Monday, 17 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 11-12

Earthforce One, clearly inspired by the real-life Air Force One and almost certainly the inspiration for Battlestar Galactica's Colonial One (which was designed by some of the same people).

A11: Survivors
Airdates: 4 May 1994 (US), 25 July 1994 (UK)
Working Title: A Knife in the Shadows
Written by Mark Scott Zicree
Directed by Jim Johnston
Cast: Lianna Kemmer (Elaine Thomas), Cutter (Tom Donaldson), Sergeant Lou Welch (David Crowley), Nolan (Jose Rosario), General Netter (Rod Perry), Young Lianna (Robin Wake), Special Agent (David Austin Cook), ISN Reporter (Maggie Egan), Alien (Mark Hendrickson), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago is due to pay a visit to Babylon 5 to congratulate Sinclair on a job well done and also to present the station with a brand new fighter squadron, Zeta Wing. However, whilst preparing the Cobra Bays to receive the new fighters, a massive explosion rips along the docking arm, killing several workers. Earthforce special intelligence operatives arrive ahead of the President to investigate, one of whom, Lianna Kemmer, is the daughter of an old friend of Garibaldi’s who was killed on Europa when he refused to go on the take. Garibaldi slipped into alcoholism and Lianna’s idealised view of “Uncle Mike” was shattered. Kemmer angrily blames Garibaldi for not helping her father and is quick to pounce on any evidence that Garibaldi himself might be involved in the bombing.

One of the survivors of the blast, Nolan, dies whilst claiming that Garibaldi planted the bomb and a search of Garibaldi’s quarters turns up both a diagram of the Cobra Bay and Centauri ducats, a neutral hard currency (cash) which is untraceable, perfect for paying off assassins. Garibaldi goes on the run to clear his name and receives help from G’Kar and Londo. He is eventually captured by Kemmer after falling back on the bottle, but Sinclair searches Nolan’s quarters and turns up Homeguard propaganda and bomb-making equipment. Nolan must have set the bomb and inadvertently blown himself and the bay up ahead of schedule. Realising that Kemmer’s second-in-command, Cutter, must have planted the evidence in his quarters, Garibaldi manages to convince Kemmer to confront him. Cutter turns out to be behind the attack and has rigged the other Cobra Bays to explode when the B5 fighters launch as an honour guard for the President. Garibaldi manages to get Ivanova to stop the launch and knocks Cutter out himself. Kemmer heads back to Earth, her faith in Garibaldi restored.


The Arc: Though grievously hurt by the loss of many important members following the events of episode A7 and the arrest of their leader, Jacob Lester (as related in the newspaper article in A8), Homeguard remains a powerful, potent force. They despise President Santiago for his policy of peace and mutual trade with alien races and want him dead to stop his pro-alien policies. This idea is followed up on in episodes A22 and B2.

We learn some more about Garibaldi and his past in this episode. Much of Season 5’s major subplots are devoted to what happens when Garibaldi again hits rock bottom, in episode E11 in particular.

Zeta Wing makes its debut appearance in this episode. Episode B22 indicates that the other fighter pilots are annoyed that Zeta Wing has brand new ships whilst theirs are old and battered due to spare parts deficiencies. Episode B4 reveals that Zeta Wing is commanded by Lt. Commander Ray Galus.

Londo and Garibaldi form a bond in this episode, which is referenced in episode B12.

This episode could almost have been called The Very Long Night of Michael Garibaldi.

Background: Seventeen years ago (in 2241) Garibaldi used to serve on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, where most of the security force was on the take. Garibaldi and his friend Frank Kemmer refused to join them, so Frank was killed. Garibaldi was so shaken he hit the bottle and remained on it for years, becoming a wreck and wastrel in the process. After this he served on Orion IV and Mars, where he met Sinclair in 2253 (DC5, C8).

Garibaldi is 37 years old in this episode (which likely takes place in June or July 2258), so was born in 2220 or 2221, two to three years after Sinclair but nine to ten years before Ivanova. Kemmer appears to be in her mid-to-late 20s, which is quite young for her rank and position.

The rank structure of Earthforce is not always clear, but this episode seems to confirm that a Lt. Commander and Commander outrank a Major (also reinforced in A20, C10 and the fact that B5’s third-in-command is the never-seen Major Atumbe, who is subservient to Ivanova).

Ilarus is the Centauri Goddess of Fortune.

