Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 1: "Midnight on the Firing Line"

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Episode Information

Title: "Midnight on the Firing Line"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Richard Compton
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: January 16, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


Sinclair barely manages to contain the Narns' military ambitions in local space.

This episode happens quite some time after the events in the "The Gathering", given comments in the episode. During that time, there have been some personnel changes. Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova is now in second-in-command of the station. Talia Winters has arrived in the last few weeks, having been assigned as the resident telepath; from this, we can assume that Lyta Alexander has be re-assigned. The credits also show that there is a new head doctor, Dr. Stephen Franklin, but we don't see him in this episode. Londo has a new assistant, named Vir.

The episode opens with a look at an attack on the Centauri agricultural colony by presently unknown forces. Sinclair and the diplomats on B5 scramble to gather as much information as possible and to arrange possible help for the Centauris. Sinclair's brief meeting with Delenn and G'Kar is illuminating. Delenn asks if the Minbari can help, which makes G'Kar chime right in with the offer of Narn help. Delenn gives him quite a look for his pretense of being so charitable, which is amusing. At this time, G'Kar claims not to know who the attackers are.

Garibaldi takes a formation of starfuries to investigate a raider attack. They find the cargo ship sacked and shot up by weapons heavier than the usual raider weapons.

Sometime later, Londo receives a copy of the transmission that Ragesh 3 sent during the attack. The fighters attacking the station can be clearly seen, and Londo recognizes them as Narn. He storms off to confront G'Kar in the Zocalo. G'Kar claims that he was only just informed that his military launched the attack, but clearly he doesn't regret it. Londo wonders aloud what good it does for the Narns to slaughter innocent civilians, and G'Kar has a good response that the Narns wondered the same thing when the Centauri conquered their homeworld. He obviously thinks that the attack on the Centauri is no more than they deserve. Londo launches himself at G'Kar's throat, and the two must be pulled apart by security.

Later, in his quarters, Londo apologizes to Sinclair for causing an incident. He reveals that his nephew is in charge of the Ragesh 3 colony, and he vows that if his nephew is dead, there will be war. He says (to the best of my recollection), "In the matters of galactic politics, I am well past innocence and fast approaching apathy. only one thing that matters. Blood calls out for blood." Londo does have a way with words.

We also learn about Londo's death-dream: in 20 years from now, he dies with his hands around G'Kar's throat, with G'Kar returning the favor. He hadn't met G'Kar until they arrived on B5, but he recognized G'Kar instantly from this dream. Apparently many Centauri have these kinds of dreams. I have to wonder - if you know the way you're going to die, and it's not going to be for quite awhile, does that give you a sense of invincibility in the present? After all, you can't die now because your dream wouldn't come true, then. I also have to wonder if anyone has figured out how many of these death-dreams turn out to be accurate. Of course, for our main characters, all of these hints about the future are just teases, letting us put together the pieces of what's to come.

Sinclair has called for an emergency council session regarding the Ragesh 3 attack and pays a visit to Kosh to make sure he's planning on attending. We hear Kosh speak briefly. Delenn can't hold a candle to Kosh for enigmatic statements.

Before the council session, Londo receives devastating news: the Centauri government is not going to take any action against the Narns for the attack. Londo is enraged at what he sees as completely cowardly behavior; we can see it as evidence of how far the Centauri have fallen since the height of their power. He knows that if the advisory council learns that the Centauris are taking no action, there's no chance that any other government will, either. So he goes to the session planning not to reveal this information, in the hopes that if the other governments take action, it will spur the Centauris to do something.

Also before the council session, G'Kar tracks Sinclair down to try to call in a favor. He reminds Sinclair that the Narns were the only power to support Earth during the Earth-Minbari war, selling weapons to Earth. Clearly he thinks that it's only fair now that the Earth Alliance supports the Narns now. Sinclair minces no words telling G'Kar that Earth doesn't owe the Narns anything, since they'll sell weapons to anyone, and that he thinks their attack on Ragesh 3 was cowardly in the extreme.

Sinclair goes to confer with his superior on Earth. The Earth Alliance government does not want to get involved in the the Ragesh 3 matter. Sinclair's boss cites all the usual reasons: we just came out of a war, so we don't want to get involved in a new one; there's an election going on; we can't be everyone's policemen; it's not Earth's fault if our decision means that no one will help the Centauri. Sinclair is convinced that if the Narns are not stopped now, they will get bolder and be even more aggressive. His superior is not convinced and orders Sinclair to abstain from the vote about taking action against the Narns.

