Thursday, April 3, 2008

B5 S2 Ep 9: The Coming Of Shadows

Babylon 5 has arrived! The Coming Of Shadows was a near perfect mix of mind-blowing political intrigue, action and pain, emotional pain and lots of it. This episode nailed it! We’ve been leading up to this with a number of fine entries, but this is downright explosive.

There's so much in play I had to dedicate the entire entry exclusively to Episode 9 of Season 2. The installment takes the name of the Season's umbrella title. There certainly have been signs concerning the Shadows from the re-appearance of Morden to sightings in hyperspace.

The Coming Of Shadows begins by touching on the reason for that outrageous Centauri hair. As we meet the Emperor we understand the trademark doo is a symbol of power and a trapping of stature and when he is slated to visit B5 he leaves it behind. That decision is symbolic of his final act in reversing the harsh doctrine of Centauri policy as his life concludes and atone with the Narn.

Understandably, given their history, G’Kar is incensed to learn of the impending visit by the Centauri Emperor and plots his assassination by his very own hand. As G’Kar dictates what he believes may be his final words to a computer it is fascinating to witness G’Kar's resolve. His determination speaks volumes of the Narn's hatred for the Centauri following over 100 years of oppression. He is willing to sacrifice his existence as a symbol of Narn resistance. However irrational it may seem it clearly illustrates the long, painful history between the Narn and Centauri.

A power play is at hand for a political coup d'etat of Centauri Prime by Londo and associates. Londo’s loyal aid, Vir, justifiably pleads with him to avoid tempting fate in reaching out to Morden [exceptional recurring role by Ed Wasser]. Vir knows all too well it's a mistake to do so and it is clear to Vir that Londo is suceptible to the toxic elixir of power despite Londo's own reservations. "Don't do this! There's no turning back once you start down that road!" begs Vir. Vir, like any of these exceptional ambassadorial assistants, has proven his worth time and again often disagreeing with Londo's preferred hardline position. Looking back at The War Prayer in Season 1, you'll recall Vir's impact on Londo's decision concerning the young lovers. That episode shed light on the importance of Centauri pride and tradition. Yet, where Londo exhibited a willingness to break from tradition then, he's beginning to show signs of a much less yielding side in Season 2, thanks to his newfound Shadows' support. Interesting that Morden found his instrument within Londo and not through G'Kar as tempted in Signs And Portents from Season 1.

Flashback: Signs And Portents is even more interesting with more information at my disposal. When Morden arrives on B5 he clearly looks to G'Kar and asks "what do you want?" and G'Kar responds in kind much the same way as Londo. The most unsettling is his inquiry of Delenn who in horror places her hand over a glowing symbol upon her forehead. Morden is darkened by shadows and abruptly asked to leave. The fear is palpable. Finally, interestingly, Morden absconds from the view of Kosh earlier. Later he inadvertently runs into Kosh where Kosh directs him "leave this place, they are not for you." So again, Morden selected Londo over G'Kar and I can only wonder why. I surmise that it has something to do with G'Kar's soul and how his reaction seems more in the passion of the moment rather than someone hell-bent on self-destruction. G'Kar's nature, like the Narn, is out of self-defense, not driven by an interest in conquering and ruling like that of the Centauri. Londo appears more suceptible to influence and more embattled by demons. There is a fragility to Londo's psychology and more lofty goals in his blood by his people's very design.

So with The Coming Of Shadows, in an unexpected move, the Emperor, to G’Kar’s surprise, apologizes to him through Dr. Franklin for the Centauri’s treatment of the Narn. G’Kar, who often times appears interested in making bridges, expresses hope upon seeing Londo. Unbeknownst to G'Kar, Londo has already set the wheels of war in motion with an attack on a G’Kar civilian populace in Quadrant 14. Londo appears absolutely stunned by a crisis of conscience jarred by G'Kar. Meanwhile in Quadrant 14, The Shadows arrive and strike hard with their swift, lethal and devastating purple-pink laser power and within seconds all is destroyed. As the Emperor lets go of living, Ambassador Kosh appears before him like an angel. The Emperor inquires, “how will this end?” Kosh replies pointedly as only Kosh can, “in fire.” Good to see things are lookin' up.

