Babylon 5: Intersections In Real Time   Rewatch 
May 28, 2021 10:49 AM - Season 4, Episode 18 - Subscribe

John Sheridan is interrogated in his prison cell. Will he sign a confession? And what will happen to him if he doesn’t? “The truth is sometimes what you believe it to be and sometimes what you decide it to be. My task is to make you... decide to believe differently.”

(This episode is skippable if you don’t care about Sheridan. FWIW, I think Bruce Boxleitner does a good job of carrying it)

Sheridan is lying on the floor of his prison cell when the door opens. An unassuming man with a briefcase enters and asks: "Do you have any allergies or illnesses I should be aware of? Are you currently taking any medication? Have you had any trouble with your heart?"

Sheridan doesn’t respond. The man presses a button and electricity erupts from a metal collar around Sheridan’s neck: “Paingivers”, he explains, purchased from the Narn during the Minbari war. Sheridan can’t get away with not responding.

Over the course of the episode, the interrogator tries various techniques to get Sheridan (firstly) to comply with the interrogation, and (secondly) to sign a confession. The confession would say that Sheridan acted under the influence of aliens, and would name his “accomplices”. Sheridan must then read the confession in public on ISN, to eliminate any doubt.

They can’t use a telepath to reprogram Sheridan; another telepath could detect it and potentially undo it. Sheridan must be genuinely psychologically broken.

Interrogation techniques used on Sheridan include:

- Physical restraint and starvation;
- Offering food and drink in exchange for “correct” answers;
- The administration of toxins to cause physical illness;
- Reminding Sheridan that his father is still being held, and implying that his treatment depends on Sheridan’s compliance;
- Sleep deprivation via a recorded message which repeats constantly: "You will cooperate with the State for the good of the State and your own survival. You will confess to the crimes of which you have been accused. You will be released and returned to society a productive citizen if you cooperate. Resistance will be punished, cooperation will be rewarded.”
- The promise of freedom if Sheridan complies
- The threat of execution if he refuses

When Sheridan is offered the confession to sign, and the pressure on him is intense, he sees a vision of Delenn standing behind the interrogator, looking at him. He refuses to sign, and smiles at her.

At one point, another prisoner is brought in: a Drazi. Speaking into a recording device, he confesses that he was “one of those who was reponsible for manipulating Captain Sheridan into turning against his own government.” He names Delenn and Ivanova as accomplices, but says that Sheridan is not responsible, because he was “not mentally competent”.

Sheridan gets the Drazi to stop and listen to him, reminding him that the Drazi are a strong people, and that he has the power to refuse to give his captors what they want. The Drazi expresses fear, but Sheridan gets through to him: he refuses to cooperate further.

The interrogator asks the Drazi “Do you understand that this is your very last chance?”

The Drazi says “Yes.” Guards enter, strap him to a gurney and wheel him out. “Room seventeen,” the interrogator calls after them. He then resumes his work with Sheridan. Later a distant scream is heard and the lights in the room flicker.

Later in the episode, Sheridan is offered a final chance to sign the confession. He refuses, and the interrogator uses the same words: “Do you understand that this is your very last chance?”

Sheridan is then forced onto a gurney, restrained and wheeled down a narrow hallway as a priest reads the Last Rites. For the second time he sees a vision of Delenn standing in the light. He is brought at last into another room… and I honestly feel like I shouldn't give away the ending, even on a rewatch.

Lurker’s Guide page for this episode. They have a full synopsis there, if you *really* want to know what the twist is.
posted by Pallas Athena (9 comments total)
This episode should probably carry a content warning for misophonia: in the first act, the inquisitor eats a sandwich which is (deliberately) miked closer than any sandwich should ever be.

Each “act” takes place in Sheridan’s prison in real time. The Drazi is played by Wayne Alexander, who played the Inquisitor in Comes The Inquisitor.

Straczynski, quoted at the Lurker’s Guide: “And yeah, I wanted this to function almost as a play in structure. In fact, when we shot it, we did it in full-act chunks. The actors would come in in the morning, rehearse it as they would a play, then we'd shoot it the way we'd shoot a play, straight through.“
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:51 AM on May 28, 2021

This is one of the episodes that stuck with me for decades afterward. Absolutely harrowing.
posted by Mogur at 11:03 AM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

"You will cooperate with the state for the good of the state and your own survival. You will confess to the crimes of which you have been accused. You will be released and returned to society a productive citizen if you cooperate. Resistance will be punished, cooperate will be rewarded."

The things you remember word-for-word.

While TNG: Chain of Command Part II preceded IIRT, while IIRT follows some of the same beats as Picard's torture, and while Picard's torture was pretty harrowing (it's our Jean-Luc suffering!!!), I consider Intersections In Real Team to have far greater verisimilitude, to have better stood the test of time (is it really that far from Zero Dark Thirty?), and therefore to be the more effective episode of torture on television. But, as I commented before, the Clarke regime needed more time. I mean, almost as soon as Sheridan's enhanced interrogation starts, it's over.
posted by Stuka at 3:09 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't have a ton to add except that man, this episode stuck with me.
posted by jameaterblues at 3:37 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

What an uncomfortable episode and one I still think about from time to time.

Bruce Gray, who played the interrogator, has a very long career, including appearances on ST:TNG, ST: DS9, and ST:E.
posted by nubs at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sheridan is my favorite human character. Always has been. This episode really allows Bruce to bring out his abilities. It is probably my favorite of the Sheridan centric episodes of the series.
posted by Fukiyama at 5:55 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

The main interrogator in the episode (credited as "William") is actually played by another prolific character actor, Raye Birk -- Bruce Gray's character (credited as "Interrogator") is the smaller, later part.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:43 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

In the grand plan, this was supposed to be the Season 4 finale. Sped up when Season 5 looked iffy.

Can imagine going to hiatus off of this? With no sense of the outside B5 universe was doing in reaction to Sheridan's capture? That would have been insane.
posted by stevis23 at 9:28 AM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm late to this party, but as a Babylon 5 fan I have two Opinions about this episode:
  1. This is absolutely one of the best episodes of the series. Well-written and well-acted. Harrowing subject matter, but it treats it as well as anything I've seen on television.
  2. This is also the last good episode of the series. The rest of the Earth Civil War was pretty meh, and season five, well...
The main interrogator in the episode (credited as "William") is actually played by another prolific character actor, Raye Birk -- Bruce Gray's character (credited as "Interrogator") is the smaller, later part.

Thanks for pointing this out, I've seen this error repeated elsewhere and it always bugs me. Mr. Birk is probably most "famous" for playing Dr. Papshmir in the Naked Gun movies.

Bruce Gray was a character actor with a number of bit TV parts throughout the 90s.
posted by neckro23 at 8:29 AM on June 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

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