Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 5: The Long Dark

Talk about playing catch up! I did watch this a while ago, then got distracted by some stuff (like a remodeling project that’s still not quite finished and work for money that’s not quite finished to pay for said remodeling project), but I was appropriately skeeved out by the doctor. A few weeks later, after rewatching it, I was even more skeeved out by him. Which doctor? you ask. This doctor.

I’ve liked him in every episode so far, but this one has wrecked his image for me for a while. He was downright predatory, and pushy, and totally out of line. I don’t know if he was supposed to be some kind of foil for the beast that preys and feeds on its victims, but Dr. Franklin went after Mariah almost instant. If not exactly harassing her, he paid her way too much professional attention and totally exploited their relationship. It was unpleasant to watch. I was relieved when Captain Sheridan got all pissy with him about someone else being on trail duty when they weren’t sure if Mariah was the predator sucking people’s organs.

It doesn’t help that Mariah was cast from the beginning as an abandoned princess in peril who needed rescuing. The first we see of her is from inside her head, where she is being attacked by what is basically a dragon. The next we see of her she is being lifted out of her glass coffin a la Snow White, wearing a long white dress that stands in either for a bridal gown or a night gown, but is definitely no power garment. She’s a widow. She’s from an earlier era. She’s far away from everyone she knows, a victim of a scary monster and a failed quest, and she’s a little unhinged. Maybe she was a little unhinged before she went into cryo (you’d sort of have to be, although she wasn’t expecting to be asleep for a century), but–temporal displacement shell shock aside—she’s kind of simpery and damsel in distressy. Blame her mother, blame the authors, blame a director–it doesn’t matter. What matters is how the doctor swoops on her in an instant to consume her. He’s there holding her hand… he’s the one that tells her she’s lost her husband… he’s the one consoling her… he’s the one who catches her when she swoons… he’s the one who escorts her back to his quarters… he’s the one making googly eyes at her… She is definitely at a disadvantage here, and he is making the most of it. The best part is when she is finally broken down by his advances and has convinced herself that she has feelings for him, and he chides her–HE chides HER–for moving too fast. She’s on the defensive with him and he has restored the imbalance of power. It’s disgusting. I frankly don’t mind at all that she’s running away from the station on the next ship Earth-bound.

I hope to god this is an unfortunate anomaly in his character, because there is something very insidious about having a doctor you can’t trust. Sure, he’s got lots of aides and other medical staff, and they could call him out before he got away with too much. The captain certainly isn’t afraid to speak up once he’s aware of what’s going on, but if there hadn’t been a scary monster on the loose no one would be paying attention to any doctor-patient relationships. But I’m guessing it’s an anomaly. Thirteen years of Lifetime movies about men who abuse their positions of power to exploit women have basically undermined this kind of plot point, but when it first aired the undertones were probably not even thought about. It probably read charmingly in 1995. Besides, they need the doctor to balance out the military/security/political triumvirate action they’ve got with Sheridan/Garibaldi/Ivanova. Dr. Franklin is the disinterested scientific guy who nonetheless is high-enoughed ranked to have real input in the management of the station. Unless I am predicting this wrong again, but I know from other means that Dr. Franklin appeared on a spin-off, and it would be hard to reveal him as a villain now and still have a reason to put him on another show in the same universe.

But I suck at predictions, as I have already well demonstrated. Who knows?

So we’ve got Mariah now third on the list of women who are not on the B5 station but who have a compelling male reason to maybe return someday, who we might see again. There’s Londo’s little dancer, there’s Garibaldi’s ex, and now the doctor’s infatuation. All of them have reasons to show and reasons to stay away. Makes it interesting to watch what happens.

