I’ll talk about it more when I do my episode posts (researching and compiling episode info right now!), but it’s interesting how much foreshadowing there is in the first few episodes, and so much of it is things you go back to and realise thanks to later context.
Midnight on the Firing Line
The original production plan for B5 was to go straight from The Gathering into the regular show, but due to reticence by PETN/Warners to order a full series before seeing the reaction to the pilot, there was an eleven month gap between the first airings of The Gathering and Midnight on the Firing Line. In-universe, roughly nine-months have passed between the attempt on Kosh’s life and the Ragesh III incident.
Interstellar politics: The Centauri Republic has been in decline for at least 100 years, which overlaps with the closing years of the occupation of the Narn Homeworld. Londo is old enough to have either experienced some of the glory days, or to have been inculcated into the worship of same by older friends and relatives. The Narn provided weapons to Earth during their war with the Minbari, one of the few races who were willing to do so. The Centauri were the first race humans encountered, and the Centauri lied to humanity both about the extent of their holdings, and claimed that Earth was a long-lost colony. At some point between now and 2258, terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb in San Diego. Also, the first Mars colony was destroyed in a sneak attack, but we learn no further details.
To get back into character following the production hiatus, Peter Jurasik would pace back and forth saying “Mister Garibaldi” in different tones and inflecitons until he found Londo’s voice.
Luis Santiago’s photo in the news report is Executive Producer Doug Netter. Marie Crane is Ann Brucie, the wardrobe designer
This week in repetition of numbers: Londo sends three messages to Centauri Prime to obtain information on the attackers, to no response. Talia makes three attempts to contact Ivanova before showing up in C&C. The Centauri occupation of the Narn homeworld was a hundred year reign of terror, and Garibaldi says to Londo that the Centauri hadn’t been a power for a hundred years before their races met. It’s not explicitly stated, but first contact between Earth and Centauri Prime took place roughly 100 years before this episode.
This episode marks a number of first appearances - Susan Ivanova as the new XO of the station, Talia Winters as the new resident telepath, and Vir as Londo’s attaché. Amongst the species in the council chambers, there are Drazi, pak’ma’ra and Llort. It’s also the first appearance of the Aurora class Starfury, the Raider Delta-V fighter, the Narn T’Loth class cruiser and Frazi fighter. (Ship and fighter classes where not in the show are from the tabletop games, which JMS considered canon)
Starfury personal markings above the cockpit: Sinclair’s fighter has red and white chevrons, Garibaldi’s has two-tone orange tiger stripes - both characters have matching art on their space suit helmets. There are at least two more Starfuries with custom art in Delta Wing- one has a green pattern, and the other a woman’s face against a green and blue background called the Sea Witch.
The T’Loth CG model was something of a kludge, Ron Thornton made it by using a Star Destroyer lookalike model he created for inclusion with Lightwave 3D. He altered the model, rotated it 90 degrees, cloned it and made a connecting structure for the two segments. When the G’Quan heavy cruiser model was created for series 2, the T’Loth was quietly retred from the show.
One of the scenes shot on Andrea Thompson’s first day on set was where she walks down a hall, gets into a transport tube that Garibaldi is already in, and they have a conversation about Ivanova. The pair had rehearsed it a few times, cameras start to roll, Thompson walks down the hall, the lift doors open… And Jerry Doyle is standing there with his trousers around his ankles. Doyle would continue to pull pranks and practical jokes for the entire run of the show.
JMS on Spoo:
Spoo are the only creatures of which the Interstellar Animal Rights Protection League says, simply, “Kill 'em.”
Fresh spoo (served at an optimum temperature of 62-degrees) is served in cubed sections, so that they bear as little resemblence as possible to the animal from which they have just been sliced. Spoo is usually served alongside a chablis, or a white zinfandel.
Further information on the care, feeding, eating and whacking of spoo can be found in the second edition of the Interstellar Guide to Fine Dining.[/quote]
During GKar and Londo’s confrontation in the Zocalo, G’Kar offers Londo fresh Spoo, which Londo spits on. In a deep continuity reference and joke, in series 5 we’ll learn that Centauri serve Spoo aged, and to offer one fresh Spoo can be interpreted as a deep insult.
