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Monday, 22 January 2018

Babylon 5 2-14: There All the Honor Lies

Episode:36|Writer:Peter David|Air Date:26-Apr-1995

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing my thoughts about There All the Honor Lies, considered by many to be the 14th episode of Babylon 5 season 2.

It's also the second and last episode written by Peter David (after Soul Mates six episodes back), and the second to last episode written by anyone but creator J.Michael Straczynski for a long long while. But there's still one Larry DiTillio episode to go this season; JMS hadn't achieved total script domination quite yet.

I'll be recapping the whole episode with screencaps and sharing my opinions and observations, so there'll be wall to wall SPOILERS past this point. I'm sure I'll even spoil events from earlier episodes, but I'll give away nothing from any of the episodes that come after it. Or episodes from entirely different series for that matter.



The episode begins with 10 long seconds of people in space moving some important bit of equipment towards the station. It's like an establishing shot, except slightly longer!

But the episode eventually remembers why we're here and brings us to Sheridan's office, just in time for us to catch Ivanova ranting about merchandising. Turns out that the Babylon 5 Senate Oversight Committee has decided that the station would be more self-sufficient if they sold B5 brand merchandise and opened up a gift shop on the station... those greedy, butt-scratching, hand-wringing penny-pinching pinheads.

Wait, hang on, Babylon 5 doesn't have a single gift shop? Not even one tiny little shop near the customs area that sells Babylon 5 keyrings and postcards? Wow, they have just been throwing money away.

But Ivanova's indignant about their decision because "we're not some deep space franchise, this station is about something." Damn, shots fired! Writer Peter David had done about 8 million Star Trek books and comics by this point, including the second ever DS9 novel, so I get the impression he's actually pretty fond of certain Deep Space franchises. But JMS thought the line was hilarious and kept it in the final script.

Sheridan, on the other hand, apparently thinks it's hilarious to give Ivanova all the jobs he doesn't want to do and this time she's going to be in charge of overseeing the gift shop. But karma comes at him quick when he goes off down a suspiciously dark and empty corridor and runs right into the only other person there. They exchange apologies, but he soon realises he's had his communication link swiped right off the back of his hand!

The camera pans up to show the thief running across the catwalk above (cool shot) and Sheridan gives chase...

... only to run into this Minbari gentleman by accident. The guy just isn't looking where he's going today. He apologises again, but the Minbari is less forgiving than the thief and starts throwing him into walls.

By the time Sheridan reaches the floor he's been knocked so senseless that he doesn't even question why there's a loaded gun lying next to him. He grabs the PPG and yells a warning, but the Minbari replies "Death first," and reaches into his coat.

Well this ain't going to win him points with Delenn.

That's some nice direction though, courtesy of Mike Vejar. This is only his second ep and he's already becoming one of my favourite B5 directors. Even the PPG gunfire effect looks good for once. Ignore any dodgy editing, by the way, that's my fault.


ACT ONE


Garibaldi's going to be investigating the matter but Delenn's been asked by her government to investigate as well. She definitely isn't happy with Sheridan right now, especially as the Minbari he gunned down wasn't even carrying a weapon! If you check the clip again he was clearly acting like he was reaching for something, but they don't have surveillance footage to check and back up his story.

Sheridan's kind of pissed off himself and tells Garibaldi to get out there and find that witness, describing him as "Bald, with a bone on his head." Damn Sheridan, I thought you of all people would be beyond 'they all look the same to me'. Then again he might end up extradited to Minbar over this, so I'm sure that if he could offer up anything more than that he would've done.

By the way, Garbaldi's got himself a new door for his security office with a window in it and it looks awesome; I want one. Well, I can't actually be certain it hasn't appeared in other episodes already, but it definitely wasn't there in Soul Mates when he was confronting Telepath Talia Winters' ex-husband.

