Babylon 5 #73: Into the Fire

"Only those whose lives are brief can imagine that love is eternal."
IN THIS ONE... The climactic fight between the alliance, the Vorlons and the Shadows; the latter two leave the galaxy. Londo saves Centauri Prime by destroying the Shadows there.

REVIEW: They made us wait a long time for the big battle, but it was worth it. So much eye candy! But of course, this is Babylon 5, a series that's essentially about people TALKING, and so the climax becomes a philosophical debate between the three parties. As it should. The battle is suspended as all sentients present experience Sheridan's conversation with the Vorlons and Delenn's simultaneous conversation with the Shadows, both in a JMS' favorite set, the dark room mindscape. The alliance is asked to choose between Order (frozen in ice and unchanging) and Chaos (ever-shifting conflict and evolution), but omit a third possibility which the alliance insists on. What if they don't choose? What if the pieces on the board refuse to play the game any longer? What is exposed is the reason why the Vorlons and Shadows never attacked each other directly in the past. It was never about destroying one another, but about proving they were right about the nature of the universe. They would always have needed someone at which to gloat. By refusing to participate in this costly argument, the alliance makes the point moot, and effectively stop these forces for history. "It was the end of history."

The First Ones make their exit from our galaxy - or at least, the Vorlons and Shadows do, touchingly asking Lorien to go with them - in an echo of the Elves leaving Middle Earth "into the West", leaving younger races to forge a new civilization. This is grand myth. The older races are never able to answer their own questions in the end - Who are you? and What do you want? - but in leaving they can try to create a new answer for themselves. They may have forgotten their previous answers, but their new situation forces them to ask them anew. These shepherds are no longer needed because the flock has found itself, people who can now answer those questions for themselves. Under the Vorlons and Shadows, there were expected answers; now, anything is possible. Is there less magic in this world without them? Like Delenn, I don't think so. The universe used to be a coin offering a bipolat choice; now it's a die with an untold number of sides.

The First Ones' departure puts Londo's victory on Centauri Prime in a different light, doesn't it? If they were all going to leave momentarily, he needn't have nuked the Shadows or killed Mr. Morden. The great moment when a Vorlon planet killer eclipses the sun, preparing to destroying the world because of Londo's own tainted nature, but then leaves at first seems like it's thanks to Londo's sudden and rare impulse of self-sacrifice. But in the context of the entire episode, we may better understanding it as the Vorlons abandoning their mission. And if Londo didn't have to destroy the Shadows, then Mr. Morden is surely the "man who is already dead" from his prophecy. Remember, he has three chances to save his soul and has squandered the first two: Save the eye that cannot see (too late, that was G'Kar's), and not kill the one who is already dead (Morden). Obviously, these are satisfying moments, with Morden's invisible Shadows getting shot up and a whole island going up in mushroom clouds. Londo comes off as a great patriot, even ready to die for his people, though we might think back to G'Kar and how his selflessness went a step further, refusing to elevate himself to the role of ruler. Londo cannot even see this possibility. Morden's death might have been required to stave off the Vorlons, but Londo really does it for selfish reasons, to get revenge for the death of his love (I still think he was rather blind not to see it before, but do appreciate being used as a puppet is Londo's greatest nightmare and the acting is all about that). The only scene that rings false in the whole show is Vir fulfilling his promise to Morden that he would wave gleefully at his head on a pike. It happens here, which would seem to indicate Vir's told Londo about this dream of his, but if you're going to include a hard flashback to the promise, you need to contrast it with gut-punching reality. As it is, we see Vir promise to do something, and then he does it. More interesting perhaps would have been to see him revolted at the reality of Morden's death and what his own dark thoughts have wrought.

- Action fans will get gorgeous space battles and excitement. Writing fans will get great myth and irony. Can't believe this comes so early in the season because it's got Series Finale written all over it.


Madeley said...

I guess in the original plan, it WOULD have been the finale of 4, with 5 addressing the Earth civil war. Bringing it forward actually helps, I think, because it means there's no time for JMS to start messing round.

My very favourite part of B5, for quite silly reasons, is Sheridan's "get the hell out of my galaxy" line. Back in the day, JMS was mocked for the "get the hell off my space station" line, which I always thought was pretty bad ass. Online critics, mostly, but I also remember feeling oddly aggrieved when SFX magazine wouldn't stop banging on about it. The "galaxy" reprise was a petty, bombastic fuck-you, and I won't lie, one I massively enjoyed at the time. And indeed, still do.

Anonymous said...

I get less enjoyment out of this denouement than most Beefivesters do (not sure what B5 fans call themselves). The Vorlons and Shadows were collectively less intelligent than the characters in "Mean Girls", and Sheridan's Kirk-speeching them away felt like a cop-out.

I feel like it's the sort of thing that could have met even my lofty standards, with a little rewriting. Have the Vorlons and Shadows make the case that their efforts HAVE brought the various races from caves to space, the counter-argument to which of course is that their efforts are therefore no longer needed (much less wanted).

The best ever Kirk speech, by the way, was delivered by Simon Pegg in "The World's End".

Ryan Lohner said...

JMS has never been clear to my knowledge on just how long the Shadow War would have lasted had he known he would get his five seasons, though he has been nice enough to reveal the exact point that season 4 would have ended, and it's further along than you might think. And at the time a lot of fans were quite upset that the conflict was resolved by speechifying instead of a huge battle. JMS had two counter-arguments to this; one is a spoiler I'll get to later, but the other is that a war over ideology is never resolved by one side simply beating the other up. The Vorlons and Shadows didn't leave because Sheridan told them to get the hell out of the galaxy, as these fans often claimed, but because they were forced to accept that there was no point to their war anymore. Their secret was out, and none of their chess pieces would listen to either of them anymore.

