Babylon 5 #114: Sleeping in Light

"Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another. It changed the future... and it changed us. It taught us that we have to create the future, or others would do it for us. It showed us that we have to care for one another, because if we don't, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most... unlikely places. Mostly though, I think it gave us hope—that there can always be new beginnings... even for people like us."
IN THIS ONE... 20 years later, Sheridan calls all his friends to his death bed, then goes out to meet his fate on the eve of Babylon 5's destruction.

REVIEW: Objects at Rest could afford to be anticlimactic, I suppose, because they always had this SERIES finale in their back pocket, and it's moving as all get-out. It's 20 years after the Earth Alliance has been founded, and so 20 years since Lorien told Sheridan he had 20 years to live. His reaction to all this is VERY Sheridan. The man who would not give a farewell speech when he left the station continues to avoid the tears by inviting all his old friends to dinner, having fun, then promptly leaving Minbar to die alone in space, calling it a "Sunday drive". Delenn, the consummate Minbari, engineers this for him, because she's forever in the service of others. But of course, both characters break down no matter how much strong a front they put up, and in a scene that visually might as well be the wedding we were denied - Sheridan in black, Delenn in white - tears are shed. Their love affair continues to be epic, symbolically linking each other to light, the image of a rising sun the last thing Sheridan thinks of, and Delenn's daily reminder of her husband. It's just beautiful. No matter how prepared she is for his departure, there is still deep grief there, as a simple shot of her in bed suddenly clutching at a pillow testifies to.

On his way to meet a destiny outlined long ago by Kosh, Sheridans stops by the station, on the eve of its decommission. Just empty sets now. And his last walk through its halls is quietly affecting. Zack is still there, just as he promised in Objects at Rest (a rare weak element of this finale though it's really the previous episode's error, him repeating the same words; it's all too on the nose). Sheridan won't see the station scuttled, but the rest of the cast will. After they've had the chance to get one last look around, JMS himself walks onto the set and shuts off the lights, an indulgence I will certainly accord him. And though it's technically anticlimactic to see the station destroyed just because it's outgrown its usefulness, when prophecies always led us to believe it would be the work of its enemies, it's definitely a great pay-off to the series, a huge, beautiful explosion with grand music, as every type of ship in the Alliance moves away. Gorgeous and moving.

Elsewhere, Sheridan has disappeared. He's been taken by the First Ones, on the Rim, and it's all very ambiguous, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Some things we're not meant to understand, and I'm glad to see a little of the mystery the Vorlons and Shadows usually brought with them back in the series. Sheridan's place as a mythical figure is thus assured - feels a lot like the end of the Lord of the Rings - and it mirrors Sinclair's own disappearance. I suppose in another reality, this is where Sinclair would have gone back to become Valen, I'm not sure. It's lovely how Ivanova gets the final speech, and it's a great summation, lovely to have her in the finale at all, thanks to really having been shot as part of Season 4. Between the opening scenes and the final montage, we get a sense of what's happened to these characters in the intervening years, and where they're going next. Ivanova has the success she always wanted and embarks on a new adventure as leader of the Rangers after becoming as pointless as her old station in Earthforce, and yet, she still has a thought for Marcus when absent friends are toasted. Vir has grown more hair and best of all, more grace, though Centauri decadence continues to impede his Empire's progress as evidenced by what can only be called sexual addiction. Maybe Zack can keep him in line (uhm, ok?). Garibaldi is, ironically, the best off, with a thriving business as a happy family. Franklin, his best friend after Sinclair was gone, is merely adjunct to this, but I'm not sure what else they could have done with the character. In these finale moments, where life continues, the episode shrugs off its funereal tone and allows itself a funky curtain call for the crew, and again, it's an indulgence we should permit. Babylon 5 isn't technically over (Crusade and some TV movies still to come), but its 5-year saga is, and it could hardly end on a more emotional and epic note.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Makes it all worth it. It's big, it's powerful, and it just hits all the right notes.


Anonymous said...

The important thing, after all of this, is that we remember Boron.

It's the fifth element! No wonder psychics mention it all the time.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Very Epic. I mentioned at the start of this that Bab5 was not a show I watched. In fact I recall saying back then it was a cheap Trek knock-off.
I am pleased that you have proved me wrong.

Of course since then I have grown to respect JMS as a writer and even discovered some writing he had done before this that I admired, but never knew was him.

