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Thursday, 9 February 2017

Babylon 5 1-22: Chrysalis

Episode:22|Writer:J. Michael Straczynski|Air Date:03-Oct-1994

This is it. When I wrote about Babylon 5's pilot movie The Gathering back in April last year I also committed to rewatching all 22 episodes from season one along with it, but this is the last of them. Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm watching Babylon 5's first season finale, Chrysalis!

That's the same establishing shot of the station that Midnight on the Firing Line used under its title as well by the way, which kind of works as they bookend the season. Speaking of titles, this seems to be the only episode of Babylon 5 that shares a title with a Deep Space Nine episode (though B5's Between the Darkness and the Light and DS9's The Darkness and the Light come really close). B5's Chrysalis came first if you're wondering.

I'll be recapping the story and sharing my thoughts as I go so this'll have SPOILERS for Chrysalis and likely other first season episodes too, but I'll spoil nothing about what comes after so this'll be safe if you're on your first viewing. Though I wouldn't recommend listening to the DVD commentary on your first time through.



It's December 30, 2258 according the on screen text and G'Kar's finally back! I don't know what he was doing that was so important that he missed eight episodes in a row, but at least he showed up for the season finale. Plus we even get a full council scene for the first time since... wow, Deathwalker I think.

And it's a really full council scene as this is the only time in the entire series we ever get all the ambassadors and their aides in here; the only time that they're all together in the same episode in fact. All of the humanoid alien characters showed up during Parliament of Dreams, but that time they were missing Ambassador Kosh. The episode was also missing telepath Talia Winters and she's taking this episode off as well, which is a shame because this is the closest the season gets to having a full set of main characters.

Today Ambassadors G'Kar and Mollari are discussing attacks on Centauri ships entering Narn space. As far as Londo's concerned their treaty defines Quadrant 37 as neutral territory but G'Kar's disregarding the treaty as it was signed under duress. Their argument doesn't last long though as G'Kar storms out again. It's like he doesn't even want screen time.

Over in the Zocalo we discover that future shopping centres in deep space still put Christmas decorations up. This guy's really ruining the festive mood though by crawling up from Downbelow and dying on the floor.

By the way I'm not sure I've ever mentioned how much I like the floor of this set. Not just because of the curvy bit at the end, but also because of this glowing strip running down the middle with the hazard stripes around it and grating. It'd better if it didn't sound like wood when people walked on it, but hey maybe they're all wearing wooden shoes in the future, I dunno.

Anyway he came all this way to warn Garibaldi that 'they' are going to kill... and then he dies before he can say who. He probably should've started with the name and carried on from there, but then there'd be less of a mystery to carry people through the opening titles to act one.


ACT ONE


Whoa, Catherine Sakai's in this one as well! She had two episodes near the start of the season and then disappeared so completely that I was wondering if the actress had taken off without warning to start a new career at an Antarctic research station. But even that wouldn't have explained why they didn't even mention her occasionally.

It turns out that she's been together with Commander Sinclair all this time and right now they're just laying around his quarters watching the news and waiting for Ivanova to call in with another crisis. Seems that Earth Alliance President Santiago is going on another tour around space before he makes his speech about how he's going to form stronger ties with the other alien races.

The guy was re-elected in the season premiere and he visited the station (off screen) in Survivors halfway through the season, so it seems like we're checking in on him every six months. Though what's weird is that Survivors and Chrysalis were actually filmed back to back, even though they share no special sets or guest stars. They just felt like shooting the season finale a few months early and confusing all the actors I guess. Production became a lot more chronological after season 1 but they'd later beat their record by filming Babylon 5's series finale a whole year early.

Anyway Sinclair makes a long and awkward proposal to Catherine and she immediately says yes, so they're getting married! I think we've got our first suspect for who's getting killed off this episode.

