Recent Posts

      RECENT REVIEWS
   
 Doctor Who: Fourth Doctor Era, Part 2 
 
 Doctor Who: Fourth Doctor Era, Part 3 
 
 Doctor Who: Fifth Doctor Era 
 
 Doctor Who: Sixth Doctor Era 

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Babylon 5 2-11: All Alone in the Night

Episode:33|Writer:J. Michael Straczynski|Air Date:15-Feb-1995

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about an episode of television! Every season of Babylon 5 lasts precisely 22 episodes, so by my calculations that makes All Alone in the Night the midpoint of season two.

I did some more calculations and figured out I've heard the phrase 'all alone in the night' exactly 32 times already, as it's been part of the opening monologue on every episode so far. Other titles they could've used include: 'A Shining Beacon in Space', 'A Dangerous Place', 'Our Last Best Hope for Peace', 'Neutral Territory', uh... 'The Name of the Place'. Could've, but didn't.

So this is a bit like the Where No Man Has Gone Before of Babylon 5 then I suppose. Kind of makes it seem like the episode's going to be a little more monumental than most, though my fuzzy memories are telling me... it isn't.

I'm going to go through the whole episode now, sharing my thoughts and screencaps as I go, so be prepared for SPOILERS. It's probably best to assume there'll be spoilers for earlier B5 episodes too, though I won't ruin anything about what happens later.



Hmm... I think I can guess what's gone wrong here.

The episodes were filmed in a way that left room on the sides of the frame for a later widescreen release, but the visual effects shots were rendered for full-frame NTSC and had to be cropped for the DVDs. Seems like they forgot to crop this shot though and it's gotten stretched instead, so we've ended up with a fat Epsilon 3 and a 7 mile long space station.

Put it back to the right aspect ratio though and I imagine you've got the only intact CGI shot left in the series.

The episode begins with Ambassador Delenn playing with her Minbari wind chimes and chatting to her aide Lennier.

She's a bit concerned as she's been summoned by the Grey Council, the secretive rulers of the Minbari. They've finally gotten around to choosing a leader after she turned the role down in Babylon Squared, and now they want to choose what happens to her. She's got two jobs right now, a secret one as a member of the Council and a public one as ambassador to B5, and she may end up losing both of them here due to her decision to disobey them and undergo an unsanctioned metamorphosis into a half-human hybrid.

Man, we're only halfway through season 2 and things are already getting complicated.

Over in C&C, Ivanova and Sheridan are investigating unusual sightings in sector 92. The last two transports through have reported seeing a bright light and experiencing turbulence and another disappeared entirely. Can’t be the Raiders this time; their story arc was thoroughly resolved by a mysterious black spider-ship in Signs and Portents.

So Sheridan decides he's going to lead a fighter wing personally to investigate, despite Ivanova's concerns. It seems incredibly risky for the station commander to fly a space fighter on an actual mission, that's why Sinclair always did it, but writer JMS was active enough on Usenet back then to know all the complaints and have an answer for them ready. In this case, the answer is 'money': Sheridan explains that he hasn't flown since January, six months ago, and he'll lose his flight pay if he doesn't get some hours in soon. Plus he likes flying and he misses it.

Then he goes and dooms himself by asking "What could go wrong?"

Cut to a Narn fighter being shot at, the pilot inside being blasted by sparks from all directions. They could've at least given the poor actor a tinted Narn pilot visor before setting off his own personal in-cockpit fireworks display.

The ship is soon blown to pieces but a mysterious alien vessel grabs the escape pod in a tractor beam and abducts him. It's a real shame Sheridan can't see any of this, because I get the feeling this is exactly what's going to go wrong for him.


ACT ONE


Sheridan's in his quarters getting into his flight suit when Ivanova calls him on the video phone. Personally, if I had a phone with a video camera in my room I probably wouldn't get undressed right in front of it.

Wow, my smartphone just went off to remind me that we live in the future now and we all have phones with video cameras in. I'm going to have to put it somewhere where it can't spy on my typing.

