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Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Babylon 5 1-12: By Any Means Necessary

Episode:12|Writer:Kathryn M. Drennan|Air Date:11-May-1994

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm rewatching By Any Means Necessary, the first episode of the second half of Babylon 5 season one! My long nightmare is halfway over.

Actually to be honest it hasn't been a great hardship getting this far and even the bad episodes have been more watchable than I remembered. Definitely not the worst sci-fi season one I've seen. I guess it helps that I know all the characters, the setting and where the story's going this time around, but the same's true of Deep Space Nine and what I've been watching of that seems really aimless by comparison. B5's not been particularly heavy on the continuity either to be fair, but DS9 season one seems to have forgotten everything set up in its pilot besides 'we're on a space station with a swirly thing outside'.

The following text will contain SPOILERS for this and previous episodes, so proceed with caution.

Bit of a light glow failure there; you can see the port side light shining through the hull of that Narn freighter.

The episode begins with Babylon 5 busier than usual and a queue forming outside the central docking bay. Lt. Commander Ivanova's working space traffic control as usual, but right now she's mostly telling ships to hold position. You can just about make out C&C's window down at the bottom right, so you'd be able to see her standing behind her desk right now if this was remastered for 4k Blu-ray!

The pilot of the Narn freighter demands to be let in quickly on account of the perishable cargo they're carrying for Ambassador G'Kar, so Ivanova shows her merciful side and puts a call in to the dock workers to see if they can get the ship in faster.

Turns out that the docking bays look a whole lot like the central corridor/Zocalo set, except with more smoke and sparks. And crates.

The guy in charge isn't happy about being rushed as they're kind of busy at it is, but he tells Ivanova over his headset to tell the Narn ship to go to bay 8. The guy doesn't even say thanks!

But as his crappy little freighter enters the docking bay the alarm goes off, warning that another ship is coming up the elevator! Apparently there's been some kind of problem with the docking mechanism, and there's going to be an even bigger problem when the two ships collide and explode inside the station.

It's just occurred to me... ships enter the station facing in and they leave facing out, so does the lift spin them around as well? They should've pulled a Thunderbirds and showed the whole damn procedure in detail for me. I also want to see how the pilots get back to their ships when they've finished their business, but only if it involves sliding down into their cockpit through secret tunnels hidden under inconspicuous seats.

Fortunately Ivanova manages to stop the shuttle before it launches straight into the Narn ship, and tells the Narns to chill out for a moment. Disaster averted!

Or not.

The Narn pilot fails to chill out, but he successfully manages to smash open the ass-end of his ship trying to get out of the way. Fortunately the station is significantly less mangled after its collision with an idiot. I figured that B5 might be a bit more resilient than the average commercial starship, but that crash didn't even scratch it.

Though it did shower the dock workers below with flaming wreckage, which just made a crap day even worse for them.

Yeah Bay 6 isn't looking too great right now. Hydraulic and fuel lines in the loading area are ruptured, the walls are sparking, that bit of floor on the left is on fire, and they've got two people trapped and about to die.

On the plus side, if the docking bay is out of commission that means no one can come in! The station's free of Soul Hunters, Psi-Cops, runaway Centauri lovers, immortal war criminals, pro-Earth terrorists and former teachers bringing with them a power that can destroy the station! For a little while at least.


I love the fire effects they've got going on here. There's a burst of flames every time they open the airlock to get people through and it looks pretty impressive. Especially considering the 'people going through' bit. It's easy to believe that they've got a raging inferno behind that door, instead of the bar that was there last episode.

3-11: Survivors
I would say it was a bad idea to use a really distinctive door for two entirely different places in two consecutive episodes, but it makes sense the more I think about it. There's only going to be so many types of doors on this station, so of course you'll see the same designs pop up over and over. In really similar looking rooms.

A team in fireproof suits brave the flames and drag the two trapped dock workers out, but one's of them is already dead, and it's the brother of the guy with the headset on. He's not happy.

Meanwhile, Ambassador G'Kar is singing as part of a Narn religious ceremony. He missed out when everyone else had their ceremonies back in Parliament of Dreams, but he's making up for it now.

Well he was making up for it, until Na'Toth interrupted him with news of the transport crash. The ship's cargo bay was completely destroyed and G'Kar looks pretty destroyed himself when he realises that he's lost the G'Quan Eth he was waiting for.

