RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “Legacies” (Season 1, Episode 17)

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You may not be able to judge a book by it’s cover, but it occurs to me that you can judge a Babylon 5 episode by it’s title, at least in the first season anyways. The good episodes have elaborate titles: “Midnight on the Firing Line,” “The Coming of Shadows,” “Signs and Portents,” whereas the ho-hum to lame episodes all have generic one-word titles like “Infection,” “Grail,” “Eyes,” “Survivors,” and “Born to the Purple.”

Oh, wait, that last one…uhm…yeah. And “Believers” was really pretty good. Ok, so it’s not a hard-and-fast law, but it is a fair rule of thumb. This episode has a somewhat generic one-word title as well. Which category do you think it’ll fall into?

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A Minbari funeral party stops off at the station. They’re displaying the body of their great military leader, Branmer, allowing him to lie in state in various locations before he’s taken home for a massive ceremony. While on B5 - where the veterans of the Earth/Minbari war are none-too-pleased about it - his body disappears. Everyone’s in an uproar looking for it, and it’s the biggest mystery since Woody Tobias, Jr,’s directorial debut, “The Strange Disappearance of Doctor Tongue.” Which is to say it’s not so much a mystery as it is a bunch of people wandering around saying, “Here body, heeeeeere body body body” and making those clicking noises that cats and dogs seem to like. Well, dogs like ‘em, cats pretty much ignore them. The Minbari leader of the procession, “Neroon,“ threatens repeatedly to go to war again over this. Ultimately, the mystery is solved, not by the actions or detective abilities of any of our cast, but because a random passing stranger figured it out and told them all about it.

MEANWHILE, a homeless telepathic girl is caught robbing on the Zocalo, and is captured. As a no registered, newly-diagnosed telepath, her options are the Psicorps, Sleeper Drugs, or Prison. Talia tries to encourage her to join the corps, while Ivonova tries to find some other option. Presently she reads Delenn’s mind, and finds out that it was her who stole Branmer’s body. Delenn gives her a job anyway, as a telepath on Minbar. She also saw the word “Chrysalis,” but didn’t know the significance of it. Perhaps Delenn likes the record label? She strikes me as someone who’d probably like Blondie, but probably only in their later, lamer years. I can’t see her listening to “X Offender,” for instance.

Anyway, Delenn fesses up to Neroon and Sinclair about the whole poorly-planned megilla: Branmer was her friend for a long time, he was born into the religious caste, but joined the military because he believed in the war against humanity. He would not approve of having had all this fuss made about his heroism or his death, since he was, at root, religious. Delenn intended to pass off his disappearance as a kind of religious miracle, his ascension to take his place with the gods. Unfortunately, nothing she did at any point in the episode makes any sense, so she never got around to telling people about the whole “Apotheosis” thing. She lambastes Neroon over the whole dog-and-pony show, then uses the authority of the Grey Council to shut his festering word-hole about the whole thing, and go along with her lie.

He reluctantly agrees. Sinclair and him part on guardedly friendly terms, however.

The end.

OBSERVATIONS

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I know. You’re wondering why I’m covering the show if I’m just complaining about it. I mean, I’m hardly recruiting people to join the Army of Light here, right? Thing is, I’m a huge, obsessive, frankly frightening fan of the show, but I’m also honest (Or honestly frightening, I guess), and I will call a turd a turd. I don’t believe in over-selling things to people. B5 is like a sandwich: Seasons 1 and 5 are basically the bread. Once we get through the bread to the meat, I’ll be full of praise, but all this dry rye *is* needed to hold the whole thing together, and set up the great stuff that is to come. That said, I do think I would have preferred Pumpernickel.

Alit Neroon is introduced in this episode. From here on out, his repeated appearances tend to swing back and forth between Really Really Important, and Hi, Remember Me?

There’s a really nice - if brief - CGI matte shot of the set where Branmer’s body lies in state. I’m not sure if it’s called “The Chapel” or “The Rotunda,” but I was very surprised to see it this early in the run of the show. In fact, I’d forgotten it existed prior to the 5th season.

Delenn uses the terms “Shai Alit” and “Warleader” interchangeably. That’s evidently like a Field Marshall or 5-star General. “Alit,” meanwhile, is simply General (Four-star). I’m less impressed with the Minbari language here than I am anywhere else: “Alit” = “Elite” and “Shai Alit” = “High Elite.” Outside of “Matya” and “Datya” from “Believers,” B5 is seldom so obvious.

