Review: Babylon 5 2.03

by on Nov.16, 2008, under Babylon 5, Reviews by Bill Thompson, Television

The Geometry Of Shadows

Review: Babylon 5 2.03 elric 234x300

Magic is everywhere, Vir is really sacred, not of the Techno-Mages mind you, but of Londo. Can you blame him, a few drinks in Londo and who knows what will happen? For all he knows Vir could wake up the next morning married to a Drazi and be none the wiser for why he’s in that pickle. Sheridan’s a bit pushy, dude back off, I have a dragon in my pocket, and it’s not the puff-puff type. I’m a green guy myself, but I’m all about love, not war, so I know how I would end any color related conflicts.

Written By: J. Michael Straczynski
Directed By: Mike Vejar

Bare Essentials:

A Plot - A group of wizard like travelers, Techno-Mages, have arrived on Babylon 5. They are merely passing through as they attempt to leave known space. Londo Mollari is pestering them for an endorsement while Captain Sheridan is refusing to allow their departure until they have let him know where they are headed. Their leader, Elric, deals with the Londo problem by at first cursing him with spells and then giving him a foreboding message for the future. He then smooth talks Sheridan into allowing them to leave.

B Plot - Security Chief Garibaldi has been cleared to come back to work, but he doesn’t know if he’s worth anything anymore. Amidst contemplating suicide he stumbles upon Ivanova in a bit of trouble and when his first hand knowledge of how Ivanova operates is what leads to her rescue he decides he does have something to offer to the station after all.

C Plot - The Drazi Freehold uses an odd political system, where every five years they randomly choose either a green or purple colored cloth and fight to determine which group will lead the Drazi for the next five years. This time things turn ugly as the green Drazi begin killing the purple Drazi and it’s up to the newly promoted Commander Ivanova to deal with the problem. All of her attempts fail, and she is even kidnapped at one point, but in the end through luck she finds a solution to the problem and the fighting on B5 comes to an end.

More Arc, Less Arch:

The alliance that Refa and Londo form will have big consequences for the Centauri as well as the rest of the universe. The ramifications of their alliance will be felt in The Coming Of Shadows, Knives, will end in Ceremonies Of Light And Dark, reach a boiling point in Interludes And Examinations, and finally come to its ultimate end with a death in And The Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place.

The son of the Centauri Emperor has died, and while it may seem like small matter it will become very important in The Coming Of Shadows, and its impact will most dejectedly be felt in the season four episodes, The Hour Of The Wolf, Whatever Happened To Mr. Garibaldi?, The Summoning, Falling Toward Apotheosis and The Long Night.

The reason for the travels of the Techno-Mages, the fate of Elric and the ultimate fate of the entire Techno-Mage culture as well as some of their back story will be revealed in The Passing Of The Techno-Mages: Book I: Casting Shadows, Book II: Summoning Light, and Book III: Invoking Darkness.

Pay close attention to the opening fight between the Drazi in the Zocalo at the beginning of the episode. The purple Drazi who bumps into the green Drazi to start the fight isn’t exactly who he appears to be, and neither is the purple Drazi that comes flying off the bar in the middle of the fight. To find out who they really are, read The Passing Of The Techno-Mages: Book II: Summoning Light or wait for my review of that book a long, long time from now.

The title of the episode has the word Shadows in it, and at first it may appear to be just a word and not be related at all to the race of the same name. But, the Shadows are all over this episode even if we don’t know it. It will be revealed in small doses in all three novels, The Passing Of The Techno-Mages, what role the Shadows play with the Techno-Mages and why they are instrumental in the Techno-Mages desire to leave known space. It will also be revealed in The Passing Of The Techno-Mages: Book II: Summoning Light that the Shadows may play a part in the political system in use by the Drazi.

Sheridan’s reference to taking B5 back a thousand years will play out, just not with B5, in War Without End, Part 2.

The black and terrible storm Elric mentions is the upcoming Shadow War, or it could also be all the major dark events that will transpire as a result of the Shadows after the Shadow War has ended.

Elric’s statement to Londo about seeing his hand reach out from the stars will later come to Londo in a dream in the episode, The Coming Of Shadows.

Who Are You? What Do Yo… Hey, I’m Asking The Questions Here!:

On what authority is Earth restricting the departure of the Techno-Mages from B5? They have broken no laws, caused no problems and should be allowed to traverse wherever they please.

Did the Drazi stop killing each other outside of Babylon 5?

Did the escalation to killing carry over to future green/purple “elections“?

