Monday, July 23, 2012

B5 Rewatch: "Midnight on the Firing Line"

Alright, folks. Welcome to the kickoff installment of the Babylon 5 Rewatch! Today's episode is "Midnight on the Firing Line." So, without further ado, here we go!

Spoilers spoilers spoilers!

What Happened

In a space station orbiting a planet a Watch Commander reports for duty. Before the soldier he is relieving can leave, he picks up a reading on his equipment and declares that a jump point is forming. We see a shot of the space outside and several ships arrive and begin attacking. One of the men calls out for them to alert Centauri Prime that they are under attack and then the ship is destroyed.

On the space station Babylon 5 a woman hails a man she calls Garibaldi, who is head of security for the station, and asks if he has seen the Commander. She remarks that she has been trying to contact him on her link but has received no answer. Garibaldi tells her that means the Commander is probably on the observation deck. He remarks that the woman is new to the station and explains that the Commander only turns his link off for ten minutes each day, and when he does, that is where she will find him. She seems puzzled at this, pointing out that there is unlikely to be anyone there at this hour and Garibaldi hints that is the point. The woman nods and leaves while another man (with spectacular hair matching that of those doomed souls from the previous scene) calls out to Garibaldi loudly. Garibaldi seems less than pleased to see him.

The woman tracks down the Commander and tells him they have a problem.

Garibaldi walks with the man we saw approaching him, calling him Londo, who is asking for Garibaldi to trust him. Garibaldi is not very inclined to do so. He reminds Londo that the first time humans met his people, the Centauri (their first extraterrestrial contact), they were less than truthful. The Centauri said they controlled a vast empire of planets, but it turned out that had fallen a hundred years previously. They also claimed that humans were a lost tribe of the Centauri and that they were were distantly related species, but subsequent testing of Centauri DNA revealed that the species are not related at all. Outward appearances aside, they are completely different. Londo shrugs this off.

A young Centauri approaches them, calling out for Londo, addressing him as Ambassador. He seems to have something urgent to say. Londo introduces him to Garibaldi as Vir, his "diplomatic staff." Vir tells Londo that their agricultural colony Ragesh 3 is under attack from an unknown enemy.

(Since it's the first episode, I'll include some of the info from the opening credits: They tell us about the time and place, the year 2258, ten years after the Earth-Minbari war. The station is a place set up for different alien races to meet, live, and work together with the goal of preventing another war of the same kind. It is called their "last, best hope for peace.")

Londo meets with Commander Sinclair and demands to know what he is going to do about the attack on his colony. The woman who tracked down the Commander (Lieutenant Commander Ivanova) says they've only just learned about the attack and asks Londo what his homeworld, Centauri Prime, has to say about it. Londo admits he hasn't been able to make contact with them yet. Ambassadors from two more races arrive and say they have just heard about the attack. Londo suspects that one of them, G'Kar, might know something about the attacks, but he protests innocence. The other asks for information about the colony but Londo says there is nothing to tell. It's an agricultural world, five thousand unarmed inhabitants. Commander Sinclair suggests everyone contact their governments to see if any of them have more information and then he will call for a session of the council and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. He promises to do what he can to help.

Garibaldi finds Ivanova on the bridge. She tells him she has picked up a distress call from an Earth-registered ship. Garibaldi says he'll grab a fighter and go check it out. One of the soldiers pipes up that they've just lost the signal. Garibaldi curses and races out. A woman comes in and addresses Ivanova, introducing herself as Talia Winters, a licensed telepath. She says that her Psi Corps rating is P5 and she was just assigned to the ship a few weeks ago. Ivanova pretty much ignores her and Talia points out that regulations require her to log in with the ship's second in command but she has been unable to make contact with Ivanova since her arrival. Ivanova brushes her off, saying they can handle it later, she's busy. Talia leaves, disgruntled.

Garibaldi leads a squadron of fighters (Delta) as they head out to check on the distress signal.

