RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “All Alone in the Night” (Season 2, Episode 11)

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It’s now June 2259, and Sheridan has been on the station six months. He’s expecting General Hague to make a low-profile visit to the station, but even so he’s getting antsy. When Invonova reports some odd appearances and disappearances on the fringes of the shipping lanes, he jumps at the chance to get in a little flight time, and heads out with some of Zeta squadron.

Meanwhile, Delenn prepares to leave the station, possibly for the last time. She mentions that “Now that a new leader has been selected,“ they’ve decided to review her performance. Her unauthorized transformation has left her in disfavor with the Grey council, and she is feeling scared, alone, and unloved. Lennier decides to go with her, just to keep her spirits up, even though there’s no particular reason nor protocol to do so. “I am committed to you. Where you walk, I will walk.”
“Lannier, have I ever told you how much I appreciate you?”
“No. But it will give us much to discuss on our trip.”

We’re briefly introduced to a new, random pilot-of-the-week (NOT Keffer!) in a funny heated argument between said pilot (Ramirez), Dr. Franklin, and Garibaldi, about the 2259 World’s Series. Ramirez is from Mars, and points out that they lead the leagues in home runs. Franklin points out that it’s only a technicality that allows this, and got them into the series anyway: Mars gravity is much lower than Earth Standard, so the ball goes faster and further. “When they get to playing in earth gravity, Helen Keller would be able to bat better.” Ramirez gets a call to fly, and heads out.

Garibaldi: “Helen Keller?”
Franklin: “I got excited.”
Garibaldi: “Ouch.”

Delenn and Lennier get to the Grey Council ship. Meanwhile, Sheridan’s squadron is attacked by a creepy asymmetrical alien vehicle that looks kind of like a digestive tract. It makes short work of the fighters, and captures Sheridan. The only other fighter that survives is - naturally - Ramirez, but he’s badly damaged and quickly realizes he’s already taken a fatal dose of radiation. He heads back to the station to warn them what happened.

On the Grey Council Ship (Which I believe is called “The Grey Star” but I’m never sure of that), Delenn is informed by Hedronn (Last seen in “Points of Departure,” the season premier) and informs her that the council have judged her in absentia and booted her from the council. This is strictly speaking against the rules, but given that she’s no longer strictly-speaking Minbari, they don’t see as how it matters. She asks if she can keep her job as Ambasador on B5 - originally this was simply a cover for her to keep the eyes of the council close to Sinclair, but it’s proven to be an important job in its own right. Hedronn agrees to convene the council to decide this, and allow her to make her case.

Sheridan wakes up strapped to an icky-looking organic table, and is tortured by various nasty pointy slicey probey things that descend from the ceiling. After he blacks out, his restraints are released, and a metal pipe drops to the floor. A Drazzi appears with a techno-organic looking dingus on his head, and attacks Sheridan with the pipe. They fight, with Sheridan attempting to talk his way out of it, but he inadvertently kills the alien. The Drazi’s body disappears. Before he can relax, a Narn appears - Ta’Lon - who attacks Sheridan with a sword. Sheridan only has the pipe. Ta’Lon has a techno-dingus on his head as well, and is screaming “Kill me” in English.

Sheridan eventually manages to disable Ta’Lon, but both are injured in the fight.

The Grey Council convenes. Normally it’s three groups of three representatives from each of the social castes: Worker, Warrior, and Religious. Delenn was one of the religious satides, or leaders. Her now-vacant post has been given to Neroon (Last seen in “Legacies” back in Season 1). Thus the Warrior Caste has 4 seats, worker has 3 and Religious has 2. This is the first time the council has been unbalanced since Valen founded it 1000 years ago. Delenn expresses outrage at this, but Neroon just scoffs. “Why not? We’re the ones sent to fight and die in your wars. When I joined this council and I found out why we had been told to surrender to the humans, I didn’t know whether to laugh or weep. But had we known the reason then, we would not have surrendered.” He tells Delenn that she’s a joke and an embarrassment, and they don’t want her around, but in fact, being neither human nor Minbari, she is actually the perfect liaison between the species. “So by all means, go back to Babylon 5, and play out your fantasies.”

General Hague arrives at B5, concerned that Sheridan isn’t there. He’s never late. Ivonova is attempting to contact him when Ramirez gets back just in time to die. The flight recorder shows what happened. Ivonova gives the information to the various alien governments, hoping to figure out who did this and why, and attempting to keep tabs of where the ship appears and disappears in hopes of nailing down its course.

