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February 13, 2011

Babylon 5: Signs and Portents
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:12 AM * 54 comments

Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
The Hollow Men, TS Eliot

I’m a huge fan of roller coasters. And one of the best parts of every ride, for me, is when the cars have been cranked all the way up the long slope and sit poised at the top, with the entire track laid out beneath them. There’s just time for comprehension to sink in before the long, swift descent into what awaits.

This is that moment.

The episode has much the same rough shape as the earlier ones this season, albeit with a higher plot density. Instead of two or three parallel streams that may or may not intersect at the end, there are four: one with ships and shooting, one digging into Sinclair’s past, one about Centauri politics, and one that looks like yet more character exposition.

The first major narrative stream concerns yet more attacks by the ubiquitous raiders. There’s a new pattern to their activities: they’re striking and escaping faster than should be possible. Raider vessels are generally too small to generate their own jump gates, but these ships aren’t matching expected travel times to known ones. After yet another freighter is hit, Sinclair, Garibaldi and Ivanova are at a loss to understand how they do it. The meet to discuss strategies for figuring the matter out.

After Ivanova leaves, Sinclair tells Garibaldi what he recalls of the missing time after the Battle of the Line and asks him to dig into things. It’s a strikingly-filmed conversation, with the camera following Sinclair tightly as he walks in circles, explaining the situation.

Meanwhile, in the political thread, Londo has arranged purchase of something called The Eye. It’s “the oldest symbol of Centauri nobility, property of the very first emperor.” It cost his government the price of a small planet, and they are keen to get it back to Centauri Prime discreetly. That way its “rediscovery” can help consolidate the Emperor’s position.

The man chosen to transport it, Lord Kiro, arrives on Babylon 5 with his aunt. The Lady Ladira is a seer, and starts having visions of “death, pain, and fire” as soon as she arrives on-station. But Kiro doubts her prophetic abilities. “On my first birthday, she said someday I would be killed by a shadow,” he chuckles at Londo*.

Lord Kiro has his own agenda. He doesn’t want to be messenger boy for the current emperor; he wants to use the Eye to catapult himself onto the throne. He tries to enlist Londo’s help, but Mollari isn’t sanguine about his chances and declines to get involved.

We see that the two dramatic subplots, the raiders and the Eye, are related when an attack on the Achilles lures the Delta Wing away from the station. A shady character on Babylon 5, who has also been following Kiro, reports that “they’ve taken the bait”.

Sinclair, without this insight, has to piece the next part of the plot together himself. The cargo manifest of the Achilles shows nothing of real value. He realizes that the attack is a diversion, and that the real target is probably Kiro’s ship. By the time he goes to warn Kiro, the man who’s been sneaking around the station has shot two guards and taken the three Centauri nobles hostage. When Sinclair interrupts them, he lets Londo and Ladira go and escapes with Kiro and the Eye.

Sinclair blocks the jump gate from accepting the Centauri liner’s codes, which should trap it at Babylon 5. Then we find out how the raiders have been moving their small fighters around: they have a ship large enough to generate its own jump gate. It appears (in the midst of a really well-filmed space battle) and spirits Kiro’s liner away.

And it turns out that the kidnapping was a ruse. Kiro funded the ship for the raiders so that they could disrupt his trip back to the homeworld with the Eye and give him his chance at the throne. But those who are bought don’t stay bought; the raiders aren’t interested in furthering his Imperial ambitions. They’re in the midst of ransoming both him and the Eye back to Centauri Prime when a mysterious ship appears and destroys them all. Ladira, back on Babylon 5, has a vision of his death.

Now, all of that would be enough plot for an episode. But there’s been one more thread running as well: the last subplot, the character-revelation one. If anything, it seems a little weak in contrast to all these Centauri politics and raider machinations. It’s just a guy, Mr. Morden, asking ambassadors the same question over and over: what do you want?

He gets an answer from G’Kar:

What do I want? The Centauri stripped my world. I want justice.
But what do you want?
To suck the marrow from their bones, and grind their skulls to powder.
What do you want?
To tear down their cities, blacken their sky, sow their ground with salt. To completely, utterly erase them.
And then what?
I don’t know. As long as my homeworld’s safety is guaranteed, I don’t know that it matters.

