Babylon 5 #17: Eyes

"If I kill him, it'll start a war."
IN THIS ONE... Earthforce Internal Affairs investigates Babylon 5, while Lennier helps Garibaldi build a motorcycle in his quarters.

REVIEW: We've seen military witch hunts like the one conducted by Colonel Ari Ben Zayn (and they might at least have found an actor of Middle Eastern extraction for it) on Star Trek, going all the way back to "Court-Martial", and if I invoke TOS, it's because Ben Zayn taking over the station felt a lot like all those episodes where some Admiral, Commodore or Ambassador took over the Enterprise and proved himself a poor leader. Ben Zayn appears to be one-dimensional, but unlike Norah Sati from TNG's "The Drumhead" (another such Trek episode), there's no empathizing with him in the end. He really IS one-dimensional. A ranting, raving villain who wears his jealousy and hatred on his sleeve to the point where you hardly need a telepath to tell us he's crooked. Throw in a comedy sublot in which Lennier overhelps Garibaldi with his vintage 1992 motorbike if you must (JMS, if you're going to do commercials within the show, at least get paid for it - they apparently weren't), but I can't quite muster any enthusiasm. Half the time, it feels like the episode will turn into a clip show, and while Sinclair's solution is his usual "loopholing", the rules aren't set up before being invoked and lack that special something. And where are the Minbari in this? Not trying to protect their pet commander? I even have issues with the direction, which is over-reliant on shaky steadycam walk and talks, creating unmotivated tension in various scenes.

If there's a redeeming feature, it's Jeffrey Coombs as Grey. Coombs is perfect as the atypical PsiCorps member who puts Earthforce duty and honor above the Corps' darker agendas. He's a good guy who just happens to have a creepy job (one he didn't choose nor can get out of). So we feel for him when he unsuccessfully tries to convince Ivanova he won't violate her privacy. We believe him - and ultimately, he saves the day - but this is territory too sensitive for Ivanova, an intrusion on sacred memories shared with her telepathic mother. Though Sinclair is meant to be the dramatic protagonist and Garibaldi the comedic one, it's really Ivanova who's at the emotional center of this. Her properly surreal nightmares (rarely well done on television), her almost reevaluation of Grey, that she would rather quit than undergo mind scan, and the clues as to how she formed that Russian facade of hers, are all good reasons to watch this episode despite the scenery-chewing going on elsewhere. The subplot does make the viewer realize Talia Winters has been M.I.A. now for a long time. Will SF writers never learn that telepaths in the cast always have to be shuffled off-screen because of their plot-breaking powers?

And, of course, even in the weakest of Babylon 5's episodes, one can take some pleasure in the way each chapter is part of a whole, so we have this plot being Bester's attempt at revenge (maybe, he certainly didn't appoint the right Corpsman to Ben Zayn), the Colonel acting on the idea that the Minbari gave the B5 job to someone unworthy instead of him, and the first mention of the Free Mars movement as unrest grows on Earth and its colonies. The science buff in me enjoyed the mention of "Lagrange 2", a reference to a station obviously built at a Lagrange point, places in space that are gravitationally balanced by other astral bodies as to keep them in a stable position. But no matter how much key information is delivered by an episode, the story and acting have to be there for it to have any value.

Jeffrey Coombs would soon become very important to that other show, across the way.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Watch it for the Ivanova stuff, the rest is just so much cardboard.


Ryan Lohner said...

Larry DiTillio has some quite choice words in his introduction to this episode in the script volumes for Gregory Paul Martin, who played Ben Zayn. The whole cast and crew quickly grew frustrated with his overacting, with the director putting it as "He says every line like he's doing Macbeth." Although I think that now we have a better analogy: he's like Dr. Sanchez from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace played straight. Though DiTillio also acknowledges that Martin was going through a nasty divorce at the time, so you can't really blame him for being off his game.

Faring much better is the brilliant casting of Jeffrey Coombs, who so often plays sleazy creeps (including several of his Star Trek characters) that it's quite a genuine surprise when he turns out to be the nice, reasonable guy of the pair. It's the kind of meta-twist we don't see a lot, so it still packs a punch when it does happen (another great example came this very year, with Brad Dourif's role in Agents of SHIELD).

The motorcycle subplot came about because Kawasaki was a major contributor to the show, though no money actually changed hands for this specific piece of product placement. One place it really suffered was the generic and uninspiring stock footage that gets Lennier interested, which was intended to be the famous "Whaddaya got?" scene from The Wild One until they couldn't get the rights. Also, they weren't legally able to ride the motorcycle on set, so the director and some other crew specifically waited until JMS was busy in his office before bringing the actors in and getting that brief shot before it turns to CG. When he found out what they'd done, he was perfectly fine with it.

Ryan Lohner said...

Also, a big "yeesh" to Sinclair's line "Enough people have messed with my brain this year," especially considering this was the last episode of the season to be shot, just before he left to go for treatment.

Madeley said...

Nothing to add about this episode except that Gregory Paul Martin is the son of George Martin, the legendary Beatles producer.

LiamKav said...

According to Lennier's history file, the last gasoline motorcycle was built in 2035. And apparently, motorcycle design with go down a CRAZY path between now and then. (Ah, the perils of predicting the near future. Twenty years is a lot closer than forty years.)


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