The Minbari cruiser comes at the station with its gun ports open, and everyone freaks out thinking it’s an attack, but we’re told it’s more like a 21 gun salute or a missing man formation at a military funeral. How is it that Sinclair doesn’t know this? He runs a diplomatic station, after all. And wouldn’t the Minbari have briefed him just to make sure before hand? I mean, if there’s a 21 gun salute, generally it’s announced beforehand not to freak the neighbors out…

We’ll see the “Open Gun Ports” thing again later, by the way.

We’re told that the Earth/Minbari war was started by humans. This is the second reference to it, the first was when the Soul Hunter blamed it on us. Garibaldi refers to it as a horrible accident. Again, this’ll be explored more later on. The great Minbari ruler Dukhat gets a second name check here.

Na’Toth, Corwin, and The French Chick show up. I’m thinking Earthforce must not have regulations about hair length. Saw a uniformed marine dude walking past with a rat-infested FM Radio pony tail in this episode. And Corwins’ is a bit long…

The homeless girl telepath plot just doesn’t work well, even though it’s more integrated into the A-story than most of those we’ve seen. Unfortunately it was miscast. We’re told the girl is about twelve, but the actress is obviously quite a bit older than that. IMDB doesn’t have her age listed, but I’d say she’s at least 20. She’s cute as heck, don’t get me wrong, but seeing someone who’s obviously an adult acting all childish and infantile - well, there’s a disconcerting Stinky Muldoon quality to it that my female friends commented on at the time. (Well, they didn’t mention Stinky, of course. What hip, with it, empowered ‘90s woman even knows who Joe Besser was?)

All the blame can’t be laid on her, however. She’s saddled with the most atrociously cloying dialog. She’s supposed to come across like a smart Oliver Twist kind of kid (“Oliver the Twist?”), but that dog don’t hunt. Witness, for instance, the pivotal scene where she decries Ivonova and Talia for talking about what they want and not what’s best for her. That came out way too whiney, and it’s followed by allegedly insightful female dialog about “Wanting to know about all my options.” Again, this is supposed to be smart and all, but the writing is so bad that Dame Judy Dench couldn’t have spat those lines out without sounding like she was comparison shopping for deoderants. “Which is best? Teen Spirit or the other kind?” (This association is probably forever locked in my head because my local affiliate endlessly ran Teen Spirit commercials during B5. Remember the one with the girl riding her bike around on the roof? That one. I can not tell you how much I hate having this kind of crap locked in my head. I’m a 45-year-old man, fer gosh sakes! Still, my OCD and semi-eidetic memory is your gain)

This episode is the first one to really feature the Warrior caste, and it also shows some significant political tension in the Minbari to match that in the Earth Alliance and the Centauri Republic. Specifically, a schism has been growing between the Warrior and Religious Castes since the war. The Warriors have very different bone structure than the religious ones do. It’s much more jaggedy and pointy, and, as we’ll eventually see in season 3, pretty dangerous as well.

Some human Telepaths are born with their abilities functioning, others get ‘em ‘round puberty. The Narn have no telepaths, and wanted to buy the girl’s DNA. The Minbari consider Telepathy to be a kind of public service that is venerated by their society, and they have a kind of wandering mendicant existence. Minbari culture encourages people to contribute to the support of the venerated, for which they are greatly praised. Alien minds feel strange and frightening to human Telepaths.

Minbari society appears to be matrilineal.

The Pak’Ma’Ra - those aliens with the hunchback and the face tentacles - are carrion eaters. They speak with translators. They occasionally steal dead bodies. They say the Narn “Taste just like chicken.” The shot of an angry Pak’Ma’Ra is surprisingly expressive, and cool. I love that a lot of the aliens in this show really seem alien.

The Llort are packrats who’ll steal anything shiny.

So lemme get this straight: it’s the 23rd century, and they can do realtime voice translation of alien languages, but Garibaldi couldn’t make a translation of his Japanese owners manual last week?

Harriman Grey said Ivonova’s thoughts about Talia were so strong that he couldn’t help hearing them. Talia must be aware of ‘em, right? Talia buys Ivanova a drink at the end of this ep, so I guess they’re moving past Susan’s hatred or something? Huh.

Speaking of which: The girl scans Susan’s mind briefly, and Susan is annoyed, but not nearly so devastated as last week’s ep would lead us to believe she should be. Presumably, it was Psicorps she objected to more than the act itself.

Delenn’s mention of “The gods” is a bit confusing in light of what we later learn about Minbari religion.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS?

Meh.

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