Nothing’s the same any more.
—Commander Jeffrey Sinclair
The last line spoken in Chrysalis is the lament of anyone whose old certainties—some so solid they weren’t even identifiable as certainties—have passed away. It’s an excellent summing-up of the end of the first season of Babylon 5.
This episode is about what happens next.
Ivanova: The chief of security is in critical condition in Medlab. He thinks there’s a conspiracy concerning the president’s death. Ambassador G’Kar has mysteriously vanished. After two years, we still don’t know what Ambassador Kosh looks like inside his encounter suit. And Ambassador Delenn is in a cocoon.
Sheridan: A cocoon? As in a moth, or a butterfly?
Ivanova: Yes, sir. (Gestures) About yea high.
Sheridan: Interesting place you have here.
Ivanova: Yes, sir.
The first change, of course, is that Sinclair himself is gone. Obviously, this is for real-world, rather than in-series, reasons, but the characters have to deal with it on the show. His successor, John Sheridan, is of a very different character. He has superstitions, like the requirement to give his speech within 24 hours of taking a new command. And he doubts himself.
When I got my orders, I figured this place was a great opportunity. Now I wonder if coming here was irresponsible. This whole mess with the Trigati might not have happened if I hadn’t been here. I mean, my presence, my actions in the War…I’m to blame for bringing all this trouble to Babylon 5. What was it our friend in the Grey Council1 said? If there’s a doom on this station it was you who brought it here. Well, maybe he was right.
I spoke with the President. He’s the only other human who knows why the Minbari surrendered. And he doesn’t believe this stuff about us sharing Minbari souls, and I can’t say that I do either. But they believe it. That’s why they chose Sinclair to run this place. That’s why they picked him to live on their world. He was their first human contact. Him, they trust. Me? I don’t know. If Sinclair had been here instead, maybe they might not have attacked.
That’s an enormous contrast with Sinclair, who was never shown second-guessing himself or wondering if what he did was correct. Nor is it the only difference between the two commanders. As Sheridan points out, his history with the Minbari is more problematic than Sinclair’s2. As a result, he presents a risk to the extant balance among the various powers that meet on Babylon 5. And the Minbari are not slow in reacting. They feel, and are not shy about saying, that his presence shadows the station.
Ivanova, too, speaks of change and discomfort.
I just keep seeing EarthForce One blowing up, over and over again in my dreams. All my life, I thought that I could handle everything. Fix any problem. But when I saw that, I just realized I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so helpless.
That line, by the way, and Claudia Christian’s delivery of it, sold me on the importance and impact of Santiago’s assassination in the way that nothing in the previous episode did.
But this uncomfortable sensation that everything has changed from a known reality to an unknown one is a useful feeling to take into the heart of the episode. Because the force that drives the plot is the way that the Minbari, an inherently stable society, are reacting to a profound change, one they sense more than understand.
The warrior caste see the Minbari as a people become cowards, who turned and fled from a conflict they were about to win. The friction between them and the Grey Council (along with the religious caste), is an ongoing problem in their society. It came out last season, when Alit Neroon was all too ready to restart the war over the Shai Alit’s body. Now Kalain and his renegade warship, the Trigati, are the current incarnations of the issue.
I like Kalain as a character. He knows there’s something deeply wrong in his society, something hidden by the Grey Council. It’s wrong enough to shake his faith in the old traditions, including the prohibition on shedding the blood of fellow Minbari. As a fighter, his impulse is to bring the problem out into the open and deal with it publicly, rather than let people like Hedronn manage it out of view. But he’s warrior, not a berserker. He’s not needlessly violent. He goes about his mission in a tight, controlled, honorable way.
He threatens Hedronn, but does not harm him. Given the chance to kill a security guard, he does not. He’s unflappable when interrogated, and calm about his own death. The only time he goes off-mission is the extra moment he holds the gun on Lennier, testing the younger Minbari’s courage and determination. Lennier passes, responding coolly:
If you are going to kill me, then do so. Otherwise, I have considerable work to do.
