Babylon 5 #110: The Wheel of Fire

"You know the Vorlons used telepaths as weapons during the Shadow War, but what no one stopped to consider was that, in a war, you have a certain number of small weapons, a certain number of medium size weapons, and one or two big ones. The kind of weapons you drop when you're out of small weapons, and the medium weapons, and you've got nothing left to use." "Someone like that would be the telepathic equivalent of a thermonuclear device. A doomsday weapon." "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Garibaldi."
IN THIS ONE... Lyta gets arrested, Garibaldi and Lochley admit their addictions, G'Kar is mobbed by followers, and Delenn is pregnant.

REVIEW: The DVD set took this title as its own, probably because it sounded good and generic - it's not that obvious why this story would be called that - because it comes too late to be the season's "hinge". Rather, it's one of those character-building eps where we try to visit everyone. I don't mind that at all. There are still two big threads and they dovetail together. One is Garibaldi finally getting busted for being drunk on the job, a thread that threatens to turn the show into a PSA for alcoholism, but which is narrowly saved by the performances. Yes, even stilted Jerry Doyle gets one or two moving moments, as does Scoggins as Lochley. The writing lets them down however, with Garibaldi initially coming off as Sheridan's little boy, and Lochley getting reams of uninterrupted text, like she's on the fast track to character development, cuz y'know, she's new. Still, her assessment of Garibaldi as a control freak needing permission/excuses to get out of control is a sound one, and we have to wonder if his running off to Mars with Lise is anything more than an escape from his failures on Babylon 5.

Lyta's story is the stronger thread, though to tell you the truth, I'm dead tired of her self-serving whining about everyone's lack of gratitude. Despite some advancement over the course of the season, she's still something of a non-character ("What are you?" indeed), one on whom JMS can hang just about anything, i.e. make her responsible for funding terrorism. I guess Byron be damned, she's a lot more militant than we realized. And why shouldn't she be? She was built to be a Vorlon weapon, and as we learn here, a telepathic WMD to boot. The scene where she makes everyone in the room copy her movements is excellent - as is the 1-2 Sheridan-Lochley combo that gets her under control - and there's every sense, by the time her agreement with Garibaldi is revealed, that he's made a deal with the devil. I don't know if the show will be able to make good on the promises made about their two-year plan, but I wonder if JMS' idea for a PsiCorps series would have featured former B5 stars as the antagonists.

Meanwhile, G'Kar returns to the station to find zealous pilgrims waiting for him, and his homeworld demanding her return to either bless their government or take the throne himself. He ends up leaving with Lyta to explore the universe, and perhaps pacify her own zealotry. Before he leaves, he gets a nice scene with Franklin, though I raised my eyebrow at their talk of sentient life being the puzzle God cannot solve. Why? Because we've gotten a lot of God talk over the course of the series - sometimes sounding like what Garibaldi calls "fortune cookie wisdom" - and I'm wondering if it's all meant to be "meta". JMS is an atheist after all, so is his characters' God really himself? Because characters/stories as unsolvable puzzles certainly resonates, even if it's a bit egotistical for the writer to give himself this role so literally. Anyway, the episode also makes Delenn pregnant, which was only a matter of time. Begs the question though: Doesn't Sheridan remember (or trust) anything from his experience in the future?! It's really weird. Brain damage or something? And while we check in on everyone, how about Londo? Yeah, that wasn't necessary at all, was it?

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Delenn becomes pregnant with an impossible-ish hybrid baby only months after Jadzia Dax does. Delenn will have better results.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - That came off as more negative than my actual feeling watching it. There are some very good moments here; they could just have been even better.


Anonymous said...

I would watch a TV series called "Touched by a Vorlon". Kosh would sing the theme song, of course. Two looped-out telepaths driving around the country in a Cadillac, helping people and talking in cryptic Vorlon statements.

Siskoid said...

Any spin-off but Crusade, am I right?!

(I have not yet watched a single episode of that show, so I'm just trying to be funny. I'll find out soon enough though.)

Ryan Lohner said...

Having wrapped up the Londo/G'Kar story that was pretty much this season's entire reason for existing, JMS was left with three more episodes before he could plug in the already shot Sleeping in Light as the finale. This gave him a rarity in television, getting to spend several of a show's final episodes purely on character material to let the show say goodbye as he moved everyone back into their positions from the end of season 4 so that SiL could still make sense.

As clunky as the alcoholism storyline can be, it did end up having one quite positive effect, as Tracy Scoggins was moved enough by her role here to give up drinking entirely. She still hadn't touched a drop by the time she returned to do The Lost Tales.

As is clear by now, this show was plagued with a quite inordinate number of events from the story coming true in real life, most often involving actors' body parts. By now they'd happened so often that Mira Furlan semi-seriously accused him of being a witch during lunch. And then he wrote this script, and she discovered she really was pregnant shortly afterward. Make of it what you will.

LiamKav said...

"As clunky as the alcoholism storyline can be, it did end up having one quite positive effect, as Tracy Scoggins was moved enough by her role here to give up drinking entirely. She still hadn't touched a drop by the time she returned to do The Lost Tales."

I never realised Scoggins had an alcohol problem. Christian also developed one after the show, I believe. B5 really did seem to have a bad problem with the mental hwellbeing of its actors.

LiamKav said...

- So Sheridan suspected that Garibaldi had started drinking again, and chose to ignore it. I'm not sure I buy that. Also, if Sheridan and Zack suspected, then Franklin HAD to have suspected. And none of them did anything. It almost seems like the regular characters had to be useless in order for new girl Lochley to save the day, even though Franklin and Zack also have experience with these sorts of issues. (And Zack should have done a hell of a lot more than glare at Garibaldi as he left.)

- Saying all that, I wonder if Zack had told everyone before, and the meeting time was intentionally changed in order to catch Michael out. It would explain why no-one looked shocked at the meeting. (Also, Sheridan can only discuss the situation with his wife, rather than the command staff who, as said, have experience with this stuff?)

- I know he's angry and drunk, but Garibaldi is the first person in 5 years to try simply walking away from someone monologuing at him. Doesn't work, but bravo for the attempt.

- If this is the resolution to Garibaldi's addiction storyline, it's probably a bit more realistic than going for a month long wander, getting stabbed and then having to crawl to safety whilst hallucinating talking with yourself. On the other hand, it's a lot less exciting...

- If there's one aspect of 90s TV that's really dated in my mind, it's the "knocking someone out because you don't want to kill them" thing. With all that's been learnt about concussion over the past decade or so, I can't watch a scene like that without thinking "well, Lochley's just given Lyta brain damage. That's a great thing to do to someone who's already on edge."

- Still not buying the Garibaldi-Lise relationship. Garibaldi keeps coming up with excuses not to go to Mars, as he's done all year. Lise seems to just wants Michael to need her, not want her.

- Lyta "can't get rid of an addiction"? Urgh, could that sound any more preachy? Besides, Bester managed to change Garibaldi's personality to that he betrayed everyone he ever cared about. With the amount of power Lyta has, is it really to too hard for her to flick the switch labelled "booze" from "like" to "dislike"?

- Also, is Garibaldi's problem that he personally wants to kill Bester? There doesn't seem to be anything in his programming stopping him from getting someone else to do it.

- Regarding Lyta, there's a line I remember someone saying on the AVClub forums: "Do not meddle in the affairs of gingers, for they are subtle and quick to anger."

Siskoid said...

I think Garibaldi's attitude implant went further so that he couldn't do harm to Bester. It's why he couldn't record the confession himself.


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