RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “Grail” (Season 1, Episode 15)

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I’ve generally praised B5 for its willingness to break the “Religion Taboo” in SF, and treat it as an aspect of human psychology and society in its own right, just like love or music, which may not be true, but which doesn’t require justification. Alas, sometimes you go too far, and you…well…read on…

PLAY BY PLAY

A man named Aldus comes to the station, the last surviving member of a religious order seeking the Holy Grail. Since it clearly isn’t on earth anywhere, he decides to check with the various alien races and see if they might have picked it up at a garage sale without realizing what it is. No sooner on the station, he gets embroiled in the affairs of the stupendously poorly-acted “Jinxo,” who has himself managed to get embroiled in the affairs of Larry from Newhart. (Darryl and Darryl evidently stayed in Vermont) Larry - acting under the pseudonym “Deuce” - runs a protection and smuggling racket, and is apparently in league with Ambasador Kosh, who sucks dry the minds of people who cross Deuce. And since we really don’t know anything about Kosh, that’s plausible, right?

Yeah, sure. Obvious fakeout, though I’m just lame enough to be startled by it for the first few minutes of the first time I saw this ep. Anyway, turns out turns out Deuce has a pet Nakaleen Feeder - a VERY dangerous “Quasi-sentient” predator - in a fake Vorlon Encounter Suit, which he’s using to frighten people. Various shenanigans ensue, none of them very interesting, it all comes to a dustup, Aldus defends Jinxo, bequeaths his order and their property to the guy, then dies.

Jinxo takes up the quest for the Grail, and leaves the station.

The end.

OBSERVATIONS

David Warner - whom I love, I mean how could you not? He’s Abraham Klingon! - plays Aldus with a bit too much introspection and gravitas. He’s too earnest. He doesn’t chew the scenery, so much as stand there and lick it. The guy who plays Jinxo - man! Talk about over-earnest! It’s like he’s doing a table-read for Freddy from Scooby Doo. I realize that he’s kind of a loser and kind of on the dim side, but there’s supposed to be a nobility to him that’s never even close to pulled off, and it just falls flat. Basically this episode is massively hampered by acting choices of our guest stars right out of the box.

A second problem is that this episode is pretty much *all* about the guest stars: Aldus and Jinxo have lengthy scenes together with non regulars, and the entire A-story is about the two of them. The B-story is a tacked on make-work thing about the Nakaleen Feeder, it’s all pretty meh. The bottom line is that our main characters feel like guest stars in their own show.

There is some good stuff here, though: Aldus’ explanation of how he went from being an accountant to a “True Seeker” following the death of his family was stagy as hell, but touching just the same. Warners’ little “here we go again” pause before he admits to Sinclair he’s looking for the grail. Delenn’s line about how “it is not important if the object of the quest exists or not, but rather that the True Seeker is striving for the perfection of his own soul.” The notion that people still believe in this kind of medieval hoo-hah not because it’s rational, but because we have an RDA of irrationality that we need, and that magic still gives some meaning to our lives even though magic doesn’t exist. That’s all neat stuff.

It just doesn’t work, is all.

Delenn makes two way-too-pointed references to Sinclair being a “True Seeker” himself. This is intended to be a subtle double entendre, but it totally isn’t. It’s way obvious.

The Nakaleen Feeder was the first CGI character created for a TV show, and he’s admittedly pretty neat, if we factor in this being 1994. It was filmed and in the can. At some point after this, SeaQuest DSV (Remember that one?) did an episode involving glowing squid poop (Which, surprisingly, wasn’t the low point for that show) and they slapped together a CGI squid for it. Owing to broadcast schedules, the B5 episode didn’t air until shortly after the SeaQuest episode, and thus they snaked it away from B5: Though it should have been the first, the Feeder ended up second. Grrr.

We haven’t seen the last of Deuce (or “Larry“ as I called him), though we may as well have. His real name is given as Desmond Rozchenko. I dunno why, but the combination of the name and the Southern accent just crack me up.

Why no Na’Grath? Two reasons: The episode required a bit more mobility than the Na’Grath costume could afford, and also Straczynski just plain never liked the thing. (It was invented by his prop/costume shop on their own initiative)

The feeder’s tentacle looks very much like a part of the Centauri anatomy we’ll get more (unwanted) details on shortly. Is that similarity how they were able to take out an entire colony so quickly? If so, it’s really nasty.

It’s generally assumed that Aldus is a Christian, probably a Catholic. In fact, I don’t think that’s the case. He displays no crosses nor Christian symbols (Though he does have a Celtic knot thing that could be interpreted as Trinitarian), his order evidently requires no ordination, nor even any training or even any kind of specific knowledge. The large walking stick he carries is as likely to be a Druid roan staff as it is a Christian crosier. That design on his coat is a *Celtic* knot pattern. Finally, he initially describes the grail as “The sacred vessel of regeneration” and “The cup of the goddess” - both trendy syncretistic pagan ways of referring to it - before he actually, reluctantly calls it “The Grail.” I think Aldus wasn’t Christian, I think he was part of some Celtic neo-pagan group.

That doesn’t really diminish from the effect of anything that happens in this episode, it’s just that all the clues are their in plain sight, and I’ve never heard anyone put ‘em together before. Go figure.

The alien in the courtroom that’s being tried for the crimes of his great grandfather is, I think, a Vree.

O’Hare’s timing seems off in this ep, like he’s stepping on the last bit of other people’s lines in delivering his own.

Deuce recons time on the station in “Cycles.” This would appear to refer to the station itself rotating. If 300 cycles equals a full day - which it seems to by context - then each cycle would equal about four minutes and forty eight seconds. This concept only shows up here, was clunky, and is never referred to again.

Been a while since we’ve seen Vir and Lannier.

WORLDBUILDING

* We meet Babylon 5’s civil legal system: “The Ombuds” (Ombudsmen).

* Lannier mentions that there are two castes in the Minbari world: Warrior and Religious. This will contradict what we hear later, but it sets up the concept anyway.

* Jinxo has served on all five Babylon stations, four of which were destroyed or disappeared immediately after he left. When he leaves, the command staff joke about how the station didn’t end. Ivonova is quick to point out that it didn’t end *today* but given that Jinxo is now gone, it could end any time now. She’s actually right.

* The origin of the “Lurkers” in “Downbelow” is finally explained: People that came to B5 looking for work, couldn’t find any, couldn’t pay their way back home, and are basically homeless. They cause 90% of the crime on the station.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS?

If they cans set aside the bad performances and the boredom, yes. Assuming I’m right about Aldus being a pagan, however, social conservatives won’t like it.

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