RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “Points of Departure” (Season 2, Episode 1)

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After last week’s amazing season finale, we find ourselves once again in Crapsiville. Crapsville, baby, population: You. There’s no sugarcoating it: This is a terrible episode, and a disastrously placed one as well. Coming right at the start of the second season, I know plenty of people who’d gotten interested in the show based on my incessant chatter, decided this ep would be the right one to jump on board with, cringed themselves into incontinence, went to the bathroom to clean up, and never came back.

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Three days after the president died, Commander Sinclair was called back to earth, and Ivonova has been running the station. Five days later, Captain John J. Sheridan of the EAS Agamemnon is assigned to the station as it’s new commander. Sinclair, we’re told, has been sent to live on Minbar as the ambassador from earth.

There’s a plot, but it basically serves as a bland vehicle for exposition in much the same way that lettuce is merely a vehicle for salad dressing, and not something you’d want on its own. Gist: When the Minbari surrendered, one of their ships - the Trigati - went rogue, and has been on the run for 12 years. Its captain (“Kallain”) snuck on B5, and is skulking about, trying to provoke a fight. He fails, and kills himself. His ship shows up and also tries to provoke a fight. They fail, and more-or-less kill themselves as well. The end. It’s all pretty pointless.

Stuff that *does* matter:
- Garibaldi: Still in a coma
- Delenn: Still in a cocoon.
- Sinclair: gone
- Catherine Sakai: Gone, never to be heard from again.
- Sheridan: Large and in charge. A little too large, actually. A bit paunchy in these early episodes, though they get him down to fighting trim soon. Even make a joke about that in a later episode. He talks too loudly, too.
- We finally find out what went down at the battle of the line:

The Minbari *will not* kill other Minbari under any circumstances. They believe in reincarnation. For the last 2000 years, fewer Minbari have been born in each generation. During the final assault on earth, they decided to grab a human at random to interrogate for information about planetary defenses and whatnot. Sinclair was the one they grabbed. In checking him out they discovered he had a Minbari soul!

SHOCKER! I bet you didn’t see that one coming! All those missing Minbari souls were being reincarnated as humans! Pick up your jaw, son, people are gonna’ trip over it.

Since no Minbari can kill another Minbari, they had no choice but to stop the war and try to sort things out. The fastest way to end it was to surrender - they REALLY don’t go for murder of their own kind - so they did. They explained it to the President, who didn’t believe a word of it, but was happy to end the war. This was kept a closely guarded secret, known only to her successor, and now to President Clark. Lannier was told of it by Hedronn of the Grey Council, and instructed to inform Sheridan and Ivonova. Really I’m not sure why, apart from to move the plot along, frankly.

The Minbari kept this secret from their own people, so the Trigati crew didn’t know they’d be killing their own people if they attacked the station, which is nonsense anyway since something like 50,000 Minbari live on the station anyway, even if we ignore the humans. Bad plan all around.

OBSERVATIONS

Warren Keffer is introduced in this episode. It was decided to have a hotshot fighter pilot on the cast, so they could do stories involving, well, fighters without having to automatically go to the captain or Ivonova. Initially he was supposed to be a Japanese Samurai type, but somebody somewhere didn’t like that idea, so he became just a schlubb that the show only used as little as they could contractually get away with. Seriously: I tend to forget he’s there for weeks at a time.

Lt. Corwin has a vastly increased role this week, more powerful than Tech 1 and The French Chick combined! Also, he got a haircut. I like Corwin. They never gave Joshua Cox much to do, but he was always so good at it. Well, not in River of Souls, of course, but that was just a s[….]n[….]ly awful […] of a movie, so I don’t think we can blame him for that. Anyway…

General Hague is introduced in this episode, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Earthforce. He asks Sheridan to ‘do one more thing for him,’ which we assume is ‘take command of B5,’ but in fact that’s a fakeout. So what is it he’s supposed to be doing? Wait 12 more episodes and you’ll find out. It is, in fact, pretty surprising.

Lannier gets a lot to do, unfortunately all of it is pretty crappy exposition. The great Bill Mummy does as much with the part as he can, but it’s just talk talk talk talk yammer yammer yammer yammer exposit exposit exposit exposit until you wanna’ go after Straczynski with a pickaxe. Also: they redesigned his makeup a bit, and he just looks kinda’ distractingly off through the whole thing.

In fact the whole episode is like that - exposit exposit exposit exposit where’s my pickaxe? - it’s really awful. We get a lengthy explanation of the abrupt end of the Minbari war, a laborious explanation of Sinclair’s transfer, a laborious explanationship of Invonova and Sheridan’s relationship (Office friends from a few years back), a laborious explanation of Sheridan’s qualifications in command (“Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fine man and a good officer…”), Sheridan’s history in the war, a laborious explanation of the state of radar technology during the war, gah, it just won’t end. It’s so boring and pointless and obvious you’d assume it’d been written by Arthur C. Clarke. Terrible.

Noteworthy among the awful:
- Sheridan will not freakin’ shut up about fruit. Literally he goes on for 90s seconds about it.
- Sheridan will not shut up about showers (“With water”), and works it into conversation 3x in less than two minutes. I get why they do this, but man it’s bad.
- Sheridan attempts to give his ‘good luck speech’ that he superstitiously needs to give within 24 hours of taking command. He keeps getting interrupted, which is supposed to be funny, but isn’t.

