RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “Babylon Squared” (Season 1, Episode 20)

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It’s a day like any other on the space station: Garibaldi and Sinclair are eating breakfast in the mess hall. Ivanova - not a morning person - comes in very sleepy. The guys prank her:

Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious signal from Sector 14, so one of the Star furies (Piloted by “Alpha 7.”) is sent out to investigate. Something happens, but whatever it does to him is hidden by the opening credits. “His horse comes home without him,” by which I mean his fighter comes back on autopilot, carrying his dead body. It just parks off the side of the station, since apparently autopilot can’t do complicated stuff like that. After the autopsy, Garibaldi informs Sinclair and Ivonova that the pilot died of extreme old age, despite being only 30. His internal organs all were those of a VERY old man. (Why is Garibaldi delivering this information and not Dr. Franklin? Why isn’t Dr. Franklin in this episode at all?) Also, before dying, Alpha 7 scratched “B4” on a buckle. Ivonova and Sinclair pretty much immediately figure out it means Babylon 4.

For those new to the party, the Babylon Project was greenlit around 2247, with the construction of the Babylon station. This was sabotaged. So the build another one. That one was sabotaged. So the built a third. That one was sabotaged, burned down, fell over, and sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up! It was the only station to complete construction around 2254, then, 24 hours after going online, it disappeared, no explanation ever found. (This was mentioned in “The Gathering” and in “Grail”). Now, in 2258, the station has reappeared in Sector 14, and is sending out a distress call.

Sinclair answers, but doesn’t fully identify himself. He starts evacuation procedures, and briefs the fighter pilots, just in case there’s a-gonna’ be a scuffle (Though there’s no particular reason to assume there will be.) My sharp-eyed son Republiboy noticed something I’d never picked out in 20 years and countless viewings: While all the co-ed pilots are there standing somewhere between attention and parade rest, Sinclair mentions the death of Alpha 7, and one, and *ONLY* one of the female pilots bows her head, looking sad. Wow! Her and Alpha 7 were knocking boots all these years, and I only just now noticed it? I feel like an idiot! Sharp eyes on the boy, though. Wow.

So the evacuation starts, but there’s about 1600 people on B4, and B5 only has the capacity to move about 250 at a time, so they’ll have to work in relays, made worse by the fact that Sector 14 is about two hours away as the crow flies. This gives rise to the somewhat stagey, but genuinely funy “Fasten Zip” scene, in which a very bored Garibaldi checks the clock - two hours to go - and attempts to strike up a conversation with Sinclair while they’re en rout to B4, attempting to discuss how the commander gets dressed in the morning - do you fasten your pants first and zip ‘em, or zip first and then fasten ‘em? “I wonder about these things. This morning I was getting dressed and just for a second, I couldn’t remember which way I did it.” Sinclair goes along with it for a bit, but when Garibaldi gets around to saying “Can we talk socks?” Sinclair gets annoyed and says “I’m not having this conversation.” Garibaldi checks the clock again, and they’ve still got an hour and 57 minutes to go. He sighs.

When they get to B4, they pass through a very obvious “Time distortion field” and then go aboard with guns drawn. (Why?) A panicky idiot babbling about “monsters” starts shooting at them, but Garibaldi neutralizes the guy. Just then, Major Kranz, the guy in charge of the station, comes in, and Sinclair comes clean about the date. Kranz is surprisingly unsurprised by this, and says they’ve come unstuck in time. Just then Sinclair has a vision of himself in the future: He’s on B5, but there’s a total panicked stampede of civilians rushing past him, sirens blaring, something cutting through the walls, and Garibaldi in a flack vest with a BFG 9000, blasting hell out of something. He tells Sinclair that he’s rigged the reactors to explode, and that Sinclair should get out of there. Sinclair says he’s not leaving, and Garibaldi says “This isn’t a conversation. It’s ok, Jeff, this is what I was born for. I know that now.” The stream of people sweeps Sinclair away, and then suddenly he’s back in the present. Kranz explains that everyone’s been having these flashes, forward, backward, different for everyone.

