Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 8: A Race through Dark Places

I watched this a few days ago and panicked about falling into the trap of getting off schedule. I’ve also wanted to move ahead in the show, having been promised that the next episode is a particularly good one, so here I am! I frittered away my free time doing other frittery things, and I hope I haven’t missed the window for this today… when I get interrupted and have to come back to posts, they get long, strange, and unwieldy.

So I was warned by my Reader that season 2 had some episodes out of order, and I remembered that vaguely even as I was watching them out of order. You could perfectly understand the plot–unlike that mix up in Firefly, where one character’s wife appears as wife before she appears as not-wife, or something along those lines…

…So you could perfectly understand the plot of B5, but it’s true that putting this run of episodes in the right order does make Talia’s desire to leave the station less mysterious. It also seems to confirm my suspicion (confirm to my own satisfaction, that is) that the ex-husband was on the station to get her specifically, and that the artifact debacle was an accidental debacle. But I always guess larger plot points of serial television wrong, so maybe the PsiCorps does want Londo assassinated. Who can say? That is, who among us who has yet to watch the remaining episodes can say? I’m sure my Reader can say… I hope she doesn’t. Now, back to the show!

This is also an episode in which that thing I learned that I wish I hadn’t learned seems to get started. I don’t really mind knowing this thing in advance, because now I can watch for nuance, but I hope I don’t learn any more things than I already have (and there’s another big thing that I have learned, but I do try to keep spoiler free regarding upcoming events). I have been interested for a while now in listening to some of the Babylon 5 podcasts, just to see what they are like, but I assume that they talk freely about all parts of the show. I bet they didn’t even start recording until the show had been off the air for a while. I’m just not ready for that.

The first thing that caught my attention in this episode was the “Absofragginlutely” comment by either Ivanova or Garibaldi. It totally cracked me up. I hadn’t heard that yet, but it called to mind immediately the frakking this and frak that of Battlestar Galactica. I guess B5 is a predecessor in more ways than one! I’m sort of over the frakkin in BSG because the show has been saturated with it, but you’ve heard very little strong language on B5, so it was a moment worthy of replaying. (I only replayed it once.) It wasn’t actually out of character, but I got the vibe that the actor threw it in there unilaterally and they just ran with it. It was a nice little moment between Garibaldi and Ivanova, the two of them there talking like that, and it felt right. I can’t even remember right now what they were talking about (probably the issues regarding the quarters), but I do remember the looks on their faces. Added to the thing that I already know, it turned right into a defining moment for the relationship of those two characters. One gets the impression sometimes that Sheridan and Garibaldi talk down to Ivanova, or patronize her, or don’t think of her as their equal, but I expect now that Ivanova and Garibaldi got that out of the way. Sheridan? Not so much. I know he’s the captain AND her former commander, but even though they were both affected by this quarters business, he was definitely leading the way and doing the provider thing, and she was definitely looking to him for guidance. I know, I know–that’s how hierarchy and mentorships and age differences work, but it’s also how father/daughter things work. There just this extra dimension to their relationship that, say, Picard and Reiker or Janeway and Chipotle never had. I’m holding this feminist outrage close to my heart and I’m going to run with it for a while yet. Adapt.

But the business with the quarters was outrageous. I get that space is at a premium, and I’m sure that the places most people rent are tiny little closets, but this was an extraordinarily petty game to play. I forget the exact dimension that they were losing, but given the fact that they basically have studio apartments, it’s a lot of floorspace to lose. Still, there’s not a lot of income being lost, either. At most they could squeeze two rooms total out of what they were taking from S & I. I know the rent for a private space would be higher than the extra rent on the same amount of space in another unit, but if the station is as big and as populated as they say, this is chump change. It absolutely was not about economy, or accomodation, or real estate. Either some bureaucrat has it out for Sheridan personally (and had to take Ivanova along for the ride for consistency’s sake), or there’s been some global decision for all space stations that makes sense in the big picture but no sense on a case-by-case basis. I suppose the point of the whole subplot was to show the relationship and characters of Ivanova and Sheridan, and the gummed-up works of the Earth Government. Knowing that the entire series was written in advance, the gummed-upedness of Earth Government will have to come into play later. We already knew that Ivanova and Sheridan are allies, and we already knew that he’s crafty and a bit of a renegade, so the character development was redundant if there’s not something else behind it. I suppose it could indicate that the missing 60 credits a month could come back to haunt Sheridan, but I doubt it. Long story short, I’ll be watching for signs that Earth Government is bulky and inefficient and fails to take decisive action when decisive action is required later.

