Babylon 5 #37: There All the Honor Lies

"Welcome to Babylon 5: the last best hope for a quick buck!"
IN THIS ONE... Captain Sheridan is accused of murdering a Minbari, and the station starts selling B5 merchandise.

REVIEW: Peter David turns in his second B5 script, and I can certainly recognize the twisted humor, though as we'll see, JMS tried to add to it. Where you really get "guest script" from the episode is the conventional frame-up story. Or rather, that the frame-up and the Vir subplot which would have him losing his job now that Londo is an important man who deserves better both end without any chance in the status quo. You could take this episode right out of continuity and lose very little. Which doesn't make it unentertaining. When Sheridan is forced into a situation where he has to kill a Minbari, possibly igniting a powder keg on the station, it could have been played as just another investigation to clear someone of wrongdoing. We've already had a lot of those. But instead, there's a lot of play on Minbari culture and a game of hide-the-dishonor ensues, with Sheridan not only cleared, but getting to do a solid for Lennier's clan and helping them save face. A little too much like the ending of Acts of Sacrifice, but Minbari honor is more complicated than the Narns', so it remains interesting. Getting to that point has its pleasures, like getting a glimpse of Lennier's martial arts again and Delenn facing her race's distrust and disgust. Caitlin Brown appears as Sheridan's lawyer, a small role apparently created to let her appear on the show without her heavy Na'Toth make-up, but while a credible addition in the circumstances, a rather slim one.

The B-plot is a silly trifle about Babylon 5 merchandising. This isn't what it looks like - i.e. an attempt to sell actual merchandise to fans - because it was all made special. The action figures are particularly cool, though Londo gets some grief over getting "Kenned", if you know what I mean. This bit with the alien and human masks is a neat gag as well. It falls apart for me when JMS gets involved and writes a final scene where happy-go-lucky Sheridan, holding a cute teddy bear with his initials on it, suddenly decides to ditch the program and the 2 million credits it might have earned annually. No real reason for it except that a different writer grabbed the typewriter. Ivanova is more than happy to kill the merchandising venture, of course, but Sheridan has little motivation for his change of heart. JMS has said that he hates cute and the scene was his revenge on PAD for giving him that same bear (the initials are, of course, the same whether we're talking about John Sheridan, Jeff Sinclair or Joe Straczynski, make of that what you will) as a gift. Next thing we know, the bear is floating out in space and hitting Keffer's windshield (oh yeah, that dude's still on the show). And it would work if the show had earned it with a lighter tone throughout. It didn't. The A-plot was much too serious for that.

Two C-plots jostle for a little attention in addition to these two. The first is Vir's, realizing he's never had a choice in his life (just like the Centauri Emperor then, an irony not lost on this viewer), going where people who let him. Londo, a good friend, makes a plea to keep him on as his assistant, even though his higher social position would normally require a more competent aide. Aw. Except Londo only really thinks of Londo, and it wouldn't do to have the guy who's kept all his Shadowy secrets to date out of sight and bitter like that. Friendship my ass. Talia shows up in the middle of this to get a drink poured on her by accident. Not a big work week for Andrea Thompson there. The other thread is Kosh's continuing lessons to Sheridan, another bit JMS claims credit for, and while it's a very interesting scene, it's also largely opaque. Sheridan is dumped in a dark hole where he experiences "a moment of beauty". Either this is a telepathic vision, or a magic trick, but it's not something we can readily explain. Is Kosh showing Sheridan something of how the Vorlons see the world, or teaching him about the values worth protecting against the Shadows? Unknown. Perhaps both. The song Sheridan hears is in Latin and includes Biblical references (check out the Lurker's Guide for the full translation). Getting into it would be going beyond the scope of these reviews, but the more interesting elements include a victorious hand (the Vorlon vision called Sheridan the hand in All Alone in the Night, and Londo's dream also involves a dark hand), and some Messianic prophecy which could apply to Sheridan/Delenn/Sinclair. The singing by a choir also seems relevant (Kosh once told Talia to listen to the music not the words, and her last brush with a serial killer had him adding people to his choir, is this all connected?). Either way, a lot of this is impossible to get from just watching the episode unless one knows Latin quite well, so I feel like I'm cheating even mentioning it.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Check out the dig at DS9, with our heroes saying B5 isn't some "Deep Space franchise". Keep it in your pants, guys.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Not unpleasant. Some amusing bits, some nice diplomatic shenanigans, stuff that might get you talking. But also completely disposable in the larger story.

9 comments:

LiamKav said...

Jeffrey Sincbear would work better than John Bearidan.

(Interesting that the bear only had JS on it. Did he only start being known as JMS later, perhaps while talking to people on Usenet about these episodes?)

And no "Other side of the wormhole" for the "Deep Space Franchise" jab?

Siskoid said...

Well that happened very much on THIS side of the Wormhole ;)

LiamKav said...

