Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 4: "No Surrender, No Retreat"

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Episode Information

Title: "No Surrender, No Retreat"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Mike Vejar
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: January 30, 2010

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


Sheridan begins the fight to take back Earth.

The civilian murders by Clark's forces revealed at the end of the last episode ("Moments of Transition") has caused Sheridan to put his plans into high gear. He calls an Advisory Council meeting. During the meeting, he says that the new price for White Star fleet patrolling borders and dealing with raiders is that all of the treaties the various worlds have with Earth Alliance are null and void. There is a bit of an uproar at the bluntness of this edict, but G'Kar quickly speaks up in agreement. He points out that despite all of those treaties, Earth Alliance did nothing for any of them during the war with the Shadows.

Sheridan asks that each world send one ship to be put on a schedule to defend B5, but otherwise he tells the other worlds to keep out of the fight between B5 and Earth Alliance. He tells them not help Earth Alliance except in the form of humanitarian aid.

And what is Sheridan's first goal? To take back Proxima 3, a colony that had declared independence in protest of Clark's policies last season in "Severed Dreams". Since then, Earth Force has been blockading them and bombing them. At this point, the colony is running out of food and supplies, so ships are desperately trying to leave, only to be shot down by Earth Force. Marcus brings intelligence the Rangers have gathered on the specific ships blockading the colony. In particular, some of the ships may be ambivalent about Clark's orders and willing to leave the field or change sides. In a somewhat ambiguous conversation, Sheridan orders Franklin to get as many of the frozen telepaths (from last season's "Ship of Tears") as mobile as possible for some action in the future.

Sheridan's tactics for the attack are pretty canny. First, he has drawn any possible supporting ships away by sending White Stars to pop in and out of hyperspace around Earth and Mars, signaling a possible attack there. Then he has divided the White Stars he is leading for the attack into three groups so that they can "surround" the Earth Force ships.

Captain Hall is in command of the Earth Force ships around Proxima 3. When the first White Star ships jump into the space around the colony, he recognizes them as Sheridan's forces, even though he's never seen one in person. He orders two of his ships to engage the White Stars. Then the second group of White Stars jumps into the area, and Hall orders other ships to engage.

Captain Macdougan of the Vesta is an old friend of Sheridan's, so when Sheridan sends a message giving the fleet around Proxima 3 the ultimatum of leaving or being destroyed, Macdougan responds (against orders). This is a fun scene, because Hall gets so ticked off at Macdougan, but when he has his first officer track Sheridan's signal, he finds out that there's a third group of White Star ships that are about to arrive. Sheridan and Macdougan argue about the legality of Clark's orders, but Hall puts an end to the discussion by firing first.

The fight is fierce, with numerous damaged ships and casualties on both sides. Macdougan refuses to order his ship to fire, so Hall orders Macdougan's first officer to relieve Macdougan of command. By the end of the fight, of the six capital Earth Force ships, one is destroyed and two jump away to hyperspace. Macdougan's crew rebels against their first officer and puts Macdougan back in command, and he accepts Sheridan's offer to surrender. One of the other remaining ships also surrenders. Hall's ship is severely damaged and further fighting would result in destruction, but Hall refuses to surrender. His first officer decides that she can't let Hall kill his crew for no reason when an offer of surrender has been given, so she relieves him of command and surrenders.

Sheridan invites the captains of the three ships to his White Star ship for talks. He tries to convince them that Clark's orders have been illegal, so as Earth Force officers they are obliged not to follow them. As Macdougan says, it's a fine distinction. Sheridan gives them three options for their ships and crews: return to Earth Force; remain around Proxima 3 and defend it against any further retribution from Clark; join Sheridan's forces in deposing Clark. After some private discussion, one of the ships returns to Earth, one remains at Proxima 3, and two join Sheridan's forces, including Macdougan.

This episode really gets Sheridan's campaign against Earth moving quickly. Despite the fierce battle, I almost felt like it was too easy for Sheridan to take Proxima 3 - it almost makes me ask what took Sheridan so long to get moving if it was going to be so easy. However, this feeling is very deceptive. First, we have numerous scenes with Sheridan and the others realistically angsting over attacking their own comrades. Sheridan and Ivanova give several carefully prepared speeches to their own pilots about just this. So I think it's very realistic that the distaste for fighting against Earth Force would make Sheridan procrastinate in starting the fight. Also, I think the battle at Proxima 3 was relatively easy because Clark's forces had no idea Sheridan was going to start fighting now... Sheridan even comments on this after the battle.

Sheridan does a couple things here that I haven't decided if they are clever or just lucky. First, Sheridan uses the other worlds' dependence on the White Star patrols to get them to agree to end their alliances with Earth Alliance. When Sheridan was originally putting together the patrols in "Conflicts of Interest", did he have any plans to use the possibility of withdrawing the patrols as a goad? At the time, he pushed it as being purely in the interests of the safety of the other worlds, but now he's been able to use the patrols to benefit his own cause. The other worlds might not be so willing to sign on for something that seems to be for their benefits only if they suspect that future strings will be attached.

On the other hand, Sheridan asked very little of the other worlds, since the treaties with Earth Alliance hadn't been useful to them anyway - as G'Kar pointed out. He could have asked them to loan ships to help fight Earth, but he specifically told them he didn't want to.