Garibaldi starts bringing in Minbari and asking them what they know, but every time he does, Lennier drops by and wants to chat to them. It gets to the point where Sheridan starts to wonder if Lennier's organising a cover up; after all he is a Minbari! But even Garibaldi thinks he's going a little far there. Lennier's a decent guy!

The two of them continue their discussion in a walk and talk as the camera follows them down the corridor, past some other officers, past someone getting wheeled out on a bed, past a cleaner sweeping the floor, all the way into Medlab in one unbroken shot. And then they carry on their conversation in there without a cut! A 35 second long take isn't breaking any records, but the direction here is making earlier episodes look like stage plays by comparison. Well, even more like stage plays.

Garibaldi doesn't believe that Lennier's involved, but he does reckon it's a set up. Sherdian's link isn't worth a damn thing, but the thief knew he'd chase him for it. Also why would an Earth-made PPG be lying right there? Sheridan didn't drop it, the Minbari wouldn't have been carrying it, did the thief drop it? None of this adds up.

Meanwhile, at the grand opening of the new Babylon Emporium... oh damn it's Telepath Talia Winters! She's been missing for so many episodes now that I thought that JMS had forgotten about her after that run of Psi Corps stories she was in.

This is a really weird scene, as Vir comes by looking miserable, accidentally spills some of his drink on her, does a bit of drunk acting, and then stumbles off again. And that's it. I kept expecting her to get a telepathic vision of him thinking about doing something he's going to regret, but nope. She just looks a bit unhappy and then SPOILERS utterly vanishes from the rest of the episode. "Vir, are you alright?" is her only line in this entire story.

The scene doesn't even show off the Emporium! It seems to exist just to hint that Vir received some bad news and to remind us that the Emporium (and Talia) exists.

Anyway, after Talia's part in Vir's C-plot is cancelled before it even starts, we go back to the A-plot, where Lennier has found the witness who saw Sheridan gun that belligerent Minbari down in the teaser! He's called Ashan, and he's actually from the same clan as Lennier, which is a bit of a coincidence.

Delenn politely asks Ashan to reveal what he saw about the incident, but he replies that he answers "to other Minbari, not freaks." We've definitely been seeing a real nasty side to the Minbari since Delenn came out of that chrysalis, and we're getting to see a different side to her as well here, as she storms off upset. Becoming half-human, getting kicked out of the Grey Council and losing the respect of her people has really shaken her self-confidence. Back in The Gathering she'd have gotten her magic rings out and crushed his ribcage a bit.

Making Delenn sad in front of Lennier is a pretty ballsy move on its own, but Ashan then goes and follows it up with the line "Her presence insulted me"! It's only thanks to Lennier's incredible willpower and training that he resists the urge to rip the tiny ears right off his smug face, and instead continues with the interrogation in Delenn's absence.


ACT TWO


Act two begins with Lennier in Sheridan's office sharing what Ashan told him. He states that Lavell, the victim, was assaulted by Sheridan without provocation and offered to surrender before the Captain gunned him down. Sheridan points out that guy literally said 'death first' but Ashan claimed he heard him say "Deh fers't", which means 'I give up' in Minbari. Man, that must have led to all kinds of misunderstandings during the Earth-Minbari War.

Sheridan counters that the witness is lying his ass off, which Delenn pretends they didn't hear as it would be a great offence to accuse a Minbari of lying. Space Elves like the Minbari and Vulcans never lie! Except for the times they do.

Someone of another species accusing a Minbari of lying invites an immediate and lethal response, so Sheridan decides to rephrase the statement. But he happens to take great offence at being falsely accused of murder and wants to speak with the witness right now, to understand why he's being wilfully in error with regards to the truth.

Meanwhile, the Babylon 5 Emporium B-plot is finally getting kicked off for real, as Ivanova's arrived to inspect the place.

