Babylon 5 #48: A Day in the Strife

"I carry my sword in my hand. You carry yours in your heart and in your mind. As I see it, that gives you a two-to-one advantage in arms. Be fair, Citizen G'Kar."
IN THIS ONE... An alien probe wants answers or it'll blow up the station. A Centauri puppet asks G'Kar to give up. Vir is sent to Minbar.

REVIEW: A Day in the Strife definitely has the leisurely feel of "day in the life" stories, but doesn't really commit to it, tacking on a needless Star Trek stock plot that doesn't amount to much. Heavy with dramatic subplots, the episode actually uses its life-and-death situation-of-the-week to generate humor (mostly with C&C banter), which further takes the stuffing out of it. The alien probe sent by an unknown race unlikely to ever be referenced again, pretends to offer gifts if its questions are answered, but is actually a test so it can destroy potential threats. How Sheridan figures it out is sketchy, unless he figured out the theme of the episode, which appears to be that doing what you think is right isn't always the correct thing to do. Perspective is important. Of course there was a third option no one ever thought to mention - what if the probe was a spy trying to steal all the answers its home culture DIDN'T have, getting a technological step-up under false pretenses. That all possibilities weren't explored makes the story thread entirely too slim; it really is just a distraction for Sheridan, who'd rather be doing this than attending trading union meetings. B5 has been having trouble with "comedy" openers lately, and the trading union stuff is definitely less amusing than its writer thinks it is, with the utter nonsense of a trader calling Sheridan a gun-totting tyrant and so on.

The real story is thankfully about Narn. The Centauri-appointed Na'Far comes to the station to take G'Kar's place as official representative, a puppet of the Centauri, treated like a slave by Londo. Even when the Centauri were sympathetic figures in Season 1, hedonistic and somewhat pathetic galactic has-beens, their practice of slavery was a troubling element. Here we see how even the "hero" Centauri treats a defeated enemy, in a speech designed as reinforcement of the master-slave relationship and an attack on the man's dignity and self-worth. We share Vir's distaste. For Na'Far, collaboration is the correct path, ensuring the safety of Narn everywhere. But for the Narn on the station at least, a line has been crossed, and freedom is now more important than safety. The dilemma is explored through G'Kar, who tries to resolve which is the greater cause. He chooses martyrdom (his people's safety), but his people won't let him. They choose freedom, they choose never to bow to the Centauri, regardless of cost. They, and their families, will share G'Kar's sacrifice. Pledging himself to this cause is the finally-named Ta'lon (bit on the nose there, JMS), the soldier Sheridan escaped from the Streib with. We'll see him again, unlike Na'Far. The show has also picked sides. Someone else who has taken sides is Vir. Having made ethical speeches in Londo's direction one time too many, the ambassador sends him away to Minbar. He does so out of both fondness and irritation, a reward in one sense, and punishment in another. I understand this was necessary because Furst got a job on a sitcom, but though he'll still appear on occasion, I'll miss his stabilizing influence, budding but subtle friendship with Lennier, etc. Londo may not realize the sacrifice he's just made. Vir was his only friend; he's burned his bridges with the humans, Lennier regrets having saved his life, and even offering the hand of friendship to Delenn here yields no love.

The C-plot features Doc Franklin's growing addiction to stims. Following the theme, spending all his time in medlab is the "right" thing to do given how overburdened the medical staff is, but it's also the "wrong" thing to do, because his skills are deteriorating as a result. I love how it's Garibaldi who notices something's up (when Franklin returns from the bathroom all jacked up) and who offers to be his sponsor. He deals with addiction every day; it's perfect. The intervention, staged around one of Garibaldi's home-cooked meals, recalls the bond these two characters have shared since one first cooked for the other. The Doc is in denial, of course, but when he cuts the stims out, signs of withdrawal appear. He's irritable, fidgety, looks at his stim dispenser a lot, etc. There's no question he has a problem. It'll be interesting to watch him as a mirror to Garibaldi, starting on the road to recovery even as Garibaldi is at the end of it.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - If it were all subplotty goodness, I'd be happier. It panics and adds irrelevant SF material and comedy.


Ryan Lohner said...

The probe story was inspired by a dinner JMS was invited to featuring many great scientists of the time. He naturally felt quite out of his depth, but got one good hit in when he asked Freeman Dyson what he would do if such a probe came calling. Dyson had to think long and hard, and finally answered that if he was in some kind of spacecraft and only risking himself, he would answer, but if all of Earth was at risk, "I would hate myself, but I wouldn't answer." JMS then decided that if such a question could bring this giant of the field to his philosophical knees, it would definitely be worth putting in the show.

Stephen Furst did indeed have to leave for a bit as noted, and JMS would have been well within his rights to insist on first dibs for his time but didn't as he really did want his actors to have as much success as possible with or without him. And this also happened to come at just the right moment where Vir's absence would aid the story. He's always been the angel on Londo's shoulder keeping him from fully going under the Shadows' influence, and to lose him after his last words to Morden leaves Londo more vulnerable than ever.

Another coincidence not nearly as fun is that it was during filming of this episode about dealing with unhappy unions that the real unions came calling on the show, having finally figured out they had never been asked to be involved. Everyone was still getting paid just as much and sometimes more than they would under union protection so an agreement was easy to hammer out, but then the network still refused to cooperate (would you expect anything else from these guys by now?) and the show was almost killed before it was finished.

There are two possible links to Star Trek here: the more clear one is Na'Far's story resembles Kira's in the DS9 episode Rocks and Shoals, where we see how the former resistance fighter is able to convince herself that collaboration is the right thing to do despite her earlier hatred of such people (and I really like how we never get a hint that Na'Far wanting to help his people is anything but genuine, rather than just making him a simple traitor). The other involves some extra knowledge beyond the show, as the original script for the TOS episode Arena revealed that the godlike aliens of the week set up the duel so they could kill the winner, who would clearly be more of a threat to them.

Finally, I have to give a quite personal note. I have OCD, on about the same level as Marc Summers (and needless to say, my admiration for that man is beyond words). When I was 17, I decided that I would never touch a drop of alcohol, as I don't trust myself at all not to fall into a destructive pattern with it. It was shortly after I reached drinking age that I watched this show for the first time, and seeing Garibaldi talking about how he and Franklin were both a little obsessive compulsive and prone to addiction because of that was very validating to my own choice. So I very much thank JMS for that.

LiamKav said...

Claudia Christian shares an interesting story on her website about this episode:

I noticed Richard Biggs’ beautiful future wife strolling though the scene between he and Garibaldi right before he goes to the bathroom to do stims, when he returns he dances with the future Lori Biggs, I wonder if they were already dating by then or if they met right there and then….I have to ask her about that.

LiamKav said...

I think this is the first time Corwin is actually addressed by name by one of the regulars, and he's finally credited as "Corwin" rather than "Tech #1/2", despite having had a name since "And Now For a Word". I suspect the episodes are a bit out of order though, as he's suddenly got the leather strip on his uniform even though his promotion isn't for another episode or two.

My issue with the probe story is that it only works if no other alien races friendly to Earth have never met another one. You'd think once they pulled that trick once, everyone would be on alert.

I also don't get much of a feel of "A day in the life". In fact this was the first time I even got that this is what the episode is going for (despite the title being a clue). It doesn't have the same feel that "Data's Day" or even "Midnight on the Firing Line" managed to create.


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