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Saturday, 17 December 2016

Babylon 5 1-19: A Voice in the Wilderness, Part 2

Episode:19|Writer:J. Michael Straczynski|Air Date:03-Aug-1994

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm rewatching part two of Babylon 5's A Voice in the Wilderness. It seems weird to split the episodes into two separate posts, but I split up all of Doctor Who's two-parters so it's only fair. Plus watching this as its own episode means I get to put that picture of a spaceship up there and feel like I'm reviewing a lost Babylon 5 video game.

In Greek mythology Hyperion was one of the twelve kids of Gaia and Uranus, so it'd make sense to find them in space. But the ship's actually named after hyperion.com, the original home of the Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. The Hyperion might look kind of basic compared to modern TV CGI and the textures are a bit fuzzy, but I assure you it was cutting edge for 1994 technology. I mean it's got eight USB ports down the side!

Okay, I'm going to be recapping and commenting on the whole episode, which means SPOILERS under every screencap, but I'll only be spoiling the episodes that came before, not ones that come after.



Previously, on Babylon 5...
  • The crew discovered that the barren planet they orbit, Epsilon III, was experiencing unusual earthquakes. Plus it started shooting beams and missiles at every shuttle they sent to investigate, which is also unusual.
  • Delenn's old teacher arrived on B5, tired of witnessing the decline of Minbari society and determined to find a new purpose out in the stars.
  • Earth's Mars Colony fell into armed conflict and rebellion, which sucks for Garibaldi as he wasn't able to confirm that his ex is okay.
  • Sinclair and Ivanova flew a shuttle down to Epsilon III, found a sick alien attached to a giant subterranean machine, and brought him back for medical treatment.
  • Talia Winters made an appearance in a couple of scenes!
  • Garibaldi was shocked when a huge unidentified ship came through the jumpgate.
And now the conclusion:

The ship is that Earth Alliance heavy cruiser I showed in the last screencap! So the shocking resolution to the cliffhanger is that they've got backup coming through the gate and there's nothing to be worried about at all! Well, unless the captain's as much of an asshole as the elite negotiator Sinclair humiliated, or the Psi Cop he punched out, or the internal affairs investigator he punched out... they haven't had much luck with authority figures from Earth lately.

Still, it's nice to finally see what Earth's military ships look like, even if it's hard to judge the scale of it. The shape makes it seem as large as an average submarine maybe, but the Babylon 5 wiki tells me it's actually six times as big. That means the thing's as long as Picard's Enterprise with Kirk's Enterprise bolted to the front as a hood ornament.

It's definitely not as comfy on board as the Enterprise though, as Earth Alliance don't know how to gravity. Anyone who isn't strapped to their seats is going to be floating down the hallways. Though I suppose if the ship's slowing down anyone out of their chair will be colliding with a bulkhead right now.


ACT ONE.


And that's basically the entire teaser: a minute or so of 'previously on' clips, the ship comes through the gate, and then Captain Ellis Pierce of the Earth Alliance Starship Hyperion announces that he's been sent here to take control of the situation whether they like it or not.

Now he's flying over to pay them a visit in one of his souped up two-man Starfuries with a rear gunner and missiles on the wings. You don't see one of them every day... or ever again to my knowledge.

Sinclair finds Captain Pierce in his briefing room, investigating the station's recreation areas as his crew could use a bit of R&R (and gravity).

He explains that he was ordered to report here and assume control by the Office of Planetary Security, so that Earth can stake a claim to the technology on the planet below and scare off the other races with a show of force. Then he asks about their sick prisoner.

"The patient is in Medlab, his condition is uncertain," explains Sinclair. "Why don't you go down there and hold a gun to his head Captain, maybe a show of force will help in that situation too."

Damn man! After Eyes, Sinclair's really had enough of officers trying to claim authority over his station and he's not putting up with it for a moment this time. There's no pretence of civility or any attempt to reach a compromise, he wants Pierce gone.

Meanwhile Garibaldi's in the Zocalo getting a (non-alcoholic) drink, when this guy opposite starts mouthing off about the Mars rebellion with lines like "They're just a bunch of damned ingrates and cry babies!"

