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Saturday, 26 November 2016

Babylon 5 1-15: Grail

Episode:15|Writer:Christy Marx|Air Date:06-Jul-1994

Today on Super Adventures, I'm going to rewatch Grail, the 15th episode of Babylon 5 season 1! Or maybe the 14th, if you're going off the Lurker's Guide Master List like I am.

The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5 has been around since ancient times collecting information on the series, such as posts made by creator JMS to Usenet, and analysing episodes as they aired. They also put together an alternate viewing order called the Master List to fix some continuity weirdness caused by delayed episodes that's been carried across to the DVD releases too. The changes seem to make sense to me and JMS has given the new ordering for the first couple of seasons his blessing, so I don't see any reason to stick with the airing order on my rewatch.

So here's where Grail fits in the list:
12 - By Any Means Necessary
13 - Signs and Portents
15 - Grail
16 - Eyes
18 - A Voice in the Wilderness (Part 1)
Basically the Master List has taken TKO out and kicked it down to later in the season. So this'll make absolutely no difference to the SPOILERS I'll be giving out in this particular episode recap... but things are going to get more complicated later in the series.



The episode begins with a typical shot of a transport docking with Babylon 5. Then the ship enters the airlock, then it travels down the lift...

Just when I thought the teaser was going to be a long tour of the station's docking process, it was finally interrupted by a scene of Sinclair and Garibaldi eating a feast in the Zocalo. And then their feast was interrupted by Ambassador Delenn and her sidekick Lennier wanting to know why the commander isn't ready to greet their distinguished guest in the customs area.

I have an idea where this is going and I'm cringing in advance.

Garibaldi volunteers to take care of Sinclair's meal in his absence but Sinclair volunteers Garibaldi to come along to meet this V.I.P. with them. So basically everyone's left hungry, including me. Hang on, I'm going to pause to grab a sandwich.

Meanwhile in Downbelow, guest star William Sanderson's playing a gangster called Deuce. He's a little annoyed that Jinxo here on the right has been avoiding him. Man, I'm the last person who should be criticising names, but Deuce and Jinxo?

Anyway, Deuce has done Jinxo a lot of favours and loaned him money and now he wants some payback. He needs to open up some new supply corridors to move things onto the station and Jinxo helped build the place so he should know it better than anyone. Or alternatively he could pay up 100,000 credits which, according to my notes, is enough to get him two ridiculously overpriced G'Quan Eth plants, cheap quarters for just under four years, or 8% of the way towards upgrading a space station's docking equipment. Signs point to it being a lot of money.

There's a third possible outcome, but Jinxo ain't going to like it. Deuce has thought ahead and has a woman tied up to a chair in the corner of the room so he can demonstrate what it entails.

She agreed to testify to the ombuds against him today, so he's kidnapped her and now he's feeding her to the evil tentacle he keeps in the shadows.

It leaves her with a tentacle print on her forehead and a blank expression on her face, but she's otherwise intact. Hey I bet the thing's a Salt Vampire, like from that Star Trek episode!

Deuce is giving Jinxo just 300 cycles to get him either money or information, or else he's getting the tentacle next. Wait, cycles... what? Why are we using cycles all of a sudden? And how long is that? I get the feeling it's not years and days seems unlikely too, so is it minutes? Hours?

Oh I should mention that the tentacle belongs to Ambassador Kosh.

Or Ambassador Kosh's stunt double at least. He looks identical at first glance, but if you look closely a lot of the suit's details are missing and it's less glossy.

But what's really weird is how Deuce introduces him to Jinxo. It's an awkward line to begin with but he makes it worse by delivering it in a strange way.
"300 cycles Jinxo, that's all I can afford. Because by then, he'll be hungry again. Won't you, Ambassador Kosh?"

ACT ONE.


After the opening titles Jinxo's gone, replaced with our first look at the station's courtroom!

Flinn here (played by director of photography John C. Flinn III) is telling the ombudsman a story of how his great grandfather claimed to be taken away on a ship by aliens. They allegedly held him for two days, giving him the classic abduction procedures, needles and lights etc. After he came back people thought he was crazy and he couldn't get a job.

