RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “A Voice in the Wilderness” (Season 1, Episode 18 and 19)

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On the one hand, I love two-parters because it means I get to write one review instead of two. On the other hand, regardless of the show, they’re usually rather padded out and it takes me twice as long to watch a story that probably should have only been an hour. This is both those cases

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Epsilon III, the planet Babylon 5 is orbiting, is experiencing weird seismic episodes. B5 sends in a scientific team, who very nearly get shot down, and have to be towed back to the station. The planet below them is supposed to be dead and abandoned. They reason there must be some stuff down there worth looking at, so they try another landing, and again very nearly get shot down, and have to be towed back to the station.

Delenn’s friend, Draal is visiting the station, and tells her that he’s pretty much disgusted with life back home and has decided to go off somewhere and be a missionary or whatever. She, he, Sinclair, and Londo see a ghost asking them to help him. Sinclair and Ivonova figure a way to the surface through the defense system, and find, essentially, The Krell Machine from Forbidden Planet. They also find an alien named “Varn” who’s plugged into the machine.

They detach him - is that wise? - and take him back to the station, where it’s revealed that he’s dying, and without him the machine - and the planet - will explode, taking out the station as well. He’s looking for a replacement. Draal, who’s looking for a meaning in his life, agrees to do it, and he, Delenn, and Londo scoot down to the surface and plug him in. The day is saved.

MEANWHLE, Open insurrection breaks out on the Mars Colony. We don’t actually get to see any of this because of the budget of the show, but it’s pretty bad, with thousands hurt and/or killed. Garibaldi is going nuts trying to find his ex-girlfriend Lise Hampton, the one he almost married once upon a time, but all communications lines are down. He asks Talia - who clearly dislikes him - to check with the secret Psi Corps base on Mars, and she’s shocked to find out he knows about it. Still no luck finding Lise, but they know she’s been injured from casualty lists. Presently, he does manage to get through, and offers to take leave on Mars so they can maybe see about starting things up again and figuring out where their relationship is going.

Alas, in the two years he’s been gone, she’s gotten married to a guy named “Franz” and they’re expecting their first baby.

MEANWHILE, aliens of Varn’s species (Never named, so lets call them “Varnians”) show up claiming they’ve looked for the machine for 500 years, and will take it by force if needed. It’s needed. Alas, their force is insufficient, and they all die, probably with very silly looks on their faces.

MEANWHILE, in the entirely irrelevant and tedious subplot, the EAS Hyperion comes to “Help out” the situation by basically acting like all those self-important priggish commodores and ambassadors on TOS. They demand they’re in charge, mess things up, etc.

OBSERVATIONS

So, what, the Eartforce Corps of Engineers never bothered to try landing on Epsilon III? They just surveyed it from orbit? That seems incredibly lax to me. (And hence likely. Remember, these people aren’t idealized. They’re lazy, greedy, they cheat, make sloppy mistakes…)

“Franz? What the hell kind of name is Franz?”

Minbari were supposed to be completely hairless. Draal has a beard because the actor refused to shave his off, and now Minbari are *not* completely hairless.

We get another Talia/Garibaldi/Elevator scene. He’s clearly stalking her, she’s clearly uncomfortable with it, but no one else seems to take it seriously. That’s a little off-putting even if it is played for laughs.

This is the first mention of a science team on the station. Dr. Tasaki mentions that his wife lives on Proxima Colony, so it’s probably a revolving post.

‘It is obvious that what I consider a tent you consider a pocket.”

We get a nice shot of the deck elevators taking the fighters back to the cobra bays.

“If all the Narn stood in one place and hated, that hate would fly through space and burn out Centauri Prime.” Is this foreshadowing? Of a very metaphoric sort, yes.

So how, exactly, does Garibaldi know about the secret Psicorps base on Mars? Hint: It has to do with him and Sinclair walking their way out of the desert, something he mentioned to the Reporter Chick back in the first batch of episodes. And why does Psicorps even have a secret base on Mars? That, my friends, takes a bit more explanation…

“The third principle of sentient life is the capacity for self-sacrifice, the ability to override self preservation and evolution for the good of others.”

