Babylon 5 #62: War Without End (Part 2)

"The war is never completely won. There are always new battles to be fought against the darkness. Only the names change."
IN THIS ONE... Sheridan spends time in the future. Babylon 4 is taken back in time. The truth of the One and Valen is revealed.

REVIEW: A belated changing of the guard from Sinclair to Sheridan (neatly, by way of Delenn) is only one of several reasons to watch this episode. Ultimately though, it is about interpretation, a theme that dogs the viewer's heels throughout, and perhaps some of the characters' too. Case in point, Sheridan's visit to the future. NOT a future undone like the 8-days-to-destruction scenario the crew is trying to prevent, but what appears to be, give or take, the actual future. It seems to be JMS' solution for at once keeping to "one season, on year" and yet paying off long-term destinies like Londo and G'Kar's mutual destruction. But because we're never given the full picture, what we think we know is simply one interpretation. So if initially, Emperor Londo seems antagonistic, he is later revealed to the be possessed by an evil entity that he can temporarily obliterate with alcohol. His vice becomes an advantage. And his death at G'Kar's hands is thus a mercy from a friend. The only reason G'Kar gets choked too - as per Londo's vision, which was all we had before - is that the entity regains control and attacks. In the end, as prophesied, Vir becomes emperor of a fallen Republic. This is all extremely clever. Not only does it give you what you want, but it subverts expectations as well. If we're flashing forward to the end, we can't exactly scream "spoilers!" because new mysteries are laid in - just how will we get to this point? This is part of the epic style, throwing us into the middle of things before going backwards, knowing more than we should, the joy in seeing it unfold. The show's mission statement is imbedded in this episode: You only THINK you know what will happen.

The big bombshell is, of course, that Delenn and Sheridan will have a son in the future. It's an element that gives the audience what it wants because we already expect the two of them to get together - Sheridan will have kissed her before she'll have kissed him, oh time travel! - but raises the stakes on it. And I think we somehow knew any relationship between them would eventually merge human and Minbari souls in some symbolic, next-step-for-the-universe way. Though the future seems set in stone (even if we keep being told it isn't), older Delenn still tries to warn Sheridan not to go to Z'ha'dum. Kosh has said he would die there, but given the place's connection to his wife, is she trying to prevent some other kind of pain? Interpretation is a bitch. Delenn's own flash-forward, as part of the same temporal distortions we saw in Babylon Squared, is more cryptic. She's in their shared quarters and someone surprising comes to the door? Another mystery laid in, and I no longer dare interpret what I'm seeing.

Meanwhile (if that term can apply), there's lots of running around on Babylon 4 so it can be sent to the far past. Interpretation is still a theme because in the last act, it starts showing us scenes we've experienced before, pulled right out of B-Squared. Except now we have a second point of view available, and know that behind the scenes, Ivanova, Marcus, etc. are causing all the mishaps. The old footage meshes well with the new, and it's even a little fun to hear the old B5 theme when the two stories cross into one another for the first time. The theme is also supported by the confusion with the blue spacesuit, with three characters wearing the thing before the end, and those three revealed to be "the One". Yes, it's a bit of a continuity implant to cover the fact Sinclair was replaced (but no worse than his getting older from time distortions so he can look at gray as he did in the B-Squared sequences), but aside from requiring lots of exposition, it works very well. Not only is this story about past, present and future, each idea represented by one of the three, but it connects to the show's central lesson that together we can achieve things no one person can. So B5 does not have one central figure who changes the universe, but a continuity of heroes working towards the same goal, each supported by people and events around them. The whole is stronger than its parts, and that whole is temporal as well as spatial.

Finally, Sinclair's circle is closed when he goes back in time and (REVEAL!) he becomes Valen, the founder of modern Minbari society. Not a great shock, because Ivanova and Marcus have a completely gratuitous conversation about the "Minbari not born of Minbari" earlier on. When you're in a time travel episode that's also a send-off for a major character, well, any viewer can do the math. I still wasn't expecting the return of the Triluminary device though, or Sinclair being physically turned into a Minbari. That this explains why human and Minbari souls started to merge into the same omni-soul 1000 years ago is wondrous. His was the first to connect our species' souls, and from them on, a door was open. I'm used to talking about B5 as an epic, but it's real a grand myth, isn't it? One that supports the ethos and beliefs of "foundationalism" as described by Doc Franklin. The prophecies are memories of the future set down, after all.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: It's as if The Trouble with Tribbles had been made as if it was always going to include, in the margins, the events of Trials and Tribble-ations (only a few months away from broadcast).

REWATCHABILITY: High - A roadmap to the show's past and future. This one's huge. HUGE!


Anonymous said...

Time travel done really well -- especially considering the refactoring that had to be done -- and a terrific story.

I do have a gripe, though, and that's with JMS's fetish for soliloquy; one character monologues while everyone else just stands there and blinks occasionally. In this episode I am of course referring to Mollari's imperial ramblings, which I wouldn't object to EXCEPT that the theme was, "you don't have a second to spare, run as fast as you can to safety! Now sit still and quietly listen as I drunkenly chew the scenery." Do ya even read what you write, JMS?

Ryan Lohner said...

The reveal that Sinclair as Valen is the one big thing I always point to as what you can pull off when you plan ahead. In fact, it's kind of a shame that the Sixth Sense-esque montage of all the foreshadowing can't include the very first piece of it as Sinclair didn't see it: in The Gathering, Kosh greets who he thinks is Sinclair with "En'Til'Za Valen." That's right, the twist was out there in plain sight since day one.

