Babylon 5: Grey 17 is Missing

b5We have had such a good run of episodes lately that even the slower ones felt good, so this episode felt very out of place to me.  So let’s try to make it more entertaining!

For tonight’s show, we’ve got a lineup that’s not to be believed.  In the first ring, Stephen Franklin goes up against his addiction to stims and faces his need to sit in darkened booths all night!  In the second ring, the marvel of the UK, Marcus Cole goes up against Minbar’s own Neroon, with a comedy act to follow!  And in the final ring, Freddy Krueger battles… Freddy Kreuger!   Come join us for a show that you’ll be talking about for years to come!!!

This is one of those weird stories that manage to be entertaining, but offering little that feels like it’s advancing the story, but the truth is, 2 of the 3 plots do advance the story.  Well… at least a little bit!   Stephen’s advances my distaste for his character.  No, not because he became hooked on stims, but because he is always more concerned with himself than anyone else.  He will only help Susan if she promises to leave him alone.  He’s still working through his problems and actually facing anything pertaining to the war would be just too much for him right now.  It’s not much of an advance, but he’s provided some information for the Army of Light to put together a fighting force of telepaths.   I mean, let’s not forget, this is the same guy who, upon meeting a hot woman who just lost her husband, waits for her to pass out, then takes her to his room, where she wakes up to his petting  her.  Yeah, it’s a bit awkward.  I don’t know; let’s see how that plays out.  (I did appreciate that his password was Harriet considering he’s helped organize an underground railroad!)

The other plot that pushes things along is the story between Marcus and Neroon.  (Or should that be Neroon and Delenn?)  Neroon is not keen on seeing Delenn become the new Ranger One.  He’s on the station to stop her being given this position of ultimate power when clearly he should have it.  Now, here again, the story is not pushed hugely forward, but it’s needed to establish a number of things.   First, having opened with the reminder that Sinclair is gone and there is the power vacuum that needs to be filled.  Second, in filling it, we establish the new leader of the Rangers which will be immensely important during the coming war.  So in both cases, its background to the overall arc, but it’s important.  What makes it more important is that Marcus is willing to fight for, and die for, Delenn.  Neroon realizes this is something no human would do for him, and has a “come to Valen” moment when he realizes Delenn is the right woman for the job.  Alas, not before Marcus accrues a bit of a medical bill.

Before talking about the third plot, it is interesting to note that so much of what has been laid down before now makes sense.  “In Valen’s name”, a phrase we have heard since the start of the series, we can appreciate now.  The significance is not to be diminished.  Valen, the greatest Minbari was in fact Sinclair, who is the very reason the war was stopped to begin with.  The circle is now complete and we put a little bow on top of it.  Further, the Ranger slogan of “we live for the one, we die for the one” has taken on deeper meaning with The One being a title that Zathras explained in terms of Minbari belief in the power of three.  Sinclair is The One who was.  Delenn is the One who is.  And we know that Sheridan is the One who will be.  Zathras realized and told the viewers two episodes ago that Delenn was the One.  Neroon’s realization comes after Marcus said the line about Valen and was willing to die for a member of a race that is not his own.  While the episode is a little slow to build, what it creates is meaningful.

For the final plot, let’s go to our reporter in the field, Michael Garibaldi.

“Okay. Well, first, there was this missing maintenance man. Only he wasn’t missing, he was killed by a Zarg. But I’m getting ahead of myself. That was after I found out that the entire 17th floor grey sector had completely disappeared. Well, not disappeared exactly, this weird cult had taken over the place, see, and there was this dummy that shot tranks [tranquilizers] out of his eyes. Very strange, but it was also supposed to be perfect. Now that was the thing about it, but there wasn’t a way out, but there was, except it was spiritual. You had to die a perfect death, that’s where the Zarg came in and either it was going to kill me or I was to kill it and.. Am I going too fast for you?”

Well that sums it up, but I want more than summation.  For this sequence, Robert Englund plays Jeremiah, the leader of Garibaldi’s aforementioned cult.  Englund is probably most well known for playing Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street seriesAnyone who knows the series, knows Kreuger has this glove of very long bladed fingernails.  Funnily enough, so does our resident Zarg – a creature that’s insanely dangerous, but somehow wandering about freely in a section of a station that’s been mysteriously lost… Let’s not think too much about this part!  Does Jeremiah have a flash of recognition after Michael’s makeshift gun takes down the Zarg?  I think if we turn up the volume all the way to 11, he says “Hey, was this my glove??”


