If you’re new to the book club, links to the previous episodes can be found here.
This week, it’s Season 2, Episode 20: “The Long, Twilight Struggle”
It’s difficult to discuss this show without occasionally wanting to discuss 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. Hey, if you use Firefox, there’s a simple plug-inthat makes this as easy as highlighting text.
Everyone sitting comfortably? Then onward! This week’s recap courtesy of Katherine!
Londo meets with Refa on Centauri Prime. Refa tells him that the war is about to end sooner than they could have hoped, and that Londo will be the architect of their victory.
Delenn smiles while meditating. “Hello, dear friend.” We hear laughter, presumably of her friend Draal in the Great Machine on the world below Babylon 5. Ivanova reports unusual signals from the planet, and Delenn’s friend appears in a projection to Sheridan.
Draal introduces himself and his role to Sheridan, who’s already aware of him from the station reports. Draal appears to be enjoying the chance to ham it up. He invites Sheridan down to the planet for a visit, and he can bring one other person. “You’ll know who.”
G’Kar is receiving a report on the war; it isn’t going well for the Narn and they’ve lost several colonies recently. The Kha’ri hasn’t been informing him of this, as they want to put up a brave front. However, the Narn have located the supply world for the main Centauri force at the world of Garash 7, and they can capture it if they commit most of their forces to this one attack. Even with heavy losses, this will make the Centauri think they underestimated Narn strength (along the lines of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War). It will cause the Centauri to pull back and re-examine their strategy, allowing the Narn to rebuilt their defenses. G’Kar recognizes that this will leave the Narn homeworld with only a skeleton force in its defence. G’Kar says farewell to his uncle, looking worried.
Refa knows about the Narn plans from an intercepted transmission. Refa wants Londo to send Shadow ships to Gorash 7 while the Centauri fleet attacks the Narn homeworld. Londo is shocked, saying that any force that tries to invade Narn “will be up to its neck in blood”. But Refa doesn’t intend to invade – he intends to use mass drivers to “flatten” the planet. Londo objects that mass drivers have been outlawed by every civilized planet, but Refa responds casually, “These are uncivilized times”, and says that treaties are ink on a page and that this move will save thousands of Centauri lives. Londo is also worried about how powerful his ‘allies’ are and thinks things are moving too quickly and spinning out of control. He agrees to Refa’s plan, though, but say this is the last time he will ask for his allies’ help; the Centauri will not be dependent on others.
Garibaldi is suspicious of the origins of the transmission and of Draal’s offer, but Ivanova reports that sensors show the message came from inside the planet, meaning it was definitely sent by Draal. Sheridan and Delenn head down to the planet.
Londo and Refa are going with the fleet to the Narn homeworld. Londo appears unpleasantly surprised by this; one presumes that he’d rather not be on hand to see the consequences of his decisions.
G’Kar goes to medlab, where Dr. Franklin is looking after injured Narn refugees. Franklin tells him that one of the refugees was interrogated by the Centauri, and they kept asking him about the homeworld’s defence system, and that their questions seemed “unusually urgent”. In addition, the only reason this group of refugees escaped is that the Centauri fleet left before they’d finished security the planet. Franklin remembers that in the final days of the Earth-Minbari War, the Minbari bypassed several human colonies because they were ready to attack Earth itself.
Sheridan and Delenn arrive on the planet. Delenn practices some Earth swearing for use of emphasis. Sheridan is rather taken aback. Sheridan is awed by the appearance of the installation on the planet.
G’Kar contacts G’Staan to warn against the planned Narn attack, but G’Staan won’t listen. G’Kar looks devastated.
Draal likes Delenn’s new appearance, and is pleased with Sheridan’s work as commander of the station. The machine gives him certain powers to see across distance (and time?), and so he knows about Sheridan’s conspiracy. Draal recalls that when he took up his place in the machine, he said it was to be left alone “until the time was right”. That time has now arrived, and he is ready to place the full capabilities of the planet at Sheridan’s disposal. We get a title-drop for the episode: “In the long twilight struggle which lies ahead of us, there is the possibility of hope.”
