Babylon 5 – Equinox – tape 2262

It’s Z Minus 7 days! Babylon 5 is heading inexorably towards the end of season 3, the best season of the show. Delenn is trying to get the league of non-aligned worlds to commit their forces to the war against the shadows, but she can’t tell them the plan, because the shadows have spies everywhere.

This episode is Shadow Dancing. Ivanova and Marcus have to take the White Star to act as a decoy for the shadows, and try to divine their plans. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to keep those two together as they’d always be arguing about who used up the last bottle of conditioner.

When this was first broadcast, it was at a time that internet spoilers were just becoming a thing, and shows like Babylon 5 still tried to keep their secrets. Even episode title names were witheld until the last minute because they might constitute spoilers.

In this episode, one of the biggest spoilers is a guest star, Melissa Gilbert as ‘Anna’ – the lack of a surname was an attempt to keep her identity secret. In fact, she was the only guest star who really qualified for a credit at the head of the show, so show-runner J Michael Straczynski bumped another actor up to guest star status so that her credit wasn’t the only one there. Even so, plenty of fans guessed her identity, but more of that later.

As well as the impending mass attack on the shadows, Franklin is still on his walkabout in downbelow, and he’s stabbed trying to help another denizen, leading to him hallucinating, and having a conversation with himself about how he’s a failure.

The big shadow battle happens, and like most of these things it’s more or less incomprehensible. But they survived the attack, albeit with plenty of casualties. And in a moment of symmetry, Franklin survives his personal battle and makes it back to medlab, albeit as a patient.

Then there’s a bit of meandering and quiet time, so you know something’s going to happen, a feeling that’s only heightened when Delenn, on a night-long vigil watching Sheridan sleep (it’s a Minbari love thang apparently) casually picks up a snowglobe and shakes it.

Snowglobes are one of those things that, today, almost always foreshadow something, because everyone making film and TV has seen Citizen Kane and everyone wants to be Orson Welles.

So sure enough, one shake of the globe and the door hisses open, and in walks our aforementioned guest star, Melissa Gilbert, to announce: “You must be Delenn. I’m Anna Sheridan. John’s wife.”

Cue one smashed snowglobe. Smash cut to title card: Z Minus 2 days.

Melissa Gilbert

Trivia note: Melissa Gilbert is not only the same Melissa Gilbert who played Laura Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie, but is also, in real life, married to Bruce Boxleitner.

Thrilling stuff.

And thank goodness, next on the tape is the next episode, the last in season three, Z’Ha’Dum. This was one of those episode titles which constituted a spoiler because, earlier in the story, Sheridan was told by Kosh the Vorlon Ambassador “If you go to Z’Ha’Dum you will die.” And prophecies in Babylon 5 have a habit of being accurate.

The reason it’s such a surprise that Anna has turned up is that Sheridan believed that Anna died on Z’Ha’Dum years ago, killed by the shadows, so Sheridan has to know whether she’s real or not. And it’s played cleverly. Anna gets to play the abandoned wife, and Sheridan is immediately put on the back foot, starting to distrust Delenn.

So, naturally, Sheridan decides to go with Anna to Z’Ha’Dum, so the shadows (or their human intermediary, Justin) can explain their philosophy, and invite Sheridan to join them. But since their philosophy appears to be based on Harry Hill’s TV Burp – “Who’s better? Human or Minbari? There’s only one way to find out… FIGHT!” Sheridan is having none of it.

It all ends in spectacular, and cliff-hanging fashion, with Sheridan exploding two nuclear devices on Z’Ha’Dum, and jumping down a bottomless pit in the process, and Garibaldi having been captured by the shadows as they withdrew from threatening the station, everything is now set up for season 4.

I think B5 suffers a little from its own legend. The motivation of the Vorlons and the shadows were kept secret for so long that viewers imagined all sorts of complicated answers, and when you finally come out and say it’s Order vs Chaos, no matter how primal that concept is, you can’t help but be disappointed. In the scene where Justin is trying to persuade Sharidan to change sides, his arguments are so unconvincing it’s almost comic. Almost from the moment he starts speaking there’s no suspense left, as you know Sheridan wouldn’t join up under any circumstances. So I guess it’s a good thing the climax was as explosive as it was.

There’s a very cheeky time jump, from Sheridan drawing his hidden gun and shooting at the shadows, to him climbing up to the apex of a huge tower, bloodied and bruised. I”m sure the reasons for this were partly budgetary, but in storytelling terms it’s fine, as it doesn’t really matter how he got there, only that he is there. I’m reminded of a similar cut in James Cameron’s The Abyss (trailed immediately after this episode). Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has (willingly) drowned herself while trapped with Ed Harris in their submersible, so that he can swim back to the platform with her. We see her drown, in a very moving scene, then the film cuts to the platform, where they spot Harris swimming towards them with her in tow. We didn’t need to see a four minute scene of him opening hatches, pulling her out and swimming towards the platform, we just need him to get back.

Bruce Boxleitner

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve watched this tape more than once, but the end of the episode has some quite bad tape damage on it.

Fractured Babylonian

After this episode, the recording continues with an episode of Equinox – Non Lethal Weapon. It features science fiction writers Janet and Chris Morris who are trying to develop non-lethal weapons.

Janet and Chris Morris

 

there’s some fun ideas here, including a little rocket-powered EMP device that shoots from a police car, runs under the car they’re pursuing and immobilises the engine management system with an EMP pulse.

Plus the super-adhesive expanding foam the army were testing. “The Marines say it takes many hours to remove the glue. And even then they say it can only be done using a special solvent, the contents of which are classified.”

Top Secret Solvent

“On closer examination, we discovered they were using a leading brand of baby oil.”

After this programme, there’s the start of Nothing But The Truth, a kind of courtroom simulator where a jury decides on the evidence presented for and against. In this episode the son of Fred and Rose West is asking for better visitation rights over his children – although he does himself have a history of violence.

It’s co-presented by Douglas Adams’ wife, Jane Belson.

Jane Belson

There’s about 20 minutes of this before the tape ends.

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