Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 2: "And Now for a Word"

Warning: all of my reviews contain spoilers.

If you have any comments on this review, please email me at the address at the bottom.

Episode Information

Title: "And Now for a Word"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Mario DiLeo
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: June 1, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


An ISN (Interstellar Network News) reporter spends 36 hours on B5.

This episode is presented entirely from the "outside" point of view, as a special program on ISN. An ISN reporter, Cynthia Torqueman, spent 36 hours on B5 to see where all Earth Alliance's money is going, since the B5 program has become more and more unpopular.

As the reporter's ship waits to dock at B5, a Narn ship and a Centauri ship confront each other outside B5, and the Narn ship destroys the Centauri ship. Thus, Torqueman gets far more drama than she could have hoped for as she gets to observe all the politics and posturing on the station after the incident. Initially, she only gets to observe the chaos of the treatment of the survivors and the unwillingness of B5 staff to disclose any information.

Torqueman's initial interviews with Londo and G'Kar (separately) show their expected reactions: Londo says the attack was unprovoked. G'Kar says Londo is lying, but won't provide specifics. The experience of each ambassador with Earth and humans is obvious. Londo knows to invoke the human ideals of searching for peaceful solutions and friendship with Earth. G'Kar is much less polished and doesn't put any spin on his response. With G'Kar much more "alien" appearance, it would be easy to see the typical human empathizing more with Londo than G'Kar. Later, G'Kar announces that his government states that the Centauri ship was transferring weapons of mass destruction to other ships at the station, and the Narn will not allow such transfers to continue.

Torqueman does a series of interviews with B5 staff, which give us a bit of a glimpse into their lives. Eduardo Delvientos (the union worker from season 1's "By Any Means Necessary") says working on B5 is just a job. Corwin, a junior officer on the bridge, says it's a pleasant working environment, after shooting Ivanova a look, which is a hoot. Sheridan says that the dramatic changes in B5 since it became operational (such as the change in command) are to be expected in any military situation. Franklin, who is just coming off of a marathon session of attending wounded Centauri, talks depressingly about how easy it is to die in space. Garibaldi says he hopes he could go through one day being completely bored, which means nothing bad has happened.

Torqueman then cuts to an interview with Senator Quantrell, the chairman of the B5 Senate Oversight Committee. Quantrell doesn't have much to say in favor of B5, except that the late President Santiago believed in the project. Quantrell thinks that the feelings that lead to B5 after the Earth-Minbari War have gone away, since Earth has rebuilt its forces to a higher level to where they were pre-war. Apparently in his view, that means we no longer need to try to find peaceful solutions to disagreements. It's quite enjoyable when Torqueman show's Quantrell's comments to Sheridan, who shoots them down, saying that Earth still doesn't have the level of technology needed in the event of another major war. One might think Sheridan would temper his words a bit more, since Quantrell presumably has some control over B5.

Torqueman's interview with Delenn is sadly painful. After brief pleasantries, Torqueman asks Delenn how she thinks humans who had relatives killed in the war would feel about her transformation into a human-Minbari hybrid. Delenn repeats her standard line about hoping for a better understanding between humans and Minbari. Torqueman says that she thinks humans would be hurt and offended to see a Minbari, who killed their family, now having a human face. Delenn loses her composure and asks to end the interview, but typical of human journalist desire for the "story", Torqueman keeps filming. Delenn is certainly taking a lot of time to adjust to her new position and its effects on others, as we saw in the last episode ("There All the Honor Lies") - not everyone is seeing her transformation as positively as she intended it. However, her near tears may make her more sympathetic to some humans; any Minbari who happened to see the video probably shuddered at her looking so weak to other races.

A special session is convened of the Advisory Council, and Torqueman gets to observe. G'Kar announces the results of the station's investigation of the Centauri ship debris: the ship was carrying fusion bombs and other equipment for weapons of mass destruction. Sheridan says that he has already protested to the Centauri government about the danger to the station, and the fact that B5 is neutral territory and will not be used for weapons transfers.

Londo counters that the transfers happened outside the station, ship to ship, so the danger was minimal. He says that Centauri ships can carry any cargo they wish. G'Kar demands to impound the Centauri ships currently outside the station to search for weapons, which Londo refuses, threatening that the ships will defend themselves with force. This discussion becomes moot when Ivanova reports that the Narn and Centauri ships outside the station have already begun fighting.

B5's fighters have launched to try to stop the battle. However, the Narn and Centauri ships begin firing on them, as well, in what becomes nearly a free-for-all. B5's fighters get the upper hand and destroy, disable, or accept the surrender of the other ships.

Torqueman plays video of interviews she did with G'Kar and Londo about their history leading to the current Narn-Centauri war. In this interview, G'Kar was surely coached, because he appears much more sympathetic and tells a story of his slave father that certainly would resonate with the the histories of slavery in the US before the Civil War. He denies Torqueman's statements that the Narn have been fighting a losing war as Centauri propaganda.

