Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 1: "The Gathering"

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Episode Information

Title: "The Gathering"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Richard Compton
Rating (out of 4 stars): **
Reviewed on: January 9, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


When Ambassador Kosh of the Vorlons makes his first appearance on Babylon 5, he is poisoned, and the evidence points to Commander Sinclair as the poisoner.

This episode is the pilot episode for the series and twice as long as normal episodes. Approximately the first half of the episode is devoted to introducing the characters, the other races, and the political situation in the galaxy. I will discuss these briefly subject by subject, rather than following them through in the order of the episode. Babylon 5 is the fifth station built by the Earth Alliance (with some backing by other races, such as the Minbari). The first three stations were destroyed by sabotage during construction, and the fourth disappeared shortly after becoming operational. Even though the mission of Babylon 5 is to promote peace through diplomacy, as well as trade, between the races, there are clearly forces that don't like it.

Commander Jeffrey Sinclair is in command of the station. He seems rather old for a commander and also rather world-weary. He feels very strongly his responsibility of acting as the Earth Alliance representative on the station, so he's careful to be diplomatic. He has hand-picked some of his officers, since he worked with them before.

Sinclair met his second-in-command, Lt. Commander Laurel Takashima, while posted to duty on Mars during very troubled times. Sinclair took Takashima under his wing and got her back on the straight and narrow discipline of Earth Force. Now she plays everything by the book.

The head of security is Chief Michael Garibaldi. He and Sinclair clearly have history, although we haven't found out about it yet. Garibaldi is considered by others as a screw-up, but Sinclair thinks he's the right person for the head of security because he's got good instincts and he's not afraid of anyone's status when he's looking for the truth.

The head of the medical facilities is Dr. Benjamin Kyle. Honestly, I never caught much of his background and didn't care too much since he'll be replaced in the next episode. That's OK by me, as I thought the actor portraying Kyle did not do a very good job - every line was a pronouncement.

The telepath assigned to the station, Lyta Alexander, arrives as the episode begins. This is our first news that humans have confirmed telepathy in the future. Wondering why we don't have (confirmed) telepathy now? That's going to be explained over the course of the series. Over the episode, we learn that there are lots of rules governing telepaths and the use of telepathy. What a telepath reads from a person's mind is not admissable in court. Telepaths cannot "scan" people without due process or orders from an authority. Telpaths can read thoughts more easily if they touch the other person, so they wear gloves at all times. Not everyone is comfortable with telepaths; Garibaldi tells Sinclair, "I don't trust telepaths, and I never will." We see that Lyta can be employed by businessmen who wish to ensure that the people they bargain with are telling the truth.

Three of the other major races already have representatives in place on Babylon 5 when the episode begins. The Minbari are an older race, and the are represented by Delenn. Delenn seems to have developed a friendship with Sinclair, who accepts Delenn's circumlocutions and enigmatic statements with good grace. Their friendship is somewhat unexpected, since we learn that a war between the Earth Alliance and the Minbari ended less than 10 years ago. Even though the Minbari were crushing Earth's forces, they surrendered to Earth at the last minute, causing all kinds of speculation. Sinclair was serving in Earth Force at the time of the war, but he seems to have gotten over any animosity toward Minbari.

The Centauri are a race that seems to be in decline. They had a large empire, but now their power is slipping away from them. The Centauri ambassador, Londo Mollari, seems to be washed up and lives only to gamble and drink. The Centauri were the first alien race that Earth encountered, and Londo admits that now the Centauri are trying to latch on to Earth's ascendance in the galaxy.

The Narn are a reptilian-looking race. Until relatively recently, they were under occupation by the Centauri. Now that they are free, they are trying to "make up" for what they missed while they were enslaved. They are rapidly expanding their holdings and have great and understandable animosity toward the Centauri. Their amabassador, G'Kar, has a pretty smooth tongue and can "spin" issues quite well. We find out that the Narns are the only race without telepaths; G'Kar propositions Lyta to pay her to mate with him in order to add her genetic material to theirs in the hopes of generating telepaths. (Lyta is pretty horrified and declines.)

The final race is the Vorlons. Very little is known about them by any of the other races. They do not leave their own territory much in order to interact with the other races. When their amassador, Kosh, arrives, we find that he must stay in an "encounter suit", since he cannot breath their atmosphere.

As the episode begins, preparations are underway to receive Kosh with all due pomp and circumstance. (We also most of the background I described above.) A Narn trade ship has refused to allow a required weapons search, giving G'Kar a chance to complain loudly, but eventually the search is allowed. It has to be delayed, though, because Kosh arrives earlier than expected.

