Babylon 5: Dust to Dust

b5If there’s one thing we’ve learned at this point, It’s that G’Kar is an outstanding character.  Actually, that wasn’t what I was going to say. I was going to say, it’s that Straczynski thinks big with his story telling.  But those two ideas come together in Dust to Dust.  Let’s rewind to the pilot episode, The Gathering.  Depending on the version you’ve seen (because for some completely befuddling reason, the Amazon version doesn’t have this scene in it) there is a moment where Sinclair has to talk a criminal down from committing murder.  The man is in possession of a drug called Dust.  So from the first few minutes of the series, we’ve heard about this drug.  Now, Bester is on the station trying to find a Dust smuggler.  Through his involvement we learn what Dust does: it opens peoples minds and makes them, temporarily, telepathic.  It has a devastating effect on actual telepaths.  We also learn that the Narn, who have no natural telepaths anymore, can use the drug.  (No doubt you see where I’m going with this…)  G’Kar gets his hands on some Dust and, with everything else that’s gone wrong for him and his people, he thinks, “what the hell” and takes the Dust.

So look, this episode is what: 43 minutes long?  But what towers over everything else is the moments G’Kar and Londo spend together.  But we have to be fair to other elements of the episode, so let’s sidestep that for a moment.  Let’s look at the brilliant scene where Ivanova almost blows Bester’s ship out of the sky and Sheridan has to intercede.  He advises her to “fight them without becoming them.”  It leads to a great moment with Sheridan’s Army of Light meeting with Bester surrounded by Minari telepaths.  Sheridan then “gives it to him straight” telling Bester he doesn’t like anything about him, including his uniform and attitude.  This isn’t even as blunt as it will get down the line.  There’s also Vir’s return to the station to mention.  He comes back like a teenager having been away from home experiencing a trip to Hawaii!  It’s a fun moment but what really makes his return special is the scene in the meeting room when Vir tells everyone “one day he will surprise you!”  Is that Vir’s rose-tinted view on Londo, or is he right?  Will Londo come around one day?

But that’s about as long as I can wait; it’s time to get back to the Dust.  When Londo’s doorbell rings, it’s Vir who opens it and is promptly knocked out.  G’Kar enters…  I should point out that this doesn’t happen until almost 30 minutes into the episode.  As G’Kar decides to delve into Londo’s mind (after beating him up a bit first), Londo’s scream signifies things have just become deadly.  G’Kar learns that Londo’s position as ambassador was a joke; he was given the role no one else wanted.  “How does it feel to be helpless?  To be the victim?”  G’Kar hopes to make Londo feel what he and his people have felt.  As he burrows deeper into Londo’s mind, the great Andreas Katsulas pours his soul into the acting: “All of it, Molari!  ALL OF IT!!!!”  He then sees images of everything Londo has done leading to the near destruction of G’Kar’s homeworld.  It is a stunningly powerful moment.  Then a voice: “It is enough.”  G’Kar sees his father, as he was described in last season’s And Now For a Word.  His father tells him to “honor my name”.  G’Kar’s interpretation seems to be initially to fight the Centauri but when an old man appears, he says something that really starts to get into G’Kar’s mind (and ours): “We are a dying people G’Kar.  So are the Centauri.”  I’ll pause here to go back to the first episode after the pilot, Midnight on the Firing Line.  Kosh tells Sinclair:

Kosh: “They are a dying people.  We should let them pass.”
Sinclair: “Who, the Narn or the Centauri?”
Kosh: “Yes.”

At first I thought this was just great storytelling.  It wasn’t until G’Kar asked who he is that I started piecing it together: “I am who I have always been.”  And the final message from Captain Cryptic, the same message he gave Sheridan when he was trapped on the alien ship in All Alone in the Night: “I have always been here.”  I realized it before the angel appeared to G’Kar: Kosh was manipulating him.  But… why?!

The encounter left me talking with my family: why would Kosh get involved?  Why stop G’Kar finding out everything?  Perhaps he was trying to protect the Army of Light so the secret wouldn’t get out but I don’t think I buy that because Kosh often knows things about the future.   Wouldn’t he have an idea of who G’Kar really is and what he’s capable of?  Wouldn’t that be a good thing?  Which leads to the more important realization.  G’Kar learns more about himself than Londo; his experience opened his eyes to something we all need to remember.  “We are fighting to save one another.”  Not the Narn; all of us.  Sometimes we have to fight our own demons, which is exactly what G’Kar is made to face.  He is gaining wisdom, and that’s significant.  “How have you chose to honor [his father’s] name?”  It’s not about vengeance; it’s about life.  To have a life of meaning, not a death of ignominy.  “It no longer matters who started it, G’Kar… Turn from the cycle of death.”  As messages go, what he learns is far more significant than the secrets Londo was keeping because through that message, real change can begin.  “You have the opportunity here and now: to choose, to become something greater and nobler…”  And this episode leads to that change.  We are about to see the evolution of a character.

We thought G’Kar was amazing before?  Let’s see what 60 days of solitary confinement can do for him.  Even as he is on trial for his actions, he has an inner peace about him.  He doesn’t even need his “bible” while away, as he tells Michael, “I’m now somewhat closer to the source.”

