Babylon 5: By Any Means Necessary

b5With By Any Means Necessary, we’ve come to another non-JMS episode.  In our Count voice, from Sesame Street… 6 Non JMS episodes… And the count continues.  But Katheryn Drennan does a good job with this story and that’s good because she was Straczynsi’s wife at the time and was desperate to write an episode for the show.  And look, none of the non-JMS episodes are bad, it’s just that they don’t always help the underlying plot along.  Those stats get even more interesting, but we’ll come to that at the end of the season.  Anyway, a mere two episodes back, Sinclair was talking about uncomfortable budget cuts, and we are seeing the fallout from it now.  This is the sort of sharp story telling that other shows should learn from!

Yet again, we see a story where the main thrust is the budget cuts and the power the Rush act provides, giving the commander authority to stop the strike by any means necessary.  Oren Zento is an obnoxious man and his disdainful parting scowl is outright funny to watch, but he opens a door for the commander unintentionally.  There’s an overwhelming joy in Sinclair’s comment “Never hand someone a loaded gun unless you know where they’ll point it.”  True, too!  But Sinclair’s handling of the situation is perfect and he manages to find the “third option”, the one no one saw coming, to maintain peace.  Unfortunately, as Senator Hidoshi says, he ruffled some feathers and the ramifications may be far reaching.

Meanwhile the subplot gives us greater insight into G’Kar and the Narn people.  We’ve already heard of G’Quan; now we learn about a plant of some importance called the G’Quan Eth.  This is a plant of spiritual significance to the Narn.  Londo says his people use it in an alcoholic beverage, to G’Kar’s disgust.  The interaction hovers between painting Londo to be something of a bully and antagonist but also adds a twisted sense of humor to the episode.  Andreas Katsulas’ is amazing as G’Kar, conveying an incredible range of emotion through his voice, under a lot of prosthetics.  But G’Kar’s “we all believe in something greater than ourselves” may be very telling about the character.  We saw some of this in episode 6, Mind War, and he is again supporting that now.  He is a deeper man than we were initially lead to believe at the start of the series, and we are only 12 episodes in.

By Any Means Necessary is a fun episode that looks at the inner workings of the station, but it is not a big episode.  Straczynski himself once explained that the audience needs a rest sometimes.  Well, we might appreciate that because things are about to get complicated.  ML

The view from across the pond:

One thing I like about Babylon 5 so far is how rooted it is in contemporary issues.  Sci-fi works very well as a medium when it reflects things that concern us today.  In fact, if sci-fi doesn’t do that then it is likely to have a very narrow appeal: escapism for those who need it, and that’s about all.  My observation of B5 so far is that it prioritises contemporary issues to a much greater extent than a lot of sci-fi.  So while Trek gives us a future utopia where currency does not exist, and people work for self-betterment through choice rather than to earn a living, B5 recognises how limiting that is in narrative terms, and instead gives us a future that is still capitalist, and where even a futuristic space station suffers budgetary issues, construction contracts being given to the cheapest bidder, etc.  Sad though it is, it feels like a more realistic view of the future than some kind of money-free perfect society.  More importantly, it allows the show to connect with themes that will resonate to the viewers.

So this week we have a terrible accident caused by inferior technology being used on the station, in order to cut costs.  Watching the accident is almost like seeing something go wrong at an airport.  It’s quite a shocking moment, and somehow this all feels very real.  What follows is a fairly standard clash between workers’ rights and those in authority who are looking at their budgetary restraints.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m still waiting for B5 to do anything particularly different to the standard ABC of sci-fi plots, but it does this reasonably well.  Orin Zento is one of those smug, civil servant types we love to hate when we see them on television shows.  Doctor Who gave us a few of those during the Pertwee era, which was also the period of the show most interested in workers’ rights.

The specific inspiration for this episode was the way Ronald Reagan dealt with striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981, firing over 11,000 of them and banning them from federal service for life.  But the issues explored in this episode are worldwide, and will strike a chord on this side of the pond just as much.  British viewers at the time of this episode would probably have been reminded of the miners’ strikes in the mid 80s.

This kind of a storyline comes with an inbuilt problem, and it is a similar problem to the one we saw a couple of episodes previously, with the ethical issue of medical treatment vs religious rights.  The writer either has to remain neutral, in which case the episode winds up saying nothing, or has to come down on one side or another, which tends to open a can of worms.  If you are lucky enough to find a genius script writer, a third way will be found, but that most definitively does not happen here.  Superficially, Sinclair finding a loophole might seem like a third way, but it’s nothing of the sort.  It’s simply a means to an end, and that end is the episode coming down firmly on the side of the striking workers.  The choice of name for the “Rush Act” was indication enough that this was where we were leading.  In the end, the oppressed workers are given exactly what they wanted, and the authorities are humbled:

You should never hand anyone a gun unless you’re sure where they’ll point it.  Your mistake.

We also get a B-plot this week, which is little more than an amusing diversion.  G’Kar and London Londo are a lot of fun, but I do think the episode crosses the line at times by making them comic strip characters.  The following exchange in particular sounds like it belongs in a cartoon:

I’m filing an official protest!
I’m filing two official protests!

…and I don’t buy the sight of a command deck where two ambassadors and an irritating journalist, of all people, can just follow the commander in, causing disruption in the most important area of the station.  Don’t they have security on the door to the command area?  But I enjoyed the comedy, and if the episode crosses the line, it’s only by a slim margin.

If there’s anything I can do to be of assistance, you will let me know, yes?

He might have behaved like he just stepped out of a Looney Tunes cartoon this week, but G’Kar’s still the best thing about this show by a mile.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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1 Response to Babylon 5: By Any Means Necessary

  1. scifimike70 says:

    On the valid point about futuristic SF appealing to us more these days by somehow mirroring the world of today, whether it’s drug-addiction with A Scanner Darkly or privacy issues with Anon, the realism of seeing such contemporary issues futuristically enhanced in B5, Trek or Dr. Who stories (like The Mutants and The Sunmakers) can either optimistically imply that we should at least be a lot better at dealing with them soon enough (certainly in most Treks) or find ourselves in a severe dystopia like 1984, Soylent Green or Blade Runner.

    Clearly, giving someone a futuristic phaser in the space-age can be as chancy as giving someone a loaded gun today. Because B5, like Trek, doesn’t give us a perfect future, just a better one than today in the sense that we’re inevitably more advanced thanks to our having more history to learn from than we do today. With contemporary drama shows like the Law & Order franchises, we can feel like we’re still in our evolutionary infancy on certain levels. But today we can still find enough wisdom and moral maturity to tell futuristic stories that reaffirm how always needing to learn, even in the optimistic future, from difficult times and decisions is realistically more appealing than much of the blatant escapism that a lot of SF in the past few decades must still recover from.

    Thank you both for your very helpful reviews on this one. 🌎🌏🌍🌌🖖🏻

    Liked by 1 person

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