Babylon 5 #123: Appearances and Other Deceits

"Damn, Eilerson was right about all of this. I hate it when he’s right. He’ll be insufferable for days."
IN THIS ONE... Excalibur gets a PR make-over. An alien entity spreads through the crew like a mind virus.

REVIEW: It's really too bad this episode is saddled with a lame subplot to explain why the production design is about to change for the last few episodes, because it otherwise rather good. The explain the whole uniform situation... They started filming with cheap gray uniforms, then TNT gave them more money so they could get the characters into something more appealing, but then imposed a broadcast order that put the better-looking stuff up first, in essence putting their best visual foot forward, but at the same time, insuring the series would take a sudden turn for the worst. Never mind that it made the time line incoherent and made it necessary for scenes that explain the change (were they, though? necessary?). So here we have PR experts acting like glorified home decorators, and Gideon making all sorts of disparaging comments about the "new" (actually old) uniforms. The plan was to go back to the "old (new) uniforms after airing the first half of the season, in similarly pointless scenes, I'm sure. But watching it without this knowledge, it's a case of "here's a big change! Also: Here's how the change sucks!" which isn't a good way to get viewers on board. Or what it actually sounds like is JMS' classic "my overlords are making me do this, so I'll insert my dissenting opinion in the script!" If you're in the know, then fine, and those gray uniforms with the fascist collars really are pretty bad, though they're certainly less SeaQuest. You still have to sit through the home decorating guy's arch flamboyantly gay performance though. Ugh. And once again Earth seems interested in things it shouldn't while its entire population is on the line.

Aside from the use of Welles (played by John "Neroon" Vickery, a Nightwatch guy who appeared in The Fall of Night, so quite the survivor, politically) as one of the PR men - and expanding his role as alien spokesperson - the subplot doesn't serve the main story very well. In fact, even Welles' inclusion may be a misstep. Imagine the sequence of events if someone in the main cast had been taken over by the alien mind virus instead. As is, there's certainly a good creep factor and lots of tension, but it could have felt more personal and visceral with, say, Dureena or Matheson in the role. The idea of a brain wave overwrite goes hand in hand with one of my worst fears, the death of self (yes, I know other people are afraid of spiders, or height, or whatever, what can I say?). It's something I find genuinely disturbing. It's a "pod people" story and a pretty clever one, with striking imagery (the chain of dead aliens floating inside a space hulk, for example) and some chills (like how an alien can jump ship and create a hostage).

The solution isn't QUITE as well thought out as the premise, but it my complaints are fairly minor. I'm not entirely sure why Gideon doesn't tell Max, Matheson and Chambers his plan before going down to the infected deck, for example (though the way Max just talks and talks, you could forgive the captain for not trusting him to stay quiet), nor am I necessarily on board with the poor paralyzed security guard being sacrificed without his consent. Geez. A speech about how security officers have signed up to give their lives if need be doesn't quite cut it, guys. Then again, it adds to the episode's creepiness, and the sequence is well enacted, with Gideon triumphant, and well supported by his team. And hey, for once the sound design is justified in dropping the voices out.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE:
New uniforms in gray? They've been poaching from Star Trek again, right down to the red highlights on the captain.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- Well, for Crusade anyway. A tight little SF thriller with a creepy premise, but a nowhere subplot.

2 comments:

Jayunderscorezero said...

Is this the one with "The air is human"? This is the first episode of Babylon/Crusade that I actually have a distinct memory of watching. To be fair, I was about 7 when B5 debuted and 13, I think, when Crusade came out, so a bit more receptive to the franchise...just as it was coming to an end.

Siskoid said...

Yes, that's the one.

 

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