Though we also get "Like my grandpa used to say: 'nuke them 'til they glow, then shoot 'em in the dark'." It sounds a lot like something writer JMS would come up with, but that's actually a real phrase from the Cold War (that I hadn't heard of until I looked it up).

Garibaldi's in a bit of a bad mood lately with the (ex) love of his life currently on Mars and possibly dead, so he decides to indulge in a bit of assault and abuse of authority by slamming the guy's head against the table and calling it a magic trick. Honestly, I think the Joker did it better in The Dark Knight.

In fact this whole scene is just embarrassingly bad in my opinion, they really didn't pull it off.

Hey it's Senator Hidoshi again! Sinclair's called him up in the middle of the night to get President Santiago to confirm that he has final authority over Babylon 5's sector of space. He realises that the President's kind of busy right now with the Mars revolt going on, but that's not his problem!

In fact Sinclair's so pissed off that he threatens to resign over it, so Hidoshi promises he'll do what he can. This means that Sinclair can move onto to his next goal: taking his jacket off so that he can go to bed or whatever. But he only manages to get one arm out before Ivanova calls him up with a new problem:

Captain Pierce has tried sending his own ships to Epsilon III and the planet's defences are just tearing through them. They know the trick Ivanova used in part 1 of shooting at the missiles to lure them off target, but it's just not working this time.

Pierce phones up to ask what's going on and Sinclair explains that when they landed they used a special jamming device to get through the defences. He'd hand it over to them but unfortunately it's still being repaired!

The good news is that Pierce falls for it. The bad news is that if the seismic activity down there continues to grow it'll eventually destroy the entire planet and kill them all.


ACT TWO.


You can tell things are getting real as Sinclair and Ivanova have their collars open and their jackets off.

Whatever they did differently for their latest scan of the planet seems to have worked though, as they've discovered that Epsilon III is honeycombed with passages and a network of giant fusion reactors. So it was incredibly lucky that they managed to find the guy who ran the machine just a short walk from their shuttle really.

Less fortunate is that taking him away has left the system running on automatic, and right now it's automatically set the fusion reactors to overload, giving them just 48 hours to evacuate the station. They need about a week. Plus this started when Pierce tried to land, so any attempt to go down there themselves and turn the self-destruct off is likely to freak the computer out even more.

Ambassador Mollari spent most of part 1 drifting in and out of other people's plot lines and here he's still trying to place for himself in this story. So he ambushes Ivanova on her way to her quarters and demands to know what the deal is with the mysterious trips to the planet, the alien in Medlab and the large war cruiser parked outside. She can't actually tell him anything, but she's tired and frustrated and can't help but give him a hint.

So she puts her mouth up to his ear and says: "Boom. Boom boom boom. Boom boom. BOOM!"

Not quite as good as her Babylon 5 mantra last week, but I always appreciate Ivanova being weird.

Meanwhile Sinclair drops by Garibaldi's quarters to have a chat about the whole 'magic trick' incident. Garibaldi's feeling utterly helpless right now as he can't get in contact with Mars to check on his ex-girlfriend Lise and he can't arrest Epsilon III to stop it from blowing up. Sinclair tells him that he'll get a channel open to Mars somehow, which raises the question why Garibaldi asked Talia instead of him back in part 1. But that question then raises the question of where Talia even is this episode.

In return for getting Garibaldi his channel, Sinclair's got a favour to ask of him: when the evacuation starts some of the command staff will have to stay behind to manage things. He wants Garibaldi to make sure Ivanova isn't one of them, even if he has to tranq her and throw her into the last shuttle before the doors close.

Seems that 'women and children first' hasn't gone out of fashion in the 23rd century.

Down in Medlab, Delenn and her friend Draal have decided to pay their mysterious man from the machine a visit, after Draal became the third person to receive his holographic 'help me' message (after Sinclair and Londo). Which is weird because he's not in the machine right now.

The alien wakes up, but he doesn't say much to Draal except 'don't go to the planet or it'll explode, without the heart, without another...'

Speaking of not going to the planet, turns out that Captain Pierce has ordered some of his ships to go down to the planet again.

