Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Queen of Sheba and Babylon 5

Thursday morning commenced with Melvyn Bragg discussing the Indian Mutiny with Faisal Vervji, Shruti Kapila and Chandrika Kaul and how an issue about Indian army gun cartridges oiled by animal rather than vegetable fat appears to have precipitated the uprising. I could not generate enthusiasm for the rest of the programme or a ludicrous film styled as comedy with Bette Davis playing a bank robber to raise money for her two adult children. The night has been full of a dreams and the dawn damp and murky. A cereal started the day followed by two pieces of bacon in two small rolls and a double helping of coffee. MI was flagging by lunchtime and despite the good food start I was no in the mood for salad so indulged with an instant meal of two sausages in gravy with a few chips and beans followed by a banana.

While I attempted to work I watched what I thought was the previous missing original 1921 version of the Queen of Sheba. However this and subsequent versions, including the 1952 remake in colour centres on the relationship between the sons of King Solomon, sons of Kind David, of Jerusalem and the Queen of Shea and her slave maid. The two sons go to Sheba pretending to be the two envoys from the state of Gad who have strayed into their territory and been captured revealing their mission to establish a truce with Sheba and her other allies. The two men first encounter the Queen, then the Princess and her slave, without knowing who they are, at an oasis outside the city walls and when they learn there is a secret underground passage under the city. While the Princess is immediately attracted to the youngest son and the eldest to the slave, despite the latter being engaged to a Princess from a state with whom his father is seeking an alliance. Apart from their deception the two complications are first the son of the states leading other family who also trains and commands the army, and then tradition, when the King dies, Sheba becomes Queen and has to dedicate her life to the state and its Gods. She is committed to war against Sheba with her allies. I was so tired that I missed the final moments of the film after the brothers manage to escape after their cover is blown when the two actual envoys also escape from Jerusalem and arrive in Sheba and the younger son of Solomon fights the Sheba champion outside the gates of the city with both armies poised, only to find that the champion is none other than the Queen, who he overcomes and takes into the city when he discovers who he has been fighting. She is told by his father she can leave the city and he hopes she will do so with her army. I had to leave the room and missed the last moments of the film so missed the ending and credits. Fortunately after a later search I found out that the film was made in 1952, also in Black and White, as the Italian La Regina de Saba and my impression that the Queen would marry the Solomon’s son with the blessing of his father and her advisers was thus confirmed

By early afternoon I was so tired that I could just about keep awake watching a familiar episode of Bergerac so I took to my bed again and slept for close on two hours, feeling even worse when I woke again and struggled downstairs.

Having written of the first three episodes of the 4th season of Babylon 5 and planning not to write again until the season had reached the half way or a significant point, I quickly discovered that within three further episodes the second age of Earth and come to and end with persuading the Shadows and the Vorlons to depart this area of the universe by retreating to beyond the Outer Rim. To understand these three episodes it is helpful to reprise the first three of the season.

As previously written at the end of the first episode of the fourth season The Hour of the Wolf 401 we learn that Sheridan has survived somewhere deep inside the planet Z’ha’dum, used by the Shadows as their home planet and where he has lit a fire and is confronted by an old man who asks to share the fire and has a devil like appearance! Because, rather than in spite of, the retreat of the Shadow craft from around the space station, the other worlds and races start to relax and allow their warcraft to return home thus preventing Ivanova and Delenn leading an all out attack on the now vulnerable Z’ha’dum after the reported Thermo nuclear explosion.

In his message to Delenn, before departing for the planet, Sheridan explains that in his flip to the future when engaging with Babylon 4, he had been warned by Delenn not to go to Z’ha’dum, as he has also been by Ambassador Kosh, but he suspects the reason for being able to foresee the future is to have the opportunity to try and change it. While confirming his love for Delenn who had became understandably anxious about the arrival of his wife, he adds that he has a duty to try and change what happens and avoid the destruction of Centauri Prime, also witnessed during his time travelling, and of other worlds and their people if he can.