This was the first episode of Babylon 5 I saw, and as such it had to do a lot of heavy lifting, which it did well enough. Using the introduction of so many new characters worked to provide an insight into the world as established in The Gathering, while the political situation in the episode allowed insights into relationships between the major powers. The conflict between the Starfury squadron and the Raiders is more exciting than the gunfight in the pilot as well, the decision to depict spaceflight in a more realistic style made the show stand out, considering The Expanse is the only show to really embrace Newtonian movement in their space scenes (though the reimagined Battlestar Galactica and B5 contemporary Space: Above and Beyond paid lipservice to the idea). Even the “as you know” moments aren’t too bad, the worst being Garibaldi saying “of course, you’re new here” to Ivanova when she asks where Sinclair is. Like, she’s one of the few people in direct chain of command above him, but his comment is like she’s a junior officer he’s vaguely aware of. It’s a minor nitpick, but struck me on my rewatch.
Beyond all that, the episode works well enough as a largely self-contained B5 episode. The central crisis is a good example of the kind of brushfire conflict that is all too common in our contemporary world, the resolution centering around Babylon 5 is a little convenient, but not terribly so, it was more a case of the right info falling into Sinclair’s hands, rather than an elaborate conspiracy or an intellectual game of cat and mouse. The tension between G’Kar and Londo is palpable, Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik are already establishing themselves as the powerhouses of the show’s cast, especially in their argument in the Zocalo, and their meetings alone with Sinclair.
It’s very interesting to compare those scenes. This is the second episode in a row where the Narns are involved in a clandestine plot, and they’re quite clearly intended to be the antagonists here. As soon as it’s determined they attacked Ragesh III, Sinclair is set on putting together a coalition against them. He’s hostile toward G’Kar when they speak in the Zen Garden, and sympathethic towards Londo when they speak immedately after the clash in the Zocalo. Speaking of which, there’s a fantastic match cut between those two scenes, the camera lingers on Londo rubbing his throat after G’Kar leaves, and cuts to him dabbing something on the same spot in his quarters.
As I noted upthread, Richard Compton, who directed the pilot directed like 6 episodes of series 1, and this is one of them. It’s interesting to see him work within the changes in lighting, set dressing, and the visual language JMS wanted to update. His work here is stronger than that in The Gathering, and a lot of that is down to the more artistic shots like that match cut. Crompton’s work in the pilot isn’t bad, and clearly even though JMS had complaints about the final product, he liked Crompton’s work enough to keep him around. He doesn’t stand out against any of series 1’s other directors.
@paulF mentioned that he didn’t care for the comedy in this episode, and while Vir is over the top in his mugging for the camera (JMS agreed with this and had asked Stephen Furst to tone Vir down after the episode wrapped), I have to say the gag about Garibaldi watching cartoons landed pretty well for me. Part of it was the build up, and the line about it being his favourite - okay, second-favourite thing in the universe, but what really sells the scene where we find out what this is, is Mira Furlan’s performance as Delenn, as she goes from being bemused to amused, while totally confused by popcorn. Jerry Doyle doesn’t work as well in this scene, because the bits he’s laughing at are just dialogue in the cartoon for the most part. Presumably the clip of Duck Dodgers was added in post so they couldn’t time to anything during filming.
And at the end of the episode, while it’s mostly self-contained, there are a few things to speculate on moving forward. The biggest one is Londo’s prophetic dream, knowing that he and G’Kar will kill each other in 2278. Is this accurate? Are Londo and G’Kar effectively safe?
Who is alone, who is dying? The Narn or the Centauri?
And what is Michael Garibaldi’s most favourite thing in the universe?
This episode sees the first appearance of Doctor Stephen Franklin. The in-universe explanation for his replacing Doctor Kyle is that Kyle has been assigned to the president’s office, where his xenobiology skills are needed due to an influx of aliens emigrating to Earth. He arrived on the starliner Asimov, which is a frequent caller to Babylon 5, you’ll often hear it being mentioned on the PA in the docks. The name is, of course a reference to Isaac Asimov, who had died shortly before this episode was written. It’s also the first appearance of N’Grath, B5’s Preying Mantis-lookalike crimelord.