The Narn fleet arrives at Gorash 7 to find that no Centauri ships are there. Shadow ships appear, and the Narn ships aren’t ready to jump back to hyperspace yet. The shadow ships release smaller fighters, which I don’t think we’ve seen before, and destroy the Narn fleet. In his quarters, G’Kar is praying. G’Staan’s ship is able to form a jump point, but the Shadow ships fire something that causes the jump points to collapse, destroying the last ships. G’Kar seems to know.
Draal picks up distress calls and says Sheridan needs to get back to the station. Delenn hopes to see Draal more often now that he has revealed his presence. Draal calls Zathras, who we last saw on the past-Babylon-4 during “Babylon Squared”.
Ivanova informs Garibaldi that the Centauri have begun an all-out offensive against the Narn homeworld, starting about an hour ago. She expects this to result in violence on the station, and authorizes Garibaldi to shut it down – close all doors between levels and break up any group of more than five people. Ivanova will put out an alert telling anyone without urgent business to stay in their quarters. On station television, the news reports the attack, and a fight breaks out between Narn and Centauri.
When Sheridan arrives back at the station, Ivanova reports mass riots, and rumour that the Centauri are using mass drivers. Cut to the Narn homeworld, where we see the Centauri ships launching large asteroids at the planet below as Londo watches with an agonized look on his face.
Cut to a news report saying that the bombardment is in its fourth day and the Narn government has still refused to surrender. Minbari, Vorlon, Earth, and other government have filed official protests with the Centauri for the use of mass drivers, but this has had no effect. Cities on Narn have been utterly destroyed, with hundreds of thousands of casualties and the total elimination of water and power over most of the planet. Earth government analysts predict that the Narn infrastructure will be totally destroyed if they don’t surrender: “They’re being bombed back into the Stone Age”. The planet is being flattened.
A transmission to G’Kar tells him that they are going to surrender. He has to remain on Babylon 5; he is the only one of the Kha’ri who is still safe. (Did we know that G’Kar was a member of the Kha’ri before now? Between this and Delenn being (formerly) a member of the Grey Council, it seems like the Centauri were the only one of the major races who weren’t taking Babylon 5 seriously from the start.) He has one more message for G’Kar: “The hardest thing I have ever asked you to do.”
G’Kar enters Sheridan’s office. With difficulty, he tells Sheridan that he has been instructed by his government to come to him and ask for sanctuary.
Londo returns to Babylon 5. Garibaldi meets him and tells him he’s arranged for around-the-clock security until the situation is over. Londo tells him to tell Sheridan to call a meeting of the Babylon 5 Advisory Council and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, as he has an announcement. Garibaldi’s frosty demeanour towards his former friend is evident.
At the meeting, Londo announces the Narn government’s unconditional surrender. The Centauri terms are:
- The dissolution of the Kha’ri and the trial of its members for war crimes against the Centauri (for extra irony value). Londo rejects Sheridan’s request to send Earth observers to these hearings.
- To prevent any further “acts of terror” by the Narn against the Centauri, the punishment for the murder of any Centauri by a Narn will be the execution of 500 Narns, including the perpetrator’s own family.
- A provisional ruling council appointed by the Centauri will take over “the responsibility of rebuilding a more civilized Narn government” as a Centauri colony.
Sheridan asks icily if there’s anything else. One more thing, says Londo. Ambassador G’Kar is no longer a representative of the Narn in any official capacity, and Citizen G’Kar will return to Narn for trial. Sherdan says that G’Kar has asked for and been granted sanctuary, and as Sheridan didn’t sign the agreement, G’Kar can stay. Delenn backs him up. Londo agrees, but insists that G’Kar must be removed from the council immediately. G’Kar stands slowly and looks at the Council. “No dictator…no invader…can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand. The Centauri learned this lesson once.
We will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years, we will be free.” With the last line, he looks directly at Londo.
This is one of the most powerful speeches given in Babylon 5, and it has particular resonance for me at the present. Slowly, with dignity, he walks out of the chamber.
