created by DC Fontana in her script for Legacies, with no plan to ever appear again, but JMS was so impressed with John Vickery's performance that he was made an important part of the mytharc here. And as there was too much going on in his last appearance to remember to bring him up, I should talk about the late, great Robin Sachs. Known for roles like Ethan Rayne is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sarris in Galaxy Quest, and Zaaed in Mass Effect (his final role before his death from a heart attack at 61), he played three different roles on the show, each in two episodes, starting with the Minbari Hedronn in Points of Departure and this episode. The guy was a true chameleon even without the aid of makeup, and it's always a treat to see him.

Anonymous said...

Something that's gonna get to bothering me: the creation of a vocabulary within B5 where the mere act of repeating phrases is, I think, intended to be meaningful but falls sort of flat. For example, if Ivanova says "these pretzels are making me thirsty" in one episode, and then Sheridan repeats the same line many episodes later, it's a deliberate link between the episodes, but it feels forced and a little amateurish.

Then there are places where it's just wrong. Like at one point Sheridan asks a reasonable question and is rebuked for it, because it's a question someone else asked: at that point you're putting too much work into meta-exchanges, at cost to regular conversations.

LiamKav said...

One of the more subtle aspects of the ongoing arc is the slow crushing of Delenn's spirit. She changed into a Minbari/Human hybrid in the belief that it would bring the two races closer together. Instead, it's produced reactions from confusion to revulsion. Her dignity has been ruined (the incident with the hair), she was threatened with a beating/rape last week for being a freak, and here she's kicking off the Grey Council and told that her own people don't even recognise her as a Minbari anymore. She lies to Lennier, and possibly to herself as well.

I also like the meta-commentary in Hague's "you record shows you to be a jarhead, but we both know you're more than that." It echoes the initial thoughts in hiring Boxleitner. It also puts a spin on some of his earlier lines. In particular, his "gets cold out here" to Ivanova from "Revelations" now comes across as him trying to feel out where her loyalties lie.

One other thing I keep forgetting to mention... I've always loved the unique patterns that are on the Starfuries, and I'm annoyed the transfer doesn't show them in greater detail. I remember the model kit released in the 90s had different decals to you could make you own Sheridan/Sinclair/Presedential Escort/PsiCorp Starfury. There's a nice guide to some of the designs here: http://www.starshipmodeler.com/b5/starfury.htm

Siskoid said...

Thanks for the site, neat!

And yeah, poor Delenn. She breaks down in the next one.

 

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