Delenn doesn’t answer. A triangle appears on her forehead, which she covers up, and she sends Morden away unsatisfied. “They’re here,” she says, with rather more dread than communicativeness, when the door closes behind him.

He’s more successful with Londo:

I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the galaxy. I want to see the Centauri stretch forth their hand again, and command the stars. I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power. I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to look back, or to look forward. I want us to be what we used to be. I want…I want it all back, the way that it was.

Morden seems to be hiding from Kosh, but the two of them meet during the space battle. Things are not the same as with the other ambassadors. Morden doesn’t ask his question. And Kosh seems to know him already, and tells him to “leave this place. They are not for you. Go. Leave. Now.” Morden smiles, but doesn’t look minded to depart. We don’t see what happens next, but Kosh’s encounter suit is listed as damaged at the end of the battle.

If you’ve seen more of Babylon 5, you know who Morden is and how significant this episode is. But remember that by this point in the series, the characters have been overtly explaining themselves so much that this dialog is unremarkable. The audience is used to this level of exposition, and used to discounting it. What with all the more dramatic action, this subplot can almost slip by the first-time viewer.

But there are signs that Morden is not merely a Bob for expository dialog. The way Delenn and Kosh react is a warning. While G’Kar’s and Londo’s answers are not firearms laid openly on the mantlepiece, not Chekhov’s guns, it’s possible to figure out that they’re Chow’s (warning: graphic violence†).

Londo, despairing of his career at the end of the episode, gets a taste of this when Morden gives him a gift from “friends you didn’t know you have”. In a case rather the worse for wear, Londo finds the Eye. And there’s a strong hint of a price to come, when he’s told that the givers “will find” him.

By this point we’re almost out of time, so the last couple of threads to get wrapped up feel rather rushed. First, Garibaldi tells Sinclair§ that the Minbari government had veto power over who was chosen to run Babylon 5. Apparently, they declined every nominee before him.

Then Sinclair rushes to the departure lounge to see Lady Ladira off, and she does the Centauri equivalent of a mind-meld with him in order to share her vision of the destruction of Babylon 5. She assures him that it is “a possible future” rather than a guaranteed one. “We create the future with our words, our deeds, and with our beliefs.”

The episode has an excellent Ivanova quote early on, before the plot gets going:

Sinclair: Sleep well?
Ivanova: Sleeping is not the problem. Waking up, that is the problem. I’ve always had a hard time getting up when it’s dark outside.
Sinclair: But in space it’s always dark outside.
Ivanova: I know. I know.

* Kiro needs to read more TV Tropes.
† If you don’t want to watch the video: it’s a scene from A Better Tomorrow where Chow Yun-Fat is going into a restaurant to kill someone. As he walks down the hall to the dining room, canoodling with a woman, he places guns in the flowerpots that line the walls. Then, when he’s retreating under fire, they’re readily to hand.
§ In the men’s room. A toilet on a space station. Win.

The next entry will look at TKO.

Index of Babylon 5 posts

Comments on Babylon 5: Signs and Portents:
#1 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 08:40 AM:

I have a vague recollection of knowing Morden was important almost at once because of the repetition; that's how things get done in fairy tales, after all, and it was already obvious that JMS knew how Story works.

Then again, I might be remembering myself as smarter than I was.

#2 ::: Chaomancer ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 09:14 AM:

I remember seeing this as an episode which made me sit up and notice the ongoing plot - the unresolved nature of the strange ship, and Morden's words as he leaves Londo, left me knowing it was important, and suspecting it was *the* plot of the series.

But it's been a long time, and I know I watched the first season out of order, so I don't know how accurate that is. I'm currently rewatching the series with my girlfriend who's not seen it before, and I'm looking forward to seeing her reaction.

#3 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 09:27 AM:

I managed to miss this episode back when it originally viewed - and there was no way of getting hold of it, of course. So I was rather confused about Morden when he next appeared - it was obvious I'd missed something important...It was ages later, watching the videos when I managed to get them, that I realised of course, just how important this was.

