Babylon 5: The Long Dark

What’s the matter with my chapter? Everything. Bear in mind that I don’t write fiction; I edit it. Chapter 15 may be written in passable commercial prose, but it sheds no light, tells no stories, leads nowhere, says nothing that hasn’t been said before, and in general has no damned reason to exist.
—Teresa Nielsen Hayden, discussing her contribution to Atlanta Nights.

This is one of those episodes that makes me question my perception of Babylon 5 . I recall the series turning into “all story arc, all the time” after Sheridan was settled into the crew, which means that episodes like this just vanished from my memory of the show. Because despite the way that it’s hooked into the broader storyline of the series—the monster first appeared during the Earth-Minbari war, and it’s headed back to Z’ha’dum like an Orc to Mordor—this is basically a Freak of the Week episode. No major character changes, or is further revealed. No new characters or significant forces are added to the setting. There aren’t even any memorable quotes.

It’s not even an original plot. Basically, it’s a washed-out version of the premise of Alien3: a monster less horrible than the Alien kills fewer sleeping people on a less alarming vessel than the Sulaco’s escape pod before it finds its way to someplace less unpleasant than Fury 161. More competent people in charge of a less destructive population then pursue it in a more efficient manner and kill it, with less collateral damage, before any obnoxious authorities get involved.

Indeed, you know what? Let’s just breeze by what actually happened in the episode. A big zappy alien that eats people’s innards has stowed away on a sleeper ship. Said sleeper ship arrives at Babylon 5, with one dead man and one lovely living woman. She’s African American, so you know she’s going to end up kissing Franklin. She does, despite being only a day, personal time, from being married to a guy now rather unpleasantly dead. The only person who recognizes the danger is a lurker with PTSD, who is dismissed as crazy but turns out to be entirely correct in every particular. Only after the monster has killed another disposable lurker do the command team start listening to the crazy guy, at which point they ambush and kill the creature. The woman then goes away rather than tangle up the storyline of a major character.

Meanwhile…nothing else happens. There is no B plot to provide relief, parallax, or depth to this distillation of tropes.

So you know what would be more fun to discuss? What would have happened had the arriving ship been the Sulaco’s escape pod rather than the rather anodyne Copernicus? How would the population of the station cope? How would the crew find and exterminate the alien? How would the station’s various races help or hinder the extermination effort?

Ideas? Sketches of scenes? The floor is open.

The next writeup will cover Spider in the Web

Index of Babylon 5 posts

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10 Responses to Babylon 5: The Long Dark

  1. Serge Broom says:

    Any cat to liven things up?

  2. Serge Broom says:

    It wouldn’t surpriise me unduly that this came up because the rest of the arc hadf run into a writing snag.

  3. Fade Manley says:

    This actually kinda makes me wish I’d ever seen Aliens 3, so that I could offer useful theories on that What If. (That said, now I’m wondering what would have happened if, instead of docking with Babylon 5, the Copernicus had gotten docked up somehow with Moya over on Farscape.)

  4. Well, there’s nothing particular about Alien3…it’s just an alien loose in Yet Another Shadowy Environment, picking people off one by one.

    I’m less qualified to talk about a Farscape crossover, since Martin was the one who watched that. I’d be interested to see what the crew of the Liberator would do; I can picture Zen being snotty and intellectual at them as they searched for the intruder.

    (The obvious Avon quip: “It eats innards, you say? As in, guts? We should send Vila after it, then. He’ll be perfectly safe.”)

  5. RogerBW says:

    Is the Magical Lunatic a variant of the Magical Negro?

    I was so profoundly unimpressed by Alien 3 that I didn’t realise at first you were talking about that setup – apart from anything else, it invalidates even the very pyrrhic victory of Aliens. If the alien can get into the brown sectors, it’s already won – B5 simply doesn’t have enough people to hunt through there, and it can convert biomass to its heart’s content until it has enough bugs to swarm the station.

    I’d rather see Nostromo’s pod arrive at B5. Ripley gets revived much as Cirrus did. Cue the hospital scene from Aliens, only she’s been asleep for much much longer. A planet full of nasties is just the sort of thing Sheridan would want to investigate, but he doesn’t have the ground forces to do a proper job of it – it’s going to be lots of orbital observation (which won’t reveal much), then a shuttle with the senior command staff and nothing like enough weaponry or grunts.

  6. RogerBW @5:

    I would be interested to see how Ripley and Ivanova would get on. I’d expect that she and Garibaldi would end up respecting one another, even though she’s a pointy-head and he’s a grunt at heart. I think she’d do well with G’Kar but poorly with Londo; I think Delenn would like her and Sheridan trust her.

    But Ivanova? Either they’d eye each other up and esteem each other, or they’d fight like cats in a sack.

  7. RogerBW says:

    Abi @ 6: well, this was television, so they’d probably have been sidling around each other hissing until they had to work together to deal with a real problem.

    Slightly more seriously: both of them are basically competent professionals who don’t see “being female” as having anything to do with job performance or leadership ability. (And both of them are from societies that regard that as the normal way to be.) What would make their interaction interesting to me would be an exploration of the points of difference of these superficially similar people: religious vs not, having-been-a-mother vs not, military vs civilian.

  8. Lylassandra says:

    You forgot to mention that the lurker is played by Dwight Schultz, for those of us playing SF bingo here at home.

    Now I actually have a desire to go pick up the Alien series…

  9. Paul A. says:

    One moment I did like was when Dwight Schultz was doing his first prophet of doom spiel in the Zocolo, and he starts bugging G’Kar, with Londo watching in amusement – but Londo can’t resist calling out encouragement, thereby unintentionally rescuing G’Kar as Dwight Schultz starts bugging him instead.

  10. Pingback: B5 Rewatch: S2E05 "The Long Dark" | ***Dave Does the Blog

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