Thursday, February 26, 2009

Babylon 5: In The Beginning

I've been watching alot of Top Chef lately on the Bravo channel. I'm addicted. I love food. I enjoy cooking and wish I had more time to do so. In fact, in some ways I secretly wish I was a top chef. If I couldn't be a science fiction star or work in science fiction [which is why I keep this blog going- it keeps me sane], then I wish I was a top chef. I make a mean Italian gravy. It's a work in progress and getting meaner, but I'm always open to new ideas. Not unlike those cooking hot meals for critical eyes, I am currently writing to make entries hot off the key strokes for the sci-fi faithful. I currently have nothing on standby. The tank is empty [well, not creatively I hope]. I simply watch, analyze and write at this point and we're going to have to see how it goes. I'm essentially working the handwriting step out of the process. I've always been one religious about placing pen to paper, but it is time consuming and had to go. So like a hot meal, I'm writing to order at this point.

For my next trick I thought I'd step into Babylon 5: The Movie Collection for In The Beginning with direction by personal favorite Michael Vejar. I believe I am reasonably safe to delve into this film with the conclusion of Season Four of Babylon 5 based on input from you. This is the highly touted prequel to the creation of the station centering on Earth and the Minbari. Like my ignorance with the series I know nothing about this film or who is in it. So here we go.

It is immediately notable the transfer for this film appears fairly sharp and the colors vibrant. I have noted there are moments where the film quality slips and looks fairly VHS. They really should do something about cleaning up Babylon 5 on the whole. So much detail is really overlooked due to poor film quality. Perhaps someday they will take on that challenge and that would be a good time to re-review.

It is Earth Year 2278.

Speaking of beginnings, our story begins on Centauri Prime. The city appears as it did in Season Three, Episode 16 and 17, War Without End as it is devoured in flames and Londo appears on the throne as the aged emperor. Children play inside the emperor's quarters and Londo welcomes the sound of their voices despite their mother's concerns for disturbing him. Londo places the seal of the Centauri Republic around the young boy making him the emperor for the next few minutes and tells the boy he may give one order. He asks him those fateful words people we've come to know all too well, "What do you want?" The boy replies "tell me a story." Londo replies to his mother. "He did far better with that question than I did," acknowledging that question's significance throughout the series. Londo shares a true story with them. It was the dawn of the Third Age. Londo was there. "It began with the humans you know. They're the quiet ones I mentioned before. They changed the universe, but in doing so paid a terrible price." It happened 35 years ago on Earth. Pride was the undoing of the human race.

The flashback begins. Londo enters the Earth quarters of General Lefcourt [the actor who plays him returns] who mentions something about defeating the Dilgar [Sp?]. You'll recall Lefcourt was initially tasked with stopping Sheridan before aiding him in the final hours of the war against President Clark in Season Four, Episode 20, Endgame. Londo, himself, looks young, meticulously groomed, thick black hair and immaculately dressed as the Centauri ambassador.

Lefcourt inquires with Londo about a race called Minbari. The Earth representative indicates Earth's plan to send a dispatch to the edge of their world to see if they pose a threat to Earth's sphere of influence. Earth is clearly acting in a non-isolationist/ imperialistic fashion. Lefcourt understands a third of the Minbari population is dedicated to warfare. Londo clarifies it is a warrior caste and "not exactly the same thing hmm." Lefcourt is clearly a hardliner. If I recall the Centauri had a kind of neutrality pact in place that guaranteed their worlds would not be compromised by one another. It was referenced earlier in Season Two/Three of the show. The conversation takes a turn for the serious. Londo insists sending only one ship or the Earthers will not return. Lefcourt is not phased operating with overwhelming arrogance. Londo calls them on their arrogance or as Londo mentioned earlier, pride. Pride in most cases a virtue unless it is boastful. Exaggerated pride according to the Greeks was referred to as hubris and could lead to tragedy. The video would indicate it to be Earth's Achilles' heel. It's worth watching.

