SJ Review #417

Episode: 417 - The Face of the Enemy
Mike Vejar
Walter Koenig (Alfred Bester)
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (William Edgars)
Richard Gant (Captain Edward MacDougan
Majorie Monaghan (Number One)
Denise Gentile (Lise Hampton)
Mark Scheider (Wade)
David Purdham (Captain James)
Ricco Ross (Captain Frank)
Diana Morgan (Alison Higgins)

On Mars, Franklin and Lyta prepare Sheridan's plan of attack, whilst Garibaldi discovers Edgars' true aims....

The increase in quality that we have witnessed over the last three-or-so episodes is, thankfully, continued in 'The Face of the Enemy'. This episode had everything a fan could possibly hope for in a Babylon 5 episode: A good script, excellent special effects, good acting and brilliant directing.

After a number of noticeably poor scripts, Straczynski seems finally to have found his stride once again. The scripts recently have been up to the standard reached at the beginning of the season, and look set to improve yet further. Complementing these well-written scripts is a talented group of actors. The regulars delivered their usual performances in this episode, highlights coming (as usual) from the likes of Jerry Doyle (Garibaldi) and Richard Biggs (Franklin). Doyle's portrayal of Garibaldi this season has far surpassed anything we have previously seen from him, and the scream of anguish he released when he awoke from his Psi-Corp induced personality was perfectly done.

The guest actors are also back to the high calibre sampled at the beginning of the season. This episode had a remarkably large guest cast, and they all handled their parts admirably. Koenig delivered perhaps his best performance as Bester in the series so far. The newer actors also developed and improved their performances: Zimbalist will be missed, as he brought Edgars to life in a particularly vivid fashion; Gant was excellent again and it was good to see him again; Monaghan's performance was much stronger this time round than her previous efforts; Gentile breathed more life into Lise than we had ever seen before (her look of rejection when Garibaldi told her to leave was very powerful, in a subtle kind of way); and even Morgan's ISN newsreader was very convincing, rather uncomfortably similar to various American newsreaders, in fact.

The battle sequences and new shots of the Mars colony were very well designed. The improvements to the Martian city over the past few episodes have turned it from being a badly disguised computer simulation to an almost-convincing cityscape, although the long pans across the surface could still do with some tweaking. The battle sequences were, of course, exemplary; Netter Digital seem to have grasped the art of special effects firmly and surely.

Holding all this together was the incredible directing of Mike Vejar. Having previously helmed 'No Surrender, No Retreat', it was to be expected that the battle sequences would be exciting. What were not so expected were the touches of innovative genious that crept into several scenes; most notably the capture of Sheridan and Garibaldi's recalling of his memories. Whilst cinematic science fiction often displays touches of visual brilliant, television SF rarely does anything particularly interesting, camera-wise. Babylon 5 used to have a fairly ordinary and unimaginative style, but season four introduced some new angles to the filming (such as Garibaldi's non-linear interrogation in 'Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?'). 'The Face of the Enemy' took this to a new plane. The entire fight sequence when Sheridan was captured was captivating, being one of the most interesting (and risky) scenes in the entire series. This scene was enhanced even more so by the sudden silence as Ivanova arrives aboard the White Star. We then had the fast cutting between Sheridan's torture and the ISN report. This was followed by Garibaldi's reawakening, nearer the end of the episode, which was brilliantly edited, finishing with his anguished scream.

There were many more subtle moments in the episode, too, of course, but these particular scenes stand out as being particularly interesting. Perhaps the best thing about these slightly surreal scenes was that they fit seamlessly with the series, and did not appear out of place. This perfectly illustrates the nature of B5: That is is able to adjust and change, and is not stuck in a formulaic rut, which is often the fate of many science fiction series which are based around a central premise.

Rating: 9.5/10 - A near-perfect episode. Perhaps the one for the next Hugo awards?

Points For Discussion:

What will be Sheridan's fate?
How is Garibaldi going to get out of this one?
Do Ivanova and Franklin know enough about Sheridan's tactics to be able to continue the campaign?
Can the Resistance strike against Earth and Mars so early and win?
What must Franklin do with the frozen telepaths?

Simon Jones, reviewer.

1997 Simon Jones.