RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “In the Shadow of Z‘Ha‘Dum” (Season 2, Episode 16)

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Finally, 38 episodes into the run of the series, and 23 episodes after the Shadows first showed up, we start getting some answers…

PLAY BY PLAY

Sheridan is going through a bunch of is dead wife Anna’s things, figuring what to keep, what to chuck. One of the things is a manifest for the Icarus, a science ship she was on when she died. She and the ship were supposed to be investigating a new world on the edge of mapped space with all manner of ruins unknown to history, from a forgotten species from a kerjillion years back. (“Alpha Omega III” was the probably sacrilegious code name, though it’s not mentioned in this ep) Evidently they never made it, as the wreckage was found floating in space with no survivors. This was about three years ago, about 2256.

In a very forced coincidence, Garibaldi happens to be in Sherian’s office and recognizes one of the faces of the Icarus expedition which just happens to be playing on the monitor at the time: It’s Morden! Despite there being a quarter million folks on the station, Garibaldi just happens to recognize the guy. Well, it’s possible. He does hang with Londo a lot, and coming and going regularly probably would make him stand out to a security guy.

Anyway: Morden is arrested, stuck in a cell, and interrogated by Sheridan. Morden calls for his rights, but as Sheridan points out, “As far as anyone knows, you’re dead. You have no rights.” He refuses to let him go until he explains the truth. Morden maintains that he was spacewalking when the ship went blooey, he’s got amnesia, he doesn’t remember it, he came to on a colony six months later having been rescued by a passing kindly woodsman, you know, the usual. It doesn’t hold water, and Sheridan keeps thinking Morden will admit the truth if he pokes enough holes in the story. (This is illogical. There’s no reason to assume a liar would tell the truth since he’s a liar. If you trap him in one story, he’ll just tell another one, but as Sheridan is increasingly unhinged in this ep…)

After 10 hours of this, Garibaldi complains. Sheridan ignores him, so Garibaldi quits. Sheridan puts Zac in charge (This is Zac’s first really big part. He’s got several important scenes). Ivonova complains as well, but Sheridan manages to sway her. He attempts to bring in Talia, but as usual she refuses to be of any use to anyone. He manages to trick her into having near contact with Morden, and in a low-glitz but still creepysexycool scene, she gets a glimpse of the darkness that envelops him. She freaks out, slaps Sheridan, storms off.

Delenn and Kosh show up, demanding that Sheridan let Morden go. They explain: There are things in the universe millions upon millions of years older than any present species. These “First Ones” explored space, built empires, helped the younger species, and so on. And they fought among themselves. Many of them grew tired or overly constrained by living in the galaxy, and moved off ‘beyond the rim.’ One of The First Ones were The Shadows, who periodically fought everyone else for obscure reasons. The last great Shadow War was 10,000 years ago, when they were soundly defeated. Following that time, not really sensing much else to do, the rest of the “First Ones” left the galaxy, excepting one species:

The Vorlons.

(A few apparently make day trips back to the old neighborhood now and again, such as “The Walkers of Sigma 957,” as we saw in Season 1.)

A thousand years ago (Mid-1200s AD), the Shadows came out of hiding, presumably figuring they had little to fear as the First Ones were gone. They were over-confident and acted too quickly, and were defeated by a confederation of the Vorlons and the Younger Races (Including the Minbari, led by Valen). They once again went into hiding. (We’ve seen glimmers of this in G’kar’s “Book of G’Quon,” evidently written during or immediately after the war). The Shadows are now coming out of hiding again, and they’re being much more cautious, working through agents and stalking horses like Morden.

They explain that the Icarus found Z’Ha’Dum (Alpha Omega III) and awakened the Shadows (How exactly do they know this? A surmise is one thing, but they seem to actually *know.* I mean, Kosh shows Sheridan *video* of it…) and were captured. Those who would not serve were killed, and the wreck was dumped in space. Morden, obviously, was willing to serve.