Elsewhere on the station Londo is complaining to his assistant Vir, like he does most evenings before he heads down to the casino. He's sick of G'Kar and he's even more annoyed that his government are giving in to him. They're going to hand over Quadrant 37 to the Narns!
Londo: "This is like being nibbled to death by err... what are those Earth creatures called? Feathers, long bill, webbed feet, go quack?"
Vir: "Cats."
Londo: "Cats! Like being nibbled to death by cats!"
Just then he gets a call by his mysterious benefactor Mr. Morden from Signs and Portents, who's aware that Londo has a problem and wants to help resolve it. Londo's too frustrated and desperate right now to be anything less than enthusiastic about his sinister offer.

Meanwhile Delenn is adding the finishing touches to the plastic triangle structure she's been building for half the season. Six months seems like a long time to work on something like this, but in some episodes it's been less complete than in others, so I'm thinking that she must have been reading the instructions wrong and had to take it apart again a couple of times.

She has a vague conversation with Lennier about a vague thing that Ambassador Kosh said and then leaves the room in a hurry.

Over in the 'dead guy in the Zocalo' plot, Garibaldi has come to Downbelow looking for... oh damn, Downbelow has a train now? They must have set aside some extra cash for this episode if they could afford CGI set extensions. Shame they only gave me a couple of seconds of it to loop so I had to freeze the actors.

Anyway Garbialdi walks around an unhelpful crowd of mute extras looking for anyone with information about the dead guy from the teaser, but the only actor in the bunch who was paid to speak on camera turns out to be pretty bad at it, at least in this scene.

Eventually though he finds a more interesting actor camping out under a sheet who reveals that the victim had been moving cargo for a man called Devereaux.

Here's another expensive CGI set extension as Londo goes to meet with Mr. Morden. Always nice to see the inside of the can, especially if it's some place new.

Though according to the Lurker's Guide page for the episode, this isn't how the scene appeared when it was first aired in the US. Instead it looked a lot more like this:

Apparently the video house that supplied the satellite feed decided to take it upon themselves to rebuild the episode themselves to fix one small error and ended up using the wrong footage. The page also says that they screwed up a Downbelow shot too, which I imagine was the one with my beloved train in it.

Londo's depressed about his current situation and doesn't believe that Morden and his associates can do anything to change it. He definitely doesn't believe they can do anything about the large Narn outpost in Quadrant 37 or the fact that the Centauri government are going to just let them keep it, but Morden assures him he can help. The only thing it'll cost him... is a favour at some point.

It might seem like Londo's being ridiculously naive walking into this deal, but the story's established how sick he is of the Narn putting him under pressure and how sick he is of his government caving in to them. He hates what his republic has become, he hates what a joke he's is right now and he just can't stand being himself any longer. Back in Midnight on the Firing Line he put a gun together and went to assassinate G'Kar, so making dumb moves out of desperation is nothing new to him. Plus A Voice in the Wilderness rekindled his adventurous side and he's eager to jump in and do something.

Londo's part of the plan will be simple, all he has to do call up his government and basically do to them what Morden is doing to him: give them wild vague promises that he'll handle it himself somehow. They'll think he's drunk of course and they'll probably be right, but that's irrelevant.

Meanwhile Delenn has finally made it down to Kosh's quarters. It's a big station, it takes a while to get around! You know, I've never really noticed until now that Kosh has hot rod exhaust pipes coming out of the sides of his encounter suit. Also the back of Delenn's head is straight off a H.R. Giger painting.

Anyway, it seems that she has great doubts about... something and must see... something with her own eyes. Apparently the secret scheme she's had all season also involves the Vorlon. He gets exactly what she's talking about and opens up his encounter suit to reveal to her his true form! Off camera, so we don't get a look.
Delenn: "Yes, thank you. Now I will keep the promise. Goodbye, you will not see me again as I am now."
Vaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaague.


ACT TWO


It's December 31st and Garibaldi has finally gotten around to speaking with Devereaux. The guy's enjoying a drink with friends and isn't all that interested in co-operating so Garibaldi decides to take them all down to security to have a proper chat.

Devereaux outright gives away that he's involved in something, calmly pointing out that Garibaldi's making a mistake investigating this as it's way too big for him. Too big for the head of security for this entire sector of space, huh?