Ivanova's just calling to relay the news that General Hague will be arriving earlier than planned, which annoys her because she wasn't told he was arriving at all. How's she supposed to arrange a welcome for the guy if she doesn't know he's coming? There's protocol to consider!

He puts on his typical smile and tells her it’s perfectly okay for one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to come aboard with no fanfare, because... he’s on a cordial and unofficial visit! But once the video’s off the smile fades.

Down in the Zocalo, Doctor Franklin and Garibaldi are chatting yelling about baseball with... some guy I don't recognise. He looks like he's a pilot though; have I forgotten what Keffer looks like already? Oh, his badge says 'Ramirez'. So we're finally getting to see that Ramirez guy we've never heard about!

He makes a 30 credit bet with Franklin that Mars are going to win the baseball, despite the fact that they're used to playing in a much lower gravity, and then runs off to fly escort for Sheridan. It's cool that the series is actually acknowledging that living on a planet with weaker gravity would have an effect on people, at least in their ability to make home runs.

Elsewhere in space, Delenn and Lennier have arrived on the Grey Council's war cruiser, and are enjoying the rare chance visit a set that isn't part of Babylon 5 station.

Lennier wasn't supposed to come, but he borrowed a flyer to join her anyway. It's not the wisest move he could've made for his career, to support Delenn when the Council are displaying their dissatisfaction at her, but the guy's as loyal as he is naive.

Meanwhile, in sector 92, Sheridan's fighter wing comes across that mysterious starship from the intro, which slices two of his favourite engines off in about half a heartbeat.

We finally get a glimpse of Sheridan's personal Starfury and it immediately gets wrecked! They didn't even give me a good look at the tiger emblem painted at the top! We do get see the escape pod eject though, as the whole sealed cockpit disconnects and flies away to some very Wing Commander sounding music. Game, not movie.

The alien ship takes out two of the other Starfuries and tractors in Sheridan, leaving Ramirez's fighter dead in space.


ACT TWO


Well, it turns out that there's a leak in Ramirez's fusion reactor system and he's already soaked up a lethal dose of radiation. But it’s fine because he’s no one. It's like Keffer's role in the series had always been building up to this moment and then he was replaced by someone we care about even less.

The comms system is down so he can't just tell Babylon 5 that Sheridan has been kidnapped, he's going to have to find a way to get his crippled Starfury back home. So he tells it to fly itself back home and it does.

Sheridan wakes up on the alien ship to discover that he's been strapped to a table with strips of plastic and there's a ridiculous CGI torture device hanging over him from the ceiling, all spikes and spinning blades. He's also discovered why Babylon 5 is almost always entirely set on the station itself, as this set looks a bit rubbish.

At least now he can finally cross 'held captive by aliens' off his list of space hero tropes. It took him 11 episodes; feels like most manage it in 1.

He flinches as the alien probe comes closer to his face and... cut to Delenn in the Grey Council ship.

Delenn's a bit put off as she was summoned to the Council, but now they haven't bothered to turn up to talk to her.

Hedronn from Points of Departure appears to explain the situation. The Council are a bit annoyed at her for transforming into an alien when they told her not to, and her time spent with the humans has changed the way she thinks as well as how she looks. By their reckoning she's no longer Minbari in either regard, therefore, she can't be one of the Grey Council, so she's been kicked off. She's Satai Delenn no more.

Stay tuned to find out if she gets to remain on B5 as the Minbari ambassador.

Back at B5, General Hague has arrived and... hey this is the guy from the monitor screen back in Points of Departure! He was the one who put Sheridan in charge of running the station in the first place.

Hague's a bit concerned about the fact that the captain isn't here to greet him as Sheridan's never late... except for when he's been abducted by aliens. So he takes command to find their missing captain and it's not long before they get their first clue, as not-Keffer's Starfury comes through the jumpgate on autopilot.

Back on the alien ship, the probing has ended and now it's time for alien vs. alien metal pipe combat! First up Sheridan's facing off against a Drazi with a light-up splat on his head.

