Sunday, 9 July 2017

Babylon 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 3-4

A3: Born to the Purple
Airdates: 9 February 1994 (US), 30 May 1994 (UK)
Working Title: Amaranth
Written by Lawrence G. DiTillio
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
Cast: Adira Tyree (Fabiana Udenio), Trakis (Clive Revill), Ko D’ath (Mary Woronov), Ock (Jimm Giannini), Andrei Ivanov (Robert Phalen), Gera Akshi (Laura Peterson), Norg (Robert DiTillio), Butz (Mike Norris), Dr. Goyokin (Momo Yashima), Dancer (Katharine Mills), Gunman (Tom Lowe), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    The Centauri Republic and Narn Regime are finalising a new treaty normalising relations after the recent Ragesh III controversy (episode A1) and resolving a dispute over the Euphrates sector. However, negotiations are proceeding slowly since Londo keeps disappearing.

Londo has taken a new lover, a young Centauri dancer named Adira Tyree, and is neglecting his duties so he might relive his youth. Londo is unaware that Adira is actually a slave of Trakis, an alien with a score to settle with the Centauri. On Trakis’s orders, Adira drugs Londo and then steal his Purple Files, the intelligence he keeps on the other Centauri noble families for blackmail purposes. Trakis can use these files to blackmail the entire Centauri nobility himself. Adira takes the files, but then has second thoughts, since she has really fallen in love with Londo. She hides in Downbelow, but Trakis bugs Londo when he questions one of Adira’s friends about where she is and manages to capture her first. Londo learns of Adira’s connection to Trakis and with the help of Sinclair and Talia Winters manages to locate and free Adira. Trakis is arrested and Adira becomes a free woman. Londo arranges for her to settle on a Centauri colony world and she promises to one day come back to him.

Meanwhile, Garibaldi discovers that someone on the station is making unauthorised use of the Gold Channel communication system, which allows real-time communications with Earth. Garibaldi’s initial investigations fail to identify the source, since they are using ICE (Intrusion Counter-Measure) systems, but he becomes suspicious of Lt. Commander Ivanova’s relaxed attitude to the problem, since she is usually much more hands-on in such matters. Garibaldi pretends to attend to an urgent call, but sends his backup team and then catches Ivanova using the Gold Channel system without permission. However, she is using it to have a series of last talks with her father, who is dying back home on Earth. Garibaldi deletes all trace of the unauthorised use of the system and lets Ivanova know that there will be no further problems.


The Arc: Narn-Centauri relations are recovering very slowly from the Ragesh III incident (A1).

Adira’s promise to return to Babylon 5 is fulfilled in episode C15.

Despite her appearance in the opening credits, Ko D’ath only appears in this episode. We find out what happens to her in A5.

Ivanova’s brother died in the Earth-Minbari War. We see meet him in episode TVM1.

The aftermath of Ivanova’s father’s death is dealt with in episode A14. Garibaldi offers to buy Ivanova a drink and she finally agrees in episode A16.

Background: Dialogue cut from the episode would have revealed that Trakis is a Golian, a former slave race of the Centauri, explaining his grudge against them.

All Centauri nobles have ‘Purple Files’ containing blackmail information on the Great Houses. They uses the files to keep each other in check. Londo’s Purple Files access code is a triple cipher, password “Wine, Women, Song”.

Slavery is legal in the Centauri Republic. Slave-owners are legally responsible for any action their slaves takes, which encourages them to keep their slaves in line.

Argo is a ‘big shot’ in Red 5. The owner of the bar where Adira dances, Ock, appears to be a Brakiri. His associate and strongarm is called Norg. Gera Akshi lives in Brown 6. Sinclair has knowledge about the shakers and movers in Downbelow, learning about them from Garibaldi’s copious security files.

Most Narn have red eyes, but Ko D’ath has blue.

The Russian Consortium is a member-state of the Earth Alliance.

Jala is a Centauri drink, served hot and possibly analogous to hot chocolate. Starlaces are a Centauri flower. Dravo is a Centauri colony, possibly located in the Aries sector.

Fresh Air is the finest and most expensive restaurant in Babylon 5, located in the station’s internal open-air garden section. We see it again in episodes A5A22, B4B8, C5 and E15, among many others.

Dark Star is a nightclub in Red Sector.

