Babylon 5 #71: Falling Towards Apotheosis

"They need to believe." "Not in me."
IN THIS ONE... Sheridan takes down the Vorlon ambassador. Londo convinces the mad emperor Cartagia to go to Narn for G'Kar's trial.

REVIEW: Apotheosis is "the glorification of a subject to divine level"; the "fall" in the episode varies from thread to thread. In the case of Emperor Cartagia, it's a moral fall. His madness has led him to believe that he can rise to godhood by letting the Vorlons burn his world to a cinder. In the previous episode, I was content with Cartagia's portrayal, even though I've despised JMS' other psychotic villains, mostly because we had Caligula as a historical example, but now it strains credulity. He's gone from careless disregard for his people and delusions of grandeur, to crazed, irrational genocide. Really pushing it. Londo learns to navigate the choppy waters of his logic and convinces him to go to Narn (where surely, a god is in no danger) to try G'Kar and make a public show of his madness. It's hard to say if the mercurial Cartagia trusts Londo at all, because every time he shows him one of his special places, it comes off as a not-so-veiled threat. The theater of tortures last episode, and the "shadow cabinet" (ha) of heads in this one. When Cartagia is being a twisted sadist, I buy it. (G'Kar loses an eye for the sake of that portrayal, taking us closer to the vision we have had of the future.) But when he's justifying the destruction of Centauri Prime itself, he loses me. It's too much.

On the station, Sheridan has become a Christ figure, one that literally "fell" into a sort of godhood, one he rejects. POV shots do show us how people's perception of him has changed, and we might even note his more centered demeanor ourselves. A resurrected man assembling followers - the attack on Z'ha'dum will just have to keep until the army is big enough - but also offering a "promised land" for refugees created by the Shadow-Vorlon conflict, in the form of the planet below. It's all very Biblical whether Sheridan wants to acknowledge it or not. Garibaldi, perhaps cast as Judas (remember his PsiCorps conditioning even if he doesn't), doesn't trust Sheridan (or at least, God--I mean Lorienn), when ironically, he's the hidden danger. He's kept out of the loop for a reason, at least, and it isn't because he's become irritatingly sarcastic. It feels like Ivanova is just as sidelined, playing TV presenter while the refugee crisis escalates, a reminder that B5 doesn't have ISN anymore and has had to inform its population through internal channels, but it's also an effective narrative tool to increase tension without having to show all that sweet destruction (still, some nice Vorlon fleet CG in here).

Sheridan's new status is explored further in his plan to kick Kosh 2.0 off the station. He's going up against an angel, this one. As the main action plot of the episode, it's a long sequence, but somewhat disappointing. I do like that they have to trick 2.0 out of his quarters with a feint and a lure. Lyta is sent in with the revelation that the 1.0 is inside someone, but it's a good thing 2.0 doesn't really care to understand humanity because she's a TERRIBLE actress. Not Patricia Tallman, but Lyta herself, ugh. Could she be more obvious? Then comes the ambush, which is just people firing at 2.0 while he remains frozen, and it's interminable. Eventually, the creature is released from the encounter suit, and rather than looking like an angel, it's a Cthulhoid energy monster (so if they had a choice about how they can be perceived, why did the first Kosh not adopt some more discreet form a little over a year back?). And then the first Kosh is released from Sheridan's body, and the monsters fight, eventually exploding out of the station and blowing up the Vorlon ship. Done. These "gods" have fallen never to rise again (presumably). Except this saps Sheridan's life and it's revealed he's on life-force support thanks to Lorienn's healing hands. He was/is dead and this boost will last at most 20 years. Awkwardly, this is told to Delenn twice. The second time, she's upset it's a MERE 20 years, given how long the Minbari live. But Sheridan calls it a good run, at peace with the notion of his death (that was the whole point of his experience); all he wants is to spend that time with her and it'll be worthwhile. The marriage proposal is awkward, but Delenn really has nothing to compare it too. Now all they have to do is survive to the wedding...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The action plot isn't as clever as it needs to be and JMS straps us with another unbelievable psychotic agenda. Nevertheless, a thematically sound exercise with some interesting revelations and plot movement.

16 comments:

Craig Oxbrow said...

Take that, Mecha-Sauron!

Anonymous said...

I can buy an insane Cartagia who is fine with Centauri Prime burning; aristocracies breed loonies from time to time. Yeah, he's pretty over-the-top.

"Garibaldi, perhaps cast as Judas"

Imagine how much JMS wanted Garibaldi to turn against Sinclair, with all the talk of them being like brothers.

Getting an extra 20 years of life is not a bad outcome, given that you had recently been dead, and now you're going to have to fight two races of Flintstones.

As for why Kosh Vader didn't take the form of Elvis or whatever, perhaps the issue was that a Vorlon can either be seen in its true form, or it can be seen as a god, and Kosh Kenobi decided it was better to be adored and misinterpreted than to be known and feared.

Doug Hudson said...

Since the "angel form" is a psychic projection, it's possible it doesn't work on people who are actively trying to kill the Vorlon.

I think you underestimate how insane Caligula really was (or, at least, how insane Suetonius claimed he was). Cartagia isn't particularly exaggerated; if anything he is MORE rational than Caligula, since the latter believed he already WAS a god.

Killing lots of people to become a god is a pretty standard bad guy trope, I think.

