Babylon 5 #107: Movements of Fire and Shadow

"If you run into trouble..." "I'll walk out of it. More dignified that way."
IN THIS ONE... The Drazi and Narns attack a defenseless Centauri Prime. Delenn's ship is heavily damaged in hyperspace. Lochley defends her jump gate. Franklin and Lyta discover who's really behind the attacks. Londo gets out of his jail cell and finally sees the Regent.

REVIEW: The mid-season finale reveals why the Alliance worlds used to be a League of NON-Aligned worlds. Simply put, nobody in their right minds would ever want to align with any of these jerks! Here they are, at war with the Centauri, and they won't even combine forces, share proper information or work on common strategies. Only the Drazi and Narns manage some cooperation, but it's to go against the Alliance charter to bomb civilian centers on Centauri Prime. Looks like Sheridan made himself President of something like the United Nations, with little to no power over individual members. Meanwhile, the Centauri are running offensive and defensive teams because the former are really Shadow agents working from their own play book, lending credence to ministerial claims that Centauri is just defending itself from aggressor species. We know this to be true, of course, but it's kind of hard to believe the arrogant Defense Minister isn't an agent too. He's too blatant a villain.

With war raging once again in the Babylon 5 universe, we're getting a steady supply of eye candy like in the days of old. Lots of ships, explosions, etc., you know the drill. And that's maybe why it doesn't excite like it used to. We've had bigger, or at least, more personal and more open-ended stakes before. Still, nice of the show to give Lochley something to do after disappearing for a number of episodes. She just gets to stand in C&C and give orders to protect the station's jump gate, but she does it well and with the right urgency. Because this is a cliffhanger episode, they're also setting up other emergencies, like Delenn's ship getting badly damaged and Sheridan flying to Centauri Prime to try and stop rogue Alliance members to kill everyone there. Especially since the Regent has, under shadowy orders, sent the defense fleet away. Presumably, if the Drakh or whoever (we see the Gray-like guys too, checking on Londo's suitability, which makes me wonder if those jokey Gray aliens in Season 1 were Shadow agents) do away with "free" Centauri, they'll have full run of the Empire and its resources. I suppose we're meant to feel sympathy for the Regent, but to me, he's still that caricatured home decorator and I don't care at all. Knowing the Keeper will jump to Londo soon removes all the suspense the situation might otherwise have had.

Londo leaves his cell, but doesn't get assassinated or anything, and the Shadow agents do what they want with him even while he's in there, which means G'Kar doesn't even have to be there, sadly. I'd rather he wasn't, if JMS is going to spring further revelations about how stinky Narn farts are, or whatever that was about. (It's not even the only cringe-worthy moment in the episode. I also dislike the bit about the underthings Sheridan bought Delenn and that she won't wear. Icky.) The thread that best sustains our interest is Franklin and Lyta's mission to the Drazi homeworld on Vir's behest to find out why the Drazi haven't been returning the bodies of the fallen Centauri. Lyta unleashes some righteous fury on the Drazi, going so far as making one attacker commit suicide (and Franklin stays friends with her, well, I guess he'd have to). Jeepers! Just so happens she's the only person in the galaxy who could identify the gross pods found aboard Centauri ships, driving them in lieu of crews. To be continued in an episode with a title that leaves little to the imagination...

The scorched planet strategy would also be used by the Founders on Cardassia, which has a similar set-up to the agents of Shadow/Centauri Prime.

- For what's essentially Babylon 5's last big cliffhanger, it's really not that great. Some ill-judged comedy, some irritating characters, and too little suspense.


LiamKav said...

On the Lurkers Guide, JMS always defended comments by people saying "you've ruined the surprise" by saying that what happened wasn't important, is was HOW you got there. He'd site the fact that we knew that G'Kar would kill Londo fomr the very first episode, but it didn't tell you the whole story. I think here and in previous season 5 reviews you've touched on why that is no longer working... at the beginning we didn't know the characters or the universe. When Londo told us that G'Kar would kill him, we assumed that the nasty brute would kill the poor buffoon comedy character in anger or vengence. The "how" WAS a surprise. Here, that's no longer true. Things are getting pushed into the places where they need to be, but there's no shock. We saw that Centauri Prime was devestated long after the Shadow War. So in season 5, we are shown that allies of the Shadows are setting them up. It's not a big shock moment.

