For reasons that will become obvious, we break with tradition and present here first…
The view from across the pond:
Once again Babylon 5 takes one step forward and two steps back. We have had a great run of high quality episodes stretching through much of Season 3 and well into Season 4 with the Shadow War. Now that’s over we are back to where we used to be, and my predicted post-War anticlimax has arrived. We are back to an A plot and a B plot, neither of which hit the ground running. This is old B5.
To get the B plot out of the way first, it’s the ongoing question of what’s motivating Garibaldi now. We learn nothing new so we are still getting a flashback of the week that adds nothing, and we are still waiting for any information about what happened to him during his captivity. The only development as such is his betrayal of Sheridan, criticising him to Randall on camera, which is actually just about the only thing that justifies the whole news report segment, but we’ll get to that.
As for the A plot, well it’s horribly predictable, and frankly the whole think makes Sheridan and everyone else look like a right idiot. Randall even spells it out for him:
“The objective journalist is one of those myths you read about like a griffin or phoenix, or an honest politician.”
Of course he’s going to take sides and twist the truth. It’s what many journalists do in peacetime, let alone wartime propaganda. What makes Sheridan think Randall is going to be on his side? Is it his speech about getting “a little truth” into his report? Is Sheridan really that stupid? Even if Randall was a good guy (insert snort of derision here), he’s living under a regime that controls everything he says and does. My respect for the character of Sheridan has already eroded in the last few weeks, due to his apparent lack of a conscience, but here he has simply become a fool.
So 23 minutes into the episode we get the start of the news broadcast, and astonishingly it continues right through to the end of the episode. After a few minutes I was thinking yes, we get the idea, it’s a stitch up, but do we really need to sit through the entire broadcast to get that point across? 20 minutes later and I was just about ready to throw something at the television, especially as the complete silence after the news broadcast made me think it was broken.
In the end, none of this matters a jot, does it. The only actual developments here are Garibaldi’s betrayal and the attack on Sheridan’s family, and that could all have been accomplished in two minutes of screen time, not twenty. Nothing else has changed, apart from maybe the opinions of a few more gullible strangers. Wise people learn not to care about that, very early in life.
Little moments of humour kept the first half of the episode alive: Ivanova and Sheridan’s opening banter with Randall; Lennier headbutting the camera. I was impressed with the prediction of future technology, from the use of drones by television companies to the touchscreen during the news report. Wider of the mark was the prediction of the foundation of a Lunar Colony in 2018. The future never arrives as quickly as sci-fi predicts, depressingly. But the second half of the episode was just a massive waste of time, and I stand by the opinion I stated last week. This storyline makes zero sense.
“You don’t assemble a fleet unless you intend to use it.”
Maybe Sheridan should live up to his propaganda lie of a reputation. I’ll mention my viewpoint on this once more. The Earth government would in reality be terrified of Sheridan and begging him to strike a deal, not baiting him like this. He is the messiah to over two dozen races, the man who returned from the dead to save all their lives. He could have a fleet surrounding the Earth in days if he wanted. And I really think a man whose family has probably just been murdered would do just that. Come on JMS, let’s have some stories that actually make sense. RP
And now we fly back across the pond for…
JUNKYARD NOTE: Sometimes, mistakes happen. This week I didn’t get my write-up completed for Babylon 5’s: The Illusion of Truth because of a storm that swept through my area. Now, typically I’d be mad as hell because I hate being late but it gave me a chance to see what Roger thought before I wrote my side of this episode. Now, normally I talk about the episode however, long before I missed my writing deadline, I was looking forward to talking about this episode a little differently anyway. It’s not that it’s a great episode, but that it really made me think….
When my pal Paul watched this series, this one struck a chord and we discussed some big ideas at length. To start, this is the third episode of Babylon 5 to focus on news broadcasts. The first was more of a background thing during season 1’s Infection. It established that, along with newspapers, the news was a real part of the B5 universe. Season 2 gave us And now for a Word which really showed us how much the news plays a part in this universe and the influence it has on the people. We skipped season 3 largely because the war was going “full swing” and there was no logical place to fit it, but by season 4 we get The Illusion of Truth. And that is exactly what it is: an illusion that people will buy into!
