Tuesday, November 4, 2008

B5 S4 Ep8: The Illusion Of Truth

One of the coolest camera shots thoughout the episode was the TV's eye view shot.

One of the first things I noticed about Babylon 5, Season 4, Episode 8, The Illusion Of Truth, was that actor Stephen Furst, a.k.a. our man Vir, was at the helm directing it. How does he stack up? Let’s find out.

The entry opens with repairs being made to one of the White Star vessels. It’s a pretty nifty CGI shot and one we haven’t seen yet. I thought it was impressive to see a little more in the way of detail surrounding the activity outside of Babylon 5.

Sheridan sits quietly in the empty War Room with the war now ended. The eerie quiet is a little freaky. It’s a bit like the calm before another storm. I’m always waiting for the proverbial ‘shit to hit the fan' as they say [not sure who 'they' is but they have been rumored to say it]. Ivanova arrives and they discuss the hard times affecting Babylon 5 since the Earth quarantine/embargo of the station. Sheridan describes the station as the “old girl” and tells Ivanova wisely, “This place has been declared dead more times than Lazarus. We keep coming back.” That’s a classic. Still, Ivanova knows Sheridan is troubled and asks him what’s bothering him. He relents letting down his personal walls and tells her he’s worried about his dad and his family being targeted by Earth back home. They've been questioned about their son Sheridan in the past and the enemy knows how to get at him. He’s hoping they got outta there.

How about that Babylon 5 font? It’s all around the War Room and just has that whole digitized space-age look. I love that font for the show. Four seasons into it and you still notice the details and how thoughtful some of those touches really are.

Meanwhile, Security Chief Zack Allan has his hands completely full with the station check-in points. He arrives on the scene to go toe-to-toe with an ISN reporter. I thought it was a pretty good moment for Conaway. Jeff Conway has made the most of his run on this series and never ceases to keep things entertaining. I never really expected much from him at the outset, but he’s always been consistently notable in the role.

By the way Zack was completely within his rights to check that cargo. Babylon 5 cannot afford a security problem. Why didn’t the reporter just identify who he was properly and cooperate? Was he planning on doing his piece under the radar? I don’t think so. What a dick! The dick reporter, Dan Randall, is played with a kind of sleazy-smooth by Jeff Griggs.

Meanwhile, Dr. Franklin, with Sheridan’s blessing, is doing his darndest and making every effort to keep the cryogenic freezers functioning. The units have been a bit dicey of late and are essentially keeping the potentially volatile telepaths alive. Sheridan is hopeful he can help them. Until that time comes they are to remain human Popsicles.

Deep down Sheridan knows they’ll be dealing with the legacy of The Shadows for a “long, long time.” Sheridan admits to Franklin there's something far more sinister than The Shadows and that’s “reporters.” Amen brother. I’ll drink to that.

It would seem the future of television news is now. It never ceases to disappointment today along with "reality" television. Supposedly Randall wants to get at the truth surrounding Babylon 5. Randall assures them there is a way to shoehorn truth into the piece carefully despite ISN being a propaganda arm of President Clark’s Earth government. Randall is allegedly one of those “real” reporters who cares about the truth over spin. There’s your first mistake. Never trust a reporter that tells you to trust them.

Elsewhere, Garibaldi is hot to implement his new investigative service as he discuses his first job with a client. Garibaldi exemplifies why he truly is such a terrific gumshoe.

Sheridan asks Lennier to escort Mr. Randall on a tour of the station. He will be Mr. Randall’s liaison. Lennier is a solid, neutral party. Sheridan and Garibaldi make eye contact and the air is clearly not cleared between these two men. Sheridan illustrates major disappointment in Garibaldi over his decision and looks stone cold into his eyes. There’s a sense of disappointment within Garibaldi too as he looks down and away knowingly. Later, Garibaldi looks at a photo of a Drazi statue and immediately flashes back to his Psi Corps holding cell. He is programmed as the words repeat again and again. “You work for no one but us.”

While on the station tour Lennier has a typical Lennier moment of comedy when he head butts one of the roving, hovering ISN cameras. Randall is taken to the depressing conditions of the Down Below to see how the other half is doing. Photos are acquired of the various players on the station as part of ISN’s report. In a scene between Sheridan and Londo we are reminded of just how annoying Londo can be. He makes petty demands concerning his accomodations as only the spoiled ambassador can.

Randall interviews Sheridan and Delenn and the discussion gets personal about their relationship. Sheridan also admits Clark should step down. Delenn and Sheridan are close and Delenn refers to their connection as natural. “The heart does as the heart does.” I was thinking ‘what the hell are you two doing?’ This is the freakin’ media. Take that stuff to the bedroom. You don’t want them hearing that. I thought the two unwisely divulged too much personal information. Keep it professional. With all of the cameras watching your every move it was a scene like this and others where you were feeling very exposed and violated. I don't know how they could have felt comfortable with Randall.

