Random Musings: Revisiting Babylon 5


Babylon 5 season 1 box set

Science fiction is often called the literature of ideas and that was especially true of Babylon 5, a superb five-season novel for television, which ran from 1993-1998.

Yes, novel for television. It was written with the structure of a novel and was intended to run for five seasons.

It was also the first American TV series to take such an approach; and series creator J. Michael Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes (or about 84 percent), ensuring that the storyline hewed to his vision.

He also spent years trying to get the series made, a testimony to, as Straczynski himself put it, never surrendering dreams. One of the earliest references to Babylon 5 I’ve come across is in an interview with Straczynski in Starlog #136 (Nov. 1988, pg 58).

Among other things, Babylon 5 explored the relationships between individuals and among governments before, during and after a major war. One of the themes of the series is the importance of creating one’s own future and of determining one’s own destiny. As Straczynski says in his commentary for the season three finale, “individuals have power; individuals have strength.”

The story takes place from 2258 to 2262, primarily aboard the space station Babylon 5, located in neutral territory. Here, five interstellar dominions converge: The Centauri Republic, The Earth Alliance, The Minbari Federation, The Narn Regime and The Vorlon Empire.

The Babylon 5 station.

The Babylon 5 station.

Babylon 5, the last of the Babylon stations (the first three were sabotaged early in their respective construction phases; Babylon 4 disappeared 24 hours after it became operational), was built 10 years after the Earth-Minbari war, which nearly saw the human race annihilated. But just when the Minbari had Earth on its metaphorical knees, they mysteriously surrendered.

As the series begins, the Narns, once enslaved by the Centauri, are trying to make a name for themselves; the Centauri Republic, by contrast, is in decline; the Minbari seem to be ignoring signs that the prophecies of their greatest leader, Valen, are coming true; the Earth Alliance is becoming more isolationist; and the Vorlons—

Are an enigma

And unknown to most, a sixth race— known only as The Shadows— is on the prowl. And their presence is a very bad sign.

Some governments rise; some fall; some (including the Earth Alliance) are torn apart by civil war.

The characters also change over the course of the series. At first glance, Narn Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) appears to be the primary antagonist. But as G’Kar himself says, “no one here is exactly what he appears.” By the end of the series, he has changed in ways he probably couldn’t have imagined when he first came aboard the station.

And who could guess that Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik)— an apparent buffoon, a gambler and an overall has-been at the series’ start— would end up with so much blood on his hands?

G’Kar and Londo at odds.

G’Kar and Londo at odds.

Neither the Shadows nor the Vorlons are necessarily what they appear, either. To paraphrase something Straczynski said in an online forum when the show was on the air, the Shadows are the nominal “bad guys”, but their representative, Mr. Morden (Ed Wasser), is polite and charming. The Vorlons are the nominal “good guys”, but Vorlon Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain) all but terrorizes telepath Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) and has an inquisitor (Wayne Alexander) all but torture Minbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan).

The always polite Mr. Morden has just one question: “What do you want?”

The always polite Mr. Morden has just
one question: “What do you want?”

The less-than-polite inquisitor, Sebastian, Interrogates Delenn.

The less-than-polite inquisitor, Sebastian,
Interrogates Delenn.

We also see the rise of a dictatorship on Earth. One aspect of it is an organization called the Night Watch. Initially presented in terms some might find palatable, it’s not long before it becomes much more sinister. Security officer Zack Allan (Jeff Conaway) joins Night Watch for the extra 50 credits a week, but he soon begins to have “buyer’s remorse.” Especially when Night Watch members are authorized to read E-Mails and look into individuals’ past associations.

Of course, those who were paying attention when Night Watch was introduced would have noted this phrase by another representative:

“Peace can be made or broken with a gun, a word, an idea, even a thought.” (emphasis mine)

Even when Night Watch was showing its “nice” face, it was still hinting at its true nature.

A Night Watch representative recruiting new members.

A Night Watch representative recruiting new members.

Then there’s Interstellar Network News (ISN), a once legitimate media outlet that becomes a propaganda arm of the EarthGov dictatorship. In the fourth season episode “The Illusion of Truth”, Captain John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) allows an ISN reporter access to the station because he knows the man’s going to do a story anyway. But, as he later tells Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian), “we kept anything we said down to short, declarative sentences to make it harder to take us out of context.”

Yeah, good luck with that. The ISN broadcast (which takes up the second half of the episode and provides a juxtaposition between what viewers of the TV show saw vs. what people in that fictional universe saw on the news that day) is a hatchet job. Actual dialogue in some scenes is replaced by the reporter’s blatant lies in a voice-over; and rather than show the reporter asking the actual questions he addressed to Sheridan, ISN instead inter-cut shots of the reporter asking different questions— while in another room— with Sheridan’s answers. This gives the answers a different context.

In Vol. 9 of the limited edition Babylon 5 Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski (page 26), Straczynski said few people noticed that inter-cutting, “which of course is exactly why and how people get away with this sort of thing.”

He also said the episode has become required viewing at media and journalism classes at several major universities.

As it should be.

It’s not all gloom and doom on Babylon 5, however. There are many moments of humor. In the teaser of “Babylon Squared”, Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) and Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) trick a half-awake Ivanova into believing she slept through breakfast (“I’ll notify your next of kin,” Sinclair subsequently tells Garibaldi).

Sinclair “hypnotizes” a half-awake Ivanova.

Sinclair “hypnotizes” a half-awake Ivanova.

In the season two episode “The Geometry of Shadows”, Ivanova seeks to understand the reasons for fights among the Drazi— who’ve split into factions wearing green and purple scarves— so she can try to mediate the conflict. What’s the point of contention?

Turns out the scarves are selected at random, literally taken from a large barrel.

“Green must fight Purple; Purple must fight Green. Is no other way,” a Green Drazi says.

“Just my luck,” Ivanova replies. “I get stuck with a race that speaks only in macros.”

Later, Ivanova tries to get the Drazi to understand how asinine this is (especially after the two factions begin killing each other).

