Babylonia!

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 and Gropos.

Last week was 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 Twelve: “Acts of Sacrifice”

We open with the Narn-Centauri war in full swing. The Narn are not doing well, their victories consist most of evacuating civilians.

At the end of the video, G’Kar explains to the B5 command staff that the Centauri are killing civilians. Londo isn’t there, but denies the allegations in a written statement. Sheridan agrees to talk to EarthGov about getting involved.

But enough of that, an ambassador of an advanced civilization called the Lumati has arrived. Sheridan decides this is a development opportunity for Ivanova. Her assignment – get them to ally with Earth.

After the credits, we see The next leg of G’Kar’s Pity Party, now touring Delenn’s quarters. Unfortunately for G’Kar, Delenn has a good memory. She doesn’t see a peaceful end to this conflict, and is disinclined to help one side just because they’re losing right now, since she knows that the Narns will act just as badly if they ever get the upper hand. Perhaps she is starting to come around to Kosh’s position: “They are a dying people, we should let them pass.” This is another sign G’Kar’s past behaviour has damaged his credibility.

The next scene takes us to a bar fight about to happen. But then security breaks it up before a new front of the war opens up right there.

But enough of that, it’s time for Ivanova to diplomacise the Lumati ambassador and his … pet? Actually the flunky is a translator, it seems the Lumati haven’t decided whether the humans are worthy of being spoken with directly yet. The Lumati wants a tour and Ivanova is there to oblige.

The next scene is I believe a first for Londo – he’s holding court. It would appear that Mollari is suddenly worth talking to, though he’s not enjoying it all that much. He wants to deal with someone who doesn’t just want to pump him for favours.

Meanwhile that new front has opened up, and Centauri are fighting Narn in the corridors. Zach ends up shooting a Narn in the fracas. This results in G’Kar and Sheridan having a Free and Frank Exchange of Views. G’Kar is told to get his people to pull their heads in, before the Narn lose any sympathy they have left.

Susan Ivanova and the Pomposity Posse have arrived at the Medlab, while Franklin is expositing to medical minions of some description. The Lumati is confused – why help weaker species? A species that is inferior should die. Franklin is less than impressed with this philosophy, and Ivanova has to move things along before an Incident occurs.

Londo takes a break from gambling to buttonhole Garibaldi. He wants a BFF to drink with, but Gairbaldi doesn’t trust Mollari any more. He agrees provisionally, but has to leave. It’s clear that Londo’s new-found status hasn’t gained him much that he wants, and it has cost him dearly.

It would probably make Londo feel better to know that G’Kar isn’t having fun either. He preaches restraint to his people but they are starting to see him as another beltway insider. This is going to end badly – it certainly does for the Centauri who was stirring things up earlier.

The victim is found and Franklin plays CSI while Garibali and Sheridan figure out what to do about it. The answer – stall for time. The situation leaves Garibaldi distracted, which makes Mollari a sad panda waiting at the bar.

Early next morning, the Lumati arrives at Ivanova’s quarters to snoop around. Ivanova drives him off but agrees to show him any part of the station he wants, just so long as he get out of her room.

The Narn are buying knives (apparently the Drazhi make nasty knives in addition to having very definite views about colours), but they are spotted by Na’toth (hey, remember Na’toth?).

Sheridan has heard back from Earth about the Narn situation and they don’t want to get involved. This is not for Prime Directive reasons, but because EarthGov doesn’t want to back the losing side.

Na’toth reports the Narn activity to G’Kar, who goes on the warpath.

The Lumati decides he wants to take a look at Downbelow. This worries Ivanova, but the Lumati approves. Ghettoes isolate the inferior members of the species, something the Lumati hadn’t thought of before. In fact, the Lumati likes this idea so much that he actually deigns to speak to Ivanova directly.

G’Kar confronts the Narn ringleader and gets him to back down via a severe beating. Unfortunately he gets stabbed a little in the process.

Sheridan hatches a plan to help the Narn behind his government’s back. With the help of Franklin’s Underground Railroad and Delenn’s support he’s going to give food and take civilian Narns out of danger. Minbari transport ships will be safe from the Centauri, but since ther’s no official backing, the whole thing must be kept secret.

The time has come for the Lumati to sign the treaty but there’s a snag. Apparently the Lumati consummate bargains more literally than humans do. Ivanova does the diplomatic equivalent of dropping a smoke bomb and runs.

The Narn ringleader has been dragged to Security as a gift, but Sheridan’s not sure what to do with him. Any public prosecution would only further exacerbate the situation.

Ivanova is sharing her dilemma with Franklin, but once he starts talking biology she gets an idea and running away.

