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Friday, 30 June 2017

Babylon 5 2-05: The Long Dark

Episode:27|Writer:Scott Frost|Air Date:30-Nov-1994

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures it's episode 27 of Babylon 5! I'm going to watch it, take some screencaps and write stuff underneath them, same as usual. Well rewatch it really, as I've seen this whole series before.

The Long Dark is both the first and last Babylon 5 episode written by a guy called Scott Frost who I know nothing about. Wikipedia tells me he wrote two episodes of Twin Peaks, which may be a good sign, and two episodes from the last seasons of Andromeda, which probably isn't. It's also the first episode directed by Mario Di Leo, who didn't do a whole lot of B5 either.

There will be SPOILERS past this point for this episode and earlier ones, but I won't spoil anything that comes after it. Though I might spoil a tiny bit about the movie Aliens.



The episode starts with a ship drifting though space, heralded by a musical sting straight out of a James Bond movie. I'm not saying it sounds out of place, but I won't be entirely shocked if the ship docks at the station and Dr. Evil steps out.

The folks in Babylon 5's C&C pick up a signal coming from the ship, a computer voice repeating one message: "This is the Copernicus, we come in peace." Over and over, with barely a pause in between. Sounds a little desperate to me.

Down in one of the crap parts of the station Dwight Schultz springs out of a crate and starts clutching his head and ranting about utter gibberish. I can't really tell if it's a bad performance or if the direction's letting the actor down, but I feel like they could've made this work a lot better. Maybe by swapping the crate for a cake.

Whatever's going on, he thinks that something's getting into his head and it's coming from a small black panel in the floor.

Hey it's a porthole looking out into space! Wow, when they called this part of the station 'Downbelow' they weren't lying. Seems that slums are wrapped around the outermost floors of the the cylinder, making it as far down as you can get. I always figured that the hull would be way thicker though.

You'd think he'd be happy to be one of the few people to actually get a window on this station, but he's not overjoyed about what he's seeing out there. He tries to say a prayer, realises he doesn't know any, then runs out screaming.


ACT ONE


After the 90 seconds long opening titles sequence we learn that he used the time to sneak over to the Zocalo to harass people up above instead. The credits aren't quite finished yet though, so his name soon flashes up revealing that he's called 'Amis', as in 'something is terribly amiss'. 

Amis tries to convince everyone they're in great danger but he doesn't do a great job of making his case due to the fact that he's ranting like a maniac. For some reason when he spots Ambassador G'Kar he decides to give him his full focus, which Ambassador Mollari finds to be hilarious... right until he makes a quip and draws the guy's attention his way instead.

Eventually Garibaldi intercepts and takes Amis down to security for preaching without a licence.

Over in C&C, the command crew are confused about the incoming mystery ship, especially as it didn't come from the jump gate or a jump point like everything else does. The only ships that come by in normal space like this are their own Starfury patrols, because to get here from anywhere else would take lifetimes.

Turns out the U.S.S. Copernicus is an old human vessel, old enough to make the 10 light year trip here from Earth the slow way, and there's someone (or something) inside who's survived the trip.

So Sheridan decides to have it brought aboard and then assembles his senior staff so that they can be the first to be exposed to whatever's inside. Sheridan's still new to the series at this point and apparently thinks that he's in a Star Trek spin-off. It's fine though, he's taken all sensible precautions first. Well Garibaldi's got his gun out anyway.

I realise that the visual effects team were struggling with ancient hardware and harsh time constraints, but surely they could've spared a few more polygons to smooth out that cylindrical part of the hull for this shot. Failing that, 10 minutes in an ancient copy of Photoshop would've done the trick. It would've made it look a bit more like a real ship and a bit less like Final Fantasy VII. Though to put things in perspective, that game came out two years after this.

Hey this looks like an actual new set for once! It's probably another clever redress, but it's good enough to have me fooled.

On board the Copernicus they find blinky lights and a pair of cryogenic freezing pods. First pod gets them a guitar wail from the soundtrack when they look into it and the second earns them a blast of creepy chilled air to the face. They're about a decade too late to save the man in pod #1, but there's still hope for the second crew member if they hurry. But will she turn out to be a Ripley... or a Khan?