“Don’t you understand? This is insane. It doesn’t make any sense to go around killing each other over a piece of cloth.”

Ivanova attempts to mediate with the Drazi.

Ivanova attempts to mediate with the Drazi.

The Drazi situation reminds me of the Bloom County strip from July 6, 1982, where a soldier in the Falklands War says “they want our rocks. These are our rocks. I will die to protect the honor of our rocks.”

Babylon 5 was also rare among science fiction TV series in that it explored religious themes and beliefs. Ironic in some ways, because Straczynski himself is not religious. G’Kar is deeply religious; the Minbari are very spiritual; Ivanova is Jewish; and Sinclair was educated by Jesuits.

Also, characters often find themselves in situations where they must decide whether or not to forgive. As Sheridan notes in the episode “Passing Through Gethsemane”, “Forgiveness is a hard thing, isn’t it?”

When the Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN) collapsed, cable network TNT picked up Babylon 5 for the fifth season (and aired re-runs of the previous seasons). To introduce its viewers to the series, TNT broadcast In The Beginning, which told the story of the Earth-Minbari war as narrated by an elderly Londo Mollari.

If you’re going to watch (or re-watch) Babylon 5, I believe it’s best to start there. Then go on to the 1992 pilot movie, The Gathering (which was re-edited in 1998, with a lot of important character bits— and other things that should have been there all along— restored), and then the series.

Yes, starting with In The Beginning means you’ll know things viewers the first time around didn’t learn until much later; but while you’ll know, for example, that Londo one day becomes ________, you won’t know how or under what circumstances.

And finding that out is part of the fun.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: More Flash time travel thoughts


Eobard Thawne and Harrison Wells
In the March 31 episode of The Flash, “Tricksters”, we learn in flashbacks that Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher) killed the real Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) 15 years ago, subsequent to his murder of Nora Allen. He also used a device to change his appearance so he looked like Wells.

This revelation answers the question of why Wells’ DNA wasn’t at the scene of Nora Allen’s murder. The real Wells was never there (and, presumably, the device that let Thawne impersonate Wells didn’t just change his outward appearance, but his DNA as well).

A teaser for upcoming episodes shows Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and Arrow’s Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) finding a skeleton. My guess: It’s the real Harrison Wells.

The flashbacks start with The Flash (Grant Gustin) chasing the Reverse Flash, whose destination appears to be the Allen home 15 years ago. It appears the Reverse Flash’s intent was to go back in time and kill Barry as a child, only to find himself stranded. So, ironically, he found himself having to wait until Barry grew up so he could orchestrate events to make Barry the Flash and then somehow use the Flash’s speed to get home.

Eobard Thawne stranded in the 21st century.

Eobard Thawne stranded in the 21st century.

It also looks like the Reverse Flash is the one who removed the younger Barry from the house. Why? To kill him? Why not do it in the house? To add to the confusion, the two speedsters were in the living room; the younger Barry was initially in his bedroom, but came out to investigate. If young Barry had been the target, wouldn’t the Reverse Flash have headed straight for the bedroom, where a child would likely have been at that time of night?

Also, what happened to the Flash back then? Why didn’t he chase after the Reverse Flash when the latter ran off with the young Barry? Or, for that matter, if he didn’t continue his pursuit, why didn’t he rush his injured mother to the hospital?

I think the moment the Reverse Flash ran off with the young Barry, he “overwrote” past events and the Barry of the original timeline ceased to exist. Just as Barry himself overwrote the events of a day or so when he tried to stop the tidal wave.

Right about then is when the Reverse Flash lost his super speed, by the way. Though, young Barry wasn’t with him, so he must have dropped him somewhere and kept going until he ran out of super speed. Again, why?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Flash carried off his younger self. If so, the end result is the same. He overwrote the past and the older version suddenly disappeared, leaving young Barry standing in the middle of the street however far away he’d been taken.

Leaving aside the question of which of the speedsters carried young Barry from the house, the fact remains that there’s no indication the Flash remained active in the past.

The real Harrison Wells with his fiancée, Tess Morgan.

The real Harrison Wells with his fiancée, Tess Morgan.

As for the Reverse Flash, after becoming stranded in the past, he stalked the real Dr. Wells. He didn’t choose Wells at random, however. After causing a car crash that killed Wells’ fiancée, Tess Morgan (Bre Blair), the Reverse Flash told Wells that in the history he knew, Wells and his wife activated the particle accelerator in 2020, but that he— Thawne— couldn’t wait that long. Though, given that he had to wait until Barry grew up anyway, what’s a few more years?

Presumably the particle accelerator also malfunctioned in the original history, giving a slightly older Barry his super speed. Whether Barry ever interacted with the real Dr. Wells in the original timeline is impossible to say. Even if he had, the circumstances would have been different, because in the timeline we know Wells/Thawne had an agenda in mentoring Barry.

In the same episode, Barry also revealed his identity to both his father (John Wesley Shipp), who was taken hostage by the Trickster (Mark Hamill), and Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett). He made the latter revelation because he and Joe needed Eddie’s help in convincing Iris West (Candice Patton) to give up searching for her colleague who was killed by the Reverse Flash. Eddie told her his investigation found that the man had moved to Brazil.

In the April 14 episode, “All Star Team Up”, Arrow’s Felicity Smoak and Ray Palmer (Emily Bett Rickards and Brandon Routh) guest starred. So did Amanda Pays, making her second appearance as Mercury Labs’ Tina McGee. Pays, of course, played a character of the same name in the original 1990 Flash series opposite John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen.

In Arrow, Ray recently began operating as the Atom (though this iteration does not (yet?) shrink to six inches or smaller). In one scene, Felicity, Barry, Caitlin, Cisco and “Dr. Wells” watch the Atom fly in.

Caitlin: “Is that a bird?”

Cisco: “It’s a plane.”

No, it’s an inside joke. Brandon Routh played Superman in Superman Returns.

The Atom.

The Atom.

