SJ Review #419

Episode: 419 - Between the Darkness and the Light
David J. Eagle
Bruce Gray (Interrogator)
Marc Gomes (Eisensen)
Majorie Monaghan (Number One)
David Purdham (Captain James)
Musetta Vander (Felicia)

Garibaldi tries to explain his situation to the Mars rebels, whilst Marcus and Ivanova discover a frightening new type of EarthForce battleship...

This episode had a hard act to follow after the superlative "Intersections in Real Time". Whilst it could not hope to compete with that episode's superb psychological dealings, it nevertheless held its own, mostly by being completely different. Instead of more intense, character-based drama, we got a special effects-laden, action-packed episode. Let's examine the special effects first:

During the first or second season, had we been treated to special effects of the quality witnessed in this episode, we would have been absolutely stunned rigid - back then, in 1993, there simply were no effects of that calibre being made for television programmes (it could be argued they were not being seen in big budget movies, either). However, in today's special effects drenched science fiction market, battle scenes are a fairly common occurrence and run the terrible risk of being tired and cliched. Thankfully, Babylon 5 usually avoids this trap by running all the carefully woven plot strands in the background, giving the rest of the episode something more for the long-term viewer to grasp at. The special effects in 419, whilst being brilliant, were hardly anything new (in fact, the new 'Shadow-Omegas', for want of a better name, were somewhat disappointing - it was the idea that made them so frightening) and the episode desperately needed something more to hold it afloat.

This came in the form of the events occurring on Mars. Unfortunately, this all seemed to be rushed along rather too fast, especially coupled with the climactic events occurring on the warfront. This was something the entire episode suffered for; it felt as if all the plotlines were being forced along at a far too fast pace. There probably was not enough material involved to enable a two-parter to be created but some extra time would definitely have improved the episode, so that there wouldn't have been quite so many time jumps (for example: Sheridan leaving the prison, only to be back with the fleet a few scenes later - it would have been good to see a few of the events that occurred in-between).

This frenetic speed prevented the viewer from ever relaxing and certainly made for a tremendously exciting episode; nevertheless, we should have had more time to appreciate the tumultous events that were occurring all around.

On the acting front, Jerry Doyle (Garibaldi) continued his superb performance this season, especially in the scene when he was attempting to convince the Mars resistance of his innocence. The rest of the Mars ensemble cast handled their parts well, except for Patricia Tallman, as Lyta Alexander. This was, however, partly down to poor dialogue given to her character - notably, the 'gulp/sip' conversation.

This conversation displayed an all too common trait in Straczynski's writing. It began well, everything running along very smoothly and naturally, and was very amusing. However, at the point when it should have stopped (namely, the point when Franklin and Garibaldi leave the shot) carried on. We then had to endure Tallman spouting ridiculously out-of-character and out-of-context lines which were, I presume, supposed to be funny. At this point all the realism and nice character-play was lost - after all, I hardly think Lyta would go shouting on about "suing somebody" at the top of her voice when she is trying to infiltrate a top-security Martian prison facility.

Straczynski is an expert at closely observed character-comedy, whereby little side comments are delivered nonchalently by the cast; unfortunately, he also has a tendency to go too far and ruin the humour and realism of the show.

The rest of the acting was really rather good. Jason Carter (Marcus) delivered perhaps his best performance so far, despite having few lines; it was all very subtle and under-stated, which made it all the more impressive. Even Claudia Christian (Ivanova), who has disappointed on several occasions this season, acted well. Although her attack speech was a little forced, she still carried it out admirably. More impressive was her acting whilst incapacitated in the White Star medical room; this was quite possibly her best performance in the series to date.

The directing was something of a mixed bag. It showed occasional flourishes of genius - the shots of the debris hitting the White Star bridge were horrifying, particularly the shot of the crippled ship exploding in the distance. The ominous silence during these scenes were emphasised by the loud music (Christopher Franke delivering a scorching score yet again) and sound effects of the previous battle.

However, the rescue of Sheridan was somewhat clumsily handled. Towards the end of the rescue it was somewhat unclear as to what was happening, due to the bad angling of the camera shots: Firstly, Garibaldi appeared to shoot straight through a window, because he was obscuring the message hole at the time; then, the cut was so tight it looked as if Sheridan fired on a dead guard (whereas the guard was about to fire); thirdly, after Sheridan's frenzied firing, it initially appeared as if Garibaldi was aiming at the Captain, instead of the guard. The scene could definitely have been improved by a little more thought in the placement of the cameras.

Generally a good episode, marred only by a few annoying script and directing flaws.

Rating: 7.5/10 - Exciting stuff, but it didn't have the impact it should have, considering all that was happening.

Points For Discussion:

Will Ivanova be saved?
Can a large fleet of the Shadow-Omegas be stopped?
Does Sheridan know about Garibaldi's 'treachery'?
Who are the traitors in Sheridan's fleet?
What other Shadow technology does EarthForce have?
What are the frozen telepaths for?
How come Ivanova suddenly looked rather like William Shatner during her attack speech?

Simon Jones, reviewer.

1997 Simon Jones.