Babylon 5 #28: The Long Dark

"Take my advice and go back to the time you came from. The future isn't what it used to be."
IN THIS ONE... Dwight Schultz guest-stars as a doomsayer who warns Garibaldi about a monster smuggled inside a derelict sleeper ship.

REVIEW: A rare occurrence here at Babylon 5 Central, an episode with a single story thread. Not even a subplot thrown in. The season is still building to a war with the Shadows as a "soldier of darkness" makes its way to B5 on its way to the Rim. It's not a Shadow per se, but a sort of demonic ghost that drains people's life force or scoops out their organs at its leisure. If that's just a soldier... But it does mean some of the forces of darkness didn't go in hiding after all. This soldier was hunting on its own during the Earth-Minbari War, and killed Amis' (Schultz) whole platoon and kept him for torture snacks. And though not every species in the cosmos has heard of the Shadows, many at least have some passing knowledge of their soldiers. The League of Aliens freaks out at the thought of them, and G'Kar's grimoire pictures them as devils. Londo, of course, dismisses the whole thing, but then, he's the worm working WITH them, whether he realizes it or not. From Sheridan, I get the sense that while he recognizes the threat, he's at least as irritated by the fact this will mean more meetings.

When I say there's only one story thread, that's not exactly true, but they're all in the service of the same plot for once. The Copernicus, on which the creature has stowed away, also carried a sleeper from a hundred years ago, played by ubiquitous television guest actress Anne-Marie Johnson (as Mariah Cirrus). She went to sleep with her husband in the next tube and woke up having missed all of those great advances in space exploration, with her husband dead and organless. And as soon as she's out of bed, she's making moves on Doc Franklin! Written, or at least acted, like a femme fatale, you're hardwired not to trust her. Is the reason she can't cry because of the cryogenics, bad acting or that she's not sad about her dead hubby at all? This is an annoying red herring, as Mariah is just kind of frivolous. Not a great love interest, and like every girl Franklin gets interested in, she's never seen again. This one at least leaves on screen, in the kind of cliché scene we're used to seeing on other shows.

More engaging is Dwight Schultz's role as a veteran suffering from PTSD, slowly going mad from nightmares in the Down Below. Schultz has made a career of playing manic, flustered losers, and he's good here too. Garibaldi, a veteran as well, empathizes with him, though the plot line makes it seem like the Security Chief is a glorified bouncer, escorting lurkers who have somehow gotten to the Up Above. No checkpoints on Babylon 5? Not that I begrudge the homeless free movement, but on a military base with important VIPs, the security's once again too lax to believe. Unsurprisingly, Amis sacrifices his life to stop the monster that's been haunting him. Surprisingly, he survives the encounter. Never seen again, one hopes he got the help he needed and got his life in order. He deserved that, at least.

Dwight Schultz is a prominent Trek actor, of course, having played Reg Barclay on TNG. Cryogenic sleepers have of course been featured in a variety of episodes, from Space Seed (TOS) to The Neutral Zone (TNG) to Empok Nor (DS9) to The 37s (VOY).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A solid guest-star, a threat that's a sign of things to come, and a plot that involves a large number of characters. Fine, but too many clichés.


Ryan Lohner said...

The biggest job writer Scott Frost had before this episode is Twin Peaks, and boy does it show. The villain causes the show to take more of a pure horror tone than usual, and I can't help but think it doesn't quite fit. I'm especially reminded of the rumored first draft of Star Trek V, where rather than an alien pretending to be God, the crew would have met the actual, literal Devil. Fantasy and science fiction may often be lumped together under the label "genre," but they're very different beasts and mixing them like this is often not a good idea. And I'm still weirded out by that random shot of Garibaldi running with his gun out at the end of Act 3 that's not followed up on at all, like a scene from the climax somehow got misplaced.

Frost writes kind of an odd introduction in the script volumes. He has almost no memory of the writing process and never visited the set, and I far as I can tell he didn't even watch the episode again to refresh himself. Instead he devotes most of it to his thoughts on rereading the script, and chastises himself for things like Mariah having tons of squandered potential, and the monster being defeated way too easily. Also, those of you who've been slagging JMS for not being able to get along with network execs should see the bile this guy spews about them.

