Babylon 5 #98: Day of the Dead

"Give a dog a bad name, and you can hang him with it."
IN THIS ONE... Lochley, Londo, Garibaldi and Lennier are visited by dead people from their pasts. Penn & Teller guest-star.

REVIEW: The first episode not written by JMS since "Knives" in Season 2, I thought Neil Gaiman's script would be a breath of fresh air. It's not. It's like the most pretentious Voyager script ever written. The pseudo-mystical premise, we're told, doesn't need an answer, and I'm fine with that. They do go out of their way to give some, however, though none can completely explain what we see. A festival of the dead, apparently ripped off Mexico's by the Brakiri, takes a chunk of the station through hyperspace (I'm guessing that's why we see a hazy red force field) to their homeworld, where everyone within gets to chat with dead people. Is it a machine? Is it memories? Is it really them? And why don't the Brakiri "buy" a piece of Babylon 5 that only they inhabit, or at least warn people about the transformative experience awaiting them, or maybe invite those interested? It's all very contrived and magical, and I'm not sure I buy it as a Babylon 5 script, despite the existence of "technomagic" in this world. But we do get scenes where Corwyn lets G'Kar sleep in C&C without asking any questions, and Sheridan attacking the walled-off section all by himself making me wonder where Security is.

But say I do buy it. The CHOICE of dead visitors and what they then do doesn't always work. Londo and Adira I get, though they spend all their time having sex, which hardly does much with the characters. Mr. Morden is a strange choice for Lennier - it's not all loved ones, clearly - but a worthy pick, even if Marcus perhaps deserved it more. Would Marcus have had something relevant to tell Lennier, either about being a Ranger or dealing with unrequited love? Maybe. But that would have taken time, and we spend very little of it with this duo as Lennier essentially rides it out. We do get a prophecy about Lennier one day betraying the Rangers. Ominous. Garibaldi gets Dodger, the marine he had a one-night stand with once, and it's certainly nice to see her. He's with Lise now, so it's all pretty tame flirting and reciting Emily Dickinson poems... You see why I call it pretentious. This is what THESE characters want to do with their Day of the Dead? Nonsense. And then there's Lochley, a character we don't know very well, so her visitation is from a character we don't know, an old roommate who apparently O.D.ed well before Lochley ever joined Earthforce. There's nothing wrong with using this device to explore the Captain's character, but I don't much like what we find out. There's one line in there that suggests Lochley was a teen sex worker or possible petty criminal, because she did things that she can't bear to think about. That seems to go against her present character, though her friend's death could certainly have "scared her straight". Except I do hate it when female characters are strapped with this kind of background (or similarly, a history of sexual abuse). It makes me squirm. Plus, Lochley's visit for some reason comes with a message from Kosh (well, that comes out of nowhere), another cryptic prophecy that relates to later events. A long night, returning to the end of the beginning, fine, but why not make Kosh appear to Sheridan over the course of the story? Though several characters get a bit of closure on some chapter in their lives, the episode does little to really transform anyone.

The accidental point the subplot makes is that maybe we shouldn't take any of this seriously. We finally meet Rebo & Zooti - the comedy duo that have been referenced several times now - and they're played by Penn & Teller. I like P&T fine, but they're more humorous magicians than gut-bustingly funny comedians. Rebo & Zooti are even less funny, poaching most of their wit from other sources, like Oscar Wilde. I appreciate that they've studied alien forms of humor and can connect with other races in ways we just don't get, but the stuff they target humans with is very dull too. Like me, Lochley doesn't seem to get it, and ironically, she gets the funniest line in the whole episode: That she thought the whole Brakiri thing was a metaphor. The comedy duo are instead used for over-obvious satire, like wanting to go into politics where the real clowns are, or for portentous mumbo-jumbo like mute Zooti's whispered line, an answer to "why", "because it tells me to", which is obtuse and definitely not worthy of Sheridan walking away with a grin on his face. Ugh.

- Suffers from guest-writer syndrome, in that it's not allowed to really say anything important about the characters, and comes off as a dull and irrelevant change of pace. I'd only keep Londo and Lennier's bits.


Anonymous said...

"Except I do hate it when female characters are strapped with this kind of background (or similarly, a history of sexual abuse)."

We're typically better at writing women these days, I'm happy to say. That sort of thing still happens, but then is immediately called out.

Rebo and Zooti are the sort of thing that can't ever live up to the hype, so don't show them. The station could have been visited by Flebo and Brooti (played by Penn and Teller), comedians who are cheap knock-offs of R&Z, and that could have worked.

Ryan Lohner said...