Though on the plus side, Na'Toth's back! She shows up in far less episodes than the other two ambassadorial aides but she does well with the screen time she has and it's nice to see her.

Suddenly a fist slams down onto Commander Sinclair's desk and the camera pulls up to reveal... someone we've never met before. Miss Connally (appearing in this screencap as half a head of blond hair) is representing the dock workers and she's pissed off that her people are getting blamed for the incident as they've been saying all along that the equipment wasn't up handling the traffic they get. Plus they've been working triple shifts because they're understaffed and she's pissed off about that too. Connally is fuelled with pure righteous indignation here while the others seem to have been drained of their spirit.

But then Garibaldi comes in and reveals that the accident was actually caused by... equipment failure. Turns out the contractors installed sub-standard chips throughout the system. It must be reassuring to the crew to know that their space station was constructed by the lowest bidder.

Meanwhile in the market, G'Kar is trying to buy a flowers. Specifically the G'Quan Eth plant he needs for his ceremony. Ambassador Londo Mollari sees him and decides go over and annoy the poor Narn while he's already depressed.
"If there's anything I can to do be of assistance you will let me know, yes?"
Na'Toth turns up as well but she's got nothing but terrible news to offer him. First, it'd be impossible to ship in another G'Quan Eth plant to the station in time. Second, the only person on Babylon 5 who owns one of the plants... is Ambassador Mollari.

Londo hears him yell "WHAT?" and gives him a wave from the elevator.

I am honestly amazed that they're still doing the comedy music on scenes like this, as it's not helping. Oh damn, I just had a horrifying thought: maybe they never stop doing the comedy music and I just edited it all out of my fuzzy memories of the series.

Over in C&C Sinclair's having a video chat with Senator Hidoshi about the station's budget, but he's hearing nothing helpful. If President Santiago can turn things around then maybe at that time they'll be able to give them some of the cash needed, but until then Earth just can't afford it. Experts have assured the senators that the budget is sufficient for the safe and efficient running of Babylon 5 and the fact that the station is falling apart isn't enough to convince them otherwise.

So Sinclair just doesn't have the cash to replace the sub-standard equipment or hire more people.

Then Ivanova explains they've got a new problem: the station's been hit by a virulent plague that affects only disgruntled dock workers! So basically they've got an illegal strike to deal with and now traffic's really building up outside. This crap never happens to Commander Sisko.


Down at the docks, the workers are keeping themselves amused by listing their issues one at a time, punctuated by the crowd yelling "YEAH!" Connally is clearly in control of the group though as she manages to get them to quit yelling "STRIKE!" and they laugh at all her jokes.

Garibaldi manages to drag her away to talk to the Commander, but she leaves behind her coat. That's not the way coats work! You're supposed to put them on when you go out, not... ohhhh she's making a statement that she's rolling up her sleeves and going to work, and that she'll be back.

Sinclair tries to talk her down, explaining that "Things are changing on Earth and not all for the best." A few years ago the Earth government was all like "Let's build a 5 mile long space station out in the middle of nowhere to bring peace to the galaxy!" Now there's a very good chance they'll invoke the Rush Act, which gives Sinclair the power to send in troops to end the strike with force!

He tells Connally to get her people working again to give him time to resolve the issue, but she's got no reason to believe that he can get them what they need. The Senate controls the money, not him, and no one's going back to work until they meet their demands.

Over in the B plot, Londo comes home to find his door wide open and his nemesis sitting in his chair! G'Kar explains that he found his door unlocked and decided to keep watch until he came back. He may have also looked around for the G'Quan Eth plant, but it turns out that Londo's got that stashed elsewhere.

Londo decides to twist the knife a little, explaining that he's going to use the sacred plant to enhance his drinks. But in the interest of interstellar peace and friendship he will sell him the G'Quan Eth... for 50,000 credits, in cash. G'Kar's yelling only makes Londo laugh harder.

From what we learned in Mind War that's around 2 years rent for one of the station's cheaper quarters. It'll also get you 100 loaves of bread, along with 100 jugs of wine and a considerable amount of Antarean flarn, according to Parliament of Dreams. Whatever flarn is.

Man Sinclair's looking a bit rough at this point. Usually when the series wants to show that things are getting stressful they'll have his collar hanging open, but now he's got stubble going on as well.

