"We're up to our butts in jarheads."
REVIEW: GROPOS is short for Ground Pounders, and a just AWFUL title for an episode of Babylon 5. Thankfully, the episode itself isn't too bad. Paul Winfield as Doc Franklin's father is a great guest-star, whom I can believe both as the patriarch of a family of over-achievers and as a legendary general. Parent/child strife is a staple of television, and modern Trek certainly made a cliché of the visiting parent in science-fiction programs. In B5, there are a lot of dead fathers, most of which are spoken of fondly. You wouldn't think it, but that's a twist! So though the Franklins' family story follows the usual pattern of opening old wounds and by the end, coming to an understanding/reconciliation, much of it feels more believable than usual. It's still melodrama, but I'll freely admit to finding it touching, and part of that is the two parties not starting so far apart. The Franklins' relationship is perfectly amiable and respectful, but they have hot button topics, old arguments still unresolved, that make father and son get angry, say things they regret and so on. This is perfectly normal, and Sheridan makes the point he and and his dad were the same way. Both men love and respect each other, they just need to accept they have different principles and values. (You want to talk politics on this show? This is far more useful as a metaphor for American polarization than the Drazi.) Stephen doesn't want to be thought of as weak, and the general doesn't want his son to think of him as a murderer. Both are after the same thing - being understood and feeling they haven't let down the other with their life choices.
The rest of the soldiers landing on Babylon 5 principally affect two characters. The first is Keffer (oh yeah, he's still a member of the cast, isn't he?) who gets to bunk with a couple of comedy/pathos grunts. A thin plot line, unremarkable. The other is Garibaldi who falls for "Dodger", a GROPO (no, look, no, this is the last time I use the "word") who lives fast, plays hard and recently saved Delenn from molestation at the hands of another marine. She's a fun character on the whole, and obviously in it for the one-night stand. Obvious, that is, to everyone but Garibaldi. Whatever I think of the way he's written, the scene is directed in an interesting way. Usually, characters start getting hot and heavy, cue music, cut to commercial, and when we return, the act is either done, or a character stops it. Not here. The preliminaries go on a long time. It's about as passionate as you're allowed to show on television, and goes on until you're almost uncomfortable. It makes the twist of Garibaldi's interrupted coitus work better, even if it's patently ridiculous of him to expound on every crappy subplot he's been involved in. Dodger runs off, insulted, and though they hang out the next day, they never actually get together, nor ever will. CUZ YOU CAN'T BE HAPPY, YOU IDIOT!
If at first it's a little disappointing to have all these troops called into action not because of the Centauri-Narn war declared just last episode, but rather to put down a rebellion on some unrelated alien world, it gets better when the politics of the intervention are further explored. Helping this non-aligned world now will give Earthforce a presence in a sector near that war, so when we have to get involved, we can, and from a position of strength. All the pieces matter, after all. The insurrection (or whatever) is put down quickly, but with important loss of life, and of course, every speaking marine is killed. The final, melodramatic pan across the bodies of every grunt we've met, good and bad, coincidentally killed in the same spot, again plays on clichés. ANTI-WAR! We get it, Larry DiTillio. Again, direction to the rescue: Keffer and Garibaldi's underplayed reactions to those deaths speaks to their inevitability. A master stroke of ambiguity.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: The Siege of AR-558 still 3½ years out.
REWATCHABILITY: A touch higher than Medium - DiTillio's script is clichéed melodrama, but it's rescued by strong performances and surprising direction from Jim Johnston.