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Grey 17 Is Missing

Oh, dear. Major TKO flashbacks here, as this episode has two main plots, one of which is brilliant, and the other of which... Well, as I said: Oh, dear.


Sinclair is gone, into the past, to meet his destiny as "The One Who Was." Meaning that he is, effectively, dead in the present. On Minbar, Delenn collects Sinclair's rather spartan possessions, the most prominent of which are his Earth Alliance insignia and his medal for the Battle of the Line. She assures Rathenn, Sinclair's friend on Minbar, that she will support him to succeed Sinclair as Ranger One. But Rathenn has a rather startling bombshell for her: the Rangers want her to be the next Entil'zha.

Unable to argue with his logic, Delenn reluctantly agrees. She arranges to have the ceremony held on Babylon 5. However, she will not be allowed to succeed without a challenge. Neroon (John Vickery), the Warrior Caste leader whose appointment to the Grey Council unbalanced it, has come to Babylon 5 with an announcement: he will stop Delenn by any means necessary. Which Lennier (correctly) interprets to mean, "even by murder."

Meanwhile, Garibaldi investigates the disappearance of a maintenance worker in Grey Sector, only to discover that there is an entire hidden level on the station. A hidden level that hides a few deadly secrets of its own...


Babylon 5, like all great stories, is as much about characters as it is about plot. One of the more immediately interesting recurring characters is Neroon, played with a splendid mix of bitter spite and uncompromising dignity by John Vickery. From his first appearance, in the first season episode Legacies, Neroon has been a character worth watching. He made an interesting counterpart to Sinclair in that episode. Just as Sinclair was bitter about being handed a false victory in that war, Neroon was bitter about being denied a real victory. Neroon hated the humans not for what they had done, but simply because they were an enemy he was not allowed to finally defeat. Sinclair had years of buried hatred against the Minbari, particularly the Warrior Caste, for the friends and comrades destroyed by them, and for the 24 hours of his life blotted out at the close of the war. The scenes between them crackled with tension and intensity. No wonder - each character was facing a distorted mirror image of himself.

At the end of Legacies, Neroon reluctantly gave a moment of respect to Sinclair when he portentously noted that the commander spoke "like a Minbari." But he has yet to show any genuine respect at all for the religious caste. The "religious zealots," as he calls them, have thwarted his victories at every turn. He was not allowed to defeat the humans at the Battle of the Line. Why? Because the Religious Caste demanded surrender... on religious grounds involving Minbari souls in human bodies, a reason that to Neroon smacked of yet more religious zealotry. The body of Bramner was stolen in Legacies... by the religious caste, and he was forced to declare the body's disappearance a miracle... again, by the religious caste. This latter admission was likely particularly galling to someone with Neroon's strict sense of honor. In even tacitly supporting the "miracle" declaration, Neroon was willingly going along with a lie. Neroon has many flaws; dishonestly is not among them.

In Season Two's timeline, in the 3-part comics arc The Price of Peace, Neroon's attempts to prosecute Sinclair on an assassination charge were thwarted - not by evidence, not by a proof of innocence, not by the capture of the real assassin, but... by the religious caste. Later, Neroon was appointed to the Grey Council, only to see the Council disbanded... by Delenn, who was of the religious caste.

From Neroon's viewpoint, the Religious Caste have to seem more like enemies by this point than the humans ever did.

That brings us to Neroon's actions in this episode. He was willing, however reluctantly, to allow the Rangers to operate under the direction of Sinclair. He didn't like it. He particularly hated seeing "the purity" of the Rangers compromised by the admission of humans. But at least Sinclair was: (a) the rare human he did respect; and (b) a warrior. He didn't like the situation, but he tolerated it.

The idea of Delenn, however - the person who has made herself his enemy, the person who broke the Grey Council and plunged the Minbari government into chaos, the very definition to him of a "religious zealot" - the idea of her in charge of the Rangers is utterly intolerable. As a former member of the Grey Council, as a Warrior, as a "pure Minbari," Neroon has far more right to lead a group of warriors than Delenn, a half-human religious zealot whom Neroon likely sees as a traitor to her own people.

As for the non-Minbari in the ranks? Well, Neroon can always utilize them as cannon fodder until he has a chance to change the rules back the way they were before, making the Rangers "pure" again.