But Flinn's gone through the archives and he's found proof... 

.... that this guy's great grandfather abducted his great grandfather. And now he wants damages.

So now that the episode padding's over we can get back to Jinxo's story. He's lurking with the lurkers in Downbelow, but then he hears an announcement that a transport has docked and runs off. Bye Jinxo.

Oh right, Sinclair and Delenn are meeting someone aren't they? It's obviously not going to be anyone he'd consider worth getting into full dress uniform for, so I'm preparing myself for the embarrassing reveal that's inevitably coming next.

Oh shit it's David Warner! That's totally worth the dress uniform. In fact he's dressed for the occasion himself, or an occasion anyway. Whatever occasion requires you to dress in a big white coat with fabric draped over your shoulder and carry a staff. A meeting of the Grand Council of Elder Wizards maybe?

He's called Aldous Gajic (named after Delenn actress Mira Furlan's husband Goran Gajić) and he didn't think to inform Sinclair of his arrival as he's just some guy here to chat with the ambassadors, not any kind of V.I.P. But unlike the last guy he's not here to ask them what they want, he's just dropped by to see if any of them know where the Holy Grail is. People have searched the entire Earth for it already, so he thought he'd check to see if it was in space.

Hey it's not so crazy an idea! Someone managed to find the 2000 year old Centauri Eye artefact an episode or so ago and that had strayed a considerable distance from its planet of origin.

Garibaldi still literally rolls his eyes though.

Sinclair's more amused than annoyed at having to skip a meal and get dressed up for this, but Delenn's still confused by his lack of respect. In Minbari culture, people who have dedicated their lives in search of something are revered.

"It doesn't matter that his grail may or may not exist. What matters is that he strives for the perfection of his soul and the salvation of his race and that he has never wavered or lost faith," she explains. Which seems like a bit of an assumption on her part. Maybe he fell off the Grail hunting wagon once or twice along the way, how would she know?

Sinclair wishes him luck, saying he's probably the only 'true seeker' humanity has. Delenn replies that if he thinks that, then he doesn't know himself. I expect she's referring to the 'Holy Grail' of galactic peace he's working towards, not his secret investigation into why she wiped a day's worth of his memories 10 years back.

Meanwhile Garibaldi uses his telepathic 'crime sense' power to catch Jinxo running off with Aldous's money despite the fact he was standing outside in the corridor with a wall blocking his view when it happened. Or maybe there's a giant mirror on the fourth wall.

Garibaldi tells Aldous that he has to come with him while they settle this matter with the ombuds. Usually he just punches criminals or throws them into a flower stall, but he's getting serious this week. Sinclair made him change into in his dress uniform for no good reason, so I guess now he's taking it out on everyone else.

Down in Medlab, Sinclair's chatting with Dr. Franklin about the latest mind wipe victim. I'm impressed by Franklin's professionalism here as he's able to maintain a straight face throughout the entire conversation. Though I suppose he hasn't seen the teaser, so he doesn't know that the mind wipe was actually a creature eating her memories for food through a tentacle.

"She's lost her entire life experience so we'll have to retrain her back from infancy back to adulthood and that won't be easy." Don't worry Doc, I saw this happen on Star Trek once and they got their mind wiped communications officer back at her post by the following week.

Garibaldi wants to use this as an excuse to clean out Downbelow and cut crime by 90% in one go, which is pretty damn hardcore even for him. Sure everyone involved would be better off without people basically living homeless in the maintenance corridors below, but they can't afford to send them all to their homeworlds and they've got nowhere to put them but the airlocks.

He's even more pissed off when he realises that the woman lying in the Isolab is his witness against Deuce. The trial's today and now the guy's going to walk free.

Speaking of trials, Jinxo's hearing the punishment for stealing Aldous' cash. This is Jinxo's third arrest for incompetent thievery so Ombuds Wellington has decided on drastic measures: he's to be given a free ticket out of here so he can find work somewhere which requires a grade 10 zero-gravity constructor of his experience and skill. So the station is willing to pay to help people get out of Downbelow then.

