In the tenth episode of the second season of Babylon 5, why must this show hurt me so. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of war and warfare, death.
Okay, can I have a break after the last episode? JUST KIDDING, NO BREAK AT ALL. Y’all, this was another punch in the gut, though I admit that this may have hit me harder than most people because of the plot between Dr. Franklin and his father. It was difficult for me not to see the complicated relationship I had with my own military father and his friends. One thing this episode conveys really well is that sort of restrictive pressure that often comes from parents who have military experience. They learn a very regimented, organized way to view the world, and I understand why that needs to happen. War is a terrible, violent, deadly, and traumatic thing, and the final moments of “Gropos” remind us of that. People have to be mentally trained for that, but the problem that often crops up is that this mindset often does not translate to life outside of warfare very well, and my own father made that very clear to me. There was no real success in the world outside of the military, and even the job my dad eventually got was in providing technology for military contracts. To him, there was no better career than being in the military, and there was no discipline greater than the armed forces. He could not hear a word of criticism against that organization in any form. They had given him a better life, so how could I not respect that? How could I ever suggest that maybe the military wasn’t what my father thought it was?
I see a struggles similar to that across “Gropos,” and sometimes, it’s played to comedic effect, while most of this episode is scathing and deeply uncomfortable. On the surface level, you see how the Ground Pounders are not at all accustomed to living in confined spaces without things to do. Most are eager to get out in the field, to have something to do, and thus, while they bide their time, things get… well, chaotic??? Is that even a strong enough word? Because this felt like a nightmare in every conceivable sense!!! Twenty-five THOUSAND Ground Pounders in one station, most four to a room, all of them out of their element. This is not what their training was for.
But “Gropos” takes that idea and expands it. General Franklin examines a career officer who still interprets the world through his lens and seems almost unable to see things any other way. And why should he? As Dr. Franklin puts it, his father puts his career first and everything else is a distant second. It has to be that way. Look how many people he is in command over! He prioritizes command, but because of that, his life suffers in other ways. Y’all don’t know how much I relate to what’s put onscreen here, and it’s one of those times where I felt like a writer reached into my life and pulled out my story for their own use. Because I used to bicker with my dad ALL THE TIME. (Though perhaps that’s related to another issue; I did not find him as threatening as my mom, and so it was worth the risk, whereas it was not with my mom until I was much older.) Over banal shit, yes, but oh my god, if we ever spoke about the military, we would just needle into one another. We could not have a sensible conversation about it at all, and it got so bad that we just mutually decided to make the topic off-limits.
So I never got the sense of closure that this episode granted to Dr. Franklin. That closure doesn’t mean that these two men suddenly agree with one another on everything. It’s certainly to the contrary. But what this allows these characters to do is to be honest with one another, to express love and affection, and to leave a future wide open full of possibility. It’s actually quite fitting after the last episode in that sense. This is such a dire and grim episode otherwise, one that continues to escalate Earth Force’s presence. (Well, not just that, but there’s even more xenophobia on display, this time from General Franklin and from the other soldiers who nearly assault Delenn.) And that final image… jesus christ, y’all. Who suffers in these wars? Who pays the price for the decisions made by others? Why were those people on Akdor rebelling? What were they rebelling against? Did Earth Force offer their military to crush a rebellion because it was moral or because it was strategic? (Oh, I fully feel it’s the latter.) And what of those people who paid the ultimate price in order for Earth Force to have that strategic position?
THIS IS SO MESSED UP.
The video for “Gropos” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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