Babylon 5

Series Rewatch – Babylon 5: The Long Dark – Alien Meets Babylon 5

Written by J. Michael Straczynski, Larry DiTillio, and Scott Frost
Directed by Mario DiLeo

The fifth episode of the second season brings us one of the weaker episodes of the series. This is a shame, because they waste the wonderful talents of Dwight Schultz. Had they kept only his story of a veteran of battle and what it’s like for them after the war is over and everyone has gone home, it would have been much better without the forced romance.

An unknown ship comes through the jumpgate near Babylon 5. It identifies itself as the Copernicus and states “we come in peace..” Meanwhile, in downbelow, as the ship approaches, one of the homeless residents (known as “lurkers”) of the station seems to have some manic episode. When he approaches Narn Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) and Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik), Security Chief Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) arrests him.

When the ship is close enough to the station, Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) identifies it as an old Earth exploration vessel, before there was jumpgate technology. There is one life-sign onboard, so they bring it into one of the hangar bays. They find cryogenic sleeping chambers and only one is still alive. Dr. Franklin (Richard Biggs) rushes her to medbay.

When she awakens for the first time, Dr. Franklin calms her down and sedates her. An autopsy on the other body reveals that he was murdered when someone or something ripped all of his organs out through his throat. When the patient awakens the second time, she tells him that her name is Mariah Cirrus (Anne-Marie Johnson). She and her husband were on a commercial research mission. When Dr. Franklin breaks the news that her husband is dead, she responds “What have I done?”

“The forces of darkness do not move openly. They work through others, use others. When the darkness was defeated long ago, they scattered, hid themselves away in secret places and waited. Now, the dark hand is reaching out and recalling them from their sleep.”

Later, as Mariah is marveling over the many species on Babylon 5, she has an episode when introduced to G’Kar which results in her passing out. They’ve barely met, and Dr. Franklin is already falling for her. Is she guilty of murdering her husband? The other species begin clamoring for her to be removed from the station, believing she is harboring something inside of her.

This is a good episode when it explores PTSD at a time when we were just starting to understand it in the public eye, especially in soldiers. Garibaldi is sympathetic towards the manic former soldier, Amis (Dwight Schultz). When one of his security officers expresses disdain for the lurkers and their emotional problems, He states that he’s had the same dreams. Garibaldi tells one of his war stories, which helps Amis open up and tell his story of being stationed at a deep space listening post during the war. 47 men were assigned as an intelligence gathering unit, and not equipped for battle. Only one lived, Amis. The being that was killing them kept him alive to feed on him. He states that the same being came off of the Copernicus.

The mystery of who or what has killed Mariah’s husband and one of Babylon 5 residents also is good. There are no startling revelations, really, but it creates a good deal of suspense in a noir fashion. At the end, it’s revealed that the ship was reprogrammed to fly to Za’ha’dum. This would be another piece of information alluding to the coming of the Shadows. It would appear that the being is part of the ancient ones G’Kar and others have been talking about, and something was calling it there.

However, the romance between Dr. Franklin and Mariah feels forced, and at times creepy. Mariah was in stasis and thought she’d wake up to her husband, yet she kissed Franklin within hours of learning he was dead. Their marriage wasn’t a solid one, but it still seemed rather fast. However at times during their interaction Dr, Franklin is the one reaching out and stroking her skin in a way that is more than a doctor trying to comfort a patient. He is a highly-regarded doctor and should know better. He does express misgivings, but it seems false in light of his actions.

When Dr. Franklin is updating Mariah on what she’s missed in over 100 years, this gives an opportunity to give a brief history of Earth’s time in space to the viewer as well. The first species Earth had contact with was the Centauri, who gave them jumpgate technology. This was shortly after the Copernicus left Earth, which explains how the technology could change so fast.

I did think this episode had an “Alien” vibe to it. It felt a lot like that movie, where something gets aboard that will kill everyone and the crew must try to kill it before it kills them, while at the same time wondering who they can trust. It’s not an overt copy of that film. Mostly, it’s just the same genre of horror where people are locked in a house with an unknown enemy as they fight to survive.

Dwight Schultz’s performance here is stellar. He seems to enjoy the roles where he gets to act crazy, but there’s so much more here to Amis. He is a man who has seen unspeakable horror and lives with the after-effects. His crazy moments might be amusing, but the backdrop of what he’s experienced makes it sobering and tragic.

If you can ignore the romance portion of the episode, it’s much better. I think the same story could have been told without it, and would have resulted in a much stronger episode. Dr. Franklin could just be diligent about a patient who has been through a lot and offer her comfort without it being romantic. It’s not a terrible episode, but it has this weak point that hasn’t been in any of the episodes of the series that I’ve seen so far.

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