Ivanova stops by Sinclair's quarters, where he is doing paperwork and listening to the news. She asks if there is any word yet from Earth Central about the Centauri problem. Sinclair says no, and that worries him. She asks if he has any suspicions on who is behind the attack. Could it be the Narn or the Minbari? Sinclair says it definitely isn't the Minbari. They are too honorable for a sneak attack. Ivanova is surprised to hear him describe them thusly, he apparently fought them in the war. He says that the best way to understand someone is to fight them. He explains that his observations of the Minbari tell him they aren't behind this.

She then asks if there is any word on the presidential election back on Earth. He says it's going to be close and asks who she will be voting for. She says she will vote for Marie Crane. She doesn't like the current president, Luis Santiago. He has no chin, which she thinks speaks of a weak leader. With that observation, she leaves.

Vir finds Londo in his quarters and says that their homeworld is relaying a coded transmission from Ragesh 3. It is a video feed of the arrival of the attackers and the fight until the station was destroyed. After it cuts out Londo has Vir reverse the footage and zoom in on the attacking ships. He sees one and declares it a Narn heavy fighter. He is very angry, cursing G'Kar (the Narn ambassador), who claimed to know nothing.

Delta finds the ship that sent out the distress signal. It is floating abandoned in space, having been severely damaged and stripped down. Garibaldi orders them to recover its black box and return to the station to try to figure out what happened.

Londo seeks out G'Kar, who greets him warmly enough and offers to share his food. Londo spits on it. He tells G'Kar his people will not get away with the attack. G'Kar says he just found out it was sanctioned by his  government. He says he is sure there is a reasonable explanation. Londo claims there could be none for attacking a colony of innocents. G'Kar snarks that it's funny, his people thought the same thing when the Centauri invaded them and remarks that the wheel does turn. At this civility breaks down between the two and they start physically fighting until they are separated by security. G'Kar exclaims to Londo that his people's time has come and gone. It is the time of the Narn now.

Later, Londo receives Sinclair in his quarters and apologizes for the incident. He says it will not be repeated. But he does say that he will kill G'Kar though. Somewhere and some time else. He explains to Sinclair that his people have a curious trait. During their lives they will have a dream of how and when they are to die. Londo says in his it is twenty years from now and he is dying, locked in a struggle with another, their hands around each other's throats, squeezing the life out of each other. He says that G'Kar is the one from his dream. Sinclair says twenty years is a long time, long enough for the Narn and Centauri to come to an understanding with one another. Londo says perhaps. But perhaps not.

Sinclair gets down to business and says he thinks they have a chance to put together a coalition against the Narn attack. Londo says they need to stop them while they still can. He reveals that his nephew Carn was in the Centauri military, against Londo's better judgement. To keep his nephew safe, Londo arranged a position for him as a researcher on Ragesh 3. He doesn't know if he is alive or dead. Sinclair offers sympathy but says they need to keep the situation from escalating to war, else they will be giving the Narn exactly what they want. He reminds him that Babylon 5 exists expressly to give them a chance at peace. Londo scoffs and says that galactic peace is just a fantasy, one he grows weary of. He says all that matters is blood, that it calls out for blood. If his nephew is dead, there will be war, even if it is the last thing he manages to do. He swears it.

Ivanova finds Garibaldi wolfing down dinner. He tells her about the supply ship. There were fifteen bodies on board and it's one of the biggest ships the raiders have hit yet. He also points out that the routes for those ships are kept secret specifically because of raiders, which Ivanova realizes suggests a leak. He says he'll see if he can find anything out. As they speak, Talia enters and begins to approach them. Seeing Talia out of the corner of her eye, Ivanova orders Garibaldi to keep her informed of his progress and makes a hasty exit. Talia watches her leave with a look of annoyance.

