Zocalo: Spoiler-free Discussion of “TKO”

In this corner,ย weighing in at roughly half of the episode, Susan Ivanova grieves!

And in this corner, weighing in at roughly the other half of the episode, a new guy gets in a fight!

Shake hands, and come out discussing. But no spoilers about episodes beyond “TKO,” please.

25 thoughts on “Zocalo: Spoiler-free Discussion of “TKO””

  1. I rewatched this one just to see if it was as excruciatingly terrible as I remember it. Yep, just as bad as I remember….

  2. Nothing to say about this one, except that Channel 4 didn’t show it because of the subject matter. Bare-knuckle fighting at 6pm was considered a no-no back in 1994 seemingly.

  3. I enjoyed the character development for Ivanova. Any scenes she’s in are always watchable.

    The fightclub stuff, well.. why are humans not allowed to fight? And they’re so anti-human for some reason, despite being on a human space station. Did they simply need a human to go in and prove his strength and honour by going toe-to-toe with the champ, then all’s forgiven and humans are now welcome…

    1. Humans not allowed to fight in the Asian-sounding event*: with the right mental gymnastics, you can make it make sense in the B5 universe (humans are new arrivals, maybe all species get this treatment at first). But it basically doesn’t fit very well.

      B5 takes as its starting-point that humans are a popular species among the non-aligned worlds – the whole point is that humans are able to get everyone else to come to this space station, act as mediators, defeated the Dilgar, etc. No other episode of the first season so far expresses anything like this blanket “all aliens are OK, all humans are not” categorization – which has the obvious implausibility that e.g. a Drazi should divide the universe into Drazi and aliens.

      But to say something nice about TKO: it’s quite a good episode of TOS. It’s built around an analogy with the history of African-American exclusion from competition with white athletes, especially boxing – not an aspect of US history that SF TV has otherwise explored AFAIK – , in that classic and super-earnest “allegory for real-world issues” mode. You do have to view TKO in the context of when it was made, the 1960’s. TV was episodic, and there wasn’t the same concern for the coherence of the universe.

      Also: while deep down I know that TKO is a worse episode, I do find it less irritating as a sheer viewing experience than Believers. It clicks along at a fair pace, and while absolutely nothing about the plot is not 100% predictable, nobody acts in a way that doesn’t make sense within the terms of this particular story.

      *Why, yes, that is that really unfortunate trope of alien cultures standing in for (Western stereotypes of) non-Western human cultures. Wow. This really is a TOS episode.

      1. Haha yes! This is a TOS episode!!

        The human/alien conflict as an analogy for racism is a common trope, but this was heavy handed by JMS standards… it definitely didn’t seem to flow within the rest of the season (even allowing for watching it out of DVD order).

  4. Ooh. According to Wikipee, Jane Espenson named Zima.

    I don’t get why the Drazi tried to take out Walker. Surely foul play outside the ring would cancel bets? Was he working for Eeyore? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Caliban knows more than he’s letting on.

    My favourite moment comes at the end of the fight. When the referee taps his staff onto Walker Smith’s back, an incidental gong sounds, reminiscent of Reeves and Mortimer sketches featuring musical clothing.

    1. Turning on the contrived-rationalization machine: foul play doesn’t cancel bets because ….

      …the aliens don’t recognize human authority over the Mutai. As a result, they will never call in the authorities on Babylon 5 for anything to do with the contest. The unintended consequence is that organized crime flourishes in the periphery, monopolizes all betting, and sets its own rules – such as “You pay up, no matter what.”

  5. With respect to JMS, who really, *really* did try, he dropped the ball on a lot of the Judaism-related stuff.

    (As background, I went to religious schools from nursery school through undergrad, and spent a year in seminary before college. Also, I watched this when it first aired, and loved it to bits. I was fourteen or so at the time…)

    A few nitpicks-

    1. “Yosele” is a diminutive of Yosef, or Joseph. It’s the equivalent of calling an adult Joey or Joe-Joe. While I could see Ivanova using it as a family friend, I don’t know that others would.

    2. The fish thing at the restaurant. Yes, the story didn’t need to get bogged down in a discussion of kosher requirements for fish, but it would totally have been in character (and kinda funny!) for the rabbi to take a look at the fish, then order a salad or fruit plate.

    3. Referring to B5 as “nes gadol,” a great miracle, is a Hanukah reference. It actually refers to some of the letters on the dreidel. It’s… cute, but awkward.

    4. Chip touched on a good point- A bunch of the B5 Jewish community show up to visit Ivanova, and are never seen or heard from again. Hmph.

    So my post isn’t a total downer, here are two things done right.

    1. Sinclair’s pronunciation of “lehitraot” (Hebrew for “see you later”) was spot on.

    2. The scene with Ivanova sitting shiva for her father was also well done (for context, if not for acting), and pretty well reflects what you could see if you visited someone sitting shiva today. (Extra bonus points for using the correct prayer for a dead relative, instead of just getting some poor actor to muddle their way through the mourners’ kaddish.)

