Babylon 5 #56: Ceremonies of Light and Dark

"Always said I had a lot of repressed anger... I'm not repressed anymore."
IN THIS ONE... Delenn is taken hostage by Nightwatch psychopaths, and a Minbari rebirth ceremony ends with the introduction of new B5 uniforms.

REVIEW: Just when I thought we were rid of the Nightwatch, here they are again. And I freaking HATE THEM. How can they be so two-dimensional when the rest of the show is so rich and complex? One psychotic, I can believe, but that every one else just stands there while he sings little songs about dismembering Minbari kills my suspension of disbelief, DEAD. Maybe it's a directing problem. The scene might have played better if it was just between the leader with the nasty scar (Boggs) and the singer-torturer. But then "the Sniper" (Nightwatch guys don't deserve names, apparently) is always losing his temper and shooting people he shouldn't, an artificial and illogical engine of jeopardy. Sometimes JMS just wants to make his point and won't let character psychology get in the way (which is what I hate about a lot of his comics work). Delenn's attack on the Sniper's alone-ness is well taken (and part of the show's theme that the collective is more than the sum of its parts), but since everyone else in Nightwatch has a hive mentality, the point is weakened.

Thankfully, the episode isn't really about this action plot. Much more watchable is Delenn's rebirth ceremony. It never really happens and a lot of characters refuse her invitation (including Marcus who is just strident with loathsome self-pity, gross), but when she's too wounded to proceed, the Earthforce Four go to her, each with a secret confession and their uniforms, something important to them they willingly give up, following Sheridan in his gesture. These last few minutes of the episode would redeem almost anything that had failed in the previous ones, each confession as poignant as the next. Sheridan's love (well, "care" for Delenn). Garibaldi's wavering voice as he admits his fear of losing control. Ivanova's feelings for Talia confirmed. Doc Franklin's simple "first step", no details required. And then her gift of new - AND MUCH COOLER - uniforms to the group, having anticipated what they would give up. The prospect of of this ceremony puts several other characters in a place of turmoil. Jury's out if Marcus will let go of his burden of guilt for having survived a Shadow attack where everyone he loved did not, but it's Lennier who keeps my interest most. We've never seen him so edgy and he confesses he is in love with Delenn even if he's accepted she is not his to have. He carries on, just as he continues to do her will after she is taken hostage because that is all he can do. Who would have thought this meekest of characters would repress so much rage, but you see it in his burning, resigned eyes.

Of the subplots, the strongest is without a doubt Londo's, who forces Lord Refa into a corner with a fun threat of poison (a sentimental gesture, he says). When Londo broke off ties with Morden and the Shadows, they just went running to Refa whose personal ambitions outstrip Londo's, which doesn't help anything. Refa is terribly foolish to allow the Shadows to dictate the Republic's strategy, and Londo is right across the board about how Centauri forces (and alliances!) are thinning out, leaving the homeworld poorly defended. Refa is where Londo was a season ago, but lacks the conscience that would allow him to ever step back. Poison, conscience... they can serve the same purpose. From the logical necessity to reset the station's passwords in the wake of its declaration of independence is born a much lamer subplot. The reboot awakens a silly - by which I mean to say STUPID - bitchy A.I. with the personality of a disappointed father, right down its talking about "your mother and I". Annoying comedy and nothing more.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Remember when TOS had badly programmed computers who flirted with Captain Kirk? Yeah, I didn't like that either.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - It's amazing how that ending and the plot thread that accompanied it elevated the episode to a point where the stupid comedy and the mustache-twirling villains couldn't sink it below Medium-High.


Anonymous said...

The new uniforms serve a very important symbolic purpose, and good for them.

... and yet it's times like this that Babylon 5 could really, really benefit from Garak. I can't put my finger on why the uniforms don't work for me, but it's somewhere around that triangle: I feel like the lines don't lead anywhere, the triangle becomes the focus, and it shouldn't. Garak would be able to explain it better, and propose a solution.

Come to think of it, is there any problem in this episode that Garak couldn't have fixed?

LiamKav said...

It reminds me slightly of the Star Trek movie uniforms, where they look good and dashing, but Meyer thought that all that red looked a bit funny on camera and so he had the characters constantly open the flap so that the white would break it up. These have that block of colour built in.

I do like them. I agree that there are a couple of issues that I also can't explain, but I think they look much better than the EA uniforms. I'm also fond of the sleaveless jacket that Sheridan and Ivanova start wearing when they command the White Star/want to look serious. For a design that was obviously pitched as "part Earthforce, part Rangers, part general Minbari, and also should be more comfortable than the old uniforms and also look cool" it's a pretty good effort (and apparently they were much more comfortable to wear.)

