Babylon 5 #65: And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place

"Maybe this is as much about terror as it is about territory."
IN THIS ONE... Londo sends G'Kar to Narn and gets revenge on Lord Refa. Everyone else tries to cheer Sheridan up.

REVIEW: An episode about the weight of responsibility people take on, responsibility one cannot hide from (as the title reminds us), but nevertheless a burden that can be shared. As ever, Babylon 5 is about how we do come together to withstand and overcome what alone we could not. The two story threads, unconnected as they are, share this theme. In what is ostensibly the character-building subplot, Sheridan is trying to carry the load alone, and is remonstrated by one of three spiritual leaders on the station who have come together, despite philosophical differences, to lend a hand, running information between the station and Babylon 5. And maybe offering a non-denominational service that brings everyone together and highlights the themes. Sheridan's reflex is understandable. He doesn't want to burden anyone else with his problems, especially not Delenn, but the pastor is right, sharing hardship isn't an additive process, it's a subtractive one. Pairing up with Delenn, he gains a second set of eyes that help him see where the Shadows might strike next, someone who calls him on his bull so he doesn't burn out or lose perspective, and the comfort of a lover's embrace (they finally kiss in the proper timeline). That, and she reveals a fleet of White Stars. Sheridan is not alone, far from it, and here's a visual to bring it home.

Of course, the more engrossing story line is Londo's. He pretends to send G'Kar into a trap on Narn using Vir as a messenger, a messenger then intercepted by Lord Refa who uses a telepath to get the skinny on the plot so he can hijack it and reap its rewards. Except Londo hates Refa far more than he does G'Kar, and the trap is really meant for his slimy Centauri colleague. London hates him for killing his lady love and other friends besides, but it's more than that. Refa represents his own unbridled ambition and HIS part in the Narn genocide. It's the weight HE carries, and killing Refa... no, not just killing, but ruining his reputation with a frame-up, and in some small sense trying to undo some of his works by releasing thousands of Narns, all of that is atonement. G'Kar goes along with this because perhaps there's a greater villain than Londo, but he's really just a delivery device. This is Londo's show and he just stands and watches, taking no joy from it. When Refa is ripped apart by Narns, G'Kar doesn't join in. He just walks away. It's not in his blood anymore, and Ivanova is right to equate him to the holy men on the station. Though Londo may know some peace from this action - spiritually and physically - it might also herald some trouble with Vir, whose anger towards his mentor is born of the same sentiment, guilt by association.

Obviously, Refa was the kind of character you'd love to hate, so his death must be memorable. And it is. Refa deserves Londo's intricate and grandiose plot. He is the man who hasn't shouldered the burden of what he's done, but has sought to hide from it behind moral apathy. He can't and gets his just desserts at the hands of the people he harmed. When confronted, he runs, and that slow motion sequence is well done, intercut with irony (a frequent JMS trick, but a pleasant one) with the religious service and a hymn about not being able to hide from your sins. The song is cheery and enthusiastic, a counterpoint to Refa's Caesar-like assassination, contrasting the sense of community on the heroes' station with the selfish isolation of the predatory individual. The same game of contrasts is played with Sheridan, mind you, the build-up to his alleviated pressure counterpointed by the tense promise of doom inherent in the "Z minus x days" countdown. What a great way to place the last few episodes of the season in Z'ha'dum's shadow.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Later in the year, Jake and Nog would work hard to cheer Sisko up, but seeing as Trek is more secular than B5, with a baseball card instead of a religious service.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Seems to meander in the Sheridan bits, but that's because it's a portrait more than a narrative. Londo's revenge on Refa was worth the wait, regardless.


Anonymous said...

I remember the first time I watched B5, and I wish I could see it again with those eyes. I remember feeling, episode after episode, that the good guys are doomed as doomed can be; so when I first that White Star fleet, it was a hella emotional moment. Plus that kiss.

I remember discussions of this episode online years and years ago, and people were trying to pick apart the deep symbolism of this episode. "Did you notice that, when everyone sings the word 'Jesus', it cuts over to a shot of G'Kar? That's because G'Kar is like Jesus! Wow!!!" Guys, you need to beef up your symbolic dictionary so that it contains more than "good guy = Jesus, bad guy = Hitler". Yes, I am griping to nobody in particular about nothing in particular.

Siskoid said...

Sort of the way I felt when I was watching Battlestar Galactica all the way through.

Ryan Lohner said...

A major sign of how times have changed in television: back then, the major reason characters were killed off or sent away was that the show's crew had a problem with the actor. The idea of killing a long-term character because it benefitted the story wasn't on many people's minds, even after three seasons of this show playing the long game. So William Forward (and I really wonder what his ancestors did to get that last name) was quite upset when he read the script, until JMS took the time to assure him he did great work. But Refa was a villain, and the villains typically have to get their comeuppance sooner or later.

As an atheist, JMS didn't consider the implications of people from all kinds of religions joining in a Christian hymn, and that scene received quite a few complaints. Though the presence of several aliens helps as it's presumably an interfaith service with several other representatives getting to sing their own offscreen.

Refa's line about the recreation of the Centauri emperor's palace being "almost identical" to the real thing is a nod to the fact that of course it's actually the same set; the show was filmed on just three soundstages, and whenever there was an opportunity to reuse a set and save the art department some trouble JMS took it. This can also be seen when Vir is captured, and the reason the lights are off in the room is that it's actually Sheridan's office.

One lovely bit of serendipity: the slow motion during Refa's death was done simply because during editing they found that the footage wasn't quite long enough to fill the sections of the song it was designed to counterpoint. It ends up making the scene even more memorable that it already would have been, capping the two-year-long storyline beautifully.

Doug Hudson said...

From a certain viewpoint, seasons 1 and 2 are about Londo making a mess, and seasons 3 and 4 are about him trying to clean up the mess.

In fact, now that I think about it, an argument could be made that Londo is the protagonist of the s1-s4 story arc, if you take Centauri and Narn as the focus rather than Earth. Certainly the climax of Londo's storyline (in "Into the Fire") is much more impressive than Sheridan's.

LiamKav said...

JMS is able to write characters that you "love to hate" really well (just look as Bester and Morden). I always thought that William Forward was one of the few who "got" the Centauri in the same way that Peter Jurrasik did. He's probably the only other one who manages to make that accent work.

I'm now going to be one of those guys, and talk about my dissatifaction with Refa's death scene. I'm not normally a fan of ultra-violence, but this one area where I think two decades of increase in the baseline level of violence you get on TV hurts the scene. I find it doesn't work quite as well as it did when I was younger, because I'm now very aware that the first moments are just him running one way and then the other. I kinda think that for the dramatic irony to work best, we should be seeing the Narns absolutely killing Refa. We should be seeing close ups of punches, kicks, blood, rather than what looks like a regular beating that can happen outside any Manchester pub on a Friday night. (Even within the shows history, it's had more brutal looking fights than this.)


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