He's not made any happier when Senator Hidoshi calls to rant at him. Babylon 5 isn't just a diplomatic station, it's a military outpost, and the unofficial strike is threatening their security. Plus it's setting a bad precedent for all of Earth's off-world interests.

Fortunately it's no longer up to Sinclair to find a solution as the labour committee has dispatched Orin Zento to deal with the problem for him. He's Earth's best labour negotiator with a great track record at resolving situations like this... and the senator wants troops ready to back him up.


12 hours later, Orin Zento has somehow made it on board despite the dockworkers being 'sick', and is immediately made out to be a callous villainous caricature of a man. The episode's bad guy has officially arrived. Zento wants this resolved in a hurry as he's on a tight schedule, so he's going to speak with Garibaldi to make sure the folks with guns are ready for when/if he invokes the Rush Act.

It seems I spoke too soon when I said that the station would be free of Soul Hunters this episode, as this is the actor who played Soul Hunter #2 in the episode Soul Hunter. He's a little less likeable this time though.

Back in Londo's quarters, G'Kar phones up and reveals that he's more reasonable than EarthGov when cash is required to resolve a dispute. But Londo's changed his mind (and his lock code), and the deal's off.

Turns out that Londo just wanted to screw with him. He's still pissed off about the Narn invasion of Ragesh 3 back in Midnight at the Firing Line and sadly tormenting him over a plant is the best he can do for revenge. All G'Kar can do is stare out of the monitor in disbelief.

In fact he's so furious that he swipes a glass bottle off the table and nearly smacks the holy book of G'Quan. Na'Toth on the other hand is considerably less tormented by the missing plant. Turns out that unlike every other sci-fi race on television, the Narn have more than one religion! Na'Toth's father was a disciple of G'Lon and her mother was an atheist. Na'Toth herself believes in... herself mostly.

G'Kar's not letting her get away with that though, saying that it was too easy an answer. "We all believe in something greater than ourselves, even if it's just the blind forces of chance." 'Shit happens' isn't a religion G'Kar. Besides, Na'Toth feels that chance favours the warrior.

Anyway G'Kar has just two options left available to him if he wants to get this plant before he's too late for the ceremony. Well three, but killing Londo with his bare hands will only get him thrown off the station. He's not going to tell the audience what he's got in mind now, but he does say that if plan A fails he'll need Na'Toth's help for plan B.

Down in the docks, Zento is trying to appeal to the dockers directly by explaining that their guild is not being singled out. Every guild is being crapped on impartially! They're in a recession, money is tight everywhere, so they're asking for something that isn't there for them to have.

Trouble is that Zento is a well-dressed sleezy asshole and Connally keeps making quips and getting the crowd to laugh at him.
"You signed a contract Miss Connally, just like every other worker on the station. Abide by it and we'll look into these problems."
Trouble is that there's no trust here. They were promised more money by last year's negotiator, that didn't happen, and they're not going back to work in conditions that have already led to someone's death. Connally thinks Zento's bluffing about invoking the Rush Act anyway. They haven't invoked it in ages!

That night, Sinclair decides to skip sleep and review the station's budget instead, but he can't even do that in peace without being interrupted by an angry call from Zento at half-five in the morning. Seems that the Docker's Guild has dropped the illness fa├žade and is now officially on strike.

Zento is so furious about this that he's turning his acting up to 11. He blames Sinclair for letting the situation escalate out of proportion (somehow), and they need this resolved fast as they've got trade contracts to honour! He'll have one more meeting with Connally and if the workers don't back down and just accept their shitty situation, then it's war!

Damn, there's a real queue forming out there right now. Fortunately in space you don't have to burn fuel to hold position around the airport, so the ships can just sit around indefinitely. Though the crews on board do have limited food and oxygen, so it's probably best that this gets resolved before they have to choose between going elsewhere or starving to death.

But before Sinclair can watch his security officers beating up his dock workers, he first has to deal with G'Kar and his plant problems. Actor Michael O'Hare has been less than convincing as Sinclair on occasion (mostly the occasions where he was pretending to be a bad guy), but he absolutely nails his performance as someone who's been awake for days having to deal with bullshit flying in from every direction.