We see Downbelow for the first time as well in this episode. While the Minbari Assassin was cornered in an industrial-looking sector in The Gathering, this is the first time we see Lurkers - B5’s homeless equivalent.
The conversation between Ivanova and Franklin is the first we see of her spiritual side and her Russian pessimism.
The Starfury Sinclair pilots to intercept the renegade Soul Hunter’s ship does not have the same markings as in the first episode, but does clearly have a modex: DF-1004.
The Minbari term for Soul Hunter is Shok Thot
The renegade Soul Hunter is played by W.Morgan Sheppard, a long-standing veteran of genre TV, including multple incarnations of Star Trek (twice in the original series, once in TNG, once in Voyager, the commandant of the gulag on Rura Penthe in Star Trek VI, and a member of the Vulcan High Council in Star Trek), seaQuest DSV, Hawk the Slayer, the 1981 TV adaptation of Day of the Triffids, the Justice League cartoon, the live-action Transformers, Gargoyles, Doctor Who, Max Headroom, and… a second appearance in Babylon 5, as the Narn War Leader G’Sten in series 2.
Interstellar politics: The Earth-minbari war began because humans accidentally killed Dukhat, the Minbari’s leader. A group of Soul Hunters, including the renegade from this episode arrived to try and preserve Dukhat’s soul, but they were beaten back by his followers, including Delenn. Delenn was a member of the Grey Council at this time - she threatened to kill G’Kar in The Gathering if he ever again referred to the Council in her presence.
At the end of the episode, when Delenn is in Medbay, there is a tube connected to her which should be infusing liquid into her, but the liquid appears to be flowing out. The shot was played in reverse because the director preferred the camera motion that way, but didn’t think to get the shot while filming.
If Midnight on the Firing Line is primarily an introduction to G’Kar and Londo, this episode serves the same purpose for Delenn. It’s definitely the most prominent and meatiest work Mira Furlan has had in the show this far, and she’s well up to the task. It’s a testament to her facial expressions and Optic Nerve’s phenomenal makeup that she can emote so well with half her face covered.
The whole sequence from the renegade Soul Hunter waking up and talking to Franklin to the Lurker’s death is quite effective, and a lot of that is down to a wonderfully creepy performance by W. Morgan Sheppard. He’s great throughout the episode, but that first scene sets the tone for his role, even while his character becomes more manic and deranged. He’s a wonderful antagonist for the story, at least in part because he’s somewhat sympathetic while also being cuckoo bananas.
The core of this episode is asking the viewer what they think of the three hypothesis about the soul presented in the episode:
Delenn thinks souls are real, and they are reborn into new bodies with each generation. Every soul a Soul Hunter preserves is diminishing later generations
The Soul Hunters think souls are real, but when you die, your soul is lost to the universe, gone forever. From their perspective, saving souls is an imperative
Franklin thinks there’s no such thing as souls, that the Soul Hunters and Minbari are wrong, and at best what the Soul Hunter is doing is copying a person’s mind before they die.
Personally, I’m somewhat agnostic towards the concept of the soul. I don’t discount the possibility that there’s more to life and the universe than we currently understand, but the idea that our old beliefs are somehow correct doesn’t sit right. But here’s a thing - the Soul Hunter must have some level of psychic ability to know about the Lurker who was murdered in Downbelow, and he describes the Minbari as “pale, bloodless. Look in their eyes and see nothing but mirrors. Infinities of reflection”. Doesn’t that sound like the Minbari belief?
And we’re still getting hit with unanswered questions:
What is Delenn’s plan that shocked the Soul Hunter?
How are the Minbari using Sinclair?
If Delenn is a member of the Minbari’s ruling council, why is she playing Ambassador on Babylon 5?
What did she mean when she said “we were right about you” to Sinclair?
