Babylon 5: Conflicts of Interest

b5This is another episode with a perfect title because we really do see a number of different Conflicts of Interest throughout.  Susan wants to broadcast her “Voice of the Resistance” which is against the interest of Earth Gov, as she brings the truth of President Clark to light.  Sheridan wants to start patrolling borders but that will be in conflict with the local governments of each of the member races.  Garibaldi is ready to go up against Sheridan and his former team which puts Zack in a bad spot with his friend and mentor.  (Zack has a particularly tough choice to make and I don’t like Garibaldi’s stance on this!  “At least it wouldn’t have come from you”)  And the very mission Garibaldi is on is clearly in someone’s interest while not so much for some other parties.

Let’s start with some character stuff.  The dialogue between Susan and Zathras is incredibly funny especially when he scares her with a sudden outburst.  Learning about Zathras and the family Zathras is quite funny, even if a bit silly.  I love that, like so much related to Zathras, there’s “symmetry”; he had said before that no one listens to Zathras, and apparently he included himself in that statement.  Elsewhere, G’Kar and Londo don’t get nearly enough screen time but what they do get is still meaningful.  However I found the cut strange.  Sheridan’s plan means “their blood will be on your hands… is that what you want?” and it’s clear Londo has enough blood on his hands to last a lifetime but the camera catches Londo from behind and we see a brief acknowledgement before the cut.  Presumably Londo and G’Kar have agreed but the filming was strange.  I truly love Sheridan’s push that it’s easy to fight a common enemy but far harder to come together for a common good. Very well said!   Then there’s the random secret agent man who is sitting with Garibaldi, Wade, and Lise.  He is a real class act.  He waits until Garibaldi takes the package to ask “who’s this?”  You’re a good business man, dude; you wait until your product is basically stolen to ask about the guy sitting at the table with you.  Good job.  Speaking of Lise, of all the flashbacks to show us, we get this: “When you make up your mind, you know where to find me”.  She says this to Garibaldi sometime in the past (when Michael had hair – wow, always a shock to see!), but then she never reaches out to him before getting together with her first or second husband!  I could accept it once, but twice?  And her excuse: he had his life together?  Talk about an ugly portrayal of Garibaldi’s life long love.   And we can’t rip into characters without Franklin.  He’s asked about his trip to Mars and tells Susan it was, among other things, “cold”.  Maybe in Number One’s quarters, but certainly not the rest of the time; the whole Captain Jack subplot was that it was roasting on Mars and Jack kept a jacket on!  Did Franklin forget?  Or was that a euphemism for how things turned out with Number One, which was alluded to with her former lover?

As we found out last week, with Delenn’s absence, John can focus on some difficult tasks and  one of those is the main focus of this episode: Michael Garibaldi.  While Garibaldi doesn’t seem to mind asking Zack to put his career on the line, Zack does the right thing.  Regulations are there for a reason and Michael circumvents them without consideration for how that could impact Zack.  If he wants to go up against Sheridan, that’s his choice, but to put Zack’s career on the line isn’t right.  Sheridan is following orders that predate the corrupt leadership of Earth so it’s not like there’s hypocrisy in Sheridan’s actions; Michael is just being obtuse.  But the episode made it a point to start off reminding us that Garibaldi is a decent man: he helps a man reunite with his daughter and then charges a third of his agreed upon fee.  So the episode is even creating a conflict for the viewer.  We want to love Michael at the start, but then his attitude rapidly changes and we’re not sure where his loyalties lie after he goes up against Sheridan.  And even if you could agree with the attitude against John, the fact that he is willing to put Zack at risk is not the sign of a good friend.  But while we are “one for, two against” with Garibaldi, he does one more thing that balances it out: he sees the virus and is afraid to see it fall into the wrong hands, even if it hurts telepaths; a group he typically hates.   So the conflicting character is an interesting one.

I was left with one question: why didn’t Garibaldi shoot the guy who came up through the vent?  Even if the guy was letting them go so they could run into a trap, Garibaldi lets a bad guy get away.  Somewhere in that might be what we need to tip the balance.  For now, Garibaldi is offered to go to Mars to work for Lise’s husband and maybe that’s for the best: get away from Sheridan before things get really out of hand.  Frankly, right now, I don’t know how to feel about Michael.  As a big fan of Sheridan, I guess you can say I have a conflict of interest where he’s concerned.    ML

The view from across the pond:

OK, this one is a little better, mainly thanks to Jerry Doyle being so watchable as Garibaldi, and being very much at the centre of the action this week. We get a very touching moment when he reunites a man with her daughter and then only charges one third of his fee, and then Zack is sent by Sheridan to get Garibaldi’s security pass and gun back. He doesn’t take it very well.

“What was I supposed to do?”
“Say no.”

JMS is doing all this very cleverly, because it almost makes the viewer side with Garibaldi. We can see the good work he is doing, and when he takes issue with Zack over what appears to be a betrayal of friendship he seems to have a point. Zack could have refused and let somebody else go in his place, so there is an interesting point being made here about submission to authority at the expense of doing the right thing by a friend.

“The way he walked away, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Zack’s comment to Sheridan is our only reminder this week that there is actually something wrong with Garibaldi, and his actions appear to have been triggered by his captivity during the war. JMS is wisely keeping that side of things in the background, and instead showing us a more human motivation for Garibaldi’s betrayal. It muddies the waters and shows the slender threads on which a friendship can hang. Zack’s “just following orders” moment gives Garibaldi the final push he needs to cross the line into full-on working against Sheridan. It’s a great bit of writing because without that we would be led much more down the path of assuming his captivity was the only reason for his behaviour, and perhaps stop caring about him as a character so much.

Garibaldi is again reunited with his ex, and we are provided with a useful flashback to the days when he had hair. Things didn’t work out too well for Lise’s post-Garibaldi marriage:

“I got nothing. He got our baby girl.”

And this happened because Lise is Mars-born, and the judges discriminate. Once again Babylon 5 gives us a very bleak version of humanity’s future, very far removed from a Trek utopia, with no progress made in evolving past xenophobic tendencies. I must admit the action adventure stuff that followed didn’t interest me very much, with all that clichéd crawling through air vents, and the B and C plots did little to help alleviate the boredom. Ivanova headed off to see Zathras and have a bit of banter with him that stretched a joke too far (and continued the ridiculous premise that anyone would be able to get a broadcast through to Earth when they don’t want it). Meanwhile, Sheridan was attempting some political wrangling with Londo and G’Kar.

“If you both will allow the White Stars to patrol the borders between your two empires…”

Sometimes I think JMS must be either forgetting his own storylines or recycling unused Season One scripts. G’Kar doesn’t have an empire any more. The Narn barely even have a home world. G’Kar has zero power and his opinions count for nothing in this kind of a situation. Borders between empires? Nonsense.

The most interesting development this week was probably the existence of a telepath-specific disease. I’m guessing that’s going to feature again in a future episode, and it provided an object lesson in what happens when somebody compromises on their ethics. Garibaldi started working with criminals, and predictably got more than he bargained for. It didn’t seem to prick his conscience. Whether that is clever reflection of some kind of brainwashing, or just weak writing, remains to be seen.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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