18 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “The Hour of the Wolf” Spoiler Space”

  1. The accelerated pace isn’t as evident in THotW as it will be soon, but it’s still there. I think in an earlier season it might have taken an extra episode for Londo to discover that Cartagia is mad, for instance. It’s a little sudden to introduce a completely new character and have the major hidden revelation about him come in the same episode.

    Not that I object – nowadays. At the time, I found S4 rushed. Not so much as later in the season at this point, but soon enough. I really found Into the Fire anticlimactic, not for the reason that JMS thought people disliked it (not enough explosions, pretty much), but because it was too rapid and neat. And I was sensing the problem before Into the Fire.

    That was ’90s me, used to mostly-episodic television and only having the high points in episodes made for sweeps months and at the finale. When I rewatched S4 a couple of years back, I found that it just felt like current TV. It might be my favorite season now from a watchability perspective.

    This does admittedly, cause a problem when one hits S5 and the pace slows radically back down.

  2. Knowing where all of this goes, was it a good decision for Delenn to live much beyond this point? Her arc is basically over, save for dealing with the Minbari civil war, she does nothing more of value for the rest of the series, and she is essentially superfluous to requirements.

    The point of the league plot here is to show the passing of the torch from Delenn as ‘the one who is’ to Sheridan as ‘the one who will be.’ But, it’s also B5’s Star Trek 5 moment, where the only way Sheridan could be made greater was to destroy the characters around him. Just as ST5 debased everyone not named Kirk, McCoy or Spock in order to build up Kirk into some kind of Mary Sue, the season transition in B5 tore down everyone except for Sheridan in order to make him into the singular black hole sue who could save the universe while everyone else stands around clueless and helpless.

    Delenn gets the worst of this, by far, because she had been the closest to Sheridan’s equal in the earlier seasons, and she never recovers on screen any of her former stature even by the time of the series finale. Instead, Delenn persists as little more than Sheridan’s lover, making her ultimate arc priest to warrior to housewife.

    I think a more modern show would have killed her off around this point. It certainly would have been a more dignified end.

    1. I think there’s a lot of truth to what you say – although “save for dealing with the Minbari civil war” is a pretty big caveat.

      But the thing is, I don’t think there was ever any other Sheridan that we were going to get. Even when the hero was called Jeffrey Sinclair, he was still going to be The Hero. From day one, the story was about bringing him to this point. The only thing that changed was that, originally, this was going to be about a journey from being a somewhat broken individual into being this savior-figure, whereas Sheridan essentially goes from perfect to *even more perfect*.

      And yes, if The Hero is the only person who can save the day, that means that everyone else has to be someone who *can’t* save the day. And the story has to show that.

      And yes, there is a problem of sexism here.

      And there are still other problems that have nothing to do with sexism. Buffy Season Seven does something not dissimilar in its closing episodes. There it’s an overtly feminist version of The Hero. But it’s still about how The Hero is the only person who can save us.

      This gets at my problems with JMS’s politics, incidentally. He thinks he’s writing the story of how “You can fight City Hall,” but he doesn’t think enough about whether that’s second person singular or second person plural.

      1. True, the hero is the only one who can save the day in a heroic work, but the issue I have with this section of the plot is that everyone who’s not Sheridan suddenly drops from being able to save the day on their own, for the first three years of the show, to being suddenly and completely ineffectual.

        Until now, both Delenn and Ivanova have been shown to be quite able to get things done, but now both of them suddenly and (in-universe) inexplicably lose their competence. Out of universe, they’re both dumbed down in order to prepare the stage for Sheridan’s triumphant return and elevation to godhood.

        In what comes next, Sheridan is made to look like a great man not through a genuinely remarkable achievement but instead by backtracking the other characters to be incompetents. After all, in the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king. It’s lazy writing and it debases the other characters in the universe.

        I would have handled this section of the plot by keeping the alliance together and have everyone involved working up to a strike on Z’ha’dum until Sheridan comes back with the truth about the Shadow-Vorlon conflict and the need to drive off both the Shadows and Vorlons. Under this plot design, nobody gets backtracked into being an incompetent and Sheridan still gets to be the hero by ending the S-V conflict permanently.

        As for sexism, it’s undeniable that B5 treats its women very badly, in that most of them are eventually defined by their love lives, but I generally consider Delenn’s treatment here as more lazy than sexist. She’s not demeaned for being a woman but rather for being a plot inconvenience.

        1. That’s a good suggestion for how the story might have avoided this problem. I don’t think it would work for JMS, though, because I think he specifically wants Sheridan to be the indispensable *leader*, without whom the alliance falls apart, who’s destined to be the first President of the Interstellar Alliance, etc.

