Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 4: "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars"

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Episode Information

Title: "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Stephen Furst
Rating (out of 4 stars): ** 1/2
Reviewed on: March 30, 2010

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


In this episode, we see glimpses of the future after the creation of the Alliance.

This episode takes up with Sheridan and Delenn's return to B5 after their marriage en route. The entire station is partying in celebration of the marriage, the death of Clark, and the formation of the Alliance. Certainly those are good reasons. Later, Sheridan and Delenn privately ponder whether they will even be remembered in one hundred years.

The scene shifts to an ISN broadcast about Sheridan's return, and then the broadcast breaks up, and we realize that we are watching a recording of some kind. An unknown person indicates that the next record should be played.

This is an ISN talk show, where the host moderates a discussion between several guests. The topic: will the new Alliance succeed? Of course, there are a range of opinions with no agreement.

This "record" is a fairly realistic depiction of the various opinions that people must have regarding Sheridan. Some see him as a hero and some as anathema, but everyone's opinions are strongly influenced by their particular political views and personal circumstances. Talk about being like real life! It's obvious, though, that Sheridan is not universally loved nor is everyone optimistic about the Alliance that Earth has been essentially swept into.

The next record is 100 years into the future and features another talk show. This show is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Alliance. Some experts are "deconstructing" the legend surrounding Sheridan: his leadership abilities, what role he played in the events of the time, and some story surrounding his death. Overall, the experts feel that Sheridan's accomplishments have been exaggerated and overrated. They list all the problems that he had as president of the Alliance in the first year, with many people dying. We even see some kind of record from B5, which includes a hostage demand, with Garibaldi as the hostage. The experts opine that the telepath colony Sheridan started on B5 led to the Telepath War.

They also agree that the "story" that Delenn is still alive must also be Alliance propaganda. An alarm sounds, and then Delenn hobbles in with a cane and several attendants. She states forcefully that Sheridan was a good man, and then turns to leave. The others ask her to stay and answer questions, but she scoffs at their "analysis" of Sheridan. After she leaves, the "record" ends.

This "record" gives one of JMS's famous glimpses into the future, by referring to several events that will happen to Sheridan, thereby making us wonder how they happened. We know that Sheridan is devoted to making the Alliance work, so under what circumstances would their be so many deaths? How did Garibaldi get himself taken hostage? What was Sheridan's motivation in creating the colony of telepaths? I've said many times that he should pay more attention to telepaths, in particular Lyta, but were his actions too late? What started the Telepath War? We don't know when this war occurred, just sometime within 100 years after the Alliance started. And what is the mystery surrounding Sheridan's death that the Alliance continues to support?

I feel like Delenn's appearance in this segment is a bit of indulgence of fan wishes - to see her come back and firmly trounce on all the youngsters just by force of will. I do have to wonder why there is so much speculation about what Sheridan and Delenn did. Aren't there lots of records? One would also think that after events calmed down with the formation of Alliance that many journalists and historians would be waiting in line to interview Sheridan and Delenn in order to produce numerous biographies and explanations of events. I suppose that even so, after 100 years, contemporary histories would decide to reinterpret events. It's frustrating to see Sheridan and Delenn's accomplishments trivialized.

The next "record" is 500 years after the beginning of the Alliance. We see a programmer of some kind, who is putting together holographic representations of Sheridan, Delenn, Garibaldi, and Franklin. The reason? To create new "historical documents" of these important figures, showing them saying and doing things that agree with the political views of the current government.

The holograms are supplied with recreations of each person's personality and when they are activated, they begin questioning the programmer about what's happening. They soon realize that they are being used to create propaganda. The current government wants to break away from the Alliance, so they want to have "historical records" showing Sheridan and the others doing unsavory things. Why do they want to break from the Alliance? The Alliance is holding back the current government, which needs room to expand. Apparently the world government on Earth has broken down, and there are a number of rival governments on the Earth and among the colonies. The current government is planning a pre-emptive attack.

Although the holograms are aghast at being used for propaganda, they can't do much about it, it seems. The programmer runs a scene where Sheridan, as commander of B5, executes captured aliens. In another scene, Franklin gleefully discusses how the Alliance is conducting medical experiments on children.

Garibaldi distracts the programmer by promising the help the programmer get an advantage and promotion by his superiors. While Garibaldi converses, his computer program personality is activating communications in the computer. He transmits this government's attack plans to the other nations, and those nations promptly attack. Garibaldi and the others in the computer lab are destroyed in the initial attack.