    (Additionally, since I’m listening to the ep as I type this, Bikel is Austrian, so I don’t think he was using his native accent. I’m looking forward to his reappearance as a Minbari in one of the TV movies.)

    1. “Yossel” is a perfectly good Yiddish first name. I agree that “Yosseleh” is diminutive, but “Yossel” is not. Besides, I know several older gentlemen (mostly of the Italian persuasion) who still go by Joey in their 50’s and 60’s. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I agree with your comments on shiva and feel obliged to point out to Chip that people sitting around talking about the deceased is more or less what shiva is – it’s realistic, if not very good television.

  6. The mutai story, for me, was always the secondary part of this episode and is run of the mill.

    The Ivanova story is the star of this episode and is a wonderful development of her character. This episode shows her not only embracing and accepting loss, but also rediscovering the power of faith, spiritual belonging and religious experience. With the help of local people of faith (her rabbi and Sinclair specifically) she summons the strength and the vulnerability to deal with memory, including the weaknesses and the strengths, of her father.

    I think one possible reason the hosts don’t like this episode – the Susan parts anyway – could stem from their overall “non-interest” in religion.

    This part of the episode is all about the power of faith and religious practice as a way to help us deal with the difficulties of life. It puts religious in the foreground and shows it to be a positive force in the main characters lives.

    Based on the hosts previous comments, it should not surprise that they don’t like it. Erika has said that she doesn’t like religion in her entertainment and tunes out when they address it. This episode is all about the religious and faith life of one of our beloved characters. So perhaps no surprise it is poorly received?

    JMS understands that faith and religion are part of the human condition and that they won’t just go away, a la Star Trek, when humanity goes to the stars. He understands the power of religious belief, practice and faith for many people and does not shy away from it. He embraces it and explores it. This is part of what makes this show special and different from less complicated sci-fi.

    1. Actually, to clarify, the three of us come from very different perspectives on religion. I’m an ordained Elder in my Presbyterian Church (USA). And even so, I still didn’t care for TKO.

  7. This episode is a FAR better treatment of religion (despite whatever specific errors JMS may have made) than the pointless hand-shaking ceremony in “Parliament of Dreams.” “TKO” is a story that treats a specific faith, in all its particularities, with respect. I found the boxing story really boring, but the Susan subplot was perfect.

    1. I *hated* that bit in Parliament of Dreams! It just so happens that B5 has representatives of dozens of Earth religions, and each of them shows up in their appropriate ethnic garb? Please.

      Despite my complaints above, I do think JMS was very respectful in TKO. I’m kind of sorry he didn’t get a chance to explore other Earth cultures/religions in the same way, aside from the occasional Technomage or Christian monk.

      1. Well, in fairness, I don’t find it hard to believe there would be many different religions represented among the station’s human populace (even if some faiths might only have a single adherent aboard); and they don’t necessarily *always* wear their traditional garb. But to present them as a receiving line, identifying each faith without explaining anything — ANYTHING — about each one….? Just utterly meaningless.

        Funny thing is, the first time I watched “Parliament.” I loved that bit because, hey, *real* religions being acknowledged in sci-fi! But, upon rewatchings and reflection… so what?

        It is a shame there wasn’t time for the show to do more, but it may also have been a calculated decision. I am not Jewish, but I assume nothing controversial among devout Jews was included in this episode. You might only be able to do so many on-screen engagements with real religions before running afoul of someone.

        1. Oh, I loved that bit in Parliament at the time, as well. That said, I was in ninth grade.

          The closest thing to “controversial” that occurred was the scene in the restaurant where he ate the Centauri fish without checking into it too deeply. Would it be cool to see an actual controversy of that sort in an F/SF context? Yes. Would it put somebody’s nose out of joint? Absolutely. Should that stop such a story from being written? Hell, no. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. I completely agree with you. I found myself unengaged with the Mutai sequences, but enjoyed much of Susan’s story. They do both feel like “B plots”, albeit fairly strong B plots, but secondary stories nonetheless. I feel like with a decent A plot this could’ve been a pretty episode.

      Sidenote: Throughout the Mutai sequences I just kept thinking that both the name and fighting style bore more than a passing resemblence to Thai boxing (Muy Thai).

      1. Interesting connection to a real sport! I think another reason Susan’s subplot works so well, even if it has its flaws, is that Claudia Christian really sells her character. I am generally finding this series doesn’t hold up as well as I remember it, but I do still like Ivanova.

  8. 1. They watched this episode out of sequence and decided to watch it right at the end of the season.
    Then they complained that it’s too late in the season to do an episode that doesn’t do anything for the big story arcs…

    Also, no-one seemed to mention WHY they decided to watch it out of sequence… did I miss something?

    2. I actually liked this episode but to be fair only for the following reasons.
    A. I was 12
    B. It was one of the first B5 episodes I got to watch all the way through.
    C. The concept of bare knuckle fighting may not have been allowed on uk television, but I saw it somehow and it was first exposure to something that wasn’t stagey StarTrek “fights”, WWF or Boxing, a fight like this was a really eye-opening concept to me, even it was a slightly comically portrayed version.

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