Actually I have no idea how many sectors the station's responsible for, or how big a sector even is. It's probably smaller than a quadrant though. Or larger.

Later, Sinclair and Catherine reveal their engagement and ask Garibaldi to be the best man, which makes his day.
 "I'm honoured to be your best man. Hell, I'm honoured to be best at anything."
But their happy dinner is interrupted by a call from security telling Garibaldi that those prisoners he just brought in have gone missing. They're becoming a bit of a concern to him, especially considering that the pistol Devereaux was carrying had no serial number, and they only give them out to special agents in Earthforce security.

Meanwhile somewhere else in the galaxy, we finally get to see the famous Quadrant 37!

And then we get to see it get blown to pieces by two of the mysterious black spider ships that cut open the Raider carrier for Londo back in Signs and Portents!

Well we almost see it. The trouble with black spaceships is that space also tends to be black and kind of dark too. That's why everywhere interesting in the Babylon 5 universe seems to have a nebula in the background.

We also get a bit of insight into Narn design here, as the outpost is actually built up from bits of their spaceships, and I don't think it's just the VFX team being lazy. The Narn are still recovering from their occupation so they're forced to be creative with what they have.

Incidentally, the last time we saw Narn cruisers they were wrecking a Centauri outpost in a sneak attack in the season premiere, and now we've got a Narn outpost getting wrecked in a sneak attack for the Centauri in the season finale. Bit of symmetry there for you.

Down in a docking bay, Garibaldi's faithful second in command has come down to check on what he's up to now. This guy's shown up in like three or four episodes so far but if they've given him a name other than "Garibaldi's Aide" I must have missed it.

Anyway, Garibaldi is going through some of the boxes that were meant to be loaded onto a ship for Devereaux but ended up being left behind. This is the cargo that the dead guy from the teaser would've been moving, and its no wonder he discovered something here as the lid on the left box just pops open on its own midway through the scene.

Turns out that the boxes contain little jamming devices and a triangulation system with co-ordinates pre-programmed into it to help someone place the jammers in the right place. But the co-ordinates aren't pointing at the station, they're pointing to within Earth's solar system... right where the President's ship will be passing through!

So he phones Sinclair to tell him to meet him in the briefing room, then leaves the jammers with his aide and rushes out... only to run into Devereaux and his friends in the corridor.

And then he's shot in the back by his own nameless sidekick!

So now TKO's sole contribution to the arc has played out and it can be safely forgotten. Twice his friend warned him to watch his back, but even the paranoid Mr. Garibaldi didn't see this coming.


ACT THREE


With no sign of Garibaldi, Sinclair checks his own quarters on the off chance he's waiting for him there, and meets Delenn instead. She's not screwing around this time though, as she whips out the Triluminary she got in Babylon Squared and reveals that she knows that he knows what happened to him when he was captured during the war 10 years ago!

He figured out back in And the Sky Full of Stars that during the final battle of the Earth-Minbari War Delenn had his Starfury brought aboard her War Cruiser. Then she scanned him with a Triluminary, wiped his memory, dropped him off again and cancelled the apocalypse.

But he doesn't know why she did it and why they made sure he was put in charge of Babylon 5 and it's been eating away at him for months. Now she's offering to tell him everything, but with Garibaldi missing he can't spare the time! C'mon Delenn at least tell the audience. This would be a great time to go on a long monologue to an empty room.

Meanwhile G'Kar's just now learning that the Narn outpost at Quadrant 37 is now an orbiting cloud of debris, with no survivors, no surviving records, and no clue to who did it.

G'Kar reacts pretty much as you'd... not expect. He doesn't suspect the Centauri, not even slightly, and he works through the other suspects logically to come to an alternative conclusion: there's a mysterious and powerful new player out there, and they're not messing around.

Over in the Zocalo people have put that horrific murder from yesterday out of their minds and are celebrating the new year. Then an elevator door opens to reveal Garibaldi lying unconscious inside. It keeps happening!

