Review of “Babylon 5” Season Four “No Surrender, No Retreat” Part One

Box Cover Art for “Babylon 5” Season 4. Source (Amazon Associates Link)

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Continuing my essay series on the seminal science-fiction series Babylon 5, I’ve been rewatching many of the episodes as I go along, picking up new things I hadn’t seen before. If you haven’t seen my previous essays (why would you be reading this one if you haven’t read the previous ones?), definitely check those out before moving on to this one. As before, these are spoiler-heavy episode recaps and reviews, so if you haven’t watched the series, don’t read these until after you’ve watched the episodes featured here.

For easier access, here are the links for the previous essays:

Season 1 (Parts One and Two)

Season 2 (Parts One, Two, and Three)

Season 3 (Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six)

Season Four of Babylon 5 picks up a few days after the catastrophic ending of the third season. Captain Sheridan went to the homeworld of the Shadows, Z’ha’dum, and nuked their biggest city. It’s assumed that Sheridan died in the process (along with Sheridan’s wife Anna, who had become a servant of the Shadows). The League of Non-Aligned Worlds is fracturing. The Narn are still under the subjugation of the Centauri. Earth is still under the control of the despotic President Clark. And Michael Garibaldi, the station’s Chief of Security, went missing after the Shadows threatened to attack Babylon 5 at the end of the last season.

To say that J. Michael Straczynski wrote himself into a pretty big corner as the story transitioned into the fourth season is an understatement.

Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) in “The Hour of the Wolf”. Source

The fourth season of the show covered a tremendous amount of narrative ground, including the end of the Shadow War (which had been the main story arc since the halfway point of the first season), as well as the Earth Civil War arc (which began in the finale for season one but didn’t really kick into high gear until the beginning of the third season). In between these two momentous story arcs being concluded, there are wonderfully rich character beats and moments that are some of the best produced by the series. In this essay, I’ll be covering the episodes “The Hour of the Wolf” and “Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi”.

The season premiere episode, “The Hour of the Wolf”, begins with a voiceover narration by G’Kar, the former ambassador of the Narn Republic, now turned freedom fighter and burgeoning spiritual leader. The late Andreas Katsulas was exceptional in this role, and his readings of Straczynski’s dialogue was pitch perfect. The opening minutes of the episode are a montage to catch viewers up about where all the players are and their current situations before moving into the heart of the episode. Commander Susan Ivanova, the second-in-command of the station, is seen almost sleep-walking through the station, carrying the great burden of running the station in the absence of her friend and commanding officer. Ambassador Londo Mollari is seen in the royal palace on Centauri Prime, where he is about to accept his new position as the Advisor on Planetary Security to the Centauri Emperor. The Minbari Ambassador Delenn has refused to eat for the last seven days since Sheridan went missing, mourning the loss of the man she had come to love deeply in such a short amount of time.

The Mad Emperor Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer) Source

With the Shadow War paused due to the devastating blow Sheridan struck on Z’ha’dum, the League of Non-Aligned Worlds refuse to back Ivanova’s suggest play of attacking Z’ha’dum directly. Sheridan had been able to corral the League into working together largely by force of personality. Without his central figure holding the pieces together, the entire enterprise is on the brink of collapse. Notably absent from the meeting is the new Vorlon Ambassador, who arrived at the tail-end of season three to replace Kosh, who had been murdered by the Shadows in the episode “Interludes and Examinations”. This turn of events does sit well with Delenn, who had always had a working relationship with the previous Vorlon Ambassador.

On Centauri Prime, Londo settles in and meets the young Emperor Cartagia, portrayed by Wortham Krimmer. Cartagia is a seemingly flippant character, prone to acting in an overly cheerful and jovial fashion. The Emperor reveals that Mollari was requested for this position of authority in the government but refuses to reveal who made the request. It is revealed later on when Mollari returns to his room that Morden survived the nuclear explosion on Z’ha’dum but his face and hands are covered in burn scars. Morden’s mental state has clearly been affected by his injuries as his normally deep voice is rather sing-song while talking with Londo. Morden reveals that the Shadows are moving some of their forces off Z’ha’dum, in case anyone attempts to capitalize on their current predicament. Londo flatly refuses but is reminded by Morden that his moral grandstanding is just a cover for his love of power and the fear that someone else in his position would be far worse.

This scene is a brilliant callback to the choices Londo Mollari has been making up to this point. Londo’s character arc has been the driving force behind many of the series’ turning points, including the destruction of the Narn homeworld and the ascension of Cartagia to the throne. Now, we begin to see the chickens come home to roost in decidedly unpleasant ways. When Londo’s vision of Shadow vessels flying overhead on Centauri Prime comes true the next morning, he is struck with the realization that his actions have brought this about. And when he finds out that Cartagia excitedly allowed them to settle on one of the islands of the planet in exchange for the Shadows turning him into a god, Mollari realizes with growing horror that he has helped put a madman on the throne of his beloved Centauri Republic. Londo calls Vir to the Centauri homeworld to help him overthrow Cartagia and remove the madman before Centauri Prime pays the price for Londo’s lust for power.

