Thursday, 8 February 2018

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 4, Episodes 17-18

D17: The Face of the Enemy
Airdates: 9 June 1997 (US), 13 November 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Michael Vejar
Cast: William Edgars (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), Bester (Walter Koenig), Captain Edward MacDougan (Richard Gant), Lise Hampton-Edgars (Denise Gentile), Number One (Marjorie Monaghan), Alison Higgins (Diana Morgan), Captain James (David Purdham), Captain Leo Frank (Ricco Ross), Wade (Mark Schneider), Psi Cop (Harlan Ellison),

Date: Late September or early October 2261.

Plot:    Sheridan’s fleet launches an attack on an Earthforce outpost in an asteroid belt. The defending Earthforce warships, the Hydra and the Delphi, are critically damaged and both surrender after Captain MacDougan of the Vesta confirms that, contrary to ISN and government reports, Sheridan isn’t killing all the Earthforce crew who surrender to him. The EAS Agamemnon, Sheridan’s old command, arrives and Captain James, Sheridan’s former first officer, agrees to swap sides and join Sheridan’s cause.

On Mars Edgars agrees to tell Garibaldi the whole story of his operation in return for Garibaldi’s cooperation in capturing Sheridan. Garibaldi tells Edgars that Sheridan’s father - who has been missing for several months - needs to take a certain kind of drug once every few months to treat an illness he is suffering from. Through the movements of this drug Edgars is able to arrange for Sheridan’s dad to be arrested on Earth. Garibaldi contacts Sheridan on the Agamemnon and tells him that his father is in prison on Mars. Garibaldi has contacts willing to break him out, but only if Sheridan agrees to talk to them face-to-face. Sheridan agrees, despite suspecting a trap, and orders Ivanova to leave Babylon 5 and take command of the fleet in his absence. The Agamemnon has not yet announced its defection and has the latest access codes for getting through the early warning system around the Solar system, so it takes Sheridan to Mars and drops him off in a Thunderbolt. He arrives in a bar to meet with Garibaldi, but Garibaldi knocks him out with a tranquiliser and he is taken into custody by Earthforce personnel.

Back at Edgars’ home, Edgars spills the beans on what is really going on. There is a virus threatening telepaths, but Edgars himself created it. He believes that telepaths are the greatest threat the human race has ever seen and he is determined to remove the threat, for good. The virus is harmless against normal humans, but telepaths die from it. However, his plan is not genocide. The antidote that Garibaldi helped get through B5 Customs must be taken at regular intervals every two weeks or the result is fatal. Edgars plans to use this to keep the telepaths under control. After he leaves, Garibaldi goes into a trance-like state and activates a homing device in his tooth. He then goes to the vac-tube station where Lise tries to talk to him, having overhead some of Edgars’ plans, but Garibaldi tells her to leave. Bester than arrives and scans Garibaldi’s mind to learn Edgar’s intent. He tells Garibaldi that, through the Shadow allies who had infiltrated the Psi Corps (C14), Bester was able to arrange for Garibaldi to be captured when the Shadows surrounded Babylon 5 (C22). Garibaldi was brought to the Psi Corps base on Syria Planum and mentally reprogrammed, his natural tendencies towards paranoia and suspicion massively enhanced. The Psi Corps had long known that someone was planning to move against them, just not who and how. As they hoped, Garibaldi uncovered the conspiracy and now they can move against it. After considering killing Garibaldi, Bester instead removes the mental programming and leaves. A few minutes later Garibaldi wakes up, “normal” once again, and screams as he remembers what has happened to him. He rushes back to Edgars’, but finds Edgars and Wade dead and Lise missing.

Franklin and Lyta arrive on Mars with more than thirty of the frozen telepaths from Babylon 5. Number One dislikes telepaths and isn’t keen on helping them, but Franklin convinces her it is for the greater good. Ivanova takes command of the White Star fleet and, after hearing about Sheridan’s capture, resolves to carry on in his stead. She has standing orders posted that if Garibaldi turns up on Babylon 5, he is to be shot on sight. They proceed to the next target.


Dating the Episode: Sheridan’s campaign against Earth has now been underway for “weeks.” Franklin and Lyta have had time to travel to Mars, taking advantage of the diversion of Earthforce ships away to confront Sheridan to slip through much more quickly than Franklin and Marcus’s previous journey.