Born to the Purple
This episode was written by Larry DiTillo, who was story editor for series 1 and executive story editor for series 2. He has an extensive career as a writer in animation, including a large number of shows JMS worked on - including He-Man, She-Ra, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and The Real Ghostbusters. In live action work outside of B5, he collaborated with JMS on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, and wrote an episode of Murder, She Wrote while JMS was a producer.
Trakis is played by Clive Revill, a veteran Kiwi actor with a career going back to the 60s, spanning the stage, cinema, TV and voice acting. His genre roles include Sir Guy of Gisbourne in the Star Trek TNG episode Q-Pid, Kickback in the original Transformers cartoon, and the Emperor in the pre-Special Edition prints of The Empire Strikes Back.
This is Ko’Dath’s only appearance in the show, she was played by Mary Woronov, who first came to prominence in the 60s as a Warhol Superstar, and has a lengthy career in cult cinema and as a guest actor on TV. She declined to return as the character due to issues with the prosthetic makeup. She is not credited for her role in the episode
Adira is played by Fabiana Udenio, an Argentine-born Italian actress. She had a brief appearance in Robocop 2, but is probably best known for playing Alotta Fagina in Austin Powers.
Interstellar politics: The Euphrates Treaty which Londo and G’Kar are meant to be negotiating apparently relates to the Euphrates sector. Also known as Sector 919, the Euphrates sector is neutral territory under Earth Alliance jurisdiction. Notable systems in the sector include Epsilon Eridani, Babylon 5 orbits the third planet in this system. On maps of the galaxy included with various licensed products, This would place the sector in a small patch of neutral space with the Narn, Centauri, Minbari and Earth Alliance clustered around the outside. The Centauri are a courtly society, with noble families like Londo’s gathering dirt on the other families, which is then used as leverage to gain advantages. The Centauri have legal slavery, but it appears to more closely resemble indentured servitude. The owner of a Centauri slave is legally responsible for any crime they might commit. Garibaldi’s newspaper has the headline “Homeguard leader convicted”.
The episode’s title is a reference to a term for Roman nobility. In some cases it’s still used in the UK - someone appointed to the House of Lords can be said to have Ascended to the Purple, while a hereditary peerage is Born to the Purple.
Fresh Air is the most prestigious restaurant on Babylon 5, its name presumably derives from it being in the internal open space in the station. by comparison every other bar, club and restaurant we see in the show is indoors, presumably in a building in the internal space or a deck between the inside and the outer hull.
There was a moment where the plan for the scene after Londo and Adira sleep together would have Londo sit up in bed and his hair would be limp and flat. JMS said they changed their mind “in a burst of sanity”
So I wouldn’t be as harsh on this episode as @PaulF, but this feels far more episodic and less of a piece of the Babylon 5 puzzle. Like, the prior two episodes are stand alone, but in each one there’s stuff that links back into the metaplot.
And this episode… just is. There’s enough decent moments, and a lot of Londo and G’Kar so it can’t be all bad, but still not much to say. The most interesting stuff here for me is everything with Talia. We get a bit more about her abilities, Psi Corps rules, and how much she’s willing to bend or break those rules. I quite liked Ivanova and Garibaldi’s side plot, it has some nice gentle ribbing between the two, but also adds a lot of depth to Ivanova, giving some explanation to her often stark and stern nature. Her father’s death means she has no living family members left.
I just rewatched this episode and I did not get the impression was just used as an attempt to bring the audience up to speed. I viewed it as Garibaldi’s disregard for authority. Like the scene in CinC when he is lounging in Ivanova’s chair.
The episode reaffirms my belief that Garibaldi is the best. So much revolves around him. He is the one that clues Sinclair into the deal with the Raiders, he is the one that sets up the scene with Ivanova and Talia(one of my favorites not involving Garibaldi) and he is the one that stops Londo.
my last observation is that GKar and Londo are even better than I thought. They both delivered their lines so masterfully and on top of that doing so while encumbered facial makeup( a full face for GKar and the fangs in Londo’s mouth.