In a seemingly suicidal mission, Lennier, Ivanova, Lyta, and Delenn travel to Z’ha’dum in the hopes of being able to contact Sheridan. The trio of women (as well as the rest of the crew) encounter an odd telepathic signal, a defense mechanism of the Shadows, that calls to them, speaking in a voice of infinite sadness that urges them to land on the planet. Due to some smart thinking by Lennier, the White Star escapes the clutches of the ancient enemy, with no one able to contact Sheridan.

Which brings me to Captain John Sheridan, last seen hurling himself into a deep chasm just before destroying the one of the largest cities on Z’ha’dum. We first see a hunched figure, covered in a cloak, wandering through tunnels deep underground. When we see Sheridan next, he’s seated in front of a fire when a strange-looking alien takes a seat next to him. As the two converse, it becomes rapidly apparent that they are sizing each other up, unsure of who the other is and what their intentions are.

Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) in captivity from “Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?” Source

The following episode, “Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi”, answers the first major question of the fourth season: did Sheridan survive his fall at the end of the third season? The strange alien reveals not only his name, Lorien, but also that Sheridan is quite dead. Sheridan keeps having flashes of a being of light holding him aloft in a dark void, which presses into his vision as he interacts with Lorien. According to Lorien, Sheridan is stuck in-between the last moments of his life, in between the seconds of a clock. It appears that Lorien is testing Sheridan, attempting to learn if this individual is someone that he can potentially work with.

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The story shifts to G’Kar, who in the previous episode left the protection provided by having sanctuary on Babylon 5 to investigate the disappearance of Michael Garibaldi (the Chief of Security that went missing at the end of the third season). The reason G’Kar gives is one of the reasons he is my favorite character on the show: he’s never had a friend who wasn’t a fellow Narn. That simple act of consideration would have been something the G’Kar of the first season would never have admitted to, let alone been capable of. It’s a credit to Straczynski as a writer that he was able to take G’Kar on such a journey that he becomes a completely different person from who we were first introduced to. But the journey is about to become far more perilous when G’Kar is sold out to the Centauri by a bar owner that got into a fight with G’Kar during his investigation.

Emperor Cartagia makes a gift of G’Kar to Londo, who is almost disgusted by the treatment he sees G’Kar has endured. Londo shows his open appreciation but you begin to see in Jurasik’s performance that he is deeply troubled by G’Kar’s presence and the prospect of the proud Narn warrior being at the mercy of the madman Cartagia. When Londo visits G’Kar in his cell later, the two strike an uneasy alliance. In exchange for G’Kar’s help in dealing with the Emperor, Londo vows to free Narn and return it to the hands of its people. This is the first time since before the outbreak of the war between the Narn and the Centauri in the second season that Londo and G’Kar are able to agree on anything.

Meanwhile, we begin to see more of Garibaldi’s predicament. We find him unshaven, unkempt, locked in a windowless room being asked questions repeatedly about if he remembers where he’s been since leaving Babylon 5. Increasingly agitated, Garibaldi begins destroying what little there is in the room before being sedated with some type of gas. Once he is knocked out, a man in a Psi Corp uniform steps into the room. If there is one thing that has been established for Garibaldi, it’s his distrust for the Psi Corp. Finding him in their clutches is one of the first mysteries of the fourth season that Straczynski will tease out over the subsequent episodes.

G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) captured in “Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi”. Source

We cut back to Z’ha’dum, where Sheridan is inching closer and closer to death. It is revealed that Lorien is not one of the First Ones but THE First One, the oldest being in the Milky Way galaxy. Lorien breaks down Sheridan over the course of the episode, imploring the brash Human to not run away from death but to embrace life. It is also revealed that a piece of Kosh exists within Sheridan, a trick the Vorlons are capable of (and has been shown repeatedly with the character of Lyta carrying around both Kosh and the new Vorlon Ambassador). The observation that it is easy to find something to die for but much more difficult to find something to live for is rather prophetic given the environment of the 2020s. We find ourselves often proclaiming that we would die for a given cause or belief system but never stop to consider what we would consider worth living for. Lorien is the energy being that caught the dying Sheridan as he fell into the chasm and he offers the possibility (but not the guarantee) that he can save Sheridan’s life. The episode ends with Sheridan calling out for Delenn as his reason for living and the hope the Captain will live on to see the end of the Shadow War.

Lorien, The First One. Source

The start of a new season of television is a daunting one, particularly for a heavily serialized show like Babylon 5. If you ask diehard fans of the show, Seasons 3 and 4 are considered the best seasons, both from a writing and storytelling perspective as well as from an acting perspective. Everyone in these first two episodes is committed to the story they’re telling and it shows in their performances. In my next essay, I’ll be covering the episodes that lead into the end of the Shadow War and the culmination of three years of story arcs that lead up to it.

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