RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “The Long Dark” (Season 2, Episode 5)

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This episode is better than I remembered. Still a little uneven, still got some stuff that doesn’t work, still doesn’t quite *feel* like a B5 episode, but it’s better than I remembered, and they get points for trying something new while they were still trying to find their footing after the big changes between the seasons.

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Amis, an apparently paranoid schizophrenic lurker living in down below, starts freaking out and frightening the other lurkers. Presently he starts preaching in the Zocalo about the day of judgment being at hand. Garibaldi arrests him for not having a Class C Missionary License. (I find that kind of cool!) He quickly realizes that Amis is harmless, and realizes that he’s a shell-shocked ex Gropo (Marine) from the war. He offers to help him find counselors, and admits that he’s kinda’ PTSD himself, but Amis don’t want no help. He maintains that there’s a monster on the station, and leaves.

Meanwhile, the “USS Copernicus,” a really, really old sleeper ship from the days before Jumpgates and contact with aliens, drifts by. Sheridan decides to bring it aboard when they realize one of the crew is still alive in cryonic suspension. Her name is “Mariah Cirrus,” which take the cake for most contrived name. Because “They call the wind Mariah” and “Cirrus” is a kind of cloud… Anyway, so they revive her, but her husband - the only other guy on board - died in transit, and his corpse is all screwy. Missing organs and whatnot.

Mariah and Dr. Franklin inappropriately bond unrealistically quickly, and smooch, despite her just being out of the tube, and just having found out that her husband is dead. Meanwhile, Garibaldi and Sheridan think she may have killed her husband. A Markab turns up dead, also missing organs, so they think she may have done it, but since Franklin was attempting to take advantage of a newly-widowed woman (Sarcasm: he’s actually trying not to. I was being funny), she’s off the hook.

The aliens call an Advisory Council meeting, and the Markab ambassador announces that there are legends of a monster that does this kind of thing, and they want Mariah dead. Sheridan does the whole “I don’t respond to threats” thing, and the dude backs down, seemingly actually contrite, like he realized a bit too late that he was overstepping his bounds. Nice! Londo blows this whole thing off, but G’kar takes it seriously.

Amis, meanwhile, turns out *not* to be a paranoid schizophrenic, but in fact he’s had contact with this particular monster before, during the war. He was part of a gropo intelligence unit set up to spy on the Minbari on an insignificant moon. They got attacked by this thing, and it killed and fed on everyone else.

Garibaldi: How did you survive?
Amis: I didn’t.
[Long pause]
It kept me alive to feed on until it found a way off the moon. When the rescue ship came, I weighed 85 pounds.

This is a really nice scene, well acted by both Jerry Doyle and Dwight Schultz. There’s some well played horror in his voice.

Anyway, his mental disorders appear to be partially caused because he’s still somehow connected to the thing. After some running around, this ability (in both him and Mariah) is used to track the beast. The good guys shoot it, which does nothing. They then shoot it a lot more, and it blows up. I can’t decide if that’s refreshing or disappointing.

In the coda, Mariah decides to head back to earth, we discover that G’Kar’s “Book of G’Quon” includes a picture of the monster they just fought, and Ivonova discovers that the flight plan of the Copernicus does indeed show that it passed by Amis’ moon, but then it changed course and was heading for…Z’ha’dum. Dum-duh-DUHHH!

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

This was an uneven episode. It was written by someone named “Mark Frost,” who wrote a couple episodes of “Twin Peaks” and two of “Andromeda,” but apart from that I know nothing about him. I can see why they bought this one, since every element of it clearly would have looked good on paper. The execution, though….well.

For instance, the Franklin/Mariah relationship happens too fast and too strong. I think we’re supposed to think that Mariah is taking advantage of him for her own ends, so he’ll cover for her, or whatever. Later on this would be revealed as a red herring. It doesn’t play out like that, though: basically it just seems uncomfortable and inappropriate. She doesn’t seem seductive (Though she’s plenty attractive), and he doesn’t seem to put up enough resistance. Once the red herring is revealed, she’s more-or-less incidental to the story, and jettisoned apart from two scenes, so, basically, all the Mariah scenes are unfulfilling and just don’t work. (I do, however, like her shock that her husband is dead, and then her even greater shock that she can’t cry. “Long-term stasis sometimes has that effect. It’s temporary.”)