After some time while Kosh's ship docks, Sinclair heads to the docking bay to join Takashima and Garibaldi in welcoming Kosh aboard. Afterward, they are to escort Kosh to an official reception. Sinclair is delayed by some kind of power failure in the turbolift, holding up the proceedings. When the door to the docking bay opens, Kosh is on the floor (in his encounter suit); apparently he was attacked.

Kosh is taken to medlab, but Takashima says that the Vorlon government complete forbade them from removing Kosh's encounter suit, even though Kyle has prepared a chamber with Kosh's atmosphere. Sinclair orders Kyle to open the suit as necessary, nonetheless, but he also orders all recording devices turned off. Kyle agrees not to reveal what he sees. After some work, Kyle is able to somewhat stabilize Kosh, but his life signs are gradually declining and he will die in some 12 hours. The problem is that Kyle doesn't know for certain what is wrong with Kosh. He thinks Kosh has been poisoned, but doesn't know how or with what.

Sinclair orders Babylon 5 to be closed down, with no ships coming or going, until they find the assassin. He orders Garibaldi to start an investigation immediately. An attempted assassination could cause problems politically, and Kosh's death while in Earth's hands could start a war. Garibaldi's first suspicion is to check on Londo, because the ambassador had missed their meeting. Londo claims he was still gambling. Garibaldi knows Londo was out of money, but Londo says that a human named Del Varner promised to back him and then disappeared. We had seen Del Varner on and off earlier in the episode.

G'Kar knows that Kosh's death could be a catalyzing event for galactic politics. He visits Delenn's quarters with his own suspicions about Londo and proposes that the Narn Regime and the Minbari ally. Delenn refuses in uncharacteristically undiplomatic terms. In anger, G'Kar begins taunting her race's weakness and how they surrendered to Earth in the war on the eve of victory. When G'Kar mentions the Minbari ruling body, the Grey Council, Delenn uses a device on G'Kar to simulate high gravitational force until he agrees not to mention the Grey Council again. This is the first scene to show us that Delenn has some teeth, despite her somewhat placid demeanor.

Meanwhile, Takashima and Kyle cook up the illegal plan to get Lyta to scan Kosh to find out who the assassin is. The Vorlons would not allow a telepath to scan Kosh, and Earth Alliance rules forbid it without permission. Nonetheless, they talk Lyta into it with the threat of possible war if Kosh dies. Lyta has some trouble initially reaching Kosh's mind, but when she does, she sees the attack as if it happened to herself. She sees Sinclair alone welcoming "her" onto the station, and when Sinclair goes to shake hands, he slaps something onto Kosh's hand.

In reality, Lyta is frantic to get away from the vision and finally snaps out of it. She tells Kyle the poison was administered on the hand, and then Sinclair walks into medlab just in time for her to dramatically pronounce that he's the assassin. This scene is just a bit over the top - the actress portraying Lyta doesn't do a very good job here, I don't think.

Because Lyta's scan wasn't regulation and her declaration is not admissible evidence, Sinclair and the other officers only make known that a "witness" has come forward identifying Sinclair. The government agency on Earth that oversees Babylon 5 operations wisely takes Sinclair off the assassination investigaton and puts Takashima in charge. Everyone except Sinclair protests this - I suppose they do this because they believe in Sinclair, but the conflict of interest if they left him in charge is way too big. In fact, since Takashima and Garibaldi previously served with Sinclair, I would think they have a conflict of interest, too. At any rate, the change seems pro forma only, because Sinclair still sticks his nose into the investigation, and Takashima and Garibaldi still listen to his suggestions.

Babylon 5 has an "advisory council" that decides major issues between the different races. Each of the major races' ambassadors make up the council: Sinclair for Earth (now represented by Takashima), Delenn, Londo, G'Kar, and Kosh. The council meets to decide what to be done about Sinclair. G'Kar questions Kyle and then Sinclair with zeal, pointing out that the type of poison used on Kosh can only be found in a certain region of space - where Sinclair's girlfriend, Carolyn Sykes, just returned from. (Carolyn is a trader.) Londo looks half asleep during the process. The council recesses to vote; shortly thereafter we see G'Kar approach Londo to discuss the vote. Garibaldi is still trying to track down Del Varner, who had been sighted (by us included) after the assassination attempt, but now he can't find. Varner is a criminal with a long record, including attempted technology smuggling. He finally track Varner to his quarters, where he finds Varner dead. Kyle's analysis of the body reveals that Varner has been dead for some time, certainly longer than many recent sightings of him.