Apparently, the meaning of the word “wing” (as in fighter wing) has changed since the 20th Century. A squadron is a number of fighters, usually no less than eight and no more than fourteen (twelve is the most common number). A wing is a collection of squadrons working together. Throughout Babylon 5 the words “squadron” and “wing” are used interchangeably.

The President’s personal starship is called Earthforce One. It shares some similarities to the Asimov-style starliner, but is more streamlined and elegant in its appearance, as well as being coloured Earthforce blue.

The Vree, one of the League races, is noted for being a species of unpleasant eaters, at least by Narn standards.

References: General Netter is named for Douglas Netter, Babylon 5’s executive producer.

“Kemmer” is a reference to Ed Kemmer, the lead actor on early American SF show Space Patrol.

Earthforce One is clearly modelled after Air Force One, the United States President’s personal aircraft.

There’s a 3D holographic game featuring knights fighting one another that is popular in the Casino. It may be a nod at The New Twilight Zone, which featured a memorable battle involving a CG knight.

Unanswered Questions: What was Lianna Kemmer’s eventual fate?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Garibaldi uses Cutter’s link to contact Ivanova. Episode C7 suggests that links are biogenetically keyed to one person and can’t be used by other people. It might be that Garibaldi, and possibly all Earthforce Security Chiefs, can automatically use any link, or that Cutter’s link was a generic one usable by anyone assigned to him when he arrived on Babylon 5.

Zeta Wing appears to only have seven fighters in it when it reaches the station. Alpha and Delta Wings are shown to have nine Starfuries or more in other episodes.

On Garibaldi’s wanted poster, he is called a “Terren”.

Behind the Scenes: The final scene in Survivors, where Kemmer boards the transport, features Babylon 5’s first attempted at a near-100% virtual set. The only real things in the shot are Kemmer and the ladder leading up to the ship. Everything else is fake.

J. Michael Straczynski noted that his family had alcohol problems going back four generations, and this inspired Garibaldi’s character.

Some viewers had issues with how the backstory to the episode unfolded. According to Straczynski, Nolan blamed Garibaldi on the spur of the moment to get him in trouble, not realising he was dying. Cutter seized on that, and Kemmer’s distrust of Garibaldi, to frame him.

Jerry Doyle drew on his background on Wall Street for the scenes of Garibaldi hitting the bottle, recalling too many ill-advised nights with tequila.

This episode marked a change in the perception of Jerry Doyle as an actor by some castmembers, with Peter Jurasik noting that Doyle had an instinctive, emotional style that was very different to the classical training some of the other actors had, but was just as effective. Jim Johnston was also impressed, noting that Doyle was one of the actors on the show who responded well he was given material that stretched and challenged him.

For the scene where Garibaldi makes a drunk speech in the Downbelow bar, Doyle spent several minutes spinning on the shot before shooting started, meaning he didn’t have to fake his stumbling around the set blindly.

The episode's ending takes on a slightly different note when you realise that Major Kemmer was almost certainly still on Earthforce One during the events of the season finale.

Familiar Faces: Writer Marc Scott Zicree was one of the main creative forces behind the TV series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, giving Straczynski and Larry DiTillio a shot at writing episodes for that series. He also worked with Straczynski on The Real Ghostbusters and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. His other credits include  Forever Knight, Animorphs, Sliders and both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

Straczynski’s original plan was that the viewer would hear about President Luis Santiago but never see him. When it became necessary to show an image of him, he picked a picture of Douglas Netter, Babylon 5’s executive producer, and had Netter do a voice-over. However, when this episode came along Straczynski realised they really needed to see him. Netter refused to appear on-camera, so Straczynski nixed the scenes where Santiago comes on board. However, keeping Santiago off-screen does add to the mystique of the character.

This episode marks the first appearance of David L. Crowley as Sergeant Lou Welch. The Lebanese-born, British actor appears in several more episodes in the first two seasons.

Review: This episode features some extremely painful dialogue, has some moments that are so contrived they are quite painful to watch and puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of one of the least-experienced castmembers. Fortunately, Doyle rises to the occasion and there’s some excellent character development, both of Garibaldi and his relationship with other characters (particularly Londo). The result is an episode that feels like it’s not firing on all thrusters, but at least makes a game attempt to rise above its stock premise. ***

Garibaldi: “Nothing the government does surprises me.”
Ivanova: “That’s a very Russian attitude. I commend you.”

Garibaldi: “I need a drink. Water, straight.”

