Sunday, September 7, 2008

B5 S3 Ep21: Shadow Dancing

Things are getting quite cozy as we heat up to the season finale.

What a terrific angle on B5 with my favorite saucer in the foreground. This was a refreshing new opening shot. Did anyone ever see the silly, wacky fun of the Jim Nabors/ Ruth Buzzy vehicle The Lost Saucer or Far Out Space Nuts with Bob Denver [of Gilligan's Island fame]? These were both released in 1975 from The World Of Sid & Marty Krofft. They had a zany world of imagination indeed with Land Of The Lost [1974], Sigmund And The Sea Monsters [1973] ["and Johnny & Scott are friends"], and H.R. Pufnstuf [1969]. That was some good, old-fashioned, family fun-oriented kids science-fiction! Good times. They just don't make stuff like that anymore. In fact, the quality of output began to slide for Sid and Marty with their newer stuff Bigfoot And Wildboy [1977]. Yup. The end was near. Alright enough of that.

It’s pretty clear to me that J. Michael Straczynski is a closet fan of the Gibb brothers. Who isn’t? Let’s face it, for what possible reason would you title your episode after Andy Gibb’s 1978 hit single of the same name, Shadow Dancing? Okay maybe because the enemy is known as The Shadows and perhaps intergalactic space battle and dogfights is a bit like dancing or a ballet of fire as they say. All of that is simply coincidental I'm sure. No, I don't seriously think he likes the Bee Gees, but he might.

Delenn and Lennier call a council meeting with the alien worlds to assure their trust and support. The Shadows are preparing for an offensive strike and they need to be ready. Sector 83 is building with refugees and ripening in size for the enemy's assault. They receive the allied support with reservations.

Sheridan calls upon Ivanova and Marcus to take out the White Star as a scout ship to alert the Babylon 5 forces when The Shadows’ arrive. They are to maintain radio silence. Sheridan’s words are not exactly inspiring, but he is a realist. He tells them they have a 50/50 chance of making it. The alliance fleet will be on standby.

So here we are in the throes of the Shadow War 2260 with Babylon 5, Season Three, Episode 21, Shadow Dancing [or Andy Gibb Would Be Proud And Possibly Scared]. I must tell you. Being a big fan of the up close and personal dialogue between characters I’m also a big fan of the up close and personal hand-to-hand styled combat situations in my action sequences. I’d love to see The Shadows and Rangers go hand-to-hand in the future, but whether that’s to happen or not remains to be seen. We shall see.

Melissa Gilbert is in the credits as Anna. Cool! I love her. I especially loved her in Little House On The Prairie. Watching her on that show was like sitting with a big bowl of popcorn and another whopping bowl of ice cream. That series was complete comfort food as a kid. I know this is [another] key moment in the series, plus we all know Gilbert and Sheridan are married in real life which adds a nice touch to her appearance. Straczynski goes back to reference the video transmission scenes picturing Sheridan’s wife exhibited way back in Season Two, Episode 2, Revelations [I believe], but this time inserting Gilbert in place of the unknown actress. Anyway, it’s going to be interesting here.

Sheridan offers the White Star crew an Egyptian Blessing: “May God stand between you and harm and all the empty places where you must walk.” That's a great blessing.

I really liked this scene between Garibaldi and Zack and my patience over Franklin’s walkabout falls very much into Zack’s own train of thought here.

Man, Franklin is seriously screwed up to be going on and on like this. I mean, he’s sitting in the Down Below like a freak under a sheet in a near fetal position for cryin’ out loud. He looks like he lost his best friend for Pete’s sake. Pull it together already!

Marcus offers to teach Ivanova Minbari and even tells her she’s "beautiful" using the language, but, of course, she doesn’t really know what he has said to her. Damn it Jim! She's a telepath not a translator!

Delenn intimates a little rendezvous later now that she and Sheridan are growing closer. A man and woman spend three nights together where the female observes the male. It’s a little more complicated, maybe a bit strange even, but essentially they sleep together. I think. Not the best pickup line if ever there was one. Normally if someone tries seducing you with that kind of plan you can expect an icepick and hatchet to follow. Anyway, this will unite them within a single bedroom just in time for Anna’s arrival. You will recall the vision from Season Three, Episode 17, War Without End Part Two. I must admit, and I’ve said it before, I’m just not all that moved by the Sheridan/ Delenn connection. It just doesn’t feel quite right or natural to me. I know I'm in the minority here. But trouble is on the horizon. I can feel it.