Meanwhile, Cisco is having flashes of memory from his fatal encounter with the Reverse Flash in the previous timeline (not unlike sound from a previous recording bleeding through a re-recorded audio tape). At the end of the episode, he tells Joe, Barry and Caitlin that he remembers that Dr. Wells is the Reverse Flash (adding weight to what Barry had just told a disbelieving Caitlin) and that he remembers Dr. Wells killing him.

In an earlier scene, Dr. McGee told Barry that after the car accident, Harrison Wells— once a close friend— became a completely different person. According to the teaser for tonight’s episode Barry will either realize (or deduce) that it’s literally true.

Question: Why has Eobard Thawne, in his persona of Harrison Wells, helped Barry capture and contain dangerous metahumans? Two reasons: He can’t risk any of them harming or killing Barry before he can use Barry’s super speed abilities to return to his own time and if there comes a time when Barry could pose a threat to his plans, he could release the captured metahumans to keep Barry occupied.

Another question that remains to be answered is whether Barry will learn that another version of himself was in his childhood home; not his future self. Even if he does, I doubt it would dissuade him from trying to go back and save his mother.

How do we know that it isn’t Barry’s future self? Because, again, the Reverse Flash has already experienced those events.

Also,  to what degree has Eobard Thawne’s 15 year impersonation of Harrison Wells changed him? He has to keep Barry close and safe for his own purposes, but he also genuinely seems to care about Cisco, Caitlin and others. The fact that Thawne allowed himself to get close to any of his colleagues during his impersonation of Dr. Wells is curious. Why not maintain a cool, professional detachment? Why did he “bond” with Cisco, watching an old silent film? Could Thawne have come to identify so much with his Wells persona and life in the 21st century— where he is effectively a hostage— that he’s affected by some ironic form of the Stockholm Syndrome?

Perhaps, but he wasn’t affected enough to let Cisco live in a previous timeline. Still, would he have risked exposure to save Cisco’s life in circumstances were Barry wasn’t around (and Cisco wasn’t investigating the Reverse Flash)? I think the answer to that is a definite maybe.

Even so, I don’t think we should expect the Reverse Flash to have a “road to Damascus” moment of revelation and attempt to set things right by changing history so Nora Allen never died. Even if such a thing were to happen, it would only be because the Reverse Flash had realized he’d created a new timeline and he’d need to restore the original to return to the 25th century he knows. In short, any act of altruism would be a means to an end.

Barry and “Dr. Wells.”

Barry and “Dr. Wells.”

Still, it’s curious that in his persona of Dr. Wells, Eobard Thawne has been grooming Barry Allen to be a hero. If all he needs to get home is the Flash’s speed, how Barry uses that speed is incidental.

It’s ironic that the Reverse Flash’s attempt to change history and eliminate his enemy led him to become stranded centuries in his own past. Whatever the cause of their enmity in the original timeline, you have to wonder if he had wished he’d never met the Flash.

I’ve no idea if such a scenario would ever happen, but suppose the Reverse Flash met someone who could return him to his own time, only at the cost of the permanent loss of his super speed? Would he accept the deal? It’d be more ironic if that were the only way he could get home.

I’ve no doubt that Barry will get justice for his father, falsely imprisoned for his mother’s murder; but whether he exposes the truth about Eobard Thawne or goes back and changes history remains to be seen. Either way, I feel certain some close approximation of the original timeline will be restored.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Déjà vu all over again: fallout from the recent time travel in The Flash.


Flash runs alongside himself

In last week’s episode of The Flash, “Out of Time”, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) discovered that his employer and mentor, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), was Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, the man who’d killed Nora Allen 14 years earlier. And was himself killed by Wells/Thawne as a consequence.

Meanwhile, Mark Mardon, AKA the Weather Wizard (Liam McIntyre), targeted Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) for revenge in the death of his brother in the pilot; and as part of that vengeance unleashed a tidal wave on Central City. In his efforts to stop the tidal wave, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) ran so fast he traveled back in time to a moment near the start of the episode.

As I predicted, there weren’t two Flashes running around in this week’s episode, “Rogue Time.” Instead, Barry had “overwritten” his past self and the events of the past day or two. How did that change things?

First, since he knew about the Weather Wizard’s intentions, Barry was able to capture and imprison him before he could even get started with his plan of revenge.

Weather Wizard: “Curses, foiled again!”

Because the Weather Wizard never launched his attacks, Barry’s boss, Captain Singh (Patrick Sabongui), didn’t receive a crippling injury.

Captain Singh injured.

Captain Singh injured.

Captain Singh: “That’s a relief.”

Also, since events now took a different path, Cisco never investigated how the Reverse Flash escaped from containment and thus didn’t make his discovery and get himself killed.

Cisco: “Hooray, I’m not dead.”

On the other hand, in the new timeline he was captured by Leonard Snart, AKA Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), who tortured Cisco’s brother, Dante (Nicholas Gonzalez), to make Cisco reveal the Flash’s true identity.

Cisco: “Darn it!”

And while Cisco is still breathing in the new timeline (ironically, Dr. Wells gave him a pep talk in the same room where he killed him in the original history), newspaper reporter Mason Bridge (Roger Howarth), who was investigating Dr. Wells, wasn’t so lucky. In the altered timeline, Dr. Wells somehow learned about Bridge’s investigation and, as the Reverse Flash, punched a hole through his heart at super speed.

Bridge: “Ouch!”

For his part, Barry, who’d again confessed his love for Iris West (Candice Patton) in the original timeline— and been told she felt the same— was surprised to find she didn’t share those feelings in the altered timeline.

Barry and Iris.

Barry and Iris.

Barry: “Rats!”

The reason, Dr. Wells theorized, was a major emotional event in the original timeline. That, obviously, would have been the attacks on her father.

At the episode’s end, Barry had somehow become suspicious of Dr. Wells, telling Joe that Joe might have been right about everything about him.

Dr. Wells: “Uh, oh.”

As for Captain Cold knowing Barry’s identity, Barry made it clear that if word got out, the Flash would make Captain Cold’s life an unpleasant one.

