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Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Babylon 5 2-02: Revelations

Episode:24|Writer:J. Michael Straczynski|Air Date:09-Nov-1994

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I thought I'd go crazy and watch an episode of Babylon 5 for a change.

Revelations is the second episode of the second season, it's written by creator J. Michael Straczynski, uh... Jim Johnston's the director, he's done some decent episodes. Hmm, not sure what else to write here. I hope it's good!

I'll be going through the whole episode in DVD screencaps and writing my commentary as I go, so this is going to have massive SPOILERS for both this story and earlier ones. Anything that happens afterwards is off-limits though, I won't even hint at where things are going from here.



Huh, they’ve added a big Earth Alliance EA logo on the front of the council chamber table? I can’t imagine that made the ambassadors very happy, as it's not like they get to put their own flags up. Plus it looks like they’ve repainted that complicated pattern on the floor and made it a bit more vivid; probably a less controversial choice that one.

The episode begins with a meeting of what's left of the B5 Advisory Council, but there's not much they can do while half the main ambassadors are missing. Ambassador Mollari's especially aggravated that Ambassador G'Kar's been off-station for the last fortnight and Delenn chose this month to become a butterfly and wants new representatives assigned... but there's no one around who wants to second his motion, so they just pack it up for the day.

Captain Sheridan's run as commander of B5 is off to a good start then.

Na'Toth #1 (Julie Caitlin Brown)                         |                           Na'Toth #2 (Mary Kay Adams)
Londo stops Na'Toth on the way out to ask her where G'Kar's disappeared to, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she's gone through her own metamorphosis and become a brand new actress since her last appearance. She doesn't just look different, she's a lot quieter and she's lost the cockiness.

It's interesting that producer JMS decided to recast the role instead of replacing her like he did with Ko'Dath in season 1 (and Sinclair for that matter). In fact I can only think of one other time this happens in the whole series, though that might say more about my memory. He made this choice because he needed the character to have prior knowledge that a new assistant wouldn't and he figured that the prosthetics would make the change less obvious.

Though Na'Toth tells Londo that all she knows is that G'Kar left to investigate the attack on their base in Quadrant 37 (which happened back in Chrysalis).

Cut to G’Kar and some friends in the fiery red region of space getting shot at by what look like small fighter versions of those black spider ships from last year. G’Kar’s space fighters have done well to survive this long, but they know they won’t make it to the jump gate, so two of them turn back to distract the enemy ships and sacrifice themselves to give G’Kar time to escape.

It’s all very dramatic, but I’m distracted by the fact that we never get to see the cockpit of anyone’s ship but G’Kar’s. His wingmen have dialogue but we never see their faces and it makes the scene play out like a PlayStation cutscene. Which is a shame because they actually built a physical set for G'Kar's ship that they could've reused for the others.

Man, that looks so much better than Delenn's shuttle from Babylon Squared last season. Though is he even holding controls there? He looks like he should be, but maybe he's just got nowhere else to put his arms.

Also there’s something about the design of these Narn fighters that bothers me. It might be the fact that the cockpit appears to be the front of a Starfury, stuck on at an angle.

One of G’Kar’s heroic wingmen gets blasted instantly, but the other manages to carry out a kamikaze run on an enemy fighter, actually destroying it and causing a shockwave big enough to throw the others off G’Kar’s tail for a moment. The ambassador makes it to the jump gate and survives the opening teaser. Destination: Babylon 5.


ACT ONE.


Act one begin in the Earhart's Earthforce officer’s club, where the heroes of the Earth Alliance go to torture themselves with smooth jazz. This establishing shot always messes with my head, as my brain's telling me that the perspective should change as the camera pulls in.

Dr. Franklin arrives to chat with Sheridan about their comatose security chief. He's tried every conventional treatment he knows, but Garibaldi's condition isn't improving and he feels that it's time to try something a little more... dangerous. Though the danger is only going to be to himself, as he intends to use the alien execution device from The Quality of Mercy to give his patient some of his own life energy. So now we can add that to the list of apparently stand-alone episodes that turned out to be more important than they seemed. It's going to be a bit awkward though if someone else dies of something treatable in a later episode and they don't mention the device at all.