We know that at the end of this year the Drazi will be at war with the Centauri. The Centauri attack them less than a year after this episode. Are the Drazi still fighting each other, or did the radical actions to end the green/purple conflict on B5 end the conflict between the Drazi all over the universe? Or, was the conflict still going on and it was ended prematurely when the Centauri attacked?

Idiosyncratic Musings:

Garibaldi’s entire plot line is an understated but strong one. It’s the simple story of a man not doing that which he has always done before. Whenever things have gone against him or radical changes have been thrust upon him he runs away. Now, for the first time he stays put and faces that change, challenges his fears and figures out that he is needed. People do count on him and it is necessary for him to accept that change in his life for the betterment of all those around him. There’s also the strong undertone of suicide in this plot line and that makes Garibaldi’s final actions all the stronger. It’s good storytelling and the culmination of over a year of Garibaldi growing to be this person.

A point of contention about The Geometry Of Shadows appears to be the stupidity of green/purple and people like the Drazi making their way to the stars. My response to that is simple, take a gander at Earth why don’t ya? We are a planet full of idiotic, nonsensical governments, institutions, teachings, etc.. Yet we have already reached the stars. The idea behind green/purple appears to function about as efficiently as any election process or government does in the present day. While this may be sad, it does show why green/purple shouldn’t be contentious at all.

I think the Drazi green/purple idea is a rather obvious allegory for a couple of issues. The first issue is addressed in the episode proper and that’s the idea of two groups fighting over a simple difference in cloth, like for instance, a flag. It’s pretty simple, people fight over cloth all the time, although I think Ivanova bangs home the point about fighting over a flag being different. The Drazi aren’t fighting for any ideals or way of life, but most wars fought over a flag involve those tenets in some way. The second allegory in The Geometry Of Shadows is that of racism. The Drazi are fighting each other for no reason other than a difference in color. People the world over do this and they are all idiotic, simple as that.

I See What You Did There:

Ivanova is promoted to the rank of Commander.

Garibaldi’s off hand reference to a changeling net will make sense to my readers when I finally get around to reviewing the pilot, The Gathering, or if I put aside my ego for a second, it will make sense to anyone who reads my reviews and is already a Babylon 5 fan.

Say It Again Mac:

Drazi leader, “Rules of combat older than contact with other races. Did not mention aliens. Rules change caught up in committee. Not come through yet.”

Great exchange here,
Elric, “As I look at you, Ambassador Mollari, I see a great hand reaching out of the stars. The hand is your hand. And I hear sounds. The sounds of billions of people calling your name.
Londo, “My followers?”
Elric, “Your victims.”

Lost In Translation:

Sheridan, “Since you hadn’t, I thought the mountain should visit Mohammed after all.” Way, way too hammy.

It’s Your Cultural Imperative:

This is the first and only appearance of the Techno-Mages on Babylon 5 (at least in TV format, they will be back for Crusade, as well as in numerous novels). They aren’t a race, but rather a group culture. They do, in fact, use science and technology to create the illusion of magic.

Once every five years the Drazi separate into two camps, based on random color draw and fight to see who will be in charge of the Drazi. This conflict lasts for one year. The Drazi have not yet taken into account the existence of aliens and how that relates to their political practice. This, of course, provides some interesting problems.

The Drazi week is six Earth days and the Drazi year is 1.2 Earth years, and cycle is the term for the Drazi year.

I Think This Might Be Based On Something:

Elric’s warning to Vir is an almost exact quote by the character of Gildor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings novel.

The character of Elric is a nod to the character of the same name from Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné series of novels. It’s also possible that he is a nod to the character of Elrod from Dave Sim’s long running comic book, Cerebus, because that character was also based on Moorcock’s Elric.

There is a definite correlation between Londo seeking the approval of the Techno-Mages and the three witches that Macbeth consults in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth.

You Look Mighty Familiar:

William Forward, Lord Refa, played the minor character of Dr. Whilhite in the episode Tina, Is That You? Of The Flash. He also played the minor character of Mercer in the Space: Above And Beyond episode, Mutiny. You may recognize him as the doctor that discovers Joyce has cancer in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, Shadow.

Michael Ansara should be well known for supplying the voice of Dr. Victor Fries, or Mr. Freeze in various episodes of Batman Beyond, The New Batman Adventures and Batman: The Animated Series. He also played Kang in the Star Trek episode, Day Of The Dove and he would later reprise that role in a Star Trek: Voyager episode, Flashback as well as a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, Blood Oath. He also took on the role of Jeyal in another Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, The Muse. He was a trio of different characters- Blue Djinn, King Kamehameha and Biff Jellico- for three episodes of I Dream Of Jeanie. However his longest running role was as the Apache Chief Cochise for the entire run of the series, Broken Arrow.

