16 August 2013

B5 Review: Point Of No Return, Season Three

I think Season Three will always be my favourite season of the show. In my first watch of the series I came back into it at Exogenesis which was perfectly positioned just before the mayhem that would follow with the Earth conflict, Sinclair's return and the Shadow War.

Sheridan and Delenn watch Keffers footage 

Just like Season Two, The Coming of Shadows, this season picks up from the events of The Fall of Night with the station under repair from the Centauri attack and bombing of the shuttle that nearly killed Sheridan. Races believe Babylon 5 has been blessed after Kosh revealed himself in order to rescue Sheridan in the same incident.

We are introduced to Marcus in Matters of Honor who tells the crew of a Ranger training facility under threat on the Centauri border. Providing Sheridan and the crew with a new ship, the Whitestar, based on Minbari and Vorlon technology. The crew are able to evacuate the trainees and outwit the enemy. 

G'Kar and Kosh 

Meanwhile, Earth is investigating the Shadow vessel footage captured by Lt Keffer's gun camera and use the fear of a powerful, unknown alien race to further increase President Clark's control back home. Much of the beginning of the season remains lighter, less arc oriented stories until Voices of Authority where Clark's involvement in Santiago's death (Chrysalis) is realised when Ivanova interfaces with the Great Machine on Epsilon III. From this point forward, Earth heightens its paranoia and the reach of the Nightwatch grows. 

By the time a Shadow ship is awakened on Ganymede and destroyed at Jupiter by Sheridan and Delenn aboard the Whitestar, President Clark declares martial law (Messages from Earth) and attacks the Mars colony for failing to follow suit shortly after. Earth ships begin fighting one another and Babylon 5 declares independence along with other Earth colonies in protest. Delenn breaks the Grey Council and with the help of the Minbari Worker and Religious castes, brings ships to Babylon 5 to offer protection (Severed Dreams).

After dealing with renegades on the station, there is a slight break in the action and hints at happenings on Centauri Prime in Sic Transit Vir

Shadow ship on Mars 

The crew team up with Bester and intercept a shipment of telepaths headed to be processors for Shadow vessels (Ship of Tears). Once the Shadows begin fighting in the open, Sheridan convinces Kosh to commit Vorlon forces to the fight, with dire consequences in Interludes and Examinations.

We learn the fate of Babylon 4 and come to better understand the events from Babylon Squared, revealing who Valen really is and who is The One in the War Without End two-parter. 

Dr Franklin must face his addiction and Lyta returns to the station to help test a theory that telepaths can hurt Shadow vessels (Walkabout). With that information, and a fleet of Whitestars, the fight is taken to the Shadows in Sector 83, the first major engagement and win for the League worlds and alliance in Shadow Dancing. Shortly after, a ghost from John's past arrives, his thought-dead wife Anna. She convinces him to go to Z'ha'dum where Morden and the middle-man, Justin attempt to bring him around to their way of thinking. Sheridan falls into a pit at Z'ha'dum and the Whitestar is destroyed detonating two nuclear devices in one of their cities...

Sinclair

Point of No Return is definitely a rollercoaster event and no small feat considering show creator, J. Michael Straczynski wrote every episode for this season. The average episode score is much higher than the previous two at 7.29 with the lowest score of 6/10 being offered three times to A Day in the Strife, A Late Delivery from Avalon and Grey 17 is Missing. Not all 'bad' episodes, but just ones that didn't stand out so much for me. A 9.5 for Z'ha'dum as the seasons finale and cliffhanger is the highest of the season, the series and in fact the highest score I've given in a review. It's still the best cliffhanger I've experienced and a standout episode, even more so than some of my favourites in Messages from Earth, Severed Dreams, Interludes and Examinations and War Without End.

G'Kar has a realisation early in the series that changes his outlook and he struggles to keep the Narn on Babylon 5 unified toward a common goal. He also finally learns the truth about the Shadows aiding the Centauri and Delenn's knowledge of it all. Londo goes for a ride as well, creating fear with the power he has gained and severing ties with Morden, only to re-establish them when Adira is killed. Londo takes revenge against Lord Refa for this action - but he is yet to find out that it was in fact someone elses doing.

Shadow Dancing

Marcus confesses an interest in Ivanova, even though she quickly becomes irritated with his presence early in the season. Lennier similarly confesses a love for Delenn, though he realises it can never be as she and John grow closer. Meanwhile, Vir has been busy during his assignment to Minbar and is reigned in by Londo and used as a tool to implement Londo's plan against Refa in And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place.

Once again, the show has taken us to a different place from when we began and Season Four awaits and will continue to take us in different directions again...

14 August 2013

B5 Review: Shadow Dancing & Z'ha'dum

Babylon 5's third season heads towards it's stunning finale with these two episodes set to blow viewers away as Sheridan takes the fight to the Shadows and an unexpected arrival on the station changes everything.

Shadow Dancing
Battle in Sector 83
Z Minus 7 Days

Sheridan and Delenn plan their attack on the Shadows in Sector 83 while Stephen's walkabout finally comes to an end.

