Sunday, July 27, 2008

B5 S3 Ep14: Ship Of Tears

More flying saucers! Cool! Why is it I get so excited over the classic flying saucer? I mean with all of the amazing technology in J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 you would think a plain old round, flat, flying saucer would hardly be cause for excitement. But it is. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a nostalgia. Maybe it brings me back to the comfort food of those old black and white episodes of Lost In Space featuring Billy Mumy in pre-Lennier, bonehead-free adolescence. In fact, he was quite a smart young lad if I recall hardly ever making a boneheaded decision. Curious adventurer maybe, but boy was he a smart little guy. He was smarter than that evil Dr. Smith to be sure. I digress. Maybe it’s the whole idea of aliens from another world landing in the traditional saucer-shaped transports. Do you remember The Brady Bunch when Bobby and Peter Brady spent the night camped out looking for saucers? Ahh, those were the days. Nowadays ships are far more complex and exciting [ex- the giant disco ball], but ya gotta hand it to the classic saucer.

One would think I have way too much time on my hands.Anyway, on with Babylon 5, Season Three, Episode 14, Ship Of Tears [or Ship Of Besters]. This was an exciting installment and one of my favorites featuring special guest star Walter Koenig as Checkov err... Bester. Yes, Mr. Bester is back. You can't help but want to greet him with the same kind of disdain as Jerry Seinfeld greeted Neuman in Seinfeld. "Hellllo...Bester." The stylistic camera touches was another notable reason why I enjoyed this one, no doubt thanks in large part to Director Mike Vejar. He, as you know, has turned out to be one of my favorite directors on the show. He also directed the previous entry, A Late Delivery From Avalon, which I will consider a slight misstep or an off day as I didn’t find it to be classic Vejar in look. Granted he doesn't always get it right for me, but when he does the episode is genuinely a visual treat complementing the story.

ISN [Interstellar Network News] is now back on line and clearly being implemented as an arm of the current Earth government utilizing it to wage a propaganda war to win back its people. The Clarke-driven media force is now in the tank as they say. Franklin says it best, “he who controls information controls the world.”
Sheridan is testing a new production model of the Starfury [complete with the kind of toothy-grinned smile that adorned those Republic Gunships in Star Wars The Clone Wars]. The cool thing about these puppies is they can enter planetary atmosphere whereby the former models could not. We saw a glimpse of it in Severed Dreams. The ship’s cockpit instruments and scanners are alight in gorgeous Babylon 5 color as reflected off Sheridan’s spacesuit. The computer map indicates a damaged ship ahead. The floating ship is a Psi Corps elite unit model dubbed the Black Omega disabled and piloted by the evil Bester. How did he get there? Why? Sheridan, always on his toes, steers clear of his line of sight to avoid psi-scanning.

Bester in his typical smug demeanor assures Sheridan he would much prefer to take him back to Babylon 5 to learn more about what he has to offer rather than blow him out of the sky.

That Black Omega if pretty nifty. Our cool ship of the week definitely goes to the Black Omega.Sheridan: "Mr. Bester we no longer have any ties to Earth or to the Psi Corps. So we don't have to put up with you or your games. Now I am sitting on four brand new uni-directional pulse cannons. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't blow you out of the sky?"

Bester: "Because you're curious. Kill me and you'll never know what brought me all the way out here. I think if you weigh that against the brief satisfaction of 'blowing me out of the sky' you'll do the right thing. [After waiting for several seconds]... Captain?"

Sheridan: “I’m thinking it over.” I love how Sheridan kept Bester on the edge for a minute.
G’Kar intercepts Ivanova and expresses his intense dissatisfaction over being left out of those inner circle War Council meetings. G’Kar implores he has kept up his end of the bargain including Narn security.
Bester is now on board Babylon 5 and the fantastic four aren’t quite sure what he's up to. Sheridan launches a plan of action. He asks Ivanova [a low level telepath] to meet with Bester first. If he attempts to scan her she will know. If he doesn’t scan they'll know he can be trusted, errr… “a little.” Ivanova also alerts Sheridan to their G’Kar problem.
Ivanova arrives to see Bester in the holding cell. He makes some personal remarks to play with her head including how she looks like her mother [whoa! wrong thing to say!] and WHAMMO! He takes a shot across the face. Don’t mess with her bucko! Bester stops beating around the bush and mentions to her the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” For the first time we get a sense that Bester is working outside of the Clarke government and working on his own as a member of Psi Corps. He inquires concerned about an alien influence on the Clarke government and the additional infection within Psi Corps by that which he understands to be The Shadows. They are calling the shots and the purist that is Mr. Bester is none too pleased or taken too kindly to someone or something cutting into his action.

