Zocalo: Spoiler-free discussion of “Signs and Portents”

If you are a new Babylon 5 viewer, or can put yourself in the mindset of one, what did you think of “Signs and Portents”? Were you baffled? Intrigued? Confused? Or could you not take your Eye off of that beautiful legendary artifact (cheap plastic prop)? Here’s where we talk about S&P and those episodes that came before, but none after.

Especially that one.

5 thoughts on “Zocalo: Spoiler-free discussion of “Signs and Portents””

  1. The Centauri are an ancient culture. They’ve had plastic for thousands of years. That the Eye looks so cheap is precisely what shows that it is so old. Anything made in the last millennium would obviously have been made out of synthgold and hyperplatinum.

    Also: it’s pretty much impossible to put myself in the mind of a new viewer when watching this episode (and since I started watching in S2 I’ve never been in that position for this particular episode).

    But I do think that Signs and Portents is a really good example of one of JMS’s strengths, which is that he’s tremendously good at putting things together in a tightly-constructed way. I hope that doesn’t sound dismissive, because it’s not meant to be at all. I’ve never seen or read any of JMS’s plays, but I’d really like to see how his abilities in this area manifest there.

    The main interest of Signs and Portents is all the, well, ominous stuff with Morden. But there’s also the series of events surrounding the raiders, Lord Kiro, and the Eye, which is almost entirely self-contained. You could, I think, watch Signs and Portents without having seen any other B5, and still feel that you’d seen a satisfying 42 minutes of television because of this. Plus, it’s obvious in hindsight that the raiders were seeded in the earlier part of the season so that they’d be there for this episode.

    I think that one could even say that Signs and Portents is an advertisement for what’s so great about B5. It signals to the viewer: “We know what we’re doing and we know where we’re going. Give us time and trust us. This really will be worth it.”

  2. I started watching B5 along with the podcast and I’m on Season 3 right now. I distinctly remember watching this episode. It made me just say “god damn” and inspired me to finish all of Season 1 over the next couple days after watching it. It is one of my favorite episodes of the show just because of how mysterious and character filled it was. I loved “Listen” in Doctor Who and this reminded me of that, a similar mysterious character piece with hints at future arcs. It really gives the feel of something like Lost, except with B5 I have the confidence that everything will actually be followed through properly. I was extremely intrigued and it drew me in; before this I would watch maybe an episode or two here or there but this really made me a fan of the show and helped me really feel on a small level the scope of JMS’ ambition.

    Also unrelated question: regarding the viewing order when should I watch the movies/spinoffs? I know you say follow the master list but you guys ignored it regarding the prequel movie (which I haven’t watched yet), which is why I ask the experts.

    1. I’m no expert, but I have just finished my own rewatch of B5, and here’s my personal opinion. Minimal justification to avoid spoilers!

      1) The only place where it’s absolutely vital for a first-time viewer to avoid the Lurker’s Guide order is where our hosts have already done so, with In the Beginning.

      The best option for In the Beginning is probably to have seen it in January 1998 when it was originally broadcast, for which it was well-designed. Barring rewriting your own life, there’s nowhere ItB works terribly well, but any point after the second-to-last episode of S4 should be OK. Between S4 and S5 is maybe the best of your bad choices.

      2) The placement of The River of Souls and especially Legend of the Rangers: To Live and Die in Starlight in the Master Episode List is a bit fannish for a first watch. It privileges in-universe chronology, and ignores story logic entirely.

      I think it’s a moderately bad idea to view TRoS at that point and a very bad idea to view LotR at that point. I’d recommend viewing TRoS after you finish the series proper, and LotR either right after TRoS or after you finish Crusade.

      3) Thirdspace and A Call to Arms are fine where they are. A Call to Arms pretty much has to be where it is.

  3. A little quibble about your commentary in the podcast: this was not the first time we saw a ship create its own jump point. The Narn did so in “Midnight on the Firing Line.” I quote the Centauri who said “Jump point forming in sector 3.” If something was coming through their local jump gate they would have said it that way instead of calling it a jump point.

    So those of us who paid attention to the first 30 seconds of the first episode of the first season already knew that at least some ships could create their own jump point.

    I’m sorry, but I have a brain that picks up on stupid minutia like that.

  4. I started watching with Midnight on the Firing Line and remember seeing this episode for the first time – it was *the* wham episode of the first season that changed how I thought of the series. Up until then I loved the drips of mystery (Delenn being on the Grey Council, what happened at the battle of the line? Who are the vorlons?) – this one took it all up a notch.

    It had prophecy, Kosh doing some plain talking, an epic space battle (there was *nothing* like the scale of that battle on TV at that time), and Lord Kiro being killed by shadows. What’s not to like?

    The fact that there were so many questions at the end didn’t make this episode confusing or leave us deflated, it left us wanting more, more, more – oh those heady days of 1994 🙂

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