Randall later interviews Garibaldi. Randall pushes Garibaldi for information but we don't learn what it is they discussed until later.

Randall: “Can I sit?”

Garibaldi [always with a quick retort]: “That’s between you and your chiropractor- I don’t get involved.”

Later, with ISN shipped back to Earth and the ISN newscast about to air, Ivanova, Delenn and Sheridan sit to view the findings. They are prejudiced by the questionable news agency. The results are a study in editing and how things aren't always what they seem. All are skeptical, as one would expect. Sheridan believes they were careful in their release of information [not quite]. Logically he feels they will come off okay given there was no crisis in play at the station. He feels they edited themselves appropriately. “What can they do to us?” Oh boy, plenty. Famous last words. It’s the media. They can destroy you. Also, your little session of ‘cozy with Delenn’ wasn’t exactly wise in front of the cameras brother. For God’s sake they’ll crucify you. Take a look at how they handled the primaries and the election in the USA.

So here it comes. ISN special report [otherwise referred to as the Big Bend Over].

We learn Earth Force has reclaimed 75% of Mars since the rebellion. All is not well on Earth as curfew is normally 7:00 pm. The celebrations have extended the curfew until 9:00 pm. Special.

We are treated to a clip of an alien sympathizer as he confesses to his crimes of sedition and names names from the entertainment industry across the globe that are working against Earth. This was indeed an allusion to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee [1930s-1970s], which investigated potential communist infiltrators within the USA particularly in 1947 Hollywood when actors and directors were blacklisted for those alleged ties.

Straczynski, in a rather cool move, steeps his mythology with a little reality by mentioning former President Bill Clinton. No he doesn’t mention Monica Lewinski in the oval office. It does give his news thread a nice touch of genuine politics. We also learn that Psi Corps was created in 2161, one hundred years ago.

Dan “the hatchet man” Randall really does a number on Sheridan and crew and our “old girl” with his piece of good, old-fashioned masterful editing creating a perception that just doesn't exist. Humans are living in squalor and disease in the Down Below don’t you know. Sure it’s rough down there, but none of it was this bad. Talk about spin. Randall proves once again how successful the media can be in spinning its agenda and narrative based upon selective, precision editing. Any shot taken on Babylon 5 can and will be used against you. It's all being sold out of context to the TV viewing public with slow motion and proper voiceovers. The finsihed product is, to put it mildly, misleading. Randall sells alien fears to Earth with a big fat spoon. “The alien governments are calling the shots.” Wow. He really is a d-bag!

Next, Randall turns to the radical-leaning, Harvard University, to speak with the Dean of Psychiatry, a doctor who is also a leading specialist on xeno-psychology no less. Does this guy look like the mad scientist or what? He places his own special analysis squarely within the report. His unique take includes his input on Minbari War Syndrome. Excellent. The good doctor compares it to the Helsinki Syndrome. To prove the doctor is equally screwed up he is actually referring to Stockholm Syndrome. Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological response referring to the loyalty of a hostage to his/her hostage-taker or kidnapper and refers to an actual bank robbery incident that took place in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. It did not happen in Helsinki, Finland. The syndrome has been mistakenly referenced as Helsinki Syndrome through the years. I wonder why Straczynski referred to it as such or if it was on purpose. You know Straczynski likes to make us think. He’s a very smart writer. My guess is that it fit within the context of The Illusion Of Truth. It makes complete sense anyway. So Randall inquires with the doctor if Earthers could essentially become traitors and turn against their own people. Sure, hint, hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, giving the suggestion we’ve got ourselves a station full of turncoats here people.

As the whole thing unfolds you begin to realize the reporter is every bit the scumbag media whore one would expect. There’s no doubt about it, ISN’s future is now. There isn’t a bit of objectivity to the piece anywhere to be found. Is there objective journalism anywhere anymore? Perhaps Sheridan should have trusted his instincts on this one and thrown’em out the airlock. As funny and off the cuff as that remark may have seemed earlier there’s more truth than fiction concerning reporters being more evil than The Shadows. That’s not unfair. There’s just as much damage exacted by media outlets on a wide psychological scale that can be analogous to the massive physical destruction employed by a Shadows attack.

Randall reports the “cryo” units are being used to freeze unconscious humans. He reports their status in such a way to give the illusion these people spoke out. You too will be dealt with accordingly via cryogenic refrigeration a.k.a. the human Popsicle treatment if you go up against the "old girl.".

