Babylon 5 #58: A Late Delivery from Avalon

"They say he aged backwards. That was how he was able to foretell the future - by remembering it! Which means he came from the future! Maybe he had Arthur form the Round Table by remembering us! We're forming one of our own, after all. Which makes you Percival. I'm Galahad, him being sinless and all. Sheridan is Arthur. Ivanova, perhaps Gawain. I think we both know who Mordred is. So the question is - who is Morgana le Fay?"
IN THIS ONE... King Arthur comes to Babylon 5. Garibaldi fights the Post Office.

REVIEW: Are they now handing obvious turkeys to maverick director Michael Vejar hoping he can pretty them up? Because despite some very interesting dream sequences - the diffuse black and white is a cool look I haven't really seen before - Vejar certainly can't save a story that's altogether too obsessed with symbolism. Marcus' explanation of the Ranger pin, representing the coming together of Minbari and human souls into a greater whole so they can defeat the forces of evil. This idea is represented in the main plot, about a soldier with PTSD who comes to Babylon 5 to realign his mind and soul and come out healed, with a new purpose. And it's in Sheridan's plan to ally with the Non-Aligned worlds so they can share the station's defense duties. There's an old lady who wants to be reunited with a stolen picture frame. And I bet Garibaldi's war with the Post Office is really about being reunited with his food package. I'm being a little facetious, but sometimes, you can hit a theme too hard.

But of course, the real problem is the main story's forceful superimposition of Arthurian myth on the Babylon 5 story. It's not just the sword-in-the-5 logo, folks. A man who believes he's King Arthur comes aboard, and no matter how mentally ill he appears to be, no one ever, ever takes his sword away from him. Now, he is played by Michael York so he does have presence, but I can't for the life of me make myself care about his character and the Arthurian references he keeps making. It's even a little grating that Marcus entertains the possibility he's the "real" King Arthur kept on ice by the Vorlons like they did Jack the Ripper. For a literate (actually read: pretentious quotation machine) man, he's rather obtuse to believe it when one of the first things "Arthur" tells him is that Lancelot is dead. Lancelot was a French implant whose existence in even the historical basis for these myths is even more dubious. So a very specific delusion that acts as psycho-symbolism for the poor guy's trauma/PTSD, somehow drawing a tenuous link between Arthur feeling responsible for the death of some of his knights and this soldier's belief that he started the Earth-Minbari war by following an order to fire on a Minbari vessel. If he'd at least been the Prometheus' captain, but no. It seems incredibly grandiose for a simple gunnery sergeant. I don't buy the delusion, I don't buy its cause, and I don't buy its cure, a rather glib answer to what had become catatonia(!). That G'Kar would respond to this madman and let himself be inspired by his assumed nobility, THAT I buy. It's a bit of a stretch that "Arthur" would then join the Narn resistance, but the race really does go in for the operatic. For G'Kar, a deluded King Arthur is probably the most "Narn" human he is ever likely to meet.

The story line seems a throwback to an earlier season when we might have cared more about healing the scars of the Earth-Minbari war. At this point, with Sheridan and Delenn making goo-goo eyes at each other, it's a little redundant and unnecessary to require Delenn to play the "Lady of the Lake" and give him the forgiveness he craves. So I'm left wondering if the whole point of this was to introduce the idea of Babylon 5 as Camelot, or if Marcus' final speech is rather meant as a parody of fan theories. JMS' symbol is so strident, it almost has to be the former, a way to INFLAME fan theory mongering, not disarm it. So are Marcus' Arthurian correspondences some kind of decoder ring for the way things will turn out? Kosh as Merlin makes sense, but are the Vorlons really living in reverse? Will Marcus ascend to heaven like Galahad? Will Franklin/Percival fail to ask the right question that would have healed an injured king? Sheridan is an obvious King Arthur, which would make Delenn Guinevere, but is there a Lancelot? (You might also say Sinclair was Arthur, and Lancelot is Sheridan, his heroic "replacement".) Is the White Star Excalibur? Most certainly, Marcus' unanswered question about Morgana Le Fey refers to Sheridan's wife. Who does he think Mordred is? Londo, consorting with the forces of evil? And what about Ivanova as Gawain? Fiercely loyal, but a compassionate defender of women... yeah, it works. But is there a Green Knight for her to fight down the line? See what happens when you lace your story in symbolism? This. While Marcus is good at saying who's who - he should write Facebook quizzes - it's probably all it is (I remain spoiler-free). It gets you thinking, and probably drawing parallels that were unintended. If it WAS all intended, then JMS probably shouldn't reveal as much.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The Arthuriana is both tedious and pretentious, and the story a throwback to earlier times (in more ways than one).