G'Kar explains that his ceremony must be performed when the first rays of sunlight pass over a mountain on his homeworld (which still hasn't been given a name yet after a dozen episodes), so he needs the plant from Londo in a hurry. Not just for him, but for all the followers of G'Quan on the station.

Sinclair goes and asks Londo for the plant... and he says no. The moral of this episode: trying to resolve problems peacefully by appealing to reason doesn't work. Which kind of sucks as that's the purpose of the station. So G'Kar contacts Na'Toth and tells her Plan B is go.

Damn, Zento is absolutely furious now. He really is a comically terrible negotiator, as he goes straight to throwing a tantrum and calling in the troops when things don't immediately go his way. It's not like it's even his money he's arguing about, he's not the head of a business arguing with his employees. He's not being asked to sacrifice anything here but a couple of days of his time to do his own damn job!

I can't tell if it's the acting, writing or direction at fault, but he's so clearly the villain here that it's hard to take this seriously.

This was written by Kathryn Drennan by the way, the author of the B5 novel To Dream in the City of Sorrows, which is one of the few to be considered as canon. Plus she was exec producer JMS's wife at the time, though his feelings about nepotism meant that her script had to run a gauntlet before it was approved.


So they've got an hour or so before the Senate authorises the use of the Rush Act, transports are still building up outside the station, G'Kar and Londo have brought their B plot up to C&C and a news reporter has appeared from out of nowhere to hound Sinclair and ask him questions.

Where did she even come from? Is it the same reporter from Infection, who's been hiding out in that corridor for 8 episodes? What is even happening here? The episode has suddenly become a farce and it's on its way to devolving into pantomime.

Londo is furious with G'Kar and demands his arrest. He believes that he arranged for a sacred Centauri statue to go missing to force him into giving up the G'Quan Eth plant, but Sinclair's had enough and yells at the ambassadors to get out.

It was almost worth having the scene just so I get to see Ivanova scare someone out of C&C for the third time this season. But not quite.

She skips the threats and begins counting down from '10', with everyone out the door by '3'. Then Garibaldi walks in with no idea what's going on, and finishes with "2, 1".

The comedy is interrupted by a call from Senator Hidoshi. The Senate has invoked the Rush Act, and Sinclair has been ordered to move in with his troops and end the strike now. Hidoshi actually sympathises, feeling that some in the Senate actually wanted the situation to escalate to violence, but there's nothing anyone can do about it now.

So Garibaldi gets his men into riot gear and moves in to break up the strike, which means we get a good look at their weird flak jackets under a spotlight. Plus I never noticed before now that they've got their links stuck onto the outside of their gloves. I can't see any sign of Officer Lou Welch around, but Garibaldi's sidekick from Mind War and And the Sky Full of Stars is there backing him up on the right, so there's some security officer continuity for you.

Everyone involved in the strike is going to be arrested and replacement workers are ready to be shipped in from Earth. Though how these people are going to get onto the station with no dock workers to operate the docking equipment isn't made clear.

Damn they really did hire lot of extras this week.

As the security team went to break up the strike the situation escalated to violence as expected, and the best Garibaldi can do about it is get Connally out safely. Fortunately the Spotlight Guild is still working hard to make the scene look more dramatic.

Garibaldi suggests to Sinclair that he pull his security officers back and pump Morph Gas into the room to knock the dockers out; it's a lot easier to arrest people in their sleep. Instead Sinclair decides to take Zento and Connally into the heart of the angry mob so he can have a chat with them.

Sinclair has been studying the text of the Rush Act, which lets him resolve labour disputes "by any means necessary." That's what it literally empowers him to do. Zento agrees with his interpretation and gives him his full support. Zento is an idiot.

Under this authority Sinclair chooses the following means to end the strike:
  1. He'll reallocate 1.3 million credits from the military budget to begin necessary upgrades to docking equipment and hire additional workers. (That's enough to buy 26 overpriced G'Quan Eth plants).
  2. He's declaring a complete amnesty for everyone involved in the strike.
  3. He's letting the dockers off the hook for beating up Garibaldi's men just then.
Zento does a bit more angry acting, but everyone else is celebrating and getting back to work. It's a feel-good happy ending! Except there's still one act left and Londo and G'Kar's B plot needs resolving.