This was a pivotal entry in emphasizing the genius of J. Michael Straczynski. Throughout the near entirety of Season 1 Londo was built up to be a kind of womanizing ladies man, a good-time charlie, a trusted ambassador perhaps, and more and more a frustrated politician. Straczynski purposefully developed the characters in such a way that viewers weren't necessarily seeing the entire picture. The motivations and backgrounds of Londo and G’Kar were perceived one way in Season 1 and yet another in Season 2. These perceptions began changing and our initial sympathies were redirected. Straczynski's masterstroke was to throw us visual cues. The wild-looking Londo, with hair in the mold of a geisha fan, hardly appeared the threatening kind. G'Kar was graced with a more bellicose appearance and we immediately formed opinions incorrectly. Afterall, how could anyone that looked like Londo Mollari possibly belong to a race of subjugators? Alas, the other shoe has dropped and Straczynski sold it hook, line and sinker to us. As stories and characters develop perceptions continue to change to the benefit of the viewer's journey.

G’Kar eventually reveals more on the Narn’s tragic history and ironically, as viewers come to find out, his genuine spiritual make-up through G'Quan [see By Any Means Necessary in Season 1]. Reversely, Londo has unveiled a more self-absorbed side and an unquenchable thirst for power. His desire for Centauri glory seems insatiable and as it grows unmolested so does too does our lowered opinion of him. The ambassadors switch places in our minds thanks to the strength of story designed by Straczynski Appearances can be deceiving indeed. The more we learn of the Narn and G'Kar, the more we understand them to be victims. Remember, it was G’Kar who dispatched a rescue to Catherine Sakai [Sinclair’s girlfriend] out on Sigma 957 [see Season 1 Mind War]. He had warned her of the dangers there. It wasn’t just posturing and he sent assistance. It was here we began to see signs of this Narn's true make-up. What a fascinating evolution of character. The fragility of ambassadorial and racial relationships continues to unveil themselves.

Another pleasant surprise is the return of Michael O’Hare's Sinclair. He re-enters the picture by way of a video communique to Security Chief Garibaldi from the Minbari homeworld, Minbar. Sinclair warns, “there’s a great darkness coming Michael, some of the the Minbari have been waiting for it a long time.” He informs Garibaldi of a newly established group dubbed the Rangers. They are a small army that is growing in number in preparation for the war ahead. Their mission is covert and only Delenn, outside Garibaldi, knows of their existence outside.

The prophetic words of Sinclair and a glimpse of Andreas Katsulas' amazing performance.

So, G’Kar learns of the Centauri betrayal on the Narn as orchestrated by the seemingly far more disturbed Londo. G’Kar justifiably goes positively apeshit. To say Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik nail their roles is an understatement. Their relationship is dynamic, emotional and at the core of propelling this story forward. To see G’Kar a broken Narn and emotionally crippled is truly moving stuff. I can’t recall the last time I felt this bad for a character in science fiction.
Londo is misguided by delusions of grandeur, yet images of his fate [G'Kar's hands wrapped around his throat] at the end of a “damned” existence continue to haunt him. This may explain his decision to remain in the ambassadorial post in the hopes of altering his future. Vir knows his lust for power is real and tells Londo "that is what you want." Londo sidesteps the prophecy of fate by telling Vir, "No, I have no desire to be emperor. No, I prefer to work behind the scenes. The reward is nearly as great and the risk far far less." Londo is a troubled man.

Meanwhile, we are brokenhearted for G’Kar. Betrayal is at the heart of this entry and you can hear the pain and loss in G'Kar's voice. Captain Sheridan visibly exhibits much empathy for his plight while maintaining a professional distance, but he is indeed concerned. We witness this later when Sheridan visits G'Kar following his rager and G’Kar speaks softly, “Sheridan… thank you for stopping me.”

At an emergency session of the council, Londo takes the floor as the prideful Centauri ambassador complete with his 'proud as a peacock' hair in full bloom over Centauri Prime’s control of Quadrant 14. A clearly somber and seething G’Kar announces a declaration of war by the Narn for the Centauri aggression. After 100 years the Centauri are rising up again. Meanwhile, the Shadows are quickly achieving their goals through Londo's lust for power. I would never have envisioned Londo behaving like the devil himself.

Folks, this is the pinnacle for me at this point. I continue to be thoroughly astonished by the direction this series has taken. Straczynski's story is taking on epic proportions grounded in human and alien frailty. I love it.

It's also worth mentioning beyond the performances that the computer effects are outstanding here. Perhaps it is the dark color combinations coupled with the nondescript or indistinct, fluid nature of the Shadows, but the CGI is impressive in realizing the ominous and frightening attack by the spidery-like forces.

This is one hell of an episode.

The Coming Of Shadows: [A-]


Anonymous said...

Clearly, you have more time on your hands than I ever imagined.

Must create longer "to do" lists.