Derek Mobotabwe is an ISN reporter who is covering the Mars uprising, Despite his very central African name, he’s Caucasian. I love when they deliberately blur racial and ethnic lines on this show.

Mars colonization, we’re told, began a century ago, in the 2150s, give or take, though there’s a mention of terrorist attacks earlier in the series which destroyed the original attempt at colonization. It’s unclear if that date is *just* for the present colony, or includes the original one, or how much of the original one survived - if any. One wonders *why* Mars is colonized, given interstellar travel. Earth appears to own a bunch of habitable planets elsewhere in the galaxy, so why waste time and effort on an unlivable hunk of rock? My thinking is that colonization of Mars must have begun comfortably before interstellar flight, and was too established to simply be abandoned thereafter. Martian colonists are called “Marsies,” by the way, a name I never liked.

It’s become fanon that Garibaldi was born and raised on Mars, though in fact there’s no evidence of that here. He mentions he was stationed there for a few years, but he never says where he’s from originally.

Did Varn’s people build The Great Machine, or just inherit it like Draal did? What does it do? Snowcones, or some larger purpose?

This is our first look at an Earthforce warship. We’ll see more of these, and cooler things to come. The Hyperion does not have internal gravity. This is also the first time we see an Earthforce atmospheric shuttle, which was based on a replacement Shuttle design NASA was looking at at the time, and our first look at a Centauri atmospheric shuttle.

“It is time you learned the Babylon 5 mantra: Ivonova is always right. I will listen to Ivanova. I will not ignore Ivanova’s recommendationss. Ivanova is God. And if this ever happens again, Ivanova will personally rip your lungs out. Babylon Control out. [ Sigh] Civilians. [Looks up to the ceiling] Just kidding about that ‘God’ part….no offense.”

Londo tells Garibaldi a seemingly heartfelt story about himself as a young man, which quickly turns to comedy. Then he stiffs Garibaldi for his drink. It’s a really good scene. He also gets a great scene with “The Hokey Pokey.” And this is the only mention of his past military career. It turns out the Centauri helped finance B5, as did the Minbari.

“Kat” the bartender gets a name in this episode. I think that’s her only line in the run of the series, though we see her a few more times.

This is the first time we see a location off of B5. Not the last, though. It really points out the inherent claustrophobic feeling of the show, don’t it? Alas, they lacked the budget and the computer technology to spend more time in the Central Garden, which would alleviate most of that.

There’s mention of a “Vegan Outpost.” Vega is a star 25 LY from earth, and 33 LY from Epsilon Eridani, where, we’re eventually told, B5 is located. Basically, if you’re on earth, Vega is in the opposite direction from B5. So how is it they were “Just passing by” on their way home?

We see a star fury with two cockpits - one on the front, one in the rear - in this episode, and never again. It appears to be being used as a shuttle to ferry people between the ship and the station.

When it looks like they’re going to lose the station, Sinclair makes a point of making sure Ivonova is evacuated, even though she won’t want to be..

Did Corwin get a haircut between parts 1 and 2?

The Varnian ship is pretty neat, it breaks into sections that fight independently. I think this is something the FX team thought up on their own initiative because dialog always refers to them as “A ship” rather than “Ships.”

Dunno why, but I love the scene where Sinclair gets his arm stuck in his sleeve.

Was the Great Machine designed for aliens with four arms? It appears to have extra slots for that.

“Nuke ‘em ‘til they glow, then shoot ‘em in the dark!”

We’re told Earthforce has been obsessed with new alien technology since the war, which, of course, we’ve already seen.

There’s really not any getting around it: Both these episodes could easily have been compressed into one, just drop the useless Hyperion subplot, and there you go. Of course that would mean cutting the little character bits with Londo, which would be sad.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

It’s a bit of a litmus, really. If you’re in the Tea Party, then you’re gonna’ see the uprising on Mars as valid, justified, and freedom-loving. If you’re a conservative who isn’t in the Tea Party, you’re more likely to see the uprising on Mars as a buncha’ ungrateful spoiled hippies not wanting to pay their taxes.

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