Mark Watches ‘Babylon 5’: S04E17 – The Face of the Enemy

In the seventeenth episode of the fourth season of Babylon 5, HELP ME. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of slavery, brainwashing, genocide, consent

What the fuck!!!!! DON’T DO THIS TO ME!

A New War

This show has managed to pull off one hell of a plot in Garibaldi, and I know that there’s so much more to deal with. And because Garibaldi’s story is like twelve episodes long at this point, it means we’ve gotten a detailed look at his experience as an operative for the Psi Corps. I was both right about his role and wrong about a whole bunch more things, but the point I want to make here at the start of this is that we’ve gotten to see the ramifications of his life as an operative. So, by contrast, it is very strange that Lyta is given such a vital backstory/context here, and yet it’s only delivered to us in a monologue and that’s it. I suppose the intent is to give a contrast between two characters who were ruined by the Psi Corps. Which is fine! It’s just that Lyta’s story feels tacked on rather than an intricate part of it all, you know? Like, were there any hints of this prior to this episode? I suppose I wouldn’t even care, except that this show is so good at complicated backstories and weaving them into the narrative. 

Regardless, I also saw Lyta’s purpose as focusing our attention on the possibility of a war between telepaths and “mundanes.” SHE WASN’T WRONG. 


Look, we all knew Sheridan would go after his father. It’s in his nature, and we’d known for years at this point that Sheridan’s father was a soft spot for him. But one thing that really stuck with me is that this plot is more about Garibaldi than it is about Sheridan. Sheridan is the hero who has the support of the people around him; he is obviously going to go after his father because it’s the Right Thing To Do and because family is important to him. He is the portrait of loyalty here, but that’s not meant to be a surprise to us. No, it’s the contrast provided by Garibaldi that makes this act so important. Garibaldi even makes a reference to Judas, who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The terribly fucked up thing here isn’t that there’s a contrast: it’s that, given the choice, Garibaldi wouldn’t have betrayed his best friend. And it’s SO PAINFUL.

That’s another reason why the highly stylized, jarring sequence in which Garibaldi betrays Sheridan works so well for me. There’s a drama in the slow motion, in the images of violence, in the way that Garibaldi sits there calmly as Sheridan’s body is battered. But that image crops up again later: when Garibaldi sits across from Bester. And we saw it a few times this season, too, whenever Garibaldi was getting a manipulative message through BabCom. It’s pure horror, and the show tips us into a terrible reality through these images. 

An Agent of the Psi Corps

Oh god, I ABSOLUTELY DID NOT PIECE THIS TOGETHER CORRECTLY AT ALL. I figured this was Psi Corps, and y’all got to watch me completely lose my shit because Garibaldi’s actions made zero sense to me!!! It’s so tragic to think just how fucked up this is because now Garibaldi knows everything he did. At the same time, I get why this messed me up as much as I did. I remarked that I had to keep reminding myself that this character had been brainwashed, that I had no idea where Garibaldi began and the brainwashing ended. Well, now I know why.

None of it was Garibaldi, and all of it was. It is so much more insidious and so much more creepy that this is what Bester and company chose to do. They took Garibaldi’s normal qualities, and they heightened them just a little bit, then gave him subconscious pushes towards certain choices. It explains why this felt like him the whole time, even if his choices didn’t. And in terms of a manipulative act, it’s fucking brilliant, which scares the shit out of me. Seriously, Bester is capricious and cruel, and I’m blown away by his chilling monologue to Garibaldi.

But what becomes of this all? Bester thinks he’s being magnanimous, but there’s no charity here, no sympathy or kindness. He used Garibaldi for his own ends after the Shadows kidnapped him. He wanted a spy for the Psi Corps, and he got one. In the process, Edgars plan is revealed to Bester, and then… what? Garibaldi is freed from his brainwashing, but he’s left with the guilt and shame of what he was forced to do.

And y’all, I can’t even wrap my mind around the disaster that is Edgars. Like, yes! The Psi Corps is fucking awful. They’re absolutely how Clark has maintained power as long as he has, and we’ve seen, time and time again, that Bester only cares about himself and (some) other telepaths. He would absolutely re-organize society to put telepaths on top, and I’d argue that he more or less did that on Earth? At least allying and working with the Shadows, allying with Clark, suppressing resistance movements, using the Psi Corps to terrorize and subjugate telepaths.

BUT MURDERING MILLIONS OF TELEPATHS IS NOT THE ANSWER. Neither is basically inflicting them with a chronic illness and then hanging a life-saving treatment over their heads for the entirety of their lives! It’s so fucking demonic, but it’s not surprising, at least not coming from someone like Edgars, for whom power, privilege, and money come to him so easily. In his mind, this is a war, and this is a pre-emptive strike. But it’s so monstrous!!! So I don’t feel bad that he and Wade were killed, and I also hate that the Psi Corps is so intricately tied to an oppressive regime, and this is all a horrible mess. I can’t even figure out how this season will end, let alone how there’s a fifth one. What will come of Sheridan while in custody? What will Garibaldi do now that Ivanova has ordered him shot if he appears on the ship? THIS IS TOO MUCH.

The video for “The Face of the Enemy” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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