Or a country musician? Or a notorious mercenary with no memory and nanites in her blood? Or a victim of experiments that have left her crazy and a little psychic? Or a pizza delivery guy? Or the Demolition Man? Or a woman who can melt metal with her screams? Or a third technician being punished for smuggling a cat on board? Or Amelia Earhart?

Nice top down shot of the elevator there as Dr. Franklin rushes the mysterious passenger to Medlab. The lights flicker a couple of times during the trip, but that's probably nothing to do with the sole survivor of a mysteriously malfunctioning spaceship laying on a bed in front of them. Probably.

I found this to be a pretty tense scene actually. Not because of the scary lights or the fact that she's flatlining, but because for a minute there it didn't look like there was enough room for the lift doors to close with the bed inside. Oh, the doors are at the top by the way. I have no idea why every other wall in here has to look like doors as well. It must be very confusing for people.

Garibaldi goes to check on Amis to find him asleep, not that it stops him from yelling. Nope, he rants just as much in his sleep and makes about as much sense too. That nameless security officer over there is of the opinion that everyone like him in Downbelow should be thrown out an airlock and we've seen that Garibaldi feels the same way at times, but he's feeling more sympathetic in this case. He recognises Amis's dream... he's had it too.

Not that they're psychic, no we haven't had a telepath on the series since Talia Winters' mysterious disappearance. But they're both veterans of the Earth-Minbari War 11 years ago, former GROPOs (ground-pounders, basically Marines) who became addicts after their lives fell apart. So he can likely see a bit of himself in the guy.

Amis is calm and lucid when he wakes up, and embarrassed about what he did... not that he can remember it.
Garibaldi: "You were about to accuse the Centauri ambassador of being in league with the devil, which might not be far from the truth."
Huh, maybe he is a little bit psychic. Either that or he's been peeking at Londo's lines in his copies of the scripts. Anyway he offers to help get Amis the counselling he needs, that he needed too, but Amis isn't interested in being helped.


ACT TWO


Turns out that the woman they found in the freezer is recovering well. Mariah and her husband Will were scientists on a long term deep space mission, on a ship programmed to home in on any signal and wake the crew up when it found something.

Our Voyager 2 space probe's been sailing for 40 years now and still hasn't run into the Vulcans or E.T. so I have to wonder what the hell they were thinking sending people out a manned mission like this. Dr. Franklin hesitates before telling her how long she's been on ice, but I'm thinking she probably already suspected the number was in the triple digits, because how could it not be?

The death of her husband on the other hand comes as a bit of a shock. Franklin decides to hold back on giving her the full story though, that the cause of death seems to be organ failure. Existence failure that is: they're just not there any more. Plus he's lost a lot of weight, but that'll happen when your insides are are taken out. This was no malfunction, it had to be murder, but she's their only suspect and she was in stasis the whole time. Or at least that's what the logs say.

Dr. Franklin decides to take his beautiful murder suspect patient out to the Zocalo, because of course he did, and Mariah's amazed to see aliens for the first time. She's also having to deal with the fact that her mission to find new life was entirely pointless as FTL travel became commonplace while she was asleep. I think she'd probably be an interesting character if she was anything like the adventurous astronaut scientist she's meant to be. But I'm not buying that this woman is daring and crazy enough to voluntarily freeze herself in a computer controlled rocket and get fired out into the galaxy on a one way trip to the future just to see what's out there.

Franklin starts getting a bit poetic in his description of all the things she missed, like the revelations, the revolutions, the parade of scandals etc. She's shocked that they haven't reached the Star Trek future where everyone gets along, but Franklin explains it'll take a lot longer than 100 years for that. It's still only 2259 though, so humanity's still got 7 years to sort things out before they catch up to Star Trek: The Original Series.

Fortunately G'Kar turns up to interrupt the boredom and give us an interesting character to watch for a bit. He's not been the nicest person on the station these past few years, but he's always good at giving advice, and in this case he tells Mariah to go back to her own time as the future isn't what it used to be.

The shock of his raw charisma and acting talent knocks Mariah out, where she dreams of being on the ship...

... with this guy.

