Earhart’s: “Chrysalis” Spoiler Space

“Nothing’s the same any more.” Boy howdy, do we-who’ve-seen-the-whole-series know it. We know where this is all going, so let’s talk about how “Chrysalis” holds up in that light. Did you think it was monumental when you first saw it? Does Babylon 5 deliver on its promises, or does it underpromise?

Just be sure you don’t talk about [REDACTED] and [YOU KNOW WHO] and [YOU KNOW WHAT] in the spoiler-free thread!

21 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “Chrysalis” Spoiler Space”

  1. Well now. Suppose that somehow Garibaldi HAD heard Future-Sinclair’s radio message as he’d left Babylon 4? Would it have made any difference? Would he have “watched his back” on the requisite occasion (i.e. the one in question)? I’m not sure. For one thing he thought his “trusted” sidekick had his back.

    And another, in some ways I think Garibaldi’s arc is all about learning to rely on others despite the many times he’s been let down – after all, what really brings on his downfall in s4/5 is the realisation that with Teeps around, he can’t even trust himself.

    But I digress. One thing I’m not sure of – were the signal blockers an integral part of the plot (the conspiracy, that is, not the storyline!)? What were they for? Are they a MacGuffin? If Garibaldi had watched his back, and escaped being shot in it, would other signal-blockers already in place in Dealey Pla- er, Io orbit have prevented him from getting a message to Earthforce One in time? I’m not sure. Where I think his incapacitation comes into play is in allowing Clark’s succession to proceed unchallenged, without any accusations of an effective coup having just happened.

  2. I had forgotten that Sinclair does not get the full story on the Battle of the Line in this episode and how well JMS can close out a season. A small thing, but I love that each year closes out a B5 calendar year. Bring on Sheridan!!

  3. I love Chrysalis, but it’s also an episode that makes me sad, because it’s probably the single episode that most makes me feel that we lost something special with the departure of Sinclair.

    As I said in my non-spoilery comment, O’Hare is perfect when he delivers his last line. But it’s not just O’Hare the actor – Sinclair the character is perfect.

    Quick mental experiment: try to imagine Sheridan delivering that line with the same sense of being haunted by doubts about the future. I can’t. (Note: this isn’t about Boxleitner the actor, if he were playing a different character.) For me, this suggests that there’s something radically incomplete about Sheridan as a depiction of a human being – he never has moments like this.

    1. Re: Sinclair and Sheridan comparison –

      I think what we have is two characters at different points in their journeys. Sinclair has already had the moments you refer to. Sheridan hasn’t – he experiences those moments throughout seasons 2-4. So JMS shows us different faces of a leader: the one who was and the one who will be.

        1. Since you brought up my comment on the podcast, I’ll respond a little further. Warning: this will be long…

          I’ll stand behind “radically incomplete as a depiction of a human being.” However, it doesn’t mean “not an effective television character.”

          Sheridan, for me, is basically a character who could have been the lead in a television show in the ’50s. He’s stripped down to a couple of defining traits, both of them central to his role as the hero. He’s unfailingly resourceful and always comes up with a clever solution to apparently insoluble problems. And he has an absolute moral certainty: he knows what right and wrong are and he always chooses right.

          I think Erika was absolutely correct when she said Sheridan would have said the line in a tone of disbelief – because Sheridan would have known that this wasn’t how the world has to work.

          This isn’t a realistic picture of a human being. Or at any rate not a normal adult, certainly not an adult who’s gone through what Sheridan is supposed to have gone through before he is introduced. There’s something childlike about Sheridan.

          None of this is the same as bad television. There are things that you only can do with this type of archetypal character, especially if you insert them into a context in which all the other characters are more complicated. Sheridan may be different from the others in his simplicity, but that makes the show as a whole more varied and complex.

          I think it does take B5 a little while to find out how to do interesting things with Sheridan. Part of what’s weak about the first half of S2 is that there’s a bit too much of gesturing at trying to make Sheridan more complex by giving him extra character traits that Never Come Up Again: “He hates being in a desk job!” “He collects conspiracies and secrets!”