Oh and those Minbari warships outside Babylon 5 merely point to the alien influence over the station and how the Minabari has established control over its resources. As we expected, Randall applies the Delenn/ Sheridan interview against them. We knew it was unprofessional and they were going to get screwed. It certainly seemed na├»ve and fairly unguarded of them at the time of filming. About the only thing missing for the two of them was a bowl of popcorn. Maybe it wasn’t out of character. Sheridan certainly tried to put up a good front and use the opportunity to give Babylon 5 a positive review. Alas, it has backfired. Randall has done a bang up job of creating a frightening portrait of an Earth betrayed by Sheridan and his crew and their co-mingling alliance with an old nemesis, the Minbari.

Remember, we never did see what Garibaldi had to say to Randall, but his frustrations with Sheridan concerning his return from Z’Ha’Dum were shared with the newsman. The alien influences he references in frustration Sheridan was exposed to on that planet are taken out of context and once again things don’t look good for the captain. I also thought Garibaldi looked extremely disloyal.

Randall sneaks around the station and somehow slithers his way into the cryogenics unit as if he’s breaking a big story. “Where do these people come from?” Ironically they come from the Earth government that is using its own people as guinea pigs, but you wouldn’t want people to know that would you? How the hell did they get near that unit? Where’s security when you need them? Someone should have been riding their asses!

Meanwhile, Randall has the folks down in Down Below pegged as guinea pigs, downtrodden, poor, and homeless and essentially fodder for experiments to be utilized for Babylon 5 purposes. Alien ships are amassing outside the station as a fleet is prepped for something big. Could it be war with Earth? No, but it could be that they are being repaired following the war that just ended without Earth’s help.
The final interview is with Franklin who denies patients are being placed in cryo-stasis. Randall paints a picture of something far more nefarious. Certainly Franklin is keeping the telepath issue under wraps for good reason.

Our good Harvard doctor warns the folks at home via Randall’s broadcast that Babylon 5 exhibits signs of becoming an alien-occupied force. It would appear they even desire to become alien. He points out even Sheridan displays signs of being mentally unstable and disturbed. He is under the influence.

Missing part of his head.
I would love to have seen Sheridan and company’s reaction shots, but the entire segment definitely runs in an almost documentary news style. Still, Straczynski nails it in the end with the way he closes the episode. It’s powerful. Stephen Furst does a serviceable job as director and it makes sense for him to step into this episode for a first on the series. Directing is certainly not his strength based upon the evidence we have presented here. I think he flounders a bit. Bad joke. There are loads and loads of stationary shots and he certainly didn’t have to work too hard to capture those. In fact, earlier in the entry when Sheridan and Ivanova are in the War Room I thought his camera shots weren’t very sharp as he cut off the top of Sheridan’s head as he walked around. It was really noticeable and kind of annoyed me. Still, the material makes for a okay story and to be honest I’m not a huge fan of these news-based ISN stories much.

Randall’s conclusion is that Sheridan is indeed susceptible to Minbari influence and is possibly poised to strike Earth with a massive alien fleet. Meanwhile, a genetics program could be in play on the station mixing Earth humans with Minbari. Ahh yes, the power of the media is always significant. These final moments reference Sheridan’s father, which are easy to miss within the dialogue-intensive newscast. It would appear all is not well at home. Silence is golden and it speaks volumes, as the final shot is a TV-eye view of our fearless threesome agonizing with disgust within their viewing room. Sheridan is livid and his silence speaks volumes. I thought this final shot was staged really well by Furst.

Following the scathing attack by the ISN arm of Earth government there is a new rage brewing under the surface for Sheridan. What’s next will be interesting. It leaves you thinking, always a trademark for the series. It's fitting this entry makes its appearance on election day in the USA given the media played such a significant role in influencing its viewership good or bad.

The moral of the story: Never Trust The Media. Be sure to take everything and dissect it.

The Illusion Of Truth: C+/ B-


Anonymous said...

I believe B5 was transitioned to "widescreen" format by simply cutting off the top and bottom portion of the film. Thus you have Sheridan's head cut off. It was not intended by the director.

Unknown said...

Anon: That's only half-right; the original filming was all in widescreen, but all the SFX shots were in pan-and-scan. So any effects shot is letterboxed badly. It's lame.

I believe that JMS admitted the Stockholm/Helsinki thing was a mixup on his end.

And if you look at the edited Sheridan/Delenn interview, you'll notice that not only are their answers put in a different order, but the shots of Dan Randall asking the questions are him in a different room entirely, filmed later and inserted.

SFF said...

Thanks for the input guys. Aris good to hear from you. Thanks for the Straczynski factoids granted it could have worked if he had intended to write it that way. : ) I had noticed the editing and fifferent scenery on the Delenn and Sheridan stuff. Interesting. Thx.

SFF said...

Sorry, I meant to say I hadn't noticed the different [not fifferent] scenery. Typing too fast.