Babylon 5: Signs and Portents
February 25, 2018 6:02 PM - Season 1, Episode 13 - Subscribe

[major arc; the season's titular episode] Mr. Morden asks a question, repeatedly. A Centauri delegation arrives, and cannot prevent the thing which they know will happen (as they deny their fate). "What do you want? [...] And then what?" The spoiler discussion!

-Centauri telepaths can see the future. All Centauri can allegedly foresee their own death, as alluded to in the pilot (Londo believes he will be strangled by G'Kar).
-Lady Ladira's power of prophecy is stronger than most. Her major predictions: (1) her nephew, Lord Kiro, will be killed by 'shadows' ("doesn't exactly make sense, does it?") (2) Babylon 5 will end in flame, with only a single shuttle escaping ("I see death. Destruction. Flame. Babylon will fall. Fire. Death. Pain.")--but this can be prevented. "But the vision, Commander. The vision is still there. [...] The future is always changing. We create the future, with our words, our deeds, and our beliefs. This is a possible future, Commander, and it is my hope that you may yet avoid it."
-Sinclair asks Garibaldi for help discovering the missing 24 hours from The Battle of the Line (re: "And the Sky Full of Stars"). It turns out the reason he's the commanding officer of B5 is because the Minbari, who extensively helped pay for B5, used their veto power to veto every other candidate...
-Pirate attacks have gotten worse. It turns out they have a ship capable of creating its own jump gates, which explains why the pirates can strike so quickly and get out before Babylon 5 can respond.
-Mr. Morden asks every major ambassador what they want, often prompting them with "And then what?"
-G'Kar's answer: "I want Justice ... I want to suck the marrow from [Centauri] bones and grind their skulls to powder; to tear down their cities, blacken their sky, sow their ground with salt... to completely utterly erase them. [...] I don’t know. As long as my homeworld's safety is guaranteed, I don’t know that it matters.”
-Londo's answer: “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 it all back the way that it was."
-Delenn's answer is to gasp, turn away (to cover a grey triangle which appeared on her forehead), and ask Mr. Morden to leave.
-Kosh's answer: "They are not for you." He commands Morden to leave, and the hallway darkens. Later, we learn that Kosh requires new suit parts, as his encounter suit was damaged in the pirate attack at the climax of the episode...
-Londo receives a Centauri artifact, The Eye, which dates to the Old Empire, and intends to use it as political leverage. He sends it on his way with Lord Kiro... but Kiro doublecrossed him with the pirates (who attack the station to allow the doublecross to happen). When the pirates then doublecross Kiro, kidnapping him and intending to sell the Eye for profit, a mysterious, dark, spider-like ship appears. It fires on the pirate ship, and as Ladira feels the destruction remotely, the pirate ship--and everything and everyone on board--is destroyed...
-...except for the Eye, which Mr. Morden retrieves for Londo. This action has singlehandedly saved Londo's career. "A gift, from friends you don't know you have." Morden then leaves. "When will I ever find you to thank you?" "We will find you, ambassador. We will find you."
posted by flibbertigibbet (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Aaand I'm removing this thread from my acitivity as I'm a first-watcher. Bye!
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:02 PM on February 25, 2018


All Centauri can allegedly foresee their own death, as alluded to in the pilot (Londo believes he will be strangled by G'Kar).

Since we're in the spoiler thread, can I just say that I think this is one of the best, longstanding setups of a television series? This image - of G'Kar and Londo, strangling each other - is with the show from the very first episode...and yet, by the time it happens (we see it in S3, e17 - War Without End, part 2) the entire context has changed. Londo accepts the final grapple with G'Kar as the means of preventing his Keeper from warning others about Sheridan's escape, and the show will further go on to establish the two of them as close friends by that time, not enemies. It's wonderful how that scene sticks around and takes on new meaning.
posted by nubs at 7:59 AM on February 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


I agree, this is a great episode and sets up so much of what's to come.

I had been idly wondering why Morden helped Londo instead of G'Kar - and of course the Lurker's Guide has a quote from JMS:
Why Londo? Because he was the one who answered Morden's question correctly. Things happen for a *reason* that is suited to who the person is. G'Kar's ambitions aren't nearly big enough; Delenn knows better than to get near these guys; Kosh is against them; the EA are being kept at arm's length for now, the non-aligned worlds aren't big enough...so here we are.
posted by expialidocious at 6:35 PM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


So one thing that is interesting to me in this is that Kosh confronts Morden to warn him off approaching the EA; but Morden wasn't going to anyways, as the EA is already in with the Shadows. The Vorlons don't know that at this point, apparently.
posted by nubs at 8:06 AM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh! I had never read Kosh's warning as being only about the humans, but it makes sense. I'd always seen it as Kosh telling Morden to GTFO from all the ambassadors.

But was Kosh's motive to keep Morden away from the humans in general, or Sinclair in particular? If the Shadows figured out they were talking to Valen, they could have seriously fucked things up for the Vorlon side of the wars.
posted by Banknote of the year at 8:18 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


According to jms, the warning referred specifically to the humans. I've always felt Kosh came onto the station because of the humans (Sinclair specifically, given his destiny); but I think he viewed the Narns and the Centauri as lost causes from day one ("They are alone. They are a dying people. We should let them pass."), and the Minbari are already allies. I think the Vorlons placed some importance on where the humans would fall in terms of the larger conflict.