Ivanova had just come in to hear the end of Sinclair's orders, but Sinclair has come up with a way of getting around casting a vote he doesn't like. Garibaldi determined that the raiders are likely to strike an inbound ship in just a few hours (it should have cargo, but instead has refugees), so Sinclair takes charge of the mission to rescue the refugees and neutralize the raiders. He tells Ivanova to pretend that he didn't have time to give her the updated orders, so she should run the council meeting and vote in favor of action against the Narn. We can't really tell how Ivanova feels about this, but she agrees.

In the council session, G'Kar quickly takes the floor and announces that he has a transmission waiting for them from Ragesh 3. Londo's nephew appears on the screen, looking much the worse for wear. He reads off a statement saying that because of internal problems on the colony and the lack of response from the Centauri goverment, the colony asked the Narn regime to take control of the colony. It's clear to every experienced diplomat in the room that Londo's nephew was coerced into reading the statement, so Londo's outraged declaration of it is just embarrassing. Even though it's obvious Londo's nephew was under duress, there's no way to prove it, and his statement provides the excuse not to take action that everyone is looking for. After all, taking action now requires equipment, personnel, and money, and may lead to a war which would take more of all that. The Earth Alliance government is not alone in wanting to let sleeping dogs lie, unless they present a danger.

Then G'Kar presents the final blow to Londo's hopes: he reveals that the Centauri goverment has decided not to act, and that Londo failed to tell the council that. Londo is too stunned to come up with any excuse for his omission. The council votes not to take any action against the Narns.

Londo's stunned inaction doesn't last for long, however. He returns to his quarters for a gun, and then heads off to find G'Kar. Talia accidentally bumps into him, and his murderous thoughts overwhelm her defenses against accidental telepathy. She realizes his intentions and quickly notifies Garibaldi. Garibaldi confronts Londo and manages to talk Londo out of his assassination plan. Really, Garibaldi just has to keep Londo still for long enough for Londo's common sense to kick back in - as Garibaldi says, if Londo kills G'Kar, the Narns will certainly kill all the Centauri on Ragesh 3. Londo realizes the truth in this and retires to his quarters.

Meanwhile, Sinclair and the other pilots have found the refugee ship under attack by the raiders. The starfuries drive off the raiders, and a contingent of them escort the refugee ship back to B5. Sinclair and the rest of the starfuries search for the command-and-control ship that they suspect must be there. They successfully disable and board the C-and-C ship.

Upon returning to B5, Sinclair calls G'Kar in to show him what they found: the C-and-C ship was being supervised by a Narn. The Narns had been selling weapons to the raiders, thus enabling them to hit bigger targets. The C-and-C ship also had the communications logs of the Narn ships attacking Ragesh 3, showing that the attack was unprovoked. Sinclair threatens to make this information public unless the Narns withdraw from Ragesh 3. We can see G'Kar come to the realization that Sinclair has won this round, but we get the distinct impression that the Narns aren't finished with their aggression.

Throughout the episode, Talia has been trying to speak to Ivanova, which she is required to do upon assignment, but Ivanova has been avoiding her. Talia finally catches up with her in the casino having a drink. As a thank you for helping them stop Londo's assassination of G'Kar, Ivanova explains herself a bit. She detests the PsiCorps and thus is not comfortable with most telepaths. Her mother was an undiscovered telepath. At 35 years of age, she was discovered by the PsiCorps and give three choices: join the PsiCorps; goto prison; or take drugs to disable her telepathic abilities. Her mother chose the third option, but 10 years of forcibly taking the drugs sent her into a deep depression until she finally committed suicide. Ivanova blames the PsiCorps for her mother's death, although she in reality she should blame the Earth Alliance laws that require a telepath to make one of those three choices. Talia tries to be conciliatory, but Ivanova rebuffs her and leaves.

Small things end the episode. The first is Garibaldi and Delenn watching Garibaldi's "second favorite thing" Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers. This scene is amusing and a little off-putting because of how alien it makes Delenn seem: she clearly doesn't get the humor in the cartoon at all, and doesn't even know what to make of the popcorn that Garibaldi is serving her. The second scene informs us that the incumbent president of the Earth Alliance, Santiago, won re-election. Santiago promises to cut the budget (a prepetual politician's promise), keep Earth out of war, and protect Earth culture from the growing influence of aliens.

