Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 4: "The Exercise of Vital Powers"

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Episode Information

Title: "The Exercise of Vital Powers"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: John LaFia
Rating (out of 4 stars): ** 1/2
Reviewed on: February 4, 2010

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


Garibaldi meets William Edgars on Mars and gets tested. Franklin tries to heal the frozen telepaths.

After Garibaldi left B5 for good in the previous episode ("No Surrender, No Retreat"), he arrives on Mars. His voice-over during arrival lets us know in no uncertain terms that he really doesn't want to be on Mars - is there a note of desperation in it, as if he's being forced to do something he doesn't want to do? It's interesting that he emphatically says humans have "no business being here. No business at all," when he has served on Mars, Europa, and B5. Why does he have the antipathy toward Mars in particular.

Wade forces Garibaldi to be blindfolded during the approach to Edgars's compound, presumably to make sure no one can give away its exact entrance and security procedures. When he gets inside, Lise tries to tell Garibaldi he shouldn't get involved, but Edgars jovially enters and sends Lise away. Throughout the episode, Lise is confined to stereotypical wifely roles of preparing food and seeing to the guest's needs.

Garibaldi beseeches Edgars to use his power to stop Sheridan's campaign against Earth - Garibaldi doesn't trust Clark, but seems to think that Edgars would be more moderate in his treatment of Sheridan. Edgars seems interested, but defers any real conversation, saying he doesn't know yet if he can trust Garibaldi.

During the night, Garibaldi is snatched from his guest room by masked men and dragged into a dark interrogation room. Edgars (who is always out of sight in this scene) says he wants to question Garibaldi while he is confused and hasn't prepared his thoughts - and oh, by the way, there's a telepath there to make sure he's not lying. Edgars probes Garibaldi's feelings about telepaths: we all know Garibaldi doesn't trust telepaths, but he goes even further by saying that he considers them to be the biggest current threat to society. Edgars asks a bit about Garibaldi's intentions with Sheridan. At the end, he asks Garibaldi if he's still in love with Lise; Garibaldi says no, but the telepath indicates this is the only lie Garibaldi told. After the interview, Edgars has Wade shoot the telepath.

Interestingly, during the interview, Garibaldi says, "Everyone lies," echoing Sinclair's opinion in season one in "And the Sky Full of Stars". However, I get the feeling that Garibaldi's feeling behind it is much more cynical than Sinclair's. It's also interesting that Garibaldi makes such a blanket statement of distrust about telepaths, since he certainly got to trust Talia Winters... but then, she turned out to be an unwitting double-agent (season two's "Divided Loyalties"), perhaps proving his point.

The directing was very nicely done in this scene, with the absolute darkness shrouding Edgars, and only Garibaldi and the telepath in the light. Garibaldi stares at his reflection in the mirror - looking for his true self? I also liked the shot earlier of Garibaldi's tiny box of a guest room.

The next day, Edgars is willing to trust Garibaldi with more of the "truth". He tells Garibaldi his view of events: huge corporations really hold the power in the Earth Alliance, and they allowed Clark to come to power, not realizing all of Clark's intentions. Clark has been using the Psi Corps to consolidate his power, and the more frightened Clark gets of Sheridan's attacks, the more power he is giving to Psi Corps. Edgars worries that the Psi Corps is aiming to take over Earth Alliance eventually, and he doesn't want to live in a society dominated by telepaths. In his view, Sheridan's attacks are giving Psi Corps more power, hastening the creation of that society. The large corporations are ready to take action, but Edgars refuses to reveal what that is until Garibaldi agrees that he's all the way "in" with Edgars's plans.

Later, Lise brings Garibaldi dinner, and they finally have a confrontation about why they never got back together. Lise knew Garibaldi would never leave his job and come back to Mars, while Garibaldi claims he doesn't know if he would have or not. But now she insists she loves Edgars.

We see Edgars and Wade visit some kind of hospital ward, with a number of seriously ill people underneath isolation curtains. Even so, Edgars has no problem touching the patients. From the conversation, we learn that Edgars's company has been testing something on the patients. The patients are suffering greatly, and Edgars declares that the test has gone on sufficiently long, and the patients should be "put down", as if they were pets.

Since we know Edgars's company is supposedly researching a cure for a disease that affects telepaths, it's not a huge leap to say that the patients are probably telepaths. Was Edgars testing the cure on them? We get the impression that the tests are not official, ethical tests, because certainly euthanasia would not be allowed. Consequently, one wonders if the test was really of a treatment for the disease, or a test of the disease itself. After all, if Edgars is concerned about telepaths taking over society, it would be relatively simple to keep telepaths in check by infecting them with a disease that only he has the cure for. In addition, Edgars has a telepath murdered in cold blood, which doesn't seem to show much care for telepaths.