          But I’m forgiving of the first half of season two, because it’s easy to underestimate what a difficult storytelling trick it had to pull off. It had to put an entirely new character into the role of the lead character, and to replace a lead character about whom S1 had been telling the viewer that this was overall very much going to be his story. Sheridan’s simplicity makes for efficiency here: he’s the hero because he’s the kind of person that heroes are, and we expect that character to be at the center of the story.

          And, from In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum on, there is no shortage of interesting Sheridan stories. To my mind, they typically work by examining what works and what doesn’t about that type of straightforward hero.

          ItSoZ, for instance, is about the fact that in any story that’s not contrived to make the hero a hero – which is to say, a lot of the time in real life – that kind of absolute certainty that s/he is doing the right thing would make a person someone who should not be let anywhere near power). There are various other permutations: when Delenn challenges Sheridan about his statement that the Shadows are doing what he would do, that puts defining hero trait 1 (resourceful) against defining hero trait 2 (the good guy) in conflict.

          This is why I’m afraid that I can’t quite buy the argument that Sheridan is going to have the experiences over the story that make Sinclair capable of doubt in a more profound way. (Even if I could, I think there would still be a problem – Sheridan is supposedly a person in his forties who’s experienced war and personal bereavement, who’s done questionable things, who’s wielded power over others. He should be more “marked,” for want of a better word.)

          Actually, I think the story plays with the viewer’s expectation that character progress that should take place, especially in Z’ha’dum, where it seems that Sheridan has a personal crisis because of the arrival of Anna – and then it turns out that it was only an act, and he knew all along that the real Anna would never do this.

          1. For appreciating JMS cleverness-ness, it was having early Sheridan’s M.O. to make B5 Morgan Clark’s listening post, his controlled progressive military operation. Clark couldn’t trust those pinkoes like Franklin and Sinclair, but he could get behind CaptainTV 1950s Flag-Dad. I love how Boxleitner was placed in this spot and how Clark’s decision became one of his greatest mistakes.

            Btw, adorable hearing Stephen say ‘min-barrys’, and good to hear Neal. It was he hinted me here initially, off the back of Wife & Blake, which you should all go read.

            Now. Is no-body, no-body, mourning the Season 1 opening credits?

  4. From the first time I watched this and every subsequent time the explosion of EarthForceOne and the reaction sent shivers down my spine. I recall reading somewhere that many people thought this was hammy and over-done – but I thought it was perfectly effective and that they nailed it as being a big moment.

    Now WTF is Delenn up to. Mr Morden continues to do a fine job of being sleazy and creepy. What a great wrap to season1!

    1. What I liked most about that moment is the way EarthForce One doesn’t just blow up – it blows up slowly, as it is still heading toward Io, tumbling end over end, and really exploding from the inside. It’s all kind of symbolic: humanity still traveling toward the future even as it’s disintegrating. It’s a tragic image. Beautifully done, but tragic.

    2. Chrysalis was actually the second B5 episode I ever saw, The Quality of Mercy being the first and the scene where Earthforce one explodes and the one thereafter of Clark being sworn into office brought me right back to the day of Kennedy’s assassination and how everyone of my generation can tell you where they were and what they were doing on that day. The emotional shock of that kind of event was so accurately portrayed. The fact that the writer tapped into that intrigued me and is the reason I became a fan of the show. Though at the time I did not realize the significance of everything I saw it did spur me on to acquire and watch the entire series. The story arcs and characterizations were mostly spot on. You really cared about what was going to happen to these people.

      1. That echo of the Kennedy assassination was quite deliberate. The swearing in of Clark with the positions of people and the clothes they are wearing, even the background were all directory modeled after Johnson’s swearing in.