In an effort to figure out what’s going on, Kranz takes Sinclair and Garibaldi to see Zathras, a vaguely raccoonish alien who just appeared out of nowhere when the trouble began. Zathras misidentifies Sinclair as “The One,“ then decides he’s “Not the one,“ then explains why his people stole the station at the behest of a shadowy figure called “The One,” but he’s not really very helpful.

Meanwhile, a guy in a 2001: A Space Odyssey space suit keeps fading in and out like Captain Kirk in “The Tholian Web.“ Of course all this “The one/Not the one” stuff is a pretty dead giveaway about who’s in the suit, right? I mean, it *is* a time travel-related episode, right? But let’s pretend you’re dumb and move on: Sinclair reaches out to touch “The One” in the space suit, and is blasted back like a bomb went off in his face. Zathras runs over and gives something to The One, and then the apparition disappears. They grill Zathras about what it was, and he explains that it’s a time stabilizer. The One’s own…uhm…one broke, and without it he’ll be killed when they start traveling through time again. Zathras gave him his own. This means his own death, obviously, but he’s seemingly unconcerned. They threaten to take him with them when they evacuate as a prisoner:

“Zathras not of this time. Stay, Zathras die. Go, Zathras die. Either way: Is bad for Zathras,” then he chuckles at this. When questioned about it again later, he says “Zathras die, but Zathras die for cause. Maybe stop war. Maybe Zathras great hero. Maybe build statue to Zathras, and others come to it and remember Zathras.”

Odd guy.

Meanwhile, Garibaldi is evacuating panicky idiots in another part of the station, and has a flashback to about 2257. He was leaving Mars to take the new assignment on B5, and breaking up with his girlfriend, Lise (Whom we saw in the last episode). He’s pretty upset by this. We discover that Garibaldi had met Sinclair only twice before he was offered the job of Security Chief on the station (Hell of a meeting, the details of which we’ll eventually cover), and that he and Lise had been together five years, evidently meeting about 2252. I don’t know why the years matter to me here, but they just do, ok?

So the station starts shimmying and shaking and as Sinclair and Kranz leave, a big fake-looking beam falls and pins Zathras to the deck. Sinclair wants to stay with him, but Zathras begs him to leave, so he does. They get to the shuttles, and leave. Meanwhile, the space suited dude appears to Zathras again, and Zathras smiles, saying “I knew you wouldn’t leave me.” The station disappears yet again, and then we see the space suited guy - the one - again. He takes off his helmet and, surprise surprise, it’s Sinclair. I saw that coming. What I didn’t see coming is how old Sinclair is - he appears to be in his sixties or so, and he’s gotten a bad scar across his face somehow.

“I tried to warn them, but it all happened just like I remembered it,” he says. Someone puts their hand on his shoulder - we don’t see who, her body’s out of frame - and we hear Delenn’s voice say “We need to go, the others are waiting.” Sinclair nods knowingly, and the scene cuts away. Note that Delenn’s arm isn’t a light ashen bluegrey like it normally is. What does this portend? Why did they go out of their way to avoid showing her face? We’ll find out two episodes into the second season of the show.

MEANWHILE, in the more-or-less unrelated subplot:

Delenn goes to see the Grey Council onboard their starship. A name for this is never given, so I’m going to call it “The Greystar,” if no one objects. If that name sounds goofy, well, it is, but the reason for it will become apparent later on. The council has mourned for ten cycles (Eleven earth years) for their fallen leader, Dukhat (Metnioned in “Soul Hunter”), and now they want Delenn to take his place, as she was pretty much his protégé. She refuses, which really pisses off the council, since, in a thousand years, no one has refused the post. She summons the council to explain her decision, and they get on her case about hanging out with the humans on B5. She says the war ended as the result of an ancient prophecy, but some in the council doubt it. They threaten to remove her from the council, or even outcast her from Minbari civilization, but she insists. In the end, the council supports her decision 5:4, but they ain’t happy about it. They inform Delenn that they’ll pick a new leader…and yet they apparently never do. They never say another word about it. (Well, not here, anyway: See below)

