Babylon 5 #90: In the Beginning

"The quiet ones are the ones that change the universe... The loud ones only take the credit."
IN THIS ONE... How the Earth-Minbari War started and ended, as told by an aged Emperor Mollari.

REVIEW: This week on How I Met Your Mother... Cough. Cough. Yes, sorry. That's the reaction I had to this exercise in filling holes in history, tying old footage in with new, and actively showing what we only heard about before. And it IS an exercise far more than its own story. I can't help but think of In the Beginning as unnecessary. We've heard much of this before and it lived in our imaginations without our needing to see it. What's new sometimes strains credulity - coincidences ahoy! - or seems to contradict what we've been told (the circumstances of Sheridan's victory over the Black Star, and that he'd previously met G'Kar?!). The sense of déjà vu as much as the double length may contribute to the slow pacing of the telefilm, and not even maverick direction Michael Vejar can save it from its turgid first half.

Its saving grace is a certain thematic coherence. We already know that Delenn feels responsible for the Earth-Minbari War, but In the Beginning tries to spread that guilt around. It's Sheridan's fault for not agreeing to act as XO of the ship that made that disastrous first contact. G'Kar was selling weapons to Earth, which extended the war. Londo destroyed a Narn ship supporting a secret diplomatic mission that would have led to Earth's surrender. Doc Franklin refused to surrender his notes on the Minbari, indirectly bloodying his hands as human casulaties kept piling up. We even see a shot of the King Arthur character, the gunner who fired the first shot. On the macro-scale, we have leaders on both sides who refuse to listen to advice, a warrior caste seeking an easy victory, and Earth generals leaping to an extreme conclusion that the Minbari will kill civilians once all our warriors have been defeated (let's just say the ISN propaganda machine wasn't completely absent a decade ago). With Ivanova, the guilt is more personal, failing to save her brother's life with a good luck charm, which certainly contributed to her skeptical nihilism. And as for Garibaldi, he's the one main character who doesn't appear, which seems a rather gross omission. Then again, we might have been spared some improbable coincidence there. In any case, the point remains that everyone shares in the responsibility for our failures as much as our successes, which is a philosophy I happen to subscribe to. The Deconstruction of Falling Stars almost undid this argument, but it's been B5's overall theme since the (actual) beginning: Only by working together can we achieve great things. If the galaxy is one big community - admittedly one that's often divided - then responsibility is shared in all things.

There are a number of elements to recommend in the film: The use of faces we've seen before (like General Lefcourt, Coplann and Morann); Tricia O'Neil's touching performance as the Earth president; and the last big CG set piece, just beautiful, over which plays melancholy celtic music that brought back memories of Battlestar Galactica (never a bad thing). However, there are some rather confusing moments as well. The choreography involved in the Lexington captain's death, for example. Or what happened to Sheridan, Franklin and G'Kar after Delenn set them free. Or even who those kids Londo is telling the story to are supposed to be (they give their names, but because they don't wear Centauri hairstyles, you're left wondering if they're Sheridan's oft-mentioned son and never-mentioned daughter, but then they're not, they're just a device to get Londo talking on the eve of his death). Not major confusions, and because of the framing tale, any discrepancy could come down to Londo's embellishments, but we spend so much time on things we already knew, some of it could have been trimmed to fill in these plot holes.

Floating blood looks pink in both universes.

- If watched as the first chapter, spoils reams of surprises. If watched in broadcast order, seems unnecessary and redundant. Pretty pictures and a coherent theme bring it up to a Medium.


Coreworlder said...

IIRC, it exists as a catch up episode for new viewer after B5 switched to a different channel for season 5. That's why it seems pointless if you've seen the first 4 seasons already.

Siskoid said...

I don't think it works as a catch-up either... For one thing, the Ivanova sequences remain pointless because the character has been shuffled off the show. And while it recaps all the old backstory, is it really information we need going into Season 5? Seems like most of the pay-offs have already been had.

Cradok said...

Jerry Doyle isn't in this - or Thirdspace - because of 'bad advice from his agent'. As you say, though, it works here because otherwise they'd have to have wedged him in somewhere, and it'd probably have been awkward. It works out well for Thirdspace too, because that takes place after he's resigned.

