11 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “Grail” Spoiler Space”

  1. Gulp. This will be a long comment, I’m afraid.

    With a certain amount of trepidation: Grail is for me one of the stronger standalone first-season episodes. Might even be the best standalone episode, on a good day. Certainly better for me than TKO, Believers, Infection, and By Any Means Necessary.

    So, in defense. Flaws first: There are definitely a lot of plot contrivances here. Some don’t bother me. For instance, I don’t think it’s clear that Deuce hasn’t just started doing his “fake Vorlon” trick, and he’s clearly a scary person about whom people would be afraid to talk. That Garibaldi hasn’t heard about it is not absurd. A good number of the others can be filed under “Jinxo is not quite right in the head.”

    In any case, though, none of these bother me anything like as much as it never occurring to Franklin that someone might not give up heartfelt beliefs (literally) overnight in Believers, because Grail doesn’t go out of its way to push its implausibility in the face of the viewer and to make it critical to the resolution of the plot.

    Performances then: it’s a personal thing, but I really have no problem with Tom Booker as Jinxo. Not that it’s an amazing performance, but it works fine for me. One point that I’ll throw out is that I don’t think any of our hosts objected to the implausibility that’s built into the character as an inescapable part of the premise: Jinxo thinks that he’s under a magical curse that will cause disaster if he leaves the station (!). That Booker can make it seem (to me) credible that he really does sincerely believe that, and yet can keep the character sympathetic, is maybe a point in favor of the performance.

    Any virtues that I can point to?

    1) Grail is exceptional among first-season standalone episodes in the degree to which it (a) mirrors central themes of the overall series on the one hand, and (b) absolutely has to be a first-season episode one the other.

    (a) Gajic and ultimately Jinxo are heightened and exaggerated versions of the basic B5 character-type of the person damaged by their past who finds personal transformation. Jinxo in particular adumbrates in a single episode the action of the whole series. (If Sinclair had been retained, this would have been even more so, because Sheridan is the big exception to the theme.) Less significantly, also about the value provided by the perspectives of different cultures, with human-Minbari contrasts being, as usual, the main case in point. (Also, the plot in effect condemns the Vorlon failure to be open about their nature and perspectives.)

    (b) Thematically, it has to be an S1 episode (contrast just about any other S1 episode that doesn’t link in some way to the overall arc), because it’s about mysteries and the search for secret knowledge. Plot-wise, it’s only doable at a point at which the Vorlons are utterly mysterious (and I think our hosts’ discussion pointed out some interesting ways in which Deuce’s con is actually the truth).

    2) Grail is an interesting blend of genres that explores links between them. It is (a) space opera (obviously), (b) crime drama, and (c) ’60s-style hippy mysticism. How many other stories can you think of that combine a figure like Gajic and a figure like Deuce? But it’s able to unify these genres because, again, they all share the idea of the search for knowledge as a standard recurring motif. There’s also a remarkable amount of comedy. And, of course, the episode evokes parallels between its themes and the Grail legend. I don’t think that there is any other S1 episode where the writing is as complex as this in this particular way.

    3) You can tell that it wasn’t written by JMS, because it can display a light touch with pathos. Gajic’s story is moving because it’s restrained in both performance and writing. On a related note, I think that the comedy Londo scene is rather clever, because it serves to keep the horror of the Nakaleen feeder in view but does so in a scene that’s deliberately not horrific in tone.

    4) Performance-wise, I think William Sanderson deserves more praise than you give him. It’s not, for me, quite fair to say that he always plays the same character: he plays variations on the same character that he shapes artfully to fit the needs of the story. Compare Deuce to his magnificently weaselly P. T. Farnham in Deadwood – they’re similar characters in some ways, but Deuce has a genuine menace to him, an air of deadly efficiency, that’s utterly absent from Farnham.

    Wow, that *was* long.

  2. Liked: They didn’t end with a dumb sting teasing that maybe the grail was real after all and likewise for the Arthur episode.

    Disliked: A strange creature hiding Downbelow, a ruthless gang-leader, a series of unexplained lurker deaths is the bog-standard default B5 plot setting.

  3. As a long-time lover of most things Arthurian, I love this episode! It’s maybe my favorite from season 1. David Warner is great as the Grail seeker, and it’s fun to see “Larry” from “Newhart” playing a baddie. I love the Minbari honoring those who “dream the impossible dream” (to swipe from another chivalric epic, albeit a mock-epic) wherever they are found, even among humans.

    1. Ok, so, listening to the podcast and rethinking it in my mind, maybe this isn’t my favorite season 1 episode. But I still think it’s a darn sight better than Chip gives it credit for, mostly because it’s a story with such a good heart.