Sinclair phones him up and points out that his plan is going to kill them all because the planet will explode, but Pierce doesn't believe that. Then Sinclair tells him that he'll destroy any Earthforce ship that tries to go down there, but Pierce doesn't believe that either. So Sinclair goes through the steps of arranging for a fighter wing to intercept his ships, explaining that Pierce can't threaten his career or talk him out of it because if he doesn't take this action the planet will explode.

Pierce eventually figures out that he's not bluffing and stands down...

... just in time for another ship to exit the jumpgate and immediately shoot an energy beam at them.


ACT THREE.


They're only being scanned, but this is an incredibly intense scanning beam. The entire C&C crew are entirely unable to operate while this light's shining in their eyes.

Oh, they're doing that thing where they learn their entire language in about two minutes. Who knows what kind of secret messages have been hidden inside that text by the production crew?

The only interesting things I've spotted have been sinister AIs Nomad and Skynet, and maybe Orac from Blake's 7 too if they spelt it wrong. Oh also the first line flicks through the words "EYE AM KNOT A NUMBER AYE AMA FREE MAN".

The captain of the mysterious alien vessel comes on video chat and it turns out he looks a lot like the mysterious alien they pulled from the machine. He tells them a sad tale of how they've been searching for the planet for 500 years, until the beacon activated in part 1 brought them here.

They're under the impression that the world belongs to them and they will give the crew "10 of your hours" to move aside before they kill everyone. That's even less time than the planet explosion countdown! Captain Pierce immediately phones back giving them 9 hours to move aside.

I expected the entire C&C crew to face palm, but we do at least get another Ivanova quip: "Worst case of testosterone poisoning I've ever seen."

Sinclair goes to the now conscious man from the machine in Medlab and asks him about the alien ship. He tells him that they're rubbish and shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the planet.

Varn also reveals that he's been connected to the machine for 500 years. He watched them build the station in orbit and learned how to speak their language, but didn't think it was a great idea to contact them until now. Oh he's called Varn by the way, though I'm not sure when we learned that.

For once Dr. 'Scully' Franklin believes every word of the story and feels that it's entirely scientifically plausible. But Varn was dying before they unplugged him, the earthquakes were a result of him losing control of the machine, so they can't just put him back to fix everything.

Oh damn, I've never seen anyone pull off the trollface for real.

Captain Pierce wants Sinclair to join forces with him to commit a pre-emptive strike against the hostile alien ship, and Sinclair... agrees that it's a good idea. He'll be ready when the time comes.

Londo's still pissed off that he's been left out of the loop by everyone, but even more so when he discovers that Delenn's been keeping secrets from him as well! Uh Londo, 'secretive' is right there next to 'bald' in the list of her defining traits.

When Delenn and Draal spoke with Varn, he mentioned that they needed 'another' and he wasn't talking about a Jedi. He was talking about someone to fly down there and replace him in the machine, permanently. That seems to be why the 'help me' hologram came to Sinclair, Londo and Draal, as they're all familiar with the principal of self-sacrifice. 

The two Minbari have a plan and ask if Londo's going to risk everything and help them... and he actually says yes! "As a young and foolish Centauri, I swore that I would die on my feet, doing something noble and brave and futile," he explains. Of course he knows from his prophetic dreams that he's actually going to be strangled to death by G'Kar, but the line sounded good.

Cut to a Centauri shuttle leaving the docking bay (you can tell that it's Londo's because it's purple).

Ivanova doesn't even check who it is she gave clearance to though; she's just happy to get them off the station, as it means less people to evacuate later. Though it suddenly becomes a concern when Garibaldi reveals someone kidnapped the sick alien right out of Medlab, and it apparently happened just long enough ago for someone to have carried him across the station to the docking bays. Now there's a scene I feel like we should've seen, just so we know how the two ambassadors pulled that trick off. I mean they didn't just get him out of Medlab and through the corridors, they got him through the security at the customs area.

The enemy ship outside isn't too happy to see a shuttle heading for the planet either and it begins to open fire on it. It's firing on everyone in fact.

Babylon 5 launches fighter wings and the enemy ship goes into MULTI-VECTOR ASSAULT MODE (or whatever they called it in Star Trek), splitting into three separate ships to better deal with the multitude of targets. It's lucky the aliens didn't think to shine the scanning light in their eyes again or else B5 would really be screwed.

