Babylonia!

(This is a guest post from our Very Own Katherine!)

Well, we’ve taken a very long break, so I’ll briefly recap what’s happened recently. The Centauri defeated the Narn, devastating and occupying their homeworld, and have enacted extremely oppressive measures. G’Kar has been granted sanctuary by Babylon 5 and is supporting a Narn resistance movement from there, with the tacit support of the station leadership. The Centauri have also expanded their war to attacking other races with the goal of further conquest. Londo Mollari has parted ways with Mr. Morden, agreeing to divide the galaxy between them into ‘spheres of influence’.

Delenn and Sinclair have created a secret human and Minbari force called the Rangers to fight the Shadows, ancient and incredibly powerful beings who are preparing for war against the galaxy. Marcus, a Ranger, arrived on the station at the beginning of the season. In the previous episode, Commander Ivanova also convinced some of the First Ones, peers of the Shadows and Vorlons, to join the war against the Shadows, so an anti-Shadow alliance is coming together. Furthermore, G’Kar has provided a potentially vital piece of information by giving Garibaldi his copy of the Narn holy book, the Book of G’Quan, which has information on the Shadows.

President Clark has set up a xenophobic dictatorship on Earth, as well as the fascist-style Nightwatch organization on Babylon 5 (which Garibaldi’s second-in-command, Zach Allan, has become somewhat unintentionally involved with). Last episode the Babylon 5 leadership recovered proof of what they had long suspected – Clark assassinated the previous president of Earth in order to rise from the vice-presidential position and take power. Babylon 5 transmitted this information to Earth, and it has been released on the news.

So that’s where we are at the moment.

We open with a Nightwatch member accosting a station businessman for selling anti-Clark materials, and Sheridan telling the Nightwatch guy where he can stick it. In another piece of unwanted involvement from Earth, PsiCop Bester is coming to the station in pursuit of a supposed threat. Garibaldi isn’t buying it, but as we cut to a man becoming homicidal under the influence of vivid hallucinations of a mountain falling on him, it appears Bester may have a point. Sheridan calls an emergency meeting to deal with the fact that Bester, a powerful telepath, is easily capable of discovering the team’s conspiracy against both Clark and the Shadows.

Dr. Franklin examines the hallucinating man, as well as a woman who was caught in a disaster while mountain climbing and did have a mountain fall on her. Franklin puts the pieces together and ask the medical staff to check the man for traces of Dust, a drug that gives non-telepaths telepathic powers. Franklin is snappy and on-edge, likely as a result of his stim addiction.

When Bester’s ship arrives, Ivanova tries to fire on it, hoping to pass it off as a malfunction of the defense grid, but Sheridan stops her. Sheridan’s solution is to block Bester’s powers using Minbari telepaths. Either they can follow Bester everywhere, or he can agree to take a drug that suppresses his telepathy for the duration of his time on Babylon 5. Bester agrees to the latter (while also implying the PsiCorps had Talia dissected).

Vir returns from his appointment as Ambassador to Minbar, visiting Londo. They have a meeting with the Drazi (whom the Centauri have been attacking), mediated by Delenn and Lennier. Londo wants a ‘buffer zone’ of seven Drazi colony worlds, refuses to compromise, and threatens to treat the Drazi homeworld as he did the Narn.

Bester briefs the station on his mission. He’s tracking one of the largest distributors of Dust, an addictive drug that enables non-telepaths to gain a violent form of telepathy whereby they invade a person’s mind and feel all their experiences. This attack damages normal victims, but is recoverable within a few days, whereas it permanently destroys the minds of telepathic victims. Bester suspects the supplier is going to sell large amounts of Dust to foreign governments as weapons. Bester asks if any alien on the station would have an interest in buying weapons that cannot be seen or traced…and we immediately cut to G’Kar speaking with the distributor. The distributor is unsure if Dust will work on Narn, as they have no telepaths. G’Kar says there once were Narn telepaths, but they and their families were exterminated. He uses the Dust himself, and goes after Londo.

Garibaldi snarks at Bester while they patrol; Bester says he’s protecting Earth and warns of unseen threats. They interrogate a black market dealer, and Bester bluffs him into talking, mentioning a guy under the ID of Morgenstern who’s bringing in a large shipment of Dust at 5pm. Bester and Garibaldi catch thee dealers and confiscate the Dust.

Vir is delighted with Minbar, and writes glowing reports on the Minbari and their culture. Londo advises Vir to make the reports more negative, to portray the Minbari as both decadent and dangerous (projection, anyone?). G’Kar breaks in and attacks them, reading Londo’s mind. He sees Londo’s appointment to Babylon 5, given because it was considered a joke assignment, and is highly amused. He is entirely unamused to learn how Londo worked with Morden to start the war and destroy the Narn.

G’Kar delves deeper and sees flashes of more and more of Londo’s memories, before he hears a voice: “It is enough”. He turns and sees his father, hung from a tree, saying “Honour my name.” He turns again, and sees an old man standing behind him, probably G’Quan. “We are a dying people, G’Kar. So are the Centauri. Obsessed with each others’ death until death is all we can see and death is all we deserve.” G’Kar objects that the Centauri started the conflict, and his father asks if he will continue it until both species are dead. He urges G’Kar to turn from the endless cycle of conflict to something greater. “If we are a dying people then let us die with honour, by helping the others as no one else can…Some of us must be sacrificed if others are to be saved, because if we fail in this then none of us will be saved, and the Narn will be only a memory.” G’Kar asks why he has not been told this earlier: “Where have you been?” At the answer, “I have always been here,” he turns and sees an angelic being (G’Lan). This is a clue for us, and as G’Kar returns to his own mind, sobbing, we see Kosh behind him, indicating that Kosh is the source of his vision. (There was also a hint earlier in the conversation: “I am who I have always been,” said by G’Kar’s father, is another Kosh phrase.)

