Babylon 5 #43: The Long, Twilight Struggle

"No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand. The Centauri learned this lesson once. We will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years... we will be free. "
IN THIS ONE... With the Shadows' help, the Centauri force a Narn surrender. Draal returns. Sheridan gives G'Kar sanctuary and meets the Rangers.

REVIEW: The Narn-Centauri War heats up and boils right over, and here they had me thinking it was going to last forever. I guess I bought what the Narn propaganda machine was selling. But like a game of Axis & Allies, one side must use a strike fast and hard strategy, while the other must slow things down to a crawl to win. The Narn seem hopelessly outclassed in this conflict. Their only strategy is to strike at supply lines to extend the war and hope the Centauri will exhaust themselves, leaving the homeworld open to get enough ships together, and even that plan is intercepted by the enemy who sets up a Shadow ambush while it bombards the Narn planet with outlawed WMDs. Even a heads up from Doc Franklin - who naturally sides with the underdog - doesn't help. Nobody listens to G'Kar and, as usual in B5, pride does them in. Two cool space battle sequences in this one, the first showing the Shadows doing more than just slicing stuff open with a beam. They're launching fighters, combining ships into creepier shapes, collapsing boom tubes, and even taking the odd hit.

Londo swears this is the last time he'll call on the Shadows, but news at the end of the Republic annexing worlds adjacent to Narn space probably means his pal Refa will ask him to again. At his core, Londo, selfish as he is, remains an honorable warrior, and it hurts him deeply to see his people cheat their way into universal domination. He would see the Centauri fight their own battles, not resort to Shadows and outlawed weapons, breaking every treaty along the way. I'm not even convinced he agrees with the outrageous terms of the Narn surrender, except perhaps throwing G'Kar off the Council. It's an intense moment and the episode's best. G'Kar in pain, shamed by his people's defeat and having to beg Sheridan for sanctuary. His great speech about freedom. Londo harsh and angry, delivering edicts that are possibly repugnant to him, and refusing any "U.N." (Earth/Minbari) involvement. But even the asylum Sheridan grants G'Kar might be short-lived. He acted on his own authority, and if G'Kar's luck stays the same, he'll be at odds with Earth in short order.

Sadly, the return of Draal isn't as interesting. The Minbari at the center of the planet below the station has been turned into a friendly ghost, and recast as a younger man. There's an in-story explanation, which is fine, but John Schuck plays him a bit... big. It's a comedy Draal, and I don't think it's particularly funny. The idea seems to be to reintroduce the character so the audience can be reminded of him, and Sheridan can meet him, but it's all a bit tedious when watching the episodes back to back like this. There are a couple of good elements to it though. One is the exotic musical theme that accompanies his lurking through the station in the first arc. Very nice, distinctive. The other is that he makes Delenn reveal the existence of the Rangers to Sheridan, which in turn leads to a rousing speech from him to this "army of light". For all the romance between Sheridan and Delenn on the show of late, there are still things that could keep them apart. It's not the first time he's caught her keeping secrets, and for the second time in a row, she gets to react to his being in a hurry (this time with a hint of a tone?). Having to stand together against the darkness might be the best thing to happen to their relationship.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I find Draal's return mostly tedious, but the Narn defeat is as much eye candy as it is raw emotion and awesome speeches.


Anonymous said...

Just gotta get it off my chest: I can't stand the Rangers. D&D characters in space (strike one) whose humanly-impossible training (strike two) makes them effectively superhuman (strike three) ... no thank you.

Doug Hudson said...

The scene where Londo orders G'Kar out of the council room is possibly the most painful, emotionally devastating moment in the entire series. Seeing G'Kar broken and humiliated like that, and Londo at his most villainous; it's the absolute nadir of their story arc.

Luckily it's also the turning point in their story arc.

Ryan Lohner said...

A sign of the state of CGI at the time: the reason Londo stands so stock-still while watching the bombardment is because that was the only way they could easily composite him into the scene. His looking away at the end is actually Peter Jurasik letting his head drop after holding that pose for so long.

The in-universe explanation for Draal's new actor works pretty well. Unfortunately, John Schuck himself doesn't so much. He's primarily a stage actor, and that need to play to the back row shows in every single second he's onscreen. And he also provides another link to Star Trek as he played a Klingon a few times, most memorably in the fourth film ("Behold the quintessential devil in these matters, James T. Kirk, renegade and terrorist!")

One thing I'm surprised you didn't mention is the awesomely sly reveal of where Zathras came from, though I do wonder how many people caught it at the time with a year between the episodes and a lot more stuff to keep track of than anyone expected of TV back then.

Also worth noting is Londo's cough as he lays out the treaty terms. It's another bit that looks like an accident, but was actually scripted that way, as foreshadowing for his state as seen in the dream of his death from The Coming of Shadows.

Siskoid said...

Schuck was great as the bombastic Klingon Ambassador (also in VI), but not here.

When Zathras came up, what was needed was a visual. I ended up going "is that supposed to mean something to me?" then failed to follow up as the episodes are so dense, I invariably let go of details that don't make any of my points, willing to pick them back up when they become more relevant. I guess the whole Zathras this will, later on. Here, it's just a reference waiting to explode into more explicit detail.

Ryan Lohner said...

I'd guess Tim Choate wasn't available, but he still wanted to remind viewers of that plot thread somehow.

LiamKav said...

Seriously though, that shot of Londo... For a show that's all about the talking (and talking and talking and talking), his expression there just sells, well, everything.

Also, dun dun DAAAAAA... dun dun DAAAAA! Hello, music that will be used for season 3 titles! Oh, how I love you so much.

LiamKav said...

I quite like Schuck. I dunno, I think that bombastic can work on B5 in ways that it doesn't work in Trek. I also think that William Forward is awesome as Refa, for instance (and "Ink on a page!" in reference to their interstallar treaties is a terrifyingly well-done response.)

I can't think, but was G'Kar ever said to be a memeber of the Kha'Ri before this episode? Delenn being a ruling member of her races government was a Big Reveal in season 1, but I don't recall anything similar for G'Kar.

Even today, on my 5th or 6th rewatch of the final council scene, I don't think I breathed for the entire duration. The whole thing is epic, and held together by Jurasik's breathtaking display as a Londo Mollari being exactly what his people want him to be.

This is also the episode that will forever be known as "the one where a Centauri does an awesome jumping spin-kick". If it wasn't already in my top 5, that would put it there.


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