G’Kar gets his help from Delenn and Sheridan, but it’s not what he was hoping for. The aid is meagre and he can’t even use it for symbolic purposes because it’s secret. He thanks them, but the disappointment drives him to anguish. All he fought for and suffered this episode has earned him next to nothing. The episode is named for his Acts of Sacrifice, and they were in vain.

Back at Ivanova’s quarters it’s sexy time! Ivanova gulls the Lumati into a fake sexual ritual that I’m not even going to try and describe, except to say that Claudia Christian must have had a lot of fun at work that day. Since the Lumati doesn’t know any better, and is too proud to admit ignorance he goes along with it (the translator is clearly impressed though).

Sheridan and Garibaldi ask Londo to keep the Centauri murder under wraps. It turns out that no one liked the victim anyway, so he agrees. This leads to Londo and Garibaldi having their drink after all.

Final Thoughts

  1. This episode showed the changes G’Kar is going through. No longer Space Snidley Whiplash, G’Kar has all his efforts focused on diplomacy to try and stop the Centauri from steamrolling his people a second time. It also showcases the acting talents of Andreas Katsulas, who manages to convey the anguish of a character who was just a cheap antagonist not so long ago. The fact he’s doing it while wearing heavy make-up only makes it more impressive.
  2. I enjoyed the Lumati plot, in fact, it’s the reason I wanted to recap this episode. The Lumati’s Social Darwinism feels like a satire of Star Trek’s Prime Directive (some of the dialogue in the Medical Bay could have come out of season 1 of TNG, and the Lumati’s smugness certainly could have). The “sex” scene is also just utterly hilarious (I usually lose it at about the point she says “tell me about your portfolio”).
  3. Having said that, I’m dubious about the sex-as-deal-closing premise. On the one hand, for a society that treats evolution as it highest virtue, I can see “I think you’re worth breeding with” being a statement of great respect. On the other hand, are the Lumati a one-sex species? If not, are they all bisexual? Otherwise, sex doesn’t work for generic social interaction. On the gripping hand, perhaps there’s more to it than that. I can’t help but wonder if the request for sex was some kind of attempt at asserting dominance over humanity, just another way of showing off how superior the Lumati are by getting the human negotiator to do something ridiculous. For all we know games of bluffing and deception might actually be how Lumati complete negotiations.

Tune in next week for episode 2.13 – “Hunter, Prey”. I don’t know if anyone has it dibbsed, but if you want to recap it, leave a comment.

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15 thoughts on “Babylonia!

  1. This episode really displays the talents of both Andreas Katsula and Peter Jurasik. You covered the reasons for Katsulas, but I am also impressed by Jurasik’s ability to invoke pity, despite the horrible things Londo has done. There always seems to be this core of a guy who wants to do right, but does not know how, and who is easily sidetracked by his love for his nation.

    Regarding G’Kar’s early “Snidely Whiplash” characterization, I think that was intentional. Most of the characters were presented as certain stereotypes early on, only to reveal later that they are not exactly what they seem.

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  2. I’ve never been shot in the fracas, so I don’t know how badly the Narn was hurt. Then again, the Narn probably have thick, leathery fraci.

    This episode was a little to on-the-nose for me. The ambassador’s analysis of Downbelow was heavy-handed, and Ivanova’s sex scene was a lot funnier the first viewing than the second. As for Londo and G’Kar, we saw them in their new roles, but it would have been better to see them beginning their new roles, I think. It’s always more interesting to see characters become something. We see a little of that in Sheridan in this episode (at least on a long arc). We definitely see it in G’Kar’s fall into despair, which was the strongest sequence in the episode.

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  3. These are the episodes that sold me on the series and made this my all time favorite sci0fi show. I love the change happening to Londo and G’Kar. They are slowly changing places from where they started. Though Londo is being portrayed in a reluctant light and looks to be building towards tragedy.

    I thought the Delenn moment was great too, since it show that the writers of the show paid attention to the prior shows. Too many TV series forget what they have done between episodes. Another thumbs up from me.

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  4. I can’t decide whether the Lumati subplot (and especially Ivanova’s resolution of her dilemma) is hilarious or just dumb. It didn’t remind me of the Prime Directive at all, because the Prime Directive is only applicable to species that aren’t yet aware of the existence of sapient life on other planets than their own; it’s not about superiority, it’s about an ethos of “first, do no harm”.

    The episode was pulling out all the stops to make me sympathize with Londo. Nope, didn’t work, still want him to die. He does terrible things by his own choice and for his own benefit, is only getting worse, and we’re supposed to pity him because those actions make people like him less? Jurasik is good, but I’m not buying it.

    Also made me angry with Delenn, because nyy ure zbenyvmvat vf whfg n ehfr. Fur jnf arire tbvat gb uryc gur Anea, orpnhfr vg zvtug gvc bss gur Funqbjf gb Zvaonev njnerarff bs gurve erghea; naq rira vs fur jnagrq gb uryc, fur pbhyqa’g orpnhfr fur ab ybatre unf vasyhrapr jvgu ure tbireazrag. Fur’f pnfgvat gur oynzr ba gur Anea sbe n pubvpr gung’f nyernql orra znqr ertneqyrff bs gurve npgvbaf.

