Babylon 5 Rewatch: “Midnight on the Firing Line”


“Midnight on the Firing Line”
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Richard Compton
Season 1, Episode 1
Production episode 103
Original air date: January 26, 1994

It was the dawn of the third age… The Centauri agricultural colony on Ragesh III is the victim of a surprise attack, with the identity of the attackers left a mystery to the viewers.

On B5, new first officer Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova is informed of one of Sinclair’s eccentricities by Garibaldi, in this case that he spends some time every day in the observation dome with his link turned off. Ivanova goes to observation to inform him of the attack on Ragesh.

In the casino, Mollari tries to inveigle Garibaldi for a favor, but is interrupted by his new aide—also his entire staff—Vir Cotto, who informs him of the Ragesh attack. Mollari calls for an immediate emergency session of the council; he also receives apologetic condolences from Delenn and G’Kar, though Mollari is suspicious of the latter, despite his insistence on being ignorant of what has happened.

Ships in the area have been attacked by raiders. Garibaldi and one of his people take a couple of Starfuries out to investigate the latest attack.

New telepath Talia Winters reports in to Ivanova, who brushes her off.

Security footage comes in from Ragesh, revealing that the attacking ships are Narn, and they’re now occupying Ragesh. Mollari confronts G’Kar, and they almost come to blows. However, Mollari bumped into Winters en route to confronting G’Kar, and she was able to sense his murderous rage, so she warned security, who separate the ambassadors before they can kill each other. Later, in the ambassador’s quarters, Mollari apologizes to Sinclair, while the latter says that he’s agreed to call the emergency council session he wanted. However, Mollari has more skin in the game, as it were: his nephew Carn, is on Ragesh. Mollari pulled some strings to put him in charge of the agricultural colony in lieu of military service. He swears that if Carn dies, he will stop at nothing to go to war with the Narn.

Sinclair invites Kosh to attend the meeting, and he agrees to do so, but makes no commitment as to how he will behave.

Vir informs Mollari that the Centauri government has decided that there will be no response. Ragesh is too distant and too unimportant a part of the Republic to be worth dedicating the resources necessary to retake it. Mollari is livid and instructs Vir not to tell anyone what the government decided. He will try to talk the council into taking action against the Narn, and hope that the council’s action will embarrass his government into taking some as well.

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Winters asks Garibaldi why Ivanova is being so standoffish. Garibaldi suggests meeting up with Ivanova at the bar when she’s off duty, and she might be more approachable. He also invites her to his quarters to share his “second favorite thing,” which sounds incredibly creepy.

G’Kar meets with Sinclair and making it clear that the Narn are out for Centauri blood, hoping to avenge their years of being subjugated by them. G’Kar also reminds Sinclair that the Narn sold weapons to Earth during their war with the Minbari, but Sinclair counters that the Narns will sell to anyone who’ll buy. The commander also is less than impressed with the Narns’ sneak attack on a civilian target.

Sinclair is instructed by a senator to abstain from the vote. There’s a presidential election about to happen, and Earth can’t afford to act as the galaxy’s police—at least not until after the election.

Garibaldi has turned up a connection among all the ships that were raided: they all bought their transport routes from the same company—which, it seems, has a leak. Sinclair decides to lead the Starfury contingent to protect what they believe to be the next target, leaving Ivanova to run the council meeting. Sinclair also tells her that he couldn’t find her to tell her the instructions from Earth, ahem ahem, so she’ll just have to vote yes to sanctions against the Narn…

In the council meeting, G’Kar reveals two things that kneecap Mollari’s plan. One is that he knows full well that the Centauri government’s official response is to do nothing. How can he ask the council to take an action his own government won’t take?

The second is the revelation that Ragesh was a Narn colony which was then taken from them by the Centauri when they conquered the Narn. The attack was simply taking back their world, and as “evidence” he provides a recording made by Mollari’s nephew Carn saying that they welcome their new Narn overlords and everything’s hunky dory and pay no attention to that gun to my head.

G’Kar moves that the motion to sanction Narn be dismissed, and it passes.

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Sinclair and the Starfuries (totally the name of my next band) drive off the raiders, but doesn’t chase them, instead checking an asteroid field in the opposite direction, where he finds the command-and-control for the raiders.

There’s a Narn on that C&C base—as Sinclair said, the Narn will sell weapons to anyone. But they also leave someone behind to make sure they know how to use the weapons properly. That Narn also has data crystals that prove that—Carn’s testimony to the contrary—the attack on Ragesh was wholly unprovoked. Sinclair gives G’Kar an ultimatum: pull out of Ragesh, or he will show this evidence to the council. G’Kar chooses door #1.

Winters meets Ivanova in the bar, and the latter explains that her mother was a low-level telepath who refused to join Psi Corps. So she took the option of suppressing her telepathy with drugs. Those drugs changed her forever, and eventually drove her to suicide. So Ivanova is never likely to look kindly upon any member of the Corps.

Garibaldi has convinced Delenn to join him for his second favorite thing: a viewing of Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, complete with popcorn. It’s not clear what Delenn is more baffled by, the cartoon or the popcorn…

The episode ends with the announcement that President Luis Santiago has been reelected.

Nothing’s the same anymore. Sinclair is a legacy, as his family have served in the military going back to the Battle of Britain. His grandfather, also in EarthForce, advised his grandson to trust what you see over propaganda. Because of that, early on before it’s revealed who’s behind the attack on Ragesh, Sinclair believes firmly that the Minbari weren’t responsible, because what he saw during the Earth-Minbari War showed him that the Minbari would never engage in a surprise attack on a helpless target.