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On Minbar, the caste elders reject the Anlashok [The Rangers] at a critical juncture in Minbari history when they are needed most. The leader of the Anlashok, Lenonn, is visited by six Minbari and lifted aboard a great ship via a beam of light. He is taken to the Grey Council's vessel.

Londo, while he tells his story to the children, indicates one of the great truths of the Earth-Minbari War. He is as guilty as they come with much blood on his hands. The war was as much a result of his own actions.

The story continues. Lenonn advocates for the Anlashok indicating their need for money, resources and people. Lenonn also believes a relationship should be developed with the Vorlons. The Minbari indicate efforts have been made to contact the Vorlons in the past, but their missionaries never return from Vorlon space. Delenn is at the Grey Council meeting as a representative and Dukhat supports her move to lend her voice to the proceedings and the matters at hand despite objection from others. Delenn indicates it was Valen who said The Shadows would return to Z'Ha'Dum before openly striking. She recommends a search party dispatch to Z'Ha'Dum. The warrior caste rejects the proposal despite their alleged lack of fear. Well, be afraid, be very afraid. Dukhat indicates the religious caste will go. The warrior caste is humiliated for sure. The warrior caste is more about saving face than any of the castes. They want to appear strong without the sacrifice at times. I'm not entirely accurate here but it feels that way sometimes.

Delenn indicates to Dukhat her surprise that the Vorlons have not reached out to them. Dukhat is unsurprised indictaing they do not reveal themselves quickly. Dukhat returns to his quarters. Kosh appears from the shadows. "Now it starts," says Dukhat. "Yes," responds Kosh as only Kosh can respond in a word. It would appear Delenn was spot on to her expectation of the Vorlons' appearance. They're here.

On Earth, Sheridan sits before Lefcourt. Sheridan is so well-groomed and looks so young. He looks like a pup compared to his last meeting with Lefcourt. Make-up is a wonderful thing. We certainly understand their relationship based upon some of what we learned in Season Four, Episode 20, Endgame. Lecourt assigns Sheridan as first officer of the mission to Minbari space on the Prometheus. Sheridan protests mildly indicating the Captain of the ship does not handle "first contact situations" well. It does not go well. This is a good sequence.

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Delenn sees things happening but does not quite understand what is afoot. One of the things that struck me at this point was the mirroring of these two lives, Delenn and Sheridan, and all that we know about them now. They are so far apart at this juncture in their careers not to mention wet behimd the ears. Still they have been gifted with very special instincts. It's funny the two will inevitaby marry and fall in love. The juxtaposition of the two and the fact they are embroiled in a war to which their paths would converge is quite amusing, because you know it was so well orchestrated and crafted by design by Straczynski. This thought gives me pause and suddenly I wonder if at some point at the end of this film they do not come face to face in the bloodletting of battle to truly create one of the great ironies behind their love story with evidence they had met very early on. As far as I know, there is still much that Delenn and Sheridan do not know about one another's pasts especially Sheridan of Delenn. We shall see.

Delenn converses with her master, Dukhat, indicating she senses a Vorlon is among them. Dukhat indirectly gives Delenn an acknowledgement of the Vorlons' presence.

Earth's Prometheus is enroute to Minbari space. Earth is playing a very dangerous game. The Captain of the Prometheus foolishly looks to get closer to the Minbari. The Captain of the ship gives orders to get closer despite crew objections based upon orders given to them to the contrary requiring distance. So I'm thinking prior to the Earth-Minbari War the Minbari were making plans with the Vorlons in anticipation of the Shadows. The conflict with Earth must not have been a welcomed event with all that was going on behind the scenes. Anyway, the Earth ship is in pursuit of the Minbari when the Minbari unexpectedly turn toward them. The Captain gives orders to jump and get out of there but the Minbari scanners interfere with their ability to jump. The Captain makes an effort to establish communications unsuccessfully. The Minbari approach with gun ports open and Dukhat is not pleased to learn of that information. Many of the edits in this sequence are taken from Season Four, Episode 9, Atonement and take us back to events from that episode. The Captain is getting jumpy, nervous and fidgety just as Sheridan indicated he would earlier. Sheridan is fortunate not be aboard. With gun ports open, as is tradition of the warrior caste, Captain Jankowski ignorantly makes the decision to fire all guns at will. All batteries fire.