In an abrupt tonal shift, Londo sits in his quarters listening to the news – the Earth news, as it becomes clear. “…and dancing in the street as Centauri Emperor Cartagia declared a week-long public celebration to commemorate the recapture of the Narn homeworld. In related news, the Centauri Republic today announced plans to annex several smaller worlds adjacent to Narn space, declaring them protectorates of the Republic. While government spokesmen insist that the Centauri do not have any expansionist plans beyond retaking the Narn homeworld, other in Earthdome are less sure. Londo looks worried.
In his office, Sheridan speaks with G’Kar, saying that while they’ve had their differences, he can’t imagine going into the council chambers and not seeing him there. “For what it’s worth, every resource that I have, every contact, any way that I can help you win back your planet…it’s yours.” Gee, captain, that kind of offer sure would have been useful before the Narn lost the war. He offers G’Kar his hand. G’Kar responds, “Last time I offered someone my hand, we were at war twenty-four hours later,” but he takes it, and forms his hand into a fist as Sheridan leaves.
Sheridan goes to speak with Delenn and find her with Garibaldi and a crowd of people – and Kosh. The people are Rangers, come to pledge their support “to fight the coming darkness”. The next wave, now that the Narn-Centauri War is over, will come soon, and a “fortress of light” is needed. Babylon 5 must be that fortress. Delenn and Sheridan now have joint command of the Rangers. Sheridan says he’d started to wonder if things would ever get better, and now he thinks they just did. “From this place we will deliver notice to the parliaments of conquerors that a line has been drawn against the darkness, and we will hold that line. No matter the cost.”
Ah good stuff. It’s hit the fan now….
@Patrick you’re right about that being one of the best speaches on B5.
“treaties are ink on a page” Ring a bell? “Stroke of a pen, law of the land”. The casual disregard for anything that doesn’t get you want you wanted. Laws, convention, society, etc., all get in the way of power.Report
This is Katherine’s recap (although I agree with the sentiment about the speech)Report
Why are Mass Drivers illegal? From what I understand in other science fiction stories, they’re the equivalent of a bowling ball going some meaningful percentage of the speed of light.
They aren’t biological, they aren’t chemical, they aren’t nukular.
They’re just applied physics.Report
I think they’re considerably larger than bowling balls.
And they’re illegal because they’re incredibly destructive and completely indiscriminate – by their very nature they target civilians en masse.Report
They don’t need to be larger, really. If you’re interested in taking out city blocks, you’re better off with a smaller bowling ball going a higher percentage of c.
And I’m uncertain that other races, even civilized ones, would share moral sentiments regarding civilians. Not saying that they wouldn’t, of course… but I also don’t know that they would.Report
Nukes don’t seem to be generally banned; at any rate, Sheridan used them in the Earth-Minbari War and nobody except the Minbari warrior caste seems to hold it against him (and for them it’s because it was “sneaky”, not because they were nukes).
There may not be nuclear weapons conventions in the B5 universe, but I can see there being conventions against “weapons of planetary destruction” that don’t just target a specific site, but can wipe out civilization, or even all life, on a whole planet. Mass drivers would fall into that category. It would be the same principle by which we’ve decided that no nation should use nuclear weapons in war: “if one group decides to use these, then others will use them in retaliation and everyone could wind up dead”.
Or, it could just be a narrative device to show that the Centauri have crossed a very serious line and are disregarding even the most fundamental interstellar agreements.Report
Or, it could just be a narrative device to show that the Centauri have crossed a very serious line and are disregarding even the most fundamental interstellar agreements.
Yeah, as I was driving home, I figured it was probably that.
I kinda wish they had made up something, though. “Greytail bombs” or “Traska bombs” or something that sounds ominous.Report
@katherinemw , @jaybird
The conventions regarding weapons in space would likely be different than ones a planet-bound species like our would use. For one thing, nukes aren’t so dangerous in space – most of the destructive force of a nuke comes from the air around it absorbing X-rays and heating up. In a vacuum what you mostly get is a lot of X-rays and any space ship would need shielding for that anyway. Weapon conventions may reflect this fact, using nukes on planets may be a no-no, but nukes in space may be fine.
