Posts Tagged ‘Dust to Dust’

Rusty Davies, far too many moons ago for it to seem credible, made a pop about what he perceived as the pompous portentousness of Babylon 5 episode titles (he also had a poke at The X Files for just having weird ones, but they’re not actually up in print at the top of an episode). Season 3 Disc 2’s  crop are actually not that egregious a set of offenders on this front, being entitled  Voices of Authority, Dust to Dust, Exogenesis and Messages from Earth. The one which jumps out at me from that list is Exogenesis, but that’s because it instantly speaks of SF bafflegab, not the same thing Rusty was on about.

There’s some SF bafflegab – well, some of it, strictly speaking, is pseudo-mystical cobblers – in Voices of Authority. Herein Marcus and Ivanova beetle off on a mission to contact some of the ancient powers of the galaxy and enlist their help for the coming struggle, while Sheridan has to contend with a rather dedicated new political officer, who is played by the beautiful and talented Shari Shattuck (hey, she blogs on WordPress too, and maybe I can steal some of her followers).

The theme of the episode is people determinedly trying to either keep or uncover secrets, as made clear by G’Kar desperately trying to find his way into the conspiracy being led by Delenn and the others, and Garibaldi and Zach falling out because neither now can really trust the other. It works okay, solid rather than great stuff. There’s a major arc-related development in the course of the episode, but it feels crowbarred in, somehow – it’s a piece of the puzzle that needed to appear around this time, but its appearance here doesn’t feel organic to the episode.

More on Dust to Dust in a minute, which brings us to Exogenesis, a proper SF-sounding episode title which actually, when you think about it properly, doesn’t really have much bearing on what actually happens in the story. This is another one which JMS doesn’t like very much – apparently he got distracted halfway through writing it – and it impresses me less now than it did in 1996 (the plot at one point depends on a rather silly secret tunnel coming to light).

It’s fairly clear that this is meant to be a showcase for Marcus Cole, in the last available slot before Big Arc Things happen for many episodes in a row. The story is an attempt to invert the structure of a common Trek plot, in which symbiotic aliens infiltrate the station (and the bodies of a number of its inhabitants). However, they never quite convince as a genuine threat and as a result the revelation that they’re actually not that bad doesn’t pack much of a wallop.  However, it’s reasonably well-acted, with a few expat Brits turning up (James Warwick, who played the Brigadier-analogue from Earthshock, and Aubrey Morris from all sorts of things) – I still can’t decide whether Jason Carter is just miscast or if the character is impossible to perform credibly as written.

The Big Story starts to go bang in suitably sweeping fashion in Messages from Earth, in which an already tense political situation comes to a head when our heroes discover a long-standing alliance between elements of Earth’s government and the Shadows. In order to stop their domestic enemies getting their hands on massively powerful ancient technology, Sheridan and Delenn have to lead a high-risk mission into the solar system, little realising this will have severe consequences across the galaxy.

JMS, certainly at the time this episode was made, was happy to declare that this was the best one they’d produced up that point – but for me it doesn’t quite match up to the big episodes of the second season, or indeed a few yet to come in this one. Some elements of the plot are a bit too convenient – it’s never made clear if Sheridan’s sincerely planning to blast a Terran outpost from orbit – while the revelations about the link between Earth and the Shadows don’t immediately tally with what’s already been established on screen (then again, as regular readers know, I am not the kind of person to fixate on the details or internal history of fictional universes).

The concluding battle is nicely done, but as usual I am more curious about the ‘other’ climax – apparently JMS came up with two, one in which the White Star takes on the Shadow ship inside the atmosphere of Jupiter, the other in which a whole fleet of Earth vessels engages and ultimately destroys the alien craft, and let the FX house choose which one they wanted to produce. They went for the former, obviously. On its own terms, this is a pretty good episode, but it’s only really designed to work as a scene-setter for the really big ones immediately following it.

But back to Dust to Dust, which features the return of Walter Koenig and his is-it-or-isn’t-it hair as semi-regular bad guy Bester. On this occasion Bester is in pursuit of criminals dealing in an illegal drug known as Dust, which has the effect of stimulating the telepathic faculty in normal humans.

Garibaldi and Ivanova try to decide if it is or it isn't real.

Garibaldi and Ivanova try to decide if it is or isn’t real.

Dust-use on the station is causing problems, so Sheridan and the crew aren’t necessarily opposed to Bester’s ends, but given the numerous conspiracies and secrets to which they are privy, they can’t afford to let a hostile telepath into their midst. This results in one of the few bum moments of the episode, in which Ivanova contemplates blowing up Bester’s ship on approach – this just struck me as very melodramatic and corny storytelling, something increasingly appearing on the show. There’s a similar beat in Voices of Authority where Ivanova (again) ‘persuades’ ancient and powerful aliens to help them using the kind of reverse psychology that wouldn’t work on an eight-year-old.

The twist is that the drug dealer on B5 is there to do business with G’Kar, who’s planning to use the telepathic drug as a weapon against the Centauri occupation of Narn. This is slightly reminiscent of the Blake’s 7 episode Shadow, in which Blake and his crew seriously contemplate becoming drug dealers in order to fund their own rebellion, and there could perhaps have been a story along similar lines here – would G’Kar have been morally justified in becoming a pusher, given everything his people have suffered?

But this is not that story. G’Kar decides to test the drug on himself (the Narns have no natural telepaths any more), and it sends him into a sort of psychotic frenzy, whereupon he smashes his way into Londo’s apartments and severely beats him. While Bester and Garibaldi get on with catching the Dust-dealer, the focus of the episode switches to G’Kar’s telepathic violation of Londo’s mind and what results from it.

Well, you’ve got the show’s two most charismatic performers doing intense character material, with another guest shot from Jim Norton, one of the most reliable supporting actors, so this is very engaging and powerful stuff. It’s clearly a big step in the evolution of G’Kar as a character, and noteworthy for that alone. The icing on the cake is the final revelation that the epiphany that G’Kar has, the moment of realisation that changes his path for ever, is not the purely spiritual moment of self-discovery it’s hitherto been presented as, but something much more ambiguous. We’re heading for a stretch of B5 where there isn’t much in the way of genuine moral shading, and this episode is a welcome reminder of how effectively the series can operate in this area.

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