In the twenty-second and final episode of the fourth season of Babylon 5, one person can make a difference. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Holy shit, this finale is simply unlike… everything? The very show itself? Normal narrative patterns of science fiction television? It’s also SO GODDAMN BOLD, and I have no idea why JMS and the rest of the production team went this route, but oh my god, this was, above being satisfying and challenging, SO ENTERTAINING. I’m a fan of vignettes in general, and you can trace that love back to The House on Mango Street, which is where I was first exposed to the idea of telling a story through smaller stories. “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” attempts something like that, but there’s an absurdity in the premise that I adore: Do the events we’ve seen in four seasons of this show affect the future in a meaningful way? What happens 100 years in the future? 500 years in the future? A thousand? A MILLION??? The very idea of showing events in this fictional universe A MILLION YEARS IN THE FUTURE is so ridiculous to me, and yet, Babylon 5 does it.
Oh my god, does it EVER do it.
The Present Day
Initially, I believed that the special ISN broadcast would comprise the season finale. It made sense! We’d gotten that full broadcast early in season four, and there was something deeply appealing to me in the exploration of how different humans reacted to the events in “Rising Star.” How was Sheridan viewed? Was he still a war hero? Did others see him as power hungry? I even wondered what Clark’s followers would do in the aftermath, and that’s answered in part by one of the pundits on the special broadcast. I now understand why the broadcast happened as it did. This episode aims to answer a question posed by a conversation between Delenn and Sheridan: will they all be remembered by history? Is what they did significant? Do individuals matter to history, or is it the collective struggle that survives in the distant future?
That broadcast presented a fascinating look on three different takes on what had just happened. There was the pundit who saw Sheridan’s act as one of liberation; another was cautious, but casually optimistic; another was wildly against him and inflamed the conversation with overly emotional appeals that had little basis in what we’d just seen. But it’s just the start. Without Delenn or Sheridan present, how did these people fill in the chasms of their knowledge? What’s so mind-blowing about this episode is that cultural bias and prejudice is shown to play such a huge part in how these people interpret what little information they have. The Alliance is a sign of hope for one pundit; another wants to wait and see what Sheridan does with it before making a judgment; the third believes Sheridan is massively unqualified for the job and the Alliance will be a disaster. And it’s all a precursor to the vignette that will follow, too! How does the mythology of history and historical figures change as those figures become less and less available for analysis?
One Hundred Years
That question is addressed with terrifying clarity when this episode jumps forward a hundred years. The argument that we experience between a group of scholars is… well, it’s a lot. It was hard not to think of “The Illusion of Truth,” though the twisting of reality is not as outwardly malicious here. These scholars probably thought they were doing something noble, intellectual, and meaningful. They had pieces of history with which to base their opinions and interpretations on, and yet, they come to an upsetting conclusion: much of what Delenn and Sheridan did was part of a growing mythology, an attempt at a PR spin from the Alliance. There’s a cynicism inherent in this, too. How could these people have possibly been as good as their followers claim them to be? What of the events that came afterwards? Y’all, this episode outright confirms that the Telepath War—which we’ve yet to see—is going to be a disaster. We even see a clip with Garibaldi trying to talk down some telepaths who, I assume, have taken over the station. And in it, the panel of academics interprets Sheridan’s actions as those of a dictator, a megalomaniac, as someone who is clearly power hungry. With just one shift in perspective, these people are able to reason WITH CERTAINTY that Sheridan was not a good person, neither was Delenn, and that history is what it is not because of them, but entirely because of other people.
I think there’s a happy medium here, a place where the actions of these people mattered, as do the collective actions of those inspired and enabled by Sheridan and Delenn. It’s why the appearance of Delenn is so shocking and powerful. Rarely does the person at the heart of these kind of discussions show up themselves, and here, it works as a scathing rebuke of the way these historians/academics talk about someone whose actions did matter a great deal. Without context, Sheridan’s life DOES seem like a myth, doesn’t it? Yet just because someone’s life seems large and impossible does not inherently make it impossible.
Ugh, Delenn is so great here. IT HURTS.
Five Hundred Years
This one was a strange one, at least because I wasn’t quite sure where the show was going with it. Why this? Why show us someone from the next Earth Civil War trying to reconstruct history using holographic representations of past figures? Well, there’s a clear connection to the last vignette: historical figures can be mythologized, and the programmer wants to exploit that to twist humanity to hate the Alliance. If he can make the crew of Babylon 5 out to be villains—cartoonish ones at that, as shown to us by that over-the-top execution scene—then perhaps the faith placed in the principles of the Alliance will be eroded. (Oh god, faith. WHICH MATTERS TO THE FOURTH VIGNETTE.)
I love so dearly how this goes awry. Because y’all, one person matters. And it’s not even technically a person who changes history! It’s just the encoded thought process of Garibaldi that manipulates the programmer into revealing the anti-Alliance plans for a pre-emptive strike. In the end, these people still matter. They still changed the world, even when they were just holographs.
One Thousand Years
But the holographic vignette isn’t just about these characters changing the world. It’s about how the stories of their lives outlasted so many things. That story is so powerful that the opposition had to try to LITERALLY alter history in order to counteract those stories. Thus, a thousand years into the future, after Earth was practically destroyed by civil war, the stories of the Rangers and Delenn and Ivanova and Dr. Franklin and Garibaldi have actually taken on something like a mythic status. The monks that we see working to preserve these tales may not have all the information, and history might have been exaggerated. But it survives. Even as the very concept of Earth seems impossible, the prophecy of the Rangers and their return is kept alive by these monks. AND I BET THERE ARE PLENTY OF RANGERS LIKE BROTHER ALWYN THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. That’s all they need: hope. Hope keeps the possibility of the brilliance of the Alliance alive. And that faith means everything, doesn’t it?
One Million Years
Yes, it does, because as brief as this vignette is, it gives us such an incredible story. A million years in the future, The Rangers survived. Earth is about to be destroyed by our sun going nova, but there’s a New Earth. We built another Earth. Humans are non-corporeal. We evolved, we changed, and WE SURVIVED. And the events of the past million years helped to set that up.
And yet, that’s not why Delenn and Sheridan did this. They did all of this because…
Well, it was the right thing to do.
Holy shit, what a finale.
The video for “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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