How do you follow up an episode like “Signs and Portents” with an episode like “TKO”? No, seriously, how do you do that to a viewer? As an audience, we shift from one of the richest episodes when it comes to moving the story forward to an episode about an intergalactic fight club. Even if this was a fantastic episode, you’d have to feel a little disappointed. The problem is, it isn’t even that great an episode. In fact, I’d probably put it right above “Infection” for my least favorite story of the season, and possibly of the whole series.
Neither of the plots at the heart of this episode are very strong. On one side, you have Garabaldi encountering an old friend, Walker Smith, who has come to Babylon 5 to participate in the Mutai, a galactic version of ultimate fighting. Their interactions show the “off duty” side of Garabaldi, which frankly isn’t very different from the “on duty” side of the character. On the other side you have some closure to the death of Ivanova’s father which happened way back in “Born to the Purple,” as her old rabbi comes to help Susan sit shiva for her father – a duty Ivanova has no interest in participating in. We learn a lot more about Susan, especially the fact that every member of her immediate family is dead, but there’s not a whole lot of character development going on as she refuses but ultimately concedes to sitting shiva.
There’s really only two interesting developments in the whole episode. One, some minor foreshadowing as Garabaldi’s buddy Walker casually reminds the security chief to “watch his back.” This is called back upon at the end of the season when Garabaldi is shot in the back by his own aide. The second is more of a wide observation: after seeing several episodes reveal how some Earthers are rather unfriendly toward aliens (Homeguard, for example), we finally see an example where aliens aren’t exactly tolerant of humans. The various races that participate in the Mutai have no interest in letting humans fight. Of course, who can blame them when the would-be contender runs around calling all of the alien life “snake heads” (leave it to Babylon 5 to make the guest-starring African-American a racist). Ultimately Walker finds acceptance, so unlike the human organizations dedicated to terrorizing aliens, the aliens can learn tolerance. Interesting message, no?
Oh, and for my mother: this is the episode with the Zima sign in it. For those of you who don’t know what Zima is… that’s why its inclusion in a bar of the future was such a big joke. Nobody thought it would still be around ten years later, let alone a couple hundred years.
The shiva scene allows Ivanova to be a bit more human. We discover through this episode that she has encountered a lot of loss, which sort of explains her stoic nature, but her reflection on her father is a nice break from that.
Maybe a testimony to how much I don’t care for this episode, none of the dialog really stands out. Nothing worth quoting here, that’s for sure.
After “Signs and Portents,” most non-arc episodes would be a bit of a disappointment. This one, however, is a major disappointment. Thankfully, most of the remaining seasonal episodes are fantastic. This might not be the ultimate low-water mark, but it’s darn close.