Babylon 5: Gropos

b5Oh for the love of the Vorlons, why are we out of JMS territory right after we had such a magnificent episode like The Coming of Shadows?!?!  Don’t get me wrong, Larry DiTillio is a good writer but I wanted more JMS stuff.  Instead we get a character piece about Dr. Franklin and his father. I don’t have an issue with Stephen, but he is one of the weaker characters; one who likes to take unconscious women that have been asleep for 100 years to his bedroom… yeah, I didn’t forget that Steve!   That said, if I could do two episodes of Talia in a row and not go mad, one episode of Dr. Franklin and his dad won’t kill me.

Let’s talk about the big picture in the B5 universe.  First, we hear about Ms. Connoly not being happy about the hours her workers are putting in.  Remember her?  She was that lovely woman who managed the workers in season one’s By Any Means Necessary.  Also for those remembering the morality episode, Believers, about the religious family who kill their son after he undergoes surgery; you’ll recall the Gloppet egg.  If you’re paying attention, you’ll see it on the shelf in Franklin’s quarters.  That death must have affected him greatly and he probably cherishes that little thing.  Then there’s the fact that even General Franklin thinks aliens pose a threat to mankind.  Still, through all of this, we really get a chance to see that the Babylon 5 universe is cohesive.  These stories are not individual stories that have no impact on each other.  I remember being stunned with a season 3 episode of classic Star Trek when Sulu mentions a thing that happened in season 1.  It was momentous!  Babylon 5 was showing us from episode one, that season 5 was planned.  This is not a one-off shocker like it was in the Trek episode.  This is a normal occurrence.

Sadly, we don’t get that much else with this story.  A character study with the occasional good line: “A man who won’t stand up for his own principles is no man at all!”  Fair point.  Ethics should matter.  “We’re all slaves to our own history.”  Also a good line that probably warrants more time to digest, but it’s an episode about a man coming to terms with his father and that’s about it.  Oh, well also, it was the one episode I remember being uncomfortable showing my son the first time he watched the series with me (he watched it with me when he was about 12 years old!) because of the mature themes between Garibaldi and Dodger.  (For the record, this time around, at 17, I didn’t even think about it!)  Anyway, the point is the episode doesn’t offer much.  We’re preparing for a potential war and Earth wants to be ready to take sides.  Barring that, it puts Delenn in the sights of some rough and tumble marines who don’t realize she’s the Minbari ambassador (which makes you wonder how much these people actually know about current affairs!)  We get some station upgrades with the latest weaponry.  And it gives us a little tidbit that Garibaldi’s father served under Franklin in the Dilgar War (remember that little battle, we learned about in Deathwalker?)

At most, we get to see a father and son in a strained, but ultimately, loving relationship.  And we get to see the horror of war.  In the end, that’s probably the biggest take-away.  All the extra people we meet, and even come to like, are killed off, and we will probably never hear about them again.  But that’s what war is, right?  That’s what happens: good people die.  And it is sad.  But I really am ready for more JMS now, ok?  So goodbye Dodger, Large, Yang, Kleist, and Plug.  Now onto the next story…. ML

The view from across the pond:

Sometimes watching Babylon 5 is simply depressing. To think the future of the human race could be this bleak. I have praised the realism of B5 before, but sometimes I think it could actually use a dose of Star Trek optimism.

Instead we get General Richard Franklin (a shame they couldn’t have found an actor called Mike Yates to play him – sorry, Doctor Who reference) turning up and swaggering around with a stick and being all arrogant, while his sergeant major shouts at the troops and treats them like dirt (or “maggots”). Are we really going to have pompous military fools parading around on a power trip in the distant future? Of course he’s the doctor’s father. You can see where the arrogance comes from. Find accommodation for 25,000 people? Why not? That’ll be easy. It does make some sense of why the doctor has disrespected the chain of command so often. A father like that might bring out those kinds of rebellious tendencies.

The episode gives us every macho soldier cliché in the book: smoking (seriously? When’s this supposed to be set?) and blowing smoke in somebody’s face, drunken brawls, ganging up on a woman of different race (“what are you?) and threatening her. It’s all quite tough to watch, and inclined to irritate the viewer. Well, it irritated me anyway.  Then we have the military father who hasn’t been able to separate the job from the home, treating his children like troops.

“It’s not about respect.”

Franklin senior confuses respect with total obedience, which is a common problem among a certain kind of father. I suspect we are supposed to be satisfied by the resolution to their relationship issues but it still shouts out everything that is wrong about this kind of father/son relationship, devoid of affection. The father’s response to the son saying “I love you” is to try to shake hands. Say it back, you fool.  Great actor though.  Truly great.

About halfway through the episode I found myself questioning what this was actually about. When you actually stop and think about the storyline it’s incredibly thin. Some troops arrive and go off to fight, making friends/enemies on the way. A father/son are reconciled. That’s about it. Filling 45 minutes with that feels like a stretch, especially if you’re not a fan of the military posturing rubbish and I did get very bored watching this. I could have done without seeing Garibaldi bedding a random private, or not as the case may be. In the end, perhaps Dodger just wasn’t artful enough for him. Has that Daffy Duck picture always been there? I’d rather be watching that show than this.

There were occasions throughout the episode where it felt like an anti-military message was being offered, particularly in the final moments where the camera panned across the dead bodies and we realised that every new friend that had been made during the episode had been killed. I liked that – it’s a powerful message. The problem is that the writer chickened out of his message, if that’s what he was trying to say.  He was never quite able to resist glorifying the nobility and bravery of a soldier’s life and all that bland rubbish. What could have been a very brave episode ultimately had nothing to say.

I just can’t watch this military stuff, and I hope B5 isn’t going to head further down that route. Spaceships fighting I can just about watch, but a sergeant major bullying his “maggots” just isn’t for me.  If I want to see that I’ll go watch a war film.  Actually I won’t.  Ever.

So far, I have to say the second series of B5 is proving to be a great disappointment. The first series wasn’t great, but at least it was generally watchable entertainment. This is just torture. Garibaldi summed up my feelings about the whole episode:

“I’m too old for this crap.”


About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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1 Response to Babylon 5: Gropos

  1. scifimike70 says:

    It’s always a trial for fans when a cherished SF franchise, new or old, suddenly gets depressing in frequent areas. The natural appeal of SF, certainly established in the 60s with Star Trek, Dr. Who and 2001: A Space Odyssey, is that there’s always more to life than we know and most especially about ourselves. Even if learning occasionally sad lessons is a price that we still have to pay. It’s understandable that Babylon 5’s premise must permit such delicate issues. It always had style to make its own SF universe appealing. As did Blade Runner, Brazil and Gattaca. But mixing up all the positive ingredients with the negative has its limits. So this may qualify as a B5 episode that I might be content to view only once. Given how firm I have now become on what kinds of movies, shows and franchises no longer appeal to me, I can still appreciate the educational values and as B5 reminds us, like Star Trek and Dr. Who, life is generally imperfect for a reason. Let’s just hope that we can all soften the blow enough for the real space age future.

    Thanks, ML and RP for your review. 🌎🌏🌍🌌🖖🏻

    Liked by 1 person

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