Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 3: "Messages from Earth"

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Episode Information

Title: "Messages from Earth"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Mike Vejar
Rating (out of 4 stars): ****
Reviewed on: August 28, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


Sheridan uses the White Star to destroy a Shadow ship the Earthgov has discovered.

Marcus has smuggled onto B5 a woman, Dr. Mary Kirkish, who has crucial information about the Shadows and Earthgov. Dr. Kirkish is beaten up and injured as paid thugs attack them in order to stop her.

Marcus brings Dr. Kirkish to a meeting of the War Council, and from the martial music, we can tell that this is going to be something very big. Dr. Kirkish was a scientist working for Interplanetary Expeditions (IPX) on Mars, exploring possible alien artifact sites. (We've known that IPX was interested in alien artifacts since way back in season 1 in "Infection".) Her team began digging up an alien artifact that had been buried at least 1000 years: a Shadow ship. At the time, no one knew what it was, but now Dr. Kirkish recognizes it from ISN broadcasts of Keffer's starfury video, first released at the end of last season in "The Fall of Night".

When the ship was half-uncovered, Earthgov ordered them to abandon the site. A few of the IPX scientists watched from a distance as another Shadow ship arrived and finished digging out the first ship, and then both ships flew off. Dr. Kirkish says that she and the other witnesses were threatened not to reveal what they saw, then dispersed; one by one, the other witnesses have died or disappeared until only she is left. She's on the run now, but Delenn assures her that she will be taken safely into Minbari space.

Garibaldi says that he accidentally witnessed part of what Kirkish saw (I believe JMS said this was in a comic book; Garibaldi and Sinclair crash-landed on Mars and had to walk to safety.), and when he went back later to investigate, everything was gone except for a beat up Psi Corps pin. This is the first obvious connection that our characters have between the Shadows and the Psi Corps.

But it gets worse. Kirkish says that another Shadow ship has been discovered buried on Ganymede. Somehow she knows that Earthgov is going to try to keep this ship for study instead of calling in the Shadows to retrieve it. Everyone there knows that for the current people in Earthgov to get ahold of Shadow technology would be disastrous. Sheridan needs time to think, and asks everyone except Delenn to leave.

Sheridan reconvenes the War Council later and tells them that he, Delenn, and Lennier will take the White Star to Ganymede to destroy the Shadow ship, hopefully before Earthgov has the chance to do anything with it. As Ivanova points out, as soon as the White Star jumps into the solar system, they will set off the early warning defense system, so they may end up fighting Earth Force. Sheridan is fully aware of the possibilities, but says that it's the only choice. He is leaving Ivanova and Garibaldi on the station to cover for his absence and to arrange a story if he should be killed.

When the White Star arrives in the solar system, they pick up transmissions from the base on Ganymede: a "subject" is approaching the Shadow ship. This is when we learn a crucial piece of information from Delenn about Shadow ships - they need a person to act as their "central core". The ship and the person somehow merge together. Delenn says that if the person is not "properly prepared" (How? We don't know.) then the merging will not be successful and the ship may be disoriented and/or crazy.

Something like that must have happened, because the Shadow ship comes to life and shoots up the base on Ganymede. Sheridan orders the White Star to attack, but they don't have much luck. A concentrated burst of fire power blows off one of the Shadow ship's spines, making it mad enough to begin pursuing the White Star.

Sheridan orders them down into Jupiter's atmosphere, flirting with a depth where the pressure could crush them. He then orders an abrupt retreat, but the Shadow vessel cannot change course in time and is crushed.

Before they can leave Jupiter's atmosphere, the Earth Force ship Agamemnon arrives and begins attacking, assuming that the White Star made the attack on the Ganymede base. Sheridan is loathe to attack an Earth ship, especially the Agamemnon (his old ship), but they don't have many options. Finally, at Delenn's suggestion, they open a jump point at the edge of Jupiter's atmosphere - this is very dangerous, but they manage to jump away. An ISN announcement blames an unidentified alien ship for the attack on Ganymede.

While Sheridan was gone from B5, the Nightwatch has been ramping up their activities. The head Nightwatch person on B5 has told them that very soon now, people very high up in the government and in command positions are going to be revealed as traitors. The Nightwatch is going to be pressing their investigations even more, and the head Nightwatch person is clearly implying that some of B5's command staff may be implicated. Zack Allen is clearly extremely uncomfortable with this, but at the same time, he realizes that he's lost Garibaldi's trust because of his Nightwatch involvement. By the end of the episode, Zack has refused to rat out Garibaldi on anything, but he's clearly teetering between which side is right.

At the end of the episode, we see an ISN announcement that President Clark has declared martial law on Earth.

This excellent episode really gets the ball rolling on a lot of the plots that have been building throughout the series. After the events of this episode and the next few, nothing about the series and characters will be the same again. It's always so much fun to watch it happening again, even when one knows what is going to happen.

