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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Babylon 5 1-16: Eyes

Episode:16|Writer:Lawrence DiTillio|Air Date:13-Jul-1994

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm rewatching Eyes, the 16th episode aired in Babylon 5's first season, but the last one filmed. It's right where it needs to be though, continuity-wise.

I don't remember what I thought about this first time around, but the clues seem to be suggesting that it wasn't one of my favourites. It's not a J. Michael Straczynski episode, I don't think it has much impact on any of the story arcs, and I don't remember it. Plus it's by Jim Johnston, the director of Soul Hunter... though to be fair he also did Parliament of Dreams and By Any Means Necessary, both of which I liked.

I'm going to recap the whole story and there may be SPOILERS for earlier episodes as well, but I won't say a word about anything that comes after.



Whoa, this is the episode with the Lennier and Garibaldi motorbike subplot? I'd totally forgotten.

Lennier turns up at Garibaldi's door to arrange a security detail to escort poet Shaal Mayan during her visit to the station (hey, that's Delenn's friend who got stabbed in The War Prayer), but he's distracted when he notices that there's a half-finished bike in his quarters.

"It's an Earth antique, mint condition. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11, vintage 1992. We're talking liquid-cooled dual overhead cams, 16 valve, 1,052 CCs inline four, twin ram air induction, 6 speed gearbox and 320mm front disc with four piston calipers," Garibaldi explains. Then he demonstrates its function by sitting on it and making motorbike noises.

He's been scrounging for parts for the last five years and he even managed to win the manual in a game of blackjack (wait, what?) Trouble is it's in Japanese so putting the pieces together hasn't been so straight forward, but Lennier volunteers to help with that. He's got an interest in history and this means he gets to have a role in a story other than 'Delenn's sidekick'!

Meanwhile, somewhere in the galaxy, these two are staring at Susan Ivanova's file and looking sinister. Hey that's Jeffrey Combs of Reanimator, The Frighteners and Star Trek fame! I'm starting to get the feeling that I've really misjudged this episode.


ACT ONE.


Back on Babylon 5, Commander Sinclair is briefing his officers on what's happening at the Mars Colony right now. There's been a string of terrorist attacks linked to independence movements and Earthforce is worried they might start bringing weapons in through B5.

Okay that does seems fairly important to the ongoing Earth storyline.

Down in a bar somewhere on the station we get to see Officer Lou Welch trying to eat a burger while being harassed by the sinister guy with the British accent from the teaser, who introduces himself as Aaron Franks, from the Quartermaster Corporation. Every time poor Lou goes to take a bite he's stopped by another question about the station or Commander Sinclair.

Eventually the man takes the hint and goes off to chat to another security officer, which Lou notices and reports to Garibaldi.

Meanwhile Lennier is doing the sensible thing and checking the internet for info on how to fix Garibaldi's bike and what motorbikes actually are.

It seems that the last gasoline powered motorcycle was built in 2035 and if that's a picture of it I can see why humanity decided to give up on the idea. It's near impossible to read any of the text, but I'm sure it's called a Kawasaki Ninja ZXX.

Lennier finds himself on 23rd century equivalent of Microsoft Encarta, with the computer reading out information over stock footage of people riding bikes. He seems particular interested in the part which says they were considered a symbol of sexual prowess and rebellion, repeating the line to himself.

Garibaldi decides to go around and check up on the stranger questioning his security people and learns that Mr. Franks has being talking to people all over the station.

He finds Sinclair and tells him what's up. Seems that the man's a business agent working for an independent military supplier, so he could be looking for a contract. Or maybe he's looking to do a bit of arms smuggling to Mars Colony. Either way he's being weird, so Sinclair sends Garibaldi to go have a chat.

But when Garibaldi drops by, Mr. Franks addresses him by name and claims that he knows him "intimately." Then he immediately offers him a drink, which Garibaldi declines due to being a recovered alcoholic who's also on duty. It's possible it didn't mention that in his files, but I'm thinking that it did and the guy's just being a dick.

Mr. Franks reveals that he's actually Colonel Ari Ben Zayn, here with telepath Harriman Gray to investigate the command staff. Turns out that's where the episode title comes from, as 'Eyes' is the nickname for Earthforce Internal Affairs.


ACT TWO.


Now in uniform, Ben Zayn explains to the staff that the terrorist attacks on Mars have shown a need for increased scrutiny of Earth's off-world installations. Babylon 5 isn't being singled out, this is happening everywhere.