Ryan Lohner said...

JMS' introductions for season 4 so far have all been pretty brief, which I think is partly a sign of just how out of it he was at this point, and also how there really isn't much to say about any deeper meaning behind the episodes. Having been forced to squeeze a workable end to the story into this one season, all pretense toward episodic stories is abandoned, and the story is the story and completely speaks for itself.

We get the payoff for another part of Sheridan's dream, as the raven on Ivanova's shoulder was a reference to Norse mythology, where two ravens kept Odin informed about what was happening in the mortal realm, so here we get Ivanova becoming the host of the station's own news program to counteract the propaganda machine that ISN has become. These scenes are also a reference to the news reports from Night of the Living Dead, with the safe zones being scrolled along the bottom of the screen. Another neat shoutout is the Vorlon trap, taken from the original version of The Thing.

That latter scene was also subject to some quite eerie problems. The shot of the suit's head exploding was going to be done practically, except the explosive went off before the cameras started rolling, without anyone touching anything. And then it happened again, leaving them without any more heads to use, so in the final episode it's an optical effect.

LiamKav said...

"We get the payoff for another part of Sheridan's dream, as the raven on Ivanova's shoulder was a reference to Norse mythology, where two ravens kept Odin informed about what was happening in the mortal realm, so here we get Ivanova becoming the host of the station's own news program to counteract the propaganda machine that ISN has become."

I had no idea that's what the Raven was. I thought it was some sort of telepathic bird thingie. I'm still not sure we ever get an explanation for the Dove on Garibaldi's shoulder apart from the forementioned "JMS just wanted to make Jerry Doyle stand there with a bird perched on him."

I also go with Doug's explanation for Final Form Hsok. Either that, or they only have two switches on their projection tech... "Angel" and "Off", and Hsok was so focused on not being killed he couldn't flip the switch to "Angel".

Siskoid said...

Doug: You'd think the angel form would be particularly helpful when someone was trying to kill you.

As for Cartagia, I'm just wondering how this guy was a tool of Refa and his group. He seems particularly difficult to control.

LiamKav said...

I've been listening out for references to Cartagia (or "The Emperor") since "Coming of Shadows", know about this portrayal, and it doesn't quite jibe. All earlier indications make him out to be either an easily controlled puppet or a moron. This level of insanity should have been easy to spot. Someone like Refa is not that stupid.

Ryan Lohner said...

JMS has openly said that the dove has no meaning, and he just wanted to make Jerry Doyle stand around with a bird on his shoulder.

Cradok said...

The first episode I ever saw. I had not a single clue what was going on, and yet... was taken in totally, I managed to get caught up on everything available on VHS and read synopses of everything else before episode 7.

I always wondered, though, just what they planned on doing with the people they sent down to Epsilon III. It's barren, with a poisonous atmosphere. Did they stick everyone into the tunnels around the Great Machine? Did everyone just stay in their shuttles until the war ended?

One little bit of trivia about this episode and the last. Garibaldi has shaved his head here, but in reality, Jerry Doyle had his head shaved after he thought he was done last episode, but actually wasn't, he still had to do the scene in the docking bay when Sheridan returns. He had fack hair glued to his head and 'felt like a chia pet'. Up close, it looked as fake as it was, so they stuck him all the way in the back of shot. In retrospect, this played well into his current antipathy towards Sheridan.

LiamKav said...

Garibaldi's hair has a fascinating series long arc all by itself.

Siskoid said...

Cradok: I think the Great Machine has the power to make the planet inhabitable, but they really should have shown that.

Bob said...

Not actually related to Babylon 5, but are you going to be doing Doctor Who reviews when the DVD comes out or at some other point in time?

Siskoid said...

The plan is to get into Series 8 as soon as I'm done with B5/Crusade, by which time the series will have just wrapped.

LiamKav said...

I do like the acknowledgement, so often missing from TV and film, that dead bodies will smell. Londo puts a hankie over his mouth and nose and looks like he's going to gag when he's sat next to the heads.

Garibaldi may be acting ratty and sarcastic, but he does have a point. Even assuming he's being paranoid about being treated differently from the Sheridan, he should be concerned that the captain has returned from the dead with a mysterious alien that won't leave his side.

LiamKav said...

There's a nice subtle bit where the command staff are sat in the War Room discussing the situation and refugees, and Garibaldi says "In a few days the wounded are gonna be the least of your concerns". "Your" concerns. Not "our" concerns.

(I am curious as to why Zack is present at this meeting. Especially as he doesn't say anything until right to the end.)

Londo is still saying "these Shadows" as if he's still getting used to the word. Hasn't he known their name for months by this point?

The high pitched noise that kicks in after Lorien says "now" and Sheridan turns around to unleash Kosh really makes it sound like he's going to hulk out.

Oh, and Lorien is millions (billions?) of years old. Couldn't he have managed more than twenty years? That's like me giving up 1 hour of my life to help a mayfly... I'm sure it would appreciate longer, and it's not as if 6 hours is going to make much of a difference to me.

Cradok said...

I always figured the limit was on Sheridan's end, rather than Lorien's. The first death, he probably got back longer, but dying twice really puts a strain on the system.

That does raise the oddness of an immortal being 'giving up' part of its life. How does that work? Forever minus 20 years is still forever.

 

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