A sharp increase in raider activity has the station on the defensive. Londo obtains a priceless Centauri artifact. A mysterious stranger visits the station’s alien ambassadors.
Originally titled “Raiding Party”
Sub-genre: Action/intrigue P5 rating: 9.01 Production number: 116 Original air date: May 18, 1994 DVD release date: November 5, 2002 Written by J. Michael Straczynski Directed by Janet Greek IMDb: "Babylon 5" Signs and Portents (1994)
• The Minbari refused to support Babylon 5 until Commander Sinclair was named as the Earth Alliance representative.
• The emperor of the Centauri hasn’t been seen in public for some time, contributing to an erosion of the government’s credibility in the eyes of the Centauri populace.
• Who or what is Morden, and who does he represent?
• What do Delenn and Kosh know about him?
• Why did the Minbari want Sinclair in charge of the station?
• How big and organized are the raiders?
• What impact will the Eye have on Londo’s career? Will he even return it to the Emperor, or will he try to use it for his own gain?
• How did Mr. Reno get his hands on the Eye?
• How did Morden’s associates locate the raiders and recover the Eye?
• Who will escape on the shuttle in Ladira’s vision? When will the vision come true, if ever, and what will the circumstances be?
• Delenn and Kosh clearly have some sort of perception beyond normal senses, be it telepathy or something else. Kosh’s seems to be much more advanced.
• Delenn’s perception seems to be connected to the appearance of the triangle on her forehead. Note that this triangle was also present when Sinclair was interrogated by the Grey Council at the Battle of the Line (cf. “And the Sky Full of Stars.”)
• Kosh recognized what Morden was immediately. That suggests previous contact between the Vorlons and Morden’s people.
• Kosh said, “They are not for you,” referring to humans, though that’s not completely clear from the episode itself. (See jms speaks)
• Morden and Kosh appeared to have fought, resulting in the damage to Kosh’s encounter suit. Since Morden continued to go about his business, perhaps Kosh capitulated or lost the fight, or perhaps he was only interested in stopping Morden from seeing Sinclair. One interesting thing about this alleged fight is the light that shatters behind Morden as the scene ends — just a power surge from the attack, or something else at work?
• Babylon 5 may be destined for destruction, apparently with only a single shuttle escaping in time. (cf. “Babylon Squared”)
• Where did Morden’s disembodied voice come from at the end?
• This episode has the most complex battle sequence to date, spanning nearly an act and a half.
• Ed Wasser, the actor who played Morden, also appeared as the main C&C technician in the pilot movie, “The Gathering.”
The same character? JMS won’t say.
• As Sinclair and Garibaldi left the lavatory, another person entered. From the person’s appearance, it seemed to be a woman, even though they were leaving the men’s room (the “Male” symbol was clearly visible on the wall outside.)
• Date glitch: When Ivanova is awakened by the computer, it claims the date is Wednesday, August 3, 2258. But August 3, 2258 is a Tuesday, not a Wednesday. The error is probably due to a miscalculation of leap years.
• This episode’s title may be a nod to Norman Corwin, one of JMS’ favorite writers. Corwin’s radio drama “On a Note of Triumph,” broadcast at the end of World War II, examined how the war started and what lessons it carried, and contemplated what would happen once it was over. The quote in question:
Signs and portents!
It was no furtive tapping on the window sill at night,
But clamorous pounding in the public square.
- We’re retitling “Raiding Party” (which I always figured was a working
title, too prosaic) to “Signs and Portents.” Figured it’d be nice to
have one episode title per (projected) year carrying the year-arc
- “Signs and Portents” is the overall title for year one; but just as one may
entitle a chapter in a book the same as the book itself, this episode has the
year-title in it (which may signify that this one is, well, significant….).
- What did Kosh mean by “they?”
And who’s on the shuttle?
They refers to humans. There was no need to ask Sinclair, and he
was under orders not to. And who is on that shuttle…is an excellent
Why the same old launching scene?
I tend to agree re: the launching shots. There were going to be some
new ones for S&P, but there were SO many new shots in that one that
we just ran out of rendering time. There’s some new ones coming, though,
and very dramatic looking, in “Babylon Squared” and the two-parter.
I agree; Ed [Wasser, who played Morden] did a great job.
He was perfect for that role. (He has an oddly Rod Serling-ish quality to
his stance, I’ve noticed.) And he will definitely be seen again.