In the Down Below, Franklin intervenes in a brawl and gets a nice, cerated knife stuck into his gut. He’s bleeding badly and the guy he aids gets up and just leaves him there to die. It was a shocking moment. Still, it would seem to me his actions seemed very much in character for the man and I kept wondering why he was out there walking still. Perhaps the moment helped remind him of who he really is inside. You can't deny your nature. Resistance is futile. How’s your walkabout going now? He is literally bleeding to death. As he looks at his bloody hands he says “this is not good.” You’ve got that right Jack.

With Babylon 5 preparing for war Franklin sure picked a fine time to go for a stroll to find his innerself. Is this anytime for a personal discovery? Now he’ll need time to heal and recover if he’s saved at all and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of incoming wounded to compound the problems.

The White Star picks up a Shadows’ scout vessel. In turn the enemy craft picks up the White Star’s presence and a battle ensues. The scout ship attempts to get off a signal to The Shadows’ fleet. Ivanova and company jam its signal while moving to stop it.

Meanwhile, Franklin weakens and is visited by three ghosts. Joking. He is visited by his conscience. I like this side of his character. It’s far more sensible and thinking clearly as he says to himself, “Now look where it’s got you,” referencing the walkabout. His crisis of conscience is a battle of Franklin versus Franklin. Franklin really lets Franklin have it. Franklin knows Franklin is right, but Franklin isn’t backing down from really driving home the point to Franklin that Franklin is being a right pain in the ass. Are you with me here? I’m really glad Franklin arrived to harass Franklin out of his lethargy, because I thought the whole act was bit of a crock or cop-out for Franklin. Here’s Richard Biggs with fellow actor Richard Biggs as Franklin and Franklin. They give two very BIGgs performances quite frankly.

Thankfully Franklin's conscience wills himself to stop running away. Amen that’s over.

As the White Star battles, each ship exacts some damage. Suddenly, out of nowhere, here come The Shadows. Ivanova somewhat astonished simply says the words, “That’s alotta ships.” Marcus seconds that emotion with “that’s a bloody awful lotta ships.” It is a massive armada and they ain’t kidding. Damaged the White Star is like a sitting duck. With no jump drives they are helpless.

Ivanova: “Well, who wants to live forever?”
Marcus: “I do actually” [that is classic!]

With the signal launched here comes the cavalry. A jumppoint opens and the battle rages between the Shadows’ forces and the Rangers/ allies. Delenn shows Sheridan the hologram deck of the Minbari cruiser’s command and control center. They are surrounded by the battle visually and can give orders from that station to all. The battle is fierce and visually very impressive for its day. The computer animation has come a long way from the initial stages of its use in Season One. I remember way back when thinking the effects were just slightly better than the floating cookies [meteors] you could find on the ceiling of Space Mountain at Disneyworld. It wasn’t good. There have been vast improvements along the way. Without giving a play by play you can see it for yourself. Also, those flying saucers have some pretty smokin’ cool laser green fire zaps. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it, but I love when The Shadows go into cloak mode and kind of waver on the screen like ripples of water. That is so very cool and ranks right alongside when they shrivel up and die.

Folks! I desperately tried to work in a Shadow Dancing music video by Andy Gibb to some of the action footage from this installment, but alas it was not to be. I just couldn't time it right and it just didn't work so I had to let it go as much as I wanted it to happen. So, the good news, I spared you from the torture of one of my random and shameless Babylon 5 Music Videos.

Franklin is found and rushed to medlab along with the returning wounded. The battle was apparently not a complete loss, but less than a rousing success.

Out in deep space a Shadows vessel releases a spacecraft from its fluid-black skin. High Definition would really help make out the shapes of these smaller objects on screen, but it's a minor gripe I know. At first I thought it was a modified Starfury craft, a Trojan horse of a sort, but then I realized I hadn’t seen Anna Sheridan yet up to this point and it would be her.

