RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “The Geometry of Shadows” (Season 2, Episode 3)

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Man, this is just a wonderful episode. I mean, yeah, I remembered it as being pretty good, but one of the joys of this project is revisiting stuff I haven’t seen in a long time and holding it up against my memories. My memory is pretty good. I don’t get surprised much, so when something’s better than I remembered it’s a good day. This was a good day.

PLAY BY PLAY

Londo is visited by a Lord Refa, a high-ranking noble who wouldn’t have even wasted his time to bother with insulting Londo six months ago, but now he’s all smile and charm and open curiosity as to how Londo somehow managed to take out that Narn base a month back. Londo ain’t telling’. Refa lays his cards on the table and admits that he represents a band of nobles who feel the Centauri have been misled for long enough. They intend to manipulate events so *they* get to choose who the next emperor is, thereby ensuring their own plans for a rebirth of Centauri glory will come true, rather than yet another peacenik simpleton ruler. Londo signs on.

A group of Technomages - people who use technology to appear as though they have magical powers - visit the station for reason or reasons unknown. A couple thousand years ago, three Technomages met a Centauri noble, and endorsed him, thus ensuring he’d become the first Emperor of all the Centauri. That’s a powerful image among his people, so he decides to see if he can get the Technomages to endorse him, and use that to aid his own political ambitions.

He sends a VERY reluctant Vir to go make contact. After a (literally) fall-down hilarious scene at the bar in the Zocalo, Vir, utterly terrified and pretty darn funny, walks into a dark, spooky hallway:

“I am Vir Cotto, diplomatic attache to Ambassador Londo Mollari of the Centauri Republic. I’m told by the people running that way [points back the way he just came from] that this is where I could find the technomages. I am here on behalf of Ambassador Mollari, and I need to speak to someone who’s in charge. [Lights go out. Big monster comes in] Obviously, it would be at your earliest convenience.”

Unexpectedly, however, Vir doesn’t run, and Elric the leader of the technomages - Michael Freakin’ Ansara! - comes out to chat with him. He explains that he and his brothers don’t do private audiences, they’re leaving, they’re busy, and they’re not to be screwed with. He quotes Gandalf, and warns Vir not to come back.

Londo, of course, tries to get Vir to go back, but when it becomes apparent that won’t work, he decides to con Sheridan into requesting an audience with Elric, under the theory that he won’t refuse the captain. This works. Elric comes in, Sheridan pumps him for info. It goes badly. Londo comes in with a hidden camera, and offers to mediate the situation. Elric *immediately* recognizes Londo as the jackass who’s been sending Vir out to harass him, and allows Londo to incriminate himself. Londo apologizes, and beats a hasty retreat.

Sheridan apologizes for Londo’s actions, and has a long walk with Elric in the zocalo. This is mostly another boring, meandering “Smilin’ Jack” speech about childhood, daydreams, fuzzy puppies, long walks in the park, and the usual ‘what’s it all about, sunshine?’ crap. And fruit. Well, maybe not fruit, but definitely citrus. He mentions loving the smell of orange blossoms as a kid. Sensing this is going nowhere fast, Elric asks Sheridan if he believes in magic. Sheridan hedges and says “If we were to go back in time a thousand years and show people this station, they wouldn’t understand it. They could only take it as magic.”

Elric: “Perhaps it is magic. Every day you create miracles here far greater than the burning bush.”
Sheridan: “Maybe so, but God was there first, and He didn’t need solar batteries or holographic projectors.”
Elric: “Maybe. Maybe not. And it is within that ambiguity that our people reside. We are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit, crystal and scanner, holographic demons and invocations of equations. These are the tools we employ an we now many things.” He lists the things. They’re neat.

Earthgov is very interested to know why 100 technomages - probably all there are in known space - have suddenly assembled on the station, and they’ve instructed Sheridan to find out. He asks. All Elric will say is, “There is a storm coming, a black and terrible storm. We would not have our knowledge lost or used to ill purpose. From this place we will launch ourselves into the stars. With luck, you will never see our kind again in your lifetime. I know you have your orders , captain. Detain us if you wish, but I can only ask that you trust us.” then he takes Sheridan’s hand, and places an orange blossom in it, which he apparently synthesized from scratch during the course of their conversation.