She wakes up a little later in Franklin's quarters. He took her there as it was closer than Medlab, because of course he did. She's a little bit hysterical about the death of her husband and the monster in her dreams, so she and Franklin kiss. Damn Doc, she only learned about his death a couple of hours ago! From her perspective they only climbed into those cryo pods yesterday. Might be a little too soon to make a move on your patient.

Though to be fair to Franklin, he does put the breaks on and tells her that it's inappropriate for them to kiss... at this time.

Meanwhile Garibaldi's in the Zocalo trying to eat his lunch, while this Drazi's trying to catch his. The thing's still alive and pulling the plate across the table! This is Garibaldi's third year on the station now, so if he finds this weird, I'm going to go ahead and assume this must be really weird.

Just then Amis turns up again to continue his rant from earlier, telling everyone that a soldier of darkness has come aboard from the Copernicus. Seems that half the cast is worried about the 'darkness' this season. Delenn's preparing to fight it, G'Kar looked into it, Londo's been touched by it...

Amis promises Garibaldi he's not crazy, he saw it do the same thing during the war. Uh... what same thing? He saw the creature come off the Copernicus?
 
This lurker in Downbelow's seeing something too, and he wants to be friends! Or maybe he's offering to let him sniff his gloves. I have no idea why he's decided to reach up at the camera and grin instead of filling his pants and making a run for it, but seeing that the scene ends with him covering his face and screaming I'm guessing that he chose poorly.

Turns out that all the times there's been a shot filmed from up near the ceiling during the episode, it was probably the monster's POV! Well except for that scene in the elevator, he just wouldn't have fit.


ACT THREE


Hey the lurker got his organs removed, just like Mariah's husband. So Amis was right, there is a monster on board and it might be Mariah!

Garibaldi's been looking into Amis's story and has learned what messed him up so bad. He was sent to a deep-space listening post during the war along with 46 other Marines, but he was the only one who kept hold of his organs. The point to the story? The Copernicus passed by that same moon he was stationed on during its long trip to Babylon 5. So the creature must have somehow gotten up into space and onto the ship! Maybe there was a spare shuttle lying around, maybe it's just really good at jumping, the crew choose not to speculate.

Plus they know now that Mariah can't be the monster as Franklin was with her all night. Because of course he was. He wasn't sleeping with his patient, but Sheridan's pissed off regardless (partially because now he has to go to a council meeting about this whole thing).

We've got some weird angles in the council chamber today, maybe to downplay the fact that Ambassadors Delenn and Kosh are both missing. I suppose they're keeping well away from any talk of soldiers of darkness, seeing as they're secretly conspiring to fight them. But G'Kar has been investigating the darkness quite openly and is very interested in what one of the League ambassadors is saying right now.

The ambassador believes that the forces of darkness scattered after an ancient war and went into hiding, but now they're waking up again. So basically exactly what G'Kar said himself a few episodes ago in Revelations. They reckon that Mariah may be a soldier of darkness, as evil sometimes wears a pleasant face, and Sheridan actually feels there may be some truth to it all... though he's not going to let them go lynch her.

Londo on the other hand proclaims that it's is all bullshit and leaves, neglecting to mention that he's actually conspiring with the darkness and has fed them intel. I doubt he believes his allies are an ancient evil though, or else he'd be deliberately selling out his people's future for the sake of a fleeting return to dominance, and that's not what he's after.

Garibaldi can't sleep so he drags Amis out of bed and goes monster hunting with him in Downbelow. We learn that Amis only survived his ordeal 10 years ago because of the monster kept him alive to feed off him, like it did to the guy in the sleeping pod. In fact he was only 85 pounds by the time he was rescued, even skinnier than the corpse in the pod, and he still had all of his organs. Kind of explains why he wakes up screaming about aliens every morning.

But there's still some kind of link between them, or maybe the thing's just calling to him, either way he can lead them to it and get his revenge. You know, this is suddenly starting to remind me of a Rutger Hauer movie called Split Second that I've caught in 10 minute bites over the years. Not sure if that one has a happy ending yet though.

It's definitely not looking good for Amis, as he runs ahead and then starts screaming. Garibaldi pulls his gun and...


ACT FOUR


... goes for a chat with Ivanova and Sheridan. It's almost like they skipped a scene.