As for the ban on mass drivers, I assume its more of a ban on planetary bombardment since you don’t actually need mass drivers to ruin a planet you’re orbiting (dropping rocks on them would work nearly as well and be much cheaper). The reason for a ban is probably the same reason its banned in Mass Effect: Smashing large, fast-moving objects into a planet can permanently damage its climate and biosphere (after all, a large-scale mass drop was what killed the dinosaurs). Taking a planet off someone else is OK, because there’s still a usable planet at the end of the process. But if you ruin an inhabitable planet then no one can ever have it again and that’s not cool.Report
. Taking a planet off someone else is OK, because there’s still a usable planet at the end of the process. But if you ruin an inhabitable planet then no one can ever have it again and that’s not cool.
This is more or less how I read it. It also jibes with some other approaches to interstellar war that have cropped up here and there in the speculative literature. In fact, it’s kinda the plot twist behind Ender’s, no?
It’s remarkably easy – once you are technologically past the point of interstellar travel – to reduce a habitable planet to an uninhabitable one. So you need some sort of prohibition against doing so or you can’t really have interstellar conflict in a meaningful sense. One side blows up the other’s planet and the story is done.Report
It was the plot of the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. The aliens were incensed by nuclear war because it would destroy the biosphere of a rare inhabitable planet. They were fine with humans killing each other so long as they didn’t take the Earth with them.Report
If you recall the video of the bombardment of the Narn homeworld by the Centauri, the mass driver apparatus was very large, and was attached to the underside of the ship. I think it’s safe to say the the rocks being propelled were greater than 100 yards + diameter range. Given that size and the materials making up asteroids, I’d say that launching them onto a planet would be quite devestating. Not to mention the whole nuclear winter aspect of all that particulate matter in the atmosphere. But none of the radiation so the invading troops don’t have to worry about that.Report
Great review Katherine, and I agree that Andreas Katsulas was in top form this week (and the speech itslef was fine writing too). Although I think props are owed to Peter Jurasik as well. The expression on his face as the mass drivers fire up is truly haunting.
In a way this episode wa sa showcase of who Refa is too. His plan was so prosaic in its brutality. There was no clever strategem or fancy alien weapon, he just smashed the Narn until they begged for mercy. It shows that Refa is utterly pragmatic as well as being utterly amoral and that’s a very dangerous combination.Report
I wouldn’t go so far as to call Refa “pragmatic”. Remember, he’s in the group of Centauri that think they should have held onto their empire, and the loss of the Narn worlds is a blow to Centauri pride. He’s looking for payback, to humiliate the Narn, and create a situation where they are totally dependant upon the Centari, there to be kept under their thumb….Report
Sure, but last time the Centauri invaded rather than relying on bombardment. That’s what I mean about pragmatism – he realised how hard an invasion would be and said “sod it, lets just flatten them”.Report
Do we have any takers for the next episode (“Comes the Inquisitor”)?
I can take the season finale if nobody else wants it, but only if nobody else wants it – I seem to have claimed all the pivotal episodes of this season thus far (Coming of Shadows, In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum, and this one), so I don’t want to steal it from someone else.Report
I believe that @james-k wanted it.
I am about to start season 3, myself.Report
Yes, I have dibs on Comes the Inquisitor. I’m happy to do the season finale too.Report
And the good episodes keep rolling on. Very nice review too.
My favorite scene in this one is Londo looking out the window at the mass drivers destroying Narn. There is one point were they show the destruction from Londo’s ‘eye view’ and it has his image over shadowing the Narn home orld’s destruction. I love that visual representation of Londo being critical to the series of events that have lead to this point, like he was the mastermind behind all of this.Report
I interpreted that scene as Londo seeing half-reflected face in the window while he watched the mass drivers bombard Narn. In any case, I agree it was a magnificent scene – it shows what Peter Jurasik can do with just an expression.Report
I agree that he was seeing his reflection, but I read more into it for the view of the writers and producer who made the scene.Report
I also wonder if Londo is thinking a little along that lines. He should see how he is the architect of what is happening.Report
Ah, I see what you mean.Report