Captain Cold: “I probably shouldn’t make him angry. I don’t think I’ll like him when he’s angry.”

Flash confronts Captain Cold.

Flash confronts Captain Cold.

So, was it a bit of a cheat— one along the lines of the abhorred “it was all a dream” ending— to re-set the events of last week so that Cisco wasn’t killed and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) never discovered that— at the very least— Dr. Wells didn’t need his wheelchair?

No. Because A) the viewer knows the truth about the Reverse Flash and B) Barry is himself now suspicious of Dr. Wells, which will no doubt lead to a season-ending confrontation.

In another character development, Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) punched Barry at a crime scene after Barry’s meeting with Iris. He later apologized, saying it’s not like him to hit anyone. He and Iris were also led to believe (by Caitlin) that Barry’s “emotional outburst” was a side effect of the lightning strike all those months ago.

The other day, I saw a trailer for upcoming episodes. In it, Eddie shoots two fellow cops. Presumably those actions will turn out to be as uncharacteristic as his punching Barry. The question remains what causes him to do these things?

The Flash remains a smart and fun show and next week’s episode should be especially fun as Mark Hamill reprises his role of the Trickster from the 1990 Flash series.

The Trickster then.

The Trickster then.

The Trickster today.

The Trickster today.

Well, sort of. While the previous show isn’t acknowledged within the fictional universe of The Flash, for obvious reasons, photos and video clips of Hamill’s character when he was younger are taken from his appearances in the 1990 series.

Hamill, of course, is well-regarded for his portrayal as the voice of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. In some ways, his performance as the Trickster could almost be seen as a “trial run” for his later Joker portrayal.

On the subject of time travel, I mentioned earlier this year that I doubted Eddie Thawne was the Reverse Flash because he doesn’t mess up day-to-day details someone from the future might not know. How do I explain Dr. Wells not having that problem? He’s been in our century for 15 years. Plenty of time to get acclimated.

Yes, Eddie could have, too, if he’d arrived from the 25th century 15 years ago. But Eddie’s also 20 years younger than Dr. Wells (assuming the characters are the same ages as the actors). It’s doubtful the producers ever considered having the Reverse Flash be a teenager; so if he had been Eddie, we would have found that, like Barry, an adult Eddie would have eventually traveled back in time to that fateful night.

The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Updates on The Flash and Arrow


Flash and Arrow
First, The Flash.

Okay, I wasn’t expecting that.

Turns out Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) did kill Nora Allen 14 years earlier. In last Tuesday’s episode, “Out of Time”, he admitted to S.T.A.R Labs mechanical engineer Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) that he’s the Reverse Flash; his real name is Eobard Thawne and he’s from the 25th century. He also said killing Nora Allen (Michelle Harrison) hadn’t been his intention. Instead, he was trying to kill Barry that night.

Cisco confronts Dr. Wells.

Cisco confronts Dr. Wells.

Wait. What?

First, a recap of recent events in The Flash to explain how and why Dr. Wells/Thawne revealed his true identity to Cisco: Over the course of the season, detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), who raised Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) after Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) went to prison for his wife’s murder, has begun having doubts as to whether Dr. Wells has been entirely honest about himself and his actions. He’s even begun to wonder if Wells might have been involved in Nora Allen’s murder. Joe shared these suspicions with Cisco, who refused to believe them.

Still, Joe and Cisco searched for answers as to what really happened in the Allen home that fateful night and found blood splatters beneath some wallpaper. Cisco ran some tests and discovered that it was Barry’s blood. What’s more, the blood contained certain chemicals that build up as you age, chemicals an 11-year-old wouldn’t have accumulated. Conclusion: the adult Barry Allen had been at the scene (the young Barry had reported seeing both red and yellow streaks that night), which means that at some point in the future Barry will travel back in time to that night.

Streaks of red and yellow surround Nora Allen.

Streaks of red and yellow surround Nora Allen.

Despite his refusal to believe that Dr. Wells— whom he hero-worships— could have killed Nora Allen, something bugged Cisco about the containment field used to temporarily trap the Reverse Flash earlier this season. The Reverse Flash escaped and beat up Dr. Wells, but according to all the instrumentation, he shouldn’t have been able to do get out. Cisco asked bio-engineer Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) to keep Dr. Wells out of S.T.A.R Labs for a time while he conducted some tests.

So, while Caitlin kept Dr. Wells at a coffee shop, Cisco studied the containment mechanism and discovered a holographic image of the Reverse Flash, complete with pre-recorded “dialogue.”

The possibility that the Reverse Flash might not have actually been in that containment field never occurred to me. Which is ironic, considering that in the 1970s I bought a magic trick in which the magician “converses” with a tape recorder, just as Dr. Wells “conversed” with the “captured” Reverse Flash.

I also never expected Wells to be the man who was in the Allen home all those years ago. Okay, yes, Dr. Wells is a speedster, but I thought he might turn out to be Barry’s descendant, Bart Allen, and that he was impersonating the Reverse Flash in the present day for some reason to give Barry the proper motivation.

Dr. Wells, for his part, suspected something was up and when Caitlin was at the coffee counter, raced to S.T.A.R Labs, leaving his (unnecessary) wheelchair behind (and revealing the truth to Caitlin as well).

So, that’s how Dr. Wells came to confront Cisco. And subsequently to kill him.

Dr. Wells kills Cisco.

Dr. Wells kills Cisco.

Okay, so Dr. Harrison Wells is really Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, a man from the 25th century somehow stranded in our time. Why, as he told Cisco, would he have wanted to kill Barry? It doesn’t make sense that he’d try to kill the 11-year-old Barry, especially since he needs the adult Barry’s speed to help him return to his own time.

Also, why was Dr. Wells/Thawne in the Allen home that night 14 years ago? One possibility is that he went there looking for The Flash. By the 25th century, the Flash’s true identity might be a matter of public record. But maybe their records aren’t/won’t be entirely accurate and the Allen home (perhaps the site of the Flash Museum) is believed to be where Barry lived as an adult.

