Babylon 5 #45: The Fall of Night

"It was the end of the Earth year 2259, and the war was upon us. As anticipated, a few days after the Earth-Centauri treaty was announced, the Centauri widened their war to include many of the Non-Aligned Worlds. And there was another war brewing closer to home. A personal one whose cost would be higher than any of us could imagine. We came to this place because Babylon 5 was our last, best hope for peace. By the end of 2259, we knew that it had failed. But in so doing, it became something greater. As the war expanded, it became our last, best hope for victory. Because sometimes peace is another word for surrender, and because secrets have a way of getting out."
IN THIS ONE... The Earth allies with the Centauri even though Sheridan has given sanctuary to a Narn cruiser. Kosh reveals his true form to save him from an assassination attempt. Keffer is killed by Shadows. And the Nightwatch starts arresting people for sedition.

REVIEW: The second year of the show ends with one of G'Kar's prophecies coming true, his handshake with Sheridan does indeed herald the turning of Earth away from the Narn. No surprise that Earth would throw in with Centauri, of course. Still wounded by the Minbari War, and with the Centauri establishing a presence in various non-aligned races' space, Earth would believably sign a non-aggression treaty with the aggressors. Save itself by throwing others under the space bus. Internally, things aren't going much better. The Nightwatch has turned into a veritable Gestapo, disappearing people for anything from criticizing the government to showing up late for one's shift. This is a show that doesn't mind making Earth one of our protagonists' enemies.

As Sheridan proved to the Inquisitor, his first obligation is to saving lives, but Earthforce may no longer mean anything as honorable as that. He does everything he can to keep the surviving Narn vessel from being discovered, up to and including committing an act of war against the Centauri. He would derail the peace process because it's the right thing to do, lest we ally with monsters (but too late, we're monsters too). We should be that lucky. Instead, the Centauri will let it go so long as Sheridan apologizes, which is probably more painful than what happens just before the ceremony. Not content to leave it at that, they bomb his train car, forcing him to eject into the gravity-less center of the station. It's a pretty fun action sequence, though I'm of two minds as to how he gets out of it. Delenn appeals to Kosh who leaves his encounter suit and reveals he's an angel, then flies up to save Sheridan. We see him as a human angel, but other species see him as their equivalent, though always, it seems, a glowing, flying man. Maybe I'm responding to how cheesy the visual is, but I think it's just not something we needed to see. It was implicit, now it's a little too explicit. He was, as expected, recognized by everyone, but the words promised something more momentous. Was the vision localized? Or did the Shadows feel a tremor in the Force? In any case, Londo saw nothing at all, implying that either his world has no angels, was never visited by the Vorlons, or that the Centauri have gone over to the darkness so far, they can't experience that kind of grace. But then, are Vorlons invisible to the Shadows? I suppose the revelation had to happen sometime, I'm just not wholly satisfied with how it happened and how soon it happened.

The episode also introduces John Vickery as Mr. Welles, the Nightwatch propagandist. Though a poor man's Kyle MacLachlan, Vickery is properly slimy in the role. Welles is an expert at implicating and corrupting anyone, yet letting nothing stick to his own person. He tries to recruit Ivanova and fails, but never lets on he's been caught doing something untoward. Zack is less well-equipped to deal with him, and finds himself informing on people against his will. Welles makes it seem like it's nothing, just confirming things they knew already, but Zack has the look of a man broken under severe interrogation. And his accusations have real consequences for others, and in terms of guilt, for himself. It's in this atmosphere that Sheridan tried to keep the secret of the Narn warship, but what would be treason in this case? No doubt the officer who told on him thought she was doing the right thing. To her, Sheridan was the traitor, acting against Earth's government, in spirit if not legally. Time to weed out the unthinking loyalists, Sheridan.

And speaking of weeding people out, this is the last episode for Keffer, a "youthful" character pushed on the production by the network. Though Sheridan had forced him to put a pin in his quest for find the Shadows, he grabs the opportunity here and is never heard from again. They did so little with him, he will hardly be missed. The footage he grabbed does make it on ISN, so as a parallel to Kosh's undressing, the Shadows are exposed as well. Another piece of symmetry is Ivanova's voice-over at the very end, a dark mirror of Sheridan's opening. It will be echoed in Season 3's opener... but I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I?

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: The Vorlons having "hard-wired" the peoples of the galaxy to see them as divine beings mirrors the Founders' doing so biologically with the Jem'Hadar.

- A good season finale. Though it ends on a downer, there's enough excitement (B5 gets some real damage!) that it still seems relatively upbeat.


Ryan Lohner said...