As Sheridan, Ivanova and Delenn deliberate what’s in store next for them from The Shadows, Ivanova asks a great question. Why haven’t they attacked Babylon 5? Sheridan flashes to a black & white image of Ivanova [with a crow on her shoulder] asking him, “Do you know who I am?” Sheridan says he keeps seeing images ever since Kosh died. He sees himself in a Psi Corps uniform. In another image Garibaldi tells him “The man in between is searching for you.” Then Ivanova, again, with face netting telling him “You are the hand.” He saw these very moments earlier in Season Two, Episode 11, All Alone In The Night [boy, that seems so long ago]. The images are very odd and I love the crow and dove touches. There must be some mystical significance to the crow and dove. I love those Ivanova lips. In classic Straczynski fashion, Sheridan says “signs, portents, dreams” referencing and weaving in the show's past and follows with “next will be reading tea leaves and chicken entrails.” Funny that, though I don't believe the remaining Season box sets use Chicken Entrails as a subtitle. They are all certain that their station is quite vulnerable.

In the end Franklin is a better man and despite the incredulity of his walkabout process in my mind it certainly worked to further his character. I think. But then again he just wants to "do it again."

So, finally, Sheridan and Delenn are in the dark in that bedroom. Son of a gun it was all coming together. The image Delenn had in War Without End Part Two was about to come to pass. Anna Sheridan was now making her way aboard Babylon 5. WOW! This is going to get really interesting. As the final minutes proceed enter Melissa Gilbert as Anna Sheridan as she walks through that door and ther snowglobe drops. Brilliant! Ivanova is alerted to her presence. The proverbial shit hits the fan and Anna Sheridan is in the house.

I had a few questions. How in the galaxy did she know Delenn’s name? Is she an agent of The Shadows now? Is it really her? That was as solid a cliffhanger if ever there was one. AWESOME!!! Simply Awesome.

Shadow Dancing: B+
Up Next: THE BIG Z!


Unknown said...

I believe her words were "You must be Delenn". Someone must be paying attention to these guys. :)

Franklin's stabbing was heavily based on a similar adventure jms participated in (as the victim) way back, which very nearly killed him. Something he - according to him - didn't realize until the scene was written.

And the scene where Anna comes to B5 was not filmed as intended by jms. He wanted the whole "from her point of view" camera angle, but didn't want everyone to stare at her like that. Sure, she's a good enough looking woman, but several people seem very surprised by seeing her, and they really wouldn't know who she was. But oh well, it's a nice buildup to her arrival anyway.

Now just tie up the family in the basement, turn up the volume and enjoy the adventure that is Z'ha'dum!

Anonymous said...

If you can get a hold of the 2004 edition of JMS' comic "Midnight Nation", in the afterword you'll find the entire walkabout story, Straczynski version (it will also be a bit of a revelation concerning the biographical background of a certain male telepath showing up in season 5). The comic itself is the walkabout story essentially. JMS thinks this comic is amoung his best work, and reportedly is working on a screenplay for the big screen.


SFF said...

Yeah, exactly...although you've got me thinking and of course Morden is a frequent flyer to Babylon 5 and he reports to The Shadows so that could stand to reason too eh.

I love comic book collectables. So many comic books and science fiction series and never enough time I say guys.

Anonymous said...

One thing about the Delenn/Sheridan relationship - you wrote that it didn't feel quite right or natural. The question for me is - can that relationship even feel "right" or "natural" in the sense of an ordinary relationship?

It's not just that humans and Minbari were enemies about 10 years ago. Their cultures seem to be very different, especially when it comes to forming relationships, and neither John nor Delenn seem to know a lot about the other culture in that area. Add to this that Delenn is about 20 years John's senior, and not long ago was a member and the designated leader of the Grey Council, while John is an Earthforce Captain - talk about status differences. Delenn is also a much more spiritual person than Sheridan, with deep convictions concerning how the universe itself works, whereas Sheridan, by his own admission, believes "in a little of everything". Finally, the Minbari also aren't happy with Delenn's decision to transform into a Human-Minbari hybrid, imagine their reaction to a Delenn-Sheridan relationship. How can such a relationship resemble anything normal? If there was no akwardsness and their relationship evolved natural in the sense of an ordinary relationship among humans, that wouldn't be believable for me.


