Sunday, 16 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 9-10

A9: Deathwalker
Airdates: 20 April 1994 (US), 11 July 1994 (UK)
Written by Lawrence G. DiTillio
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
Cast: Jha’dur (Sarah Douglas), Ambassador Kalika (Robin Curtis), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Abbut (Cosie Costa), Senator Hidoshi (Aki Aleong), Alien Ambassador (Robert DiTillio), Captain Ashok (Mark Hendrickson), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Sav Farrow) 

Plot:    Na’Toth is sent to the docking bay to await the arrival of a senior Narn diplomat who is coming to the station for reasons unknown. However, Na’Toth instead sees an alien woman she recognises and brutally attacks her. Security guards pull her off as she screams “Deathwalker!” and horrified aliens look at the comatose woman with disgust.

Sinclair quizzes Na’Toth whilst the woman recovers in Medlab. Na’Toth is adamant that the woman is Deathwalker, more properly Jha’dur, a veteran of the Dilgar invasion of thirty years ago. The Dilgar were a brutal, callous race but not without their technological innovations. The Dilgar invaded the non-aligned sectors and committed crimes on an interstellar scale before the intervention of the Earth Alliance saw the Dilgar military defeated at the Battle of Balos. A few months later the Dilgar star went nova, apparently wiping out the entire race, but Jha’dur seems to have survived. Jha’dur herself confirms this, claiming to have taken refuge with the Minbari Wind Swords clan. The Wind Swords are the same clan as the assassin who tried to kill both Kosh and Sinclair last year (PM). Na’Toth’s grandparents were on Hylak IV and were tortured and butchered by Jha’dur’s forces. Na’Toth’s family swore the shon’kar, the blood oath, in response. Na’Toth will not rest until Jha’dur is dead.

Meanwhile, Talia Winters is commissioned to oversee a business meeting between Ambassador Kosh and a strange human named Abbut. The two of them speak in parables and sayings and Talia begins to tire of the secretive nature of the negotiations. Suddenly she suffers a flashback to when she scanned a serial killer four years ago. It was possibly the most terrifying experience of her life. After suffering the flashback, she sees Abbut remove a data crystal from a cybernetic implant in his brain and gives it to Kosh. Kosh tells her it is for the future and departs. When Talia complains to Sinclair and Garibaldi, they respond that the Vorlons seem “nervous” around telepaths, possibly due to the events last year when Lyta Alexander scanned Kosh whilst he was unconscious. Possibly Kosh wanted something he could use against Talia should she prove a threat (PM).

Na’Toth is released to G’Kar’s custody but is incensed when G’Kar asks her to suspend the shon’kar. G’Kar tells Na’Toth that Jha’dur has made a discovery which could benefit the Narn immeasurably. The Earth Alliance also knows about this discovery and orders Sinclair to send Jha’dur on to Earth at once. The discovery turns out to be a serum for virtual immortality. Jha’dur refuses to treat with the Narn unless they deliver Na’Toth’s head to her on a plate, so G’Kar alerts the League of Non-aligned Worlds to her presence on the station. The League demands that Jha’dur be turned over to them immediately to be put on trial for crimes against sentience and a full meeting of the Babylon 5 Advisory Council is convened. The League demand a full trial, but Sinclair has been ordered to turn Jha’dur over to Earth instead. The Centauri used to employ the Dilgar are mercenaries so vote against the League in case any of their secrets get out. G’Kar offers to support the League in return for Jha’dur being tried on the Narn homeworld. When the League refuses, G’Kar withdraws his support and votes against the League as well. Surprisingly, the Minbari join in the “no” vote. Lennier (voting in Delenn’s stead, for she has returned to Minbar) tells Sinclair that the Minbari used some of Jha’dur’s weapon designs during the war against Earth and that the Wind Swords don’t want their part in Jha’dur’s history to be revealed. With no support for the League’s demands, Jha’dur is to be sent on to Earth.

