Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Classics: B5 3:16/3:17 - War Without End

Overall: 9.8

That sound you just heard was the sound of our brain bits splattering on the wall. And it's not just because Sinclair is Valen. The future-flashes are just as momentous.

Plot Synopsis:

Suddenly, I'm forbidden to enter the Lurker's Guide (I guess it's a server issue), so allow me to send you over to Wikipedia, where parts one and two are summarized here.

The Skinny:






So yeah. The above burst of fangirly squealing pretty much encapsulates a typical Centauriphile's reaction to this two-parter -- and I am very much the typical Centauriphile, as my co-author and all my closest fannish friends will attest. I'm the sort of Centauriphile who can claim not to care one wit about all this Valen business with her tongue only partially in cheek. Mind you, I'm not denying that the conclusion of Sinclair's character arc is deeply, deeply awesome. In my humble Centauriphilic opinion, though, War Without End crosses the threshold into BEST EPISODE(S) EVAR territory the moment Sheridan becomes unstuck in time.

In order to write a long term story arc that will hold the attention of your audience, you have to be able to strike the perfect balance between answering questions and asking entirely new ones. With this set of episodes, JMS proves that he can achieve such a balance. If JMS had stopped with revealing Valen's true identity, this would still have been at least a good episode. But he doesn't stop there. Instead, with his flashfowards, JMS also gives us tantalizing glimpses of things to come. Fans of the leading couple, of course, are teased with mentions of David (and the consequences of Sheridan's confronting the Shadows at Z'ha'dum). We also get that mysterious snow globe flash to scratch our heads over. But it is Londo's scenes that best exemplify JMS's overall technique.

Consider: Up until this point, an unspoiled viewer has assumed all along that Londo and G'Kar will die in a mutual act of hate. Here, however, JMS completely turns that interpretation upside down and inside out. Here, we see Londo asking his "old friend" for release so that Sheridan, Delenn, and his people (because, again, Country trumps all) can survive. The questions that immediately come to mind during this particular flashforward are many. What is the Keeper, and how does Londo come to be imprisoned by it? Who or what has destroyed the Centauri capital? And how have Londo and G'Kar reached such a stunning and poignant detente? One thing's for sure -- no viewer will stop watching the series until he or she has found out.

SABR Matt: You know...I've encountered a lot of science fiction fans who groan at time loop (temporal paradox, mobius loop, or predestination, take your pick) stories because it's all been done before in every epic genre, from Greek tragedy to modern science fiction. But I can honestly say...I don't think anyone has ever done a predestination paradox/mobius quite like War Without End before. The fans - as they watch this one for the first time - all (universally) scream "my brain has just imploded!!!" My sister talked about how Centauriphiles are stunned by the glorious revelation that Londo and G'Kar are to kill each other AS OLD FRIENDS?!??!!?!?!?!?!?!...but I also want to talk about the implications for Sheridan and Delenn (they play a role in predestination as well), for Sinclair and the Minbari, and for the B5 canon universe as a whole.

I'll admit...temporal paradoxes hurt my brain...but I'll give JMS credit...he puts us into the story (in the person of Zathras...who is hilarious). But all of us get to sit and watch...dumbfounded...as we learn that Sinclair is Valen, Sheridan is about to run headlong into destiny at Z'ha'dum (as was hinted at in Interludes and Examinations), the Rangers are the ones who stole B4 to save both B5 and their past (1000 years ago...yes...more of those speeches!), Londo is held captive by some twisted alien doodad while his planet burns, and our war with the Shadows is a repeat performance of a never-ending cycle that only Sheridan will be able to break. Holy flying oinkers, Batman! Info-dump episodes usually aren't features either, but this one works because it's actually an incredibly tight plot...all of the information (and there's a lot of it) is crucial to the story, is told in very interesting ways, and keeps your heart pounding the whole damned time. It's remarkable...to get that much done in two hours. Without removing all of the mystery, no less! They expertly tell you just enough to change the story forever and raise more questions than they answer.

I also feel the need to remark that I believe it to be a great shame that Garibaldi manages to lose pretty much all of his most interesting friends in the first 2.5 years of the show. He and Sinclair were an interesting team that we never got to see explored in greater depth (because Sinclair got the boot), Zack went all dark side, so that got blown up, Londo went even DARKER so we lost that fun interaction as well. All of which is why I never really got into his character the way I should have...he was definitely a far less cool version of Colonel Tigh. But I did enjoy the long distance bromance in this episode and the work Sinclair does to protect his buddy from getting stuck where he doesn't belong.

