Babylon 5: Racing Mars

b5Even though Atonement gave us the idea that Sheridan was planning to strike back at Clark, it’s not until Racing Mars that we see some of that gaining some traction.  Susan is busy striking up deals with the black market and we are going to be treated to a Marcus/Stephen episode.  This latter fact surprised me as much as anyone mostly because I have found Stephen the least appealing character in the show since Talia.  Unlike Roger, I don’t actively dislike Stephen but he has the least depth and he has made some awful choices in the past but paired with Marcus, they two are a fun double act.

I know it was more of a B plot this week, but the whole Sheridan side story I found very engrossing.  Susan relieving him of command gave him a chance to address the festering problem of Garibaldi; a problem that was exacerbated during the ISN interview.  I found the dialogue brilliant and I applaud it because I believe in the direct approach when confronting a problem.  I don’t agree with Garibaldi because I don’t see Sheridan being particularly out of control.  It’s pretty evident that he is not enjoying the hero worship he’s subjected to, but Garibaldi just can’t take it.  John allows the situation but warns Garibaldi how that will be treated in the future.  (Interestingly Garibaldi says he does not want to hurt Sheridan even though he landed a palpable punch, but that seems to be in the heat of the moment.)  Of less interest to me is the Minbari series of rituals (50!?) but it does at least give me a hearty laugh when Lennier uncomfortably looks at Sheridan and says simply “woohoo?”  (A cheap laugh, but I won’t deny I enjoyed it!)

The bulk of the episode is setting up what’s to come with Earth and Mars.  We start with a bit of fun with Marcus’s I-spy game (Boxes, more boxes, even more boxes) but it’s only made funny by the contrast of the two characters.  There’s a hint of one of my favorite comedies between these two; a sense of Neil Page and Del Griffith (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.)  The contrast of the two characters is what makes it work; Frankin is very much the straight “Neil Page” character while Marcus is the more fun “Del Griffith”.  It’s enhanced when their cover stories put them as husband and wife.  (Captain Jack’s reactions to this are very funny too and Marcus plays it for all its worth!)

Captain Jack is an interesting character who enjoys eating and being warm but my wife pointed out his accent and I couldn’t get past it after that.  It seemed intentionally over-the-top.  The scene where he shows Stephen the picture and address of his daughter seemed like filler until we understood, and in this instant, we are giving more information about the thing on Londo’s neck in the future (as well as the Regent’s neck currently).  It controls what people say and do.  That adds a very frightening quality to what they are.  Anyway, Jack ends up being a sympathetic character and gives us a pretty impressive visual effect at the same time.  But the scene with the creature also makes me question Stephen again.  When the thing is shot off Jack’s neck, Franklin says “I’ve never seen anything like it!”  Sure, this could be a gut reaction based on the appearance of the creature (being more spider-like than his previously identified parasite) but he has encountered something like this before.  So has Marcus.  Remember the Vindrizi of Exogenesis?  It’s probably why Marcus claims not to like parasites, but it’s also indicative that Franklin speaks without thinking.   Maybe… because it’s impossible to deny that it could be in reference to the look of the thing, which is fair considering he says it before analyzing it.

We end knowing Franklin and Marcus have met a big Prisoner fan, who calls herself #1.  How she will help, we just have to wait and find out. For now, she’s stealing Marcus’s spouse for dinner.  Hopefully together they can come up with a reason why people on Mars think they are in 1880’s Texas.  I sure wanted to know…  ML

The view from across the pond:

“In the past those two paths have crossed but perhaps now they don’t. It is the way of things.”

You can always count on Delenn to sum things up perfectly. Not all friendships last forever, but the friendship between Sheridan and Garibaldi has collapsed in spectacular fashion. This week they have a blistering argument, brilliantly acted by both of them, and it even becomes a physical conflict. Garibaldi gives his reason for his resignation and betrayal:

“Did you ever hear of a little thing called the cult of personality?”

He is actually voicing something there which I mentioned a few weeks ago, especially when he accuses Sheridan of being a messianic figure. However, this doesn’t exactly seem to have gone to Sheridan’s head. Instead he has only used his status as the means to rally support to end the war. If he really did believe in his own personality cult he would probably have put together a fleet to attack Earth by now, something he could presumably have done with ease in the wake of the war. So it does all explain Garibaldi’s resignation to some extent, but probably not his betrayal. That was out of character and there’s clearly something more going on here, connected with his captivity during the war. The storyline is dragging on a bit and it would be nice if JMS wrapped it up soon. It’s time for some real answers.

Sheridan finds a way to unwind from all his stress, “discovering one another’s centres of pleasure” with Delenn. Unfortunately she doesn’t just want to do that on her own with him. She wants to go dogging. Yes, it’s the Minbari ritual of the week. JMS isn’t exactly the master of his craft when it comes to humour, but the awkward moment with Lennier and Sheridan in a lift together afterwards raised a smile.

“Woo hoo?”

However, it has to be said that JMS is increasingly using alien cultures as a way to point and laugh at something different.

In the meantime, Marcus and Franklin are on their mission to Mars, which initially turned out to be much more of a yawn-fest than I was expecting, especially as Marcus is such a fun character. It wasn’t long before they had some company, and it appears that Captain Jack has let himself go since his days with Torchwood. He teased Marcus and Franklin with his “instaheats” food, which were appetising packets of dry ice. There’s a lot of that going around at the moment. Delenn had a cup of it last week. Then we were momentarily in Prisoner territory, with a mysterious Number One and an inimical Number Two (sadly not Leo McKern).

“You get the blood sample, and if they do anything you don’t like, shoot to kill.”

Marcus had better not sing or play I Spy then. I’m not going to lie here; at this point I was typing silly jokes into my notes because I was thoroughly bored with this episode, which represents another step in the post-war anticlimax, but at the 33 minute mark a tentacled creature appeared on Captain Jack’s shoulder and suddenly the episode had my attention. The way it put a different perspective on what we had seen was very clever, with Jack finding ways to hint something was wrong, and to get his daughter’s contact details in somebody else’s hands. What followed was nightmarish, especially the final moments with the tentacle stretching over his shoulder. Classic horror movie stuff.

“They grow back. They always grow back.”

It makes me wonder: could one of those things be controlling Garibaldi? It would make this episode a clever juxtaposition of A and B plots. The episode ended with Garibaldi’s betrayal of Sheridan deepening, as he joined a group of conspirators. Maybe that will shift things up a gear, because we’ve seen how entertaining Babylon 5 can get. A transitory moment of horror as the only source of entertainment just isn’t enough.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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