Warships from three of the most powerful spacefaring League races - the Drazi, Ipsha and Vree - arrive and blockade Babylon 5 until Jha’dur is turned over to them. Sinclair manages to arrange a compromise, allowing the League worlds to share all data extracted from Jha’dur and her innovations once they have been analysed on Earth. Reluctantly the League agrees and withdraw their warships. Jha’dur, amused by all this commotion, tells Sinclair in passing that her immortality serum requires one person to die for another to live forever. The legacy of the Dilgar when she is dead will have been to pave the way for a bloodier war than any in galactic history. Her ship proceeds to the jump gate, but without warning a Vorlon heavy cruiser emerges and destroys her vessel with a single shot. Kosh tells the other ambassadors that they are not ready for immortality.


The Arc: The lesser governments who are represented on Babylon 5 are organised into an alliance of races known as the League of Non-aligned Worlds. The named races, so far, are the Drazi, Ipsha, Vree and Abbai (who aren’t named in this episode, but were in A7). Careful examination of the B5 council chambers also reveals that the Pak’ma’ra, Hyach and Llort are also members of this alliance. The Pak’ma’ra are seen in more detail in episode A17. Future races who show up as part of this alliance include the Markab (who appear in Season 2), Gaim and Brakiri (both of whom start appearing regularly from Season 3 onwards). The Ipsha don’t turn up again, but the Vree warships make frequent visits to Babylon 5 from Season 3 onwards and take part in military action in episodes C21 and D6. The only time we actually see a Vree up-close is in episode A15 (when one is put on trial). The Drazi are an important race in Babylon 5’s universe. Much of episode B3 is devoted to them and we see the Drazi homeworld in episodes E12 and E17. They play a leading role both in diplomacy and military action throughout the remainder of the series.

Although it is never confirmed, and the dialogue is a little unclear, Londo’s dialogue in episode A19 suggests he was present at the Battle of Balos (or Balos XII) which concluded the Dilgar Invasion, despite the fact that the Centauri played no official role in the war.

The Vorlons’ wariness of telepaths was first suggested in PM by their telepathy-resistant encounter suits. Episodes B19, C4, C14 and C18 all indicate a link between telepathy and the Vorlons, namely that the Vorlons aren’t comfortable around telepaths and those they do feel at home with are ones they have information on (as with Talia Winters here) or have personally vetted (as in episodes B19 and C4). The link between telepaths and Vorlons is fully explained in episode C22.

Kosh’s recording of Talia Winters’ experiences is referenced in B19. NOV1 (of doubtful canonicity) suggests that Talia and Kosh become friends of a sort following the events of this episode and that he is training her for some larger purpose.

The Minbari Wind Swords clan is also the clan that the assassin from PM belonged to. It is unknown how they know about Sinclair’s hole in his mind (since episode B1 makes it clear that the warrior caste was not informed about the reason for the Minbari surrender at the Battle of the Line). The Wind Swords may have links to the renegade Minbari referenced in A17 and seen in B1.

According to G’Kar, the Narn have “not finished with the Centauri yet”, setting up the events of episode A22.

Background: The Dilgar were a powerful race whose attempt to expand beyond their homeworld involved military action against the League worlds and at least one Narn colony (Hilak VII). Both the Centauri and Narn have used the Dilgar as mercenaries in the past. The Dilgar Invasion began in 2230. Earthforce intervened in 2231 and defeated the Dilgar at the Battle of Balos in 2232. The Dilgar home star went nova several months later, rendering them extinct. Some sources suggest that the Dilgar knew this beforehand and this was the impetus for attacking the League worlds, to find somewhere to flee to. Comac IV, Latic IV, Halax and Tirolus were all destroyed by the Dilgar during the war. Latic IV’s population was wiped out by Stafford’s Disease just so Jha’dur could see how long they took to die. Jha’dur was born in 2195 on Omelos in the Caliban Sector (presumably the Dilgar homeworld). Jha’dur led the invasion of Sectors 24, 39, 43 and 58 during the war.

The Narn shon’kar or blood oath is considered sacred, and can only be met with blood. G’Kar says that he has “many” shon’kar.

Sector 47 is in Minbari space.

The Minbari have a long-range shuttlecraft known as a “Minbari flyer”, which is capable of long-range travel for single occupants. They are armed but not as capable in combat as dedicated fighters.