You'd think that it'd be easy enough to fill a fake shop with real merchandise, but these were apparently all props constructed for the series. I'm not sure why, there were plenty of real licensed Babylon 5 toys around (I've got a Black Omega Starfury with a little tiny Alfred Bester inside to fly it), but I guess it's possible they weren't all that common in 1995. It's understandable why JMS may have had some reluctance to get involved with merchandising, seeing as he started out writing for toy commercials cartoons like He-Man and The Real Ghostbusters. Plus he worked on Captain Power, which had segments made to interact with the light gun toys. Having to write stories around toy lines must be enough to put any writer off action figures.

On the other hand, that other deep space franchise seems to have had a pretty healthy symbiotic relationship with the merchandising side of the operation. The original Star Trek got their full-size and miniature shuttle models for free from AMT in exchange for exclusive modelling rights, and the spin-offs sometimes used ornaments as background ships and blew up model kits when they needed explosions. So toys aren't necessarily the enemy of art.

Spaceballs
We can have complex intelligent mature storylines and flame throwers.

Anyway, Ivanova's still not happy about the shop, but she can't find anything to really complain about. Except for when a Markab pulls his skin off to reveal a human underneath.

She's so surprised she accidentally bumps into a human behind her, who pulls his skin off to reveal a Drazi underneath.

It's a really well-executed mirror trick, as they give us a genuine reflection before the cut to the panning shot where another actor in full Drazi prosthetics is waiting there to be revealed instead. They even made sure that the reflected background still matches.

Ivanova seems incredibly shocked by the idea of rubber masks, so either she was never much of a Mission: Impossible fan, or she's amazed that Earth's basically selling the alien equivalent of black face. Can you imagine a UN Emporium that sells Spanish, Chinese and Nigerian masks?

Back in Sheridan's office, he's having a chat with Ashan to figure out why he's lying... letting a bunch of incorrect facts escape his food hole. But their conversation is interrupted when someone called Guinevere Corey barges in, kicks the Minbari out and claims that she's Sheridan's lawyer.

Looks like Talia's not the only member of the main cast making a cameo this episode. Though Julie Caitlin Brown hasn't been in the opening credits since season one, where she played the original Na'Toth (before she had to quit because of what the makeup was doing to her skin). It's amazing how they managed to get all that hair under a bald cap.

Corey invites herself into Sheridan's office, sits on his chair and decides to make herself at home... so basically she's still more like Na'Toth than Na'Toth #2 was even without the makeup. She's the bearer of pretty terrible news though, as it turns out that if this case goes to trial then it doesn't matter if he wins or loses, he'll still lose command of Babylon 5... permanently.


ACT THREE


Sheridan decides that the only sensible way to react to this news is to spend a while moping in his quarters, drinking and doubting himself. But then Ambassador Kosh turns up his door and drags him out somewhere to cheer him up! Seriously, this is a thing that happens.

But he doesn't take him down to the pub like one of the sensible ambassadors, no he leads him to the most miserable part of DownBelow and then tells him to crawl into this space where the ceiling's so low you can't stand up. The more I learn about what Kosh gets up to in his free time the less I understand.

Sheridan soon figures out that he's meant to give something to this scruffy figure, but he doesn't carry money so he's got nothing to offer. This is kind of getting awkward though, with them both just sitting there either side of a bowl on the floor, so he decides to hand over the stat bar from his uniform.

It's the little gold bar that shows he's in the command branch of Earthforce, so I guess it's like Captain Kirk giving over his yellow tunic; it's all very symbolic. It's also the second mostly-worthless part of his uniform he's lost this episode. The way things are going he's going to have to order a new set of rank insignia before it ends. Assuming he's not fired.

The mysterious cloaked figure's not really into verbal communication, but they seem to be satisfied with the stat bar and once the bowl's been retrieved the lights come on and the performance begins. Or whatever you call it when all the piles of blankets surrounding you come alive and start shifting around to the sound of a Gregorian chant.

It's downright weird is what it is, but at least it gives Sheridan a break from worrying about being framed for murder.

