RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “There all the Honor Lies” (Season 2, Episode 14)

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We get our second pretty much exactly perfect episode of the season, and like the first (“Soul Mates”) this one was also written by Peter David.

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Earthgov has decided to offset some of the considerable expense of running the station by setting up a gift shop in the Zocalo to sell licensed merchandise to tourists, visitors, diplomats, businessmen, “Anyone who might want a souvenir for the folks back home.” Sheridan is guardedly in favor of it, as ’anything that increases our presence with the people back home is a good thing.’ Ivonova hates it: “This isn’t just some Deep Space Franchise: This place is *about* something.” In keeping with his tradition of delegating, Sheridan assigns Ivonova to run it. In keeping with being a good character (Unlike Talia) Ivonova complains just enough to show her displeasure and be funny, then does what she’s told. Good old Susan!

En rout to one of his “Lessons” with Kosh, Sheridan gets ambushed by a Mimbari, who whomps on Sheridan. Sheridan mysteriously finds a gun on the deck, and warns the dude to stand down, but the alien yells “Death First” and comes after Sheridan violently. Sheridan shoots the guy in front of a random Minbari civilian named “Ashan” who just happened to be going up the stairwell when the attack happened. Sheridan calls to him for help - brandishing a gun - but Ashan runs off. Understandable.

So we’re hip deep in a major interplanetary interspecies incident. Garibaldi investigates, but Delenn insists on running her own parallel investigation, headed by Lennier mainly because the local Minbari feel the ambassador is “A freak.” (And not in the entertaining Rick James fashion). Lennier is, once again, really, really good at whatever he sets out to do, and his search quickly runs circles around Garibaldi, much to Sheridan and the Security Chief’s annoyance. They do both admit they like Lennier, and they don’t think he’d lie or give false information, but he *is* a Minbari, so you never know.

Kosh, meanwhile, insists on Sheridan coming along for a “Lesson” despite Sheridan not at all being in the mood, and the timing really bad. “Good” is Kosh’s reply. He takes Sheridan to “The worst part of Downbelow” and forces him to go into a very low, confined area with 4-foot ceilings, clearly not intended for human habitation. There, Sheridan meets a sitting monk of some sort - human? Alien? Never sure - with a red cloak. It pushes a donation cup at the captain, who rambles for a bit, then gives the monk the only think of value on him. The lights change, a whole bunch more red monks appear, and they break into a Gregorian chant. Not my bag, but very ’90s, and it really is beautiful in context. My friend Miguel Cielo, who insists he likes Science Fiction, but never actually watches, reads, nor talks about it in any fashion, mentioned that he caught this one scene while channel surfing at the time, and was stunned by how low-key effortlessly stunning it was. Having been exposed to “One moment of pure beauty,” the lesson is over, and Sheridan goes back to his crisis.

Vir, meanwhile, has been told he’s being replaced as Londo’s attaché. Given how important Londo is, he really needs an assistant who’s, y’know, less of a boob. Or if non-boobish aide-de-camps are not available, at least one who’s less of a nebbish. Vir is quite depressed, since he doesn’t want to leave, but he didn’t want to come to B5 in the first place, either. His own family can’t stand him, and shipped him off there to get rid of him. Evidently the reason Londo didn’t have a staff for the seven months or so between “The Gathering” and the first episode of Season 1 was because nobody actually wanted the job, and Londo was considered a joke. Londo says he’ll take care of it, but that just makes Vir madder. “They want me to go, you want me to stay, what about what I want?” Vir doesn’t know what he wants, though.

In typical TV fashion, Sheridan attempts to handle the murder accusations himself, and the evidence is pretty damning. Lennier has by this point found Ashan, and points out that what the slain warrior said was actually “D’ath f’ea st” which roughly translates into “I yield to your authority.” *UNLIKE* typical TV show fashion, a lawyer busts in and says “Don’t say a thing without me” and shuts the proceedings down. She then explains to Sheridan that there’s probably not enough evidence to convict Sheridan, but that win, lose, or draw, if this goes to trial, he’ll have to step down as commander of B5. It’s just too scandalous to allow him to stay, and would endanger the station’s image and fundamental diplomatic mission.

Garibaldi, meanwhile, pursues his own investigation. The gun mysteriously found on the deck is untraceable, and a bit too convenient, so he assumes Sheridan was framed. Duh.