The Arc: This episode finally explains what happened to Garibaldi in episode C22. He was captured by the Shadows and handed over to their Psi Corps allies on Mars with the view of having him reprogrammed (like Talia Winters) and used to take command of Babylon 5 after their agents killed Ivanova and Delenn (Sheridan having been taken out on Z’ha’dum). The idea was that Garibaldi would corrupt the nascent alliance from within, discrediting before destroying it. However, with the Shadows reeling from the nuking of Z’ha’dum (which was unexpected), Bester was able to intervene and take Garibaldi into his “care”. Instead of completely replacing Garibaldi with a new personality, he merely accentuated his natural paranoia and dislike of authority. He was then used as an agent to flush out William Edgars’ plan.

This also explains the ease with which the B5 crew found Garibaldi in D2-D3. Interplanetary Expeditions, who have ties to Psi Corps from their operations on Mars and Ganymede (C8) gave the location of the Starfury to a salvager. G’Kar and Marcus tracked down the salvager and got the information that led to finding Garibaldi, just as Psi Corps wanted.

The plan to use Garibaldi as an agent or spy was extremely thorough and well thought-out. It probably began when Garibaldi used Talia’s contacts to reach Lise on Mars during the rebellion (in episode A19). The Psi Corps became aware of Garibaldi’s connection to Lise and also of his thorough resourcefulness in discovering the Psi Corps base in Syria Planum. This was increased through Garibaldi’s successful collaborations with Bester (in B7 and C6) and likely Talia Winters’ reports on his efficiency (after episode B19). The capture of Garibaldi was likely ordered by Psi Corps at some point after C6 (when Bester said he looked forwards to working with Garibaldi) and relayed to their Shadow allies; they snatched him opportunistically during their siege of Babylon 5 (in C22). Bester knew that Garibaldi was aware of the Psi Corps sleeper programme (from Talia’s exposure in B19) so didn’t fully reprogram him, instead just moderately increasing his natural suspicion and paranoia. Bester didn’t direct Garibaldi’s actions and his resignation from the command staff (in D7) was a real surprise. Lise’s marriage to Edgars gave them an “in” they could use to put Lise and therefore Edgars in touch with Garibaldi.

Now Garibaldi is free again from telepathic influence (although, as we learn in E11, there are some after-effects). The Psi Corps kill Edgars and many of his associates, but Lise is missing.

Bester theorises that Edgars’ virus is based on leftover Shadow technology. D12 confirmed this, when Lise’s contact said that they needed alien help to formulate the cure (and presumably the virus itself).

Sheridan is captured by Edgars’ forces on Mars and turned over to Earthforce for interrogation. Ivanova assumes command of the fleet in his absence and carries on with the mission.

Lyta confirms that she was tangentially involved in the highly illegal telepathic punishment of a murderer on Beta Colony. We later see the event in NOV11.

Garibaldi uses a skin tab to poison Sheridan. This is the same method used by the changeling net-wielding Minbari assassin to poison Kosh in PM.

Background: This is the first time that the new, atmospheric-capable Starfuries seen from C10 onwards have been given their own name, the “Thunderbolt”. However, they have been referred to as Thunderbolts in off-screen documentation since their inception.

A White Star takes a direct hit from an Omega-class destroyer but suffers no damage, suggesting that the fleet’s “learning” computers have adapted to give the ships much stronger defences against Earthforce weapons.

Based on the Agamemnon’s capabilities, Clark has had all of the Omega-class destroyers upgraded so their tracking systems can better lock onto Minbari ships (as we saw in B1, the standard Earthforce tracking systems can’t penetrate Minbari stealth tech).

Earth Alliance jump beacon 119176 leads from the rebel fleet’s current position to the Solar system.

White Star 40 is mentioned, the highest-numbered ship mentioned to date.

Bester says that there are “several million” telepaths in the Earth Alliance in total. This backs up the information Jason Ironheart gives in episode A6: one in 1,000 humans is a telepath. One in 10,000 telepaths is a true telekinetic and half of them are clinically insane. Assuming a population of seven billion humans on Earth (given current population trends predict the human race’s population peaking at around 10 billion circa 2100 and gradually declining after that point), that means that there are seven million telepaths and around 700 telekinetics.

