Babylon 5 #113: Objects at Rest

"When I had to learn English, one of the most difficult words for me was 'goodbye'. There is no corresponding word for 'goodbye' in Minbari. All our partings contain within them the possibility of meeting again: in other places, in other times, in other lives. So you will excuse me if I do not say 'goodbye'." 
IN THIS ONE... Franklin, Sheridan and Delenn all leave the station for good. Lennier betrays the Rangers.

REVIEW: Essentially plotless for its first half, the season (if not series) finale is all about ensuring replacement cast for an imaginary 6th season, a point made clear when Sheridan and Delenn leave, with a surprisingly poignant ensemble shot where Lochley and Sheridan share a salute from across open space. In a way, I wish The River of Souls had (in addition to a good script) used this full group - Lochley, Dr. Hobbs, Ta'Lon, Vir, Number One and Zack - as it really were a preview of what would have been to come, would have never come. I further wish the episode had ended on this moment, as I'm not at all interested in the Lennier subplot and his promised "turn". As a betrayal, it's a timid one. He almost lets Sheridan die, then returns to save him, though of course the Action President has already gotten out of the jam alone. Delenn going on about how she suspected he had feelings for her when she actively KNOWS is irritating, and the diary device to explain it to everyone else is unnecessary and a seems out of character. They forgive him his trespass anyway, so who cares?

On goodbyes... Doc Franklin's goodbyes are practical and understated, which is a surprise because G'Kar says goodbye AGAIN, this time to Ta'Lon, naming him ambassador in a very strange sequence where the director makes the Narn appear like a ghost while Ta'Lon is watching him on a screen, presumably because the speech was a bit long and they needed to keep us interested. Unfortunately, it's still too long. Much better is Delenn's farewell (partly quoted above), which refuses to be final. Along with the salute, it's where this episode best lives. It's difficult for a final episode to avoid a certain amount of meta-text, and stories on film/video will forever be accessible. As such, this can't be goodbye, especially since already filmed material is still to come. Similarly, the lump in the actors' throats is their characters. Sheridan does not give a farewell speech at this point, but rather waits to get the final word at episode's end, through advice he records for his unborn son, coming full circle to the first advice his own father ever gave him. Here it gets a little TOO knowing, with the whole bit about "you have to fight for what you believe in" largely and obviously mirroring JMS' own struggle putting this atypical series on the air. Again, for me, the episode ended 20 minutes earlier.

On looking to the future... Londo shows up on Minbar for a surprise dinner, which at first made me bristle because I felt his chapter had been closed in The Fall of Centauri Prime. But this is looking ahead some 16 years hence, because Londo leaves Sheridan and Delenn's son a gift that is really a trap, a Boy's Own Keeper(TM). I imagined this being dealt with in Sleeping in Light, but research shows, it's a story for the novels. That's disappointing. In my innocence, I first saw the Imperial gift, usually given to the Emperor's heir, as a way for Londo to put the Alliance in eventual control of his world, thus defeating the Shadow agents. Certainly, he would have told them more if he'd been allowed to get drunk (it dulls the Keeper's senses), but alas, since alcohol is poisonous to the Minbari, it's a dry planet. The shot of Londo, overlooking Minbar as he once did Narn, is nice and ominous. And we go to Mars to see Garibaldi setting up a new board out of all the disgruntled whistle-blowers in his new company, a mirror of his own character. A nice touch - they wouldn't have been loyal to the old guard - even if it's unlikely to work in real world terms.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium with moments set to High - There are some moments here I wouldn't ever give up, but after I'm satisfied and teary, it keeps going and loses me.


Ryan Lohner said...

JMS started out with several different ideas of where Lennier's story could go. Then in the middle of season 2, Bill Mumy came up to him and said "I think Lennier is in love with Delenn," not knowing this was actually one of those ideas. Always one to accommodate his actors' wishes (see how the Centauri hairstyle came about), JMS figured that if this was what Mumy himself had picked up, it must be the right way to go. And oddly enough, what we get is a kind of inverse Lancelot story. He only has a moment of weakness that he recovers from, and that everyone forgives him for. But the one person who doesn't forgive it is Lennier himself. He immediately separates himself from Sheridan and Delenn forever, unable to look them in the eye ever again, and also knowing that no matter how genuine their forgiveness, they would also never forget, and could never look at him in quite the same way again.

