Secrets of the Soul is one of those filler episodes for me, but it’s not as if it doesn’t make a few important points. The A/B plots this week focus on Franklin trying to catalogue each species for his new job while Byron’s group is bullied by… well, basically everybody. While I don’t care for Byron, the episode does one thing very effectively; it makes me question my own preconceptions. (Although there is one preconception I’m keeping: when you create a password that wipes data after a single mistype, that’s a mistake! One misplaced finger and that data is gone? I think we need to look up the definition of a failsafe!)
It started making me question when Zack Allen asked “how many of you people” will come to live on the station. Talking to Lyta, he references “those people.” I was uncomfortable with his attitude because it was very biased, but more so because I felt the same way. JMS was smart in his casting and his depiction of the telepaths. These people are straggly haired loners who, because of their unique gift, come off as introverts. As a major extrovert myself, I find them so different, I have a hard time relating to them. In fact, I find more aliens relatable than I do this group, but Zack’s dislike of them, probably largely for the same reasons as me, made me feel lousy about myself. I was guilty of falling into JMS’s trap! I mean, do they really warrant that sort of dislike? They are very peaceful, and even though they retaliate when one of their own is nearly killed, they are not aggressive people. They are typically kind and decent. Byron even allows himself to be a punching bag to take the focus off his family. But then, just as I started to like Byron and his people, realizing that I was wrong to feel the way I did, the ending happens and smacks me right back to where I was at the start. This is where Byron and Lyta have sex. No, I don’t mean I was jealous! It starts when the whole group of “teeps” watch Lyta and Byron. Sure, maybe in some way this shows that they are a close knit group and their ways are just different from ours, but it came off as very creepy. And Lyta is still new to the group, so imagine how she felt! As if that’s not enough, Lyta lets her guard down and broadcasts what was done to her by the Vorlons. (Her eyes go solid black! Ok… maybe a little jealous…) After their intimate moment, Byron, aware of what the Vorlons did to them, suddenly shoves his no-violence policy out the airlock and he’s ready to force the Alliance to help them find a world of their own. How does Lyta feel now? She just let her guard down and shared a majorly intimate moment with a man she loves… and he becomes a monster as a result? Talk about an unexpected outcome!
I admit that the truth of what was done to Lyta is a highlight for me, because I loved the mysterious Vorlons, and seeing her in the bacta tank (yeah, Star Wars reference) was very exciting! I also have to give a lot of credit to Lyta for standing her ground with Zack. She makes some damned good points about the way she was treated after putting her life on the line. By contrast, I was less impressed by Byron’s answer to Zack about how many more would come to the station, giving his riddle about angels dancing on the head of a pin – the puzzle that had baffled philosophers for centuries. Has it though? I mean, are people really sitting around wondering that? How many ideas can fit in a thimble? That’s the one that really gets me… where is my thimble anyway?? But Byron also wins points back right after this by getting beaten, namely that violence will not solve anything. So he’s a damned conundrum. I run hot and cold with this dude throughout the episode!
Meanwhile Franklin makes a discovery about the Hyach race; on their own planet, some centuries earlier, they hunted and killed a parallel species, the Hyach-Doh. This is an interesting parallel to the Centauri who had done a similar thing to a race on their planet, the Xon. This dates back to season 1, so if you forgot that, you’re justified! The difference here is that the Hyach took the stance of many a religious or political leader, ostracizing the Hyach-Doh. First they put a stop to the inter-marrying, then made it illegal and immoral and eventually the Hyach-Doh were hunted to extinction. “In killing the Hyach-Doh, we were killing ourselves.” Maybe there’s a poetic justice in that. Maybe that’s really the lesson. When we destroy others because we are close-minded, or when we insist that we know what’s right and moral and just, maybe we’re killing ourselves in the process. The Hyach may not be able to survive for much longer as a species and it’s all because they could not accept that which was different among their own people. And maybe that’s the lesson the humans need to learn about the telepaths. Destroying a group, just because they are different, never really works out the way we think it will, huh? Maybe that is one of the most important secrets of the soul… ML
The view from across the pond:
If somebody had told me a couple of seasons ago I could watch an episode featuring only Franklin, Zack and Lyta and enjoy it I would have laughed, but here we are. Zack doesn’t actually have a huge amount to do, apart from proving that he isn’t actually very good at being head of security. He makes a mistake that is probably common to a lot of law enforcement (and teachers), going after the victims who retaliate rather than focussing on the root cause of a problem.