But before I get to that I have to talk about the set design. They've gone for the budget alien hive look; dressing the walls with bits of tubing and torn fabric/plastic bags. Only the walls though, not the floors. Personally, I think it really helps to give the episode some extra production value, because every time they cut back to the station I think 'Damn those old B5 station sets are looking well constructed this week'. Even the scenes of Delenn standing in an entirely black void suddenly look like they're from a more expensive show.

There's so little room here for cool fight choreography in this tiny room that they've had to be creative, so the Drazi cunningly... ducks down behind the table Sheridan was lying on. Sheridan seems genuinely thrown off by this, despite the fact that he could take a step backwards and see the entire thing.

Where has he gone? Where will he strike from?

Uh oh, he came from the right side!

To Sheridan's credit, he does figure out that the device on the Drazi's head is controlling him pretty much immediately, and even tries talking to him in his own language. But he can't get through to him... because the device on his head is controlling him.

Why Sheridan doesn't get a device himself is a mystery. I'm going to guess that the aliens got bored trying to figure out how to wire it up to his human brain and figured that sending a dude running at him with a pipe would get him fighting just as well.

Uh… what just happened to the Drazi? Did someone throw a knife into his back? Did he impale himself on his own pipe?

I’m going to have to rewatch this and figure out what happened. Let's see an action replay in slow-motion.

Aha, Sheridan cowered against the table with the end of his pipe sticking out and the Drazi leaned onto it so hard he impaled himself right through his torso. Well, that's one way to make sure that nobody looks good in this fight. Though now Sheridan can cross 'fight to the death' off his list of space hero tropes as well.

And in a flash, the corpse is gone (along with the white alien blood). There's no teleporters or disrupter beams in the B5 universe, so in the absence of any better theory I'm going to pretend that the aliens ran in with a stretcher, carried the body out, then used one of those Men in Black mindwipe devices on Sheridan so that he forgot the last minute or two. Those things are totally canon in the B5 universe; the Minbari used one on Sinclair at the Battle of the Line.

Sheridan turns around to see the Narn pilot who got his ship blown up in the teaser standing behind him with a sword and a splat on his head. Round two!


ACT THREE


The Narn manages to give Sheridan a good Captain Kirk tear across his sleeve during their fight, but again it's not something he particularly wants to do, it's the headsplat controlling him. In fact, he begs Sheridan to kill him, as this Gamesters of Triskelion scenario was clichéd even back in 1995.

Sheridan doesn't kill the Narn, but he does give him a few good smacks with a pipe, knocking him unconscious. It seems like the aliens don't take away the live ones after a fight so he's left lying there on the floor and Sheridan gets a break from people trying to kill him.

In B5's Medlab, Doctor Franklin is desperately trying to save Ramirez with regen packs and a full-body transfusion. Ramirez is one of his closest friends, he's known him for almost 20 minutes and he's not going to lose him now!

But Ramirez can only hold on long enough to say one final line about not being able to collect his 30 credits before dying, which triggers a serious display of acting from Franklin.
"Ramirez! Ramirez! Don't you do this to me, damn it!"
I'm pretty sure JMS wasn't aiming for comedy when he wrote this, but that's where it's landed for me. The scene is absolutely bloody terrible, mostly because a one minute chat about baseball at the start wasn't enough to establish Franklin's deep friendship with Ramirez, and his melodramatic reaction doesn't fit this story at all. Plus Ramirez didn't even use his final moments of life to tell them what happened to the captain, so screw that guy!

It's interesting how much this episode is mirroring season 1's Babylon Squared so far, with mysterious events happening in a sector of space, Delenn off visiting the Grey Council, and a lone Starfury pilot returning on autopilot just in time to be dead and absolutely no help to them. Though I don't recall anyone giving a crap about the pilot in that one.

Over on the Minbari ship it's time to learn whether Delenn gets to stay on as ambassador and who taken her place on the Grey Council.

She makes a short speech pointing out that she served on the Council for 20 years and considers many of them friends. She didn't turn her back on them when she went into the chrysalis, she made a sacrifice to help bring the Minbari and humans together in preparation for the great war that's coming! Oh, I thought the Narn-Centauri War was the 'great war' spoken about in the opening monologue, but it seems that the one against the darkness is starting up this year as well.