This is Jinxo's big chance to avoid getting brain wiped by Ambassador Kosh, but he demands another punishment that'll keep him on the station, or else it'll be the end of the station.

Aldous takes pity on him though and convinces the ombuds to release him into his remedial custody instead. Great, now we're going to be stuck with him for the rest of the episode.

Suddenly Deuce jumps up out of a chair and reminds Jinxo he's only got 240 cycles left. Right in the courtroom in plain sight of both the ombuds and Garibaldi! It doesn't look like the actors can believe it either.

Deuce is mostly here for his own trial, though he's not there long as the only witness is in Medlab with a missing mind.


ACT TWO.


So now we've got the two main guest stars together we can have a scene just about them, without all those regular characters people know and like getting in the way. Aldous is curious why Jinxo feels he can't leave Babylon 5, so Jinxo explains that there's curse on the station... and it's him.

The pilot movie The Gathering revealed that Babylon 5 got its name because it's the fifth of the Babylon stations. Jinxo worked on the crew building the very first Babylon station and when he took leave the station collapsed during construction. So Earth decided to start work on a new Babylon station and that blew up when he took leave as well. You'd think he'd maybe stay away from Babylon stations at that point, but nope, he worked on the third one too and again it exploded while he was on leave.

'Aha,' thought Jinxo, spotting a pattern. 'Next time I won't take any leave until the station is fully completed!' Jinxo saw the Babylon 4 construction through to the end without a break and it became the first of the stations to become operational. Then when he left, it vanished without explanation or trace. So he did what any sane man would do and helped construct Babylon 5 as well... only this time he's got no plans to ever leave. If he really is cursed, then the station can't explode or disappear while he's still on it.

Aldous points out that there's another way to look at it: he may just be really really lucky.

Over in Sinclair's office, Dr. Franklin has found something that may explain the brain wipe victims... except he can't display the data properly because some fool has taped black triangles to the corners of the commander's monitor screen.

They think someone has smuggled a Na'Ka'Leen Feeder on board the station and Garibaldi suspects it's Deuce. So there goes all the mystery. It's not Ambassador Kosh in the suit, sucking out brains with his tentacles, it's one of these things. Makes the Kosh reveal feel like a cheap way to get people to stick through the opening credits.

The creature is found in Centauri space so one of them needs to speak to the Centauri ambassador for more information.

Londo's down in the casino having a good night, until Sinclair mentions the Na'Ka'Leen Feeder. Turns out that he really doesn't like the things.

As he secretly pours someone else's drink into his empty glass it begins to dawn on him... Sinclair wouldn't be asking about a Na'Ka'Leen unless it was relevant to station business, there may even be one on the station. He offers him every bit of information he has and then runs to his quarters, leaving Sinclair holding the credit card he left behind.

Not a single piece of comedy music throughout the whole scene, I'm impressed.

In Delenn's quarters, she has the displeasure of giving Aldous and Jinxo the bad news: they don't know where the Holy Grail is. Bit of a wasted trip really as she could've just sent him an email.

Aldous is pretty much the most respectful and polite human we've ever seen on the series, so it's no wonder Delenn adores him. Jinxo on the other just has to go and mention the Earth-Minbari War. On the plus side this gives Lennier a chance to explain that the Minbari have a religious caste and a warrior caste, and the warrior caste wouldn't be so eager to help out a former enemy like this. "But they're all dicks, so fuck 'em," adds Delenn... except in a much more measured Minbari manner of speech.

"These two sides of your culture, do they ever agree on anything?" asks Aldous.
"Yes. And when they do it, is a terrible thing. A terrible power, as recent events have shown us," replies Delenn.

We'll later learn that there's three sides to Minbari culture, as there's a worker caste too that handles the jobs that don't require fighting or praying, but this doesn't actually contradict that so it's fine.

