Babylon 5 #66: Shadow Dancing

"I can’t go back, but I can appreciate what I have right now… and I can define myself by what I am, instead of what I’m not." "And what are you?" "Alive. Everything else is negotiable."
IN THIS ONE... Doctor Franklin "meets himself". The good guys' fleet meets the Shadows'. And Anna Sheridan is back in the picture.

REVIEW: Doctor Franklin finally returns to the fold in a story line that could have seamlessly fit the previous episode's themes. Like Refa, Doc Franklin runs from his problems and his shame, never confronting them head on. He left Earth because he couldn't please his father, destroyed his research so as not to face a moral dilemma, lost himself in work rather than face a loveless personal life, and then into stims when work became the problem. His "walkabout" is just another iteration of that pattern. He's gone to meet himself, and in shock from a nasty stab wound (oh the life of a lurker! say, what was that business with the nagging mother moaning about the Babylon 5 ghetto all about?), he does and isn't very complimentary about himself. It feels like Franklin is channeling his father there, which is perfectly appropriate. Later in Medlab, he's shamed into getting back to work by patients who need him, and perhaps thinks of all those he didn't help because he had selfishly walked away from the job. Franklin is correct to call himself stupid as he sits dying, becaue the truth of B5's universe - a truth he has also run away from, a near-atheist in a supernatural world - kinship is rewarded and withdrawal (I suppose that's a pun) from a larger society is punished.

The success of community is represented by the victory of the allied forces against the Shadows. They they lose twice as many ships as the forces of evil do, the real victory is in having brought everyone together, in spite of expected losses. There's a moment when we think their appeal to the Non-Aligned worlds didn't work, the Council chamber almost empty, but no one's left out of mistrust. They just need to make some calls. If there's tension even in this simple scene, it's because the episode recognizes that the heroes' goal is this, more than any space battle. But what a space battle, eh?! Huge, varied fleets (even the Shadows gain a new, hair clasp design) going at each other across multi-colored backdrops, and even the DVD encoding problems can't kill the mood. It's all much worse in scene that combine CG and people, but I still think the Minbari surround-screen is cool as hell. But as eye-popping as the action is, don't expect anyone in the Babylon 5 universe to punch the air at the end of a fight. They are more likely to grimace and quite rightly think of the price paid for even the most symbolic of victories.

Things are definitely heading for a season finale though, and Shadow Dancing's focus is more on setting things up than the kind of thematic coherence we saw in the previous few episodes. At its clunkiest, JMS feels the need to bring back Sheridan's Kosh-induced vision, no doubt because some of its prophecies are about to be realized. The characters struggle to make sense of the symbols, using hindsight and patently reaching, but it feels forced. Ivanova getting chummier with Marcus is only marginally more palatable, though her battle with Minbari beds is amusing enough. Much better is the Sheridan-Delenn subplot, specifically the way Delenn describes Minbari courting. Three nights' watchings is all it takes to see a man's true face in his sleep, and if she likes it, then she's his forever. This could be kind of creepy, but it's very sweet how Delenn just sits there with a smile of delight, though I'm pretty sure that first night they spent lying next to each other on the White Star was all it took for her to know. Obviously, this needs a complication, and at snow globe-shattering vision from War Without End comes to pass - Sheridan's wife (now played by Melissa Gilbert, so it's a good thing she introduces herself) has arrived. Oops.

Deep Space Nine's huge space battles really start with the '96-'97 season's finale, but that's still a few months off. Similarly, we won't learn of Doctor Bashir's own "running away" for a while. But the captain's dead wife returning with unknown motives? That's already happened on DS9.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Cool action and a strong (if talky) resolution to Doc Franklin's subplot, but not as satisfying as it might have been because it's really a game of setting ducks up in a row.


Anonymous said...

Cannot stand that this episode was named after an Andy Gibb song. I just typed out all the reasons why that's a bad idea, but then I realized that youse people are smart and you don't need me explaining why.

If anything, you're too young to remember Andy Gibb, the younger brother of the Bee Gees and the hearthrobbiest one:

Siskoid said...

I thought the expression predated the song, but Google seems pretty adamant that Gibb originated it.

Anonymous said...

I do like this definition of Shadow Dancing:

It's more of a concept without a name, so they went with an Andy Gibb song, because who wouldn't?

Back to B5, at least Delenn won't have to meet Sheridan's ex-wife ever again, so at least she can take comfort in that.

Doug Hudson said...

I suspect the concept of "shadow dancing" goes back to Plato and the shadows on the cave wall. And even if it doesn't, that's still a more fitting reference for B5 than an Andy Gibb song.

Siskoid said...

Right. Shadows dancing on a (cave) wall lit by fire.

Anonymous said...