And then we finally get to see who's been chosen to replace her on the Council....

Surprise, it's her arch-nemesis Neroon from season 1's Legacies! He reveals that he's finally been told the full story of why the Minbari surrendered at the end of the Earth-Minbari War 11 years ago and he finds their justification to be a joke. He's not a happy Minbari.

Delenn's a bit pissed off herself, as bringing another member of the Warrior Caste onto the Council has thrown off the balance. When Valen first called the Nine together he chose three from the Religious Caste, three from the Warrior Caste and three from the Worker Caste. With Neroon replacing her, there's now four from the Warrior Caste and only two from the Religious Caste, and that gives them a majority!

This would probably have more impact if they'd ever mentioned the Worker Caste before now, but it still sounds pretty bad.

But Neroon's able to turn everything Delenn has been saying back on her, saying that it makes sense to have the Warrior Caste in charge if prophecy says they're going to be fighting in a great war soon. And now that Delenn's turned herself into the perfect liaison between Earth and the Minbari she should go back to Babylon 5 and stay there. Because she doesn't belong anywhere else anymore. Neroon's a bit of a git.

Back on the mysterious alien ship, the Narn wakes up to learn that he's got broken ribs and one may be puncturing his lung. On the plus side, he's not being mind controlled anymore, because Sheridan took the thing off his head and thoroughly broke it.

The Narn reckons that they're on a scout ship that's been sent out to pick up samples and analyse potential targets. Personally, I think they've ended up in an episode of Star Trek.

Now we're back on the Grey Council ship again. Minbari don't lie, but Delenn is doing an amazing job of putting a positive spin on being fired from the Council to Lennier, telling him that they believe she can best serve their people by staying on Babylon 5 as ambassador. It's not the worst possible outcome for her really, but losing the respect of the Council (along with her authority) has really hit her hard.

Delenn tries to let Lennier off the hook now that she's no longer Satai, telling him to go home to his family and studies, and he gleefully throws up a middle finger and walks away, saying he's glad to be finally done with all this crap. Actually no, he demonstrates absolute loyalty like he always does; what did she expect was going to happen?

Very soon now she'll be going into darkness and fire, but he's got her back. Which is handy really because JMS liked to have trapdoors in case of disaster; a minor character in a position to replace a major one if the actor should leave for whatever reason. Like Zack Allan for Garibaldi, or Vir for Londo, or Na'Toth for... well, maybe not Na'Toth as she hasn't been around for ages. Seems like there's a need for a new recurring minor Narn character to be introduced soon as G'Kar's emergency backup. Like really soon...

Back on Babylon 5, Ivanova and Hague are still struggling to find the alien vessel. On the plus side, they've got some backup on the way... the Agamemnon, Sheridan's old ship!


ACT FOUR


We're 30 minutes in now so Sheridan decides to have a quick nap, and dreams of Ivanova with a raven on her shoulder.

"Do you know who I am?" she asks.

Next, it's Garibaldi with a dove on his shoulder, saying "The man in between is searching for you." Well, that's both cryptic and entirely useless, thanks Dove Garibaldi.

Oh oh, I hope Ramirez is coming up next with an eagle on his shoulder, asking about his 30 credits.

Nope, it's Sheridan in a Psi Corps uniform. So that's ominous.

Ivanova appears again in a veil and really dark red lipstick to tell him "You are the hand." I don't get why none of these dream people can give him a straight sentence.

Oh, it's a Kosh dream! Well, that explains everything... kind of. Either Kosh's doing long range telepathy to screw with Sheridan or six months living on Babylon 5 has started giving him Kosh nightmares.

Sheridan asks Kosh what he's doing here, and Kosh gives about the absolute worst answer, saying that he was never away, Sheridan's mind is just finally quiet enough to hear him. Also, Sheridan has always been here too. Bloody Kosh...