Delenn and deputy Ivanova who is now operational head of the independent space station, together with telepath Lyta who comes to see the replacement of Kosh and who is then asked to stand down, decide to go on a mission to Z’ha’dum in the White Star to find out what happened to Sheridan having received accurate information that there was a thermo nuclear explosion on the planet and that two of the bombs brought to protect the base by G’Kar are missing. Above the planet they become mesmerised by a force from below but fortunately clever Lennier has applied a fail safe device which if he fails to button press, the ship his jump gate moved away and this is what happens thus linking with Lost.

Londo Mollari has been recalled home to become an adviser to the new Emperor who he quickly finds out has become more vain and psychopathically mad than he remembers of him, believing that he is destined to become a God even if this means his planet and half the universe are killed and destroyed at the behest of the Shadows. Mollari then learns that the Emperor has agreed to a request from the Shadows to make the planet their home and they arrive in force, Mollari summons Vir to return home to help him kill the Emperor. Vir is reluctant.

During a period when the remaining members of the Babylon 5 War council are in mourning over the loss of Sheridan, Lyta visits Ivanova and Ivanova asks Have you ever heard of the Hour of the Wolf ? “My father told me about it. It’s the time between 3.00 and 4.00 in the morning. You can’t sleep, and all you can see is the troubles and problems and the way your life should have gone, but didn’t. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart. I’ve been living in the hour of the wolf for seven days, Lyta, seven days. The wolf and I are now on a first name basis. In times like this my father used to take one large glass of Vodka before bed. To keep the wolf away, he said. And then he would take three very small drinks of vodka, Just in case she had cubs while she was waiting outside. It does not work.”

For me the Hour of the Wolf in the terms stated by Ivanova remains an important aspect of my life which I welcome as it reminds of who I have been so that I can write effectively about the previous experience of my life for public and private interest. I use whisky, not to fend off the wolf but occasionally to fend off the cold, cold of the head and cold of the environment. Some years I invest in a bottle of single malt. This is for pleasure. This remind of one of the great songs of Billy Holiday, Set em up Joe, its three o’clock in the morning. For me the Hour of the Wolf can happen at any time. The night is creative time when the unconscious filters into the semi conscious of waking and where as a child I was terrified but since early adulthood I have slowly learnt to make the beast into a pet.

In the Search for Garibaldi (402) G’Kar comes across evidence of the Starfury which Garibaldi used when he joined the fighters defending the space station from the expected second Shadow attack. G’Kar investigates and is helped out in a fight by Marcus and they discuss their motives before Marcus gains more information, and G’Kar insists on investigating further alone. Marcus reluctantly agrees. Before he can leave, G’Kar is captured by those who recognise who he is and return him as a prisoner to Centauri Prime for the bounty.

Delenn has been undertaking a fast purification ceremony as part of her mourning for the loss of Sheridan, and Franklin, of all people, warns her of the course she is taking, given that she has become more human than Minbari and needs energy for the fight ahead. His words have influence.

Londo talks with the captured G’Kar and explains to him how he will die at the hands of the Emperor in a long torturing death but offers him a way out if he helps him to get rid of President. G’Kar agrees on the understanding that his people will be free from Centauri rule. London agrees to this. London appears genuinely concerned at the plight of G’Kar

Commander Sheridan has talked with his companion, Lorien, trying to work where he is, alive or dead or as the old man suggests in between. The old man then discloses that he is not just one of the Old One‘s but the original One and says that Sheridan has a piece of a Vorlon, Kosh, inside him. He explains that Vorlons can break off pieces of their consciences and put these into other organisms. He tells Sheridan that he needs to stop questioning, being afraid of death and uncertain of his role and just being and that is the way out an forward. He then emphasises that dying for something is easier that living for something and Sheridan completes the jump into the void calling our for Delenn. He is that seen at the feet of the old man, presumed dead, but is he?

