Babylon 5 #46: Matters of Honor

"And what kind of head of security would I be if I let people like me know things I'm not supposed to know. I know what I know because I have to know it. And if I don't have to know it, I don't tell me or let anybody else tell me either."
IN THIS ONE... First appearance of Marcus the Ranger and the White Star, which Sheridan commands in his first battle against the Shadows.

REVIEW: We're back with the third season, "Point of No Return", which in the "novel" is the act reserved for "Complications" (which is frankly what the second's "Rising action" already felt like, so I guess it gets really bad), though in the opener, those complications are really the Shadows'. After building up their ships as invincible killing machines, Sheridan destroys one in his first encounter with them. He now has the help of new additions to the series - Marcus the Ranger, who might as well be Aragorn in space; and the White Star, a human/Minbari hybrid ship (driving it is like making love to Delenn, Sheridan) with untold capabilities. While Marcus gives a hypercompetent face to the mostly nameless army of light, the ship allows Sheridan to become proactive in the secret war being waged. When the focus is a space station - and the same is true of shows on an exploratory vessel - protagonists tend to be reactive, finding solutions to what every episode brings. Babylon 5 is now separating itself from that (we'll just have to see how much) so that its Earthforce characters can be active agents in the plot, much as the ambassadors have been. But then, Sheridan can't wait for things to happen anymore, as exemplified by the notable contrast between his cheery self from a year before and his current "don't try to cheer me up" attitude.

And it's just damn cool to see Sheridan show his worth as a starship captain. He's the same guy with the only victory on record in the Minbari conflict, one thought impossible (perhaps Ivanova's gift of a piece of that Minbari ship should have been delayed to this episode to make the point further). Sheridan, like Kirk or Riker, is one of those captains who doesn't accept the no-win scenario and finds innovative strategies to win his battles. The Shadows' ship is beaten with a dirty trick and the hope that the White Star is fast enough to outrun its own attack. In one fell swoop, Sheridan not only destroys the Shadow, but the jump gate that allowed grave robbers to strip the dead Markab world bare. Not a bad day, though I wish the choreography was a little sharper. But I guess a lot of the money for the episode went to developing the White Star, which is pretty ship, even if I'm not in love with the interiors. Pink and purple aren't my colors (how TNG!) and the high ceilings make everything look like an obvious set. The faux-organic colons on the bridge are a bit of an eyesore too. Still, the White Star's power should only grow. Here, Sheridan doesn't know everything he needs to know to captain her, and his crew is made up of Minbari religious caste acolytes who don't understand English. I guess no one of the warrior caste joined the Rangers. Not surprised, and I suppose this is why they need a couple of Earthforce officers to go on the mission; they don't know what the heck they're doing.

Back on the station, Garibaldi is amusingly stalling (see quote above) an Earth intelligence officer looking for info on the Shadows, which secret war or not, the crew might want to share lest these monsters attack Earth. It's almost as if they can guess the army of darkness is already in with PsiCorps and the Senate ;-). For the epic scale required, evil must all come from the same source, I suppose. It's all connected. And while Morden and the corrupt Senator want to keep the Shadows under wraps, the PsiCorps thinks understands the value of fear, and would have people panic over this. All that needs be hidden is their own ties to the forces of darkness. So though this is an epic, fantastical saga, there's very much a sense of realpolitik at play. Since Londo cuts ties with Morden (after agreeing to a Centauri-Shadow border), it looks like Earth will now be the conspirator of choice.

A few words on the new intro? Ivanova now gets to say the words, an edit of her final voice-over from the previous season. I wonder how that will play out. Is the season to be HER story? The music is completely different, with driving, military beats and intense, strident chords. I like it. And instead of old-fashioned shots of the cast, we get a sort of designed curtain call with each character turning towards us with a different expression. Feels like there are clues in those credits. Changing the opening sequence with every chapter to reflect its feel is something I endorse, especially if they keep getting better. Finally, they've gotten rid of the clunky "the name of the place" which I have always hated.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Deep Space Nine had the Defiant, Babylon 5 has the White Star.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Needs to introduce and reintroduce key concepts, and manages to juggle all that with space action. Does the job, but could have done it better if all the recaps (building up the Shadows again, Ivanova spewing exposition when invited to join the Ranger group) weren't necessary.


LiamKav said...

Fans speculated that whether characters turning their heads in the intro or not meant something, like whether they were going to die. JMS protested that even he wouldn't be that obtuse. There are a couple of things about the title sequence:

- Londo and G'Kar have swapped places. They'll continue to alternate seasons as we go forward.

- Zack has been added to the main cast.

- The first part of the music used for the titles is from "The Long, Twilight Struggle" when the Narn ships are getting destroyed. The music playing during the pan across Babylon 5 is the "Battle of the Line", and was first used when Sinclair was having his flashbacks to it during "And the Sky Full of Stars". It was retroactively put into "The Gathering", and it gets used in "In the Beginning" and a few other places. It's awesome.

- Garibaldi has finally had a hair cut. I know that's not related to the titles, but it's worth mentioning. You can't spike up your hair when you are receeding that much, Jerry!

- The first time I saw this title sequence, I got chills. Especially for "it failed...Dun dun DAAAA dun dun DAAAA".

- I'll share my thoughts on Marcus when I actually get to watch the episode. In my memories I remember liking him a lot, but he's a fairly polarising figure on the internet, especially for some of the ways he acts (which I'll leave for now because spoilers).

