I do miss the momentum of seasons 3 and 4, but if there is one thing I do enjoy, it’s watching someone kick the stuffing out of a bully. Learning Curve attempts the standard two plot format but really just does one effectively. Unless, maybe there’s a more subtle learning curve coming up…?
The story opens with the Rangers training on Minbar. Some of them are paying a visit to Babylon 5 for a chat about the future of the Ranger training. Shortly after arriving, when a woman is attacked by the local crime lord, one of the Minbari gets beaten within an inch of his life. Now the Ranger training is going to be used for “the application of terror” to put the bully in his place. And it is fun to watch. It’s fun partly because the searchlight above them knows when to come on for a fight, which is a convenient thing to have, but it’s also fun because when we are introduced to the episode’s villain, Trace, it’s pretty evident he is a crude, unlikeable guy. As one of the Minbari trainers points out, a bully is essentially a coward. This coward makes others do his dirty deeds, but he’s still the driving force behind the violence. So when the trainees get the opportunity to do to him what he has done to others, I feel a sense of balance. I am consistently bothered by the idea of the strong preying on the weak and that’s what Trace does. Having someone take him down, with the odd metal pipe to the face before a slow motion beat-down… there’s something good about that. Maybe I should feel differently! I think diplomacy is always the optimal solution, but as the trainee points out, “this is all he will ever have… all he will ever know”. So there’s a time for words and a time for a physical reply.
The episode isn’t heavy on plot, either episodically or arc-wise, but there are a number of points of interest. The Warrior caste and religious caste seem to have a playful banter now which tells us that the divide is healing. Delenn believes that “in the end… we all stand alone” which is a surprisingly bleak sentiment coming from her. And as a Sherlock Holmes fan, I have a new appreciation for the Pak’ma’ra too. Delenn says they are avoided and unnoticed making them excellent couriers and spies. Ironically, Holmes said much the same things about the street urchins popularly referred to as The Baker Street Irregulars. It’s also interesting to hear the term for the application of terror; they call it Mora’Dum. Z’ha’Dum was the terrifying home of the Shadows and I was always reminded of Khazad Dum (Lord of the Rings). I take it that the “dum”, sounding much like the word “doom”, refers to terror. (Hey, I find it interesting ok?)
But what I find to be the most interesting part of the episode revolved around Captain Lochley. Garibaldi confronts Lochley at the start of the episode where she verbally beats him down with a fantastic speech about loyalty, duty and honor. The whole dialogue about the role of the military in setting policy is so masterfully delivered it makes me realize that this episode was showing us two ways to handle a problem. The Minbari show us the art of beating down an attacker with force. Lochley shows us how to beat down an attacker with words. (Make no mistake, Garibaldi was attacking her!) In the end, we are shown two ways to handle a conflict; both have their places. And yet the question we are left with is: who is Lochley to Sheridan and how will Delenn handle whatever it is she’s learned? Will she whoop John with a pike, or will she use her words? Somehow, I think he’d prefer the pike! (I know I would!) ML
The view from across the pond:
We are 5 episodes into Season 5 of Babylon 5 and so far the success rate is 5 out of 5. This week we have a brilliant exploration of bullying and its consequences, but before we get to that let’s look at the other things this episode does. Well, it’s subtle, but we have a continuation of the theme of the previous episode: the “little people” matter. Last week we saw Delenn taking the trouble to learn the names of two workers and remember them. This week she acknowledges Tannier with a thank you, after he has breached their “speak when spoken to” protocol on their first meeting.
Then we have Garibaldi still going after Lochley, and getting confirmation from her that she was on the “other side” in the war.
“So you think there are only two sides to any argument?”
The argument between the two of them is a blistering encounter, with Lochley more than capable of holding her own. It provides a lot of food for thought, but in the end what she says is a lot of pretty words that don’t mean much. She falls back on the old “just following orders” excuse, but wraps it up in a rousing speech, which does little to change the facts of the matter.
“I only really understand three words: loyalty, duty, honour.”
JMS has often written his scripts in a way that seemed like he was railing against the “just following orders” mentality, and this feels like an odd mis-step, for one important reason: as Lochley leaves, the room breaks into a spontaneous round of applause. That doesn’t ring true. I can’t see many people who live and work on B5 being keen to subscribe to Lochley’s way of thinking, considering what they have just been fighting for, and fighting against. When she says she only understands three words, they should be telling her to learn more words. “Morality” would be a good one to start with. If you wrap up rotten ethics in flowery words it doesn’t get rid of the stench. But maybe that’s the point JMS is making. It’s easy to fool fools, if you can only find the right words to persuade them.
And that’s how bullies work as well, when you think about it. “From now on Babylon 5 belongs to me,” says a man whose name might or might not stand for Tracey. But he has convinced enough people to do his dirty work for him, about five men kicking his enemy while he stands back and watches.
“The strong man, or bully as the humans call it. Essentially a coward, whose only skill is convincing others to do what he is afraid to do himself.”
Once again, JMS’s dialogue is sublime this week. A criminal and a bully are often fundamentally the same thing, and he recognises that. The episode also completely confounded my expectations. When Delenn was talking to Lochley about allowing Tannier and the Rangers to go after Trace, I felt like Lochley was in the right by trying to stop what was presumably going to be vigilantism. Her talk of “terror” not “revenge” felt like mealy mouthed wordplay, just as much as Lochley’s “I am a soldier” rubbish. But in the end what it did was provide an opportunity for Tannier to face Trace one-to-one, and as we all know that’s the last thing most bullies want to happen. It’s easy to be the tough guy when it’s five against one, but not quite so easy when your victim has got out of his hospital bed and is coming at you with a big metal pole. In the end, Tannier is asked how he feels: fear, anger, triumph, happiness, joy? No, just pity.
“His name will be swallowed by silence, forgotten.”
What a great lesson in how pitiful bullies are. Sadly, not all victims can get their moment of Mora’Dum, but in the end most bullies probably do fade away to the silence where they belong. RP