If you’re new to the book club, links to the previous episodes can be found here.
This week, it’s Season 3, Episode 13: “A Late Delivery from Avalon”, recapped by Katherine!
It’s difficult to discuss this show without occasionally wanting to discuss the next one (or the one after that, or the one after that)… or referring to the pilot.
If you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
Hey, if you use Firefox, there’s a simple plug-in that makes this as easy as highlighting text, search Add Ons for “Leet Key” and you’re good to go.
Everyone sitting comfortably? Then onward!
Dr. Franklin stops a disease outbreak in Downbelow thanks to Marcus’s information; they’re both unhappy with the lack of compassion and consideration many people on the station have towards the people in Downbelow. Marcus gets a great line about the injustice of life: “I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So now, I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.” Marcus’ great blend of sardonicness and idealism is one of the elements placing him among my favourite characters. We see the idealism and conviction in his conversation with Franklin about his Ranger training.
As Franklin and Marcus walk through the docking bay, they pass an altercation between Babylon 5 security and a man who identifies himself as “Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, king of the Britons”, bearing Excalibur. Marcus stops security from shooting the man and plays along, and learns that this man believes he is King Arthur after the Battle of Camelan which destroyed the Round Table, healed by his stay on the Isle of Avalon and now returned. Marcus explains the need for him to accept a medical examination in terms that Arthur can accept.
Dr. Franklin does not believe that the man is really Arthur. The main gives a detailed account of the Battle of Camelan and its aftermath, presumably for the benefit of audience members who lack a detailed knowledge of Arthurian mythology. There is certainly no indication that the man is lying; at the least, he genuinely believes what he is saying. Arthur believes he has been taken to Babylon 5 because it is where and when he is most needed, just as the prophecy said he would return in the hour of greatest need. Marcus proposes that Arthur genuinely could be who he says he is, and the argument is not unreasonable: we know that the Vorlons have taken people from Earth, kept them at the same (or similar) age, and returned them as emissaries; for example, Sebastian aka Jack the Ripper, in last season’s episode “Comes the Inquisitor”. Franklin points out that the man’s speech patterns and vocabulary are not in line with him being King Arthur; he diagnoses the patient’s identification with King Arthur as a response to trauma.
Arthur has found his way to Downbelow, and speaks with a homeless woman whose last picture of her husband (along with all her other possessions) has been stolen because of the frame’s value. Arthur goes on a quest to recover it. G’Kar, who is in Downbelow getting messages sent between his people on Babylon 5 and their families on Narn, comes across the fight (in which Arthur successfully defeats five men), and joins in when Arthur needs backup. Arthur returns the woman’s picture, and he and G’Kar go drinking. G’Kar is delighted to have been able to have a good, straightforward fight, and Arthur, in recognition of his support, knights him as Sir G’Kar.
As Arthur speaks of the Battle of Camelan, he has a flashback – similar to one he had at the beginning of the episode – where he sees spacecraft exploding. So from this point we know for certain that this man is not King Arthur. Arthur describes in detail how the battle started: Arthur and Mordred and their knights met to arrange a truce, but one of Mordred’s knight saw an adder and raised his sword to kill it; Arthur’s side interpreted this as an attack, and the battle started. (Incidentially, this is a part of Arthurian mythology I’ve never understood, as Britain contains no venomous snakes.) Marcus shows up and G’Kar tries to vouch for Arthur but is very drunk by this point and passes out.
