Dr. Franklin meets with General Franklin, war is on everybody’s minds, and the fleeting nature of life is all too prescient. Welcome my friends. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
1. Sir Yes Sir
I think I might hate the military’s style of discipline. I know there’s that school of tough love that traffics in the gruff, traditional masculinity wherein the COs are harsh and brutal to toughen you up for when it matters, which is how they show they care, but I don’t buy it. There’s certainly an element of that but it’s often a loud, obnoxious power trip that is there to feed the ego of the machine and the officer. Does it work for a military setting? 100%. But that’s because war is awful and brutal and harsh and makes whatever the CO throws at you seem like the cushiest treatment in the world.
I was thinking about this a lot this episode because of how often you see this trope in military films, stories, etc. as well as the proliferation of those stories and their popularity. What about them is so appealing to us as a culture and an audience? Why do we keep going back to it, holding it up on this pedestal without interrogating it? I say this not to knock “GROPOS” because this episode does just that. It asks what happens when you transplant that harshness outside of the specific conditions that created it, and what havoc does it wreak.
For Doctor Franklin, it broke his relationship with his father. For Delenn, it provided a breeding ground for the types of people who would harass and demonize her for her looks, her heritage and who they believe she is (which was portrayed in a less than stellar fashion.) For everyone else on the station, it brings a layer of constant fear and worry, that the horrors of war are, perhaps, closer than they might otherwise be. For what is war, if not the imposition of an idea through violence and control.
2. Forgive Me Son, For I Have Sinned
The relationship between Doctor Franklin and General Franklin is the A-plot, even as the military presence aboard the station seems to be more ever present (25,000 soldiers!) This means we’re given plenty of time with the two of them, both together and apart, and thus we are given windows into who they are when they aren’t next to each other, illuminating their humanity and what strains them from two different, independent vantage points; this is the power of a third person, limited perspective, one that TV 99% of the time is set in.
I bring this up because in life, we’re NEVER given this opportunity — to view the people we love but enrage us because of who they are and what they’ve done from a distance, free of our own personal trains of thought and preconceptions. It’s impossible to step outside oneself. Think about the times when you’ve noticed two friends who clearly have crushes on each other but just don’t see it, and both come to you separately to figure out if the other likes them but tells you not to tell the other, so you give vague but hopefully helpful advice. . .and then you find you’ve been oblivious to the very same feeling that they believed was obvious.
. . .I seem to have gotten off track.
What I was trying to get to is that watching Doctor and General Franklin interact, and then decompress apart from each other, is enlightening because we get to glimpse what they truly think of each other, what they perceive to be the other’s, and their own, failings, and what they wish to fix. It’s also some of the first real backstory we get for Doctor Franklin and the first real personal connection he’s had, something all the rest of the main crew has been given by this point.
And it’s executed with the right balance of grace and melodrama, as well as tying in very nicely to Ivanova’s arc with her father. I love how that arc comes into play in an organic and natural way, not made up for the sake of expediency, and it’s presented just as it would were this a conversation between, for example, my and my friends.Continued below
3. I’ve Come Here to Do Two Things, and I Can’t Do Either One With My Clothes On
OK, so, let’s talk Dodger. At first, I was very confused by her throwing herself at Garibaldi. He’s not exactly Mr. Square-Jawed, Hollywood hunk but, then again, neither is 99% of the world’s population and this is a show that is trying its damnedest to feel real, so I can buy that there are people who find themselves quite randy at the sight of Garibaldi. But it was the puppy dog, manic pixie dream girl-esque energy that threw me for a loop. What was the purpose of this character? Was it to simluate that pulp trope ala Star Trek’s Kirk fucking anyone with boobs?
Well, I should’ve gotten my head out of my ass because where it went is much better and a far more interesting exploration of both Garibaldi’s insecurities and the soldier’s life through Dodger. Why does Dodger throw herself at Garibaldi? Because she wanted a one-night stand and Garibaldi seemed like as good a person as ever to do it with. She is a soldier, a ground pounder, never knowing if the next battle will be her last, and in the meantime, she wants to do the things she won’t be able to do out on the battlefield. She wants to live a little — fuck our assumptions.
This event is used to further Garibaldi’s arc, though. He has intimacy issues, guarded and afraid of letting people in. He’s got to be distrustful as head of security but in his personal life, he’s still got walls and baggage that must be dealt with. Dodger didn’t sign up for that and Garibaldi didn’t realize that, perhaps because what he was looking for did not match what she was. It’s a nice clash of desires, providing the requisite drama for the plot and a resolution that works for both. Is it romance? Not necessarily. Instead, it’s a start and a second chance.
4. Three Soldiers Walk Into a Bar Fight
Keffer is still the odd duck character of the title crew, having not too much to do but clearly an additional focal point, more street level, with which to view the events of the series. This week sees him chatting things up with two of the ground pounders he’s been forced to room with and over the course of the episode, learning to call them friends. It’s nice, giving us a little more discussion of the fears and mindsets of these characters, changing them from a faceless army to people in our eyes.
. . .which makes the ending all the more heartbreaking.
5. What Price Glory?
A secret entry into a civil war, the choice to attack a heavily fortified stronghold, and battle plans created despite the warnings of those knowledgeable in the region. A recipe for disaster, one the episode treats as such, casting a pall over the whole event, allowing the worry for these characters we are growing close to to mount. We are with Doctor Franklin and the station members watching that broadcast, wanting to know how the battle went. . .and who survived. We feel the relief in Doctor Franklin when he sees his father again and the despair in Garibaldi and Keffer as they look at the list of the war dead.
They won the battle, yes, but who was lost and how do the ones who lived feel about it. We do not know what General Franklin is thinking, although it seems that he has changed his stance to be a softer, more regretful one. He has picked up his son’s understanding of the preciousness of life, both those on the other side and the ones he sends in, cheaply, greasing the wheels of war. It is an unfortunate reflection of reality. Of all the people we grew to learn about and hope the best for, who survived?
The ones who made the plans that spent lives like paper money.
That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for the halfway point of the season, a space kidnapping, the coalescing of a secret investigation, and Delenn wrestling with the inexorable march of war on the station that wraps humans and aliens in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night.Continued below
This is Elias. Signing out.
Best Line of the Night:
General Franklin: I had an Alfredo Garibaldi under my command during the Dilgar Invasion. Excellent soldier.
Garibaldi: That was my dad.
General Franklin: So much for genetics.