Point of No Return Part 5 – Season Three of “Babylon 5”

Box Cover Art for Season Three of “Babylon 5”. Available on Amazon (Associates Link)

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The remaining episodes of Babylon 5 Season Three are a collection of individual stories that tie into the overall myth arc of the show, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in massive ways. There are a couple of stinkers in the list (looking directly at the episode “Grey 17 Is Missing”), but we’ll get to those in a moment. Everything after the Earth Alliance Civil War arc moves the story into the event that the show has been running headlong toward since the mid-point of Season One: The Shadow War.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you want to avoid them.

Vir Cotto, played by the late Stephen Furst, was an underutilized character during the first two seasons. There were moments of brilliance and exception writing, particularly in the scenes between Vir and Londo. Vir served as Londo’s conscience, the one person close enough to the Ambassador to remind Londo that the choices being made would have dire and unforeseen consequences. The episode “Sic Transit Vir” is a showcase episode for the character and the actor portraying him. Since the episode “A Day in Strife” early in Season Three, Vir has been the Centauri Ambassador to Minbar, a move which Londo arranged to give Vir a better position in the Centauri government but also to get him away from Londo and the encroaching results of Londo’s choices during the second season.

Vir Cotto, portrayed by the late Stephen Furst. Source

Vir returns to the station and encounters a surprise that leaves him gob smacked: Lyndisty, the daughter of a prominent Centauri noble family and Vir’s future wife. While Lyndisty is beautiful, she is also a product of Centauri culture, which she reveals as she casually discusses the horrors committed against the surviving Narn as if she were discussing baking recipes. She is a deeply unsettling character but she is also sweet and affectionate with Vir, something the young Centauri has never experienced with the opposite gender. That he is both smitten and repulsed by Lyndisty is an interesting dynamic that Furst is able to explore through Vir’s normal timidity.

Everything is turned on its head in the episode when a Narn attempts to murder Vir to fulfill a “Chon’kar”, a blood oath first shown in the episode “Deathwalker” in the first season. The “Chon’kar” is a vow of vengeance taken on by a Narn for a family member or members that have died at someone’s hand. And Vir is the target of that vengeance due to the reported deaths of thousands of Narns at Vir’s orders. Londo, as can be expected is overjoyed to hear that Vir has taken such a direct role in dealing with the Narn problem. But given what we know of Vir as a character, there is more to the story. Vir, driven by his guilt for being involved with Londo’s schemes that directly lead to the Narn-Centauri War, fabricated a Centauri nobleman and used this fictious character to get the Narns out of harm’s way. For the first time, in a scene between Londo and Vir as the truth is revealed, Vir stands up to Londo, showing that he is shifting away from the bumbling, foolish character he began as.

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Some people may not like the episode “A Late Delivery from Avalon” but it is one of my favorites from the season, mainly because of the empathetic performance of Michael York, a man who arrives on Babylon 5 claiming to be King Arthur reawakened. Marcus befriends Arthur, as does G’Kar, which leads to one of the better character scenes Andrea Katsulas was given during the show. For once, we get to see G’Kar the Narn, not the resistance leader, prophet, or schemer, just G’Kar. The interactions between G’Kar and Arthur are quite a lot of fun to watch, particularly when G’Kar is drunk. The beating heart of this episode, though, is the examination into trauma and how we deal with it. “Arthur” turns out to be a former member of the EarthForce military, specifically the officer that fired the shots during Earth’s first encounter with the Minbari. The end result of that attack was the death of the Minbari leader Dukhat and the Earth-Minbari War, which nearly led to the extinction of the human race. Unable to deal with the mental anguish from pulling the trigger, York’s character (David McIntyre) turned inward, covering himself in the identity of King Arthur because he could not come to grips with being responsible for the deaths of so many people. The scene near the end between Delenn and McIntyre is one of the rare scenes where no dialogue is spoken but there is a richness to the story being told through the expressions of the actors involved.

