Mark Watches ‘Babylon 5’: S03E21 – Shadow Dancing

In the twenty-first and penultimate episode of the third season of Babylon 5, the Rangers attempt to execute their plan to ward off a massive attack by the Shadows; Dr. Franklin meets himself. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.

Trigger Warning: For talk of addiction

Everything hurts. REPEATEDLY.

Dr. Franklin

I don’t feel too strongly one way or another about the actual walkabout plot itself. On the one hand, I like that the show didn’t treat Dr. Franklin’s addiction to stims as a single-episode story, one that’s solved quickly and then never addressed again. Addiction is rarely, if ever, resolved in such a way in real life. The walkabout arc, though, aside from feeling appropriative, is just not that interesting. The places that Dr. Franklin visits look like every other place in Downbelow, so it’s not like we got to see locations that were new or refreshing. Plus, someone walking from one end of a spaceship to another isn’t all that intriguing! 

Still, Dr. Franklin “meeting” himself comes about in a way that allows the show to address the emotional reasons why Dr. Franklin came to rely on stims aside from the circumstances he was under. As a character study, that felt gritty and interesting. After Dr. Franklin stops a beating and is then stabbed himself (FUCK THE DUDE WHO LEFT HIM THERE TO DIE), he’s visited by a version of himself that is… well, pretty close to the version of himself he was at the peak of his addiction. All that yelling and berating is suddenly directed at him as he is dying, and guess what? Dr. Franklin doesn’t like it! Turns out he’s a complete asshole like this! But that sort of harsh love in this context ends up being motivational. (I would not characterize it as harsh love when directed at literally anyone else.) Spite works for him because Dr. Franklin wants to prove “himself” wrong, that he’s not going to run away from his problems anymore. That includes facing his addiction head-on, it means analyzing his behavior, and it means doing things differently with this second chance.

A Victory of Sorts

HI, THIS WAS SO STRESSFUL. On the eve of battle, this show really knows how to build up dread. And there’s that sort of dramatic energy that comes from impending doom, too. Marcus makes a play for Ivanova, and Delenn initiates an important mating ritual. Both these acts, while significant for these specific characters, serve to give us a sense that the end might possibly be near. Each of them know that this may not go as planned, and if that’s the case, why not be honest about one’s feelings? Why not give things a try? Maybe there won’t be another day.

And for what it’s worth, I spent at least a third of this episode completely worried that the sector of space believed to be the site of the next Shadows attack was a red herring, that the alliance of worlds would amass their attack ships in one location, only for them to be annihilated. LOOK, THIS SHOW HAS HAD REALLY FUCKED UP, DARK TWISTS BEFORE. I don’t feel like it was out of the question??!?!? But the bigger point I’m trying to make: the dread here is palpable. What if Delenn was wrong? Or what if she was right, but their forces were not enough to secure a victory?

Yet even as this battle unfolded and the plan turned out to be real, Babylon 5 still manages to give this victory a tinge of darkness. This pre-emptive attack goes well, so-to-speak, but it comes at great cost. The alliance lost two ships to every Shadow ship destroyed. There is no mass destruction of Shadows, as they end up fleeing before there’s too much damage. So, yes, there’s a victory, but what will the response be to that victory? How will the Shadows regroup in the meantime? I wouldn’t say this victory is Pyrrhic in nature, but it’s not a joyous occasion, and “Shadow Dancing” does a fine job of portraying such a complicated situation. (I also must say that this makes it clear how a war can take seventeen years to resolve. If all the victories and losses are of this caliber, a war could easily last ages.) 

And look, I expect penultimate episodes of seasons to set-up finales. Yet the grandeur of the fight here felt like the end of a season, a chance for the good people to have a definitive (if scary) victory over evil. It ends with a hint of what is to come: Sheridan and the others are convinced that Babylon 5 will be the next target, since that’s the most obvious outcome of this. And I don’t disagree with them! But that’s also right when the show resurrects that strange dream that Sheridan was “given” by Kosh, and I will admit to y’all that while some of it was figured out, I have figured out exactly none of it myself. This notion of an opposite but an equal… what the fuck? So it’s not Morden? Something also tells me that it’s not Anna Sheridan, either, but we’ll talk about that in a second. So, is there something on the station that’s preventing them from attacking it? Is it Sheridan? Ivanova? Someone or something else???


Which brings me to Anna Sheridan. Not one thing about this feels good, the least of which is that Delenn foresaw this, didn’t she? That whole imagery of the snow globe dropping… NO. But this means that Anna was on that Shadows ship, that she’s been with the Shadows the entire time since she went to Z’ha’dum, and… my gods, y’all, this is so awful. She’s working with them? What could she possibly see in the Shadows??? Unless she’s being held against her will????


The video for “Shadow Dancing” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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