Oh, man, it’s the worst frackin’ speech you’ve ever heard. I *like* B5, I *like* Bruce Boxleitner, I *like* Sheridan, and yet even I wanted to kick the guy in the nads fifteen seconds in. “When I was twenty one, I went to see the Dali Lama, which is the kind of thing you do when your that age, and you’re the son of a diplomatic envoy. We ate lunch [painfully long list of food] and then he said…” I promise you: I’m not making this up. It goes on like that forever “Well, basically, schmucks, when I was a spoiled rich brat, my daddy got me favors that you blue-collar goons can never have. I don’t know any of you - ‘ceptin Claudia Christian over there - and I really don’t care about you because you’re little people, but I’m going to pretend that I think you’re good at your goon boy jobs or something, so…uhm…oh, here’s a random quote from Abraham Lincoln. Thank you, goodnight!”

Seriously: Worst. Speech. Ever. If you took that incoherent speech from the end of “Lisa Simpson’s Secret War” - the one about how ‘the wars of tomorrow will not be fought on earth, but in space, or possibly on the tops of very tall mountains’ - and you dubbed that over Sheridan’s speech here, it would improve the scene. And not by a little bit, believe you me.

Bottom line: this isn’t an episode of B5 so much as it is “Expository Speech: The musical” (Please note: Music may not be available in all areas. Which is no great loss as the music in B5 always sucks)

Direction is flat and generally terrible. Worst scene: Bruce is giving his little “Gotta’ love me, I’m the captain” speech, and the bridge crew are just smiling and nodding as though this was the most beatified thing they’ve ever seen. Gah. Acting is vague and random. Sheridan and Ivonova are acting like they’re best buddies, but they come off like Bruce and Claudia didn’t actually meet until AFTER the scenes started running. Bruce has no idea who or what Sheridan is at this point, and each delivery is strangely random in terms of tone. He talks too loud. They SERIOUSLY remixed the sound on this for the DVD. When it initially ran, literally every line was about 15 DB than anyone else in the scene. Evidently they used megaphones instead of microphones on Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

(Am I being mean? No. Maybe a little. He’s clearly having a bad day here).

As a note of trivia: the opening titles you see on the DVD are not the ones that originally ran over the episode. They didn’t want to give away Delenn’s transformation, so they used images from season 1 in the opening, then changed it after episode 3. They also re-dubbed Bruce’s narration in the 2nd episode because he was just so freakin’ LOUD in the first one. Despite all this, however, they didn’t bother to hide the fact that Garibaldi will recover from his coma. Duh.

CONTINUITY N’ STUFF

There’s several continuity errors in this episode. Firstly, Sheridan’s (laborious) explanation of how he won the only uncontested battle of the Earth/Minbari war doesn’t match the version we saw in “In the Beginning,” a TV Movie filmed between the 4th and 5th seasons. Secondly, Franklin’s comments at the end of this episode make it really clear that they’d never met before, despite the fact that they went on a covert ops mission together and evidently ended up in the same prison camp as per that same TV movie. Why? Well, ‘cuz the writer hadn’t thought that stuff up yet. And relied on his memory rather than his notes when he wrote the movie.

The ‘Ivonova is John’s old friend’ stuff is really clunky and fake. It’s not an unreasonable retcon, but it’s clearly grafted on to give him someone to - say it with me here - exposit to. In fact, this episode does feel like an empty house. No G’kar, Na’Toth, Londo, Vir, Delenn (Excepting flashback), Garibaldi (Except laying unconscious on a table), Sinclair, Lyta, Kosh, or French Chick. The only cast members who have anything to do, really, are Sheridan (Who we don’t know yet), Ivonova, and Lannier. Grr.

The control room of the Agamemnon is a very obvious (And poorly thought out) redress of the Babylon 5 control room. This is, by the way, our first glimpse of an Omega Class Destroyer, which is my favorite starship of all time, ever.

I’m confused by the timing of all this. The ep takes place inside of about a day and a half. Sheridan was ‘out on the fringes’ when he got reassigned, somehow got to a transport and took the transport to B5, evidently in less than 12 hours. Huh? Secondly, the Minbari somehow found out that he was coming to B5 and targeted it because he’s infamous from the war. They found this out in 12 hours? And had someone on the station BEFORE he showed up? What? And the Minbari ship that had been hunting for the Trigati just *happened* to be able to respond to B5’s ‘this is not a distress call’ distress call in like 45 seconds? What, did we just blink into Star Trek ‘distance has no meaning beyond what is convenient for the plot’ land? Yikes!

Robin Sachs plays Hedronn of the Grey Council. He reprises the role in 13 eps, and then that character is never seen again. However, he also plays a different Minbari who turns up twice (“Na’Kal”) and a Narn who turns up twice. Odd. “Did you play a minor recurring character on B5?” “No, I played THREE minor recurring characters on B5.”

Why is Sheridan’s new apartment decorated when he gets there?

The one cool shot in this ep is a two-minute walk-and-talk down the hallways showing how sprawling the sets are. Alas, this is ruined by Sheridan’s yammering about plums (“Red ones. Not the black.”)

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE

Brother, nobody’ll like this episode.

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