Babylon 5: The Long Dark

b5G’Quan, another non-JMS story!   Scott Frost brings us a retelling of Dracula complete with Howlin’ Mad Murdock as Renfield.  I mean, Amis.  But even though this is not an arc-heavy story, I feel like we are getting closer and we are still moving the story along.  The atmosphere this episode generates is astounding.  Londo calls it a “ghost story” but he’s not wrong!  Yes, I want to get to the main thrust of these episodes, but this is far from a random event.  This ties in!

It also introduces some ideas.  Amis (who should have been named Amos, like the profit, as he spouts his words of warning) was part of the war, he’s most likely suffering shell shock.  But he encountered something before and he knows it’s back.  Why it let him live, we may never know, but it’s on the station with us… And wow, is that unnerving.   And it does tie in with the overall arc.  A Darkness is coming.  (Bear in mind, fans of Game of Thrones, “Winter is Coming” has nothing on Babylon 5!)  Something is amassing its forces at Z’Ha’Dum and this ship was en route to that very destination.  Hmmmm.  This Dracula-esque creature that devours its prey from the inside was heading for the very place.  Surely that’s not a coincidence!  Bear in mind what this means!  Whatever is happening at Z’ha’dum has been going on for some time because we know whatever got on the ship has been there for about 12 years.  So how long have these creatures been building their forces?

We are also introduced to the term Gropos (short for Ground pounder); this will be important later in the series.  For now, just shelf it.  Speaking of shelving things, Londo wants to do that with the council meeting but Sheridan proves to be the Captain that I admire.  When the Marcab ambassador threatens to do something about the woman they found in cryo-sleep, Sheridan crushes the threat leaving no question about who is boss on Babylon 5!  (By the way, can anyone else tell that is the same actor who normally plays a Drazi?  Or am I mad!?)

If there’s one thing I hated about this episode was that Frost paints Dr. Franklin really badly.  He’s not the strongest character, but for the most part, I like him.  But what the hell is he getting up to with his new patient?  Was he just petting her?  And is he hitting on her right after she lost her husband!?  Did she faint only for him to carry her… to his room?!?  Good lord man!  Get a date!  No, I’m sure he was a perfect gentleman right up until she woke.  “Where’s your other hand?”  “Between two pillows.”  “Those aren’t pillows!!!!!!!”  “ARRGGGHHHHH!!!!!!”  (Sorry, a little Planes, Trains, and Automobiles humor!)   Franklin, I’m watching you!

So the episode is a very enjoyable and scary one that does push the story along even though it’s not a JMS one.  So I leave you with one last thing to think about: Londo doesn’t believe in evil entities!  I wonder how he feels about the whole Z’Ha’Dum thing?  And will that lack of faith play a role in any other areas of his life?  We shall see!!  ML

The view from across the pond:

This season of B5 has gradually settled into a pattern of slowly advancing the ongoing story, while continuing to tick off the sci-fi standard storylines.  This time it’s the turn of a very old idea – somebody waking up in their future.  I have seen this attempted several times in different sci-fi series and it’s an idea that goes right back to The Sleeper Awakes (H.G. Wells).  In fact, it goes back further than that.  Writer Scott Frost makes use of an old idea here and he’s in good company: Wells did lots of that too.  In fact, all writers take inspiration from other sources.  It’s what you do with the ideas that matters.  Incidentally, for a precursor to The Sleeper Awakes, take a look at my history blog, Windows into History: Science Fiction, 1770 Style.

Generally when you find a sleeper-awakes plot in sci-fi the focus is on their culture shock.  A story like this will generally have one of the following observations to make:

  • Look, isn’t the future terrible, and wasn’t the past a golden age, or…
  • Look, isn’t the future brilliant, and wasn’t the past primitive.

Wells went with the former, and needless to say the various Star Trek spinoffs generally went with the latter.  B5 leans towards the former, interestingly enough, with Mariah waking up in much scarier times, although the multicultural nature of her future is at least portrayed as positive and a source of wonderment.  Unusually for this kind of story, Frost focusses very little on culture shock, and instead goes big with the Thing That Came With Her.

That crosses us over into another genre: psychological horror.  We skirt around the fringes of the genre – much more could have been done to make the episode more frightening – but some of the usual tricks such as flickery lights are employed.  There are plenty of scares here, from the skeleton in stasis, whose organs have been eaten, to the invisible foe who looks demonic when you catch a glimpse.  With the revelation that it was heading from the Rim, and the picture in G’Kar’s Ladybird Book of Aliens Who Look Like Demons, maybe we just caught our first glimpse of the Big Bad this season.

Frost also throws in a Cassandra character as well, an obvious addition to a story with something lurking in the darkness.  Do I need to explain that?  Well, briefly it’s a character who struggles to get anyone to believe her/him when she/he insists on the presence of danger.  Google her.  This episode’s Cassandra is…

Oh look, it’s Mad Murdock, yet to escape his typecasting.  Star Trek Voyager had much more vision when it came to employing the magnificent Dwight Schultz.  At first it’s played for laughs, and then we learn that Amis has post traumatic stress and suddenly it’s not so funny.  Come to think of it, maybe Murdock had that too.

Finally, thrown in to annoy us all, we have a romance of the week for the idiot doctor.

“Where am I?”
“My quarters. They were closer than medlab.”

Yeah, right.  Who does he think he’s kidding?  Of course, he almost immediately starts hitting on her.

“I really don’t think this is appropriate at this particular time.”

You did it pal.  Right back near the start of B5 I took a strong dislike to Franklin, when he abandoned medical ethics and got away with it, astonishingly escaping permanent dismissal.  Nothing he has done since has made me warm to the character, and it was great to see Sheridan put him in his place, if only for a fleeting moment.  He’s stuck in a sort of limbo between reliable team member and anti-hero, and between those two points lies annoying idiot.  It’s time the writers jumped in one direction or another with him.

Anyway, who’s up for another A Team actor of the week?  I would like to see more of that in B5, but who should be next?

Cut the jibba jabba, I ain’t getting in no starship, fool.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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