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Where's Morden & The Shadows when you need 'em.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching - and enjoying - your blog for quite a while now. Being a long-time B5 fanatic, I always enjoy witnessing newbies' thoughts on B5, and if time allows, I'm looking for them on the nets ;)

As for your ponderings why Morden chose Mollari over G'kar - look at Mollari vs. G'Kar's last replies to Mordon's question:

As for Mollari: "All right. Fine! You really want to know what I want? You really want to know the truth? I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the galaxy! I want to see the Centauri stretch forth their hand again and command the stars! I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power! I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to look back or to look forward! I want us to be what we used to be! "

For G'Kar:

Morden: "And then, what?"
G'Kar: "I don't know! As long as my Homeworld's safety is guaranteed, I don't know that it matters."

There's another B5 virgin blogging about her first watch experiences - she's just two episodes ahead of you, at S2 Ep12:

Continue to have fun (I'm sure you will), mandy.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hi Mandy
Pay no attention to the dark force known as 'The One To Be Pitied'.

Thank you for the kind words and joining my run. It's a ball becoming a B5 fan! I never knew what I was missing.

I loved the quotes. Those quotes from Straczynski are so powerful they echo in my mind just hearing you type them up again. But that was pretty much my understanding of it too. G'Kar clearly didn't look at it as someone who wanted world domination and when he so innocently replies "I don't know." That was the moment. You just knew G'Kar wouldn't follow and it wasn't the answer Morden was looking for. So great point!

But yes, this is a sci fi blast to watch. I'm a few episodes ahead, but I'm staggered a bit so that I can write and come up with some nice pics and video when needed.

Thanks for the address to the other blog. I'll be checking it out. Stick around Mandy.

Anonymous said...

Hi, scifi fanatic - I'll stick around, no worries :)

Yes, Londo is aspiring great empires. G'kar, by contrast, is satisfied with seeing his people safe - not enough for Morden.

JMS is a quite powerful monologue writer. By the middle of season 2, you've just started to get the best of it :)

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Great! Season 2 has been outstanding as you mentioned. I have 3 more to go. Without giving anything away. Is it safe to assume the remaining 3 seasons are as good? Also, do you recommend visiting The PILOT episode before I start Season 3 or doesn't really matter. Cheers M

Anonymous said...

I think that everyone agrees season 3 and 4 are the best seasons of the series - so you're in for a treat. Personally I think season 3 is the best.

As for season 5, opinions differ. The show was threatened to be cancelled after season 4, as the network PTEN broadcasting the show was dissolved. As a result JMS shuffled a few storylines originally intended for season 5 into season 4 (that's assuming you're aware of the 5-year-plan outline of the show?). Renewal on another networks was only confirmed afterwards. We're talking about 4 or 5 episodes worth of material that has been transferred from season 5 to season 4. As a result, season 4 in hindsight is a bit rushed, and season 5 some people feel is lacking action in the first 8 episodes or so. There also was a major and unexpected cast dispatch at the end of season 4. Long story short, the passage between season 4 and 6 is somewhat uneven, and a part of the fandom feels season 5 isn't up to par with the rest of the show.

I partially agree and partially disagree. Season 5 suffers from the departure of a fan favorite and has two characters a number of fans don't like (which is *not* because they are badly written. People just don't like them.) Long story short, the first 3rd of season 5 is a bit contentious (and actually JMS admitted that after all the contract troubles, he needed a few weeks to re-establish his pace), the season has some of the best episodes of the series, and the 2nd half I feel is up to par with the best of season 3 and 4.

So, expect season 3 and 4 to be as good or better as season 2. Have patience and a bit of lenience with the early season 5 episodes, as they were written and produced under very difficult circumstances. They aren't bad at all, but safe for two or three episodes they are comparable to average season 2 episodes. They aren't up to what people expected from the show after seasons 3 and 4. Look forward to the 2nd half of season 5, which is completely on par with season 3 and 4, IMO.

Have fun, mandy

Anonymous said...

Ah, the pilot. While having been nominated fo for a Hugo back in 1993 for reasons not entirely comprehensible for me, it's not an epihphany. It's also not necessary for the series.

If your are interested in it for historical reasons, or for some additional information, by all means watch it. But between the pilot and the series start, almost a year passed, and there was quite a bit of work done and changes occurred in the meantime.

You should watch the prequel, "In the Beginning". But because of spoilers, not before "Atonement" in season 4.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Excellent. You've got me 'Babylon Squared' away nicely. thanks for all of your input. Sounds like I'll be sad to see it end.