Babylon 5 #50: Voices of Authority

"The Minbari taught me: Claim victory in your heart and the universe will follow."
IN THIS ONE... Ivanova goes out to meet a race of First Ones. A seductive political officer is foisted on Sheridan. The truth of Santiago's assassination is blown on ISN.

REVIEW: For all its impact on the greater arcs, Voices of Authority is a rather unconvincing piece of drama, especially in the way it presents its guest characters. Obviously, I haven't warmed to the gregarious portrayal of Draal, and as this is his last on-screen appearance, there's no real reason to. I just don't think a Minbari wise man at the center of a dehumanizing machine makes for a good comedy delivery engine. The army of light conspirators are thinking of contacting other breeds of First Ones and he chuckles at how dangerous that it, like some demented Santa Claus. No thanks. Plugging a human being into the Machine (Ivanova) to seek these First Ones out instead of just giving them coordinates makes for a fun light show, but again seems improbable. That Ivanova can navigate the Matrix and pull out a secret communiqué that proves Clark was complicit in Santiago's assassination (and is that Morden on the other end of the phone?) can be attributed to her latent mental powers, but is still quite a stretch. And then she's off trading dry wit with Marcus the Ranger aboard the White Star, and I have no idea why she's so cold towards him. The First Ones they find look cool - each of these ancient races might tap into a different mythology here on Earth and these guys are maybe Polynesian? - but Ivanova manipulates them much too easily. Are they bitchy teenagers or ancient powers we can never hope to understand? If they aren't called later, I'll be mighty cross too.

The reason Ivanova gets to do all the cool stuff is that Sheridan has been stuck with a political officer, which is something Babylon 5 should have had from day 1 if you ask me. I can understand the station being run by a military governor, but why would you entrust peace negotiations to the military, while every other species sent a civilian ambassador? Of course, this one isn't very good. Julie Musante is a Nightwatch propaganda artist more concerned with Sheridan's office not looking patriotic enough and rewriting the dictionary so that Earth's problems disappear from the public discourse (and yet ISN can run news items damaging to the president? I thought for sure the tape would never make it on the air). But I don't get this character. On the one hand, she seems to know full well 1984 is her playbook. On the other, she does dumb stuff like get naked for Sheridan to get him to comply. Who IS this person? To make matters worse, as soon as the president has a P.R. problem, she's off to help and the station returns to its status quo. I find none of this convincing.

So what DID I like? Well, Zack's story, for starters. His ill-fitting uniform is a nice touch, showing that he may not have what it takes to be a member of the Nightwatch. It makes him uncomfortable. And though he bristles when Garibaldi questions his loyalty, he doesn't sell out his chief when the time comes. There's hope. Or is it just that Julie was rude to him? It's not clear, and that's what I like about it. G'Kar has a small role in Voices of Authority, but a good one as well. Londo-like, he goes around trying to make friends, and would like to make himself useful to the army of light. They can't trust him yet, but he's arguably been on this crusade since the first season. Bringing the Book of G'Quan to Garibaldi is a fun moment and one that could get him in with the cool kids. I'd certainly welcome it.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Sheridan is invited to "go where everyone has gone before". Ancient floating head aliens have been a part of Trek since those beings where young.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium, almost Medium-Low - Ironically, the best bits feature characters who DON'T have the "voice of authority". The rest certainly isn't JMS' strongest writing.


LiamKav said...

Zack's ill-fitting uniform is also a bit of an inside joke, as Conway originally complained that his uniform didn't fit right and they decided to use it on the show (and will use it again in a later episode).

"Are they bitchy teenagers or ancient powers we can never hope to understand?"

Who's to say that they can't be both? I'm sure we've all seen people get more immature as they get older, and not always in a fun "hey look at grandad on the water-slide" sort of way.

This episode also reminds us that the First Ones all seem to have different methods of entering and exciting hyperspace than the way the younger races do it. The only exception is the Vorlons.

This episode contains one of my other favourite jokes.

"They can understand our language. They're just not willing to speak to us in it."

"Who knew they were French?"

(These are the moments that make me like Marcus.)

Madeley said...

Again, first time I watched B5 I never really believed we'd hear anything about Sigma 957 again after the first series. I think this was the final bit that made me realise how almost everything in this series has an intended purpose.

"Are they bitchy teenagers or ancient powers we can never hope to understand?"

This is something I actually quite like, as we see the first hint that maybe Ancient Powers aren't quite as advanced and arcane as advertised. I mentioned here before I like the way B5 subverts the idea of all-powerful ancients from a golden age, showing them to perhaps not be all that different from us. Just as petty, but with bigger guns. Something to look out for in series 4.

"Why would you entrust peace negotiations to the military?"

My take on the militarisation of Babylon 5 from an Earth perspective- indeed, the slightly fascistic vibe of Earth Force as a whole- is an ongoing aftereffect of the Earth-Minbari War. Earth remains cautious in its dealings with alien empires, thinking military-first, waving its guns, even if this is softened slightly by assigning first Sinclair the diplomat and then Sheridan the explorer (although, of course, Sheridan got the job because the higher-ups thought he was One Of Them, when he wasn't at all).

"Who knew they were French?"

Hm. Suddenly Marcus is revealed as the kind of person who walks into a pub in North Wales and assumes they only started speaking Welsh because he arrived.

LiamKav said...

"Hm. Suddenly Marcus is revealed as the kind of person who walks into a pub in North Wales and assumes they only started speaking Welsh because he arrived."

To be fair, he was making a joke. And to be fairer, I have worked with some Welsh people who say that they have done exactly that.

Madeley said...

