Babylon 5 Season 3, Episode 20.

Primary Plot: Londo manipulates G'Kar and Vir in order to kill Lord Refa and gain favor in the Centauri Royal Court.

Secondary Plot: Some of Brother Theo's religious colleagues visit the station.

Tertiary Plot: Sheridan and Delenn discover the Shadows' true strategy.


Return to the Babylon 5 Episode Guide.
This episode demonstrates the particular genius of J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5.

The primary, secondary and tertiary plots come to a simultaneous climax in the revival service that Brother Theo's colleague hold in the Babylon 5 chapel.

To the singing of the gospel song, from which the episode draws its name, the scene cross-cuts to Lord Refa's killing at the hands of G'Kar and the Narns. The slow motion chase, and killing of Refa--the butcher of Narn--contrasted with the principle characters singing in revival is quite striking.

It is also the breaking of John Sheridan's crankiness, which is what allows him to share his burden with Delenn; together, they solve the Shadows true strategy.

J. Michael Straczynski often portrays these many levelled plots, both in individual episodes, and over seasons, and the entire plot arc. He has said that the whole idea came to him in the shower one day.

The gospel song mentioned in this node, and sung in the episode, is entitled "No Hiding Place Down Here". It was originally written and performed by The Original Carter Family, a country music and gospel group from the 1930s whose traditional bluegrass style influenced artists such as Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.

The full lyrics for the song are as follows; note that the refrains are significantly different from the song as broadcast, though the chorus remains the same. As with most music of this nature, the song has been appropriated and modified to suit various purposes:

Sister Mary she wears a golden chain
Sister Mary she wears a golden chain
Sister Mary wears the golden chain
There's every link in Jesus' name
There's no hiding place down here

There's no hiding place down here
There's no hiding place down here
Well, I run to the rock just to hide my face
And the rocks cried out, no hiding place
There's no hiding place down here


I'll pitch my tent on the old campground
I'll pitch my tent on the old campground
I'll pitch my tent on the old campground
I'll give Satan one more round
There's no hiding place down here

There's no hiding place down here
There's no hiding place down here
Well, I run to the rock just to hide my face
And the rocks cried out, no hiding place
There's no hiding place down here


Oh, the Devil wears a hypocrite's shoe
The Devil wears a hypocrite's shoe
The Devil wears a hypocrite's shoe
And if you don't watch out he'll slip it on you
There's no hiding place down here

There's no hiding place down here
There's no hiding place down here
Well, I run to the rock just to hide my face
And the rocks cried out, no hiding place
There's no hiding place down here

Chaos.

Coloured graphics whirl across my screen far too quickly for me to assimilate. Attack plans and codenames and screeches flood my ears. Mad acceleration pulls me in every direction. Are we dead? Are we going to be?

"Sam, this is Tyro," says an unfamiliar, measured voice, relegating all the other chatter to the background. "Don't panic. Everything is under control. Sorry for the bumpy ride, but you'll be thanking us later."

"Somebody just shot our wormhole to pieces!"

With infinite calm: "Yes. High-energy railgun slugs from somewhere behind the Moon. A squad of mechs is currently in pursuit, but it'll be over half an hour before they arrive. Fortunately, transit time for a slug at that speed is less than two subjective milliseconds, meaning they basically cannot be steered, so as long as we keep moving unpredictably we can keep you alive. We have a contingency plan regarding the destroyed wormhole. Ed began construction on a third one after finishing the second."

"A third wormhole?"

"A spare. It seemed a prudent move. Ed's given me access to its liftweave control circuits which means I can steer and control it much more skillfully than the mechs. Currently it's a growing two-kilometre tower over Jacksonville. In a few seconds' time I'm going to drop the entire thing vertically through the green ring. That will take less than thirty seconds. After that I'll use the liftweave in the wormhole to loop it into position and connect it up. That part should also take less than thirty seconds."

I glance at the clock. Time is flying. The constantly changing direction of flight is seriously making me ill; I try to tell myself the alternative is worse. "When are we planning to do all this? We have barely two minutes."

"We want to keep it as small a target as possible for as short a time as possible to minimise the risk - that means we begin the feed at seventy seconds. Even so there is still a risk."