  5. I felt Season 1 was average with some hidden gems. I started out with this season when it was first shown. I watched & enjoyed it as a generic star trek clone with its episode of the week. Then Signs & Portents happened and we had the first glimpse that there was something about this show that was very different to star trek. Up until then we had no inkling that this would be a huge connected story. I was a student in Liverpool at the time and season 1 was a must watch for my friends & I, so it obviously did enough to grab our attention. Later, Chrysalis was the episode that first grabbed the attention of my future wife. She expected the assassination to be foiled and was hooked as the show was willing to have its “heroes” fail. This made it feel more like a UK show (Blakes 7, Sapphire & Steel)

  6. During the podcast, one of you mentioned that none of the participants watched the show on its original run from the start. I did, and while there were some episodes that irked (TKO more than any) stories l such as Infection clearly had a point to them, not knowing where everything would go. It wasn’t always subtle but that helped to not just build the world but anticipation for how the organic technology would come into the bigger story. The Bester stuff very much had a feel of not being simply a throwaway villain a la the Borg or Q, who would disappear for months at a time. It felt like there was a purpose to his introduction and attitude; a gentle nudge to the viewer that you should beware.

    This sort of thing is why the second season works; you get two stabs at building up to many pivotal character moments over four more years (yes, I’m including five because the last five or six episodes in particular are important – almost a third of the season).

    If you didn’t have season one, G’Kar’s scene with Vir in a lift doesn’t have enough investment to build on. And Bester’s ultimate personal motivation would feel rushed and forced. Moments such as Ivanova’s family troubles being lost wouldn’t explain that she is any more than a sarcastic pessimist. These things felt important even during season one, not because they would dwell on these events in future episodes, but because they gave you understanding of these characters in a way that later behaviours make more sense, and have weight that many other shows of the time simply ignored for the sake of the latest episode. On its first run, episodes like Born to the Purple showed the show was something worth investing in.

  7. What the feckdiddlydeckingdoodah Ganeshaing Hull? Something like that. I first saw ‘Chrysalis’ while watching S4 weekly, back-collecting other eps on VHS. I knew some of what was to happen, and that as an end-of-seasoner the pace would ramp up. I was still unprepared how many tables and chairs JMS knocked over. I didn’t know about Garibaldi and Jack, or Delenn (I assumed she’d just undergone quietly retconned costume change) and I assumed Sinclair’s departure would be a big part of what this ep would be based around. Hmm. Maybe it was.

    I’m looking forward to listening to the podcast later.

  8. Felt compelled to comment after listening to the podcast. I watched B5 in its entire first-run in the UK (except for War Without End, Part I which I saw while on holiday in the States, giving me a 6 week delay to Part II), starting with Midnight on the Firing Line. Chrysalis felt BIG at the time, we knew from jms that it was WHAM! and that it had been filmed early on to finish the effects. But the sheer breadth of what was happening, it was one of the earliest episodes where you could feel the shape of the arc shifting under the surface.

    jms had talked up episodes before, And the Sky Full of Stars had been heavily pushed but didn’t feel like it really moved the needle on the arc. But Chrysalis, it tied together threads from across the season and it moved us forward.

    The experience of first-run B5, when you don’t know that this show will become, well, what we know nowadays was fun. It felt rough at times, and I remember posting once after Born to the Purple that jms did good world building but that the first episode not by him was better than his two… But it was a fun show, and Season One showed enough glimmers of greatness to keep us moving, I still remember where I was when I saw Signs and Portents for the first time and realised we were seeing the edges of the real story.

  9. When Chrysalis first aired, I was in high school. I was absolutely *certain* that Delenn was going to emerge from her cocoon as a Vorlon. That’s why Kosh gave her a peek under the hood, she wanted to see what she’d look like afterwards.

    It made perfect sense, really.

