Welcome back to the Babylon 5 Season Two Book Club!
The first episode can be found here, Tod covered “Revelations” here, and then we hit The Geometry of Shadows back in early December before I fell off the Earth. Then we had “A Distant Star”, followed by “The Long Dark, then “A Spider in the Web”… then we got to “Soul Mates” and finally last time was “A Race Through Dark Places”. Whew!
Next two episodes are “Gropos” and “All Alone in the Night”. I’m going to do “Gropos”, can I get a volunteer for “All Alone in the Night”?
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!
Season Two, Episode 9: “The Coming of Shadows”
Today’s recap courtesy of commentor KatherineMW! Take it away, Katherine!
This is one of Season 2’s best episodes – for plot, for characterization, and for sheer concentration of Londo and G’Kar, who represent the preponderance of Babylon 5’s acting talent.
We open in the throne room of Centauri Prime. The Centauri Emperor – who, unlike all the Centauri men we’ve seen so far, is nearly bald – is planning a trip and leaving his Prime Minister behind as regent. He is unwell, but determined to go: “What I must do cannot wait any longer.” He refuses the ceremonial helm/mask, dismissing it as “trappings of status”. He comes across as a pretty cool person, and very different from the typical powerful and aspiring-to-power Centauri we’ve seen so far.
Cut to Sheridan’s office, where G’kar is furious about the Emperor’s visit (of course it’s to B5, why else would we be hearing about it?). G’kar objects that the emperor’s father was responsible for crimes against Narn, including strip-mining and massacres; Sheridan points out that the current emperor is responsible for none of that and has made many concessions to the Narn. Sheridan stongly supports the Emperor’s visit and gives G’kar a genuine rant: “If this bothers you, I suggest you stay in your quarters, stick your fingers in your ears, and hum real loud until it’s over! Unless you’d like to try something as breathtaking rational as trying to open up a dialogue.” G’kar makes an ominous exit.
A man dressed in black comes aboard Babylon 5 and appears to want to talk to Garibaldi.
Refa has arranged for Londo to speak with the emperor and have the meeting recorded, and gives him a prepared speech with predictions of what problems the Centaurum will encounter next – problems that Refa’s conspiracy will ensure happen, making the Emperor look short-sighted and Londo look prescient. This will position the conspiracy to take power after the Emperor’s death, which shouldn’t be long in coming. Londo asks Vir if the conversation makes him uncomfortable, and Vir assents. “Then for once, we have something in common.”
A neat tidbit of information during the emperor’s introduction to B5: the Centauri have sent many ships into Vorlon space, and none have returned. (You’d think they’d take a hint after the first few ships.) The Emperor would like to see a Vorlon.
The Narn ruling council, the Kha’ri, have approved G’kar’s plan to assassinate the Centauri emperor at the reception prior to the emperor’s speech.
In a viewing bay, the Centauri emperor talks with Sheridan. The emperor says he has never chosen anything: “I was born into a role, and I did everything that was asked of me because it never occurred to me to choose otherwise.” (This is a contradiction. Choosing to do as you’re told is a choice.) He now intends to make a difference.
Garibaldi intercepts the guy who came aboard the station earlier. He claims he wants to talk to Garibaldi, but won’t say about what, so Garibaldi sends him to a holding cell.
In his quarters, G’kar is dictating a last message, stating (falsely) that he acts without the knowledge or permission of his government. He leaves his copy of the Book of G’Quan to Na’Toth, who is apparently not a believer.
At the reception, Ivanova explains to Sheridan the white-veiled women who accompany the emperor. (Interestingly, they don’t seem to have been present during his conversation with Sheridan in the viewing bay.) They’re telepaths raised together since birth and constantly psychically linked. When he travels, two of the four come with him, and the other two stay behind to keep him in contact with the court on Centauri Prime.
