Babylon 5: The Paragon of Animals

Babylon 5 Artwork by Katie MarriottI wasn’t fond of the Fifth Season stories surrounding Byron because I find him a cold character.  He strikes me as creepy, hiding out in hallways waiting for the right moment to “walk by”, gathering data where he can, even if he claims some moral superiority that it’s not the telepath way.  Yet, not only is it their way, they really don’t have a leg to stand on in the High and Mighty War.  Sure, it’s a good thing he happens upon some information or the White Star fleet might have been wiped out but that doesn’t take away from his stance.  In typical B5 fashion, there are two stories here.  There’s the declaration of principles, which Sheridan needs signed as part of the new Interstellar Alliance.  And there’s the telepath situation on the station.  As luck has it, these two plot points dovetail very nicely.  The telepaths are able to help learn who is behind attacks on an alien race’s homeworld thus proving one of their “allies” has a “side racket” going that might make everyone upset.  Once discovered, everyone is willing to sign the declaration.  It all works well, makes sense, and flows very well.

Yet, something eats at me.  Something is wrong with this story!  And I finally figured out what it was!  Unsurprisingly, it’s Byron.  When Garibaldi comes to offer Byron a job, Captain Grateful makes the point that mundanes should not be asking him and his people to read minds when they don’t like having their own minds read.  Fair point, and it has the natural zing of truth that makes you sort of cringe.  Ouch!  But if Byron wants to tout his principles, should he not have some of his own??  I mean, it’s Sheridan’s very argument at the start of the episode: if you don’t stand for your principles, you stand for nothing.  So I observe that Byron was fully willing to allow the entire White Star fleet to fly into danger because he doesn’t want to use his powers for the mundanes.  Not that he didn’t want to use his power.  He didn’t want to use it for “normals.”  Not that he was not aware of it, not that he didn’t know who to tell, not that he even doubted his source!  He knew!!  This is especially awful when one considers it was a mundane, namely Sheridan, who allowed Byron to stay on the station to begin with.  Yeah, Sheridan had ulterior motives hoping Byron would be a tool when needed, but if the mundanes are as transparent as Byron says, he knew Sheridan’s motives from the start.  So Mr. High and Mighty, why did you take Sheridan up on his offer?  I’ll tell you why: because it was convenient!  Which means Byron was not so high and mighty and is willing to bend his principles when convenient.  Far as I can tell, that’s not very ethical, pal.  So you’re all about a free ride… nice.

To compound my dislike of the long haired sellout, he teaches Lyta that she is often treated like a dog.  “Sit…. NO!!!”  He then explains himself and tries again, “Sit.  Please.”  That, my ignoble friend, is still not a request.  How about, “would you care to sit, miss?”  I wanted Lyta to slap his hair into style with one Vorlon powered smack.  Sadly I didn’t get my way.  Why is Lyta, typically able to stand up to even Bester, unable to Kirk-slap Byron?  Speaking of Lyta, I get it, she saw a man die and cross over.  Traumatizing, I am sure.  But being rude to Michael seems crazy after what they went through together.  Maybe she’s worried about becoming like Bester, so I’d be willing to concede, but the episode ends with her going back to Byron for more lessons on how to understand a request vs. an order, which doesn’t sit well with me either considering Sheridan had just given her a heart felt thank you right before that!   It should have struck her that Byron’s words were often meaningless, no matter how much Shakespeare he quotes at her.    Although it is a good quote…

As for Sheridan, I understand he considers life more valuable than the Drazi, so he allows the ambassador to call off the attack but I don’t know if that was the right call either.  I guess in that, Sheridan holds true to principles since that too was discussed pre-opening credits when he says they have to stop thinking in terms of military might.  He manages to convince the non-aligned worlds to sign the declaration.  And that was when some of the other items jumped out at me.  Like: the declaration is signed using pen and paper?  What year is this?  And where is Lochley now?  Three episodes in and she’s only appeared once!  I did find Lyta’s words interesting when describing being in someone’s head when they die.  She says upon seeing too much of it, “you’re never quite whole again”.  That was the exact phrase Justin used on Z’Ha’Dum to explain what happened when someone was put into a Shadow vessel.  Makes me wonder more about the Shadows!  Delenn’s line that “terror is a form of communication” is both scary and brilliant perhaps giving us a bit of insight into Minbari beliefs.  “Just a moment; my muse is speaking to me…” Ah yes, of course, there’s the great G’Kar!  He doesn’t play a huge role in this but manages some of the best lines.  “Oh, go away.  Repress someone else!”  And that’s the only way to end this review; with the Declaration of Principles because if there’s one thing we could all use right now, it’s a reminder of a truth we humans forget all too often.  I give you the words of G’Kar…

The Universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
The language is not Narn or Human or Centauri or Gaim or Minbari.