I don’t remember what specific episode it was, but I know I called the casting of Sheridan as a sensitive widower and worthy bachelor, and sure enough! He’s on a date! With a worthy woman who had altered her own DNA in order to meet him half way. If the lingering long after the restaurant closed wasn’t signal enough for chemistry between Sheridan and Delenn, then Ivanova referring to his departed wife for the first time since the episode about Sheridan’s grief certainly brought it to the forefront. She could have said any number of things about Sheridan’s past, but the writer and director went with the wife. Love is in the air. The script says so! And Delenn did look pretty, but being beautiful in a fancy restaurant usually isn’t enough to get that kind of attention. I am trying to decide what prompted all those patrons to turn and look at her. Is she a local legend now? (Probably.) Is it that she’s in human clothes? We don’t see the residents of the station ever dress in anything but their own fashions, so maybe a Minbari showing up in a human dress is noteworthy enough–much less the ambassador. Sheridan was unnecessarily curt with the people, so he was being a little macho for Delenn’s benefit (and she was being coy and grateful in exchange), or else he was having conflicted feelings about being on what appears to be his first date since he lost his wife in a way that causes him to feel guilt, and projects the wrong emotion. Or both.

Speaking of romance… When Talia answers her video phone and sees that it’s Bester, she immediately closes her peignoir around her nightie. Why is she answering her video phone with her peignoir all in deshabille? Who is she expecting a call from, hmm? And then we see Ivanova in her nightie later–almost the exact same nightie, as if they’d been shopping together. I suppose there’s only one nightie shop, but having the two female leads in their nighties at a pajama party, and seeing one of them disrobe–or the symbolic equivalent–by removing her PsiCorps badge for what is either going to be “up all night talking” or “sexy pillow fight” further underscores the general lack of authority that the female characters have. Seeing Talia’s bare hands earlier in the show was even more shocking in their nakedness. As I learned from Cher in Clueless, seeing skin makes boys think of being naked, which makes them think of sex. Just like having breakfast with a man after he sees you in your nightie makes them think of sex. The adult themes overfloweth!

So who did Talia think would be calling? It’s far more interesting to ponder that than chalk it up to a sloppy directorial decision. I know she dislikes Bester and closes up around him. We didn’t need a nightie and peignoir for that.

So I’ll admit that I thought that Talia was behind the Underground Railroad for a while, and that it wasn’t until the doctor showed up at Sheridan’s desk that I realized it was him. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the single black character is the leader of the Underground Railroad. These people are very far removed from the 19th century, and the station so far appears to be colorblind, and racial tensions (within species) are evaporated. If a black person participates in an Underground Railroad eight centuries later, does it resonate personally? Or is this more a factor of him being a doctor and healing people than participating in a particular tradition? The telepaths on the run were a colorful enough bunch, although they hardly stood out as individuals (even the leader was just playing a stock role). They were there to serve specific purposes: Represent diversity, spoonfeed Talia information, and expose the seedy underbelly of B5. It’s a characteristic of the show that the sets look strange and artificial, and there was certainly nothing natural about the way this group hovered over a burning trash can, warming their hands as the thoughtless and unseeing people walked about them, but I always appreciate these looks into the margins of station life. The show producers are really going out of their way to showcase an entire population. Juxtaposing the homeless problem against the “too much home” problem adds another layer to the story, too: Despite seeing the plight of these people, Sheridan still finds a way to keep his own extra space. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t, but it makes him much more real as a person. It’s an interesting decision for a character to make.

I have to admit, I was fooled by the mass projection. I’m surprised that Bester was, too, but he clearly respects no one but himself, and would be unable to think that a bunch criminals led by a captive Femme Fatale could best him. (Ha! See what I did there? But of course the name is significant–I’m just playing along.) And I guess it is a fine tribute to Talia’s characterization so far that I wasn’t really sure if she would betray the fugitives or not–and that’s after I saw the episode out of order! Now that I think about it, of course the bare hands meant she’d revealed her true self when she took her stand against the PsiCorps. There’s that skin again!

And there’s that thing that I never meant to learn that I already learned!


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  • nevermore  On January 5, 2009 at 1:53 am

    They charged them for an extra seven square feet :) There are no other space stations besides B5, at least not EarthGov stations, so in this case B5 *is* the bigger picture. I guess some of those in EarthGov who find B5 a waste of money anyway decided to make a point.

    The leader of the telepaths has been on the show before; he was the lurker who helped Garibaldi in the investigation of the Santiago assassination in Chrysalis (season 1 finale).

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