In the old days when television seasons were 20+ episodes long, there couldn’t be action and adventure the way it’s often packed into shortened seasons nowadays. While TKO could be called “filler,” it also takes the opportunity to develop the Babylon 5 universe as well as some of the cast. This is another character-driven episode that gives a lot of background into Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) and well as insight into Mr. Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle). It’s not heavy on the effects or battles, but there is some action to be had.
Walker Smith (Greg McKinney), an old friend of Garibaldi’s visits the station to be the first human to compete in the Mutai. The Mutai is an alien fighting match that is too brutal for humans to compete in. Walker had a rising boxing career on Earth until he wouldn’t go along with fixing a match and was disgraced. In his interaction with Garibaldi, we learn a little more about when Garibaldi used to drink.
The Muta-Do and others participating in The Mutai aren’t keen to have Walker participate. His first attempt to join them results in him getting knocked down by an old man. Garibaldi is fine with that, but another alien reaches out to Walker and offers to help him enter the Mutai, but with respect. After watching some matches, Walker volunteers to fight. Garibaldi is afraid he’s going to get killed, and the aliens use this as a moment to take a stand against the way humans have intruded on their worlds and treated them.
Meanwhile, Ivanova gets a visit from Uncle Yossel (Theodore Bikel), who is a Rabbi, urging her to sit shiva for her recently deceased father. She uses her work as an excuse to get out of it, but Yossel goes to Commander Sinclair to ask him to give her some time off. Sinclair didn’t even know her father had died. Yossel explains that her entire family is now gone and wants to have a Shiva to help her process this.
However, once Yossel brings some of her father’s possessions and says he will be leaving, they have a heart-to-heart talk. Susan explains the difficulties she had with her father. Yossel tries to get her to forgive her father, but Ivanova resists. It’s only when he’s about to board his transport back to Earth that she breaks down, remembering what her father said to her on his deathbed. She decides to sit Shiva for her father.
The conversation between Sinclair and Ivanova is great. You can tell she’s barely holding it together, even as she says there’s no need to sit Shiva. She doesn’t even want to sit down, afraid that sitting will weaken her while standing allows her to remain steadfast. It’s some great acting by both of them. We learned about Ivanova’s mother in the previous episode, Eyes, and now we get more perspective on why she is so solidly intimidating and strong. She had to be. Claudia Christian’s acting is a tremendous part of why this series worked so well.
Garibaldi’s storyline is fairly predictable, although I think there was some suspense as to whether or not Walker would survive his time in the Mutai. It also works as being synonymous with the western-centric culture invading other places. We tend to go to other cultures without respect for theirs and try to force them to conform to our ideals. The other races resent this on the station, where things seem to be human-centric. The Mutai is one thing that humans have been shut out of and they would like to keep it that way.
There’s a funny moment to open the episode where Ivanova is shown reading a book by Harlan Ellison, “Working Without a Net. Ellison was a consultant on Babylon 5, and his not-yet-published autobiography was titled this.
TKO isn’t a particularly memorable or action-packed episode. It does give more background to the characters, especially Ivanova. I can’t praise the acting on this show enough, and it’s great at giving the cast a chance to really act and not be opposite a green-screen.
Previous episode (link): Babylon 5: Eyes