The Zocalo is Babylon 5’s largest market, located on the Central Corridor in Red Sector, Level 5. We saw it in PM and A1, but it is named for the first time here. The name – which specifically translates as “plinth” – derives from the Plaza de la Constitución in Mexico City, which is usually just referred to as “The Zócalo”. Before the modern era, the original Zócalo was the main ceremonial square in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, making it one of the most notable historical spots in Mexico. In a later episode Vir says that the name means “Great Market”, which is likely him just guessing.

Galactic Boutique is a shop in the Zocalo.

Earthforce high-priority transmissions and ambassadorial communications are run through the Gold Channel communications network. Gold Channels are real-time communications systems, allowing face-to-face communications in an interactive environment. Normal (and more affordable) communications are more like letters, taking time to reach their destination. Gold Channels are used exclusively for important communications and are absolutely not for personal use unless the circumstances are exceptional. Episodes A6 and A22 confirms that real-time messages are sent using tachyons, which are faster-than-light particles. Although there is some (controversial) evidence that tachyons really exist, it is totally unknown whether they could be harnessed to send messages between star systems in this fashion.

Programs called ICEs (Intruder Counter-measures) are used to stop other people spying on transmissions. Counter-programs called ICE-breakers are used to overcome them.

Susan Ivanova’s father is called Andrei. She had an older brother called Ganya, who was killed in the Earth-Minbari War. Ganya’s death, after the death of his mother Sofie (already established in A1) broke Andrei’s heart and he angrily objected to Susan joining Earthforce. He admits on his deathbed that this was a mistake and he’s always been intensely proud of her. He says he respected her too much and did not love her enough.

The Narn and Centauri are both claiming the Euphrates sector and are thus working on a compromise treaty, mediated by the Earth Alliance (and Sinclair), so they can both exploit its resources. In the early part of the series the Euphrates system and sector is frequently mentioned as being in close proximity to Babylon 5 (and some early sources and NOV4 claim that B5 is actually located in the Euphrates system, although it is actually in the Epsilon Eridani system, as we learn in B15).

Sinclair is more of a political animal than he likes to admit: he is very quick to take advantage of Londo’s unfortunate situation to resolve the diplomatic crisis in the Euphrates Sector.

References: The Euphrates Sector is named after a major river network of Iraq, and of course ancient Babylon.

“Use the mind probe!” may be a reference to one of Straczynski’s favourite SF TV shows, Doctor Who.

When Garibaldi’s computer investigation is thwarted by the ICE, the dreaded “red box of death” (also known as the “Guru Meditation” error) from Commodore Amiga computers flashes on the screen, which is likely an injoke referring to the use of Amigas in creating the show’s CGI.

Unanswered Questions: What are in the purple files, and what happened to them?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Straczynski and DiTillio both considered the issue of if Sinclair could walk around the station without being recognised. They concluded that a lot of people on B5 would be passing through or just working to make ends meet, and wouldn’t pay a lot of attention to the station bureaucracy, especially since Sinclair wasn’t famous in his own right (unlike his successor).

During Andrei Ivanov’s death scene, the actor got carried away with his coughing, which caused Claudia Christian to start cracking up. She laughed so hard she cried, which came in handy for filming the emotional part of the scene.

A corridor leading off the Zocalo is shown to have blue wall markings, placing it in Blue Sector. This is an error (the wall strips were not changed as they should have been), later references firmly place the Zocalo in Red 05.

Behind the Scenes: This was the fourth episode shot for the first season.

Peter Jurasik enjoyed filming this episode, not just for the obvious romance scenes but also because it shaded Londo in several different ways. He also enjoyed baiting Jerry Doyle, who felt it was ludicrous that Londo should get a love scene before Garibaldi.

Straczynski briefly considered a scene showing post-coital Londo with his hair now limp, but decided against it.

Straczynski’s original outline involved dust, a drug which gives “mundanes” telepathic abilities for a short, addictive burst. Straczynski intended dust to play a bigger role in the series and it is mentioned several times, but only plays a notable role in episode C6. Script editor Larry DiTillio never liked the idea – “Why take a drug that makes you go nuts? People take drugs to feel good,” – and ditched it, inventing the purple files instead.