Ed Wasser is sort of our discovery; I pretty much wrote the part
of Morden with him in mind for the role. He’s great in it.
You noticed that too, huh? Surprised me, too. We’d cast him in the
part of Morden, then the first day’s dailies come in, and his stance,
his manner, the way he looks…we all looked at the TV and said, more
or less at once, “Holy shit, it’s Rod Serling!”
Funny story. Saw Ed Wasser (“Morden”) the other day, and asked him if
he’d had any reaction to his first appearance on the show. Just one,
he said. He was in a florist shop, picking out some stuff for a
friend who was sick. The proprieter came over, asked, “What do you
want?” Ed sorta mumbled about wanting some flowers. “What do you
want?” the owner asked again. Ed — still not getting it — said he
was looking for some nice stuff for a friend who was sick. “Yes, but
what do you *want*?” the owner asked. At which point Ed finally
twigged to what was going on. He said afterward that it really *is*
an unnerving approach, which was kinda the point.
Of course, the owner then added that he thought the scene was from
DS9, but what the hell, it’s an imperfect universe.
One lovely thing about “Signs and Portents,” which
up on, is something I like to play with; implying one thing while saying the
opposite. Look at all the shadow’s main representative, Morden, does: he
asks people what they want; he gets tossed out of Delenn’s quarters; he
is pleasant in his demeanor at all times, never yells, always smiles, and
is courteous; he takes an action which saves one of our main characters,
Londo, from disgrace and resignation, and helps in the process of scragging
the bad guys in the episode.
And yet everyone walks away thinking that the shadows are bad. Which
was of course the intent…by the way in which they did “good.”
Kosh prevents humanity from achieving immortality, scares the hell out
of Talia (cf.
never gives anyone a straight answer, doesn’t seem to mind it if
people fear him…and we walk away with the presumption that he is good,
by virtue of the way in which he did things that were “bad.”
[...] This is something I do a lot in my scripts, which I don’t generally
see a lot of other people doing. You *really* have to construct the
script very carefully to pull something like this off…a little game
between me and the audience.
Morden tried to find out what the ambassadors would like. Morden
arranged to rescue an important Centauri artifact. Morden helped
wipe out the crooks. Morden saved Londo’s career, and asked for
nothing in return.
And yet we get the sense that Morden is a bad guy.
Kosh destroys our chance for immortality. Refuses to get involved
in the affairs of others. Is plainly studying us. Terrorizes one
of our main characters, Talia, for unknown reasons.
And yet we get the sense that Kosh is a good guy.
If anyone should ask, I really *love* writing this show….
Actually, the origin of “What do you want?” comes from encounter
groups I’ve run, and from other kinds of group psychotherapy, such as the
original Synanon games; you ask, “Who are you?” over and over, refusing
to take the same answer twice, to peel away the fabric of what the
person is. It’s a slight jump to “What do you want?” (I knew that
degree in Psychology would come in handy one of these days.)
Why Londo? Because he was the one who answered Morden’s question
correctly. Things happen for a *reason* that is suited to who the person
is. G’Kar’s ambitions aren’t nearly big enough; Delenn knows better than
to get near these guys; Kosh is against them; the EA are being kept at
arm’s length for now, the non-aligned worlds aren’t big enough…so here
There would have been more than one answer that would have sufficed,
but one answer was better than all the rest. Just the right mix of
resentment, nostalgia, ambition, frustration and a sense of displaced
destiny. Londo was hitting all those cylinders when he answered Morden’s
“jms, what do YOU want?”
I’ll have fries with that.
- The working name for the sixth race is the Shadowmen.
I named them Shadows after the Jungian notion of the Shadow,
which is the part of the mind which is all desire, and is destructive.
David: you hit it *exactly* on the head. Again, as you point out,
stuff here operates on a lot of different levels. I try, where I can, to
make a given scene do more than one thing. The hall argument is a good
example of this. The script stipulated a human being stuck between G’Kar
and Londo. Not any other race. Had to be a human. Because that becomes
emblematic of how we’re stuck between the two sides in the war, something
which is *very* strongly brought home in the next batch of episodes.
Obviously, the first most important thing in that scene is just the
gag, the humor. It has to work on that level, and that’s how it came to
me first: just the gag. Then, when it came time to write it, that’s when
I start poking at things to see if I can layer on another level of
meaning, and I saw a way to do a little (very little) visual foreshadowing
of stuff to come. Didn’t matter if anybody ever noticed it or not; it
was never really intended to be of much note, just a little item that
becomes a nice bit of irony later.
