It’s possible that I haven’t watched this episode since it first aired in ‘94. My son says that I did watch it when we last went through the whole series some years back, but I have no knowledge of it. I remember the ep, particularly the ending, but overall my memories were pretty squishy, which is unlike me. Maybe I left the room, or fell asleep? I do know that this was one of those episodes that I tended to avoid in reruns, much like the Space Hippies episode of TOS. There wasn’t much there to hold my interest.
Unlike the filthy Space Hippies, however, this episode isn’t gruelingly embarrassing, and while it’s basically a “The story so far” bottle show in a series that is clearly struggling to kill time until The Big Ideas kick in, it’s not all bad. Not bad at all, really, just a bit dull.
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Two guys turn up on the station, conspicuously asking questions about Commander Sinclair. When Garibaldi comes to check this out, they reveal themselves as Colonel Ari ben Zayn of Earthforce, and Harriman Grey of Psicorps. (Isn’t that a great name? “Harriman Grey?” Sounds like a 1930s hard-boiled detective. A shame it’s wasted in a one-off here). Ben Zayn is Internal Affairs, or “Eyes” as they’re called. They’re on the station to investigate senior officers and administer loyalty oaths – no, really! – in the wake of the bombing of Phobos Base, which Earthforce believes had inside help.
Ivanova reacts badly to this, and says she’ll resign if she’s forced to be scanned by Grey. Grey actually sympathizes, and he’s a genuinely sympathetic character, the first one we’ve really seen among telepaths. I know we’re supposed to believe Talia is a good guy, but she’s too cold and aloof to really make that impression. The best that can be said is that she’s not terrible, so Grey is our first positive. Ivanova has nighmares about her mom, and ultimately attempts to resign.
The whole investigation is a witch hunt, of course – because no reasonable investigation of people’s loyalties can ever be allowed on TV for some reason – and it turns out that ben Zayn was passed over for command of B5 in favor of Sinclair. He removes Sinclair from command and takes over himself, but all returns to normal when Sinclair is able to force the guy into a frenzy, at which point Grey realizes the man is a whackjob and shuts him down.
MEANWHILE, Garibaldi and Lannier build a motorcycle, in a subplot that pretty much screams “We need a subplot, but we don’t care about it at all!”
This is basically what Trek used to call “A bottle show.” It takes place entirely on standing sets, with no new effects or whatever. These were usually done when another episode in the season went over budget. Let’s say you’ve got a million bucks per episode to spend, and the episode ends up costing 1.1 million. The way to fix it is to make sure some other episode in the season only costs .9 million to film. Or, you can spread it over several episodes: Let’s say your blowout episode costs 2 million, you make that up by filming ten .9 million dollar episodes. Stargate: Atlantis was pretty notorious for this, with three big eps a year (season opener, midseason 2-parter, season finale) and sixteen “Walking in the woods” episodes. I exaggerate, but not by much. In any event, this episode was probably written to make up for the added costs of an episode like “Signs and Portents.”
Ben Zayn is performed in a very one-note stereotypical manner, but some of the things he says are interesting. What’s his obsession with Garibaldi, for instance? They’re adversarial from the getgo, but ben Zayn genuinely seems to trust and even like the guy.
At one point, Garibaldi refers to the Jewish colonel as “Colonel Ari ben Hitler.” Wow! Granted, the guy’s a jerk and all, but I can’t imagine anything more offensive to a Jew. I’m surprised that one got through the censors.
Zayn says he got his scar “In Israel,” and that he’s been involved in fighting at “New Jerusalem,” and “Cyrus III.” The latter is obviously a planet, but are they seriously still fighting in Israel that far into the future? I’m assuming “New Jerusalem” is probably a city in Israel, and not a planet as well.
Lots of continuity porn in this ep. Every episode of the series gets some kind of overt reference in the dialog. We’re told that this whole dog and pony show was set up by Mr. Bester, as revenge for the Psicop who got killed.
