”And so, it begins…
Here we are. The end of the first season. “Chrysalis” is more than just an awesome season finale, however. It’s the episode that sold me on Babylon 5. It’s the episode that showed me there was something worth tuning into on a regular basis instead of the sporadic basis I had been watching the show originally. In short, it’s awesome.
I’ve spent a lot of the past few episodes talking about how Babylon 5 started working creating a more epic feel towards the end of the first season. That was needed, if for no other reason than to make this episode feel like a part of the series instead of a sudden leap in storytelling. This one is about as epic as they get, laying the foundation for season finales and cliffhangers to come. In fact, it’s an episode so huge, it’s hard to figure out where to begin.
For grins and giggles, let’s start with Londo and G’Kar. It’s been quite a few episodes since we’ve seen the Narn ambassador – a fact that we’ve overlooked until now. The truth is that it was easy to forget we haven’t seen G’Kar while he was gone, but the second he’s back, back at Londo’s throat, his absence becomes noticeable. He has been missed, but he’s back here, and we finally start to see some of the character’s evolution as he transitions from aggressive diplomat to truth-seeking sage.
Part of that evolution comes courtesy of the mysterious Mr. Mordent, who returns for his second appearance – the first occurring in “Signs and Portents” earlier in the season. There he helped Londo out with a problem and he and his associates return to do the same thing here. We see the mysterious ships of the Shadows return as well, obliterating all of the Narn at the center of contested territory, lauding Londo with great achievements and changing G’Kar. The Narn ambassador suddenly knows another entity is in play, and we can tell he knows this isn’t a good thing. Londo gets to show some character change here as well, regretful over how the contested territory is resolved… at least until he is praised for the resolution. We see Londo has a heart, but we also see him place his own success above that emotional response – something that will start digging a deeper and deeper pit for the character as we move further into the show.
As if Mordent and the Shadow ships aren’t enough, we also get our first look at the Shadows themselves here, or at least their invisible form that follows Mordent alone. We will later learn that Mordent isn’t without these escorts – they are equally his associates and jailers. Here, they’re a cool first glimpse at what that mysterious new universal power is, and they are intriguing as hell.
Switching gears – after a season of watching Delenn building something in her quarters (often unaware of what we were even seeing), we finally see what she’s been up to. The word “Chrysalis,” scanned by the telepath Alyssa Belden in “Legacies,” the gift of the triluminary in “Babylon Squared,” all of it comes together as Delenn moves to the next step in her evolution – a more physical change then G’Kar or Londo are going through. I still remember the first time I saw this episode, wondering what the Minbari ambassador was going to transform into, especially intrigued by the beautiful shot of Lennier holding the candle with a tear running down his cheek.
Even more intriguing regarding Delenn’s plan is that Kosh – a character just as mysterious as the Shadows, albeit more familiar – is in on it. He’s the one she asks before she begins the process. He’s the one she seeks final approval from. He’s the one who reminds Sinclair he’s forgotten to see Delenn. He’s the one who so emphatically states the words at the beginning of this article: “And so, it begins.” What I had never caught before is that this echoes Delenn’s words from the rebirth ceremony in “Parliament of Dreams.” I don’t know if the echo is intentional, because Kosh’s utterance of the line is more of a statement: this is where things get real. As I said, it was enough to sell me on the show, making this episode where the series really began for me.
Of course, at the heart of it all is Sinclair – the brave commander who is way in over his head. I’ll talk more about Sinclair’s departure in the next episode, but “Chrysalis” is a big part of the reason I liked the commander – despite having a destiny and being the war hero he is, this episode really depicts him as the Everyman who is having to deal with things much bigger than he is. The cryptic Minbari and Vorlons, the potential war between the Narn and Centauri. It’s all too much for Sinclair, and nobody considers it to be bad writing when he doesn’t make it to Delenn before she enters her chrysalis. It’s all part of a character overwhelmed by his situation, especially in light of the human tragedy at the heart of the episode: President Santiago’s death.