#4 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 09:54 AM:

I was struck by Ladira's prophecies:

Lord Kiro is, in fact, killed by Shadows, although no one knows it.

The destruction of Babylon 5 by fire pybfryl zveebef gur npghny qrfgehpgvba va gur ynfg rcvfbqr. Gur sngr gurl srnerq naq ubcrq gb nibvq vf jung fubhyq unccra.

Prophecy is like that, of course.
If the Centauri have visions of the manner and (rough) timing of their own deaths, wouldn't Lord Kiro know what was coming? Maybe he was alone in a nondescript chamber on the ship when the time came, so that he wouldn't be suspicious of the people he was dealing with, but shouldn't he know he would die soon?

#5 ::: Chaomancer ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 10:05 AM:

I assumed that, for most Centauri, the visions are somewhat allegorical and unreliable - otherwise Centauri politics would be quite different. There would be a lot of scheming to find out other's death-prophecies so you can get rid of someone properly.

Note that, for all Londo's certainty in his vision, he doesn't act like he's safe for the next decade or two. And the Centauri army would be terrifying if it were made up of soldiers who knew for certain they could not die for the next few years.

(I now imagine Londo's look of terror as he wakes up to find that one of his political enemies has made him up to look like an old man, and is advancing on him in a G'Kar suit!)

#6 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 10:20 AM:

Chaomancer (5): That makes sense. Lady Ladira tells Sinclair that her prophecies are of what might be, not what will be, so probably their death-prophecies are the same. Also, even accurate prophecies can be very deceptive.

#7 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 10:38 AM:

I'm just now seeing B5 for the first time (just finished Season 3) so I have the advantage of watching all the episodes in order in relatively quick succession. I have to say that Morden, from the get-go, is a pretty damn menacing figure. And I heartily sympathize with Vir's answer to Morden's usual question.

#8 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 11:34 AM:

Ladira's vision of the destruction of Babylon 5 is nicely ambiguous. Gur fbhaq bs punbf naq na rzretrapl rinphngvba fgebatyl fhttrfgf gur Funqbj qrfgehpgvba va gur nygreangr shgher vs _Jne Jvgubhg Raq_ unq abg gnxra cynpr. Ubjrire, gur fzbbgu qrcnegher bs n fvatyr fuhggyr *vf* zveeberq ol gur npghny cynaarq qrzbyvgvba bs O5 frra va _Fyrrcvat va Yvtug_. Ohg gung jnf n qrzbyvgvba bs na rzcgl O5: ab punbf, ab rinphngvba. Fb jr ner sbeprq gb pbapyhqr, V guvax, gung guvf jnf n ivfvba bs gur nygreangr shgher: gung, gunaxf fcrpvsvpnyYl gb Fvapynve, vg arire pnzr gb cnff. (Naq ubj zhpu bs gung jnf qbja gb uvf orvat tvira guvf ivfvba?)

#9 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 12:11 PM:

Nix (8): Or the emergency evacuation under attack and the destruction by fire could be two different things. As you say, nicely ambiguous.

#10 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 12:18 PM:

I never watched Babylon 5 when it was on, but these posts have gotten me watching it now (o, Netflix, what a boon you are). FWIW, Morden's importance was pretty clear to this first-time viewer. This is probably the best episode I've seen thus far.

#11 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 12:33 PM:

A few years ago, I went back to watch the series in order with friends who hadn't seen it. My own memories of the first season were very spotty, because it had been awhile and I'd missed some when they aired.

So I really wasn't expecting it when Morden walked on screen, and I gasped audibly. My friends looked at me and said, "Well, I take it he's important later?"

#12 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 01:17 PM:

During the original run, I started watching B5 during Season 2. By the time I finally had the chance to see this episode, Morden absolutely vibrated with menace. I'd have loved to see this without knowing his full story.

I've been reading Jeanne Cavelos' trilogy of tie-in novels about the Technomages (this embarrasses me at the public library, but probably no one cares), and I was amused to learn in those that Morden went to Michigan State, like my parents. Go Spartans?