Larry DiTillio, whom Straczynski had worked with on multiple previous projects, was hired to be a trusted extra pair of eyes to keep the freelance scripts consistent with Straczynski's vision. With Straczynski taking over the writing of all of the scripts from Season 3 onwards, there wasn't much for DiTillio to do so he left after Season 3. His next job was working on the critically-acclaimed Transformers: Beast Wars animated series.

Norg, the bouncer in Dark Star, was played by Larry DiTillio's brother, Robert. He reappears in episode A9 in a different role.

The scenes with Adira in a state of undress raised questions about Centauri anatomy and physiology, as later episodes (most notably A21 and C12) expand upon. A make-up test was done suggesting the presence of female Centauri genitalia on Adira’s back, but ultimately it was decided to ignore the issue as the make-up looked “kinda weird”.

The scene where G’Kar spits out his drink when Ko D’ath arrives was improvised by Andreas Katsulas.

Originally Ko D’ath was supposed to be the permanent Narn aide on the station, but the actress Mary Woronov had a severe reaction to the make-up used to apply her prosthetics, which meant she couldn’t continue. She was actually the second choice for the role, with the first actress getting into make-up tests, having a screaming panic attack and leaving as fast as possible. These problems caused Straczynski to briefly consider giving G’Kar a new aide every couple of episodes like Murphy Brown’s secretaries but eventually decided to create a new character, Na’Toth, who would debut in episode A5.

Familiar Faces: Clive Revill is a New Zealand actor who moved to Britain in the 1950s and became a familiar face on stage and screen, appearing in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and TV shows including The Adventures of Robin Hood, Murder, She Wrote and Columbo. He is also a prolific voice-over artist, with roles in Transformers: The Movie, Batman: The Animated Series, Rugrats and The Little Mermaid. His most famous role is one that has been retconned out of existence: he played the Emperor in the Star Wars move The Empire Strikes Back, voicing over the character on a hologram communications device (the physical character was played by actress Marjorie Eaton under heavy makeup). He was replaced by Ian McDiarmid in later editions of the film to maintain continuity with Return of the Jedi and the prequel movies.

Mary Woronov started her career in 1960s New York, working with Andy Warhol in his art projects and on his films. She also became friends with director Roger Corman, appearing in many of his films and those of his collaborators. She developed a prolific career on both film and in guest spots on TV. Babylon 5 would have been her first long-running television role, but her skin reacted badly to the Narn make-up and she had to pull out of the series.

Fabiana Udenio was born in Argentina but raised in Italy, where she won the “Miss Teen Italy” competition in 1977. This started a career in acting and modelling, which led to her moving to Los Angeles in the late 1980s. Her film roles include RoboCop 2 (1990), Bride of Re-Animator (1990, alongside Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine actor Jeffrey Combs), Austin Powers (1997) and The Wedding Planner (2001). She has had numerous TV roles, most recently the recurring role of Elena on Jane the Virgin.

Review: What could have been a somewhat slight episode is elevated by the actors involved: Peter Jurasik, Clive Revill and Fabiana Udenio are all quite good in the main storyline, whilst the comic negotiations subplot and the Ivanova material are also entertaining, and in the latter case quite tragic. The episode is let down by a bit of unnecessary running around in the latter part of the episode and Trakis falling for Talia and Sinclair’s ploy is a bit unlikely, but overall the episode succeeds in adding extra layers and backstory to Londo and Ivanova. ***½

Londo (to Vir): “What do you want, you moon-faced assassin of joy?”

Ko D’ath: “I am Ko D’ath, the new chief of your diplomatic staff.”
G’Kar: “Yes, I wasn’t expecting you for several yea…days.”

Trakis (on the Centauri): “That’s how they play the game, isn’t it? Whispers in the dark, a knife in the back.”


A4: Infection
Airdates: 16 February 1994 (US), 6 June 1994 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Richard Compton
Cast: Dr. Vance Hendricks (David McCallum), Nelson Drake (Marshall Teague), Mary Ann Cramer (Patricia Healy), Security Guard (Daniel Hutchison), Customs Guard (Paul Yeuell), Guard (Tony Rizzoli), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Sav Farrow), Station Three (Sylva Kelegian)

Date: 9 March 2258

Plot:    Babylon 5 is celebrating the second anniversary of its completion and Commander Sinclair is doing his best to avoid ISN (InterStellar Network) correspondent Mary Ann Cramer, who is keen on an interview.