Arthur in color.
With his finger on the trigger, we are greeted by the face of Michael York, the first to fire upon the Minbari. You'll recall how he was haunted by the events of that day in Season Three, Episode 13, A Late Delivery From Avalon. Wow how it all weaves together like a beautifully woven Indian rug. Yorke played the part of Gunnery Sergeant David Mcintyre a.k.a. Arthur. It also speaks volumes about Delenn, as Lady Of The Lake, visiting him in medlab in the aforementioned episode. All hell breaks loose. Minbari die and Delenn goes ballistic over Dukhat's death, and as the deciding vote of a deadlocked Grey Council, orders the destruction of the Earth forces. "No Mercy!" she cries. Atonement fits like a glove over this film. Reiner Shone plays Dukhat in the TNT production, In The Beginning, and I believe is reprising his role from Atonement. The Earth Captain and crew heads for the jumpgates with the Minbari prepped to follow. So these events set the war in motion. The rest is Earth-Minbari War history as they say. I can imagine those conflict-loving Shadows must have been tickled silly to see this playing right into their plans. But not so quick, our story continues....

Earth's greatest morale boosters! Mr. Happy and Mr. Happier.
The Minbari are now on offense. Well Earth, if you're going to start a fight you damn well better be ready to finish it. Lefcourt tells the forces there have been no victories and one is needed for morale to improve. Doesn't telling that to the forces that contradict the intended goal? Further, if the enemy cannot be defeated it could mean the extermination of the human race. These guys a bundle of fun. Unfortunately they have much in the way of bad news to deliver. Starkiller Sheridan is in the audience and he believes any enemy can be defeated somehow.

We see Susan Ivanova is visiting her older brother. She wanted to wish him well before he headed into the battle. Susan tells her brother she'll be joining the ranks soon as well. It is her only appearance. Looking at this singular moment it feels a little shoehorned into the film and the brother is a bit of a waste despite fitting into the Babylon 5 mythology. I understand the establishing piece regarding Ivanova as well, but, it was fairly edit-worthy. Then again, she is pretty.

At this point, the cocky Earth brass are desperate in their struggle against the Minbari so they turn to the Centauri through Londo for tactical and strategic support plus weaponry. Londo refuses to listen to the voice of "a race that is about to become extinct." You can't say he didn't warn them. Londo wisely refuses to risk it. He's also not in violation of their security/ neutrality pact either. In a backroom the same Earth rep meets with G'Kar of the Narn. Andreas Katsulas always gives an energized performance.

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The war is going swimmingly for the Minbari so much so it is like lambs to the slaughter. The warrior caste and the Minbari weaponry is clearly that good. Delenn, now with cooler heads prevailing, is having doubts about her decision to ignite the war. "It is genocide!" Lenonn has his theories on why the warrior caste has wholeheartedly embraced this war. The warrior caste loves to win. It is easier to defeat a weaker opponent and therefore they relish the fight. Exactly. If they can keep their hands clean they will. It's all about saving face and perceptions for the Minbari. Lenonn has recreated the Dukhat sanctum on the ship and he urges Delenn to go there.