Sinclair enters a chamber and presses an intercom, asking an Ambassador Kosh (of the Vorlon) if he may see him. There is a beep of assent and Sinclair dons a gas mask before entering the next room. It is filled with a swirling gas and he makes note of an empty atmosphere suit on a stand. From behind a screen, he watches a bobbing light and the disembodied voice of Kosh greets him. Sinclair notes that Kosh didn't come to the council room earlier and asks if his people have opinion on the current situation. Kosh doesn't answer. Sinclair asks if he will attend the emergency meeting. Kosh says yes and quicker than Sinclair can see, he dons the suit so that he may leave his quarters. Kosh tells Sinclair, "They are alone. They are a dying people. We should let them pass." Sinclair asks if he means the Narn or the Centauri and Kosh only responds with "yes."

Ivanova arrives on the bridge to find Garibaldi at her station. He says he is trying to find out who knew about the route for the supply ship. She asks if he has any leads and he tells her he might.

Vir goes to get Londo ready for the emergency council session and finds him drunk and refusing to go. Vir asks him why he is acting like that. Londo says he's finally had word from his government and that they have decided to do nothing in response to Ragesh 3. It is too far away, to small, too unimportant to risk confrontation. By the time their ships would arrive, everyone would be dead anyway. He curses the government. Vir asks if that means they are canceling the council meeting. Londo says no. In fact, he tells Vir not to repeat a word of what he just told him. As far as the rest of the council is concerned, they have heard nothing from Centauri Prime. Londo thinks that if they act quickly enough, with the rest of the council's help, they can embarrass their government into action. Vir worries about repercussions but agrees to comply in the wake of Londo's rage.

Talia enters an elevator with Garibaldi. She asks him if he has any idea what she's done to piss off Ivanova. He tells Talia that Ivanova takes some time to warm up to people, especially when she's working. He tells her that after her shift, Ivanova usually stops by the casino to wind down and suggests that Talia join her there and try to talk to her. Talia thanks him for the advice. As she steps out of the elevator he invites her to join him in his quarters afterwards so he can show her his favorite thing in the universe. She smirks for a second and walks off without answering.

G'Kar finds Sinclair taking a moment of quiet in a garden. He remarks that he too likes to take a walk in the green before battle. He tells Sinclair that before the Centauri stripped his world bare it was all green. Sinclair asks if now they plan to return the favor. G'Kar thinks that in his position the humans would do the same. He reminds Sinclair that the Narn provided weapons to the humans in their war with the Minbari. He thinks that the humans owe the Narn for that support. Sinclair disagrees, saying that the Narn would have helped anyone with the money to pay for it. He says the humans do have plenty of experience with sneak attacks though and that the are the resort of a coward. He accuses the Narn of not even having the decency to pick a military target. G'Kar bristles at the accusation but does not dispute it.

Garibaldi finds Sinclair and tells him they've got trouble. He has figured out how the raiders have been tracking the supply ships they've been attacking. Someone cracked the data bank of a company that had sold jumpgate access to the shipping companies that used all of the routes that have been hit so far. Only one ship is left from that set of routes that hasn't been hit yet. He says it is due out of hyperspace in six hours, and it is carrying refugees, over 500 people. If the raiders get there before they do, those people will die.

Sinclair fights with a senator about the upcoming council meeting. The senator thinks that he has overstepped the line and wants him to delay the vote until after the presidential election. He is worried that if the council votes to go to war against the Narn it will screw up things on Earth. He says the Earth Alliance can't be the galaxy's policemen. He further says that if Sinclair truly cannot delay the vote, he has been ordered to abstain. Sinclair argues that will hurt the Centauri case. If Earth pulls out of the vote to support the Centauri, so will others. The senator dismisses this as not that problem and reiterates the order, then cuts off the communication.