As a whole, In The Beginning does tie together all the various tiny bits and pieces about the war from four years of TV very well, in a mostly exciting package. I was never a fan of the peace deal bit with G'Kar. What I did like was everything Peter Jurasik does. 'That' speech is possibly the best thing he does in the whole show.

The kids were supposed to be part of Urza Jaddo's family, he of the suicide by ritual combat back in 'Knives'.

Ryan Lohner said...

I don't have much to say about the movies, as they weren't included in the script volumes. Though I will note that the French-accented nursemaid from the framing story is a major character in the Centauri Prime novel trilogy by Peter David, where it's revealed she's a street ruffian who attacked Londo after he became emperor for the destruction he'd brought to Centauri Prime. Londo talked her down and gave her the job in the palace, where she took Vir's place as the angel on his shoulder. Also, her accent is described as "Northern."

The commentary's also worth a listen, though it includes one bit that's quite uncomfortable now that we know the truth, where JMS dances around why Michael O'Hare wasn't able to film any new material.

Anonymous said...

This movie also showed the construction of Babylon 1. The one thing that never makes sense is that the first 3 stations are destroyed by terrorists before B4 is built. I can see starting with B2 but I can't see them going on after that. It probably would have been better if the Babylon Station name was used previously and started with B4. Thought this was the best time to say it

Cradok said...

Oh, yes, the nursemaid. She's also Lord Refa's daughter, and would later marry Emperor Vir.

For the Babylon stations, since the first three were sabotaged before being finished, there was both the drive to not let terrorism win, and there were signifigant amounts of material left over that was reused for the next station. Even B4 was built with what was still usable from after B3's destruction. B4, on the other hand, was completed and so there was nothing left over once it vanished to the past, so the project was actually cancelled at that point, before the Minbari stepped in. The original idea was that B1-4 would all look the same, with only B5 being different, but that obviously changed sometime before this movie, since B1 looks different to both B5 and closer to B5.

LiamKav said...

I think this suffers more than most by the "watching an episode a day" thing. It recaps bits and pieces we've seen in the past month, or two months. When it aired, as (I believe) a standalone between seasons, reminding you of events that happened several years ago, it fares far better. Not essential because, as you say, we knew all this stuff, but a great way of refreshing your memory.

Plus, I'd say it's almost worth it just for Londo's speech about humanity and the underlying montage. The presidents speech is pretty great too, and they do integrate the old scenes and new really well. I love the bit where the "Battle of the Line" music has a big crash sound timed to the shot of Delenn casually turning her head while an explosion plays on the screen behind her (which I think is from "Revelations").

DustMan said...

Actually, Ryan, In The Beginning is at the end of Volume 14 of the script books. The other TV movies are in a separate book.

Not a whole lot beyond the obvious in his intro, though. He talks about money issues driving the choice of the plot, since they had sets from the Earth Civil War still standing, along with the Centauri and Minbari sets saving them money, and also about how Michael Vejar used a crane and a solid set to get the claustrophobic weightlessness in the Prometheus.

LiamKav said...

I've just watched this after a finishing the show a couple of months ago, and I'm sticking to my opinion... watched in the middle of a daily run, it doesn't quite work. There's too many repetitions of what we know. Watched in isolation... I think it's really really good.

Regarding spoilers... unless you're the sort who ruthlessly researches everything, I don't think it does. I watched the show with a friend many many years ago, and we started with ItB. By the time we got to season 2 he was surprised by Delenn's transformation, and had completely forgotten that she appeared like that in ItB. Probably because when she first appears we have no idea who she is, and when she then reappears twenty minutes later most will have forgotten. For the final shot of her set in the future, she's in darkness so it's not obvious (if you don't already know) that she has hair.

Likewise, the Londo says "Sheridan became the leader of a great alliance", but it's dropped right at the end. When we started watching the show my friend had forgotten about Sheridan until the beginning of season 2, where he suddenly went "oh, yeah, him!". I don't think ItB actually spoils that much unless you sit there and take notes, because there's so much to take in you're bound to forget it by the time you get to the show itself.

