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” then“A Race Through Dark Places”, then The Coming of Shadows.
Last week was Gropos.
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 Eleven: “All Alone In The Night”
As we zoom into Babylon 5, that Delenn is obsessively fondling her indoor wind chimes. Lennier interrupts her; as she talks to him she looks uncomfortable. At first we assume this is because he caught her fondling her wind chimes, which is a little weird but maybe is a Minbari thing. (I’m not here to judge.) It turns out, however, that she is worried about news from home. She has been recalled to Minbar, and is unsure whether or not she will be allowed to continue serving on the Gray Council now that she is wearing a wig. She tells Lennier that she feels alone. Lennier, not wanting to make the wind-chime fondling the creepiest part of the opening scene, puts her hand on his chest in what feels very much like a come-on, but perhaps is just what Minbari subordinates do. (Again, I’m not here to judge.)
We cut to the bridge, where Sheridan admits to Ivanova that Babylon 5 is kind of boring. He wants to go out in a fighter and blow s**t up, and as it just so happens there may be trouble in a nearby sector. As he leaves to prepare for his journey, he asks: “What could possibly go wrong?” Which I think we all know by now you should never, ever do on Babylon 5. And sure enough, we quickly cut to a scene where an alien ship attacks a Narn vessel and captures the pilot for circumstances I think it safe to assume are nefarious.
CUT TO OPENING CREDITS
After the credits, we see Delenn about to board a ship to return to Minbar. Lennier shows up and says he doesn’t care what happens, he’s coming with her. But he does take his own ship rather then travel in hers, because hey, there’s standing by your boss when they’re about to be s**tcanned and there’s standing right next to your boss when they’re about to be s**tcanned, and Lennier is nobody’s fool. They depart.
As Sheridan is getting ready to leave, Ivanova contacts him. She says she just heard that one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is on the way to B5. Ivanova is a little concerned by this, partly because she has been kept in the dark, and partly because Sheridan is leaving right before his arrival. Sheridan points out that she is not the boss of him, and says he’ll talk to her about it later. He is all smiles. But as soon as he turns off the videoconference screen, we see that he is actually troubled.
Meanwhile, in the bar, the Doc and Garibaldi are talking trash with Lt. Ramirez, a young and feisty up and comer. It turns out Ramirez is going to be going with Sheridan’s squadron of fighters on the “what could possibly go wrong?” routine assignment. Before he leaves, he makes a bet with the Doc on the Mars v. Dodgers series. As he exits, he happily remarks that he can’t wait to return to the fabulous dinner he’s going to buy when he wins that bet. And it this point I think we all know he’s alien cannon fodder. Seriously, he might as well be beaming down to an unknown planet wearing a red shirt.
When Sheridan’s squadron arrives at the mission site, all is well — at first. Just as they are about to return to B5, however, the alien ship that captured the Narn appears and captures Sheridan. The rest of the squadron is destroyed, save Lt. Ramirez, who sets the autopilot to return to B5 — but not before the computer tells Ramirez that he’s pretty much dead already. As he begins his journey to B5, the joint chief arrives.
Away from B5, things are going very badly for both Sheridan and Delenn. Sheridan has been wrapped in banana leaves, and wakes just in time to see his torture begin at the mechanical hands of an automated torture machine.
Delenn, meanwhile, is told that she is no longer part of the Gray Council because she is no longer entirely Minbari. She asks to speak to the Council to plead that she at least be allowed to stay on as ambassador on B5. When she speaks with them, later, she learns that the Minbar warrior caste now has control of the council, a thing she finds against the very precepts of the Council. The council has made its decision, though, and Delenn’s pleas go unheeded. They do, however, allow her to stay on at B5, since she is neither human nor Minbar and therefore see it as the only place left for her to be.
Afterwards, Delenn tells Lennier that he would be better off staying on Minbar. Lennier, however, continues to pledge his loyalty. He will follow her wherever, even death. Delenn is clearly uplifted by this show of support.
Back on board the evil alien ship, Sheridan is released from his banana leaves just in time to fight off an attack from another captured alien that has a device stuck on its head. The alien does not speak, but somehow Sheridan is able to deduce everything about him and the device in the same way Timmy talks to Lassie. “What’s that boy? That device won’t let you talk? It’s been grafted there to make you fight me and test me, and it’s all against your will? And Vir is trapped down in the well?” Having just been tortured, the battle is not going well for Sheridan. But just as it looks like the alien might kill him, the captured Narn pilot kills the alien. The Narn also has a device strapped to its head, and begins to fight with Sheridan as well. Sheridan is able to injure and knock out the Narn without killing him. Later, the Narn wakes up to see that Sheridan has removed and dismantled the mind control device. Sheridan tells the Narn they are going to escape, but the Narn thinks this unlikely.
