If you’re new to the book club, links to the previous episodes can be found here.
This week, it’s Season 3, Episode 3: “A Day In The Strife”
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.
Speaking of which, we never recapped the pilot, and the pilot is worthy of attention, now that we’ve had the Kosh Reveal. Anybody who wants to recap the pilot, feel free to volunteer in the comments.
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-in that makes this as easy as highlighting text, search Add Ons for “Leet Key” and you’re good to go.
Open! Transport Dionysus is arriving at B5. New customs rules are backlogging ship docking. Cut to Ivanova and Sheridan behind a table in a large room with a “public School Board audience” level of aggro. Ivanova calls for order over the din.
Delays for the new process will be 10-15%. Audience freaks. Ivanova sez they can be cut to 5%, but that will require the station to hire additional inspectors which will raise docking fees. More freak. Audience guy interrupts the din with, “We know what this is really about…” so yeah, the “public School Board audience” is probably more apropos than I originally thought, let’s hear the Conspiracy Theory…
… ah, it’s a *guns rights* debate, sorry, I confused public education aggro for Second Amendment aggro.
So apparently the folks are all upset that only the station security folks are armed. Yanno, given all the nuttiness that’s happened on the station since episode 1 of season 1 I can see that.
On the other hand, as Things Get Dicier In The Neighborhood, I can also see the security folks on B5 wanting to treat the place more like a military installation in the middle of decidedly non-neutral territory between two warring powers, too.
Sheridan faces down Tough Guy with the sort of gung-ho response we are starting to expect… hm, expect is not the right word… “not be surprised by” from him rather than the measured response we’d expect from a diplomat. As the series goes on, Sheridan definitely (and exceedingly comfortably) takes the role of warrior over political leader. Also, he’s more than a little crazy.
After thoroughly embarrassing Tough Guy, Sheridan calls for the meeting to be adjourned until cooler heads can prevail. Ivanova gives him With All Due Respect, Captain, You’re A Nut. Sheridan reveals that he palmed the charge cartridge for the gun he gave to Tough Guy, thus showing that he’s crazy like a fox, all right.
Approach a pair of Narns. Councilman Na’Far. He’s here to replace citizen G’Kar.
Cut to Intro.
Back from Intro, Na’Far is explaining that he’s part of the Vichy French and G’Kar running the Resistance is a problem. Na’Far is here to boot G’Kar back home, and he wants B5’s command crew’s help. Sheridan basically tells him, “Uh, no”. G’Kar has asylum, and it’s not Sheridan’s job to interfere in Narn internal politics. Na’Far takes that reasonably graciously, which means we’ll have a problem later?
Over to a party! Garibaldi and Franklin are drinking. Garibaldi is mothermouthing. Doc looks tired. Doc acts exhausted. Doc complains about how massively overworked and underslept he is. Ivanova shows up. Some discussion of the Captain. Doc thinks he’s getting more hardass. Ivanova basically agrees, but thinks this is sorta to be expected. Franklin gets a “Hey, can you come back on duty” message, he goes off to the little boy’s room. Garibaldi takes the opportunity to tell Ivanova he’s been snooping around in the Captain’s personnel file. Ivanova gives Incredulous (come on, Ivanova, you should know Garibaldi well enough by now that if he needs to know something, he’s going to find it out, even if he doesn’t tell himself what he knows). Garibaldi sez Sheridan’s file indicates he’s a superior tactical thinker, good at taking small forces and going from a defensive position to an offensive one (referring both to the Black Star incident and something that happened on Mars), and he feels good about that. Ivanova nods at this bit of plot exposition and asks if he peeked in her file, too. Garibaldi gives Need to Know. She leaves. Franklin comes back from the bathroom and he’s peppier than a teenager that just found out the parents are leaving for the weekend and they left the keys to the booze closet behind, scampers off to go dance. Garibaldi Looks Thoughtful.
Yeah, you don’t need to be a highly trained security guy to suspect that Franklin wasn’t going to the bathroom in the bathroom.
Cut to Londo, Vir, and Na’Far. Well, this is going to go well. Na’Far says that Sheridan told him to talk to Londo before attempting to see G’Kar. Londo acts like Vader visiting the second Death Star at the beginning of Jedi. Streets clear? Dissidents repressed? Work gangs productive? Na’Far answers all to the affirmative. Executions proceeding? Na’Far agrees. Vir is looking a little green around the gills. Can’t say that I blame him, up to this point Londo has been acting more like a guy who made some terrible decisions and got in way over his head. Now he’s actually coming across as Mildly Psycho Tinpot Dictator. Londo gives Na’Far permission to see G’Kar, Na’Far leaves.