One thing I find particularly interesting is that all three people who answer Morden's question technically get their wish granted. Londo wanted the Centauri to be the big dogs of the galaxy again, but when he sees the reality of what that entails he's long since grown disillusioned with it. G'Kar...well, we saw in War Without End that one day the Centauri will be laid low, unable to threaten anyone again, but even now he's moved beyond that kind of physical revenge being his sole desire and can take no satisfaction in it. Like I said before, they answered "What do you want?" without first considering "Who are you?" But Vir knew full well who he was when he gave his answer, and so he gets it fulfilled in a way that's satisfying to him (and more than that, as he lives far longer than this moment).

Sinclair started the first season's credits with "It was the dawn of the third age of mankind," and now we finally learn what that meant. If you weren't convinced by now that this show had been carefully planned from day one, that should do it.

Anonymous said...

"Sinclair started the first season's credits with "It was the dawn of the third age of mankind," and now we finally learn what that meant. If you weren't convinced by now that this show had been carefully planned from day one, that should do it."

Ugh, I was around on the Internet when B5 first aired, and I still have nightmares about people trying to decipher that line, particularly one dullard who thought that "the third age of mankind" means Nazi Germany. I lose brain cells every time I consider that.

Some people are good with ancient races needing the occasional talking-to from more ephemeral species, but to me it never rings true. That strongly colors my enjoyment of this episode.

"forced to accept that there was no point to their war anymore" -- see, that's why I think the speechifying is a legitimate complaint (again, colored by the above). When you won't accept reality until someone monologues at you about it, that's a Kirk speech. If the Vorlons, at least, had been willing to leave simply because the "mortal" races had finally reached the point where they could stand together and demand it, it would have been more better for me.

googum said...

I'm shocked you didn't care for Vir's wave--I thought it was a fan-favorite for the series! The satisfaction of seeing someone so evil actually get their comeuppance in this life, well, it's pretty rare.

You could argue that Morden probably wasn't always an evil monster, before the Shadows got ahold of him; but evil is evil.

LiamKav said...

"Sinclair started the first season's credits with "It was the dawn of the third age of mankind," and now we finally learn what that meant. If you weren't convinced by now that this show had been carefully planned from day one, that should do it."

Or it just shows a writer that drops himself potential lines to pick up in the future. Hell, Steven Moffat has become pretty adept at sometimes making it seem like 50 years of Doctor Who was all planned out from the beginning...

(Although in this case, I conceded that JMS almost certainly did plan this from the beginning. Still, it means that the second age of mankind only lasted a hundred years, compared to the at least tens of thousands on either side. Not much of an "age".)

LiamKav said...

By the way, I'm not sure how far ahead or what your plan is, Siskoid, but if you were planning on watching "Thirdspace" where it best fits in, it'd be between "Epiphanies" and "The Illusion of Truth" (ish. You have to fudge one scene, but that's the closest you'll get).

Otherwise you could go for when it was made, which is between seasons 4 and 5.

LiamKav said...

Regarding Londo's chances to save himself, I always thought that "not killing the one that was already dead" referred to his capture of Sheridan 17 years down the line. It does mean that he actually manages to use two of his three opportunities to save himself, but there was nothing in the prophecy that said he couldn't do that.

Siskoid said...

Googum: Not saying he didn't deserve it, but rather that Vir isn't the kind of person to celebrate anyone's death.

Liam: Can't the first age be prehistory? That would give it more meat.

I'm going to watch the movies in the order of release rather than where they would go in the chronology.

LiamKav said...

Fair enough. I do have one other suggestion that others might agree or disagree with ... make Sleeping in Light (the season 5 finale) the final thing you watch. By production, you'd be watching it before the final two TV movies (and Crusade, although I don't know if you're going to watch that), but it kinda wraps up the whole universe, so it works really well as the final punctuation mark on Babylon 5.

As to the episode itself, this is another instance of Sheridan using nukes and getting away with it, although their effect is rather less than when he used them against the Black Star and Z'Ha'Dum.

I do kinda wish this episode had been given an extra 5 minutes. There are just a couple of moments that seem too hurried. For instane, we go far too quickly from the Shadows and Vorlons jumping out to Londo's "When I think about this war being over". It just maybe needed a shot of empty space in between, with maybe a pan to the younger races ships, all left behind.

Also, the sound quality on this episode is awful. I checked and it seems to be fairly common. Good thing it's not an important episode, or anything. *rolls eyes*

Siskoid said...

I'll think about it, but yes, I am doing Crusade. Basically, if it's the B5 universe and it's on DVD, it's part of the project.

LiamKav said...

Oh god, I'm finally going to be forced to watch "Legends of the Rangers", aren't I?

Regarding pacing in the overall series, there is an episode later on that JMS said would have been the season finale. However, it's not clear if he means it would have been the season finale if they'd have known all along they had two more years, or just if they'd have gotten notice late in the game and could make a change. He does admit on the Lurker's Guide that "Into the Fire" would have probably been a two parter.

Cradok said...

There's a number of things through the first half of the season that always made me assume that the decision to end at four was made quite late, rather than right at the beginning. Maybe JMS was hedging his bets until he got to the point where he had to make the final choice, but was still compressing things as much as he dared to.


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