“Acts Of Sacrifice” (season two, episode 12; originally aired 2/22/95)
Babylon 5 may be most famous for its planned five-year plot, and deservedly so, but plot alone doesn’t make a show—or anything really. In order to be a great story overall, it must have strong characters. “Acts Of Sacrifice” is acknowledgment of this fact, a character-based (belated) second part to the plot-heavy “The Coming Of Shadows.” Here, the effects of that episode are shown on its most important (and Babylon 5’s two best) characters: Londo and G’Kar. In both cases, it marks the end of their initial characterization, and the beginning of different paths for the two men.
Londo, for the first time, seems to question his path to power. After the shifts in Centauri politics, he’s rich, people offer him gifts and try to curry his favor, and the Centauri Republic is on the rise again. It’s everything he ever wanted, and it’s not what he wants. Suddenly he realizes that all he wants to be is season-one Londo, hanging out in the casino and bars of the station, calling loudly for “Mister Garibaldi!” He can’t have that anymore. He demands of a skeptical Garibaldi: “Why is everyone around here walking around like they’re afraid of me?” Garibaldi doesn’t think it’s such a secret: “I don’t know you anymore, Londo. None of us do.” Their relationship, which often seemed to be the heart of Babylon 5’s first season, is all but gone.
Yet Londo still has some decency. When he’s confronted with the episode’s weekly story, a murder centered on the rising Narn-Centauri tensions on-station, Londo goes beyond even what Sheridan and Garibaldi want to do to defuse those tensions. They want to delay the trial of the Narn who has confessed to the murder, but Londo encourages them to deport the murderer and remove the need for a trial altogether. (I find it ironic and indicative of the increasing darkness of the show that the best outcome here is one that avoids the liberal ideal of the fair trial, in exchange for a personal decree.) Ambassador Mollari has not become purely a creature of imperial ambition—Londo’s decency remains, somewhere. For this, Garibaldi rewards him with a simple act of friendship.
G’Kar’s storyline is more complicated, and more central to the episode. He’s caught between two political forces in “Acts Of Sacrifice.” On the one hand, he’s desperate to gain the aid of the Humans or the Minbari or both in the war against the Centauri, and that means presenting himself and his people in the best possible light. On the other, the Narn on the station want more action, and view G’Kar as weak for not allowing them to indulge in their desired violence.
This conflict mirrors G’Kar’s core character conflicts of the second season. Ever since the events of “Chrysalis,” he’s been acting under the apparently correct impression that a great evil is coming, and that the races on Babylon 5 need to put aside their differences in order to be prepared for the evil. On the other hand, he began the series as the villain, and neither the show nor the other characters have quite forgotten this. When he approaches Delenn, she reminds him of his previous desire for vengeance against the Centauri: “Do we help we now, knowing that in a few years, when you’ve gathered your forces, the Centauri will be asking us for help?” (Delenn’s argument here is fascinating giving later events and themes in the series; I’ll discuss those in a spoiler space below.)
G’Kar’s only way out of this conundrum is battle the Narn who is challenging his authority. This is a bit too convenient of a way out, as G’Kar is destined to triumph over the random guest star. Likewise, the Narn storyline hinges on the actions of Mary Kay Adams as Na’Toth, and this just doesn’t work. J. Michael Straczynski apparently did not approve of Adams’ take on the character of Na’Toth, and whether he was correct in that assessment or not, this being only her second appearance of the season makes her presence feel more like “Oh yeah, her!” as opposed to “Yes, of course G’Kar trusts Na’Toth!” which is the story the episode wants to tell. It’s still good, but the slight struggles of the Narn section prevent “Acts Of Sacrifice” from being a top-tier Babylon 5 episode.
It does, however, contain one of the most memorable moments of Babylon 5’s run. In the side plot, Ivanova’s forays into “the fine art of diplomacy” are put to their biggest test as a new race visits the station, and EarthGov wants them for an alliance. For the bulk of the episode, this plays out like a Star Trek-style first encounter with a species intended to show an aspect of human society in a metaphorical funhouse mirror—in this case, the aliens are practitioners of an extreme form of social Darwinism. The twist, that they see how humans are treated in the slums of Babylon 5 and think that it’s great and intentional, is pretty damn biting.
But then it takes a totally different turn, as the ambassador proposes that the alliance of conceptual unity be sealed by an action of physical unity: sex. What ensues is arguably the most Babylon 5iancomic sceneof all Babylon 5’s comic scenes. Ivanova shows the human fashion of sex, dancing around the ambassador, explaining how dating works in sing-song, and eventually faking an orgasm. It’s ridiculous, it’s embarrassing, it’s fun, and it somehow manages to work. I don’t even know how to explain it.