It speaks in the language of hope. It speaks in the language of trust.
It speaks in the language of strength, and the language of compassion.
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.
But always it is the same voice.

It is the voice of our ancestors speaking through us.
And the voice of our inheritors waiting to be born.
It is the small, still voice that says we are One.

No matter the blood, no matter the skin,
No matter the world, no matter the star,
We are One.
No matter the pain, no matter the darkness,
No matter the loss, no matter the fear.
We are One.

Here, gathered together in common cause
We agree to recognize this singular truth and this singular rule:
That we must be kind to one another.

Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us,
And each voice lost diminishes us.
We are the voice of the universe, the soul of creation,
The fire that will light the way to a better future.

We are One.

Yeah, I’d sign that!   ML

The view from across the pond:

I can’t help thinking we are moving towards a lesson in what happens when you repress a minority. Telepaths have been kept under strict control, and made to fight their natural instincts. Now, with the help of Sheridan (who probably fails to understand what he has started), those repressed telepaths have the beginnings of a power base. He allowed them on the station in the hope that they would be on his side in a future telepath war. The events of this episode suggest that it’s just as likely that Byron will be the one to start the war.

Babylon 5 always gives us shades of grey, and here JMS takes the trouble to show us exactly why the telepaths have been kept in check. When Garibaldi wants to talk to Byron, he finds that every thought that has played out in his head, including arguments and counter arguments, have already been heard, and all that is left for Byron to do is say no. At best that’s unpleasant, and at worst that’s scary. And people’s reasons for discrimination aren’t given words ending in “phobia” by accident. Discrimination often starts with a fear.

And this episode is starting to show the consequences. Byron has emerged as a potentially powerful figurehead for a new movement, and he has a god complex. He believes in the superiority of telepaths, attempting to define them as something not human, but better. As we know from history, when a popular extremist leader starts defining his race as something that exists apart from the rest of humanity, that’s a precursor to persuading his people to take the lives of the “inferior”. Note the word telepaths use for non-telepaths: “mundanes”. This revolution could be brutal.

This might be one of the slower, quieter episodes, even a bit talky, but that’s fine when the subject matter is so fascinating. All the stuff with the Drazi is just a sideshow; it’s obvious from a very early point in the episode that they are behind the attacks. The main point of interest here is Byron and in particular his interactions with Lyta, which are wide open to different interpretations. Lyta is a fascinating character. She is almost like a child looking for the approval of a parent figure. Just look at her reaction when Sheridan bothers to thank her. The episode leaves us with a big question about why Lyta decides to join Byron. While Byron’s motivations for doing a deal are fairly easy to guess (as telepaths go, Lyta is something special due to her time spent with the Vorlons – she will be a powerful ally), Lyta could be playing for either side here. She might genuinely be joining his cause (although he appears to be acting as a pimp, so one would think she might have reservations about that), or she might be acting as Sheridan’s spy. Whether he has asked her to do that or not, this lonely, abused child will want to earn the approval of her father figure. That’s my guess, for what it’s worth.

So this is a great episode, and I haven’t even mentioned all the good stuff with G’Kar this week. I could listen to Andreas Katsulas read the phone book, so when he’s reading his Declaration of Principles it warms the cockles of the heart, saying things like “we must be kind to one another” and “we are one”. Amen to that. Christians will recognise those words. We speak very similar ones in church, and no doubt other religions have similar principles.

Mike warned me that the first half of Season Five was a slog. So far, I don’t agree. I can see why he might think that: there are no big space battles going on here. We are probably building up to another one of those, but sometimes the journey is more interesting than the destination.   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, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Babylon 5: The Paragon of Animals

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I’d sign that too. 💓&☮️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    The journey can indeed be more interesting than the destination because, when we think about it, the journey IS the destination.

    Liked by 1 person

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