The Ninjabot

Retro Review: Babylon 5, “The Long Dark”

Posted on July 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm by Will Wells

Babylon 5

We return to Babylon 5, season 2, with an episode that…well, that guest stars Dwight Schultz, aka Reg Barclay of Star Trek fame. Also Howling Mad Murdock if you watched the A-Team (the original TV series, I mean). The Long Dark is not a great episode. It’s an average episode that is only noteworthy because of Dwight Schultz’s appearance and performance.

B5 S2 E5 03

The Long Dark opens with Ivonova in the C&C. There they detect an incoming ship—the Copernicus, which launched 100 years ago, before humans learned of jump gate technology. They detect life signs on the ship and bring it in to investigate.

B5 S2 E5 01

Meanwhile, Dwight Schultz is chewing scenery in Down Below—the homeless section of Babylon 5. I haven’t talked about Down Below before, but since there isn’t a lot to this episode, this seems like a good time to do so.

In many ways, Babylon 5 is a rebellion against the “Roddenberry Ideal” which was dominating science fiction in the mid 1990s. Unlike Star Trek, Babylon 5 featured characters who were very clearly military, who still used money, and who hadn’t “evolved” in the measly 200 years between the show’s setting and the modern day society that was creating the show. To that end, Babylon 5 has a slum—an unfinished section of the station where squatters lurk, crime is rampant, and things are thoroughly crappy. It’s filled with the poor and homeless, people of all races who came to Babylon 5 hoping for a new start, but couldn’t find jobs and now eke out a life in filth and debris.

The Down Below is there to demonstrate that we haven’t come that far, that we aren’t more evolved, and that people still fall through the cracks of society. The characters never have to come out and say any of this. The mere existence of a slum makes all those points clear without the characters saying a word. It’s a wonderful example of the setting delivering a message without having to explain anything.

That’s high praise, but most of that subtext is from other episodes. Here, it just serves as a location for the local crazy. He has a name in-universe, but I’m just going to refer to the actor since the character is basically Dwight Schultz playing his standard insane person: Reg Barclay cranked up to 11. Not to say the performance isn’t excellent. Dwight Schultz chews scenery with the best of em, and he is absolutely out of his mind while at the same time being sympathetic. He’s a war vet, see, and he knows that there’s a monster on that ship because that monster killed his unit during the Minbari war, which he explains to Garibaldi during a brief moment of semi-lucidity between his crazy rants about the end of the world.

B5 S2 E5 04

While all that is going on, Doc Franklin has revived the survivor. The ship originally contained her and her husband, but the monster that has Schultz upset ate her husband and snacked on her a bit too. Franklin deals with this using his best bedside make-out technique. And no, that’s not a typo. Yes folks, good ol’ Doc Franklin, kissing a woman who only hours ago learned that her husband is dead and she’s 100 years in the future on a space station full of aliens. You go Doc! Don’t let pesky ethics get in your way.

These two plotlines converge when Schultz runs screaming into the night, and the unthawed widow is needed to track him (and the mean ol’ alien) down. Sheridan goes all bad-ass and talks about how one bee sting is an annoyance, but a hundred can kill you, proceeding to shoot a few hundred small holes in the killer alien.

B5 S2 E5 02

It looks kind of like a satyr, weirdly, albeit one made of lightning. This is relevant because later, J’Kar is looking through his book about the Shadows and there is an entry about a creature that looks just like the one Sheridan killed. Oh, and according to the ship’s computer, the alien was heading to Z’ha’dum before it ran into Babylon 5. Of course, since we never see any Shadow minion that ever resembles this creature again, that ends up being faux-foreshadowing. Ah well, probably for the best.

Rating: C+

Breakdown: Babylon 5 is known for above average episodes. This is not one of them. The Long Dark is…meh. Not terrible, just okay. It would get a C- if not for Dwight Schultz being an entertaining and engaging presence.

    Sharing the Legacy on Flickr

    See all photos