Poor Ambassador Kosh has to stand outside until it's over though as he's too big to get in.

There's exactly one moment in all of Babylon 5 that would be improved by Kosh pulling out Vir's Game Boy from Born to the Purple, and it's this one.

Oh speaking of Vir, it seems that we're finally about to learn what's driven him to stumble around the station inebriated, spilling drinks on telepaths. Though first he explains that he's only actually had the two drinks (while putting up four fingers), he just hasn't devoted the hours that Londo has to building up a tolerance.

Vir's problem is that he's been fired as Londo's aide. The position of Centauri ambassador to B5 was originally considered a joke, and Vir was given the job as his assistant just to get rid of him. But now that Londo's gotten respect and influence Vir's not even good enough for that anymore.

Thing is, he hates the business Londo's involved in lately, so he doesn't even know if he wants to stay. But then he hates his family too so he doesn't much want to leave either. He's got nowhere to go.
Londo tries to help the guy out, but gets distracted when he sees a table full of women giggling about a doll.

It's a little Londo Mollari toy!

Londo expressed some frustration back in The Gathering that his homeworld had become a tourist attraction ("See the great Centauri Republic, open 9 to 5, Earth time"), so I can imagine how he feels about people selling action figures of him. Especially as they didn't pay him for his likeness!

Meanwhile, security officer Zack Allen's been keeping an eye on Ashan (the Minbari witness who was mean to Delenn) to see what he gets up to, and it seems like he might be meeting with the thief who stole Sheridan's link!

But Lennier sneaks up on Zack and knocks him out with a Minbari neck chop! What the hell dude?


ACT FOUR


There's nothing about that pose that isn't ridiculous. It's like they want to get their little fingers snapped.

The two of them are apparently both masters of Minbari kung fu, but Lennier's not here for a fight. He's here to implore Ashan to do the honourable thing and tell the damn truth, for the sake of their clan. Seems that this episode's all about the ambassadors' aides, with even the original Na'Toth getting a little screen time in human form. A very tiny amount of screen time.

In fact, Guinevere Corey's nowhere to be found when Londo drops by Sheridan's office to complain about his doll's anatomical incompleteness (it's missing his six... tentacles). As Ivanova puts it, he's "been symbolically castrated in a bad light".

This is a non-issue to Sheridan; he'll have all the dolls removed, problem solved. But the conversation leads to Londo thinking back to his B-plot way back in season 1's The Quality of Mercy, where Lennier lied to protect his honour. Londo's been playing the villain lately but he helps Sheridan out in a big way here by letting slip that there are circumstances where Minbari will lie.

Man, Quality of Mercy seemed so throwaway at the time, but the healing machine came back to save Garibaldi in Revelations, and now the revelations about Centauri anatomy and Minbari honesty have become relevant too.

Wow, things have gotten very fuzzy all of a sudden. I should be used to quality going to crap every time there's a visual effect in frame by now, but this seems even worse than usual.

Sheridan's come to the garden to chat with Delenn and he's not happy. He's learned that Ashan's going to be sent back to Minbar, which means no trial, but also no chance for Sheridan to prove his innocence. It'll destroy his credibility.

Delenn's kind of miserable right now as well, as she's feeling cut off from her government and her people. Also, Ashan keeps calling her a freak, the smug little git. But she's come up with an idea to help Sheridan out.

Over in Delenn's quarters, Ashan's turned up for his parting instructions, but he gets more info than he expected. Lennier tells him that he's going to go to Sheridan and announce his complicity in the Minbari's death. He wasn't even slightly involved, but he figures that he shares responsibility because both Ashan and the dead Minbari are from his clan. By helping Ashan save face he retains honour, but if he does this then their clan loses honour overall... there's a lot of honour trading going on, it's all very complicated.