"More food! Richer food!" demands the Na'Ka'Leen Feeder, still in his Kosh suit. "Older minds, want more, want..." Wow, it really does eat memories.

Deuce tells his lackeys to find Jinxo and Ombuds Wellington and bring them here for the Feeder to feed on. Damn man, why don't you order them to get Garibaldi and Sinclair while you're at it?


ACT THREE.


Aldous and Jinxo go to speak to Londo next, though first they have to patiently waits for him to finish ranting into a monitor screen, telling someone to sort out their quarantine of the Na'Ka'Leen planet.

Londo goes through his usual routine of explaining that the process will be time-consuming and expensive, but Vir completely misreads his boss's attempt to con them out of money and smugly declares that he's already taken care of it. Londo quietly contemplates all the cash he's just lost, and the scene ends!

Actually no, comedy music starts playing and the scene continues with Vir enthusiastically explaining his work in detail until Londo shouts at him. I don't believe it, but Jinxo is somehow only the third most annoying character in this scene and it's still dragging on!
"Fools to the left of me, Feeders to the right. I need to find a real job."
Time to take a break to explore Aldous's sad backstory.

Hang on, are the any main characters around? Is there anyone here we know who'll remember this conversation and maybe be affected in some way by the information? Nope? Well then who even cares?

Some serialised series have actually done very well with entire episodes based around guest stars interacting with each other, but they often use them to give an outsider's perspective on the series' world and the regular characters. This on the other hand is an episode about a guest star being threatened by a guest star, then being sentenced by third guest star to hang around and learn from another guest star.

But then Deuce's goons come to drag Jinxo to Downbelow and Aldous... takes them both out effortlessly? What?

Where did he learn to fight with a staff! In his tragic backstory he was an accountant before his family died and he got pulled into someone else's search for the Holy Grail. Did his mentor teach him staff fighting before he died and passed on his robe and quest?

Poor Ombuds Wellington on the other hand doesn't have a staff-fighting accountant on his team and is kidnapped by two more of Deuce's gang outside his quarters.

Jinxo and Aldous continue their tour of the station undaunted with only one last ambassador to visit. They're apparently only seeing the main ones, leaving out G'Kar because it's his turn to skip an episode, so the final stop is Ambassador Kosh.

But Jinxo freaks out at the sight of him, remembering the brain-sucking tentacle incident from earlier. He must have forgotten that Ambassador Kosh was an ambassador or else he really should've seen this coming.

Aldous chases him all the way to Downbelow, but unfortunately his stick-fighting powers are no match for this goon's lens flare rod, and he's taken down in one hit.

The goons don't bother to look for where Jinxo's cowering, instead they shout to him that he's got 10 minutes to visit Deuce voluntarily or Aldous gets his mind wiped. Wait, minutes? What happened to cycles?

Incidentally, they use cycles as a time reference in this episode because it was an early script, from back when they were still nailing down the terminology. A cycle is apparently the time it takes for the station's rotating section to complete one rotation... which is exactly one minute. The rotation time isn't hugely impactful on their daily life though really, as Ivanova's the only one who gets a window.


ACT FOUR.


In C&C Ivanova and Sinclair try to pin down what ship the Na'Ka'Leen Feeder came in on, but Tech #1 uses her one line of dialogue this week to interrupt and tell them that Garibaldi's on the link, reporting that Ombuds Wellington is missing.

I didn't realise this the first time I watched the episodes, but Tech #1 back there is played by the same actress every time and she shows up in almost all of season one. If you were ranking the regular characters by how many episodes they've appeared in, then at this point she'd be behind Sinclair, Ivanova and Garibaldi, but ahead of everyone else. Resident telepath Talia Winters is a lead role with her name in the credits every week and yet she's showed up in less than a third of the episodes Tech #1 has. JMS should've called her Telepath #1 and given the name to this woman instead.

Down in Downbelow, Deuce has Aldous and Ombuds Wellington and is about to feed the ombuds to to the Na'Ka'Leen Feeder. By the way, if you're a Father Ted fan, yeah that is Bishop Len Brennan in the chair playing the ombuds.

