In the eighth episode of the fifth season of Babylon 5, a strange Brakiri ritual brings about the dead. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of suicide, drug addiction
I liked this weird episode! It felt like such a break from the normal storytelling modes of the show, both in structure and tone, and it’s no wonder since Neil Gaiman wrote it. I gotta say upfront, though, that I thought it was pretty cheap for the show (since I don’t know who came up with it) to rip off Día de los Muertos in name and in imagery. Seriously, the Brakiri just happen to have sugar skulls to represent their sacred night of the dead? It’s too on the nose, made even more egregious because there’s not a Mexican in sight on this show. I know Babylon 5 is pretty damn white, but this was kind of a lot to see. Thankfully, by the time we get past the first act, it’s all pushed aside so that the story can settle on this bizarre experience, and that part I enjoyed. LET’S TALK.
Rebo and Zooty
I realize that there’s always a risk in putting comedy into a show like this. We’ve heard of Rebo and Zooty for a long time; they’re a beloved comedy duo! Comedy is so subjective, so I get that this isn’t supposed to work for everyone. But wow, I did not find them funny at all. And it’s not a Penn and Teller thing, either! I don’t find them funny, either, but the Rebo and Zooty style is just so strange and disjointed, partly because it’s designed that way. We see a bit of their routine, then we overhear a special of theirs that Lochley is watching, and I’m on her side. I DON’T GET IT AT ALL. Which is fine. I’m not sure I have to. They show up, and they make people happy. And not just that, but they are in turn inspired by the people who enjoy them. I liked that there was a bit here that validated the importance of the arts in a political world, while also noting that sometimes, comedians can get away with saying things others cannot under oppressive regimes. So maybe this plot wasn’t as connected to the main one as it could have been, but it worked.
So, I want to go through each of the appearances that we get in this episode because of what they reveal about each of these characters. “Day of the Dead” feels more like a collection of vignettes or short stories than a singular arc, and y’all know I LOVE shit like this. And because each of the four “dead” stories are shorter than what you might expect from a longer story, it allows Gaiman to explore moods and tones, rather than something with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. In Londo’s case, the return of Adira, poisoned to death in a plot to turn Londo to his side, brings about happiness, joy, and a bittersweet reflection on the future. Much of the time these two spend together isn’t seen onscreen. Rather, we get a sense of how happy they are just to be in one another’s presence and how they turn to physical pleasure to commemorate that happiness. Yet Londo can’t ignore the reality of Adira’s appearance; that’s what Lochley’s interrupting message is for. It’s that reminder that while this is real, not a fantasy, Londo will soon be thrust back onto his inevitable path. He will soon become Emperor. What if he’d taken another path? What if he’d pursued a life with Adira instead of pursuing power?
Londo won’t ever know. Is there wisdom gained from the dead in this instance? I wouldn’t say so. If anything, Londo deliberately did not seek it. He just sought comfort.
Which is fascinating because of what Garibaldi chose to do when Dodger returned to him. In this instance, the dead character is more than interested in having sex with the living one, but Garibaldi turns it down time and time again. I assume he’s still with Lise, who we haven’t seen in a while, and I am also guessing that motivates his actions here. He doesn’t want to do Lise wrong, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy his time just being around her. Their interactions are emotionally intimate in this case. In that sense, this isn’t that different than what Londo and Adira go through, but there is an undeniable tension here that comes from what Dodger wants and what Garibaldi does. That tension, though, made this story so captivating to me. What would I do in a similar situation, especially since I couldn’t escape from this? Well, Garibaldi doesn’t betray Lise, but he also doesn’t deny the chance to have a unique experience, one that’s real and meaningful.
By the way, whatever happened to the technomages??? I totally wanted them to come back, but Dodger’s mention of technomancy is the first time they’ve been mentioned since… what? Season one???
Holy shit, this was a million times more intense than I expected??? Again, for how short this was, this STUNG. But I don’t mean that in a bad way. The frank way in which this script talks about substance abuse and suicide felt so refreshing to me, particularly because these characters were honest about it while we also got to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I never would have guessed that Lochley had this experience, but that’s kinda the point, isn’t it? You never know what a person is going through, and given Lochley’s by-the-book attitude, this initially seemed to be a curveball.
But Gaiman is part of telling a story out of order. We got Lochley later in life, and her story with Zoe informed what we now see. And look, we’ve all seen suicide used to inspire or motivate another character, but I’ve not seen it interrogated like this before. The dead character is back, and Lochley actually got to talk to her about what had happened. It’s a painful, awkward conversation, mind you, and it takes until the last second for Zoe to tell Lochley the truth, that her overdose wasn’t accidental, but on purpose. In that moment, though, Lochley’s reaction filled me with happiness. She didn’t judge Zoe at all, and I was so relieved. I know it might seem like a little thing, but seeing a character embrace another and understand their suicide is powerful. There’s so much stigma around it, and this? Was not what I expected. But lord, I’m so pleased that it unfolded this way.
AND THEN THE SHOW THROWS ME A CURVEBALL. I figured that Marcus would show up, but NOPE. It’s Mr. Morden, who was directly responsible for the death of one of the other dead characters in this episode. I was perplexed by this choice, but fascinated by the execution of the idea. Lennier is not at all comforted by this experience. Not just that, but when Morden does offer him wisdom, he rejects it! Granted, I don’t know if Morden is telling the truth. HE LIED ALL THE TIME WHILE ALIVE. But something tells me that this message is meaningful, that for some reason, Lennier will betray the Anla’Shok. NO. NO THANKS. Why would he ever do that??? I don’t get it! THIS EPISODE IS MEAN.
The video for “Day of the Dead” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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