Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 4: "The Illusion of Truth"

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Episode Information

Title: "The Illusion of Truth"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Stephen Furst
Rating (out of 4 stars): ** 1/2
Reviewed on: January 4, 2010

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


An ISN reporter visits Babylon 5 and does a story.

Zack is now head of security, following Garibaldi's resignation in "Epiphanies", and his security team in the docking bay has problems with some recently-arrived people. The new people don't want security to search their cargo. When Zack does, he finds a camera - the new arrivals are a reporter and his camera crew.

In the meantime, Franklin has been arranging the transfer of some of the frozen telepaths (from last season's "Ship of Tears") because some of the cryogenic units are malfunctioning. Sheridan gets called away from a discussion with him in order to meet the reporter.

The reporter, Dan Randall, has been in custody and under questioning from Ivanova. Needless to say, he's not happy. Sheridan and Ivanova have some nice schtick with Ivanova threatening to throw Randall out an airlock, and Sheridan chiding her for not specifying that his clothes would be removed first, considering the station's need for supplies. Sheridan has been very sharp with people he doesn't like or doesn't trust (also seen in the previous episode, "Epiphanies", with Bester) since returning from Z'ha'dum - I guess maybe after being dead he gets impatient with annoying crap. Who can blame him?

Randall claims that he has come to do a story on B5, and he didn't think he, his crew, and his equipment would be allowed on the station if they hadn't arrived covertly. Sheridan scoffs that his story will just be more for President Clark's campaign against B5, but Randall launches into a speech about how he'll do his best to put in as much truth as possible. He even claims that he and some of the other reporters that stayed at ISN after Clark's takeover last season in "Severed Dreams" only to try to keep getting some true news out to the public. Sheridan buys Randall's story and agrees to let Randall explore the station and conduct interviews. I will admit that Randall's performance was very convincing, but with this show, you just know that something bad is in store.

Sheridan requests that Lennier escort Randall, with the idea being that a non-human will not try to bias Randall's reporting. Lennier takes Randall on a tour of the station, including Downbelow, where they happen to run into Franklin. During Franklin's quick conversation with Randall, he gets a link message about the cryogenic units. Later, we see Randall visiting the Zocalo at the same time Londo is complaining hyperbolically abtou the temperature in his quarters.

The most extended bit of Randall's visit that we see is his interview with Sheridan and Delenn. I really didn't like how Randall had them arranged for the interview - both Delenn and Sheridan crammed together on a counch, and looking like horrible slouchers. I thought it detracted from both of their presences and importance, which perhaps was Randall's intention. Randall's questions are relative softballs, inquiring about Sheridan and Delenn's relationship, Delenn's view of Earth Alliance politics, and if Sheridan still believes Clark was behind the former president's death. I noticed that Delenn was very cool toward Randall in the interview, as well she should be after her previous interview by a reporter (in season 2 in And Now for a Word"), which was embarrassing to say the least.

The last bit of Randall's visit we see is when he tracks down Garibaldi for an interview. He's got a good point that Garibaldi is the only high-ranking officer on the station since it went online (effectively in the pilot "The Gathering"), so his perspective is unique. In reality, Randall and Garibaldi both know that Randall wants some of the hidden dirty laundry on the station, now that Garibaldi has resigned.

Some undetermined time after Randall leaves, Sheridan, Delenn, and Ivanova get together to watch his story broadcast on ISN. Sheridan is confident that they were very careful during Randall's visit and that there's no way he could have twisted what they said.

Well, he might have been right if Randall just wanted to put a small spin on the interviews and video. But he didn't. His "report" is a completely fabricated story that just happens to use some of the video and interviews he made. According to Randall's report, most of the humans on the station are an underclass (shown on video of Downbelow) that are kept on a subsistence level in order to service the needs of aliens on the station. Only the command staff humans are in a position of power. The aliens on the station dictate everything that happen (supported by video of some of the alien ships from "Into the Fire" being repaired outside the station and Londo's argument with Sheridan). Randall caps this off with snippets from Sheridan and Delenn's interview, seemingly making them say that they are going to force Earth to change to do what they (Sheridan and Delenn) want.

Randall makes the plot even sicker by saying that many humans that aren't needed by the aliens are kept in cryogenic storage, to be unfrozen when needed, which is supported by him overhearing Franklin's conversation plus some video by the cryogenic units themselves. Someone apparently clued him into their existence and location, and let him into the area - one good thing about this report is that it tells Sheridan he does have some people on the station that are up to no good. The capstone on Randall's "report" is his interview with Garibaldi, in which Garibaldi says Sheridan's been acting oddly ever since returning from "alien space", and that Sheridan seems to have a god complex.

During Randall's report, he calls on a psychiatrist to discuss Sheridan's behavior. The psychiatrist believes that Sheridan is suffering from Minbari War Syndrome (MWS), which leads to an inferiority complex. Veterans suffering from MWS feel that the Minbari (and by extension other aliens) are superior to humans, and so they begin adopting Minbari and alien ways. Randall puts together his "story" and the psychiatrist's observations to conclude that Sheridan is mentally ill and cannot be held reponsible for following the orders of aliens. But his illness is dangerous to Earth, because he's like to make all humans more like the Minbari (and Delenn), so he must be stopped.

When the story is over, there is not a word from Sheridan, Delenn, and Ivanova, as they all leave with their own shock, anger, and outrage.

Unfortunately, this episode suffers a lot under repeated viewings. The first time one sees it, one has the feeling, much like Sheridan, that whatever Randall produces can't be that bad. Thus, the most effective part of the episode is showing just what a twisted version of the truth Randall comes up with. But that surprise is lost upon subsequent viewing, and watching Randall's "report" just becomes painful and unpleasant. As a result, this episode isn't one of my favorites.

There are a lot of small things that push the overall story forward. It's obvious that Randall's story was complete propaganda for Clark (and/or whoever is behind Clark), so we can see what Clark is trying to set up. Sheridan really was a big hero in the Earth-Minbari war, so Clark is wisely not attacking Sheridan himself. The propaganda is all saying that Sheridan is sick and must be rehabilitated. This still gives Clark a reason for going after B5 and Sheridan without looking like he's attacking Sheridan personally. Clark is trying to undermine Sheridan's moral in another way, having it "slipped in" to the ISN story that Sheridan's family home burned down and his father has disappeared.

We also see that Garibaldi's feelings toward Sheridan have soured considerably. When Garibaldi resigned in the previous episode, he seemed fed up with the job, but not to have personal animosity toward any of the people. But even before Randall's interview, when Sheridan brings Randall to Lennier (who happens to be talking to Garibaldi), there is a distinctly cold feeling between Sheridan and Garibaldi. What has caused that? Garibaldi's always been paranoid, but he really didn't seem to have that much anger toward Sheridan, with the possible exception of the events in "Falling Toward Apotheosis", where he had to be left out of the plans involving killing the new Kosh. Perhaps Garibaldi's animosity is part of whatever signal he received in the last episode, which seemed to spark his resignation. Or maybe he's just tired of everyone asking him why he resigned. (Interestingly, he never really gives any two people the same answer.)

Before Randall's report on ISN, we also see some quick news about other events in Earth Alliance. Earth Force is still working on pacifying Mars. Earthgov has begun investigating people for anti-government activities and alien influence; this news item shows a rather chilling video of a "confession" by a movie producer about his sins. I rather liked how this video paralleled the Narn interview with Londo's nephew in season 1 in "Midnight on the Firing Line". Everyone knows that the confession was forced, but no one can do anything about it and has to take it at face value. Clark's government is really putting the pressure on the populace to conform.

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