He wakes up and goes over to the cell door with the Narn's sword, quoting Archimedes to himself so that we know he's going to try to lever it open. It wouldn't work in any jail cell we've got on our planet, but there's always a chance that these aliens are as bad at doors as they are at decorating.

Delenn and Lennier are back in their flyers heading home at this point, when they finally get in touch with the station and learn that Sheridan's been abducted. Just the thing to make a terrible day even worse.

It's nice to see that her flyer's cockpit set has been given a massive upgrade since season 1 though. It might not look 100% realistic here, but back in Babylon Squared...

1-20: Babylon Squared
... it looked like the set designer had their kid build the control panel out of bits of acrylic.

Delenn tells Ivanova that the aliens are called the Streibs and last time they tried this crap the Minbari "tracked them back to their homeworld and made sure they understood the depth of their mistake".

And so the Agamemnon jumps over there, accompanied by Delenn, Lennier, and Ivanova leading a whole lot of Starfuries. It's not what you want to see coming at you from a space hole.

They're not even asking for surrender, they just open fire at the ship the moment they get a good look at it. Man, I hope they're firing at the right ship, as planets tend to be pretty big and they can have a lot of very similar looking spaceships in orbit.

Sheridan and the Narn realise that this is their chance to escape, so they get the door open and make a run for it.

What, seriously? That's the alien mask they went with? It's like this ship exists in a low budget field which makes everything on it look terrible even for Babylon 5.

Sheridan knocks the Streib out with a chop to the back, then gets the Narn over to a survival pod.

They're just in time too, as the Streib flush the rest of their captives into space. It's like they want to piss Ivanova off more.

It works too, as she tells the Agamemnon to utterly obliterate them. I'm not sure why she's giving orders to a captain, but I suppose it's plausible that General Hague told them that she's in charge. The Agamemnon vaporises what's left of the ship with two shots from its big lasers and someone nearly blasts Sheridan's escape pod too until Ivanova realises it's broadcasting in Morse code. It's a pretty cliché moment, having the hero prove their captured ship is a friendly by sending out a message or waggling the wings or something, but here it's done well (and it really is just a moment, as Ivanova catches on instantly).

Back at the station, Franklin manages to save the Narn, so he's going to be available to reappear in later episodes maybe, but he's still pissed off about losing Ramirez. The other two pilots who died, no one cares about them, they didn't even get names. Ramirez though, he got a name and a whole scene with two main cast members earlier! His death matters.
Sheridan: "It doesn't make sense, does it? I mean, why am I still alive and he...? He was just a kid. It's not fair."
Franklin: "No, it's not."
The scene's extra-redundant coming after the ending of the last episode, GROPOS, where a whole group of people we'd been given time to even slightly care about also died in action, and the characters who knew them were suitably sad about it. I didn't think it was a particularly subtle ending at the time, but after this I'm beginning to change my mind.

On the way out of Medlab Sheridan runs into Kosh again, for real this time. He's not there to see if Sheridan's alright though, he just wanted to say "You have always been here," just like in the dream, and then walk off on him while he's processing that. Bloody Kosh, man...


ACT FIVE


Later General Hague joins Sheridan in his quarters to have a pleasant chat, which soon gets a lot more serious once Hague's sure that no one's listening in.

Sheridan's pissed off that it took this long for someone to debrief him as he's been waiting for six months for someone to show up. Turns out that what we didn't see in Points of Departure is that he was secretly ordered to spy on the command staff to evaluate their loyalty to Earth!

President Santiago knew that if anything happened to him, Vice President Clark would get rid of Commander Sinclair in a heartbeat and appoint one of those assholes that kept turning up during season 1 to take charge of the station. Sheridan's record makes him look like he's one of those assholes, so Santiago made him his first choice to succeed Sinclair, knowing that Clark would accept him and leave him alone.

Hague's part of a group who believes that Santigo was assassinated by the Psi Corps and he wants to bring Sheridan in so they can make use of B5's resources to investigate. Sheridan asks why he's trusting him, and Hague tells him that it's because he's read his record. C'mon Hague, you can't say that his record's misleading one second and then use it to judge him the next! I dunno, maybe it's a case of the politician seeing what he did and the general seeing why he did it.