Tyro's voice fades out and mech chatter fades back in. It sounds like everybody is simultaneously having his own conversation with Tyro.

"Sam?" says Ed in my ear.

"Still here," I gurgle, barely able to avoid throwing up.

"I'm reactivating the Ed Rocks."

"Why?"

"You know why," he says, and signs off as suddenly as he signed on.

Grim fear grips me. I see an instantaneous flash of a handful of equally undesirable possible futures. Ed is planning for damage control. Ed "never beaten" MacPherson.

"Okay, everybody, this is it," says Tyro. I notice dimly that my mech has once again taken the red ring off its finger - then the third and final wormhole explodes out of it, slowly at first but accelerating under unguessable gravitational forces, as my mech jolts and whirls safely away from it.

There's a ping as an unidentified object springs into existence in nearby space. It's the enemy, though the fifteen-millisecond battle is long over by the time I figure that out. I don't get a chance to see what the enemy ship looks like before it's blasted to shreds from a dozen different directions by the remaining defending mechs. But it apparently has enough time to loose a single shot.

"We have a confirmed kill," reports Tyro as my mech ceases to manoeuvre madly. "The enemy has been neutralised. However the red ring has been destroyed, leaving us with only three hundred metres of wormhole tubing. I'm forming what we have into as big a ring as possible. Ed, is there any way to expand the wormhole diameter wider than the rim itself?"

Ed responds with a string of syllables which would be incomprehensible even if I could hear them clearly. "But if that works it'll be a miracle," he adds. It sounds like there are people around him. He could be anywhere.

The coil of incomplete wormhole ahead of me flexes and writhes and curls into a circle as it floats towards the white line which marks the predicted centre of the asteroid's path. From my vantage point it looks like a pitiful effort. Tyro announces a test power-up. My mech's sensors pick up the building energy inside the wormhole. There's a flash of ultra-violet. Then it falls apart, split finely into two separate rings, both also rapidly fragmenting into pieces.

I've seen too many movies to give up now. I can hardly hear myself shouting at Ed for ideas, guidance, inspiration. It's some time before I realise that what he's shouting back at me is "There's no time, Sam, we're out of time! For heaven's sake, look down!"

"We still have—" and I glance at the clock again just at the instant it ticks to zero.

The noise of the asteroid hammering past me - seventeen hundred metres wide, mere kilometres away from me but still moving far too fast to even be seen - is deafening. I automatically rotate my mech's field of vision to follow its trail downwards, expecting to see a devastatingly bright light and an expanding ring of devastation.

Several seconds elapse.

"I don't see anything."


previous | Ed stories | next

There are two major points I want to develop just to introduce the complexity presented in And The Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place, an episode of the television show Babylon 5, and the less important, and the more immediate, will go first.

As I have commented before, Babylon 5 was a television show, and like any television show, it was made under the need for expediency, and despite some its more rabid fans apologies, some plots and situations and characters don't always quite have as much consistency and structure as they should. I have watched the ultimate scene of this episode many times, and when Londo Mollari reveals to Lord Antono Refa that Refa's guards are actually loyal to him. I thought this was perhaps an expediency: wouldn't a treacherous master of intrigue like Refa make sure that he had loyal guards around him. However, upon watching the entire episode again, there is an earlier scene where Refa explains to a functionary that he needs troops, because he is about to launch into the intrigue that will lead to "Londo Mollari's head on a silver platter". And for a brief half-second, the functionary grimaces in disgust, before his face breaks into a smile. It is a scene that is easy to miss, yet it is in there, and it explains a great deal of what goes on later. And it makes sense that Lord Refa, an arrogant and violent figure, would have made many enemies, and would also be unaware of how many enemies he had. So once again, the show displays its care in laying out the plot and characterization beforehand.

The other important point is perhaps more conceptual. In his book Democracy Matters, Cornell West identifies three roots of American democracy, two of which are Greek rationalism and Judeo-Christian charity. The third, which is the creation of African-American culture, is "Tragicomic Hope", as evidenced by blues and other musics created by that culture. This is relevant because Babylon 5 is in some ways a commentary on Democracy, and uses the theme of hope throughout. And Babylon 5 is also, in both its presentation and themes, a tragicomedy. And this episode is one of the most tragic and the comic in the series. What I wrote under tragicomedy was written with Babylon 5 in mind, and this episode is the paragon of such. The tension in the episode is built, and then suddenly released, in an outcome that is both tragic and comic.

