“Babylon 5” Season Four “No Surrender, No Retreat” – Part Four

The finale of the Shadow War came about within the first six episodes of Babylon 5’s fourth season, something unexpected for the fanbase. The main reason for that was one of practicality on the part of J. Michael Straczynski. The Prime Time Entertainment Network, which had been the home of Babylon 5 since its inception, was going under, a result of the Warner Bros.-backed network not making as big an impact as initially hoped. With their network going away and no guarantee of a fifth season, Straczynski compressed quite a bit of what would have been the fifth season into season four.

With that being said, the storyline that followed the end of the Shadow War would be to lay the groundwork for the Earth Alliance Civil War, which had been on the backburner since the middle of the third season. Unlike the previous seasons, there are no stand-alone episodes in the fourth season. Every episode is tied to the overarching plots that have been unresolved up to this point.

Spoilers ahead, by the way.

“Epiphanies” is the first episode I’ll be covering. The station is in the midst of celebrations after the end of the Shadow War and rightfully so. Back on Centauri Prime, Prime Minister Londo Mollari decides to leave the planet and the political blowback from his assassination of Cartagia, but before he leaves, he informs Milo Virini (a recurring Centauri nobleman) that Virini has been appointed Regent (a position of authority until a new Emperor is appointed). I’ll come back to that later, though.

The first bombshell moment of this episode is the resignation of Michael Garibaldi as Chief of Security. Garibaldi has been acting strangely since his “rescue” earlier in the season and while the rest of the main cast question his reasoning, they respect his wishes. Garibaldi later goes into business for himself, helping those who lost things in the Shadow War and serving as a private investigator. I’ve always felt that the character of Garibaldi would not have stood out if the show were a 20th century cop drama and seeing him move into the role of a private eye fit the character, even though the motivations were murky.

The second major bombshell is the arrival of everyone’s favorite Psi-Cop Alfred Bester. I’ve spoken at length in previous essays about how much I love to hate the character of Bester and this episode is no exception. Bester’s arrival involves him bringing information about President Clark’s new offensive against Babylon 5. The first part of it is a propaganda war, using ISN as a mouthpiece for that. The second part is a false-flag operation, using the Black Omega squadron of Psi Corp to attack an Earthforce blockade that is guarding one of the jump points leading to the station. In return for the information, Bester wants to be taken to Z’ha’dum in the hopes of finding a way to save his lover Caroline from the Shadowtech embedded in her body. Sheridan agrees to the proposed alliance. While Ivanova and of the B5 Starfuries save the EarthAlliance forces, Sherida, Lyta Alexander, Bester, Delenn, and Lennier travel to Z’ha’dum on one of the White Stars.

No Time to Die, available on Amazon Prime

There are several tense moments during the episode, particularly between Lyta and Bester. Bester is fully indoctrinated by the Psi Corp’s ideology (the Corp is mother, the Corp is father). Lyta, as a rogue telepath, despise the Psi Corp and everything it stands for. Their sniping back and forth in the episode is harsh, with Bester getting the upper hand, until they reach Z’ha’dum that is. We learned in a previous episode that hyperspace enhances a telepath’s abilities and Lyta uses that to her advantage, sending out a psychic beacon to Z’ha’dum. When the White Star arrives, a mass exodus of unknown ships (dark servants as Delenn calls them) are leaving the planet behind. Sheridan orders the White Star to evacuate the space around the planet just before Z’ha’dum shatters apart from the inside out. The homeworld of the Shadows is gone but the aliens who served them are now out in the universe.

Which brings me to the stinger of the episode: Regent Virini awakens on Centauri Prime from a terrible nightmare only to find a one-eyed creature attached to his soldier. An ill omen and a sign of things to come.

The episode “The Illusion of Truth” is not one of my favorites from the fourth season, largely because it relies on Sheridan and the others picking up the Idiot Ball and running full-tilt with it. When an ISN news crew arrives on the station, Sheridan allows them to work on the station and generate a “fair and balanced” news report. Unlike the previous two instances of this type of episode (which occurred in the first and second seasons, respectively), it is plainly obvious that the ISN reporter is going to do a hatchet job, which is then shown as the last half-hour of the episode. Sheridan and the rest watch as the ISN reporter spins a story of a rogue command staff who are allowing aliens to run amuck on the station, keeping the “poor, defenseless humans” under foot. On the one hand, it’s a brilliant move by Straczynski to show the power of propaganda and how insidious it can be. On the other hand, it relies on Sheridan making one of the most bone-headed decisions he’s made up to this point in the show. One bright spot from the episode is the interview with Garibaldi, now an independent private investigator, who makes several disparaging remarks about Sheridan to the reporter, which puts him at odds with Sheridan and the command staff.

“Atonement” is one of the first of the Delenn/Minbari-centered episodes this season. I’ll be covering the four episodes that form the heart of the Minbari Civil War arc in the next essay but for now, “Atonement” focuses on Delenn’s backstory before becoming the ambassador to Babylon 5. Due to her relationship with Sheridan and their desire to marry, Delenn must justify this decision by undergoing the Dreaming, a ritual where she experiences memories of her past that are potentially influencing her decisions today. It’s a fascinating new twist on an old staple of storytelling (viewing the past to unlock new secrets).

