Friday, January 19, 2007

Babylon 5: 'Ship of Tears' and 'Interludes and Examinations' (3x14 &3x15)

By the end of 'Interludes,' the proverbial it is most definitely on. After two seasons of teasing, the Shadows have finally emerged and the war is into the open conflict stage. More importantly, a major character is dead and the others are thrown into tumult. It's the biggest episode of the season so far, and on par with the other major escalation episode, 'The Coming of Shadows.' The buildup is over, and the war is on.

But first there's 'Ship of Tears,' another strong episode. Here, we get the return of Bester. He's only been on, I believe, four episodes so far, but it feels like he's always showing up on Babylon 5. I suppose that's a major difference between watching the show in one block and watching it week by week. I feel like he just left and all of a sudden he's back, but in the world of the story, six months had passed. One of the problems with having the show set on a space station is the fact that all the guest stars have to come there. In the first season it was getting ridiculous with the way important people from the characters' pasts would constantly show up. We haven't seen that as much lately, but it's odd that Bester would constantly come to a place where he's so hated. Of course, by the end of the episode, it becomes clear why he is here again, so it's not a major issue.

Anyway, the new Starfuries are pretty cool. I like the 2001 style reflection of LCD display onto Sheridan's visor. That said, the profile shot looking into the cockpit looked a bit cheesy. It's actually a testament to the overall quality of the show's effects that a bad shot is now something that really stands out.

This episode moves Bester into the role of uneasy ally, still manipulative, but potentially huge in helping the Alliance to defeat the Shadows. When they first appeared, they seemed completely invulnerable, but JMS has laid in some weaknesses as the show's gone on, and this vulnerability to telepaths is the most critical one yet. It's interesting that the Shadows actually use telepaths to fuel their ships, it raises questions about why a Psi Corps official was involved in the meetings with Morden and Earthdome. Is Psi Corps supplying telepaths to the Shadows for some reason? Presumably we'll see Bester create a splinter Corps that will go up against the main establishment, echoing what happened with Babylon 5 and the Earth military.

I liked the reveal of what the Shadows' 'weapons' actually were, and the finale with Carolyn was cool visually, despite some sloppy execution. I really like the idea that some of her humanity was taken by the Shadows and now she needs to be connected to a machine, even if it's not a Shadow ship. I always like that cyberpunk cyborg imagery and her mess of wires worked well. That said, I think it was an improbable coincidence that Bester knew and loved her. I guess the reason to do that was to humanize Bester more, but I think we got that already, and this stretched the boundaries of believability. But, I am curious to see how the alliance with Bester develops.

Elsewhere, G'Kar is finally let into the alliance. The scene with him and Delenn was very tough to watch. Even though he tells her that he understands why she didn't help him, it's still very tough to listen to someone say that she had to sacrifice his homeworld. And on top of that, there's the personal betrayal, after he completely trusted them. However, in the end he does make it in and he's fulfilling more of what Kosh told him to do in his vision.

'Interludes and Examinations' picks up where the last episode off, using Ivanova's voiceover to update us on where the world is at this point. I'm not sure if there's a particular significance to Ivanova being the voice of year three, the year of the Shadow War. Her first voiceover closed season three, she took over the credits and now speaks over this episode's opening. A lot of people claim that using voiceover is an example of telling, not showing, but it can actually be a great opportunity to do more visual storytelling. In the opening, and also when the Ivanova/Sheridan conversation is played over scenes of him going to sleep, we receive two distinct data streams, sound and picture, double the information, and through their juxtaposition can gain even more understanding. The moody foreboding of this opening reminds me of Battlestar Galactica's frequent instrumental cut to a bunch of characters teasers, it's an effective way to immerse us in the world and prepare for the imminent changes.

There's a lot of stuff going on here, let's begin with the smallest plot thread. After a couple of seasons building up, the Franklin stims plot finally comes to a head. Going back to the first season, I was wondering when we'd finally see some real consequences of Franklin's total commitment to helping cure others, no matter what the cost. If nothing else, this episode is a wonderful example of the way that JMS's five year plan gives meaning to what would be insignificant standalone episodes on other shows. Even though I might not have particularly enjoyed the Franklin focus episodes in year one, they did build his character up and bring us to the point where his stim addiction is a believable long term affliction. We've watched his usage grow until it became a problem.