Ivanova’s nightmare is rather cloying and not very interesting, and not nearly as creepy as it’s intended to be. They get better at this sort of thing in the future. A glimpse we get into Londo’s dreams later on in the series is positively chilling in a way seldom seen outside of 1960s anthology shows. Here, though, it’s kinda lame. Basically she’s afraid of turning into her mom, and sharing her mom’s fate. There is a bit of foreshadowing in this. Wait for it.
I love Lennier! He’s genuinely interested in the people and places around him – remember, he’s been cloistered in a temple his entire life – and he loves finding out new stuff. He’s completely fascinated by the motorcycle. We’ll see more of Lennier paired up with odd people as the series progresses. It’s comedy gold. In one scene, Lennier is sitting on the floor chanting “Zabagabee Zabagabee Zabagabee.” Bill Mumy is also a professional musician, and was in a band called “The Generators” at the time. That was the name of their current album.
Just like Zima in “TKO,” the motorcycle in this episode was thought to be product placement. In fact, it wasn’t. Why do it, then? Perhaps to show some direct tie-in to the present world? Perhaps to demonstrate to potential investors how product placement would work? Who knows. In any event, we never see the bike, nor hear reference to it ever again. The scene of it driving along the corridor in the end is a fairly obvious CGI effect, since their insurance wouldn’t cover it running on-set.
Phobos is a moon of Mars, and a very logical place for a base. It’s basically already in a space station orbit. This is the first we’ve heard of independence movements and terrorist groups back home. “Free Mars” is the most prominent of these. We’re told that they exist on every human colony world (About two dozen total), and are gaining in power. In fact, here’s the total political picture: Earth Central – the government – is losing control, there’s the independence thing, which frequently overlaps with the terrorism thing, President Santiago is unpopular and attacked on all sides, and won re-election by the skin of his teeth, thanks primarily to a Psicorps endorsement which violated their charter. There’s anti-alien groups, and the economy is in the crapper. It’s much like our world, really.
Telepaths can not be used to check loyalty. It’s against the law. Also, Telepaths are forbidden to be in the military. I wonder why? That’d seem like an asset, unless it might divide their otherwise-obsessive loyalty to the Psicorps.
Gray says Ivanova’s thoughts of Talia Winters are very strong, so strong it’s hard not to pay attention to them. Can you guess why?
“Command Privilege” in Earthforce allows a commander to question new rules that seem, well, questionable, until after they’ve been reviewed by a board of five command-grade officers. It’s not a bad idea, really.
Curiously, ben Zayn’s uniform is a different color from anyone else’s, more like an Army green. Also, unlike anyone before or after him in the run of the show, he’s wearing U.S. Colonel’s rank on his epaulets. Odd. Much, much later on, Captain Lochley is promoted and wearing the same thing, though on the standard Blue uniform. I’d forgotten about them here until now. Earthforce Rank never makes any sense to me.
Jack and Lou Welch both show up, though curiously the
French Swiss chick doesn’t. Jack converses with the Colonel, though we can’t hear what he’s saying. Is this significant?
The third-in-command of the station is “Major Itumbe,” who isn’t seen here, and is never mentioned again.
“Airdome” is the Earthforce Pilot Academy. And hey! In the 23rd century, people still salute just like we do! Well, maybe a bit sloppier…
“LaGrange 2” is mentioned as being a significant space station “A stone’s throw from Mars.” If it’s a lagrange of Mars, it’d be as far away from the planet as the planet is from the sun. Hardly “A stone’s throw.”
We’re told gasoline engines were completely out of use by 2035. That probably seemed reasonable in 1994/95, but here in 2016, brother, it ain’t gonna happen.
Harriman Grey returns prominently in “Voices,” the first B5 novel, written by John Vornhort. I won’t be covering that one here, because it’s pretty terrible, and apart from one short paragraph (“Invisible Isabel”) it’s not at all canonical.
So, bottom line: Filler. This is the bread on the table before the steak comes. Don’t mistake it for the real meal.