Now, obviously, Kosh would come to change his opinion about the Narn over time, but that was due to being on the station and being in a position to see the changes that happen to G'Kar and also being able to nudge them along (cf. s3, e06 "Dust to Dust")...but at this point, I only see Kosh as interested in Sinclair in the specific (the closed circle, returning to the beginning) and humanity in a general way, in terms of keeping them from falling to the Shadows.
posted by nubs at 8:37 AM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


That's a good reading of Kosh's attitudes. And his initial dismissiveness of the Narn and Centauri is consistent with what we learn later about the Vorlons being on the side of order. There's an authoritarian mindset that any culture that won't obey "proper" authority is irredeemably lost and should be set adrift to fail. So when Kosh says the Narn and Centauri are dying, I think that's less because they're locked into a mutually-destructive cycle, and more because they're prideful peoples who won't march to the Vorlons' orders.

This also gets into the difference between two modes of providing aid: doing-for and doing-with. A doing-for charity is top-down; it decides on the best solution without meaningful involvement of the people being helped, and if they don't like it, well, beggars can't be choosers. A doing-with charity is bottom-up; it actively involves the community it serves in identifying the problems to solve and their solutions. So the Vorlons have a doing-for mindset; the Shadows, doing-with. The Vorlons identify the problem (defeat the Shadows), and expect their allies to go along with all their plans and methods. The Shadows ask their potential allies how they can be of service.

Developing these themes more could have added more nuance to the Vorlon/Shadow conflict — giving the Shadows a measure of order in their pursuit of chaos, and showing that the Vorlons will tolerate chaos if the people affected offend their sense of order.

Doing-with is generally more effective, so it's frustrating that B5 conflates it with the side of chaos. And, as we'll see in Chrysalis, the Shadows only practice half of doing-with: They'll ask you what you want, but then their methods will shock you.
posted by Banknote of the year at 11:50 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Doing-with is generally more effective, so it's frustrating that B5 conflates it with the side of chaos. And, as we'll see in Chrysalis, the Shadows only practice half of doing-with: They'll ask you what you want, but then their methods will shock you.

I see what you are saying, but I'm not sure I agree. If anything, I'd say both sides have a large degree of "doing for" going on - the Shadows add in a large element of "ends justify the means" to it, along with a helping of "we've done you a favour, now you owe us" element. They corrupt by helping certain societies along, with the expectation of assistance down the line because they've compromised their "allies" with their approach. I think of them as somewhat like the mafia, I guess. Consent is coerced.

The Vorlons, on the other hand, both "do for" and "do to" the younger races; they manipulate genetics (hence telepaths), they manipulate religious iconography and belief systems, all so they will be followed. They want obedience ("Understanding is not required, only obedience" as my favourite Minbari often says), and have created tools to get it in a way that bypasses meaningful understanding of what is going on. Consent is again coerced, but through less direct manipulation.

I guess the ultimate way to look at it is that they both view the younger races as pawns on the board for their game of chaos vs. order, which is the central problem - the pawns don't necessarily want to play that game, but keep getting forced into it. B5 tells the story of the pawns revolting ("giants in the playground" is I think how it gets put eventually).

What is fascinating is that at this point, the audience has a perception that the Vorlons are "good" and the Shadows are "evil"...despite the fact that Morden, who is the face of the Shadows, is unfailingly polite and respectful and helps Londo out of a jam...and Kosh blew up Deathwalker and terrorized Talia.
posted by nubs at 12:55 PM on February 27, 2018


What, no mention of what Vir said? That was the moment when Vir took a step up in everyone's estimation as a savvy dude.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:57 PM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


What’s even better is when it comes true.
posted by nubs at 7:03 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Doing-with is generally more effective, so it's frustrating that B5 conflates it with the side of chaos.

But isn't the whole point, in the end, that both the sides of order and chaos have at best lost their way and at worst have always been using everyone else as pawns? B5, to me, doesn't eventually present order/Vorlons as the good guys. They're somewhat more sympathetic and seem to have other races' better interests at least a little at heart, and it's colored by the fact that for half the show we see them as The Good Guys. But eventually there's no reason to feel bad that they show them as less effective - they should not be in charge. The fact that they're not as good at it... so what?
posted by phearlez at 8:36 AM on February 28, 2018


B5, to me, doesn't eventually present order/Vorlons as the good guys. They're somewhat more sympathetic and seem to have other races' better interests at least a little at heart, and it's colored by the fact that for half the show we see them as The Good Guys.

Yeah, B5 played with audience expectations and tropes to some extent here - it is easy to read the Vorlons as good and the Shadows as bad initially, but the twist is that both of them are the problem. To pull from the generally awful "Infection": "when you become obsessed with the enemy, you become the enemy" is a great statement that summarizes both the Shadows and the Vorlons.
posted by nubs at 9:15 AM on February 28, 2018


And just to add to that - the moral arc/centre of the show is the Londo & G'Kar relationship, that shows two people recognizing the problems with that obsession and finding a way to move past being obsessed with the enemy. IMO.
posted by nubs at 9:53 AM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


One thing that really stuck with me - when first watching this, you know it will come back on Londo, but you don't understand the enormity until on rewatch. Londo's delight at the Eye rings bitterly hollow when you know how far that alliance will lead.
posted by corb at 10:46 PM on March 10


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