Here, he hits bottom, making mistakes and becoming paranoid. He already knew he had a problem, but couldn't acknowledge it out in the world. I guess looking at his blood tests forced him to admit what was going on. I'm a bit torn on whether it would have been more powerful to have his patient die. It would have made his bottoming out more believable, but would have been the more obvious way to go. Maybe the fact that he almost made a critical mistake actually shakes him more than losing a patient would. He's lost people before, but here it clear that his stim usage was the issue, if the guy had died, he might have been able to write it off as just something that happens.

I'm really curious to see where Franklin goes as a character now that he's left medlab. He was defined completely by his work, as he says, we've very rarely seen him outside of the lab. I'm assuming he'll stick around the station, but it's possible they might send him out to help on the front lines, finally living up to his father's wishes. But, that would pretty much cut him out of the show, so there'll probably be an arc about his struggle for meaning without the lab, as he tries to rediscover himself. And who will be in charge medlab now? Will it be one of his rotating cast of minority female assistants or a new character? Are we going to see the return of the doctor from 'The Gathering'? Hopefully not, he was a pretty bad actor.

Season three has been about rehibilitation for Londo. He ditched Morden and poisoned Refa as a way to completely cut the Centauri off from the Shadows. He still had some major issues, but it was looking better. I was a bit torn, happy that the character was turning around, but missing the total moral corruption of season two Londo. I love to see characters go down dark paths, so I'm torn in situations like this. I hated what Londo did to G'Kar, but I loved that the show made me hate his actions in that way. If he returns to a more acceptable moral position, there won't be that same extreme feeling.

So, even as I'm hating that Londo once again got played by Morden, I'm eager to see where he goes in the next bunch of episodes. Back when it aired, I enjoyed the Adira episode back in the first season, but I didn't expect her to come back and play such a critical role later in the series. Coming from a tradition of TV shows that will have someone declare a character the love of their life and then never mention them again, it's hard to believe that Londo could really consider Adira the love of his life. But, in real life, it's quite possible he would. After all, it's only been two years, and he doesn't seem to have too much else going on personally. I'm not sure if Adira was always meant to play this critical a role, but she fits perfectly, and knits the series closer together.

Scenes between Morden and Londo are always great, the opening meeting is dramatic, mostly as evidence of just how manipulative Morden is. I compared him to the Smoking Man a few reviews ago, and this episode reinforces that. He is the ultimate operative, totally aware of how to manipulate people to produce a specific result. Having the power of the Shadows backing him makes that possible, and he's a great human face for their evil.

It's tough to watch Londo after he sees Adira's body, I think Jurasik does a great job of staying in character as he shows Londo's pain. The voice and mannerisms are more suited to either comedy or evil, but he manages to show off another side. I'm always impressed by how good Jurasik and Katsulas are at keeping the characters totally believable despite the huge amounts of makeup they're wearing.

While I love the turn of events, I have to question Londo's conclusion that Refa was behind it. Shouldn't he have at least suspected that with Morden on station, wanting him back in the fold, he could be behind this. Now, I suppose he isn't aware of just how much of a player Morden is, after all, he broke off the arrangement when Londo asked. I think it would have been more effective to have Londo remain uncertain about who did it, then hear about the poison and connect it to Refa.

But regardless, the final scene is a singularly powerful moment. After Kosh's death, I wasn't sure where the episode had left to go, but this took things up another notch. Londo wants revenge, and he doesn't care if that means attacking his own world. The piecs are all starting to fall into place, by using the Shadows to attack the Centauri court, he is paving the way for his own ascent to Emperor, and creating an even greater debt to the Shadows. He is going to make the Centauri their subordinates, likely leading to the moment from his dream where he looks up and sees the Shadow ships attacking his planet.

It's quite a turn of events, and we've still got another shocking plot thread to cover. Needing proof that the Shadows can be defeated, Sheridan goes to Kosh and finally calls him out on his ambiguity. It was refreshing to see someone finally questioning the cryptic statements that Kosh gives and not letting him walk away without getting an answer. But, as Sheridan went on, the scene got uncomfortable. There's certain social boundaries you just don't cross, when someone leaves a conversation, you usually just let them go, Sheridan refused to do this and it put Kosh on edge. That prompted Kosh to finally give into his demands and send the Vorlons into action.