Suddenly Aldous steps forward and puts himself in the way, saying that Ombuds Wellington is under his protection! Then he demands that the creature show himself, for whatever reason. The Feeder puts its tentacle away and emerges from the Kosh suit, revealing itself to be...

... a fully 3D rendered CGI alien!

This guy isn't the first CG creature to show up in a live action TV show, off the top my my head Star Trek: The Next Generation featured the crystalline entity from Datalore and the creature from Galaxy's Child, plus I'm sure SeaQuest DSV must have had something by now. But the Na'Ka'Leen Feeder is a far more complicated creation. For one thing it exists inside a room instead of out in space, so it had to be composited into the live action plate with matching lighting. For another thing, it breathes, walks around, and reacts when Garibaldi and Sinclair burst into the room guns blazing.

Jinxo managed to run into Sinclair in the corridor earlier and led him down here to Deuce's lair for his action hero ending. He's staying well out of it though, cowering in the background with Aldous's stick while the Na'Ka'Leen Feeder creeps around somewhere out of sight, preying on hapless unnamed security officers.

But when Jinxo notices the Feeder dropping down to get the ombuds he heroically rushes into danger to untie him from the chair... making himself an easy target for Deuce, who aims his PPG at him! Yeah the room's full of armed security officers and there's a brain eating monster on the loose, but Deuce just had to stick around long enough to put a bullet into Jinxo. He's that sick of the guy.

And then Aldous rushes out and takes the bullet to save Jinxo's life! PPG shot I mean, whatever.

With Aldous dying on the floor and the ombuds still tied to the chair, Jinxo's failure is now complete and he can do nothing else but wait for the Feeder to choose his next meal. Oh hang on Deuce just got away through a vent and escaped security, so now Jinxo's failure is complete.

But what you're not seeing in this shot is Sinclair, Garibaldi and some other guy standing on the other side of the camera ready to unload their PPG weapons into the creature. There's a barrage of fire and soon the Feeder is a smoking pile of tentacles on the floor. They blast it so hard it's not even CG any more.

But Aldous knows he's dying and bequeaths everything he owns to Jinxo, who swears to find the Holy Grail in his place.

Sinclair reports to Kosh about the incident, telling him they've confiscated the replica Kosh costume. Kosh doesn't quite get why Deuce was pretending he worked for him though, which has to be the first time he's ever been confused about something.

"No one knows exactly what you look like, that makes some people a little nervous," explains Sinclair.
"Good," replies Kosh.

Later Sinclair and Delenn meet at the docking bay to see off Aldous's coffin. To their surprise Jinxo turns up dressed in Aldous cosplay, which seems kind of inappropriate. He's leaving the station to take on his mentor's mission (and presumably get some stick-fighting lessons). Hopefully he gathered the courage to speak with Kosh before he left; I bet that sneaky Vorlon's got a whole box of grails in his cupboard.

"Hey, take care Jinxo," says Garibaldi.
"Thomas," replies Jinxo. "My name...



... is Thomas."

ACT FIVE.


Then in the epilogue we see that Garibaldi's going on a murdering spree in Downbelow, killing everyone he considers to be 'undesirable' in his mission to free the station of crime. Actually Sinclair still won't give him the go-ahead for the purge, so he entertains himself by tormenting Londo instead.
"When they're about to attack, they get quiet. So the key is, as long as you can hear them, as long as there's noise around, you're safe. But if you ever hear nothing, worry."
Londo secretly slips back inside and locks the door, leaving Vir outside to enjoy the silence. Not me though, they've given me more comedy music to listen to.

The crew gather in C&C to watch Jinxo Thomas's transport leave the system through the jumpgate. They don't believe for a second that the station's going to actually explode though... nope, not going to happen. Though I bet Sinclair can't help but think back to that vision of fiery destruction he got an episode or so ago.