The future belongs to telepaths and I intend to make sure that happens one way or another.” Bester is essentially your elitist Aryan telepath type fellow. He is the blood equivalent in science fiction to that of the vampire. Bester is deeply troubled that alien interference will inevitably collapse or compromise his personal plans for the future of Psi Corps. “I won’t have it” he assures. “Would you like to hurt them commander because I think I know how if you’re up for it.” After having seen the entire episode you wonder if he knows more than he lets on. Still, he’s a confident little puke!

Sheridan meets with Delenn over the G’Kar conundrum. He reminds her that G’Kar was the first to alert him to The Shadows. Defensively, she insists she could not speak of them at that time. The time was not right. Silence was required. He is troubled concerning his need to explain the situation to G’Kar and the perception that the Narn were sacrificial lambs to maintain their secret. After all, the War Council knows the Centauri clearly could not have acted without outside help. Delenn insists she must be the one. It is she who needs to speak with her once fellow ambassador to Narn regarding this momentous calculation.

The ever so gracious Bester shares information that a convoy is en route carrying supplies/ weapons for their mutual enemy. The escort will only be protected by a handful of fighters. “It’s important to capture the ship, not destroy it.” Now why would he say that? He knows more than he's letting on and any other option would never have been acceptable to him. He certainly couldn’t do it without the help of Babylon 5 which is why he's here.

Sheridan: “So how did you find out about all of this?” [Great question John!]

Bester: [SMUG again] "I’m a telepath. Work it out.”
I suppose, but frankly your answer sucks pal and I want specifics. WHO!? You son of a bitch!? Who did you get the information from?! SLAP! Talk damn it! SMACK! That feels better. Garibaldi really should have intervened here. I mean Bester is such an asshole and needs his clock cleaned and Garibaldi would be just the man to do it! He at least needs a good beating or a severe limp or something. Show some respect. That’s the Captain you're talking to pal! Oh that’s right he’s just a “normal,” not a superior being like you. What a dick! I got news for you Bester. He’s got more friends and support backing him than your tiny penis will ever have. He definitely licked Elmer's Glue or ate glue paste as a child or something while placing kernels of popcorn on a sheep drawing in Sunday school.

A little known fact everyone is enlightened to, telepaths can pick up thought waves from ships at a distance. He can pinpoint their location using this ability. I love when Sheridan asks how come they never knew about this little “ability.” Sheridan and Marcus always ask good questions. Bester assures it is a secret kept even from Earth.

Bester: “Otherwise the military might start putting telepaths on the front lines. We’re not expendable. Mundanes are.”

Garibaldi: “That would be us.”

Bester: “Got it in one Mr. Garibaldi. Takes generations to breed a telepath. Mundanes breed like rabbits. Supply and demand.

Sheridan and friends, oh and one pesky Bester are off! You’ll note the White Star flying past Babylon 5 en route to hyperspace to fulfill their mission. I've seen this shot before but I like it.

G’Kar goes to Delenn’s quarters. The once reticent Delenn knows she must face G’Kar with the uncomfortable truth. It is a very difficult moment for G’Kar as it is for Delenn too. G’Kar has been such an outcast for so long. G'Kar definitely captures my heart in this show.

Yikes! Just noticed the fighters protecting the supply ship in hyperspace aren’t Earth fighters, but rather Shadow fighters. That was alarming at first, but then I watched the White Star slice through them like a blue hammer on a Whack-A-Mole game. What was I possibly concerned about?