Elsewhere, Dr. Franklin is intrigued when his old tutor Dr. Vance Hendricks arrives on the station. Now an archaeologist, Hendricks has just returned from a dig on Ikarra VII with some very interesting alien artefacts. The artefacts are based on organic technology, the same principles on which Vorlon and some Minbari technology are believed to operate. Franklin agrees to investigate after Hendricks assures him that the artefacts were brought on board legally, although in reality Hendricks’ associate Nelson Drake killed a customs guard to smuggle them on board. As the investigation continues, the alien artefacts reactivate and take control of Drake, turning him into a biotech killing machine. Franklin accesses the memory core of one of the alien devices and learns that Ikarrans were invaded half a dozen times by alien races, so built the biotech devices to help defend their world from attack. Unfortunately, the devices turned on them and wiped out their civilisation. Armed with this information, Sinclair confronts the biotech warrior with the news of its crimes and the device deactivates. Hendricks and Drake are taken into custody for the death of the security guard and Earthforce Weapons Research Division takes the Ikarran devices for study.

Garibaldi confronts Sinclair about the frequency with which he is putting himself in danger. Garibaldi wonders if Sinclair is suffering survivors’ guilt from the Earth-Minbari War. Sinclair admits he doesn’t have an answer for his friend but promises to find one.

Sinclair gives in to Cramer’s request for an interview and explains why he thinks humanity has a future in space.

Dating the Episode: According to the timeline on the Babylon 5 DVD, Babylon 5 went online on 9 March 2256. This episode marks the second anniversary of that event.

The Arc: The Vorlons are suspected to use organic technology. We learn some more about Vorlon technology in episodes B13, C1 and C14.

Earthforce has an interest in advanced alien technology to augment its own weapons systems. We see further examples of this in episodes A19, C8 and D19.

Garibaldi first met Sinclair on Mars when they were involved in a shuttle crash and had to walk fifty miles out of the desert. We actually see the crash and its aftermath in the comics DC5-DC8. Garibaldi refers to it again in episode C8, when we learn it took place in 2253, five years prior to this episode. Garibaldi claims it was Sinclair who helped him get back on his feet and offered him a position on Babylon 5. We see some of this in episode A20.

Some on Earth are doubtful about the need to spend so much money on space exploration. This growing disillusionment with the outside universe is addressed again in episode B15.

Hendricks’ expedition was paid for by Interplanetary Expeditions, an Earth corporation dedicated to finding old alien technology and retro-engineering it for use by humans. Although only mentioned here, IPX actually plays an ongoing role in the main story arc. They are implicated in the events of episodes B2, B17, C8, and C22, sponsor an ISN newscast in B15 and representatives of the company are pivotal to the events of episode TVM2. Book NOV7 also features them.

The Ikarrans’ advanced technology, their chaotic and destructive natures and the fact that they were wiped out a thousand years ago seems to imply a connection between them and the great conflict that took place a millennium ago, as expanded upon in episodes B2, B5 and B17. On the other hand, a cigar is sometimes just a cigar...

The Proxima colony, briefly mentioned here, appears in episode D15.

Background: There are serious questions being asked on Earth over whether mankind has a place in space. Sinclair believes they do since before they colonised the Moon and Mars the human race was restricted to just one planet, with all its eggs in one basket. In addition, one day the Sun will go out and mankind must expand in order to avoid oblivion as a species.

The ISN reporter suggests that maybe Earth should abandon space and pull everyone back to the homeworld. Later episodes confirm that whilst Mars has a population of two million, the other colonies only have populations in the tens or hundreds of thousands at the most. Well over 99% of the human race still lives on Earth.

The ISN reporter knows that Garibaldi has had a dubious past, being bumped from post to post around the Earth Alliance and that this is his last chance to do some good. Garibaldi has been fired from previous roles five times.

The Proxima colony is mentioned and is located in the Proxima Centauri system (more properly the Alpha Centauri system; Proxima is actually a third star orbiting the Alpha Centauri A and B binary stars at the heart of the system), the closest star to Earth. The Centauri suffix was dropped to avoid confusion with the aliens of the same name.

Any unusual organic material arriving on Babylon 5 is subject to a 48-hour quarantine. Breaking this rule represents a serious security breach.

References: Hendricks mentions that a “Martian war machine” is looking for Frankly to discuss a cure to the common cold. This is a tip of the hat to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, where the Martian invaders are defeated by a lack of immunity to common Earth viruses.