Ivanova comes in to update the Commander on Garibaldi's mission to stop the raiders. Delta is standing by  ready to intercept the raiders. Sinclair says he hopes that they are well-armed, considering Garibaldi's reports about what the raiders are packing. A thought occurs to him and he tells Ivanova to order Garibaldi to stand down, he is going to take his place for the mission. Ivanova asks if she should postpone the council meeting and Sinclair says no. If he's there, he'll have to do something he doesn't want to do, but if it goes on without him Ivanova can take his place and lead the vote. He says just follow the agenda. She asks if there are any further instructions and he says no. He wasn't able to find her before the vote, he tells her, so she's never heard anything about Earth Central's orders and the last she heard they were voting for sanctions. Ivanova acknowledges this and heads out.

Sinclair takes a fighter and heads out with Delta. They jump to the point where the raider attack is anticipated.

Ivanova calls the council to order, calling for a vote on sanctions against the Narn regime. She sits at a table with Londo, Kosh, and the Minbari Ambassador (Delenn). G'Kar strides in front of the table, arguing his case. He reminds the council that before the Centauri conquered his people Ragesh 3 was a Narn world. Now that they are free of Centauri rule they have a right to reclaim it. Delenn responds that they recognize the prior claim but points out that the reality is that Ragesh 3 has been property of the Centauri for over a hundred years. She asks what is to be truly won by stirring up such cold blood now. Where does it end? She calls it a "cycle of hatred" and G'Kar argues that it is justice. He claims that the Narn have no desire to start a war.

Delta arrives at the target spot and confirm sighting of raider ships attacking the supply ship. They lock weapons and move in for their attack.

G'Kar continues to argue his case, explaining that this "attack" was meant to be the peaceful liberation of Ragesh 3. He says that the Narn did not fire first and that he can prove it. He pulls up a video with a live broadcast from Ragesh 3 that he says will clarify the situation. The screen shows a young Centauri man. He is Carn Mollari, Londo's nephew. Londo is shocked to see him alive. Carn says that over the last six months there have been many outbreaks of violent conflict between colonists. They asked for assistance from Centauri Prime but received no response, so they next asked for assistance from the neighboring Narn regime. Londo doesn't believe it. Carn continues, saying they have chosen of their own free will to ally with the Narn government. They wish to maintain social and economic ties to Centauri Prime in the interest of continued peace. He signs off, leaving the council in stunned silence.

Londo tries to argue that Carn was forced to make that statement. He implores the council to see what's really going on. G'Kar says if they are speaking of lies they should talk about Londo's lie of omission. He asks him about the decision by Centauri Prime to take no action in response to the "liberation" of Ragesh 3. When Londo admits that is the case, G'Kar demands to know why Londo still asks the council to take action that his own government considers inappropriate. He accuses Londo of using the council to carry out personal vendettas and moves that the council dismisses all charges.

Delta gets its attack of the raiders underway and orders them to surrender or be destroyed. They respond with weapons fire. Delta manages to chase the raiders off. Sinclair breaks the squadron up, leaving half behind to guard the supply ship. He takes the rest to finish off the raiders. His men are surprised when he goes in the opposite direction of the fleeing raiders but he suspects a ruse. He is proven correct when they find the raider's base ship hidden in an asteroid field.

In his quarters Londo pulls pieces off of several objects and assembles them into a small gun. He looks speculative and says to himself, "Blood calls out for blood." Walking through the corridors, he bumps into Talia. As he takes her hand to steady her after their collision, she sees a vision of his intentions: to kill G'Kar. While she is still shocked from what she has seen, he makes his escape into the elevator. She tries to stop him but is too late and hurries in search of Garibaldi instead.

Garibaldi finds Londo and confronts him in the corridor. He orders him back to his quarters. Londo says Garibaldi doesn't understand. Garibaldi responds that he understands better than Londo can ever know. Londo is worried that his nephew is still in danger and Garibaldi reminds him that if Londo kills G'Kar everyone on the colony will be killed. Londo comes to his senses and agrees to stand down. He mutters that it appears he is still on target for his appointment twenty years from now. Garibaldi says in an hour he will be by to search Londo's quarters for weapons. Londo had better make sure he doesn't find any. As Londo turns to leave, he stops to ask if Garibaldi would really have killed him and Garibaldi responds in the affirmative. Garibaldi further says that he's glad he didn't have to though, since the paperwork's a pain in the ass. Londo smirks and leaves.