Vir gets a little angry. We’ve beaten them, what was that all about? They still have their pride, says Londo, and that means they’re still a threat. So we can’t just beat them, we have to break them, asks Vir. Londo says “YES”. (Duh). This is the way things are done, Vir, or we’ll have to go through this again in another hundred years. Londo storms off, Vir goes Shakin’ My Head.
For the record, Londo, you’re gonna have to do a lot more ethnic cleansing if you think you’re not gonna have to go through this again before a hundred years are up. Tricky part about breaking spirits is for every three you break, you make one harder than five. It’s not a good calculus.
Off to C&C. Scanning some unknown ship. It’s been in B5 space for an hour and it’s only now you’re briefing the Captain? Drone has been dispatched to investigate. We might have a First Contact situation, Captain. Dramatic music as we fade to commercial.
Back from commercial, the alien ship has pulled up next to B5 and stopped. We still have dramatic music, so something might happen any second! No weapons evident. Sheridan thinks it’s a probe of some sort. Alien ship broadcasts a signal. Unrecognizable. Probably their alphabet and language, muses Sheridan, how long until the computer figures all this stuff out? Two-three hours says the guy with the headset.
I have to admit, I like that there is a Universal Translater but that it actually needs to construct a corpus in order to work properly. From a storytelling standpoint, we get the ability to inject dramatic tension with moments like these, so there’s that…. but also, it seems a lot less Deus Ex than the Star Trek translator that always worked on the fly.
Cut to Londo and Delenn. Londo is trying to reconstruct his buddy relationships that he enjoyed so much in the first season back when he was a loser and everyone thought he was kinda a screwup but amusing. He feels like he’s lost all his friends. Delenn points out he’s probably lost more than his friends, but that’s between him and his gods. Ouch. I’ll say this for Delenn, she gives Frostily Polite Verbal Evisceration better than just about anybody. Londo wants to call in a favor. Delenn gives WTF. It’s not for me, and it’s not for the Centauri, says Londo… it’s for Vir. Oooh. Londo wants Vir to be promoted to Ambassador to Minbar. Delenn sez that’s possible, but why? Londo starts to B.S., but Delenn wants the truth.
This is one of her better scenes, if you’re watching her while Londo’s talking. He’s obviously not happy about where he is. He feels affection for Vir, both for him personally and for how Vir reminds Londo of a younger Londo. Londo thinks Vir should be spared from the horrible things Londo is doing, but Londo doesn’t realize that’s what he thinks. Delenn interrupts with, “Maybe you need him”. Londo gets defensive and says he’s just trying to get rid of him. Delenn’s facial expressions are really priceless in this scene. Ah, Londo, yes, it would be so much easier for you if your conscience went away, wouldn’t it? She says she’ll see what she can do. Londo departs.
Cut to Garibaldi and Franklin. Garibaldi has invited Franklin to dinner. Yes, Looking Thoughtful fallout. Franklin is suspicious that there’s alterior motive than just enjoying grub. (Duh!) Garibaldi gives Innocent, and the Doc lets it pass and sits down to pasta. Garibaldi starts musing about how they’re actually quite alike… driven, detail-oriented, drive their subordinates crazy, basically obsessive-compulsive, but that’s why they’re good at what they do. Garibaldi is having an Intervention. The Doc is using Stims. Stims are legal, reminds the Doctor, and they’re sometimes necessary for me to get my job done. The addict talks to the addict and the conversation goes about how most first conversations go with addicts. Doc agrees to cut back, and heck, that’s no problem because it’s not a problem.
And anybody that can’t see the rest of the episode unfolding already, your Plot Foreshadower Card is revoked.
Cut to Na’Far’s Sidekick and Sheridan in the bar. Na’Far’s sidekick is Ta’Lon, ah, he’s the same Narn that was trapped on the ship with Sheridan back in All Alone In The Night. Gonna have to repay that debt I owe you someday, Sheridan, says Sidekick. $1 says he doesn’t make it out of this episode alive!
Cut back to that mysterious ship that is hanging off-station that was apparently not important enough for Sheridan to stick around the bridge while we figured out what it was. Dramatic music, so I guess something’s about to happen? Translation computer is ready to go. It’s are recorded message. It’s a First Contact Probe. It’s broadcasting a series of recorded questions on a wide variety of subjects, apparently to test and see if whatever it bumps into is Intelligent Enough to Warrant Attention. What do we get if we pass, asks Ivanova? A whole grab bag of Incredibly Awesome Technology, says the headset guy. Wow, sounds awesome. What happens if we don’t pass? Well, if we don’t answer all the questions in 24 hours, the probe goes Really Big Kablooie (500,000 megatons of kablooie). That’s a lot of kablooie. Cut to commerical.