Next in order of importance this week is Franklin, whose investigations about a race of aliens called the Hyach lead to the discovery that they have wiped out a race with whom they used to co-exist, and in doing so sealed their own fate. The two storylines this week intersect very nicely, because the fate of the Hyach-doh shows the potential end point of xenophobia, whereas Byron’s struggles are at the second stage of the following chain of events:
“Immoral became illegal, and then illegal punishable by death…”
“And then it just became more efficient for you to wipe out the entire race.”
That brings us to Lyta and Byron, the main focus of the episode. I have found myself thinking that Byron isn’t quite the innocent that he would appear to be, throughout this series. For example, his interactions with Lyta have had the whiff of a cult leader about them:
“If Byron asked me to following him into hell, I’d do it gladly with a smile on my face because I believe in him.”
That’s not a friendship, or a relationship, or even a family. That’s an obsession with a messiah figure. But it’s understandable. As Lyta points out to Zack, she has been made use of by the “mundanes” again and again, and hardly been given any respect in return, let alone anything else. She has been treated abominably. And Byron is a compelling leader who has tried everything he can to peacefully coexist with the xenophobes and bullies. This episode represents the point of failure of that approach. First we see him trying the turn-the-other-cheek method of dealing with an aggressor, and it seems to work:
“Your anger has nothing to do with me. What will satisfy your anger will not come from me or anyone else here. I’m afraid you must look for it elsewhere.”
But some people just don’t learn, and the big man with a baseball bat and a gang of friends comes back for more. Then we start to see how xenophobia breeds xenophobia, when Byron says to Franklin, “he was attacked by one of you”. And there we have it: Byron doing what has been done to him. A whole race of people being defined by an attribute or lack thereof. In what way is the thug “one of” Franklin?
Well, perhaps in one way, because they are both morally bankrupt. The Hyach ask Franklin for help and he says no, despite the fact that the genocide happened centuries before their time. They understandably don’t want to broadcast what happened to the whole universe, so he calls them “an accomplice after the fact”, which is nonsense, and then sets his price for even beginning to try to save the lives of a whole race of people. What happened to his noble speech a few weeks back about healing his fallen enemies?
Lyta is more keen to do a bit of healing, after Byron comes back from his cell a broken man. She tells him to “rest in me”, which is not a euphemism for dogging I’ve heard before, but they proceed to do some vigorous resting, and we finally get our revelation about what happened to Lyta when she was with the Vorlons, motivating a change of policy from Byron. He wants a homeland, and he’s going to fight for it. If the “mundanes” have got any sense, they’ll give him exactly that. If not, it looks like another war is coming… RP
Sometimes the points to be found in episodes that seem like fillers are the points we give them as viewers, as I’ve learned from sharing comments on the Junkyard. A filler episode within the last season of a show may be a point of how fans can prepare for the end of an enjoyable show. That may have the case for specific episodes of the classic Trek’s final season and it may be addressed when the modern Dr. Who nears its end. But knowing or at least sensing that an end is near can encourage fans to appreciate the softening-the-blow aspects that filler episodes can always have.
Thank you both for your reviews.
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Thanks, ML for this insight: “it makes me question my own preconceptions. ”
I never saw the teeps that way, but perhaps it’s due to my own introversion.
Very interesting reaction, and thank you for sharing it, as it helps me understand you extroverts a bit more.
Forgive me for stopping here, but I’m desperately tired, so must read and reply to the rest of this post (sorry, Roger), later.
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Thanks for sharing that, Shira. Preconceptions are always questionable because everything in reality is always question. That’s what gives us the freedom to think and why reviews on sites like the Junkyard are all the more popular in the most questionable times like now.
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Everything in reality always being questionable is of course at the heart of all the SF that the Junkyard reviews. Babylon 5, with its continuation of war-themed conflicts and dramas, can make us question if and how we can ever truly achieve peace. The questionability of our reality has made me all the wiser as a retrospective reviewer and it’s why the Junkyard’s constructive criticism, of even the most popular SF epics like Star Trek and Dr. Who, feels synchronous with all that’s coming more into focus within the contemporary world’s paradigm shifts.
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It’s good to read from you again Shira. Feels like it’s been a while!
I constantly investigate the extrovert/introvert relationship. I find it tends to be at the core of my understanding of people. It’s a very fascinating subject too.
Anyway, taking a look at Byron and his kind, they seem like introverts to me, but that’s possibly because we can’t hear them. The truth is, they hang out together like extroverts so is that just really clever writing? Or am I reading too much into it? Again, JMS makes me question myself even more than the telepaths! ML
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Of all the questionable things in reality, the most excitingly questionable is ourselves.
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Given that they are a persecuted minority, that trauma alone makes them behave as introverts much of the time.
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