It’s time for the 18th installment of the Babylon 5 Bookclub. This week: A Voice in the Wilderness (Part One)
The introductory post was here, The Soul Hunter was covered here, and Born to the Purple was covered right here. After that was Infection. Then came The Parliament of Dreams. Following on its heels was Mind War. Then, RTod covered War Prayer. After that, Sky Full of Stars, then Dman recapped Death Walker! Jaybird hit The Believers. Followed by Survivors, then Dman recapped By Any Means Necessary. Then Signs and Portents, followed by TKO, followed by Grail. After that, Eyes and last week Legacies.
It’s very difficult to discuss this show without discussing the next one (or the one after that, or the one after that), or referring to the pilot; if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
Everyone sitting comfortably? Then onward!
We open with an older-looking Minbari (later revealed to be named Draal) showing up at B5, asks for Delenn, who is he? He’s not an ex of a main character because he didn’t show up while a main character was walking by, but he didn’t try to bribe or kill security either. This behaviour is very puzzling. Up in Ops we see Sinclair and Ivanova oversee the launch of a shuttle to survey Epsilon 3 (The barren planet B5 orbits), to investigate recent seismic activity. Sinclair leaves for a meeting, only to encounter Talia, who is concerned that she meets Garibaldi every time she uses the transport tubes. Garibaldi then demonstrates his stalking credentials. Meanwhile, the survey shuttle approaches the planet, but is hit by some kind of Negative Space Wedgie (although I suppose this is technically a Negative Planetary Wedgie), leading into the titles.
It turns out the survey shuttle is OK, but they need a tow back to B5 for repair, and to figure out just what the hell that was. Sinclair talks Epsilon 3 while discussing trade with Londo and Delenn. Episilon 3 was picked for the Babylon project because it was stable, safe and uninhabited (also most likely too barren to be useful as a colony or outpost). At the same time, the head surveyor and Ivanova talk mysteries and how this planet was supposed to be inert, the lead scientist is scared at the possibility of some ancient automated death machine, but is determined to find out what is happening.
The Minbari and the Centari strike a deal, which leads into a discussion of the Narn-Centauri animosity. Delenn is optimistic about peace in the long-term, but Londo sees their mutual hatred as inevitable and eternal, using physics metaphors to describe it. This bodes ill for any future reconciliation, people usually don’t try to fight things they think of as physical laws. Delenn believes things will get better because the alternative is to terrible to contemplate (that’s not terribly good epistemology Delenn).
Back up at Ops, Ivanova and Sinclair agree to try the surveying again, and Ivanova mentions there was no mention of Mars in the Earthforce status update. This is curious but ultimately small beer with everything else going on. Draal makes his approach to Delenn, identifying himself to the audience as an ex-teacher of hers and giving us a quick insight into Minbari ethics (no philosophy!).
Cut to Sinclair watching the news after work, and we find out what is happening on Mars. It would seem an independence movement “Free Mars” has gone militant and the colony is in partial revolt. This is apparently not the first time Mars has tried to break free. This is punctuated by Sinclair seeing an alien ghost begging for help.
Ivanova and Sinclair discuss the Mars situation. Sinclair grew up there, but doesn’t have any ties there anymore. Ivanova doesn’t know anyone there, since apparently she’s not Martian. This is the trouble with Ivanova as a character, they just don’t spend any time talking about her history or where she grew up; an occasional reference here or there to her homeland (wherever that is) would really help flesh out her character. In any event, they both realize Garibaldi will be taking the news hard, since he still does have friends on Mars.
Back to Delenn and Draal, and it seems events on Minbar are wearing on Draal and he’s seeing old friends before “going to the sea”, which appears to be a euphemism for a kind of self-imposed exile in space that old / jaded Minbari engage in. It turns out that Garibaldi is indeed taking the news of Mars hard and we see him trying to get clearance to talk to Mars but gets comm-blocked by Earthforce.
