Babylon 5 #68: The Hour of the Wolf

"It was the year of fire… the year of destruction… the year we took back what was ours. It was the year of rebirth… the year of great sadness… the year of pain… and the year of joy. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed. The year is 2261. The place: Babylon 5."
IN THIS ONE... Babylon 5 is reeling from Sheridan's apparent death, and some of the crew go take a peek at Z'ha'dum. Londo is distressed to find his mad emperor has invited the Shadows to hide on Centauri Prime.

REVIEW: Compared to its epic finales, I find Babylon 5's season openers fairly timid. It's a time to rearrange the pieces on the board, and set them up for the bigger things to come. This timidity isn't just the production's, but the characters'. We spend most of the episode with characters stunned or grieving over Sheridan's death - or refusing to believe it - and though a mission is undertaken to go to Z'ha'dum to perhaps retrieve him, the ship comes back with its tail between its legs. It's not even a case of the characters making an active decision to leave, but rather an automated response programmed by Lennier in case he was incapacitated, or in this case, tranced out under the swoon-inducing eye of a new Shadow vessel with uncharacteristic lights. With all the talk of the "Eye" (also part of Londo's prophecies), and the way the characters started to fall prey to its evil influence, it looks like JMS is freely poaching from Tolkien. Sheridan is alive down there, even if they don't sense him, but we knew that, didn't we? After all, he's in the new credits sequence (spoiler!). That new opening sequence changes the theme again, and I already miss Season 3's, but it's not bad by any means. Far more interesting is the voice-over which is now spoken by the entire cast, each phrase distributed among them. So despite Sheridan being a "nexus" on which events spin, and so the idea that one person CAN make a difference, the larger point that it takes a community to achieve something lasting and worthy is brought home again. Brought home, unlike Sheridan whose underground existence is merely teased, and unlike poor, lost Garibaldi, whom only Zack and G'Kar seem to think about - though please, don't let G'Kar wear any more hats. It's just too silly.

If the show's resident telepaths can't sense the good captain, they are nonetheless an important part of the episode. Lyta is now a proper member of the cast, serving Kosh the 2nd in the same way she did the 1st, but finding it much harder. There's a darkness in this one that goes beyond his encounter suit. Mystery resolved... ish: When Lyta seemed to be feeding Kosh her soul in Passing Through Gethsemane, she was actually returning the part of him she carried inside her. Vorlons appear to have the ability to make part of themselves travel nestled in another's mind. This is how the 1st kind of survives in Sheridan, and perhaps how the phrase "we are all Kosh" makes sense. Like the Minbari, Vorlons have an oversoul, but they are more directly aware of it and do not need to die to rejoin it. So going back to the vehicle, Lyta, that means Kosh the 2nd is inside her when they go to Z'ha'dum, is boosting her powers and even possessing her (black eyes syndrome). And did I spot gills on her neck in 2nd's quarters? What is THAT all about? I'm not forgetting the OTHER telepath in the show, Ivanova, who "latent" though she is, did seem to sense Sheridan's "death" in the finale. Or more likely, the Shadows' screaming in agony when their city was nuked, through the network of ships surrounding the station. Perhaps this is why she feels Sheridan's absence more acutely, though there's certainly enough work for her to feel crushed under its weight. Her list of messages and appointments listed off while she sits alone and numb to the world becomes a tranquil image of things spiraling out of control.

Londo is also in a new position, one he isn't likely to enjoy. Promoted to the Emperor's Court, he finds, isn't as great a moment as it ought to be. Emperor Cartagia is quite mad and reckless and doesn't really listen to Londo's advice. He's there so Cartagia can keep him close and castrated, with a little routine humiliation on the side. The model for this young, mercurial leader who rules by fear and whim and wants to be made a god is clearly Caligula. His most reckless move is to give the Shadows territory on Centauri Prime while they nurse their wounds after "losing the war". Looks like Sheridan failed to change the history he saw in War Without End, and in fact, played right into its hands. Speaking of visions, one of Londo's comes to pass when Shadow vessels fly overhead to their new island. Now Londo is forced to turn rebel and assassin, plotting with Vir, a man invisible who has managed to walk the corridors of power untouched (a new, thin Vir, in fact; Furst has lost a lot of weight and while that's healthy, it does mean Vir did so in just a week - the stress!), to kill the mad emperor. But then, if Londo is a man of tradition who wanted to restore his world's former glory through the old ways, his opponents at Court have always been those who do not value those traditions. Refa and his WMDs, for example, and here we find that Cartagia's atypical short hair has started a trend that leaves Londo looking like a relic from the past. But if Cartagia thinks he can break with tradition in the hair department, yet have Londo respect the tradition that "the Emperor is always right", he's in for a surprise. A covenant was broken the second he put scissors to his crown. Also at Court and a possible help is Mr. Morden who survived the nuclear holocaust on Z'ha'dum, but wasn't especially spared. He looks charred, his skin flaking off in a most disturbing way, and is just a little bit mad, the picture of a man decomposing before us. Like the Shadows themselves? Or like Londo's power? He better make use of Morden while there's still a Morden to use.