At least we have Dwight Schultz to pull us though it, and I'm very relieved that the show doesn't use the "human popsicle" plot device the way Star Trek often did: as a way to smugly sneer at its own audience for being primitive, greedy, and violent people, unlike the Federation where there's no money, no war, and women have to dress like pieces of meat and can't be captains, and god help you if you want to leave. Screw that.

jdh417 said...

Just so you all can hate him, Dwight Schultz is also a conservative. I've heard him guest hosting several times on various radio shows. He did a show once, perhaps guesting for Doyle, with Dirk Benedict as his co-host. It was interesting and funny, as I recall. Maybe it's out there somewhere on the Internet.

By the way, so you all can hate him a little less, Doyle is really more of a libertarian. He hates the Republican party and Fox News.

Siskoid said...

But Libertarians are even more dangerous than regular Conservatives, JDH!

jdh417 said...

There's no pleasing you people. ;)

LiamKav said...

To be fair, I don't hate someone because they are a Republican/Conservative/whatever. I am perhaps more prone to disliking them, but people are made up of a million and one quirks, habits and thoughts. To base a whole opinion because of one thing would be very shallow. For instance, I'm a pretty strong aetheist and kinda agree with lots of what Richard Dawkins says. But he comes across as such a humourless bastard that I can't stand the guy 90% of the time.

Thoughts on the episode:

1. "You were about to accuse the Centauri ambassador of being in league with the devil, which might not be far from the truth..." Okay, cute for referncing ongoing plots, but it's far too much of a stretch to think that Garibaldi has even the slightest idea of what Londo is up to.

2. "I don't have the exact number, but over 100 years". You may not have the exact number, but you do know the date, Stephen. Try telling her that, maybe?

3. Franklin is AMAZINGLY unethical as a doctor in this episode. Inappropriate touching, telling the confused patient to call him by his first name, walking around with her arm in arm, making a move on her when she's frightened and disorientated and only just found out her husband had died THE DAY BEFOERE... I know she's a non-white one-time , only female guest star so Franklin HAS to try going out with her, but still, bad Stephen.

4. By itself, "The Long Dark" is a good title. It refers to both the people in cryogenic suspension, and also the ancient darkness returning to Z'Ha'Dum. However, when you combine it with "The Long Night", "The Long, Twilight Struggle", "The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari", "A Race Through Dark Places", "Ceremonies of Light and Dark", "Between the Darkness and the Light", "Darkness Ascending", it makes for a very long, dark mess. I had no idea which episode this was until I started watching (and, to be fair, I still don't remember watching it back in the 90s, although I would have at least twice as I watched every episode with a housemate and then later my brother.)

LiamKav said...

Also, it's one of those coincidences we have to have in order for there to be a show, but the changes of Babylon 5 being directly on the flight path between where the Copernicus was and Z'Ha'Dum? Probably trillions of trillions of trillions to one. It wasn't even that the Copernicus was detected out in space... it has heading right for Epsilon III.

Siskoid said...

Are you writing a Nitpickers' Guide Liam? I'd read it!

LiamKav said...

No, although I did know someone on the internet who knew Phil Farrand and he got me an autographed copy of one of the Nitpicker's books. It's more a challenge to myself. I'm allowed to nitpick if I can make a joke, but I'm not allowed to be the guy who sits there going "er, actually, I think you'll find that we'd already established that Sisko's parents were dead because of something in season 2 episode 11, therefore this episode is non-canon. Actually."

Also, it would require me to proof read, and who has time for that?

The main reason I keep using bullet points is that I've usually got my laptop open next to me while watching B5, and it's the easiest way to make notes. You should know that I've been inspired enough to pick up the complete box set. Now I can enjoy every single B5 visual adventure ever. (Well, according to the internet, "enjoy" might be a strong word when it comes to Legends of the Rangers.) It's an amazing piece. No indication what order to watch things in, the arrangement haphazard, the original edit of The Gathering rather than the redone version, In the Beginning shown completely in zoomed-in widescreen...

I'm trying to do an episode a day, usually while eating dinner, but I struggle to watch one at the weekend. That's why I'm slightly lagging behind. I skipped a couple of season 1 episodes, but I can't bring myself to skip any of season 2.


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