In the fifth episode of the fourth season of Babylon 5, help me. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of torture, genocide.
I don’t know how to handle this. How is this barely the fifth episode this season??? EVERYTHING IS ON 100% ALL OF THE TIME.
The Fall of Cartagia
There’s a moment near the end of this episode that is chilling in its ability to force us to reflect on the nature of G’Kar’s characterization. At the start of Babylon 5, G’Kar was understandably obsessed with revenge, with wanting to punish the Centauri, with the notion that violence was often to answer. And I say “understandably” because the show made the case that the Centauri occupation of Narn had never truly been dealt with, at least not in any meaningful sense. So when G’Lorn, who was helping to trash the secondary Centauri palace on Narn, tells G’Kar that it’s time for them to get their vengeance, I was brought back in time. Years prior to this, this is exactly what G’Kar would have wanted and what he would have fought for.
But that isn’t who he is anymore. Not by a long shot! His transformation over the course of this show has been so fascinating to me because I don’t feel like his fire has ever been dulled. He might not be obsessed with vengeance anymore, but that doesn’t mean he has no anger. No spark. No fire. Rather, it’s directed elsewhere. He was one of the first people to begin seriously warning of the return of the Shadows, and his work to resist the second Centauri occupation was history-making. But he’s also a character who has learned from his past, who has seen the mistakes in his actions or his beliefs, and he’s has ACTIVELY CHANGED THEM. So, when G’Lorn questions what G’Kar has endured, that very notion is… well, it’s laughable. How could you possibly assume anything else? Of course, there’s the immediate past to reference: G’Kar, a figure portrayed like Christ in Golgotha, withstood Cartagia’s torture so that he could help free Narn from Centauri control. The very thing that G’Lorn is celebrating is due to what G’Kar endured! So how can G’Kar even entertain that question without laughing?
There are two very different reactions to Cartagia’s murder in this episode, and on the other end of spectrum is Vir, who… lord, what do I even say? Just minutes before his fate unfolded onscreen, Londo was teasing Vir about how no one could ever believe he would do something sneaky or immoral. But then, after Cartagia attacks Londo at the exact worst point, he’s left with the weapon that will poison the emperor.
And he does it.
HE ACTUALLY KILLS SOMEONE.
I appreciate so much that this act is given such weight within the narrative because Vir is certainly not the person we would expect to do this. And that’s significant because he’s largely kept himself detached from the more seedy aspects of his empire. Even when he was helping Narn refugees, it wasn’t a direct thing; it’s all been through something or someone else. Here, though, there’s no distance. Literally so. Vir must witness someone’s life leaving their body because he killed them. So it made sense to me that pretty much immediately afterwards, he got drunk. It dulled the pain. It put that distance back between him and what he’d done. And if this is how Vir reacts in the hours after this, how is it going to change him in the distant future? What happens before we see Vir take over the throne? Because oh my god, we’re still on that path! Londo is Prime Minister now, one step closer to being emperor. HELP.
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the escalation that I’m experiencing here. Just a couple episodes ago, the main concern was a pre-emptive strike against Z’ha’dum. By the end of this episode, that plan is scrapped for one that feels so huge, so monstrously important, that I genuinely do not understand what the rest of season four is going to do to me. And the reason that decision is even made is because the Vorlon and Shadow War has gotten so unnecessarily intense that Sheridan feels compelled to finally air this shit out RIGHT NOW. After countless worlds were destroyed by the Vorlons, we get to witness the Shadows fight back.
Is it at all surprising that they fight back in such a dirty way? The whole Death Cloud thing is… look. It’s not like the Vorlons have a strong moral ground here, either. Both sides are horrific for what they’ve done. But there’s just that extra twist of awful in the construction of the Death Cloud, which doesn’t just destroy a world. It makes the people living there suffer extensively while it happens. It traps them, then bores bombs down to the core, triggering explosions that eventually make the place completely uninhabitable forever. It’s so exceedingly cruel just for the sake of it. Look, I know Garibaldi is grumpy and weird now (what’s going on???), but he’s not wrong. There’s no way to stop either side when they’ve got weapons of that magnitude.
That’s the impetus for what is set in motion here, but going back to a point I made in the last review, Babylon 5 does not shy away from portraying the notion of cost. Here, the price to be paid comes in the form of Ericsson, the commander of one of the White Stars, played with a dutiful sadness by Bryan Cranston. It is not uncommon for stories dealing with warfare to have plots like this, where someone is asked to make a sacrifice for the greater good. However, there’s a stark honesty to it here, particularly in how “The Long Night” portrays Sheridan asking for Ericsson to give his life. It does not happen in a closed room in front of a few generals or command staff. Sheridan asks Ericsson this in front of the entire room of the League, and there is a gut-wrenching moment when everyone there realizes that Ericsson has not put two-and-two together. And for what it’s worth, I respect that Sheridan did this in the open, to make it clear he understood what was going on and what he was asking of that ship.
It’s so intense, y’all, and I imagine that will remain one of the most haunting images from this entire show. Lord, the Shadows took the bait, and there’s about to be a showdown at Coriana. I’m not ready. I TRULY AM NOT READY.
The video for “The Long Night” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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