Garibaldi and Amis, now–their story was interesting. It ties directly into that ancient texts speak of current dangers shit that I love so much on shows and in books (most recently like in Battlestar Galactica), and I like how his version of going crazy is turning on Soapbox Preacher. I guess the battle as he describes it is like hell fire and armageddon, and the battalion as he describes it is the height of hubris, but his ranting preacher is comical. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t think his character is comical at all. Dwight Schultz is a great guest star. I don’t know if he was famous first and it was some kind of coup to have him on the show (as I am sure Winnie Cooper was), but the acting we get out of him is natural and believable and so, so sad. Putting him against the backdrop of the stilted roles and stiff dialogue we get from the other actors makes him look like a character from a much better movie. (I first encountered that phrase on IMDb regarding the Child Snatcher from the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang discussion boards, and I’ll never be able to find it again, but I do want to give what credit is due to whoever coined it. It’s such a useful concept, and it describes perfectly both the Child Snatcher and Amis.) I believed every line he spoke. I knew him. I was so glad he got the chance to fight his inner demons (while fighting them externally) and I was very happy that he wasn’t sacrificed to the demon before it could be conquered. I’d like to see him again. I don’t really expect to. One assumes that he’ll be able to pull his life together now and I can’t see what there is on Babylon 5 for him to stick around for. He’d certainly have to overturn a lot of potential friend and employers’ preconceived notions of him, and I’m figuring he’s got actual friends and family waiting for him somewhere that he has been too sick to reunite with.

So, yeah. Dwight Schultz. After looking him up online I guess I do recognize him from Star Trek: Voyager, but he has officially moved into my consciousness. Now if I’m cruising the channels (broadcast or cyberspace) and see his name affiliated with something, I’ll probably watch it. Yay, Amis!

RANDOM THOUGHTS
Best line of the episode goes to G’Kar, though: “The future is not what it once was.” G’Kar may be my favorite character now, partly for what he knows, what he can tell us, and how he is handling it.

Interesting portrayal of the homeless on the station. One gets so much from Star Trek about stations being places in which every person is guaranteed a role or a purpose. Battlestar Galactica has addressed the ugliness of displacement, but it is a catastrophe situation… most of those people are transients because they were actually in transit when they lost their homes. B5 mostly glosses over the station’s underclass, but it scores points by broaching the subject, and in a sympathetic way.

When Sheridan is storming out of the court room or whatever place it is that they are hearing complaints, the pockets on his pants really break up his silhouette. Too bad. It’s easy to make fun of Picard’s jumpsuit when you see some guy wearing a costume at a convention, but the lines are sleek and smooth when Patrick Stewart wears them. It’s just not the same effect when you’ve got Bruce Boxleitner in Dockers. Sorry. Made me smirk. (Because my fashion silhouette, you know, is always flawless.)

Interesting to hear the humans discuss the “alien community” instead of just “the community.” Everyone on the station is afraid of an organ-sucking monster; the us and them prejudices are still there, though. I know this human/alien camaraderie thing is new. I’m not blaming the characters for still feeling like humans first and then members of the community second. I get the impression that the aliens have all known about each other for a while, and thing of themselves and then the humans, too.

I’ve been sort of stoked to see Babylon 5 mentioned on a blog about Mad Men that I read, and to see Bruce Boxleitner on Heroes. It’s like everything lately has been conspiring to make me feel bad for getting behind here. And to feel bad about getting behind here when I am so far behind my work for money reveals quite a bit about my character, I guess.

So those are my thoughts. Now that I’ve written about this episodes, I can let all the ugliness slip away. I’ve been really motivated to watch the next episode, but I didn’t let myself until I reported here. I don’t want to get out of the habit! I really have been busy. But I have a lot of dishes to wash tonight, even if I’m not cooking. They sort of snowball on you when you least expect it. God bless laptops, wireless technology, high-speed internet, and Hulu.com!

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Comments

  • nevermore  On October 7, 2008 at 9:17 am

    Yeah, our dear doctor does have his flaws. Interesting to read your thoughts about Mariah being the damsel in distress – when the episode first aired, there were complaints about her being much too tough; people thought a person suddenly waking up all alone 100 years in the future was bound to go insane.

