Babylon 5: The Face of the Enemy

Babylon 5 Artwork

Artwork by Katie Marriott

It’s strange how all these years later and after all the times I’ve watched this show, it’s never felt more relevant than now.  Again, I will leave a lot of that up to the educated viewer and the interpretation of our readers, but it just feels very timely.  That said, the battle against Earth and Clark’s forces is reaching a climax.  People believe surrendering to Sheridan means death, their crews replaced by Minbari.  They fight with tireless vigor knowing it’s death one way or the other.  Lyta and Franklin arrive on Mars for some overdue prejudices against the telepaths, this time from Number One.  (While I hate that Franklin only stands up for Lyta to a certain extent, I imagine there’s not a lot he can do and ultimately just needs to get a job done.)  And Garibaldi’s very uncharacteristic behavior comes to a head, after helping to capture public enemy number one: John Sheridan.  Susan orders him to be shot on sight if he comes to the station.  Let’s see how that works out!  We’re somewhere between the momentum of No Retreat, No Surrender, with the exposition of The Exercise of Vital Powers, yet that mix of the two creates a very powerful episode indeed.

I love picking up on references within a show.  Even before the flashback with Justin, I remember thinking about what he said in Z’ha’dum, that if the Shadows killed Sheridan, someone would just come along and replace him.  When Susan steps into that role, I realized Justin was right.  I also love references to things outside the show.  In fiction, we have a couple hints that Straczynski was a fan of The Prisoner.  Bester offers his signature “be seeing you” again, and Number One is aptly named.  But also, Garibaldi’s role as Bester’s pawn is fully explained and I could hear the ghost of a certain retired colonel telling a woman “we’re all pawns, m’dear” as that scene played out.  And what a scene!  Garibaldi not only has to live with the knowledge of what he’s done, but he has to contend with that fact that he has just become a wanted man.  Then there were some references outside the show from reality.  Garibaldi’s comment that the last guy who betrayed someone the way he betrayed Sheridan received “30 pieces of silver for the same job”.  This is a biblical reference about Judas betraying Jesus.  What makes it an unsettling comment is Garibaldi’s own sentiments about Sheridan, saying he “thinks he’s the second coming”.  Does Michael feel that way subconsciously?  Or has he just assumed Sheridan believes it and he’s sticking with the allegory?  There’s also Edgars, whose voice catches when explaining that we can soon be rid of “the telepath problem”.  Perhaps he was a student of history and realized he’d just paraphrased Hitler, when referring to “the Jewish problem”.  Again, an uneasy comment considering Bester refers to the extermination of the Telepaths as “a holocaust”.  But then, JMS does seem to like making WWII parallels.

Frankly, the telepath-on-Mars story is all setup for whatever Sheridan wants Franklin to use the telepaths for, but with him gone, does Franklin know all of what he’s supposed to do?   The biggest takeaway here is that Lyta was a bad bad-ass before she was a good bad-ass.  Ok, interesting, but let’s get to the meat of the episode.  Is that Garibaldi or Sheridan?  Clearly we spend over a 1/3 of the episode on Garibaldi and the virus that is 100% contagious to telepaths, airborne, and harmless to normals.  I find I don’t know who the normals are in 2020, but I do know we have a very dangerous virus going on and that too felt timely!   But before I get to the most incredible part of the episode, I’d like to make a few observations.  The feelings Sheridan has about the crew of the Agamemnon is something I can relate to.  When you have a crew that matters to you, that you trust and believe in, it can make all the difference.  It turns any difficult situation into a manageable one.   Edgar’s assessment of Clark is that no matter what, he’d be gone in a few years.  While this is true of any presidency, untold harm can be done before that person leaves office and we see that now.  (Do I mean that about the show, or reality… your call.)   I think Edgars target is incorrect though, but I’m a firm believer that common ground can always be found.  And lastly, I could not help but make myself laugh when Lise goes missing.  All I could think of was that she’s probably off getting married, only so she can blame Michael later because he wasn’t there when he husband was slaughtered when she needed him most!   (Sorry, my brain just went there…)

“Something’s happened!”  All that aside, the episode hits a high note with the fall of Sheridan.  Garibaldi sets him up using his father as bait and lands a tranquilizer on John’s hand (reminiscent of how Kosh was poisoned at the start of the series).  The sequence that follows is visually incredible.  Yeah, the flashing lights get a bit epileptic, but the choreography and cinematography are completely stunning.  What we see of where Sheridan is kept and what’s being done to him is troubling, to say the least.  ISN announces Sheridan has been captured.  The question is, will Clark lower his guard as Edgars expects?   With Edgars out of the way, does it matter?  At least, the battle is still on thanks to Susan and those who joined forces with Sheridan’s army.  But now they have a new problem: can they rescue Sheridan?  ML

The view from across the pond:

Just when Sheridan thought he was having a good day, Garibaldi gives him a ring. Up until that point everything was going well for him, or so it seemed. I am a little sceptical about the defection of the Agamemnon, which seemed a little too easy, so I’m wondering if there’s a double-crossing on the way from them, but the strength of Sheridan’s tactics really shone through in the early part of this episode. His ability to bring other captains over to his side is creating a ripple effect, and this week we saw an enemy surrender thanks to MacDougan, who we saw join Sheridan’s resistance force a couple of weeks ago.

