Babylon 5 #76: Atonement

"When others do a foolish thing, you should tell them it is a foolish thing. They can still continue to do it, but at least the truth is where it needs to be."
IN THIS ONE... The secret origin of Delenn.

REVIEW: The thing I appreciate most in JMS' writing is how he often gives the thematic key to an episode is an early, innocuous scene. In this case, the amusing (but I'm sure, useful) ability G'Kar is given with his removable, prosthetic eye of seeing himself with it. This then translates into Delenn having to look at herself in an old and a new way, through the process of the Dreaming. This is a telepathic vision shared with one or more guides (in this case, the ever-faithful Lennier) that should reveal something of great importance. Psychotherapy wrapped in ritual. Delenn is forced to go through this to find a justification for her relationship with Sheridan, or else her clan will forbid the union on the basis of racial impurity. We may not understand her bitterness and fierce resolve in The Illusion of Truth better - her badly chosen words weren't a threat to Earth, but to Minbar. Her own people would have wanted the relationship to end. What she gets is a trip down memory lane to her relationship with Dukhat, her master and former leader of the Grey Council. It's fun to see classic Delenn again, and Reiner Schone as Dukhat is such a tall man, she seems tiny, even childlike. The lessons highlight the man's wisdom, and when he tells her he cannot have an aide who doesn't look up, we're reminded of the first thing Delenn told Lennier. Nice.

As history unfolds, the question of what to do about humanity is brought up, with Acolyte Delenn timidly suggesting contact on the simple basis of curiosity. It's what charms Dukhat, who is of her opinion, and so Delenn eventually becomes a member of the Grey Council on his recommendation. But we're soon brought to that fateful moment when first contact was made with gunports open, and Dukhat's death in the first exchange of fire, and the big, dark reveal is that Delenn was the swing vote in whether or not to go to war with Earth and that, in her grief, she voted badly. She immediately regretted it, but it was too late, and has been carrying that guilt since then. But the idea that Delenn will use atonement as her justification for joining with a human is a red herring. Given time to reflect, she realizes a buried memory has come to the surface, and against the rules, she returns to the "whisper gallery" (great name) with Lennier and her clan leader to replay a certain moment. The real revelation is that Dukhat knew she was a child of Valen and so had a special destiny. It makes sense of his choice of her as aide and colleague, and of the triluminary glowing in her presence. Dukhat also knew (as we already did) that the founder of modern Minbari society was human before he was Minbari, and his human DNA is scattered across the Minbari race (the Oversoul is also connected to DNA, it seems). That the Minbari are in no way genetically pure to begin with is a revelation that would rock Minbari culture to its foundations (the same way the soul stuff hasn't been shared with the majority of the population), so they come up with an answer closer to the aforementioned red herring (marriage as compensation/treaty, like in the old days) and Delenn is on her way. The story gives us an answer (obvious), then another (actual) and another (official), which makes it far better than a simple flashback tale to fill in our knowledge of B5 history.

The focus on Delenn means we don't have very much time for subplots, but they do exist. Zack squirming as he is fitted with a Babylon 5 uniform recalls how he never got an Earthforce suit that fit either. The scene, and Ivanova coming back from a Drazi party add a little humor to the proceedings, but not a whole lot more. The set-up for the next episode, with Sheridan sending Doc Franklin and Marcus to Mars to establish an alternate pipeline to counter Earth's embargo turns to comedy as well, as the two men get a ride in a gravity-less ship and Marcus starts singing to Franklin's dismay. The full "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" is on the end credits and ends with Franklin's scream and the director shouting "Cut!", which goes just a word too far, in my opinion. As is, it's a blooper and takes the viewer out of what is normally an immersive experience. But surely, a minor complaint.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: On Deep Space Nine, the Trill - whom resemble the Minbari - also covered up a truth that would shock their culture when Dax started having visions of a life she never knew (in their case, that a much higher percentage of people could be joined with a symbiont).

REWATCHABILITY: High
- An origin story that does more than just tell a story from the past, but also changes how we view Delenn, her motivations, and her role in B5's great epic.

13 comments:

LondonKdS said...

There's a common belief among materialistic fans that this episode shows that the whole idea of Minbari being reincarnated as humans was mystical rubbish all along, and just the Minbari misinterpreting the Triluminary's detection of humans who had genes in common with Sinclair/Valen. Personally I don't like to think of the Minbari as that ignorant of how their own technology functions, but I wonder if it was a deliberate sop to anti-mystical fans.

One negative fan position I have a good deal of sympathy for is that Sheridan and the other humans never finding out the full magnitude of Delenn's role in the war is a major example of JMS showing favoritism to her compared to other characters.

Ryan Lohner said...