The liner Callisto is the same class of starliner as the Asimov, except it’s coloured orange rather than green.

Both the B5 RPG and the Babylon 5 Wars wargame suggest that the Earth Alliance Starfury is based upon a modified Dilgar fighter design.

The Drazi warships are known as Sunhawks, but don’t turn up again until episode C1.

The Vree employ saucer-shaped spaceships. We see a Vree in episode A15 and see their warships in action in episodes C21 and D6.

Sinclair’s father, an Earthforce pilot, flew at the Battle of Balos and saw evidence of Dilgar atrocities with his own eyes during the war.

Abbut is a “Vicker”, a slang name derived from old Earth technology, VCRs. Vickers can record anything, sights, sounds and even thoughts, for future use. They are presumably telepathic.

The Minbari warrior caste contains several military clans. The most powerful are the Star Riders, Moon Shields, Wind Swords, Night Walkers and Fire Wings. The Star Riders appear in episode B1.

References: An author is reported to be doing a signing at Book Universe, B5’s resident bookshore. The author’s name is partially obscured, but the first name is clearly “Harlan”. This is a reference to SF author Harlan Ellison, a friend of J. Michael Straczynski who is known for his extensive work in SF short fiction (such as the story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”), scriptwriting (for Star Trek’s The City on the Edge of Forever and The Outer LimitsDemon With a Glass Hand) and producing/advising, serving as creative consultant on Babylon 5 itself. His voice can be heard in episode C11.

“Understanding is a three-edged sword,” is a Vorlon saying invented for the show. Straczynski says that the three edges are “your side, my side and the truth in between”.

Unanswered Questions: When will the younger races be ready for immortality?

Assuming the Minbari are more advanced than the Dilgar (since Earth defeated the Dilgar but could barely scratch the Minbari in battle), what use was Jha’dur to the Wind Swords? Why were the Wind Swords so keen to protect her?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: At the end of the episode you can see the jump gate opening and the Vorlon cruiser appearing on a wall monitor before we see it properly on-screen.

Behind the Scenes: The role of Abbut was written for Gilbert Gottfried, but he was unavailable on the filming dates in question.

J. Michael Straczynski hated the Vicker idea and made sure they never reappeared in the show. He did otherwise approve of the episode as a whole.

Scenes showing Na'Toth confronting Jha'dur in her quarters were cut from the script for time.

Familiar Faces: Sarah Douglas, who plays Jha’dur, is best-known for portraying the role of General Zod’s henchwoman Ursa in Superman and Superman II.

Robin Curtis, who plays Abbai Ambassador Kalika, played Lt. Saavik in the Star Trek movies The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home (taking over from Kirsty Alley who played the role in The Wrath of Khan). Curtis also played a mercenary in the Next Generation episode Gambit, alongside Julie Caitlin Brown (who plays Na’Toth on B5).

Cosie Costa, who plays Abbut, was a veteran of Hollywood television shows and films, playing an enormous number of bit-parts and side-roles from the late 1970s to the late 1990s.

Aki Aleong, who plays Senator Hidoshi, has an absolutely massive credits list. He made his first screen performance way back in 1956 and soon wracked up appearances in TV series such as Dr. Kildare and the Three Stooges movies. He became a go-to Hollywood actor in the 1980s, appearing in many of the iconic shows of the era (including Airwolf, V, Street Hawk, LA Law, The A-Team and Cagney and Lacey). Now aged 82, he remains a prolific performer with three films in production, one of which he is writing and directing.

Review: Deathwalker is an extremely strong episode, featuring arguably the show’s best non-Straczynski script and one of its darkest and more troublesome moral dilemmas. It also forwards the telepath and Vorlon arcs whilst introducing a ton of new races, concepts and backstory. It makes for an accomplished, busy and engaging episode across he board. ****½

Ivanova: “Tyrants seldom show remorse for their brutalities.”

Kosh: “Understanding is a three-edged sword.”