Franklin has tested Arthur’s DNA and found that he was in Earthforce (all Earthforce members have their DNA on file). He shows Marcus Arthur’s genuine identity. Marcus protests with horror that he cannot tell Arthur this; Arthur is better off and happier being who he is now. Franklin insists on the truth as a path to healing. He tells Arthur that his real name is David MacIntyre, and that he was gunnery sergeant on the Prometheus, the ship that first encountered the Minbari – exactly 15 years ago. The Minbari approached with their gunports open as traditional sign of respect; the captain of the Prometheus interpreted this as aggression and ordered his ship to fire. David MacIntyre fired the shots that started the Earth-Minbari War. Later, he fought at the Battle of the Line, where 20,000 humans went into battle and only 200 returned. ‘Arthur’ has been remembering this as the parallel events leading to the Battle of Camelan. Arthur says that “This man you have described, he had no business surviving. A quarter of a million men and women dead on the battlefield at Camelan…No, no, not Camelan.” Not Camelan, says Franklin. The Earth-Minbari War. MacIntyre breaks at the realization, and goes catatonic, envisioning himself being stabbed by a sword, after insisting he must return Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. Franklin regrets his decision (and Marcus is decent enough not to say I told you so), but it’s too late. Marcus contemplates why MacIntyre chose to come to Babylon 5; it must be related to the anniversary of the start of the war. Marcus explains the myth to Franklin: Arthur could not know rest until he returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. The sword symbolizes his pain.
Delenn, as the representative of the people he attacked, symbolized the Lady of the Lake to our Arthur. She comes to Medlab and he revives, handing her the sword, and she takes his hand. This heals him, and David MacIntyre chooses to join the Narn resistance, bringing the ideals of the Round Table. MacIntyre thanks Franklin, but I’m not sure Franklin did the right thing at all. Slightly different circumstances, and he might never have woken up from his catatonia. On the other hand, despite him being happy as Arthur, the nightmares still recurred and likely would have gotten worse without getting to – and going through – the truth. Either way, Franklin’s kind of an arrogant git.
In the B-plot, Sheridan and Ivanova discuss the need to broaden B5’s defence beyond the Minbari war cruisers currently protecting it. This is a good idea, not only to be prepared for the possibility of Delenn losing influence among the Minbari and becoming unable to keep the cruisers there, but also because a broader support base reduces the chance of B5 being seen as a Minbari-aligned outpost rather than a non-aligned one. Sheridan and Ivanova meet with members of the non-Aligned world, and make their pitch for the Babylon Treaty: Babylon 5 has value as a neutral hub for trade and travel, and a place for peace negotiation, and in return for Babylon 5’s services, they want the non-aligned worlds to provide ships to defend the stations. (Ships of species actively at war will not, of course, be posted to the station at the same time.) Many of the non-aligned worlds agree to the treaty. Making this a B-plot rather than a main one despite its importance was a good choice, as it’s important but not extremely interesting.
The C-plot is Garibaldi’s increasing frustration with the higher shipping charges from Earth now that B5 is independent, and his schemes to evade them. First Garibaldi tries to bribe the postman with the food that’s in the box, but the postman proves incorruptible.
Honestly, I’m on the postman’s side in all this, and feel Garibaldi is being an ass. Of course it would be more expensive and difficult to get packages from Earth to B5 when B5 has just seceded from Earth. The postman is sufficiently dedicated and resourceful that he’s willing to use grey market, if not black market, channels to ensure people can still get their mail. Garibaldi, as head of security, is likely one of the highest-paid people on the station; the charge is an aggravation for him, not a genuine hardship. (And heck, it costs me about $100 to ship a heavy box that size from one side of my country to the other. So a similar cost for space travel between two hostile jurisdictions? Pretty darn good.) And Garibaldi tries to bribe, rob, and strongarm the guy and ultimately wins? That’s abuse of authority and misappropriation of public funds, in my book; either the post office owes rent or they don’t, but they certainly don’t owe it to Garibaldi personally. I don’t get why we’re supposed to sympathize with Garibaldi; or perhaps we’re not, and his dishonourable methods are meant to contrast with Arthur’s actions. At the least, the scene where he tries to break in and get caught (“We already went up against the whole Earth Alliance!” “Yeah, but this is the Post Office; this could get us in real trouble”) is entertaining.
As the finale to the episode, Marcus and Franklin discuss which members of the Arthurian mythos other people on station are. Marcus pegs Kosh as Merlin, which is pretty good, making Sheridan King Arthur. Marcus himself is obviously Galahad (being a virgin), Ivanova might be Gawaine (who had a sharp temper), Mordred is Londo (not stated, but obviously implied), but who is Morgana le Fay?