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Friday, 24 November 2017

Babylon 5 2-12: Acts of Sacrifice

Episode:34|Writer:J. Michael Straczynski|Air Date:22-Feb-1995

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I've jumped back to Babylon 5 for season two's Acts of Sacrifice. I'm just past the midpoint of the season now with 11 episodes behind me and 11 still to go, which means I'm 4 episodes behind where I was at this point last year. I need to step up the pace.

Hang on, I recognise that ugly rubbish spiky spaceship... this is the episode with the Lumati in it! The title had me thinking it was the one where Londo's old friend shows up and then stuff happens, but nope it's this one. I guess I should start mentally preparing myself for how it ends then.

There's going to be SPOILERS beyond this point, by the way. Not just for this episode, but maybe earlier ones too. I'll not even hint at anything that comes in later episodes though, except for just then where I said that Londo's friend shows up and stuff happens.



The episode begins with a fierce PlayStation-era CGI space fight between Narn and Centauri ships, which is unexpected but I'll take it. The Narn-Centauri War that began three episodes ago is still ramping up, and right now a Narn heavy cruiser is covering the evacuation of one of their colonies. That up there is one of their civilian transports loaded with women and children and Centauri ships are trying to blow it up.

Oh sorry, I mean "females and children", as that's what the Narn keep saying. Because they're aliens. Maybe it would've sounded less awkward if they said something like "females and pouchlings" and fully committed to the alienness.

I figured this was going to be one of those teasers that ends with a character from the battle setting a new course, "destination... Babylon 5", but nope. The heroic crew of the Narn heavy cruiser actually sacrifice themselves to give the civilian transport a chance to escape by moving in the way as a shield and taking the incoming fire itself.

Then it cuts to reveal this is all a suspiciously well-shot video being shown to the Earthforce crew by an increasingly desperate Ambassador G'Kar.

He explains that the Centauri hit the colony without warning, despite their promise not to strike civilian targets. Londo hasn't even bothered to turn up to make a rebuttal but he's issued a statement accusing the Narn of basically using the civilians as human shields for military targets and filling civilian transports full of guns.

G'Kar claims that Londo's lying, and Sheridan's actually inclined to believe him this time. The first casualty of war is the truth, but the Centauri have been utter dicks lately so he's going to talk to his government and see what they can do. G'Kar's satisfied by this as if Earth takes a stand against Centauri atrocities, the others will join.

Then that butt-ugly blue ship from my the first screencap comes flying out of the jump gate and it turns out that Sheridan's been expecting it. This is a diplomatic vessel from a race we haven't seen yet called the Lumati and Ivanova thinks they must be pretty advanced with a ship like that (you can generally tell the tech level of Babylon 5 ship by how much it looks like it belongs on a documentary about bizarre deep-sea creatures).

With the Narn-Centauri War heating up, Earth could use more races joining either as allies or as part of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, and because winning over the Lumati is such an important diplomatic task, Sheridan's giving the job to Ivanova. The woman who started the season yelling an elevator full of ambassadors into submission and threatening to move their seats down the corridor into the fusion reactor. But we've been seeing her grow as a diplomat since then, like in the episode where she found a peaceful resolution to the great Green Drazi/Purple Drazi conflict, so I think there's a good chance she'll pull this off. She might even do it without anyone breaking a leg this time.

Man, I still can't get over how ugly that Lumati ship is. It may well be the ugliest and laziest looking spaceship in all of Babylon 5.


ACT ONE


After getting a definite 'maybe' from Team Earthforce, G'Kar pays Ambassador Delenn a visit for her assistance and catches her doing that thing again where she stares over the cameraman's shoulder. The scene's really reminding me of the chat in her quarters back in The Gathering, where he tried to talk her into an alliance to start this war. Turns out that she hasn't forgotten it either, as she points out all the times that G'Kar said he'd never rest until the Centauri were utterly destroyed.