Even though I felt like this was the main plot of this episode, the only one that really mattered was the battle between Marcus and Neroon.  I don’t know why, but I like Neroon, and the interaction in the hospital between him and Marcus might be the very reason.  Marcus understands the embarrassment Neroon feels and, rather than rubbing his nose in it, he attempts some levity, and Neroon appreciates it.  Perhaps their story isn’t over yet?  I hope not.

Is this a great episode?  No.  I even recall reading once that JMS didn’t love the sequence with Jeremiah and the Zarg.  But it’s giving us a break as we come in to the final three of the season and they are bound to be action packed.  But I have one lingering question: would the makeshift gun have worked?  The plot thread was there earlier in the episode: couldn’t Michael have just had his actual gun on him at the time?  Surely that was easier to fit in than the pipe-pistol he actually made… no?   ML

The view from across the pond:

This is an episode about things going missing.

Neroon is somewhere on the station (he does an effective disappearing act) and wants to kill Delenn. It’s a bit of an odd one, this, because no Minbari has killed another for a thousand years. Neroon doesn’t look like a maniac, which is surely what it would take for somebody to contemplate being the first person to take a life for a millennium, and for the frankly trivial reason of some political shenanigans. I realise Delenn becoming the leader of the Rangers is a big deal for him and threatens the balance of the three castes in his mind, but surely in a thousand years there have been bigger issues than that. Apparently this was all set up by Valen, who we now know to be Sinclair. One wonders why he wanted to implement a caste system that pigeon-holes people so rigidly. Presumably it was because he knew that was what the future holds, but Sinclair never seemed like the sort of man to accept a fatalistic universe, especially as he managed to avert his and Garibaldi’s original destinies last week. I thought for the moment the point of it all was going to be to motivate Franklin to come back to save Marcus, but presumably Franklin’s return is being saved for another day. Instead, it seemed to be little more than an excuse to add in a bit of extra jeopardy, which never really seemed like a realistic threat, and to show Marcus extending his big tool. Unluckily for him, it turned out that Neroon had a big one too.  Oh, and I didn’t buy Marcus losing to this guy either.  We previous saw him deal with a whole room full of thugs.

In the meantime, Franklin is missing, still off on his walkabout and now suffering from withdrawal symptoms. When Ivanova is wandering around looking for him absolutely everyone around her looks like they’ve got something to hide. If being shifty was a crime then nearly everyone on the whole station needs arresting.

Also missing is a whole floor of the Grey area on the station. It reminded me of Number 13, a fabulous ghost story by M.R. James, and it would have been fun if the chosen floor was 13 rather than the somewhat arbitrary 17. At first I thought the story was going down a similarly supernatural route, or a the very least horror, with the talking killer dummy. That got my attention. Yes, it’s a well-worn idea, but boy is it a good one. Unfortunately the horror lasted for all of ten seconds and then was done with, which was a huge disappointment.

It seems odd to hire Robert Englund and not do a horror. I mean, yes, typecasting and all that, and he was good at what he did here, but clearly some kind of a horror story would have been infinitely more effective than the limp character piece that we got. Maybe it was a deliberate ploy to hire an actor known for horror and play with doing a horror episode before using him as a gentle old codger (if a little odd in his philosophy of life). I would normally say that’s a clever bit of misdirection, but you don’t want to be doing that when you’re hinting at something good and the twist is that you deliver something much weaker.

What was being sold to us here was a cult of sorts. Now, any effective cult makes it difficult for people to leave (the standard tactic, and the way you can most easily distinguish a cult from a religion, is that a cult seeks to separate members from their other friends and family). Exiting from floor 17 was not exactly a piece of cake, but it took Garibaldi a matter of minutes, maybe an hour, after he regained consciousness. So these things have to always hang on the personality of the cult leader, and I just didn’t buy the idea of Jeremiah earning the loyalty of those people, even if they were a bunch of extras who had been told how to react to things and were making damn sure they went big with that in the hope of getting noticed in the background of the shot by Spielberg or something. Keeping an eye on the ham-acting supporting artists is one of life’s little pleasures in shows like B5, when the episode is otherwise uninspiring. And I’m sorry to say that this was a boring one. The episode briefly flickered into life with Garibaldi’s discovery of the missing floor and the weaponised dummy, but that was about it.

“Am I going too fast for you?”

No. Far too slow.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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