Great job on this. Really.

You have inspired me to do something similar over at my blog, but I just need to find the right show to do it with. oh. and the time to do it.

So what is next? Doctor Who RPG stats for all the characters and races? Or maybe Traveller?

Anonymous said...

Sheridan smiling and saying "well wouldja look at that" in his final moments is so perfect for him: the man can gaze upon the infinite, and rather than be struck silent by its majesty, he can delight in it.

I have to ding JMS for two things. One is the blowing up of B5 -- logistically it doesn't make sense to blow it up for being a navigational hazard, because a zillion shards and fragments would only make the problem worse (whereas an easy-to-spot single object in space would be super easy to navigate around).

The other thing is an anecdote about the filming of a scene in Delenn's / Sheridan's room. When they were setting up the shot, the camera guy called JMS over to the camera, at which point JMS announced that things had to stay exactly in the place they were in, because it so happened that a mirror was catching the intersection of a couple window lattices, in other words a cross. I don't know which I like less: the fact that JMS was using serendipity to throw heavy-handed symbolism into a scene, or the notion that there is anything Jesus-like about Sheridan. (Jesus was the perfect sacrifice because he was the only one of us who never sinned. Sheridan was a fair-minded soldier, commander, and diplomat who made personal sacrifices but also lived long enough to see his son grow to manhood and his alliance thrive.) If they were to do any symbolism here, I'd recommend the Fiver from "Watership Down", who lived long enough to see his descendants as numerous as the stars.

I shouldn't complain, though. To do so would dishonor the memory of Brony, who taught us that friendship is techno-magic.

Siskoid said...

Tim: Well, it's not over til it's over. I still have 4 TV movies and the Crusade spin-off. After that, it's back to Doctor Who to cover Season 8. After that? Still mulling things over. As for squeezing RPG-related posts out of it, I'll do my best. I wasn't really thinking in those terms, but there's a certain demand for it (I created a monster).

And do you mean to tell me you watched along these last 100some days? Wow, that's great. Happy you found something to like.

For my own sanity, I think I need my next daily project not to require 45 minutes of obligatory watching a day, though things like Battlestar Galactica (if only that didn't mean I'd have to watch the 1980 series) and Space 1999 are on my radar. The proposed animated DC Universe, which is mostly in 22-minute episodes beckons, but I'm not sure how I'd handle those, or if I even want to at this point... Anyway, I've got about a month to figure it out.

Anonymous said...

Do Five Second Films.

LiamKav said...

I've tried to keep along as well as I can, and I now really appreciate your efforts in doing this, Trek etc. It's surprisingly hard dedicating yourself to 42 minutes of one TV show every single night, without pause. So if you were going to do something else, I'd be all for the DC Animated Universe, or at least the big hitters (Batman:TAS, Superman:TAS, Redesigned Batman:TAS, Justlice League, Justice League Unlimited.)

Aside from the points Anon#2 makes up there regarding the destruction of the station, you'd think there'd be a hell of a lot of historic interest in preserving the place that was the foundation of the Interstellar Alliance, as well as the HQ of the final fight against the Shadows. I'm pretty sure we haven't nuked all those poppy fields because they were a "hazard to navigation".

- Garibaldi and Sheridan's relationship doesn't quite work, as during season 5 they seemed to be fine with each other. Consequences of being filmed at the end of season 4, I guess.

- Likewise, I'm estatic to see Ivanova, but it does reinforce the whole thing about Lochley being a second-rate substitute. THESE are the people who fought in the Shadow War. THESE are the people who liberated Earth. THESE are the heroes.

- The Ranger couldn't deliver Zach's message just because he was somewhere else? Really? Good job, all powerful army of ninjas. Besides, would it have killed them to just send emails?

- I think the scene with Vir having naughty fun time is to show that the darkness has gone from Centauri Prime now. He can get up to naughty emperor-type things. Likewise, once something serious comes up he's all business.

- Poor Lyta. Again forgotten.

Bits of this episode that get me:

- The music. Oh god, the music. I believe it gets played during the salute scene in the prior episode, too. It's amazing.

- Sheridan and Delenn's goodbye, and the whole "Sunday Drive" thing. It could have easily been mawkish, and maybe it is a little, but it's allowed.

