Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 4: "Atonement"

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Episode Information

Title: "Atonement"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Tony Dow
Rating (out of 4 stars): *** 1/2
Reviewed on: January 7, 2010

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


Delenn returns to Minbar to defend her relationship with Sheridan to her clan.

A group of Minbari arrive on the station to retrieve Delenn and take her to Minbar. When she requests a delay of a day, one of the direly advises her to warn Sheridan that she may never return...

Of course, Delenn doesn't tell Sheridan about the purpose of her upcoming trip. She does request that they finish the 3-night ritual of her watching him sleep, saying that they have one night left. (They had one night in Sheridan's quarters last season in "Shadow Dancing", and then one night later on the White Star - I don't recall the specific episode.)

Delenn tries to slip off the station without Lennier, but he suspected she might try this, and catches her before she leaves. She warns him that he might not like what he finds out... gee, things are sounding worse and worse.

On Minbar, Delenn is taken to task by leaders of her clan for going against tradition and proposing to take a non-Minbari for a mate. She even did this without asking her clan's permission! Callenn, who seems to be the clan leader, claims that the rest of her clan must determine the true reasons that Delenn has for choosing Sheridan, possibly reasons that Delenn herself is not aware of. To divine these reasons, Delenn must undergo the Dreaming. Lennier volunteers to be her ritual escort in the process.

Delenn and Lennier each take sips of some kind of liquid and then enter a blank room filled with mist. Lennier has never been in a Dreaming before, but Delenn has, as the escort to Dukhat, the greatest leader of the Minbari. The Dreaming somehow transports Delenn back into specific memories, and Lennier is able to witness them.

Through a number of scenes, we see key parts of Delenn's past. As an acolyte, she escorted Dukhat in the Dreaming, clearly a perfunctory task for someone as capable as him. We witness Dukhat's charm and compassion as he eases the fears of a horribly nervous young Delenn.

Sometime later, Dukhat orders Delenn - still an acolyte - to accompany him to a meeting of the Grey Council. The members are debating whether or not to make contact with a species new on the galactic scene: humans. Dukhat wants to, but the others do not, and he feels that on this issue he cannot just order his will. He puts Delenn on the spot and asks her opinion. First, she says quotes Valen, something to the effect of "know thy enemy", and that it would be better to know what the humans are like, in order to know if they are a threat. Upon prodding by Dukhat, she proceeds to giver her own personal opinion: the universe has presented them with a mystery in the form of humans, so they should check it out.

Dukhat is pleased and proud to have an acolyte embarrass the Grey Council members, even if they won't change their minds. But he knows they might take their annoyance out on Delenn, so he takes her on as his aide. In a nice touch, we learn that Delenn's instruction to Lennier in season one's "The Parliament of Dreams" of "I cannot have an aide who will not look up; you will be forever running into things" first came from Dukhat. (This is especially nice because there's no attention drawn to it - if you remember it from season one, it's a nice connection, but if not, it's amusing in itself.)

We jump forward in Delenn's life to the day when she became a member of the Grey Council herself, with Dukhat looking on proudly. When she is presented with the triluminary, it glows, causing some consternation among the other Grey Council members. (We saw it glow when it was held up to Sinclair when he was taken prisoner on the Minbari ship at the Battle of the Line, which we saw in his memories in season one in "And the Sky Full of Stars".) This is also the day that the first Earth Alliance ship encountered the Minbari Grey Council ship. Delenn recognizes the ship as being human. The Minbari intended to approach in peace, but Dukhat realizes that some of their traditions may be misinterpreted. Before he has a chance to try to caution the ship commanders, the Earth Alliance ships overreact and open fire. (We learned more about this last season in "A Late Delivery from Avalon".)

Even with the superior Minbari ships and weaponry, they are defenseless for the first barrage, and take massive casualties and damage. Dukhat dies in Delenn's arms, whispering something to her. Delenn is overcome with grief and rage. The Grey Council members are divided about whether or not to strike back, and Delenn casts the deciding vote to strike back without mercy. Sometime later during the Earth-Minbari war, Delenn regrets her vote, but the war has taken on the meaning of vengeance for the Minbari, and the other Grey Council members don't feel they can stop it.

Delenn comes out of the Dreaming, and Lennier assures her that his conviction to help her always has not changed, despite her past actions. However, he thinks that the clan members will claim that Delenn is trying to assuage her guilt over the war by mating with Sheridan Delenn doesn't believe that's her purpose, but she'll be forced to tell the clan about the Dreaming, and they may interpret it that way.