Ivanova is God. Ivanova says she’s voting for Marie Crane for Earth President over the incumbent Santiago because the latter has a weak chin and she doesn’t trust someone with a weak chin.

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The household god of frustration. Garibaldi is, it turns out, a Daffy Duck fan. Despite this, he never once tells Mollari that he’s despicable…

In the glorious days of the Centauri Republic… Earth’s first alien contact was with the Centauri Republic. The Centauri made a lot of wild claims to what they perceived as gullible humans, including that humanity was an offshoot of the Centauri. (When Garibaldi reminds Mollari of this, Mollari dismisses it as a clerical error.)

Though it take a thousand years, we will be free. The Narn obviously targeted Ragesh to see how the Centauri would react. It’s a gambit designed to see if war is feasible. That the Centauri declined to respond likely meant it was a successful one, even though they had to give up Ragesh.

The Corps is mother, the Corps is father. Any humans who are discovered to be telepaths are given three choices: join the Psi Corps, go to prison, or have your telepathy tamped down by drugs.

The Shadowy Vorlons. Sinclair visits Kosh when he’s out of his encounter suit, but he’s hiding behind a screen, though something is glowing back there. Kosh also seems to teleport into his encounter suit…

Looking ahead. Mollari tells Sinclair that Centauri sometimes dream of the moment of their death. In Mollari’s case, it’ll be being strangled by G’Kar while he strangles G’Kar. He had the dream when he was young, and was gobsmacked when he first met G’Kar and recognized him from his prophetic dream. This event Mollari dreamt will be seen down the line, more than once…

Welcome aboard. Paul Hampton is back from “The Gathering” for his second and final appearance as the senator. Peter Trencher plays Carn.

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Trivial matters. With Tamlyn Tomita, Johnny Sekka, and Patricia Tallman declining to return after “The Gathering,” we meet two of their replacements: Claudia Christian as the new first officer and Andrea Thompson as the new Psi Corps telepath. In addition, this episode marks the first appearance of Stephen Furst as Vir.

Richard Biggs, Bill Mumy, and Caitlin Brown are all listed in the opening credits as playing, respectively, Dr. Stephen Franklin, Lennier, and Na’Toth, but they do not appear and the episode gives no indication who they are.

Both Delenn and G’Kar have new makeup/facial prosthetics. In Delenn’s case, there’s less of it, as they’re no longer trying to make her look more masculine (or at least more androgynous), and just in general, she looks more “traditionally” feminine. G’Kar’s has simply been refined a bit, one hopes in a way that made it easier for Andreas Katsulas in the makeup chair…

This episode has the first reference to spoo, a meat dish popular among the Centauri and Narn (and also “oops” spelled backwards). J. Michael Straczynski also had a food called spoo in an episode of She-Ra: Princess of Power that he wrote.

The echoes of all of our conversations.

“They are alone. They are a dying people. We should let them pass.”

“Who? The Narn or the Centauri?”

“Yes.”

—Kosh making a pronouncement, Sinclair asking for clarity, and Kosh saying, “Bazinga!”

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The name of the place is Babylon 5. “I’m in the middle of fifteen things, all of them annoying.” There are some ways in which this feels like a do-over of “The Gathering.” You’ve got character introductions (in this case to Ivanova, Vir, and Winters), you’ve got Garibaldi investigating things, you’ve got the senator telling Sinclair to do something he doesn’t want to do, you’ve got G’Kar and the Narn being the bad guys and plotting evil things of evil, you’ve got Sinclair bopping off on his own and leaving his first officer in charge of a council meeting, you’ve got a council meeting where, once again, G’Kar doesn’t apparently have a seat, instead leaving poor Andreas Katsulas to wander around during it.

And you’ve got epic rants from Mollari, though the Centauri gets much more focus here than he did in the pilot, which is all to the good given that Peter Jurasik was the best thing about the prior episode.

The Centauri/Narn conflict is one of the bedrocks of B5, and it is very much on display here. While G’Kar is still being written as a one-note mustache-twirling villain, Katsulas imbues him with a palpable sense of outrage and fury. He’s matched by Jurasik, whose anger both at the Narn for their surprise attack on a civilian target that includes his nephew and at his government for their spineless response drives the episode.

Stephen Furst’s Vir is another character like G’Kar who will improve as the series goes on, but his introduction, alas, creates very little impression beyond “oh look, it’s Flounder from Animal House with worse hair and sharper teeth!” (The Centauri had massive incisors initially, though that makeup choice was dropped after the first season or so, probably as a favor to the actors.)

By contrast, Claudia Christian creates an instant, excellent impression as Ivanova with her cynicism, her sarcasm, her fatalism, and her bluntness. Though she also has a tendency to speak without contractions in this first appearance which comes across as mannered, and which will also be dropped before long.

As for Winters, there’s nothing to really distinguish Andrea Thompson from Patricia Tallman’s Alexander beyond hair color, at least so far.

This is a stronger opening to the series than “The Gathering” was by far, setting up one of the show’s core conflicts as well as establishing some of the character dynamics. And Garibaldi is, at least, portrayed as competent in this one, actually solving the case and not faffing about the way he was last time, plus we get his Daffy Duck fandom, which is delightful.

Next week: “Soul Hunter.” icon-paragraph-end



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