“No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand. The Centauri learned this lesson once, we will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years, we will be free.”
The impassioned, yet measured speech by a shellshocked G’Kar in episode 20 of Babylon 5’s second season is one of the many that was uttered by the character, delivered with force and gravity by Andreas Katsulas, as his people, the Narn, fell to the Centauri once again. The interplay between ambassadors G’Kar and Londo Mollari is perhaps one of the true, driving forces of the series as a whole. So while Sheridan, Delenn and the rest are waging a war of light vs. dark, these two are occupying the very important shades of gray that help to fill in the entire image that comprises the series.
B5 does this thing where they tend to drop a bombshell on the audience, then follow up with an episode that is perhaps more subdued or two. I tackled three episodes since my last blog, with one focusing on a religious race suffering from a near-extinction event of a plague impacting its people, but believe it to be an act of their god, thus refuse to do anything substantial about it. While I won’t call it a throwaway — because it’s not — it’s more character-building and world building, which the show never ceases to do. Truthfully, while the audience may have a good grasp on the universe that Babylon 5 inhabits already, the fact that the show never stops showing the characters learning what little they actually know about the universe serves as a theme that echoes throughout the series.
“Confessions and Lamentations”
Doctor Franklin is also shown, once again, abusing stims to keep himself awake and on duty. Only this time Ivanova wasn’t there to browbeat him into taking a nap and eating for a bit. The give-and-take between Franklin and the alien doctor is one of trust, acceptance and humanity’s need to feel like constant saviors. Franklin had to know exactly what was happening, just like he had to find a way to fix it. Of course, he did, because he’s that snooty, brilliant-but-flawed doctor that these sci-fi shows love to present, but he did it after the race had gone extinct. If anything, it was a way to beat into that character that no matter how brilliant, how driven and how hopped up on stimulants he is, he can never do it all, nor can he always understand. These people died willingly for their beliefs, not their ignorance.
The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father. That’s the line that the shadowy Psi Corps instill in its members through their propaganda material to bring latent telepaths into the fold. The return of Lyta Alexander, the telepath from the pilot episode who helped to save Ambassador Kosh’s life by entering his mind to search for his assailant, returned and she’s a bit battleworn compared to before. This episode is a bit exposition-heavy in pushing forward the story that the Psi Corps are probably evil and have implanted one of the crew of B5 with a false personality, leaving their true one latent and bent on sabotage. Ivanova once again heavily protests the idea of any sort of scan, in this case one where Lyta would send a “password” to wake the sleeper and not read any memories, but then reveals to the Captain that she, herself is actually a latent telepath and has fought her whole life to hide it. Lyta sees this, apologizes after the scan, and then the woman that Ivanova was cozying up to — the telepath that replaced her in Talia Winters — is revealed to be the saboteur, thus once again swapping the women’s roles as the telepath aboard the station and Lyta goes to visit Kosh to tell him that she never told anyone. Oooh, spooky.
“The Long, Twilight Struggle”
Finally, we’re getting somewhere. This somewhere is not great for these characters, but the road is one that they were always going to travel.
Well, at least for all of the characters in the show that we’ve grown to know and love. The fall of Narn is imminent all while Londo watches from an observation window of one of the Centauri destroyers levying banned weapons with brute force to force the Narn once again into subjugation. This wasn’t what he wanted, you can see it on his face. There was a lot of talk in this episode about “light” and “shadows,” because good vs. evil will always be the draw, but a bulk of the episode was actually spent on the in-between of those extremes.
So while a cursory watch of this show would make you walk away thinking you saw bad guys vs. good guys, there’s something to be said in the fact that the bad guys barely exist as much more than spider-shaped starships and weird, alien bugs that can only be seen on occasion when the lighting is right. Because the struggle of the show is always internal, be it Sheridan’s self-doubt, Delenn’s struggle with her people’s believed superiority and her findings that they should all be equal, Ivanova’s hatred for telepaths, thus herself, Garibaldi’s struggles with being a doofus, and, of course, G’Kar and Londo’s struggles with freedom, right, wrong and their roles in the universe. Yeah, the episode ends with Sheridan finally meeting the Rangers, with their command being transferred to him, him giving a rousing speech about being on the side of the light and even the dude on that planet in that weird machine pledging to help both of them, it was still the little things that mattered most.
Londo’s return to Babylon 5 to gloat about the victory that he only imagined that he wanted, but didn’t really want, was bittersweet. The man who was usually flouncing around the station in a drunken stupor was now flanked by honor guards and wore a grim expression. Garibaldi greeted Londo in a cold manner, with his look explaining everything. They had spent a good deal of this season focusing on the relationship between Garibaldi and Londo, with them being the two sides of the same coin. They were both damaged men with a habit of imbibing until the point of making horrible mistakes, but Garibaldi was the guy that was following the program, getting his life together and trying to do things the right way. Londo was the guy that took the shortcut and found that happiness still wasn’t waiting for him when all of his wildest dreams of being a heroic conqueror came true. He lost his best friend, he lost the respect of his friends and peers and had to watch while Vir, that lump of a ball of anxiety, had grown into his own with a newly-found hardened shell to deal with all of the bullshit that Londo made him go through.
