Dr. Franklin goes from zero to creepy in one episode flat, a piece of the greater mystery is found, and Amis really likes the sound of his own voice. 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. The Impossible Planet
I’m a sucker for space based horror that borders on the supernatural. It hits that sweet spot of mysterious, spooky, otherworldly and otherworldly. Books like “Outer Darkness” — go read that book, it’s bonkers in the best way possible — or episodes like “The Satan Pit” from Doctor Who revel in that in much the same way as “The Long Dark.” In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Satan Pit” was inspired a bit by this episode. (Although, I highly doubt B5 jumped the pond and the similarities really only go so far as “the monster looks like The Devil™ and was trapped on a planet.”)
Still, being able to say the crew of B5 fought The Devil™ and won is a fun little tidbit to drop when recommending the show. At the very least, it provides a bit of a “wait, seriously?” factor.
The varied styles of episodes B5 takes always astounds me. They’re not always done particularly well, sometimes dragging on or being aggressively standard in their construction, but that variety helps keep the show moving and shaking. This week’s space horror is certainly on the silly, campy side, what with the evil mist that’s actually The Devil™, but that makes it all the more fun. It brings a bit of tension to the ship, as they try to find out who or what is devouring the organs of these people like a vampire, essentially creating space mummies.
This plot was also a clever way of working the stand-alone into the greater arc. It’s a few breadcrumbs, shining a greater light on the mystery only to reveal that what we were looking at was a small piece of something much, much larger. The connection doesn’t feel forced because of the way the show is set up and because the focus was on the murders and the people on the ship rather than the monster and his origins, which were incidental to it all. The coincidental nature of its arrival on the station, which had a logical thru-line, provided the crew with information they would not have had otherwise but doesn’t act as a pivotal turning point, thereby sticking to the show’s methodical pacing and simulation of the reality rather than a dramatization.
It also gave us a great scene between the Drazi (you remember the Drazi) ambassador and G’Kar, who was way too interested in the possibility that something deadly was on the prowl.
Can we talk about Dr. Franklin this week? Because I don’t know about you but I found him uncharacteristically creepy this week. He comes onto this woman from the past, his patient, I might add, within, what?, 10 minutes of meeting her? And right after she found out her husband was killed? And then he’s being really protective of her? Whenever they cut back to them, I found myself getting increasingly uncomfortable and wondering why Dr. Franklin was acting like this.
At first, I thought it might have something to do with Space Satan but nope, just a regular visit from the horn. It’s baffling and all I could think was that the writer didn’t really understand Dr. Franklin’s character and/or needed some way of keeping him in the plot. I think it was supposed to be touching but it was a big misstep and a waste of C-plot space.
4. Jason X
You know what wasn’t a waste of plot space? Amis and his never ending rantings.
For all the absurdity of his yelling at the heavens, mostly in the way it is played, it’s a joy to watch the character actor throw himself into the part and just roll with it. It does get a bit grating during the cold opening and I had distinct flashbacks to Robin Llyod Taylor’s perfomances in Gotham more than once throughout. There’s no subtlety, no quiet moments, just a man over-acting his heart out while he tries to out yell a CGI demon. . .that is, until we get his speech about his time on the moon during the war.Continued below
It’s made clear from the start that Amis has PTSD, although the portrayal is absurd and leans heavily on a twist of the cliche of the war-torn vet suddenly seeing visions and believing they are now a prophet. While one reading supports this being a poor representation of PTSD, “The Long Dark” goes out of its way to establish that what we are seeing is a result of a psychic connection between the demon-alien and Amis, exacerbating his trauma.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a nuanced portrayal in any sense but it isn’t one that’s simply brushed off. The scene where Amis recounts what happened to him, we get the full scope of what he witnessed and survived, and why feeling that creature arriving sent his brain into a mad panic of fear and trauma and pain, logic goes out the window and all that’s left is instinct. Somber, eerie and terrifying, that scene might be the best of the episode, too.
One detail I really loved in this episode was how the jumpgates came from the Centauri. It’s a tiny line, one that’s buried in a bunch of other history about this universe, but it’s another one of those bits of lore that goes a long way to characterizing the show. It shows that, yes, we developed space travel on our own but humans were not the ones to invent and develop the jump gate — that came from the Centauri. It makes the series a bit more believable as a possible future for us rather than something like Star Wars or Star Trek which both feel significantly more fantastic. And yes, I am aware of the irony considering this is a universe with telepaths and technomages.
That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for conspiracies, revolutions, and a psychedelic computer on the station that wraps humans and aliens in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night.
This is Elias. Signing out.
Best Line of the Night:
G’Kar: “Take my advice and go back to the time you came from. The future isn’t what it used to be.”