I'd also argue that this episode adds a good deal of rewatchability to A Late Delivery from Avalon, knowing we're not just seeing Delenn giving absolution to the man who fired on her ship, but BOTH people who started the war making peace with each other.

Mira Furlan strongly objected to this script when it was released, saying it destroyed Delenn's characterization. JMS mollified her by quoting Sheridan's earlier line: everyone's entitled to one giant screwup in their lives, and the important thing is how they make up for it.

One oddity that IIRC is never commented on: the triluminary is a total paradox. It first appeared on Babylon 4 in 1260, then served its purpose for a thousand years before it was sent back with B4 in 2260. Which means no one actually made the thing, and it just exists in its own infinite time loop.

Jason Carter's rendition of The Major-General's Song is a real snoozer to me, as it ignores the biggest rule of the song: you've got to speed that sucker up. Though this may just be a personal beef of mine: I was blessed with the John Moschita Jr. ability of talking extremely fast while still enunciating clearly, and it actually wasn't until high school that I realized other people couldn't do it, so for all I know that really is as fast as Carter is capable of going.

Anonymous said...

"first contact was made with gunports open"

http://picardfacepalm.com/picard-facepalm-hotlink.jpg

Sorry JMS, that remains like the dumbest thing ever.

Ryan Lohner said...

And based on human history.

Anonymous said...

We earthlings are tremendous idiots, that comes as a surprise to nobody. We've fought wars over oaken buckets and lost dogs.

The Minbari are JMS's ancient wise race, and he had every opportunity to write them as not-ninnies.

Cradok said...

But JMS never wrote them as actually being wise in the same way that Tolkien's Elves are wise. They're more knowledgeable about things, yes, but they still have anger, and jealousy, and everything they do is deeply steeped in tradition, even when that tradition might be stupid.

The Triluminaries aren't actually a paradox, but their origin isn't mentioned on screen. They, or the means to build them, are part of the equipment that Zathras brings from Epsilon III. One of the crates has a Triluminary-looking logo on it, and JMS confirmed that that's where they're from.

Also, this is the last of the mystery surrounding the end of the Earth-Minbari War, that Valen opened a door to the blending of Human and Minbari, of the sharing of souls. Also, I believe that this is the last thing that In the Beginning spoils, halfway in to the fourth season, which is why I hate it being put at the start of viewing orders.

Siskoid said...

Delenn, in fact, confirms this in this very episode.

Siskoid said...

On the subject of DNA and souls, I believe the Soul Hunter episode demonstrates that the soul is indeed a force the Minbari are aware of and can be experienced and thus analyzed.

Note the Soul Hunters' appearance here at the battle.

abc said...

Ugh...I'm wracking my brain...what's the Veronica Mars (season 3) joke in the picture?

Siskoid said...

Hahaha, the actor played Veronica's criminology professor/mentor/main suspect during that season.

He's also Delenn's mentor, so I felt justified.

LiamKav said...

Regarding the scene at the beginning, it makes Lennier look like a bit of a dick. Zack's problem is obviously to do with taking over Garibaldi's job, not the uniform. Lennier knows this, and yet still encourages the other Minbari to stab him if he's awkward. (It also goes back to the main issue I have with these unfiforms, which is that only 4 people are allowed to wear them at any given time. Why does the chief of security get it, and not Corwin?)

This episode gives us our closest look at the Triluminary at the Earthforce Link in the centre of it. Which... kinda makes no sense, if it came from Epsilon 3.

On the context of the gun ports... the moment the Warrior Caste member tells Dukhat that they are approaching the humans with them open, Dukhat reacts quite strongly. That, and the reaction of the other Minbari implies that it's a Warrior Caste-only tradition. Either they haven't had a first contact in a while, or they've been damn lucky. At the very least, you'd think Dukhat might have issued a directive to never, ever do something that stupid.

Delenn being a "child of Valen" was presumably a later addition to the canon, done after the Sinclair/Sheridan swap. Otherwise having her marry someone who is also her great great great x100 grandfather is getting a bit Philip J Fry.

I never got this impression in season 1, but Minbari Delenn seems really cute.

Finally, I know you're watching it at the end of the season, but Thirdspace bests during this episode, between Zack getting fitted for his uniform and the Minbari delegation arriving. (Which makes the comments about things "being quiet" slightly ridiculous, in hindsight.)

abc said...

Hahaha, the actor played Veronica's criminology professor/mentor/main suspect during that season.

Hmm, that didn't sound right. Just got back from imdb...

Patrick Fabian played Professor Landry on V Mars, and never appeared on B5.
And Dukhat (when I first watched this ep, I immediately thought of homophone Dukat from the other side of the wormhole) was played by Reiner Schone -- who never appeared on V Mars.

And, yes, Schone is taller.

Siskoid said...

SEPARATED AT BIRTH!!!

 

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