Of course, it can be two things, and it helps to setup Garibaldi’s character to a degree as well. When I said worst, I meant more like the line was the most obvious moment of exposition rather than it was bad. On Garibladi lounging at Ivanova’s console, I never noticed before this rewatch that they have the same conversation in Born to the Purple, when she walks into C&C and he’s trying to trace whoever’s using Gold Channel.
That scene… I’m not a big fan of Garibaldi’s speech in it, it’s a bit overwrought and Jerry Doyle isn’t really up to delivering it, but the character interaciton between himself and Londo is wonderful. Given what we learn about Garibaldi later in series 1 - even in Infection Mary Ann Cramer, the reporter says that he’s been dismissed from his last four positions and Babylon 5 is his last chance. And he’s taking that very seriously - this might be him going outside the regs to confront Londo, but he understands to to make this official would be a diplomatic incident, he understands the need for the relatively soft touch.
I know he is more than famous in his own right but as a big fan of Supernatural, I spent much of the time imagining his son behind the makeup. I can easily amuse myself
Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova : I’m Russian, doctor. We understand these things.
I also liked the prayer.
I loved Sinclair’s line “Half a year’s salary she won’t finish that sentence”
I like the unanswered questions and the memories of mine that tell me how some of them get answered.
It is funny to me that so far the better actors on the show appear to be the ones in makeup.
Vance Hendricks is played by David McCallum. He’s best known, of course as Ilya Kuryakin from the Man from UNCLE, of if you’re young he plays Dr Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard in NCIS.
Marshall Teague, who plays Nelson would later appear on Babylon 5 in a recurring role as the Narn Ta’Lon, and an EarthForce captain in an episode of Crusade. Outside of B5 he appeared in The Rock and Armageddon, and has a lengthy career as a guest and recurring actor on TV, including appearances in Knight Rider, Stargate SG-1, Quantum Leap, Deep Space Nine and Voyager
Ikarra was a civilisation that died out a thousand years ago. They had a mastery of organic technology, which is seen as quite powerful - it’s referred to as a key to the Vorlons’ great power, but Ikarra was conquered multiple times. Vance’s expedition was sponsored by Interstellar Expeditions, a front for a bio-weapons supplier.
Garibaldi on first meeting Sinclair:
Marie Kramer says that Garibaldi has been bounced from his last five assignments and Babylon 5 is seen as his last chance in Earthforce. He served in the military during the Earth-Minbari war, but wasn’t on The Line.
Kramer is on Babylon 5 to interview Sinclair for Interstellar Network News as the station approaches its second year in operation. This means that Kosh didn’t arrive until roughly a year after it first opened. We don’t know how long the other ambassadors were there, though they do all have established relationships with the staff. Kramer states that an ISN poll said 75% of respondents thought B5 wouldn’t last 5 minutes, and Lloyds of London gave the station 500-1 odds of lasting a year.
Narn-Centauri negotiations are set to take place in the near future. Given this episode was the first written after the hiatus, it’s unclear if this refers to the Euphrates treaty from Born to the Purple or a different negotiation.
Franklin is concerned about the rise of pro-Earth groups in the Earth Alliance, and Kramer asks Sinclair whether humanity should pull back and deal “with our own problems”. This has been a sentiment in the background in prior episodes - the alien population on Earth was a policy point in the election, and Dr. Kyle was recalled to serve as an expert on Xeonbiology. Right after Franklin and Ivanova discuss this, the Ikarran artifacts are ordered returned to Earth for the bio-weapons research division of EarthForce
The Ikarran calls out to the Great Maker at the end. This is also apparently a figure in Centauri mythology, Londo refers to it frequently.
So yeah, this is not a great episode. The plot is straightforward, and very heavy-handed in its discussion of extremism, and racial purity. The scene where Nelson kills the customs agent is awkward as all hell, and it’s really just a meh story.
But there’s some good in here. Michael O’Hare is far more animated and charismatic than he was in prior episodes, especially when he and Londo are in the strip club in Born to the Purple. His scene with the Ikarran is energetic, and he’s suitably thoughtful when he’s interviewed. The scene where he and Garibaldi discuss Sinclair’s propensity to put himself in the line of fire is a great piece of character work.
