In the fifth episode of the second season of Babylon 5, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of PTSD and trauma
Holy shit, what??? The Shadows take different forms? Is this the same species we saw when Morden was meeting with the Shadows? Do I even know what the fuck I’m talking about? NO. I don’t! And that uncertainty is what makes this episode such a fantastic creepfest. All by itself, I’m not sure if “The Long Dark” would have been this satisfying. A lot of us have seen or read stories involving an “abandoned” space ship that actually contains some strange, deadly force or species that is unleashed once it makes contact. Hell, we’ve seen variations of that story over multiple shows just for Mark Watches.
But this felt different because it appears to be tied so heavily to the ongoing mythology of the Shadows, of the ancient Darkness that was once defeated and is now returning, of the stories and tales of the mysterious evil that’s lurking out on the Rim. It’s fucking brilliant, and it’s what sets this apart from the expected aspects of this particular trope. And there’s a parallel here, of course: the Copernicus is a ship from the past, one that Earth mostly forgot about because they coincidentally made first contact just years after it was launched. For Amis, history is the trauma he suffered while deployed at a listening post during the Earth-Minbari War, and for him, the past is unearthed all the time.The past is coming back to haunt the galaxy, and while Mariah’s story is deeply personal, as is Amis’s, it’s indicative of where this season seems to be heading.
Which isn’t to say that I like everything here. I do feel that, in general, Amis’s trauma is treated with sympathy, but that’s mostly because of Garibaldi, who knows what it is like to have PTSD due to warfare. Without Garibaldi in this script, Amis would have felt a little bit like the mentally ill person who is cast as the prophet. I felt like the episode avoided that, though, by grounding the character in his PTSD. Rather than seeming mystical, Amis was real, and Garibaldi helped to provide the context to be able to empathize with him. In particular, I’m thinking of that incredible moment where he told Amis that he believed him. A gesture that simple meant the world to Amis, who had spent his life being dismissed and mistreated because no one would listen to him. Look to that one guard for a great example of that: he told Garibaldi that all Lurkers should just be spaced. Maybe that’s not specific to Amis’s mental illness, but it probably played a huge part!
Of course, this isn’t even addressing the other component of this story that makes it so unnerving. Before Amis was rescued, and before Mariah was freed from her cryogenic chamber, both these humans had been fed on. But unlike those who did not survive this horrible creature, they weren’t fully digested. So, they have an existing connection with this thing that calls to them, that reminds them of the horrible trauma they went through, and THAT IS JUST SO FUCKING CREEPY, Y’ALL. They both escaped this thing, but it left mental and physical scars behind, then called to them when it was close to remind them that they were unfinished business. HI, THIS IS PURE HORROR, I HATE ALL OF YOU FOR THIS.
But the whole romance between Dr. Franklin and Mariah? Oh, no. Hard pass. It’s so fast, and while the characters openly discuss that, I don’t think that makes up for the fact that, relative to Mariah, her husband died TWENTY-FOUR HOURS AGO. Okay, maybe a few days? One of the things that this episode largely skips over is Mariah re-orienting herself to the 23rd century. There are very few moments here that address that. She balks at a couple aliens, and she has a very emotional reaction after Dr. Franklin tells her that her husband died, but I feel like she’d have a much, much longer readjustment period. Basically? I didn’t buy the romance at all and found it to be a clunky addition to the episode.
But that’s my only nitpick here. Y’all, the way this show keeps warning me about the Shadows and the Darkness is A LOT. As of the day I’m writing this, the review for “Chrysalis” has just gone up, and I can barely fathom how much new information I’ve learned in just five episodes. Which scares me! What the hell else does this show have up its sleeve?
The video for “The Long Dark” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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