Anyway Franklin came to him because can’t get in contact with any of the Chief’s next of kin, so Sheridan gives him permission instead. Seems like we might actually get some Garabaldi in this episode.

Hey it's that flashy new CGI-enhanced panning shot of the customs area that appears in the season 2 opening credits. It's always nice when they break out a set extension like this as it makes the place look huge for a change.

I wouldn't have thought that 1994-era TV budget CGI was up to the task, and it kind of wasn't, but the physicals sets look a bit unreal as well so they blend together pretty well. Though now I'm wondering about these mysterious designated smoking areas; I don't think I've ever seen anyone light up in this series.

Now that the customs area has been firmly established we learn that Sheridan's come here to meet his sister Lizzy, who's travelled light years just to visit him... and tell him that he's put on weight. I wonder if that was a subtle hint from JMS to his new star Bruce Boxleitner that he's not quite in space hero shape right now.

Elsewhere, Londo’s meeting with his friend Mr. Morden to discuss that favour he did for him a couple of weeks back in Chrysalis. Morden’s associates destroyed the Narn outpost in Quadrant 37 and Londo’s worried that there may be a way it can be traced back to him. I’m not sure why he’s worried, as he didn’t actually do a damn thing himself, but Morden assures him that the Narns have no idea he had any involvement and the Centauri believe it was all his doing. He’s getting all the credit and none of the blame.

Morden’s eager to help him out if he has any other favours he wants to ask for, any other targets he wants his associates to hit, leading Londo to joke about him eliminating the entire Narn homeworld while he’s at it. “One thing at a time Ambassador, one thing at a time,” Morden replies, the shift in his demeanour a subtle hint that the utter annihilation of galactic civilizations might not be off the table for them.

But first Morden would like a favour from Londo this time. It's nothing huge, he just wants to be informed if he hears about anything strange happening out on "The Rim".

Whoa, it takes some nerve to use the same set for two adjacent scenes taking place in two different parts of the station and film them both from the same angle! Sure they've swapped in a new door and brought in some tables, but look at the blue wall behind Sheridan on the left. It even has the same plants on it.

Sheridan's as cheerful as ever, talking about how awesome it is being the military governor of a space colony, but Liz knows what's really going on. It's been two years since the death of his wife Anna and he hasn't moved on, he's just thrown himself into his work to keep himself distracted. Suddenly Sheridan’s good mood’s gone and he goes into a whole speech about how he still has to remind himself that she's dead.

Last episode it seemed like Sheridan was going to be the opposite of Sinclair but now it turns out that we've exchanged one war hero haunted by a traumatic event in his past for another!

But Sheridan is inspired to think about what he can do while he has the chance and decides to volunteer to give life energy to Garibaldi. He jokes that it'd look bad on his resume if his chief of security died two weeks into the job, and he's not too keen on his chief medical officer passing out and being drained dry because he was dumb enough to use the machine unsupervised either. So they agree to take shifts.

I've noticed that we've gone from a CGI extended set, to a reused set with different furniture, to a bed with a curtain around it, so I'm expecting act two to have been filmed in an empty black void and act three to be stock footage with a voice over. Then they'll break out the sock puppets.


ACT TWO.


Na’Toth #2 pays a visit to G’Kar’s empty quarters, only to find that her boss is back on the station, sitting on his bed, and he’s in a poetic mood. This leads to a daft moment where he says "Close the door," from off-screen and she does so... by just saying "Close". Did he do something to piss the door off or something? Is it ignoring him now?

G’Kar explains that the prophet G’Quan spoke of a great war long ago, against an ancient enemy who dwelled in a system at the rim of known space. Ah, so when people say "The Rim" they mean the edge of known space, not the edge of the galaxy, got it.

He thinks that this ancient race was the one responsible for destroying their outpost at Quadrant 37 two weeks ago, so he's spent the last few days looking for them out on the Rim. And on ancient worlds where nothing has lived in a thousand years, he found something: their old enemy quietly gathering their forces, hoping to go unnoticed.

Over in Medlab, Garibaldi has finally woken up! Plus the first words out of his mouth are “What’s up, Doc?” so we know he hasn’t suffered any brain damage.

Garibaldi’s traitorous second in command is soon lurking around in the background with his hand hovering over his gun, wondering if he's going to be identified as the man who shot him in the back and put him here. I guess his plan is to kill everyone who learns the truth and hope that no one asks too many questions about the entire command staff being dead.