There's an interesting editing trick during the Battle of the Line. When we see the flashback at the start of season 2, there's a shot where Delenn turns to look at another Grey Council member whilst an Earth ship explodes behind her. It's a great shot, and in the episode it gives the impression of the Grey Council being above everything... they are in the battle, but not actually involved. There hands are clean. Here, the same footage comes across completely differently. Delenn expression now looks like she's accusing the Grey Council of allowing this to happen. Her look seems to say "this death is on your, on all our hands". There's some slight issues where her dialogue taken from that episode sounds a bit distant compared to how she sounds in the new footage, but overall it holds up remarkably well.

Peter David's novelisation is good, although he has Sheridan react very angrily to the President's speech, thinking it should be more inspiring rather than realistic. I'm not sure if that's supposed to be Sheridan's opinion or PAD's opinion...

And to repeat my previous point, I'd put the montage of the war as one of my top 5 B5 momoments. Londo's speech, the music, the SFX... all amazing.

Brian said...

Like many Babylon 5 episodes (not the top third or so though) I enjoy this, but more so if I don't let myself think too much or question that actions/motives of the characters (or the writer *ahem*) and really liked the additional insight and viewpoints on the war from different races through our familiar characters, or others (I'm a big fan of political sci fi). I like having a more complete feel of the war in general, and the epic apopcolyptic feel of it.

What I don't like especially if letting myself think and analyze is how once again the hand of the writer is too visible in how JMS makes certain characters who played a key hand in creating these events just be too stupid and simple minded in just the right way (or characters who are normally intelligent who don't take obvious actions or take obviously wrong actions in a sort of mysterious way on the parts of the characters and JMS- kind of in a "I'm being kinda mysterious about it/the scene so let it slide by without asking questions" way or at the worst in a Wizard of Oz type way where JMS is the man behind the curtain and the obvious oversights/lack of explanations for them are the evidence that the wizard is a sham is what makes you want to look behind the curtain- seeing the writers hand and will to set a situation up as the only reason why the characters do that, and actually looking behind the curtain is to ask JMS about it which pisses him off in his way of seeking to have an odd emotional desire about these things to just want us to accept those scenes and see them like he does in his mind (where maybe they make sense since he knows everything about the B5 universe), so in asking you get effectively yelled at by an angry JMS who stubbornly wants to believe that people only question these obvious gaps in the show's reasoning to "troll him" or try to be clever. to allow the situation he wants to be created with a complete lack of subtlety or debtes where either side has significant merits.

Ducat telling nobody about the importance of the humans as relayed to him by the Vorlons/and the presence of the Vorlons themselves (even just the grey council) comes with no further explanation of why and as complete idiocy, actually more like insanity given the stake and circumstances: For one thing upon hearing that he should have used Mimbari intelligence networks/diplomatic contacts to obtain the ability to communicate with humans (and even clandestinely have a translation program installed on the ship that nobody would know is there until they receive messages in human languages and hmm look at that or computer is translating them!). Or just make an excuse to obtain diplomatic relations and establish an embassy through an exchange of favors/money with the Centari or Narns to get formally introduced (especially given the humans expansionism and exploration programs). At the very least when Delen says they are human ships give an immediate order to NOT open gun ports (in fact given his response to hearing they were open you would think he would have given a general order to not open them in first contact situations to the whole fleet) and to hail them. Another major issue like this was the Earth official's attitude and stupidity in their talk with Londo. I can honestly say I don't even believe our American officials would be that obtuse and arrogant, and that's saying a lot.

LiamKav said...

The gun ports thing is weird. Even aside from the HUGE number of misunderstandings it must cause, Dukat's reaction makes no sense. When told the gun ports are open he doens't say "of course they are. That's what we always do. Why are you telling me?" He says "What!?", as if it's a completely stupid thing to do. You can't have it both ways, JMS. Either it's something that their race does, or it isn't. If it's something Dukat personally objects to, then he should have given that order the moment he started planning on bumping into humans.

As for the Earth official's stupidity in talking to Londo. I can just about buy it in this case. Earth had apparently just won a war and was the toast of the galaxy. If there was ever a time for them to be stupidly arrogant, it was then.

LiamKav said...

Y'know, comments like "no government official would ever be that stupid" feel very different when said in 2018 rather than 2015...


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