In the Dreaming, Delenn sees her ascension from a mere acolyte under the famous leader Dukhat to becoming a member of the Grey Council. We’ve heard much of Dukhat up to this point in the story but this is our first chance to see this legendary Minbari figure (the only person more revered by Dukhat is Valen). Reiner Schone portrays Dukhat as a stiff, upright, forceful personality that hides a gentleness of spirit that is moving and understated. When Dukhat is killed during the first encounter between the Minbari and the Earth Alliance, it is Delenn who casts the final vote to start the war, resulting in millions of deaths. Callenn, the Minbari administering this test, declares that Delenn’s marriage to Sheridan is formed from her guilt in starting the war that nearly wiped the human race from the galaxy.

But as always, there’s far more to the story. When Delenn goes back into the Dreaming, we hear Dukhat’s last words to Delenn: she is a child of Valen, who we as the audience knows was a human named Jeffrey Sinclair. It’s revealed through some ancient scrolls that Lennier “acquires” that Valen married and had children but they had to leave Minbar due to the existing prejudices at that time. After Valen’s death, they returned and intermingled with the Minbari people, spreading human DNA into the gene pool. As a direct descendent of Valen, Delenn is not wholly Minbari, meaning that her marriage to Sheridan and any children that come from that union will also not be wholly Minbari. In an effort to maintain the fiction of the “purity” of the Minbari people, Callenn comes up with a different excuse to allow Delenn’s marriage to Sheridan to occur, stopping Delenn from revealing the truth of her ancestry.

The main subplot of “Atonement” is a new mission for both Dr. Stephen Franklin and the Ranger Marcus. Sheridan orders the pair to travel to Mars to meet up with the Mars Resistance, who have been fighting against EarthGov for decades. This is a callback to a number of previous episodes that have mentioned a resistance movement on Mars that wants the colony world to be an independent state from Earth. This subplot takes up a good portion of the next couple of episodes.

Speaking of which, “Racing Mars” is the last episode I’ll cover in this essay. After some delightfully cheerful moments between the odd couple of Marcus and Stephen (which are some of the best comic relief moments up to this point in the season), the pair meet their contact in the Resistance named Captain Jack. Jack leads the pair to the Resistance, acting oddly with Stephen and Marcus the entire time (mentioning his daughter back home, switching out their identicards, never removing his thick duster). When the Resistance hold Marcus and Franklin at gunpoint due to Jack’s machinations, it’s soon revealed why the Captain is acting strangely when Number One (the leader of the Mars Resistance) appears. Jack attempts to kill the leader of the Resistance but is thwarted by Marcus and Stephen. It’s soon revealed that Jack had one of those one-eyed monstrosities on his body (the same that we saw on Regent Virini at the end of “Epiphanies”). Jack manages to kill himself before the creature can grow back. The episode marks the first appearance of Majorie Monaghan as Tessa Halloran/Number One. A fiery woman who takes absolutely zero grief from anyone, Number One would continue to play a vital role in the story arc as it nears its conclusion (as well as an intriguing relationship with Franklin, but that’ll have to wait for another essay).

The other subplot of “Racing Mars” deals with Sheridan taking a forced day off (at the insistence of Ivanova). During this down time, Sheridan confronts Garibaldi about the interview the latter gave to ISN during “The Illusion of Truth”. It quickly becomes a heated argument the first time they attempt to speak to each other. Sheridan and Garibaldi are both deeply prideful people and neither like to be challenged in this way. The second time the pair meet, an alien approaches, gushing over Sheridan due to his return from the dead. While Sheridan tries to calmly defuse the situation, Garibaldi lashes out at the alien, which causes Sheridan to attempt to intervene and results in Garibaldi knocking Sheridan on his ass with a punch to the jaw. It becomes clear that there’s no mending fences between the two former comrades.

On a more light-hearted note, the subplot gives Delenn and Sheridan a chance to continue their courtship in preparation for their marriage. Delenn explains that there are a number of rituals (50 to be exact) that a Minbari couple have to go through before they can be married. This revelation leads to Sheridan asking if anyone from Minbar ever elopes, which Delenn points out does happen but causes great shame for the lovers’ families and clans. The ritual they engage in is an exploration of each other’s centers of pleasure. What Delenn neglects to inform him of is that there are witnesses who stand outside the couple’s bedchambers to make sure things to not go too far. Sheridan tries to put his foot down but finds himself unable to argue with Delenn, which leads to the two of them engaging in the ritual off-screen. When we next see Sheridan, he is entering one of the lift tubes which also has Lennier in it (Lennier was one of the witnesses at the ritual). Lennier’s seemingly genuine question of “woo-hoo?” causes Sheridan no amount of consternation and it is genuinely funny to witness.

That wraps up my latest essay on Babylon 5 season four. My next essay will focus on the four episodes which comprise the Minbari Civil War arc (as well as other foundational pieces of the story that come into play much later in the season).

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