Babylon 5 #55: Severed Dreams

"Only one human captain has ever survived battle with a Minbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else."
IN THIS ONE... Babylon 5 secedes from the Earth Alliance. Battle ensues.

REVIEW: The Earth Alliance goes full fascist and things quickly spiral out of control. Mars is the first to proclaim its independence - not a big leap - which leads to its bombing, a straw that breaks the Alliance camel's back and sees ISN coverage to go dark when a journalist tries to tell the truth on TV, and two more colonies secede from the union. Babylon 5, a giant space station with gardens and buildings inside it, goes the same way. It's an independent "colony". With the help of a couple ships and their Starfuries, Sheridan will have to defend that independence against overwhelming Earth-loyal forces, and only the intervention of Delenn and the Minbari does he prevail. It's an action extravaganza, with ships firing on similar ships so you hardly know who's winning (which is the point), brother against brother, friend against friend. The death toll is high, both in space and where EA troops have breached the station. The Narn security force certainly isn't spared.

Despite the eye-popping visuals and violence, it's the personal moments that stay with you. The Earthforce foursome voting to fight. Major Ryan showing how close one can be to an enemy in a civil war by telling us the name of a defeated and dead captain's cat. Sheridan's heartfelt call to his by now famous father, delivering old advice in a new context. Ivanova adamant that she must lead by example and command a squadron (the spinning lights, actually her spinning Starfury, when she gets damaged is a great touch). Corwin in shock that B5 is splitting from the EA, but choosing his loyalty to the station. I especially love Ivanova asking if he's okay; she cares about this young officer they've taken under their wing if not into their confidence. Delenn's address to the Gray Council, and of course, her badass threat to the fresh EA ships that immediately turn tail. Sheridan thanking her with a kiss on the hand, the most physically intimate they've been; it's grand and romantic.

And now things really won't ever be the same again. Sheridan's refusal to put on his uniform is a sign post. He'll be a civilian governor of an independent outpost/colony until Clark is deposed (at least), and this is likely to change the entire dynamic. Perhaps it's why he can open himself up to Delenn in front of others. What doors will this secession open for other Earthforce personnel? Time will tell. At least our heroes are going into this with eyes open, expecting EA loyalists to cause internal trouble. Garibaldi better heal up fast.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Why has Hague killed off? Because Robert Foxworth had filming commitments with Deep Space Nine. Poached! That show would also toy with holographic communications in the next year.

REWATCHABILITY: High - An exciting change of status quo, with lots of action tempered with memorable character moments.


Ryan Lohner said...

Counting The Gathering, this episode marks the show's halfway point, and quite fittingly the show before and after this is really two completely different beasts. It also won their second Hugo, something especially meaningful to JMS as his strict parents refused to let him read sci-fi and fantasy as a kid, so he'd steal them from the bookstore for a couple weeks before returning them, and quickly learned that the label announcing a Hugo winner would be a sure sign it was worth the risk.

Robert Foxworth was booked for the episode months in advance, with JMS double-checking several times as the day approached. Then the word came that his agent had double-booked him on Deep Space Nine, and despite the B5 job being lined up first he'd chosen the one that paid better (ironically, playing a general who launches a fascist coup). Maybe if he'd been in a better headspace Hague could have sat the episode out and return later, but the constant stress of writing every episode on top of running the whole show, plus the shit he'd taken from Trek fans for three years, means Hague gets ignominiously killed offscreen. Though JMS did later hire him for his Showtime series Jeremiah just to show there were no hard feelings.

As replacement we get Bruce McGill, probably best known to many as D Day from Animal House, but to me he'll always be God/Time/Fate/Whatever from the finale of Quantum Leap, a character that still brings a tear to my eye since watching as a kid. JMS had written the role for Everett McGill after being impressed with his work in Twin Peaks (outside that role, you may know him as the traitorous DEA agent Killifer in the James Bond film Licence to Kill), but in those pre-IMDb days, could only remember his last name while talking to the casting director. She suggested he might mean Bruce, and thanks to the short notice on casting the role after Foxworth dropped out, that was that. Though JMS has always made clear that he thinks Bruce did a great job in the role.

Mira Furlan and her husband were among the many who fled the Balkans as the area fell into war, during which the other European powers decided "the problems of other are not our concern." So her speech to the Grey Council is very much filled with her real anger over that situation. Upon reading the script she asked JMS "How long were you in Yugoslavia?"

As written in the script Garibaldi suffered a broken leg, hence his cane in the tag scene. Unfortunately, this was filmed before the fight scene, in which Jerry Doyle tripped over a guy playing a dead Narn and broke his arm. He insisted that filming press on...and did it AGAIN. So we get the odd Dr. Watson-esque shift of where his injury is, and that pained look on his face while Zack helps him sit is very real and quite hard to watch (it's also quite clear that Jeff Conaway is being VERY careful not to aggravate the compound fracture any more).