#13 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:01 PM:

Lila, #7: Yes, that was one of Vir's high points, wasn't it? And it's an absolutely lovely quote, ranking right up with Marcus' bit about unfairness among my favorites from the series.

Vir is probably my favorite character overall, mostly because he has such a wonderful arc over the length of the series.

#14 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:35 PM:

There's something interesting with the Season One pacing. EVERY Season One episode has a 'fake ending', where it feels like it should end, but is followed by a brief coda.

This doesn't happen in the Season Two episodes.

#15 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:55 PM:

@5,6: For example, telling Lord Refa that he was going to be orngra gb qrngu ol n tnat bs Aneaf would be far less informative than you might think; gur crefba npghnyyl erfcbafvoyr sbe uvf qrngu jnfa'g cerfrag ng vg.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:04 PM:

Ah, this process is over for now. I'm neither dead nor drunk, which says a lot about my restraint.

Here are the final culls from the herd:

In both of these documents there were not any rights to women just as much as there were not any rights to enslaved men and those who were not considered citizens.

They are two different forms of government with comparable fundaments.

The arguable were the only ones answerable to God unlike that of the Soviets.

The Soviets created a strategy for maintaining Asians while controlling Moscow.

I gather that in Melanesian Pidgin the New Guinea Constitution is As Bilang lo Guvman, or the Foundation of the Government (or, more literally the Government's Arse). I don't quite think that was what the student meant, though.

#17 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:04 PM:

Oops, wrong thread. My apologies.

#18 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:08 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 4:

In addition to what others have said, I don't believe (although I could be wrong) that every Centauri has a death vision. As well, if he had one, Kiro would be as likely to dismiss it as superstition as he does Ladira's prophecies.

On Morden, one of the things that I like is that he's perfectly polite to everyone, non-threatening, and yet he manages to be completely unsettling. He seems important in his unimportance, and you're left wondering exactly who he is.

#19 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:19 PM:

KeithS, #18: Also, IIRC he never lies. (I could be wrong about that -- it's been a while -- but that was one of the creepiest things about him overall.)

#20 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:25 PM:

I don't remember seeing this episode the first time out - I only really got into the show half-way through the first season. Sounds like it was a great episode! Must mark out a slice of my schedule for Netflix.

I wonder, for people watching it for the first time now, how much of your reactions is different from mine (and others who watched it when it first aired) because of all the other serialized-novelesque TV that has aired in the meantime. How well has the interim TV audience been trained to spot clues?

Apologies if this is a hackneyed question.

#21 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 06:27 PM:

Marc @ #14, I noticed that pattern, and was disappointed by its absence in later seasons.

One of my favorite things about "Criminal Minds" is that they very occasionally throw in something absolutely stunning in the last few seconds. The ending of Part II of "Revelations" is the best example I can think of.

#22 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 10:30 PM:

I think Vir is one of my favorite characters and his personal Crowning Moment of Awesome is, well, awesome. It's such a tiny, quiet moment!

I enjoy watching Londo, too, but it's more, "Great character . . . poor bastard."

#23 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 10:51 PM:

[Grin, fingers waving]

#24 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 11:27 PM:

Morden may have seemed menacing from the moment he first appeared but I think we're underestimating his potential for awesome goodness. Really, everyone who actually answered his question got exactly what they asked for.*

Perhaps if someone had just asked for something nice all that trouble could have been averted and Morden could have gone down in history as some kind of benevolent Santa-like figure.

* Spoilery bit: G'Kar had to wait until Londo's request had run for a few years but, by the end of season 5, Centauri Prime is in ruins, many are dead, the Alliance is demanding reparations that will cripple the Centauri economy, and the Centauri have withdrawn from all interstellar affairs.

#25 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 01:12 AM:

Paul, #24: No, I don't think it would have worked out like that. Morden was, among other things, a walking cautionary tale of the "be careful what you ask for" variety -- he's closer to the being the djinn in the bottle. If someone had asked for "something nice", I suspect it would have been delivered in such a way that they'd have wished they hadn't.