Back from commerical, Ivanova is briefing Sheridan on low-power scans of the probe. It’s got a kablooie, all right. It’s on countdown. 600 questions, the Brain Boys back on Earth are working on the answers (side note: it’s also nice that they occasionally have to consult Brain Boys back on Earth, instead of just having the computer already know the answers to everything or Spock being able to figure it out before the next commercial break). Sheridan and Ivanova compare the drone to an interstellar weed whacker, eliminating the inferior races to make space for the more intelligent ones to grow.
Not sure this is a great strategy for an interstellar superrace for testing the younger races. I mean, it’s fine and all if each weed is an independent weed, but when you nuke the crap out of one weed and the rest of them all gang together, you can get yourself a real problem. Plus waitaminute, aren’t the Vorlons and the Shadows the superraces in these parts? You’re confusing me.
Cut to Na’Far and G’Kar X’ar-ing. Na’Far wants survival. G’Kar wants freedom. Na’Far and G’Kar have a discussion about pride that is a mirror image of the one Vir and Londo had a few minutes ago. Na’Far wants to appear civilized and submissive until they can strike back effectively. G’Kar sees the war as ongoing. Na’Far dishes up the plan: you come home, you face Centauri trial, I take over the B5 position, and we bide our time. G’Kar says nobody on B5 will support Na’Far, Na’Far brings the hammer: the Centauri are going to start upping pressure against the Narn on B5 by torturing and imprisoning and probably executing their families unless they cooperate.
Cut to the Doc. Troubles in Medlab. Doc has a very short temper. Com beeps. Ivanova wants the answers to the medical questions from the probe. Doc is stressed. Doc thinks about injecting some joy joice, but holds off for now.
Over to Vir arguing with Londo. Vir doesn’t want to go to Minbar. Londo says it is a good career move. Dad, I want to be here to do the job that needs to be done. Son, you’re going to go make a better wage and have career opportunities I didn’t have. Dad, you’ll be alone! Son, I’ve always been alone. Londo exits.
Cut to Na’Far and his Ta’Lon who are confronted by a group of Narn. The Centauri have started taking their relatives prisoner on a condition that G’Kar leave. The Narn spokesguy accuses Na’Far of being a blood traitor. Weapons come out, G’Kar appears out of nowhere, disarms a dude, and yells at everybody. The Centauri will not use me to turn my own people against themselves, if my return to Narn is what they demand to end this, then so be it. He throws the weapon aside in disgust and leaves, Na’Far and Ta’Lon follow.
Cut to Dramatic Music, exterior shot of the SAT Drone From Hell, and Sheridan and Ivanova in C&C. 60 questions to go, they’re starting to broadcast answers to the probe. Sheridan plans for contingencies, power up the weapons systems in case they have to try and shoot the thing down if they’re not going to make the time limit. Six hours left. The transport folks want to meet again about the weapons policy. Sheridan says set the meeting time for seven hours from now, nice prioritization. Ivanova is amused. Sheridan gives her a dig about pessimism and leaves.
Cut to G’Kar’s quarters, he’s packing. Enter Garibaldi. You go back and they’re gonna kill you, says Garibaldi. G’Kar is okay with martyrdom. G’Kar seems genuinely touched that Garibaldi is worried about him. Exit Garibaldi.
Over to Doc Franklin bitching out Functionary who doesn’t have all the answers to the molecular biology questions yet because some academic is on vacation. Franklin goes ballistic and threatens her with horribleness if they don’t find him and get those answers, and cuts the conn. Everyone looks Overly Concerned that the Doctor is acting so angry, but hey, I dunno, I would be less worried about the uncharacteristic outburst than I would be happy that somebody was kicking verbal ass trying to save the station from being blown to kablootherines. Prep that guy for surgery, I’m gonna shoot up.
Well, now, shooting up because your behavior is off rather than shooting up for getting your job done… yeah, Doc, G-money is right, you’re a stimhead.
Over to Na’Far, he’s preaching patience. Rebuild the planet, feed and clothe our people. What’s more important than their safety?
Perhaps one thing, chimes up Ta’Lon. We won’t know what it is yet, though, because we’re cutting back to the bridge.
Jesus, this episode has got too much going on at once.