Jha’dur: “You will fall on one another like wolves. It will make what we did pale by comparison. The billions who live forever will be a testimony to my work. And the billions who are murdered to buy that immortality will be the continuance of that work. Not like us? You will become us. That’s my monument, Commander.”

Sinclair: “Do you think it’ll always be like this? Little powers at the mercy of bigger powers, politics before morality, expediency before justice?”

Kosh: “You are not ready for immortality.”

A10: Believers
Airdates: 27 April 1994 (US), 18 July 1994 (UK)
Written by David Gerrold
Directed by Richard Compton
Cast: M’ola (Tricia O’Neil), Tharg (Stephen Lee), Dr. Maya Hernandez (Silvana Gallardo), Shon (Jonathan Charles Kaplan), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain)

Plot:    Three members of the Thalatine species - an independent, minor race not even part of the League of Non-aligned Worlds - arrive on Babylon 5. Parents M’ola and Tharg are seeking aid for their son Shon, who has an obstruction of his internal air bladder. Dr. Franklin believes the situation can be remedied with a simple operation, but the shocked parents refuse to even consider invasive surgery. They believe that their souls will escape from their bodies if their skin is punctured.

Franklin is annoyed that the parents would put religious beliefs before their son’s well-being and cannot comprehend their point of view. Citing Sinclair’s decision to authorise medical treatment on Ambassador Kosh despite the Vorlon government’s request to the contrary (PM), he asks Sinclair to suspend M’ola and Tharg’s parental authority since they are clearly acting contrary to the best wishes of the child, but Sinclair refuses once he learns that Shon himself is refusing the operation. M’ola and Tharg go to the ambassadors for help in resisting Sinclair’s possible intervention, but they refuse for various reasons. Once they learn that Sinclair has refused to help, they are satisfied, at least until Franklin goes ahead and operates anyway. They take their son away and kill him, believing him to be a soulless demon, and Sinclair throws them off the station. Sinclair knows that Franklin was only trying to help someone in pain, but warns him that if M’ola and Tharg had made an official complaint to Earthforce, then Franklin’s career would almost certainly be over.

Meanwhile, the starliner Asimov puts out a distress signal. An on-board accident has destroyed their guidance system and they are flying blind in Raider territory. Ivanova and another Starfury fly out to escort the Asimov back to Babylon 5, but come under fire from Raiders. Massively outnumbered, Ivanova manages to fight them off and limps back to Babylon 5, her ship seriously damaged but a brief spell of “stir-craziness” averted.

The Arc: The Minbari refuse to help Tharg and M’ola because they feel that their own religious convictions have recently been put to the test by unpleasant revelations and are not in a position to intervene in other race’s religious affairs. We learn more about the Minbari religious situation in episodes A17, A20, B1, D9 and TVM1, although Delenn may have specifically been talking about the recent situation with Soul Hunters (in A2).

The starliner Asimov cropped up previously in episode A2 and will appear again in C13.

The Raiders last turned up in A2 and will crop up again in episodes A13 and TVM2.

Franklin's "God complex" comes up in many later episodes, but most strikingly C15 to C21.

Background: The Narn refuse to help because the matter is of no consequence to them. The Centauri would help but the Thalatine cannot afford their justice. Bizarrely, the Vorlons refuse to help because ‘the avalanche has already started’ (i.e. Kosh can see where the situation is headed).

The Raiders are considered such a threat that Earthforce vessels and officers are automatically authorised to destroy their ships even when they haven’t opened fire on anyone.

Dr. Franklin can open any door on the station if he thinks a medical emergency is in progress.

This is the first time the “Babylon 5 Senate Oversight Committee” is mentioned. We learn in episode B15 that this body is basically responsible for running the station’s interests back on Earth, such as raising the station’s operating budget each year from the Senate, and also for helping deflect the PR flak the station gets. The senator from episodes PM and A1 was presumably a member of this body, as is Senator Hidoshi (from episodes A9, A12 and A19).

Senator Gant is a member of the B5 Senate Oversight Committee. He may be the Senator we met in episodes PM and A1, but it is unclear.

Babylon 5 is an Earth Alliance colony and outpost subject to Earth law and jurisdiction, with the ambassadors excepted. However, Sinclair has considerable judgement and leeway in applying Earth law to alien races which may have radically different religious and cultural beliefs.