Dwight Shultz - who played “Murdock” on “The A-Team” and “Mister Barkley” in the Trek franchise - ranges from Stagy to Really Good here. There was evidently some chatter about bringing him back in some subsequent episode, but I don’t know if that was ever a real thought, or just JMS being polite to a fan who asked about it, or what. In any event, I’m glad they didn’t.

Presumably, with the monster dead, Amis will be less crazy now, and maybe able to fit into life again.

Mariah must not have been possessed by the thing for very long, since it ate her husband, and it ate like half of Amis, but it doesn’t appear to have harmed her at all.

The monster was a servant of the darkness, and the servants of the darkness are re-assembling at Z’Ha’Dum, or trying to. Most of the alien races appear to know about these things, and this is yet another episode that shows how little the Earth Alliance has been paying attention. I mean, geez, guys, go to an alien library why don’t’cha. Sheesh.

The creature was invisible, and the final gunfight was obviously supposed to be reminiscent of the battle with the Monster of the Id from Forbidden Planet, but it just didn’t come off nearly as well.

Mario DiLeo directed this episode, and two more from the series. He’s primarily a cinematographer, which probably explains why this episode looked better than most, and it had a nice spooky air, but it must be said this wasn’t directed terribly well. I got the feeling it ran long, and they had to chop several minutes out of it to fit the allotted run time.

I think my real critique is that this feels more like an episode of the 1990s “Outer Limits” than it does a B5 episode.

I feel the “It was going to Z’ha’dum” tag at the end was gratuitous. Just saying the thing was in G’Kar’s bible was enough.

We know Garibaldi is an alcoholic, and paranoid. We find out in this ep that he’s also suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which entirely and believably fits with his character. I like his open mention that he’s been in therapy to cope with it, and in fact may still be. I like that there’s counselors on the station.

Franklin: “This isn’t the kind of place to raise a family.”
Why not? Why isn’t B5 a good place to raise a family?

Garibaldi: “You were about to accuse the Centauri ambassador of being in league with the devil, which may not be too far from the truth.”
Funny as that line is, how would Garibaldi know that?

Delenn, Keffer (Who?), Vir, Lennier (You happy, Jim?), Na’Toth, Corwin, nor Talia appear in this episode. It’s basically a Franklin/Garibaldi story. Though Sheridan and Ivonova are here, they seem pretty superfluous.

We learn a little earth history:

1) Suspended Animation Technology has been available for more than 100 years.
2) Humans have been a starfaring race for just about 100 years.
3) Humans didn’t develop FTL technology, but bought it from the Centauri
4) Human first contact was with the Centauri. We already knew this, but we didn’t know when, and the rest of it was new.
5) There was a manned Interstellar Exploration program in the late 22nd century using sleeper ships
6) The United States existed as a distinct political entity up until around 100 years prior to the show
7) There were indications sapient alien life *may* have existed prior to first contact, but nothing clear.

SCIENTIFIC ANOMALIES

B5 is in the Epsilon Eridani solar system, ten and a half light years from earth. This never made much sense, but whatever. The Copernicus obviously couldn’t have been traveling very fast. It took between 12 and 15 years to get from Amis’ moon to B5. There’s no reason to assume it can travel anywhere near light speed, of course, but within 15 LY of B5 there are only 36 stars. Reasonably, then, whatever solar system Amis’ moon belonged to must have been pretty close. In fact, the closest star to Epsilon Eridani is 5 LY away, which means that the Copernicus must have been traveling at close to half light speed.

The best candidate, then, is Tau Ceti, 12 LY from earth, and 5.4 LY from B5. But if this is the case, and if the ship could travel around half-C, then why did it take like 85 or 90 years to get 12 LY, and only like 10 or 15 to go 5 LY? It doesn’t make any logical sense.

Nor does it make any logical sense that the beastie would be trying to get to Z’Ha’Dum on this bucket. It’s target was on the rim of explored space, hundreds of light years from B5. Presumably it would take thousands of years to get there.

Clearly these were things neither the writer nor the producer were aware of, nor cared about. No big deal, I’m just being pedantic.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

No reason not to.

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