Aside from Lennier, the warrior caste definitely comes off best in this episode. Both Alit Diran, Kalain’s second in command, and the Trigati‘s fighters display the same discipline and direction as their leader. Meanwhile, the religious caste is shown as divided, uncertain, vexed.
Hedronn: So…she’s done it, has she? She’s in there. We told her to wait. The prophecy will attend to itself, we told her. Now we are committed to the path.
This ambivalence may be the product of their deeper understanding of the dissonance in Minbari society. What Kalain doesn’t know, but the Grey Council (and Lennier, somehow) do, is that that imbalance goes further back than the end of the War. And this is the episode where humans— and we—find that out.3
It is our belief that every generation of Minbari is reborn in each following generation. Remove those souls, and the whole suffers. We are diminished. Over the last two thousand years, there have been fewer Minbari born into each generation, and those who are born do not seem equal to those who came before. It is almost as if our greater souls have been disappearing. At the Battle of the Line, we discovered where our souls were going. They were going to you. Minbari souls are being reborn, in part or in full, in human bodies.
Lennier opens to us a vision of the journey of a single soul, going from perpetual rebirth in the ordered, regimented society of the Minbari to our more chaotic and fractious species, where desperation and bravery are indistinguishable. And that, really, is the image of the episode, whether we’re talking about the transition from controlled Sinclair to scrappy Sheridan, or the way the Minbari warrior caste has gone from the forefront of clean war to the excluded margins of messy peace. It’s a fair analogy for the transition of the series, too, as we move from the tried-and-true episodic structure of the first series into what was at the time a brave new world of large story arc.
The plot continues, following the death of the old-school warriors (they are hampered by the messy and ill-mannered humans, but truly foiled by the ambiguous emnity of their own kind). But that image is the heart of the show.
Of course, at the end of the episode, JMS feels compelled to plant the hooks of the next chunk of plot. He’s painfully unsubtle about it, both in the way it’s phrased and in how it’s delivered. As You Know, Cocooned Ambassador,
I only wish I could have told them the rest. About the great enemy that is returning, And the prophecy that the two sides of our spirit must unite against the darkness or be destroyed. They say it will take both of our races to stop the darkness. I am told that the Earthers will discover all this soon enough on their own. I hope that they are right. Because if we are wrong, no one will survive our mistake.
Some things never change.
One of the side pleasures of the episode, by the way, is the return of good Ivanova quotes:
And as far as I’m concerned, the transports can wait until the sun explodes. And if you’re not happy with the seating arrangements, I will personally order your seats to be moved outside, down the hall, across the station, and into the fusion reactor. Am I absolutely, perfectly clear on this?
I can only conclude that I am paying off karma at a vastly accelerated rate.
Alit Diran: The war already begun, Captain. All that remains now is honor and death.
Ivanova: And I thought I was a pessimist.
I learned a while ago that there’s enough guilt in the world to go around without grabbing for more.
It’s more than a little clunky that Hedronn both accuses Sheridan of bringing a curse onto the station and authorizes Lennier to tell him the deepest secret of the Minbari race. But the revelation was clearly planned before JMS had to deal with the switch of actors. It needs to go here, by hook or by crook, to prepare the way for Delenn’s emergence in the next episode. And, at the same time, Sheridan’s reputation needs to be established right away by the ranking Minbari on the station4.
- At least, it’s more problematic for the Minbari. Not having been abducted, tortured and mindwiped is probably not a huge problem for Sheridan.
- This is interesting timing: rather than finish the last series with it, or lead up to it with a mini-arc, JMS drops it on us in the first episode of the new season. It gives him some time to work through the implications as the story heats up, but it’s a somewhat unusual approach to revelations. Babylon 5 is prone to that, and it’s frequently effective.
- More precisely, the ranking Minbari not currently in a cocoon.
The next writeup will deal with Revelations
Index of Babylon 5 posts