The gunshot wound to the back didn't kill him, but it sure didn't make it any easier to crawl over to a lift and press the button for the Zocalo. I guess he wanted to end up in a place with as many people as possible, so he could ruin their celebrations.

Over in Delenn's quarters, her elaborate construct is revealed to be an ornamental stand for the Triluminary! But... hang on, she was building this device in Signs and Portents way before she was given the Triluminary, and she actually seemed surprised and reluctant to take the thing. Was she just being manipulative or had she not flipped through the instructions yet to see what parts she'd need. Or was Signs and Portents meant to come after Babylon Squared?

I just looked this up and it turns out that there's an authorised book called Across Time and Space: The Chronologies of Babylon 5 which says Babylon Squared takes place in July and Signs and Portents takes place in August, so it seems that even the Lurker's Guide Master List isn't putting these episodes in the right order. See, this is why you film episodes chronologically if possible: to give viewers a fighting chance to follow the damn story!

"Valen said this day would come", Delenn tells Lennier, explaining that they shouldn't stand in the way of prophecy. He was a Minbari prophet by the way, who was first mentioned back in... Babylon Squared maybe. I'm thinking he's likely the bloke who wrote the instruction manual for these things.

She activates the machine she's constructed and it begins covering the wall with fluff. Seems like a thousand year old practical joke by their ancient buddy Valen.

Down in Medlab Garibaldi's still just about hanging on. He's getting rushed into surgery, but after all the bullshit he just went through he's determined to get the message out properly this time. He tells Sinclair that President Santiago is going to be assassinated and he tells him exactly where it's going to happen.

Hey it's the off-mentioned transfer point on Io! This is where the Sol System's own jumpgate sits, orbiting a moon orbiting Jupiter, far enough away from Earth so that ships can't just appear out of nowhere and threaten the planet. Well, except for the ones with their own jump engines.

It's also where the assassination will take place and Earthforce One is nearly there, so Sinclair rushes to C&C to see if Ivanova's managed to get a message out to them yet.

Unfortunately the jamming devices kicked in about five minutes ago, blocking all military channels around Jupiter. But if they can get through to ISN news over a civilian channel they can still warn them in time!

Oops.

They're too late and Earthforce One explodes, killing President Santiago (but not his Vice President, who left the ship at its last stop due to illness).

And Babylon 5 just lost its biggest supporter. In fact every human who wants to coexist with aliens instead of isolating themselves just lost their biggest supporter.


ACT FOUR


Back in the garden maze, Londo meets up with Morden again and freaks out over the fact that his associates just slaughtered 10,000 Narns in cold blood. Morden's surprised he cares. Plus it got the job done, as the Centauri government have started to take Londo very seriously.

Earth's government on the other hand has little interest in anything Sinclair has to say about the destruction of EarthForce One. They disregard his evidence and order him to remain silent on the matter. Of course that's not going to stop him from chatting to Devereaux when he finds him, though it'll be a one sided conversation as Garibaldi's former second in command just killed him and his friends. They should really give that character a name now that he's become head of Babylon 5's security.

As is traditional for sci-fi series, the Vice President is sworn into office in an exact recreation of the photo of Lyndon B. Johnson taking over from JFK. I remember the Battlestar Galactica miniseries doing the same thing.

Both the humans and the Narns have had their own JFK assassination today, or their own 9/11; a terrible turning point in their universe which will change all their lives going forward.

President Clark announces that he's going to work to create the world that President Santiago would've wanted... by ignoring the man's wishes and focusing more on "the needs of our own people". So all the Homeguard terrorists we've seen during the season may have been arrested, but they got what they wanted in the end: a more insular Earth. Obviously not a good thing for a diplomatic space station with a crew working to form stronger ties with other worlds.

Kosh finds Sinclair looking shell shocked down at a bar and gives him a friendly cryptic hint: "And so it begins." He also mentions that he's forgotten something and Sinclair suddenly realises what he means and jumps up. He's forgotten Catherine Sakai! She was all over this episode at the start, but now she's disappeared again!