#26 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 01:35 AM:

Lee @ 25 ...
"I would like to be graceful, young and beautiful for years..."

(which a willow tree assuredly is ... but the human requester doubtless didn't have in mind...)

#27 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:25 AM:

This was the first episode of B5 I watched on a big screen with an audience: JMS (along with Michael O'Hare and Jerry Doyle) was the guest at I-Con and brought this full episode with him, right after "And The Sky Full Of Stars" had aired, so two months or so before the rest of the world would see it.

The episode was shown in Javitz 100, the two story lecture hall with the movie theater screen. The effect was... impressive. You realized exactly how cinematic the show was, and that they were playing for a very long game. A lot of B5 fans were created on the spot (I nearly typed converted, which might be more accurate in the religious sense).

#28 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:26 AM:

Lee: Well, no, it wouldn't have worked out well. That wan't Morden's function in the story. Everyone who answered the Shadows' question did eventually get what they asked for, but Vir was the only one who liked what he got.

#29 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 04:52 AM:

If someone had asked for "something nice", I suspect it would have been delivered in such a way that they'd have wished they hadn't.

Quite. Very "Monkey's Paw".


JMS missed a trick by not having Morden ask Sheridan the question, to which Sheridan would reply "I just want to see my wife again..."

#30 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 05:51 AM:

xeger #26: Or there's the tale of Tiresias, whose divine patroness (Aphrodite?) won him immortality... but not eternal youth!

#31 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 07:50 AM:

@29: Am I misremembering the chronology, or had Sheridan not been introduced yet? IIRC he was only invented after the actor who played Sinclair decided to leave the show (although JMS found a really impressive way of writing him out).

Not only does Morden not lie, but nobody lies to him about what they want, even when what they want is something that they might ordinarily not admit (Londo resists for a while, but then opens his heart in a completely uncharacteristic way). It's one of his most creepy abilities, especially if you're already aware he's Mephistopheles In Space.

#32 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 08:20 AM:

David Harmon @ #30:

That was Tithonus. Tiresias was the one who was called on to judge a dispute between two gods, which resulted in the one he ruled in favour of giving him second sight and the one he ruled against striking him blind.

#33 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 08:23 AM:

chris @ #31: Am I misremembering the chronology, or had Sheridan not been introduced yet?

There's more than one episode in which Morden shows up and asks the question. The episode in which he asks Vir, for instance, is after Sheridan takes over.

#34 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 08:41 AM:

31: no, you're right, he hasn't.
It's interesting to watch the first series and see Sinclair being set up for the plot events that would end up happening to Sheridan. His relationship with Catherine Sakai, who has a habit of poking around dead planets to see what she can find, for example.

Not only does Morden not lie, but nobody lies to him about what they want, even when what they want is something that they might ordinarily not admit

This is sort of true - though I don't think anyone admits anything to Morden that they definitely wouldn't want to be common knowledge. It's not exactly a big secret that Londo's a nostalgist who wants the Republic to be great again, for example.

The one problem with the Morden episode is that it reminds me slightly of this joke:

A former British ambassador to the US once told a story of his time in Washington. A radio station rang him up to ask what he'd like for Christmas. He, of course, demurred, said that it was really too kind, and there was nothing he wanted, but on being pressed said that a small box of candied fruit would be lovely, thank you very much. Nothing arrived, and he quite forgot about the episode.
Until Christmas Day, that is, when he heard a broadcast entitled 'Around the Embassies', in which the preferred gifts of various ambassadors were revealed. The Russian ambassador wanted world peace, the French wanted an end to hunger, the Chinese wanted universal prosperity, and the British ambassador wanted a small box of candied fruit.

#35 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:03 AM:

For myself, there were a lot of things to remember about this episode, but having the Shadow ship come out of nowhere and annihilate the raiders' carrier was a really surprising moment. The raiders had been built up over a number of episodes as a Major Problem, and just having them wiped out by something we'd never seen before was a major shock. Things just didn't happen that way. Except they did... and, yes, everything after that felt like a roller coaster.

