A Tragedy of Telepaths opens like a season 4 episode, with one of those Captain’s logs. Maybe it’s a needed buffer because this episode feels like only half a story. I’m glad the story contains so much of Centauri Prime but I can’t help but wonder, if that went into a different episode, could we have concluded the Byron story in this one? It’s not that I don’t think it has potential but it’s all about segregation and how the Telepaths are not like us. I hate that Lyta went over to them and I find the group so disjointed. Byron is a bit Christ-like, telling his disciples to be better than those who would harm them. Unlike Christ, Byron can’t get his people to follow his instruction the moment he’s out of sight. Off to the loo? Let’s kill a mundane! Visit to grandma’s house? Let’s go stealing supplies! Byron can’t turn his back on them. So how good are these people? Yeah, they want a homeworld and sure, it might be justifiable, but they don’t make it easy to want that for them, although Zack isn’t a sterling example of “mundanes” either. He’s telling Lochley that the telepaths have other methods of slowing them down, when one of the workers freaks out. Zack asks “remember what I said about other ways of slowing us down?” … Dude… if she doesn’t remember, she’s on Dust having been kicked in the head by a Pak’Ma’Ra. You said it at most 12 seconds earlier. Does she remember? Yeah, you know why?? Because you JUST said it!!
Anyway, realizing things are getting ugly, Lochley calls in Bester, who arrives a full 30 minutes into the episode. He’s in it for all of about 6 minutes, tells Zack that his people are telepaths and mundanes don’t matter and by the way, the bloodhounds are coming. And the conflict is delayed with just a “free Byron” sign spray painted on a wall. Evidently that telepath went to school with Zack, because one doesn’t typically ask to free a person who locked himself up. That’s like me avoiding going out due to covid precautions and my neighbors vandalizing the local grocery store saying “free Mike”. Um… he locked himself up, guy. Relax and clean the wall… Byron might have gotten some points in this episode for the nice goodbye to an undeserving Lochley but he says that she didn’t go out of her way to be kind to them, but she was fair. Forgive me, but wasn’t it she who said they couldn’t stay and Sheridan who was fair? Wasn’t he kind? Where’s his goodbye? Or does he only make it a point to say goodbye to attractive women? (A fact which this episode goes out of its way to prove!)
Speaking of attractive women, G’Kar learns that he’s not the only Narn in the palace and we get a rewarding closure to Na’Toth’s story when she is found locked up, forgotten, in the palace. It’s funny because I didn’t really realize I missed her, but her story is very satisfying and the conclusion is a great victory indeed. The last time we saw Londo staring out the viewport of a Centauri ship, he’s alone and watching Narn get destroyed. Now, he stands with his friend; a Narn no less, as they watch Na’Toth escape to freedom. I love poetic symmetry. I’m a bit like Zathras like that. (And what a clever move to help her escape too: do everything to be noticed! Well done.)
I was also impressed by the story about the attacks on Alliance members. Sheridan pieces together what’s happening but it’s a tough sell and like the Byron story, it feels like only a part of the story. We are clearly going for more arc storytelling here.
Noteworthy items surrounding our friends on Centauri Prime: G’Kar is again magnificent as he speculates that now the Centuari might invade themselves. Londo’s story about the monarchy and how they might forget to countermand an order is both strange and somehow believable. I felt for both G’Kar and Londo in this moment, although Londo’s “I did nothing” isn’t exactly true. He may not have been directly responsible for her capture, but Londo caused everything that lead to this moment! Lastly, the scene with Londo and G’Kar telling the woman to undress was quite funny and played so well by two class acts. “Animal magnetism”, indeed! Well, I just hope next episode wraps Byron’s story because I really want to focus on better things. ML
The view from across the pond:
This week’s episode shows us two unconventional kinds of imprisonment: self-imposed confinement, and a forgotten prisoner of a war that was over two years ago. Although it only affects one person, I found the latter of the two much more shocking. Although Caligula Cartagia is long gone, a royal court in an absolute monarchy is still a royal court, and as Londo says “these things happen in a monarchy”. With nobody to answer to, and nobody to check what is going on, corruption and cruelty are rife. As Londo later demonstrates, everybody looks the other way. I loved Londo’s story about the guard who protected a flower for two hundred years, long after it had died. This is the first time we have seen Na’Toth for a long time, and it turns out she is a forgotten flower. How sad.
What makes it all so shocking is that she isn’t there for political or tactical reasons, or even especially malicious reasons. She is just an oversight. Londo says “these things happen”, but they only happen in a very sick society indeed, or at the least a sick subset of a society. As usual it is G’Kar who elevates this episode to something very special. I mentioned before about the amazing acting range of Andreas Katsulas and within this episode he transitions seamlessly from comedy to rage, but it’s the controlled anger of a dangerous man on a mission. Katsulas pitches it just right, and his transition from comedy to anger is mesmerising to watch. First he has us laughing with his speculation about Centauri weapons production:
“Perhaps you’re planning to invade yourselves for a change. I find the idea curiously appealing. Once you’ve finished killing each other we can plough under all the buildings and plant rows of flowers that spell out the words ‘too annoying to live’ in letters big enough to be seen from space.”
Then he is bantering casually with Londo about the food he is eating, until the moment of realisation when he figures out that he intercepted food that only a Narn would eat. At first I thought it was meant for him and was poisoned, but the reality was actually even nastier. Although it was absolutely horrible to see Na-Toth in chains and forgotten, it gave the opportunity for Londo and G’Kar to work as a hilarious double act, finding a very creative way to save her, and culminating in a scene with the two of them standing side by side, looking out of a window as Na-Toth heads off for a new life of freedom, a glorious echo and subversion of the moment Londo looked out of a window at the Narns being all but wiped out a couple of years ago. How far they’ve come.
In the meantime, the telepath storyline is still jogging along slowly, this week told from the perspective of Lochley, who is unable to find a solution and calls in Bester. One wonders what Byron thinks he is going to achieve with his self-imprisonment. It doesn’t look like it’s going to make any of those alliance races change their minds about giving him a home world. They aren’t going to care about an insignificant area of Babylon 5 being barricaded, and they certainly aren’t going to care about the fate of the telepaths. When Lochley describes a hunger strike as a “no-win situation” she hits the nail on the head, especially in this instance. Even if Byron and his people make martyrs of themselves and starve to death, they will only be giving all those diplomats whose secrets they stole exactly what they want. Inevitably, Byron has to suffer the eruption of violence, with his breakaway group taking direct action while he sits powerless in a prison of his own making. One wonders how he ever thought this could end any better, and worse is probably to come, with Bester now taking action of his own. However, it is important to recognise that Byron’s failure of logic is not a fault with the writing of this series. He is simply being shown as a fallible, real person, who makes mistakes and is blinded by his desperate dream of a better world for his people, while those he thought he could count on act rashly and make mistakes of their own. In the end, nothing could be more true to life than that. RP
When a situation is ultimately clarified as a no-win situation, it usually becomes easiest to see how those driven by the ego to win lose their way. Babylon 5 in certain ways went back to basics for all these identifiable dramas. This was good for the sake of encouraging so many following TV drama shows to go back to and improve on the basics. I enjoyed B5 for not having to be too new which in the 90s was saying something. In this case, its mirroring of the contemporary realities for how no-win situations should be serenely accepted, for the sake of the viably better option, is an enduring message. Thank you both for your reviews.
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