All he's here to do is ask them all a few routine questions and have Mr. Gray scan their minds to determine their loyalty. He's also assigning Garibaldi to his staff for the duration of the investigation, for reasons of drama I suppose. I guess he can tell Garibaldi's loyal just by the cut of his jib.

But once team 'Internal Affairs' are out of the room, Ivanova makes it clear she's not going to submit to a telepathic scan. Sinclair reassures her that it's not going to happen, to either of them. He's going to study the rules and find the loophole, like he did the last time someone from Earth tried to bully him in By Any Means Necessary.

After managing to escape Ben Zayn for a few minutes, Garibaldi's ambushed by Lennier who reveals that he's become fascinated by the bike and wants to help build it. Seeing nothing wrong with letting an ambassador's aide have free access to his quarters, the Security Chief eventually gives in.

Weirdly this scene seems to have been filmed on a boat, as the camera's swaying everywhere. It's like it's turned into an episode of Battlestar Galactica all of a sudden and I doubt it was intentional.

Here's another unsteadicam shot, as Mr. Gray follows Ivanova around C&C trying to have a friendly conversation with her. It doesn't go so well though seeing as she's incredibly frustrated and he's kind of the personification of everything she despises.

He knows that she hates the Psi Corps because their rules caused her mother's suicide and tries to gain some sympathy by talking about how Psi Corps rules have stopped him from entering Earthforce. As a boy he dreamed of being a combat pilot like her, but his telepathic abilities kicked in a month into training and he was kicked out. He loves Earthforce just like her, and wants her to submit to the telepathic scan because with her record he's sure she's got nothing to fear and he doesn't want her throw her career away over this.

If she could set him on fire with her eyes he'd be a pile of ash right now. She tries words instead but they're inadequately hurtful.


ACT THREE.


Hey, I recognise this establishing shot from By All Means Necessary, when the traffic was backed up due to a dock workers strike. I guess this is what happens when a telepath keeps bothering the person in charge of traffic control.

Later Garibaldi and Ben Zayn are drinking coffee out of Star Trek mugs and having a bit of a chat about the Vorlons. Ben Zayn thinks that they're trouble and is a bit confused why Sinclair didn't protest their actions back in Deathwalker when they blew up a transport right outside the station. "Protests are as much use with the Vorlons as fairy wings on a cement truck," explains Garibaldi.

That's the trouble with enigmatic super powerful aliens, all you can do is smile politely when you see them and hope they don't decide to wipe you out today.

Garibaldi goes off to sleep and the scene ends with Ben Zayn sitting there alone, staring thoughtfully. Staring at the wall behind the camera. Still staring. 10 seconds straight of constant staring.

Hey they put the picture of the station the right way up this time! In Signs and Portents it was upside down. These are the important facts I'm keeping track of.

Garibaldi drops by C&C to warn Sinclair that the investigation is more serious than he thinks, as "Colonel Ben Hitler" is questioning everything that's happened this last year "from Raghesh 3, Deathwalker, the docker's strike, Jason Ironheart, to the sabotage attempt during the President's visit."

Damn man, they're really pulling out the continuity this week. That's Midnight on the Firing Line, The War Prayer, Mind War, Deathwalker, Survivors and By Any Means Necessary referenced so far. This isn't how TV series typically operated in the early 90s, unless they were doing a clip show, as it meant that audiences had to keep up with every episode and channels couldn't air reruns out of order.

Garibaldi finally reaches his bed and finds Lennier still in his quarters mediating over the bike, chanting the name of a 20th century album called 'Zabagabee', recorded by musician and actor Bill 'Lennier' Mumy. When JMS found out he wasn't all that pleased about the ad-lib.

Seems that Garibaldi's not all that pleased with him either, mumbling "If I kill him that would start a war..." under his breath. But he invites him back the next day.

"どうもありがとう," replies Lennier, who's clearly been taking this project way too seriously. C'mon Lennier, you were using the internet a second ago, just find a site that does OCR translation and upload photos of the manual into it, you don't need to learn Japanese! Actually knowing him, he probably learned Earth's 10 most popular languages before he came to the station.

Ivanova has had more luck getting to sleep, but she's having one of those slanted smoky corridor nightmares where people laugh and shout your name.

