Babylon 5 #15: TKO

"Heard things about you too, Garibaldi." "Believe them?" "Hell yeah!"
IN THIS ONE... A human dares enter the Mutai arena and Ivanova confronts her feelings about her dead father.

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.

21 comments:

Madeley said...

If I recall correctly, this episode wasn't shown in the UK on the original run due to the violence, despite the fact that it wasn't all that violent, and certainly not as violent as some of the other episodes they did show.

LiamKav said...

As much as this episode is a bit "meh" (although I do think it's the first appearence of Garibaldi's aide), at least I can remember the episode based on the tile. Once we start getting to "All Alone in the Night", "A Race Through Dark Places", "The Long, Twilight Struggle", "Between the Darkness and the Light", "Dark Cupboards of Shadow Crockery" and "The Eternally Missing Lightswitch. Of Shadows", I give up.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could ask the space rabbi how the Sabbath is defined in space; I bet there are at least 20 competing definitions. And, if you're an Orthodox Jew in space, how do you avoid work on the Sabbath, and how do you honor the tradition of not lighting a fire on the Sabbath? I can't imagine they'd refuse to travel in space at all -- they're not Amish* -- but it would doubtless mean adapting rules for the new setting.

I like the idea of Jews in space (not to be confused with the Mel Brooks version of same), but man, the theological and practical nightmares that must ensue.


*: Though actually, there's nothing that says the Amish can't travel in space; they just can't use modern contrivances. So if they stick to wooden ships powered by horses, treadmills, rubber bands, and propellors, they'll do just fine.

Siskoid said...

The rabbi shows that adaptability in the episode itself when he shrugs off the dubious kosherness of Centauri fish by saying the Torah's never said anything about it.

Anonymous said...

Aw, that's just cheating. Talmudic scholars would dissect the matter twelve different ways; they take their traditions seriously, not something to rule-lawyer around like a 12-year-old D&D player.

Ryan Lohner said...

Larry DiTillio's original idea for Walker Smith was for an old, over-the-hill boxer to be played by veteran "heavy" actor Don Stroud. But the network said he needed to be a young guy for the audience to like him (typical) and Stroud ended up playing Walker's Mutari ally Caliban. Also, that scar on Caliban's makeup is based on one that Stroud actually has, which he got protecting a woman from being raped. He returned to the show as a human character in season 3, so we'll get a good look at it then.

One tragic irony to this story is that "Walker Smith" was the real name of legendary boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, and his actor died of an anyurism on April 12, 1998, the same day Robinson had died nine years earlier.

But you can really tell that the Ivanova story is really where DiTillio's heart was on this one. After writing Born to the Purple, he'd come to regret that while Susan's father said everything he needed to say to her, she didn't get to say everything she needed back, so this story was his way to make up for that. It also provided a handy opportunity to use his mother-in-law's favorite actor Theodore Bikel and get an autographed picture for her.

Harlan Ellison objected to the first title DiTillio gave his supposed future book, so they substituted Working Without a Net, the name he's said he would give his autobiography if he wrote one, which he never will.

Siskoid said...

Anon: We don't know that he was a Talmudic scholar or truly that orthodox. If I take Catholic priests (the faith I was brought up in), there's a great variety when it comes to respect this or that tradition or Papal edict. Clergymen bring their own experience, biases, etc. to the role of spiritual leader and guide.

Anonymous said...

I grew up Catholic too, and I realize there is a spread of interpretations and opinions. Sometimes a priest will even emphatically reject official teachings, but he's got his reasons for doing so, probably the result of a great deal of reflection and contemplation.

But the Torah's failure to mention Centauri is a BS argument, and it sounds like the writer assumes men of the cloth are all BS-ers. That's a pretty dismissive attitude. Living in America as I do, I might expect that sort of BS answer from a fundamentalist; but they are renowned for doing a piss-poor job of honoring Christ and his principles. But rabbis have an actual tradition of scholarship and theological discourse.

Siskoid said...

Sure, but he's already dealing with someone who has to be brought back into the faith. He may have gauged (correctly) that it wasn't a good time to go into a sermon or debate about kosher foods in space and thus judge her on the fact she obviously enjoyed this dish.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I can buy that. You win this round!

Siskoid said...

No rules! No rounds!

LiamKav said...

Don't forget that we saw a Muslim (IN SPAAAAACCCCEE!) in "The Parliament of Dreams". Depending on how devout they are, I imagine triyng to face towards Mecca on a rotating space station situated in another star system would be an absolute nightmare.

Though actually, there's nothing that says the Amish can't travel in space; they just can't use modern contrivances. So if they stick to wooden ships powered by horses, treadmills, rubber bands, and propellors, they'll do just fine.
They won't use modern contrivences, but they'll use rubber bands? Pft.

Sorry, I know the Armish are an easy target, but it reminds me of a comedy sketch I saw several years ago of a group of people who decided to only use technology that was invented before 1973. This meant that they could use dot-matrix printers, but not laser. They were very strict about it.

OTL said...

My understanding is that there actually was supposed to be a bit more to the "is it kosher" discussion originally (whether it has fins and scales and whatnot), but it was felt it just bogged down the scene and the gentiles in the audience would have no idea what they were talking about and lose interest. The scene wasn't intended to be dismissive of the clergy, but they had to make some allowances for the realities of television viewing.

Madeley said...

From my recollection of a conversation I once had with a friend of mine who was Muslim, intention is more important than accuracy when trying to ascertain the direction of Mecca when praying. The nature of global travel can throw up issues of figuring out which way to pray, so asking God to forgive any mistakes made while praying suffices.

jdh417 said...

Siskoid, did you ever imagine you'd be debating Talumdic law on your website?

Siskoid said...

You'd be surprised at what I get to debate in everyday life. This is merely an extension of that ;).

thegameiam said...

Orthodox Jew here. The rabbi may or may not have been Orthodox, but a glib answer is completely reasonable when one has quickly determined that the fish was okay. As for how the sabbath is determined, the traditional answer is: "use the calendar of the launch site, or Jerusalem standard time. If neither of those are determinable (ie on an unknown planet, in the desert, etc), count six days, and the seventh is the sabbath." Regarding prayer direction, one should "turn one's heart toward Jerusalem".

My understanding is that Islamic law has very similar answers with the obvious substitution of Mecca for Jerusalem.

Siskoid said...

That squares it. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks! If you feel the rabbi was portrayed appropriately, I'll consider that a pretty darn definitive opinion.

Now, do we have any Amish readers who can answer the rubber band question?

LiamKav said...

If we do, they're pretty rubbish at being Amish.

(A bit like that old questionaire you used to get when flying to the US: "Are you planning on committing any terrorist actions?" "Yes. No, wait, I mean no! Sorry. Forget the first one.")

Anonymous said...

You'd be surprised; the Amish are Amish, not Luddites. Their rules offer enough flexibility to function in the modern world, and that means using computers under some circumstances, but probably not owning them.

http://amishamerica.com/do-the-amish-use-computers-and-the-internet/

 

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