While inexplicably Jerry Doyle (Garibaldi) would go on to be a right-wing pundit on Fox News and try to start his own web outlet before his demise, the character of Garibaldi is sort of the antithesis of that. It was a guy that had to believe in something, which meant choosing goodness and believing in people instead of turning a cold shoulder to those suffering in the universe because he himself had been hurt. He might still be a creep, but damnit, he’s a creep with a Daffy Duck poster above his bed, signifying that his childlike innocence never truly left him and perhaps kept him from becoming what the actor portraying him ultimately became.
G’Kar has suffered through just about everything a character in his position could suffer from, but the ultimate sign of his pride being thrown out the window was asking Sheridan for sanctuary when his planet fell, at the behest of the Narn leaders, then sitting in while Londo made his outrageous decree to the League of Unaligned Nations. G’Kar, usually having a seat at the big table, instead sat quietly in a chair next to it, listening, head down, while Londo talked about being a mighty conqueror and how the Centauri would once again subjugate his people. When demanding for G’Kar to stand trial we saw the true awfulness of Londo at play. These men were, indeed, always arguing, always at each other’s throats, but what predated this atrocity of a war was G’Kar speaking to the Centauri emperor who promised him peace. G’Kar offered his hand to Londo and promised to work towards a friendship, which warmed Londo to the point of trying to turn back, only finding it impossible.
Fueled by his indignation, Londo wanted G’Kar to finally submit to him, perhaps even beg him for his life. While Londo could have really gone through with it, there was always this sense of doubt that Londo would ever be willing to pull the trigger on him. Here, well, it seems like he was really going to do it, which prompted the speech above. That speech, well, I won’t say I didn’t tear up on this viewing a little bit, even though I’ve seen it before and will see it again.
But, see, Londo really believes that he has some modicum of control here. He believes that his deeds will indeed make everything better. Sure, he gets his jollies and his time to puff out his chest and feel important, but he believes that this will better his people and their collective soul. Just like that, he believes that they’d conquer the Narn and call it a day, only for his story in this episode to close out with him watching the news and seeing that the Centauri had seized nearby worlds and that the true nature of Imperialism is what everyone says it to be: a never-ending quest to quench an insatiable thirst for power.
Watching this in 2018 is a bit difficult. The Centauri were depicted as a very clearly “western” culture throughout the series, from their formal, 18th century British-nobility-style clothing to their cavalier attitude towards imperialism and creating an empire with no end. Much like the modern west — dare I say the United States — the Centauri have a vision inside of their own minds of them bringing their own brand of civilization to the galaxy not as conquerors, but instead generous saviors. Humanity’s first contact with an alien species was the Centauri, who gifted to Earth many advanced technologies, such as jump gates (which are still my favorite way to dealing with faster-than-light travel in sci-fi) and more. This truly noble gesture helped them to continue feeling superior, but giving without sacrificing their position in the galaxy, if anything hoping that Earth would be indebted to them in the future as an ally.
At the same time, their view of the Narn as savages and the Narn homeworld as merely resources for them to control and strip-mine, not because they needed those resources, but they needed control over them, reflects a lot of America’s current ideas towards the rest of the world. Then, even after their war was over and the Narn had retaken their homeworld, the Centauri still viewed it as their own property that was taken from them, not something that they stole by force and refused to let go of. This, of course, predated the 2003 Iraq War (also hilariously known as Operation Iraqi Freedom), which is one of the more grievous examples of modern, western imperialism under the guise of “spreading Democracy and freedom” while mostly looking to control resources and ideology in the region. With our current president, Trump, looking to relive the glory days of American imperialism by butting heads with Iran, North Korea, Russia, Mexico and even allied nations it serves as a stark reminder that our own history always feels doomed to repeat itself, much like the Centauri’s thirst for glory dooms everyone around them to a vicious cycle of bloodshed with no true purpose.
G’Kar’s powerful speech, followed by Sheridan’s promise to dedicate his own resources towards helping G’Kar and his people retake their homeworld, was almost entirely carried by the fact that G’Kar is such a great character. His measured, profound words that come from the near-endless amount of time he spends studying ancient texts is always contrasted by his quick temper and hasty actions. Even while shaking Sheridan’s hand, he pauses first and notes that the last time he shook a man’s hand he found himself embroiled in a war with him a day later. Perhaps he hasn’t learned his lesson yet, or maybe he’s just desperate for someone to be a true friend to him. Maybe even he’s searching for something to hold onto during these dark times. We know Sheridan to be the paragon of virtue, but G’Kar has been so wrapped up in this conflict that he truly hasn’t gotten to know the man since his arrival on the station, making this both a leap of faith and an act of desperation.
This is the second in my Babylon 5 retrospective. The first can be read here. Please consider signing up for my email list if you enjoyed this article and want to be kept up-to-date on my upcoming stories and novels.