I loved this brief scene between Bester and Sheridan. The body language between these two speaks volumes concerning how intensely they dislike one another. I like how Straczynski at times pulls together forces that wind up the unlikeliest of allies.

The White Star attaches via magnetic beam to the supply ship. Lennier picks up another craft. It’s a Shadows vessel but oddly it breaks off pursuit and vacates hyperspace. Hmmm... So what is that ship? “Weapons supplies that’s what I was told,” confirms Bester. Back on board Babylon 5 it's determined the cargo is filled with sleeper tubes host to human telepaths in cryogenic suspension while the glass cases are adorned with Psi Corps insignias. Franklin and Sheridan view the mutilated body of the ship’s pilot, the victim of an apparent suicide. That is nasty! The command deck was loaded with an acid compound. Interesting. Ivanova informs Sheridan of the cargo they have discovered. “I don’t think they went voluntarily.” Double interesting.

Sheridan blasts Bester for playing dumb. Anytime you can blast Bester the pester is certainly a good time.

In medlab, Franklin is easing victims back from cryostasis gradually to avoid trauma. Each is identified with a bracelet complete with numbers. It’s a pretty moody sequence in medlab and the fact this one JUMPS at the glass didn’t help. HOLY CRAP! That lady scared the dickens out of me when she slammed herself against the glass. It was a very Alien-like moment. “Keep them away from me,” she screams in horror. Well, one thing we know for sure, there is someone or something that is definitely screwing with her mind.

Sheridan confronts Bester with the bracelet. Why doesn’t Bester scan or is he scanning? No one would actually know outside of Ivanova. Could he already know about her without letting on? Bester indicates the bracelet is that of a Blip, a telepath who refused to join the Corps. The code is that of a P11 or P12, captured and sent to Mars for re-education. Bester pauses mid-sentence curious then alarmed. Franklin asks why the transport was headed for the Rim. Bester sidelines the question and demands, “I need to see her. Now.”

In medlab she awakens to nightmares of a Shadows vessel and aliens drilling into her mind. Aww man, I hate the old ‘aliens drilling into your mind’ trick. It's always very unnerving. Mind you, I’ve never actually had one of those nightmares, but apparently a lot of people involved with science fiction have because we see it often. It’s a great sequence with great creature make-up as well. Do they work for The Shadows? I don’t believe them to be The Shadows, but then who are they? Hmmm…

I love flashlights [especially in science fiction]!
Babylon 5 goes on red alert. Franklin, Garibaldi and Bester enter medlab with caution. Sparks alight the room. As they turn the corner, they see a woman suspended and connected to wiring from the medlab consoles in mid-air. She is engulfed by conduit and is extremely plugged in. My initial reaction was entirely Jamie Lee Curtis and that grade D horror sci-fi film Virus. I had visions of that whole thing immediately come to mind. But, of course, here we actually have a good story.

The woman calls to Bester. “Alfred help me.” Bester approaches and she fires electricity at him. Bester doesn’t understand. “There’s no reason for her to do this or attack me. Why is she doing this?” Garibaldi takes Bester’s badge and throws it to the floor where she strikes it with energy. “The machine says kill to protect.” Franklin manages to hit her with a sedative. “Al what have they done to me?” Al? Alfred? What the hell is going on here? She appears to know him. Bester sees images briefly of the aliens and The Shadows' vessel with the image of a human at its core. I could only surmise it had to do with that program alluded to back in Season Three opener Matters Of Honor and also Messages From Earth. Clearly, telepaths are the human instrument of that program, a human instrumentality project [a la anime Neon Genesis Evangelion].

The woman calling out to Bester is Carolyn, Bester’s lover. Carolyn is carrying his child. Sheridan mentions his wife and child back on Mars. Oh them. Ah, don’t worry about those people they're just my wife and child on Mars. This was a genetic pairing arranged by the Corps that led Alfred Bester to love. Bester is still married but fell in love with Carolyn. She did not want to join the Corps. So if you told me what love story would come along next this one wouldn’t have been even close to my radar. Nice.