President Santiago was elected in the first episode of the season. We’ve only seen him a few times, but he’s always been depicted as a good man: when Homeguard was busy tearing apart human-alien relations, Santiago was building his platform to improve interspecies relations. He was a man who saw Babylon 5 as a place of hope – a politician who believed deeply in the mission of the station, unlike many of the senators and other political figures we’ve seen. Woven lightly, yet carefully throughout the season, his death is intended to feel like a tragedy, and that’s well executed here as the image of Earthforce One exploding is indelibly burned into the viewer’s mind. It’s one of the show’s iconic moments, and it earns the emotional gravitas it’s supposed to carry.
Of course, we also see the other moment that’s been foreshadowed heavily throughout the season: Garibaldi being shot in the back. Just as overwhelmed as Sinclair, Garibaldi gets a nice mystery to try and solve in this episode. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite solve all of it. His aide, who we’ve seen in the backdrop over several episodes, gets the security chief out of the way by blasting him in the back – another iconic visual for the series, and yet another nice piece of character development for the future.
Honestly, this entire episode is a highlight of the series. If you only see one episode of the first season, this is it, but here are a few of my favorite moments within the episode:
Londo and G’Kar back at each other’s throats in the council’s chamber. As I said above, with so much going on it was easy to overlook G’Kar’s absence, but the second he’s back you realize how much the character has been missed.
The Shadow ships appearing to deal with the Centauri-Narn struggle. As we saw before, they appear from nowhere, strike quickly, and fade back into nothingness. They are a fascinating design and especially in the early days when the ships are sparsely seen, they are a wonder to behold.
I was never a fan of Sinclair’s romantic storyline, but his proposal is a nice moment for the character, as is their dinner later with Garibaldi and Ivanova. In fact, the fact that we don’t have to see this resolved with some sort of Babylon 5 wedding makes the proposal even better – it’s a moment of happiness for Sinclair, but like most happiness for these characters right now, it’s fleeting.
The cryptic conversation between Delenn and Kosh is just another reminder of why Kosh is a fascinating character – the less he says, the more intriguing he is, and this episode is no different.
Sinclair coming to see G’Kar and being forbidden to enter… until the Centauri women he’s been with leave. What a great moment that tells a lot about the Narn ambassador – obviously his hatred for the Centauri only goes so far…
The vigil for Garibaldi at the end of the episode, with Londo and Ivanova on one side and Garibaldi’s aid and assailant on the other side. It’s a nice moment for Londo, but a reminder of the conflict to come.
The final moments of G’Kar in the episode, where we finally see the other side of the Ambassador. He is truly worried about things to come – not just for the Narn, but for all of the sentient creatures in his Universe. It’s the first glimpse we get of the character transformation to come.
The iconic moments of the show I mentioned above: Garibaldi being shot in the back, the explosion of Earthforce One, Lennier holding vigil over Delenn’s chrysalis, and the final shot of Sinclair, shocked and exhausted, and his statement that is more true than anyone involved in the show could have known at the time: “Nothing’s the same anymore.”
Londo: Vir, how many gods are there in our Pantheon? I lost count since the last emperor was elevated to godhood.
Vir: Fourty-eight..no fourty-nine, ahhh fifty if you count Zoog but I never…
Londo: Alright! Let’s say fifty. Now out of that fifty, how many gods must I have offended to have ended up with G’kar’s teeth so embedded into my throat, that I can barely breathe?
Vir: All of them?
Londo: Sounds right.
Londo: This…this, this, this is like… being nibbled to death by, uh…Pah! What are those Earth creatures called? Feathers, long bill, webbed feet…go “quack”.
Vir Cotto: Cats.
Londo: Cats! I’m being nibbled to death by cats.
Londo: There comes a time when you look into the mirror, and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. Then you accept it, or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking into mirrors.
Kosh: And so it begins.
G’Kar: Expect me when you see me.
Sinclair: Nothing’s the same anymore.
“Chrysalis” is the best episode of the first season, hands down. If it doesn’t sell you on the series, then stop now, because nothing else will. It has mystery, intrigue, promises of the character development to come, iconic moments, and even a few laughs. Even after multiple viewings, it’s an episode that still gets to me and makes me excited for things to come: the end of “Signs and Portents” and the mark of “The Coming of Shadows.”