Babylon 5 #63: Walkabout

"And what guarantee will you give me that the cruiser will not open fire on a Centauri vessel as it approaches Babylon 5, hmmm?" "The same guarantee I gave you when I said that none of the other Narns would break into your room in the middle of the night and slit your throat." "Mr. Garibaldi, you have never given me that promise." "You're right. Sleep tight."
IN THIS ONE... Sheridan tests whether telepathy is a real weapon against the Shadows. Doc Franklin falls for a jazz singer. And the new Ambassador Kosh is introduced.

REVIEW: JMS is really hitting his stride, incorporating theme even in throwaway details. Just look at that pre-credits sequence. The notion that every culture has its version of the Swedish meatball ties into the theme of interchangeability that is part of the larger theme of the show, that together, we can overcome great obstacles. All our meatballs are the same, but so are our souls. So are our interests. The program has said and shown again and again that isolationism is always the wrong way to go, which is why the Narns refusing to risk their sole warship to test the Shadows' weaknesses is so intolerable. Seeing the big picture, in Babylon 5's terms, is seeing everyone as the same, and Garibaldi appeals to G'Kar's perception of that big picture to put the warship in play, and all the other meatballs besides. "So it begins", indeed. This must be done, according to Garibaldi's figurative book AND G'Kar's literal one. Again, interchangeability.

The other bit in the teaser is Sheridan's gratuitous space walk, gratuitous but for its thematic quality. It prefigures 1) his relatively "naked" sortie in Shadow-threatened space and 2) Doc Franklin's own walkabout. And it's beautiful too, something from under the sea when the Vorlon ship moves to inspect him like some terrible kraken. Doc Franklin's soul-searching quest brings him to beautiful singer Cailyn, a poetically-minded woman who looks at his soul through refracting glass and alcohol haze. He wonder who he is when he's not a doctor, only hoping, I think, he is more than his job. And yet events draw him back to Medlab. Jazz bar mirrors and clinking glasses show us several images of Franklin, and the woman in his arms is a reflection too, junky meeting junky (though a twist reminds us that interpretation is always partial, biased and flawed - he sees himself in her, and does not see her for what she really is). If he HAS met himself on this journey, we have yet to see what he learned from himself, but if he's wrong to equate her with his addiction, the fact that she sees herself as a (spiritual) healer means something. Mirroring, interchangeability, correspondance. We might not have needed two almost-complete musical numbers in the episode, but we did need this character, and those songs add a layer of meaning in and of themselves (they were written by JSM; the lyrics here), the second starting on an ironical note underscoring Kosh II's sense of loss with "I think about the things we lost".

Ah Kosh II. Here's another instance of interchangeability, as a second Ambassador Kosh comes aboard, insisting he be called Kosh too. Unknown if he's just making the deception airtight, if the Vorlons are somehow a group entity, or if they share the Minbari concept of an oversoul, but take it much farther. The theme carries on. The new Kosh is darker and more violent, and wears a sleeker encounter suit that looks cooler, but is also an answer to production difficulties associated with the original suit's bulk. Kosh II is looking for a piece of Kosh that might have survived in others' minds, something Lyta doesn't have, but Sheridan might. Can a Vorlon ever be destroyed if they can transfer souls? How does a Vorlon rejoin the oversoul? And does mixing their souls with those of other species create a ripple effect like that of Valen on the Minbari oversoul/meatball? Wow, it's really getting metaphysical in here.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Unknown if the Star Trek universe has an omnipresent Swedish meatball, but they do have "Breen". You just don't turn your back on one. The notion of someone's soul essence surviving after death for one's people to collect is what the Vulcans call the katra. Deep Space Nine is still two years away from getting its own jazz bar and jazz singer (Vic Fontaine), but he'll recur a heck of a lot more than Cailyn.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Sometimes indulgent, the episode nevertheless features great moments for many characters and is thematically coherent to the point of delight.


Anonymous said...

I found Cailyn next "appearance" very moving.

Ryan Lohner said...

JMS had been wanting to put it Sheridan's spacewalk ever since Severed Dreams, having fallen in love with the image of him alone and vulnerable, yet defiant and in control. This was the first episode where there was room in the script for it, which worked out quite nicely as it allowed for his little moment with the Vorlon ship.

Something I can't believe I never noticed before: Franklin waking up to find Cailyn passed out is quite unnervingly similar to the circumstances of Richard Biggs' own death. On a happier personal note for him, playing out this story actually inspired him to quit a certain bad habit of his own that JMS has refused to specify beyond "it was nothing earth-shattering."

There were clearly some issues remaining in Patricia Tallman's return to the show as she only appeared in two episodes this season, but JMS definitely made the most of them as we get a very clear view of her characterization and her new role on the show, separate from just being the re-replacement for Talia. The whole thing with a piece of Kosh inside Sheridan is the one place where I could maybe sympathize with Star Trek fans claiming this show was ripping it off, though it ends up in a VERY different place that makes it easily forgivable.

And of course I can't go without mentioning Robin Sachs' return as the Narn captain from The Fall of Night. It's the last appearance of this character, but Sachs will return twice more as a third one.

LiamKav said...

It's never said, but if it helps make the reviews clearer, the name of Kosh II is actually Ulkesh.

Anonymous said...

Or "Kosh Vader"; I can never remember "Ulkesh".

Siskoid said...

I'm going to get creative and call him something different every episode, if I can.

LiamKav said...

"There are some that call us... Tim."

LiamKav said...

After the destruction of the second Shadow vessel, Lennier gets a slap on the back while poor old Lyta isn't even acknowledged. I sure hope that this shitty behaviour towards her doesn't continue going forward. She did help them, after all.

Rodimus Kosh may have a better helmet, but I'm not that keen on the cloak. It seems to me to be slightly more obviously a man walking while operating a suit, an issue I never had with Optimus Kosh's suit. Also, if he's supposed to be pretending to be Kosh, shouldn't he maybe not look completely different?

Siskoid said...

Nobody wants to touch the girl bleeding from the eyes.

I guess they'll have tell everyone Kosh just bought a new suit.

LondonKdS said...

It's very unsubtle that Kosh II's suit has "horns" and a red eyelight. When I first saw him, I thought "new Vorlon, new danger" (a dated contemporary British political joke).


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