But fortunately for him it turns out that Garibaldi was shot in the back and therefore did not see who shot him.

I always knew that Garibaldi would be fine. I mean he’s in the opening credits of every episode, standing there in uniform next to Ivanova and Sheridan in C&C:

Man, their Amiga rendering rig must have been really short of memory for them to consider those textures to be acceptable. Makes me wonder what the hull looked like back in the season 1 titles.

Season 1 opening titles
They rebuilt the whole window model? That's so weird. Especially as it doesn't quite match the set either way. You'd think that the CGI artists would've been given a photograph as a reference.

Also they've got the C&C door on backwards. Wait, no they haven't, they've got everything backwards! How is it that I saw this shot 22 times last season and never once noticed that it'd been flipped? Hang on, I'm getting my VHS tapes out. I'm going to see if this is just a mistake on the DVDs.

Nope it's always been like this. So that's at least 44 times I've seen this opening and not noticed it's been mirrored.

Anyway, Garibaldi’s a little distressed when he finds out that the President has been assassinated and they’ve put a new guy in charge of the station while he was asleep. He definitely doesn’t have that instant respect for Sheridan that the others did last week. In fact this is pretty much the worst case scenario for him... though at least he wasn’t framed for the assassination this time.

Franklin can’t hang around the Garibaldi plotline all day though as he’s needed over in the Delenn plot. She’s finally out of the cocoon after three weeks, and it’s left her weak, miserable and looking like a scaly reptile woman. This doesn't appear to have been what they expected.

By the way, you can see here that Lennier's been busy while Delenn's been sleeping, as her room's been redecorated and the glowing kitchen units have been replaced. We'll never see those things again with any luck and I'm very happy about that.

1-17: Legacies
Here's another shot from the same angle shortly before she went into the chrysalis, from the season one episode Legacies. It's amazing how much of a difference moodier lighting and better kitchen cabinets can make. These episodes were filmed just months apart, but you'd think there were years between them.


ACT THREE.


Act three begins in Sheridan’s quarters, with him opening up a bit more to Liz about his dead wife. What's eating at him the most is that Anna died on an expedition when her deep space exploration ship exploded, but she never would've been on that ship if he hadn't cancelled his vacation.

He was too busy with work, so she signed up for a two week survey mission on a ship called the Icarus instead and never came back. In fact he was so rushed that he didn't even tell her that he loved her at the end of his last message.

Seems to me that he's so blinded with grief that he didn't notice that it was actually all Anna's fault for signing up to travel on a ship called the Icarus! I mean good on her for not being swayed by superstition, but in fiction nominative determinism is a killer.

Well Delenn's still absent from the council on account of being a monster now, but G'Kar's back so already this meeting's going a lot better than the last one.

He announces to the others that he's discovered signs that his race's ancient enemy is gathering forces again and that they'll all need to work together to defeat them. He doesn't expect them to just take this on faith though, and has sent an expedition out to their enemy's dead homeworld out on the Rim to get proof. It's a dark and terrible planet called... Z'ha'dum (not to be confused with the underground Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm in The Lord of the Rings).

It seems like this ancient enemy of his is likely to be the same folks that Delenn, Lennier and Kosh have been secretly working together to oppose, the 'darkness' mentioned in Minbari prophecy. But Delenn's not here right now and Kosh isn't saying a word. Whatever his feelings are on the subject, he's not showing them.

Londo’s feelings are pretty clear though. He immediately meets with Morden and tells him everything he knows about the Narn expedition to the Rim, including the time of arrival.

Over in Medlab… oh shit it’s telepath Talia Winters! So she’s still in the series then? I was starting to think they might have left her in the opening credits as a joke.

Garibaldi wants her to scan his memory for any clues that’ll help him find the man who shot him, even though he was attacked from behind and had no way to see who did it. So we get a replay of the scene from Chrysalis where he was shot, only it's in moody black and white now because he's such a hard-boiled detective that everything in his past becomes film noir.

But this time we also get a shot from a new angle revealing a shiny panel on the wall, perfectly tilted to show his second in command sneaking up on him and raising his gun!

