Another in the current string of mid-season standalones, this one turns a welcome spotlight on Security Chief Garibaldi and foreshadows larger events to come... but sadly does so with a transparent script propelled less by plot twists than by clichés.
President Santiago is scheduled to visit Babylon 5, and a much-needed new fighter wing will accompany his visit. But when the docking bay becomes the site of a massive explosion, Garibaldi finds himself framed for sabotage. It is a frame all too willingly believed by the investigating officer: Lianna Kemmer, a member of the President's security detail who has a personal grudge against Garibaldi, whom she blames for her father's death.
Now Garibaldi must use his knowledge of the station to evade his own security forces and Lianna's forces. But Garibaldi has made many enemies during his time on Babylon 5. Without his badge to back him up, the station is not a safe place for him...
Very few of the main characters on Babylon 5 worked from the first episode. Sinclair was uneven; Londo was overexaggerated; G'Kar seemed a one-dimensional baddie, at least on first viewing... and other characters from the pilot worked so very well that they got replaced in the gap between pilot and series.
One character who did work pretty much from the word "go" was Garibaldi. As early as The Gathering, there was something appealingly scruffy about him Here was a guy who had received more than his share of hard knocks throughout his life. He was a man on his very last chance, a chance he only received because the station's commander happened to be a friend. Garibaldi never really stood out as a particularly brilliant man or a great man. He was just an ordinary guy, someone who had made some bad mistakes in the past, doing his best to muddle through in a world where even he believed he was in over his head. Even when I was unsure of most of the other regulars, I liked him almost instantly.
Here, we get more of Garibaldi's backstory. It is much as we had supposed. The battle with the bottle is a pure cliché, of course; the hard-boiled detective character is almost always an alcoholic. But there are a few new items of interest. The Gathering vaguely foreshadowed Garibaldi's defeatism. There, he was ready to give up almost immediately when it seemed his investigation had hit a dead end. Survivors illustrates this trait much more vividly.
As Garibaldi fails to turn up any leads into who framed him, he settles into the grimiest of dives in Down Below and proceeds to get very, very drunk. It is clear that, left to his own devices, Garibaldi never would be able to solve this mystery. It may not be a happy revelation; but it is interesting that, when the odds are sufficiently stacked against him, our "hard-boiled action hero" not only doesn't come out swinging, but actively throws up his hands and gives up. This is a trait that will come back to haunt all our characters somewhat later in the story...
This episode also gives us a better look at the friendship between Sinclair and Garibaldi than we have previously had. Once again, we have it reinforced that Sinclair fully believes in Garibaldi. Despite the evidence against the security chief, Sinclair never doubts his friend for a second. Once again, Sinclair does everything the rules will allow to do what he believes is right - in this case, to help Garibaldi.
Sinclair's particular method of working within the rules to accomplish what he needs seems to be rubbing off on Ivanova, as well. Her rather amusing "communications check" seems to be a page borrowed directly from Sinclair's book. This and other bits of Survivors showcase what's been quietly developing in the background of several episodes: a definite mentor/pupil relationship between the Commander and the Lieutenant-Commander.
Also of interest on second viewing is the extent to which this episode ties into both what has gone before and what is to come. It is discovered near the end of the episode that the original saboteur was a member of the Homeguard, who figured so prominently in The War Prayer (and, by implication, in And the Sky Full of Stars) as having significant backing within the government. It is noted that Santiago is arriving on Babylon 5 in part to endorse new legislation to make it easier for aliens to immigrate to Earth. And already, exactly halfway into the first season, we have an attempt made to assassinate Santiago.
These ties to the arc - not apparent on first viewing, but highly visible on re-watching - make it an episode that's interesting, if only for that reason. If only it had been a good episode in itself...
One of the reasons why the first season is structured so differently from the later seasons is to give viewers a chance to be introduced to all the characters. As a result, each character receives a turn in the spotlight: Sinclair in And the Sky Full of Stars, Franklin in Believers, Delenn in Soul Hunter, G'Kar in The Parliament of Dreams. Each of these episodes has shown new facets of the corresponding character: Sinclair's war guilt and repressed anger, Franklin's arrogance, Delenn's deviousness.
Unfortunately, Garibaldi just isn't as layered a character as the others. He will become a complex character later in the series. At this early stage, however, he is the sole exception to G'Kar's proclamation in Mind War; Garibaldi is exactly who he appears to be. His moment of weakness is as interesting as it is disquieting; but there just isn't enough complexity in Season One Garibaldi to anchor an episode.
The story itself is very transparent and positively flooded with clichés. We are told early in the show that Garibaldi is a recovering alcoholic. From that moment, you can start counting the minutes to see how long it will be before he crawls back into the bottle in the face of adversity. When he first meets Lianna and realizes the extent to which she blames him for her father's death, it is enormously predictable (and rather poorly-executed) when he takes out his frustration on a minor thief. It is similarly predictable that this same thief will later use Garibaldi's situation as an opportunity for revenge. The identity of the saboteur is very obvious, very quickly. That Garibaldi will ultimately "make good" and stop the saboteur is just a matter of course. As with The War Prayer, we are watching a by-the-numbers plot unfold in a mechanical fashion. The spectacle is no more interesting here than it was there.
Lianna also is not very bright, from the evidence on-hand here. We are told that she's good at her job, when not obsessed with revenge. However, what we're shown is a woman whose extremely bad at her job. Once she decides to detain Garibaldi, he evades detection much too easily. The truth is, if Lianna was any good at her job, Garibaldi should have been caught almost immediately.
Observe: We see Lianna observe early in the episode that Sinclair, Ivanova, and Londo are "about the only friends (Garibaldi) has." She has plenty of men under her; it would be a simple matter to have the above three people followed. Any competent security officer would do so. Therefore, any competent security officer would find and arrest Garibaldi at least twice during the episode: early in the chase, when he makes contact with Londo at the station casino; or around the midpoint of the episode, when Sinclair saves him from a gang of criminals.
It evidently never occurs to Lianna to keep tabs on Garibaldi's "only friends." This oversight may allow the plot to unfold, but it seems exceptionally dim on her part.
To sum up: this is a decidedly uninspired installment, giving too much attention to Garibaldi's relationship with a character we will never see again, and telling a predictable story in a predictable fashion. Despite elements that are interesting in relation to the full arc, Survivors might be an apt title for viewers of the episode, who will at the end of the hour feel lucky to have survived this laboriously clichéd exercise in television tedium.