Londo, meanwhile, has been utterly destroyed by Elric’s revenge: holodemons have destroyed his finances and squandered them on investing in “A Spoo Ranch.” Narn opera plays LOUDLY in his quarters, and will not stop. Lights flash, there are bad smells. Initially Londo refuses to apologize when Vir suggests it, but finally he gives in and does, sort of, and more cheap comedy ensues. The next day, as the Technomages are leaving, he contritely approaches Elric and asks if he’ll have to spend the rest of his life paying for his one little mistake:

Elric: “Oh, I’m afraid you have to spend the rest of your life paying for your mistakes. Not this one, of course, it’s trivial. I have withdrawn the spell. But there will be others.”
Londo: “What are you talking about?”
Elric: “you are touched by darkness ambassador. I see it as a blemish that will grow with time. I could warn you, of course, but you will not listen. I could kill you, but someone would take your place. So I do the only thing I can: I go.”

Shortly thereafter:

Elric: “Oh, there was that little matter of an endorsement? Something to show the folks back home?”
Londo: “Yes, yes, it was a passing idea, forget..”
Elric: “You may take this, for what little it will profit you: As I look at you, Ambassador Mollari, I see a great hand reaching out of the stars. And I hear sounds. The sounds of billions of people calling your name.”
Londo: “My followers?”
Elric: “Your victims.”

Man, that is some serious bad-ass sh!t there! Seriously, I’ve heard the line a hundred times in the last twenty years, and it *still* gives me chills.

The Technomages leave the station, and Londo to his fate.

MEANWHILE, the Drazi have been attacking each other on the station. Sheridan promotes Ivonova to full commander, gives her a glass of orange juice - SERIOUSLY, what is it with this guy and oranges? - and delegates the situation to her to handle. She calls a meeting of the two Drazi factions - green and purple - to figure out why they’re fighting, and find a solution. Turns out there actually *isn’t* any particular reason, it’s just custom. Every five years, the entire Drazi species pulls a sash out of a barrel at random. Half are purple, half are green. The teams beat each other senseless for a Drazi year (438 earth days!), and the victorious group ends up running their species for the next half decade. Then they do it again.

In attempting to remedy the situation, Ivonova manages to start a riot, and her foot gets broken in three places. Sheridan refuses to get involved “We all fall on our faces now and again, though I admit I didn’t expect you to do it so literally” and tells her he has “Trust in your abilities to handle the situation.”

“Well that’s a hell of a thing to say,” she says, insulted.

In further attempting to resolve the situation, she manages to get herself caught by one faction. They suggest an alliance to kill the *other* faction, but she won’t go along with it, so they just kidnap her, and use her link to send a text message to the other faction, and yet another text to keep station security away.

MEANWHILE, Garibaldi is pretty depressed. He’s been oked to return to work, but isn’t sure if he wants to. How good could he be at his job if he got shot in the back by his own second-in-command? He’s brooding, his best friend is gone, he’s depressed, lonely. Sheridan tells him he understands, and he’ll keep the job open for him as long as he can.

Upon stumbling across news of Ivonova’s text messages, he finds that odd, and goes to investigate. He shows up on the doorstep of one of the Drazi faction’s headquarters, and does his Daffy Duck door-to-door salesman routine - I mean, really: every line comes straight out of a Daffy Cartoon (“The High and the Flighty,” if you’re interested) and manages to rescue Ivonova.

Through an unexpected bout of spastic anger, Ivonova accidentally ends up as the leader of the Green faction.

“But I’m human!”
“Rules of combat predate contact with other species. Changes are, unfortunately, caught up in committee.”