  10. Today I finally caught up with the current episode of this great podcast and listened to the discussion about Chrysalis. A couple of months ago a friend recommended the Incomparable podcast to me, which I immediately liked and started to listen to, and while listening to some of the back-catalogue of the Incomparable I found the B5 episode from early 2014, which in turn pointed me towards this podcast – the Audio Guide to Babylon 5, and since then I have been listening as often as possible in order to catch up. Now the first episode of season 2 just came up, but I wanted to write something here as part of the comments for season 1. I have greatly enjoyed the podcast, and enjoy discussing or listening to discussions about Babylon 5 for hours on end. Personally I find it is very difficult to try to imagine seeing it for the first time, and I fully understand Stephen’s comments about Signs and Portents being somewhat annoying, and Londo and G’Kar not having anything interesting to do (at half season). For us who have seen it before that seems incomprehensible, but for a person who does not know what will come, that is a very understandable view. My B5 story starts with season 3 – I saw the seasons in the order 3, 4, 5, 1, 2. When I saw season 1 after having seen 3, 4 and 5, I could read all the signs and portents and actually enjoyed the season more than I thought I would (based on comments from friends and the Internet), because so much pointed forward to the great events of the latter seasons. So because of that there were many “wow moments” for me when seeing season 1 for the first time, and I think people who watched the seasons in the correct order get a similar experience when they re-watch season 1. Therefore I recommend anyone who is now watching B5 for the first time to go back and re-watch this first season directly after you have concluded season 5 – you will find it (even) better that second time.

  11. Caught up with the episode today, and I was totally unprepaired how hard all the talk about “being at a crossroads” hit home. The world sure has changed since B5 first aired …

  12. I got way behind on the podcast, couldn’t bring myself to watch TKO for ages. So I have only just listened to this episode.

    I can’t believe that no where in the podcast did any of you talk about the scene with Morden sitting in a chair talking to the scary ass shadows! How was that missed?? 🙂

  13. I’m coming to the podcast really late, but wanted to offer a different perspective on the overall quality of Season 1 as someone who watched the series in its entirety on DVD having been previously spoiled for most of the series.

    Even knowing about the 5-year arc, most of the characters’ internal motivations, Sinclair’s departure, and even the series’ eventual “endgame”, I found Season 1 to be just as narratively gripping and interesting as the later seasons of the series, albeit for a different reason: as the setup for everything else that happens, changes and evolutions notwithstanding, Season 1 of B5 spends the “narrative capital” to make you care about its characters and its world, similarly to what Joss Whedon did with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so that by the time you reach Chrysalis, you’ve been rewarded for embracing the story JMS wanted you to see and are poised to experience everything that he has in store for you going forward.

    I also feel like Sinclair is as strong a lead character as Sheridan, and was/still am as fascinated with and as interested in Sinclair as I was/still am with Sheridan.

    I also don’t think you could’ve told the broader overarching story of Season 1 with Sheridan in command since the way he responded to certain developments would have been completely different than Sinclair and pushed the narrative trajectory of the series’ 5-year arc faster than it needed to go, thereby lessening its overall impact and effectiveness.

  14. I’m one of those who watched from the beginning. I mean, from The Gathering. Anyway: Was Season 1 a good season? Somewhat. It kept me engaged, and not just because I was tapped into the nascent Internet community and JMS’ interactions there while it was airing. (That HELPED, don’t get me wrong.) Were I not enjoying the show, the Internet part wouldn’t have been as compelling, let’s put it that way. The hints that “SOMEthing is coming” are dribbled out enough to pique one’s interest every few episodes, and of course knowing (thanks to what little press the show DID get) that this was part of an ambitious 5-year televised story plan (“if it lasts that long”) made one more inclined to pay close attention.

    The season has its high points, and it has its obligatory-feeling SF-plot-of-the-week points, and it has its clunky “JMS is a gifted writer but man, he was learning how to be a live-action major-project long-haul showrunner on the job and it shows” points. It’s a miracle they got out of this with a continuing series commitment and a budget buff.

    Much like the Joel versus Mike debate, I don’t really take sides on Sinclair versus Sheridan. I like them both for what they are, though I admit it took a few episodes for me to warm up to “Scarecrow.” But this being about Chrysalis: Since I didn’t know O’Hare was leaving, I was left feeling like “I can’t wait to see how Sinclair, et al, deal with THIS mess.” (My memory’s a skosh foggy but I don’t think the fact Sinclair wouldn’t be on-station next season had hit Usenet/etc at the time of airing.)


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