Back on B5, Lt. Martinez has kicked the bucket and Ivanova and the joint chief are worried about Sheridan. The joint chief reveals that he has called the Agamemnon, Sheridan’s old ship, to join in the search. It’s a good ship, he tells her, they just need some idea where to begin looking.
Back on the evil alien ship, Sheridan is dreaming in what is perhaps the only memorable scene in this episode. Various crew members (including Sheridan) are talking to him in a kind of trippy Sisko/Wormhole-DS9 kind of way. He is told that he is the “the hand.” Sheridan is confused, and finally asks Kosh (who is the only one in the dream that seems real and non hallucinogenic) why he is there. “You have always been here,” replies Kosh just as Sheridan awakes. Sheridan awakes, and continues his attempts to escape, this time by taking his sword and using it as a lever on the door. Because, sure, the one piece of technology the builders of a prison hadn’t counted on was the sword they gave the prisoners.
We cut to Delenn’s ship as she hears of Sheridan’s abduction. With the typical “Screw believability!” random-coincidence way of wrapping up plot points that Babylon 5 relies on so heavily, Delenn says she totally knows who those aliens are and where they can all find them. Delenn and the Agamemnon arrive at the alien planet just as Sheridan is escaping from his cell with the Narn pilot. They see that they have been captured by whatever those aliens that play in the band in the cantina in Star Wars are called, and Sheridan knocks one out with an Austin Powers-like judo chop. An escape pod just happens to open up right in front of them (because of course it does), and they escape the ship. The evil aliens release all their other prisoners into space to die, and the good guys blow them out of the sky in retaliation.
Back at B5 Sheridan learns that the Narn will make it, but that the actor playing the plucky Lt. Ramirez has fulfilled his contractual obligations to the show. “Why him?,” Sheridan asks. “Why not me?” The Doc agrees with him that it’s not fair, which might be the most back-handed and insubordinate thing he could have replied to such a question. As Sheridan is leaving he sees Kosh, who tells him “You have always been here.”
Later, Sheridan meets with the joint chief. The joint chief explains that there are those on Earth who believe President Clark killed President Santiago, and that the group most likely responsible is Psi-Core. Sheridan agrees to work on his end on the off hand chance that, you know, a remote space station in the middle of nowhere ends up being able to do anything about it all. He calls his senior staff in and explains that the time has finally come for them to maybe kind of do something quietly someday possibly when no one’s really looking, and they agree to go out on that limb with him.
Go Team B5!
And roll end credits…
One of the joys of B5’s second season is, frankly, that it isn’t B5’s first season. The mysterious Shadows are stealthily making their way into the plot, the political unrest and corrupt government on Earth is promising new and engaging enemies, the over-arching stories are beginning to push the melodrama stand-alones aside, and there’s no longer a game show host running the entire station. But this episode is just terrible.
One of B5’s perennial problems is that even the great episodes feel like the writers have inserted scenes just to pad the clock to get it to the 44-minute mark. All Alone In the Night makes this problem worse: the entire episode feels like padding, as if they wrote the season out and then realized they were contractually obligated for one more episode. The “captured by aliens to fight” sci-fi trope was pretty overworked even back in the 90s, and B5’s crack at the cliché is especially awful.
For example: In the scene where Sheridan is fighting the alien, the two of them are on opposite side of a table. The alien ducks down behind it, and suddenly Sheridan has no idea where he is. Where could he have gone, he seems to say as if he were a two year old. And then in the very next shot, we see that THE TABLE ISN’T SOLID UNDERNEATH, AND YOU CANT TOTALLY SEE THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE. It’s like they are trying to figure out what to choreograph and someone just said, “I dunno, how about the alien hides behind this table you can totally see through” and the director said,”Sure, whatever — f**k it, I just want to get home.”
There are a lot of other moments like that in the episode (e.g.: Delenn just happening to pop up and know where the aliens are going) that make it feel like no one involved in making this episode gave a crap. And I mean no one. If you have a chance, go back and watch the fight scene where Bruce Boxleitner rolls across the table. He does it in kind of a slow, non-urgent way, and you see the guy playing the alien can totally smash his head in and so has to kind of wait for Boxleitner to finish his roll before delivering the “just missed” blow.
Delenn’s being booted from the Gray Council is pretty important to the story, but even it is done with ham-hands. The news from Earth is also big and important, but it’s done in such a way that it’s just a snoozefest. The one bit that works really well is Sheridan’s interaction with Kosh, both in his dream and when he returns to the station. It’s really intriguing, and opens all kinds of questions that I wanted to come back to see answered. But they would have done well to have simply put it in somewhere else.
Also, I have to admit: Seeing the scene with the joint chief and Sheridan talking about how the president is a usurper and criminal, and that the real patriots need to take their government back by whatever means necessary felt a little creepy to re-watch in this age of Obama.
If this is your first B5 episode, please do not despair. They get better, and they get better rather quickly at this point of the show.