She orders the whole Green crew down to the quartermaster’s corps, where all their sashes are dyed purple, and that ends the conflict. On the station. Presumably they’re still beating each other to death throughout the rest of the universe.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

This episode represents the exact average that B5 wants to have. It doesn’t necessarily get it most of the time - the average average is lower than the intended average - but this episode is *exactly* where B5 wants its comfort range to be. Even if, you know, it isn’t really quite there. What do I mean by that? Well, first and foremost: B5 feels like a place. There are multiple stories going on in different locations simultaneously, and the station is big enough that the A and B plots don’t really touch. Plus you’ve got some arc stuff going on with Londo and Garibaldi, you’re addressing the changes that have taken place, you’re introducing stuff that actually starts here, but that you won’t even notice is going on for another 29 episodes, a lot of characters are given a lot to do, and they aren’t even using the full cast. Bottom line: B5 *feels* like a place. Not only that, this episode makes it feel like a vital and interesting place. This is, unquestionably in my mind, the feel they’ve been going for since day one, but this is the first time they completely nailed it.

Yeah, there’ve been better episodes. Not my point. This is what they felt like they should be doing most of the time. And it’s kind of exciting to finally have them figure out how to do it.

Garibaldi’s shuck-and-jive as Daffy Duck was kinda’ stagy, but in his scenes where he’s talking about feeling unsure about himself, he really sells it. He has some really good quiet moments for a basically non-professional actor (Prior to B5 he’d had a one-line part in an episode of Moonlighting, and done a McDonalds commercial, and that‘s pretty much it).

This is the first time Claudia Christian’s really had much to do since “Legacies” 8 episodes before, and while they’ve never really squandered Ivonova’s character, they haven’t really been making good use of her. Here she’s front-and-center through the whole thing, and she does a good job with it. That said, Ivonova the character does *not* make a good showing in her first assignment as a commander: she starts a riot, fails to contain the situation before lives are lost, gets injured, kidnapped, compromises station security almost causing the death of thousands, has to be rescued by a guy who isn’t even in security, and when she *does* solve the situation, she does it by total accident. TRIVIA: The script called for Ivonova to break her foot, and then have Franklin magically fix it using futuristic technology. They filmed the foot breaking scene, and then the next day she *REALLY* broke her foot while jumping around in her back yard, which necessitated re-writing the script to explain why Franklin *couldn’t* just magically fix her foot.

Bruce Boxleitner is still in “Smilin’ Jack” mode, and will be for another 10 episodes (I’m sorry, it cant’ be helped), but they *are* dialing it back, and apart from his rambling Orange Blossom speech, and the plaintive “Part of me thinks we will not see their like again” speech at the end, he does really good. In fact, he *almost* sells that last bit as well, and that’s just a terrible bit of writing. The sequence with Garibaldi is actually very well played.

I like that Dr. Franklin is really concerned about his patients, and attempts to show concern for them, but he’s just really bad at it. He’s not crotchety or clichéd, he’s a good guy, he just lacks a certain degree of people skills. Not enough to cause problems, mind you.

The real amazing bit here, however, is Stephen “Flounder” Furst as “Vir.” He’s been in the show literally since the first episode of the series, but he’s infrequently used, generally just as a whipping boy or straight man for Londo. (“What do you want, you moon-faced assassin of joy?”) This is the first episode to really spend any time developing him as a character, and, man, you just wouldn’t expect you could get so much out of it. As bad as Sheridans’ soliloquies are written, pretty much every line coming out of Vir’s mouth in this ep is great. He’s in full-on Woody Allen Nebbish mode in the discussion of fate, the whole drink-at-the-bar slapstick was spot-on-perfect hilarious. His cowardly bravery in confronting the monster was fantastic, and I love that he didn’t run away, even though he was horrified. What really sells it for me is that he kept saying his name over and over again, “I am Vir Kotto, I am Vir Kotto, I am Vir Kotto.” He’s a complete and utter buffoon, of course, but there’s a heretofore unsuspected spine in him. This is the first we’ve seen of it, but not the last. Fate has much in store for our comedy relief sidekick, and a lot of it ain’t at all funny.