But Ivanova's more distracted by Londo's slightly erratic flight path, exclaiming "My God, whoever's piloting that shuttle's a madman."

And then we see Londo Mollari pulling off the world's slowest barrel roll. The CGI really isn't backing Ivanova up on this one. It's very shiny though.


ACT FOUR.


The fight's still going on outside, but the Centauri shuttle survived without a scratch. The planetary defences must have realised that their boss is on board and they're leaving it alone.

But then Garibaldi takes a shuttle out and follows him! He's sick of feeling useless and has decided to bring in whoever went down there. If they can make it through, so can he, he reckons.

Somehow he actually does make it through the defences and lands right next to Londo's shuttle. The ambassadors have got a head start though and an alien with them to point out all the death traps.

You know I'm starting to get the impression that the Earth Alliance shuttles might have been inspired by Centauri technology. Either that or the 3D modeller was in a rush.


Speaking of 3D modelling, look there's a little CGI Londo and the gang! Foundation Imaging weren't exactly set up to do motion capture so the animation isn't great (Londo's kind of ice skating), but they're so tiny that it's barely noticeable.

And another set of characters makes it over the deathtrap bridge alive! Who needs railings anyway?

Garibaldi arrives just in time... to catch two members of the Babylon 5 Advisory Council trying to put someone else into Varn's machine with his permission. Nothing illegal about that as far as anyone here knows, so he lets them carry on.

And the lucky man who gets to spend the next 500 years living as a CPU slotted into a 'Vitruvian Man' inspired PC case is... the guest star who's first real line of dialogue in part 1 was about self-sacrifice, and who wanted to do something useful in space and never come home! The fact that the episode tried to make this into an actual question is ridiculous. I mean Londo's hair wouldn't even fit in there.

And now Delenn's old teacher has finally fulfilled his destiny, a destiny shared by everyone's old teacher on Babylon 5, as he becomes part of a superweapon that can threaten the entire station.

The fight outside isn't going so great for Team Earth Alliance, especially Babylon 5 which just took a direct hit. There's no visible mark left on the model, but Ivanova's convinced there's damage to the Cobra Bays and that part of the hull is buckling, so I'll believe her.

Suddenly a pulse from the planet kills all power on everything in B5's vicinity.

Except for those strip lights along the walls in C&C (and the bit that keeps them spinning).

Then Draal appears as a hologram to give a message to all three parties involved in the conflict: Epsilon III can't belong to anyone, as any race who would study its technology would have a massive advantage over the others and throw off the balance of power. Hey Draal, have you ever met a guy named Ambassador Kosh? That's pretty much his race's gimmick.

He's making a good point though and he backs it up with a threat. The safekeeping of the place is entrusted to the Babylon 5 Advisory Council, but if they prove insufficient to the cause then he promises a swift death to anyone who tries to land. Until the time is right for them to visit him again.

The enemy ships volunteer to be victims for the demonstration by attempting to land and are cut apart by an energy beam. Even Pierce can't be dumb enough to try going down there now. Not Sinclair's problem if he does though.

Delenn has a touching one-sided goodbye with Draal's silent motionless body and the group leaves the planet. Somehow I suspect that Delenn's going to catch a ride with Garibaldi on the way back.

Commander Sinclair has a less touching goodbye with Captain Pierce, who does at least concede that President Santiago has confirmed that Sinclair has primary jurisdiction over this region of space. He offers his regrets for exceeding his authority and leaves.

Sinclair didn't have a great deal of influence in the resolution of this story, Delenn and Londo of all people stole his suicidal action hero role, but he's at least able to open a channel to Mars for Garibaldi to check up on Lise Hampton. The guy should've come to him in the first place really.

It turns out that the love of his life was wounded after straying a bit too close to a firefight trying to get food, but she's very much alive. They might not have long to talk though, so Garibaldi spills his heart to her while he has the chance. He realises now it was a mistake to leave her and he's ready to do whatever it takes to work things out.

But she gotten married, to a guy called Franz, and they're expecting their first child soon. Which I guess was his second worst fear of what'd happened to her. The moral of the story: if you love someone and regret breaking up with them, maybe don't wait 19 episodes and a pilot movie to call them.