The Andy Gibb reference was very likely deliberate. JMS is old enough that he has to have been familiar with the 1978 hit, so there's no way he accidentally put "Shadow" next to "Dancing" and didn't know what he was doing.

If JMS wanted to say something about dancing shadows but NOT reference the Andy Gibb song, he had options. "Dance of Shadows", "Shadows Dancing on the Wall", "Flicker of Shadows", "Terpsichorally-Inspired Shadows", and so on.

I'd be less disappointed with JMS if he didn't also give us incredible titles like "Falling Towards Apotheosis"; when he wants to, he can make a title a work of art in itself.

Siskoid said...

Although sometimes, they are a bit pretentious, to the point of making you think the episode will be boring and uneventful.

Ryan Lohner said...

Franklin's story for these past episodes is largely based on JMS' own experience. In college he was young and stupid enough to join a cult, where he eventually discovered one of the leaders was having an affair with a married woman. Upon reporting this to the other leaders, he discovered they already knew and wanted to keep it hushed up rather than confronting the problem. JMS refused and told everyone he could, but none of them believed him and his privileges were severely curtailed. Finally he was kicked out completely with the other members forbidden to talk to him again, and as a thoroughly bitter and disillusioned young man he unknowingly went on what's officially known as a walkabout, wandering aimlessly around San Francisco and trying to get his thoughts in some kind of order again. This ended when he ran into a group of hooligans and was nearly beaten to death, and they way he describes it, upon hearing a paramedic say there was little hope for him, he was struck by the idea that there were stories he wanted to tell, and he simply wouldn't let himself die now and leave them untold forever. And as a postscript, the cult leader's affair eventually did become public knowledge and wrecked the whole organization, as he discovered when his old friends suddenly started calling him to apologize for not believing him.

That reality subtext also stretches into the future in a rather more amusing way: shortly after the show ended, JMS developed severe acid reflux, and part of the treatment is sleeping in an elevated position. If only he knew when writing all this stuff about Minbari beds. Also from that subplot, the exchange about learning to speak Minbari and Marcus' secret love declaration was added at the last minute when the episode came in short, and only the White Star sets were standing at the time. It became a favorite of many fans.

A few episodes ago, Marcus asked who their story's equivalent of Morgan LeFay was, and now we know. Too bad the credits spoil it a bit by clearly stating that Melissa Gilbert will be playing "Anna." One other oddity is that the role wasn't yet cast when War Without End was shot, so her shadow from the doorway, reused here, was made by a crew member and doesn't quite match Gilbert's frame.

DustMan said...

Ryan, that should be San Diego. JMS is a SDSU alum, and nuked Sand Diego in Spider in the Web because it was the closest to a home town that he had.

Siskoid said...

Ryan: This happens a lot (not just with B5), and yet I can't help myself, I keep reading those damn credits instead of screwing up my eyes like the spoiler-free human being I want to be.

LiamKav said...

I'm surpised that she had to have a front-of-episode credit, considering that she was only in it for 10 seconds. I recall a possibly false story that when the DS9 crew wanted to have the Female Shapeshifter appear as a surprise in "Heart Of Stone", they made sure that she was in it for a small enough amount of time that they could do an end-of-episode credit. I'm not sure though if that's true, or what the rules are on credit placement.

LiamKav said...

So, if Ivanova and Marcus are taking turns at watch, what happens when Susan is on shift and something happens? (For that matter, what happens if Marcus is killed in an attack? They really should take two translators along on these missions.)

Even now, the resolution of Franklin's stims story feels like it plays both against TV conventions and Babylon 5 conventions, in a good way. When his addiction is found out, he gives a speech to Sheridan about how he can't do his job and so needs to go and find himself. Sheridan stands there not saying anything, like any good Babylon 5 character when someone else is giving a speech. Except later, we find out that he didn't say anything because he was distracted and dumbfounded, and wishes he'd stopped Franklin from going walkabout. Likewise, Franklin's very trendy (for the 90s) uses of "finding himself" and "trying to meet himself" turn out to be psychobabble nonsense. He thought he was trying to fix his stim addiction, but it was a much deeper issue that he was ignoring. He could have probably got the same result if everyone had just sat down with him and gave him some brutal honesty, but battles for independence, time travel and fighting ancient evils can fill a person's diary.

The space battle scene showed that as well as (for the time) revolutionary SFX, Foundation Imaging knew how to direct a good space battle, a skill they had shown repeatedly before. However, they are fired between the third and forth seasons, in an apparently extrememly dodgy and underhanded manner because Douglas Netter wanted his own CGI company. Apparently they owe Dan Curry of Star Trek for not letting them go under, which is why they started working on that show shortly after. At the time, I recall a drop in the quality (in terms of storyboarding, clarity of movement and general directing) of the SFX at the start of the forth season. We'll see if that holds.

Sheridan's hair is out of control by this point. It's fantastic.


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