G'Kar's got a good case to make here, as if the Minbari stepped in while the war's still fairly young they may be able to put the brakes on it entirely, but his antagonistic behaviour in season 1 is coming back around to bite him in the ass. Delenn's worried that if the Minbari help the Narn fight the evil Centauri now it'll only be a matter of time before they're helping the Centauri fight the evil Narn. The Narn were the ones attacking a Centauri colony full of civilians in Midnight on the Firing Line after all.

We also get another piece of info about the Earth-Minbari War here, just when I thought that subject was well and truly in the rearview mirror. Turns out that Delenn was there when the Minbari encountered an Earth vessel for the first time, on a ship along with the Minbari leader (Duhkat). But the humans were afraid of them for whatever reason and opened fire, so she got to watch her leader die. Then the soul hunters came for him so they built a wall of bodies, but she doesn't mention that bit; no one wants to remember Soul Hunter.

In retaliation for the unprovoked attack, the Minbari nearly exterminated the entire human race, which was apparently very exhausting for them as Delenn is using this tale to explain to G'Kar that "My people are tired of war". Though we know that's a very un-Minbari lie, considering that her people kicked her out of their Grey Council and replaced her with a warrior a couple of weeks ago. She can't exactly tell him that they're actually preparing to fight a greater war against the super powerful aliens that are secretly supporting the Centauri though, so I'll let her off.

Meanwhile down in the casino, these dumbass Centauri apparently have a death wish, as they're antagonising a pair of Narns sitting nearby.

Fortunately, it doesn't go any further than a bottle getting thrown their way, as put-upon security officer Zack Allen comes down to break it up! This is his third appearance in the season, putting him neck and neck with Warren Keffer and way ahead of Na'Toth, which is pretty ridiculous considering they're both in the opening credits for every episode and he's not.

Oh good, it's that Lumati ship again. It took a while to dock because they had to find a suitably ugly docking bay to stick it in. I don't much like the docking crane either!

Ambassador Correlilmurzon seems like a friendly enough guy though, aside from the fact he refuses to even speak to inferior beings, like Ivanova and humans in general. He's got some kind of telepathic link to his servitor Taq (on the right), so he'll be speaking for him during their tour of the station. Of course, they don't explain this right away, so when Taq says "I am Correlilmurzon of the Lumati", Ivanova assumes that he's Correlilmurzon of the Lumati. Fortunately, they set her straight before the situation can fully devolve into an awkward comedy routine.

If she can prove the humans are worthy during their visit then she'll receive the honour of hearing his words coming out of his own face, and if she's really lucky others of his kind may even honour the station with their presence! Ivanova's great in this scene; doesn't let the smile slip until their back is turned.

Now Londo's started having his conversations at the camera as well.

Ambassador Mollari hasn't been having a great day. His actions during his last appearance back in The Coming of Shadows have given him the influence and respect he craved all season 1, but people keep dropping by wanting favours from him! Everyone claims to be his friend now and it's got him feeling more isolated than ever.

He's upgraded his outfit since last time we saw him, trading in the purple and gold jacket for something considerably... darker. It's both meaningful and stylish! Though on the other hand, another character will also be making the shift to a black costume around this time next year and that'll have the exact opposite meaning, so you can't read too much into colours.

Elsewhere on the station, that asshole Centauri and his friends have finally gotten that fight they were after against some Narns, and they somehow actually won! Granted it was 4 Centauri vs. 2 Narns, but I still expected it to be a landslide victory for Team Narn. I figured those two would be taking this guy's fancy head home as a trophy right about now, or they'd at least be swiping his coat.

Zack runs in to stop the gang from kicking one of the Narns to death... but then ends up having to shoot the other Narn dead when he charges him with a pipe! Lots of aliens armed with pipes getting killed in this series lately. Look at that asshole Centauri up there waving the Narn over, egging him on to his death. He gets away with it too, as Zack's busy and none of the other security guys think to chase him when he runs off.


