Babylon 5 #72: The Long Night

"I did not remove one dictator from the throne just to become a dictator myself."
IN THIS ONE... Emperor Cartagia is assassinated, Londo is promoted to Prime Minister and the Centauri leave Narn. Meanwhile, Sheridan sacrifices guest-star Bryan Cranston on a suicide mission on the even of a great battle.

REVIEW: Given the title, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at the episode's longueurs. The idea is to play on the build-up before a battle, spend time with the troops as anxiety rises. But as a viewer who has been told the Big Battle(TM) will soon happen for half a dozen episodes now, Sheridan still playing chess moves against two god-like opponents, and all of the action played as reports coming in, leaves me a little unsatisfied. There are moments that work, like Ivanova asking Sheridan to promise her she will be placed in danger when the time comes, which is full of apprehension. I can't believe he's still sending her on boring quests to find the First Ones though. Her story about her mother's suicide is long but worthy; I do wish it connected to the other stories a bit better. My takeaway is that it's about what memories we take with us to heaven, or alternately, about promises unfulfilled, but that hardly describes the rest of the episode. I'm just expecting more at this point. The various shots of First One planetary weapons digesting planets also raises tension, but there sure are a lot of them. And then there are moments that don't seem so great. The comedy of Lennier having crucial information, but being consistently interrupted must surely be an example of what Cartagia calls the subjectivity of humor. There's something a bit cheesy about all the aliens' embarrassment that Bryan Cranston's Ranger is given a suicide mission. Character comes out of nowhere, immediately ordered to die? Why should we care?

I wish I could feel more catharsis from Cartagia's death, but it's been planned for so long and in such detail that it doesn't come off as a surprise. The attempt at a twist, with him turning the tables on Londo, soon returns to predictability when Vir has to do the deed himself. Well, obviously. And I won't miss Cartagia who's pretty much been played out. Bookending the event are two scenes between Londo and Vir which each go on too long. The first features some Centauri black comedy, and the second shows the toll already being paid by Vir, with yet another moment of Londo showing his love for his aide. It's well shot and well enough acted, but feels like padding. The Narn sequences are largely saved by G'Kar who, like Londo, finds no joy in their new freedom. G'Kar is saddened by his people's immediate wish for revenge, and can't even feel gratitude towards Londo. Where this character goes now, I have no idea (or memory), but his admonishment that the Narns have learned the wrong lessons from their captivity is gripping stuff.

So where DOES the show go from here? Londo becomes Prime Minister, filling the power vacuum left by his assassination, but he can't spare a smile so long as the Shadows are still roosting on his world. More court intrigue to come even if he manages to expel them, and the future we've seen doesn't exactly give us that assurance. For the giant allied fleet, it's war with little hope of return (FINAL LOG ENTRY ALERT!), and the camera even stays behind a touch too long in an empty room. Perhaps this IS the end of history. If we're seeing so little space action, it may be to boost the budget on the next one. Please tell me the big fight is finally next! I've grown impatient! All the powers are being funneled to the same system, so it NEEDS to be a doozy.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Sheridan listening to a doomed ship's audio evokes a similar scene in Star Trek: First Contact, released just a couple months earlier.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- I get what they're trying to do, and there are important events and good moments here, but the pacing is too slow and tedious.

11 comments:

Madeley said...

So there goes Cartagia, mad as a bag of badgers, and I think my opinion of him is slightly different to the prevailing feeling here in the comment section regarding his madness. Bear in mind, though, that I always like my bad guys when they're raving, swivel-eyed loons with improbable agendas and a tendency to laugh maniacally.

I've always suspected that Cartagia's apparent voyage from easily controlled puppet to screaming nutcase could be put down to a number of possibilities, not least that perhaps the Shadows' influence drove him mad, or exacerbated what was there already. Maybe it was the Shadows who, in some way, allowed Refa to control him, but the damage remained after Refa's death.

Having never seen Cartagia before series 4, we've only heard stories that make him APPEAR to be a meek puppet. As Babylon 5's main idea is that no-one is what they initially seem to be, it isn't without precedent.

Also, when he was only Emperor Turhan's nephew, with no clear claim on the throne, he was probably keeping his proclivities under wraps. When he first became Emperor, with Refa keeping a strong hand on his shoulder, perhaps he didn't realise quite how much power he had. Maybe he DIDN'T have that much power initially- I mean, if you're a member of the Imperial Guard, who are you going to take your orders from? The guy who's been Emperor for five minutes who could find himself knocked off in a counter-coup, or Lord Refa, a man with powerful allies who's probably the one paying you?

But then Refa's taken out of the picture, Cartagia's had a year or so to acclimatise to the role and its possibilities, and on top of that Refa's godlike allies knock on HIS door offering ultimate power, is it any wonder THAT'S when he snaps? Someone's taken all the brakes off, there's no-one left to be accountable to, he doesn't have to hide the psychopathy he's probably been concealing all his life anymore. Hell, maybe Refa was the one who was taking steps to conceal the madness, too, because it was the thing he held over Cartagia in some way.