Londo does not have the Eye. If he’d failed to turn it over, his
career would’ve been ruined; getting it back was the only thing that
kept him on B5.
- There’s a reason Morden didn’t go to the Earth Alliance.
- The raiders are gone for good, yes.
Re: Happy endings and non-happy endings
As for “Signs and Portents,” I don’t quite know *how* to characterize
the ending on that one. Someone gets what they wanted, but this may
or may not be a good thing. I’d say basically it has an ominous
ending. We do try to keep it a mixed bag…one person may achieve a
niceness, but somebody else pays the price, or gets nailed.
Like Tolkien, and Jonathan Carroll, whose wonderful books start out
looking very nice and comfortable…and gradually take you to
someplace strange and dark and unique…I’ve tried to apply a similar
structure to Babylon 5. It seems to be chugging along at a good clip
along relatively familiar terrain. Now my job is to walk up alongside
the story with a crowbar and give it a good, hard WHAM! to move it
into a different trajectory. “Parliament” was just sort of a
preliminary nudge. “And the Sky Full of Stars” was a good, solid
WHAM! This week’s episode, “Signs and Portents,” is another WHAM,
even bigger than the one that precedes it.
There are two more major WHAM episodes: “Babylon Squared,” dealing
with the fate of Babylon 4, and “Chrysalis,” our season ender, which
is really more of an atomic bomb rather than a crowbar. So roughly
about one-fourth of this season’s episodes are WHAM episodes. That
figure will increase in year two to about one-third. Year three
(Neilsen willing) will be half-WHAM and hal-not. Year four would be
three-quarters WHAM. And year five is all WHAM.
Let me dive in and take issue with you. The problem you seem to
have with the show(s) is alas a part of basic dramatic structure.
You have an introduction, a rising action, a climax, and then a
denouement. Aside from experimental theater kinds of things, that is
the basic underlying structure to all movies, plays and television
“Twin Peaks,” which you cite, really isn’t a very good example
because, in my view, TP *never* resolved ANYthing. Thus it became an
exercise in viewer frustration that eventually was a major reason why
the show was canceled.
The first batch of B5 episodes tended to be a little more self
contained because, remember, we’re trying to bring viewers in here,
and do so without startling or pissing them off. We get a little
funkier the deeper into the show we get. In some cases, as with
“Sky,” parts of the story are resolved, parts aren’t. Generally, it’s
our feeling that if you have an open-ended B story, you generally have
to include an A story that has some measure of closure.
“Signs and Portents” and “Babylon Squared” are two episodes offhand
that I think are emblematic of what you’re asking for. The A story
in “Signs” is resolved…but that episode really isn’t *about* the A
story, it’s about something unusual that happens with the B story that
begins to set a lot of things in motion for this season. And that
story is ended, but not *resolved*, if you get the distinction.
What you address in the last bit of the music in “Signs” is what
I’ve been trying to get across. The theme music appearing there is
not quite what we use otherwise. I suggested to Chris that it’d be
cool to have the B5 theme there in *minor keys* or minor chords. It’s
a somewhat different version, and playing a theme in minor instead of
major keys or chords makes it somber, sad, unsettling. We’ve just
seen B5 explode, and doing that particular riff on the theme seemed
to both of us a good idea. Play it again, then the regular theme,
and you’ll see the difference.
We’ve done a lot with themes over the season, and plan to do more,
developing themes for all our characters. I like interpolating bits
and pieces of the B5 theme into parts of the show; the minor-key
version at the end of “Signs” has always struck me as very effective.
Re: the theme music at the end of”Signs,” I think it was me (but I
could be mistaken) who suggested to Chris, our composer, that he use
the theme, but in *minor chords* rather than major chords. Makes it
very sad, and very effective.
Overall, though, I’ve always told Chris to push it…to go absolutely
as far with the music as he wants. If it goes too far, we can always
pull it back or duck it down a little. Basically, I’m a rock-and-roll
kind of guy…I like my music loud, and I like a LOT of it. This show
is often wall-to-wall music. Chris often composes as much as 20-25
minutes of new music per episode; most hour shows have maybe 13-16
minutes of music per hour episode. And he is often called upon by us
to do some VERY long cues. Often, TV music is just there to cover a
transition (10-20 seconds), or establish a mood at the top or bottom
of a scene, and get out (1 minute to 1 minute-30 seconds average). We
have many, MANY cues on this show that go 2, 3, even 4 minutes. I
think we actually had a 6 minute cue at one point in one episode.