Aboard the alien ship, Sheridan has yanked the dingus off Ta’Lon’s head, and they get to talking. Ta’Lon explains that the aliens are taking random samples of space faring races, and putting them in hand-to-hand combat so as to figure out how much punishment they can take, how hard they are to kill, how quickly they’ll simply give up, and so on. All this, the Narn presumes, is a precursor to invasion. Sheridan tries to find a way to escape, but Ta’Lon has given up on this. Sheridan finds a door, eventually.

En rout back to B5, Delenn gets Ivonova’s request for information. She quickly identifies the alien race as “The Streib” and confirms Ta’Lon’s guess that they’re a predatory race who show up from time to time taking samples of minor races to see who would be easy to conquer. “They attempted this on us some time ago. We followed them back to their homeworld and took pains to convince them of the depths of their error.” She gives all relevant information to Ivonova.

B5’s fighter squadrons, the Agamemnon (Called in by Hague) and Delenn and Lennier’s unarmed solo shuttles (“Fliers”) attack the Streib ship, and Sheridan and Ta’Lon are able to escape in the confusion.

Back at the station, Sheridan is pretty bummed out to find out about Ramierez. Hague meets him in his quarters later on, and turns on a bug-jammer so they can speak freely.

“It’s about time somebody showed up to debrief me! I’ve been here for six months! I don’t like spying on these people!” Yup, that’s right kids: the “Smilin’ Jack” happy-go-lucky routine was just an act. Sheridan has actually been spying on people for General Hague. Bet ya’ didn’t see that coming, did you?

Hague explains that the late President Santiago knew that if anything ever happened to him, his successor would but some no-nonsense jarhead in charge of B5. “We both know that’s not you, but your record makes you appear that way.” He says that though there’s no proof, he’s convinced that Santiago’s death was part of a coup. This was not military, though it had some support from the military. Primarily he thinks it’s Psicorps, but there may be more to it than that. For six months now, he’s had Sheridan spying on the B5 staff to see who he can trust and not trust, and now that that’s out of the way, Hague wants Sheridan to select ones he feels he can trust, and bring them into a little cabal. They’ll exchange information with Hague’s people elsewhere, searching for information to expose President Clark and the Coup and Psicorps or whomever. “And take back our government.”

Later that night, Sheridan calls Franklin, Garibaldi, and Ivonova, and explains the situation. He gives them the option to drop out before they’ll hear anything they’ll feel honor bound to report, and says that for the time being, they’re going to stay entirely within the rules.

Everyone agrees.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

This is the second appearance of Robert Foxworthy as General Hague, and he’s far better here than he was in his near-cameo in the season opener. This is also the second appearance of Hedronn, who also was in the Season Opener. I find myself wondering if both episodes were filmed at the same time - that happens sometimes, to work around actor’s availability - or if it’s just a coincidence.

Both Hedronn and Neroon are kind of jerks here. This is a little odd, since Hedronn was overdramatic, but not unfriendly the first time we met him. True, Neroon was still a total jerk last time we saw him, he’d reached a kind of ‘noble jerk’ status by the end of that episode, where there was a sort of understanding between him and Sinclair. They weren’t friends, but they no longer hated each other. So in both cases, their portrayals are a bit unexpected this time out. This is more understandable in the case of Neroon, of course, who’s got some scars from the war.

Though they haven’t yet assigned him a name, “Ta’Lon” the Narn will turn up repeatedly in the series from here on out. He’s important. Not *screamingly* important, but still, keep an eye open for him.

Ta’Lon understands English fluently, speaks it well, but somewhat haltingly. Tends to leave out transitions and pronouns. Interestingly, we see in this episode that Sheridan speaks at least a little bit of Drazzi.

Main cast:
Sheridan, Ivonova, Garibaldi, Franklin, Delenn, Lennier
Also rans:
Corwin, Neroon, Hedronn, Ta’Lon

I think the whole ‘dying pilot’ thing doesn’t really work. I appreciate JMS attempting to put an emotional value on the sword bearers and redshirts who die from ep to ep, but there’s a lot of stuff happening in this episode already, and it just pads it out. Coming right on the heels of Gropos - which did this exact same ‘cost in human lives’ thing much better - it feels superfluous, too. And it takes away from Keffer, who’s ostensibly part of the cast, but has only been in three episodes thus far, and has displayed no real personality. Instead of introducing a one-and-done and having him die, give the part to Keffer and have him *not* die at the end. Takes less screen time, and it makes us care a bit more.

Added to which, there were five fighters out there, and Sheridan shows no concern for the other three pilots who died, just Ramirez. Why? Padded and sloppy and inconsistent.

The “Streib” are (obviously) named after Whitley Streiber, the noted Horror/SF author who wrote several books about getting abducted and anally raped by aliens. Streiber claimed these were true stories. The late Thomas Disch once noted that he felt Streiber was simply trying to start his own Science Fiction Religious Cult, and make some easy money. In any event, the Streib are one-shot villains, we'll not see them again. They're of no significance to the over-all arc.

