RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “Chrysalis” (Season 1, Episode 22)

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Londo and G’kar are haranguing the B5 Council about the Quadrant 37 crisis, the latest in an endless show of Narn aggression and reluctant Centauri conciliation. This region borders their respective territories, and the Narn have started sending warships across the line on the map into Centauri space, probably just as a show of force. Somewhat later, Londo is instructed by his government to simply give in to Narn demands. He does not take it well:

Londo: “Vir, how many gods are there in our pantheon? I lost count after our last emperor was elevated to godhood”
Vir: “Forty eight. No, forty nine. Fifty if you count Zoog, but I never felt that…”
Londo: “Fine, fine, let’s say fifty. And how many of them do you think I must have angered in order to have G’kar’s teeth so deep into my throat?”
Vir: “All of them?”
Londo: “That’s what I thought.”

[Somewhat later]

Londo: “I feel like I’m being nibbled to death by…by….fah. What are those earth animals? Webbed feet? Feathers? Go ’quack quack?’”
Vir: “Cats!”
Londo: “Yes! I feel as though I am being nibbled to death by cats.”

The creepy Rod Serling guy from “Signs and Portents” (Episode 13) shows up and asks to meet with Londo in the Garden Maze (Yeah, that’s right: B5’s got a Garden Maze. Suck on that, Trek.) He identifies himself as “Morden,” and says that he simply wishes to help Londo be more than he is.

Londo: “I’ve heard that before, and I’ve stopped listening. There comes a time when you look in the mirror and realize the man you see is all you will ever be. And you learn to accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.”

Just the same, Morden talks Londo into telling his government that he (Londo) will take care of the situation personally. He tells Londo that he doesn’t want anything in return, *however* in the future, Londo may be in a position to do something for him, and when that time comes, well, we’ll worry about it then.

Those same creepy bugish ships that we can’t quite see show up and destroy the Narn outpost, killing 10,000 people and destroying everything without a trace. Natoth wakes G’kar and informs him. He’s shocked, and has suspicions about the nature of the attack. He grabs a transport home and says “Expect me when you see me.”

MEANWHILE:

Sinclair finally (After 15 years) asks Catherine Sakai to marry him. She says yes.

MEANWHILE:
Delenn finishes the colored plastic sculpture she’s been working on since the premier movie more than a year ago. She confers with Kosh, who says “Yes.” We don’t hear the question, but evidently it’s quite a shock. She goes to see him and he takes off his encounter suit so she can see what he really looks like. We don’t get to see it, just her reaction, but she’s pretty impressed. She decides to go ahead with whatever it is she’s planning on doing, and goes to see Sinclair.

She shows him the Triluminary from “And the Sky Full of Stars” (Episode 8) and he recognizes it. Surprisingly, he admits it, too. She says she’s suspected for some time, and by coming to him she’s put both their lives at risk (How?), however there are things he must know. He explains that they can’t find Garibaldi, and she accepts that. She asks him to come to her quarters as soon as possible, though, since stuff is in progress and can’t be stopped. Ain’t much time now, it seems.

Back in her quarters, she places the Triluminary atop her tacky 60s plastic crafts project, which turns out to be a machine of some sort. It starts generating some kind of goo on the nearest wall.

MEANWHILE:

President Luis Santiago, introduced during his re-election in episode one, and who visited the station in episode 11, is on Earth Force Two, touring the various planets of the Earth Alliance. His vice president, Morgan Clark, had a viral infection, and decided to stay behind on Mars.

MEANWHILE:

A lurker named “Petrov” turns up dead. With his last breath he warns Garibaldi that “They” are gonna’ kill someone, and that Garibaldi has to stop them. Presumably he wasn’t talking about himself, or else it’s a pretty ineffectual warning. Anyway, Garibaldi looks into it, and we get probably the most elaborate view of Downbelow that we ever got on this series. Generally it’s just dingy hallways and trash, but here it actually looks like a place, like a shantytown, with living quarters made out of crates and sheets and things. No one will talk to him, of course, since he’s a cop and Petrov was one of his squealers, but that’s a nice touch, too, don’t you think?

A homeless midget explains:

Midget: “Petrov was allright.”
Garibaldi: “He was. And now he’s dead.”
Midget: “It’s not easy to live here without money. Sometimes men come by and they need three or five or seven of us to do a job, and sometimes the work isn’t what you‘d call nice, and it’s hard. A few days ago, someone named ‘Devereau‘ came by looking for workers for a job. Petrov went.”
Garibaldi: “What was the job?”
Midget: “We don’t ask. If it was legit, they wouldn’t need us, right? Anyway, Petrov saw something that scared him to death.”

