Mark Watches ‘Babylon 5’: S04E15 – No Surrender, No Retreat

In the fifteenth episode of the fourth season of Babylon 5, the war against Clark escalates. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5. 

How is this not a finale? Or at least an episode or two before a finale? How am I supposed to cope with this? WHY DOES EVERYTHING HURT.

A Drink

This would be a stellar episode if the entire thing focused on the liberation of Proxima 3. Honestly! It’s thrilling, daring, and expertly written. So I want to state that upfront because the subplot of “No Surrender, No Retreat” makes this episode feel otherworldly. That scene in G’Kar’s quarters will easily go down as one of the most memorable moments of the show for me. It’s so raw, so vital, so completely vulnerable and awful all at the same time. In the midst of the war against President Clark, Londo decides to do something he has never truly done since Babylon 5 began: to make overtures of reconciliation to someone he has hurt terribly. And because this is Londo we’re talking about, he does so clumsily. Selfishly. Messily. He is not perfect at this because he can’t be. He has too long of a history of self-interest to suddenly get this right the first time.

But in G’Kar’s quarters, he begins to be honest. His life is a mess. He made terrible, terrible choices. His people decimated the Narns, and even in his attempt to overthrow a dictator, Londo still harmed someone who was willing to give up his own life to do what was right. Even in admitting these things, in proposing that the Centauri and the Narn issue a joint statement in support of Sheridan, he still messes things up. He treats G’Kar as if he is entitled to a positive response since he’s begun to apologize. (And he doesn’t really apologize, you know.) He wants an immediate positive reaction, when G’Kar is absolutely not ready for that.

So Londo is given a brutal, silent rejection, one he ultimately accepts. What can he do? And on some level, I appreciated that he accepted it, that he didn’t push G’Kar further than he already had. I give Londo a hard time because he’s often so brash, so unwilling to admit his faults, so unwilling to do the difficult work of reconciliation, but this? This was so shocking to me, y’all. And look, I don’t know what the future will be for these two. Are they still fated to killing one another? Or is this a chance for them to change that story? 

Enough is Enough

This was An Experience, y’all. The pacing for this plot is UNFAIR, and I basically felt as if I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. This is another story that’s been years in the making, and the confrontation with Clark’s forces really did feel inevitable. The way this is written allows us to understand why Sheridan believed they’d reached a point of no return. Clark had done so many monstrous things over the years. He first became a prominent antagonist way back in season one when he was instrumental in assassinating President Santiago, but recent events really were a breaking point. Ten thousand dead. People fleeing Clark’s policies were murdered for trying to leave!!! 

What this episode also does, though, is take Sheridan’s morality and test it. This happens in two major ways. The more obvious way is that he’s got to lead a military force against other humans. Can he engage in that kind of battle? Can he order his soldiers to do the same? Is it immoral to resist Clark’s policies by killing those who take part in it? Even more complicated: where do you draw that line? If a general or a commander wholeheartedly follows Clark’s orders, is it just to kill the people who work beneath that senior officer? These questions are all intentionally addressed in the episode as Marcus tries to determine which destroyers willingly fired on civilians and which ones didn’t. Yet it’s clear that this doesn’t absolve anyone of their actions, nor does it draw easily-categorized lines in the sand. Sheridan has to make an attempt to resolve things without fighting, but once everything escalates, he has to make the call. 

And when he does, IT IS ALL TOO MUCH. This battle definitely has a different feel than those of the Shadow War. (And I was glad Sheridan stated as much to these soldiers!) Its intensity comes from who the resistance is fighting. It’s their own people! So once Captain Hall ordered his ships to fire on Sheridan’s forces, I got real worried. What would the cost of this war be? Would it be a Pyrrhic victory for whoever won? Would Sheridan and his forces have to kill the people aboard one of those destroyers?

So: that part is tense. I don’t deny that. And when that one destroyer exploded? IT WAS A DISTURBING MOMENT. It was meant to be! (That image of the debris floating behind Sheridan was A LOT.) But I found the aftermath way more suspenseful. The audience understood what Sheridan was doing, but the other test here was: Could the other command staff understand it? Could Sheridan convince all these captains and first officers to risk their careers and reputations? To either protect Proxima 3 or join the resistance? It clearly failed with Hall, but how many others were there just like him, who valued obedience and order over morality? Who would err on the side of caution, or personal comfort, over doing what was right but deeply, deeply uncomfortable? (I feel like even describing it that way is underselling the depth of this choice, but hopefully you get what I mean.)

This isn’t a victory; it’s a step. It feels a lot better than I expected because… holy shit. Two destroyers on their side. The Narn and the Centauri have issued their joint statement. Proxima 3 has been liberated. Can they free Mars? How do they take back Earth??? I don’t even know what that looks like! I can see how we’re getting multiple episodes out of this, but this also doesn’t take into account Garibaldi, who is bound for Mars to work for William Edgars. Is he actually going to fight for his home? Does he support the Mars resistance? WHAT IS GONNA HAPPEN?

This season is something else, y’all. It’s so incredible to get to experience all these plot threads coming together. What else is in store for me???

The video for “No Surrender, No Retreat” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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