This is interesting, because those walls look like nothing we've seen on the series before. Babylon 5 always recycles old rooms for new locations (and the floor gives away that this is the curvy central corridor redressed) but they've gone to some effort to make this dreamscape weird.

Ivanova discovers that it was her mother calling her and right now she's sitting in a spotlight, being made to take injections to dull her telepathy by creepy Psi Corps men in comedy and tragedy theatre masks. It's not really what Ivanova wants to relive, seeing as the drug eventually drove her mother to suicide.

Mr. Gray steps in her way and tells her not to interfere, as "the Colonel insists", but Ivanova's hysterical and keeps screaming for her mother. She walks over, only to find...

... that now she's sitting in her mother's place mumbling "Only one way out."

Well that was an overly symbolic dream. It offers a bit more than a hint about what's going through Ivanova's head right now and why she really doesn't want to by scanned by a telepath. Plus it also shows that Babylon 5's not afraid to throw out a dream sequence now and again, even when the dreamer isn't trapped in a virtual reality cybernet.

Ivanova wakes up screaming and heads down to Sinclair's quarters to reveal that she's quitting Earthforce forever. But he's been busy doing his regular late night internet search for legal loopholes and has come up with a way for them to avoid the scan, so she can stay employed for now.

The next day Sinclair arrives for his interview just a few moments too late to hear Ben Zayn encouraging Mr. Gray to carry out a deeper scan against Psi Corps rules. "Don't be naivé Harriman, Psi Corps wants this as much as I do. Sinclair got one of your people killed. Mr. Bester will appreciate anything you can turn up."

Sinclair's not planning on being scanned at all though, as he's discovered that the regulations state that scans are allowed only to determined the truth of specific charges and he hasn't been charged with anything. Gray agrees and is kicked out of the room.

Interviews are boring so the episode follows Gray instead as he goes off to chat with Ivanova again. Apparently he didn't get the hint last time that he sickens her to her core, to the point where she's having vivid nightmares about him.

He wants to be friendly and finds she's in a much better mood than last time, until he says Talia Winters's name and she figures out that he's scanning her! He apologises and explains that the name was loud in her mind when he mentioned Psi Corps that he couldn't help but hear it. He's surprised that she knew he was in her head though, as if bringing up Talia like that wasn't suspicious at all.

Then he changes the conversation to the subject of her mother... and fortunately for him Ivanova's called away before she can do much more than yell at him. He's pretty convincing as a telepath, seeing how terrible he apparently is at reading people's behaviour when he can't read their mind.

By the way, that mention of Talia Winters should totally count as a continuity reference, seeing as she's been in like four episodes so far, and had a conversation with Ivanova in just one of them to my memory.

Back in the interview they're just getting to the topic of those credits Sinclair took from the military budget to end an illegal strike, when his link goes off with a call from Ivanova. There's been a development on one of the arms deals. Sinclair goes to deal with it, but Ben Zayn's insistent that the interview takes priority over his duties to the station.

This is Sinclair's breaking point, as he cancels the interview and goes to leave, which drives Ben Zayn into a rage. He relieves Sinclair of command pending a full inquiry and takes his position as commander of Babylon 5. And now that he's bringing specific charges, he gets to have his telepathic scan as well.

Sinclair's so pissed off by this that Garibaldi has to step in and prevent him from putting his fist through Ben Zayn's smug grin.

Man this guy has an amazing face. He's got a voice to match as well, with every line delivered with enough force to reach the back seats. You could accuse Ben Zayn of being a bit of a caricature like Orin Zento from By Any Means Necessary, but Zento was too ridiculous and incompetent to ring true, while this guy's skilled at using his own unlikeability as an advantage and it's entertaining to watch him piss off everyone around him.

He's a scary character because he's got no intention of being fair or reasonable. He's determined to get Sinclair out of the way, and he has authority and a lot of Earth government on his side.


ACT FOUR.


Whoa, I've never seen so many people in C&C at once. Who knew the production crew even had that many uniforms for the extras to wear?

Colonel Ben Zayn has apparently already announced to the crew that he's in command off screen, and he announces to Ivanova that in a few hours she's to report for a formal inquiry and a telepathic scan. But as soon as he's gone she tells someone else to take over and walks straight out of C&C, abandoning her post. She's going to be dishonourably discharged either way so she doesn't much care any more. "It's a very Russian ending, I should've expected it."