G'Kar is called before Ivanova and she tells him they have a problem, and it is him. G'Kar starts to sputter in confusion and Sinclair appears, saying they tracked the raiders to their base and found a Narn aboard. He remarks that he has been wondering where the raiders were getting their heavy weapons and then he remembered his earlier conversation with G'Kar about the Narn's willingness to do business with anyone who can pay. The Narn government always provides an advisor to make sure that their customers can operate the weapons (and don't sell them to anyone else). In addition to the Narn on the base, they also found a stash of data crystals containing reports between Ragesh 3 and Narn Central Command. The reports confirm Londo's version of the attack on the colony, as well as that Carn was forced at gunpoint to make his statement to the council about willingly allying with the Narn. Sinclair tells G'Kar to tell his forces on Ragesh 3 to withdraw or they will take that evidence to the council.

Sinclair and Garibaldi stroll through the station discussing the happy resolution to both of their situations. Both Londo and Earth Central should be appeased. Garibaldi realizes he hasn't voted in the election yet and Sinclair urges him to go do that. Garibaldi agrees and says then he's off to his place, looking forward to his possible rendezvous with Talia.

Ivanova sits at a bar watching the news, where we learn that President Santiago is leading the vote by 12%. Talia arrives and orders a drink, then moves to sit next to her. Ivanova thanks her for helping earlier with Londo's botched assassination attempt. Talia says it was an accident really, she's trained to block out most normal stray thoughts. That one was just super powerful and hard to ignore though.

Ivanova then says she feels like she should explain her earlier behavior and acknowledges that she's been rude. Talia shrugs it off and says she just wondered what she had done. Ivanova says it's not her, it's what she represents. Her mother was a telepath. She kept it secret and wasn't trained. She asks if Talia was raised by the Corps and Talia says she was. Ivanova says that explains a few things and elaborates that when a telepath is discovered they are given three choices: join the Psi Corps, go to prison, or spend the rest of their lives taking drugs that inhibit their abilities. Talia says it's the law, necessary to protect the privacy of others. Ivanova asks Talia if she's ever seen the results of that law. Her mother was discovered at thirty-five and ended up taking the treatment. The drugs killed all of her personality, the "light in her eyes" went out, and eventually she killed herself. Talia says she is sorry for what happened and Ivanova says she knows it is not Talia's fault. But it is part of what Talia is. She thinks Talia is as much a victim as her mother. Talia says she doesn't feel like a victim and Ivanova acknowledges this, saying so far she doesn't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Talia suggests maybe they can try to start off on better terms and Ivanova says she very much doubts it.

Girabaldi, stood up by Talia, has found alternate company for the evening. He shares a bowl of popcorn with Ambassador Delenn and they watch some old Daffy Duck cartoons. Delenn seems enchanted by the show and it is clear they are having some innocent fun.

In his own quarters, Sinclair seems less than thrilled to learn that President Santiago has won the election for another term. A reporter lists his campaign promises to cut the budget and keep Earth out of war. She then goes on to explain his agenda that includes creating a closer relationship with the Mars colony and preserving Earth's cultures in the face of growing "non-Terran" influences. Sinclair turns off the television and heads to bed, only to receive a call from Ivanova that there is a problem.


Wow, so much information in this episode. First off, it serves as a more or less decent introduction to the major players for the series. We also get an idea of the primary races on the ship: Human, Centauri, Narn, Minbari, Vorlon. It is weird that Delenn is never even introduced here though, at least to me. She's such a big part of what I think of when I reflect on this series. I mean, she's there, we just don't get her name any idea of who she is outside of the Minbari Ambassador. Also, the only assistant we meet in this episode is Vir, which I find interesting.

But outside of introducing the setting and the races and the characters, we also get a lot of set up for the shape of things to come throughout the entire series (or at least the first four seasons, which is the initial arc that Straczynski had plotted out). A few things really stood out to me on this second viewing.