Sinclair: “Lt. Commander Ivanova, escort Major Kemmer off the Observation Dome.”
Ivanova: “With pleasure. You are going to resist, I hope?”

G’Kar: “The universe is run by the complex interweaving of three elements: energy, matter and enlightened self-interest.”

A12: By Any Means Necessary
Airdates: 11 May 1994 (US), 1 August 1994 (UK)
Working Title: Backlash
Written by Kathryn M. Drennan
Directed by Jim Johnston
Cast: Neeoma Connolly (Katy Boyer), Orin Zento (John Snyder), Senator Hidoshi (Aki Aleong), Mary Ann Cramer (Patricia Healy), Narn Captain (Michael McKenzie), Eduardos Delvientos (José Ray), Worker 1 (Floyd Vaughn), Worker 2 (Ricardo Martinez), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    A Narn cargo ship is docking with Babylon 5 when the docking computer malfunctions and lifts another ship into the access tunnel just as the Narn ship pulls through. The Narn captain panics, although the other ship isn’t moving yet, and tries to back out, ramming the docking tunnel in the process and blowing up its engines. The resulting fireball consumes most of the docking bay and kills a dock worker. The Docker’s Guild is incensed by the malfunction, complaining of poor maintenance and unfulfilled promises of pay rises. Unable to go on strike because of Earth labour laws, the dockers start calling in sick.

Negotiator Orin Zento arrives from Earth to mediate, but his hardline stance aggravates the situation. A full-scale strike is declared and Zento invokes the Rush Act, giving the local governor - Sinclair - the means to end the strike by any means necessary, suggesting the use of force. Sinclair instead transfers 1.3 million credits from the station’s military budget to help pay for new workers and equipment. Senator Hidoshi, Sinclair’s liaison to the Babylon 5 Senate Oversight Committee, is impressed by Sinclair’s originality, but warns him he has made important enemies back home by embarrassing Zento.

Meanwhile, G’Kar is horror-stricken when he learns an important plant he needs to help celebrate a religious ceremony – the G’Quan Eth – was destroyed in the docking accident. There is not enough time to get another from the Narn homeworld before the ceremony must take place (when the sun crests the mountains on the Narn homeworld). G’Kar learns that Londo has a G’Quan Eth plant of his own and attempts to do everything possible to gain it, from bargaining to even pleading and threatening to destroy Centauri religious icons if he doesn’t get the plant. Sinclair intervenes, pointing out that G’Quan Eth plants are contraband, only useable for religious or medical grounds. Londo turns it over, pointing out that they have missed the deadline and it is no longer necessary to keep it. Sinclair suggests using the argument that the light from ten years ago which crested the mountains on Narn is about to reach Babylon 5 so the ceremony can still go ahead and G’Kar agrees.

The Arc: Londo is still angry at the Narn for the Ragesh III incident (in episode A1) and holding the plant from G’Kar is just part of his petty revenge.

G’Kar follows the teaching of the prophet G’Quan, whilst Na’Toth’s family (but not Na’Toth herself) follow the prophet G’Lan. Episodes B22, C6 and C14 reveal that G’Quan was a Narn prophet who lived a thousand human years ago on the Narn homeworld. He was apparently a mortal Narn. G’Lan, on the other hand, is sometimes depicted as a being of light (as we learn in episode B22).

The Book of G’Quan becomes, surprisingly, a major plot point in later episodes of the series, most notably C1, C9 and C14.

There are growing tensions between the Earth Alliance government and the “little people”. Episodes A16, A22, B17 and a fair bit of the rest of the series explore events unfolding on Earth and how they impact on the situation on Babylon 5.

Background: The Narn homeworld is located 12.2 light-years from Babylon 5. By the Narn calendar (which is longer than Earth’s) that’s just over 10 light-years.
Prior to this episode the Rush Act was last invoked at the Ganymede colony (on Jupiter’s largest moon) in 2237. Another strike took place at New California, presumably another Earth Alliance colony world.

There’s over a thousand dock workers on Babylon 5. Episode B15 suggests this number is closer to 1,500. Many of the dock workers originally helped build the station.

There is a spacedock called New Kobe, possibly in Earth orbit.

This episode marks the first appearance of a Narn light freighter, which is shown in a combat situation in episode B15.

There is an observation chamber located at the end of each of the Cobra Bay arms the docking sphere to the main carousel. These chambers, which have unusually impressive vistas of space for the mostly-closed-off station, can be used for religious ceremonies and diplomatic functions.