3 minutes. Standing by to transmit. Sheridan wants to know what the reward is. Ivanova tells him about the Technology Goodie Bag.
Hold on a second, says Sheridan. If this alien race actually does judge fitness by how much you know, why is the reward more knowledge? That’s weird. Maybe they feel generous, says Ivanova. Wiping out races based upon their lack of advancement doesn’t seem like a characteristic that goes along with generosity. I don’t like it. We’re kinda running short on time, here, Captain, what’s your point?
Sheridan says, what if we’re looking at this backwards? It would make a lot more sense for an alien race that’s worried about possible competitors to design something that goes out, tests for whether or not they are dangerous, and the blows up <em>if they answer correctly</em> instead of the other way around.
You know, this is a very good line of thought for somebody that has to deal with First Contact issues, but methinks that this episode loses a lot of its punch given that they’ve had 24 hours to actually sit down and talk about the 500,000 megaton warhead parked next to the ship and this line of thinking comes up in the last 120 seconds.
Sheridan says “no send”, the probe doesn’t blow but starts to head off. Sheridan orders the answers downloaded to a maintenance bot, waits for the probe to reach minimum safe distance, and then has the bot transmit the answers to the probe, whereupon it immediately blows up.
Given that we had the last couple episodes to give us “Sheridan is great at taking huge risks in the right direction”, this seems a little clunky repeating of the point, here, JMS.
Sheridan cracks wise about having to go to the damn meeting, and stomps out, and Ivanova gives I’m Too Old For This Shit.
Cut, we’ve got G’Kar trying to leave, but the B5 Narnians, led in part by Ta’Lon, won’t let him leave. What’s more important than your families’ safety, asks G’Kar. Their freedom, says The Group. You can’t go, we won’t let you, you’re needed here. G’Kar stays.
Over to Garibaldi and the Doc, commiserating about their workloads. Sorry I got in your face about the Stims, says G-money, if you say you got it covered you got it covered. The Doc immediate lies about taking Stims during the recent event to convince his buddy that he’s really got it covered. Uh, huh, Doc. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. Garibaldi is going to let it go for now. Where’s Ivanova and Sheridan, wonders Franklin, you don’t wanna know says G-money and we get a brief flash of them back in a recurrance of the same meeting that started the episode.
Final scene, Vir is boarding a shuttle to Minbar. Londo nods him on his way. Cut to credits.
Some final thoughts:
I like the parallel between G’Kar as the Heart of the Narn staying on the station, and Vir as the Heart of the Centauri leaving. A+
I like the Londo transition in this episode. He’s bouncing around a bit this season, with the “Let’s break our deal with the Shadows” bit earlier. I don’t think this season is going to be easy on Londo, and it’s nice to see his character oscillating a bit wildly. It seems particularly human. A-
I like the idea that they’re dealing with addiction as a continuing human problem, and I also like that they’ve made stuffy-ass Franklin the addict and they’ve made broken-and-rebuilt Garibaldi as the guide. I like that they gave more than 15 minutes to the plot over the course of the series, instead of a nice clear-cut Addict-Recovery cycle with both of these characters. I don’t like that they often make these scenes a little rushed or a little contrived to make them fit into the story arc *and* all the other subplots that are going on in any individual episode, and you see that as a storytelling error in this episode. Like, seriously, I’d *want* Franklin to be angry and demanding with some academic fussbudget who doesn’t want to interrupt somebody’s vacation rather than getting the info I need to keep the station from being blown up. B
I like the Ta’Lon character brought back for a bit part. It’s a little contrived, but unlike the Star Wars prequels where everything is reused to the point of what the hell, aren’t there any interesting planets in the galaxy other than Tatooine, we get just enough of it to make the B5 universe seem a little more accessible through common character threads. You see this in other characters, too, they show up, they disappear, they show back up again, always in a way that improves your thoughts about the plot arc instead of jarringly distracting from it. B+
I don’t like that the Narn on the station are so solidly behind G’Kar. They make that particular conflict between freedom and safety far too short and too easily resolved. I don’t have a problem with the resolution, per se, but it seems like this particular question of maintaining the underground and G’Kar’s place in it v. keeping families safe too rushed in this episode. I do like G’Kar’s tightrope-walking, though. Mixed bag judgment on this part of the storyline. C
I think the multiple-plot-thread weaving is particularly weak in this episode, especially given the 500,000 megaton bomb sitting just next door and everybody’s rather ho-hum weaving this in and out of their other priorities rather than, yanno, kinda putting that before everything else. D.