Actually Kosh is reminding him about Delenn, who promised to tell him everything as long as he didn't wait too long. Sinclair rushes to her quarters and finds...

... that he waited too long. The Triluminary-powered machine has cocooned her in the corner of her quarters. A telepath told him in Legacies that Delenn was secretly planning something to do with a chrysalis, but she didn't tell him that she'd be entering one herself! And apparently Valen set a very specific deadline for her rebirth.

Lennier seems to be in on at least some of her plans now, but he's keeping silent, so Sinclair's missed his chance to learn the truth.


ACT FIVE


Elsewhere on the station G'Kar announces to Na'Toth that he's leaving the station to investigate the attack on Quadrant 37, while Ivanova, Londo and the treacherous new security chief watch over Garibaldi during surgery. Look at him back there, he's just waiting for all these damn people to clear out of Medlab so he can finish the job.

Meanwhile Mr. Morden is having a very Metal Gear Solid sinister one-sided conversation with translucent spider monsters in his quarters, Catherine Sakai makes one last appearance on Sinclair's couch and a concerned Lennier keeps vigil over Delenn holding a candle. Nothing's the same any more.


CONCLUSION


After a season of one-off stand-alone tales that always end with our heroes victorious, Chrysalis is writer J. Michael Straczynski kicking over the table and saying we're not playing that game any more.

There's four plotlines running through this episode and in each one Sinclair fails. His attempts to talk G'Kar down from putting pressure on Londo come too late to save 10,000 Narns. His warnings about the assassination come to late to save the President. His efforts to discover the truth behind what happens to him during the Earth-Minbari War fail because he forgets to talk with Delenn until it's too late. And he's going to struggle to get married now that his best man is on the brink of death. Worst New Year's ever.

So the Narn and Centauri situation has only gotten worse, Sinclair has lost his biggest supporter in government, Delenn is in a cocoon that might kill her, Garibaldi is barely holding onto life, no one believes them that the President was assassinated, a traitor is running B5 security and Londo's got a whole lot of blood on his hands. But this isn't really a downer episode, because everything's still in motion. It feels more like an 'end of part one'.

If there's one issue I had with the episode, it's that President Santiago and Garibaldi's aide haven't appeared all that much so far and when they did it was way back during the first half of the season. I'm sure I didn't even realise that Garibaldi's sidekick was someone I'd seen before when I first watched the episode.

Morden and G'Kar haven't been seen in a long while either, but that's less of a problem as the two of them are hard to forget. Morden was plenty sinister the first time around and here he's seeming even more outright villainous. But he's being villainous to the Narn, so the season's original villain G'Kar is coming off a lot more sympathetic than he started out as. Wiser too, as even though he's got a single-minded hatred towards the Centauri, he's able to think things through logically and deduce that they weren't to blame this time. Even though one of them kind of was. Drunken shouty comic relief Londo ain't so much of a joke any more.

When people write off season 1 as being skippable, Chrysalis is the biggest (but not the only) exception to the rule as it's a very good, very intense episode by the Signs and Portents team of writer JMS and director Janet Greek that feels like a real step above anything the series has done so far. Even those 10 other season 1 episodes that were filmed after it. Babylon 5 gets better than this, but not that much better.



COMING SOON
Season 1 of Babylon 5 is now concluded. Next up on Sci-Fi Adventures, my Babylon 5 Season 1 review!

If you've got any opinions about Chrysalis or feedback about my site you're welcome to type words into the box below.

2 comments:

  1. I am probably misremembering but I recall that one thing that B5 was always good at was series endings. It knew how to leave the audience shocked and clamouring for the next series.

    All that said, I probably am misremembering and you'll do the series two finale in a few months and it'll just be Garibaldi having a cup of tea or something.

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    1. You're not misremembering. Season 3 in particular ends with such a WTF scene that on my first watch I went right past thinking 'This better not be cancelled' and ended up at 'Wow, I guess this must have been cancelled.'

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