G’Quan lived at a time known as the “Dawn of All Mornings”.

The Earth Alliance is suffering a major recession during the events of this episode and indeed this season, which helps explain a few things about how angry people are on Earth that so much money is being spent in space.

Routarian is yet another Centauri god.

References: The Matawan labour dispute mentioned by Neeoma Connelly is a real event, taking place in Matawan, West Virginia in 1920. It saw a showdown between coal miners, townspeople and police and was a noted event in the evolution of the American labour movement.

“McAuliffe Computation” is a company listed on Sinclair’s computer as working on Babylon 5. This is the first of two nods in the series to Sharon McAuliffe, one of the astronauts killed in the Challenger disaster of 1986.

The “Rush Act” is a nod of the act to American talk show host Rush Limbaugh, noted for his right-wing views and occasional SF credentials (later playing himself in the Family Guy tribute to Star Wars, Blue Harvest).

Babylon 5 has a fine history of top-tier guest actor talent. This guy isn't one of them.

Unanswered Questions: Sinclair's decision would seem to set a dangerous precedent for other labour disputes. Was this precedent ever cited in other industrial clashes elsewhere in the Earth Alliance?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: This episode shows that Babylon 5 does not have as much automation or automated cargo handling as you’d expect, with a lot of work still being done by hand by grunts. Later episodes confirm that there is no major AI technology in the Earth Alliance (apparently being outlawed at some point in the past). This stretches the credulity that Babylon 5 was built from scratch in about eighteen months way past breaking point, if most of it had to be built by people in spacesuits.

Behind the Scenes: Straczynski decided not to show a Narn religious ceremony in episode A5, knowing that this episode would deal quite heavily with Narn religious issues.

Michael O’Hare started filming this episode having caught the red eye back from New York City at the weekend. Johnston noted that O’Hare was tired and beat and played that into the character, having him stay up late and not shave for the week of filming.

Although this was one of the most physically demanding episodes for him to shoot, it emerged as one of O’Hare’s favourites. He particularly enjoyed Drennan’s dialogue.

Katsulas appreciated the extra depth given to G’Kar by showing him to be a man of religious conviction and faith.

The observation chamber scene at the end of the episode is another virtual set: the floor is real but everything else was created in a computer. Straczynski was so impressed that he used the location for several other seminal episodes (most notably B9).

Familiar Faces: John Snyder previously played the second Soul Hunter – the relatively sane one – in episode A2. He was a lot better in that episode.

Macaulay Bruton returns as Garibaldi’s aide, Jack, but doesn’t get any lines or a credit.

The dock worker yelling “Strike!” is director Jim Johnston. Quite a few of the dockworkers are actually behind-the-scenes and set crew from Babylon 5, given a chance to appear in front of the camera for once.

Writer Kathryn Drennan was married to J. Michael Straczynski from 1983 to 2004. To avoid charges of nepotism, her script had to be approved by Larry DiTillio, John Copeland and Douglas Netter, and signed off by Warner Brothers themselves, something unnecessary for the rest of the scripts in the series. Drennan would later writer novel C9, To Dream in the City of Sorrows.

Actress Kate Boyer (Neeoma Connolly) had numerous big and small screen roles in Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s, including Beauty and the Beast, Angel, The X-Files, NCIS, Sliders, Millennium and the movies The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Minority Report.

Review: This is quite an interesting episode which suggests that labour disputes, hard workers getting trodden on by the government and other baggage of human history will accompany humanity into space. It would have been nice to have seen a more thorough explanation of why AI and robots aren’t doing this job (even if it was a nod at Red Dwarf’s fine explanation: “The only reason they don’t give this job to the service robots is that they have a better union than us”), but it gives us one of the busier and messier episodes of the season, with Sinclair’s smug solution coming back to bite him on the backside pretty quickly. The G’Kar/Londo subplot is also sublime, particularly Katsulas and Jurasik’s sparring which has reached new levels of invective. The episode’s biggest weakness is John Snyder’s performance as Orin Zento, which is frankly embarrassing. ***½

Londo: “If there is anything I can do to be of assistance, you will let me know, won’t you?”
G’Kar: “No.”

G’Kar: “Why does the universe hate me?”
Na’Toth: * sympathetic but unhelpful shoulder clasp *

Hidoshi: “The Senate has decided to let your decision on the strike stand without comment.”
Sinclair: “I’m glad they see it my way.”
Hidoshi: “They do not.”

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy series is debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read it there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

No comments: