Babylon 5

Series Rewatch – Babylon 5: Survivors – Garibaldi’s Turn for Character Development

Written by Marc Scott Zicree and J.Michael Straczynski
Directed by Jim Johnston

Like the episode prior to this, Believers, Survivors gives us a story that seems to be outside of the overall story arc for the series but serves to develop a single character. In this case, it’s Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle).

Earth President Louis Santiago is on his way to Babylon 5 to present them with a new fighter wing. Garibaldi and Ivanova (Claudia Christian) are in charge of the security for his visit. As they approach one of the cargo bays, there is an explosion.

The head of the President’s security detail, Major Lianna Kemmer (Elaine Thomas), is someone Garibaldi is acquainted with from his past. She overrides his authority to investigate what he thinks is an accident. When Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) sees Garibaldi overreact to a petty theft, he confronts him. Garibaldi tells the story of his close friendship with Lianna’s father to the point that she called him “Uncle Mike.” Frank Kemmer was killed when sabotage aimed at Garibaldi took him by mistake.

Lianna questions one of the men injured in the explosion who is on his deathbed. He claims Garibaldi planted a bomb. Commander Sinclair doesn’t believe Garibaldi had anything to do with it, but he has to follow protocol when Lianna levels charges at Garibaldi. Commander Sinclair and Lianna find Centauri ducats and traces of explosives in Garibaldi’s quarters, so he goes on the lam to clear himself.

This episode doesn’t have any big surprises. Survivors exists to give the background on Garibaldi that the series falls back on quite a bit during the run. He has his demons – his alcoholism, his feeling of responsibility for Frank Kemmer’s death – which will be important throughout the series. The audience knows he’s innocent of what he’s accused, it’s just a matter of how it’s going to play out.

There are also story moments that show Babylon 5 operating independently of Earth. This is also important. When Lianna tries to order Ivanova to open up communications for her. Ivanova is trying to give Garibaldi time to figure out what’s going on, but she also makes it clear she isn’t taking orders from the head of the President’s security. Ivanova then runs a maintenance program that ties up communication for hours, giving Garibaldi the time necessary to investigate. It’s a convenient plot device, but it also foreshadows a rift between the Station and Earth Government.

And develop Garibaldi this episode does! In addition to the personal background, he interacts with the various species present on Babylon 5 while on the run. Centauri Ambassador Mollari (Peter Jurasik) is probably the most helpful to him while appearing to act in his own self-interest. Commander Sinclair demonstrates his faith in him, even while Garibaldi is acting more self-destructive than in self-defense. In one scene, Garibaldi returns to the bottle when he seems to be at a dead-end, and we get a flashback to the damage his alcoholism has done in the past. It’s a moving moment that doesn’t hit the viewer over the head, but lets them know there’s more going on in this situation than meets the eye. It’s also a quick condemnation of the alcoholic as it shows how Garibaldi’s dependence on the bottle caused his other relationships to fracture.

Jerry Doyle is good here giving his character depth and presenting him as more than just a Bruce Willis knock-off (that was my first impression of him when I first watched it many years ago). Garibaldi has mostly been a wise-cracking anti-establishment character with little depth but Survivors gives him a reason for being that way. He’s covering up a painful past and regrets over mistakes he’s made. Doyle ties these both into the same character very well, and we feel the pain and disappointment when he goes back to the battle.

Survivors also brings up the Home Guard again, showing the “Earth First” movement has infiltrated all aspects of the station and will do anything to take down those who aren’t aligned with them. It’s something we are seeing mirrored in our own world now, and this was almost 30 years ago!

While Survivors isn’t a particularly memorable episode, it’s one of those that are part of the character development of the overall series, and it doesn’t do too bad. It’s not as good as the previously mentioned Believers at an impactful story along with the character development, but it does fine.

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