The survey shuttle sets out for Epsilon 3 once again, and this time Ivanova is sending support in the form of a Starfury escort. She warns that the Starfuries can’t fly in atmosphere, and that the shuttle should stick to space. Londo overhears the conversation between Sinclair and Ivanova and asks Sinclair if he will tell him if he finds anything of value. His answer – no. This is one time where Michael O’Hare’s flat delivery style works perfectly.
Stopping Garibaldi form doing something is harder than simply telling him no, so he decides to try back-channels. He talks to Talia, who is fairly peeved with him, about a secret Psicorps base he knows about (because hiding anything from Garibaldi is an exercise in futility). He needs to find out about an estranged love of his, and begs Talia to use her Psicorps connections to find out what is happening. She agrees.
The surveyors decide to enter atmo, against Ivanova’s advice, and get a face full of missiles for their trouble (clearly the ancient Epsilonians built to last). The starfuries can’t fly down to help, but use screening fire to divert enough of the missiles to the get the shuttle free. Ivanova explains the B5 manta to the surveyors, giving the viewers yet more evidence that she is utterly terrifying.
Back on B5, the survey team is able to determine that the missiles are coming from deep inside the planet, from recently opened artificial fissure. They think there’s something still working down there, at least 5 miles below the surface. This leads Sinclair and Ivanova to conclude they need to go down there, since this is now a security risk, and a potential first contact situation. The first contact angle explains the need for a command officer, but sending the two top ranking officers on the station down together, without support, strikes me as ridiculously foolhardy. Perhaps they’re both Star Trek fans, and figure that if they bring any extras with them, they’ll just end up getting killed.
Londo comes across Garibaldi trying (unsuccessfully) to drown his sorrows in water, and offers him the kind of pep talk only Mollari could manage. Having done his good deed for the day, he heads off and sees the ghost too, but presumably dismisses it as a hallucination, as he doesn’t seem to have told anybody.
Sinclar and Ivanova decide to get to the fissure by blitzing for the gap, while starfuries divert the missiles with cover fire, luckily the starfuries manage to stop the missiles, and the shuttle doesn’t hit a wall in the 2 miles it takes to decelerate, after it’s high speed antics.
Talia can’t get Garibaldi a link to Mars, but the Centre does agree to take a look on its own and see how Gaibaldi’s old flame is doing.
Having survived the wrath of an ancient alien race and Sir Isaac Newton (the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space), Sinclair and Ivanova explore the fissure, coming across a shot-up alien skeleton, apparently killed by an ancient laser trap. Since they have no red shirts to brute force the problem Zap Brannigan style, Sinclair uses a few rocks and the scientific method to find out how the trap works and how to pass it without being filled full of light. From there they enter a massive cavern spanned by a narrow bridge. My god … it’s full of CGI. Happily there does not appear to be a balrog in residence.
Draal and Londo meet briefly, and discuss the foibles of humans, presumably because the episode what a little short of its running time. Talia gives Garibaldi mixed news about Mars – they can’t confirm she’s dead, but it doesn’t look like she’s fine either.
Sinclair and Ivanova are trapped by a planet quake, the passage behind them collapsing. Suddenly they both see the ghost, and follow him back to his body. It turns out that he’s only mostly dead. They decide to bring him back to B5, while recognizing this isn’t a particularly good idea since they still need to find a way out.
Just as they’re heading back up, an unexpected ship comes through the jump gate – what is it? Tune in next week.
- One thing I really like about B5 is the little touches of authenticity. Fighter craft that are built for space can’t function in an atmosphere, and fast-moving craft need time to slow down to avoid turning their passengers into salsa. And what is Sinclair doing after work? Unwinding while watching the news, just like you or I might do.
- Equally the signs of internal dissent within the Earth Alliance add depth to the setting. The Earth Alliance isn’t a blandly uniform society with no trace of conflict or culture. It feels like a real place, with real problems.
- On the other hand, sending Sinclair and Ivanova into a dangerous situation alone was terribly stupid. Only one of them should have gone, and whichever one it was should have had a squad of security at least.
- This episode builds on one of the underlying themes of B5 so far – that there are Big Things lurking in the corners of the universe, and they don’t always stay lost. We’ll see if this goes anywhere as the series progresses.