(Image: Jerry Doyle at San Diego Spacefest 2009. Photo by Phil Konstantin)
Like all lovers of Babylon 5, I am very familiar with Jerry Doyle’s work in the role of Michael Garibaldi for that franchise, although I am totally unfamiliar with his other work (apparently he had a career prior to acting and spent the last few years as a radio host). I never feel like I quite know what to say in the face of death- it seems to be both so profoundly sad and profoundly ordinary as to defy any words I might offer. What I can easily talk about is why I will never forget Jerry Doyle.
Mary is our resident film critic here at Steel Mag; she could say more clever things than I can about a television role. The actors that stand out to me are usually the very good ones- the ones whose characters can make a story so alive and so real I can walk away feeling that I have understood the world and the human race just a little more by watching. (Bad acting I usually have to have pointed out to me- I experience the story as flat, stop watching, and then Mary will gripe about how bad the acting was and I’ll understand why I didn’t like the show.) Doyle’s character is one of many that led me to love B5. It was a wonderful experience to see him on screen (especially when he was interacting with Michael O’Hare’s Jeffery Sinclair), and it was treat when an episode focused on him. One of the episodes I remember best out of the B5 run is the 11th episode of the first season, “Survivors” -and I remember it for the power and poignancy of Doyle’s performance.
Doyle let me feel like I could get a bit inside Garibaldi’s head- the episode felt very similar to reading a novel and knowing the character from the “I” of first-person narration. “Survivors” was a pivotal episode for the character- revealing that the hard-headed, capable, and supremely competent head of the Babylon station’s security had a history as a man who had failed at everything he ever tried because of a recurring history of alcoholism. Over the course of events, Garibaldi ends up stripped of the only career he has ever held without returning to drunkenness- his work on the Babylon station. He finds himself losing his professional future, his reputation, his friends, all with the knowledge that since he is suspected of the sabotage that occurred at the beginning of the episode, the real saboteur is free to do further harm and possibly even attempt a major assassination. When all his options for turning up the real criminal and for personal escape have been cut off, he even finds himself back in the bottle. The story progressed, dramatic tension was built and ultimately the day, and Garibaldi, were saved until next week. But along the way was a rich portrait of man faced with a sheer sense of inevitability – that everything he valued was going to be stripped away by force and that he was going to miss his chance to make it right. I got to see a little of what it might be like to feel that kind of determination not to lose, then lose, and then be offered the chance at redemption. But a redemption that carried with it all the shame and guilt of losing and the knowledge that he might not be strong enough tomorrow. And that very human portrait was painted for me, more than by the writing, or the genre or anything else, but by Jerry Doyle. Thanks, Jerry, we’ll miss you.
May the soul of Jerry Doyle and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
(You can see what Doyle’s friend, Babylon 5 creator and producer, J. Michael Straczynski has to say in his memory here.)