So weapons components were precisely what were aboard that ship. Human weapons. They were the living tissue and operating systems necessary to merge with the Shadows vessels. With Carolyn so fused to the wiring Bester pleads with Sheridan to help her. She’s the only thing he’s ever cared about. “If you can save her, I’ll do anything you want to help. Your war is now my war.” What a fascinating twist by Straczynski. Nicely done. On the one hand I want to be overjoyed with the knowledge of this potentially new ally in Bester, yet I cannot be anything but cautiously hopeful at the possibilities. I fall into the Ivanova camp who is extremely dubious concerning Bester’s sincerity. She knows his loyalty is ephemeral and will last as long as he needs them. I still think blowing him out of the sky would have been nice, but certainly not as interesting to the storyline. Well, maybe it would have been.

G’Kar is finally, after his seemingly endless outsider status, admitted within the inner circle of the War Council as he steps through the door with Delenn. It is indeed a sight to behold as we witnesses Babylon 5’s latest set addition. Very, very cool. I was reminded of some of the best sets from classic James Bond 007 a la Moonraker and Roger Moore. I loved it. “I am honored to be among you. This is a great day; a very great day indeed,” declares G’Kar.

"Listen to me, after this gig is up can you sign me up for my own radio show?"
Garibaldi is much sharper than I thought. Clearly he has become quite capable of translating the Narn language and has somehow studied that bible closely in his free time. He has found something important and alerts the War Council with a Code 7R.

Garibaldi awaits the arrival of the team and informs them he has found something as he thumps the Book of G’Quan with his finger. G’Kar cringes, “do not thump the Book of G’Quan. It is disrespectful.” [Maybe inviting Debbie Downer to the party wasn't such a good idea]. Garibaldi alludes to the fact that Narn telepaths were wiped out one thousand years ago. G’Kar confirms. And Narn was a base for the ancient enemy at that time. They were driven away by G’Quan and the remaining Mindwalkers [not to be confused with the Deathwalkers]. Garibaldi has done the math and gleefully acknowledges The Shadows are fearful of telepaths. He’s quite animated explaining the situation and I was reminded of a preacher man as he held that G’Quan. “They cannot hear the machine,” Carolyn decried in pain earlier. There is a detrimental affect from telepaths in proximity to The Shadows. This explains why the Shadows vessel turned tail and ran when Bester was sensed aboard the White Star earlier. “We have a weapon. By God people we have a weapon,” a hopeful Sheridan announces.

The War Council better hope so; The Shadows are attacking in open space now. They are on the move and out of hiding. Looks like the gloves are off people!
This was solid stuff.

Ship Of Tears: B+


Anonymous said...

Bester's manages to get more annoying with each installment :) I think Koenig's just great in this part; it's a shame he got typecast as "Chekov" and never really got a chance to show what he can do.

In this episode, the much maligned "Infection" pays of: "The machine says: Kill to protect!" Now we get an idea where Ikarra (a world that's been dead for 1000 years) got their organic weapon technology.


Anonymous said...

Additional note: Remember how in "Dust to Dust" Garibaldi said there was "no chance" he'd ever work together with Bester again?:D


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

That's funny M. I'm glad you agree, but you're right he is good playing the character to be sure. I do remember the Dust To Dust comment and that is funny. I must admit when Garibaldi said it I didn't believe it then.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Okay M, I've been trying to remember and haven gone back, but Ikarra is a dead world because the Shadows harvested the planet for their needs? If I'm way off I'll have to go back and re-check what you are referring to. You step away for a few days and the memory starts to fade.

Anonymous said...

Well, it isn't mentioned in the episode, so it's mostly guesswork. But a) Ikarra had organic war technology programmed with the same "kill to protect" command the woman here was talking about and b) it was programmed not to fall invaders who obviously were capable of appearing as Ikarrans - sounds familiar, aliens capable of making others see what they want them to see. And all of it happened 1000 years ago. So my guess is that Ikarra was in league with the Shadows in the last war, and the technology was used against the Vorlons.


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

You see- now that is fascinating stuff. Thank you for connecting the dots M and further enlightening us to the B5 universe!