The conflict between Londo and G'Kar, and between Narn and Centauri, gets kicked off in a pretty big way. These conflicts are such a central part of the whole series, always in the background, even when there are bigger conflicts to be dealt with. Having vague hazy memories of how that plays out makes watching this initial set up absolutely fascinating.

Then there is Londo's death dream, starring G'Kar. That' that's just a really captivating concept for me. I don't think I really want to have any idea beforehand how and when I am going to go out. I mean, on one hand it would be nice to be able to get my affairs in order and make sure my family would be taken care of after I'm gone. But...yeah. That's really the only upside I see of that. Actually having a vision of the specific moment constantly in my mind? No thank you. It does give these two characters a fascinating dynamic though, and we know right from the start that their fates are tied together. Considering how their relationship develops over the course of the series, I think this is really well done. I mean, they never actually become what I would call friends, but it's like Sinclair told Ivanova. To really know someone, fight them. These two spend years fighting each other, constantly, and by that logic they know each other better than anyone else in the universe. It's something to think about.

I do find it really intriguing that G'Kar comes across this early on as more of the villain and Londo as, not the hero exactly, but not the bad guy. Very interesting. Vir's bumbling cheerfulness aside, I think it's pretty well communicated throughout the show that the Centauri in general and Londo in particular (likable though he may be) are just shady. Sure, there are reasons for it, but, yeah. While I don't recall ever really warming up to the Narn as a race, G'Kar is one of my favorite characters from the series, and his character shapes up to be one of the most noble on the show if my memory isn't playing any tricks on me. It's just a very neat contrast with this first episode, to be sure.

The conversation between Talia and Ivanova. Wow. That sets up a lot too. The whole use and development of telepaths throughout the series is kind of a crazy ride. I like how just a few simple conversations between these two characters set the stage for how much of that will play out.

One last thing I noticed is that we see both Londo and Sinclair are prepared to ignore orders from their respective governments for the sake of what they each consider the greater good (though the definition of that for each of them may be wildly different). This right here I think is maybe one of the best displays of the mission statements for Babylon 5. Despite being an Earth-controlled station, Sinclair knows that he is going to have to weigh the needs of all of the other races in the galaxy against his superiors' political agendas. Londo's deception further illustrates that the other races aren't above using the station and the council to try to manipulate the other governments into doing their dirty work for them, which means that Sinclair (and his successors) will have to stay on their toes to make sure that peace and justice are the rule of the day.

I hope you wanted some politics in your drama, because boy are we going to get it. Delicious crazy alien politics!!

Favorite Quotes

"Until we finally got our hands on some Centauri DNA and find out we're not related at all. Appearances aside, we're two completely different species." (Garabaldi)
"A clerical error!" (Londo)
"Clerical error?" (Garibaldi)
"Yes! We thought your world was Beta 9, it was actually Beta 12." (Londo)

"Then you'll excuse me, but I'm in the middle of fifteen things, all of them annoying." (Ivanova)

"Believe as you wish. Twenty years from now one of us will be wiser and older. Or, one of us will be dead. Who's to say?" (Londo)

"I will confess that I look forward to the day when we've cleansed the universe of the Centauri and carved their bones into little flutes for Narn children. It is a dream I have." (G'Kar)
"Be careful Ambassador. Not every dream I've heard lately ends well for you." (Sinclair)

"Well, that's why we have the Psi Corps, to help telepaths. Bring out their talents to the fullest." (Talia)
"Yes, I imagine that's what they told you." (Ivanova)


A note about the quotes, really quick: I am doing my darnedest to make them accurate, but I haven't been able to find anywhere that has the episodes transcribed, and I have already noticed that the subtitles on my DVDs are not 100% accurate. So, I apologize if I misword anything, but I am going to try hard to capture what is said correctly.

Thanks for reading! Hope to see you back here Wednesday for the next episode, "Soul Hunter."

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