Of course, in a show like this, every action has consequences. To use the Vorlon ships means not having Kosh available down the line, when Sheridan will go to Z'Ha'Dum. This was alluded to before, and I thought this was a pretty good consequence. Presumably later in the show, a situation will come up and Kosh will say he can't do anything, Sheridan had used up the favor. Of course, that's creating an artificial consequence, Kosh doesn't have limited access to these ships, he would just be choosing not to act. Still, he's a mysterious guy, so it makes some sense.

Having worked out this scenario in my head, I was shocked when Morden showed up in Kosh's quarters with some Shadows in tow. Kosh was a character I figured was off limits. He'd live through the war then go off at the end to some higher place, after making the world safe for humans. I never really considered that he could die, so it was shocking when he did. I love the way they finally allowed him to express emotion, by incarnating him in the body of Sheridan's father. There, Kosh told Sheridan he was right, echoing his words to G'Kar that some must be sacrificed to save the many. He is apparently one of those who will be sacrificed. I guess he knew in the hallway that attacking the Shadows would put himself at risk, but he chose to do so anyway. It was a fantastic twist and raised the stakes way up in this war. We'd only seen the Shadow ships at work, but now we know that their ground forces are just as deadly.

Looking ahead, I'm guessing Lyta Alexander will function as the new Vorlon ambassador. It's past the time for more of Kosh's ambiguous stylings, and she clearly has some extra-human characteristics already. Kosh's sacrifice gives the Alliance an edge, but it also makes it clear that the Vorlons are not invulnerable. He was right when he said they weren't ready, but there's no time left to wait, the war is on, and apparently it is without end. That's up next.


Keith G said...

Holy crap! You're up to "War Without End"! Enjoy :-)

The death of Kosh was an amazing thing, especially for the reasons you give - he seemed untouchable and likely afforded the gift of ascension after helping out the humans. But there's things you don't know yet... one of the themes of B5 that is running through the whole show is yet to be made clear, but will by the end of Season Three. It gives the death of Kosh even more resonance.

"Ship of Tears" is the episode that shows how important - thematically - "Infection" was supposed to be, even though I suggest that is an episode to be avoided. That's all about the melding of human and machine - and a foreshadowing for the events here. It doesn't make Infection any better of an episode, though.

I don't really have much more to add, here. You've said it all!

Enjoy "War Without End" - I eagerly await your thoughts.

Patrick said...

I didn't think of the connection to 'Infection.' I suppose that does give the episode some point. Isn't that also the episode that introduces Interplanetary Expeditions? So, it's something.

I've seen War Without End now, and am eager to get up to the end of the season and the thematic stuff you're referring to. Things are very, very interesting right now.

Angie said...

Earlier on you were wondering when anyone would make the connection between the old enemy G'Kar's talking about and the Shadows and I told you to remember G'Kar's advice. To watch the show again keeping in mind that Delenn (and Kosh) knew all along is amazing. It's one of the things that makes it so worthwhile to watch the show more than once, and it's not the only one.

Havremunken said...

Ship of Tears is all right - they find out about the Shadow telepath weakness just in time for the "attacking openly" part of the war. I also think that it's a HUGE random occurence that Bester's chick is the one they just happen to give him as an example. It would have been much more realistic to see her on a list of names or something like that. But oh well.

Interludes and Examinations is a fantastic episode. The first time I saw this, I guess I was a little too naive ("blue-eyed", as we call it my country) - I actually felt happy for Londo that in the middle of all the things he's been trough, he would see his Adira again. Then JMS hits me in the head with this. Not only is Londo duped and his lover killed, but... KOSH, man! He finally started showing some interest and carrying his weight, and.. I was speechless at the end of that episode. I think it is a huge credit to the way JMS has been building the story that we care so much about something that in reality has contributed so little, who in many ways is defined more by what he doesn't say and do than the opposite.

And according to hints here and there from JMS, one of the Vorlons backing up Valen at the end of WWE part II is Kosh. :)