This episode is a great re-introduction to the universe of Babylon 5 and it wastes no time setting up a tense situation that is really a microcosm of the political problems that will extend throughout the series.

The on-going conflict (even if it's not actual war) between the Centauri and the Narns mirrors many historical conflicts between cultures or countries here on the Earth. The attack the Narns launched on Ragesh 3 and their later "cover story" for it is just like political and military actions and rhetoric here on the Earth. Not to say that it's boring - on the contrary, it's fascinating. Added to the mix is the fact that alien species have different perspectives on what's important in life and what's ethical or not, which could cause even more conflict.

In this specific case, the long and bloody history between the Narns and Centauri make each side even less willing to back down, although the Centauri government did do so in this case. We see G'Kar almost gleefully telling Londo that "the wheel turns" - in this case, he's hoping the Narn wheel is going to roll right over the Centauri. The freedom the Narns have gained has made them feel like they need to "catch up" to the other major races in terms of power, technology, and territory, which has perhaps made them overlook things like morality. Right now, they are all about the ends and not the means.

So the Narns and G'Kar seem to be bloodthirsty warmongers looking to advance themselves. On the other side, we have Londo, who is apparently the only Centauri of any power who is upset about Ragesh 3. With his nephew's life possibly in the balance, we can understand his urge to kill G'Kar. He repeatedly laments how far the Centauri Republic has fallen - we will see later in the season just how far he'll go to return some of the glory to the Republic.

The Narns have been forced to withdraw from Ragesh 3, but one gets the distinct impression that this is only a temporary setback for them. I feel like their attack on such a pitiful colony was more of a way of testing the waters, to see the reactions not only of the Centauri, but also of the other races. Sinclair seems to be the only major character in the episode who realizes this, although I wonder what Delenn thinks about it.

Interestingly, we saw to major characters try to use cunning to circumvent their governments' orders. In Londo's case, his attempt failed, although he really couldn't have foreseen how the situation completely fell apart. In the case of Sinclair, his attempt would have worked - Ivanova would have voted for action against the Narns if the situation hadn't gone the opposite direction. I wonder if Sinclair might have been able to salvage something if he had been there, but I doubt it. Will Sinclair's subterfuge cause him any problems? Did Ivanova have any qualms going along with it?

Ivanova is one of the new characters, but we only get a bit of a look at her, mostly in terms of her view of the PsiCorps. Right now, she seems pretty uptight - nervous at the new assignment? She doesn't seem to have any past history with Sinclair (unlike her predecessor) - will that be important?

Her story about her mother gives us more information about how telepaths are treated in general. Talia seems perfectly fine with it, but the choices that telepaths are force to make seems pretty extreme to me. Talia says it's to protect the privacy of others, but the forced "registration" of telepaths seems like it may be going too far. Talia's statement that she doesn't feel like a victim of the PsiCorps is critical, because we'll see how her attitude changes over the next two seasons. I have to say that I find the actress that portrays Talia to be absolutely stunning, especially her gorgeous hair. Her clothing is also interesting, kind of a combination of Victoria dress and military dress.

The conversation between Sinclair and Ivanova concerning who could have launched the Ragesh 3 attack is particularly revealing. Sinclair discusses at some length how he thinks the Minbari fight too honorably to have launched a sneak attack. As Ivanova points out, this is an odd attitude for a veteran of the Earth-Minbari war. How and why has Sinclair's feelings toward the Minbari changed? Even during the war, did he think they were generally honorable? One gets the impression that Sinclair also tries to fight honorably, which is something we'll see that the Minbari appreciate in a few episodes. Contrast this to Captain Sheridan's eventual arrival - he's nothing if not sneaky when he has to be. During this conversation, I get the impression that Ivanova doesn't necessarily agree with Sinclair's appraisal of the Minbari, since she shuts down pretty quickly.

Londo's new assistant, Vir, makes his appearance in this episode. He seems like such a cowardly buffoon, futilely wringing his hands about everything and cowering before Londo's tirades. This is one of the aspects about re-watching the series that I love - seeing how the characters start out. Vir in particular changes radically over the course of the series. Of course, being in the crucible will do that to a person.

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