(I have to mention this is one REALLY well acted scene. Despite working through a speech impediment and an accent, Gianin Loffler instantly grabs you. He’s a guy who has every break against him, miserable life, miserable future, and he’s pretty disgusted by it - the way he says ‘the work isn’t what you’d call nice’ is both defensive and repulsed - but it’s a great performance in a seemingly insignificant role that really honest-to-gosh tells us more about the lives of the lurkers than any scene before or since. Likewise, Jerry Doyle, frequently not the most nuanced of actors, gives some really great face stuff here. Watch his reactions, the give and take in this scene is pretty subtle but really good.)

Garibaldi immediately arrests Devereau - hanging out in the casino - who gives him the old “You don’t know what you’re messing with” stuff. Garibaldi doesn’t take it seriously because, hey, he doesn’t take anyone seriously. He impounds some of Devereau’s stuff, and discovers jammers and signal triangulators and realizes fairly quickly from the settings on each that Devereau’s bunch were planning on assassinating the president as Earth Force One neared the jump point off Io. Confronting Devereau about this, one of Garibaldi’s own guards comes in and shoots him in the back, then kills Devereau and the other goons.

Garibaldi claws his way - literally - to the elevator, and is discovered in the casino at the stroke of midnight. He’s rushed to surgery, but manages to warn Sinclair before he passes out. Sinclair and Ivonova desparately try to get through the jamming to warn President Santiago, and then…then…then…then…

They fail!

No, seriously: President’s dead, good guys lost, thank you very much, drive safe, don’t forget to tip your waiters. G’home, kids.

I can not *stress* to you vociferously enough how jaw-dropingly shocking that was in 1994. It simply didn’t happen. “The Good Guys Always Win” was so entrenched that it wasn’t even a cliché, it was the law. Pick any SF show you want prior to 1994, and show me a scene where the heroes fail to stop something like this. TOS? Nope. Any Irwin Allen show? Nope. Any Gerry Anderson show? Nope. Doctor Who? Hell no. TNG? Double hell no! Ain’t no way. The closest you’re gonna’ come is the first hour of the original Battlestar Galactica, and since that was also the premise that set up the entire series, it’s a line judge call at best. You really need to fudge to make that one fit.

So, I’ll admit, back in ’94, I was watching. I was enjoying the ep - good direction, nice performances, the feeling that several arcs were reaching completion and several others were getting going - but I wasn’t really involved in the whole ’mystery subplot’ because *EVERYONE* does mystery subplots, and of course the good guys always win. It’s like those miserable “The Enterprise is falling out of orbit and will burn up in the atmosphere” episodes from TOS - you know they’re never going to *do* it, but they keep throwing it in there as a fake way to ratchet up the tension. It has just the opposite effect, though: After about the eleventeenth time they pull that crap, you just start to find it tedious. This struck me as that kind of thing: A good episode built around a tedious ’gotta’ stop the bad thing from happening’ hook.

And then the bad thing happened, and I reiterate: my jaw hit the floor.

DID not see it coming, and it’s hard for a modern viewer to really understand what a huge shock that was.

B5 had already been the best SF show on the time. Not a lot of competition, frankly: the last lame couple seasons of TNG, the even lamer first year of DS9, X-files, SeaQuest DSV - oh, come on, SeaQuest fer gosh sakes? Terrible. All terrible. It wasn’t hard to be the best card in such a low hand, all you really need to do is stand still and not suck. But with this gutsy move, B5 became more than just ‘not sucking,’ it became the show that actually remade the medium. You want to know when American SF on TV became something other than just dopey kid stuff? It was October 3rd, 1994, the night this episode aired.

Sorry for the lengthy digression, but it needed to be said.

So anyway: Garibaldi’s in a coma, the very guy who shot him in charge of security. EarthGov is refusing to listen to Sinclair’s allegations of a conspiracy, Delenn is in her chrysalis, and can’t spill all the secrets she promised. In his quarters, Catherine curls up against Sinclair, and he says - rather forlornly - “Nothings the same anymore.”

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

“Arc Driven” SF had never really caught on in the US, and B5 was really the first show to make use of it. There were a bunch of reasons - Syndicators couldn’t guarantee episodes would air in a particular order, networks felt audiences would find ongoing stories daunting, and not want to get involved, etc - but while you had the occasional recurring bits here and there (Spock has Pon Farr in one episode, and makes some reference to Ponn Farr in a subsequent episode, for instance), you didn’t really have a running story arc as such.

This wasn’t a *new* thing. Prime time soaps had been doing it since the late 1970s, but it hadn’t made the jump to SF until B5. (This is, by the way, something the TNG writing staff complained about constantly: They *wanted* to do extended story arcs, but were continually shot down by the producers and the studio, who said “That’s not what Star Trek is.”) This gave a kinetic feeling to B5 - the episodes had a strange energy to them, the train felt like it was actually rolling somewhere, though obviously if you’ve been reading these reviews you’re gonna’ be well aware that it wasn’t exactly zipping along the tracks. They clearly didn’t know exactly what they were doing, but they DID know what they wanted to do, and eventually they figured out how to get there.