Delenn goes to an observation room to lose herself in the stars and finds Garibaldi's already there for a bit of quiet. You'd think with 250,000 people on board, the room with an outside view would be more crowded, but I guess everyone's bored of staring at the fighter bays now.

Garibaldi's got a question for her: why did she go to so much effort to sneak Varn out of the station herself when she knows the staff would've been on her side? Why didn't she let them handle it? And she's got an answer for him.
"Because if I had I know in my heart that Commander Sinclair would be the one down there right now. He's looking for a purpose. But his destiny lies elsewhere."
That's actually surprisingly forthcoming of her, though she doesn't go into detail about what this alternative destiny is. We're nearly out of season 1 episodes here and it's still a mystery what she's planning for Sinclair. It's no wonder that she got hired for a role on Lost after this.


CONCLUSION


I wasn't 100% impressed with part 1 of A Voice in the Wilderness, but man they hit it out of the park with the conclusion. Well... they hit it quite far anyway.

It seems that when the production crew went into this episode they had one clear goal in mind and that was to blow as much of the VFX budget as possible; this must be the biggest episode since Signs and Portents. Granted the VFX budget for the series was only just big enough to buy a couple of pizzas for the CGI team, but they got the job done. Except for Londo's barrel rolling bit, they really didn't sell that. Or Londo's ice skating bit. Londo seems like a challenge for 3D artists.

The Epsilon III plot was a lot more interesting this time around, as it sucked all other plot lines into its gravity and introduced new complications. As fascinating as it was watching a scientist we've never seen before and his crew of mute extras make repeated (failed) attempts to fly his shuttle near a planet, things definitely got more interesting when a rival Earthforce officer and a hostile ship with superior technology were thrown into the mix. Sure there were still plenty of shuttle rides to the surface, but this time it was Ambassador Londo Mollari flying like a maniac and saving the day! This is a 'no one here is exactly what he appears' moment for him, as he reveals there's more to him than a cynical old drunk. He's the Centauri who led the raid on Fralis 12, apparently, and his daring raid on Epsilon III has shaken off some of his accumulated ennui. For better or worse.

The A plot also gave Delenn a chance to be compassionate and mysterious, Ivanova a chance to deliver more classic B5 lines, Sinclair a chance to trick and threaten another superior asshole sent by Earth, and Franklin a chance to appear on screen for 10 seconds. Plus it adds a major piece to the puzzle: the Great Machine of Epsilon III... and then immediately takes out out of play again. Draal basically outright says in dialogue that it's for a future episode, so viewers should just forget about it for now. But when they really need a massive deus ex machina, the godlike powers of the gigantic machine will be there. And Draal will be there too, as he made the noble choice to live for hundreds of years with free internet access directly plugged into his brain; truly a great sacrifice.

Everything pretty much folded into the Epsilon III plot in the end, but Garibaldi did at least get some closure to his B plot, even if it wasn't quite the resolution he was hoping for. The fighting on Mars has settled down a bit and Lise Hampton is alive, but now he knows for sure that he left it too long to call and he's truly lost her now. Though even if he had gotten back together with her, she would probably just disappeared without a trace like Catherine Sakai has. You know who else has vanished? Talia Winters. Also Dr. Tasaki, but he doesn't have his name in the opening credits of every episode. It's not a good sign for a regular character when they don't even appear in both parts of a two-parter.

So my final thoughts on A Voice in the Wilderness are... that it should've been a feature length episode, because that cliffhanger in the middle is terrible. They basically just paused the episode mid-scene and put 'To Be Continued...' on it. But aside from that and the terrible bar scene, this is definitely one of the high points of season 1. In fact it might be in my top 3 so far and I'm not just saying that because they gave me a space battle.


Babylon 5 will return with Babylon Squared. But before that I have to sit through Deep Space Nine's If Wishes Were Horses.

The comment box stands ready to accept your thoughts and opinions.

3 comments:

  1. Babylon 5 is not good on happy romantic endings, is it? I can think of one couple that stays together until they die of old age. Maybe two.

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    Replies
    1. That still puts it way ahead of most other sci-fi series!

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  2. Thanks for the GIF of the alien language learning bit. I love that the effects team put a "Prisoner" reference in the show ... a second one, after Bester's salute. It make me wonder how many others there are that I've missed.

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