RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “Acts of Sacrifice” (Season 2, Episode 12)

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In the second half of the season, we hit a stride that is more-or-less typical for the main sequence of the series, and we hit a format that’s not *exactly* typical, but it’s kind of their go-to comfort zone when they need to show a lot of balls in the air. If I were going to pick an episode as the one where Straczynski’s “Original Concept” of Babylon 5 (Which came to him in the shower in 1988) BECAME what we now think of as Babylon 5, I’d say this was the best candidate for the point of transition. Yeah, there’s good episodes before, and bad episodes after, but from here on the fitful stop-start-stop-start is kind of out of the way, and the show has learned to trust the audience enough to let us follow more complex stories.

Definitely that was a long ramping up process, though, huh?

PLAY BY PLAY

We see a Centauri attack on an Narn colony. The Narn are getting pasted, and civilians are getting slaughtered. A Narn cruiser is just about to jump to hyperspace and escape when they realize a civilian transport hasn’t made it out yet. There are 700 females and children aboard. Rather than escape themselves, the cruiser places itself between the civilian ship and the attacking Centauri forces. The transport escapes, but the cruiser is destroyed. G’kar later says the battle cost 5000 lives on his side, and would have cost far more if their forces hadn’t been there, since the Centaur are apparently slaughtering any Narn they capture.

The Centauri counter that they’re *not* attacking civilian targets at all, but that the Narn are putting civilians around military emplacements, using their own people as a shield, basically. He appeals to Sheridan and the senior B5 staff for assistance from Earth. Sheridan says that he recognizes the Centauri are lying, and he’s got some calls out. He can’t promise anything, but he’ll see what he can do. From here on, we descend into parallel subplots, which I’ll list independently.

1) In the A Plot, G’kar attempts to gain support from Earth and Minbar. They won’t even have to fight, just a show of strength will make the Centauri back down, or at least limit the conflict. Sheridan is told in no uncertain terms by his superiors (Who sound genuinely apologetic) that Earth can not officially involve itself in the conflict, nor on behalf of the Narn. Disappointed, G’kar goes to Delenn, who is clearly moved by his plight, but explains that the conflict is an elephant trap. Given that G’kar himself, and the Narn in general - have made constant threats against the Centauri, can the Minbari come in on their side, knowing that in a few years they’ll have to get involved again, defending the Centauri against the Narn? She explains that the war with the humans was devastating on her people morally and psychologically and they still haven’t really resolved that. She can’t just ask them to go to war again, particularly for uncertain goals with uncertain resolution. G’kar - brilliantly played, BTW - takes this with the resignation of a man who knew he had a terminal disease, and just found out he’s going to be executed at dawn. When a resolution to this is ultimately brokered in the conclusion…well, I’ll get to that.

2) In the B Plot, Londo has become “A wishing well with legs,” continually begged for favors by people who wouldn’t have even wasted their time laughing at him a year before. He’s lonely and beset by hangers on at every turn. He’s also sporting a stylin’ new black coat. Depressed, he goes to the Casino and finds Garibaldi. He pays him every bit of money he’s borrowed from the security chief over the years (Londo is a compulsive gambler, but he’s not very good at it), but Garibaldi is standoffish. Londo asks why everyone is acting like they’re afraid of him, and Garibaldi says, pointedly, “Because we are.” “Nonsense,” Londo rejoins, “I would never hurt you or the others,” oblivious to the fact that he just admitted he’s hurting a lot of people. He’s very lonely, and Garibaldi is the only person on the station who never wanted anything from him, and who always treated him with respect and friendship, even when Londo didn’t deserve it. Feeling a bit obligated, Garibaldi agrees to come by for a “Chemically inoffensive” drink after his rounds, if he can get to it. Londo happily waits. Garibaldi stands him up. The scene of Londo alone in the bar at closing time is genuinely sad, which is interesting because Londo is fast becoming a monster, but we still feel for him.

Later on, Londo is called in to Sheridans’ office when a Centauri is murdered by a Narn on the station. The Narn have given the killer up, and he’s admitted to his crime, however Sheridan and Garibaldi fear a trial on the station will cause even more violence, and ask Londo to consider handling it quietly. Londo is surprisingly laid back. He recognizes the dead Centauri as a nameless troublemaker with no family, and simply asks for the Narn to be deported from the station, his property seized, auctioned, and the proceeds donated to the Centauri war fund. “That irony is all the justice I require.” He leaves.

In the bar afterwards, Londo is sitting all alone, and Garibaldi comes in. They smile, they talk, Londo orders Garibaldi a Shirley Temple. Heartbreakingly, Londo says, “It is good to have friends, is it not, Mister Garibaldi? Even if it is only for just a little while.”

3) In the C-Plot, Ivonova has been put in charge of opening negotiations with the Lumati, a new, mostly unknown race, who are technologically pretty advanced. Sheridan has important stuff to do, and even though the Drazi situation didn’t go well, he has every confidence she’ll pull this one off. He tells her to do whatever is needed to get that alliance. The Lumati are physically ugly, socially condescending, morally repugnant, and generally immediately annoying. They tour about the station deciding whether or not we’re up to their standards of contact and commerce. They are, of course, an entirely on-key parody of the Federation from Star Trek. They go on and on about their directive of non-interference with the lesser races, which explains their high-and-mighty attitude. This outrages Franklin, who asks them if they could save a child’s life by simply raising a finger, would they do it? “It is not our place to decide for the inferior races what they should do or not do.” Frankly is disgusted by their lack of compassion.