Casting Ahead:

This episode marks the first appearance of Lord Refa, he will be back more than once.

This is the first appearance of Elric, he won’t appear on the show again, but he will feature prominently in The Passing Of The Techno-Mages: Book I: Casting Shadows, Book II: Summoning Light and Book III: Invoking Darkness.

Warren Tabata is back again as a nameless guard.

Kim Strauss is back, this time as the green Drazi leader.

David L. Crowley is back again as Lou Welch.

Jonathan Chapman makes his second appearance on the show, this time as the talkative green Drazi standing guard outside the Drazi lair.

That Wasn’t Supposed To Happen:

I’m not a fan of the supposed window view in Sheridan’s office, it’s too obvious of a painting.

It’s fairly obvious during Elric’s speech in the Zocalo that he’s reading off of cue cards.

The green Drazi used Ivanova’s link to send a message to security, but based on what we know about links being biologically bonded to its wearer and only useable by said wearer that shouldn’t be possible.

When Garibaldi comes to rescue Ivanova there is a mistake with the Drazi. The Drazi with the reddish suit starts to get up to answer the door but when they cut to the door being opened it’s the other Drazi answering while the one in the Reddish suit is guarding Ivanova.

The Ombuds Have Decided:

At its heart The Geometry Of Shadows is about fleshing out the Babylon 5 universe. It presents us with an interesting look at the, up till this point, in the background Drazi and the mysterious and unknown Techno-Mages. Episodes such as this are important to any TV show, but they are extremely vital to science fiction television. Fans of sci-fi don’t want to only know the main characters or be limited to what is happening in the foreground. Sci-fi fans like their universes to be rich and full. They want to be introduced to characters that they know are extremely powerful and important even if we never see that power or importance demonstrated on screen. Sci-fi fans want to know what’s going on in the background while the giant war is being waged in the foreground. By introducing the Techno-Mages and showing the political strife of the Drazi The Geometry Of Shadows does all of the above. But, simply doing all of the above isn’t good enough. The episode itself has to stand on its own, and The Geometry Of Shadows can. It is humorous when it needs to be, features character moments, great acting, great dialogue and a story that draws you in and allows you to forget that this is an episode solely intended to flesh out the greater Babylon 5 universe. The Geometry Of Shadows is quite an underrated episode of Babylon 5 that is well worth your time.

Vir’s reactions to Refa are most telling and a good bit of acting by Stephen Furst. By his smarmy attitude and haughty demeanor Refa is immediately an unlikable character, but, there is still some doubt. Until Vir with his facial expressions and reactions lets us know that Refa isn’t a good guy in any form.

The humor in The Geometry Of Shadows really works. From Ivanova’s various interactions with the Drazi to Vir falling over dead drunk to Garibaldi’s Acme speech to the Techno-Mage’s haunting of Londo. All of it was funny and most importantly it made me laugh.

Sheridan’s tough guys speech to Elric is a bit forced and doesn’t come of that well. Neither does his ending dialogue about the Techno-Mages as he watched their ship depart, it was a bit too over the top and sappy.

Michael Ansara did a splendid job as Elric, outside of the cue card incident. The way he chose to play Elric is responsible for most of the mystique behind the Techno-Mages. He portrayed Elric as mysterious, aloof and gave the Techno-Mages a very wizard like fantasy quality about them. Without his performance I doubt the Techno-Mages ever would have become quite as popular among Babylon 5 fans as they did.

The Geometry Of Shadows did have one glaring fault, and that was the resolution of the green/purple conflict. It works on the station, but it doesn’t work for the Drazi as a whole. It’s asking an awful lot of the viewer to make the leap that all of the Drazi the galaxy over stopped fighting and killing each other because of something done to a small group of Drazi on Babylon 5. We don’t even know if that was what happened either, because the fighting on the Drazi homeworld is never given any resolution and that does affect later Drazi actions. We don’t even need to see the resolution, a simple line about how Drazi fighting on their home planet has been called off for “insert reason here” would have sufficed. Because that conflict isn’t resolved we are left with an incomplete feeling at the end of the episode. But, it’s a very minor problem in an otherwise fantastic episode.

Rating:

91/100

A-

That’s all for the latest Babylon 5 review, next up we will take a very long and far away look at A Distant Star.

Cheers,
Bill

Previous – 2.02

Next – 2.04


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