Check act 3 of “Signs and Portents” and see how much music we crammed
into that act; it’s almost non-stop.
Re: The elevator scene
For as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve had a very simple belief that
comes across with B5 as well: try to get in one really great action
moment,minimum one real nice character moment, one solid dramatic
moment…and one moment or scene that’s fall-down funny.
I like humor. I like that characters can show another side of
themselves. If there is any real test of sentience, one of them must
surely be the possession of a sense of humor, since it requires self
reflection. And there is always unintentional (on the part of the
character, at least) humor.
SF-TV has generally taken itself either too seriously, with rods up
butts, the humor forced…or it’s not taken itself seriously at ALL,
and gone campy. This show takes itself seriously, but not in quite a
way that lets it fit in either category.
For me, as a viewer, I enjoy the shows that are roller-coasters, that
take you from something very funny…and slam you headfirst into a
very dramatic scene. Hill Street was like that, Picket Fences is
like that now…why not SF? I’ve also found that humor can help you
reveal things about the characters. The Londo/G’Kar scene at the
elevator in “Signs and Portents,” for instance. It says something
about both of them without coming out and *saying* it.
In general, you don’t see a lot of light reflecting off other
objects when there’s an explosion because in general those objects
aren’t close enough to cause a reflection. Now, in “Signs,” which
comes up in a couple weeks, there’s explosions near a large object,
and there we do get some reflected light.
To have a station commander *and* a rep for Earth can be cumbersome
in many ways, when someone has to give orders. It’s cleaner this
way; and no different than any of the sailing vessels of the 18th
century and before, when each captain was viewed as, and expected to
perform as, the official representative of his country.
There is, however, a second agenda at work here, which you’ll find
out about a bit in “Raiding Party” ["Signs and Portents"].
There’s not a lot of CGI in either “Legacies” or “The Quality of
Mercy” (which will follow “Raiding Party” in the production lineup),
because neither story really called for it. But there’s a *lot* in
“Raiding Party,” some of it very elaborate. By way of comparison, in
an average B5 episode, a script from beginning to end has about 60 or
70 setups (a setup is a numbered scene or shot, i.e., INT. SCOCKPIT
or INT. ZEN GARDEN). “Raiding Party” has around 112 setups. That’s
more than in some movies. It’s a *very* busy script.
Yes, we’re doing virtual sets…and there’s a doozy in the first
little bit of act one in “Signs and Portents.”
Yes, this is the actual text of a script. And a script contains scene
descriptions, dialogue, directions. (Contrary to popular opinion, the
actors don’t just make up their lines when they hit the stage, based
on loose ideas by somebody.) My scripts tend to be *very* detailed,
with camera movement suggestions, optical notes, indications of
dissolves vs. cuts, on and on. A typical scene might look like this:
EXT. BABYLON 5 - ESTABLISHING A scuttleship unloads cargo from a transport parked alongside the station. PAN ACROSS with the scuttleship, tracking with it until it passes into the docking bay, then DOWN TO the observation dome window, where we can just see into INT. OBSERVATION DOME where Lieutenant-Commander IVANOVA stands at the console, cup in hand, staring bleakly out into the starscape as SINCLAIR comes up alongside. IVANOVA I hate mornings...I've always had a hard time getting up when it's dark outside. SINCLAIR We're in space. It's always dark outside. IVANOVA (forlornly) I know...I know....
(That, by the way, is a slight re-do of an actual shot from “Raiding
A script page, single-spaced, works out to about the same wordage as a
double-spaced prose fiction page, about 225-250 words per.
Why was the ship in Lady Ladira’s name instead of Lord Kiro’s?
Ladira was Kiro’s aunt, and much of the family money/property is in
I think that the Eye was returned the next day, so there was
a goodly span between Ladira’s vision, and the scene in Londo’s
- What became of the Eye?
The eye is now safely back home and on display.
I hate to burst your bubble, but the Raider ship *was* rotating.
Look at it again. It’s most visible when the ship is being
photographed from behind with B5 in the background. You can see the
round part of the ship rotating (with the docking bay at center).