And of course we’ve got Michael Ansara. Fans of science fiction will recognize him from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, I Dream of Jeanie, Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Mission: Impossible, the Outer Limits and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Trekies will, alas, only recognize him as Kang. But whether you’re a fan of Science Fiction, or merely someone who likes Star Trek, you’ll instantly recognize him. Bald head, imperious bearing, the kind of voice Moses would have killed for (He was also the voice of Dr. Freeze in the DCAU), he just effortlessly commands attention. He was married to Barbara Eden for a very long time.

We get a nice Lou Welch scene. “WHen you comin’ back to work, Chief? We bought a cake, we’ve been sitting on it for four days…”
“There’s been cake for four days, and you haven’t eaten it? Who are you? Security! Help! We’ve got *another* guy here with a changeling net…”

Is it me, or does the puberty gag come out of nowhere? And not really fit? Chick I watched this with back in ‘94 (Her name was, I’m not making this up, “Hester Mae”) absolutely busted a gut at it though. Maybe it’s a girl thing. I dunno.

Talia, G’Kar, Na’toth, Delenn, Keffer, and Lannier do not appear in this episode at all. This is the first appearance of Lord Refa.

There are about 4000 Drazi living on the station.

When the Green Drazi leader is rambling on about his plan to murder the Purple Drazi, he says “and then the station will be QUIET again, and..” There’s just something that cracks me up about the way he says it. His eyes go wide, and he’s so exasperated, like he doesn’t care about all the killing and dying, it’s just that it’s so noisy. Expressive eyes for all that latex.

We get a nice outside-the-window-looking-in shot of Sheridan’s office for the first time here. The spotlights are back in the Zocalo, briefly. Is it just me, or do the Erhardt’s scenes all feel a little tacked on? Strange mood shift through the following scenes: Londo and Sheridan talking about Technomages (Happy), Sheridan talking to the technomage (Angry), Sheridan apologizing to the Technomage (Happy). Seems random. Distracting.

Conversely, I *REALLY* like that Sheridan delegates the Drazi problem to Ivonova, and then actually gets out of the way. Generally in SF shows, a person had a job and that was that. You don’t see people gaining new responsibilities. I also like that Sheridan doesn’t feel the need to be hands on with every aspect of the station.

SPECIFIC PLOT-RELATED OBSERVATIONS AND QUESTIONS

Earthgov specifically wanted Sheridan to investigate the Technomages, and deny them exit if they refused to answer questions. That’s sort of extreme. Why so interested? Why are so many Technomages leaving? What is the coming storm? What’s all this about Londo’s victims? Why did the Drazi conflict - generally non-fatal - get ramped up to include murder this time out?

CONTINUITY STUFF

This episode takes place in mid-February, 2259, probably just after Valentines’ day. Coincidentally, just about 248 years from now to the day. Garibaldi has been recovering for six weeks.

Immediately after this episode, the EAS Cerberus is destroyed. There was only one survivor, an ensign named “Matthew Gideon,” who reported they were attacked by an unidentified vessel. No one in Earthforce believed his story, and it was filed under “Just one of those things.” They don’t actually mention this in B5 itself, however it’s a major plot point in “Crusade,” and it stems *directly* from the events of this episode of B5. The Cerberus incident happened because the Technomages were leaving B5 at the time.

According to the Technomage novels (Which are considered canon), Galen was running around on the station while all this was going on, though we never see him onscreen. Also, Galen was raised by Elric, but was not his son. Also, evidently Elric was dying of a wasting disease.

Sheridan’s fear that he’ll never see Technomages again is dead wrong, and his hope that he *will* see them again will come back to bite him in the ass. Badly. But not for a long time, and not in this series. So don’t wait up.

Obviously I know quite a bit more about all this stuff than I’m letting on. On the one hand, it seems silly to worry about spoilers for an 18-year-old show. On the other hand, though, it’d be easy to bog people down in daunting stuff, and it really *is* fun to get to those ’holy crap!’ moments without me ruining ’em ahead of time.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Heck yeah! Even Social Conservatives might like it, since it makes a point of saying magic is merely subterfuge, and God is real and far more impressive than us.

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