I think that I find this future "record" the hardest to believe. I realize that 500 years is a long time and a lot can happen, but the breakdown of Earthgov is hard to believe. What would be the advantage of going from a world-wide government to smaller governments? And how could smaller nations be powerful enough to expect to "expand" within the Alliance by force? Why haven't the Rangers quashed this? I suppose they can't until there is an aggressive action taken, but we have no sign that they are being a problem.

I did like the manipulation of the language, with "real facts" and "good facts"; it gives a nice Orwellian feel, and shows that even a future that looks so bright and clean could be oppressive. It would have been interesting to have seen more about what the general society was like. It was extremely chilling to see the "reinterpretation" of Sheridan and Franklin's actions on B5. After 500 years, how many true records would remain, and who would have them in order to contradict the manufactured history?

I didn't really swallow the idea that Garibaldi as a computer personality can infiltrate the computer and do pretty much whatever he wants. This kind of thing is a staple in science fiction, so I can't say that this is a problem exclusive to B5, but it's annoying. However, I did appreciate that it was Garibaldi who feels that it's justice to call down a pre-emptive attack on the government that was planning it. I wonder if he had any thought about what the consequences would be? I suppose he didn't really have many options, and he's just a computer program, anyway.

The final "record" is 1000 years after the formation of the Alliance, and it takes place in the study of an old monk, Brother Michael. Michael seems to be making some kind of recorded report, but is interrupted by a young monk, who is unaware of what Michael is doing. The younger monk is having a crisis of faith, and through his discussion with Michale, we find out what's happened in the past 500 years.

The attack that Garibaldi instigated devastated civilization on Earth, sending it back to middle ages technology and instilling in it a fear of technology, since that's what caused the "Great Burn." The abbey that Brother Michael belongs to is dedicated to preserving knowledge and history from before the Great Burn, mostly by copying the ancient books. The younger monk is working on transcribing and illuminating a book about the "Blessed Sheridan", but is wondering if all the effort is worth it. Michael reassures him, saying that he needs to keep the faith. The prophecy of the return of the Rangers in the hour of Earth's need might happen tomorrow or next year or after they die, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

Thus reassured, the younger monk leaves, and Michael resumes his report. We find out that Michael is a Ranger himself, working secretly to hasten the return of technology to the Earth. Rangers off-world are providing "discoveries" for them at the appropriate time, so that people will accept them as leftover from before the Great Burn. Michael pledges to keep working along with the other Rangers to rebuild the Earth - better, this time.

This is a fascinating sequence. It's a depressing thought that Earth civilization still hasn't recovered after 500 years. We don't know whether human civilizations off-world (such as on Mars) were affected by the war, but there certainly would have been a significant number of humans that survived the war and would be eager to restore the Earth. The idea of the Rangers working secretly to help restore civilization makes perfect sense. The use of a group of monks to accomplish this is reasonable, and possibly a nod to the science fiction classic A Canticle for Leibowitz. The legends about Sheridan and the Rangers that remain are simultaneously amusing with what we know about the characters, satisfying because they did accomplish so much, and sobering because of how far it means Earth civilization has fallen.

The "records" have come to an end, and we see that a human has been watching them. The human orders the records to be sent to "New Earth". We learn that something has happened to the Sun, and it will nova within hours. The remaining civilization on the Earth has evacuated. The human transforms into a ball of light and zips into an encounter suit similar to what we've seen Vorlons wearing. The being flies of in a spaceship with the Ranger symbol as the Sun explodes. The episode ends by returning to Sheridan and Delenn musing about the future, and deciding that probably no one will remember them in 1000 years.

My question about the end of the episode is: what happened to the Sun? When it dies, it will go nova... but that won't happen for another 6 billion years or so. So did someone do something to the Sun? How and why? It's hard to believe it would be within any civilization's ability to alter a star so significantly. And whatever happened didn't necessarily seem upsetting to the human watching the records. I suppose it's an unresolved mystery.

It is satisfying to see that in this human's time, one million years in the future, that humans have progressed enough to become energy beings, similar to the First Ones. I wonder what success they have had in "raising" the younger races.

The structure of this episode is very unusual, but is successful at linking such disparate scenes. The glimpses into the future are thought-provoking. However, I feel like while this episode is intellectually unusual and interesting, it's not as emotionally satisfying. It's pretty talky, and the various characters we meet are not all that nice (until Brother Michael), so we don't care too much about what happens to them.

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