Neil Gaiman is one of those writers who seriously makes me wonder how much talent it's possible for one person to have, with his prodigious output in all kinds of different categories which are all still instantly recognizable as his work. This goes right up to his most recent work The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or as I like to call it, The Scariest Fucking Thing I've Ever Read In My Life.

This episode is definitely one of his lesser works, though when you're talking about the guy who produced American Gods, Neverwhere, and The Sandman, that still means you're in for a good time. JMS found out he was a fan of the show early on and asked several times for him to do an episode, and even put in a reference to him with the Gaim, whose headgear is designed after Dream's helmet from The Sandman. It wasn't until season 5 that it was able to happen, and it was perhaps inevitable that it wouldn't live up to the hype (his Doctor Who episodes on the other hand absolutely do).

I will say, though, that the entire point of Reebo and Zooty is that they're not funny, as a reflection of how senses of humor can change over time. In fact, until Gaiman told JMS that he wanted to include them, the idea was for a running gag where we'd only ever hear their catchphrases out of context, as JMS has always disliked that kind of comedy, holding special ire for Steve Martin's "Excuuuuuuuse me." Although he does seem to have missed the point with that one; like The Aristocrats, the humor isn't in the line itself but the buildup to it, watching Martin get more and more worked up over a minor insult or inconvenience until he finally explodes with the line. Also notable: Gaiman's original script had lines for Zooty, which of course had to be changed when Penn and Teller were cast.

Ryan Lohner said...

Oh, and one more thing: after a few fans guessed it, Gaiman confirmed that Lochley had been lovers with her visitor. Another poke in the eye for...well, you know.

Siskoid said...

You can't be gay in the JMS-verse, only bisexual.

On Neil Gaiman, yeah, I'll give you The Doctor's Wife, but Nightmare in Silver isn't even as good as Day of the Dead.

R&Z being not funny ON PURPOSE doesn't make it any more entertaining.

LiamKav said...

"R&Z being not funny ON PURPOSE doesn't make it any more entertaining."

Yeah. That works in the context of Londo looking confused by Sherian walking out of the room saying "Zooti, zoot zoot!" But you can't actually put them in an episode and have them say lines about how humour is universal and all that while also playing the joke of them not being funny to the viewers. It doesn't work.

"You can't be gay in the JMS-verse, only bisexual."

Because we live in a world where most media works fail the Bechdel test, it's results in this odd situation that the moment any two women have a conversation, some fans will immedietely assume that they must have been lovers at some point. I'm not sure if that's an improvement.

Also, I don't really think that revealing that one of your characters is bi on the mighty internet of 1998 really does much of anything. (It doesn't even get mentioned on the Lurker's Guide).

Green Luthor said...

I like Penn & Teller well enough as magicians/comedians, but as actors... well, okay, it's hard to judge Teller in this, but Penn is just plain *awful* in this episode. He recites lines in a way that's obviously reciting a script, and you can pretty much see him remembering the next sentence. Just painful to watch.

On the plus side, no Byron this episode. (Which is because "Day of the Dead" was moved up three episodes in the schedule, but a break from that guy wasn't unwelcome...)

LondonKdS said...

I think that the most interesting bit of this is that Lennier got to see Morden, which makes me strongly believe that the events here are meant to be genuinely supernatural. If we see Morden's "prophecy" as an attempt to gain vengeance by causing trouble, it's pretty sensible, given how obssessed with prophecy Minbari culture is. And it's in line with Morden's established manipulativeness.

LiamKav said...

- "Humour is truelly a universal element. Like hydrogen."

I don't know if Joe or Neil wrote that line, but whoever did should be ashamed.


- "This will be a moment you can tell your children about, Captain." "I'll get on to having some right away."

I really feel that Lochley needed an episode like this earlier. I agree that in some ways it's a bit of a "strong female character" cliched background, but as Ivanova's was different, I think it's okay. (It also possibly explains why she has a phoenix on her Starfury, if she feels that she escaped death). I'm mainly enjoying Lochley's sense of humour at the moment. The line above (and the "metaphor" line) genuinly amused me.

- What sort of terrible TV scheduling do they have in the future where every station would show the same thing at the same time? If one network is doing a Star Trek marathon, you don't have the others doing DS9, Voyager and TNG marathons.

- "To you, 50,000 years of civilisation was just something that happened to other people". Whether a coincidence or not, that's pretty similar to a line from Blackadder. "To you, Baldrick, the renaissance was just something that happened to other people, wasn't it?"

- JMS: "Lochley's reaction was tailored to be EXACTLY the same as most women's (and some guy's) reaction to the Three Stooges: either it's funny, or you can't figure out why people are laughing." JMS says comments like this a couple of times on the Lurkers guide. I'm not even sure I'd say it's sexist, but it is weird.

- Apparently Morden's answer to the question "what do you want" is "a descent hairdresser".


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