          Again, (you guessed it) I’d say it’s about the politics – and this isn’t subtext: see the academics scene in The Deconstruction of Falling Stars. The more people show themselves able to be the Great Leader, the less likely it is that the Great Leader was indispensable.

          1. I’ve been thinking that season 4 and the objections I have with its opening are due to the series essentially being soft rebooted from being a heroic show, as it was in the first three seasons, into being a work of messianic fiction. A hero can be wrong and can need to be supported by others, but a messiah can’t be either.

            Viewing season 4 as a messianic work certainly explains most of the head-meet-desk moments in the season and the wilting of every character other than Sheridan.

  3. This is in part a follow-up to Cassandra’s point (out of replies) and partly a comment on the episode, now that I’ve listened to it.

    I don’t think “soft reboot” is accurate, because while Sheridan becomes a messianic figure at this point, it’s been hinted at before – this is just the part of the story where it happens. And, at any rate, it was part of the plan as we know for extra-textual reasons.

    That being said, it’s definitely an accurate description of the show at this point. One thing that I sort of admire is that JMS really does go there: Sheridan really *is* this figure, and people who doubt him are just plain wrong. You should be like those (especially Delenn) who have faith. Normally, one would expect that to be undercut and qualified. I don’t have to agree with something to find it interesting, and this, to me, is interesting.

    This is where I’m commenting on, or rather, I’m afraid, disagreeing with, our hosts. I find Chip’s reading of the Garibaldi betrayal plot as a qualification pretty unconvincing. The argument is, if I have it correctly, that because Bester’s interference with Garibaldi builds on real elements of Garibaldi’s personality, that means that his suspicions of Sheridan are shown to be sensible.

    I don’t think that follows. The role of Psi Corps is something of a red herring here (although not quite). Imagine the story without that: a story in which Garibaldi – entirely for reasons that seemed good to Garibaldi because of the kind of person Garibaldi was – suspected and then betrayed Sheridan, then regretted it and (somehow) became a happy camper once again. That would still look like a story in which doubting Sheridan was shown to be the wrong thing to do. You can’t, I think, leap from “consistent with Garibaldi’s character” to “the show is representing this as morally correct” without something to bridge the gap between the two.

    The Psi Corps stuff is important more for what the show is saying about Garibaldi, not Sheridan. It’s what allows Garibaldi to be let back into the charmed circle of good guys even though he betrayed Sheridan.

    Secondly, the Christian elements in all this are pretty hard to deny. And Garibaldi=Judas. That, I think, tends to prompt hostile interpretations of his actions 🙂

    OK, so what about the other internal critique that our hosts identify? Does S5 undercut S4 by showing Sheridan to make bad choices as President with terrible consequences, and so remind us not to put too much faith in messianic figures?

    I find this a lot more convincing, but I’m still not quite there. I think that’s definitely what JMS wants you to think going into the season: The Deconstruction of Falling Stars sets it up. And obviously, bad things happen, and we know that in advance as well from War Without End.

    But I think the expectation of Sheridan’s culpability that JMS creates is a false one. This will have to wait until our hosts get that far to explore in detail, but the way that S5 plays out doesn’t at critical moments ascribe the blame to Sheridan. Garibaldi’s alcoholism does a lot of work (Garibaldi again!), which, given that the most critical failure is one of intelligence, is important. The Narn and the other two aliens decide to bomb Centauri Prime against Sheridan’s wishes and without his knowledge, and Sheridan races to try and stop them the moment he has the information. The Byron arc turns negative because of Byron’s terrible decisions.

    And so on. At pretty much every turn, I think Sheridan is shown to make the right decision under the circumstances, only to be let down by someone else. To me, this comes across as the story of a perfect person who’s let down by the imperfect people with whom he has to work.

    There’s a sense in which you can read that as a critique of the messianic Sheridan, as showing that even that figure is embedded in a social context that limits what they can achieve – which is (and I like this!) a critique of the Great Man stuff that JMS wants Sheridan to represent. But it’s a pretty guarded critique – the rest of us just aren’t good enough for the Great Man.

    Where I do think that the show builds in critiques is by mirroring Sheridan in other characters. To add another one, the messianic Sheridan is mirrored (parodied, frankly) in Cartagia. But at the end of the day, one has to wonder if that just makes Sheridan even more special.