ACT TWO


Now Sheridan's in a yelling match with G'Kar over the fact that one of his Narns was killed. It's funny how actors seem to step up their game when acting against Andreas Katsulas.

The Narn charged at Zack because he was defending himself from the Centauri asshole. The Centauri asshole attacked because he had a bottle thrown at him in the casino. He had a bottle thrown at him because he was mouthing off due to the war. They're at war because of the crap the Narn have been pulling these last few years. The Narn have been pulling this crap because of the occupation...

Basically, as Sheridan puts it, you could go back a hundred years and still never solve who's to blame. All that matters here is that G'Kar asked Sheridan for help and crap like this is making it harder for him to arrange that help. So if G'Kar can't control his people on the station, he's going to throw them out.

G'Kar's actually a bit taken aback by this, like he's coming to the realisation that he needs to assert his authority over the Narns on board or else it may slip away. Or maybe he just doesn't like it when Sheridan's mean to him.

Over in the B-plot, Ivanova's tour of the station has reached Medlab, where the Lumati learn that the human doctors on the station go to great lengths to give aliens the same level of care as they do their own kind. Correlilmurzon doesn't much like this, as he's a strong believer in natural selection. How do they expect to evolve as a species when their doctors are saving the weak instead of letting them die off? Ivanova realises to her horror that they've just lit Dr. Franklin's fuse and any hope of an alliance is about to go right out the airlock when he inevitably explodes into righteous anger.

Fortunately, Correlilmurzon's very diplomatic with the doctor, recognising that humanity's an inferior species and therefore he doesn't know what he's talking about. He calmly explains (through his translator Taq) that the Lumati don't go out of their way to harm others, they just don't like to interfere with the natural evolution of other... cultures... oh damn he's talking about the Prime Directive right here isn't he? B5's getting a sneaky dig in on Star Trek.

Down in the casino, Londo finds Garibaldi and hands him a bag of money, which he's not all that pleased about.

These two were sort of friends in season one, but their friendship's been going through a bit of a rough patch lately and Garibaldi wasn't much interested in hanging around with the warmongering git even before he handed him a bribe. But Londo explains that he's got it all wrong; this isn't a bribe, he's finally paying back all the money he owes him! Because he really wants his old friend to hang around and just have a drink with him. He's finally turned his fortunes around and he's got all these things to celebrate, but he's got no one left to celebrate with. Everyone's scared of him now. Poor Londo.

After a few minutes of figurative arm twisting, Garibaldi relents and says maybe he'll have a drink with him. But not right now.

G'Kar's also having a meeting with some old acquaintances, as he gathers as many Narns as the Babylon 5 makeup crew could handle in front of the moodiest giant fan he can find and tells them to knock it off. He needs there to be peace on the station for the time being so that he can get allies for the war.

But the moment that G'Kar's out the door, the Narns drag out the Centauri asshole who got away earlier and shove a blade into his gut!

I thought G'Kar explained the situation very clearly but apparently his people are idiots. In fact, they're planning to follow this murder up by murdering every other Centauri on the station as well. Seems like it'd waste less of everyone's time if they'd just line up in front of Zack Allen holding metal pipes and signs saying "Shoot me". Because if they start attacking civilians with all the security officers around there's going to be more dead Narns afterwards than dead Centauri.


ACT THREE


The crew soon find the dead Centauri, but Sheridan decides to keep it quiet until they know for absolute certain it was a Narn who put the knife into him. So now Garibaldi's busy with this crap and he can't join Londo for that drink he semi-promised. Poor Londo.

Also poor Ivanova, as Correlilmurzon decides to invite himself in for a tour of her quarters. He's a bit concerned that she's only showing him the good parts of the station to give him a false impression of their culture, so she lets him choose their next stop and then kicks him out.

Then she realises that he's ran off with her panties! This crap never happens to Jean-Luc Picard.