Delenn encounters Kosh for the first time who also appears to be with Ulkesh. Delenn asks Kosh why they are here. "Creating the future," responds the always mysterious Vorlon. A video image appears and Dukhat urges Delenn to trust the Vorlons as he did. Dukhat informs her of the coming war and their need for allies. They will need a race called humans. Uh-oh. Delenn's reaction is the kind where the heart jumps into the throat and one is fairly certain they have screwed themselves royally with a very poor decision. Dukhat commands that the humans must be found. Oh, they're found alright. They are also being exterminated. Not good. Not good at all. The allies of the Shadows are gathering at Z'Ha'Dum and their masters won't be far behind he ensures. He asks Delenn to finish what he started. Delenn turns to Kosh about the humans. "Yes, they are the key" assures Kosh. You're half-expecting Kosh to follow up with "so what have you done?" Well, someone may need to quell the bloodbath taking place outside first then. As the head of the Rangers this is why Lenonn is in the know and why he asked Delenn to visit Dukhat's quarters. Time is running out and the Earth-Minbari war must be stopped for the Great War to be "stopped before it starts."

This is the ultimate reamer of all butt-reamers! No question about it.
Enter Dr. Franklin who is getting his butthole reamed by one of his superiors for having worked on the Minbari in the past but not bringing this vital information to their attention. Dr. Franklin plays doctor of ethics and refuses to give up his notes on the Minbari towing the ethical line. Franklin is arrested. The General confiscates any and all of his data for the good of the planet. Earth's very existence is on the line and Franklin decided to remain steadfast on principle. I respect his decision and while Earth is not exactly in the right here, this is your people brother. This is the very end of your people. WTF are u doing? There are always interesting moral questions in Straczynski's universe of morality plays.

Elsewhere, the Lexington, with Sheridan aboard, is in pursuit of a Minbari transport. The transport ship lures the squadron straight into an opening jumppoint whereby a Minbari war cruiser attacks. During the melee Sheridan's captain is killed. He's actually faceplanted into the dashboards, leaving him Sheridan in charge.

Delenn and Lenonn discuss a way out of this disaster in the making. Negotiations need to begin. Those secretive Narns are so good at keeping things in secret Delenn's intelligence reports already indicate they have been selling weapons to the Earthers. Ha! Nice work geniuses! Anyway it is through this avenue she hopes a communication line might be struck. Lenonn will have his Rangers establish contact with the Narn government to get a meeting organized within weeks.

The Lexington is now limping along without power. Sheridan believes their only option is to send a distress signal. If they do, they could be killed, but then again sitting around isn't a great option either. Sheridan sends 3 tactical nuclear warheads to the launching bay. Sheridan plays the part well as the uncertain newcomer in this climate taking the lead. Leading because he is merely forced to lead by circumstances beyond his control. His instincts are good and natural though and the others heed his ideas respectfully. "Hell, I didn't wanna live forever anyway." The warheads have been fastened to some floating asteroids. That seems a bit of a dicey idea. The distress signal is sent. Here comes the Minbari War Cruiser. He directs the pilots to maneuver behind the asteroids to give the impression of evasion. Sheridan holds a photograph of Anna Sheridan [Melissa Gilbert] in her pre-Shadow conversion days. ;) I still think it would have been nice to have a little bit more on their relationship along the way. "See you in Hell!" He loves saying hell. Sheridan's nuke plan works as the Minbari vessel is destroyed. Victory cheers are heard on Earth as Sheridan delivers a major morale booster. It was a clever but risky plan for sure. It would set the tone for a great commander who certainly is unflinching in his willingness to take chances. Oh and it turns out that was the Black Star, a Minbari flagship. So there you have the historic, infamous Black Star incident and thus the antithesis of the spirited cooperation that has been built into the alternately dubbed White Star vessels. Lefcourt is very pleased and kisses his ass and swallows some humble pie and crow after their earlier meeting as clipped above.

With the Lexington undergoing repairs, Lefcourt introduces Sheridan to G'Kar. Lefcourt is planning to have a Narn cruiser deliver Sheridan to a possible Minbari meeting. Segments of their government are looking to make contact. Sheridan is obviously the man for the mission or as Sheridan puts it, "and I'm expendable." Sheridan will be sent along with Dr. Franklin. Franklin has had much contact with them. His decision to go with Sheridan got him out of the brig. G'Kar will also be joining the mission for translation purposes if needed. Lefcourt indicates that if surrender is the only way out "We will surrender." It's either that or die as Earth is losing badly.

