Babylon 5 #33: GROPOS

"We're up to our butts in jarheads."
IN THIS ONE... Dr. Franklin's father arrives on Babylon 5 with an army of 25,000 Earthforce Marines.

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.

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.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if JMS hoped the term "GROPOS" would catch on. If that's what he thought, he was totally streets-behind.

Ryan Lohner said...

Larry DiTillio calls this the best of his scripts for the show, to which I heartily disagree. The story is an absolute mess that can barely even be called a story, with so many guest stars that we get significant time with hardly any of them, and being asked to feel sad about the death of the asshole who was going to beat up and/or rape Delenn is just bizarre.

At least we have the story of General Franklin to pull us through. It's very much based on Richard Biggs' own relationship with his father, who was a Colonel in Vietnam, down to using the real names of his four sisters. The role was written for James Earl Jones, who proved to be too expensive on top of the other unusually high production efforts demanded by the script (giant bar fights don't come cheap!) but Paul Winfield is a quite able substitute. Though he also adds a sad postscript to the story, as he and Biggs would die within a couple months of each other, both before their time. But to not end on a complete downer, it does seem that Biggs was able to patch up his own relationship with his father, as elsewhere in the script volumes JMS describes meeting the man for the first time at his son's funeral. He'd been agonizing over the quickest way to introduce himself so they could get to the important business of talking about Richard, but when he got there, one of Richard's sisters turned to her father and simply said, "Dad, it's Joe," which was all he needed from the way Biggs had talked about JMS. And at the time he had a look in his eyes that JMS describes as "an indescribable pride in his son."

In the original script Garibaldi did in fact catch on immediately to what Dodger was after and was fine with it, with Ivanova rousing him for duty the next day and finding the room utterly trashed, with a pair of Daffy Duck boxer shorts among the debris. Unfortunately, the casting guys had unknowingly hired an old girlfriend of Jerry Doyle's for the role, and as he was now in a new relationship with co-star Andrea Thompson that would ultimately lead to their marriage, he wasn't comfortable with the scene. And so JMS personally rewrote it to what we see, which DiTillio has always hated, saying in so many words that it makes Garibaldi look like a flustered teenager trying to explain why he can't get an erection.

So, far from the show's finest moment, but at least the multitude of subplots make it go by fast, and we get a nice promise of battles to come with B5's new weapons. So that's something to look forward to.

Siskoid said...

That Doyle story is crazy, because they make out for SO LONG that adding the implication that the characters slept together would have been a very mild discomfort in comparison. He would have had to stop himself long before for it to make sense on a personal (actors') level.

LiamKav said...

It's extremely unprofessional. "Yeah, sorry Joe, but I can't shoot a scene where I've apparently slept with someone because it would upset my current girlfriend who apparently is some manic-possessive crazy person who doesn't understand that my and her job is pretend to be different people than we actually are. Totally okay with the snogging, though".

Also, is it just me, but whenever I see people smoking I either think "oh, it's another Serious HBO Drama", "Oh, it's a period piece", or "oh, this show is twenty years old". It really dates things.

"I wonder if JMS hoped the term "GROPOS" would catch on. If that's what he thought, he was totally streets-behind."

You win an internet, sir.

LiamKav said...

Y'know, as stupid as the title is, at least I know which episode this one is just by reading it. There's only about 6 others in season 2 that applies to.

Also, we're now back to using the season 1 titles for the end theme. Odd.

LiamKav said...

One other thing I've noticed flipping between B5 and TNG... while Trek has B5 beat on the quality of the sets, (most of the) acting, SFX, film quality... B5 is much, much better at doing fist fights.

Siskoid said...

I've been saying so for a while: Fights in B5 are incredibly brutal. They sell it much more than whatever tepid choreography is usually achieved on Trek.


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