JMS has called this two-parter the most difficult writing task of the whole show, and boy, do I believe it. Having to deal with all the changes real life had forced on the show while still completely playing fair with everything we'd seen in Babylon Squared and also setting up big reveals for the future...I have no idea how he did it. In particular, the "three are the One" makes perfect sense with everything we've seen before, and may even be quite a bit richer than the original plan, despite being made up on the spot when he got to writing part 2. Yet there's also enough here that was planned out ahead that he could improvise like this and still make it work.

In fact, it works so well that most people don't notice the major continuity error involved: when Sheridan's stabilizer is first hit, it's left behind while he goes to the future, yet later he has it himself when he comes back. And given JMS' work situation at the time, getting little sleep for years on top of all the duties of running the show, I'm definitely willing to let it go. The same goes for Delenn not wearing red like we saw in Babylon Squared, which they tried to cover by not having her reach for Sinlair's face at all.

Siskoid said...

Anon: There's a Season 1 commentary track where he takes a self-deprecating shot at himself about over-writing scenes, so I guess he does and it doesn't change anything.

Ryan Lohner said...

And one more thing I just remembered: not only does this provide a very good answer for the accuracy of Valen's prophecies, but the move to the middle of the story adds a new wrinkle: our heroes can now no longer rely on them, since Sinlair wasn't around to tell them what happens next. As the story reaches its climax, they've completely lost their safety net and are on their own regarding how everything that's been set up turns out.

Anonymous said...

"Anon: There's a Season 1 commentary track where he takes a self-deprecating shot at himself about over-writing scenes, so I guess he does and it doesn't change anything."

JMS could even have taken the wind out of my sails by simply having Mollari say that their escape route has not been cleared yet, so indulge an old man who may not be long for the world. That would have satisfied me.

Green Luthor said...

The "En'Til'Za Valen" bit wasn't in "The Gathering" originally, actually. It was added later when the pilot was re-edited (when TNT picked it up, I believe), along with other (mostly minor) changes.

LiamKav said...

It's fascinating to imagine this as the series finale. I love SiL, but I also do like the end of here. And then there's the whole Babylon Prime thing which possibly warrents a whole other post (but the idea is that basically there would be two five yeear shows, with the first being about Babylon 5, and then at the end the crew would up on Babylon 4, possibly in the past. Or future. There are some hold overs in the show proper, such as the fact that Babylon 4 is supposed to be better than B5. It has thrusters and stuff. I think the plan was changed pretty soon into season one though, but that means that parts of WWE would presumably have been the original end of the first series, and the other parts the end of the next series. Maybe.)

Anonymous said...

So "En'Til'Za" is Vorlon for "Heads up, you're going to go back in time to become [________] in a couple years". Vorlon vocabulary is weird.

LiamKav said...

Future Delenn to Sheridan: "You told me about this future, but up till now I never really believed..."

That's pretty harsh, Delenn. You were literally on a time-travel mission, you saw Sheridan get "unstuck in time", and yet you spent the last decade and a half saying to your husband "oh, yes John, I believe you travelled into the future. Totally believe. Valen-promise!"

One other thing struck me as I watched Ivanova get corned by the B4 security forces... three of the people attempting to take over B4 are from Earthforce. Wouldn't it have been a hell of a lot easier to just put on their old uniforms? They'd at least have a chance of bluffing their way past those sorts of situations. There's every chance they'd be completely ignored. Was Susan just that desperate to wear her natty Klingon jacket?

LiamKav said...

Another nice touch: Sheridan's leather jacket in the future scenes is sleaveless, like his command jacket in the present. Nice synchronicity. The main obviously loves a gillet.

As much as I love this episode, I really don't buy the whole aging thing. "The first time we went through the distortion field we did so unaffected and didn't suffer any apparent effects, so naturally I assumed if we did the same thing again it would be really bad and possibly cause me to age if we went back in time to take the station further back in time but accidently came forward in time while doing so." "Zathras thinks that makes sense". Wha?

(There's also a pretty big time skip. They get thrown forward in time, then shortly after the past Sinclair and Garibaldi turn up. In Babylon Squared, we had the 3 hours for the initial Starfury pilot to get to B4, then another 3 hours while his 'fury headed back, then another 3 hours while the rescue effort headed out. That's 9 hours during which Zathras wanders around looking for some tools.

Technical issues: For some reasons, all the clips from "Babylon Squared" are cropped and zoomed, even if they don't have any SFX. It slightly ruins the seamless feel the original version of WWE had. (For example, we have the new shot of Zathras being shoved across the central corridor by the security guards. Shortly after we have Krantz escorting Garibaldi and Sinclair across the same corrider in a shot from Babylon Squared. Previously the shots looked extrememly similar, so it was hard to tell what was new and what was old. That effect is slightly lost with the cropping of the old footage.)

Another techical issue which has probably been around for ages but is really obviousl with all the dark scenes in this episode... there's some really horrible vignetting on the camera. All the scenes with Sheridan and Delenn in their cell, for instance. It makes things look really cheap.

Crysalis technical: It's never completely clearly seen (or ever stated), but the inner part of the triluminary contains part of an Earthforce link. Now, I'm not sure where Sinclair learned how to convert a walkie-talkie into a device that can change someone's species but maybe Zathras helped.

And sort of technical: I appreciate that they changed the design of the Minbari capital ships of 1,000 years ago. Pity the fighters look exactly the same. Seriously, Minbari, hire some new designers. Apple would have released 500 new versions in the same period of time.


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