Maybe when the Reverse Flash found himself in the early 21st century, unable to generate enough speed to get back to his own time for whatever reason, he sought out the Flash for help.

Now, suppose that just then the time-traveling Flash arrives from the present day. He attacks the Reverse Flash and in the course of the struggle, Nora Allen is killed.

It would be ironic if Nora Allen died because Barry had gone back in time to save her, but the question remains: Why did Dr. Wells/Thawne attempt to kill Barry that night, as he told Cisco? Again, this wasn’t a case of the Reverse Flash finding himself in the early 21st century, seeking help from the Flash and being attacked for (from his perspective) no reason; Dr. Wells/Thawne told Cisco he’d intended to kill Barry.

Unlike Barry, who has yet to travel back in time to that night, Wells/Thawne has already experienced the confrontation in the Allen home. So it’s not a case of the two later becoming enemies, traveling back in time and having a fight in the past.

What’s more, unlike the Reverse Flash of the comics, Dr. Wells seems genuinely interested in Barry’s welfare. And not just because he wants to use him as a means to get home.

Of course he confessed to being fond of Cisco, but killed him anyway, telling him that from his point of view Cisco has been dead for centuries.

But if my theory as to why The Reverse Flash was in the Allen home that night is right (and he did tell Cisco he had only recently arrived in our time), he didn’t yet know Barry. And, as I said, killing him wouldn’t help him get home.

Now, it’s possible that from his perspective the Reverse Flash has already fought many battles with the Flash, ones that took place before he found himself stranded in our time. Maybe he thought the Flash who confronted him in the Allen home was an older version, one who was already an enemy. Maybe he intended to kill his enemy then ironically seek out the younger version of the Flash for help in getting home, only to discover that Barry Allen had not yet become the Flash.

So, he created the persona of Harrison Wells and played a waiting game.

Could be.

I don’t know what middle initial “Harrison Wells” has, if any, but it would be amusing if it were “G.” “Herbert George Wells” as an alias might have raised too many questions, but “Harrison G. Wells” as the name of a time traveler works as a subtle nod. I assume the producers chose that name for the character for that reason.

By the way, time travel “bookends” the episode “Out of Time.” At the start, Barry thought he saw himself run past while he was racing somewhere. And at the end, as he raced to stop a tsunami caused by the Weather Wizard (Liam McIntyre), he found himself running alongside himself. Surprised, he stopped and discovered he was back when and where he’d been at the episode’s beginning.

From the trailer for tonight’s episode, it’s clear that Barry has “overwritten” recent events. And his past self, since there are no indications that two of him will be running around tonight.

Which means A) Cisco’s discovery of the truth and his subsequent murder haven’t happened; B) Barry, who knows the threat the Weather Wizard poses, can prevent the tidal wave from ever happening and thus avoid having to reveal his identity to Iris (Candice Patton) and C) Dr. Wells still has his secret, because although Caitlin tried to tell Barry about him, Barry was in a bit of a rush at the time.

No doubt Barry will learn the truth about Dr. Wells, but not just yet, it would seem. It’ll be interesting to see how things develop.

As for Arrow, the Feb. 25 episode, “Nanda Parbat” ended with Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) saying he wanted Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) to be his successor. In last Wednesday’s episode, “the Offer” , he explained how certain waters that keep him young are no longer healing him as they once did and that his time will soon be up. He said he believes Oliver is the man to succeed him and “as a gesture of goodwill”, let Oliver, John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) leave, all debts forgiven and all blood oaths waived.

Ra’s al Ghul makes his point to Oliver Queen.

Ra’s al Ghul makes his point to Oliver Queen.

Before he did, he told Oliver that Starling City would turn on him and that he would eventually be hunted down and killed as a vigilante. But, as the head of the League, he would have vast resources with which to make a difference.

As it turns out, Ra’s is stacking the deck against Oliver, because at the end of the episode, he kills some criminals— leaving one survivor— while dressed as the Arrow. He’s clearly orchestrating events to make his “prediction” come true and thus force Oliver to accept the leadership of the League.

Ra’s al Ghul impersonates the Arrow.

Ra’s al Ghul impersonates the Arrow.

These “healing waters” essentially fulfill the same function as the “Lazarus pit” of the comics, in that they allow Ra’s to live beyond a normal lifetime.

We also learn that “Ra’s al Ghul” (which means “the Demon’s head”) is a title, of sorts, one passed on from time to time. I don’t think that’s the case in the comics. I think “Ra’s al Ghul” is the name one man chose for himself.

No, the healing waters weren’t used to save Oliver’s life. Seems he survived his battle with Ra’s on that mountain due to a combination of the extreme cold, his indomitable will to live and a lot of luck.

By the way, Thea Queen (Willa Holland) now knows that she killed Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) while under Malcolm’s control. She has told both Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), who doesn’t blame her, and Ra’s daughter, Nyssa (Katrina Law), who doesn’t believe her.

In the comics, Ra’s al Ghul is primarily a Batman adversary and (as was the case with Oliver in “The Offer”) has often tried to convince Batman to succeed him. Despite his love for Talia al Ghul (Nyssa’s older sister), Batman has always declined the offer. By contrast, Oliver, feeling he hasn’t really accomplished anything, was starting to give it serious thought. By the episode’s end, he’s snapped out of that mindset, but he might snap right back into it when people start thinking he’s dropping bodies.

Both The Flash and Arrow look like they’ll have exciting developments in the weeks to come.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A review of “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”


Where No Man Has Gone Before

Fifty years ago, an unusual TV pilot went before the cameras. Unusual in that it was the second pilot for a proposed TV series. Potential TV shows don’t usually get more than one chance to make it on the air.

This pilot was called “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and it sold the series in question—Star Trek— to NBC. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is one of my favorite episodes of that series. It concerns Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood), Captain Kirk’s best friend. Kirk is forced to kill Mitchell after the latter gains God-like powers and proves Lord Acton’s point.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” aired Sept. 22, 1966 as Star Trek’s third episode. The characters’ uniforms and the ship’s instrumentation were different from the rest of the series, but I doubt any of the powers-that-be at Star Trek gave that a second thought. The pilot had sold the series; why not air it as an episode?