They figure that if Amis could follow the creature then Mariah should be able to as well, as it started feeding on her in the pod after her husband died. Of course if here's some kind of psychic link she could well be scouting for the creature and not even know it. If only they had a telepath on board who could scan her and find out...

Wait, how long has Sheridan had a giant IDE connector on the wall outside his office? It's 2259 how have they not upgraded to SATA by now?

Anyway Garibaldi, Franklin and Mariah decide to go hunting the creature, off screen, and C&C soon receives word of gunfire in Downbelow. So Sheridan decides it's time to break out the heavy weapons.

To his surprise Ivanova immediately pulls two rifles out from under her console and shoves one into his hand. She's been doing this job for a while now and knows the drill.

Sheridan's usually too sensible to grab a gun and go marching into danger himself, but this is a season 1 kind of episode, so he decides to exercise his lead character privileges to pull a Sinclair and deal with the creature personally.

Meanwhile Garibaldi has left Mariah and Franklin behind to look after some wounded men while he goes after the monster alone.

And he finds Amis still alive and floating in the air in a cunningly redressed section of the Zocalo set! Except he's not floating, he's being held up by a giant invisible monster! Invisible monsters are great because they save a lot of CGI money.

Garibaldi shoots the thing a few times with his PPG pistol, then grabs Amis and meets up with Sheridan, who shoots the thing a few times with his PPG rifle.

PPG status: the gunfire still looks crap. You can kind of see the monster here though, lit up with energy.

This scene plays out very strangely as Amis starts saying things like "it knows I'm here" as if that's not entirely obvious already (neither he or the monster have gone anywhere!) The monster goes invisible but they can hear it growling so Sheridan calls Ivanova in so they can catch it in a crossfire. Amis knows it's not going to work though, as the creature's too smart to fall into their trap! Uh... it's in the room with them, they have people with guns at the exits, it's already trapped.

Anyway, Amis bravely sacrifices himself by running out to draw the monster into the open, and that seems to help.

Did he just... did that 15 foot tall invisible soldier of darkness just boot Amis in the face? I honestly think he did. He either caught a his boot or his knee.

The creature's right where they can see him now though, so they all shoot him until he starts sparking and disappears. He disappeared the other time they shot him as well, but they know he's dead this time because they're almost out of episode.

Also Amis actually survived his heroic sacrifice move! Garibaldi tells him it's over, no more bad dreams, because they need to move this along and wrap things up quickly. No time for a long epilogue this episode.


ACT FIVE


Mariah does get a bit of ending though, where she decides to leave Franklin and go back to Earth to see what she's missed. Because she can afford that somehow when all the poor lurkers (like Amis) are trapped in the slums.

But who cares about that when G'Kar's looking at his book again! This time he's found a surprisingly detailed picture of that invisible creature they just killed. Oh and Ivanova has finished analysing the Copernicus' logs. The ship ended up at Babylon 5 because it changed course to home in their their signals, but when it left the outpost the creature had put it on a heading... to Z'ha'dum! You know, the supposed homeworld of the 'darkness' that G'Kar sent a doomed expedition to in Revelations.

I guess the creature didn't mind waiting the two or three centuries it'd take to get there then. The real tragedy here is that if he'd just waited around the moon a while longer he could've hijacked the FTL capable ship that rescued Amis instead of the crappy Copernicus.


CONCLUSION

Uh... what happened in that episode again? Hang on, I'll check the DVD case.

Oh right, a spaceling came on board from a ship carrying a crewperson in hybernetic sleep.

I don't know where the writer got those terms because they didn't turn up anywhere in this episode. In fact I'm fairly sure that 'hybernetic' is just some bullshit they made up themselves because they forgot the word 'cryogenic'. Or is it 'cryonic'? It's one of the two.

The Long Dark basically takes Ripley from the Alien movies and splits her into two separate characters: Amis, the traumatised sole survivor of an alien attack whose warnings are ignored because they sound nuts, and Mariah, the woman who woke up in a cryo chamber on a lost ship decades later than expected to find that everyone she left behind on Earth is long dead. Unfortunately this means that all the personality went into Amis, leaving very little for Mariah.

