Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 9: The Coming of Shadows

Well, I finally worked myself to exhaustion last week, and so I’ve been anti-computer and pro-housework lately. Plus I’ve been sleeping. There were so many things I wanted to write about, too, that I’m afraid I’ll never get to now: a bad recipe to slam, a book that turned out to be interesting and the periodical lesson I learned again about reading reviews on Amazon before finishing, my adventures with lavender and Gold Bond medicated anti-itch cream, and HOA drama and gossip. But I can’t talk about those things right now. I have to blog about the most recent episode of Babylon 5, because I am itching–ha!–itching to see the next one and I have a pile of laundry to do and if I move ahead with the show before processing the last one–a good one!–I’ll get myself all out of sorts.

The Coming of Shadows
My Gentle Reader, nevermore, told me a very long time ago that this one was a very good episode. Pretty much once I make up my mind to like a show, I like everything, but because we agreed on the weakness that was the Spiderweb episode I was especially eager to get into Shadows. Yes, it was very, very good. I don’t want to say that it was thin on plot, because the plot was amazing, but it was definitely streamlined with minimal extra story arcs. Everyone’s side story–they didn’t drop the side stories–tied directly into the Centauri/Narn politics. These were separate characters with very different goals, but nothing detracted from the drama. And drama it was! We learned a lot about the show’s mythology, too. I guess I’ll start with Londo and move to G’Kar.

Talking about Londo means talking about the emperor first. That business with the perfectly matched telepaths was something else. I don’t want to call it startlingly original, but their ability did come as something as a surprise to me. Centauri culture seems to be built along the lines of medieval feudalism, but this veiled group of women evoked a very Far Eastern vibe. But just when you think the Emperor has surrounded himself with some young lovelies in purdah, you find out that they are performing this amazing service for him. I am horrified, of course, to think of how those women have been completely denied a life of their own, and have no will or voice of their own, and are totally under the control of the men and the politicians who have placed them in that role, but it was way cool to learn that they communicate with each other from so far away. I suppose it’s worse than what the PsiCorps does to people who manifest psychic powers, because those psychics are at least acknowledged as individuals and given some autonomy over their own lives, but it’s really a matter of scale and not of principle. I also don’t know if those women would be happier in some kind of sexual servitude to the emperor, either. At least they’d be acknowledged as people and partners (to some degree) instead of cogs in a machine. Regardless, revealing that the Emperor was traveling with what amounts to a very large and hungry Blackberry and not some party to go made me appreciate his character more at the end. It’s a shame about the veils, but I suppose that does become a matter of function rather than control. If these women can transmit everything they see and hear, the veils probably act as a filter. I like to think that they won’t be honor killed if a man glimpsed their hair or faces. I also like to think that they’ll be allowed to retire a la Minority Report if one of them dies or loses her ability or something. I know they come as a set and they can’t be replaced within the group, but I hate to think of them being harmed when they lose a member. I guess in medieval feudalism they’d go to a convent. Based on what I’ve pieced together about women from Centauri, I guess that wouldn’t be so bad…

If I hadn’t already read a long time ago by accident that Londo would turn into an “uber-villain” I might still have hope that he could come back from this episode, but his fate has pretty much been sealed for me. I would like to remind you folks that in my post for “The Geometry of Shadows” I warned everyone that the skinny man in black robes was up to no good. Lord Refa, I’m onto you.

(And now that I go back to look up that post so I can link to it, I see that “Shadows” has been a key part of the title. I am expecting a future episode named “The ____ of Shadows,” and will pay attention to the themes in it against this decision.)

I also applauded Vir for being the voice of courage and reason, if not exactly goodness. He remains so. I like to think of him as much nicer than Londo, with fewer ambitions and a firmer conscience even if the glamour of the whole ambassador thing affects him a little. He goes along with Londo’s games to a large degree (because when Londo advances, he advances), but he knows that genocide is bad. And not just because it’s bad morally–he anticipates the galactic consequences of such an aggressive, hostile act and takes them seriously. He doesn’t know what they will be, and he probably couldn’t predict any specifics, but he is not blinded by racial pride and power-hunger to the point that he thinks the Centauri can get away with it in the long term. I suppose Vir represents the voice of Joe Centauri, with little to personally gain and much to lose, and Londo is the man who can risk everything in hopes of great rewards. I am not surprised at all that Vir spoke up to Londo, but I was somewhat disappointed that he made no protest larger than a verbal “you’ll regret this someday.” I have a feeling that we’re not done with him. He protests, but then does Londo’s dirty work without a fight. Still, he knows this is wrong. At some point, he’ll go down with Londo–morally and in actuality–if he stays in alliance with Londo. I am still fully expecting him to hit his breaking point and walk away. I hope he walks away soon enough to escape more than damnation, if not soon enough to be redeemed. That is, I’d like him to act against Londo and be redeemed, but I don’t know if he will.

