"Heard things about you too, Garibaldi." "Believe them?" "Hell yeah!"
REVIEW: Though the title would have you think the alien Ultimate Fighters thing was the main plot of this episode, it's really closer to a 50/50 split between it and the more character-driven Ivanova story. Better grounded in emotion, and following from events set up in Born to the Purple, it's much more memorable and watchable than the boxing plot. Cutting from tears to punching isn't the most comfortable of structures, but I do see how the two threads resonate together. Ivanova is "TKO'ed" by her rabbi, making her finally agree to sit shiva for her estranged father, and Garibaldi's buddy Walker Smith is accused (along with all of humanity) in meddling in alien affairs, just as the rabbi meddled with her life. But it's clunky. It doesn't really say anything about either situation, except maybe that meddling can be for the good, and feels more like I'm doing my English lit student thing and forcing connections where there really weren't any. So lets just take each separately...
Ivanova starts the episode off relatively happy, relaxing with a Harlan Ellison book (he was the show's consultant, so a bit of an inside joke there), when her charming and folksy rabbi shows up, intent on making her adhere to Jewish tradition and let go of her grief through the ritual of shiva. Of course, Ivanova bottles her emotions up and besides, never forgave her father for his own emotional distance (think about it, Susan), so she wants nothing to do with it. Sinclair has a few words of wisdom for her, but still, she believes her emotions are her own and she can deal with them however she likes. I tend to agree. I'm not sure I buy her sudden about-face the way it's presented, with her father's dying apology in her thoughts (after all, this is no revelation, it's footage from one of the early episodes), but the cumulative power of words spoken by the people she most trusts makes her give in. The shiva itself is an emotional affair that allows her to reconnect with good memories of her father (no one is all bad). Claudia Christian is, as ever, effective. It's also quite rare to see a human religious tradition shown and explained in a science fiction show, but B5 here treats the shiva like it (and other shows) would present an alien ritual. Other shows do this kind of treatment on alien religions all the time, which is perhaps why humans are so often atheistic humanists. Their real-world faiths would detract from the science fiction.
In the film noir corner - as this is how I've chosen to understand any Garibaldi story from now on - is a tale of humanity rising to the occasion, and showing it can be as good as an alien. It's essentially Rocky IV. Except, I can't quite root for Walker Smith. For one thing, he's a racist, calling the aliens "snakeheads" and "E.T.", though perhaps he learns something of Mutai honor (a martial code shared by several species, looks like). That's just not the focus of the episode. The point made by one alien that humans are meddling in everything, or he should have said, APPROPRIATING everything is a good one, and perhaps Garibaldi shouldn't be smiling about his friend opening the fighting ring to humans - bound to be some deaths resulting. Ultimately, the effectiveness of this story is impaired by the realities of television production. The martial arts just aren't impressive; no one practices defensive pugilism, so it's basically just people punching each other like 80s TV private eyes. For some reason, it makes for some of the LEAST brutal action featured on Babylon 5. And it ends in a draw? Whatever.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The Ivanova story is engaging, but the boxing plot doesn't bring a whole lot to the table.