The final scene ever filmed for the series, as Sleeping in Light was already a year in the can, was Delenn's final speech on the station. And the reason that scene has such an enormous number of extras is because they're actually the show's crew. All the people who toiled behind the scenes for five years to make this show a reality got their own moment in front of the camera as a giant thank you gift. The one big exception is JMS himself, who'd already done a cameo for Sleeping in Light. Also, it took quite a long time to film as Mira Furlan had enormous difficulty getting through the speech without breaking down. Everyone knew this was the true end of the series, and after so long with it none of them really wanted it to end. But from the beginning it had been designed as a five year story, and there was no way around that now. Besides, they could always do cameos on Crusade, right?

Ryan Lohner said...

And now, a word on the novels. Usually it bugs the crap out of me when storytellers in any medium do this. My view is, if a part of the story is that important to tell, then you can damn well put it in the story itself and not make us do homework. I'm thinking particularly here of "Dumbledore is gay," one of the bigger copouts on that issue in recent memory (see, I can pick on things besides Star Trek).

But here, I just don't mind it that much. A big part of that is knowing so much about the extremely difficult circumstances the show was made under, and with certain story aspects like Draal having to be ditched entirely, I'm just thankful JMS still found a way to get us a fuller picture of what he'd intended.

Since the books are out of print now, here's a little summary for those unable to get their hands on them: the Keeper attached itself to David Sheridan on his 18th birthday party as intended, and promptly forced him to go to Centauri Prime, where the Drakh held him hostage. Sheridan and Delenn set off on a rescue mission, also bringing along G'Kar. They were captured (and G'Kar's false eye taken out again), and the Drakh set off some of the bombs directly around the emperor's palace, which is where Sheridan's time travel from War Without End came in. Also along on the trip were Garibaldi and Franklin, who managed to get David to safety and remove the Keeper, though a piece still remained inside, only able to be killed along with the Drakh that spawned it. Luckily, this turned out to be the same Drakh who had once controlled Londo, and Garibaldi performed the deed, with the payoff line "What's up, Drakh?" Vir then became emperor, and set up statues of Londo and G'Kar at either end of the city, facing away from each other but both with the common goal of protecting the city. A perfect tribute, in the end.

The books also allowed Peter David to give more closure to two of Londo's wives who he'd first created. Daggair goes unmentioned, but Mariel and Timov both play key roles in stopping the Drakh in their own way, both also dying in the process.

Siskoid said...

Thanks for the summary. Sounds cool.

I call this the Matrix effect, because it's exactly what killed Reloaded. If you wanted the full story, then you needed to watch Animatrix and play Enter the Matrix and who knows what else. Please, I want to watch a movie, not have a "multi-media experience".

Madeley said...

Just tried to leave a longish comment but have got an error message. Apologies if something goes wrong and I end up double posting.

Madeley said...

I never really mind a little self-indulgence on the part of a show-runner at the end of a project like this (Russell T's last Who episode never bothered me the way it bothers some for the same reason.) To be fair about the message left for David, I don't think it's wholly JMS self-aggrandisement, as it sums up Sheridan, and one of the main strands of the show. Even if the whole production had been plain-sailing, I think it would still be thematically correct and appropriate for the character.

Regarding David's fate, I hadn't realised it was featured in the spin-off novels, and to be honest I would rather it hadn't dealt with anywhere else, with the character of David existing permanently as an unseen character, because David's fate and the way it was handled in the show is actually, for me, one of the things I love most about B5, but something I only realised many years after watching the show.

As we're at the very end of the show proper, I'll put in a few comments on why the show is so important to me on a personal level, despite its (and its creator's) considerable flaws.

I think I mentioned back when these articles started that this show was the right show at exactly the right time for me (in the same way that years later JMS's Spider-Man run, despite its flaws etc. etc. was the right comic for me at the right time). It brought science fiction, politics, a bit of horror, and long-term narrative together at the time when I was learning that those were the things that really interested me. It started airing when I was 13, and ended on my first New Year's Day as an adult, so it really did span my teenage years and had a profound effect on me. It exists as one of those things that you learn to love as a teenager that stay with you for the rest of your life, like a favourite band. I could talk anyone's ear off for hours about various facets of the show given half a chance.

There was so much about the show that was satisfying personally, in a really fundamental way. It resonates with so many ways that I see the world, with perhaps the only thing that ever subsequently had a similar effect on me being Pacific Rim's central theme of the unity of humanity. But it was also intellectually satisfying, too, in the way that it really did show a complete story that paid off, as we'll see tomorrow, in one of my favourite episodes of anything ever made.

Madeley said...

At the time, when it was over, maybe the one unsatisfying thing was the lack of closure over David's fate. I knew something had happened to him, that his fate appeared unresolved, but it was minor enough that it didn't detract from the achievements of the show. Maybe JMS was saying that nothing is ever really resolved, which would be appropriate as that was certainly a theme of the show also, as highlighted at the end of the fourth series.