My main issue is that only the main 4 command staff get to wear them. Corwin and everyone else just get dress-down Friday all year round. This gets really odd towards the end of the series for reasons I'll talk about then.

Your screenshot also shows one other change... the B5 logo in C&C. Gone is the olive-branch, in comes the sword.

Siskoid said...

Yes, and on a table. I forgot to mention it. It seems a little strange that with everything going on, they had time to rebrand the whole station.

Anonymous said...

Slide the triangle slightly down and to the right, so that you've got vertical and horizontal lines meeting on the shoulder, with the triangle floating a bit away. That way the lines are still strong and you still get the triangle.

Heh, I just realized that the lines and the triangle look like a gallows. Symbolism?

Speaking of symbolism, I must lament the limited symbolic vocabulary in TV shows. Let's take Nightwatch. Nazis are bad, therefore the only way to make the Nightwatch bad is to make them Nazis. (Likewise Roy Dotrice a couple episodes back, behaving like a caricature of the much underrated Neville Chamberlain.) Even Theo S. Niper's little song about killing Minbari harkens back to Hitlerjugend songs about Jew-killing. It's possible for the bad guy to not be Hitler and the good guy to not be Jesus -- in fact most guys are neither, by a ratio of n-2 : 2.

Ryan Lohner said...

Boggs is played by Don Stroud, who funnily enough had earlier played an alien in TKO. And that scar of his I mentioned back then is on full display here, which actually got some fans complaining that it looked fake and didn't move right. Boy, must their faces have been red when JMS set the record straight.

I absolutely agree with the anvilicious Nazi parallels. JMS' justification for this episode in particular was that now that Nightwatch no longer has to worry about putting on a public face, their real ugliness has come to the surface, which is nice on a metaphorical level, but much like Lost often did he forgot to have it make sense on a textual level too.

The AI is voiced by Harlan Ellison, a good friend of JMS despite always coming off every single time I've seen him, even in his own Youtube videos, as a quite unpleasant person to be around. Upon being asked to do the role he naturally asked why, and JMS replied "I need someone who can be really annoying." And then it took him a while to realize why Ellison didn't see that as much of a compliment.

And of course, I love that even with Andrea Thompson gone, he was still able to make a lesbian relationship undeniable text. Contrast Star Trek, which once managed to make what was intended as an allegory for homophobia into "one woman's brave quest for cock in the face of lesbian tyranny," as put it.

Cradok said...

Yeah, when you talked about not liking the Nightwatch members a couple of episodes ago, I knew you'd hate these guys. Nightwatch was supposed to be the story of how easy it is to get sucked into being on the wrong side one small step at a time, and it does it well before this, albeit heavy-handed in places. But then you've got these guys. Utter psychos. You have to ask how these guys even got on the station, let alone into any sort of positions of authority. Poor showing on Garibaldi's part, and everyone else's too.

I do, however, like Marcus, having taken on a roomful of gangsters on his own, being hoisted up one-handed by Lennier and told he's simply outclassed. This comes up again.

LiamKav said...

"And of course, I love that even with Andrea Thompson gone, he was still able to make a lesbian relationship undeniable text."

If there relationship was text, then it was text written in a pretty tiny font. Susan hands Talia a tissue in one episode. She had a drink with her in another. Talia stays over at Susan's, and we have a scene where Talia reaches out across an empty bed. And here, she says that she "loved her". My wife has friends who she has shared a bed with. She would probably say that she loved them if they ever died. Doesn't mean that she is gay for them. You are right, it is MUCH better than anything Trek ever did, but it's still only the faintest of motions towards equality. (And I don't think Marcus helps. In a more enlightened enviroment, we would just realise that Ivanova is bi and move on. But considering how cagey they are about Talia compared to how much more open they are with the Marcus "relationship", it doesn't come off well.)

"Yes, and on a table. I forgot to mention it. It seems a little strange that with everything going on, they had time to rebrand the whole station."

Half jokingly, but if you've just gone independent then I imagine that branding is very important. If nothing else, think of all the new merchanside they can sell! They're gonna need new revenue streams, after all. Just be thankful it wasn't a 50 million pound rebranding initiative that involved market research to actualise the core strengths of the brand and deliver a graphic themespace regarding their penetration into blue sky thinking areas.

Strangely enough, they never get rid of the EA logos on the top wings of the Starfuries. The only exception to this is during "Thirdspace", where Ivanova has the new B5 sword-and-shield logo on her Starfury in the place where the EA logo normally went.