- The station blowing up. Granted, it makes no sense, but I can ignore all that because the whole scene is beautiful.

- Those end credits. Again, the music, but the whole "this is the first time you saw them, and this is the last" idea was great, and showed the history of the characters and the show.

- The shot at the end where Delenn is watching the sun, and Sheridan leans in to frame. Oh god, that shot. I'm almost tearing up just thinking about it.

This, "All Good Things" ("I should have done this a long time ago) and the Cheers finale also do similar things to me. Both this and AGT do the impressive trick of actually making proceeding episodes better in hindsight.

Madeley said...

I’ve never really been the kind of person to blubber at tv or film (before Number 1 Son was born, anyway. Since then I’ve hilariously broken down at the drop of a hat, including for the entire first half of Man of Steel while in the cinema, which I assume was even more awkward for the poor bugger sitting next to me). Of the very few things to set me off, Sleeping in Light was one of them.

It was pretty cool to see Cradok in the comments yesterday also recall that the British broadcast was during New Year 1999. I taped the episode (TAPES REMEMBER THEM?), spending New Year’s Eve with the two guys who remain my very best friends to this day. So I watched the finale the next day still slightly the worse for drink.

It’s not surprising how emotionally effecting it was from the point of view of someone who’d followed the show for a number of years and was that invested in the characters and the story. I recall reading somewhere online (I forget where) that the Babylon 5 ending was the perfect example of the advantages of an episodic medium with a strict story arc, allowing characters and situations to develop over time. But of course it also shows something that very few other similar shows would be able to achieve, which is to stick the landing and offer a satisfying ending (for my money, and for completely different reasons and in an utterly different tone, the only other show to manage a similar feat for me is The Shield).

Here’s a question though: Is the emotional punch only effective for fans, for people who have watched the show over a long time, with that investment already? Turns out, no. Because my sister happened to watch Sleeping in Light with me, having never seen a single episode of B5 before, and having little interest in SF, and she was blubbering right alongside me. JMS has his faults, but he is actually pretty good at what he does and when he nails it, he REALLY nails it.

Goodbye, Babylon 5. There will never be another. And quite right too.

Siskoid said...

Liam: Don't forget Batman Beyond, AKA the one I own now but have never watched. I think that would be the whole point of sitting through all that again. (My twisted nature also would have me go completely INSANE and write-up all DC animation ever, from the Fleisher Superman cartoons, through the 60s, Super-Friends, etc. But just having written that down has cured me of the notion, I think.)

On Lochley and Lyta... It makes me think something happened to these characters and that they're no longer alive 20 years later. Lochley was a part of Crusade, a story never finished, so I guess she died or was lost. It seems Lyta did succeed in taking down the PsiCorps, but maybe paid the ultimate price or else "transcended" (if it's in some novel, then I wouldn't know). Either way, I think if Zack had been at the dinner, his toast would have gone to her.

On blowing up the station... If there's something I learned from doing New Who reviews, it's that some things don't make logical sense, but do make EMOTIONAL sense. The destruction of B5, though the mechanics of it are, for me as well, a cheat, does make sense emotionally. It's symbolic rather than an actual event.

Blubber on, friends.

LiamKav said...

Oh yeah, Batman Beyond. I do like that show (It's Spider-Man being Batman, which is a great idea), and it's only two seasons and a movie. I'd probably slot it in between the "Gotham Knights" Batman season and Justice League.

Just thought of another finale that made me cry... the 10th Doctor regenerating. Yes, the goodbyes went on for ages, and the story before wasn't great. But play that music and have someone say "I don't want to go" and I fall to pieces.

Since then I’ve hilariously broken down at the drop of a hat, including for the entire first half of Man of Steel while in the cinema, which I assume was even more awkward for the poor bugger sitting next to me)

Man of Steel also wanted to make me cry, but for very different reasons. Angry reasons, mostly. Although that's an idea for a mini-project, Siskoid? Maybe trying into your "Reign of the Supermen", howsabout reviews of all the DC theatrical movies? Maybe just one a week rather than daily.

Ryan Lohner said...

JMS teared up numerous times while writing this script, and after it was sent out the entire cast and crew came up with tears in their eyes to shake his hand and/or hug him. And then he had to keep his own emotions under control during the week of filming, on his first ever job as a director, knowing that if he broke down everyone else would too, and they would never get their momentum back.