    1. The reason I consider S4 a soft reboot is the way the other characters change to become incompetent and to see Sheridan as messiah without anything happening, that the characters know about, to justify that change. Sheridan doesn’t become the literal reborn son of space!god until he meets Lorien but no one other than Sheridan and the viewers knows this has happened. Sheridan didn’t do anything at the end of S3 to justify his rise to messiah status nor did enough happen to Delenn to cost her half her IQ, but both of those realities were made manifest at the beginning of S4. Their sudden appearance at the season break is why I say S4 was a bit of a reboot.

      As for season 5, I’m generally with you on your interpretation. If S5 was intended as a critique of great man politics then it’s a poor one at best. Sheridan repeatedly trusts the wrong people and makes horrifically bad decisions because of it, but the narrative refuses to see through the unreliability of people like Garibaldi and Byron to the root problem that Sheridan trusted them in the first place. The season fails to be a critique of great man politics because it blames everyone but the great man himself for his mistakes.

      1. Hi folks, excuse me being late to the party: work commitments.

        @Cassandra, ‘should we kill Delenn?’ Oh my! This type of critical analysis deserves a phrase of its own: playing the Vorlon? Acting the Ulkesh? You make a solid enough point for a #DelennWatch but I think backtracking is an acceptable narrative move for HourOtW, the intimately bereft yet pro-active.

        @Voord I’m not sure Chip was saying Garibaldi’s suspicions are sensible, although the gist is there, that JMS uses Garibaldi as a tool to interrogate this messianic narrative. As a compromise (bridging Judas —> happy campers), it’s storytelling functional yet problematic as storytelling activism. If you see what I mean?

        I’ll be looking forward to your notes on TDoFS when we get there. Many parts of that episode are incoherent and elusive to me.

        I pretty much agree on the matter of Sheridan’s culpability in bad decisions in S5. We see he (and Delenn) consistent in ‘project managing’, only for Byron and Garibaldi to muck it up. If Byron has a purpose, it’s to mirror that. I wasn’t really left with a strong impression of Sheridan as being any good running City Hall – partly that’s to do with the weak development of Lochley, the lack of inclusive smaller administrative stories (bunk credits and union disputes worked well before), poor cultural mapping of Alliance races outside the Big 4 and the Drazi which could have involved elements such as translation and geography. Actually Sheridan and Delenn would have been much more interesting if S5 did a lot more world building. Not that I know what it’s like to run a show under such pressure and apologies to Mr. JMS, but perhaps S5 should have had more writing about writing?

        1. “Playing the Ulkesh” sounds more than a little risqué. 🙂

          Don’t get me wrong, season 1-3 Delenn is my favorite character of all time, but the season 4 narratives–especially the elevation of Sheridan from hero to messiah–gave her so little to do that I feel there was little reason not to put her out to pasture. Economy of characters and all.

          1. Andy: I’d absolutely agree that it’s functional as storytelling. I like Garibaldi’s arc overall – it’s one of my favorite parts of S4. The connection to the Sheridan arc is a bit clunky and obviously there to create the betrayal, but the part where Garibaldi is the protagonist, the Evers and Psi Corps stuff, is solid (and, in its moral complexity, a nice counterpoint to the goodies vs. baddies-and-misguided-but-honorable-soldiers-working-for-the-baddies of the main narrative). Garibaldi is B5’s only noir character (I don’t think that JMS has that much sympathy with visions of an irredeemably corrupt world in which honor is only possible on a personal level), but this is pretty good noir.

            Cassandra: I know I say this a lot in response to your criticisms, but there is an element here where this is maybe in part due to the misshapen nature of S4-S5 due to the renewal thing. I think in a slower-paced S4, the Minbari civil war would have had more time to breathe – it might have occupied the central place in the season that the tetralogy ( 🙂 ) does in S3.

            It’s obvious, I think, that the idea is that the Minbari civil war parallels the Earth civil war, part of the overall parallelism in which Human-MInbari corresponds to Narn-Centauri as the two main “relations between species” tracks of the narrative. As such, it allows Delenn to be the protagonist in her own story that parallels Sheridan – nobody’s allowed to be his equal, but Delenn is the closest.

            But, as Sami-Pekka says, blink and you’ll miss it. It’s over in seconds. And it does not help that the resolution turns on a last-minute detail of Minbari culture that we have never heard of before, and so doesn’t represent Delenn as capable and resourceful.

            And it hurts that we don’t get proper development of the Neroon-Delenn relationship so that his critical decision isn’t tied clearly to her inspiration and a desire to save the life of someone he recognizes as his moral superior. Instead, it’s like Comes the Inquisitor – a man takes over Delenn’s story. (For me, incidentally, if you’re going to kill Delenn off, that’s when and how you do it.).