As it turns out Londo had orders too. He was to prevent the Narns from using the war to establish closer ties to the humans. Londo would essentially prevent the war from ending early. On a remote icy outpost, the trio are greeted by Lenonn. Narn is alerted to a ship coming through the jumpgate off the planet. It is a Centauri warship. The Narn cruiser is destroyed before he can report to G'Kar any further. The Centauri warship even fires upon the bunker.

Londo tells the children that the Minbari and humans thought it might be a renegade arm of either's government, and never knew the truth. It was Londo who attacked their location ending negotiations. Peace would not be established.

With the bunker on the planet being hit Lenonn is killed in the assault but not before whispering into Sheridan's ear.

The Minbari retrieve Lenonn's battered body as a result. I knew it! G'Kar, Franklin and Sheridan are brought before the Minbari. Delenn is there and she is cloaked. I knew they would be in the same room potentially. They are brought for questioning and execution. Sheridan yells that he has a message and he knows what is in Dukhat's sacred place. He is beaten by the Minbari until Delenn yells "Stop!" "What is," she asks. Sheridan yells "Encelzai" translated as "the future." They are released. It's notable especially on a second look that their eyes never actually meet. She is veiled in a cloak. She cannot see him and he cannot see her. Interesting.

The children ask if that is the end of the story. I thought Londo was going to say that was only the beginning. Get it, In The Beginning. With the one chance for peace destroyed Londo indicates "the greatest slaughter of all still waits for us and it changed everything." Centauri Prime is in flames. All of the windows are cloaked with drapes. I think this is one of the greatest truth about Londo said best by Jurasik as Londo himself. It's quite moving to see him express his feeling in what appears to be his final days.

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Londo narrates impressively over images of the war and the stubborn nobility and courage of the human race in the face of great odds is always an admirable quality.

The President of Earth looks to hold back the Minbari in the hope that what remains of Earth may escape to neutral territory and survive complete extinction.

The Minbari are close to Earth and to finishing what Earth started. "What glory is there in eliminating an entire race?," inquires Delenn. "Not as much as in the beginning" says the Minbari to Delenn. He calls it the end of their holy war. Delenn does not find it holy. She is left struggling with questions and the consequences of her decision in the end.

Delenn goes to Dukhat's quarters and asks if the Vorlons are still there. "We have always been here." Yes, we've heard that before First Ones. Delenn seeks help. She is in such despair. "I don't know what to do. Tell me. Tell me what to do." Speaking in the kind of riddled language we have grown accustomed to hear from Kosh, he tells her, "the truth points to itself." God I miss Kosh. Don't you just miss this fella? Delenn looks to him and says "I do not understand." Don't worry sister that makes two of us. "You will. Go now before it's too late" pushes the Vorlons in unison. This was quite moving and my heart was broken for Delenn who is simply beside herself and overwhelmed. It's interesting to see the mistakes all sides can make and the efforts they are often willing to go to set things right.

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I really miss the big guy.
I have to believe Jeffrey Sinclair will play into this in some way in the final moments. Speak of the devil.....it's midnight on the firing line. I believe we are seeing the weaving of Season One, Episode 1, Midnight On The Firing Line, unfold before our very eyes as well as elements of Season One, Episode 8, And The Sky Full Of Stars. "Hold the line" Sinclair shouts through his receiver. Sinclair literally watches as his squadron is cut down by an armada of Minbari one by one. And moments before Sinclair would ram his starfury into a Minbari War Cruiser it would be Delenn who would point and select the man who would be Valen for questioning. Ah, how it all comes together like the perfect murder. It really is an exquisite job of story construction.

Sinclair is brought in for interrogation. Delenn is informed that a triluminary was being used on the human and she is summoned to come and see. I believe footage from Season One is applied here as well.