True. It's also a bit rich coming from a show that had several made-for-TV movies, one spin off, and attempt at another spin off, an attempt to get a TV reboot, and now apparent plans for a full film.

Siskoid said...

But you're right, it does deserve a mention. (Fixed)

Madeley said...

I bet bloody boring bloody Galen is intended to be the main character in the film, isn't he.

Ryan Lohner said...

JMS had a much bigger hand in this episode than Peter David's last script Soul Mates, in particular the entire Kosh subplot as the show had now reached the point where he felt the ongoing mytharc had to be a more consistent presence. Unfortunately that meant some of the stuff David wrote had to go, the biggest victim being Caitlin Brown who gets a great entrance and then more or less disappears.

He also significantly changed the ending, which in David's version had Delenn forcing a confession out of Ashan with the gravity ring from The Gathering, with a particularly badass moment when she throws his "freak" label back in his face when he tries to bring up the Ape Shall Not Kill Ape rule. He still greatly dislikes the new version, finding it "a bit too Murder, She Wrote," but JMS was insistent that one of the heroes beating a confession out of the villain went against the whole tone of the series that he wanted.

One major reason I love this show is its full commitment to one of my favorite parts of TV Tropes, "Screw You, Elves." In this case the elves are the Minbari, and it is so goddamn satisfying to see their pretensions of being more enlightened and perfect than everyone else slowly stripped away. If Lost had done the same with the ever-annoying Others, I'd probably think much more kindly on it, even with its multitude of other problems.

The merchandising plot was inspired by David taking offense at the new creative team behind Star Trek talking about how DS9 was all about keeping "the franchise" going, rather than holding true to Gene Roddenberry's vision (in which women had to dress like pieces of meat and weren't allowed to be captains, and humans had pretty much become the elves of the galaxy, but I digress). He put in the "deep space franchise" line purely for his own satisfaction expecting JMS would ask him to take it out, but instead he loved it so much that David is convinced he would still have okayed the episode even if the rest was crap just so that line could see the light of day. And with all the grief Trekkies were giving the show for daring to be sci-fi that wasn't Star Trek, I can't blame him at all.

The bear had been a gift from Peter David's wife, and after having it dissed on national television, he got his revenge when he and Bill Mumy created the Nickelodeon sci-fi series Space Cases, which in its first season featured an episode where the same bear (stripped of the baseball uniform at the network's insistence) is picked up by the heroes and turns out to have a virus that turns one of them evil, but before then we get the line "What idiot would space a perfectly good bear?" JMS was then eager to turn this into a full-on joke war similar to the thing Sam Raimi and Wes Craven have, but David was disturbed when the incident led to an impression in the public that they hated each other, so it stopped there. He also notes that if he'd known his marriage would end in a quite acrimonious split, he probably wouldn't have bothered in the first place.

Siskoid said...

Great notes as usual Ryan. If I don't respond to them every time, it's because they're so complete and hermetic, but I want you to know how appreciated they are.

I think PAD's ending would have been much stronger.

LiamKav said...

- The Drazi who asks Ivanova if they gift-wrap is the most well-spoken Drazi the show has seen (and, I think, ever sees). They can't be bothered to long proper English for matters of diplomacy, but when it comes to shopping...

- I'm wondering if Stephen Furst will come out with the "Michael Dorn award for most improved acting". He's gone from a joke character to one with Pathos. Perhaps Peter Jurasik has the Patrick Stewart ability to improve the skills of those around him by osmosis. (He's like a support character in an RPG, except his buff is the ability to give amazing speeches.)

- Hey, apparently the legal system in the future allows recordings taken without consent as evidence. Didn't Sheridan just make a point about how the "smaller" rights are important?

- "I remember my first hangover. Well, actually that's not true. If I remembered it, it wouldn't be a real hangover." I have no idea if PAD drinks, or if JMS wrote that line, but I can attest that you can very, very, very much remember your first hangover. Your first time being drunk, possibly not. But the headache, nausea, a tongue that tastes like sandpaper and a body that refuses to do anything without complaining? Yeah, you don't forget that.

- A case study could be made on how to juggle a character's descent into "evilness" while stopping them from being out and out evil. After his fairly terrible actions in "The Coming of Shadows", it seemed that Mollari was pretty heavily down a dark path. The last few episodes have gone out of their way to try and make him seem like he still has a soul. It's important to keep him on that see-saw, never quite going 100% bad or 100% good.

- JMS: "No, the scene in the dark with the robed figures was not enhanced with CGI or any other device" so, why was it cropped? I thought they only cropped when there was a fade to or from an SFX scene. Are they having to crop if there is a fade FULL STOP? Jesus...

Siskoid said...

Yes, I observed this early on. Straight up fading between two scenes, even if they have no CG, will cause the screen to be zoomed in and cropped.

 

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