It’s time for the 20th installment of the Babylon 5 Bookclub. This week: Babylon Squared. They should have had this be the 16th episode. Maybe the 25th. Alas.
In any case, 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 then Legacies. Then we had a two-parter for A Voice in the Wilderness parts One and Two.
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!
The episode opens with Garibaldi and Sinclair playing a trick on morning-hating Ivanova. It’s a fun scene in that we get to see that the normally staid Sinclair has a prankster side to him as well. It is, of course, Garibaldi who gets the blame. But things get serious (and strange) quickly, with a scouting Starfury discovering the sudden appearance of what looks like another space station resembling Babylon 5, and then being hit by something.
When the Starfury returns (via autopilot), its pilot is dead….of old age. The pilot was 30 years old. He’s scratched B4 – for “Babylon 4” – into his belt buckle. In case we didn’t remember from earlier episodes, Sinclair reminds us that Babylon 4 disappeared without a trace shortly after its completion. And the death of this pilot was concurrent with unusually high tachyon emissions in exactly the spot where B4 disappeared. Answering Sinclair and Ivanova’s speculation, they are informed that the station is receiving a distress call…from Babylon 4. Sinclair verifies that it is indeed the previous station, and they receive a distress call from B4’s commander, who needs evacuation of 1200-1300 people remaining on board. “Oh, God, it’s starting again. It’s starting again!” The communication screen goes to static. Ivanova observes that the datestamp on the message is from four years ago, supporting that time travel is involved here. The command staff plan a rescue mission, estimated to take 10 hours.
To build dramatic tension, Sinclair warns the rescue staff of the dangers involved in the mission, and tells them they can opt out if they so choose. Of course, nobody does. Sinclair, apparently taking a leaf out of Captain Kirk’s book, decides that this is a great opportunity to imperil himself and leaves Ivanova behind in command of B5. (Granted, as we will see later in the episode, his participation in the mission is vital to the episode’s arc. And Sinclair’s been shown to like getting personally involved in off-station missions) In the shuttle, Garibaldi makes extremely awkward small talk. Apparently it takes some time to get to where B4 is.
Meanwhile, after a long wait in space, Delenn has an appointment with a Minbari cruiser. She has been summoned to a meeting of the Grey Council, the nine people who constitute the Minbari governing authority – of which she is one. She opens the meeting with ritual words: “I am Grey. I stand between the candle and the star. We are Grey. We stand between the darkness and the light.” The Grey Council wishes to choose a new Minbari leader, and they have chosen Delenn. She is dismayed rather than honoured by this appointment, and has no wish to leave Babylon 5, believing that her work there is part of the fulfillment of a prophecy. The Council also appears to want to get her away from Babylon 5, although if they don’t agree with her actions it seems strange to want to give her greater power.
The rescue team arrives at Babylon 4, and Sinclair and Garibaldi go in first to check things out. They get into a firefight with a crazy-sounding man, who Garibaldi manages to disarm and who is then detained by B4 staff. The man in charge of Babylon 4 introduces himself as Major Lewis Cranz. They tell him that they’re from Babylon 5, and he realizes that yes, his station has been travelling through time. Then the station starts to shake, and Sinclair has a vision – some kind of attack on board Babylon 5, a firefight, and Garibaldi staying behind to hold the enemy off. Garibaldi says, “I finally understand. It’s the moment I was born for!” It might be the light, but Sinclair in this vision also looks older and Greyer than his present self. V’ir frra nyy svir frnfbaf naq qba’g erzrzore guvf unccravat va nal bs gurz, fb vg’f tbg gb or n shgher gung jnf niregrq fbzrubj. Major Cranz explains that the station has become “unstuck in time” and that everyone’s been having flashes backwards and forwards, which explains what could have driven one of their crew members mad.
Delenn speaks with a friend on the Grey Council. She says that if she enters the Great Hall, “I will never leave it again. I will live out my days and my nights in that place.” It seems that the Minbari keep their top leader extremely isolated. Her friend replies that it is an honour, and no one has refused in over a thousand years. (This stability of a governmental system over a millennium shows how much more dynamic Earth is in its governance than the Minbari.) Delenn says she still has a role to play on Babylon 5 and must stay there. Her friend says the others will call it pride and ego, but refusing rulership of her people for an out-of-the-way ambassadorial position seems like the opposite to me. Delenn says she must speak to the Council again, and her friend agrees to it, despite it being unprecedented. Delenn is aware of the consequences of this decision.
Babylon 4 apparently started moving in time a couple hours after the command staff arrived, at the same time as an alien of unknown species, known as Zathras, suddenly appeared on-station. Zathras looks closely at Sinclair, appears disappointed, and observes that he is “not the One”. Zathras will only talk to the One. Zathras also refers to Zathras in third person. The One is hurt, and Zathras must find and help him; the One needs the station to fight in a great war, “to help save the galaxy, on the side of light.” (I wonder if this phrase has anything to do with the Grey Council’s ritual words…?) “We live for the One. We would die for the One.” Garibaldi asks what time Zathras is from, and gets an answer…but, realistically, since Zathras’ world uses a completely different time from them, this tells the command staff nothing. Or, going from the look on Zathras’ face, he may be deliberately concealing the answer to that question.