You wanna’ know why I rave so much about B5? It’s not the crappy sets, adequate special effects, overly-theatrical dialog, and wildly uneven acting. It’s not even the story, which is pretty darn good, but there’s nothing transcendent in it. No, you wanna’ know why I rave about the show? It’s because THIS was the series where it all came together, where the makers trusted the audience enough to understand what was going on without us being spoonfed. SF on TV might still be kid’s stuff, but at least, after thirty years, they’d finally let us graduate to Junior High. This series - and this episode in particular - is the moment when everything changed.

Seeing bits from past episodes come into play, seeing references to previous events that actually paid off here, recognizing all those things in retrospect that were foreshadowing! Wow! This was a show I actually had to pay attention to! Wow!

DROPPED THREADS

There ended up being some major cast changes between the seasons that resulted in some story lines getting dropped and/or truncated. The most notable of these is Sinclair’s fiance, Catherine Sakai. Basically after this episode we never see nor hear from her again (There is a photo of her stuck in Sinclair’s personal effects from “Grey 17 is Missing,” though. That’s season 3, episode 19) The plan was that there would be a mole in Babylon 5. We were supposed to suspect the principle cast, but in actual fact it was Catherine. Think about it: It’s brilliant! She’s the commander’s girlfriend, so she’s outside the chain of command, but the senior staff would naturally be friendly towards her, and be likely to share information. Meanwhile, in keeping with her job, she’s away from the station for weeks at a time, allowing for easy debriefing.

She didn’t *know* she was a mole, though. She’d been brainwashed by an evil organization who’s name I won’t reveal here, except to mention that it rhymes with “Guygorp.” Exactly how this would have played out is unknown, but it appears most of her arc ended up getting divided up between Talia in season 2, and Garibaldi in season 4. It’s good stuff, keep tuned!

Sinclair, obviously, was supposed to be the main character for the full run of the show, but the actor turned out to have a major drug problem at the time, and was frequently out of control on the set, hitting on interns, chucking chairs at people. He has his moments - the scene where he asks Catherine to marry him is charming, and most of the tired/frustrated scenes he does throughout the season are really good. He *feels* like a naval officer - but in addition to the behind-the-scenes problems, his acting style just didn’t have the charisma nor pop to really draw people to such a pivotal role. Finally, Jerry Doyle refused to work with him, and said “Either he goes, or I go.” Obviously, JMS et al took the hardworking non-drug-addict’s side. Good call. It undoubtedly saved the show. O'Hare has evidently cleaned up his act since. Good for him.

Most of Sinclairs’ intended arc ended up going to the new Sheridan character introduced in season 2, with bits and pieces going elsewhere, and in the process this created an arc that was never intended at the outset, but strengthened the show considerably.

The actress who played Na’Toth had to leave the role owing to allergic reactions to the makeup. She was recast, that didn’t work out, and ultimately her arc, whatever it might have been, ended up getting jettisoned. Some of it eventually went to the Ta’Lon character introduced in late season 2, and recurring in season 3-5.

OBSERVATIONS

Once again: G’kar’s a pervert. He was evidently having an orgy with three (human) prostitutes when Sinclair interrupted him. When Sinclair accuses the Narn of behaving like abused children, who grow up to abuse all those around them, G’kar’s delivery is very interesting. He looks like he’s going to play it loud and boisterous, but he shrinks in, gets quiet, and says “We know what we are doing,” as though he strongly suspects the accusation is true, but isn’t sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. His declaration to Ivonova that he hopes she finds justice is heartfelt.

Why would you have the president and vice president on the same ship at the same time? Isn’t that amazingly dangerous? I mean, what if they’d both been on Earth Force One when it went blooey? How bad would that have been? Oh…wait…

The scene of Clark being sworn in as president aboard Earth Force Two was deliberately shot to be reminiscent of LBJ being sworn in after the Kennedy Assassination. The RDM Galactica eventually pulled this same trick (And admittedly did it a little bit better) when Roslin took office, but B5 beat ‘em to the punch by more than a decade.

Something I don’t get: The ISN reporter chick mentions the image of Earthforce One with Jupiter in the background would be sure to impress voters. But why should anyone care? Santiago just got re-elected back in January, and he’s in his THIRD term as president, which we’re told it’s unprecedented, and his term is five years, so it seems like it’s Miller Time, y’know? Odd thing for a reporter to say.

This is the last episode with The French Chick. Marianne Robertson decided to quit and start a family.

This episode takes place over the last two days of 2258.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

How could anyone *not* like this episode?

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