But I’ll give JMS the last word on this one:
The Parliament of Dreams
This episode sees the first appearance of Na’Toth, played by Caitlin Brown, and Lennier, played by Bill Mumy, and Catherine Sakai, played by Julia Nickson. In an infamous outtake, when Delenn asks Lennier to tell her of home, he replies “Beatlemania is back”
Thomas Kopache plays Tu.Pari. He’s one of a small number of actors to have appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, having played no fewer than seven characters between the four shows.He was in 14 episodes of The West Wing, No Country for Old Men, and oddly enough, the Catheter Cowboy in the ads John Oliver commissioned to play during airings of Fox News shows in the Washington DC area.
Delenn confirms that she is still on the Grey Council when talking with Lennier, but that this is a secret and Lennier is ordered to not refer to her by her title of Satai.
Ko’Dath apparently died a week before the episode in an airlock accident. Na’Toth makes an off-hand remark about G’Kar having a penchant for human women, and Garibaldi finds a pair of sexy undies in G’Kar’s quarters when they discuss the murder of his bodyguard.
G’Kar spent five years on the Narn ruling council. Apparently some of the actions he was involved in were scandalous, which he claims the revelation of which would hurt the Regime’s standings in the upcoming negotiations. Riiiiight.
When Catherine and Sinclair meet up, he confirms that he and Carolyn Sanderson broke up “about a year ago”, so shortly after the events of The Gathering. The pair have a tumultuous relationship, a pattern of getting together and splitting up going back to when they met in EarthForce academy. She’s currently working as a prospector, investigating stellar bodies for rare minerals. Her most recent find turned out to have a vein of Quantium 40, used in the construction of Jump Gates and Jump Drives.
Sinclair is a big fan of Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The religious ceremonies:
The Centauri celebrate the anihilation of the Xon, a belligerent species with whom the Centauri shared their homeworld. The two races fought a bitter war until the Xon were exterminated, a thousand years ago. This is, of course celebrated with a bacchanal, lots of drink, lots of food, and of course the victory cry of “valtoooooooooo”. There are small idols of various Centauri gods on the banquet table, including Ben-Zan, god of food, Li, Goddess of passion and love, who appears to be a naked women with a hair crest and six tentacles coming out of her sides; and Mo-goth, guardian of the underworld and locked doors, who is a gargoyle. Note that Delenn doesn’t drink at all, and is highly suspicious of the food. Ivanova is the only non-Centauri at the main table enjoying herself. The celebration scene was cut when the show was aired in Malaysia, presumably because of the drunken behaviour.
The Minbari ceremony is one of death and rebirth. Delenn recites a quote (according to JMS, Valen said this when he formed the Grey Council) and then asks the participants to eat a small fruit. Londo takes it happily; Vir is reluctant; Garibaldi outright refuses, Ivanova eats hers; G’Kar first swaps his for Ivanova’s when nobody is looking, sniffs the one he took from her, but we don’t see him eat it, and Delenn and Sinclair stare at each other before eating theirs at the same time. Delenn removes her hood while saying “so it begins”. Catherine later says that a serious exchange of looks and eating of fruit is also a Minbari wedding ceremony - Note Sinclair doesn’t reveal it was he and Delenn who stared at one another.
No Narn ceremony is shown.
The human ceremony is a line of representatives of various Earth religions. Many of these are portrayed by members of the actual religions. There were 250 people in the line, most of them referred to by their real names. Michael O’Hare was told all their names twice, and was able to name them all, in order on every take they shot. Note that Ivanova smiles broadly when she shakes the Rabbi’s hand - this is one of the first indicators that she’s Jewish, if he’s resident on B5 it’s possible she knows him. JMS is an athiest, which may be why a person with no faith was first in the line.
JMS felt this was the first really strong episode of the show, and was dismayed to learn its first airing was opposite Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan’s faceoff in the 1994 Olympics.
The episode won an Emmy for Makeup design.