            Also, the arc is pretty much tailor-made to point out the problems with how JMS has handled the existence of the worker caste. Politics of elites again, I’m afraid.

  4. In the script books JMS says that not getting fifth season wasn’t just a possibility. After B5 had been renewed for season four JMS was flat out told by Warner that PTEN is gone and the season will be the last, period. Perhaps JMS tried to keep an optimistic facade hoping for TNT to pick up B5, because TNT already had some investment in the show. They had bought rerun rights and ordered first movies before B5 had entered its fourth season. Unfortunately the high cost of TNT delaying its decision until the very last minute was ruining the pacing of seasons four and five, and the loss of Claudia Christian. Of course, B5 almost died with Sheridan at Z’ha’dum, but that’s another story.

    I totally agree that Z’ha’dum is the end of “pure” B5. Even though I really enjoy the rest as well and I’m usually on the fence whether I like season three or four better, I think season four is definitely very flawed. The first third is excellent, and paced much like modern TV shows with shorter seasons, and the last third is quite good, even though it’s the most rushed part of the show.

    But when it’s basically just one plot for three episodes and then another plot for three episodes instead of having six episodes of them in parallel the pacing just feels off, compared to the earlier seasons where there were always several threads going on simultaneously, with some breather episodes thrown in. I think Minbari civil war suffers the most, it’s over so quick some people forget it even existed. In my last rewatch last year I was surprised how rushed the last episodes of season four felt, I really didn’t remember that, as first half of the season is still mostly fine. And there’s still basically stand-alone Intersections in Real Time (which I really like).

    Fifth season has a shaky start with the much-maligned Byron and the Emopaths, sure, but the second half is just as good as anything else. I really love a proper understated ending without yet another huge crisis in the final episodes, which is very rare on TV shows.

    Unfortunately the remaining big climaxes (Into the Fire, Endgame, The Fall of Centauri Prime) just don’t have the same kick for me that the big stuff in season three or even season two had. Then again, Sleeping in Light is by far my favourite TV series finale, ever. Also, one of my favourite episodes, The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, wouldn’t have happened if everything had gone as planned.

    1. End of *pure* B5? Pish-posh! Pure B5 is seasons 1 and 5 only. I jest. I do take your point though about the abruptness with which we get Shadow/wee Minbari/Earth.

      LOL at #emopaths though I argue again on the big climaxes thing. The Fall of Centuari Prime I think might be a favourite because of the slow burn after, and it also works because of the ‘in tandem’ approach, despite Byron, because TFoCP has been on the cards for a very long time. Endgame scores high with me because it’s everything a big action drama finale should be, but then yes, this is not only that type of show. We get a glimpse of how it could have been with Rising Star. (I look forward to your comments on Deconstruction: it doesn’t work for me and I’m very open to being guided through it)

      Into The Fire is certainly contentious through the opposing conventional finale drama at the heart of the story. It’s a deeply flawed episode but I think for many right reasons: THey win by talking?? Good God! What is this? Not sure it works but points for the effort of telling that story.

      Would Season 3 not fall under the same criticism of structure you’re forwarding, as it leaves Minbar and Earth alone for ten episodes?

      1. I like what Into the Fire is trying to do: the “win by talking” thing. (DS9 should have done this with its Pah Wraiths, instead of collapsing into epic fantasy cliché – an “emissary” is a negotiator.) The snag is that those scenes then *really* have to work: as drama, as philosophy, and as credible depictions of people abandoning deeply-held points of view as a result of the conversation.

        For me, they sort of work as drama, but are damaged by the need to make Sheridan the person who talks to the Vorlons and Delenn the person who talks to the Shadows. It should really be the other way around, but that would downgrade Sheridan, so JMS can’t go there.

        And while I love the “metaphor for a bad divorce being taken out on the kids” aspect of this, that’s not present enough in the dialogue in those particular scenes. It might have been better to have both the Vorlons and the Shadows spend less time on advancing their case and more time on blaming the other party.

        The scenes don’t work at all as philosophical debates, because the points of view are just too simplistic.

        And they really don’t work as people abandoning deeply-held positions. It happens far too quickly.

        Basically, if you’re going to do this, you probably need to do Intersections in Real Time: spend the entire episode on those conversations.

        Also, “Get the hell out of our galaxy!” remains the single most cringe-worthy line of dialogue for me in all of Babylon 5. God, I hate that.

