Babylon 5 #84: The Face of the Enemy

"I don't know, but I think the last guy got 30 pieces of silver for the same job."
IN THIS ONE... Garibaldi betrays Sheridan. Bester activates and explains Garibaldi's programming. Franklin and Lyta bring the Shadow-modified telepaths to Mars.

REVIEW: Director Michael Vejar (my favorite) is almost impossibly restrained in the first half of this episode, but that's I think to create a greater contrast between those early scenes and the ones past Garibaldi's Biblical betrayal of Sheridan. It makes sense. When Sheridan is winning ships over to his side and it's all going "too well" even in his own estimation, the camera is steady, what it photographs is clear. It gets interesting when Sheridan goes to Mars to rescue his father with Garibaldi's help, and suddenly, the camera is on a covert mission, only with difficulty catching sight of the incognito captain. Fighting through tranquilizers and the shock of Garibaldi's treachery, Sheridan has one of the best bar brawls I've ever seen, with Vejar smacking us around with every trick in the book. It's brutal and visually impressive, making use of strobe lights, still photography, distortion, slow motion, and a rocking atmospheric soundtrack that gives the scene even more importance. Vejar will in fact use stills three ways. Here to highlight Sheridan's distorted point of view, again as fragments of Garibaldi's broken psyche, and finally as crime scene pictures leaked from the grisly murder of Edgars. There's brutality in this too, even though we're not shown the attack, and in Sheridan's treatment of course, slyly edited in with propaganda reports to the contrary.

After Garibaldi betrays Sheridan, he must betray Edgars (and by extension, Wade and Lise). He doesn't want to as he agrees with Edgars' agenda, but this is actually part of PsiCorps' programming. FINALLY, ANSWERS! The whole point was for Garibaldi to report any threat to PsiCorps, and everything that's happened has been poison fruit from that tree. His paranoia accentuated by the deep implant, he came to distrust Sheridan (who was possibly Bester's original target, seeing as he held his Shadow-modified lover), which in turn led him to people opposed to Sheridan who had plans of their own for telepaths. It seems a bit coincidental, but PsiCorps did contact Garibaldi from time to time to push him in certain directions they thought fertile. Garibaldi's instincts did the rest. As it turns out, Edgars is considering genocide. His last line of dialog is brilliant, choking on "the telepath problem", realizing he is paraphrasing the Nazis. Wonderful. After that, Bester makes contact and lets Garibaldi have all his memories back, telling the whole story we've been wanting to know. It's JMS' weakest piece of writing in the episode (assisted by great lighting and camera choices though), and I get the feeling some plans were changed given the various convolutions that must take Garibaldi out of the Shadows' hands and into Bester's, but whether you believe Bester would let Garibaldi live with all this knowledge or not, the angsty pay-off is great. Will Judas now find a rope to hang himself?

To cover a few others bits and pieces... Lyta suffering prejudice from Number One on Mars keeps the focus on telepaths, but isn't too interesting. Lyta is the show's most consistent martyr, and could join the X-Men at this point (because Wade calls the telepaths "homo superior" - which should have prompted a call from Marvel's lawyers - so they obviously exist in the same universe). Delenn is back from Minbar, and aware of Sheridan's fall through some intriguing psychic bond. But it's Ivanova's subplot that most captures my imagination. Finally she's out of the broadcaster's chair and in a position to show some badassery, and though their opponents are convinced they'll fall back with Sheridan caught, it couldn't be farther from the truth. You can lose a man, but you can't lose a mission.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: The big betrayal on Deep Space 9 isn't as personal - Michael Eddington (yes, another Michael) betrays Sisko (also become a religious figure) to the Maquis.

- Vejar always elevates the material given him, and this is on the whole some mighty fine material. A lot of things here have been a long time coming and don't disappoint.


Ryan Lohner said...

Throughout this episode you get a feeling that everything is spinning out of control, and it's impossible to predict what will happen next. And there's a good reason for that: this is where season 4 was intended to end. That also means the Garibaldi plotline you got so bored with would have gone even longer, but I imagine there also would have been more twists thrown in to keep it interesting that had to be scrapped.

Throughout the show's 110 episodes and five movies, there were only 18 times the shooting went into overtime. And one of those came here, when JMS was horrified to discover that Mike Vejar had spent a whole day shooting just the scene of Sheridan's capture. Vejar insisted it would be worth it, and asked that JMS not even watch the dailies, and just wait until the final cut. By then they'd established such a good relationship that JMS was willing to do it, and upon seeing that final cut he quickly ran out into the hall to flag down anyone in sight, telling them they had to watch it too. Yeah, it was worth it, and is one of the show's all time best moments.

Bester the exposition fairy is definitely a bit cringe-worthy, but I'm absolutely willing to put it down to the time crunch to wrap up the story in just a few more episodes. And hey, anyone who was getting sick of the show's penchant for people remaining utterly silent while someone gives a long speech, here's a case where it's entirely justified!

Siskoid said...

Haha, yeah I had the same thought.

JMS is definitely playing within comic book conventions when he lets his characters soliloquize like that.

LiamKav said...

In a world where season 4 wasn't so rushed, I'd have liked to have seen a bit more of Sheridan's side gathering troops. I know we had "No Surrender, No Retreat" devoting the entire episode to it, but two episodes later we're at more Earth Alliance ships being on Sheridan's side than ever before. And it's all happening behind the scenes. I can infer easily enough, but I think I'd have liked to have seen more.

Mike Vejar's directing is amazing. He seems to be one of the few (if only) directors shared between B5 and Trek.

As to Garibaldi's betrayl... it's a brave thing to do, to reveal that one fo your four main characters hasn't been himself all season. Considering that at this point JMS thought he'd have 5 years, that means that Garibaldi wouldn't have been Garibaldi for a whole quarter of the shows length. When DS9 did anything remotely similar (with Bashir being replaced), it only did it for a handful of episodes, and Bashir was still written the same for all those bar the last two. In some ways it's great, but in others it's also frustrating. Is the (really good) payoff worth it? I'm not sure.

I'm also not sure I buy the convultions. The Shadows planned to turn Sheridan, and if that didn't work kill him, Ivanova, Delenn and then take Garibaldi to turn him. Except that they didn't kill Sheridan... he blew up their main city. I'm pretty sure they left because they were thinking "oh shit what's happened?!" not "hey, looks like Sheridan is dead. We can go". And if their plan was to kill Ivanova and Delenn, why not blow up the station they are currently on?

And I'm still annoyed that apart from some vague mutterings, no-one thought that the captured and mysteriously returned Garibaldi, who was acting really out of character, might have been altered? They have Bester cover himself with "We don't want it to be picked up by a scan", except that no-one ever did scan him, making it even more frustrating. Argh!


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