Mark Watches ‘Babylon 5’: S02E09 – The Coming of Shadows

In the ninth episode of the second season of Babylon 5, HELP. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.

Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of warfare , colonialism/imperialism

Oh my god. I… I was not ready at all. 

The Rangers

There is an absurd amount of development within this episode, but it’s compacted into the story in a way that keeps literally every moment exciting, thrilling, and impactful. It’s a masterful script, and I love that amidst the dire view of war, humanity, and politics, there is a dose of hope. It’s needed, even though it’s slight. Because lord, this episode is just so sad, particularly since the other plots reveal just how close to peace the Narn and Centauri could have been. 

But I’ll speak more on that in a bit. This is a glorious and emotional return for Sinclair, and even if he was just on video, GODS, WHAT A MOMENT. His change in assignment clearly had another meaning; why else would he be sent to be with the Minbari? But this is the first major clue as to what that is. The Minbari knew the Darkness was coming, Sinclair was recruited (and probably told a lot more than I currently know about them), and in turn, the Rangers were created. They’re the only force here who is ahead of the curve, so to speak, at least in terms of being proactive about this new threat. They don’t have a lot of power, they have to stay hidden for the most part, but they’re dedicated. They believe in what they’re doing. Now, we don’t get a road map of any kind here; we just know that the Rangers are doing recon missions, that they must be allowed to work on Babylon 5, and that even Sheridan can’t really know anything about them. 

However: they exist. They are a new source of information for Garibaldi and, by extension, command staff on Babylon 5. And lord, I’m so excited to see more of them. Hopefully, Sinclair will return again as well!

The Tragedy

I admit that I don’t have all the pieces of this, and when I’m dealing with speculative stories that involve such complicated histories and backstories, I recognize that may be part of the reason I struggle with certain things. It happens because of the nature of how I read and watch things. So, I only have pieces of the century-long occupation of Narn by the Centauri, and those pieces tell me a story, one that is influenced by my own understanding of how imperialism works in our world. I find it increasingly hard to sympathize with the Centauri in any way, though I don’t think “The Coming of Shadows” intends me to at all. Indeed, half the terrible dread is caused by Londo Mollari getting glimpses of the future—either through Vir’s stringent warnings or that (probably) prophetic dream that he has—and then still deciding to order the murder of hundreds of thousands of Narn. Why? For personal reasons, of course. We’ve seen over the course of the past thirty episodes or so how willing Mollari has been to act in his own self-interest. We know he’s ambitious, and we know that he is willing to do pretty much anything to get what he wants. Murdering innocent civilians on a colony that the Centauri once stole from the Narn? He doesn’t even hesitate once he’s given the idea, y’all. There is no reluctance whatsoever.

Which is why I was a little puzzled by the way both Sheridan and Dr. Franklin speak to G’Kar in this episode. I assume colonialism and imperialism still happened on Earth and that it probably continues to in some form. Yet both of them lecture G’Kar like he’s barely more than a vengeful child. There’s a sense here that they consider the situation between the Narns and the Centauri as mostly resolved, despite that the Centauri still occupy plenty of Narn space, and despite that the Centauri are openly hostile and rude to them in diplomatic settings. When it comes to this specific issue, I have a hard time when the victim is told to be more kind and more accommodating to the aggressor, and even if this script doesn’t intend that, those little moments felt like a weird form of respectability politics. G’Kar should be allowed to be angry, and that can exist alongside the complicated story that exists here, too. 

I say that because WOW, I did not expect the emperor to want to make meaningful gestures and concessions to the Narns AT ALL. The greatest tragedy here is of potential: if those two people had been allowed to talk, what would have come of these two worlds? Would it have been enough to push away the ambitious, war-hungry Centauri who were more than willing to murder to kickstart their empire again? We don’t know. And that opportunity is now gone, right at the worst possible moment. Y’all, G’Kar was ready to assassinate this man, and within days, he was buying drinks for Mollari, saluting a possible future of peace, unknowing that Mollari had already set a disaster in motion. 

I know this is an important episode, and saying it almost feels trite. The War is here, and it came about through such awful, awful means. The Shadows are becoming bolder in their attacks, and the Centauri had no problem taking credit for it. The Narns have declared war in retaliation to this massacre, and Babylon 5 is certainly going to be at the center of this. Holy shit, y’all, HOW DID THIS ALL HAPPEN IN ONE EPISODE?

The video for “The Coming of Shadows” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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