There's some interesting casting and re-casting here. John Vickery, who usually plays Neroon, gets to forgo the makeup this time as Welles. Robin Sachs, who played a Minbari in two other episodes this season, is now the refugee Narn captain, ironically playing a victim of his earlier character's inaction. And as Lantz we have Roy Dotrice, who you might recognize as Mozart's father in Amadeus, or Roger Wyndham-Price from Angel. Oh, and he holds the world record for playing the most characters in a single story as the narrator of the A Song of Ice and Fire audiobooks. This was going to lead to his playing Grand Maester Pycelle in the TV adaptation Game of Thrones, but poor health forced him into the smaller role of Pyromancer Hallyne.

JMS was in a cult for a few years in his foolish younger days, and that experience definitely informs the portrayal of Nightwatch here. Such groups don't hit you with their most damaging material out of the gate, as you wouldn't do it at the time. So instead Zack is encouraged to merely confirm reports they've already gotten. It doesn't implicate any more people, so no harm is done...except that it will make it easier for him to report on people on his own in the future, reasoning that he's already gone this far.

I'm aware that I may have come off as a JMS apologist at times, always taking his side and defending his writing choices. So let me offset that a bit by saying I definitely think it was the wrong move to have Lantz literally say the line "Peace in our time." Earlier, G'Kar had mentioned that to humans, the words "never again" mean a great deal, and yet here we have an utterly straight-faced repetition of the line made infamous by Neville Chamberlain, a guy who'd give you half of Europe even if you held his head in the toilet, as George Costanza put it. The armbands are one thing, and justified by production concerns, but there's no excuse for this ham-handedness that makes no sense in-universe.

As I said earlier, JMS was planning from the beginning of the season to kill off Keffer, positive that by the end of it the network brass would have completely forgotten they insisted he add the character in the first place. And as you'd expect from this pack of idiots, that's exactly what happened. The one wild card was that he'd grown quite attached to Robert Rusler, who was very enthusiastic about the show and got along great with everybody (though interestingly, Larry DiTillio shows a rather dimmer view of him in his own script introductions). But he still went ahead with it, because the story was the story, and there was simply no place in it for a cliched hotshot fighter pilot. Though he did get to move an important story point forward with his death, which is more than was probably planned at the start.

I find it especially interesting in the Kosh scene that G'Kar sees him as G'Lan rather than G'Quan, implying everyone sees him as a secondary figure in their religion rather than the main one. After all, which would you be more likely to believe? And with this comes more questions about the Vorlons: we already saw that they use the likes of Jack the Ripper to horribly torture their own agents, and now they're revealed to have spent centuries manipulating the minds of the other races so we'd be more inclined to side with them, hardly the kind of action you'd expect from the heroes of a straightforward good vs. evil conflict we were led to believe their war with the Shadows was for a while. Delenn takes the Obi Wan copout that it depends on your point of view, but JMS fully intended for us to not buy that. Another great refusal to have any "elves" in his story as untouchable bastions of virtue. Anyone who claims to be that is hiding something dark.

Also, JMS confirmed that Sheridan was fully prepared to give his "apology" exactly as he rehearsed it. If I wasn't already on board with the guy, that would have done it.

Doug Hudson said...

The revelation that the Vorlons had been manipulating entire species for millennia, following after last episodes revelation about Jack the Ripper, made me highly suspicious of the Vorlons.

After all, just because they fought the Shadows doesn't mean they are good guys.

On a different note, the B5-Earthforce storyline is my second favorite of the entire show after Londo-G'Kar. This episode, powerful as it is, is just foreshadowing Severed Dreams, which is absolutely wrenching.

Doug Hudson said...

Also, I think that "The Long Twilight Struggle" and this episode are the point at which the series goes beyond "good" to "great". Granted, the build-up of the first two seasons was necessary to reach this point, but they still could have dropped the ball here. Instead, the third and fourth seasons were unmatched in television storytelling until the TV Golden Age of the late 2000s.

Jeff R. said...

Maybe by the time of B5 people start remembering the Chamberlain quote accurately and only associate "peace for our time" with him...

Anonymous said...

Sheridan's apology was one of my favorite moments on this show, and probably the one where I decided I would have his baby if Delenn is incapable. (I will have whatever surgery I need.)

Roy Dotrice is pretty much the embodiment of the weak Englishman, too bound up in manner and culture to cut through the crap. Well played here.

As for Neville Chamberlain, Munich bought England several months, which Chamberlain used to excellent effect to re-arm and prepare for the eventual war. He wasn't the dummy people like to think he was; he did the only thing he could. I like to hope that even Churchill, in the same role, would have understood that he was obligated to fall on his sword for the good of England.

Anonymous said...

Well. Can't say I thought I'd see THAT today.

Neville Chamberlain was a shit. There are accounts of German generals telling the man "No, seriously, just pump the brakes a little and we can get rid of Hitler, get things sort of on track. Say the word."