G’Kar reaches for his knife and Delenn notices and moves towards him. Before G’Kar can get to the emperor, though, the emperor clutches his chest and falls to the floor. The two telepaths on Centauri Prime relay the news to the Prime Minister. (Incidentally, it appears the telepaths’ abilities don’t extend to detecting hostile intentions towards the emperor, or they’d have perceived G’Kar’s plans.)
In Medlab, the emperor speaks to Franklin. There is a message he needs to deliver personally, that he cannot entrust to any of the Centauri.
Londo and Refa plot how to position themselves to seize power. Londo decides to call on Morden’s “associates” to attack, destroy, and capture a Narn colony in Quadrant 14 on the border between Narn and Centauri space. Vir strongly objects. “I have no choice,” Londo says, echoing the episode’s earlier theme of choice in the conversation between the emperor and Sheridan. Vir returns that Londo does have a choice, seeming to reinforce the point that “not having a choice” is people’s default excuse for making choices that they know are wrong. (It also provides an interesting contrast to G’Kar’s farewell message of “This is entirely my own choice and I accept its consequences.”) Vir, despite his objections, chooses to obey Londo and go find Mr. Morden, but warns: “Someday I’m going to remind you of this conversation, and maybe then you’ll understand.” Londo says he understands: “By this time tomorrow we will be at war with the Narn.”
In his own quarters, G’Kar is quite entertaining furious with the emperor for having “the indecency to start dying on his own!” “Never in my life have I seen a worse case of timing! You’d think he could have waited a few more minutes!” Dr. Franklin interrupts with a message from the Centauri emperor: “He wanted to say he’s sorry.” G’Kar is nonplussed. “He came all the way out here, risked his health and endangered his life, so that he could stand beside a Narn in neutral territory and apologize. For all the things the Centauri have done to your people. For all the things his family did. He said ‘We were wrong. The hatred between our people can never end until someone is willing to say ‘I’m sorry’, and try to find a way to make things right again. To atone for our actions.’ ” G’Kar looks stunned. “I had…I had no idea.”
Londo is dreaming. His own words: “Keep this up, G’Kar, and pretty soon you won’t have a planet to protect.” A great hand reaching out to the stars. Standing on a planet, watching black ships like spiders fly above him. Being crowned as emperor. Dying as an old man, with his and G’Kar’s hands around each other’s necks. He awakes, hurriedly checks the time – perhaps he’s reconsidering? – and realizes the attack has already happened. In Quadrant 14, the Narn colony is obliterated by the spider-like black ships.
Londo plots with Refa, who mentions one more “obstacle” he needs to remove. (Maybe you shouldn’t mention that in the middle of the Zocalo in the full hearing of dozens of people?) G’Kar sees Londo, Londo tries to run away, and G’Kar – wants to buy him a drink. G’Kar has had “a revelation”. “I believed your people capable of only murder and pain, but apparently there is still a spark of decency.” He shakes Londo’s hand and offers a toast: “To the health of your emperor…and perhaps, to your health as well.” Londo is stunned, and an expression of horror grows on his face.
This moment is why G’Kar is my favourite character. For his entire life, he’s hated the Centauri. Not simply because of past atrocities, not simply as part of a blood feud, but because everything he and the Narn have experienced have given him every reason to regard the Centauri as an inherent and permanent threat to the Narn people. It’s not a matter of vengeance, but of survival; he is utterly convinced that the destruction of the Centauri is the only way the Narn can be safe. Literally the instant he is given any reason to believe that’s not the case, he’s ready to drop all hostilities and mend fences. He hasn’t been offered any specific policy changes, just a simple apology. An apology isn’t much to wipe out one hundred years of bloodshed and oppression, but for him, it’s enough.
Which makes the actions Londo has already taken – in his case, out of pride and ambition and resentissement, not desire to defend his people – all the more tragic and painful.
Narn ships arrive at the destroyed colony and find Centauri warships there.
In the Imperial Palace, four Centauri emerge from the shadows and assassinate the prime minister (evidently Refa’s “obstacle”). Seriously, doesn’t he have any security? Where’s the Centauri Secret Service?