Delenn gets the chance to sleep on the meaning of the Dreaming. During the night, she realizes that she missed part of what happened in the dream. She hurries back to the Dreaming facility, gathering Lennier and Callenn both in her wake. They drink the liquid and both join her in the Dreaming. This time, she focuses in on what Dukhat was whispering to her before he died. "There was a purpose in my selection of you. Your heritage. You are a child of Valen." Lennier and Callenn are stunned.

Sometime later, Lennier has dug up some information from the Minbari archives, and he consults with Delenn and Calenn. Delenn is in fact a direct descendant of Valen. They all know that Valen was really Sinclair, who was transformed into a Minbari and taken 1000 years into the past last season in "War Without End, Part 2". Delenn makes the point that since there is already human DNA in many, many Minbari, she cannot "contaminate" the Minbari further by mating with Sheridan. Apparently Valen's true identity is not commonly known, because Callenn doesn't want her to reveal this to the rest of the clan. He concocts another story instead, and Delenn and Lennier implicitly agree not to contradict him. They return to B5.

In a very minor subplot of the episode, Sheridan wants to begin striking back against Clark, and decides that they need information and contacts on Mars to do it. He sends Franklin and Marcus to Mars via an extremely indirect route.

This episode gives some really amazing background into Delenn's past. Since I have watched the series many times, I tend to forget how much we don't know about Delenn's involvement on the Grey Council and in the Earth-Minbari war. We knew she was a student of Dukhat's, but we had no idea that she was basically responsible for putting the war into motion. Humans (such as David McIntyre last season in "A Late Delivery from Avalon") may feel that they were the cause of the war, but we see here that the Minbari response to the initial attack was not inevitable. That attack was ordered, and ultimately Delenn decided to do it. Clearly she was overwhelmed by her emotions at the time, but she was nonetheless responsible. It's no wonder she was able to forgive David McIntyre for his role - she was just as much to blame. She's obviously gotten past that part of her life, but I wonder just how she managed to forgive herself?

I also liked how Delenn's past showed how little things can add up to a big effect:

If Delenn hadn't become such an "expert" on humans, would she have become connected to Kosh and his efforts against the Shadows with the Minbari and on B5? Would she have realized that humans would be a key component to fighting the Shadows? Granted, Dukhat's mentoring of Delenn was not completely random, as he said, but there is still the feeling of small things in the past adding up to big effects in the present time of the series.

It's also interesting to see how Valen's legend has changed over time. Apparently in his own time, he himself was held in high regard, but his immediate descendants were not, because they were not purely Minbari. It's not clear what the Minbari in Valen's time knew about his origins, but they knew he wasn't a pure Minbari. However, that knowledge was lost - perhaps intentionally - and his legend gradually changed to be as Marcus quoted in last season's "War Without End, Part 2": a Minbari not born of Minbari.

There's something both odd and comforting in the fact that Delenn is being taken to task by her clan in this episode. Odd because Delenn is an extremely important and powerful figure among the Minbari: she was a Grey Council member, she broke the Grey Council, and she was one of the leaders in the war against the Shadows which ended that war forever. Surely someone that powerful can do whatever she wants. But at the same time, it's comforting, just because it shows that there really are limits to power, especially for "good guys". Although Delenn did not agree with her clan's rationale, she agreed to abide by its decision; she did not try to take advantage of her importance or political power to simply forgo the Dreaming and questions.

Will Delenn ever tell Sheridan about the Dreaming or the events surrounding them? Given her need-to-know philosophy, I would doubt it. Sheridan seems to have gotten over any animosity toward the Minbari because of the war, but having his fiancee being the one who ordered the war might be too much.

There are lots of good character scenes in this episode. Ivanova attends a Drazi ceremony as part of her green leader responsibilities (from season two's "The Geometry of Shadows") and comes out looking like something the cat dragged in.

Franklin has been working on replacing G'Kar's missing eye with a cybernetic eye, and finally completes the process at the beginning of this episode. G'Kar's reactions to the replacement and the whole situation are pretty humorous, especially when he learns that he can operate the cybernetic eye remotely. Gee, that seems like a set-up for something.... Poor Zack still hasn't gotten used to filling Garibaldi's shoes, and the scene with him getting a fitting for his new "Army of Light" uniform is a hoot. Zack's uniforms have gotten a lot of mileage in the series as a metaphor for his emotional discomfort, now concerning Garibaldi and last season in "Voices of Authority" concerning Nightwatch. Will he ever get a break?

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