Mark Scott Zicree gives us another look at events on Babylon 5 with the episode Survivors. It’s another arc-lite episode, but like Believers, it’s also another character builder, this time for Garibaldi. In this one, we learn that several years ago, Michael lost a dear friend and hit the bottle to overcome his sorrows. Up until now, we’ve seen Michael stick with water as his drink of choice, and now it becomes clear that there’s a good reason for it. At the time, when he lost his friend, Frank, he also lost the love of Frank’s daughter who is now using her position to push Michael around. It’s all based on the last words of a dying man but those words created a perfect scapegoat in Garibaldi.
In the grand scheme, it’s a very minor episode because as the audience, we know Garibaldi is innocent. What we don’t know is who is behind these events, and B5 is able to pull the rug out from under us from time to time, so we are left wondering. Michael’s progression is handled well from what I can tell: beyond the loss of love from Liana, he loses his reputation, his home, his privacy, even access to money… he loses everything and in the end, hits the bottle which leads to him making mistakes. Jeffrey’s faith in Michael counts for something though; he put Michael in this position for a reason and Garibaldi’s training kicks in to help save the day. The one thing that stood out to me with this story was Londo: though he makes a small contribution to the story, he is willing to be there for Michael. It’s a good scene and builds the bond between these two characters. Hopefully, Michael remembers Londo’s kindness.
Interestingly Garibaldi says how much it hurts to be human, which seems to be a theme this season since Franklin said much the same one episode prior. But barring getting a look at the danger of alcoholism and getting to know Michael better, very little that happens here pushes the overall story arc forward. It’s a good episode from the standpoint that we enjoy watching Garibaldi make the connections and win despite the odds, but there is very little to build off.
This is the fifth episode written by someone other than Straczynski; we are getting most of them out of the way early and there is a noticeable difference between the types of story we see. Next week we will look at By Any Means Necessary, which is another non-JMS episode, but it has a unique difference: it is written by JMS’s (then-)wife and there will be ramifications… but that’s for next week. Until then, we can take comfort in knowing that Garibaldi’s victory saved him from the bottle. For now. ML
The view from across the pond:
I demand you open a channel to Earth at once.
I’m a lieutenant commander in Earth Force, Major. I do not take demands. If you have a request I’ll consider it.
Very well then. I request that you open a channel to Earth Dome.
Request denied. Have a nice day.
Isn’t it great when somebody thinks they are the most important person in the universe, and somebody else comes along to burst their bubble? Ivanova gets better and better.
After the complex ethical issues of the previous episode, Survivors is much more straightforward, a simple story lacking a B-plot, and with a tight focus on one of the regulars: Garibaldi. He gets framed for a crime he didn’t commit, which is a storyline most people will have seen elsewhere a hundred times before, and there is little about the way this plays out that marks it out from any of the other multitude of similar attempts at this storyline. A major chunk of the episode is given over to Garibaldi on the run, which is a lot a fun, but moments like G’Kar offering him a deal to become a traitor to his own people are really just the episode treading water. He’s clearly not going to accept. Likewise, Garibaldi getting beaten up by some thugs with a grudge is also a bit of padding to make up the running time, but it’s entertaining and is at least set up well earlier in the episode, with the moment Garibaldi snaps and tries to use one of the thugs as a punching bag. It is our first hint in the episode that he might not always be in control of his actions.
That’s where the backstory comes in, with Lianna Kemmer bearing a grudge against Garibaldi, the man she used to call Uncle Mike, holding him responsible for the death of her father. It’s almost like a family breakdown, and it’s very sad. Kemmer heading up an investigation with Garibaldi as the key suspect is difficult to believe, given their history, which should rule her out as somebody who is unable to remain unbiased and clear-headed, but if we can overlook that the episode functions well.
Then we have the major revelation that Garibaldi is a recovering alcoholic, and the shocking sight of him relapsing here, which ultimately leads to his recapture. Kemmer’s comment “drunk again, Uncle Mike”, with a flashback to her saying the same thing as a child, is a heartbreaking moment, and really brings home the damage alcoholism can do to the addict and his loved ones. This aspect pulls its punches a little, and as a representation of alcoholism it’s a bit too neat and tidy, but that’s fine as long as it’s a slowburner of a plot thread. If Garibaldi’s addiction doesn’t feature in subsequent episodes it will be a missed opportunity and a slight betrayal of the importance of the subject matter, so I am hoping this is more than simply a dramatic device for a single episode.
Beyond that, there’s not a lot more to say about this, the simplest episode of B5 so far. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s ok to tell a straightforward, unambitious story, as long as you tell it well. That’s certainly the case with Survivors. RP