I would also be remiss, as this blog's representative for the society for Delenn/Sheridan shippers (heh)...if I did not mention that the way they chose to gently move the romance forward in the minds of the viewers (by showing a successful, albeit tormented, version of that relationship in full swing in the future) was very pleasing to me. You could easily have taken the romance forward to it's natural completion right here with such an epic story making the emotional tension as thick as it does. They chose instead to force Sheridan to SACRIFICE his future with Delenn (a future he knows exists!) to save the world...that is what makes Z'ha'dum so powerful, at least for me.

Writing: 9.5 / 10.0

SABR Matt: The plot is tight, the exposition is done in dramatic and interesting ways (for once), and the dialogue sings with the full range of human emotions without getting melodramatic and comic-booky.

Stephanie S.: I feel a few of the comic moments fall flat (for example, the Lucy and Ethel line), but this is indeed a very strong script. The way JMS inspires interest in coming storylines is especially noteworthy.

Acting: 9.5 / 9.5

SABR Matt: We heart Zathras! My sister's got the big Narn/Centauri actors covered. :)

Stephanie S.: Indeed I do! Peter Jurasik once again breaks my heart into tiny little pieces, and Katsulas and Furst are great in their cameos. To be perfectly fair, though, I think everyone puts in a solid performance.

Message: 10.0 / 10.0

Stephanie S.: This is high-stakes moral storytelling at its finest. In particular, we see the theme of personal sacrifice through several different lenses. Sinclair must leave behind his friends and family - indeed, everything he knows - to pursue a mysterious destiny and consequently save the galaxy. Sheridan will soon be forced to give up a long and happy life with Delenn in order to strike a much needed blow against the darkness. And Londo - yes, Londo - submits to his own death in the hope that his people will be saved from the horrors he himself has wrought.

By the way, just as a side note: I couldn't help but notice the very Trinitarian imagery JMS employs in Zathras' explanation of the One. "All is three, as you are three. As you are one." As I've said many times before, JMS definitely has a Catholic imagination.


RATHENN: Entil'za! Entil'za! I was sent to find you. The ancient books told us that on this day - no sooner, no later - we were to enter the sanctuary and open this. (He has a silver box in his hands.) We did not know what was inside. It has waited, locked and sealed, for over 900 years. We do not understand how or why. We know only that it is.
(Sinclair opens the box. Inside, he finds a note addressed to himself. He removes his hood, stunned.)
RATHENN: How did he know that you would be here? How did he know your name?
(We cut to Babylon 5.)
CORWIN: Commander - we're picking up a distress call.
IVANOVA: Identify?
CORWIN: I can't. It's not coming from a ship. There's no physical source for the signal. It's just an area - sector 14.
IVANOVA: That's impossible. Sector 14 has been under quarantine for almost three years. That's where Babylon 4 disappeared. (She shrugs.) Let me hear it.
(Corwin plays back the message. We hear a lot of static -- and a burst of gunfire.)
IVANOVA'S VOICE: They're coming for us! Repeat, they're coming through! This is Earth Alliance Station Babylon 5! They're all over the place!
CORWIN: Commander, that's your voice.
IVANOVA: It can't be.
CORWIN: Computer voice scan confirms it. That's you!
IVANOVA'S VOICE: They're killing us! Can anyone hear me? They're killing us! (A very nice, tight teaser.)

SHERIDAN: You know, back at the station, I was pretty surprised to see you walk into the war room. When an ambassador comes to visit, we usually have some advance warning.
SINCLAIR: There wasn't time. And believe me, my being here is as much of a surprise to me as it is to you.
SHERIDAN: Is it? Delenn either knew you were here or knew you were coming. Your timing seems like more than just a coincidence.
SINCLAIR: There are no coincidences, Captain.
SHERIDAN: That's not much of a answer.
MARCUS: Captain - if I were you, I'd quit while I was ahead. Back on Minbar, there was a saying among the other Rangers: The only way to get a straight answer out of Ranger One was to look at every reply in a mirror while hanging upside down from the ceiling.
SHERIDAN: Did it work?
MARCUS: Oddly enough, yes. Or after a while, you passed out and had a vision. Either way, the result was pretty much the same. (Heh.)

