RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “The Long, Twilight Struggle” (Season 2, Episode 20)

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The Narn/Centauri war, which started back in episode 9 of this season (“The Coming of Shadows”) ends tonight. We’re told it’s about six months later. G’kar mentioned in “Acts of Sacrifice” (Season 2, episode 12) that his people defeated the Centauri before with a century-long Vietnam style war, until finally they broke their oppressor’s will, and were set free (Presumably this was Emperor Turhan’s doing). Since that time, the Narn became like abused children who grow up to abuse everyone around them. In the 30 or 40 years since independence, they became wildly imperialistic, invading small, primitive and/or unaffiliated worlds, and building up one of the five great empires. They even regularly picked on the Centuari themselves, both politically and militarily (“Midnight on the Firing Line”, Season 1, Ep 1). Here they’re facing a fair fight for the first time in their lives, and if you’ve been watching the series, or reading my reviews, you’ll know that they just weren’t up to it.

The Narn were unquestionably the bad guys of the first season of the show, and if you’d told me in 1993/94 that I’d feel sorry these Klingon wannabees, I’d have said you were crazy. And yet I do. The Narn - mostly through G’kar - became far more than ciphers, and the more you learn of their story the more tragic they become.

Warleader G’sten - who happens to be G’kar’s uncle - brings news of the war. It’s bad. They have lost every major engagement, they’re falling back, they’ve lost three colonies in the last week, and they’ve lost communication with much of their empire. Their choices are simple: defend homeworld and lose, or make a final, desparate Rebels-against-Death Star II-styled attack. They’ve decided on the latter, though G’kar questions the logic of it. G’sten explains that the Gorash system (Incidentally, Londo’s BFF from “Knives” was said to be “The Hero of Gorash”) is the main Centauri supply base for the war, and if they take it out, it’ll throw the Centauri into confusion, and force them to pull back until they can re-establish their supply lines. They might even lose some of their resolve once they realize the Narn still have teeth. This will give the Narn time to rebuild their forces and consider a new strategy, and more importantly, it’ll give G’kar time to find a diplomatic solution. It’ll be a tough fight, they expect to lose a lot of ships and lives, but G’sten is sure they can win. Granted, to do it they’ll have to leave homeworld undefended for a bit, but “The window of vulnerability is very small.” He leaves.

Some time later, Franklin calls G’kar to medlab and tells him that one of the Narn refugees he’s been treating was interrogated about homeworld defenses, and points out that in the last days of the Earth/Minbari war, the Minbari simply ignored many of earth’s colonies so they could go after earth directly. G’kar attempts to warn G’sten of this, but G’sten blows it off and pushes the attack. They’re met by shadow, and wiped out to the last ship, to the last Narn. Back in his room, chanting and rocking back and forth in front of the book of G’quon, somehow G’kar feels this, and puts out a candle.

Simultaneously, the Centauri fleet starts bombing the Narn Homeworld from orbit using mass drivers. After a week of bombing, Narn surrenders. G’kar is instructed by his government to ask Sheridan for sanctuary, and to stay on the station. He reluctantly does so.

MEANWHILE, Londo is summoned by Lord Refa to Centauri Prime, where he’s instructed of the plans above. He’s asked to use his ‘associates,’ which Londo reluctantly agrees to do, but he objects on two points: (1) He’s starting to fear them and (2) If the Centauri are to reclaim their destiny, they must stand on their own two feet, not ride on the coat tails of others. They join the fleet, and Londo’s in orbit around Narn while the bombing goes on, watching it, aghast, but accepting, his soul sinking into darkness.

Back on B5 after the surrender, he’s in full-on Hitler mode, barking out orders and terms of the treaty
1) Narn is now a protectorate of the Centauri Republic.
2) Narns themselves are now subjects thereof
3) The Khari (Government) of Narn is dissolved, all members thereof will be tried for war crimes and executed. This includes G’kar, who’s the last member of the government at large.
4) The Centauri will set up a new government for Narn
5) The Centauri will not allow any observers from other species to come in and look around.
6) The death of any Centauri by a Narn henceforth will result in the execution of one thousand Narn, including the perpetrator’s family.

Sheridan refuses to hand over G’kar, which infuriates Londo, but he reluctantly agrees. He points out that G’kar as no official status, however, and doesn’t represent the Narn at all.

That evening, in his room, Londo watches ISN and finds that his people have begun attacking minor, primitive, and/or unaligned worlds on their borders.