    A note for two episodes about to come: “Soulmates” and “A race through dark places” (#7 and #8) on the disks (and presumably on Hulu) were supposed to be aired in the reverese order, but the network switched them. “A race through dark places” was supposed to come first; if you have the chance, I’d recommend you watch it first. After you’ve seen them you’ll know why. Makes much more sense continuity-wise.

  • Karen  On October 7, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for the heads up. The website does have the episodes listed in air-date order, or the opposite of what you said, so I will plan accordingly. Point the second.

    What? Too tough? What? She’s all ruffles and lace and teary eyes. That criticism just doesn’t make any sense. (I believe you that people said that at the time.) You want to come up with some physical, neurological reason that 100 years in cryostasis breaks your brain so that you never quite function right afterwards, fine. And we leave the character before the full ramifications hit her; she could still have a psychological breakdown in a few weeks or months. But I think you can be in shock and still talk to people without screaming and see aliens next to humans. She isn’t really all alone, and she has people to talk to her, and they were exploring anyway. It’s all probably going to be Lala Land until she sets foot on Earth and then it’ll hit her.

    Right now she’s just dealing with being a widow among strangers. And some of those strangers are very, very strange.

  • nevermore  On October 7, 2008 at 11:49 am

    I didn’t quite understand the criticism (“should have gone insane”) either. Earlier in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home there was Dr. Gillian Taylor, the biologist, who was taken to the 23rd century. Granted, she knew where she was about to end up and at least had met Kirk for a few times, but still – she didn’t go insane either.

    Which makes me I wonder … if one is stuck into a multi-generation ship, how does one prepare? The 100 years clearly seemed a surprise to her, though she should’ve expected to wake up much, much later. To her credit, there was the alien presence she didn’t know what to make of and perhaps she really feared she’d go insane.

  • nevermore  On October 7, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    One additional point – though I really appreciate that B5 doesn’t put the female characters into catsuits and (ab-)uses them as a&t ratings boosters, and I also appreciate the efforts to portray female characters that aren’t just nurses, ships governesses, ex-terrorists etc., it’s still clear that B5 is basically a men’s world. It’s mostly men who are in charge and a lot of the old role models hold up. It is less pronounced in the later seasons, and the strongest female character is probably Delenn. I think part of the problem are the freelance writers (usually these elements tend to show up more in the freelance scripts than in the JMS scripts) and part of it is a generations problem. I think that even with the best intentions it’s difficult for a male writer/producer born in the 1950s to shake off the influences of his generation entirely.

  • Karen  On October 7, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Word that, to use the vernacular.

    Even Ivanova lacks real authority. I mean, she has it, and uses it as well as someone with her experience can (I’m thinking of the lapse between commanders) but she is really treated in many ways as a child by Garibaldi and Sinclair, maybe less so Sheridan (because Sheridan knows she has had command, if only for a short while). Talia is an unremarkable member of a corrupt organization, and I agree with you about Delenn.

    The most interesting portrayal of a woman to date was that disgraced doctor using alien technology as alternative medicine. She found something extraordinary, saw a very practical (albeit coded as “female” and “nurturing” and “sacrifice” use for it, and set herself up in business. When called out for it, she relied on her own authority to justify its use, and she bargained with the official authorities when she had to. She’s a very good role model in a lot of ways. It bugs me that it plays into the alt med/”Western” med “controversy, but at least she had evidence and results. It just wasn’t particularly safe. But, you know… guest star.

  • nevermore  On October 7, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Well, as for Susan, as I pointed out earlier, she’s only 28 or 29 at that point (and all of the men are more than 10 years her seniors), so I can forgive that. Putting the show in the perspective of the 90s, and comparing it to its contemporaries, I can forgive a lot :) Being female (as you might’ve guessed) the a&t or governess portrayal of women in other shows bothers much more. I’d much rather have Ivanova than Kira Nerys, Jadzia Dax, Capt. Janeway or 7of9, or even farscape’s Chiana and Z’aan. But I agree that as much as it’s an improvement, it’s still a men’s world. Just keep a close eye on Delenn and the underlying dynamics of her … relationships :)

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