I enjoyed this one. It’s G’Kar heavy, so that’s always a plus, and he gets to play off two fantastic actors in Caitlin Brown and Thomas Kopache, who really lean in to their characters as written. The readings Brown gives of JMS’ snarky lines are especially good, she was really born to deliver his bon mots.
Sinclair and Sakai’s reunion story is more inconsistent though, their conversation in Fresh Air feels a bit like a parody of Film Noir, but the scene in his quarters works better. It’s not like either actor is particularly bad, just the dialogue is not the best. The relationship between the pair is interesting, even if it is a slight reworking of what we saw of Sinclair and Caroyln Sanderson, down to reusing the initials.
It’s another largely self-contained episode, and while there’s a lot of dialogue loaded with double meaning, but a lot of it is that whole relevant in hindsight thing, so there’s not much to say. Pretty good episode, though.
It’s kind of a shame this is, IIRC, one of the only times they represent people from diverse Earth cultures. It’s a super-white show. Richard Biggs is pretty much the only significant non-white person in the cast, even including the many recurring characters.
Yeah, I think Julia Nickson is the only other prominent non-white actor on the show, and she doesn’t stick around for long.
Just the next episode and the S1 finale.
In “The Gathering” the XO (Takashima) was Japanese and Doctor Kyle was of African descent, making half of the command staff non-white, somit looks like they were initially trying for diversity. When the characters were replaced, they made the XO a Russian Jew (though still a woman) so I guess they didn’t want to make it too obvious.
Though in season two, the replacement commander was another white guy who also had the initials J.S.
So, are people ready to move on to Mind War?
The guy who played Garibaldi said regarding the competition with DS9 at the time: Years ago when westerns were big, there wasn’t just one western tale. You had your John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Lorne Greene and so on. So similarly there isn’t just one scifi story but room for many.
I liked Mind War, but there are parts of it that are painfully cheesy. The scene where Bester and the other telepath are practically dancing around Talia with theit hands in front of their faces, because the show hadn’t figured out how to show people using telepathy, is unintentionally hilarious.
The ending to the main plot, with Jason transcending his body and all that, felt very like something from a lesser Star Trek episode to me.
I watched B5 before I watched TOS, so I’ve always thought of Walter Koenig as Bester before Chekov.
i just watched Mind War. The guy who played Jason was at times painfully hammy. I liked the scene with Talia and Garibaldi. i loved G’Kar in this episode with the way he played against type. I liked the introduction of Bester and the protective nature Sinclair displayed toward Talia.
I think the first season of Babylon 5 generally gets a bad rap. You can tell that they’re still trying to nail down the tone, feel, and voice of the show, but there are still some interesting stories and a lot of intricate world-building.
The first season is also interesting in that, if you’ve read JMS’s outline of the full series with Sinclair still in place, you can see how the whole season is building toward that end. Though I do think the revised ending we did get, for both new guy Sheridan and especially Sinclair, is more interesting than what was originally planned.
This episode marks the first appearance of the… uh First Ones, specifically the Walkers at Sigma 957. They’re never explicitly named in the show, but the title comes from G’Kar’s line - “they walk near Sigma 957”. JMS stated that the species’ actual name translated into English would be fifteen thousand letters long.
It’s also the first appearance of the Psi-Cops, and most notably Alfred Bester, as played by Walter Koenig. Koenig is probably best known for playing himself in an episode of Futurama in 2002, and something to do with Star Trek? Oh yes, he wrote an episode of the Animated Series. Bester’s character is of course named for the SF author, best known for the novels The Demolished Man (winner of the very first Hugo award) and The Stars my Destination, whoch are about psychic abilities in humans.
The Black Omega Starfuries seen here are originally referred to by JMS as a special forces unit, though we’ll later see that they’re manned by telepaths (circumventing the rule that telepaths can’t serve in the military)
Psi-Cop is a homophonic reference to CSICOP - the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Now known as the Committee for Skpetical Inquiry (CSI), it’s a program run by the non-profit educational organisation Centre for Inquiry (CFI) to promote skeptical thought, evidence-based reasoning and critical thought when approaching issues, and critical examination of extraordinary claims.