- One thing... the White Star bridge changes quite a bit over the season, as originally it wasn't a standing set and so was slightly modified every time it was used. The first big change happens with it's next appearance, where JMS/whoever stops trying to be "not Star Trek" and sticks a captains chair on the thing so everyone doesn't have to stand around chatting.

- Dun dun DAAAAA, dun dun DAAAAA

Ryan Lohner said...

The third season was the only one where JMS truly got to do his own thing just as he wanted. For the first two seasons he was on probation with the network, with regular interference, the fourth had to feature more of the arc than intended as PTEN was going over, and the fifth was a surprise no one was prepared for. Hence, it's naturally considered the best by what seems like a majority of fans. And part of that process was that he had to commit himself to writing every single episode. The mytharc had reached a point where any guest scripts would likely have to be heavily rewritten to fit where the show would be going, so he decided to just cut out the middlemen entirely. And mind you, during the first two seasons he was already operating on at most four hours of sleep a night. I have no idea how he did it.

This episode was heavily rewritten from its original form, enough that he felt the need to include both versions of the script in the volumes. The B5 story was originally about the man who spearheaded the Babylon Project coming to the station and proving to be quite upset at how his vision of peace has been compromised. The trouble was there wasn't much of a story to it; he simply wandered around yelling at everyone before departing to provide help for the Narns. So we got the much improved Endawi story, which had the bonus of introducing the conspiracy within Earh's government.

JMS was never happy with the design of the White Star, but everyone else loved it so much that he figured maybe he was just wrong. His go-to complaint is that it looks like a plucked chicken, which I've never seen. And the design also meant that the interior sets designed to match it were a nightmare for directors, having to always squeeze the cameras into uncomfortable places.

Awesome as the new credits are, I do think it was a mistake to show one Starfury destroying another at the beginning. Kind of a spoiler there.

Anonymous said...

Dammit JMS, stop trying to work your D&D characters into your space show. I do not like Marcus and that's all I will say (unless circumstances demand more).

Love the White Star, though. Reminds me of my youth, playing "Omega Race" at the arcade. Of course, at the arcade I could put in more quarters to get more ships; it's a shame Sheridan doesn't have a sack full of quarters because a single ship of even this caliber may not be enough.

All credit to Sheridan for being a talented captain, but he does have a signature move, doesn't he? Find a thing that goes boom and put it somewhere nobody would expect it.

There are two times on all of B5 that a joke made me laugh; this was one of them, with the "bonehead maneuver (no offense)" line. Like much humor that actually works, it's naturally emergent. (For the other time, you'll have to wait until the episode where they get new uniforms.)

Anonymous said...

"plucked chicken"

Knowing that now, I hate that "two maintenance guys" episode even more. It was pretty clearly Author Avatar nonsense the first time it aired, but every specific instance of JMS speaking his own views through the maintenance guys makes me want to throw things.

LiamKav said...

I think my favourite joke was back in "There all the Honour Lies", when Sheridan is struggling to describe a Minbari without being racist, then gives up and just shouts "Bald. With a bone on his head". Followed by Garibaldi's quiet "We're gonna need an awfully big line-up room".

My other favourite joke is coming up in a few episodes time, and is between Marcus and Ivanova.

"All credit to Sheridan for being a talented captain, but he does have a signature move, doesn't he? Find a thing that goes boom and put it somewhere nobody would expect it."

Without spoilers, I believe he's going to do that at least twice more. It's crazy, but to steal a line from my other favourite starship captain (which is Optimus Primal from "Beast Wars"), "Sometimes crazy works".

LiamKav said...

(quick edit to avoid repeating Ryan)

Watching it now. Some additional things:

- There's a couple more cast changes. Na'Toth has gone after JMS didn't like Mary Kay Adams' interpretation of the character last season. He also realised that it helped G'Kar's development if he was alone. Also, Talia has gone, for more obvious reasons.

- I love that we see the station being repaired at the beginning episode. It was touches like this that was one of the main differences with Trek at the time. Even when TNG or DS9 did status quo changing stories, they were very, very rarely followed up on in the next episode ("Family" being a notable exception).

- I love Vir's look in the title sequence. Along with Londo's transformation from buffoon to villian, Vir's also gone through changes of his own. The flustering buffoon of "Midnight" has changes into someone who looks terrified by the things he's seen, and the things he thinks he will see. He's jumping at shadows. (Boom!)

- Delenn's got a new outfit without the floaty arms, just in time for her to do fighting-type things. She'll (conveniently) be wearing ir for future fights, and (for some reason) whenever she's on the White Star.

- Marcus: "I don't normally speak unless I have something to say" Marcus goes through a pretty quick personality change over his next few episodes. He pretty quickly becomes the sort of person who speaks constantly whether he has something to say or not.

- I love the bit where Sheridan, thinking that he's on a normal starship bridge, assumes that Lennier is functioning as the Spock/Data and asks him what the technobabble ramifiations of opening a jump point inside a jump gate are, and Lennier just looks at him and says "I have no idea".

LiamKav said...

One other thing... JMS dislikes it when he's called "wordy", railing against the lowered attention span of youth and saying that longer sentences give flavour and character. In some cases, he's right. But it's still interesting that the title sequence considered by many to be the best has the fewest words.

Season 1: 116 words
Season 2: 86 words
Season 3: 38 words

More than any other, these titles are driven by music. Awesome music that's telling you that Shit is now Real.


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