I remember thinking when I saw this ep that it was too packed, too forced, too rushed. I do think it's slightly over-crowded (Did we need the Agamemnon to show up? Or the whole Ramirez thing?), but it's less overwrought and generally better than I remembered.

SHERIDAN'S DREAM

This show loves signs, portents, and foreshadowing. The best example of this so far has been Londo's dream of the future (Shadow ships in the skies, the hand, becoming emperor, being killed by G'kar), all of which mostly makes sense in the long run. Here, Sheridan gets his own dream. This is not as effective, and while all of it ultimately gets explained some time down the road, I'm not sure the explanation we ultimately get is the one intended when this was filmed. Cast changes and whatnot. Anyway, here's the dream:

Firstly he's in his quarters in the dark in his uniform. Ivonova is in the door, her hair pulled to her left side, and she says "Shh," confusing Sheridan. Suddenly Ivonova has a raven on her right shoulder, and says "Do you know who I am?" Sheridan looks to the right, and is suddenly in a random corridor. He looks up. He sees himself on a catwalk, lit from below, looking right. He sees Garibaldi, with a dove on his left shoulder saying, "The man in between is looking for you." A veiled Ivonova appears while Sheridan is suddenly wearing a Psi-Corps uniform. (!) Ivonova says "You are the hand." In his Earthforce uniform again, Sheridan turns around and sees Kosh behind him. "Why are you here?" Sheridan asks. "We were never away. For the first time your mind is open enough to hear me." (Note the shifting pronouns there) "Why am I here?" Sheridan asks. "You have always been here," Kosh says. Then Sheridan wakes up.

What does this mean? Honestly I don't know. I randomly assume that "The Man in the Middle" who's trying to find Sheridan is General Hague, who was, at that moment, trying to rescue him. I also strongly suspect that given all the death associations and the "Do you know who I am" business, we're supposed to take this to mean that Ivonova is Control, the Bureau 13 mole on B5. This is not how it ended up being explained of course, but I suspect that was the intention as of the time this episode was written/filmed.

DANGLING THREADS

Delenn mentions “The New Leader.” As you’ll recall last season the Council wanted her to be the new leader of the Minbari, but she declined. Here we’re told a new one has been selected since then. This is most likely a reference to the B5 comic series issues 2-4 (“Treason,” “In Harm’s Way” and “The Price of Peace,” all released in early 1995) written by JMS, and considered fully canon for the series. (Chronologically, these issues would appear to fall between episodes 2 and 3 of the second season of B5). We’ll go over that story in more detail elsewhere at some other time, but for now suffice it to say it’s the story of Sinclair going to Minbar as ambassador. He gets framed for attempting to assassinate the “New Minbari Leader,” is prosecuted by Neroon (Not yet part of the council), and is found guilty, but manages to convince the new Minbari Leader of his innocence, and is pardoned.

The “New Minbari Leader” isn’t ever named in the comics, and in fact the reference to him in tonight in the series is, as far as I can recall, the *only* reference to him ever in the run of the series. So who is he? And what became of him?

Well, I assume he’s Hedronn. Why? Because in subsequent episodes of B5, we meet the previous Minbari leader - Dukhat - who caries the big Grey Council staff with a preliminary on it, and acts as a go between ‘twix the council and individuals, and can convene or dissolve it as needed. Hedronn is the new leader of the Minbari. If he’s not, he’s acting exactly like one.

So why did he disappear? Well, it wasn’t acrimonious. Robin Sachs went on to play several different parts in B5 and even in Crusade, so they got on fine. I think basically it was just one ball in the air too many, one more person in a sprawling cast to keep track of, and kind of superfluous at that. I suspect - but I don’t know - that JMS just decided in consolidating the story from a 10-year-arc to a 5-year-arc - that he didn’t really need him, and that maybe the Minbari worked a bit better, a bit spookier, a bit more dramatically if they were fundamentally off-balance and leaderless and on the edge of anarchy. “Destabilization” is a major theme this season, what with the Narn/Centauri war, and the death of Emperor Turhan, and the political situation on Earth, and the strange changes to the Green/Purple Drazzi conflict, and so on.

And is there an in-universe explanation for Hedronn’s departure? No, there is not. Maybe he died in a bus accident, maybe he was simply voted out of power. That’s it. He’s done.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

In general, yes. Exactly how much depends on what stripe of conservative you are. As it deals with conspiracies, the more conspiratorial you are, the more you like it. But if you’re in the John Birch society, or merely a right-of-center moderate, there’s a definite “Where free men shall stand” quality to the last five minutes or so that will appeal to all of us.

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