In the third episode The Summoning (403) there are partial answers to the what happened to Sheridan and to Garibaldi, as Ivanova and Delenn organise their remaining forces for an all out attack on Z’ah’dum, against the mounting concern of the other planetary systems.

G’Kar is tortured twice to the point of death because he will not scream out in pain and Londo persuades him to do so otherwise he be killed and his developing plans to use G’Kar to help kill the President will fail. Londo is whipped by an electronic whip of increasing intensity where no one survives forty lashes. Londo reaches 39 before he cries out and the President satisfied honours his agreement to give G’Kar to London for his previous good works. The reluctant Vir, pleading that their must be another way to rid the country of the President, now agrees with London that he must be assassinated.

The deputy security chief follows up news of the whereabouts of Garibaldi’s craft and he attacks the freighter on which it has been located which unexpectedly blows up after a life pod breaks free. This contains the body of Garibaldi which appears to be brought to life just when it is retrieved by the Space Station recovery team. There is the implication that something has happened to Garibaldi who back on the station is unaware that he has been missing for two weeks, that Sheridan is missing presumed dead and the alliance has broken up with the departure of the Shadows from outside the station.

Ivanova has been giving herself a good talking to and learning Minbari. Delenn and Marcus hide their amusement at her incomprehensible efforts and she agrees to Marcus accompanying her on a mission to investigate what appears to be report of one of the First Ones is on the move. During their expedition they discover a time right in which thousands of Shadow craft have assembled.

At the space station Lyta is asked by Delenn to try and find out from Kosh’s replacement what the Vorlons are up to. Lyta is reluctant because her connection with the Vorlon has become Sadomasochistic and at one point he appears to have killed her for complaining about his behaviour and attempting to read his mind. She informs Delenn that it is they have become expendable in the battle between the Vorlons and the Shadows. Ivanova returns from her expedition to find there is a secret open gathering of protect against the proposed attack on Z’ah’dum led by two Ambassadors from the non aligned worlds. Just as it looks as if they have won, Sheridan appears with Lorien from a mystery craft which has over ridden normal entry procedures and driven straight into a landing bay. Sheridan is able to change opinion proving that those who believe Z’ha’dum is invincible and a planet from which no outsider returns is wrong. He gives a stirring speech about uniting to rid the universe of the Shadows for the sake of the people and their children’s children.

It is confirmed that the Shadows have abandoned their previous commitment to protect the younger worlds from the Shadows and that as a consequence of all out war between the two ancient races a whole planet of three million beings has been disintegrated with echoes of the Hitchhikers Guide and the obliteration of earth to create a new space highway.

I was right in my assumption that the first three episodes of the 4th season of Babylon 5 heralded the major development of the whole series to-date.

In Falling towards Apotheosis (404) Commander Sheridan devises a plans to try and prevent the next Vorlon target being obliterated, a planet of 6 billion sentient beings on which the Shadows have forced an outpost. He is able to assemble a war fleet of thousands upon thousands of craft from almost every planet system in the know universe, with the exceptions of the Narns who are still licking their wounds and the Centauri who also in line for a Vorlon planet break up because of providing a base for the Shadows.

The first task is to get rid of the Vorlon Ambassador from the station and this is why he has kept Garibaldi away from the meetings of the War Council. He wants Garibaldi to take a small security and invite the Vorlon to depart, knowing that the Vorlon will use his powers to find out what the Security chief and the station is planning if he refuses. This is preliminary for Lyta to disclose that there is part of Kosh transferred to Commander Sheridan which he decides to free to removal all opposition on the station and enable the full Kosh spirit to return to his people. She successfully persuades the Ambassador to leave his quarters where he is ambushed, and with help from the spirit of Kosh, is forced out of the station. Sheridan is also helped by Lorien the first One who discloses to Delenn that he is using his remaining life force to protect Sheridan and was how he was able to revive him after he jumped into the chasm. He discloses that he is able to repair Sheridan but the Commander has only a remaining lifespan of twenty years. This is a shock to Delenn who had expected he would live to the 100 or more years which earth beings had become accustomed. Sheridan is positive that the issue is the quality of their lives and relationship and not their duration, which is evidently the right approach, given their position in the middle of the war between the Vorlons and the Shadows in which they are not expected to survive.