The command staff have to rush out of the room in reaction to something, and Zathras escapes ridiculously easily, running after them. A figure in a blue space suit has spontaneously appeared in a corridor, and Zathras identifies this person as the One. Zathras explains that the One is in great pain, but accepted it in order to halt the time-taking of Babylon 4 long enough to let its crew escape. Sinclair is moved by this and tries to help the figure, but is blown backwards. Zathras drops an object, which he has “fixed”, in the One’s hands, and the figure disappears. Zathras says they need to leave now, or be trapped forever: “there is no more time”.
Delenn, in her speech to the Council reveals (to us; the Council already knows it) that the Minbari ended their war against Earth because of a prophecy that said the humans had a destiny they could not interfere with. V gubhtug gurl raqrq gur jne orpnhfr gurl qvfpbirerq gung fbzr uhznaf unq Zvaonev fbhyf, naq Zvaonev qb abg xvyy gurve bja xvaq. Delenn’s job was to study humans to determine if the prophecy was correct, and she has not finished doing so. The person she was talking to earlier, who appears to be the head (or at least most prominent member) of the Council, says that humans are primitive and he doubts the interpretation prophecy was correct: “it may have referred to others”. “It did not,” Delenn responds (which makes it sound like she has studied humans sufficiently to reach a conclusion). Delenn and the others argue about humans – the others say, “They fight, they argue, they are ruled by passions and fears”. Delenn replies that this dissention and difference is humanity’s strength, and produces their unique ability to fight against impossible odds. Their passions are what have enabled them to come as far as they have, “and will propell them to a great destiny”. She goes rather overboard, in my view, in her conclusion: “Their only weakness is that they do not recognize their own greatness,” but her meaning is that humans are better than they think they are. “They are the future, and we have much to learn from them,” she ends. It’s all a little over-the-top, but it’s nice to have another species explaining what is great about humanity instead of having humans do so themselves (as is frequently done in Star Trek, earning the TvTropes name of Patrick Stewart Speech for what Delenn’s just done). Delenn tells the Council that studying humans is “the calling of her heart” and that no Council ruling can override it. Delenn may be expelled from the Council if she persists in this choice, and she accepts this possibility, but in the end the Council agrees to let her return to Babylon 5, with a decision on her position in the council still pending.
On Babylon 4, Garibaldi is trying to keep order among crew who are desperate to leave and in a state of panic. Elsewhere on the station, Zathras explains that the object he gave the One was a time stabilizer – his time stabilizer – that would help him survive his next “time jump”. Zathras will die without it if he remains on Babylon 4 when it moves in time; he will also die if they remove him from the station. He is content to die for his cause. Garibaldi calls to say that the station is about to jump through time, the evacuation is over except for the command staff, and they’d better get off now! The station shakes and Garibaldi is thrown back in time to his parting with Lise on Mars. This only intesifies his desire to get off the station ASAP.
Given that Zathras has already said he dies regardless, Major Cranz’ decision to bring Zathras with them as evidence doesn’t seem as cold-blooded as it otherwise could, and Sinclair’s unwillingness to leave Zathras when he’s trapped under a pillar seems rather pointless. Zathras convinces Sinclair to leave by telling him Sinclair has a destiny. The One in the blue spacesuit returns for Zathras. Sinclair and Garibaldi, the last ship out, escape just in time.
The One removes his helmet to reveal a much older Sinclair. “I tried,” he says. “I tried to warn them. But it all happened, just the way I remember it.” A hand touches his arm, and Delenn’s voice replies, “I know. It’s time. We have to go. They’re waiting for us.”
Behind Sinclair and Garibaldi’s shuttle, Babylon 4 disappears. Sinclair wishes it luck, and says “it’s still on the same mission” of bringing peace. (From my point of view, serving as a place of diplomacy, negotiation and understanding for the sake of peace is pretty much the opposite of being a base of operations in a war.)
Delenn’s friend comes to say goodbye to her. She recognizes that she has lost her place on the Council, but he is not so sure, and gives her one of three triluminaries, saying that if she is right she will need it more than they will. It is a time of change, and they are “surrounded by signs and portents.” (“Signs and Portents,” is, not coincidentally, the title of Season 1 as well as the title of the episode where Mr. Morden appears.) He promises to be there if Delenn ever needs him. “Valen go with you, and light your way,” is their farewell.
We end with Sinclair talking to Ivanova, and saying it may show up again. If it does, Ivanova replies, then she gets to go aboard and Garibaldi gets to stay home. Sinclair references the legend of the Flying Dutchman, which reappeared at many points in time trying to find its way home, and never made it there.