Babylon 5 #12: Survivors

"The universe is run by the complex interweaving of three elements: energy, matter, and enlightened self-interest."
IN THIS ONE... Garibaldi becomes a fugitive when he is falsely accused of sabotage.

REVIEW: It's Garibaldi's turn to get a visit from the past, but I'm afraid Jerry Doyle doesn't have the same range other actors on the show do, and it makes the story come across as melodrama. It's certainly over-written, but whenever Doyle tries to emote, he fails at making those words sound any other way. On the plot level, we find out why he has such a bad reputation - he was blamed for the death of a fellow officer years ago and crawled into a bottle. Garibaldi is an alcoholic, and every time things have gotten rough, he's fallen off the wagon. And it happens again here, when he's framed by what turns out to be the Home Guard for sabotage and the attempted assassination of the pro-alien immigration President Santiago. One difference between Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 I like is that there are a lot more drinking holes on the latter - the casino, and the dive bar Happy Daze, and that bar right there in the open promenade - which must be torture for Garibaldi on any given day. But even before he starts drinking again, Garibaldi is making bad decisions. Becoming a fugitive, borrowing money from the very person he's accused of colluding with (did... did Londo just "buy" him?), and cutting his friends off in his time of need. Not smart.

The head of presidential security, Lianna Kemmer, has reason to mistrust Garibaldi because of their shared past, and I do like that he can't bring himself to resent her for it. Like other female officers we've met, she presents as hard and cold, whereas male officers in B5 are always so much softer. This relates to some truth about women in a man's world, though it's more a reflection of today's world than what you'd expect from the 23th century (unless old biases die hard). While JMS didn't write this one personally, it has his fingerprints all over it, and his idea of what makes a "strong woman" prevails. It's getting a little redundant, frankly. Kemmer will eventually have to trust "Uncle Mike" and agree that her aide Cutter is the real villain (it IS pretty obvious, after all).

But while it's obvious from the first Garibaldi is being framed, and that Cutter is in on it, B5 is as usual, about more than the plot, predictable or not. It's about relationships on both the personal and interstellar scales. Garibaldi's problems make his only friends spring into action, using whatever means they have at their disposal to help him. Sinclair, ever the supportive friend, and Ivanova, perhaps enjoying sticking it to another authoritative woman a little too much. With Londo, it's hard to believe he's really helping Michael out of empathy, because he's the kind of guy who would collect favors, but his point about being odd man out is well made. G'Kar offers Garibaldi a nice little defection, and tries to appeal to his selfishness, which he believes is one of the ruling forces of the universe. We even see the N'Grath, whom I'm very fond of, one of the criminals Garibaldi has made an enemy of. At least the big mantis doesn't start beating on the disgraces security officer like SOME people (and I've said this before, but wow, B5 certainly has some brutal-looking fights). In effect, when something happens on the station, the show proposes we see what each of the characters thinks and would do when confronted with that event. Those that appear, of course. Where was Talia to scan Garibaldi and exonerate him in the first few minutes, huh?

On DS9, Starfleet also had problems with dissidents in sensitive positions (the Maquis).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some exciting action and politics, but Survivors reminds me of why Garibaldi has never been my favorite character.


Anonymous said...

I've been known to call Jerry Doyle the poor man's Bruce Willis. In fact I think I just did again.

Ryan Lohner said...

Our new writer is Marc Scott Zicree, who cut his teeth on '80s cartoons alongside JMS. He then brought his friend along when he was able to make the jump to live action by creating the show Captain Power, and JMS returned the favor here.

The episode is significant changed from his original script, as it had a much more intensive focus on Garibaldi's alcoholism, and he regrets the loss of that, to the point where Garibaldi drunkenly saying how great the bar is seems like a joke. But he does say it was an improvement to give the episode an action climax (even if it kind of throws Ivanova under the bus as she somehow can't seem to comprehend the word "bomb").

Even in these more episodic early days, we're getting hints of how important the show's continuity will be. How many shows at the time would bring something like Garibaldi's prior run-in with Home Guard back like this? Oddly enough, the only other shows at the time doing this kind of thing (besides soap operas, anyway) that I can think of are cartoons: Gargoyles and Spider-Man.

Siskoid said...

Well, I'd argue DS9 was well on its way by this point. B5 would only break the mold and become a true "serial" later, something Trek never did as continuously.

Anonymous said...

By this point in DS9 (really before the first episode of B5), the Dominion had been spoken of but not yet seen. DS9 was planting its seeds too. I know that DS9 didn't have a five year plan (er, seven year plan), but they did at least know some of the places they were going and would have to set up in advance.

Siskoid said...