As she leaves, the same dude who turned up in the end of “And the Sky full of Stars.” In that episode, he’s a mean guy, telling Delenn that she must kill Sinclair if he discovers what they did to him. In this episode he’s a big ‘ol uncle teddy bear. His best line: “That has never been done! But if it were to be done at all, now is as good a time, and as bad a time as any.” As Delenn heads back to the station, he gives her “The Triluminary” (One of a set of three!) which she’ll need if her interpretation of the prophecy is correct. It quickly turns out that he stole it, and suggests she leaves before its theft is noticed. He promises to be there for her if she ever needs him to be…and then he’s never seen nor heard of again in the run of the series.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

I’m sure I’ve seen Alpha 7 in previous appearances as a (Very) minor recurring character, but IMDb lists nothing. That really was subtle and sharp with the female pilot mourning his loss.

It’s been about 11 years since the Earth/Minbari war ended, which equals ten Minbari years (“Cycles”). That would mean a Minbari year is about 400 days, give or take.

Once again, I have to ask: Does Joe Straczynski have any idea how military ranks work? He repeatedly sticks Majors in command positions, and treats them as though they’re high muckety-mucks. In actual fact, a Major is the same rank as a Lieutenant Commander, not really that impressive. Of course one could argue that this guy was only in charge for the final stage of B4’s construction - painting doors, installing window treatments, etc - and only trusted with that because it was an utterly unimportant job, then things spiraled out of control. In fact, the dialog partially supports this, but JMS’ odd treatment of Majors elsewhere still makes me wonder. Maybe he just thinks “Major” as in “Majorly important?” Who knows. Some have complained about an army officer being in charge of B4 (his uniform is a slightly different design and color than Garibaldis, they’re not in the same service), but that doesn’t bug me. I just assume he was Army Corps of Engineers, or something similar.

Major Kranz insists on taking Zathras along as evidence of what happened to B4 so he doesn’t get into trouble, but wouldn’t the sudden appearance of 1600 presumed-dead people be more than proof enough? Not to mention the testimony of a slew of B5’s officers and pilots.

“The One” (Future Sinclair) stole the station to function as a base in a war that might be in the future or the past. This is deliberately nebulous, however since he stopped the station “On the way” to let the crew escape, that pretty much means the war *has* to be in the future, doesn’t it? So much for mystery.

I said that the Minbari never selected a new leader. That’s not entirely true. In the Babylon 5 comic book (Written by Straczynski, and considered cannon) they do in fact select one. Sinclair immediately gets embroiled in an assassination attempt of the guy. The bad guys foiled, Sinclair is introduced to the new leader…and he’s never seen nor referred to again, either in the series or in the comics. Evidently JMS had intended to do something with this, but changed his mind and dropped the whole thing. It’s pretty obvious from the show that they don’t have a leader. If we take all the stuff they say is canon at face value, I guess we have to assume they *did* select a new leader somewhere between the season 1 finale and the season 2 premier, and that he died of pleurisy or horrible bedbug attacks or something prior to Season 2, Episode 11 (“All Alone in the Night”). He’s the William Henry Harrison of Minbari Potentates!

Continuity Error: Sinclair and Kranz go running off together to evacuate the station, but when we see Garibaldi waiting (profanely) for them to show, *only* Sinclair gets there.

So now we know what happened to B4, and why, more or less. We still don’t know why the first three Babylon stations were sabotaged, however. There’s no shortage of whack jobs and terrorists in the B5 universe, so it’s probably unrelated to any alien intrigue. The real reason, of course, is that JMS simply wanted to have a station named “B4” so he could put an obvious clue in everyone’s face that no one would notice. (B4 + Time Travel. Get it?)