DELENN: Do you trust me, John?
SHERIDAN: What kind of a question is that?
DELENN: It is the most important question I have ever asked. Do you trust me?
SHERIDAN: With my life. Why?
DELENN: Then sit. All of you. Please.
(They all sit.)
DELENN: I became aware of the transmission from Epsilon 3 a few hours before we left. At the same time, some... other information came into my possession. As you know, our last great war with the Shadows was a thousand years ago. With the help of the Vorlons and a few others, we were able to defeat them, driving them from their homeworld, Z'ha'dum. But... there is something you do not know. What you are about to see has never been shown to anyone outside the Grey Council. (She turns on the video.) This is one of the few surviving records from that war. Toward the end, the tide of battle had turned against us. Our greatest starbase - the center of our efforts during the war - had been destroyed by the Shadows. Without a long range base of operations from which we could launch our forces, we were doomed to lose the war. Then, as if in answer to our prayers, a replacement arrived. (Our first revelation: Babylon 4 appears on the screen. Everyone is shocked.)
SHERIDAN: Babylon 4!
IVANOVA: My God! We always knew that Babylon 4 had been taken somewhere in time, but we'd always assumed it'd been taken into the future.
DELENN: No. It was taken into the distant past, where it helped us defeat the Shadows. Without Babylon 4, we would've lost the war -- or it would've ended in a stalemate.
SHERIDAN: So you're saying that the Minbari - that you stole Babylon 4?
DELENN: Not quite. Before coming to you, I received two additional records from Draal. Remember, the Great Machine on Epsilon 3 has been there for over 500 years. During that time, it recorded much of what happened in this area of space. After Babylon 4 vanished six years ago, it reappeared two years ago. Ambassador Sinclair and Mr. Garibaldi traveled there at great personal risk to help evacuate her crew before it vanished again.
SINCLAIR: It was a close call. We almost didn't get out. We never did find out who was behind it.
DELENN: And that is about to change. This was recorded shortly before the station first disappeared six years ago. As Babylon 4 neared completion, the allies of the Shadows recognized it for what it was and sent these ships to destroy it. Striking without warning, they would have succeeded in their attack. But... something stopped them. (Our second revelation: the White Star comes into view. Everyone stands.)
SHERIDAN: The White Star?
MARCUS: Delenn, are you saying we stole Babylon 4?
IVANOVA: But that was years ago!
DELENN: Yes! And that is exactly where we must go! At this moment, the Great Machine is using all its power to enlarge the temporal rift in sector 14. We will use it to go six years into the past. Once there, we must prevent the destruction of Babylon 4 and take the station with us through time. Because if we fail to save Babylon 4, then Babylon 5 will also be destroyed. (A little exposition heavy, but you have to admit that this scene's pretty exciting given all the revelations that are dropped left and right.)

SHERIDAN: Sheridan to C&C. Patch me through to Garibaldi.
SHERIDAN: Chief - are you out in sector 14?
GARIBALDI: Yeah, I got here about an hour ago. I've been running the scanners recording everything I can.
SHERIDAN: What have you found?
GARIBALDI: It's the same sequence repeated over and over again. I've just seen Babylon 5 destroyed four times, each time the same. The time stamp on the message is dated eight days from now. I've checked the subchannel to verify its id. It's legit all right. Eight days from now, we go straight to hell... unless you've found some way to stop it. (Maybe...)

ZATHRAS: There you are! Being very honored to meet you. I'm being called --
SINCLAIR: Zathras. We've met before on Babylon 4.
ZATHRAS: No! Zathras does not --
SINCLAIR: It was my past, your future. Zathras, this is very important. When you meet me again, it will be me, but it won't be me now. So you are not to say anything that might change the past. Do you understand?
ZATHRAS: Zathras understand. (A beat.) No, Zathras not understand, but Zathras do. Zathras good at doings, not understandings. (LOL! Yeah, time travel makes my brain hurt too.)

SINCLAIR, in his message to Garibaldi: Hello, Michael. By the time you get this, I should be long gone. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you I was here. I'm sorry I... couldn't see you. But if I'd told you what was up, you'd want to come along even knowing the price, and... I can't allow that. But I had to leave something. I couldn't leave without saying... goodbye. You see, Michael... I won't be coming back from Babylon 4, and if you went with me, you wouldn't make it back either.

ZATHRAS: (re: Sheridan's busted time stabilizer) Very damaged. Zathras can never have anything nice. (LOL!)

SINCLAIR: All my life, I've had doubts about who I am. Where I belonged. Now... I'm like the arrow that springs from the bow. No hesitation. No doubts. The path is clear.

(Meanwhile, seventeen years in the future...)
SHERIDAN: Londo, what am I doing here? What are you...?
LONDO: What I am doing is what someone should have done a long time ago. Putting you out of my misery. Fitting punishment for your crimes.
SHERIDAN: What crimes?
(Londo gestures to his palace guards, and they punch Sheridan in the back.)
LONDO: The crime of neglect! The crime of convenience! During your little war, you drove away the Shadows. Oh, yes. But you did not think to clean up your mess!
LONDO: And if a few of their dark minions came to Centauri Prime, well... where is the harm in that, yes? Hmm? (Naturally, Sheridan is utterly confused.) You want to see the harm? Do you? (Londo makes another broad gesture, and the palace guards shove Sheridan in front of the window. Outside, the Centauri capital is in flames.) There is the legacy of your war! The price we paid when you abandoned us to the enemies you escaped from. (Damn.)