Now, to a certain extent, (and in this, I’ll agree with Roger’s view) I think Clark is another fool in charge of the Earth. Roger’s right to note that anyone trying to antagonize Sheridan is absolutely nuts. Sheridan just brought multiple races together for a war against godlike beings, and won! For Clark to do anything to annoy Sheridan is frankly idiotic. His best bet would be to ignore Sheridan and hope he goes away. The truth is, I don’t think that was the point of the episode. See, to do a commentary story like this, you need the viewer to be invested. If a writer wants to tell a story like The Illusion of Truth, they can’t just drop us into a story and expect us to know or care. You couldn’t do a movie like this. It has to be done with a series and with a cast we’ve come to like. What JMS did was built an entire series and then in the middle of it, he gives us this and it makes us think.
I’ve often wondered about those one-word reviews on movies or books like “’Mesmerizing’… New York Times” or “’…a masterpiece of unbelievable proportions’… CNN.” It’s like we should believe it because these trusted sources said a few words about them. But what I’ve wondered so often is how often the quotes were snipped. “I’d like to say this movie was a masterpiece of unbelievable proportions, but it was utter crap!” or “I was expecting something stellar! Mesmerizing! But I was asleep in 10 minutes flat!” These little blurbs we see on posters and movies and books mean nothing to me because I have no faith in the people saying those things. I’m my own judge. And look, these days, the news is utterly deplorable and keeping it on is a testament to one’s desire to be beaten over the head with rhetoric. So why not look at that in fiction? We can agree to disagree in real life but in a show, we’re all presented with the same “facts”; it’s a microcosm and we can keep up with things. We’ve been privy to all that has happened so we are less likely to get into a shouting match with one another over the truth behind Dan Rath… um, Randall’s comments. Real life is far more polarized. So JMS may have written this episode far in advance of 2020, but it’s no less relevant because he makes us question the source. (Well, at least those open minded enough to do so!)
What we see is a series of interviews where Dan Randall asks questions of various members of the B5 community: Lennier, Garibaldi, Franklin, etc. The camera floats around taking pictures and recording all that it sees and hears. The content is initially shown in context the audience can appreciate. But you know things will go wrong, not least of which is thanks to Garibaldi who actually refers to Sheridan as “the devil” in this episode. It was never going to be a smooth run after that.
I do have to say that right away I was concerned with the way Sheridan says, “We need Mr. Randall to believe everything he sees and hears is the truth and not trumped up for his benefit.” (Surely we could have a whole other article based on a different part of this sentence!) But it’s the way Sheridan says “believe”. Perhaps that is what turned the tide of the interview… Nah, it was always going to be about discrediting the crew. But this makes me wonder about the real news. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but look how easy it was for the comments, taken out of context, to be turned on the crew. They show Sheridan as an alien sympathizer (which will only fly on Earth anyway; a planet that is very xenophobic). They learn things about cryo units and the relationship Sheridan and Delenn have that will be twisted to make others in the Earth Alliance skeptical of Sheridan and his people. Thinking about how this episode is structured in the context of the news broadcast is very uncomfortable and I’m betting is not a big favorite to viewers because it probably doesn’t sit well with them. Something on the periphery seems wrong and it’s no wonder why! What we are shown is a distinct difference between journalism and propaganda, but I have to ask: can we always tell the difference? I don’t know about you, but I feel that in our real world and I doubt I’m alone. So, why would we expect different in a fictional universe having just come out of an intergalactic war and on a planet under martial law?
The episode is hard to watch and certainly presents a challenge. There might be some good banter and the occasional funny quip (“Let’s see what’s on. With our luck, it’ll probably be a commercial.” Clearly placed right before a commercial for the network run!) But I seriously don’t think this will be a popular episode. It sure wasn’t with the crew. The ending is a somber affair with everyone standing around without a word spoken. What could they say? There’s no words that will make it in the least bit better. The question is, what will the fallout be from this illusion? ML