Likewise, there's the escalation problem. It's like how we gradually saw more and more Shadow ships as time went on... each battle had to be bigger than the last. And when it couldn't be bigger, it had to be more personal, such as the fight to retake Earth. It's hard to top that, and we don't really manage it here.

(Also, "Movements of Fire and Shadow"? Yay, another season 5 title that could refer to about 50,000 other episodes.)

Anonymous said...

(Also, "Movements of Fire and Shadow"? Yay, another season 5 title that could refer to about 50,000 other episodes.)

To say nothing of 40 minutes after I eat Taco Bell.

If the big story has been told -- if we know all the major events -- then there are still stories to tell, the small character-driven components. I do think JMS was trying to give us those, but was too committed to showing us the big pieces we already knew.

In the TV series "Rome", first episode of season 2, Caesar's funeral was held, and we all know what happens there: Marc Antony gives a stirring speech that turns the people of Rome against Brutus. It's a famous Shakespeare speech, it's well-trodden territory ... so how do you show it in "Rome" and make it fresh? Answer: in "Rome", they didn't show the funeral at all, only the aftermath, with Brutus's team realizing that the crowd had turned against them. (There was a later scene where a common Roman was describing the funeral to some chums, and it was consistent with what we would expect, but again without forcing the writers of "Rome" to film the funeral itself.)

Ryan Lohner said...

The introduction to this episode in the script volumes contains a particularly amusing and painful bit where JMS praises Dexter for being the one show since B5 that he thought captured the same sense of seeing a freight train bearing down on the characters for weeks or months, not knowing when it would arrive but knowing very bad things would happen when it did. Note that this was written after the show's second season, before both its greatest creative heights with the season four Trinity storyline, and the utter doldrums of, well, everything after that. I'd be very interested to hear what he thinks of the show after seeing the whole thing. I can also only assume this means he hadn't seen Farscape.

This and the following episode were first planned to air together, and were even called The Fall of Centauri Prime Part 1 and 2. Then when TNT had to keep to the regular schedule, he decided to give this one its own title and had little time to think of one. So to LiamKav, there's your explanation for why it's so generic. As to all the other episode titles with that issue, I've got nothing.

He does very much regret the Narn fart joke, and wishes he could have come up with a more clever way to get Londo out of the cell. But the shooting schedule was bearing down, and he was even writing this one on Christmas Eve, so he choked and went with it.

LiamKav said...

- You couldn't have warned Lochley BEFORE you gave the White Star fleet the order to engage the Centauri, John?

- Finally, Sheridan asks if the Centauri have a strategy. It's only taken most of the season for someone to ask this very important question.

- The fact that the Narn general is the same one that Sheridan rescued back in the season 2 finale makes his betrayal much more personal.

- This far in, I think I have a better idea on why season 5 doesn't work as well, for me. It's not just that I prefer seeing my heroes in either cool sci-fi uniforms or Han Solo-type rogue outfits rather than off the rack business suits, and it's not just because of Sheridan's stupid beard... the whole thing is just repeating too much of earlier seasons.

1. The main crew tries to get the various alien races to work together, despite constant in-fighting. This is most of season 1 and 2, minus the mystery of the Shadows and Vorlons.

2. An unknown alien race manipulates the Centauri into going to war with other races... seasons 2 and 3.

3. No-one realises that the war isn't for "normal" reasons, such as land, or resources... seasons 2 and 3.

4. The home planet of one of the alien races gets bombed...The Long, Twilight Struggle.

5. Main cast member goes through addiction storyline...seasons 2 and 3.

It's the Shadows -> Drakh issue... we've seen this before, and most of the time we've seen it better.

I'm not going to add "the station gets a new commander", because that's unfair...


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