G’Kar, at trial, pleads guilty to assault and to purchase of Dust, and is sentenced to sixty days of prison time. (Which seems mild for assault, so either criminal justice is gentler in the 23rd century, or the judge is taking into account what the Centauri have been doing to the Narn as some kind of extenuating circumstance.)

Londo and Vir recuperate together, but Vir has to return to Minbar that night. Londo, remembering his own initial assignment to Babylon 5, tells Vir he should never let people regard his position as a joke. It’s moments like these that let us continue to see Londo as a somewhat sympathetic person despite him being a nigh-genocidal warmonger. It’s a difficult line that the show walks with great dexterity, helped by the skills of Peter Jurasik.

Bester leaves the station, meeting another PsiCorps telepath as he does. “You know,” he comments to her, “I said all along this whole Dust idea wasn’t going to work. We spend five years developing this stuff, tying it to the latent genes, and it hasn’t produced one telepath of acceptable strength among the normal population. Oh, well. At least we got it out of the hands of aliens and back among the humans where it belongs.”

G’Kar sits meditatively in his prison cell, reflecting on his vision, as the episode closes.

There are some big questions to consider about this episode. Is Kosh’s intervention benevolent, deeply manipulative, or both? It’s clear that G’Kar feels he’s had a religious vision, a deep spiritual experience, and equally clear that he’s actually seeing something created by Kosh. Personally, I don’t like it at all, even if I appreciate its potential positive influence. I’m a Christian, and I believe people can and do undergo real and powerful spiritual experiences where they communicate with God. Seeing someone fabricate such an experience to serve their own ends deeply bothers me. We’ve known since the end of Season 2 that the Vorlons appear as angelic figures to many different species, indicating they’ve been using this form of manipulation for a very long time.

J. Michael Straczynski, who made the show, said that he needed to strike a different tone with Bester’s presence in this episode: Bester had already been defeated twice in his previous appearances, and if that was repeated viewers would stop taking him seriously: “I’d decided a while ago that the next time we saw him, he either had to win, or he had to be right.” So this time he helps we a genuine problem, and he’s effective even without his telepathy, but at the end we learn that the Psi Corps created that problem – so he’s still a creep.

His snark with Garibaldi gives us some of the show’s great lines, though. I particularly like the piñata one. Londo’s conversation with Vir about his reports on Minbar also has some fantastic lines. “They are a deeply spiritual people!” “That, you can leave in. It always scares people.”

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5 thoughts on “Babylonia!

  1. Yes, a good episode.

    Bester: “I had the impression I was in great danger”. Damn right with half a dozen cannons targeting your shuttle :)

    It’s unfortunate that the Vorlons don’t get much play in the series. By the end we know what they are and what they have done but there never was much info about them as a society/race/culture. But it is clear that that manipulating other races via telepathy and other things is something they’ve been doing for a long time…..so the interesting question is whether or not the human concepts of god and religion are even innate to the species or where they implanted into us by the vorlon?

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    • Do the ends justify the means. The end in this one is good by trying to stop the cycle of violence. But, the means definitely feel shady with Kosh manipulating G’kar through his religion, and knowing that this is not the first time to happen, it sure lends to the belief that they are manipulating the Narn (and most likely any race that saw them as angles). Right now I feel like the Vorlon are acting like the parents of the younger races and using whatever carrot/stick they have to get them to behave.

      Ohg sbe gubfr gung unir frra gur jubyr fubj, jr xabj gurer vf n zber fvavfgre fvqr gur Ibeyba. Gurl pner nobhg beqre naq qb abg pner jub vf fjnfurq gb znvagnva vg. Gb tb onpx gb gur nag fcrrpu bs T’Xne, gur Ibeybaf unir chg gur lbhatre enprf vagb tynff nag snezf naq unf ab ceboyrz fdhnfuvat gur nag gung ner yrg ybbfr ol gur Funqbj.

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  2. Any Londo and Vir is good Londo and Vir. The Dust story didn’t have much payoff for me, though. That’s an interesting comment from the show’s creator about Bester, but for me it was just a disappointment that the whole thing ended on a nefarious note. I would have taken him more seriously if he’d been successful and right, or even unsuccessful and right.

    As for the Kosh thing, I was ok with it. You’re right that a Christian can view it negatively. I’d read Straczynski’s comments back when I was first watching the show, and I knew he wasn’t a theist, but I could respect the way he allowed religion in a futuristic universe. It was a relief from the usual nothing-except-maybe-Native-Americans that you get in Star Trek and others. In a way, though, the show implies a much more negative view of religion than even the usual sci-fi, as it supposes a conspiracy.

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  3. This comment is basically about Kosh.

    V srry yvxr Xbfu znl unir tbggra uvf cbfg gur fnzr jnl Ybaqb qvq, nf n wbxr. Univat gb fcraq ynetr nzbhagf bs gvzr jvgu yrffre enprf juvyr uvqvat va na rkbfxryrgba fher qbrfa’g frrz yvxr n phful nffvtazrag. Sebz ubj uvf qrngu pbzrf nobhg, naq sebz ubj uvf ercynprzrag orunirf, V trg gur fgebat vzcerffvba gung ur’f abg n glcvpny Ibeyba. Fbzr bs gur guvatf ur qbrf, fhpu nf guvf, frrz ng bqqf jvgu gur terngre Ibeyba fgengrtl bs frggvat hc cebkl jnef.

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