Great googly moogly, was this episode full of foreshadowing, or what? We got 20-years-older Sinclair, something funky with Delenn’s skin, the implication of something funky about her appearance, future Sinclair trying to warn the past about something heinous in the future, Garibaldi apparently going down fighting, the station being rigged to explode. Elliptically, Garibaldi is fighting something apparently invisible (This will pay off later) and the whacko in the cargo bay that shot at them in the cargo bay was screaming about “Fighting Monsters,” which is probably tied to Sinclair’s vision. Combine Sinclair’s vision with Lady Morella’s vision from “Signs and Portents,” and we’re getting a clearer picture of the last few minutes of the station’s existence.

There’s also some less obvious foreshadowing with Delenn when she says that humans “Have within them the potential to walk among the stars like giants.” This resonates with G’kars line in “Mind War” (Episode 6): “There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They are vast, timeless, and if they’re aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants [,,,] We’ve learned that we can either stay out from underfoot, or be stepped on.” Obviously comparing the Sigma 957 aliens to giants. He goes on to say “Whatever they are, Miss Sakai, they walk near sigma 957, and they must walk there alone.” So: Delenn believes humans are destined for a vastly bigger future. We see one possible means of this apotheosis in “Mind War” itself when Jason Ironheart does what he does, and says he’ll be back in a million years. In “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” (Season 4, episode 22) we see another glimpse that lets us know she’s right about this.

She also says, interestingly, that our fractious nature and passions are our strength as a species, and something that separates us from other species. Then she says of us, “Their only weakness is that they do not recognize their own strength.”

Both The French Chick and Lt. Corwin are in this episode.

Babylon 4 looks substantially different than B5. It’s basically two counter-rotating nested cylinders of different length and diameter. And it’s green. The inside is (obviously) a redress of the B5 sets, but with green mood lighting.

One has to admire this episode in that it defies format: Our heroes come into the situation already in progress, and they do not solve it, nor do they fully understand it. The audience ends up knowing more than the characters do. It’s cool!

This is the first mention that the Grey Council stopped the Earth/Minbari war because of a religious prophecy. We know the war ended really abruptly, and the Minbari surrendered when they’d clearly been seconds away from winning, but now we know what caused that. We still don’t know specifically why, however, but that’s coming soon.

In one of his alcoholic days on Mars, Garibaldi was running a charter shuttle service. He was hired by Lt. Commander Sinclair - their first meeting - to check out something mysterious on Syria Planum. They found something and it shot them down, then pursued them on the ground. In the process of fleeing, they discovered something big and bad and scary, and I’m not going to tell you what because it’s too much of a spoiler. Suffice to say: they would have died had they not found a secret Psicorps base and managed to create a diversion. Eventually they walked a kerjillion miles out of the Martian desert. Evidently, drunk or no, Garibaldi impressed Sinclair. This story was chronicled in the comic book, again written by Straczynski, and is considered canon. In fact, it’s unquestionably so: Garibaldi tells part of it to the reporter chick in an earlier episode this season, and they openly talk about it in “Messages from Earth” in season 3.

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING:

The problem with doing a time travel story with its chapters filmed years apart is this: People can die or quit or get fired or just get really fat (or get fired and really fat, as in the case of one cast member). If the leaving character is crucial, *or* if the underlying arc story of which *this* chapter is a part changes somehow, well, you’re screwed. You’ve got to figure out how to make changes to the underlying story that *do not* contradict the things the audience already saw in this episode. It’s very hamstringing.

Bottom line: the payoff for the Babylon 4 storyline is pretty substantial, but it was intended to be vastly moreso before several of the basic assumptions of the series changed at the end of season 1, and in the second half of season two. If you want to know what the original plan was, you can read this article here
http://www.republibot.com/content/hidden-evolution-babylon-5
And the more specifically B4-related stuff here
http://www.republibot.com/content/hidden-evolution-babylon-5-part-ii-%E2...
But I warn you: Massive spoilers

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Yeah, I think they will. There’s nothing to give offence here, and it’s plenty safe for our kind. Interesting, too.

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