SFF said...

WOW! M! You have a way with words and your words are convincing. You make some great points in actually conveying some of the things that are making it tough for me.

I suppose it is a case of opposites attracting in a way. Your thoughts are resonating with me and opened me a little to my resistance.

I will try and keep an open mind despite probably feeling much the same way this Earther/ Minbari connection is unfolding, with a touch of the awkward. Given your thoughts, it does stand to reason.

Unknown said...

I am of course in complete agreement with M here. Also, while I don't doubt the sincerity of Delenn's love for John (her sincerety in other areas may of course be discussed), on my first viewing of the series, I also thought about how much of this is true love, and how much of it is her desire to fulfill prophecy. "Comes the Inquisitor" was of course very pro-our-heroes, but Sebastien raised a few valid questions; Now, Delenn (and Sheridan for that matter) passed with flying colors, but it's worth asking if this relationship is a result of prophecy saying what it did about them (Sinclair saw how close the two had become before he went all Minbari on them).

Anyway, yep, as will be said much later.. There's a million years of difference between the two cultures. That will lead to some serious stumbling here and there.

Oh, and if I were in a position of dating someone, then sent 17 years into the future where I was told I had a kid with this person and we were about to be executed together, that might lead me to think about how "set" that future really is, and whether or not I should try to affect it. :)

Anonymous said...

The question whether it was true love on the part of Delenn - I was asking the same myself, too. I'm not sure to what extent a first time viewer notices that - usually people are completely preoccupied by the much more flamboyant Londo/G'kar dynamics - but Delenn is very manipulative with John. There are many cases in which she tries to push him into doing what she thinks is right, and at times she all but tells him what to think. At least during the first years, this isn't at all a relationship among equals. Delenn is clearly the driving force, both behind the relationship and behind their actions. It may well be that it wasn't all true love on Delenn's part in the beginning, and perhaps, even if he didn't admit it to himself, on some level John realised all that.


SFF said...

Always interesting commentary here and I'm sure I will appreciate many of these subtleties more down the road, but I would agree on the point Delenn seems to have manufactured or steered elements of this connection. Those are interesting points.

By the way, go easy on those of us completely entranced by the G'Kar/ Londo dynamic. I am unabshedly one of them and M you will admit, there are moments between them that are anything but flamboyant and some of those moments are beautiful.

Unknown said...

Of course the Londo/G'Kar thing is important and beautiful - you will come to appreciate it even more during the first part of season 4 - but I agree with M that these two are so "loud" that they kind of overshadow much of the subtle nuances of other things going on.

I think I may have mentioned it before, but if you want to warm up properly to Z'ha'dum, take a look at "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum", the scene where Kosh and Delenn inform Sheridan of the truth about Morden. It's not so much about what is said as what isn't said.

Also, in "Interludes and Examinations", Sheridan at one point wonders what the h*ll the whole thing is about, what the Shadows *want* (yay, irony!) - pay attention to Delenn during this scene.

I also certainly think there's true love at play in that centauri dungeon 17 years in the future, but as we agree, it may not have started out that way.

SFF said...

Well put, I can't argue with that and I will try and give those two episodes a recheck. I do remember the scenes of which you speak, especially In The Shadow....they were quite vivid.

Great observation of the future cell scene egarding Delenn and Sheridan. That moment is extremely warm and genuine.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the Londo and G'Kar arc, I just find it a bit regrettable that the character dynamics besides them tend to be overlooked.

As for the space battle, what I particularly like about it is that it's actually three-dimensional. Fighting doesn't only happen left and right, but also above and below.

OT: The trailer for Changeling, directed by Clint Eastwood from a JMS screenplay, is now online:


SFF said...

M. I was just kidding with you and I definitely understood what you meant. You are absolutely right. Some of the other character stories are far more subtle and can definitely be glazed over by viewers who quickly get energized by the G'Kar and Londo excitment.

Can't wait to check out Changeling. Thanks.