Babylon 5 #77: Racing Mars

"My pilots don't have accidents." "They will. I'll see to it." "You wouldn't." "I've got a 200-megawatt pulse cannon in the forward cargo bay that says otherwise."
IN THIS ONE... Franklin and Marcus make contact with rebels on Mars (1st appearance of Number One). Sheridan and Garibaldi have words. Ivanova talks to smugglers. And Delenn consummates her relationship with Sheridan.

REVIEW: What I might come to call a "service episode", by which I mean one that advances a number of plots, adds a dash of humor, but doesn't really tie its different threads into a coherent theme. As such, it is perfectly pleasant, just not groundbreaking. Comedy is definitely on the agenda, whether it's Ivanova giving Sheridan the boot out of his own office, or her pushing the smugglers around with her usual dry wit, or Franklin and Marcus getting forged passes to Mars as a married couple (another progressive bit of futurism is Garibaldi's mention of a female pope), or even Sheridan finding out a night of wild passion with Delenn is a ritual attended by several stoic Minbari. And it mostly works, letting the characters' personalities be the catalyst for the humor. When it doesn't, it's either that Marcus is written as a inconsequential chatterbox (at least Franklin's reaction is genuinely funny), or someone is badly characterized for the sake of the joke (Sheridan shouting "who-hoo" during sex is patently ridiculous, as is a disapproving Lennier bringing it up afterwards).

As for drama, we have the conflict between Sheridan and Garibaldi, which has been coming since The Illusion of Truth. Seems Garibaldi is still talking trash about his old C.O., and they even have very public fights and come to blows. When dissident elements approach Garibaldi to rope him into their plans, it makes you think, oh, it's all a ruse set up by the two men so traitors can be exposed and infiltrated (and he meets them a couple times, because JMS likes to make his points several times). But no, both men have sincere reactions to all this in private. So we're back to the old question of what's up with Garibaldi because there's very little in Sheridan's behavior that warrants this kind of anger. The answer is PsiCorps programming, I suppose, but we need a little more meat on that bone moving ahead.

On Mars, more or less the B5 equivalent of a frontier town in the Old West, our boys meet up with the resistance, by way of an annoying character called Captain Jack who, like other Captain Jacks we know, has an unnatural accent... a TERRIBLE one. Not all Americans were born to do Cockney. No worries, the Captain dies by the end of the episode, but interestingly, he has one of those parasites on him... Is it the same kind of creature we'll one day find on Londo? At least a cousin, but we don't get an eye opening, so who knows. Does speak to this kind of parasite's unremovability though. The character to watch is actually Number One, played by Marjorie Monaghan with certain manly swagger. Between that, her icy tone and husky voice, she makes an impressive resistance leader, if not exactly an expressive one. Are they really teasing a romance between this Amazon and Doc Franklin?

Kira will eventually be sent off to work with a resistance cell, but that's still in DS9's future. Hey, what is it with blond bombshells with numbers for names? In the future, Star Trek will have Seven of Nine, and Battlestar Galactica will have Six. Of course, "Number One" WAS a Star Trek character first, but not of a blond complexion (The Cage, and later, the equally swaggering Riker).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some pleasant comedy, action and drama, though it fails where the irritating Captain Jack is concerned, and a few others moments besides.


Madeley said...

For a fairly incosequential episode, this one's pretty significant for me because it's an illustration of how important science fiction can be. It's a latter day example, I think, for how SF can change the way people think about the world, and makes me understand how important the progressive messages in the original Star Trek must have been.

I was a teenager in the mid-Nineties, relatively knowledgable about politics thanks to a politically-switched-on family, very left wing and liberal even then. Yet the concept of gay people being able to marry literally did not occur to me. Not because I thought it shouldn't happen- not even because I came from a family who disapproved of homosexuality, because my immediate family are very progressive- but because as a concept it did not exist to me (and that's privilege in action for you, right there.)

So this throwaway concept in B5, used basically for humour, was like being hit by lightning. OF COURSE gay people should be able to marry. Of course that would be the norm in the future. It was a complete revelation.

JMS has been praised and criticised for whatever was going on with Talia and Ivanova (for what it's worth, for me, watching the scene where Ivanova reaches over to the empty spot in her bed clearly implied they were lovers. So clearly that I don't really understand how it can be taken as anything else). But this small gesture was the most important thing B5 ever did, to my mind.

At the time, I really did think it would take 250 years for us to get that far. Less than 20 years later, where I'm from anyway, we're almost there.

Ryan Lohner said...

JMS says much the same about this one, describing it as a "furniture moving" episode that mainly exists so that future episodes can build on what it sets up. And you can really feel him struggling to come up with things to say about it, to the point where he pretty much just ignores the main plot.

One thing there is a lot to say about, of course, is the portrayal of human prejudices in the future being redirected outward. I may have said this before but I can't recall: his major thesis was that upon being confronted with all kinds of different aliens, humans would tend to start seeing other humans as normal whatever their race, sex, or orientation. So we get this quietly subversive storyline where all the humor of the situation comes from Marcus and Franklin's personal issues with each other, rather than "They have to be gay, isn't that wacky?"

And oddly enough, the show didn't get one word of complaint about it, as JMS was fully prepared for. What he wasn't prepared for was how many people would take offense to the offhand reference to a female Pope, which got a bigger response than any other single line in the show's run, with people still writing in to this day accusing him of trying to bring down the Church, when as he puts it, if he really wanted to do that he could have hit a hell of a lot harder.

Anyway, "What would you have us do, show them swishing down the halls?" Suck it, Rick Berman.

Siskoid said...

Madeley: That's a great story! I guess I never thought much about it because my mom always had gay friends growing up. I don't know how I learned they were gay or what it meant, or how I was convinced of equal marriage rights or whatever. I just don't have that memory. It could be an after school special for all I know.

Ryan: Yes you've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating.

And I do hate the misogyny propagated by some religions, don't you?

LiamKav said...

Marcus has had a complete 180 degree character change from the guy in Matters of Honor who said "I don't speak unless I have something to say." I wonder how much JMS had sketched him out in advance. Franklin's "And that's when I shot him, your honour" made me laugh out loud.

Sheridan apparently doesn't own any DVDs, and all the TV channels are blocked (even the porn ones! Harsh!) Also, he should have probably invited Michael for dinner, either in his quarters or at the Resh Air Restaurant or something, rather than trapping him in a hallway.

When Wade(I think that's his name) tries to recruit Garibaldi, he tells Michael that Sheridan's approach isn't good for Earth, the president etc... Garibaldi's complaints have nothing to do with the actual secession from Earth. They're based around his belief that Sheridan has a god-complex. If his complaints were genuine, he should have walked away there and then.

I love the idea that the regular people on Mars (and by association, lots of other planets) have no idea that there was a big war involving ancient races and the destiny of the universe.

The Ivanova and the smugglers scene goes great, right up until the end and "you seeing anyone, Ivanova?" I love Claudia Christian, but I can do without her double takes and the "wa wa waaaa" music.

Siskoid said...

On that last part, we certainly agree!


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