Ashan starts going on about how they both lost family on the Black Star during the war when Sheridan dishonourably lured it into a trap, which means Lennier's had a very good reason to hate the captain all this time and we've never known. He also reveals that he wasn't actually in on the plan, but lied anyway to maintain his clan's honour and help get rid of Sheridan. When Lennier caught him meeting with the thief he was actually there to find out from him what really happened. Turns out that the dead Minbari had paid the thief to plant a weapon, then steal Sheridan's link and lure him into a fight, just as Garibaldi suspected.

Just then the door opens and half the cast comes pouring out of Delenn's bedroom, including Corey! Plus there's even more people waiting in the corridor, as Zack's out there with a security team ready to take Ashan into custody. It's suddenly turned into an episode of Diagnosis: Murder, it's amazing. It's also slightly hilarious, though seeing as the writer is Peter David I'm thinking that the cheesiness is deliberate.

They've all heard Ashan's entire confession, so Garibaldi has him taken away for being criminally punchable, but Sheridan decides to makes a deal with Delenn. He just wants a witness to back up his side of the story, he doesn't need Lennier's clan dishonoured over this. If Ashan tells the truth about the events he saw he'll leave it at that.

He's scoring so many points with Delenn right now.


ACT FIVE


Sheridan's managed to wrap his story up already, so act five starts with Londo arriving at his quarters to find that Vir's so hungover that he can't count past 14. He's brought him some good news though: it's time to start packing! But he'll have to start packing for both of them, as Londo told the homeworld that if Vir goes, he goes too.

Londo's gamble pays off as they decide to let Vir keep his job, but he really stuck his neck out for him here and it could've bitten him in the ass. The damn series is trying to make me like Londo again. Sure he deliberately engineered a war that's killing thousands every day, but how can I hate a guy who did Vir a favour?

Vir's still not sure he even wanted to stay, but he's happy the decision was taken from him this time. And that Londo's proven himself to be a true friend in addition to being a morally defective boss who yells into his ear when he has a hangover and invites his entire family over to B5 to torment him for a month. So that's the episode done then.

Oh right, the Babylon 5 Emporium B-plot still needs wrapping up.

Sheridan thinks that selling B5 merchandise might just work out after all, until Ivanova hands him a Babearlon 5 teddy bear with the initials J.S. on it. Then he suddenly freaks out, demands that the shop is removed and spaces the teddy bear.

Seriously, he flushes the bear out of an airlock (off-screen), where it's discovered by a Starfury patrol...

...piloted by WARREN KEFFER! One last shocking cameo by one of the main cast.

Even Zack Allen and Kosh have been in more episodes than Keffer this season and they're not even in the opening credits. Even Talia Winters has had more episodes; though he does get more than one line.

Plus it's actually nice to see him here, as this is his best and most likeable performance yet. I'm not even joking, he manages to give a surprisingly convincing reaction to discovering something completely inexplicable. I mean there's no way you'd expect to see a teddy bear just floating in space like this, the station's gravity should've pulled it back towards the hull.

This whole ending is actually an elaborate and expensive in-joke. The bear was a Christmas gift to J. Michael Straczynski from Peter David's wife (that's why it's got J.S. on it, it's his initials). JMS isn't a fan of cute though and decided to get his revenge by adding this extra scene onto the end of Peter David's script. And so J.S. the Bear became the most realistic looking object to ever appear in a B5 space scene.

It's okay though as the bear was eventually rescued in Peter David's own sci-fi series Space Cases. Though he changed its origin, explaining that it'd been thrown into space by evil aliens known as the Straczyn.


CONCLUSION

There All the Honor Lies is an episode all about honour and liars and merchandising. I wouldn't say that it's a particularly memorable episode though... more like several memorable episodes packed in with a fairly forgettable main plot.

