Babylon 5 Rewatch: “Signs and Portents”

“Signs and Portents”
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Janet Greek
Season 1, Episode 13
Production episode 116
Original air date: May 18, 1994

It was the dawn of the third age… A freighter being escorted to B5 by a Starfury is attacked by raiders, who destroy the Starfury and board the freighter before Sinclair can even order Delta Wing out to help. Sinclair meets with Ivanova and Garibaldi to try to figure out how to deal with the raiders. Despite cutting off their weapons supply, they’re still attacking with impunity and impossible to stop. Sinclair orders Delta Wing to be on standby, with Ivanova commanding.

After the meeting, Sinclair approaches Garibaldi and talks to him about what he went through under torture back during “And the Sky Full of Stars.” (Why he waited so long to look into it is left as an exercise for the viewer.) He asks Garibaldi to look into what he learned, see what he can dig up. He doesn’t expect much, but he needs to know more than he does now. Garibaldi agrees, and thanks Sinclair for trusting him with this.

A human named Morden arrives on the station. He informs the security guard who checks his papers that he’s been traveling on the rim, but is less than forthcoming with anything beyond that.

Mollari meets with a human trader named Reno, who has obtained The Eye, an immensely valuable Centauri artifact that has been lost for more than a century. The Centauri government, via Mollari, is paying a small fortune to get it back. Lord Kiro and Lady Ladira arrive soon thereafter; The Eye originally belonged to their house. Upon arrival, Ladira—who is a seer—has a vision of B5 being destroyed.

Kiro dismisses Ladira’s vision, as she’s been wrong before. When he was a kid, she predicted that he’d be killed by shadows, which is just silly. (This will probably be important later.) He also questions whether or not he should even give The Eye to the emperor, but instead keep it and try to claim the throne. The emperor hasn’t even been seen in public for over a year. Confidence is eroding in the Republic. Mollari thinks it would be a spectacularly bad idea, as Kiro won’t have sufficient support for a coup.

Morden goes to G’Kar’s quarters and asks him, “What do you want?” G’Kar dismisses him at first, eventually answering that he wants the Centauri utterly destroyed, and then amending that all that really matters to him is that the Narn homeworld is safe.

Next, Morden meets with Delenn, and asks her, “What do you want?” but she senses a darkness about Morden and a triangle appears on her forehead. She urgently kicks him out of her quarters, covering the triangle from Morden, and when he’s gone, she whispers, horrified: “They’re here.”

A triangle appears on Delenn's forehead in Babylon 5 "Signs and Portents"
Credit: Warner Bros. Television

The freighter Achilles detects raiders approaching. Sinclair sends Ivanova with Delta Wing to engage them. A human—who’s been observing Kiro since he arrived—says that they’ve “taken the bait.”

Kosh returns to the station from wherever it is that he goes when he’s not on B5. Morden sees him, but goes out of his way to avoid him. Morden’s next stop is Mollari’s quarters. The Centauri ambassador is distracted and dismissive of Morden’s query of “What do you want?” but eventually he gives in and answers that he wants to see the Centauri Republic returned to its rightful place of glory in the galaxy, to go back to the way things were.

Kiro declares to Mollari that he’s ready to leave with The Eye. Along with Ladira and Mollari and his guards, they head to the dock, only to be ambushed by the human who was watching Kiro. He and his people take The Eye and also take the three Centauri hostage (after killing the guards).

Sinclair is confused by the attack on the Achilles, as it doesn’t match the pattern of the prior raids. When he reads the Achilles manifest, he realizes that there’s nothing there the raiders could possibly want, and he orders Delta Wing back to the station, as this is a diversion. He also orders Garibaldi to prepare Alpha Wing, while he goes to Kiro’s ship, which is one of the ones scheduled to depart at this particular time.

The commander arrives just in time to see the three Centauri being held hostage. The raider has a PPG right at Kiro’s head, and Sinclair lets him board with the one prisoner; Mollari and Ladira are released.

Sinclair returns to CnC and orders Alpha Wing to disable the Centauri ship and also orders the jump gate to be programmed to reject the Centauri ship’s codes. That should trap the raider.

However, a jump gate is generated within the system by a large ship, from which raider ships fly out. The raiders’ secret is now out: they have a mothership that can form its own gate, which is how they’re able to appear without warning.

A space battle ensues, with the raiders protecting the Centauri ship as it flies into the mothership. The raider support ships are quickly dispatched by a combination of Alpha Wing, Delta Wing, and the station’s own defenses, but it’s enough of a distraction for the mothership to open a gate and escape with Kiro, The Eye, and Kiro’s ship.

We quickly learn that Kiro was in on the whole thing. The intent was for the raiders to “kidnap” him and steal The Eye and then back him up on his coup attempt. The raiders, however, double cross him, as they have no interest in getting involved in politics, they just want lots of money. They intend to ransom both Kiro and The Eye to the Centauri government.

However, a ship that looks like a giant spider appears out of nowhere and destroys the ship.

Morden (Ed Wasser) in. Babylon 5 "Signs and Portents"
Credit: Warner Bros. Television

Mollari is forlorn, as the loss of The Eye is likely to end his career. So he’s rather shocked when Morden shows up with a (slightly beaten-up) box containing The Eye and presents it to him. Mollari wishes to thank him, but Morden buggers off before the ambassador can even buy him a drink. However, Morden assures him that he’ll be in touch…

Nothing’s the same anymore. Sinclair learns from Garibaldi’s investigation that the Minbari were the first to sign onto the Babylon Project, but that they had a say in who commanded the station. Sinclair was their only choice, and wouldn’t participate unless Sinclair got the job. In light of what happened at the Battle of the Line, this just raises more questions for both Sinclair and the viewer…

Ivanova is God. Ivanova struggles to wake up every morning, because—she explains to Sinclair—she has a hard time waking up when it’s dark. Sinclair points out that it’s always dark in space, to which Ivanova agrees in the most Russian manner possible….