Mariah's plot is interesting on paper as she's an explorer who went out into outer space on a mission to find aliens and instead found that humans had invented FTL drives in the meantime and got there decades before her. Funny how the last episode, A Distant Star, was all about the arrival of Earth's most advanced and powerful deep space exploration vessel and this is about a visit by Earth's most ancient and rubbish one. Plus she might be a murderer who ate her husband's internal organs! Unfortunately her side of the episode quickly turns into a 'Dr. Franklin falls in love with his patient' story, which she then cuts short by going back to Earth to never be seen again.

Still, I'm amazed that Franklin was even in it the episode at all. It's been a long while since he's been in five consecutive stories like this. Talia and Keffer on the other hand have disappeared again, which makes sense for the fighter pilot, but less so for the woman who can read minds and determine if someone is a crazy killer who ate her husband's organs. I can't think of any other TV series which starts every episode by listing 6 actors who aren't going to be in it.

Amis's plot on the other hand is terrible on paper as he's a raving lunatic who's secretly the only one that knows about an ancient invisible organ-eating monster that's come back to haunt him again. It seemed like it was going to be terrible on screen as well, but then Garibaldi turned up and it became a story about two veterans of the same war and how it broke them. So we get some of Garibaldi's traumatic backstory and he gets an opportunity to show his compassionate side. It helps that Amis is played by Dwight Schultz who's able to pull off crazy and sympathetic at the same time, and comes off a hell of a lot better than your average season one guest star. I suppose it makes sense now that I think about it that Dwight Schultz and Jerry Doyle would do well on screen together, seeing as they were both conservative radio talk show hosts. In fact Schultz was the guest host on Doyle's show a few times.

Something else that only hit me afterwards is that Amis and the monster run into each other again by pure coincidence. It's implied at first that the creature deliberately brought the Copernicus to B5 to get him, but the ship was actually heading straight to Z'ha'dum, so Amis just happened to be in the way. That's kind of implausible. It's also weird that the trick they use to finally kill the creature is 'shoot it to death'. Surely Amis's friends would've tried that strategy themselves.

To me The Long Dark felt like a mid-tier season one episode on the level of something like The Quality of Mercy or Survivors, which is a bit of a let down. The season's pretty much given up all the momentum it had coming out of Chrysalis by this point. It does connect to the arc, but it really just repeats things we pretty much know by this point: the darkness is gathering its soldiers and they're going to Z'ha'dum. Though we learn that some of the soldiers are invisible (like Morden's spider alien friends back in Chrysalis), and that they can be killed with a bit of time, effort and ammunition. Plus it helps if you've got a lunatic to distract them.



COMING SOON
Babylon 5 will return with Spider in the Web. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm finally getting back to Deep Space Nine with the season two premiere The Homecoming!

Leave a comment if you're in the mood to leave comments, they're always appreciated.

4 comments:

  1. I watched Split Second for the first time a week ago! It's a strange film; it has the production values of a 90's kids' TV show, the set and costume design of Gamesmaster, it doesn't seem to know if it's horror, scifi, comedy, or a cop movie, the post-apocalyptic flooded London setting has no importance whatsoever beyond some vague mutterings about rats, and Rutger Hauer is massively miscast. On top of that, none of the actors seem to care, except for Alun Armstrong, who seems to have wandered in from a better film in which he is giving his best J Jonah Jameson performance.

    You should review it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't have to now, you just did it for me.

      Delete
  2. I think our takeaway is that cryogenically frozen people can be anything they want to be. Inspirational!

    The lifts are remarkably dark considering they have those giant, space-hogging light tubes in the corners. Maybe the B5 designers should have put the lights in the ceiling. (It irks me that the easiest way to make something "futuristic" is to make it impractical.)

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  3. Garibaldi tells him it's over, no more bad dreams

    But Garibaldi also said he has the same dreams. Is Michael implying he's got a telepathic connection to a monster? Hmm!

    Because she can afford that somehow when all the poor lurkers (like Amis) are trapped in the slums.

    Maybe the old compound-interest trick actually worked. Though it doesn't seem like the Copernicus was supposed to go back to Earth, so why would she even set that up? I'm going to guess some university is paying her way.

    ReplyDelete