King Arthur arrives on Babylon 5. Guest Star Michael York. Source

“Ship of Tears” brings the Psi-Cop Alfred Bester back into the show, which is always a plus because of how much fun it is watching Walter Koenig. I’ve mentioned in previous essays on Koenig’s appearances but it bears repeating: you can tell that Koenig was having a blast playing Bester. However, Bester’s appearance here does something that was previously an unthinkable idea: it humanizes Bester. Bester leads Sheridan and the White Star crew to intercept a ship in hyperspace carrying weapons components for the Shadows. A seemingly throwaway moment occurs when the White Star attacks the convoy and a Shadow Vessel appears. But the mothership quickly retreats, something we’ve never seen a Shadow warship do up to this point in the series.

Alfred Bester returns, portrayed by Walter Koenig. Source

When the cargo ship is taken back to Babylon 5, it’s revealed what the euphemism “weapons components” means: the ship is carrying cryogenically frozen telepaths that have been surgically altered to serve as the central-processing units of a Shadow vessel. The first such cryogenic tube that appears shows a human man frozen in the midst of a bloodcurdling scream. One of the telepaths is awakened and begins merging with the station, just as she would if she were in a Shadow warship. And we soon fight out that the telepath who was awoken is Carolyn Sanderson, Bester’s lover and the mother of his unborn child.

One of the better aspects of Straczynski’s writing is that even when you have a villainous character like Bester, he introduces elements that makes you empathize with him, even for a little bit. If Bester were a simple, two-dimensional villain, he wouldn’t be as memorable. The monologue where Bester explains who Carolyn is and what she means to him allows Koenig to plumb the depths of who this man is and reveal, for just a brief moment, the human being under the layers of PsiCorp conditioning and brainwashing.

The last episode I’ll cover in this essay is “Interludes and Examinations” and does this episode have an impact. At the end of “Ship of Tears”, the Shadows have begun openly attacking ships rather than sticking to covert actions. With the Shadow War now turning into an active shooting war, Sheridan tries to rally the aliens among the League of Non-Aligned Worlds into a cohesive group but no one wants to stick their proverbial neck out for anyone else unless Sheridan can show he has power equal to the Shadows. There are a few secondary plots that play in the background of this main story beat that are all of significant importance. Sheridan’s play is to get the Vorlons involved, which leads to a confrontation between Ambassador Kosh and Sheridan that is some of the best writing on the show to this point. For once, we get to see just a bit more of Kosh than before, specifically the anger and power a Vorlon can command.

It’s this moment that we as the audience get to see the first inkling that the Vorlons are not the benevolent “good guys” they’ve portrayed themselves to be up to this point. Later stories, particularly the standalone TV Movie “Thirdspace” expand upon this further, showing that the Vorlons are just as ideologically stagnant as the Shadows. When Kosh argues with Sheridan, he uses words “Disobedient”, indicating that Kosh (and by extension the Vorlons as a whole) see the younger races as servants to do their bidding. After a strong back and forth between the two characters, Kosh agrees to enter the fight but there is a price to be paid: he won’t be with Sheridan when he goes to Z’Ha’Dum (the homeworld of the Shadows), which will result in the Captain’s death. Sheridan doesn’t understand the implications but we soon discover why Kosh gave this dire warning.

Throughout the episode, we see Morden, the agent of the Shadows, working on Babylon 5. When he learns that the Vorlons have openly attacked and destroyed a contingent of Shadow vessels, Morden and his associates pay the Vorlon a visit that ends in the death of Kosh. But in the midst of being violently murdered, Kosh manages to touch Sheridan’s mind (something he did once before during the second season episode “All Alone in the Night”). Taking the form of Sheridan’s father, Kosh is able to impart his final words to the one person on the station who he was connected to. By removing such a stalwart character from the cast, Straczynski shows that he is not a storyteller who is afraid to kill off a character when the story needs it. That’ll come up later on as I examine the final episodes of the third season. Suffice it to say, “Interludes and Examinations” is a major turning point for the series and the choices made by the characters here have far-reaching effects on the remainder of the season and the rest of the series. 

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