Star Trek even incorporated large portions of its rejected first pilot, “The Cage” into the two-part episode “The Menagerie.”

The episode opens with the Enterprise, near the galaxy’s edge, beaming aboard the ship’s recorder from the S.S. Valiant, which disappeared two centuries earlier. Tapes from the recorder reveal that after the Valiant encountered an unknown force, the frantic crew sought information from the ship’s computer about ESP. Later, the captain gave an order to destroy his own ship.

Kirk decides to leave the galaxy because other ships will have to know what’s out there. As the Enterprise approaches an energy barrier, Mitchell takes the hand of Yeoman Smith (Andrea Dromm). A simple act of humanity that contrasts with many of his later actions.

Mitchell holds Smith’s hand.

Mitchell holds Smith’s hand.

As bridge stations burst into flames, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman) and Mitchell are each shocked by blasts of energy. The Enterprise limps to safety.

Dehner, a psychiatrist, appears to be fine; but Mitchell’s eye’s are now glowing silver.

Kirk visits Mitchell in Sickbay. Mitchell is facing away from the door, but knows it’s Kirk who’s come in. He also says he feels better than he ever has before.

We also get the first indication that Mitchell might not have been a true friend to Kirk after all:

Mitchell: “If I hadn’t aimed that little blonde lab technician at you…”

Kirk (surprised): “You what? You planned that?”

Mitchell: “Well, you wanted me to think. I outlined her whole campaign for her.”

Kirk: “I almost married her.”

Mitchell (smiling): “Better be good to me. I’m getting even better ideas here.”

He then shows Kirk what he’s been reading on his bedside monitor. Spinoza. Whom Mitchell describes as “simple; childish almost. I don’t agree with him at all.”

Later in the scene, when Mitchell says “didn’t I say you’d better be good to me?”, there’s an undercurrent of threat.

Speaking of the “little blonde lab technician”, whether by happenstance or as a deliberate nod to that line, a blonde actress, Bebi Besch, was cast as Dr. Carol Marcus, mother of Kirk’s son, David, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982.

Mitchell “shows off” his extra-sensory abilities to Dehner by shutting down his autonomic functions for 22 seconds; speed reading and demonstrating that he remembers everything he’s read.

But he also “plays” with bridge controls. Spock reports that Mitchell smiled each time it happened.

“As if this ship and crew were almost a toy for his amusement.”

Sulu (a physicist rather than the helmsman he’ll later become) reports that Mitchell’s ability is increasing geometrically. “That is like having a penny, doubling it every day. In a month, you’ll be a millionaire.”

Spock says that in less time than that, Mitchell will regard the crew as an annoyance. He recommends that Kirk either strand Mitchell on the uninhabited planet Delta Vega or kill him while he still can. When Kirk asks him to at least act like he’s got a heart, Spock says the Valiant’s captain probably felt the same, but waited too long to make his decision.

“Set course for Delta Vega,” Kirk orders.

Mitchell, who says he’ll be able to do what a god could if he keeps getting stronger, has other plans. Kirk and Spock overpower him and Dehner injects him with a hypo spray.

Mitchell recovers on the transporter platform.

“You fools! Soon I’ll squash you like insects!”

Dr. Mark Piper (Paul Fix) gives him another injection.

On Delta Vega, Mitchell reminds Kirk he’d once taken a poisoned dart meant for the captain.

Mitchell confronts Kirk.

Mitchell confronts Kirk.

“Why be afraid of me now?”

Kirk cites his comments in the transporter room.

“I was drugged then.”

When Kirk points out that Mitchell said he’d have killed a mutant like himself in Kirk’s place, Mitchell says Spock is right and Kirk’s a fool if he can’t see it.

Mitchell tries to get through his cell’s force field barrier and his eyes change back to normal. He says “Jim” in an almost hesitant tone.

Whether that was a script direction or Gary Lockwood’s own decision, the delivery of that single word suggests we’re getting a glimpse of a very human, uncertain, scared, pleading, even apologetic Gary Mitchell.

Mitchell’s eyes become silver again. He stands and says he’ll keep getting stronger.

The contrast between “Jim” and that line is interesting. Almost as if Mitchell were “possessed.” Peter David addressed that idea in his novel Q Squared.

Mitchell subsequently kills Lt. Lee Kelso (Paul Carr) and escapes, taking Dehner— whose eyes have also begun to glow silver— with him.

Kirk pursues them; and when Dehner confronts him, he both appeals to her humanity and urges her to “be a psychiatrist for one minute longer.”

Kirk pleads with Dehner to hold on to her humanity.

Kirk pleads with Dehner to hold on to her humanity.

When she says she and Mitchell will soon be where it would’ve taken mankind millions of years of learning to reach, Kirk asks what Mitchell will learn in getting there.

Kirk argues that as powerful as Mitchell gets, he’ll still have his human frailties.

“What do you see happening to him? What’s your prognosis, Doctor?”

Mitchell appears, creates a grave for Kirk and makes Kirk pray to him.

Mitchell forces Kirk to pray.

Mitchell forces Kirk to pray.

“Do you like what you see?” Kirk asks Dehner. “Absolute power, corrupting absolutely?”

Dehner and Mitchell exchange blasts of energy. Kirk overpowers him, but hesitates about killing him.

Mitchell’s power returns and when he lifts a large slab of granite, Kirk tackles him. They fall into the open grave. Kirk scrambles out and fires his phaser rifle at an outcropping of rock. The rock crushes Mitchell in the grave.

Kirk kills Mitchell.

Kirk kills Mitchell.

A dying Dehner apologizes, saying, “you can’t know what it’s like to be almost a god.”

Kirk records in his log that Dehner and Mitchell gave their lives in the performance of their duties.

“I wanted his service record to end that way. He didn’t ask for what happened to him.”

