RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “Signs and Portents” (Season 1, Episode 13)

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The second flat-out great episode in a row, and a total barn-burner of a story at that. From this point on the story begins to move faster and with more impetus.

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The raiders have stepped up their attacks on shipping to and from the station. Unfortunately, by the time B5 can get fighters out there, the raiders have disappeared. No one can figure out how they’re getting away, since fighters need to use jump gates just like any other small ship, and the nearest ones are four hours and six months away traveling by ship. . Only really big ships have the mass needed to create their own jump point.

MEANWHILE, Londo has paid a spooky man to recover “The Eye,” the earliest and most prominent relic of the Republic, belonging to the first emperor, and lost in a battle 100 years ago. Lord Kiro and his aunt, Lady Ladira come to the station to take the Eye back home, but Ladira is instantly best by violent signs and portents of the destruction of the station. (Remember, all Centauri are born knowing the circumstances of their deaths, so their species has some precognition. These kinds of visions are not to be taken lightly, and Ladira, we’re told, is precognizant enough to be the official Prophetess of House Kiro.) Just the same, Kiro doesn’t take her seriously, saying she’s been wrong before, and that when he was born she foretold he “Would be killed by shadows.” He and Londo have a good laugh about the nonsensicalness of that, so you know it’ll be relevant later on.

MEANWHILE, a mysteriously affable Rod Serling-esque man named “Morden” arrives at the station, and starts asking all the ambassadors the same question: “What do you want?” He finds all their answers unacceptable, excepting Londo, who wants perpetual power and glory for his people.

MEANWHILE, Sinclair asks Garibaldi to look into the matter of his missing 24 hours at the line, but asks him to keep quiet about it. Garibaldi doesn’t find what he was looking for, but he *Does* discover that the Minbari would only support the station financially if they had final say on who the CO would be, and they rejected everyone but Sinclair. Neither of them know why.

While taking the Eye to his ship, raider agents kidnap Kiro and steal the eye. Turns out they’ve got a huge aircraft carrier ship, which is how they’ve been jumping in and out. A huge battle takes place, and the raiders don’t make much of a showing for themselves in the face of a fair fight against non-civilians: 11 raiders destroyed, 4 captured, versus 2 Earthforce destroyed and four damaged. The mothership gets away, however.

In an exposition dump we find out Kiro was in league with the raiders, feeding them information on shipping, and hoping to use their muscle and the Eye to overthrow the Emperor and take his place. They’ve been using him, however, and have no interest in anything apart from ransoming the eye for buttloads of cash. Suddenly a ship or space monster or maybe a little of both appears and destroys the raider vessel, killing all aboard.

Despondent, Londo grouses over what all this will mean to his career when Morden shows up again bearing a “Present from friends you didn’t know you had,” and gives him the eye.

MEANWHILE, Lady Ladira telepathically implants her vision of the fall of Babylon in Sinclairs’s mind: We see a shuttle escape as the whole station explodes. Sinclair asks if this is carved in stone or can be changed. She says she doesn’t know.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

When I first watched this episode in ‘94, my friend Heather - who wasn’t very much into SF - turned to me and said “Whoa! What kind of show *Shows* you a glimpse of the final episode half way through the first season?” That’s still pretty impressive. There’s been a recurring theme of prophecy in this show, generally involving the Centauri, who are, of course, mildly precognizant. We’ve heard tell of Londo and G’kar killing each other twenty years into the future; we’ve actually *seen* the destruction of B5 itself. If these are things that must be, and not things that may be, it’s a dark future indeed. Now, if we couple this with G’kar’s assertion that no one on the station is what they appear to be, then it follows that no event caused by these people is exactly what it seems to be. If we extrapolate from that, and apply it to prophecy, then what do we get? Think about it. No, really. See what you can come up with.

The Delta pilot guy from “Survivors” turns up here again, as does The French Chick. We also get introduced to Lt. Corwin, who gets a lot of The French Chick’s lines.

The Centauri telepathic abilities seem to vary greatly from person to person, and in some people they’re quite sharp, as with Ladira. She can actually allow others to see her visions. What other telepathic powers might the Centauri have? By the way, have you noticed the Centauri chicks lack the vampire teeth the men have? And for that matter, have you noticed that the older ones tend to be completely bald, while the younger, hotter, more bustier-friendly chicks tend to have that long pony tail?

Morden’s an instantly interesting new character, isn’t he? Simultaneously affable and creepy. He avoids Kosh. Why? Why is he interested in the ambassadors and what is it about Londo’s answer that he likes? G’kar’s answer was the (Violent) extinction of the Centauri (“I want to rip the marrow from their bones with my teeth”) but he had no plans beyond that. Delenn never answered.

What’s the triangle thing on Delenn’s forehead, by the way? It appeared as a kind of warning when Morden came by, and she hid it and booted him out. She also saw him very poorly lit, and said “They are here.” What does she know about these folks?

Ladira said Kiro would be killed by shadows, and indeed he was. Let’s call this mysterious new force “The Shadows.”

The Raiders would appear to be toast, and this is basically the end of their plot arc. They were placeholders for the more important stuff to come. Now that it’s here, they serve no purpose…

I love the battle scene, the first one really ever on an American SF show to use actual strategy and logic, rather than “Phasers on full! Shoot shoot bang bang! Fwoom!” I also love the panic inside the station - the air raid sirens, people bustling about inside, trying to get to safety shelters, and so on. Very well done. This is also the first time we see the station’s defense grid in action.

Garibaldi can fly fighters. Interestingly, whenever Ivonova or he take a fighter out, they become the squadron leader. There must be a regular leader, right?

The Cobra Bays take about four hours to reload. How many fighters does B5 have, anyway?

The scene involving the raiders and Ladira’s coffee cup was beautifully filmed, don’t you think?

We’ve heard a lot on the show about Earth’s problems and changing political landscape. Turns out Centauri Prime is having ‘em too: The emperor hasn’t been seen in public in a year, there’s unrest, the Senate is very unpopular. Kiro finds this a good time for a coup, but Londo warns him that if he tries he’ll be dead within a day.

“I’d very much like to know how you acquired this.”
“No you wouldn’t.”

The battle of Na’Shock - where the eye was lost - sounds like a kind of Narn name, doesn’t it?

There’s a none-too-subtle scene of G’kar and Londo arguing at an elevator, with a human standing between them, getting caught in it. When the elevator finally comes, they’re oblivious to it and keep arguing, but the man zips in and the thing leaves. Get it?

This is very obviously a major turning-point episode. Everything up to this point was establishing the rules of the game. Now the game actually starts, though it’ll take a bit for it to really get rolling. Straczynski actually gives titles to his seasons as a whole, generally named after the ep he finds most important. This season is named “Signs and Portents” as a whole.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Oh my goodness, I hope so! It’s a fantastic story!

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