#36 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:06 AM:

ajay @ 34... Speaking of diplomats... A friend of mine - born in France - once was spending time in Vancouver when a friend of hers - also born in France - dragged her to a party being given by a French diplomat. My friend found the diplomat to be a dreadful bore, but he had one saving grace: it was obvious that the only book in his library that he had read was "The Hobbit".

#37 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:13 AM:

Speaking of the Shadow ship coming out of nowhere, it's interesting from a writing-mechanics viewpoint that it happens at the end of an episode revolving around jump technology. We get an episode's worth of reinforcement about how ships can only get about via jump gates (which, whether they're generated by fixed infrastructure or by a large ship with its own generator, look like this) ... and then along comes this new ship that appears out of nowhere without a jump gate. Another detail that adds to the impression of it being a completely new and unknown threat.

#38 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:08 AM:

I remember loving "Signs and Portents" (and no, I haven't gone back and re-watched any episodes yet.)

I remember thinking when Morden started cornering people that his "what do you want" was a new twist on the "be careful what you wish for" warning. Because G'Kar and Londo were honest with a stranger, I also thought "Great. That's the shit, and Morden's the fan." Delenn's refusal to answer and Kosh's command to leave just reinforced that feeling.

I always had the feeling that Kosh was some sort of seer type or alien oracle from the way he talked. So Kosh confronting Morden and ordering him to leave added to the amount of weight Morden had in the story right from the beginning.

I also remember, with great delight, Vir's answer, even if it's not in this episode.

The thing with the ships and jump gate technology was a needed upping of the ante. By this time, everything had been firmly established in my imagination and something had to escalate or change.

#39 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:12 AM:

We get an episode's worth of reinforcement about how ships can only get about via jump gates (which, whether they're generated by fixed infrastructure or by a large ship with its own generator, look like this) ... and then along comes this new ship that appears out of nowhere without a jump gate.

Hmm. I interpreted that as "it was there all along, but invisible, and then suddenly revealed itself and attacked", rather than "it just suddenly arrived without using a jump point". I can't remember if we ever see Shadow ships arriving by jump point? Certainly everyone else seems to use them, even the other First Ones.

(Nitpick: the big blue or orange swirly thing is a jump point; the fixed framework that creates them is a jump gate.)

#40 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:18 AM:

In the last episode I've watched so far (a rather obvious climactic point in season 4; I skipped the first season) the Vorlon are shown arriving by jump gate, and the Shadows are shown just kind-of showing up.

#41 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:57 AM:

Jump point. Thanks. I did remember that "jump gate" was the fixed infrastructure, but I couldn't think what the jump point was called and I needed to call it something.

To the best of my recollection, we never see a Shadow ship using a jump point, and if memory serves there's a sequence somewhere in the series that makes it clear the ripple effect is their own version of getting in and out of hyperspace. You're right that for all we see on this occasion it could be a cloaking device instead.

#42 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:03 PM:

In other news, I just watched the writer's commentary for this episode. This may go without saying, but just in case:

If you're watching the series for the first time, and you don't like spoilers, avoid the commentaries.

JMS is clearly assuming that he's talking to people who've seen the whole series already, and he spends a not insignificant amount of the time pointing out connections to stuff that hasn't happened yet.

#43 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:07 PM:

41.2: interesting. I had forgotten that.

I have now raced ahead of Wir Hostess and reached the end of Season 1. What struck me is that most of the episodes are one-offs, and (to be honest) of mixed quality, but every now and again you get one that loads in a lot of arc content - like Signs and Portents, or Mind War, or Chrysalis. The ones where you really get a sense that this isn't just a human-centred universe, but that there's stuff a lot bigger and darker and older out there. (Comparisons with, say, Middle Earth go here.)

And these are the ones I tend to remember; probably why I seem to remember enjoying series 3 and 4 most, because those are pretty much all arc, all the time.

The whole B4/Epsilon 3 side of things, meanwhile, never quite rang true to me. Zathras is the Tom Bombadil of B5.

