Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 16: In the Shadow of Za’ Ha ‘Dum

Before I say a word about the episode, I need to talk for a very short minute about The Mentalist. I watched season 1 of The Mentalist, and I liked it. I would watch it when people on the Internet were being crabby and I needed some cheerful characters. Towards the end of the season, there was an episode that solved a crime at a rustic boarding school: Episode 22, “Blood Brothers.” One of the students, Orrin, was played by a Jonathan Biggs, a young actor born in the mid-1990s.

Although I hate to do that thing where one assumes that all people of the same race with the same name are related, I admit that I started looking around to see if Jonathan Biggs was son to Richard Biggs, who I knew from his Wikipedia page had two sons. Well, the kid’s maybe too old (he was born before Richard Biggs got married) and a different Mr. Biggs is named as Jonathan’s father in his biography linked to above, but maybe we can play the game that they are cousins or something. Do they look as alike as Nicholas Cage and Jason Schwartzman? Those guys are cousins.

Yeah, I’m not seeing it either. But I had a lot of fun looking around. Not as much fun looking around trying to find–off and on since (I’m not joking) 1996–the name and artist of a painting that I have reproduced on a light switch plate, but I learned some stuff about some people. The payoff discovering the painting (I just found it TODAY!!!) is much greater, especially because it’s probably the most romantic thing I have ever seen in my life.

The Kreutzer Sonata by Rene Francois Xavier Prinet, 1901

"The Kreutzer Sonata" by Rene Francois Xavier Prinet, 1901

It’s swoonerific. I pretend I don’t know anything about the Tolstoy story of the same name, but the Kreutzer Sonata is a real piece by Beethoven. Take ten and have yourself a listen!

So on with our regularly scheduled program!

This episode was sort of empty in a lot of ways. I was very excited while I watched it, because it proved a few of my predictions right. I am so often wrong when it comes to show predictions that getting it right is a regular high. I predicted recently that the only reason we had a PsiCorps commercial in the investigative journalism episode was to remind us that the PsiCorps existed, and sure enough Talia Winters plays a key role (and a plot-moving only role) in this one. Talia moved the plot forward by being approached by that guy from the Ministry of Peace (can you get less subtle?) about his meeting, because there was no other regular character to use. Someone we knew had to go to that meeting so we would care about watching it. Later in the story it actually mattered that she was psychic, because we needed her negative response to that other guy…

OK. I’m going to look up the names now. BRB.

…her negative response to Morden as he walked through the halls (Morden is his name? Really? Gah!) proved that Sheridan was onto something and thus justified trampling on civil liberties like that. Plus we needed to see some psychic shadows before we could play around with wavelengths of light in the cell to see the evil creepy crawlies that flanked Morden. So, yeah. PsiCorps. It’s a no-brainer that they were going to come up again in the show, but I’m pretty pleased with my timing. Plus it’s in writing!

The other thing I totally called was that Sheridan’s late wife was on an archaeological dig that had something to do with whatever was in G’Kar’s ancient texts. That was also probably a no-brainer, but remember that I am watching this show just about completely unspoiled, and really unspoiled about the plot, so it was a pure prediction. It was an easy prediction, but I am claiming it.

The exposition with Delenn and Kosh was OK; there was really no other way to get that information out, and the images of a ship landing and people walking around the surface of a planet was nice to see, even if it was obviously all from a computer. One does get tired of being indoors all the time! The bits with Garibaldi and Ivanova protesting Sheridan’s behavior was OK; it provided some confirmation of things we already knew about their characters’ behaviors and beliefs, and highlighted the contradictions between rules and morality, I suppose. The WWII arm band stuff was painful to watch, only because it was straight out of every Nazi movie and 1984. Talia didn’t need to be there, and Sheridan didn’t need to bare his soul about WWII and the Enigma code to some guy we’ve never had to take seriously as a character before–the doctor and Garibaldi usually do the reminiscing with him–but we had to get that guy’s face Zack Allen’s face implanted in our minds because he’s wearing the armband now. We all know what that means! First you’re just earning an extra fifty credits a week, next you’re Hermann Wilhelm Goering with a long list of names and a cyanide pellet in your cheek.

Wiser, more articulate, more experienced, and more knowledgeable TV critics/bloggers than I would probably call this episode one of those ones where the producers are moving the characters into place so that real action can happen next, although they would use more articulate, knowledgeable words than that. So, yeah, everyone knows now what we’re fighting, what Kosh is, how the legends connect, and how Earth is going to fuck it all up and/or make it worse. Vir explicitly made it clear that he thinks Londo is up to no good and drew his lines in the sand. Still, the show managed to raise some interesting ideas within this limited context.

First is the idea of willpower. Is Morden actually behaving independently? Is he still the same person? Either Delenn or Kosh remarked that anyone who survived would not be the same, so we’ve got a little bit of the Monkey’s Paw thing going with Sheridan (does he really want to know if his wife survived this disaster?), but we also have the idea that humans can be coopted as pawns for evil. I’m not going to go so far as this preparing the way for sleeper Cylons in The New Battlestar Galactica, but one does have to wonder who else is not what they seem. Is that Man in Black who enlisted Londo in this whole mess (Lord Someone) acting as a Centauri (probably, but still)? I’m sure this will turn out to be one of those mindbenders that supposedly occurs when you are rewatching the series.

Second, and more interesting, is the comparison between what the Ministry of Peace is doing and what Sheridan is doing. Group/individual. Thoughts/actions. Within/outside of legal procedures. Right/wrong. Ends/means. You don’t have to have read Orwell to catch on that the Ministry of Peace is not the friend of freedom, but at least they’re totally upfront and honest about what they are doing. Sheridan is working alone and in secret, but you could argue that he is justified for doing so. Delenn, Kosh, Vir, and Talia all know that Morden is a bad person and deserves imprisonment, even if it can’t be justified (for pragmatic or moral reasons). Doing good takes you to bad places sometimes, and good intentions pave the way to hell the other times. This show may not be very graceful with its lessons, but it never shies away from complexity.

What’s pretty cool about having this episode behind me is that I have no idea what will happen next. All the pieces are in place and you could see most of them coming, but there’s still a third of the season left. Who knows how the teams are going to assemble? Big action is coming! For all that this episode was standing in place and waiting around, I end it as excited as I began it. Bring on episode 17! I’m ready for the real show to start.

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