References: Edgars repeatedly refers to “the telepath problem” and Bester says that Garibaldi has prevented “a holocaust”, both clear references to Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jewish population of Europe.

Garibaldi references the Bible when he talks about betraying Sheridan for “thirty pieces of silver.” According to the Bible, Judas betrayed Jesus to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver.

The Cadmus is named after the Greek hero who founded the city of Thebes. According to legend, he also provided the Greeks with their original alphabet. Likewise, the Hydra is named after the Greek, multi-headed monster which grew two heads for every one cut off and the Delphi is named after the famous Oracle.

Carthage is mentioned, the city on the north coast of Africa (near current-day Tunis) which was a great rival to Rome until it was utterly destroyed in 146 BC.

The struggle for dominance between two related hominid species, modern humans and Neanderthals, is referenced. Neanderthals are a now-extinct, distantly-related branch of intelligent hominids. They co-existed with modern humans in Europe for around 5,000 years, but by the end of this period (approximately 39,000 years ago) they had been supplanted and rendered extinct. Some evidence suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans may have interbred, so their DNA exists in modern humans, but this remains a hypothesis.

This is the first time in the show that telepaths are referred to as homo superior, a probable reference to the British 1970s SF show The Tomorrow People, which also described its telepathic, teleporting humans as such. The name also inspired a line in the David Bowie song “Oh! You Pretty Things!”

Unanswered Questions: According to Edgars, multiple megacorps have issues with Clark’s rule and are planning to move against him. What happened to them? Did they take Edgars’ fate as a warning and keep their heads down? Or was there just not enough time?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: The EAS Furies defected to Sheridan’s fleet in D15 but was left behind to defend Proxima III. It inexplicably then turned around and joined his force in the field in D16 (possibly due to a CG glitch) and in this episode is shown as fighting against Sheridan’s forces, which is almost certainly a mistake.

Wade tells Garibaldi that he cannot leave the compound now he knows the truth, but Wade himself was allowed to travel to B5 from Mars in D12, without any fear of his mind being scanned. Had he not been informed of the full extent of Edgars’ plans at that point?

How did Garibaldi escape from the compound to meet Bester on the train?

Number One says that Lyta did not disclose her status as a telepath when she was on the run on Mars before going to Babylon 5 (B19). However, Lyta said in that episode that she was helping the Resistance, implying it was with her telepathic abilities.

Why did Sheridan – who presumably has one of the most famous faces in the Earth Alliance at this point – just waltz into a public bar on Mars like he owned the place? Why not insist on a meeting in a less public arena?

Ivanova quotes Sheridan as saying that “the person is expendable; the job is not.” However, it was Sinclair who said that, in C17. Straczynski noted it would be “boring” if he – or presumably Ivanova – were infallible.

Bester appears to be directly referencing Sheridan and Justin’s conversation in episode C22, which neither he nor Garibaldi was privy to. However, Sheridan gave Garibaldi a report of the conversation in D3, which Bester has presumably pulled out of Garibaldi’s mind.

Behind the Scenes: Jerry Doyle filmed the “revelation” scene with Bester far more viscerally, knocking his head against the wall and screaming loudly. The director wanted a take where the pain is much more internalised, to Doyle’s frustration, as he thought it was more likely that Garibaldi would just cut loose in that moment.

Mike Vejar filmed the “bar fight” more as a fever dream, using still-frames intercut with the action to make the takedown feel less real, more fantastical and stranger. He suggested to Bruce Boxleitner they treat it more like a music video to the song (provided by Christopher Franke) than a literal staging of a fight, and even used a recording of the song on set when they filmed the sequence. Boxleitner felt it was a very different, very strange and very effective way of staging the scene.

Familiar Faces: Harlan Ellison (telepath) is, of course, Babylon 5’s creative consultant, a science fiction writer active since the 1960s. He also provided the voice of Sparky the Computer in episode C11. He is best-known for writing the classic Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever, editing the Dangerous Visions SF anthologies and writing short stories such as “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream”.