Elsewhere, G'Kar's long-absent sidekick Na'Toth is making a surprise second appearance this season, as she spies on other Narns buying blades! Nine episodes she's been missing, which is a feat unmatched by anyone else in the opening credits.

I'd be glad to see her back, except she's not the real Na'Toth, she's the fake one that showed up in Revelations when the original actress left, and the new actress has made the bizarre choice not to act or sound anything like her season one incarnation.

Meanwhile, Sheridan's finally got a call back from HQ.

Hey, it's Agent Pierce from 24 along with his many fans! If there's one thing I've learned from this episode it's that when it comes to air conditioning, Earthforce doesn't mess around.

When it comes to Centauri warships bombing Narn civilians though, Earthforce doesn't really want to get involved. Funny, they were really eager to join in with someone else's war and blow shit up in GROPOS when they expected to get something out of it, but now even moving civilians out of the crossfire is too much trouble for the mighty Earth Alliance. Ivanova should show this call to the Lumati, I'm sure they'd be impressed.

Speaking of Ivanova, right now she's been roped into showing Correlilmurzon the wonders of DownBelow.

Like a lurker toasting his iguana on a stick. What is this, a Fallout game? Where do you even get a lizard from on a space station? I bet he's only eating the thing to distract people from his hair.

Correlilmurzon is genuinely shocked at the way the humans have segregated the poorest of their own people into a ghetto, out of sight. It's something the Lumati have never even considered, though they're definitely going to give it some thought now.

Yep, in a surprising turn of events, now that they've been exposed to the human concept of homelessness, the comically elitist Lumati have decided that we're terrible enough to be worthy equals. In fact, Correlilmurzon cuts Taq off mid sentence, as he's going to speak with Ivanova personally from this point. Just as she was almost getting the hang of looking at him instead of Taq when he spoke as well.

Meanwhile, Na'Toth gave G'Kar a heads up about the other Narn, so now he's gone back down to the secret Narn corridor with the giant moody fan and he's breaking out the monkey-fu to reassert his authority

He didn't even bring a knife with him, because he's G'Kar and he prefers a more hands-on approach.

To be honest, this isn't the most believable fight scene I've ever seen in Babylon 5, especially the part where he awkwardly jumps over the guy's blade, but it's always nice to see an ambassador giving someone a beat down, especially when they really deserve it. In fact, we'll get to see this in the opening credits of every episode in season 4.

G'Kar wins by snapping the guy's arm, and then tells the others that he wasn't joking before when he said to stop trying to kill Centauri. But then he makes the mistake of turning away from his opponent and gets a poison knife in the back.

But he can't afford to show weakness now, so he'll be hanging off Na'Toth's shoulder all the way back to his quarters instead of getting help. He's not 100% selling the lie that nothing's wrong here, but I'm sure it's not the first time he's stumbled back to his quarters with a woman on his arm.

It's just a shame it was all for nothing really, as we already know Sheridan can't get him any support from Earth. Well I suppose it did save Zack Allen from having to shoot all the Narns.


ACT FOUR


But Sheridan hasn't given up yet, and is having a meeting with the back of Delenn's head in front of her corrugated cardboard window frame.

He explains that he plans to get Narn civilians out to safety using Dr. Franklin's telepath railroad contacts. Delenn points out that his own government said that Earth cannot get involved, but he replies that "governments deal in matters of convenience, not conscience", and it's up to them to pull up the slack when they fall short. She's not exactly beaming with delight at this news, probably because she's feeling guilty over her own inaction, but her respect for Sheridan must be sky-rocketing right now. Plus secret conspiracies working for the greater good are totally relevant to her interests.

But that's not his only plan. With her help they could also transfer surplus food from Babylon 5 onto Minbari transports, send them to the Narn colonies, then secretly load them up with civilians for the return trip. Wait, Babylon 5 has spare food now? But people are literally eating lizards in DownBelow!