I’m going to have to call bullshit on this, because we definitely didn’t see any shiny mirrored surfaces in that hallway back then, or ever. The sets rarely include mirrors because that’d make filming a pain in the ass.

The security officers lure Garibaldi’s second in command out of his office by telling him that Delenn’s come out of the cocoon with wings like a butterfly and then grab him in the hallway. What’s amazing is that they did it without one person mentioning the guy's name. Officer Lou Welch in the back has had his name dropped all over the place and he's the most minor of recurring characters, but we still don’t know what the traitor is called!

Speaking of Officer Lou Welch, he has the line of the episode right here when he sees Unnamed Traitorous Security Officer thinking about drawing his pistol and says "Go ahead, make my fragging solar year." The worst line of the episode I mean. Lou also pretty much outright implies he’ll beat the crap out him if Sheridan’s willing to go walk around the block a few times, but the captain doesn’t believe that’s necessary. Though he does appreciate their enthusiasm.

You know, I think this is the first time we’ve seen the security office exist as a separate set of its own, instead of being a redressed corner of the briefing room. Garibaldi's not going to know what's going on when he goes back to work.


ACT FOUR.
 

Garibaldi pulls himself out of bed to interrogate his nameless protégé but gets nothing from it, except that he’s not working for Homeguard (the anti-alien hate group who tried to assassinate the president in Survivors) and he likes to do Bester's Psi-Corps salute. Colonel Ari Ben-Zayn from Eyes had ties to Bester, he's been scheming against the crew in the past, so it's not impossible that he had something to do with this too.

Unfortunately they can’t follow up on it as President Clark wants the prisoner and all evidence sent to him. Poor Garibaldi, he was really looking forward to watching him get spaced as well. He's really into executions, especially for people who've personally made his life hell.

Meanwhile in hyperspace, the Narn cruiser sent to Z’ha’dum is preparing to enter real space.

Wait, we’re actually seeing a ship inside hyperspace for once? Man, it took them long enough! I don’t remember seeing a single shot of this crimson maelstrom during the entirety of the first season, despite the fact that ships were coming in and out of the jump gates all the time.

It's a bit rubbish looking though. Hyperspace I mean, not the ship.

Oh man, it was a nice idea, but I don’t think this 3D rendered virtual bridge set is working out. The episode's gone full fan film on us. Set extensions they could do, but it was a bit too early for virtual sets.

Also don’t tell anyone, but I think the Narn crewman on the right might be the guy on the left console flipped over. Or maybe they’re just identical twins.

The Narn vessel creates a jump point and exits hyperspace right next to Z'ha'dum just as planned.

But the Londo's buddies know the plan, and there's a spider ship lying in wait. The massive Narn warship is sliced up in just two shots. It's a bit strange that the ship knew exactly where in orbit to hang out, but when the end result is explosions I'm not overly inclined to nitpick. Speaking of explosions, there was some actual flame in there this time; it wasn't just a spray of particles like when the Trigati exploded last episode. The CGI crew are getting better at this.

In the next council meeting G’Kar receives the bad news and realises that someone in the council may have leaked the information. Londo’s probably the prime suspect, but he doesn’t jump to conclusions just yet. And then they’re all distracted when Ambassador Delenn finally shows up!

The scaly outer layer covering her skin has crumbled away revealing that she’s now human! Or pretty close to it. She's still got some of her Minbari bone left, which seems to have a gap for her hair to thread under. It works better if you don't think too hard about it.

She claims that she underwent this drastic metamorphosis to create a bridge between the humans and Minbari, with the blessings of her government, but we already know that's bullshit because the Grey Council didn't want her to go into the cocoon. Minbari aren't supposed to lie except to save another or helping someone else save face, they take that very seriously, so I wonder how she's justifying it to herself.

All Sheridan can do is sit there, his jaw on the floor, looking at her. Or at least that's what he tells his sister afterwards in his quarters. And then Liz brings their plot to an end by giving him a video message she got from his wife Anna shortly before her death.

It reveals that she would’ve cancelled their vacation anyway as she was so eager to go on the Icarus expedition that nothing would’ve kept her away, so Sheridan doesn’t have to feel guilty any more! Plus he gets a chance to say goodbye and that he loves her, even if it’s just to a TV screen. Well that was convenient.