And it turns out that they are... not going to explode! Plus the ship Thomas left on is called the Marie Celeste, so he's not just triumphing over superstition, he's doing it in style.
Garibaldi: "No boom?"
Sinclair: "No boom."
Ivanova: "No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow."
They didn't even ruin the scene with comedy music this time!


CONCLUSION

Grail... isn't entirely without its moments, I'm fond of the "Sooner or later, BOOM!" scene at the end and it's got the Grey alien court scene as well, but I can't really say that I enjoyed the episode. In fact I thought it was pretty terrible.

This is the last episode directed by Richard Compton, and honestly I'm kind of glad. The Gathering and Midnight on the Firing Line had their issues, though they were both pilots and you'd expect that, but then he followed them up with Infection and The War Prayer! I'm not as aware of direction and editing as I could be, but even I've been noticing that the weaker episodes usually have his name on them. Some of the blame has to go to writer Christy Marx, but she's gone after this episode as well.

Though some of the blame likely goes to writer Christy Marx, as the one of the biggest issues I have with the episode is that it isn't really about the Babylon 5 regulars, it's about all the one-off guest stars that show up. This is kind of offset by Aldous being played by David fucking Warner, but there's limits to what an actor can do when he's got a Jinxo to play off. I'm not sure if Jinxo was a good performance of someone acting awkward or just an awkward performance, but I felt that the character pulled down every scene that he was in (except for the times he was silent and stood in he background). Plus William Sanderson has done good work in series like Deadwood, but Deuce is the drain this episode circles around.

And I didn't like that Na'Ka'Leen Feeder either. Sure the CGI effects were surprisingly good for 1994, but a creature who feeds by sucking the memories out of people's brains with a tentacle is something you'd expect from an old episode of Doctor Who. Then again you've got a memory sucking alien going against two characters whose lives have been redefined by traumatic memories and survivor's guilt, plus there's Sinclair seeking to understand the gap in his memories, so I suppose there's plenty they could've done with the idea. But they didn't.

Plus after a meatier role in Signs and Portents, Londo is back to being pure comic relief, and that's actually not so bad! Actor Peter Jurasik is an expert at precision overacting and has the potential to be the highlight of any scene he's in... until they drop that damn comedy music over the top of him. I really hope they stop that at some point this season as it's murdering whole scenes.

What else is good about the episode? Uh... I like Kosh actually being happy that people are scared of him, I liked that it shows there's at least some efforts being made to get people out of Downbelow, I like that it was anti-superstition, and I like that the mystery of Babylon 4 hasn't been forgotten. Plus "See yourself for what you are, not what others try to make you," isn't a terrible moral, even though Jinxo did ultimately become a clone of the man who gave the advice, instead of following his heart and making more space stations.

But overall this is a contender for my least favourite episode of Babylon 5.


Babylon 5 will return with Eyes. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching Deep Space Nine's The Storyteller.

The box below is for your comments, if it doesn't receive any then it will have failed in its purpose.

4 comments:

  1. Over in Sinclair's office, Dr. Franklin has found something that may explain the brain wipe victims... except he can't display the data properly because some fool has taped black triangles to the corners of the Commander's monitor screen.

    I am reminded of the way they showed that New Battlestar Galactica was strange and alien because all the paper had the corners cut off. That must be how they solved unemployment on Caprica.

    My memories of B5 are always hazy because I haven't watched it since Channel 4 first showed it in the mid-90's but I'm almost certain that the tentacle prop turns up again in a different context.

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    Replies
    1. It's a entirely different, near identical tentacle. I know this because I remember reading a comment by JMS about how the women in charge of creating the other prop loved to bring it to him to verify details. He set himself up for some awkward staff meetings.

      Delete
  2. >Christy Marx

    I know that name mostly from the old Sierra adventure games Conquest of Camelot and Conquest of the Longbow. She wrote and designed them. And if I remember right, she was also supposed to work on the cancelled Babylon 5 starfury sim game back in the late 90s.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow."

    One of my favorite memorable quotes out of the entire B5 run! Even if it was from a rather mediocre episode.

    ReplyDelete