Babylon 5: A Race Through Dark Places

b5We are finally back in JMS territory.  I’ve been waiting for this.  Except, it doesn’t feel like it.  In A Race Through Dark Places we have another telepath story, and I’ve got to warn you, those stories don’t really interest me and they eventually go downright weird for a spell.  But this story focuses on an underground railroad that Bester wants stopped.  Who started it?  Who is behind it?  It’s got to be stopped because rogue telepaths are a menace, or so he’d have us believe.  For some reason, he thinks Sheridan would be sympathetic to the corp, helping him stop them.  (I would love to know why, but we’re still getting to know Sheridan and maybe he comes with additional baggage.  Or it could be simply that he’s a by-the-book sort of commander who would do what he’s asked.  This would explain why Clark wanted him in command of B5 after Sinclair left!)

Unlike a lot of B5 stories, this only has an A plot.  The subtext of Delenn and Sheridan is barely a plot thread and the slightly humorous issue of paying rent is just tacked on, seemingly, to fill time.  This may factor in later, considering this series is notorious for building a living universe, but it’s not a plot thread in my book!    Instead, we’re watching an episode where Bester is playing bully for the Corp.  What’s interesting about Psi Corp is down to a line of Sheridan’s when he recognizes that “we created our own monster”.  It’s Frankenstein of the future; advanced humans are isolated and made to feel different.  They are controlled because they can do more than we can.  An isolated society is created and they start to become stronger.  Perhaps it’s that lack of humanization that the psi’s grow up with that might alienate them and make them monsters.  That absence of human love and kindness, parental love, without which they become cold, unfeeling.  To have them in our “normal” society just means they would feel the fear everyone has towards them.  In reality, it’s a terrible situation, and might be worse for them than what the corp offers.  Bester’s idea, to bring them in, might actually be a humane option, for reasons beyond what he is actually aiming for.  He wants them back because he’s been indoctrinated with “the corp is mother, the corp is father” but they would at least have a home together.  The question is: would they have free will or would the powers that be manipulate them?  If they just had to stay in a closed society, that’s one thing, but chances are they’d be bred for something else, as Talia explains.  So what is the goal of the corp?  And that brings me back to another classic series, The Prisoner, which is ironic considering Bester’s parting line to Sinclair all the way back in Mind War is “be seeing you”, which he says with the same hand gesture.  So the corp is the future version of the Village most likely, and that makes the runaways sympathetic.

However, Talia still does nothing for me.  I don’t understand why she was told she’s “the future” for one thing, but maybe that’s because I know what’s coming.  I get it that Ironheart left her a gift (in Mind War), but she’s not actually using it!  Walter Koenig is great as Bester, but I hate the character.  I appreciate the actor and the way he portrayed Bester, but I don’t like the character!  However, my son asked a good question at the end of the episode: wouldn’t Bester notice that he never fired his gun?  I don’t know.  How does a PPG work? Is it like a pistol, wherein one could count the bullets?  Would he notice that the weapon never fired?  It might take him some time to notice it; maybe the next time he goes to use his gun, for instance, but I’d think he’d make the connection if he can see the number of shots fired.

Lastly, I really like the idea that Delenn seeks understanding of humanity through Sheridan because I think Sheridan is awesome, but if we think about the key players, who should she choose?  Franklin would be too clinical, asking about the biological component of her change.  Garibaldi has already shown her his “second favorite thing in the universe” and she probably considers it odd.  He’s a bit too silly to be a good role model.  Ivanova wouldn’t be a bad choice, but perhaps Delenn already knows what she wants.  Maybe she doesn’t want the perspective of a female at this point.  Or maybe she wants the perspective of a specific male.  Good luck, John!    ML

The view from across the pond:

Three Talia episodes in a row!  Somebody’s having a laugh.  Fortunately this one is a good enough story that it never quite gets dragged down by the woman with no personality.  Bester is back for a rematch, although unfortunately Sinclair is no longer around for what could have been a very interesting encounter.  He’s even scarier than last time, killing somebody with the power of his mind in the very first scene, and it’s chilling.  We also get the following quote, which tells us everything about Psi Corps we need to know:

You were raised by the Corps, clothed by the Corps. We are your father and mother.

