Babylon 5: The Gathering
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I'm Jason Davis, senior editor of B5 Books, and this is an article for fans revealingfacts, trivia and behind-the-scenes info I've discovered about Babylon 5 after nearly a decade of going through the files of Babylonian Productions, editing twenty-plus books for B5 Books as well as producing our recent video releases. For those of you who've read my annotations in the Cast Reunions and Fan Experience books, think of this column as a home for all that material I've never been able to fit into any prior publication.
As a start, why not go all the way back to the beginning of Babylon 5 for its subject? Have you ever wondered about Delenn's gravity ring from the pilot? I have.
Delenn's gravity ring was one of only a few conceptual casualties seemingly lost in Babylon 5's metamorphosis from standalone two-hour pilot to twenty-two episode first season—
(An aside: Babylon 5 wasn't always going to have a twenty-two episode first season. All the documentation from 1992, when the pilot was produced, hypothesized an initial order of thirteen episodes, which was standard for a new-series order in those days [and has become the standard for cable series in the two decades since then]. By the time season one got the green light, twenty new episodes were on the table for year one, with the pilot split into two hour-long parts and re-run to make up the full twenty-two. Due mostly to the cast changes, a two-part rerun of The Gathering was dropped in favor of twenty-two all-new episodes for the freshman season.)
Where was I? Ah, yes: Delenn's gravity ring.
Unlike the imaginative-but-expensive-to-execute-on-set "privacy" function in the station's business center or the scientifically accurate-but-narrative-tension-diffusing notion of approaching starships requiring lengthy periods of deceleration after exiting hyperspace, the gravity ring remained part of the Babylon 5 canon when creator J. Michael Straczynski, producer John Copeland and special edition editor Suzanne Sternlicht re-cut The Gathering in 1997 for its TNT debut on 4 January 1998.
(A historical aside: For those of you who missed the original 1993 version of The Gathering, I'll quickly explain the foregoing.
(In the scene wherein G'Kar propositioned Lyta's "genetic material," he originally "invoked privacy," which caused an octagonal lighting effect to surround the table at which the Narn and the telepath were discussing their business. This "privacy" field confined the private conversation to the table in question, while nullifying noise from beyond its borders. Whilst this all sounds good in theory, it advertised the fact that something private was happening within this "octagon of silence," which might not be the best way to keep such a conference low key. The lighting effect itself—as with many seen in the pilot—was achieved with Vari-Lites, a system of programmable stage lights that was not carried over when the sets were rebuilt in Sun Valley for the series. When the producers re-cut the pilot for TNT, they dropped the privacy field, editing around G'Kar's reference to the concept and the sound mix was adjusted to maintain the room's ambience throughout the conversation. [Another casualty of the re-edit was G'Kar's mate, who—he assured Lyta—was all for their sexual congress, in the interests of all Narn, of course.]
(If you saw the pilot in '93, you might also remember that part of Babylon 5's dedication to scientific accuracy included the need for ships to decelerate after emerging from the jumpgate prior to docking aboard the station. While realistic, it tended to let the dramatic air out of the narrative balloon. If a ship emerged from the jumpgate carrying Major Ryan with urgent updates about General Hague, he may as well radio ahead with the information because it would be old news after the hours of deceleration required to dramatically deliver it in person. Once again, the producers cut all references to this convention when they re-cut the pilot.)
Back to the gravity ring:
In the original 1989 incarnation of the pilot script, Delenn challenged Jackarr (as G'Kar was then known) to lift his (because Delenn was male at this point) life stone. The Narn failed to move the small object, which the Minbari claimed represented the spiritual balance of his soul, that which exists outside corporeal reality. Delenn, on the other hand, manipulated the stone with ease, seemingly unencumbered by his spiritual burden.
When Straczynski revised the pilot script for production, the life stone (and its uncertain mass) was replaced with Delenn's ring, one of twenty stowed in a secret compartment located in the Minbari ambassador's quarters. That script, dated 27 February 1992, found Delenn's interaction with G'Kar taking on an adversarial rather than philosophical tone as the Minbari ambassador—angered by G'Kar's disrespectful reference to the Grey Council—used his (Delenn was still male) ring to suspend the Narn in a field of five gravities.