So Sheridan gives the same question to his senior staff. Do they want to risk their careers to join a conspiracy to take down their own president? Of course, they all unanimously say yes. Well, Franklin says "ditto" but same thing.


CONCLUSION

All Alone in the Night is a clever 4-way multifunctional title that refers to every aspect of the episode.
  1. The first one is the most obvious as it's in the opening narration of every episode. Babylon 5 itself is a shining beacon in space, all alone in the night.
  2. Then there's Delenn who spends the episode feeling very much alone as she goes into darkness and ends up shunned by the rest of the Grey Council.
  3. Plus there's Sheridan captured and alone on an alien ship. Well, as alone as you can be when you're surrounded by aliens, with a wounded Narn at your side and Kosh in your head.
  4. And last there's Ramirez alone in his Starfury. Actually forget that, last is the Babylon 5 staff working in secret to bring down President Clark's conspiracy, who have some help within Earth Dome but are otherwise all on their own.
As far as Delenn's concerned, the episode's a sequel to Babylon Squared, as she returns to the Grey Council to accept the consequences for refusing their call to lead them so that she could play her role in their prophecy. They kick her out, just like they said they would, but they didn't mention anything back then about putting Neroon in her place and giving the Warrior Caste a majority in their government. Plus it turns out that the xenophobic bastards don't even trust her anymore since her transformation. The good thing about prophecy though is that if she's right, then things are all happening exactly as they must and she shouldn't have to worry! Delenn is worried though, and feeling powerless and abandoned, so it makes sense that she immediately throws her support behind team Babylon 5 and flies over to rescue Sheridan personally. She wants to ride in with the righteous ass-kickers and get her groove back, while saving one of the few friends she still has from being stuck in a cheap throw-away Star Trek episode.

Though the Streib plot wasn't all that bad, despite the ropey sets, dodgy aliens, and crappy choreography, as was nice to see Sheridan get to play Captain Kirk for once. But it suffers from being simplistic, pointless and entirely disconnected to the ongoing story, aside from the Kosh dream, and who knows what that was about? Why can't Sheridan have nice straightforward ominous visions of the future like Londo did in The Coming of Shadows?

Probably the biggest reveal of the episode though is that despite Sheridan's happy-go-lucky grinning 'gee, aren't fresh oranges great?' façade, he's been secretly testing the senior staff's loyalty and character the whole season! It's possible that Franklin passed the test by running the telepath underground in A Race Through Dark Places, though back then Sheridan wasn't able to say what he was thinking. Garibaldi must have passed the test when he almost died to prevent Santiago's assassination. And Ivanova passed the test when she put up with Sheridan's bad jokes and snoring when they were locked out of their quarters. Now that he's assessed the trustworthiness of his senior staff, Sheridan has been recruited to do whatever it takes to bring down the secret conspiracy that assassinated Santiago. Sure he already promised to take them down back in Spider in the Web, but this time he means it! The 'B5 crew vs. President Clark and the Psi-Corps' story arc starts here.

Overall I found this to be a reasonably solid, entertaining, mid-tier episode for the most part, let down a little by some unconvincing sets and everything Franklin said in Medlab. But we get to see the Agamemnon totally wreck someone, so it all balances out.


Dedicated to the memory of ace Starfury pilot Carlos Ramirez.



COMING SOON
Babylon 5 will return with Acts of Sacrifice. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be watching The Orville's Into the Fold.

Thanks for leaving a comment, if that's something you're about to do.

3 comments:

  1. Why Sheridan doesn't get a device himself is a mystery.

    I assume because the aliens want to see how well humans defend themselves. You don't need to compel someone into self-defense. He probably would have gotten the splat later, if he survived the attacks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So, it turns out Carlos Ramirez is a major-league baseball player. Spooky! Happily, the real-life Carlos has so far not been exposed to lethal doses of radiation while doing his job. Stay safe, Carlos!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That'd be doubly spooky if he played for Mars.

      Delete