        1. I’m curious why you’d prefer to have Sheridan reject the Shadows. Given that they killed his second wife it’s a very easy–too easy- position for him to take.

          I feel it would have made for a better story if Londo had been the one to reject the Shadows, Delenn had been the one to reject the Vorlons, and Sheridan just kept close with Lorien to organize the meetings. This formulation would have meant that the rejections of the Shadows and Vorlons would have come from the people who were closest to each ideology, and, having seen the respective ideologies up-close, had decided that they wanted nothing to do with them.

          I agree that the ItF plotline needed a lot more time (the pacing of ItF is just awful) and more depth. I think it also needed a lot more setup to establish that the Shadows and Vorlons were willing to listen just because Sheridan put a speedbump worth of ships in their way. As it is, the victory is pulled out so quickly that it feels unearned.

          1. Well, to begin with, I don’t see this as being about rejecting either Vorlons or Shadows – that’s already happened, and there’s no reason at this point to think that it will unhappen. Neither Vorlons or Shadows have anything to offer by which one might be tempted, and they’re both genocidal planet-killing monsters at this point.

            Also, I’m taking the basic framework of the story as JMS has set it up for granted. That is, Sheridan and Delenn as leaders of the alliance, and (I think this is more important) as representatives of humans and Minbari and spokespersons for the younger races in general, with their co-operation informed by their history of being “enemy” races. It’s the children uniting to talk some sense into daddy and mommy.

            For me, you’d have to rewrite the story quite a bit to get another pair of characters into that role. I’d specifically be against Londo, but it’s for a pretty personal reason – Londo is my favorite B5 character,* and his overall story is my favorite thread in the show. And giving him a decisive role in saving the galaxy at this point would involve a rather different story for the character.

            *I’m afraid this was another point at which I disagreed with our hosts. Vir isn’t in an abusive relationship in his interactions with Londo. Vir is a saint who believes in the possibility of redemption for Londo when no-one else does. And this is the point at which Londo finally justifies Vir’s faith in Londo’s potential for goodness: Londo really is done being the monster at this point. And what *really* for me matters here is that this is where Londo, in his back-handed, snarky way, acknowledges that Vir is his moral superior, which is an important moment on Londo’s own path to acknowledging his own culpability.

  5. Damien London’s character has some things in common with Vir – they’re both relatively small powerless men, certainly seen by others as such, and inspire a protective quality. Is the tragedy we feel for the Regent perhaps born out of these similarities? He could be read as Vir-goes-to-Hell, he foreshadows the sadness awaiting Londo, and in his performance in HotW, we get a sense he’s aware of the darkness around him, the Keepers coming…

    Ed Wasser: this is only his 11th appearance on the show. Isn’t that remarkable? It’s a sadness he’s been on telly so little since. Such a talented actor.

    This episode sees a number of changes in how the show is produced visually, the biggest one being the replacement of Foundation Imaging with Netter Digital on special effects. Also arrving for the long haul are Jerome Johnson (ER) on Props, Jason Howard (garish reality and teen shows) on Set Decoration, and Gabriel De Cunto (Dexter, Fear TWD) on Special Make-Up Effects. They stick around for the movies too, though only Johnson braves Crusade beyond episode 1. Well done on all of them for retaining the visual continuity while making the show look a lot better.

    There’s also Ken Gilbert arriving, as script supervisor. He doesn’t tackle Crusade but does work on the movies. B5 was the last work of his script career which dated from the 60s show The Fugutive, included Thirtysomething and The (new) Twilight Zone: Gilbert did a lot of those, but he was off it by the time JMS came onboard.

  6. Pardon me if this has been covered elsewhere or subsequently. I love this podcast, thank you all for your critique and in depth look at the show and the characters. When I FINALLY watched B5, I was so impressed and excited by the arc (I love soap operas – in fact I have worked on several soap operas for many years – Go Kim Zimmer, Nancy Grahn, Tristan Rogers, Lane Davies, James Patrick Stuart).

    It occurred to me that B5 was a perfect combo of my fave TV show ever – I, Claudius – and Lord Of the Rings. Politics and Epic Generational Evil Prophecy… (just like a little HBO show currently on).

    So…. Cartagia = Caligula and it’s a pretty direct homage. I am loving Cartagia, probably mostly because I can see the scenes from I, Claudius that are replayed in a B5 format (exact lines in some cases). I think Cartagia isn’t over the top when put in this historic category. He leaves US politics in the dust. Ancient Rome really taught us about everything – the best of times, the worst of times.

    Please do tackle Crusade when the time comes, I haven’t been able to watch it, but will do so if you lead the way.

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