Later Garibaldi tells Edgars that he's "in". Edgars says that in order to prove his trust, he must set up Sheridan to be captured. He assures Garibaldi that Clark won't kill Sheridan immediately, but will hold him for a huge public trial and "treatment". Garibaldi reluctantly agrees, and says that they can lure Sheridan by tracking down Sheridan's father. Sheridan's father has been on the run (since at least "The Illusion of Truth"), but he needs a specific, expensive drug for a rare medical condition, so he can be tracked by that. At the end of the episode, another voice-over by Garibaldi ties things up with him saying that he can't feel anything anymore, and the only thing he cares about is Lise.

Garibaldi certainly is digging a deep hole for himself. I think the details in this episode make it more obvious that he's struggling against whatever "programming" he has, since it's making him do so many things that are truly against what he wanted. It doesn't even seem like he can make himself feel or care about what he's doing any more, almost like an automaton.

Was his programming really just to capture Sheridan? That's a possibility, but if so, it's a really convoluted plan, since it started out by having Garibaldi resign and distance himself from Sheridan. It's more likely that when Bester and/or the Psi Corps programmed Garibaldi they had some hint of Edgars's research and want to find out about it. We know very well about how little Bester and many other top telepaths care about the fate of "normals" like Sheridan, but they would definitely be worried about a telepath disease.

I'm a little tired of the soap opera of Garibaldi and Lise's relationship. It might be more interesting to me if she weren't always so needy and whiny, but that's what we see. We just don't get any indication of what it was about her that Garibaldi fell in love with. It's a little odd that Edgars doesn't seem to care about Garibaldi being in proximity to Lise, but perhaps he thinks it will encourage Garibaldi to be extra protective of Edgars's interests.

On B5, the main plot involves Franklin following Sheridan's orders to get the cryogenically-frozen telepaths as mobile and active as possible. Franklin has had absolutely no luck, because no matter what tactics he tries to get around the Shadows' cybernetic implants, either the patient begins to die or to try to take over all the computers around him. Lyta happens to be in MedLab during one of Franklin's tests and inadvertently establishes sufficient telepathic contact with the patient to get him to wake up, stand up, and not try to attack anyone. When she breaks the contact, the patient becomes unconscious again.

Franklin chases Lyta down and asks her to repeat what she did with the unconscious telepath, only more slowly and under observation. He's hoping that if he can measure how she stimulates the patient's mind, he can duplicate it with medical equipment. With some cajoling about helping "her own people", she agrees.

When they repeat the experiment, Lyta does wake up the telepath. However, he's somewhat delusional, having visions of the surgeries done on him by the Shadows' allies and tries to attack Franklin. Lyta gets him under control telepathically, but he begins to panic, wondering what has happened to him. He picks up some kind of medical tool, trying to bring it to his throat to kill himself. Lyta prevents him from committing suicide and makes him unconscious again. Franklin has gotten some of the measurements he wanted, but it's not clear that what happened is even useful to replicate.

Sheridan calls in from the White Star fleet to check on Franklin's progress. Franklin is so frustrated that he demands to know what Sheridan is going to with the telepaths. Sheridan orders MedLab cleared before he'll tell Franklin. We don't get to hear Sheridan's plans, but when Franklin leaves MedLab afterwards, he's more shaken that we've ever seen him. He has finally seen how Sheridan has changed since returning from Z'ha'dum in "The Summoning". He says that before Sheridan went to Z'ha'dum, he would never have conceived a plan - but even so, Sheridan's plan is the only way. Franklin hires Lyta for a long term job, and they begin packing to leave for Mars soon.

This plot doesn't have a clear resolution, but definitely leaves an ominous feeling at the end of the episode. What could disturb Franklin so much? Even though Franklin has made almost no progress with the telepaths, Sheridan still thinks he can execute a plan involving them. All the telepaths can do right now is wake up and wreak havoc - how is that useful? Why are Franklin and Lyta going to Mars? We know that the resistance movement is based there, so perhaps Sheridan's plans need their support.

This episode brings me back to the situation with Lyta. Franklin has to beg her into helping him with the telepaths - gee, if Sheridan had taken her into B5's employ, it could be part of her job. Franklin later hires Lyta - we don't know if Sheridan even knows or approves of that, but again it's a one-off business arrangement, not something long-term. Lyta was right in "Epiphanies" that no one bothers to see her unless they want her to do something - she's just a tool. No one can be happy that way, so what will she do about it?

The two plot lines in this episode both involve telepaths and Mars, which is a nice convergence. Edgars may be trying to get rid of telepaths, while Sheridan is planning to use them somehow. What does the Psi Corps have planned? Perhaps something with Garibaldi. It's ironic that Garibaldi left B5 to get away from Sheridan's campaign and now it seems the Sheridan's campaign is following him right to Mars.

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