Garibaldi stops her out in the corridor and she asks him for that drink he promised her back in Born to the Purple (continuity reference!) So he promises to meet her in the casino in a few minutes and tries to talk her out of doing anything stupid until then.

Sinclair tries calling one of his allies back on Earth to stop Ben Zayn's witch-hunt, but there's going to be a vote on the President's Trade and Immigration Act soon and they don't dare do anything to jeopardise it.

Garibaldi's found some information on the interweb though (that's literally what he calls it). Turns out that Ben Zayn was one of the top 10 candidates to run Babylon 5 and Sinclair was significantly below that, so the guy's bound to be a little pissed off that he lost the job to him. He's also learned what we already know about Bester being involved and that this is his revenge for what Sinclair did in Mind War.

He's learned a lot... but he kind of forgot to meet Ivanova in the casino.

Turns out that Ivanova's doing just fine without him though. Well she's holding her own against half the bar at least, which is impressive considering that she's been downing drinks.

It's not the best choreographed fight I've ever seen on TV, but it looks like Claudia Christian's doing most of it herself and someone got a bottle over their head so I'm happy. Sucks about the casino wheel though; that thing's in the opening titles, it's a Babylon 5 landmark!

Garibaldi eventually talks her down and gives her some oxy pills to help counter the alcohol. They've got one last shot to save Sinclair's job and avoid Mr. Gray's telepathic scans so it'd be best if she wasn't swaying or punching people during the tribunal. Punching people would be bad.

At the interview Mr. Gray tells Sinclair how it's going to work, telling him to answer truthfully, not to resist the scan, and to avoid strong emotion (people tend to broadcast emotional thoughts louder and he doesn't want to read anything he doesn't have to).

Sinclair asks if Colonel Ben Zayn will be given a loyalty check scan as well, seeing as he's in command of Babylon 5 now. Ben Zayn reminds him that he's the one asking the questions, but Sinclair keeps pushing, claiming that he was furious that a commander was put in charge of the station over him and accusing him of conspiring with Bester to do something about it.

This gets Ben Zayn ranting about how he deserved the command, but the Minbari would only accept Sinclair and made sure he got the job (which is true). Like the Knights in And the Sky Full of Stars he believes that Sinclair is under Minbari influence (which might be true too)... but he won't have command for much longer.

Of course it's not a good idea to have strong emotions when you're sitting next to a telepath if you value your privacy, and Mr. Gray has been receiving a loud and clear broadcast of Ben Zayn's obsession and hatred. The telepath then receives a backhand to the face as the colonel decides to bring his insanity up to 11 and hold them all at gunpoint.

But he's distracted by a mental attack by Mr. Gray and Sinclair takes the opportunity to grab his gun and send over that fist he wanted to give him earlier.

Man, the director must have had some real confidence in Michael O'Hare's ability to land a fake punch, as he captured the event from five angles simultaneously. Though two of the screens are obscured by the punch and a third is just showing the back of his head.

He manages to knock Ben Zayn out with one hit, concluding his investigation before anyone could get shot.


ACT FIVE.


Garibaldi gets back after the crisis to discover that Lennier's finished building the Ninja without him, taking away the purpose in his life (that we've never heard about until this episode). Though he tries to cheer the Minbari up when he sees how regretful he is about it.

His mood soon brightens though when he learns that Lennier has replaced the fuel tank with a Minbari power source, meaning that the thing works (and is ecologically friendly!) I've no idea how that can power a combustion engine though, unless he replaced that too. Not that it matters much as there's presumably laws against riding bikes around the inside of a space station.

Then again I guess you can do what you want when you're the Chief of Police. Plus we finally get to see someone go up the curving floor at the end of the central corridor! Well technically it's all supposed to be curving but you know what I mean.

Sinclair and Ivanova quickly mention that Ben Zayn won't be a problem when psychiatric scans confirm that he's a lunatic, so that's the A plot all wrapped up now as well. I guess that Mars gun smuggling subplot was basically just world building though.


CONCLUSION

Eyes reminds me of one of those clip shows a series will shove in near the end of a season to save cash, except they forgot to interrupt the story with all those clips no one wants to see. Most episodes in Babylon 5's first season have been self-contained, deliberately designed to be watched in any order, but this time I feel like I just had a continuity bomb explode in my face, filling the air with reference shrapnel. It seems that everything but poor forgotten Catherine Sakai got a callback here.

Now I want to see how many I can spot!