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Strangers in hoods, with British accents, who would fit better in JMS's D&D campaign than in space. In the B5 drinking game, that means "chug until you require hospitalization".

Is this the first time it was revealed that the Earth-Minbari War started because the Minbari have a custom of pointing their guns at you as a sign of respect? That makes them the f-ing stupidest species in the cosmos, and that's in a universe that contains both the Drazi and the Space Jehovah's Witnesses. Then again, the Minbari culture also hold a great deal of respect for lunatics like "Arthur" here, so good job JMS, you've made my respect for the Minbari plummet.

As for Arthur being an actual human put on ice by the Vorlons, that forces us to go back to Arthur's historical roots (such as they are), which would most likely make him a Romano-Briton Dux Bellorum (a war-duke) who was skilled at battling Saxons, and came with none of the Arthurian legends.

Also, if you're going to go the route of semi-historical characters, why not Baron Munchausen? He would at least be fun, and additionally his adventures did take him into space.

Siskoid said...

Cyrano de Bergerac as well.

Ryan Lohner said...

As noted before, Michael York was JMS' first choice for Sheridan until the PTEN guys vetoed it because this is Murrica, damn it, and so for a year and a half he'd been trying to get him as a guest star and also come up with the right role for him. Unfortunately, this leads to an episode where the writing process was obviously done backwards, written entirely so York could be on the show rather than the merits of the story itself. Luckily, the stuff with G'Kar does a lot to save it.

York himself was a total class act, despite one thing he definitely could have complained about. Not wanting to make the costume department work on chain mail that would only been seen once, the crew instead shopped around for it, and didn't realize at first that their final selection was REAL chain mail, and thus not exactly designed to be comfortable. It weighed a ton and those upper links were constantly digging into York's neck and shoulders, yet he carried on like the true pro he is. And another thing he could have complained about but didn't: after JMS learned he takes the Curse of the Scottish Play absolutely seriously, he went full Blackadder over it, telling anyone who would listen to mention Macbeth in York's hearing.

Personally, I was always pretty sure Marcus was referring to Morden as Mordred. And as for Lancelot, recall that a certain character has recently confessed that he also loves Delenn...

Siskoid said...

Your attributions make a lot of sense, muddled only because Delenn is ALSO the Lady of the Lake.

LiamKav said...

When Franklin asks Marcus about the ranger pin (available from your nearest retailer kids), two things are noticable. One, he doesn't say the story of how the jewel is formed that he said to Delenn back in "Matters of Honour". And two, he's got the exact same symbol on the sleave of his uniform. Didn't he notice that?

Making a point that Marcus has an English accent desipte being "several generations removed" from Britain makes an issue of something that shows set in the future probably shouldn't draw attention to... A guy living in the US who had a great-great-great-great grandad who hailed from London is not going to have a cockney accent. Unless Marcus's entire colony was made up of Royal Shakespeare company immigrants, he probably shouldn't be speaking Received Pronounciation.

Siskoid said...

The way he worships Athuriana, maybe it's the planet of the Anglophiles.

Madeley said...

I have an insinctive reaction against appropriation of Welsh myth, so I was never going to like this episode. I don't mind as much having the Arthurian subtext of B5- it's meant to be an epic fantasy take on space opera, dealing in the tropes makes sense- but making it wholly text here is needlessly unsubtle and frankly takes the fun out of it.

We've mentioned JMS's love of warrior monks fairly often in these comments. I find his Arthur the most annoying of the lot of them.

LiamKav said...

"The way he worships Athuriana, maybe it's the planet of the Anglophiles."

He does say that where he comes from, the story of Authur has great power. I'm assuming he means his own planet, because I think for most people in the UK the story of Authur has about as much power as it does in the US. Probably less, since we all know that Americans love a good epic myth.

One other thing struck me... the scene where Sheridan and Ivanova go to the League (first time we've seen that set since the season 2 finale!) and calmly, rationally present their proposal for the other races assisting in defending Babylon 5. Everyone is treated like adults. We don't get any strawdrazi acting irrational for no reason other than to create conflict. It's nice. It's also extremely rare, for this or any other show. And I'm pretty sure it won't last. (I'm guessing the league were just impressed with Sheridan and Ivanova's fancy new jackets.)

 

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