This gets to the heart of one key difference between a cult and a religion or legitimate organisation.  How do you tell the difference between a religion and a cult?  A cult seeks to separate its members from their friends and families.  The cult becomes parents to the members.

The Corps got started because we were afraid of telepaths. Now they’re victims of our own fears.

The Nazi parallels have never been stronger than in this episode, with an emphasis on the “black uniforms, jack boots” side of Psi Corps.  There is also a strong parallel with the Nazi scientists, with Psi Corps arranging forced marriages to breed stronger telepaths and then creating offspring by rape if that doesn’t work.  Strong stuff.

Although Talia remains largely a blank slate, she is more tolerable than usual this episode, and one advantage of her being an annoying character is that the bit of misdirection where we are led to believe she is siding with Psi Corps and killing the other telepaths is a very effective red herring.  Bester being convinced by it never quite rings true, but at least we were shown a moment of doubt as he left the station.  I presume he’ll be back.  And Talia seems to be fast turning into a super-being with telekinetic powers, which might just come close to justifying her place in the main cast.

As I keep mentioning, the other problem character in the cast is Franklin, who yet again proves he has no respect for the law or the chain of command.  His past history makes it hard for us to side with him, although he is clearly doing the right thing.  It just doesn’t ring true that any commander would suffer this unpredictable, dangerous maverick to keep his job, when he poses a clear threat.  Yes, on this occasion he was morally right, but (a) he failed to confide in his superior, and (b) he is always so certain about being right about everything and clearly has such a superiority complex that one day he won’t be morally right and will do whatever he wants to anyway.  Sinclair should have sacked him a long time ago, and Sheridan is making the same mistake.  A clever writer would use Franklin as a character who ultimately brings destruction to the station due to his own hubris.  We’ll see.  He’s a repeated offender against the law, medical ethics and the chain of command, and I would sack him in a heartbeat with pleasure.  If we’re supposed to dislike him it’s a great bit of characterisation, but I’m not so sure it’s deliberate.

In the meantime, we had a bit of silliness with Sheridan fighting against a 30 credits per week rent charge.  It was a disposable B plot, but I am definitely warming to Sheridan as a character.  He is a captain who also happens to be a bit of a joker and quite childish at times. That’s actually extremely rare in sci-fi, and the closest comparison I can think of is The Orville, which is much more of a comedy show.  This is one area where B5 is proving to be ahead of its time.

We also seem to have a budding romance between Sheridan and Delenn, which just goes to show how much Sheridan has been piloted into the show as Sinclair Mark Two, because you could see the beginnings of this storyline quite clearly in season one.  There was a connection between Delenn and Sinclair.  The two actors do their best with it, and there is a suitable note of puzzlement from Sheridan:

One day they’re shooting at you. The next they’re taking you out to dinner.

… and here’s where the A and B plots come together thematically.  A commentary on the folly of war, if ever I saw one.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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2 Responses to Babylon 5: A Race Through Dark Places

  1. scifimike70 says:

    It’s always fascinating when SF drama gives us recognizable issues seen in an advanced future. In the cases of X-Men, Manifest and now The Rook, knowing how reactionary people can be when we are suddenly thrust into the mix with advanced humans, it can be painful to know that governmental attitudes can only think of condemning the advanced individuals as a solution. Because we know it doesn’t have to be the way. Even if the human conquest over prejudice and reactionary attitudes is seemingly not as near as we’d like to think. Babylon 5’s vision of the future gives us its own unique portrait of how an advanced intergalactic society, as often seen even in Star Trek and in several Dr. Who stories that are set in the future, can still be vulnerable to the seed of prejudice. So thank you both for your reviews on this B5 episode. Because for obvious reasons, the subject matter is even more relevant today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • scifimike70 says:

      Bester was a very significant change from Trek villains like Khan, Q and Gul Dukat. One episode (which I won’t go into because it hasn’t been reviewed yet in the Junkyard) gave me enough appreciation for how determined Walter Koenig was to break away from how fans remembered him as Chekov. He’s pragmatically evil in the sense that he convinces himself that what he does must be done. He may even be sorry in his own way. But the undeniable proof of his villainy is as profound for the 90s as Cigarette Smoking Man’s or Alex Krycek’s on The X-Files. Bester was indeed a vital ingredient to the dramas for B5.

      Liked by 1 person

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