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    • V znqr n pbzzrag erpragyl nobhg Senaxyva ynpxvat uhzvyvgl. Va zl rfgvzngvba, ur arire ernyyl yrneaf uvf yrffbaf, orpnhfr vg arire bpphef gb uvz gung ur unf nalguvat gb yrnea. V guvax gurer’f fbzr bs gung va Qryraa nf jryy. Fur’f fb pregnva gung fur’f gur evtug crefba, ng gur evtug gvzr, npgvat sbe gur evtug ernfbaf, gung fur qbrfa’g rire dhrfgvba urefrys ba gur ovt cvpgher. Jung fur’f tbvat guebhtu evtug abj jvgu gur Terl Pbhapvy vf gur pybfrfg fur trgf gb uhzvyvgl.

      V guvax uhzvyvgl vf n ovt gurzr sbe gur fubj, be ng yrnfg ubj rnpu bs gur znva punenpgref’ gevnyf sbepr gurz gbjneqf frys-njnerarff. T’Xne’f whfg fgnegvat qbja gung cngu. Lbh ungr Ybaqb, ohg sbe zr, ur’f gur zbfg vagrerfgvat punenpgre va grezf bs ubj ur frrf uvf ebyr va gur havirefr. V pna’g fnl gung ur’f rivy. Ur’f tbg guvf frafr bs varivgnovyvgl, juvpu cebonoyl pbzrf sebz uvf fubrf orvat gbb gvtug, nygubhtu V’q org gung nal fcrpvrf jubfr zrzoref pna frr gurve bja qrnguf cebonoyl unf n fgebat frafr bs sngr. Ohg gurer’f fbzrguvat urebvp nobhg gur jnl ur rzoenprf uvf pngnfgebcuvp shgher jvgu gur pbasvqrapr gung ur pna orne gur oheqra bs vg, nf jryy nf znxr vg orggre.

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    • The way the Prime Directive is played depends on the series you’re watching. At its best it was a compassionate doctrine, but in the early seasons of TNG in particular, there were several episodes where the crew let whole populations die to natural disasters, and congratulated themselves on their superior morality for doing it.

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      • The latest Trek movie, Into Darkness, had a bit of this too. The crew does some technobabble to prevent a major volcano eruption that would have wiped out a sentient species and all Starfleet HQ can do is get pissed that the aliens saw the space ship.

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    • I buy the transformation more, but that’s possibly because I buy Londo’s statements that he’s only doing this for his people. I’m able to buy it because he’s not really using his new power to party hard, and he isn’t that excited about his rising status.

      It also doesn’t hurt that Season One established that the Narn and the Centauri, at this point in their civilizations, are both pretty dickish. Also remember that the reason the Centauri are putting boot to head is because when Morden asked his question, Londo stated he wanted to restore his people to greatness. All G’Kar wanted to do was kill Centauri. None of this makes Londo a good person, but it does make it easier to view the Narn/Centauri conflict as something more complicated than Empire vs. Rebel Alliance.

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      • My issues with Londo flow directly from that episode in which Morden was introduced. G’Kar wanted to destroy the Centauri because he saw them as being, always and forever, a threat to the survival of his people. He wanted the Narn to be safe from them. (And the instant he got an indication – a few episodes ago, with Dr. Franklin telling him the Centauri Emperor wanted to apologize – that the Centauri might not inevitably be a constant threat, he was willing to drop his hostility and mend fences.)

        Londo’s wish was more expansive, which was why Morden chose him. Londo didn’t just want his people to be safe and then live in peace. He wanted respect, he wanted power (for both himself and the Centauri generally), he wanted the restoration of the Empire. It’s not about survival; it’s about power and prestige and crushing anyone you need to in order to get that power and prestige. That strikes me as a more fundamentally aggressive desire. And Londo’s reasons for starting the war were ultimately self-serving: they weren’t in response to any immediate threat or Narn provocation, they were in order to enable him to gain power and status and respect at court.

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    • The Lumati plot was dumb. Thankfully it is a throwaway. I cannot hate Londo, I see a guy that feels he has no choice to do something else because it would have meant the end of his people. And once the boulder started rolling down the hill, he could not stop it, just make very minor corrections. You can say he was an idiot for getting that boulder started, but not hate him.

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  5. I liked the Lumati plot for this reason. While it was clear the humans don’t like “downbelow” and view it as a societal failing, the Lumati don’t. They see the existance of the place in two completely different ways. That, folks, is why they are alien. And it’s a nice reminder that even human commonalities are just that…human centric.

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