But instead he allowed millions of innocent people to be murdered. I can almost understand (and despise, of course, but that's the default for this kind of thing) people defending the monsters of history. But defending that man, and insisting that he was nobly falling on his sword when he handed most of Europe to a power crazed dictator so vile he inspired Churchill's "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons"?

I can't make heads or tails, except to attribute it to mankind's natural appetite for the perverse.

LondonKdS said...

This episode is one of the ones that retrospectively make B5 look a bit like neo-conservative wishfulfillment, despite JMS's later disdain for George W Bush. There's that whole "peace is another word for surrender" line you quoted, but there's also the use of the cartoon version of Neville Chamberlain as a stick to beat anyone who doesn't see all out war as the immediate answer to any international issues.

To digress into history again, the "cartoon version of Neville Chamberlain" I'm talking about is basically Anon of 0612 above's version - Chamberlain was a naive cowardly idot who unquestioningly trusted Hitler, and the UK and France could have curb-stomped Hitler in 1938 if they'd REALLY WANTED to, without all the actual carnage of WWII and the Holocaust.

Which is wildly overconfident - the UK was way behind the Third Reich in military power at that stage, and as for promises from unnamed German officers about how they were totally going to get Hitler under control... either it's subsequent fiction, fiction at the time, or over confident types who were going to end up going the way von Papen did.

LondonKds said...

I would have taken the episode more seriously if Welles had taken Sheridan aside and said something along the lines of:

"OK, you think we should stand up to the Centauri and side with the Narns. What do you think would happen then? These people may be diminished, but they've been fighting interstellar wars for centuries, and we still have to spin our ships to get gravity. Who's going to stand with us for the Narn? The Minbari, the people who tried to genocide us? The League? You think any of them could stand up to the Centauri for five minutes?"

Anonymous said...

Pro-Chamberlain Anonymous here. Any of you guys ever heard of Dunkirk? The British army was very nearly wiped out trying to take on the Germans, and that was AFTER using the time Chamberlain bought to prepare for war. Predictions were that England would lose 90% of its army at Dunkirk, but thanks to an armada of British civilian ships and absolutely freakishly perfect weather providing them cover, 90% of the British army was saved.

I guess I wonder why you think Britain would have fared BETTER before preparing itself for war. Because the way I look at it, Britain likely would have been wiped out.

Anonymous said...

As for The Other Side Of The Wormhole, Kosh being perceived as a god is one of the very few similarities between DS9 and B5 that feels like a very unlikely coincidence. (Recall that Jem'Hadar perceive the Founders as gods; it's built into their DNA.)

Siskoid said...

Good point! I'll add it!

Anonymous said...

Pro-Chamberlain Anonymous again. And, I have to point out something that gets forgotten in the West: it was not England, not the US, but the Soviet Union that broke Hitler's back. This is not to say that years of bombing campaigns launched from England didn't matter, or that the massive Allied invasion on D-Day was irrelevant; but if there's anything that consumed Hitler's resources for years and gained him absolutely nothing, it was the failed invasion of the Soviet Union and then trying to hold back the Soviet advance.

The invasion of the Soviet Union started in June 1941. Munich was in 1938. I still remain oddly skeptical that an England completely unprepared for war could have mustered enough tanks and troops to do what it took the Soviet Union (plus an assist from various Allied powers) years to do.

LiamKav said...

- I can't add much to the WWII argument (although it had made me curious enough to look some stuff up), but watching the episode, I was intruiged by Ivanova's future career plans. Either commanding B5 if Sheridan moved on, or captaining a starship of her own.

We will return to this at a later point.

- Regarding the relavite strengths of Earth vs the Centauri... it's true that the Alliance doesn't have artificial gravity, but there's no reason to assume that they lag in terms of weapons. The Centauri are very much a race of creature comforts, so artifical gravity would have been very important to them. On the flipside, most of their wars seem to be against races who are obviously technologically inferior, such as the Narns. I would't like to assume the relative strengths of the two fleets at that point.

- With this episode, the interior of B5 seen during the transit shuttle ride has been much updated from the low-res and low-detail version they've been using prior. Just compare this scene to the one from "Mind War", and you'll notice the difference. Unfortunately, the interior photos that started to be used at the beginning of season 2 were never replaced, so they continue to be based on the old, low res version. To make matters worse, I believe this is the last time we ever see someone use the interior shuttle, so Foundation Imaging put in a lot of work for just a single sequence.

- To this day, I have no idea why the Centauri warship never launched fighters.

- I love the fact that Babylon 5 has an emergency jetpack team ready to go at two (and a bit) minutes notice.

Anonymous said...

Pro-Chamberlain Anonymous yet again. Today I was reminded of a Will Rogers quote:

"Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock."

Or, in Chamberlain's case, until you can build a fleet of Spitfires.


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