    2. That parallel hadn’t occurred to me. You’re absolutely right.

      And it raises a *really* big way in which Grail connects to the overall themes of B5. It’s about the value of trying to do what everybody else thinks is impossible. “Faith manages.” Gajic’s quixotic quest parallels the show itself.

      That’s right – if you hate Grail, you hate Babylon 5 🙂

  4. I enjoyed this episode a lot more than many of the early “standalone” episodes. Haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but will offer a couple of thoughts..

    The seeker was believable within the Universe of B5 and the many mysterious things we’ve already seen. His portrayal was believable without being over the top.

    Jinxo/Thomas was also a decent performance and a nice redemptive arc. Although realistically this guy may well stop off at the next port, check how many credits he inherited and abandon his quest pretty quickly!

    It was intriguing that Deuce used a creature that no-one had seen before, hidden inside a Vorlon suit, when obviously no-one knows what the Vorlon look like either. Pretty clever – but as to where he got a Vorlon encounter suit (or decent facsimile) from is a mystery best left unexplained! I did like Kosh’s responses when he was filled in. “Why” “Why” “Good”!

    More good stuff from Delenn… The scenes between her and Sinclair work so well to foreshadow his journey that it barely seems possible that JMS had to switch to “plan B” down the line.

    1. Quick follow-on.. The 2 Mimbari castes described with no mention of the Workers. And of course the mention of what happens when the castes are united to a common cause, which foreshadows Delenn’s key role in the E-M war. Great stuff!!

    2. “Although realistically this guy may well stop off at the next port, check how many credits he inherited and abandon his quest pretty quickly!”

      Aw, nah! I think Jinox — erm, Thomas — is really changed, and will carry through until it’s time to pass the torch onto someone else. (I forget – we don’t ever see him again, do we?)

  5. I have to say I liked Grail better than the episode in its place in the DVD set (TKO). I was amused when Vir does a pro bono search that Londo would have charged all he could for. The performances work for me although I did flash on the Newhart character for a few seconds. I find the tentacle quite unsatisfying on repeat viewing, since of course it looks SO MUCH like the one we will see very soon.

  6. Back in the 90s, I read a book called, “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”. Much of this book is the basis for Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code”.

    This episode made me wonder if JMS read “Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”

    The book pushed the idea that Jesus had actually married Mary Magdalene and had children whose decedants are in Europe. One of the families with this bloodline was the French St. Claires which later became Sinclair in Scotland.

    One thing that the Sinclair family was noted for was being pilots during the Battle of Britain during WWII.

    So it did made me wonder if in JMS’s Babylon 5 universe that Sinclair is a descendent of Jesus who later actually becomes the Minbari’s most significant spiritual figure. Jesus and Valen related?

    I thought this idea was intriguing, but then again, it could be just a cigar.

  7. Overall I have positive feelings for this episode.

    My first point is silly but I shall make it anyway: it has Ivanova saying “Boom!” Any episode where she gets to say “boom” is a winner in my book.

    Two: Gus Werner.

    Three: Kosh being Kosh. I am in the middle of two re-watchings of the show. In one I am keeping pace with the podcast and watching it with a newbie. In the other one I am well ahead of where we are and new Kosh was just introduced. While they might all be Kosh some are just better Koshes than others.

    Neither like nor dislike: I don’t have the problem that Chip did with someone looking for the Grail in outerspace, especially as an experienced viewer. If the Vorlon’s are willing to take people out of their time and preserve them for later why not have them take items out of their time and preserve them for later.

    I also don’t have a problem with some of the awkward acting that happens in this episode. I don’t think it comes down to the actors, but rather the directing and, even more so, the writing. I think the actors did what they could with a mediocre script. You can see below how I truly feel about the writer.

    Some quibbles I have –

    I agree that what Sinclair says to Delenn at the end of the episode about being surprised to see her is a horrible line. Given how she acts at the beginning of the episode it makes perfect sense for her to be there. Yes, I know it was a set up for her line to Sinclair, but I still think the writer should be spanked for it.

    My next problem is not with the episode but with a certain character overall throughout the entire series (this episode just having an example of the problem): Michael Garibaldi. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mr. Garibaldi, but his security of the station isn’t worth shit. There are two major openings into the station. It shouldn’t be that hard to control what gets on the station. How the heck did that feeder get in? This isn’t the only time that something or someone gets snuck into the station. I can only recall one time someone is caught smuggling something or someone into the station and that was when Michael Garibaldi tried to smuggle a person into the station and he was caught by Zach Allen!

    After that wall of text I feel like I need a closing and I can think of only one: BOOM!

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