But then we see Londo's version of history, and it also seems sympathetic, as he describes the Centauri meeting the Narn and trying to civilize them, only to be paid back with violence. The galling part of Londo's story is that he says they left the Narn because it became to expensive to keep up the occupation - as if one could put a price on civilization. He then blames the Narns for starting the war. He has an ironic line, correcting Torqueman's statement: "Please. The Narn have rewritten history enough, don't you think?" Just who is rewriting history here?

The current situation escalates even further when a Centauri battle cruiser jumps into B5 space, intending to blockade B5 until the remaining Centauri ships return to B5 intact. A closed session of the Advisory Council is held, but Torqueman is unsuccessful in getting any information about the proceedings after the session breaks up.

Sheridan tells the Centauri battle cruiser that they will not submit to Centauri demands and will defend and other ships in the vicinity as necessary. He orders an automated transport ship to head for the jumpgate to see if the Centauri really will attack it. The Centauri back down and let the ship through, but before any negotiations can happen, a Narn battle cruiser jumps into the neighborhood. The Narn cruiser immediately attacks the Centauri cruiser. After a brief fight, the Centauri cruiser is destroyed, but when the Narn cruiser tries to jump back into hyperspace, it explodes from its own damage. In Senator Quantrell's opinion, this incident demonstrates exactly the problem with B5: by setting itself up between the other races, it risks drawing Earth Alliance into conflicts that don't involve it.

Torqueman finishes the special with quick interviews asking if B5 is worth it. Garibaldi gives an unequivocal "yes", pointing out how they found the evidence that the Centauri were transporting weapons, and now they can try to stop it. Londo says "yes" and expounds about the Narn's violent response to the "peaceful" protest by the Centauri. G'Kar isn't sure if it's worth it. Delenn makes points with humans by saying that B5 is worth it, because only humans build communities like B5, which is a gift. Franklin says "yes", because look at all the lives they've saved today by being here. Sheridan says "yes", because B5 needs to create the peace, which would make people's lives having meaning.

This episode is very different from any prior episode since it has the outsider's view. We are seeing the events on B5 from the perspective of a news reporter who doesn't know the people involved, or possibly even the politics involved. In some ways, this makes the episode more objective, in the sense that we are only seeing the public events that occur, which emphasizes the conflict, violence, and death. In other ways, this makes the episode more subjective, in that the ISN reporter "chose" what footage to show, who she would interview, and how she would make the "story" progress. To be honest, I do think that Torqueman was reasonably fair in her reporting, showing both Sheridan's pro-B5 views, and Quantrell's anti-B5 views. Perhaps some analysis of the reasons behind both persons views would be in order, but we don't get that in news shows today, so why should we expect that here?

I am glad, however, that this episode's manner of presentation was novelty not soon to be repeated, because the news story point of view robbed the show of its strongest aspects: knowing the characters and seeing "behind the scenes" to what motivates them and how they really feel. We get to know the B5 command staff, and want them to succeed. We get to see Londo's funny side and then mourn when he chooses the wrong path. We get to see G'Kar mature into a real leader. Since this episode didn't have that depth, it really did just feel like a news story. In fact, it's amazing how the politics and posturing, especially by Londo and G'Kar, could have come straight out of the present day - and I thought that 10 years ago when I first saw the episode, as well as today.

This episode also does a lot in escalating the Narn-Centauri war. The Centauri aren't moving around weapons of mass destruction just for fun - where will they be used, and when? How much of the fighting on the Centauri side is now being done by the Centauri rather than the Shadows? We haven't heard Narn survivors talking about strange ships, so the Centauri must be doing some of it themselves. Also, even though G'Kar claims that Torqueman's statement that the Narn have been losing is nonsense, how could it be otherwise? Even if the Shadows are not doing all the fighting for the Centauri, they certainly could be providing supplies, transportation, weapons, or ambushes.

How did Senator Quantrell get to be the head of the committee overseeing B5? I would guess that he's very much against B5, and wants to be in charge of it to either make sure it's not "misused" or to make sure it doesn't go over budget. His attitude is very isolationist, similar to the US before World War II. Does he really think that the victor of the Narn-Centauri war is going to leave Earth Alliance alone? Maybe he does, given that he seems to think Earth military technology is comparable or superior to the Narn's and the Centauri's. Sadly, though, his attitude is just as short-sighted as many politicians' today. Although I will admit that spending the money and resources to help aliens (not just humans from another country) when there are problems on Earth is hard to justify. If we didn't know the whole story - that the Shadows are behind the Centauri - then we might dismiss the war and its ramifications as well.

The only "commercial" we get in the episode is for the Psi Corps. It's incredibly cheesy, but given the commercials on TV today, very plausible. Like Bester pushed in "A Race Through Dark Places", the Psi Corps is a surrogate family for growing telepaths. I have to admit, the benefits are great: a job, health care, education, etc., for life.

This episode is a good setup for a similar episode that will take place in the fourth season. Here, the ISN reporter is relatively objective about B5, but in the fourth season we will see that that objectivity is completely absent.

Return to my Babylon 5 reviews page.