Ricco Ross (Captain Frank) is best-known for playing Private Frost in the 1986 movie Aliens. He originally auditioned for Hicks and was turned down, so signed up to make Full Metal Jacket instead. James Cameron had been impressed by his audition, however, and created the character of Frost especially for him, convincing Ross to return to the movie. Whilst working on the film in London, Ross became enamoured of the city and decided to remain in the UK, where he appeared in numerous British shows (including the Doctor Who story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy in 1988). He returned to Hollywood in the early 1990s.

David Purdham (Captain James) is best-known for playing Dr. Campbell on The Young and the Restless. He has also appeared in Seinfeld, Sliders, The X-Files, NYPD Blue, JAG and House.

Review: This is one of Babylon 5’s strongest hours. Very little that happens in this episode is outright surprising, but Straczynski has put the pieces of the storyline together so carefully over the previous season that it shouldn’t be. Instead, the pieces assemble into a logical, horrifying whole with remorseless intelligence. The acting is excellent, the direction is damned excellent, there’s some great music choices and Garibaldi’s betrayal of Sheridan is a gut-punch, as is what Bester puts him through. This is Babylon 5 at the top of its game. *****

Edgars: “The danger before us is nothing less than the death of human liberty and human thought.”

Edgars: “The Telepath Problem will finally be over.”

Bester: “Do I leave you like this? Trapped in a prison of meat and flesh and bone…forever?”

D18: Intersections in Real Time
Airdates: 16 June 1997 (US), 20 November 1997 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by John Lafia
Cast: William (Raye Birk), Drazi (Wayne Alexander), Interrogator (Bruce Gray), Minister (Peter Brown)

Plot:    Sheridan is being held prisoner in a compound on Mars. He is interrogated remorselessly by an Earthforce agent who tries to use various methods to get him to confess that his actions in breaking away from Earth were all part of an alien plot to destabilise and invade the Earth Alliance. He refuses to give in, even when a Drazi set up as a “collaborator” is apparently killed. The interrogation ends and Sheridan is apparently sentenced to death, but wakes up back in his cell with a different interrogator. The interrogation begins again.

The Arc: The Earth Alliance is continuing to maintain the fiction, first presented in D8, that Sheridan is under alien influence and his actions in breaking away from Earth were a prelude to invasion.

The Earth Alliance uses Narn paingivers as a method of torture. They were previously used by Tu’Pari on G’Kar in episode A5.

Background: According to Straczynski, Clark didn’t want Sheridan re-programmed like Talia Winters, as an alien telepath could detect and expose what had been done later on. He needed Sheridan broken for real.

547 people were killed when the EAS Roanoake was destroyed in episode C10. Presumably this included the crew and any Earthforce marines on board.

References: Although Straczynski claimed no direct homages in this episode to other sources, there are echoes of The Prisoner and the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in how the interrogators want to break Sheridan and force him to admit his mistake rather than just kill him.

Likewise, Room 17 is potentially a nod to Room 101 in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

This is the 84th episode of Babylon 5 and the nineteenth chronological episode of the season (as the events of TVM2 take place earlier in the season than this episode), although this is definitely a coincidence.

Unanswered Questions: What happened to William? Why is a Drazi working with the interrogators?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Despite the title and some of the pre-publicity surrounding the episode, it doesn’t actually take place in real-time. Several times the action cuts away and it is implied that hours have passed.

The interrogators seem to not be particularly interested in extracting military information from Sheridan (such as the capabilities and weaknesses of the White Star Fleet), or bringing in a telepath to scan him. We know he hasn’t been scanned because, if he had been, his plan to use the frozen telepaths to help pull down Clark would have been exposed (D20). However, it might be that they did scan him and kept that information back, perhaps realising that Clark is now a liability and getting rid of him may better serve their interests. It may also be that Earthforce wants the prestige of breaking Sheridan and have resisted Psi Corps swooping in and getting the credit.

547 people are said to have died on the Roanoake, but according to NOV7 the complement and crew of an Omega-class destroyer is only about 180.

Sheridan is only held responsible for the destruction of the Roanoake, presumably as that was the only Earthforce destroyer shot down by Babylon 5’s defence grid in episode C10 (the Agrippa was rammed and destroyed by Captain Hiroshi using the EAS Churchill instead). However, Sheridan could have also been held to blame for the destruction of the Pollux and Earthforce’s losses in other battles, if they were applying the same criteria fairly.

