RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “The Fall of Night” (Season 2, Episode 22)

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Following the Cylon sneak attack that destroyed their homeworld, the last battlestar, Galactica, leads a lonely quest to…oh, wait, I meant “Centauri” and not Cylon. And it’s a Narn heavy cruiser, not the other thing. Sorry.

Anyway, when the war ended, there was one Narn warship unaccounted for. It shows up at B5, exhibiting *really* bad timing.

Y’see, the Centauri have begin attacking Drazi and Pak’ma’ra worlds, claiming they’re ‘stabilizing the region’ and ‘establishing a presence’ and ‘establishing a buffer zone.’ This brings Sheridan and Londo into direct conflict, particularly when Sheridan challenges Londo to show him where, on the map, this is gonna’ stop. Londo looks sad for a moment, then leaves.

Earthgov has sent out a Mr. Lantz (Played by “Father” from Beauty and the Beast, also known as Comissioner Simmonds from Space: 1999) from the Ministry of Peace and a Mr. Welles from the Nightwatch to investigate the situation. Lantz is a nice guy, and immediately hits it off with Ivonova. Welles seems like a nice guy, but immediately manages to offend Ivonova by offering to help her career advancement if she’ll become an informant for him. It’s interesting to me that *both* of them are interested in her, and nobody else.

Lantz interviews all the ambassadors on the station, excepting G’kar whom he refuses to talk to. Welles holds Nightwatch meetings, and cajoles Zack into confirming information about a shopkeeper on the Zocalo who complains about import regulations. Lantz later reveals that the purpose of his trip was to sign a “Nonaggression pact” between Earth and the Centauri. “There will be peace in our time,” he says, echoing Neville Chamberlain, and outing himself as a well-meaning fool in the process.

It’s right about now that the Narn ship shows up. Sheridan offers them protection, but Tech 2 in C&C is in night watch, and she informs Welles, who informs Londo, who informs Centauri Prime, and then calls Sheridan to yell at him. Realizing a Centauri warship is on the way, they scramble fighters and arm weapons in order to protect the Narn as they make a run for the jump gate. The Centauri open fire on the Narn, the fighters, and the station, but the Narn get away and B5’s new defenses (from “Gropos” 12 episodes back) take out the Centauri warship.

Zeta Squadron escorts the Narn through hyperspace, but Keffer goes off to look for a shadow ship. He finds it, and it kills him. He’s dead. Two principle cast members gone in four episodes, three over the course of a season. Yowza!

Back on the station, Welles and Lantz are furious with Sheridan, though they can’t actually *do* anything to him, as he acted under the rules, inconvenient as they may be. He’s given a presidential order to give a public apology in the Zen Garden, and if he refuses he’ll be removed from command. Grudgingly, he agrees. He takes the core shuttle to the garden. The core shuttle is the one that actually runs through the axis of the station. Some Centauri - agents? Terrorists? Just angry civlians? - blow up the shuttle, but Sheridan sees the bomb, and dives out moments before it goes off. As he falls slowly, Ivonova watches from the deck a thousand feet below and explains: “Right now he’s basically weightless, but the ground is moving at sixty miles an hour, and when he hits it…”

Realizing that if Sheridan dies, their hope in the coming war dies as well, Kosh finally reveals himself in order to save him. He turns out to be…well, just watch it and see:

Wow!

Two years leading up to that! Wow!

Afterwards, Londo reveals he saw nothing, whereas everyone else saw an angel in the guise of their own species. This means something, but it’s never entirely clear what. Sheridan - still kinda’ buzzed from it all - speculates that the Vorlons have been visiting and manipulating the younger races forever, which is why Kosh has occasionally said he’d be “Recognized by everyone” if he went out publicly. Delenn confirms this. In the Zocalo, Zack sees the shopkeeper arrested, and a sign placed on his store that says “Closed by the Nightwatch on charges of Sedition.”

Ivonova lights Hanukah candles and her voiceover tells us that “The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace, but by the end of 2259 we knew that it had failed. But it became something more: our best hope for victory. Because sometimes ‘peace’ is just another word for surrender, and secrets have a way of coming out.”

Someone found gun camera footage from Keffer’s ship floating in hyperspace, and ISN broadcasts it. It clearly shows images of a shadow ship shooting at the camera, and then we get static, and then nothing, and then the closing credits.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Wow! That was one hell of a season finale, wasn’t it? Wow!

It gets high marks for having a little science thrown in the science fiction: Sheridan’s fall and the explanation of it are pretty much bang on in terms of physics. Remember: the station rotates to simulate gravity. This means the hub or axis is spinning much slower than the outer rim. Hitting it would mean going from zero to sixty in no seconds flat, and Sheridan would react much like a water balloon thrown at a cement truck. This is, by the way, the only mention of “Rescue jet packs” in the series, though it makes sense. And despite the hokey FX (They were kinda’ hokey even in the day), man oh man oh man, is there a high cool factor involved! It’s just neat!