He'd planned from the very start to have a cameo as the guy who turned the lights off for the last time, and that emotion in his eyes is not acting at all. He's since had another onscreen appearance in Thor as the guy who first discovers Mjolnir, and here is a word for word transcript of what went through my head watching that scene for the first time. "Wait, is, it can't be...but it looks so much like him...I've got to look this up when I get home."

On his very first shot as a director, JMS forgot to say "Action," and spent a few seconds wondering why no one was moving until his AD (Doug Wise, of The Fall of Centauri Prime) reminded him of that little detail. I like to think that lightened the mood a little.

Bruce Boxleitner was a major trooper for his last scene, where he had to stare straight into an extremely powerful light several times before the shot got in the can (JMS kept telling him they could do it in post, but he insisted that wouldn't look real enough).

For the final walk off the station, all the actors were told to simply do whatever they felt was right for the characters. Hence Vir gives his wave, Zack looks around with strong emotion, Franklin pats Garibaldi's shoulder, and Garibaldi swipes a shot glass.

The one bit added to the episode from when it was shot at the end of season 4 was the freezeframe shots of the whole crew. After they all had their own cameos in Objects at Rest, JMS decided to give people a way to pick out who was who.

The most powerful part for me is easily the final looks at the characters contrasting where they started and ended. Like I said at the beginning, at the time this show was made you just didn't see this kind of character development on TV, and this little section is a perfect homage to how well it can work and a call to other shows to do it. And look at the state of TV now, with long-reaching story arcs as far as the eye can see.

There are two bits in the episode that make it harder to watch now. Zack limping on his prosthetic leg, after Jeff Conaway ended up in a wheelchair (and not quite making it 20 years after the show's end) due to his painkiller addiction. And that dinner party, which was recreated with several cast and crew members to send off the dying Andreas Katsulas.

Speaking of, Richard Biggs came up to JMS to ask why Franklin didn't get any kind of big final scene, when G'Kar got two. JMS replied that he saw Franklin as the kind of person who would just disappear one day without warning, while G'Kar would make a big production out of it. Now compare that to the way both actors actually died. Ouch.

At the end of the script volumes, JMS states that he had an ulterior motive to publishing them, and his stories about them: to show any aspiring storytellers out there exactly what they may be getting into, both the high points and the low. He ends by saying he looks forward to seeing what we come up with. And that was certainly the case for me. I recently landed a contract to publish my first novel, a sci-fi story called The Place Beyond, which should be coming out within the next couple years, and which B5 was a huge influence on. And for that, I truly can't thank him enough.

Anonymous said...

I would've been happy with blowing up B5; I object only to the unreasonable reason for doing it. A better idea (after 20 seconds of thought): B5 had fallen into disuse and disrepair, and the Alliance wanted to give it a proper send-off rather than watch it slowly fall apart. That would be symbolic as well as practical, where B5 had completed its purpose.

Siskoid said...

Liam: Believe it or not, I've thought of doing "All DC live action" from the old serials I could find to the latest crop of shows. Not that I have complete access too all of that, and it would mean watching things like Superboy and Smallville.

If we're talking finales that made me cry, there are a great many because I'm a big crybaby. The 11th Doctor's regen was more affecting than 10's, though the full episodes preceding both were rubbish. Off the top of my head, I can't contain my grief with Chuck, TNG, BSG, the Larry Sanders Show, Coupling, probably lots more.

Siskoid said...

Wow Ryan, keep us in the loop on that novel!

Anonymous said...

Been waiting to post this until it wouldn't spoil anything. Enjoy B5 in song form, far funnier than any of the "humor" JMS tried to insert into the series

Siskoid said...

Hahaha, that's great! B5NL FTW

Green Luthor said...

The "navigation hazard" reasoning may not make much sense, but as a way to close out the show, it works pretty well. (Plus, I can't even hear the score from that scene without welling up, so... well done, JMS.) And, really, if that's the worst problem with the episode, I'd say it did pretty good.

And congratulations to Ryan Lohner! I've also read the writeups you did on the Agony Booth, so it's nice to see you make good, and I hope the book does well.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Yes! I read every single post. I didn't always have something to say because I have no background in B5 to be honest.

But I enjoyed every bit.

I was wondering if you were watching every day.

The DC Animated universe, all the way back to Fleischer, would take you a long time.