Finally in first appearances, this episode also marks the debut of Garibaldi’s Aide, Jack (though he’s not given a name for some time in the show). Played by Macaulay Bruton, who has only 4 credits to his name on IMDB!
William Allen Young, who played Jason Ironheart is one of those actors who’s been in a whole bunch of things, but is probably best known as the dad in Moesha, or in a recurring role as a judge in CSI: Miami, and a different recurring role on the original CSI.
In this episode we start to learn more about the Psi Corps. Beyond the restrictions we already know about - no gambling, no unauthorised scans and so on, everyone in the Corps can be subjected to scans by the Psi-Cops at any time for any reason; it’s illegal to be a telepath and not be a member of the Corps, and skin-to-skin contact between telepaths and humans is strictly forbidden - hence the gloves all human telepaths wear. In The Gathering, we learned that Lyta is rated P5, and it’s inferred here that Talia is also. Commercial telepaths tend to be around P5, instructors P10, and Psi-Cops P13. A pair of Psi-Cops can invasively probe a P5 beyond their ability to block. Generally, if you’re rated P1 or P2, you’re not considered a telepath legally, but anyone rated P3 or higher must join the Corps - so Ivanova’s mother would have been around this level. It’s increasingly rare to find higher P-rated telepaths, so the pool of applicants for the Psi-Cops is likely quite small.
If Ironheart’s numbers are correct, and there are around 20 billion humans alive in 2258, then there are roughly 1,000 natural telekinetics in total, with roughly half of these being driven insane by their abilities. According to JMS, telepathy is not a prerequisite for telekenisis, but both abilities can manifest in a single person.
Sinclair mentons to Catherine that he has a meeting with the Constructon Guild and he’s going to have to make some budget cuts he’s not looking forward to.
Jason is quoted a rent of 500 credits a week, which was the same price as the food Catherine bought in the Parliament of Dreams
In the initial broadcast of the episode in international markets, during the sequence where Ironheart’s ship is being chased by the Black Omegas, there’s a few shots where the background is partially visible through his ship. This was spotted during editing, but by the time a corrected shot was produced and inserted into the master, the international version had been transferred.
This was originally intended to air around episode 10, but was brought forward because Warners were especially pleased with how it came out.
Bester’s salute to Sinclair at the end is a reference to the Prisoner - in that show the salute is centred on the person’s right eye, but here Bester does it at his forehead - the proverbial third eye.
So there’s still some definite rough edges, but Babylon 5 is starting to gather steam at this point. Part of this is hindsight, knowing that Bester is going to be a recurring character and one of the show’s ongoing highlights. But it’s also a weighty episode in many ways, the standalone story has a lot of moving parts, and they’re all interesting.
I agree with @PaulF that the scene where Kelsey and Bester scan Talia is goofy, but the sound design helps a lot, it meshes very well with Chris Franke’s soundtrack - especially the high-pitched sting motif. I also agree on William Allen Young’s performance. It’s workmanlike, but not particularly great, and he doesn’t really sell a lot of his lines, especially the repeated lines about “becoming”
One thing that especially hasn’t aged well is the scene in the travel tube at the start. Garibaldi is in effect sexually harassing Talia, and while she can clearly handle him - so to speak - it’s a bad look, especially in the current climate.
The Catherine/G’Kar arc is not as weighty as a standalone story, but it’s very important to G’Kar’s development as a character. Thus far he’s been an antagonist a couple of times, and a protagonist once - but even there it was a story self-contained to him and Na’Toth. Here he’s an ally of sorts, but it works because of what we’ve seen of G’Kar to this point. Like Catherine, we’ve been primed to expect deceit and back-stabbing from G’Kar, so his warning is seen as less than genuine. The scene where he requests a fighter is clearly a fakeout - but there’s at least a few minutes where we expect the plot to be Catherine trying to escape from the fighter.
Their shared scene at the end gives G’Kar a lot more depth, calling back to his line earlier in the episode about how nobody on B5 is what they seem. Through G’Kar, JMS is priming the audience to the fact that every one of the main characters is going to be in a very different place.