Hang on I just need to take a break because my eyes are watering a little. I don’t know, maybe someone’s cutting onions outside my window or something.

Oh by the way I mentioned earlier that I could only remember one other character being recast instead of replaced...

A later episode has a black and white flashback to this scene, with the face on the monitor sneakily replaced with that of Bruce Boxleitner's wife at the time, Melissa Gilbert. She's saying the same dialogue though.

Well I promised earlier not to even hint at anything to come and now I've gone and shown 12 seconds of a later episode! Spoilers: Sheridan apparently remembers having a plant in the corner of his room next to the TV. He didn't.


ACT FIVE.


In the epilogue, Garibaldi realises that it may be the Psi-Corps who assassinated President Santiago, Sheridan says goodbye to his sister, G’Kar reads some human poetry to Na’Toth #2 and Delenn checks out her new ears and hair in the mirror.

Also Ivanova checks on the ship carrying the traitorous security officer to Earth only to discover that the universe is actually a blue curtain with dots on it. Uh, I mean she discovers that he's gone missing.


CONCLUSION

Revelations isn't the most dramatic of all Babylon 5 episodes, but with John Sheridan's introduction out of the way, it was able to pick up a few of the threads from Chrysalis and move them along to get the story arcs going again. Plus it even reveals a few things along the way.

The attack on Quadrant 37 is a big part of Chrysalis and it's sent Londo and G'Kar further down their separate roads, with G'Kar putting his petty hatred of the Centauri aside to focus on a greater threat, tragically unaware that Centauri ambassador is actually in bed with them. G'Kar's pretty much nothing but sympathetic (and poetic) here, with little hint of his season one belligerence. Plus G'Kar's faceless buddies actually managed to take down a (tiny) ancient enemy ship, proving that they're not the 'unkillable by conventional weapons' kind of mysterious unstoppable alien force! Though I guess ramming a ship into them isn't all that conventional.

The President Santiago assassination plotline has hit a bit of a snag, due to all the evidence being taken away, but the 'Garibaldi got shot' part has been resolved at least. Even though they had to retcon a mirror into Chrysalis to do it. Babylon 5 is all about the five year plan, but it doesn't seem like writer JMS knew exactly where he was going with that one. Plus the traitor never even got a name! Though to be fair this was all part of his back up plan, as the traitor was originally going to be... Lt. Cmdr. Laurel Takashima from the pilot movie! But then she left the series.

Commander Sinclair proposing marriage to Catherine Sakai is one thread from Chrysalis that isn't likely to ever be followed up on, due to the fact that he left the series too, but we do hear about Captain Sheridan's wife and their tragic backstory. Funny how Catherine and Anna both investigated planets for a living, though Anna was more interested the ruins of ancient civilisations than the planets themselves. Alien archaeology is the best archaeology because instead of broken vases and coins you can find cool loot like alien healing devices or murderous organic exoskeletons.

Delenn entering a chrysalis was also a part of Chrysalis and now we get to see that she's come out of it a human-Minbari hybrid. Though we still don't know why, unless she's being truthful about wanting to be a bridge between the humans and Minbari. Prophecy says that they need to join forces to fight the darkness so maybe she thinks this will help. That might be a little naive though as neither group has proven to be a big fan of things that are different from them and now she's different from everyone.

Speaking of the darkness, last episode Lennier was worried that unless they join forces with the humans no one would survive them and here G'Kar's worried that all their races are on the edge of extinction. So it's possibly not a coincidence that the book in the New Testament that predicts Armageddon is called the 'Book of Revelation'. JMS is an atheist but he does like his religious references. He also likes his poetry as G'Kar finishes his last scene by quoting some lines from Yeats' apocalyptic poem The Second Coming.

So this is definitely not a standalone episode, but it's a pretty decent one. It has explosions, a traitor being uncovered, a main character getting different alien makeup, and lots of scenes of Sheridan talking to his sister and being sad!



COMING SOON
Babylon 5 will return with The Geometry of Shadows. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching Doctor Who's The Face of Evil, Part 2.

Thanks for reading all of that, or some of that, either's good. Leave a comment if you feel like it!

1 comment:

  1. Then they'll break out the sock puppets.

    Ah, finally we'll find out what happened to N'Grath.

    ReplyDelete