ZATHRAS: Zathras is used to being beast of burden to other people's needs. Very sad life. Probably have very sad death. But at least there is symmetry. (LOL! Zathras is such a scream.)

DELENN: Why do your people always ask if you're ready right before you're about to do something massively unwise?
SINCLAIR: Tradition. (Heh.)

SHERIDAN: Delenn, just listen to me. This may not make any sense, but I am not supposed to be here. I'm not really here. The last thing I remember, I was on the White Star, and my time stabilizer was hit and... suddenly I was here.
DELENN: In Valen's name! It's true, isn't it? I can see it in your eyes. You told me long ago that you had seen this moment in our future, but... until now, I... I never really believed. John... there's so much ahead of you. So many changes. So much pain and grief. I look in your eyes now, and I see the innocence that went away so many years ago. But then... you don't know any of what's happened, do you?
SHERIDAN: From what Londo said, I get the impression that we won the war. But not completely.
DELENN: The war is never completely won. There are always new battles to fight against the darkness. Only the names change. But we... we achieved everything we set out to achieve. We created something that will endure for a thousand years. But the price, John. The terrible, terrible price! (A beat.) I didn't think I would see you again before the end.
(The door to the cell opens.)
SHERIDAN: Delenn, is there anything I can do to prevent this? I mean, there's still a chance --
DELENN: No. This future can only be prevented by surrendering to the Shadows - and that price is too high to pay.

LONDO: You will excuse me if I do not stand. I have had considerable to drink. (He leans into the light.) It is the only way that we can be alone. We do not wish to wake it.
SHERIDAN: (asking the question we all want to ask at this point) Wake what?
LONDO: Then you do not know. You cannot see it while it is awake. (A beat.) We all have our Keepers, you see. I gave a very good performance. (He leans back and disappears into the shadows.) Yes. It was satisfied. Doesn't care why I do what I do as long as I do it. As long as you are dead. (Sheridan and Delenn exchange looks of confusion. Londo leans forward again and reveals the Keeper.) It cannot hold its liquor, you see. (He laughs mirthlessly.) I have learned that if I drink just enough, I can put it to sleep for a few minutes -- a few minutes where I am in charge of myself again. But the few minutes are growing shorter and shorter. So we do not have much time. (He starts to cough wretchedly.) My life... is almost over. My world... all I hoped for... gone. You two are my last chance... for this place... for my people... for my own redemption. There is a ship hidden behind the palace. My guard will take you there. In exchange for your lives, all I ask is that you and your allies help to free my people. I can do nothing more for them. (He once again leans back into the dark.) Go now. Quickly. You do not have much time. I can feel it beginning to wake up. Hurry. Go on!
(Another coughing fit begins. Deeply affected by what they have just seen, Sheridan and Delenn reluctantly follow Londo's command and leave. Once they are gone, G'Kar emerges from behind a curtain.)
LONDO: You are there, my old friend? (OMG! He said friend!)
G'KAR: Yes.
LONDO: They will never make it out alive unless... You see, my Keeper will awaken any second, and it will alert the others, and my only hope will die... and I will die soon after. They do not take betrayal lightly. (Londo then steals himself for what must be done and says the next line with great dignity.) We have unfinished business between us, G'Kar. Let us make an end of it, quickly, before it stops me. I am as tired of my life as you are. (OMG! OMG! OMG! EEEEEEEEEEEE!)

SHERIDAN: I'm being pulled back again.
DELENN: Then take these words with you back into the past. Treasure the moments you have. Savor them for as long as you can, for they will never come back again. John, listen to me: do not go to Z'ha'dum. Do you understand? Do not go to Z'ha'dum! (Why not? The plot thickens.)

SINCLAIR: Zathras, there's something I don't understand. You said you followed the One, but the one you pointed to was --
ZATHRAS: Was Delenn. Yes, Zathras knew. Zathras is oldest living caretaker of Great Machine. 110 years old. Zathras has studied the Great Machine. Knows things even Draal does not know yet. And I know you - (He points to Sinclair.) - and I know you - (He points to Delenn.) - and I know you. (He points to Sheridan.) All Minbari believe is around three. Three castes: worker, warrior, religious. Three languages: light, dark, and grey. The nine of the Grey Council: three times three. All is three, as you are three. As you are one. As you are the One. You - (He points to Sinclair.) - are the One Who Was. You - (He points to Delenn.) - are the One Who Is. You - (He points to Sheridan.) - are the One Who Will Be. You are the beginning of the story, and the middle of the story, and the end of the story that creates the next great story. In your heart, you know what Zathras says is true. Go now. Zathras' place is with the One Who Was. We have a destiny. (Dude. It is one leaf and three leaves.)

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