Green Luthor said...

On the plus side, I'm pretty sure this is the last time Night Watch is ever seen or heard from (not sure if that constitutes a spoiler or not).

It's probably worth mentioning also that the rebirth ceremony was first mentioned back in "The Parliament of Dreams" in season one; according to JMS, he mentioned it there specifically to foreshadow it being used here. (He then threw in that "it can also serve as a marriage ceremony" bit so that everyone would figure that was the point and concentrate on that, when he had no intention on ever following up on that part of it, even if Sinclair had stayed.)

Siskoid said...

Liam: If she's bi, then there's no reason for him to move on, is there? That she doesn't like him would be though.

But I agree with you that if we didn't have access to behind the scenes information, that line would not constitute confirmation. It could easily be read as being her acceptance of at least one telepath despite her bias. JMS cheated a lot of his subtext by making behind the scenes notes even as the show went on.

Rebranding would make more sense if the B5 logo was Earthforce. It isn't. It's a specific logo for the station which is neutral ground. And the new, Mirror Universe logo feels far less "neutral" than the olive branch. Then didn't break from B5, so why screw with its logo?

OTL: I don't feel spoiled so much as relieved, honestly.

LiamKav said...

It's hard to say more without spoiling stuff, but Ivanova is prety much bi. (I think JMS once said that she doesn't consider herself anything and that she just loves/sleeps with who she loves/wants to sleep with, which is nice a forward-looking and all that, but if we're calling a spade a spade, then she's bisexual. Except that the posibility of her having a relationship with Marcus spoken much more openly than anything that was ever said with Talia.)

Siskoid said...

I don't know what you're referring to and don't want to, obviously, but notice how often a point is made by writing "JMS said"? That's what I mean about his cheating subtext.

LiamKav said...

Indeed. In some ways it's impressive how much he managed to tap into the burgeoning internet. On the other hand, it's a bit annoying when you have to get the writers notes for every episode to clear things up.

Ryan Lohner said...

Well, he did think he would have three more years to build the relationship at the point Thompson left. And even then he made the point as clear as possible without rushing it with Talia reaching for the empty side of Ivanova's bed.

Siskoid said...

That isn't exactly the definition of "as clear as possible", but I don't know what television censor norms were back then.

LiamKav said...

We're only a handful of years away from Dax snogging her ex-wife on DS9, but there might also be a difference between what a syndicated and a network show could get away with.

Even then, lots of friends will share a bed. Especially if there's only one bed available and it's a double bed. I know that's not what they were going for, but the fact that you can argue it does mean it's not as clear as it could be (possibly because they had to be, I dunno.)

Anonymous said...

Watch "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" some time, with Charlie and his many many grandparents all in bed together. My god, it's like a scene from a filthy Parisian porn house.

Exaggerating to make a point: sleeping together, in the literal sense, for sure means trust but does not necessarily mean anything past that. Now Ivanova and Talia? Only my fanfiction knows for sure.

Siskoid said...

To be fair, we're talking about military quarters, unlikely to have a guest room. She could have slept on the couch though. Is there a couch?

LiamKav said...

Franklin makes a comment about having a spare "cot", implying that that's not normal. I'm not sure if that's a military or American term (in the UK, cots are what babies sleep in).

In any event, if I was staying at a friends and there was a choice between sleeping on a couch or sharing a double bed, I'd probably take the bed. As would several other people I know. You're going to be wearing clothes... sharing a bed does not automatically equal sexy fun time. Maybe if Talia had been implied to have been naked in that scene, it might have helped more (and no, I'm not being a dirty pervert).

(How comes we're talking about this much more here than on "Divided Loyalties"? I want to go back to Tailoring with Garek.)

Siskoid said...

In North America, a cot is a collapsable one person bed such as those used by the military and the boyscouts. We think you've very strange to put your babies in those. And bad parents.

LiamKav said...

I've checked, and apparently "crib" is the US equivalent.

Watching this episode, I'm struck by something that I never felt before... originally, Lennier's talk about how his love for Delenn is "pure" made me think it was a higher love. Now, it comes across as nice guy syndrome. Especially is "not what you would define as 'love'" comment. "My love for Delenn is pure, and she will never see that because I will make no effort to get her attention. I will merely stand by her side and be good and nice and quietly seeth that she's attracted to someone who challenges her mentally and emotionally". It's the "we are more evolved than you" bullshit that Minbari (and Vulcans) tend towards.

I don't know if that's JMS wants us to believe Lennier, or think he's talking out of his arse, but considering some stuff that comes up later with other characters, I'm leaning towards the former.


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