Midnight on the Firing Line - Ragesh 3, Ivanova's mother and Talia Winters.
Soul Hunter - I got nothing.
Born to the Purple - Garibaldi promising Ivanova a drink.
Infection - Nope.
Parliament of Dreams - Also nope.
Mind War - Psi Corps up to sinister things. Bester wants revenge.
The War Prayer - Shaal Mayan wanting an escort after her stabbing, anti-alien groups spreading.
And the Sky Full of Stars - People from Earth believing that Sinclair's working with the Minbari.
Deathwalker - The Vorlons blowing up Deathwalker's transport.
Believers - Can't think of anything.
Survivors - The attempt on President Santiago's life.
By Any Means Necessary - Sinclair humiliating Zento and taking money out of the military budget to end a strike.
Signs and Portents - Sinclair being far down the list of candidates to command B5.
Grail - Nothing.

Seems that the Dr. Franklin heavy episodes were left out, which makes sense as he doesn't appear in this at all. Even so, this is all about the humans, as it's one of only three episodes this season without an appearance by any of the alien ambassadors. Though Lennier does show up for Garibaldi's Kawasaki Ninja C plot.

I like the motorbike plot, it's one of the more memorable things from the series for me even if I couldn't actually remember what episode it was from, but there's really not much to it and it has absolutely nothing to do with the main storyline. It's just a bit of comic relief to give people a break from the stress of the A and B plots.

The B plot belongs to Ivanova and Jeffrey Combs, so I wasn't shocked to find it very watchable. This is Ivanova at her lowest point this season and considering her dad died in episode three that's saying something. Episodes like The War Prayer established that Ivanova's made sacrifices for her career, it's the most important thing in her life, and she comes very close here to throwing it away over a stubborn refusal to allow a telepath to poke around in her mind. It could've seemed like an overreaction, but the episode does a great job of showing what she's going through and why she feels like she does. And then it leads to a bar brawl, which is a fine place for any dark emotional storyline to go.

Then there's the A plot, which feels like a sequel to By Any Means Necessary, with Sinclair's decisions this season coming back to haunt him as the powerful factions he's angered make their move. Fortunately it's got a better deliberately hateable arrogant authority figure at its core than By Any Means, as Ari Ben Zayn comes across as far more competent and dangerous than Orin Zento, who just expected to get his way and threw a fit when he didn't. Sure Ben Zayn's actor seems to think that he's on a stage, but the character's a lunatic so the hammy performance actually works for him. He's an absolute bastard with the authority and willingness to do anything it takes to ruin Sinclair and Ivanova's careers and take the station from them, and he doesn't care what the Minbari or anyone else will think about that.

To me Ben Zayn's the scariest threat they've faced so far, as he's someone from their own side using their own rules against them... with the government introducing new rules to make his job easier. If it wasn't for the fact that he's got so much crazy in his brain that telepaths can smell it, all the punching, legal loopholes and cunning manipulation in the world wouldn't have gotten them out of it this time. And without Sinclair in charge, Babylon 5 would've likely lasted about two more weeks before the Vorlons or Minbari blew it up due to some diplomatic faux pas.

This episode works on pretty much every level for me, with decent dialogue, acting, direction and punches. Lots of punches. The camera work's a bit shaky at times, which is not a criticism I ever expected to make about Babylon 5, but it's nice to see them moving the thing. I'm surprised to say this, but I think Eyes has made my top three episodes so far, along with Midnight on the Firing Line and Signs and Portents. It's not an example of B5 at its very finest, but it is another good reason not to write off season one entirely.


Babylon 5 will return with A Voice in the Wilderness, Part I. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, it's Deep Space Nine's Progress.

Thanks for reading, leave a comment if you feel like it.

3 comments:

  1. I also have no memory of anything in this episode except for the motorbike subplot. Weird.

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  2. Oddly enough the motorbike subplot was the only thing I remembered about this one too. I think its because the final image of it zipping off and UP the curve at the end of the hall was quite striking (and probably a decent effect back in 94).

    I watched this again fairly recently, knowing now both the production order and the problems Michael O'Hare was having and it added a poignancy to the episode that I think a actually enhanced the whole thing.

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    Replies
    1. I feel like I should've mentioned something about Michael O'Hare's condition, but the reason I didn't is because I honestly forgot. I couldn't tell from his performance that the actor was struggling to hold it together until the season was over; I just saw frustrated Commander Sinclair, sick of people questioning his decisions.

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