The man who was arrested earlier (on what charges, Garibaldi? Does “following me” count as a crime?) has a message for Garibaldi. It’s from Sinclair, who warns of a “great darkness” and has built a secret army of Rangers (who were “drawn here” – after a few months on the homeworld he’s sounding a mystical as a Minbari). Their present job is to patrol the frontier and report back to Sinclair. Sinclair wishes he could say more, but “the others” don’t think it’s time yet. “Stay close to the Vorlon, and watch out for shadows. They move when you’re not looking at them.” The Minbari have evidently been giving him lessons in being cryptic.
Sheriden and Delenn learn of the Centauri attack on the Narn colony. In his quarters, G’Kar learns of it as well. Over 250,000 people are dead, or soon to be. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster of a day for G’Kar. He goes after Londo, but Sheridan is there to meet him with a full security backup. G’Kar: “They’re doing it to us again…They’ll kill everyone. They’ve done it before, they’ll kill everyone!” Sheridan: “Then you’ll need all the help you can get. You have to decide what’s more important to you, G’Kar: Revenge, or saving the lives of your people.” G’Kar screams, hits the wall, and collapses against the wall.
In Medlab, Kosh visits the emperor. “How will this end?” “In fire.”
Garibaldi relays information to Sheridan and Ivanova from a confidential “source”. (You’d think he could at least tell Ivanova the truth – she knew Sinclair at least as well as he did.) He says the rumours of another major race are true, and they’re backing up the Centauri government and may be behind the Quadran 14 attack. Sheridan has a plan for a bluff. (He accepts this “I have information from a source I can’t tell you anything about, but I promise it’s reliable” thing pretty quickly.)
Londo and Refa meet the emperor and tell him about the destruction of the Narn colony, and Refa asks for his blessing. The emperor whispers something to Londo before he dies. Londo claims he said, “Continue. Take my people back to the stars.” The two telepaths nod at each other, to relay this information back to Centauri Prime. (Again – they can’t tell he’s lying? Isn’t that kind of the point of having telepaths around?) Refa knows Londo’s lying, and asks what he really said. “He said that we are both damned.” Refa replies, “Well, it’s a small enough price to pay for immortality.” Londo’s expression suggests he doesn’t feel the same.
G’Kar sits in his destroyed quarters, cradling the Book of G’Quan. Sheridan comes to tell him he’s called a council meeting. G’Kar thanks him “for stopping me”. As I said, his people come first with him, always.
Londo is at the meeting sounding very smug and employing nuclear-grade euphemisms. Sheridan says Earthforce will send ships to observe the treatment of the remaining Narn civilian population and try to figure out how the colony was conquered so quickly. His bluff works – Londo says he may be able to arrange that the Narn population be allowed to evacuate, precluding the need for observers. Sheriden delivers a beautifully contemptuous response “I’m sure your gesture of goodwill will be appreciate for what it is, ambassador.” G’Kar, with a gravity that indicates he knows just how serious this is, and how badly it could go, informs the council that his government has declared war against the Centauri.
Refa informs Londo that the emperor’s nephew, an ally of the conspirators, is now on the throne. In contrast to G’Kar, he’s very happy: “Our people are finally on the right track again.” Vir mentions Londo could have asked to be named to the royal court, potentially putting himself in line to become emperor someday. (This indicates the emperor-ship isn’t entirely heriditary.) Londo flashes back to his dream. “No, I have no desire to be emperor. I prefer to work behind the scenes. The reward is nearly as great, and the risk far, far less.”
The Ranger leaves, and agrees to keep Garibaldi informed concerning the Narn-Centauri War. Delenn also knows of the Ranger’s presence and has received the same message from Sinclair.
If you were wondering when Babylon 5 makes the transition from being less episodic, and more a continuous plot? That would be now. There will still be some mainly one-shot episodes, but the broader story has started with a vengeance.