- With characters temporarily and permanently placed on other planets (and Garibaldi will be next), B5 really expands its universe this season with a premiere that both answers questions and asks new ones. The season titled No Surrender, No Retreat starts a little slow, but could pick up momentum quickly.


LiamKav said...

We see the gills on Lyta in season 3. Presumably they're to allow her to breath the Vorlons' atmosphere. G'Kar mentions gill implants all the way back in "The Gathering".

I'm not sure the complete story, but I believe that Furst's weight-loss was down to diabetes... his doctor basically saying "lose weight, or you'll lose a limb". He actually starts to lose it towards the end of season 3, but the couple of month filming break does make it really noticable here.

Regarding Londo's vision... JMS was determined to not make the same mistake that was made with Delenn's clothes back in WWE, so he puts in a scene that has no point other than "I have taken your normal coat out to be washed, so put on this one that you haven't worn since season 2 just so that the footage can match".

For some reason, the production team forgets how to light sets between seasons 3 and 4. Everything is slightly washed out and grainy, like it was back in season 1. It may possibly be a deliberate design style, but it's not flattering (and is gone again by season 5).

Ryan Lohner said...

By this point, JMS was an utter physical and mental wreck under the strain of overseeing the show, dealing with PTEN's idiotic interference, and for the last year writing the whole thing himself. So Ivanova's situation here is very much a reflection of that: as he puts it, "If I wasn't getting any sleep, my characters wouldn't either." He'd also deluded himself into thinking he was hiding how burned out he was from the rest of the crew, not finding out until he saw the interviews some of them gave in a behind the scenes special.

The above mentioned coat change to match earlier footage wasn't enough, unfortunately. Londo's dream had featured himself standing in a plain sandy background, hence the minister's line about the "sand garden." But the truly well-meaning art department ended up constructing that beautiful walkway, so they cheated it as best they could by just not showing any overhead shots. Also, this scene is one of the very few exterior shoots in the entire show, which was mostly done on their three soundstages; another was Brother Edward's flashback to his murder which used the alley behind the building.

You can definitely tell this was going to be the final season from the new credits, which go all out with the multiple narration version and a super pumped up version of the original theme song. This of course caused a bit of a problem when they did get a fifth season, but we'll get to that at the proper time.

Siskoid said...

Obviously, I don't remember a thing (sometimes I'll look at a scene and have a bit of deja vu, like the White Star crashing into Z'ha'dum or, later, some of the Mars rebellion stuff. Very vaguely. But if, according to JMS (semi-retcon though it is), Season 4 is Climax, then Season 5's Denouement must feel a little like an epilogue in parts. 4 is crescendo, with nowhere to go but down.

At least, that's what I'm expecting.

LiamKav said...

That's not... inaccurate. George R R Martin sometimes makes a point: Aragorn was a great man, but does that make him a great king? He can rally an army against an ancient evil, but can he deal with trade negotiations, land disputes, and the business of actually running a society? TV generally just builds and builds, with the biggest episode often being the last. The thing is, in lots of cases that doesn't always make for the best finales (DS9's is good, but not great, for example. Same with Buffy). At this point JMS thought he had one more season, so when he suddenly gets an extra one is means that he gets a lot more denouncement that he would have probably planned. I think if you go into it expecting MORE EXCITEMENT, season 5 really suffers. If you go into it thinking that the show is getting a year to say goodbye, well, we'll see (and I certainly don't know what I'm going to think).

Anyway, season 4: They've turned down the lights. Partly I think there is a genuine issue with film stock or something, but some of it is deliberate. And it looks nice. The none CGI film stuff is looking good. However, to me the CGI stuff is looking worse than last year. Even the space scenes. I'm wondering if there's a genuine encoding issue on the DVDs. I might try a different player.

And I'll always prefer season 3's titles, as I think they made the best point... We'd had two seasons of "this is the station, this is it's job, we are striving for peace", and then season 3 hits you with "and it all went to shit DUN DUN DAAHH!". Season 4's titles don't hang together quite as well thematically, but as Ryan said, they do get you pumped.

Oh, and one more thing: Lyta's black eyes are evidently not CGI, as the picture quality doesn't go to crap. That means that Pat Tallman is wearing some massive contact lenses. Bet those killed...

Siskoid said...

You can definitely see some white in her eyes as the black lenses shift and there's all that squinting.

LiamKav said...

True. Plus the widescreen cut shows that she has her eyes open just before it cuts to a close up and she opens them again. Still, they have to hurt.

One small credit change: Londo and Vir get their last names added to the credits. Oh, and G'Kar and Londo have swapped places again.


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