As soon as Garibaldi told Sheridan that his father had been captured, it was obvious what was going to happen next. Despite some half-hearted attempts to stop him, he was never going to abandon his own father. When Ivanova says “it stinks of a set up”, she hits the nail on the head, and of course logically she’s right, but logic isn’t going to overrule the emotion of a situation like that.

“If it were your father, what would you do?”

Predictably Sheridan shows up in a seedy bar and gets tranquillized by Garibaldi. What follows is so ridiculous that I ended up laughing at what was supposed to be a big, exciting moment. The “tranq” is so slow working that Sheridan has time for a bar fight in dramatic slow motion with altogether too many flashing lights, and a stunt man smashing through a window. It was like I had suddenly switched over to The A Team by accident.

Then it was time for the news to be broken to the rest of the crew, and that moment was brilliantly done, the scene cutting between Sheridan being beaten up in prison and the propaganda news report. That was followed by Garibaldi finally finding out the truth that was pretty obvious to anyone watching: Edgars has the virus and the antidote and is planning to use them to remove the threat posed by telepaths.

“You create a slave race.”

I know there are extenuating circumstances, but this whole storyline has ended up making Garibaldi look quite the fool, unable to see what’s at the end of his nose, and saying things like this:

“I held up my end of the bargain, now I want the truth.”

Maybe it would have been a better idea not to betray Sheridan until he knew exactly why he was doing that, and who he was doing it for. Speaking of those extenuating circumstances, it was almost exactly what I was expecting: Garibaldi had been captured by the Psi Corps and was working for them without realising it. The detail that I never guessed was how little Bester had actually done to him. I was expecting something akin to a switch being flicked in his head, or even Garibaldi working as nothing more than a puppet under a telepath’s mind control, but it was much more subtle than that, and makes his betrayal far harder to take.

“We just have to accentuate his natural instincts. More rebellious, more stubborn, more suspicious of his fellow officers.”

My initial thought was how clever that was, but the cracks in the idea became obvious pretty quickly, especially when Bester said he hadn’t even expected the resignation. Surely that was leaving things to luck far too much, considering the high stakes (the potential genocide of telepaths), and when you think back on the chain of events, boy, did Bester get lucky with Garibaldi’s actions. But he’s a great villain though.

“Be seeing you, Mr Garibaldi.”

That’s the second time Bester has used that line from The Prisoner. Does the show exist in the world of B5 and is Bester a fan? Maybe he’s getting some ideas from that series, manipulating his Number Six and playing with his mind. But if so he would do well to remember one important fact: Number Six always fights back.   RP

About Roger Pocock

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4 Responses to Babylon 5: The Face of the Enemy

  1. ShiraDest says:

    Ok, first, ML: ““we’re all pawns, m’dear”” -I must look up this show and the retired colonel! 🙂
    I love and agree with your analysis, and finding that this episode is uncomfortably timely.

    Now, Roger: you are right, despite the slow motion scene being a wealth of emotion, it was a bit hard to swallow the major fight while tranqu.ed.
    Ok, now I need to see The Prisoner, which I’m sure must exist in the B5 universe, since Daffy Duck does!
    Be seeing you, Gentlemen,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      Mike got me into The Prisoner, and it’s is without any exaggeration one of the best shows I have ever watched, and at only 17 episodes it’s not a big time commitment. When you’ve watched it, we have reviews of every episode in the Junkyard. Would love to read your thoughts as you work through the episodes, if you decide to give it a go!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. scifimike70 says:

    Walter Koenig’s villainous portrayal of Bester reaches a pinnacle here. When he states that what he has done was not out of cruelty, but that there was simply no other way to do what he believed was right, it’s almost hard to remember that this is the same actor who played the lovable Chekov on Star Trek. Like any megalomaniacal power that does great evil in the name of some sense of a greater good, which we all see quite often in SF, it drives us to recognize the ‘greatest good’ which is to see in all clarity who the real villains are. Even if the real villains don’t realize it themselves.

    Thank you for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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