If you value your lives, be somewhere else. Delenn last had that triangle on her head when serving on the Grey Council and interrogating Sinclair at the Battle of the Line. It’s not (yet) clear why it appeared in front of Morden.

In the glorious days of the Centauri Republic… According to Kiro, the emperor hasn’t been seen in public in a year, and the prime minister is pretty much acting without any guidance from the monarch. The people are losing faith in the government, which is why Kiro thinks a coup is a good idea…

Though it take a thousand years, we will be free. At one point, G’Kar and Mollari are both waiting for a tube. They’re both standing on either side of a human, who very quickly regrets being between the two of them, as they trade insults. It gets so bad that the tube comes, the beleaguered human gets on, and G’Kar and Mollari are too busy insulting each other to notice. Once they realize they’ve missed the tube, they each stomp off in different directions.

Mollari and G'Kar stand with an unnamed human character in Babylon 5 "Signs and Portents"
Credit: Warner Bros. Television

The Shadowy Vorlons. We get our first look at the Shadows, who are only indirectly identified as such, as Ladira’s prophecy regarding Kiro—told to him when he was a small child—was that he would be killed by Shadows. Morden is their emissary, and both Kosh and Delenn want nothing to do with him.

Looking ahead. The relationship Morden forms with Mollari in this episode will be a very important one moving forward.

In addition, Ladira sees the station being destroyed. Ladira’s prophecy—which we only hear in this episode—will be seen in “Babylon Squared” and again in “War Without End, Part I,” which sees the station destroyed during a major conflagration. In the end, the station will, rather anticlimactically, be destroyed deliberately after being decommissioned and evacuated in “Sleeping in Light.”

Welcome aboard. Gerritt Graham plays Kiro, Fredi Olster plays Ladira, and Whip Hubley plays the head raider. We get recurring regular Ardwight Chamberlain back from “Believers” as the voice of Kosh; he’ll return in “Grail.” Robert Silver makes the first of two appearances as Reno; he’ll be back in “Hunter, Prey” next season.

We get two new recurring regulars, who have pretty low-key introductions. Joshua Cox debuts the role of Corwin (identified here only as “Dome Tech #1,” he won’t be named until season three); he’ll be back in “Legacies.” And the biggie is Ed Wasser, debuting the role of Morden. Wasser previously played a CnC officer in “The Gathering,” and he’s only listed as a minor guest star deep in the closing credits. He won’t be promoted to top-of-Act-1 guest listing until “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” in season two. We’ll see him next in “Chrysalis” at the end of the season.

Trivial matters. The title of this episode is also the general title for the season. The original working title for the episode was “Raiding Party.”

B5 cut off the raiders’ supply of heavy weapons in “Midnight on the Firing Line.”

When Ivanova awakens at the top of the episode, the computer gives the date as Wednesday August 3, 2258. However, the 3rd of August in 2258 will be a Tuesday…

The echoes of all of our conversations.

“We create the future—with our words, our deeds, and with our beliefs. This is a possible future, Commander, and it is my hope that you may yet avoid it.”

—Ladira giving Sinclair (and the producers) an out for her vision of the station being destroyed.

Ladira gives Sinclair a prophecy in Babylon 5 "Signs and Portents"
Credit: Warner Bros. Television

The name of the place is Babylon 5. “I want it all back the way it was!” This is an episode that closes out one plotline—the raiders who’ve been a problem for the entire thirteen episodes of the season so far—and sets up a ton more. Well, okay, maybe not a ton, but a few at the very least.

It also continues a plotline that has been hanging way longer than it should have. Seriously, Sinclair should’ve gone to Garibaldi with his problem pretty much the nanosecond after Christopher Neame’s brain-damaged Knight was taken away in handcuffs back in “And the Sky Full of Stars,” not five episodes later. (Following production order doesn’t help, as this was produced a full ten episodes after “And the Sky…”) The lack of urgency on Sinclair’s part is just weird. It’s the sort of thing you expect from television, especially of the era, but it’s something that particularly stands out in a rewatch. (Though I do recall asking the same “what took him so damn long???” question thirty years ago, too…)

We also find out how the raiders have been so awesome, and we get more hints as to the state of Centauri politics. There’ve been hints about the latter up until this point, the biggest being Mollari’s lament in “The Gathering” about how far the Republic had fallen, but also in “Midnight on the Firing Line” when it was clear that the Centauri didn’t have the wherewithal to defend a colony that had been invaded. In Gerritt Graham’s Kiro, we see the discontent amongst the aristocracy. (And also the arrogant stupidity, as it probably never occurred to Kiro that the raiders would double cross him, even though that was a blindingly obvious outcome.)

And we get the danger of overplotting your future when you’re producing a TV show, as Straczynski had to keep rejiggering the notion of the station being blown up, to the point where it was abandoned, but still kept it anyhow, sort of. More on that when we reach “Babylon Squared” and then “War Without End” and then “Sleeping in Light.”

But the episode is truly made by a fantastic performance by Ed Wasser as Morden. Wasser brings a delightfully bland emptiness to the role. It’s obvious from the moment we see him that he’s completely faking what little emotion he’s showing. He’s there to do what he’s been told, and he goes about it in a very matter-of-fact way.

The question he asks is so simple and yet so complicated. Because it’s not the easiest thing to express—as G’Kar proves with his word salad of vengeful utterances and empty platitudes. Mollari, though, speaks from the heart when he answers, and it results in a Faustian bargain that he doesn’t even realize he’s made. 

Next week: “TKO.” icon-paragraph-end

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