“I felt for him, too,” Spock says.

In Starlog #124 (Nov. 1987), “Where No Man Has Gone Before” writer Samuel A. Peeples said, “we were intrigued with the corruption of power theme manifesting over the ordinary individual.”

In that same issue, episode director James Goldstone said, “Star Trek’s characters and dramatic conflicts, albeit within science fiction, were really human conflicts.”

He’s right. Kirk is forced to make painful decisions about his best friend.

Lockwood, for his part, said, “if you turn on Star Trek, something of interest will cross your mind that night.”

Prior to its broadcast, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was shown at “Tricon”, the 1966 World Science Fiction Convention. In The Star Trek Compendium, Allan Asherman described the audience’s reaction: “There was nothing childish about the show; we waited for a kid or a wisecracking robot, but they never arrived.”

Keep in mind that prior to Star Trek, U.S. science fiction programs aimed at adult audiences were anthologies like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Shows with continuing characters were either aimed at children or had scripts which became sillier over time.

Star Trek had its high and low points. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was definitely one of the high ones.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Remembering Leonard Nimoy

The autographed photo of Leonard Nimoy I received on Dec. 24, 1984.

The autographed photo of Leonard Nimoy I received on Dec. 24, 1984.

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015.

Like most people, I was saddened to hear that Leonard Nimoy had died on Feb. 27 at age 83.

I was very much a Star Trek  fan growing up, watching the show every Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t necessarily have a favorite character among the crew, but I suspect the reason I watched In Search Of... in the late 1970s had more to do with the fact that Nimoy hosted the show than because of the subject matter.

In 1975, Nimoy published his autobiography, I Am Not Spock. In 1984, I found it at the library. After reading the book, I wrote him a letter (specifically about an incident he recounted in the book). In response, I received the photo shown above on Christmas Eve that year.

(Apparently, a lot of people were upset by I Am Not Spock, even though on the back cover Nimoy asks the very, um, logical question, “If I am not Spock, who is?” He subsequently published I Am Spock in 1995. Both are good reads.)

Although I saw Nimoy at a convention in 1989, I never had an opportunity to speak with him. I’m sure he would have been an engaging conversationalist.

This past weekend, as a sort of “tribute” to Nimoy, I watched a DVD of one of his performances. No, not a Star Trek episode (that seemed a bit too obvious a choice). Instead, I watched the Columbo episode he guest starred in, “A Stitch in Crime.”

Nimoy was much more than the character of Spock, however “fascinating” that character may have been to so many people. He was also a writer, producer, director and photographer. In recent years, he played William Bell on Fringe and and was the subject of a documentary called Leonard Nimoy’s Boston.

Like I said, I never met Nimoy, but unlike Spock he had a sense of humor (check out his car commercial with Zachary Quinto for one example). If I had met him at a convention or some other such public venue, I might have worked up the courage to ask him to read aloud this brief piece I wrote (I’d like to think he’d have gotten a chuckle (or a groan) out of it):

“Manny, Hugh and Juan are students in a media studies class. Each student has to bring in a guest speaker from the world of TV or films as part of his or her thesis project. A big part. It’s 40 percent of the grade.

“Each contacts Leonard Nimoy and ask him to be their speaker. Nimoy can only accommodate one of them and chooses Manny.


“Because, to paraphrase Spock, the needs of Manny outweigh the needs of Hugh, or Juan.”

Nimoy was the only actor who appeared in the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage”, to be carried over to the TV series. The reason for that series’ resonance in popular culture has been discussed and debated for decades. No doubt the chemistry of the actors had a lot to do with it, but I think Nimoy’s performance played a key role. Had some other actor been cast as Spock, I doubt the series would have had the same impact.

Again, Star Trek was just one part of Nimoy’s life. He made an impact above and beyond the character of Spock and the world is lucky to have had him in it.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A Look back at Blake’s 7


Blakes's 7 logo

Hundreds of years in the future, the totalitarian Earth Federation rules with an iron fist. One small band of criminals— operating from a ship called the Liberator and led by charismatic freedom fighter Roj Blake— fights against Federation tyranny.

That’s the premise of the 1978-1981 BBC TV series Blake’s 7, which ran for four 13-episode seasons.

The series was created by Terry Nation, who’d previously created the Daleks for Doctor Who and the 1975-1977 TV series Survivors.

Although Blake’s 7  had an almost non-existent budget, it had relatable characters and an overall downbeat viewpoint. One reflected in the finale.

I first learned about Blake’s 7  through articles in Starlog magazine in the 1980s, but didn’t see any episodes until 1993 when my local PBS station aired the series up through the first few episodes of the third season. I’ve no idea why they didn’t air the remaining episodes.

In a two-part episode guide in Starlog  #s 147 and 148 (Oct. & Nov. 1989), Blake’s 7  is described as a “52-episode mini-series.” That’s a fair assessment, helped in large part by the fact that Nation wrote the entire first season (he also wrote three episodes each of the second and third seasons, including the respective season premieres and the third season finale).

Blake’s 7  is somewhat serialized. The first episode, “The Way Back”, introduces Blake (Gareth Thomas), smuggler Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette) and cowardly thief Vila Restal (Michael Keating); but we don’t meet amoral computer expert Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) or “gentle giant” Olag Gan (David Jackson) until the second episode, “Spacefall.” And it isn’t until the third episode, “Cygnus Alpha”, that we meet the Liberator’s sentient computer, Zen (voice of Peter Tuddenham). The Liberator is also named (by Jenna) in that episode.

And it’s not until “Time Squad”, the fourth episode, that Cally (Jan Chappell), the last of the original seven (Zen is considered one of the seven), joins the crew.

The original seven: Vila, Cally, Blake, Jenna, Avon, Gan and (in background) Zen.

The original seven: Vila, Cally, Blake, Jenna, Avon, Gan and (in background) Zen.

Also, Blake’s main nemeses, Supreme Commander Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) and Space Commander Travis (Stephen Grief, season one; Brian Croucher, season two) don’t appear until the sixth episode, “Seek-Locate-Destroy.”