I'm going to say that Sheridan's story is the A-plot, because it has the most honour and liars in it. The plot has Sheridan framed for murder by a Minbari, so he and Sinclair have something in common now, though if they keep coming after him because he blew up the Black Star it's going to start getting old. It's not quite there yet though and the story was enjoyable enough I thought. It gives Lennier and the Minbari a bit more depth, brings Sheridan and Delenn closer together, and gives Kosh an excuse to show the captain that even in the filthiest part of the station, in the darkest of times, you can find people under blankets who like listening to Gregorian chants. I think the fact that Kosh is actually giving Sheridan lessons is more interesting than the lesson itself, which is good because the lesson is some choir music.

Guinevere Corey turned out to be an entirely pointless character though, which is a shame because it was nice to see Original Na'Toth's actress again. She wasn't quite as pointless as Talia Winters though, who served so little purpose in the story that I have to wonder if there were weird contractual reasons involved in her brief appearance; like she had to show up in a certain number of stories this season and they had nothing else to give her but a scene where Vir throws a drink at her at the B5 Emporium.

I guess the Emporium story can be the B-plot (B for Babearlon 5), though really it's just a series of jokes. First there's the alien masks, then Londo's doll and finally Sheridan's teddy bear, which he's so offended by that he scraps the shop altogether! Sheridan's reaction is ridiculous, but then he's practically functioning as an author self-insert at that point and JMS's reaction to getting the bear was ridiculous too, so I guess that makes sense. It's a bit bizarre though that the plot is entirely played for laughs, considering that money problems have come up a number of times now. I bet those dock workers would be happier if they knew there was more cash coming in to pay for new equipment when necessary. But no, Sheridan doesn't like it so it's been banned from the station forever! They barely even touched on the problems merchandising could cause, like they may have had to add another ambassador to the station to expand the toy line, or replace Delenn with Neroon so they can target a single gender with their marketing, working under the assumption that men don't buy female action figures. Or, more seriously, they could've been sued by every alien government for making dolls of their ambassadors without permission or even notification.

Then there's Vir's C-plot, which he spends four acts drunk and then suffers through the last act with a hangover, while Londo is his funny helpful friend who gets him out of a bind. Londo crosses over with all three plots actually now that I think about it, as he complains about his doll from the Emporium and helps Sheridan a little with his Minbari problem. He's surprisingly sympathetic too, considering that we're well into the Narn-Centauri War he caused now. That's the problem with the characters on this series, they're stubbornly three-dimensional and refuse to settle down and be straight up hateable villains (not actually a problem).

Overall I'd say this one's a pretty watchable episode. It's not critical to the overall story like The Quality of Mercy increasingly seems to be, but it's a nice little stand-alone enhanced by conspicuously good direction and a strong script by Peter David. If I was going to rank all the Babylon 5 episodes I've seen so far, this'd likely end up somewhere in the top third. The series can and will do much better though.



COMING SOON
Babylon 5 will return with an ISN special report in And Now For a Word. But first I'll be writing about Discovery's Vaulting Ambition.

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4 comments:

  1. This is a weird episode. It's full of moments that I remember, but I keep forgetting about the overall episode itself.

    "Deh fers't", which means 'I give up' in Minbari

    Complete with the ceremonial putting-of-fingers-inside-your-jacket, no doubt. Right up there with opening your gunports to show your intent to not fire.

    I actually didn't recognize Keffer in his bit at the end, we've seen so little of him. I was more interested in the amazingly detailed rendering of a teddy bear on his targeting computer.

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    1. The little wireframe teddy bear was definitely the icing on the cake. Though it's really off centre; Keffer needs to get that thing calibrated or else he'll be shooting right over people's wings.

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  2. That Sheridan-gets-mugged-then-kills-a-guy sequence does make B5 look like a real place rather than a bunch of sets, which is probably a first for the series.

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    1. Yeah. Thankfully Mike Vejar stuck around until the end (longer in fact, as he did a couple of the movies). Though I don't remember his episodes standing out so much in later seasons, as the quality of the directors they hired seemed to increase proportionally along with the quality of the scripts.

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