Cradok said...

I could talk about the fourth and final question that's asked, about the snazzy new White Star, the stories about how Pat Tallman and Jason Carter on an episode they don't even appear in, or any of a hundred other things about the episode.

But instead, I'll just listen to the soundtrack and sob to myself a bit.

LiamKav said...

Regarding your actual review:

" Some things we're not meant to understand, and I'm glad to see a little of the mystery the Vorlons and Shadows usually brought with them back in the series"

In hindsight, this is why I think season 5 feels a bit empty compared to earlier seasons. Remember back to season 1, when Catherine Sakai found the Walkers at Sigma 957. G'Kar rescued her (to our surprise), and then gave a lovely speech: "They are a mystery, and I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe-- that we have not yet explained everything." There is magic in the universe, unanswered questions. By season 5, a lot of that magic has gone. The universe seems a duller place.

Likewise, the dinner scene reminded me how much I'd missed the bits in seasons 1 and 2 where the command staff would eat together, or they'd be going to a party thrown by one of the ambassadors. Dramatic conversations are fine, and we were told that these guys were friends, but they didn't seem quite as like it in season 5.

LiamKav said...

I always forget it when I do a list of my favourite final episodes, so I thought I'd correct that and also add "Goodbyeee", the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth to All Good Things, Sleeping in Light and One for the Road.

LiamKav said...

Okay, I've just rewatched it, wondering if it would affect me the same way it did all those years ago, especially as I held it together during Objects at Rest.

No. No, I didn't hold it together.

Good god what a beautiful episode. There are so many minutes that get to me, some of which I said above, but the toasts to abscent friends, the scene of Sheridan and Delenn saying goodbye, Sheridan's actual death, everyone saying goodbye to the station, and especially (especially) that shot at the end where Delenn is looking at the sunrise and Sheridan leans in next to her.

Over the course of the series I grew to really love Christopher Franke's music, and it made me more and more annoyed that the Trek composers were forced to do the bland wallpaper music that was apparently forced upon them. There are 3 music queues in particular that are my personal favourites... The season 3 title sequence music, the piece that plays when Sheridan and Lorien are talking at the end of "Whatever happened to Mr Garibaldi", and the music that plays over the stations destruction in this episode.

Still, one nitpick... Sheridan was president for 15 years? And was succeeded by his wife? I'm guessing that they don't have term limites in the IA. Or rules against nepotism.

Still, that music, those end credits... I'm not sure I can bring myself to watch Call to Arms or Crusade. I don't want to spoil the memories of the show ending here.

LiamKav said...

You say that the destruction is a cheat, because phophecies have always led us to believe it would be it's enemies that destroyed it. I think the series was actually quite clever, here. Sinclair sees the destruction all the way back in Signs and Portents, and it's the same as we see here... a single shuttle leaving, followed by an explosion (on the Lurker's Guide JMS says that "who is on the shuttle is?" is "an excellent question". I guess the answer is either "JMS himself", or "the command staff", depending on who left when). Later episodes juxtapose that destruction with other flash fowards, like in War Without End. But it was always standalone. The station did end in fire.

It's the same misdirection that's been in the opening titles since the beginning... Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. And why was that? Because it succeeded. It brought the galaxy together. There was never another, because there was no need for another.

Finally, why is Zack dressed like an original series Romulan in his final scene with Vir?

LiamKav said...

Something else I just noticed about the credits (sorry, just watched the end of the episode again. Still got to me): no-one has any titles. It's not "Security Chief Zack Allen", or "Commander/General Susan Ivanova", or even "Dr Richard Franklin". It's just "Richard Franklin", "Susan Ivanova", and "John Sheridan". At the end, it's not about their roles... it's about them as people.

I watched the deleted scenes. One of them happens when Sheridan is walking around the deserted station. He picks up some rubbish off of the floor and puts it in the bin. Apparently, JMS wrote something on that piece of paper to get a secret onto the show. Him and Boxleitner have never said what it is.

There is one part of the deleted scenes I wish they could have kept: we pan more around Ivanova's office, and in addition to her Starfury helmet being on display (which implies she never gets to use it any more), hanging in the middle of the wall we see that she has Marcus's pike.

Siskoid said...

No you're right, not a cheat in that sense. I can't even call it an anticlimax, it's just a different kind of climax.


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