Londo, meanwhile, sees some Centauri babes laughing at something from the gift shop: a 12-inch action figure of him. He’s amused for an instant, then realizes what they’re laughing about. He storms to Sheridan’s office and screams at him and Ivonova about how the existence of such things is a huge insult among his people. They don’t understand.
Londo: “Do I have to spell it out for you? It has no *attributes.*”
[Pause for a beat while the realization sinks in for the humans]
Susan: “Oh, so you feel like you’re being symbolically cast--”
Londo: [Glares]
Susan: [Flustered]“--in a bad light.”
Sheridan: “Nice recovery.”
Susan: “Thank you.”
They agree to get the things out of the gift shop and destroy them. In the course of the conversation, the subject of lying comes up, and Londo says that the Minbari do, in fact, lie if lying allows another to save face. He makes reference to the extraterrestrial prehensile penis poker playing problem from “The Quality of Mercy” back in season 1. That’s a quadruple alliteration, punks, *AND* it’s icky! Top that!

Well, there’s your conspicuously-dropped clue: The dead warrior was Starriders, the ones who attempted to frame and/or kill Sinclair on several occasions, and who harbored Deathwalker, and whom even Delenn has called “The most fanatical of our warrior clans.” I’m pretty sure the Trigati was a Starrider ship, but I’m too bored by that episode to go back and look. Ashan, meanwhile, turns out to be related to the dead dude, and is also a member of “The Third Fane of Chudomo,” whatever that is. Same “Fane” as Lennier. Clearly it’s a con job to get Sheridan the Starkiller out of B5.

Lennier confronts Ashan about this, and Ashan admits the whole thing, but says there’s nothing you can do about it, and it wasn’t even his plan, he didn’t even know all the details until it was underway: the leaders of the clan or Fane or sewing circle or whatever cooked it up, and threw those two into it. Lennier admits he can’t do anything about it without disgracing everyone, *however* once Ashan is off the station, he’ll go to Garibaldi and confess that he - Lennier - cooked up the whole thing, take full blame for it, and be sent to prison for the rest of his life, thus saving the honor of the larger group. Ashan is stunned by this, and puts up a fuss, once again confessing everything.

Of course this is all entrapment, and Sheridan, Delenn, Garibaldi, and the lawyer chick were in the other room the whole time taping it. Soundly screwed, Ashan gives in. Sheridan realizes he can spin this to his advantage, and says that if the info gets out, it would cause needless turmoil amongst the Minbari, and tensions between Earth and Minbar, which wouldn’t help anyone, particularly with the Narn/Centauri war going on. Rather than prosecute, he suggests that Delenn convey his request to just cover the whole thing up, and pretend it never happened, then *everyone* saves face.

Delenn agrees, the lawyer strenuously disagrees, Sheridan agrees. A plot: resolved.

Londo tells the folks on Centauri Prime that Vir is the best assistant he could ever have, and if Vir goes, Londo will go, too. They back down. “Stay, Vir. If you leave Babylon 5, I will be forced as a matter of honor to go with you, and then I *will* have to kill you.” He tells Vir that whatever he wants to do in the long run, he can do, but for now: “I need you.” Oh, and he invited Vir’s hateful family to come and stay for a month, just to irritate him.

Sheridan discovers that the gift shop is selling “John J. Sheridan” teddy bears, and flies into a rage. He demands the station be shut down, and he spaces the bear. Warren “Who” Keffer, flying around outside the station, has the thing smack into his cockpit.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Early in the season, we saw Sheridan pretty unhappy about being “Beached” on the station when he considered himself first and foremost a Starship captain. In tonight’s episode, when he’s told he’s undoubtedly going to lose command, he’s clearly upset. He *wants* this job now.

Sheridan mentions his sister, much to my surprise. I’d assumed they’d forgotten she existed by this point, since she was only a vehicle for exposition. I know I’d forgotten about her.

They mention B5 baseball caps. Coincidentally, the same week I re-watched this episode, I was going through some old crates, and found my own “Official B5 Fan Club” ball cap. It’s got the EAS Agamemnon on it!

The whole “Deep Space Franchise” thing was obviously a dig at Star Trek in general and “Deep Space 9” in particular. The on-target bit is that B5 is *actually* a set story, whereas Trek was basically just having a show for the sake of having a show. As slaps go, it’s not particularly vicious.

B5 always was - and continues to be - utterly for suck when it comes to merchandising. Practically no toys, action figures only coming out in the show’s last year, no games that anyone would want to play, not a lot of nicknacks. Few model kits. A calendar. Big deal. My point being that B5 had a *lot* of really cool looking stuff on the show, but none of it ever made it into the stores, and what little did was barely above the level of stuff you’d give away in lieu of candy on Halloween. Y’know: crap. Yes, there was a short-lived comic, and a lot of tie in novels, but the novels were crap. When asked about this, JMS would say that the first obligation was the story, and that he didn’t want the merchandising to wag the dog, so to speak. Well, ok, well and good: I respect that, *BUT* as Sheridan says here: anything that increases the visibility of the project is a good thing, right? Toys do that. In fact, most of the items we see on display in the shop - star furies, models of B5, etc - are actually unlicensed things Warners legal department impounded, so there *clearly* was a demand, they just refused to do anything about it.