Sinclair's been up for two days straight and he's cranky, but he's still got just enough wits about him to find a peaceful solution to their issue. Basically he treats them like children, ordering G'Kar to give back the statue and telling Londo that he's confiscating the plant due to it being a controlled substance. He'll get compensated for it fairly though (with the money coming out of G'Kar's wallet).

G'Kar's not happy though as it's too late to carry out the ceremony; the sun has already passed over the mountain back on his homeworld. Sinclair points out that the station is just over 10 of his light years away from the mountain, so the first rays of light that passed the mountain all those years ago will be reaching here soon, giving him a second chance to carry out the ceremony. Sinclair's all about the loopholes today.

But before Sinclair can make it to bed, Senator Hidoshi calls to let him know that the Senate has let his decision stand without comment. Not because they like it, but because public opinion on Earth is on the Commander's side.

Senator Hidoshi’s actually pretty happy with the outcome, as his great grandfather was a space-dock worker. And that's why he's giving him a warning. Sinclair's pissed off a lot of powerful people today and they’ll be after him now.

It's still not over yet though, as in a semi-circular semi-CGI observation room overlooking the Cobra Bays G'Kar finally gets to carry out his ceremony.

The room sure seems smaller on the inside though.

Turns out that there's actually only seven G'Quan followers on the station, unless there's more hiding off screen. It also turns out that G'Quan Eth seeds really go up when they're dropped. I guess that explains the huge fire in the docking bay earlier when the freighter full of them crashed.

And the camera pans away from the station to reveal that the traffic has cleared as well. The end.


That was alright I thought. Not one of my all time favourites, but I'd place it around halfway out of the dozen episodes I've rewatched so far, in between Believers and Survivors.

By Any Means Necessary isn't a key part of the ongoing story, but it does pay off the mentions of the station's budget problems in stories like Mind War and Survivors. Plus we learn that Londo's still pissed off about the Ragesh 3 incident from Midnight on the Firing Line, though the best he can do for revenge is to refuse to sell a plant. It says a lot about Londo's situation when his payback for the Narn invading a colony and holding his nephew at gunpoint is so petty and pathetic. Not that G'Kar's any better here, stealing a statue to blackmail him into handing over the plant.

But this does set the two ambassadors apart in one way, showing that G'Kar takes his religion a lot more seriously than Londo does his. Though that might just be because his religion is far more serious. One forbids you to drink alcohol for a time, the other encourages you to down glass after glass until you pass out on the table.

Meanwhile the A plot is a pretty good demonstration of Babylon 5 doing what it was built to do even as it falls apart, as Sinclair resolves an issue caused by its shoddy construction through cleverness instead of the violence some in his own government wanted. In fact there was a fight going on right next to him and he resisted the urge to jump in and start throwing punches; it's a big step for him.

I like how the title By Any Means Necessary refers to both the threat and the solution as Sinclair eventually realises that the metaphorical gun he's been given can be turned back around on those that forced it into his hand. Though considering that folks from Earth kidnapped him last month to prove that he's a traitor, he could probably do with reducing his number of enemies, not making more of them. Especially as people keep mentioning that things are changing back home, and not all for the best.

Speaking of people from Earth changing things for the worse, it would've been nice if Zento wasn't a complete caricature, as his arrival turns the story from workers vs. management into good vs. evil, and it could've used a little more nuance than that. Not that I have any problem with absolute bastards in my television, he just doesn't fit the more realistic tone of the story up to that point, and when he arrives he drags it all down to his level. It's a shame really as I found Connally to be one of the most convincing guest characters so far, and not a whole lot of sci-fi series would give half an episode over to a plot about a labour dispute like this. Star Trek in particular could never do it... well aside from the DS9 episode Bar Association, which did exactly that.

So yeah, I'm giving a thumbs up to this one. Though to be honest I'm a little more interested in what's coming next.

Babylon 5 will return with Signs and Portents (finally). But before I get around to that I have to watch a Doctor Who episode called Heaven Sent first.

All comments will be read by humans.

1 comment:

  1. The dock chief looks like Mario. What's he doing on B5?

    A team in fireproof suits brave the flames and drag the two trapped dock workers out, but one's of them is already dead, and it's the brother of the guy with the headset on.

    Luigi! Nooooooooo!

    I like this episode because I'm a sucker for "clever loophole" plots. This isn't the best example but it's good enough for me.