(A scientific aside: Five gravities—assuming Delenn is basing his figure on 1g, or 9.80665 m/s2—is the peak g-force one might experience—very briefly—on an extremely fast roller coaster, and five to ten seconds' exposure would cause a typical human to black out. Delenn threatens that six gravities will be fatal before G'Kar agrees never to mention the Grey Council again, and the gravity torture ceased.)
The scene was filmed on 24 August 1992, Day 10 of the pilot shoot, and survived director Richard Compton's propensity for deleting character-building scenes. The scene was part of the pilot as broadcast across the Prime Time Entertainment Network the week of 22 February 1993. When the series followed in January 1994, Delenn's rings were never seen or mentioned again (on screen). But that doesn't mean they were forgotten...
The rings stayed in Delenn's secret compartment throughout 2258 (and season one), but writer Peter David scripted their re-introduction in the second of his season-two writing assignments, "There All the Honor Lies," a swiftly written replacement for a story that had been abandoned. In David's first draft of the script (dated 4 January 1995), Delenn used her gravity ring to force Ashann—a Minbari who claimed to have witnessed Captain John Sheridan murdering another innocent Minbari in cold blood—to admit his complicity in a conspiracy to frame Babylon 5's commanding officer.
As in the broadcast version of the episode (broadcast by PTEN the week of 26 April 1995), Ashann had called Delenn a freak, due to her transformation to a Minbari/human hybrid at the top of season two. In David's script, Delenn threw this insult back at Ashann as he begged for mercy, pleading that Minbari do not kill Minbari. Delenn was to have replied, "That is true. But of what consequence is that...to a freak?" Ashann then admitted to his part in framing Sheridan, lest he get to the fatal six gravities mentioned in the pilot.
So, why didn't we see the gravity ring in season two?
As is the showrunner's purview, Straczynski substantially revised David's script (from 18–19 January 1995), replacing Delenn's "enhanced interrogation" of Ashann with Lennier's threat to sully the honor of the Third Fane of Chudomo, of which both he and Ashann were members. In both cases, Ashann cracked, admitting his crime; the same narrative ends were reached via extremely different means, but Delenn's ring was robbed of a second on-screen appearance.
(A literary aside: Despite the re-writing of "There All the Honor Lies," Peter David did become the only writer other than Straczynski to reference Delenn's gravity ring when he wrote of the Minbari recalling her use of the ring against G'Kar in chapter two of the 2000 Del Rey novel Babylon 5: Legions of Fire – Book III: Out of the Darkness.)
So, did Delenn's ring simply fall out of favor with its creator?
On 26 March 1996—while season three's "Shadow Dancing" was in front of the cameras at Babylonian Productions—Straczynski answered an AOL user's inquiry about the long-unseen rings—all twenty of 'em—thus:
"The rings are still there; we just haven't yet had cause to use them."
In late 1997, Straczynski undertook a complete re-edit of The Gathering for its rebroadcast as part of TNT's January 1998 re-launch of Babylon 5 prior to the debut of season five. Roughly twenty-five minutes of character-oriented material omitted by director Richard Compton from the 1993 version of the pilot were reinstated.
As mentioned at the beginning of this column, certain concepts in the pilot had not followed through from pilot to season one: the privacy function in the station's business area and the deceleration period required for ships exiting hyperspace. Both were eliminated from the 1998 special edition of The Gathering, excised from the Babylon 5 canon. The rings remained; Straczynski could have eliminated them if he'd wanted to, but they were still there, waiting to be used once more.
Next time, I'll talk about casting, but not the casting you know. I'm talking about the casting that could have been. For example: W. Morgan Sheppard—the eponymous "Soul Hunter" and G'Kar's uncle G'Sten in "The Long, Twilight Struggle"—was neck-and-neck with Andreas Katsulas for the role of G'Kar, and I'll have a few more what ifs? of that ilk next time.
Good eating to you!
Jason Davis is an award-winning writer whose newest book is Writing The X-Files, available now from Amazon.com (http://amzn.to/1TYY5UT). He's written extensively about television for the last dozen years, edited twenty-eight books on Babylon 5, and has edited seventeen books by the legendary Harlan Ellison® (available now at HarlanEllisonBooks.com).