#44 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 01:07 PM:

Paul A @ #32: Ovid says Teireisias was blinded by Jupiter for revealing the secret that women enjoy sex more than men--he'd had experience as both male and female. (Hera, the other party in the argument, gave him the gift of prophecy.)

ajay @ # 43: I rolled my eyes a lot at Zathras in his first appearance, but I liked him a lot better when he showed up again.

#45 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:35 PM:


Yeah, all the series I've watched is thick with Tolkienesque names, ideas, references, etc. (Khazad doom? Rangers, with Marcus "Aragorn" Cole hanging out on the station? An elf-looking dude named Lorien?) I was just glad nobody had get their finger bitten off. (At least not yet.)

#46 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:51 PM:

Jenny Islander @ 22 and Paul Duncanson @ 24:

They got what they asked for, yes, but they didn't all get what they really wanted. They may have thought they wanted it at the time, of course.

One of the things that I really like about the show is that Vir is the only one who gets what he really wants.

ajay @ 39 and albatross @ 40:

All the First Ones use their own methods of entering and leaving hyperspace. The Vorlons use what looks to us like the standard jump gate technology, so it's a fair bet that they're the ones who gave it to the later races initially.

At this point, though, we don't know that's what's happening.

#47 ::: Naomi ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 05:10 PM:

Back in 1998, I went to WorldCon in Baltimore. There was a "Zha'ha'dum in 2270" bid party at which there were TWO guys dressed as Morden. One of them never broke character. He even had a Yahoo e-mail address for Mr. Morden, on business cards that he handed out. I'd had my picture taken posing with the two Mr. Mordens and e-mailed later to ask for a copy.

I got what I wanted (a copy of the picture) and I'm still not sure if he's going to show up demanding my soul in exchange at some point later. That guy remains the single creepiest (and most impressive) cosplayer I have EVER encountered at a con.

#48 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 06:45 PM:

KeithS, #46: I can't help thinking that the reason Vir got what he really wanted was specifically that he was smart enough to see and REJECT the trap. Effectively, he called Shenanigans on Morden and his "associates".

#49 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 07:06 PM:

Well, JMS named season 1 after this episode, so it's likely to be important.

I don't remember it being a shock to me when I first saw it; but the *second* time through - immediately after a five-a-week run through Seasons 3 and 4 - wow. Yeah.

Yes, Vir is the only one who is happy with getting what he asked for - but even he's stuck with the consequences of the others' actions. He never wanted to have the responsibililty he ends up having to take, and certainly wouldn't have wanted the world he ends up inhabiting. I'm not sure if he thinks that's worth the candle.

Jump gates - this might be more for the previous thread, but I always thought that the reason for the loading dock being non-rotating was that the jump gates self-orienting: ships coming out of the jump gate (as opposed to self-generated jump points) always were "this way up". Therefore, keep that orientation for the loading dock, to minimize "the enemy's gate is down" issues. But that's just memory - I have no idea if we see ships exiting a jumpgate in random orientations.

#50 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 07:16 PM:

Oh, and roller coasters? I can take the "top of the hill" thing, even when they hitch you; but I can't take "top of the launch pause" on the Boomerang roller coasters - looking "straight" down 100 feet or so, and knowing you're committed. I have to close my eyes the whole time we're being lifted. After we go, and even on the lift up the return hill, no problem.

#51 ::: Iscah ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 11:45 AM:

I always got the impression that Morden and his associates were looking for someone whose answer to that question identified him as a tool for their purposes - and find that tool in Londo. They were looking for someone who they could make beholden to them, to continue manipulating other races unseen from the shadows (yes, yes, shadows in the shadows.) I didn't realise until later that in fact, all the characters who answered do eventually get what they said they wanted.

#52 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 12:11 PM:

51: your impression will be proved correct later in series 1, Iscah.

#53 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 04:16 PM:

Paul@28, Vir liked what he got? Really? Look at him waving up at Morden for the last time. He does not look at *all* happy.

#54 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 07:00 PM:

While Vir's answer to Morden's question was indeed Awesome, he did have the benefit of seeing how Londo's relationship* with Morden was working out.

*'relationship' sounds kind of...slashy, but I can't off-hand think of a better word for what I mean.

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