The second thing that Sheridan did that might have been clever is to allow some of the captured Earth Force ships at Proxima 3 to return to Clark. At first glance, this seems foolish, because Sheridan is in essence returning officers and ships to Clark to fight against him again later. Why not keep the ships, at least, and use them himself? Upon further thought, I begin to think this might have been a very clever move on Sheridan's part. The ship and crew that left is apparently still loyal to Clark, but even so, they will return with information and stories about Sheridan that are very unlike what Clark is saying. Sheridan wasn't some monomaniacal killer that wiped them all out; Sheridan had very calm discussions with the captains; Sheridan was not surrounded by an enemy fleet (although that point might be lost since the White Stars are not Earth-made). Once back with Clark's forces, that information will spread, and may help pro-Sheridan sentiment in Earth Force. Sheridan will have to be careful in the future of allowing ships to join him, as some could be spies for Clark.

We see in this episode some of the additional ambiguities that will be present in the war since Earth Force is fighting against Earth Force. The obvious reluctance to fire upon one's comrades has already been mentioned. We also see here the distrust that is pervading Earth Force. Sheridan's defection (mutiny?) from Earth Force has opened up the possibility of mutiny to other officers. And that in turn shows just how crucial it is for a military to have a solid chain of command with no one questioning orders. Macdougan refused to fight, so his first officer was given the job, only to have the crew mutiny and return Macdougan to the captaincy. An effective military cannot have this kind of "mob rule" - what captain could order his crew to fight if he thought they might change their minds in the middle and mutiny?

Interestingly, it was only Clark's ships that had these problems. Sheridan has done a good job making sure his own command staff (at least) have the same views as him and so they won't change their minds in the middle of things. On the other hand, the captains of Clark's ships apparently didn't have such a good feel for their own command staffs, or they couldn't do anything about it, if Clark was putting his own people into specific positions. For example, Macdougan's first officer may have been put into the job precisely because he was ambitious enough to jump on any disloyalty by Macdougan in order to further his own career. This whole idea would make distrust among crews rampant and really detract from the effectiveness of the military.

There were some nice character scenes in the episode. After the Advisory Council meeting, Londo visited G'Kar's quarters. We're not sure what his purpose is at first, because he starts by revisiting "old times", such as G'Kar being imprisoned on Centauri Prime. This scene is extremely awkward - as it should be - with Londo starting out rather meekly and G'Kar hardly bothering to listen to him. As Londo goes on, we can finally see he's trying to show G'Kar that they are alike - they have both suffered for their people, and they are both patriots. G'Kar scorns Londo's "suffering", and finally Londo gets to his point. He has realized he needs to be a better friend, and both he and G'Kar are friends to the humans. To that end, he has convinced the Centauri government to put their full support behind Sheridan, and he asks that G'Kar do the same so they can put out a joint statement to that effect.

Londo tries to seal this idea with a drink in return for the drink G'Kar tried to buy Londo in season 2 in "The Coming of Shadows" just before the war between them started. G'Kar refuses, and Londo leaves. It must have been extremely difficult for Londo to humble himself enough to approach G'Kar and have this conversation. Londo has obviously been reflecting a lot on his past actions and their effects, since he's absolutely right that he needs to do better. So even though it's perfectly understandable that G'Kar refuses to have anything to do with Londo's offer, we sympathize with Londo here. Even with all he's done, it's so easy to understand why he's done it, and so we root for him to do better.

Later, G'Kar approaches Londo in the Zocalo and agrees to the statement - as long as he can sign on a different page. Londo isn't sure how to react, but certainly it's a step in the right direction for their relationship. Londo isn't sure how to react, but certainly he realizes just how far there is to go in patching up any kind of relationship with G'Kar. On G'Kar's side, we see that he can still think beyond his own feelings - the statement from the Narn and Centauri governments would help Sheridan, and so he's put that before his own hatred for Londo.

It's a little interesting that Londo has convinced the Centauri government to support Sheridan, since we have gotten the Centauri government may be at least partly run by Shadow allies (since the Regent received a Keeper in "Epiphanies"). As we saw in "Lines of Communication", the Shadows' allies certainly harbor a grudge against Delenn, so one would assume they would also be against Sheridan. Also, we know that some of the Shadows' allies had infiltrated Psi Corps and possibly even Clark's government. In that case, why would they support Sheridan against their own allies? There may be different former-Shadow-ally groups that are now working to their own ends. Or the Shadows' allies may have withdrawn their efforts from Earth, and so they no longer care what happens. Or the Centauri government's declaration of support for Sheridan could be completely superficial and they will continue to do whatever they want behind the scenes on Earth.

In another interesting character scene, Garibaldi stops by to see Londo, but only Vir is there. To Garibaldi's surprise, Vir off-handedly mentions Sheridan's new campaign, and Garibaldi is not pleased at all with the idea. It's interesting to contrast the views of the two characters, because Vir assumes Garibaldi will be returning to his job as security chief in order to support Sheridan - after all, even though Vir knows Londo isn't always the best person, he's the leader in place and he knows what to do. Garibaldi no longer sees things that way (if he ever really did), and he can't support Sheridan at all. In fact, by the end of the episode, Garibaldi leaves the station with the stated intent of never returning.

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