With this deep introduction, the episode of the plot involves Londo Mollari's attempt to assassinate Lord Refa, his one time partner and conspirator. Mollari has realized that Lord Refa is a treacherous and vicious person, even by the standards of the Centauri nobility, which is a pretty relaxed standard. Mollari therefore hatches a dense plan to entrap Lord Refa. The plan is kept from both the audience and from other characters in the show. Mollari orders his aid, the decent and gentle Vir Cotto, to inform G'Kar, the leader of the Narn resistance, that his aid, Na'toth, is in captivity. G'Kar will rush to free her, allowing Londo to capture him, and to thus gain the glory of capturing the foremost member of the resistance. Lord Refa captures Vir, psychically interrogates him, and decides to capture G'Kar himself. What he doesn't know, and what Vir Cotto also doesn't know, is that Londo and his archenemy G'Kar have already arranged a plan to betray Lord Refa.

If that last paragraph makes sense to you, you are probably already very conversant with Babylon 5. If that makes no sense whatsoever, you can understand why this was a difficult show to get into.

Meanwhile, there is also a B-Plot, where various religious leaders, including an African-American baptist gospel minister have shown up on Babylon 5. The baptist reverend has a long standing (yet friendly) rivalry with Babylon 5's resident Catholic monk, Brother Theo, that is interesting both because it is a rare comment on real-world religious rivalries in a television program, and because it probably is meant to underscore many of the much less productive rivalries shown in the series. Along with their religious mission, the leaders are also smuggling information for the resistance against the fascist regime of President Morgan Clark. This is getting pretty complicated, and that is without even mentioning that the Shadow War is about to reach its climax...although, the Shadow War, as such, is noticeably absent from the main action.

So just as the Reverend William Dexter starts his sermon, preaching about love and tolerance, we cut to Narn, where a mocking Refa surrounds G'Kar. This is the moment that the tragedy has been building to: where Londo will both doom G'Kar, morally compromise Vir, and also hand Refa a victory that will undermine his own position. And then, the moment of comic relief: G'Kar pulls out a hologram of Londo. A hologram that very carefully, slowly and with sardonic courtesy, explains to Refa, just how he has been out thought, why he is an evil person, and just how he is going to die. The speech is masterful, especially for a television program: part of it might be to recap to the audience what is going on, but I believe part of it is that Londo Mollari has the sense of justice to present the accused with a list of his crimes. And just as Lord Refa is left to the horde of very angry Narns, we cut back to Babylon 5, and the singing of the gospel music. Then follows perhaps the best, and most confusing scene in Babylon 5: the brutal killing of Lord Refa to the strains of a musically upbeat, but lyrically fearful song about God's judgment.

This is comic because of the dissonance between how the music makes us feel and what we are seeing. It is ironic because of the seeming disconnect between the sermon and the music, and between the music and the scene of Lord Refa's assassination. It is even slapstick, we we see the mocking, arrogant Lord Refa run for his life in slow motion. There are further ironies within ironies in the scene: the Minbari attending the religious meeting are shown as uncomfortable with the emotional tone of the service, as well as the vengeful nature of the lyrics. And yet these same Minbari, despite their seemingly more civil culture and religion, have the capacity for violence and vengeance. And the scene is overwhelmingly comedic because Londo Mollari, after becoming an increasingly evil character, does something that could be considered moral. And he does it in a grand fashion. Our tension is released.

And yet it is also tragic. It is tragic because Londo participated in genocide, even if unwillingly. It is tragic because, as the song suggests, people who are given the chance at redemption refuse it. It is tragic because Londo, despite doing something that is more moral than the alternatives, betrays Vir, and his means of moral redemption involve viciously, brutally killing someone who was once his friend. And it is tragic because despite being an evil person, we might have some mixed sympathy for Lord Refa as he realizes just what is happening.

If all of that seems to be quite a bit to write about a single episode of a television show from a dozen years ago...while writing this, there were many intricacies and subplots and other connections that I wished to mention, but skipped to save on space. Truly, the intricacies presented by Babylon 5 were many, but the message of the show stayed direct throughout.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.