Delenn's not going to come out and admit that she was on the Minbari Grey Council for the last decade or so until she got kicked off last episode, but she tells him here that her resources aren't what they once were and that has to get his curiosity going. But she's totally in on this.

While Sheridan's chatting in Delenn's quarters, Ivanova's borrowing his office to seal the deal with the Lumati. It's only now that Correlilmurzon mentions that it's traditional to conclude important deals with sex, and he apparently plans to conclude it right here on Sheridan's desk.

Ivanova resists her natural urge to deck him and instead tries to think of the diplomatic way to escape this. Then when that fails she fakes a call from a very confused Tech #1 and then runs off.

Something tells me that if Sheridan was handling this, Correlilmurzon would be trying to conclude their business with his people's traditional handshake instead. Not that I think he's lying about his traditions. In fact, I think it's plausible that he only made the deal as an excuse to investigate more of Ivanova's underwear.

Wow, Ivanova ran all the way to Earharts? Oh no, now I have to listen to Earharts music!

Franklin helpfully suggests putting a bag on his head and doing it for Babylon 5. Then he says he could inject her with something, which sounded all kinds of bad until he followed it up with "make you sick". His line of thinking is that the Lumati don't know their biology, but he's given Ivanova a better idea.

Well, it's a different idea at least. Very different, to anything anyone sane would ever try.

Over in G'Kar's quarters, we get a good look at his spiky new table! He broke the last one in half a few episodes back in The Coming of Shadows, but it seems to have worked out for the best.

You wouldn't know it from the episode, but this is the very last time we'll ever see Mary Kay Adams as fake Na'Toth. Despite having her name in the opening credits for all 22 episodes this season, the actress only appears in 2 of them, falling short of Julie Caitlin Brown's 5 episode run as Na'Toth in season 1, but beating Susan Kellerman's 0 episodes (she quit during a makeup test). She also beat Mary Woronov's epic 1 episode run as Ko D'Ath, Na'Toth's Game Boy loving predecessor.

Na'Toth wasn't replaced or recast after this though, so G'Kar has to live without a sidekick for the rest of the series. Well, we still have Lennier and Vir at least.

This scene's mostly here to set G'Kar up for disappointment, as he bravely fights through the pain of his wound to go visit Sheridan and get the good news about the military support he needs to win this war!

And what he gets is leftover food and medical supplies. No ships, no weapons, and he can't even tell anyone about the deal to drum up additional support from the other races.

Sheridan and Delenn are acting incredibly awkward so they must realise how inadequate it all is, even as Sheridan tries to wring a bit of thanks out of the guy for all their trouble. Delenn's so guilty about the whole thing that she can't even bring herself to look at him, though that's nothing new this episode. Was someone behind the camera wearing a funny hat this week or something?.

G'Kar's absolutely gutted. But at the same time he realises these two tried their best to come through for him and their actions are going to save lives. So he brings himself to thank them.

And then he just goes to pieces outside. The character's somewhere between laughing, crying and wincing in agony right now and Andreas Katsulas absolutely sells it.

G'Kar's gone from the series' main antagonist to one of it's most sympathetic protagonists. Of course, his antagonism to Londo is part of the reason they're at war now, plus he was plotting to assassinate the loveable Centauri Emperor just a few episodes back, so he's not exactly an angel. But you can't not feel for the guy.

Writer JMS loves to torture his characters sometimes. But he also loves tonal whiplash, so the episode cuts from G'Kar's torment straight to Ivanova dealing with the Lumati. You see, Correlilmurzon didn't do the research to learn what human sex entails.

So Ivanova gets to dance around him, yelling "Boom shabba labba labba, boom shabba labba labba, hey there, hey there, three bags full," and so on. Sorry about the wobbling background by the way; I did some motion stabilisation on it to try (and fail) to hide the loop.