If anything, the unpredictable planet-threatening insanity is an extreme way to highlight another one of Babylon 5's themes: every action has a consequence, even a seemingly "good" action like killing Refa. And it makes Londo even more complicit in everything that comes after.

Anonymous said...

Caligula wasn't crazy on day one of emperorhood either; after some time he suddenly snapped and went full John Hurt.

As a viewer, I cannot buy that Sheridan threw mf-ing Heisenberg at the Shadows and they're still around next episode. I fully expect B5 to receive an audio-only communication: "It's over. I won."

Translated from the Shadows' language, where everything is 10000 times more complicated than it needs to be:

"Only one White Star vessel left; disintegrator beams locking on."

"Sir, one human has emerged from the White Star vessel."

"Dead?"

"No, alive but very weak; apparently old and damaged by standards of the human species. Seated in a chair fitted with wheels and ... ringing a bell?"

Ryan Lohner said...

"I was to be a god" is the line I mistakenly remembered as coming from John Hurt's Caligula. And for quite a while, JMS had planned to do the scene with no twist at all. Then as he describes it, he heard Vir's voice in his head saying that he should do it, since it would be a great new development for the character. His top piece of advice for aspiring writers is to listen to your characters, and let them become real enough to you that this kind of thing can happen. This is also how we got the beautiful closing narration of season 3; after struggling with it for a day, he suddenly heard G'Kar's voice say the whole thing while he was trying to get what little sleep he was managing, and raced to write it down.

Londo was given three chances to avoid damnation, and from his line in War Without End that letting Sheridan and Delenn go was his final chance at redemption, it seemed he blew two of them. And here we see the first one, "You must save the eye that does not see." He left Cartagia to his own devices on what to do about G'Kar's glare at him, and afterwards G'Kar talks about how much more an empty eye can see of a person's soul.

The second shot of G'Kar's hand grabbing his chains to break them is simply a sideways flip of the first, as JMS saw it as the best way to make a big moment out of it. I like to imagine the cuff-breaking music from The Matrix over it.

Siskoid said...

Madeley: You go a long way redeeming Cartagia there, but as much as I've also been guilty of trying to get a No-Prize from time to time, if this had been all intended, there would be more dialog to support it.

Anon: Break out the biggest barrel of acid anyone's ever seen.

Ryan: Damn, I didn't catch the link to the prophecy, I was too distracted by the Sauronic "Eye" of the Shadows referenced elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I've got an Other Side of the Wormhole for you: late in season 7 of DS9, the usually practical Gowron turned stupid and vain, jeopardizing the Klingon Empire. He too needed to be put down, was put down by someone with no imperial ambitions, and replaced by ... a one-eyed Klingon.

Anonymous said...

"he doesn't have to hide the psychopathy he's probably been concealing all his life anymore"

About this: it's unclear how many of us are psychopaths at heart, or at the very least, how much we would try to get away with if we were sure we could. The entire point of society is to make some activities too costly to perform, and almost all of us are so used to societal limitations, it's hard to say where our consciences stop and fear of consequences begin. Something like a dog who had been on an Invisible Fence for a long time; take the collar off him and he's still going to stick to his "safe" zone.

I've talked to people who had served in Iraq, and they report that the people who turn into power-mad assholes (to whatever extent they can exert their power) are quite often the people you wouldn't have expected it from.

Madeley said...

COME, READ MY EMPEROR CARTAGIA PREQUEL FAN FICTION

Siskoid said...

Wormhole Anonymous: GASP!

LiamKav said...

Does it go into slightly too much detail about the tentacles and the slots?

LiamKav said...

If one of Londo's 3 chances for redemption was saving G'Kar's eye, that seems really harsh. Londo is actively trying to make up for past mistakes at this point. He has enlisted G'Kar's help and promised to free his people, and G'Kar went into this knowing full well it would probably involve unbelievable levels of torture. The fact that Londo didn't come up with an alternative when Cartagia was annoyed by G'Kar's staring is pretty low down on the list of bad things Mollari has done.

LiamKav said...

My take on the scenes with Sheridan sending Ericsson on a suicide mission was that it was putting a face to the cost everyone was making. It's true that we didn't get time to know him (and in a universe where we weren't trying to cram too seasons into one, maybe he could have been built up a bit), but it was still A face, rather than just a number. And showing the League was good too. Far too often the heroes do their big sacrificial bits and the other races don't see the cost. It's nice to show them once in a while what Sheridan and co are willing to do.

For some reason, the end music goes back to the season 3 version with this episode. I'm quite happy about that, as I love the third season theme.

 

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