MEANWHIIE, Draal appears (Now played by John Shuck from MacMillan and Wife and with a recurring role on Zeke and Luther. Because, y’see, I’ve got kids) and invites Delenn and Sheridan down to Epsilon III. He explains that among other things, the Great Machine can monitor space and time and stuff, and he’s learned a lot of stuff not commonly known, such as Sheridan’s involvement in a “Conspiracy of Light” (AKA General Hague’s counter-cabal). Draal offers his services and allies himself with Sheridan, Delenn, and said conspiracy. Back on the station, Delenn and Garibaldi *finally* tell Sheridan about the Rangers, and Delenn gives him co-leadership of the force.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Nobody mentions Talia at all. That’s a little odd. Not much, but a little.

Last week I said nobody ever mentioned Londo’s BFF before or after that ep. I was wrong: There’s an elliptical mention of him in this ep, when Londo says that Refa has cost him one friend already.

Emperor Cartagia gets another name-check here. He’s said to be out basking in the people’s “Almost-sincere adulation,” and that the Centaurum (Parliament) can get along perfectly well without him. In fact, better without than with. All of Londo’s friends seem to take the new emperor as a joke. This *will* come back to bite them in the ass in about another 25 episodes. ‘Yikes’ you Trekies say ‘25 episodes?’ Yes, kids, B5 generally played the long game.

A “Massdriver” is a an interesting device. Basically it’s an electromagnetic catapult. It sends buckets full of cargo down a maglev track, then stops the bucket. The cargo flies on in a straight line from inertia. Their principle use in theory is to chuck rock and metal from the moon into orbit around the moon so it can be used for construction. We’re not talking a little bit of rock here, either, we’re talking, say 100 buckets an hour at one ton of cargo each, 24/7/365. The “Mass” in the name has two meanings, both “Mass” as the scientific equivalent of weight, and “Mass” as in the sense of “A whole bunch of stuff.” They can theoretically be built to nearly any size. If you wanted to chuck things from the moon to the earth (As per “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Heinlein), you could build a really big one to do it. If you wanted to chuck stuff from earth to Mars, you could build a super-big one to do it.

They can also be used as an engine, since, as you can imagine, the recoil from something like that would be pretty huge. Let’s say you’re mining an asteroid, for instance. You keep the useful stuff, and you chuck the useless stuff - probably rock - out the back end with a small-but-fast mass driver, and that pushes the asteroid along wherever you want it to go. Confused? Imagine you’re sitting on a sled on a frozen lake, and you’ve got a machine gun. Autofire the gun, and the recoil will push your sled along. It’s not particularly efficient, but still.

And of course a Massdriver can be used as a weapon. The beauty of it is that you can literally throw any old junk at your enemy. In tonight’s case, they were using hunks of rock. You can keep it up as long as you’ve got rock, and someone to throw it at. And it’s fast. You can chuck a rock every few minutes. This presents a near-nuclear level of destruction without having to worry about radiation and stuff.

For instance: a 1-meter hunk of rock falling naturally to earth from space will hit with a .23x10^-4 megatons. No, I don’t know what that means, exactly, but R2 can explain it I’m sure. If a hunk of comet the same size hit the earth naturally it’d be traveling at about 32 miles per second, and that would make a .5X10^-3 megaton blast, which is much bigger (Though I still don’t specifically know what it means.) This is puny nature, though. Throw a one-meter hunk of rock at the ground from orbit at 500 miles per second, and you end up with a 187 kiloton blast. That’s ten times the Hiroshima blast.

I like it when there’s a little science in my science fiction. Jackass senator Quantrell from “And now for a word…” gets a name-check and a quote.

This is kind of a low budget show: most of the Rangers weren’t in uniform. They clearly couldn’t afford many.

Londo has now fully embraced his dark side. The scene is actually rather moving. In fact, re-watching it, the scene when he asks Refa ‘how many more friends are you going to cost me’, the delivery is interesting. It’s not so much that he won’t do it…

The Narn actually manage to damage a Shadowship at Gorash. We see another one helping it limp away after the battle. Speaking of which: up until now the Shadows have only appeared in out-of-the-way places with no witnesses. Given that Gorash was the Centauri supply center, shouldn’t there have been a *lot* of witnesses?

Curiously, Mr. Morden does not appear in this episode.

Draal’s alliance is really the first positive thing to happen to our heroes this season. He mentions that there are other people living in the machine, including someone called “Zathras,” which is foreshadowing (retroactively) for the episode “Babylon Squared” from last year. Can you guess what the Great Machine does?

PRINCIPLE CAST:
Sheridan, Ivonova, Garibaldi, Franklin, Delenn, G’kar

ALSO RANS:
Corwin, Kosh, Refa

Conspicuously absent:
Vir, G’kar, Na’Toth, Lennier, Keffer, Zack

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Sure, why not? Nothing politically motivated on either side of the spectrum, but man it’s a great ep.

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