Babylon 5 #126: The Needs of Earth

"Don't say 'stand by' when we're one word away from good news."
IN THIS ONE... A covert mission rescues a thief possessing stolen data crystals bearing important information of an alien culture.

REVIEW: A point made in the re-pilot (War Zone) was that Gideon was ready to do anything to get the job done. This hasn't always been evident in practice, but The Needs of Earth nails his single-mindedness. He approves a covert, criminal mission with nasty political consequences. Nice to know the Rangers are willing to suggest it though - you can almost feel Sheridan's maverick hand behind this. It's a great vehicle for Dureena too, given her profession, and with Vejar at the directorial helm, you can expect the violence to be violent and the environments and effects to push things as far as they can. He delivers. The planet looks savage, Gideon goes through a glass plate window in slow motion, and he even squeezes tension out of a touchpad scene. But while the episode could have been just this action-driven plot, it's really only the first act.

From there, it's the mystery of who this alien is, what's on his elaborate data crystal, and why his people - yet another smug species that doesn't want to pollute itself by even speaking to us, it's JMS' go-to alien attitude - want him back/dead. Turns out he doesn't want to sell the crystal, he wants to make a gift of it, but only to those he finds worthy. As soon as he starts listening to classical music, we should know where this is going. We're worthy by virtue of human artistic achievement, and of course, the crystal is full of art, literature and music. His theft was a rescue operation from a world bent on a planet-wide form of censorship. Though this seems a bargain basement Star Trek plot, it has something to offer. I particularly like the amusingly honest translator, and how Gideon is initially pissed that they went through all that for something that has no practical value. JMS over-eggs the pudding a little bit with Chambers' big point, that this is a treasure trove of new and hopeful art to help sustain the human race during the dark times ahead. I don't disagree, but it's an odd thing for the doctor to say; sounds like a WRITER saying it. Still, it's more character than she's yet had the occasion to show. And while Evan Chen's score for the series is unlikely to ever grow on me, I have to wonder if it couldn't be of Moradi origin. It would make a kind of metatextual sense that the odd music Crusade is set to would be this new-fangled stuff that came out of the data crystal and suddenly infused human culture.

Chambers and Gideon aren't the only ones to get a shot in the arm, on the characterization front, through the machinations of the plot. Dureena reveals that her family sold her into slavery as a child. It would have been the first time, chronologically, that Matheson would have been earmarked as a telepath, but also that he's a Catholic. The two sides of that equation are tested when he fails to act on a stray thought caught from the Modari. He's presented as someone who suffers deeply when he uses his powers and invades another person's privacy, but suffers even more when he DOESN'T and something bad happens. The addition to Max's character is rather less wholesome. It seems he's got a taste for alien pornography, and because JMS has this voyeuristic fixation, of course we have to see and hear a part of it. Not only that, but every character who sets eyes on the video becomes transfixed by it, because absolutely everyone is interested in Pak'ma'ra porn even when their lives are on the line. It's kind of lucky the rebel archivist found Mozart instead of Max's collection. Making Max squirm, because he is clearly ashamed of his "hobby", is fine. Making the audience squirm over this (again and again) is perhaps pushing it.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: There's a bounty hunter called Redjack. It's unclear whether he was ever Jack the Ripper.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The plot and characterization work in tandem so well, I can forgive its flaws more easily than usual.

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