It’s been a year and a half since I wrote about Babylon 5. In part, it’s because Babylon 5, which was available on Amazon Prime, eventually left, although I’m not sure the timeline works out there. Simply put, I took a break and when I went back to find it, didn’t feel like buying the series. Things have changed, though. HBO Max has released a “remastered” version of Babylon 5 in actual 1080p and it’s also available for purchase, so it felt like as good of a time as ever to return to Babylon 5 analysis.
I left off at the end of season two, which means right into the action with season three. But, you know I’m Wikipedia famous for my Babylon 5 analysis, so I can’t stop now.
“Matters of Honor”
As most season openers go, this one helped to introduce new characters and concepts for the season. That meant the introduction of the cheeky and somewhat hunky Marcus, the Rangers and the new hybrid starship for Captain Sheridan to command with a Minbari crew.
Everything within this episode was relatively self-contained. There’s an implausible action set-up to introduce Marcus to Delenn and Lennier where some down-belowers get the jump on the trio and somehow don’t recognize one of the most recognizable people not just on the station, but in the galaxy in Delenn. Perhaps there’s an argument to be made about how out-of-touch the elite of B5 are with the average street tough, but it’s never really revisited, so let’s not read into things that don’t exist.
Mr. Morden, the agent of the Shadows, makes an appearance to remind Londo of their agreement, carving up the galaxy between the two factions on an astral map and mentioning Lord Reefa to really get Londo heated.
All of this happens while an investigator from Earth is there to look into the pilot who went missing hunting the Shadow vessel and, perhaps, look deeper into what’s been happening on the station. It’s here where we get perhaps the most worthwhile part of the episode where he speaks with G’kar. That tends to be how the show goes, huh? When asked why they’d wait 1,000 years, G’kar responded with “to all things there is a time… Perhaps this is theirs.”
The good guys destroy a Shadow vessel, Sheridan is excited about the future and forms a war council. The investigator reports back and gasp-shock! Mr. Morden comes in right after to discuss nefarious stuff.
There ain’t much by the way of meat on the bones here, and that’s fine.
Here we go, right?
What Babylon 5 does best is take their richly developed characters and force them into conflict with each other, or force them into a position where they must reflect together. There are times in this episode where it feels heavy-handed. Londo and G’kar stuck in an elevator together is some classic stuff that’s been done to death, but the forced interactions between them serves as a fantastic contrast to Londo’s interactions with Lennier.
A mad bomber is loose on Babylon 5 and nobody can figure out who he’s after or what his purpose is. Is it a Narn? Is it Centauri? Londo and G’kar both believe the other party is responsible, which of course straddles one of those “both sides” arguments that both are blinded by their hatred of the other party. My issue with this is the Centauri have always been not just the aggressors, but oppressors. That’s why the Londo character works and why G’kar serves as an effective counterbalance. There’re times when this show feels dated and sloppy and while sloppy, that sort of thought isn’t dated. Look at how the news portrays protests and counter protests in America. Even the “liberal” media likes to paint a picture of both sides being extremists, which does little to actually analyze the situation and leaves nobody satisfied and nothing gained.
When unopposed on January 6th, rioters in Washington DC quite literally stormed the Capitol building. Some planted bombs, others had restraints, others stole government documents and computers. People died. There was no “both sides” narrative there, of course, but it highlights that this sort of thinking without critical analysis leads to confusion, anger and tragedy.
When caught in a blast, Lennier gets Londo to safety at the risk of his own health, stuck in the hospital in a coma while Londo broods about how it made no sense that Lennier, someone he’d always considered a friend until the recent Narn invasion and was upset with him, would still risk his life for someone he was in conflict with. It forces Londo to reflect even further on his own view of the galaxy and life itself. This person, who he’d lost the respect of and was possibly on the verge of needing to stand in defiance to Londo’s people, potentially got himself killed to save Londo. He tells jokes and as usual, Peter Jurasik’s performances are multifaceted.
Later, when calling an elevator, Londo finds himself face-to-face with G’kar, a moment of silence between the two before Londo backs down and claims he’ll wait. Only, well, fate has something else in store by way of an explosion from the mad bomber, leading Londo to leap into the elevator and seal it behind him. Now both men are stuck there, waiting for their oxygen supply to run out. Their interactions are tense and interesting, even if the setup is a heavy-handed stuck-in-an-elevator trope. Londo tells G’kar to just kill him now if he wants him dead, only for G’kar to explain he can’t, because of the surrender agreement that said for every Centauri killed by a Narn, five hundred Narn, including the murderer and their family, would be put to death.
The mad bomber is a stark contrast from the acting powerhouses that are Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas. No offense but oof. Sheridan needs to do the old comm-in-the-pants trick. The bomber gives a speech about his wife leaving him, losing his job and taking revenge on everyone because the world is unfair. Economic Anxiety! Just like what was attributed to the election of Donald Trump! Gee whiz.
They find the bomb, Sheridan sits on his comm, fist fights the guy and the bomb blows up outside of B5 with nobody hurt. Delenn and the good Doc are by Lennier’s side and the Doc goes to tell a joke Londo said before, only for Lennier to finish it off for him and wake up. Talk about low stakes, right? While there are always parts of these stories that stretch on and show a lot of depth, some stakes for these self-contained episodes feel a bit too ho-hum.
What we get from Lennier is a fascinating take on Londo when he’s presented with the fact that Londo and the Centauri will want to reward him. Lennier is deeply uncomfortable with this, not just because he’s uncomfortable around people and being the center of attention (he is), but because he felt like he perhaps made a mistake in saving Londo’s life considering the harm Londo has done to others.
Here’s what I love about Babylon 5.
“I did what I did because all life is sacred. But when the object of your actions doesn’t share that belief… hah, I fear I’ve served the present by sacrificing the future.”
Because that’s the thing. Even those people that oppose you, try to hurt you and ruin you, they aren’t a caricature of evil. There’s no black-or-white in life most of the time. George W. Bush sits around painting sad pictures. Charles Manson had some interesting folk/surf rock. Woody Allen made a lot of great films and so on. We like to talk about redemption stories a lot, that tends to be what we as a culture want to see, but the truth is, nobody needs to be redeemed. You don’t need to forgive someone and absolve them for their wrongdoings.
You can actively be a better person than you were before and those people that you wronged? Not forgiving you isn’t a moral failing. Science fiction riffs on themes that are pertinent to their time. Season three of Babylon 5 debuted in 1995, where the United States was living in the wake of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush. Bill Clinton was in office and still years away from his big scandal, and a lot of the problems in the world seemed far away to Americans. The balance of power was shifting at that moment and many of the folks living through it couldn’t know how we, with twenty-six years of hindsight, would see the foolishness of the 90s.
Babylon 5’s existence in the middle of this keeps an icy indifference. Humans get roped into the conflicts instead of being central to it. The Human/Minbari War ended before we meet these characters and instead they’re trying to rebuild when outside threats come into play. This season does a lot with this idea, stuff I’m excited to dig back into in future episodes. But where it stands in this episode, humanity is a mediator unknowingly being roped into more conflict, and folks like the mad bomber here won’t just go away. Arresting the bad guys is a temporary fix.
The 90s was serving the present to sacrifice the future. Funny how things turned out.
On a more somber note, RIP to Mira Furlan, who passed away recently and was an absolute cornerstone of this show.