So while the gift shop was obviously intended as a dig at the Trek Ephemera Marketing Machine, I think it’s missing the point. At this remove - twenty years later - the absence of cool Agamemnon model kits and CCGs and whatnot has really hurt the show’s visibility.

That said, there’s a great scene in the shop where Susan encounters an alien wearing a human mask, and a human wearing an alien mask. Also, there’s a cute background scene of a Hyach (which has a double-domed skull) wearing two baseball caps at once.

It seems to take Garibaldi an inordinately long time to figure out that Sheridan was framed, given that there was a gun conveniently and inexplicably laying around, and given that the gun clearly wasn’t Sheridan’s own. And given that the gun was untraceable would seem to cinch it.

Ashan is actually pretty good in this, particularly the malevolence with which he insults Delenn. Likewise, Delenn’s obvious upset at this is well played. Ashan and Lennier play really well off each other, and Lennier is, as ever, a marvel. Seriously: Bill Mumy manages to play him as endlessly polite and effortlessly badass and smart as hell with no seams whatsoever. Screw Crusade, I would have happily watched “The Lennier Show” for 110 episodes, he’s just that good. Any episode with him in it is automatically the better for it. Funny, too, such as when he saves Ashan from getting caught doing a nefarious thing by station security by knocking out a guard:
Ashan: “What are you doing?”
Lennier: “Saving you from getting caught by the earthers. You are really very *bad* at this.”

There’s a really funny outtake where Ashan and Lennier are face to face, intense, angry. Ashan says “Because we are the same, you may ask your questions.” Mumy immediately breaks character, pretends to be gay, reaches out to touch Ashan’s head, and in a swishy voice says, “Who does your bones? They’re gorgeous!” Ashan instantly swishes up and says “Same guy! Same guy! He’s great!”

Plot hole: Dr. Franklin says the marks on the dead Starrider’s body neither confirm nor deny Sheridan’s story. But wait - Sheridan got a couple solid hits scored on him: shouldn’t *That* evidence have corroborated his story somewhat? No one mentions it.

The actress who played Na’Toth in season 1 had a bad reaction to the makeup, which is why she wasn’t used on the show more, despite the fact that they all loved her. She was a professional singer, and an actress, and unfortunately the latex was causing her to blister up, ruining her ability to take other gigs, so she quit. They unwisely re-cast the part, and the new actress just didn’t work, and ended up only playing Na’Toth twice before they dispenced with the character. The ORIGINAL actress, however, played the lawyer in this episode, just to prove that she wasn’t fired.

Trivia: In Peter David’s series “Space Cases” the next season, the cast come across a teddy bear floating in space. “Who would do something so despicable as this to a teddy bear?” someone asks. “It’s the Straczyn” someone answers, “An alien race bent on taking over the galaxy, but they lack the budget to do it.”

Who or what were The Red Monks?

The lesson appears to have been that beauty is an important part in overcoming adversity, and the more the beauty, the more useful it is. Sheridan is a wreck when he goes Downbelow, but he’s clearly elated when he comes back up, simply because he saw something wonderful, even though it had no relevance on his situation. Hope and beauty go hand in hand, and with them come a clarity of mind, a kind of resetting, which allow us to do what we need to do. Kosh seems to have specifically timed this to correspond with the worst moment of Sheridan’s very bad day. It’s an apt lesson.

The chant, BTW, is latin: “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given on whose shoulders the worlds’ dominon rests; who’s name is; He who was sent to us from the great Heavenly Wonder-Cousnelor. Sing unto the Lord a new Song. He has made Wonders.” (Translated into English, of course.) Peter David is Jewish (And I believe an Atheist, IIRC) has said there was no particular significance to the piece apart from that it was beautiful.

Lennier lost family on the Blackstar, destroyed by Sheridan. He seems angered by it, but it has not in any way caused him to show disrespect, or even a lack of friendship for Sheridan. Indeed, here he offers to throw himself on his sword for the guy, more or less. And while it was entrapment, I don’t doubt for a minute he’d have done it.

Note the play in the title on "Honor" and "Lies"

Cast: Sheridan, Ivonova, Garibaldi, Delenn, Lennier, Londo, Vir, Keffer
Also Rans: Zack
Conspicuously Absent: G’kar, Na’Toth (#2), Corwin

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