Some time prior to the events of “The Way Back”, Blake had been captured, brainwashed and turned into a “model citizen” who’d denounced his rebellious ways. However, after he witnesses the massacre of unarmed rebels by Federation troopers in that episode, Blake presents a problem. The Federation can’t let him talk and they can’t kill him. Too many people already doubt the sincerity of his “recanting”; his death— even from apparently natural causes— could make him a martyr.

So they trump up charges of child molestation, using doctored “evidence” to “prove” Blake’s guilt. He’s convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on the planet Cygnus Alpha.

Along with Jenna and Avon, Blake escapes the prison ship London and gains possession of the Liberator, a derelict alien vessel that had crossed paths with the London. They subsequently free Vila and Gan. With a powerful alien ship at his command and a (not always willing) crew, Blake sets out to destroy the Federation.

The Liberator.

The Liberator.

Several cast changes occurred over the course of the series. Gan dies in the Nation-penned fifth episode of the second season, while Blake and Jenna both depart in that season’s finale. Jenna would never be seen again, but Blake appears in both the third and fourth season finales. He implies in the final episode that Jenna had died.

In season two, Blake gains possession of a sophisticated computer called Orac (Tuddenham). And in the third season, smuggler and mercenary Del Tarrant (Steven Pacey) and weapons designer Dayna Mellanby (Josette Simon) join the Liberator crew.

Following the destruction of the Liberator in the season three finale and the death of Cally in the season four premiere, the rebels take possession of the ship Scorpio, along with its computer, Slave (Tuddenham again). They also join forces with gunfighter Soolin (Glynis Barber).

The crew doesn’t always get along and they sometimes focus on their own interests. In “Cygnus Alpha”, after Jenna and Avon discover a fortune in jewels on board the Liberator, Avon points out that they could buy their own planet.

He says “what about him?” in reply to Jenna’s “what about Blake?” (who’d teleported down to the planet); and adds that Blake is a crusader who can’t win.

“What do you want to be, rich or dead?” Avon asks.

In “The Web”, Cally commits sabotage while under alien influence. Avon advocates having her locked up. “Or dumped.”

Out an airlock.

Blake and Avon don’t always get along.

Blake and Avon don’t always get along.

Avon often sparred with Blake, including this exchange in the episode “Breakdown.”

Avon: “Blake, in the unlikely event that we survive this-”

Blake: “Yes?”

Avon: “I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.”

Blake: “Now you’re just being modest.”

In “Pressure Point”, Avon argues against an attack on a Federation facility, but tells Blake that “of course” he’s coming along. A) Blake needs him; B) Avon relishes the challenge and C) if Blake succeeds, he’ll be needed on Earth. Avon will get the Liberator.

In the end, Avon gets his wish. After Blake’s disappearance, Avon becomes leader of the rebels. In an interview in Starlog, Darrow joked that he’d advocated changing the show’s name to Avon’s Angels.

“Avon’s Angels”: The final seven, Dayna, Tarrant, Avon, Vila and Soolin (along with the computers Orac and Slave).

“Avon’s Angels”: The final seven, Dayna, Tarrant, Avon, Vila and Soolin (along with the computers Orac and Slave).

In “Trial”, which follows Gan’s death, Avon points out that the others were almost ready to leave Blake; and that one more death will do it.

“Then you’d better be very careful,” Blake says. “It would be ironic if it were yours.”

Despite their sparring, Blake tells Avon in the second season finale, “Star One”, “I have always trusted you. From the very beginning.”

The final episode, “Blake”, must have come as a shock to viewers. It kept people talking for years.

Avon has learned that Blake is operating as a bounty hunter on a particular planet. The rebels go there and Tarrant, separated from the rest, becomes convinced that Blake has sold them out. In truth, Blake is playing a dangerous game to find people he can trust to help him fight the Federation.

Avon doesn’t give Blake a chance to explain his apparent betrayal and kills him. Moments later, a Federation officer reveals herself and the rebels are gunned down (in slow motion). Avon stands alone.

He steps over Blake’s body as Federation troopers surround him. He raises his gun and smiles.

Avon’s last(?) stand.

Avon’s last(?) stand.

As the credits roll, we hear a single shot, followed by a volley of answering fire.

Over the years, there have been theories and speculations regarding whether any of the rebels survived. Even attempts— including one by Paul Darrow— to revive the series. Even Nation (who wasn’t entirely happy about the ending and didn’t like some of the directions in which subsequent writers took the show) opined in Starlog  #106 (May 1986) that “there’s a way of reviving them, and with some literary skill, we can get them back.”

The only rebel who is unmistakably dead is Blake. In Starlog  #114 (Jan. 1987), Gareth Thomas said he had a clause written into his contract that boiled down to “Blake will be shown dead.” That’s why, unlike everyone else, Blake’s body is bloodied.

According to an article in the British newspaper The Guardian in the summer of 2012, the Syfy Channel ordered a pilot episode of a Blake’s 7  reboot. As far as I can tell, however, nothing ever came of it.

On the other hand, audio adventures, set during the events of the series (and featuring members of the cast), are available through Big Finish at http://www.bigfinish.com/ranges/v/blake-s-7

According to Paul Darrow, the series lives on in spirit. In an interview someone posted on YouTube, he spoke of the movie Serenity and the TV series that inspired it, Firefly.

“I think that’s your Blake’s 7  of today,” he said.

There are superficial similarities between Blake’s 7  and Firefly/Serenity. Both crews operate outside the law and oppose a central government.

And, just as Avon wanted the Liberator, Jayne Cobb wanted Serenity for his own. However, Avon was a genius; Jayne— not so much.

Blake’s 7  is not on DVD in the U.S., but if you have a region 2 or region-free DVD player (The U.S. is region 1), you can watch the DVDs released in Britain.

Again, while it doesn’t have big budget special effects, Blake’s 7— especially the first two seasons— does offer an engaging story of a band of rebels fighting against the odds.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.