Years later, it occurred to me to google the David storyline, to see what I'd missed, and to see if JMS has ever said what was intended for the character. Imagine my surprise when I found out that, in actual fact, if you put together all the things we know about David, all the things that are said and seen in flash-forwards, it's actually resolved within the show. JMS gave us everything we need to work out David's story, if not in the specific details mentioned by Ryan above, then at least from a broader view. Seriously, we see the "beginning" of David's story right at the end, we can guess that the Keeper is going to get him when he comes of age, the clear implication is Delenn and Sheridan go after him in the Babylon 4 flash-forwards where we're told they managed to save him (if not how), and we're told what happens afterwards in Sleeping in Light. The dates and timeline are all clearly referred to in the show.

This all absolutely hit me like a truck. JMS had actually written a kind of unseen story arc, a ghost-plot with twists and turns, for a character never seen. I still find that absolutely brilliant, the perfect last resolution for me as a fan of the show, years after I finished watching it. There are few things better than the joy of discovering something like that.

All of this is the long way round of explaining why I'd prefer it if the extra details of David's fate were never explained elsewhere. Let it stand in the unseen moments of the show, there to be found if we want to go looking for it.

Looking forward to finding out tomorrow whether I'm able to get through Siskoid's review and writing a comment about it without blubbering like a fool.

Madeley said...

I say "longish" when I clearly just mean "long"


LiamKav said...

The Vorlons greatest weapon... the ability to hashtag DIRECTLY INTO THE BRAIN!

I like Peter David. I like his sense of humour. I like his puns. Still, "What's up, Drakh"...

Siskoid said...

Madeley: JMS actually does say exactly that (about life being unresolved) in the commentary track for Sleeping in Light.

Oh and having watched the finale and written the article already, you can bet your life I blubbered. I won't hold it against you if you do too. Geez, almost started again just writing this.

Siskoid said...

Remember Myron. I know I always will.

LiamKav said...

Oh god, I'm gonna start crying over dinner if I think about Sleeping In Light.

Lyta: "Rememeber Byron. He believed in the telepath cause."

Ghost of Byron: "Actually, it's about ethics in games journalism."

Cradok said...

I did like the Londo bit at the end, but that's mostly because Peter Jurasik. The Lennier bit, eeh. But, yeah, that salute, with that muic cue, just awesome.

Madeley, New Year, 1999, brings me back. I'll never forget the episode, of course, but I'll also never forget the hideous pink and yellow show ident in the corner of the screen, or sitting there, a wreck, and having the mood broken by a studio full of cheering idiots. Or that one poor guy off to the side crying, that the presenter pointed and laughed at...

LiamKav said...

Just because there's no where else to rant about this... NO. It does NOT make sense to have the Alliance HQ on Minbar. It's a much stronger message to have it based at a freeport, guarded by ships from all the races that make up the Alliance, then having it secluded away on the homeworld of the most powerful member.

Anonymous said...

I could accept the Alliance being based on Minbar mostly for the sake of safety: look at all the crazy stuff that happened on B5 in five short years. It would be like putting the UN headquarters in Sarajevo. That said, an eventual move to a freeport would be a good idea for the reasons you suggest.

Garibaldi was a Daffy Duck man, so he should have said "You're Drakh-thpicable".

LiamKav said...

- It's a lovely touch that they bring back the classic ISN anchor for the final(ish) episode.

- Why doesn't the emergency door have a release from the inside? I know it's a TV cliche, but it's unrealistic and stupid.

- Delenn kinda sees something on Londo's shoulder. WHY doesn't she mention it to John? Why does he still seem to not want to talk about his jump into the future. (This would all be fine if JMS had said that he couldn't remember it. But he hasn't. He's said that he does remember, and it was part of his motivation for going to Z'ha'dum. So, I'm left going "argh!" at the TV.)

This episode, along with lots of TV, is partially responsible for my fear of growing old/up. When you're young you hang out with your friends, you have awesome adventures that feature on TV, and life is exciting. And for some reason, we're constantly told that this isn't what we want... instead we should want to grow up, get married, have children, and ride off into the sunset. Which always sounded boring, and is probably why I'm in my mid-30s and still collect Transformers toys. I'm also determined that I'm never moving too far away from my friends. What's the point in only seeing the people who make you happy occasionally and reminicing about old times, when you could see them more often and create new memories? (I did get married though...)

Anyway, I managed to keep myself from crying (although I almost lost it during the salute). Let's see if I can manage it tomorrow.


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