The Thalatine belief in puncturing the body refers primarily to the chest area, which they regard as a “soul cavity.” Treating broken limbs, cuts on the arms and legs etc would be permissible.

References: Starliner Asimov (from A2) shows up again, still bearing the name of SF grandmaster and writer Isaac Asimov.

Unanswered Questions: What happened to the Thalatine?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Ivanova says she is taking out “Alpha Wing”, but in actuality it’s just her and one other fighter. It’s unclear why B5 doesn’t send more ships to help the Asimov.

Behind the Scenes: J. Michael Straczynski had known David Gerrold for many years. He assigned Believers to Gerrold as he knew that Gerrold was good at writing moral dilemmas and had recently adapted a son of Shon’s age. Gerrold’s script ran short, so Straczynski added the Ivanova subplot.

This is one of the few episodes that Straczynski received a network note on. The note read that the episode did not jive with the show’s target audience demographics and that no-one in their right mind would carry off the ending before concluding, “I love it, let’s do it.”

Richard Biggs' agent was playing hardball during negotiations to get him on the show, so the producers sent him a copy of the script for Believers. It convinced Biggs to do the show.

Surprisingly, Kosh’s line on the avalanche and pebbles was Gerrold’s invention. Straczynski usually writes most of Kosh’s dialogue in other people’s episodes, but he kept that line in as he thought it was excellent.

According to Straczynski, Ivanova didn’t take on the Raider squadron by herself. Instead she ran, occasionally spinning her Starfury to fire off a few shots to dissuade the Raiders. She made it to the jump gate just in the nick of time before her fighter would have been destroyed. Straczynski did not mean to suggest that Ivanova had wiped out the entire enemy force by herself as, although badass, that would have been implausible.

Familiar Faces: Like D.C. Fontana and Harlan Ellison, writer David Gerrold was a key writer on the original Star Trek series and also a prolific SF short story writer and novelist (arguably best-known for the long-running War Against the Chtorr series). He is best-known for the Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles. He also contributed heavily to the development of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He wrote an episode which would have addressed the issue of AIDS and would have included Star Trek’s first gay couple, something Roddenberry seemed to approve of, but Roddenberry’s lawyer-turned-creative-consultant tried to kill the script in a storm of homophobic invective. Gerrold then left the show under a cloud.

Silvana Gallardo, who plays Dr. Hernandez, was a veteran of many American TV shows in the 1980s and 1990s. She grew up in a tough neighbourhood of the Bronx in New York City and used acting as a way of inspiring youngsters who had given up on having a future. In-between acting roles, she was an acting and life coach. As a youngster, she was also a track and field athlete. She passed away from cancer in 2012 at the age of just 58.

Tricia O’Neil, who plays M’ola, is best-known for playing the role of Rachel Garret, the captain of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-C) in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Yesterday’s Enterprise. She returned to Star Trek to play the Klingon Kurak in Suspicions, and jumped to Deep Space Nine to play the Cardassian Korinas in the episode Defiant. She also had a recurring role on The A-Team. She would later return to Babylon 5 to play a former Earth Alliance President in TVM1.

Stephen Lee (Tharg) was a very prolific Hollywood performer in the 1980s and 1990s, debuting in the movie WarGames. He is arguably best-known for playing the “Annoying Cabinet Installer” on Seinfeld. He passed away in 2014 at the age of just 58, from a heart attack.

Review: This is an episode based on a core moral dilemma, rooted in real religious debates (particularly in fundamentalist circles in the United States). The episode’s strength is that it sets up the, “Well, obviously Franklin is right,” argument at the start and then complicates it considerably, creating a moral tangle for Sinclair (which he doesn’t appreciated) and an escalating series of arguments and counter-arguments. The show makes intelligent use of previous episodes to reinforce the arguments, which works well. Where the episode falls apart a little is that Ivanova’s subplot feels tacked on and a bit unrelated to the main storyline. ***½

Londo: “Just how much justice can you afford?”

Kosh: “The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.”

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