Later, on a tour of Downbelow, the Lumati decide humans are worth an alliance with, since they have nothing on their homeworld like the abject poverty he’s seen in the bad parts of the station. Their species has segregated the lower species, of course, but it never occurred to them to cull the genetically and psychologically undesirable from their *own* species. “You limit their chances to breed, thus improving the species as a whole, and you create a workforce without power or voice.” It’s brilliant. He attempts to seal the deal by having sex with Ivonova, which is how his people do things.

This freaks her out, since she *has* to get the alliance, but she’s not willing to prostitute herself for the station. She’s not amused when Franklin suggests she “Put a bag over his head and do it for Babylon 5.” Then she realizes that the Lumati really don’t know jack about other species, so she could just *tell* him they’re having human-style sex, and he wouldn’t know any different. All sultry and big-haired she has him to her quarters, then dances and jumps around while saying things like “Tell me about your portfolio” and “Lie to me about your family.” Then she fakes an orgasm and says, “God, you’re good!” The alien, confused, asks “What happens next?” “Old style? You roll over and go to sleep. New style? You go out for pizza and I never see you again.” He leaves saying he might call her sometime.

Sheridan later congratulates her on getting the treaty signed, and gives her a present from the Lumati ambassador - what might be a hat, or perhaps a disturbing alien sex toy - and a note that says “Next time: My way.”

4) In the D-Plot, Narn/Centauri violence is erupting on the station among civilians as a result of the war. This is a serious problem as there’s about 40,000 of each species on the station, so they’re constantly coming into conflict, and riots are brewing. A nameless Centauri troublemaker is picking fights. The situation gets immeasurably worse when Zack breaks up a fight, and is forced to kill a Narn while defending the troublemaker. This makes life harder for G’kar, who’s having difficulty keeping his people in check, and this, of course, hampers his abilities to make alliances *against* the Centauri. Who wants to defend a rabble? Ultimately this results in an actual challenge for his authority, a really badly choreographed, goofy WWF smack down (Look, Andreas Katsulas was an astounding actor, and I’m deeply impressed, but this fight makes it very painfully apparent that regardless his chops, physically he was a middle-aged chainsmoker in about 45 pounds of latex). He wins, but is stabbed, and he turns his challenger (Who killed the Nameless Centauri Troublemaker a bit ago) over to Sheridan.

5) Blocked from doing anything openly to help the Narn, Sheridan works through back channels. He gets Franklin to re-open some of his Telepath Railroad contacts to ship Narn refugees out of the affected areas, to places where they’ll be safe. He and Delenn conspire to use Minbari freighters to haul unused, spare food from B5 that’s just going to be thrown out *to* the Narn (In neutral or noncontested space) and haul out more refugees. They’re really putting their asses on the line. And if G’kar talks of it, the aid goes away. G’kar does not seem thrilled, and Sheridan somewhat bluntly says “I thought you’d be pleased.” G’kar becomes effusive in his thanks, leaves, and then - not knowing whether to laugh or cry - he breaks down doing both

The End

OBSERVATIONS

“Lumati” is probably intended to be a play on “Enlightened.”

Main cast:
Sheridan, Ivonova, Garibaldi, Franklin, Delenn, Londo, Vir, G’Kar
Also rans:
Lt. Corwin, Na’Toth, Zack Allen, Kat the bartender.

This is the first ep where Zack has something significant to do.

It’s actually never entirely clear if the Centauri are lying when they say the Narn are using their own people as shields. They may be.

This is the first time Delenn has admitted to being at the disastrous first contact between humans and her own people. The Soulhunter in season one recognized her, of course, so we already knew, but she seems a little more open now that she’s not on the grey council. Her headbone is distractingly uneven in her scene with G’kar, by the way. I really like her and Sheridan immediately conspiring together to get round the limitations of both their positions and governments. I *like* good people who will not be stopped from doing good, even if it takes some subterfuge.

Londo’s new wardrobe is intended to reflect his descent into darkness, and this is kind of his last gasp before he drowns in it. You’ll note his hair is darker, too.

The disembarcation thing in the hangar bay is interesting. It’s a kind of cherry picker on a track that takes the people from the hatch of the Lumati ship to the disembarkation area. We’ve never seen it before, and I’m not sure we ever see it again, but it makes sense.

The whole slam on Star Trek’s Prime Directive is pretty funny, and the gag of making the Lumati preachy and ugly may be an obvious gag, but a good one. They’re an interesting species besides that: The ruling caste use “Servitors” with whom they communicate telepathically. The Servitors speak for their masters, until the masters decide whether or not the others in the room are inferior or not. If they’re not inferior, they’ll speak to them directly. This, too, is a slam on the ‘non interference’ thing. In this case, the “Servitor” is played by musician Paul Williams (Who wrote “The Rainbow Connection”) and his character is named “Toq.” Get it? Say it out loud. Get it now? What I liked about this - and I liked it at the time - was that the Prime Directive is demonstrably immoral, and yet because its’ such a pop culture icon, it gets a free pass without people even considering it. Here, beyond the cheap joke factor, we’ve got B5 actually asking one of those questions Science Fiction is *supposed* to ask, but generally doesn’t.

To wit: The Prime Directive is Evolution-in-action: you figure it out yourself, or you die, with no help from the Federation. That’s the way the universe is. However, is it moral to sit by and let people die when you can stop it? Even though this contradicts evolution? Well, obviously, no, it’s not moral because (A) civilization is based on taking care of those who need it, at least as far as is practicable, and (B) once you actually become a tool user, Evolution is pretty much done with you anyway. You cease to be shaped by your environment, and you begin to shape it yourself (As per Larry Niven)

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

I think so, though it’s not a slam dunk like “Gropos.” It’s more subtle.

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