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And so goes the hole in Sinclair's mind. WOW! It is truly something special the thinking, the planning, the epic scope of detail that has gone into Straczynski's story. I am humbled by it. There is nothing like Babylon 5 out there with this kind of intellectual soul in its science fiction. While I may not be always engaged by it conceptually I am in awe of the writing mastery behind the story of Babylon 5. Love it or not, it is an impressive work of genius.

For a decade the question nagged worlds across the galaxy. Why did the Minbari surrender on the eve of victory?

When the war ended, construction on the "last best hope for peace" began, the construction of the Babylon station. We get a glimpse of a red station because after all several did not make it until Babylon 4 got lifted and Babylon 5 got it right.

I love Londo's final remark to the mother of the two children. He touches her arm and he says to her "dear lady, I would love to walk with you on a beach somewhere for just five minutes. How strange to have come so far and to want so little." Wow. Very powerful. Very simple. It's funny. I got a call just today from a cousin and we were commiserating on the stresses and responsibilities piled upon us like heaps of weights in our lives with each step forward we take. He said, "do you remember when we used to swim in the lake and lay on the dock in the middle of the water?" I did. He said, "I remember thinking when I was young how I didn't have any way out of that place. I didn't have a car or any way to escape." I knew what he was going to say next, but I was so caught up in the moment and I said, "and" and he finished "and how I wish I could have just one of those days staring up into the blue sky laying on that dock in the middle of the lake back for just a little while." Amen. He was channeling Londo and myself. Londo said it and I think about that all the time. Just give us all five minutes of peace away from it all like the deep blackness of space.

Londo finishes his story coughing and tells them all to go. The little girl turns to ask if Sheridan and Delenn lived happily ever after. Londo tells her "that remains to be seen." I kept wondering if he had one of those keepers on his neck. He seemed to be drinking heavily and I thought perhaps that was allowing him control over his word and thought. Suddenly, Londo flips on a visual screen of his two prisoners, Sheridan and Delenn, which ties right into Season Three, Episode 16 and 17, War Without End. Hold good shit! How does this man do it? And of course this confirms my thought about the keeper which is indeed there on his shoulder. The alcohol is working according to plan. We also know that Sheridan and Delenn are about to be freed based on seeing the events in the aforementioned episode. And still with all of this fine storytelling I am still dying to know where the story goes from here.

It has been good for me to step away from Babylon 5. Sometimes you can get so caught up in something it can feel like a grind and I think I was feeling that way a touch. I've been doing a bit of this and a bit of that. I've been watching some science fiction that has been a little less [ahem] challenging but fun.

This was a tremendous telefilm loaded with Babylon 5 drama. It must not be watched before the end of Season Four to be sure as so many have suggested. Having all of that viewing experience under my belt, I enjoyed how it pulled and wove so many elements to the Babylon 5 story together. It's like coming full circle at this point. This is one expensive rug indeed.

In The Beginning: A-

3 comments:

Havremunken said...

Hey,

A little late to comment here.. Just wanted to chime in with some annoying comments disguised as facts... :P

I think that the women taking care of the two children were not their mother, rather their.. uhm.. caretaker. The kids are related to Londo's old friend who let Londo kill him with a sword and take care of his family way back in Knives, S2.

Other than that.. I didn't know before this movie that Ivanovas brother was serving on the same ship as Sheridan, but it was a minor detail.

And I have to go read the script book.. I have always wondered about the medicine Londo offers to the earth president... What was THAT about? One thing I have learned about JMS stories is that no scene is there for no reason or at random. :)

Anyway, random ramblings over. :)

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hey H!

I didn not see the Knives connection. That would certainly make it interesting.

I definitely can't remember myself whether Ivanova's brother had been brought up before, but it did seem kind of thrown in there.

I have to admit it is very difficult to remember everything that has gone before at this point. Old age. Having said that, there is no question I am missing things. Straczynski is meticulous in his construction of this story and what has gone before. It was his baby and he knows it inside out. No question. A very valid point my friend.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

By the way H, never too late to write.