So the Vorlons are ancient astronauts. This has been inferred a couple times, most obviously last week (“The Vorlons have been to earth, the Vorlons have been everywhere”) when they abducted Sebastian in 1888. It’s also interesting how doubt and faith play into this. “If you ever have doubts, look into the face of a Vorlon” says one character in a later episode, yet the Vorlons themselves doubted Delenn and Sheridan. Their doubts were put aside last week. Had Sebastian not come, Kosh likely would have allowed Sheridan to die, as they make it clear that his unveiling was both a great personal strain, and also major early warning to the Shadows.

We’ve known since Kosh showed up in Sheridan’s dreams 11 episodes ago (“All alone in the night”) that Kosh had telepathic powers. These were pretty strong as he was able to contact Sheridan light years away. They’re also limited, in that he was only able to do it when Sheridan was physically and psychologically exhausted, and hence his ‘own voice’ was drowned out and Kosh could punch through. Tonight we get another far more radical instance of that, in that Kosh is able to project a slightly different image of himself into the minds of all the different aliens. This is massive multitasking, and Delenn says it took a lot out of him, hence he does have some limitations.

Why didn’t Londo see Kosh? I don’t know. Presumably the Vorlon never went to Centauri Prime, but if so, why not? And if Londo didn’t see Kosh as Centauri Angel with Big Hair, then why didn’t he see him as *something*? Even if it was just a big blur?

Which raises the question: What do the Vorlon look like? We’ve been asking that for three years. In the pilot it was implied they were hideous, but obviously this was misinformation spread by the Vorlon themselves. The costume and some other stuff implies wings, and indeed we see wings here tonight, but if Kosh is implanting slightly different images of himself into everyone’s mind, then we still really don’t know what he looks like, do we? Is he an angel, or is he just making himself *look* like an angel, when in fact he actually looks like a tortoise or a squid, or a 16-year-old Milla Jovovich or whatever?

So the Vorlon have been visiting and manipulating the newer species for a long time. To what end? Why? We will find out.

There’s a cute scene of Lennier and Vir bitching about their jobs at the Zocalo bar. “Same time tomorrow?” “Sure.”

Lt. Corwin (Still listed in the credits as “Tech 1”) hasn’t been getting as many lines lately. For the previous two or three episodes, there’s a girl who gets a few. She’s listed in the credits as “Tech 2,” and the reason seems to have been to set her up for tonight’s episode. She’s in the Nightwatch meeting with Zack, it’s VAGUELY implied she narked on Zack to Welles, and she, herself, leaves her post to report the Narn warship to Welles later on.

Keffer is dead. This would have more impact if he’d turned up more than five or six times this year, generally so far apart that we tend to forget who he is. Just the same, it was a clever way to kill off an unwanted character. Allegedly JMS wanted a recurring fighter jock, but wanted him to be a Japanese Samurai type, and Warners opposed this. Keffer was the compromise. We’ll see the consequences of this next year.

Quite the cast attrition in this show. Check it:

Pilot cast:
Commander Sinclair, Lt. Commander Laurel Takishima, Dr. Ben Kyle, Chief Garibaldi, Sgt. Lou Welch, Telepath Lyta Alexander, Carolyn Sykes, Londo, G’kar, Delenn and Kosh. (11 characters, 10 important)

Season 1:
Commander Sinclair, LT COMMANDER SUSAN IVONOVA, DR. STEPHEN FRANKLIN, Chief Garibaldi, gt. Lou Welch, TELEPATH TALIA WINTERS, CATHERINE SAKAI, Londo, G’kar, Delenn, Kosh, NA’TOTH, LENNIER, VIR, TECH 1, TECH 2 (CORWIN). (16 characters, 13 important, 5 new, 4 replaced)

Season 2:
CAPTAIN SHERIDAN, Commander Susan Ivonova, Dr. Franklin, Chief Garibaldi, ZACK ALLEN, Telepath Talia Winters, KEFFER, Londo, G’kar, Delenn, Kosh, Na’toth, Lennier, Vir, Corwin (15 characters, 2 new)

Of these, Na’Toth, Keffer, and Talia didn’t survive the season and won’t be returning next year.

Put it another way: of the humans in the pilot, only *ONE* is still on the cast as of the end of season 2. We’ve had seven major cast members leave the show in the space of 44 episodes and 1 movie. That’s ignoring trivial recurring characters like Corwin and Kat and “The French Chick,” of course. We’ve also had nine new characters join, one of which also left this year. This is freaky-high turnover, don’t you think? B5 is a dangerous place, both onscreen and in terms of employment.

Anyway, all the preambles are out of the way now. Next season is the “Main Sequence” of the show. Arguably, though, the “Main Sequence” started in the episode where Talia left.

You know, every time we see the Zen Garden, the area surrounding it is completely different. Tonight there was a train running past it. How quiet and contemplative must that be?

PRINCIPLE CAST:
Sheridan, Delenn, Lennier, G’kar, Ivonova, Garibaldi, Vir, Ivonova, Keffer

ALSO RANS:
Corwin, Kosh, Zack, “Tech 2”

Conspicuously absent:
Franklin, Na’Toth.

They will address what happened to Na’Toth in a later episode.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

If we don’t, there’s something profoundly wrong with us. Who doesn’t like the message that sometimes peace comes with too high a price?

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