Londo put his own plan into action how to remove the Shadows from his home world. He suggests to the President that he should hold the trial and execution of G’Kar on the Narn planet. Before they depart the President decides to remove one of G’Kar’s eyes because he dislikes the way he looks at him

In the Long Night (405) the scene is set for confrontation between the Vorlon and the Shadows. Sheridan received information on how planets are being . Missiles are driven into the core of the planet and then detonated causing disintegration from within. He furthers the plan for an all or nothing defence of the next planet in line for destruction by the Vorlons and sends Ivanova with Lorien to collect the remaining other First ones, promising she will be part of the final defence of the worlds in the known universe, when she has completed the mission.

On Narn Vir has secured a device which will kill the President giving the impression he has a heart attack. G’Kar is paraded through the streets of the capital of his d in chains to bring home the superiority of the President over the people. The scene is obviously modelled on the Way of the Cross.

In order to deliver the device to his body Londo has arranged for the chains of G’Kar to become loose but this part of the plan fails as the President has replaced with stronger metal. However G’Kar has the mental strength to overcome the physical and breaks free distracting everyone’s attention away from the assassination of the President by Vir. Londo is made the new Prime Minister while a decision is taken about a new President. He is able to carry out his commitment to G’Kar to leave the Narn world. G’Kar is hailed a hero but only in so far as the clamour is for revenge and to attack Centauri Prime in retaliation for what they and the Shadows have done to their planet.

London finds Vir drunk in reaction to having participated in the assassination and delivered the fatal blow because he was the least likely person to be suspected of doing so.

The Shadows have also launched their planet destructor and Sheridan put into place his final ploy to bring the Vorlons and Shadows in the same area of battle.

The great confrontation between the three forces occurs in Into the Fire (406).

Meanwhile on Centauri Prime Londo requests Mr Morden to remove his Shadows from the Planet. To ensure there are no tricks Londo arranges for the accompanying Shadows to be killed. Morden still refuses to ensure the Shadow fleet departs saying that the vessels will react to any attack. However Londo is ready for this and explains and pressed a remote control with blows up the whole island all the Shadow craft within it. He had arranged for the majority of the island population to escape, leaving behind a skeleton number. Morden is taken prisoner and Londo then fulfils London wish of seeing his head on a stake so that he can wave at his lifeless eyes. Londo has been advised that it was Modern and not Lord Refa who had murdered his mistress.

Trying to avert bloodshed and with the Shadows advancing Sheridan attempts to establish communication with the Vorlons and they get into communication with both Sheridan and Delenn. The two advise the Vorlons that there is no longer need for them to treat the younger races as children and defend them their way from the Shadows. They have united and capable of standing on their own feet and defending themselves. It is at this point that that the First One orders both the Vorlons and Shadows to return to their lives beyond the rim of the human form sentient world and to make their situation more palatable the and other others remains First Ones will accompany them. They obey and the threat from both advancing fleets ends.

Sheridan tells the Vorlons and the Shadows : to live on as we have is to leave behind joy, and love, and companionship, because we know it to be transitory, of the moment, We know it will turn to ash, Only those whose lives are brief can imagine that love is eternal. You should embrace that remarkable illusion. It may be the greatest gift your race has ever received.

However when the series was first screened we knew this was not the end of the story, particularly the relationship between the earth world and Babylon 5. We now know there were in fact 40 more episodes stretching of a 5th season, another eight weeks of back to back episodes. The end of any battle is only a stage in a war and the end of any war is only the beginning of a peace and that peace will only come with forgiveness and the establishment of peaceful relationships between all the warring parties.

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