Babylon 5 #83: The Exercise of Vital Powers

"Did you know this place was named after the god of war? Its rising foretold the death of kings, the collapse of empires. It was a very bad sign. Now there are 2 million people living here." "It's still a bad sign."
IN THIS ONE... Garibaldi meets his mysterious employer on Mars. Franklin struggles to awaken the telepaths taken by the Shadows.

REVIEW: When Garibaldi and Wade talk about Mars - in conversation or voice-over - the script sparkles. This is a frontier town filled with malcontents, a hell from which Garibaldi only narrowly escaped, and where finally, he may have lost his soul. Otherwise... meh. I continue to be bored with the Garibaldi plot. There's really no point in asking him if he trusts telepaths during his loyalty test, because he doesn't trust anyone, not even himself. No new information there. And I guess that's as good a synopsis as any of why this episode does very little for me - very little new information. Garibaldi is unchanging. Lise is still a boring melodramatic soap queen. And the build-up to revealing the mysterious Mr. Edgars is patently ridiculous. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. may have been a big TV star in the 60s, but to the show's core demographic, I'm thinking he would have been best known as the voice of Alfred Pennyworth in the celebrated Batman Animated Series. His name has been in the credits, his voice has been heard since he introduced himself to Garibaldi, and there's no real gasp to finally seeing his face, so why hide him from us? Or even from Garibaldi? If you were going to reveal him to be, I don't know, a Centauri who adopted a human name and started buying up real estate, well okay, that's one thing. There's no surprise here, and great though his voice is, he gets too many scenes where he recaps things we already know about Clark and PsiCorps. Babylon 5 doesn't do clip shows, but these expository recap episodes before any big event are rather tedious when you're binge-watching the program.

More interesting is the notion that Sheridan is going about liberating Earth the wrong way. The real power isn't Clark's, but the PsiCorps', and the harder Sheridan pushes Clark, the more power the telepaths get. Edgars wants to attack PsiCorps and destroy the corrupt government from the inside, and like our heroes, his solutions are necessary evils. He does not relish inflicting pain - there's just no other way - and seems to feel deeply for the telepaths he's infected with his bio-engineered disease. And yet, there's also a ruthlessness there, as evidenced by the telepath shot to protect his secrets. Just how Sheridan's capture and show trial fits into this plan is left to a future episode, but it sets up Garibaldi's final betrayal, who will go after Sheridan's dad to lure the captain into a trap. I'm again left wondering what Garibaldi's programming is and how he can keep acting against PsiCorps if they were responsible, unless a trigger turns him at the worst possible moment. It just feels like this has been going on way too long without any kind of movement.

But who says Sheridan isn't figuring PsiCorps into his plans? The show has been very clear about how dangerous it is to cut yourself off from your friends, and though he's assembled a great alliance, keeping his plans to himself (no doubt as a reaction to the telepathic threat) is a kind of isolation that could also prove deadly. Is Edgars moving on Sheridan because he doesn't trust PsiCorps to be taken out by the White Star Fleet, when meanwhile, Sheridan has Doc Franklin working on a plan to counter the telepaths after all? We don't know, and we're not told even after Franklin is, though if he's questioning his orders (and perhaps jonesing for stims? I'm glad that's still in the performance), the plan must not be very ethical. This is the more engaging plot, but it doesn't yield a lot of answers either. Lyta helps Frankling find an answer to awakening (or perhaps we should say reactivating) the telepaths converted into Shadow pilots SOMEhow, and we're not told why Franklin must now go to Mars. It's all very hush-hush, and in an episode that already refuses to tell you what's going on, that's frustrating.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE:
I can't help it, those Shadow telepaths make me think of the Borg every time.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - I recognize its usefulness to set up things to come, but find the Garibaldi plot boring and padded with pointless exposition and melodramatic acting.

3 comments:

Ryan Lohner said...

I'd say the real twist to Edgars is that after so long building him up as a sinister figure who even indirectly drove Lyta back to PsiCorps, he turns out to be a decent guy with a genuine worry, and who doesn't relish at all the pain he has to inflict to fully remove Clark's legacy. It helps greatly to have an actor as good as Efram Zimbalist Jr. (who besides Alfred was also unrecognizable as the German accented Dr. Octopus on the '90s Spider-Man cartoon at the same time). And JMS deeply regretted saddling him with reams and reams of expository dialogue that all had to be filmed in a row due to using the same set, but he never complained and nailed every take.

Another line that gets nasty in retrospect is Edgars talking about the Russians in 1917 and 2013. Given Russia's invasion of Ukraine, it's eerily prophetic.

Siskoid said...

I get the twist, but the show doesn't play fair with us. It's anti-climactic at best.

LiamKav said...

I think that the show tries to have it both ways with the Garibaldi plot. There are comments at the beginning from Wade saying that Garibaldi is someone who "doesn't like to give up control", and then Michael says in his own log that he "must be out of [his] mind". Which is all cute, but we KNOW that something was done to Garibaldi's mind. This episode alone begins with Garibaldi saying that Sherdian would never have gone against Earth before he went to Z'Ha'dum, even though he was right there when they declared independence and seemed completely behind it. So whether he's changed isn't the mystery. The mystery is WHAT was done to him, so those cute remarks are oddly placed.

I don't know if it's a side-effect of the increasing serialistation of season 4, but by this point I've completely lost track of what title belongs to what episode. On the one hand, I applaud JMS for giving each one a slightly elaborate, literate title. On the other hand, "Tattoo" may be a dry title, but at least I know which one it refers to. Maybe B5 episodes should have alternative Friends-style titles. "The one where Garibaldi goes to Mars and meets Alfred"

When I was younger, I pretty much hated Lise. On TV, girlfriends and settling down represented a conclusion of a story, which usually involved the person retiring, at least in a TV-sense. And given a choice between having adventures or a family, the first always sounded more exciting. As I got older I wondered if it was my youth talking. But watching the show again... nope, still hate her. She whines, she cries, she doesn't seem like she'd challenge Michael on any sort of mental level. She's someone who says "it's not about the money" whilst being married to someone at least 25 years her senior who also happens to be one of the richest guys in the galaxy. Hell, even her B-Squared flashback had her as someone who was "you can go be loyal to your friends, or you can stay here with me", and we're obviously not going to side with the person coming between our main cast members.

Edgars says that "corporations are running things", which is an oft repeated claim both in the present and many sci-fi shows. It's a very easy thing to say, but I think B5 actually makes a nice subtle point... corporations BELIEVE that they are running things. Politicians believe that they are running things. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and rather more complex than that. (In B5's case, you can add the PsiCorp into that mix.)

"I'd say the real twist to Edgars is that after so long building him up as a sinister figure who even indirectly drove Lyta back to PsiCorps, he turns out to be a decent guy with a genuine worry, and who doesn't relish at all the pain he has to inflict to fully remove Clark's legacy."

You say "decent guy", I see someone who's torturing sapient beings because he thinks that they are a threat. The most evil people convince themselves that they are doing bad things for good reasons. (I think that this is all deliberate, and that comparisons can be made to what Sheridan is doing. But still, for every "touch of human kindness" there are presumably tens or more of telepaths he's infected with a lethal disease and then watched die. Sheridan is giving warning before he fires on potential threats. Edgars isn't.)

 

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