Sinclair quotes Shakespeare’s King Lear at one point: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth.”

Ivanova quotes from George Santayana’s The Life of Reason: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This is the first episode to have sections set in Grey Sector. Workers are shown in industrial clothing and breathing devices, confirming that Grey Sector is an area of heavy machinery and service areas. We learn more about Grey Sector in C19.

Unanswered Questions: The destruction of Ikarran civilisation a thousand years ago raises the question of if the Ikarrans were involved in the Great War at all.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: When the Ikarran war machine is shut down, the elaborate armour it has grown around Drake’s body over the course of many hours abruptly vanishes without a trace.

Garibaldi says he has been Sinclair’s friend longer than his subordinate. Comics DC5-8, which chronicle their first meeting, show that Sinclair hired Garibaldi at a time when he was a commercial shuttle pilot, in very much a subordinate role, although technically Garibaldi (then on a sabbatical from Earthforce) was not Sinclair’s actual subordinate in rank.

This is the second anniversary of Babylon 5 going “on-line” but NOV7 suggests that B5 went online only at the very end of 2256. Babylon 5 being completed in March 2256, only about eighteen months after Babylon 4 vanished without a trace, seems implausible at best.

Behind the Scenes: Infection was the first episode of Babylon 5 to be shot after the pilot. Filming of the episode was complicated by the fact that the warehouse the show was shot in was still being converted into a studio: crewmembers were painting and wiring up one set whilst shooting was going on in the one next door. Michael O’Hare particularly struggled with the shooting of the early episodes, as he preferred a quiet set and in those early days the set was incredibly noisy with construction going on (a lot of the lines in the early episodes were redubbed to eliminate the background noise).

Richard Biggs had an uncomfortable first day on set, taking sixteen takes to nail his first scene. He was also disappointed that he was unable to strike up a better working relationship with guest star David McCallum to sell their characters’ previous association: Biggs liked to explore things through line readings and rehearsals, but McCallum preferred talking about the roles in a more hands-off way.

The episode was inspired by the then-ongoing conflict in Yugoslavia, some of which had come about through conversations between Straczynski and Mira Furlan (who was born in Croatia and married to a Serb). Straczynski was particularly repelled by the idea of “ethnic cleansing” and “racial purity”, pointing out that no-one is a “pure” anything.

Michael O’Hare had trouble with the material, pointing out that sometimes dialogue that is great on the page becomes untenable when you’re trying to say it out loud on a set and pretending someone is shooting at you. Straczynski later admitted that the episode struggled to match its philosophical underpinning with the action finale and he also lacked confidence in his own editing abilities.

Originally, Sinclair’s speech to the ISN reporter was supposed to segue in the same John F. Kennedy 1960 speech about the New Frontier, but this was dropped as being too jarring a device.

Infection is J. Michael Straczynski’s most disliked episode of the first season, and probably the entire series. He has said he wouldn’t mind if the episode “disappeared off the end of a pier somewhere.”

Familiar Faces: David McCallum is one of genre television’s most familiar faces, best-known for his role of Ilya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Steel on the bizarre British genre show Sapphire and Steel. He also starred in the 1970s TV series The Invisible Man. Most recently he has gained renewed international stardom for his long-running role on American procedural drama NCIS.

Marshall Teague, who previously served in the US Navy and is a kick-boxer, is best-known for his appearance in 1989 movie Road House prior to Babylon 5, and appearing in the Michael Bay movies The Rock and Armageddon whilst it was on the air. He has appeared in TV shows such as Days of Our Lives, Star Trek and Columbo. Of course, he later returns to Babylon 5 as Narn warrior Ta’Lon, debuting in episode B12.

Review: This is Babylon 5’s first real dud, although it tries to do a few laudable things, such as Sinclair’s closing speech and Garibaldi’s challenging of why Sinclair keeps putting himself in personal jeopardy, whilst Franklin’s speech on fanaticism and history repeating itself is hair-raising. But the main plot is ill-conceived, David McCallum phones in his performance, the action scenes are inept and the writing is stodgy. **

Dr. Franklin: “On all sides, the fanatics who think that society has to be “protected” against anyone who’s different. I’m starting to wonder if what we just saw was a preview of things to come.”

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tachyons are not actually a real thing, at least none have been discovered in real life.