First, this episode brings together a lot of the bits of information that we have been gathering through the characters. Previously in "Voices of Authority", we finally had the information regarding Clark's involvement in the assassination of the former President come out. We hear more about that on-going investigation in this episode, including the "new information" from Clark's former doctor (information that we saw our characters gather last season in "Hunter, Prey") saying that Clark wasn't really sick and didn't have to leave Earth Force One before it was destroyed.

Now, added on to that, Kirkish's story and Garibaldi's experience give strong evidence that both the Psi Corps and Earthgov have known about the Shadows for some time (Kirkish's experience was 7 years ago), and may even be cooperating with the Shadows. After all, someone told the Shadows about their ship on Mars and smoothed the way for them to retrieve it without being noticed. This evidence is bolstered by the fact that Earthgov and/or Psi Corps was sending someone into the Shadow ship on Ganymede - they must have known at least a little bit of how the ships work.

Of course, President Clark seems to be trying to deflect and control the outcry against him with the threat of aliens. First, the Shadow ship that has been shown on ISN, and now the White Star's supposed attack on Ganymede. By using the excuse of an alien threat, he has declared martial law, which will also conveniently give him lots of power to crack down on any of his political opponents.

What does the Nightwatch on B5 have planned for Sheridan and the command staff? Clearly they know that the command staff are doing something fishy, but what will they do about it? Now that martial law has been established on Earth, a crackdown on "traitors" not on Earth would seem to be the next logical step. Will anyone on B5 be revealed as a traitor?

A more incidental thought: will the Shadows find out that Earthgov tried to keep one of their ships for study? Will they care, since the ship was lost? The Shadows seem to be manipulating Earthgov for their own purposes, but that doesn't mean that their operatives in Earthgov won't be punished if they get out of hand.

This episode begins to show us Sheridan's moral dilemma and how much it is ripping him apart: he knows now that Earthgov (or at least the people in charge) is working with the Shadows, whom he believes to be the ultimate embodiment of evil, but he also has sworn to obey and protect Earthgov and the chain of command. Knowing what he knows about the Shadows, he has to decide whether he can keep being the good soldier and follow his orders, or if he must act on his knowledge of the corruption in Earthgov and try to stop it. In some senses, he's already made that decisions, since he's formed the War Council and is working with General Hague to try to work against the corruption in Earthgov. But most of the things he's done so far to that end have been relatively small, and sometimes almost outside the scope of his orders, rather than disobeying his orders. He's never done anything like his mission in this episode.

Sheridan and Delenn talk before he tells the others about his decision to go to Ganymede, and we can see him make his decision: he's going to stop the corrupt government on Earth before it destroys humanity. He removes his insignia from his uniform, and I think you can see something inside of him die - perhaps a bit of his idealism. He spends the rest of the episode out of uniform, ostensibly so he can't be identified, but I think it's symbolic of his actions. Thinking ahead to what I know about the series, I have to wonder if he has any idea what is in store for him now that he's decided to go up against Earthgov and Earth Force.

Delenn provides a solid supporting role for Sheridan throughout this episode. When Sheridan tries to sleep on the White Star en route to Ganymede, he tells Delenn a little about his childhood, but we can see that the reality of the mission, what he's about to do, is tearing him up and he's nearly in tears about it. She is able to comfort him and provide the "rain" so that he can rest.

During the fight with the Shadow ship, Sheridan again uses unconventional tactics to destroy the ship, like he did at the beginning of the season in "Matters of Honor". Several times we see Lennier almost shrug, because he has no idea how to react to Sheridan's orders. When the Shadow ship is on the loose, Delenn again seems disbelieving that it could possibly be stopped, although not quite so panicked as she was in "Matters of Honor". It's interesting that when the Shadow ship is dead and they have to worry about the Agamemnon instead, Sheridan can't think of anything to do. It's Delenn who suggests opening the jump point in the atmosphere, which Sheridan takes and puts into a workable plan. I wonder if Delenn had any idea of what was involved with her suggestion, or if she just saw that Sheridan was running on empty and said anything she could think of to inspire him.

There's some other good character stuff in the episode. Ivanova is almost as torn up as Sheridan about the problem in Earth Force and Earthgov, but unlike Sheridan, she isn't out doing anything about it. She takes her frustration out on the willing punching bag of Marcus, who is still try to woo her as best he can. I'm not sure he's making much headway.

A small bit of humor is provided in the episode, when Garibaldi visits G'Kar in the brig. G'Kar still has six weeks left of his incarceration, and he's using the time to write about his experiences with the Narn-Centauri war and what he perceives as the Narn's mistakes and how they can be fixed. Garibaldi tells him the other prisoners have petitioned him to stop singing. This may be a light interlude, but G'Kar's attitude still seems to be one of powerful revelation, as it was at the end of "Dust to Dust". What's he going to do when he's released? Will his book be done?

A last comment: I thought the special effects of Mars' surface were so-so. Somehow the colors just seemed a bit off to me - too orange, or maybe too bright - compared to what we have seen from the Mars rovers on the surface. Of course, since the episode is now 13 years old, I suppose I can cut them some slack. Also, the surface of Ganymede didn't look anything like the images from various fly-bys, except that it was gray.

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