JMS deliberately left this whole development out of the pitch for the show, knowing that in those days, no network would sign on with such a risky move that turned the whole show upside down. Of course, you know a lot of them would definitely go for it these days. Maybe the time is ripe for JMS to come back to TV; we can only hope.

Anonymous said...

Sheridan's air of defeat as that final ship jumps in is something I'll long remember; it's something you don't see from captains on TV shows, ever. (I'm certainly not faulting him for feeling at the very end of his rope; quite the opposite, I'm commending Boxleitner for pulling it off so well.)

Could not stand Delenn's soliloquy, not because of its content, but because it's another case of JMS wanting to write a big moment and all the other characters sit there and patiently listen. I can't even "but in Minbari culture they" this away.

Quick note on that "Quantum Leap" episode: I have seen more people say that the episode's coda ("Sam never returned home") is the most downbeat thing they've ever seen; to me it's bittersweet at worst, and inspiring at best. Sam found he was most fulfilled going through time making people's lives better, for the rest of his days. Would it be depressing if a surgeon chose to give up a comfy hospital gig to work solely for Doctors Without Borders?

Anonymous said...

I always imagined a what-if scenario where DS9 went the same route where the Federation became Dominion Controlled and Sisko allied with Bejor and perhaps the Cardassians of all people. Again, they went a different route.

LiamKav said...

"Maybe the time is ripe for JMS to come back to TV; we can only hope.

If it would make him stop writing comics, I'm all for it.

(I snark, but I do love this episode, and am really looking forward to getting to it later in the week. That said...)

This episode highlights one issue caused by the Sheridan/Sinclair switch. Presumably, back when Sinclair was still around and Babylon Prime was on the books, the (first) series would have ended with WWE. Even after the Babylon Prime plans were abandoned (and no-one is quite sure when that was), it still seems that WWE would be the series finale. However, with the lead actor swap, a new series finale was created and WWE was moved to an earlier point. This means that the Great Machine had to be activated sooner. And so the Army of Light has this incredibly powerful technology at their disposal. When Ivanova suggests using it in "Fall of Night", Sheridan says that Draal is their "Ace in the Hole" and doesn't want to use him unless they need to. Cut to an episode where they do NEED to, and the enormous power of the Great Machine is used... as a slightly more dramatic PA system.

"Sam found he was most fulfilled going through time making people's lives better, for the rest of his days"

To go briefly off topic, I always thought the sadness was from the implication that Al would no longer be helping him (as he would be happily married), and that he NEVER returned home. Especially the use of the word "home". You don't want Picard and crew to retire, because the Enterprise is their home. The use of "home" in that caption makes Sam seem like he's eternally lost. Plus, he says literally ten minutes earlier that he's "tired", and then God basically guilts him into doing just one more leap, then another, and another. There's a reason Working Time Directives exist, otherwise half of them would end up like Franklin...

Siskoid said...

You stole the snark right out of my mouth.

LiamKav said...

Actually, I got the "we don't want to use Draal until we have to" incident wrong. It's this episode, not "Fall of Night". Still doesn't make any sense. It's "their" fight, they want to save Draal for the final fight, and Sheridan STILL doesn't want to use him even when the extra ships jump in at the end? And yet, he's quite happy to accept Minbari help for "his" fight. JMS said about Jason Ironheart that he wouldn't come back, because "it's not good to have someone with that much power floating around". And Draal shows exactly why...

You hit the nail on the head, Siskoid, with the "similar ships" comment. When DS9 opens up on the Klingon ships in "Way of the Warrior", it's a "fuck yeah!" moment. JMS always said he wanted to get across the idea that war's are bad things. He manages it in "Coming of Shadows", and again here. Despite all the eye candy, we can't just sit back and jingoistically cheer, because we have no idea who's winning, and we're left feeling that, at the end of the day, no-one is winning.

This episode also marks the end of the arc Delenn has been on since season 2. Back then she was unsure of herself, lost as to her role in the universe. She cowered before the Grey Council. Here, she stands in front of them, calls them on their shit, and then splits them apart, before changing outfits (for some reason) and then giving one of my favourite bad ass speaches ever. (Although Anon has a bit of a point. You'd expect Neroon, if no-one else, to argue back.)

LiamKav said...

One thing about Sheridan's dad... I avoided saying it in prior episodes as it seemed slightly spoilerish, but he really did speak about the man as if he were dead. He didn't outright say it, but lots of comments like "I miss him" and talking about him in the past tense really implied that his father had passed away. (Although I personally find it refreshing that the Sheridan is allowed to have two living partents that he gets on with.)

jdh417 said...

I remember that story about Doyle breaking his leg shooting this episode. On the other hand, I seem to remember Doyle telling a different version on his radio show. JMS talked him into finishing shooting while he was in a fog of pain. JMS drove him to the hospital himself afterward. I could be wrong, but that's how I remember it.

Siskoid said...

Liam: I amuse myself thinking Neroon is the one at the very end who tries to grab a departing Council member's sleeve, pathetically.


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