Mark Watches ‘Babylon 5’: S05E17 – Movements of Fire and Shadow

In the seventeenth episode of the fifth season of Babylon 5, EVERYTHING IS A DISASTER. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent

So, let me start with what’s at the end of this video. As I was watching “Movements of Fire and Shadow,” I felt the story was a bit disjointed. We just had so MANY plot threads to keep track of, and the transitions between them were so jarring. They were tonally different, and the show seemed to be exploring disparate ideas with no connection. But I’m so glad I was wrong about this, because it gave me such a wonderful experience: the collision of all four plots in a blaze of tragedy. And this is unmistakably a tragedy, y’all, and even though I had a lot of the pieces of the Drakh war, I didn’t have enough, and NOW I CAN SEE JUST HOW MESSED UP THIS IS. Actually, I probably don’t even know???


I assumed that the revenge here was one-sided, that all the Drakh wanted to do was get revenge for the destruction of Z’ha’dum. But this episode answers a vital question: Do the Centauri actually know what’s going on? Are they complicit in this war of revenge, or is it all happening behind their backs? Look, the reason I didn’t jump to the latter explanation was because it seemed pretty damn believable that for some of the Centauri in power, attacking other Alliance members made sense. Perhaps they resented peace-making efforts; perhaps the Drakh promised them glory and a living empire again; perhaps they just wanted to be on top, and the Drakh were a means to an end. I also operated under the assumption that there were Centauri onboard all those warships. Why would I think otherwise? If these soldiers were ordered by the Regent or the Minister of Defense, they’d do as they were told. Obedience is vastly important in this culture. 

So yeah, I never once considered those ships were empty, that the Drakh had used Shadow technology to control them remotely. This means that the Minister of Defense WASN’T LYING AT ALL IN THESE EPISODES. The revenge here has another level: the Drakh set up the Centauri so that other members of the Alliance would want revenge against them. It’s so brilliant that it hurts. Why not exploit the already very real and very justified distaste or hatred that the others feel for the Centauri? They’re perfect targets here, and everyone fell into this trap. It’s horrifying, isn’t it? It also explains the sheer chaotic, retaliatory nature of the Drakh’s strategy. It’s just about destruction. It’s about ruining these people who ruined their lives. This isn’t about empire or shifting power but about bringing despair to Sheridan and his allies almost entirely for the sake of it. Even the destruction of the jump gates fits within this narrative! Destroy anything that benefits the Alliance, even if it might harm the Drakh or their allies. As long as the Alliance loses, they see it as a win.


The big shift in the understanding of this war comes about because of Lyta, but there’s a demonstration of her growth here, too. The Lyta in this episode is the result of years of mistreatment and identity crises, and she’s so much more sure of herself than she’s ever been. In one sense, that manifests as her negotiation skills when she’s talking to Vir. I adored that she was shown as understanding her own worth, demanding to be compensated as she deserved, and then turning around and using that compensation for such an important cause. She is not interested in making herself rich; she wants to finish what Byron started, and she’s been written as beautifully consistent on that point. YES. I LOVE THIS. IT’S GREAT.

It also comes up in a much more disturbing way, and we also get to see how much more willing Lyta is to use her powers without considering the moral implications of them. She scans multiple minds—at least once rather deeply—without consent, and it happens without hesitation, either, which is something we’ve seen before. She just does it. In the most horrifying moment involving Lyta, she uses her telepathic powers to make a Drazi shoot themselves in the head. And I don’t think the moment is supposed to be victorious! We immediately see Dr. Franklin’s horror, and even in the ensuing scenes, it’s clear Dr. Franklin is upset by what he’s just witnessed, but he doesn’t have the energy or the will to stop Lyta and confront her. I imagine that’s going to happen at some point, but LORD. How does Lyta feel about this? Is she willing to use any means necessary to get what she wants now? 


I’ve said this before, but I still adore that Delenn and Sheridan get to be loving without conflict, and that this part of them isn’t here for drama. It’s so sweet! And I don’t want to ignore that the show definitely builds suspense by separating them as is the case here. Both characters are concerned for the other’s safety, though I’m not sure where this story is taking us. Why have that White Star so horribly damaged? What will become of Lennier and Delenn? What about the other survivors? There’s not much hint of anything beyond the acknowledgment that this is real bad, so I’m curious why they’re on this path. 

Centauri Prime

Y’all. Y’ALL. I am truly, truly moved by Damian London and his portrayal of the Regent. This could have gone in such a campy direction, as the type of character London plays is often the butt of a joke and nothing more. Instead, we’re given one of the most compelling, heart-wrenching, and tragic characters in this whole run of the show. I felt so horrible watching him get to speak to Londo about the coming destruction of Centauri Prime because we’re seeing a man split: by desire. By obedience. By the Drakh control of his body. He doesn’t want to do what he’s told, but he can’t resist it. He doesn’t want to order the destruction of his home, but he’s relieved to die so that this can all be over. He’s been so terribly alone throughout this experience, and I get why he just wants to be done with it all. And we also know how Londo will end up, too! He goes to a very similar place. What I don’t understand is how all that time is going to be fit into these last five episodes. That’s a lot of ground to cover in just a few hours, no???

The video for “Movements of Fire and Shadow” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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