Sure, but they had the Bajoran/Cardassian stuff and the Maquis.

As for the plan, that's just not how Ron Moore etc. works - BSG is a huge improvisation, which is a whole other method of working on a long story. Just because a show doesn't have a long-term plan (and it's not actually obvious at this point that B5 does, from a viewer perspective) doesn't mean it can't have strong serialized elements, which DS9 certainly had. B5 would outclass it, but a dozen episodes in, you need hindsight to realize the plan is already at work.

David said...

The Garibaldi bits were always strange, because he constantly exists in this pseudo film noir tone separate from the rest of the show.

I confess to not having seen Jerry Doyle in other things, so I don't actually know if he plays everything as if he's a film noir detective...

Siskoid said...

Comparing him to a film noir character actually redeems his performance a little bit. Thanks for that.

Madeley said...

Garibaldi as a representative of the crime fiction genre in the B5 universe is certainly how I've always seen the character. All the characters experience victory and tragedy in the course of the show, but Garibaldi's always relate closely to the kind of personal flaws you see in the dishevelled private eye story.

I've no idea to what extent his role was meant to reflect that, but I do wonder whether the characters are deliberately written to explore the different facets of the universe from a genre POV. Sinclair: political thriller, Ivanova: military, Garibaldi: crime, and a whole host of aliens reflecting various types of fantasy.

Siskoid said...

Interesting filter through which to look at it!

LiamKav said...

"While JMS didn't write this one personally, it has his fingerprints all over it

Don't worry. JMS is quick to assure us that any bits we may have liked in an episode that wasn't credited to him were almost certainly added in later by him. Because he's that awesome.

"What's most ironic about the freelance situation is that you often have people who say, "Straczynski oughta use more freelance writers, they bring in perspectives he doesn't have." They cite the "moment of perfect beauty" in Peter's script ["There All the Honor Lies"], Londo's "my shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance," ["The War Prayer"] the alien abductor courtroom scene in Grail, Deathwalker's comments about how she plans to create her monument...all of which are scenes or sections I wrote and inserted into scripts by other people. (One of my best lines for G'Kar is one I'm not credited for, in Zicree's script, "The universe runs on the complex interweaving of three elements: energy, matter, and enlightened self-interest." I actually saw some messages noting that jms never seems to be able to write something that succinct. Well, actually...I did.)"

I'm really trying not to rag on the guy too much. When I originally read the Lurker's Guide when I first watched the show 15-20 years ago, I ate that stuff up. I completely bought into the (as you say) Cult of Personality. Now though, it just makes me feel a bit sorry for him. He has such a huge ego, but at the same time is so delicate that any time someone else writes a script he STILL has to take credit for all the good stuff. Rememeber, this is the same guy who when talking about the outer space battles, or the idea of the station spinning to generate gravity, or the design of how the Starfuries lauch either takes sole credit or uses a vague "we", rather that giving credit to Ron Thorton or Foundation Imaging, or mentioning that it was Copeland who wanted the show to be filmed in a way that would work on widescreen TVs, not himself.

(On the episod itself, I spent the first 10 minutes thinking that Lianna was being played by Susan "Leah Brahms" Gibney. Also, how old was she supposed to be? This episode shows Garibaldi to be 37, and for their relationship to work she really has to be about 10 years younger than him. Isn't 27 a really young age to be head of presidential security? I've never really got the rank system on B5 anyway. EarthForce seems to use this weird mix of Navy and Army ranks, unless there's actually multiple divisions and I'm just getting it wrong.)

LiamKav said...


JMS:We've already begun integrating "virtual sets" in with real ones. As an the next-to-last shot in "Survivors," someone is entering a ship in the docking bay. The only real object in that room, aside from the actor, is a ladder. Everything else is CGI...but you can't tell.

If you're watching the DVDs you bloody can. The scene at the beginning in the monorail looked dreadful. Not just the softening... Ivonova's uniform looked a completely different colour than normal.

Siskoid said...

Please, keep going with the ego deflation, because I think it's hilarious. And again, if I bring it back to those JMS comics I hate so much, his contract apparently forced DC to keep giving him credit once he quit both Superman and Wonder Woman, even though new writers Roberson and Hester were, at best, working off cocktail napkin notes. It's interesting that it's always been his way.

Madeley said...

I recently read a post by JMS (link attached, but I don't recall if links work in comments here) where he's quite candid about having few if any reamining personal connections while growing up, and having no contact with his own family. As foolish as it is to draw conclusions about why someone ended up like they are via the internet, and not to excuse what appears to be a significant level of egomania, I found the post quite telling. Or in other words and again without excusing his behaviour, I also find myself feeling a little (just a little) pity.


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