Londo’s actions don’t surprise me. What surprises me is that he is absolutely convinced he has to do this thing against the Narn while absolutely being convinced that it is wrong. He doesn’t want to be Emperor, and he is having nightmares, so I wonder what he hopes to gain or thinks will happen by participating in this plot? I don’t get the impression that he personally hates or even thinks about the Narn as people; he is certainly jovial enough with G’Kar when they are together. Maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention to the show, but Londo’s behaviors hint at some deeper motivation than restoring the good name of his people or respecting and restoring Centauri tradition. He is not a man who has shown a great deal of respect for Centauri tradition to this point. There’s got to be some personal demon he hopes to kill or some personal slight he hopes to revenge behind this. Perhaps he’s mad at Lord Refa and cares more about this personal matter than the big picture. Totally selfish and tunnel-visioned I already see.

And I am allowing myself to believe that this episode proves the Centauri–as I predicted–have formed an unholy alliance with the creatures at the border, the ones foretold in G’Kar’s holy book and the ones spotted by that ship in hyperspace. They have short-term gains in mind and the arrogance to believe they can control this unknown force. They’ll be the ones opening the back door on the galactic peoples to let the evil in, without thinking about how that will hurt them, too. What will be interesting to find out is if everyone turns against the Centauri, if everyone takes pity and rescues the Centauri, or if it’s the Centauri that will be driven to the brink of (or beyond) extinction, in kind of a cosmic justice. Of course we’ll see the Narn act with grace when it comes down to it. The pastoral people always have an ancient and natural wisdom that achieves glory and teaches the city people about the true spirit of living. It’s country mouse and city mouse to the tenth power, with space ships.

And so we get to G’Kar.

Now his character never fails to surprise me. I haven’t seen him as just a Narn in a long time; he has been firmly established as a character for me, in a way that none of the other aliens (save Vir, maybe) have yet to become. When he felt so strongly about the Emperor’s visit that he vowed to take him out, it hurt to watch. He didn’t want to have to be the one to kill the Emperor, but it was necessary in his mind and he preferred the oblivion of death, the shame of imprisonment, and the possible agony of failure over the comfort of passivity. When he stands there and announces that the whole of his life will resolve in one of three ways, you have to admire his courage. I honestly thought we’d see something bad happen to G’Kar worse than facing this choice, that is). I was floored when the Emperor had a heart attack (or the Centauri equivalent) before G’Kar could get to him. I went into shock. He went into shock. I was so grateful that G’Kar was spared that awful destiny. Whether he had killed the Emperor or not, he would have triggered another attack from the Centauri and his people would have cursed his name forever. He was acting in their name, but since clearly the Centauri (or some of them) has this attack planned, he would have turned into a scapegoat. The second war would have been spun around G’Kar’s name. Now–thank god!–the Narn still have the moral high ground. How tragic would that have been?

Even though of course everyone watching the show knew that something bad was coming, it was exhilarating to learn that the Emperor came to apologize, that G’Kar was spared the awfulness of being an assassin, and his happiness that he lived to see a new day of intergalactic relations. He was ready to leave the unhappiness of the old G’Kar and the old Narn tragedies behind. Kudos to Londo, if such things can be given to him, for not ruining the moment when G’Kar shared the drink. Londo is a Prick Extraordinaire, but he isn’t heartless. He respects G’Kar and the plight of his people even if–to put it crudely–he wouldn’t give two shits for it. Londo hopes no one takes it personally, of course.

I don’t know what I expect from subsequent episodes. I can’t see how anyone could allow Londo to remain on the station, although I am sure they will. I know they will. I suppose Londo will deny all knowledge, and the Centauri are being what everyone has decided will pass for cooperative, and the two percent of the survivors of the attack are being allowed to leave (I think that’s what’s happening; I can’t remember). G’Kar will manage to not kill Londo. I hope G’Kar’s feisty assistant comes back. I know she got sent on or left for some mission, but I miss her. What I am really waiting for, as is everyone else at the exact same point of the season as I am, is to learn what the dark, shadowy forces hiding in hyperspace and written about in holy books are going to be. But we’re not even halfway through the season yet! Something else is bound to develop, and I don’t even feel like guessing what that might be.

I think I have to go put calamine lotion on my back now. That’s part of the adventures with lavender I haven’t been writing about. I also decided that I am going to combine two gift certificates I got for a spa (it was literally years apart that I got these gift certificates) for a “Taste of Spa” experience that includes two hours of massage and lunch. I just have to figure out when I want to go. I think I want this rash to clear up first.

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  • nevermore  On January 25, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Glad you enjoyed it! This episode is sort of a shift towards a darker tone, which will prevail for much of the rest of the series. The Narn-Centauri conflict will remain an important topic for a long time to come as well.

    Refa is my personal hate target in this show. Neither Morden nor Bester are as bad as Refa.

    I would argue that it is inaccurate that Londo will turn into an “uber-villain”. It’s much more complicated than that. Londo is a driving force, but not the villain of the show. Londo honestly thinks he’s working for the good of his people, unlike Refa, who cares for no-one but himself. The main trouble with Londo is that he thinks he’s not important enough to make a difference. He said as much in Chrysalis. He thinks he has no choice, that somehow what is going to happen is inevitable anyway, and he certainly can do nothing to stop it. He doesn’t realise that he’s actually making choices that aren’t inevitable all the time, and that the consequences are enormeous and devastating. He has a long way ahead of him until the end of season 5, and you’ll find yourself cursing, pitying and admiring along that way :)

    I’m sorry I can’t give any information about the Centauri telepath women. I don’t think there’s anything more out there about them.

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