I’ll share one more idea about the interaction.   Was Kosh really being cryptic when he said “I am who I have always been?”  He says it while in the guise of G’Kar’s father.  I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to that statement than met the eye.

Dust to Dust is an outstanding episode.  And every time I watch it, I am both delighted that I had the opportunity to meet Katsulas, and broken-hearted that I didn’t say more to him.  The man was as much the legend as his character.  The universe is a better place because of him; both ours and Babylon 5’s.  ML

The view from across the pond:

Vir is back again this week, a welcome happy sight among the bleakness of the current ongoing storylines, and he turns up wearing the 23rd Century equivalent of the Hawaiian shirt:

“It’s a Minbari ceremonial coat of welcome.”

He is gone again by the end of the episode and there seems little point to his return other than to provide the usual contrast to Londo, and to continue to be the only nice Centauri we have ever seen. He also has the best line of the episode:

“One is foolish, the other frightened.”
“Telling which is which, that’s the hard part.”

If Vir’s role in this episode seems repetitive, that’s because the whole episode is repetitive in nature. Bester is back, and just being Bester as usual. We seem to be building up to the big reveal at the end, that Psi Corps created the drug Dust, with Bester’s help, but this is no surprise at all, so doesn’t actually offer much in the way of a new insight into any of the characters. I did find a couple of points of interest. Firstly, Bester’s willingness to accept the drug that suppresses his telepathic abilities suggested to me that he is immune to it. This wasn’t confirmed (although it was perhaps hinted at), so maybe this is something for another episode. Secondly, his conflict with Garibaldi was rather interesting.

“The badge and the uniform does have certain advantages.”
“Like intimidation?
“Absolutely, just like your badge and your uniform.”

That comes dangerously close to making a very subversive point about those who wear a uniform, doesn’t it, and it’s hard to argue against it. There are times when JMS’s writing comes across as gloriously anti-establishment, bearing in mind that his whole big story arc is about our heroes trying to quietly topple a corrupt government, and constantly at loggerheads with anyone in a position of political power.

JMS also gives us an anti-drugs message this episode. I’m all for one of those, although I prefer it if a writer finds something more interesting to say than drugs are bad. I’m not sure he does that, and I don’t think there is any coherent message behind the fact that the drugs actually function as a means to an end for G’Kar. This is a pivotal episode, in which G’Kar becomes the first person to find out about Londo’s deal with Morden. I’m looking forward to the consequences of that.

G’Kar’s actions buy him two months in prison, which seems extraordinarily lenient for buying an illegal drug and then nearly killing two people while under the influence. It would have made more sense if a scene had been inserted into the episode either showing the judge being influenced by somebody, or making it clear that her lenient sentence was as a result of her feelings about the Centauri occupation of Narn, but in the end we were left to conclude that the justice system has become entirely toothless in the future. We could almost say the same about Ivanova issuing an order to murder somebody going unpunished, except nobody other than Sheridan witnesses that act. It is quite an extraordinary moment, and illustrates the depth of her feelings towards Psi Corps, although it beggars belief that one person would be able to order everyone else off the command deck. Surely there would be safety procedures to prevent that from happening?

So the interesting thing from here on in will be seeing where we go next with G’Kar. The vision of his father as an angel gave him some food for thought:

“Some of us must be sacrificed if all are to be saved.”

There’s really no way for that sentence to make sense, is there. Sacrifice one person and by definition all are not saved. We are also given a reminder that Garibaldi still has G’Kar’s book. Even after two months of G’Kar sitting and smiling to himself in prison, if Garibaldi has learnt Narn by then to a standard where he can read an ancient text, he’s a cleverer man than I am. Is there still Google Translate in 2260?   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Babylon 5, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Babylon 5: Dust to Dust

  1. DrAcrossthePond says:

    Rog, you have to remember, the station is but so big and resources may not be there to do more with a penal sentence. For instance, if he had not asked for political asylum, he may have been sent back to Narn. Since they can’t do that, they have to hold him in a cell. They probably don’t have the resources to hold anyone that long and a real offender would likely be shipped off-station. These are just holding cells after all. So I don’t take it that the judicial system lacks teeth; I take it that they have a sense of resources and know how limited they truly are. It’s a decent point, but there are circumstances that have to be taken into account. ML

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      Ultimately any society has to find a way around those kinds of problems or you fail to protect the innocent, and I don’t think they are insurmountable problems at all. The station is five miles long, there are plenty of rooms that could be converted to cells if necessary, and G’Kar could even be confined in his own quarters in some way. But I do think you make a very good point. Resources would be an issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gideon Bass says:

    I think you’re missing something about the line ““I am who I have always been.” JMS is great at making homages to various literary sources. This one is a clear reference to the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 3:13-14, Moses asks for god’s name, and god responds “I am who I am.” Kosh isn’t claiming to be G’Kar’s father. He’s claiming to be G’Kar’s god. In light of the evidence of the Vorlons meddling with the younger races and Kosh’s appearance as an angelic being, this arrogance is entirely in character.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      That is a very good point and one that I did fail to comment on. I agree, JMS does do a number of religious references throughout the series. It is definitely in keeping with Kosh’s attitude and a very good addition to the discussion.
      Thanks and nice to see a new name pop up! ML

      Like

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