Not to get into the Language Thing on this thread of all places, but while some might most don't, yet we all get hit over the head with that very accusation every time the Language Thing comes up. Marcus hits a sour note with me on even such a throwaway gag, because it derives from some ugly British attitudes.

Anonymous said...

Why is Ivanova so cold to Marcus? Because the guy is a needy creep.

One of the laziest cliches is to make the ancient, eternal powers of the universe immature little brats. Yes, it's a very easy way to give your protagonist a big problem to cope with. No, it's never plausible, nor is it ever really necessary. Assume your aliens have motives that mere mortals will have trouble comprehending, and you're pretty much done.

As far as political officers go, just imagine Malcolm Tucker trying to rein Sheridan in. They could actually have done that; I hear Peter Capaldi recently got a time machine.

Siskoid said...

The French thing: While I'm not a big fan of French attitudes (by which we must mostly understand Parisian), I thought Marcus' joke (that is to say, JMS') was a cheap shot. Like Madeley, I am understandably sensitive to linguistic racism. If the joke was about the national attitude, sure. It was about them speaking a different language than O-hallowed English. No LOLs from this Frog.

Marcus is a needy jerk? Maybe, but they just haven't interacted on screen enough for Ivanova to react so strongly.

Malcolm Tucker as political officer? Would be hilarious.

Ryan Lohner said...

The head of the show's costume department got very paranoid that the bits about Zack's uniform were JMS trying to passive-aggressively tell her he had a problem with her work. It took him two days to figure out why she was suddenly acting so weird around him, and then he assured her it was just a random thing he came up with late at night trying to get the script going.

Musante really didn't work for me the first time I watched the episode, as I thought she was an obvious strawman whose lines were way too on the nose. But now I think I have a better idea of what's going on with her: she's stuck in her own web of BS. On paper Sheridan looks like a perfect Clark patsy (that's why Clark let him have this job, after all), so Musante views him as someone she can let her guard down around and not mince any words about the house of cards he's set up. And then she ignores every sign that Sheridan's not really that person, because by her own logic those signs can't actually exist. As a certain later character will put it, people want to believe goodfacts more than truefacts.

The actress really was completely nude during filming of THAT scene, thanks to the modesty garments usually used during such scenes on TV constantly falling off until she decided to forego them entirely. This naturally attracted quite a few crew members, but JMS wasn't among them, as he instead opted to get an early start on the baby back ribs that had been laid out for lunch. As he puts it, "Before you're 40 years old a naked lady beats ribs. After 40 it's the other way around."

Anyone who's been reading my posts likely isn't surprised at all that I have no problem with the First Ones acting like bratty kids. And that's all I'll say for now.

LiamKav said...

Okay, I'll conceed that Marcus's commment might be a bit racist and anglo-centric. You have all convinced me.

"As he puts it, "Before you're 40 years old a naked lady beats ribs. After 40 it's the other way around.""

Claudia Christian's auotobiograph throws some extra light on this... around this time, he asked her to a show.

"I suddenly knew I'd made a mistake in accepting his invitation when the next day a dozen red roses appeared at my front door

[$#@!], this is a date

But maybe it wasn't. Maybe Joe was just being nice. I went out to meet him, and when I saw the black stretch limo pull up any doubts I'd harbored were washed away.

[#@!$], this is definitely a date!

I was more than a little freaked out. ...

It was clearly an uncomfortable evening for both of us. When he dropped me off back at home I quickly thanked him and closed the door to the limo before he had time to move in for anything physical."

He was still married at the time (up to 2008), and still referring to his wife as his "spousal overunit" during the season 2 messages on the Lurker's guide. CC also mentioned that she didn't have JMS's ear after this. I mainly mention this because a few people say that it informs some stuff that happens next episode, and it also makes a scene a bit later on in the season a bit... dodgy, in hindsight.

(Seriously though, they had someone filming a nude scene and they didn't close the set? No wonder the unions turned up shortly.)

Siskoid said...

Don't worry Liam. Madeley and I have long bonded on linguistic issues as the Welsh and Acadians have a lot in common and we both seem to be prone to language activism (or at least, armchair activism).

jdh417 said...

Don't apologize Liam. That French joke was hysterical.

I've been told that this does happen in Paris to tourists; some of the locals can speak English, but won't. Marcus was spot on.

Siskoid said...

Mileage can obviously vary.

LiamKav said...


Siskoid said...

Believe it or not, even the Anglos in my country use the metric system. I have never heard the word "Kilometrage" in English however.

LiamKav said...

Well, I did just make it up. :)

"Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, two hundred and sixty seven thousand, nine hundred and sixty one point eight-five tonnes of spinning metal."

"A self contained world eight point zero 5 kilometres long".

"It was the dawn of the five point sixth SI age of mankind."

LiamKav said...

Now that I've actually watched it:

They've put a captain's chair on the bridge of the White Star, as they should have done from the beginning. And Ivanova is the first to sit in it. I kinda think that should have been a bigger moment... she was a Lt Commander when the series started, so this is almost certainly her first "command". Getting to sit in the captain's chair for the first time should be a big thing for her, especially as she's shown interest in commanding a starship (I dunno where you'd fit it into the episode, though.)

Zack is really coming into his own as a character. I love how he's caught between two sides... he calls Garibaldi on the fact that he's hiding stuff, but he also doesn't rat him out. It's good to have a "little person" as one of the regulars, so we can see how the normal people react to things. The show slightly loses sight of that at times.

Also, Marcus is much more fun here than in his first episode. I like "The Vorlons must owe them money" and "fine, I'll get a bucket". Although my favourite bit of byplay in the episode is "Zack?" "Sir?" "Take a walk!" "Sir!"


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