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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Michael Garibaldi's Motorcycle

The first season episode "Eyes," written by Larry DiTillio, transports us to Babylon 5 in the year 2258. Aboard this space station, where people of all species and planets can learn to like and respect different beliefs and ways of life than their own, disagreements often give way to violence. An air of tension and turmoil remains a constant inhabitant, given the need for everyone to get along with people who look different, who act different, who hold different values, and who belong to a nation or culture that may have wronged another people or planet in the past. This uneasy peace often gives way to out-and-out rioting, whenever news of some outrage--a politician's unfortunate statement, a military incursion, whatever--reaches the space station. Still, the space station remains a melting pot of culture and ideas, and many see this process--this constant proximity and interaction--as essential to promoting universal peace.

Security Chief Michael Garibaldi,
played by actor Jerry Doyle

No one wants peaceful coexistence more than Michael Garibaldi. As the Security Chief, it's his job to ensure the harmonious operation of Babylon 5. Yet in "Eyes," we learn what he does in his off-time. He's got a project he's working on: rebuilding a 1990s era Kawasaki motorcycle. We never learn why he decided to build an old gas-powered motorcycle while living on a space station, but he's gradually tracked down all the parts, and won a manual in a card game. Unfortunately, the manual is written in Japanese. Thus, it's fortunate for him that Lennier, the assistant to Minbari Ambassador Delenn, enjoys studying other cultures, learning new languages, and putting things together.

Minbari aide Lennier, played by Bill Mumy,
who in earlier days played young Will Robinson
in the TV series Lost In Space

Garibaldi's Kawasaki isn't the central story in this episode. As events unfold, we learn that Commander Jeffrey Sinclair's command of Babylon 5 is under attack from an Earth inspector who believes he should be running the space station instead. Naturally Sinclair's friend and right-hand man Michael Garibaldi gets swept up in these events. While Garibaldi accepts Lennier's offer, and grants him access to his quarters, he doesn't believe that the Minbari aide will make much progress in his absence.

Thankfully, the Commander is able to fight off the inspector's attacks, and retain command of Babylon 5. And when the dust has settled from this latest conflict--ironically one solely between humans--Garibaldi returns to his quarters to find that Lennier has not only assembled his motorcycle in his absence, but replaced the gas-powered engine with a Minbari propulsion system. At first Garibaldi is miffed, as he had looked forward to the conquering his seemingly impossible project, but then he accepts Lennier's tremendous gift of assistance and friendship gracefully, and takes him on a two-wheel tour of the mammoth space station. As Commander Jeff Sinclair and Lieutenant Commander Susan Ivanova watch them ride past, with the Earth inspector banished, they reflect on how nice it is that things on Babylon 5 have gotten back to normal.

Garibaldi, Lennier, and the completed Kawasaki motorcycle

"Eyes" is a wonderful episode, revealing all the rivalry and hatred Humans can bear toward each other, but also filled with the love and the desire to embrace the different that made J. Michael Straczynski's series so important to TV history. DiTillio's story also seems to have inspired those authors who wrote Babylon 5 novels. John Vornholt references DiTillio's character, Psi Corps agent John Harriman, in his novels. In The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name, Neal Barrett Jr. has a religious motorcycle gang riding nuclear-powered Harley Davidsons through the station. They identify with Michael Garibaldi, as he's a fellow biker, and get the humorous idea that Susan Ivanova is his moll. Lots of fun!

The influence of "Eyes" seems surprising, if not downright strange, given how many more episodes contained significant plot elements, and portrayed events that generated higher stakes for those living on the space station and other planets. It is a quieter, more personal story, rather than one of the major foundation-stone episodes that significantly impacted the overarching stories behind the series. But sometimes it's those smaller-scale, quieter, more personal stories that linger in the mind, and prove more memorable and important to you later on, don't you think?

Dragon Dave

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