The Great Spoiler Machine: Delenn’s argument that if the Minbari help the Narn, then the Narn will become the aggressors, is quite fascinating given the role of prophecy in her behavior as well as the show’s general support of liberal interventionism. Delenn’s prophecies, after all, are based on what Jeffrey Sinclair knows by late season three, and by then the outcome of the Narn-Centauri War as well as G’Kar’s overall trustworthiness are known. So Delenn’s rejection of G’Kar is 1) a principled rejection of interventionism, surprising given the Rangers’ embodiment of such later, 2) a lie, to mask her lack of power in Minbari politics, or 3) a lie because she believes that intervening in the conflict will prevent the prophecies from coming true, or 4) a petty bit of revenge against G’Kar for his prior villainy.
“Hunter, Prey” (season two, episode 13; originally aired 3/1/95)
The rise of serialization led to a variety of different experiments with the form: For example, The X-Files’ structure of monster-of-the-week episodes bookended by a handful of mythology episodes. That show’s huge influence on the way we discuss television helped to create the idea that there is, or even should be, a clear division between those styles of episodes. Yet most serialized shows use various hybrids, where episodes are partially procedural, with long-term plots attached. (Ironically, The X-Files used a more hybrid approach early in its first season, as everything was connected to the conspiracy, but that was unsustainable.)
“Hunter, Prey” may be the purest example of a hybrid episode: It is a self-contained case of the week and not at all necessary to the function of the plot, but it’s entirely dependent on the overarching storyline (in this case, the conspiracy against President Clarke) and appears to move that story forward. These sorts of episodes can be valuable to the viewer in maintaining momentum, while I’d imagine they’re also valuable to writers, in that the serialization makes it fairly easy to think of a new plot for an episode to fill out the season.
In this case, then-Vice President Clarke’s doctor is on the lam, with evidence that Clarke wasn’t sick at all when he begged off Earth Force One the day before it was destroyed. Why not have him show up on Babylon 5? Why not use that to create drama between Sheridan the conspirator and Sheridan the EarthForce Captain?
The other side of the story involves Sheridan confronting Ambassador Kosh to try to learn more about him, particularly why he appeared in Sheridan’s mind during “All Alone In The Night.” Sheridan asks, argues, wheedles, and eventually somehow succeeds in persuading Kosh to work with him more directly. This, too, is connected to the season’s overarching plots, although less obviously. When Sinclair told Garibaldi to “stay close to the Vorlon” a few weeks ago, it implied that Kosh was going to be taking on a bigger role, which was certainly reinforced by Sheridan’s prophetic dream. So we’re laying the groundwork for more.
I am, perhaps, making “Hunter, Prey” sound perfunctory, almost like a placeholder. And that’s not entirely inaccurate, but just because it may be those things doesn’t make it a bad episode. It does, however, make it a relatively uninteresting one, apart from Garibaldi in a hat.
- “He accuses the Narn of placing military targets inside civilian populations.” I can certainly believe Babylon 5 that this bit of propaganda will stick around for hundreds more years.
- “Yes, we often hear that argument from inferior species and their sympathizers.” The diplomacy subplot would likely have been insufferable were it not for Paul Williams as Taq, the interpreter, who is superb at making horrific statements seem breezy and charming.
- Mira Furlan plays Delenn as physically uncomfortable to be in confrontational settings in “Acts Of Sacrifice.” Perhaps it’s intentional to demonstrate Delenn as still uncomfortable within her own skin, but it’s distracting.
- Londo wants the murderous Narn’s possessions auctioned for the Centauri effort: “That irony is all the justice I require.”
- “Downtown?” “Seemed like a good name.”
- Garibaldi and Franklin have a little discussion about how the future isn’t what it used to be, which seems far too shoehorned in to really take as a statement about Babylon 5’s philosophy.
- “What do you want?” “Never ask that question.”
- “So why don’t you give me the fraggin’ data crystal before I get cranky, which is something that you really. Really. Don’t want.” I do enjoy when Jerry Doyle plays an action-movie cop, even though it’s ridiculous.
- “As long as there is a next time, at least there’s a chance we’ll win.”
- If you have to do something extremely suspicious to avoid being part of an assassination, like, say, get off a transport for no good reason the day before it goes down, maybe you should rethink your plan.
- The CGI has improved tremendously over season one in general, but the Vorlon ship up close is not what I’d call a good representation of that.