I can imagine a lot of people taking issue with this scene as it's incredibly dumb broad humour, but it does at least give Ivanova a chance to finally cut loose and prove that she is entirely insane. She goes through this entire routine which such absolute conviction that all that Correlilmurzon can do is accept that something just happened and he's going to leave now. He's too proud to admit ignorance and apparently too stupid to call bullshit, so he lets Ivanova win this round. Taq knows exactly what's going on though and he's loving watching his boss get played. So... it all worked out then!

Everyone who's seen Babylon 5 remembers this scene, though remembering what episode it came in is trickier (I'm still writing about Acts of Sacrifice by the way). I'm just hoping Ivanova remembers to mention this in her report, to give the next poor soul who has to deal with the Lumati enough advance warning to come up with a better scheme than she did.


ACT FIVE



And Londo shows up to tie his C-plot and G'Kar's A-plot together, as he decides not to make a big deal out of the murdered Centauri, so long as his killer (the one G'Kar beat up) gets deported and all his stuff is sold off to raise cash for the Centauri War Fund. It's clear that Londo's trying to prove to his good and dear friends that he's not such a bad guy... and it works!

Well, Garibaldi feels for the guy at least, and he decides to join him at the bar for that 'chemically inoffensive' drink he was offered a while back. It's good to have friends, even if only for a little while.


CONCLUSION

Acts of Sacrifice is certainly a season 2 episode of Babylon 5, as average as any of them. It's got JMS humour, JMS speeches, and JMS characters taking a few steps forward and then speaking past the camera instead of to the other character in the scene. Plus it continues to explore the consequences of the previous big arc episode without pushing any plots forward itself.

In fact it's the first time we've checked in with Londo and G'Kar to see what they're up these days after the events of The Coming of Shadows kicked off the Narn-Centauri War. Somehow they've both come around to being sympathetic here, though they're definitely not sympathising with each other. The two of them are reflecting on their situations in season 1 in different ways, with Londo missing what he had and G'Kar perhaps regretting his anger, but they both realise here they'd have more friends now if they hadn't been dicks in the past.

Not that Delenn and Sheridan would've been able to help G'Kar any better even if he was their favourite person on the station, as they've got their own problems to deal with. Mostly problems with their governments, as Delenn's kicked her out and Sheridan's is going a bit evil. It seems like G'Kar's crisis is pulling the two of them a little closer though, with Sheridan's speech about governments choosing expediency before conscience giving her an insight into what kind of man he really is. Her decisions may not have put her in the happiest place right now, but she's definitely not regretting saving him from that alien ship last week.

And then there's Lumati plotline, which is... well it's memorable. I might not have remembered what episode it happened in exactly, but I definitely remembered how it ended. If there's one thing I can say about JMS's approach to comedy, it's that he has no fear of making himself or his actors look ridiculous. It gives Ivanova a chance to be exasperated and weird though, and I can never complain about that. Claudia Christian and Andreas Katsulas were both given the opportunity to really show off this episode and they definitely... did what was asked of them.

This one's not essential to the overall plot but it is pretty important for a few of the characters and I'm fairly sure I enjoyed watching it so I'm pretty glad I didn't decide to be crazy and spontaneous and skip it for no reason. I kind of feel like maybe skipping the next one though.



COMING SOON
Next on B5: A rogue Presidential staff member is loose aboard the station in Hunter, Prey. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be writing about Deep Space Nine's Necessary Evil.

It'd be cool if you left a comment, but no pressure.

2 comments:

  1. I think the episode you're thinking of, with Londo's old friend, is called "Knives". But I haven't looked that up.

    Sorry about the wobbling background

    It wouldn't be Babylon 5 if the walls didn't wobble a bit during the action.

    For all the focus on them this episode, I don't remember the Lumati ever factoring into anything again. That seems a bit odd with a JMS script.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, Knives, that's the one. Also fair point about the wobbling walls.

      I think the Lumati do get one more mention, when Delenn mentions not being able to make a trade deal with them due to... diplomatic circumstances. Seems that JMS can do subtle as well sometimes.

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