When the advisory council reconvenes, G'Kar proposes that Sinclair and all evidence and witnesses be sent to the Vorlon homeworld for trial and judgment. He and Londo vote in favor of the proposition; G'Kar bribed Londo. Delenn abstains, and Takashima votes against. Oddly, Takashima pronounces this as a deadlock, two to two, when it seems like it's two to one. Perhaps she means that a majority of the votes must be in favor? At any rate, G'Kar announces that he contacted the Vorlon homework for their vote, and they also vote in favor. Sinclair must be shipped off within 12 hours.

Later we see Sinclair agitated in his quarters. Carolyn arrives and for the first time finds out that Sinclair was in the Battle of the Line - the last battle of the Earth-Minbari war. She's incredulous that he never mentioned it, but he said he didn't want to talk about it.

Apparently he wants to talk about it now, because he describes how the Minbari had driven Earth Force back to Earth, and all available ships were put into orbit around the Earth as a final defense. The soldiers involved all knew it was a suicide mission. As he describes the battle, it's almost hypnotic. "They came at us out of howhere, we never had a chance. The sky was full of stars, every star an exploding ship. One of ours. My team was blown out of the sky in less than a minute." He describes how his fighter was irreparably damaged, so he decided to ram a Minbari cruiser and take it with him. Then he blacked out, and when he came to a day later, the war was over and the Minbari had surrendered. Carolyn repeats what is presumably the public story: the Minbari surrendered because of the defense of the Line. But Sinclair knows the truth: the Line couldn't possibly have stopped them. The Minbari surrendered for some reason that no one except them knows. And Sinclair still doesn't know what happened to him while he was unconscious.

As the conversation goes on, Carolyn realizes that Sinclair still feels guilty for living while the rest of his men died on the Line. He also feels like he can't defend himself from the accusations because he can't do anything to endanger Earth politically. Carolyn cuts into him and tells him that he needs to fight back, and everyone on the station wil support him. Sinclair seems to have new resolve and gets to work. Meanwhile, the plot is thickening. We had learned in bits and pieces that there was a small craft outside the station that had latched onto the station. It's finally discovered, and Garibaldi and Sinclair deduce that it brought one person to the station and cut through the hull so the person could get on board. In another scene, we see G'Kar and Lyta talking covertly, and Lyta seems much more friendly with G'Kar than during their previous encounter.

We later see Lyta goto medlab and ask Kyle about Kosh's condition. Kyle should be able to heal Kosh in several hours, but he's not sure it will be in time. While Kyle talks, Lyta changes the settings on various pieces of equipment, eventually setting of an alarm as Kosh's condition suddenly deteriorates. When Kyle reacts, Lyta belts him - obviously someone appears to be Lyta, since Lyta couldn't be that strong. Without hesitating, Kyle takes some kind of medical laser and shoots it at her, injuring her. As she flees, she shoots at the real Lyta and Sinclair, who are approaching.

Takashima has gotten into Varner's locked files and discovered that he brought a changeling net onto the station. A changeling net projects a hologram around a person, perfecly mimicking the appearance of another person. However, the net takes concentrates a large amount of power in a small space, so it has rather detrimental effects on the wearer. The officers now realize that someone in a changeling net that appeared to be Sinclair is the actual assassin. Sinclair orders Takashima to scan for unusual power sources inside the station, which tracks down the person with the changeling net.

Sinclair and Garibaldi gear up with body armor, heavy weapons, and a recorder to track down the assassin, who is in a sparsely-populated support level. The assassin immediately opens fire on them, wounding Garibaldi. Sinclair goes on, but has to double back to help Garibaldi after the assassin dumps Garibaldi in an alien-atmosphere area. Sinclair is having trouble maneuvering Garibaldi when Delenn appears out of nowhere and hauls Garibaldi to safety.

Outside the station, a Vorlon fleet has arrived to pick up Sinclair. They become increasingly unhappy at having to wait; Takashima orders the station's defenses online at their threat of attack. She has Sinclair's recorder signal sent to them so they can see what Sinclair is up to.

Sinclair catches up to the assassin, who is much stronger than him in hand-to-hand combat. Sinclair gets a lucky break to throw him at some electrified equipment, which electrocutes the assassin and kills the changeling net. The assassin is a male Minbari, who tells Sinclair, "There is a hole in your mind." Then he sets off a bomb implanted inside him. Sinclair orders the level sealed off and barely manages to escape being trapped in the level.

The bomb is contained to that level, but blows a hole in the outer hull. The force of the explosion knocks that end of the station off-kilter. This is a very realistic consequence. The station is rotating like a spinning top; imagine pushing one end of a spinning top - the top will begin to wobble. In this case, the station is not built to take the stress of "wobbling", plus the changing gravitational forces on different parts of it from the planet it is orbigin would stress it even more. Takashima and the bridge crew manage to use the station's array of thrusters to stabilize them.

