I really liked this episode. I missed that G’Kar wasn’t in it, because I’m all into his character after the last episodes revelations about him, but I thought there was a very good balance of wrapping up old story lines (like Garibaldi), advancing new ones (like toppling empires and malevolent presences), and character development (like Ivanova’s promotion and Sheridan’s temper). Plus the Drazi stuff with the sashes was just funny. It really was.
I’ll start with Garibaldi, because he opens the show and because it’s a straightforward conclusion to the season one cliffhanger. He gets better–fully, apparently–and resumes his post. There’s the nagging doubt and embarrassment and perhaps touch of fear that serves as suspense before he dons his uniform again, but then there’s a flash of insight and a great show of experience and competence that saves the day. Of course, that he comes to the aid of Ivanova fuels my little fantasy that they are being set up for each other. The actor also suddenly looks much thinner than he had. True, in the show he’s been in a coma for a while, but there’s also a television habit of sprucing everyone up second season. Delenn with that hair, Ivanova ditching her braid, Londo getting a personal stylist… the colors have seemed toned down, too, and in this episode I was struck suddenly by the opulence of Londo’s suite. I think the set has been overhauled. Of course, it’s timed perfectly with a new captain, kind of like how all the First Ladies get to redecorate the White House.
Ivanova’s promotion was well-deserved, and her bumbling around with unreasonable people was hilarious, especially with their stubby English, but it was mostly comic relief. We did get one important reveal about her character, though: She is not successful when she denies her own impulses and acts as she thinks others would do. It wasn’t until she caved into her temper and just grabbed the damn sash from the leader and took over their faction that she solved the problem. Garibaldi saved the day following such an impulse. If Garibaldi and Ivanova only ever become a professional alliance because they have the same style, that will still enhance Sheridan’s prestige as an innovative diplomat with a style all his own. I’ll stop predicting romance now. I don’t particularly want Ivanova and Garibaldi to end up together, but coupling off characters is sort of a cliche and it sort of happens in most shows. I just want the world to know that I saw it coming if it happens. And if it doesn’t, I’ll applaud the producers of the show for breaking with tradition.
Now, at the surface, the Londo storyline isn’t particularly insidious. If the Centauri are running a monarchy or empire or something that needs a strong leader to hold together, then it’s not immediately villainous to plot to take over power when the leader dies. It could certainly be interpreted that way, and the presence of a skinny man with an accent dressed in dark clothes broaching the idea to Londo reinforces it, plus the fact that Londo is complicit in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands (whether or not you agree that he’s blame-able). It does seem shady, and it’s obviously a dangerous idea to discuss aloud. Still, succession is spotty and a good case could be made for stepping in to prevent the toppling of a government structure, especially if you are trying to preserve a culture. The whole scene with Lord Refa actually reminded me of the part in Shogun where Toranaga and Blackthorne are discussing the mitigating circumstances that make rebellion against a liege lord acceptable: If you win. Londo is right that the winners will write the history. And he has shown himself to be a master politician. On paper he could be the very person to lead the Centauri to new and glorious heights.
That said… he lacks mad intrigue skillz. He can persuade and lead, but he cannot plot. He is either naive or unimaginative, but he is pretty easy to manipulate. Perhaps he believes in the inherent good of people (the demonized, faceless collection of Narn being the exception). His dancing girl certainly worked him over, though, as did Winnie Cooper and her boyfriend, and the guy that took him through the hedge maze and masterminded the genocide, and the technomage–twice. I’m not saying that I think Londo covets power for its own sake, although I think he appreciates and desires the material trappings of power. I do think he believes that he would make a good leader of the people and that he acknowledges the unsavory underhandedness in which he would have to engage to achieve that position. What he cannot see at all is how easily he can be played. He’s just not as smart as he thinks he is–if he even analyzes it, which I don’t think he does at all. He is not really self-reflective and he isn’t even lying to himself about his chances. He’s just oblivious. Even if he overthrows the dynasty, he’ll only ever be a puppet. He can’t even disentangle himself from this Warren Keffer business. Granted, he’s not trying very hard–even though the threat has been made aloud to him about extincting the Narn for once and for all, and even though Londo heard and reacted to it.
I wonder, suddenly, just what’s going on in Vir’s head. He plays kinda dumb and obsequious to Londo and he does his hair and his bidding, and he’s got one of those round faces that is supposed to indicate that he is innocent and trustworthy, but the mere fact that it was stated aloud by Londo to Lord Refa that “he can be trusted” seems like he cannot be. Of course, the real question is trusted by who? If Londo is entangled in a genocide and has stooped so low as to place a clumsy bug in the captain’s room (wouldn’t that bug have been spotted the minute Sheridan went to load the dishwasher?), and if he’s plotting to take over his government, if Vir betrays him does that make Vir untrustworthy or trustworthy? Vir did put on a good show of quaking and trembling in front of the technomage dragon, but he stood there long enough to get Elric’s attention and to pass along a coherent message. Plus he’s getting opening credits billing with a close-up now, too. He definitely represents the ordinary Centauri viewpoint. They can’t be a monolithic mass of Narn-hating Narn Haters. And who better to blow Londo’s insidious plans sky-high than a peon from the inside?
Elric the Technomage was more plot than character, I think. He was obviously a stand-in for a mythology, a race, a prophecy, a skill set, a conflict (between Sheridan and Londo) and a mystery. It’s good to have independent corroboration of G’Kar’s fears, and I found the conversation about advanced technologies being indistinguishable from magic intriguing, if underdeveloped. It seemed out of place to have Sheridan invoking the Wonder of God, but then you could say that Elric undermines the concept of a deity by almost claiming the position for himself and his brothers. The word “brothers” also makes me wonder if this is a league or a race of people fully committed to sexist language. No women? Are they eternal and in the shape of men for the advantage it gives them right now in a patriarchal television society?
But for all that Elric is just a plot device, he’s a great one. I’ll have to look up the symbolism of oranges later, but a great show was made about orange juice and its pulp early in the episode with a great show made about the magic orange blossom at the end. Just by saying that Sheridan should not inquire where they are going turns their destination into a place of supreme interest and importance. And you know that he only accepted Londo’s “hands of friendship” for the chance to engage in extended physical contact in order to do something. The prophecy he made about millions of people calling out Londo’s name was chilling, but I don’t know if that’s what Elric got from the arm holding or if he’s gleaned/enacted something else that will show up later. Maybe it was just a chance to distract Londo long enough to look for the recording device and blow it up. But if they can see such things and know such things and gather only to flee a place for good, I totally understand why you wouldn’t consider it lucky to see more than one at a time. I assume, too, that a prophecy made in a show like this will have to come true. The interpretation, however… that’s the real fun of drama and literature. Interpretation! Will Londo be a hero? A villain? Or will the writers surprise us with an unexpected, amazing third option? And what exactly does he mean when he says that the technomages are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers? I feel some fabric of the universe coming on. We’ve also got four things to watch for in future episodes.
So I sneaked a peek at IMDb to look up a name and saw that people consider this episode sort of filler. The Drazi stuff was the least significant, but it did give us information about Ivanova and the rest of it added to specific plot lines and introduced new developments. Like I said, I really liked it. And I hope we’ve all learned that we must never, ever trust skinny men in black.
Unless they show up wearing masks, of course. In that case, we should marry them.