Behind the Scenes: J. Michael Straczynski planned to end Season 4 with the events of this episode, with the civil war storyline continuing for several episodes into Season 5. However, when Warner Brothers confirmed that there would not be a fifth season (before TNT stepped in), Straczynski had to wrap up the entire storyline before the end of Season 4, losing four stand-alone episodes in the process and bumping this from the 22nd episode to the 18th. However, one unintended side-effect of this was that this episode was indeed the last episode to air on American television for four months due to a rerun break.

This is the only episode of Babylon 5 to have absolutely no scenes set on board Babylon 5 itself. C17 came close, but it did have one such scene in Delenn’s flashforward.

This is also the episode of Babylon 5 with the fewest number of regular actors appearing: Bruce Boxleitner and Mira Furlan are the only actors to appear and Boxleitner is the only one with dialogue.

There was a short break between Boxleitner completing filming his scenes for the previous episode and him shooting this one, so he took advantage of the time to start growing a beard to show the passage of time.

Dakin Matthews was cast as William originally, but dropped out at the last minute because he was called up for reshoots on a movie he’d already shot (which took contractual precedence). Raye Birk, who had originally auditioned for the role, was able to step in at short notice.

Birk was shooting a sitcom, Caroline in the City, on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the week and had to be on the Babylon 5 set on Thursday. The sitcom involved 11-hour days, during which Birk had to learn the B5 script.

Birk felt his first day on set was “very bumpy” due to the chaotic prep-work, but Bruce Boxleitner (known not to be forgiving of unprepared actors) was very impressed with his professionalism and the hard work he put in to get ready. Producer John Copeland was impressed with the speed with which they were able to get through the coverage shots – which were shot in single takes like a long play – and allowed some extra time for Birk to reshoot his close-ups from the first day, to Birk’s immense relief.

Boxleitner enjoyed getting to play what was effectively a two-hander, although he was less keen on the corned beef sandwich. He had to eat four of them in total.

Straczynski had wanted to do an effective two-hander as a single episode for years and had leaned towards that with B19 (with Sebastian interrogating Delenn) and C2 (with Londo and G’Kar trapped in the lift) but “chickened out” both times. The same thing happened here, with Straczynski writing a subplot where Garibaldi tries to convince the Resistance, Lyta and Franklin of his innocence. When this episode came out seven minutes too short and the next seven minutes overlong, Straczynski realised that fate was conspiring in his favour and he moved the Garibaldi thread into D19 and left this episode as (almost) a two-hander after-all.

Familiar Faces: Wayne Alexander (Drazi) previously played Lorien (D1-D6) and Mr. Sebastian (B21) in another episode based around an interrogation.

Raye Birk (William) started acting in the early 1970s and has appeared in shows such as Hill Street Blues, Hawaii Five-O and Fresno. He had recurring roles as Judge Lang on LA Law and as Atticus Dunn on Silk Stalkings.

Bruce Gray (interrogator) is best-known for playing the father of the bride in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and its sequel. Acting in the Hollywood since the late 1960s, he first met J. Michael Straczynski, Doug Netter and John Copeland when they cast him in the recurring role of Dr. Stuart Power (aka Mentor) on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. He later appeared in recurring roles on Traders, Queer as Folk, Medium, Falling Skies and How I Met Your Mother. He also played Surak on Star Trek: Enterprise. Sadly, he passed away in December 2017 at the age of 81.

Review: An intriguing concept episode, with all the action taking place in virtually one room with only four speaking roles. However, the interrogation lacks some of the more imaginative forms of torture practised by humans. As such it is actually pretty easy to see why Sheridan is resisting confessing. Some good acting cannot compensate for the fact that the script isn’t really strong enough to support an entire 44-minute episode by itself, where Sheridan is given far too easy a ride to make his interrogation believable. Yet, the performances are strong and there is an undeniable air of menace to the episode. ***½

Sheridan: “Maybe you can fight the system, as long as just one person refuses to be broken, refuses to bown down.”
William: “But can you win?”

Sheridan: “Every time I say…no.”

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