Delenn attempts to convince the League worlds to commit ships to fight the Shadows while Sheridan unveils his plan to the War Council about taking on the Shadows in Sector 83. He assigns Ivanova and Marcus the task of being a scout to inform the fleet once the Shadows arrive.

With Ivanova and Marcus on their way, Delenn tells Sheridan that they will spend the night, as is Minbari tradition once the battle is over. Stephen in Downbelow comes to the aid of a man being beaten by two thugs and is subsequently stabbed and left for dead.

In Sector 83, Ivanova and Marcus detect their opposite number, a Shadow ship scouting the area. They are soon detected and work to stop the ship from alerting the fleet. After destroying it and taking damage themselves, a huge Shadow fleet emerges, forcing them to send a signal to Sheridan's fleet.

Franklin finally meets himself as he expected to. His other self feels no pity for him in his situation and tells him to stop giving up and running away - forcing him to drag himself to find help.

Ivanova and Marcus aboard the Whitestar are almost out of options as a Shadow fleet bears down on them, with a ship noticing them and on an intercept course. Sheridan's fleet arrives in time and the two sides engage in battle. The Shadows take damage and retreat, but not before inflicting heavy losses to the Army of Light.

Franklin manages to find help in a crowded area of the station while Garibaldi wonders when the Shadows will approach Babylon 5 now that they've shown they can be hurt.

As Sheridan and Delenn spend their first night together, an unexpected visitor comes through the doorway - Anna Sheridan.

Z Minus 2 Days

Shadow Dancing is a great episode that begins to tie up certain threads that have been long running throughout this season and the entire show. We get to wrap-up Franklin's struggle and finally the fight is taken to the Shadows in epic style as we see many ships from the League worlds fighting for the first time - I remember being in awe of the Vree saucer and it's weaponry as a kid. For the romantics, John and Delenn's relationship continues to bring them closer - only to be interrupted by something quite unexpected at the end which can only mean that the season finale is going to be something rather special and important to the storyline.

My rating: 8/10.

Z'ha'dum
Anna SheridanAnna Sheridan has come to take John back to Z'ha'dum so that he can hear their side of things and meet 'the man in the middle'.

Shocked by Anna's sudden reappearance (and apparent reincarnation) John is immediately suspicious. Anna agrees to undergo any tests to prove she is who she claims to be. Delenn is put under scrutiny as she and Kosh told John that Anna would have died at Z'ha'dum - as they assumed she would not have served the Shadows.

Franklin's tests reveal Anna is real but notices some scarring on the back of her neck and runs some further tests. John probes Anna for more information before committing to go to Z'ha'dum with her and learns that the Icarus mission was sent to the Shadow homeworld after a tracking beacon was placed aboard a Shadow ship uncovered on Mars (see Messages from Earth).

Franklin concludes the scarring on the back of Anna's neck matches the scarring found on the telepaths Sheridan, Bester and crew rescued earlier in the year (Ship of Tears). However, John agrees to go to Z'ha'dum with the Whitestar - after ordering the Minbari crew off the ship and having Garibaldi carry out some instructions for him.

At Z'ha'dum, John is introduced to Justin and meets Morden once again in one of the Shadow cities. They talk to John about their point of view and how the Vorlon's have been interfering with the other races. The Shadows believe in strength through conflict and want John to understand their point of view and let go of the alliance he and Delenn have forged with the younger worlds.

As a fleet of Shadow ships surround Babylon 5, Delenn receives a message from John explaining his actions and that he loves her. Ivanova and G'Kar attempt to put some nuclear warheads outside to use against the Shadow fleet but realise these actions could be foolish and G'Kar has noticed that two warheads are missing.

On Z'ha'dum, John reveals he knows that Anna was subjected to a Shadow ship and isn't quite the Anna that he married and loved. He manages to escape their room, fighting his way out to a balcony overlooking the city and a large pit below a huge domed window.

John calls the Whitestar which begins a descent through the planet's atmosphere and two nuclear devices arm for detonation. As Anna emerges to entice John back one last time, he hears Kosh's voice telling him to 'Jump! Jump now!'. He falls from the balcony as the Whitestar comes crashing down and detonates the nuclear bombs.

The Shadows retreat from Babylon 5 and Ivanova instantly knows that something bad has happened to Sheridan.

The Shadow War has paused and Sheridan is gone. Garibaldi has also gone missing along with his Starfury as he was among the pilots launched to confront the Shadow fleet surrounding the station.

Z'ha'dum is an emotional rollercoaster, certainly for John and Delenn but it also finally brings about the events which we knew were coming - that John would eventually go to Z'ha'dum. 

Ultimately, I think this episode will stand out as the best of the series for me when all the ratings are done and dusted. I was floored by the ending of this episode when I first saw it all those years ago and on each re-watch I am continuously amazed and it will always be my favourite sci-fi cliffhanger. It's also the first episode that seemed to keep Eleonor, my wife fully engaged throughout and it's just brilliantly done - at a time when main characters being killed off was never heard of. Z'ha'dum changed everything.

My rating: 9.5/10