This is the mindset of the Neroon who arrives on the station and confronts Delenn at the beginning of the episode. In this way, Neroon mirrors the cultists who lurk in the "lost" original Grey 17 level. Like the cultists, Neroon insists on purity. Like the cultists, Neroon wants things to be simple. The Minbari will be a closed society, with no outsiders, just as the cultists have a closed society within their sealed level. And what Neroon cannot see is that, just like the cultists, such a society is inevitably a dead end.

Then there was Marcus…

In the episode's best scene - indeed, in one of the best scenes of the season and possibly the series - Neroon finds his path to murder blocked by a scrawny human. A Minbari cannot intervene in Neroon's murder plan, as Lennier had previously explained. Violence by Minbari against Minbari would result in civil war. But Marcus, a human, can fight Neroon. What he cannot do is win.

At least, not by force.

Marcus and Neroon's battle is as much a spiritual combat as a physical one. Marcus is fighting a stronger enemy, an enemy he has no hope of defeating. The battle is lost before it is even joined. But by laying it out there, and by refusing every chance Neroon gives him to flee the field and save himself, Marcus wins. First he wins Neroon's respect. Neroon begins the combat by dismissing Marcus as just another human. "During the war, I killed 50,000 of you. What's one more?" Later, Neroon acknowledges Marcus as having value, of having worth. "This (battle) is foolish, a waste of material... you have been trained well, but you must have known you couldn't win!" Finally, Neroon sees through Marcus' eyes. When Marcus declares himself a Ranger, reciting the Ranger litany, and stating that he will die willingly for Delenn - for "The One Who Is" - Neroon is forced to admit defeat.

"(The fight was) to the death," he tells Marcus as Marcus lays in the hospital bed, recovering from his wounds. "The death was mine." For as he is forced to admit to the hated Delenn at the ceremony, "I do not think (the Rangers) would die for me, but they would die for you."

Then Marcus goes further in breaking through Neroon's wall of bitterness than even Sinclair had done. Through what is likely an incredible amount of pain, Marcus manages to gasp out a friendly quip - the sort of thing Marcus regularly says to Franklin, Susan, or Garibaldi, to his friends. In so doing, Marcus tacitly invites Neroon into his circle of friends, if only for that moment.

Neroon responds with open, healthy laughter, for once not tinged by any bitterness at all. Neroon still has little use or respect for the religious caste (note his stern dismissal of Delenn and Lennier from Marcus' bedside), but he can now acknowledge the value of men like Sinclair and Marcus. Marcus is no longer "the human," but "a warrior," and by referring to his conversation with Marcus as "one warrior to another," Neroon is implicitly referring to Marcus - a fellow warrior, if a human - as an equal.


Then there was Zarg...

When Garibaldi puts his feet up on Sheridan's desk at the end of the episode and starts reciting his various misadventures to the captain, I swear I wanted Sheridan to snap at Garibaldi, "That's the biggest pile of crap I've ever heard. And who the hell gave you permission to put your feet on my desk?"

The Grey 17 plot actually does not start off half-badly. The initial stages of Garibaldi's investigation were quite interesting. Garibaldi's discovery of the missing level, by timing the elevator stops, was intriguing. Really, up to the moment in which Garibaldi found himself surrounded by cultists being preached to by crazy Jeremiah (Robert Englund), I was actually quite engaged by this subplot.

Then the man in the rubber suit showed up.

What is a Zarg, you ask? Well, it turns out a Zarg looks suspiciously like the warrior suit from Infection, only with a few more spines. How is it defeated? In about two minutes of screentime, through the handy plot devices that Garibaldi just happens to be carrying around in his pocket. How sinister is a Zarg? About as sinister as a pointy-toothed Smurf.

To cut away from the Delenn/Neroon/Marcus story to the guy in the rubber suit being steamed, and then shot, by Garibaldi while Freddy Krueger cowered not-very-comically in the background was... well, a comedown. I can't help but think the "cultists" story would have worked a lot better had the monster been removed entirely. Garibaldi vs. crazy cultists makes a decent thematic counterpart to Marcus vs. Neroon; Garibaldi vs. The Creature from the Black Lagoon just undermines an otherwise strong episode.

Ultimately, the strength of the Delenn/Neroon/Marcus plot overrides the weakness of the Zarg story. Still, one hopes that this episode marked the last time the Babylon 5 crew needed to re-learn that "man in rubber monster suit" plots really, truly do not work.

My Final Rating: 7/10.

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