Now that Sinclair is evidently innocent, the Vorlons drop any accusations. The antidote to Kosh's poison is successful, and sometime later the reception to welcome Kosh finally takes place. Delenn apologizes to Sinclair that a Minbari was the assassin. She gives Sinclair background information on the assassin, promising Sinclair that he'll find it interesting.

At the end of the episode, Sinclair invites G'Kar to his quarters for a drink. From Delenn's information and what Garibaldi discovered, Sinclair has pieced together the sequences of events. G'Kar hired an assassin. The assassin (on a Narn trading ship) was supposed to get the changeling net from Varner before coming to B5 so he could enter the station unknown, but a scheduling mishap meant that Varner came to the station first. Thus, the small ship that attached to the station's hull was used to bring the assassin aboard. The assassin then killed Varner and tried to kill Kosh.

All of this goes together well, but as G'Kar says, Sinclair has no proof. Sinclair agrees that this is true, but he won't let G'Kar endanger the welfare of the station again, so he's done something on his own initiative. He put a nanotransmitter in G'Kar's drink; now that G'Kar has swallowed it, it should have attached itself in G'Kar's intestine. The transmitter will allow Sinclair (and friends) to track down G'Kar, so if he ever threatens the station again, they'll find him. Sinclari pulls out a little remote control, which beeps when he points it at G'Kar.

G'Kar is outraged and storms out. In the hall, he passes by Garibaldi and Londo - Garibaldi smirks and G'Kar and says, "Beep beep!" This only confuses Londo and horrifies G'Kar. Sinclair tells Garibaldi that there really isn't a transmitter - if there was, eventually it would be found and removed. This way, G'Kar's innards will be probed indefinitely looking for it. I have to say that this is one of the funniest jokes I've seen on TV. And at this point, we really feel that G'Kar deserves it. End of story: Babylon 5 is now open for business.

Honestly, this episode isn't that great. Taken on its own, the acting in particular is rather bad. I watched this pilot when it first aired and didn't bother following up for the rest of the series until years later. What's good about the pilot now, having seen the rest of the series, is going back and seeing what everything was like in the beginning, knowing how things will change.

As I said, I didn't care for a lot of the acting. The actress portraying Lyta was so-so - fortunately she improved for seasons 3 - 5. The portrayal of Takashima was absolutely wooden, so I was glad that this character did not return after the pilot. As I mentioned previously, I also didn't care for the portrayal of Kyle. The portrayal of Sinclair grows on me after awhile. Garibaldi's portrayal is pretty good right from the start, although I always marvel at how young, innocent, and happy he is when the series begins.

The special effects in the series have always been a mixed bag for me. I appreciate the realistic manner in which the motions of the spaceships are done. However, the colors in the CGI effects never looked quite right to me. I get used to them, though.

The assassin plot in the episode was well done, and the audience was carefully clued in to the pieces along the way. What's more interesting about the episode is all the bits that were left hanging.

We did find out about the assassin, who employed him, and something about the reasons for the assassination and framing of Sinclair. But there are some unanswered parts. For example, why wasn't Sinclair's delay in the turbolift recorded by the computer? The implication is that the computer records were changed. G'Kar, the Minbari assassin, and Varner couldn't have done this, so someone in the station's crew must have been involved. (See the link to the Lurker's Guide for this episode to get the detailed analysis of this.)

A number of unanswered questions involve Delenn. Why is she so helpful to Sinclair, going out of her way twice to provide him with privileged information? Why did she inadvertently tell Carolyn she was only supposed to observe Sinclair? Why did she get so upset when G'Kar mentioned the Grey Council? How did she know to go help Sinclair and Garibaldi when they were tracking down the assassin?

Kosh's makeup, for want of a better word, in this episode is at odds with what we learn about Vorlons later in the series. Vorlons are noncorporeal beings. How could Kosh have a "hand" - which we even saw in Lyta's vision? How could a noncorporeal being be poisoned? For that matter, why does a noncorporeal being need a specific atmosphere?

The last question is relatively easy to answer - they don't. The poisonous atmosphere and encounter suit make it hard for other people to see the actual Vorlon. Apparently the Vorlons want to hide their appearance, which also explains why they wouldn't allow Kyle to open the encounter suit. Kyle didn't say what he saw, but apparently it was transcendent.

The other questions, about how Kosh could have a "body", are harder to answer. Again, knowing about events later in the series, I wonder if this is some kind of setup by the Vorlons to set in motion specific events later on. After all, Kosh greeted the fake Sinclair as "Entil'zha Valen", which doesn't make sense until several seasons from now.

Overall, knowing what I know now, this episode is ripe with future opportunities. Even without that, the idea of a Babylon 5 station with all the different races jockeying for power is interesting.

Return to my Babylon 5 reviews page.