They explain that Sheridan *needs* to let Morden go, or else the Shadows will know they’re on to them. If this happens, they’ll lose their ability to get info by observing a known agent, which will mean millions or billions will die since they can’t monitor or predict the Shadow’s next moves. If, however, they let him go, then bad stuff will happen, but they’ll at least have some warning and some feedback. This is compared to the Enigma code in WWII, which was cracked by the allies almost immediately (And accidentally) but since the Nazis never realized it was cracked, they kept on using it until the end of the war, continually betraying strategic information to the Alllies without realizing it. Had we revealed that we’d cracked the code, it would have been a much harder war to win.

Sheridan reluctantly lets Morden go, and demands that Kosh teach him how to fight these monsters.

OBSERVATIONS

An uncommonly focused episode, with just the whispiest of subplots: a *LOT* of Narn casualties are coming through the station, more than they can handle. Sheridan has (On his own initiative) been providing medical help for them, but there's just too many, so he instructs Franklin to triage them, and send the least-wounded out on the next freighter, to make more room for the more severely wounded.
Garibaldi: "What about the dying?"
Sheridan: "Send them to Medlab."
Garibaldi: "Earth Central is going to say it's a waste of resources."
Sheridan: "I don't care. I'm not going to have people dying cold and frightened and alone on the docking bay floor."

God, I love Sheridan!

Later, Franklin discusses his religious beliefs with Ivonova. This is our first real mention of "Foundationism," which started in the wake of first contact with the Centauri. The idea is that the more we define God, the more we attempt to limit Him, and therefore the further we get from Him. Hence the foundationists focus on the foundations, and not the specifics, the idea that "God Is" rather than "God is a big guy with a white beard who speaks Persian with a thick accent" or whatever. This then makes a rather haphazard logical hairpin turn, conversationally, into Franklin's misanthropic views of humanity. "How can we believe in the gods when they've stopped believing in us?" It doesn't really work. Well acted, but the dialog doesn't entirely make sense in the second half. The first half is neato, though.

They make a point of mentioning that Franklin has been up for 36 hours straight, subsisting on Stims, which evidently keep you awake and provide some nourishment as well. They hang a lantern on this, so, y'know, keep an eye open. It's got to go somewhere, right?
Sheridan’s long speech about Churchill knowing Coventry was going to be bombed by the Nazis, but allowed it to happen anyway? Very emotional, very well delivered. It never happened, though. Just the same: Sheridan has already been shown to be a conspiracy buff, and probably believes it. JMS *may* believe it, too. It’s commonly thought to be the case, but as is common with common knowledge, it’s generally wrong.

Morden: “What do you want, Vir?”
Vir: “What I want is to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a reminder to the next ten generations that some favors come at too high a price. Then I’ll look up into your dead eyes and wave ‘Hello!’”

I REALLY like Vir. He’s a buffoon, but there’s some spine in him.

Londo is said to be back on Centauri Prime during this ep, attending to court matters:

Principle Cast:
Sheridan, Ivonova, Garibaldi, Talia, Delenn, Vir
Also Rans:
Zac, Kosh (Weird, isn’t it, that Keffer is in the principle cast, but Kosh isn’t?)
Conspicuously absent:
Londo.

There’s no particular reason for G’kar to be here, but I can only assume London *had* to be offstage for this to make any sense. If he was there, the situation would have fallen apart much faster.

The snapshot of Anna Sheridan gives to Morden is the same actress from the 2nd episode of the season. I wonder if you have to pay for that?

My one logical concern with this ep is that it should be obvious to the Shadows that Morden’s been blown. Shouldn’t he stop coming to the station? Meet Londo somewhere else? Find a new intermediary? Or simply use a *new* human agent? There must have been others who chose “Service” to “Death.”

Speaking of which, Sheridan asks if it’s possible Anna is still alive, as a hostage or something. Delenn redirects the question to give the impression of an answer without actually telling him what he wants to know.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

I think so, yes. It deals head-on with the unpleasant decisions people need to make in war time, and the sacrifices among innocents that these entail. That’s something Liberals generally don’t get.

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