Previously I touched upon Babylon 5 season three episodes one and two. Logically, this means I’m going into three and four now, which proves unique. Episode three and four are both largely self-contained episodes that don’t carry over much, but there’s still enough that makes them interesting.
“A Day in the Strife”
This episode dances around topics like addiction and surprise, surprise, centrism. Yes, that is actually quite a surprise. The central plot point in this episode is that there’s a lot of stuff happening, including unrest among the trade unions and others aboard Babylon 5 when a mysterious probe enters B5 space and sets Ivanova on a strange task of answering questions to a purported superior race of beings, else a nuclear warhead aboard the probe blows the station into ash.
What really works about this is they more or less play off how absurd this storyline is and how the stakes are seemingly high, but nobody takes it seriously only for it to go away. That really sounds like a waste of an episode, doesn’t it? Garibaldi suspects the good doctor is abusing stims to stay alert while he pulls extra shifts, so he invites him to dinner to confront him. It turns out, Garibaldi has a drinking problem and knows about handling it, so Doctor Franklin tells him he doesn’t have a problem and that Garibaldi hasn’t seen a bottle he didn’t find the bottom of.
But yeah, Franklin is hopped up on stims and is trying to help Ivanova and the bridge crew gather information for the probe. He’s pretty rude to everyone, and they’re all noticing how jumpy he is. Addiction is serious, and the show tries in earnest to handle the topic which feels mostly okay as the episodes wear on and Franklin’s stim usage becomes a more glaring problem. Here, though, it’s still early into the story and there’s not much to go on.
The heart of this episode lies in the Narn, though. An envoy, Na’Far, arrives along with his bodyguard, the same one that was held hostage on an alien ship with the captain previously, which creates an interesting dynamic as we know this character and that he’s a relatively good, honorable person (well, alien). The envoy, though, was appointed by the Centauri and reports to them. He came to take G’kar back to Narn to stand trial, but had to deal with the crew and other ambassadors first. G’kar is a political refugee under their direct protection, and anything he did would have to be under his own will. Na’Far prostrates himself before Londo to gain access to G’kar, Londo reminding him about work camps, relocations, chain gangs and executions happening on that planet, much to Vir’s discomfort. Vir and Londo argue, furthering the rift between the two. But Na’Far gets his wish. This Narn, you see, is a moderate. He believes in slow, incremental change above the extreme actions of G’kar and the planet side resistance, clearly being led by G’kar. Unless G’kar turns himself in, the family members of the Narn aboard Babylon 5 will be (well, they already are) imprisoned until G’kar returns to the homeworld and stands trial.
Londo finds Delenn and attempts to have a civil conversation with her where he more or less dumps Vir off on the Minbari, claiming Vir has outlived his usefulness on Babylon 5 and could serve in the empty embassy role the Centauri have because they are, well, war mongers. Delenn warns him that Vir is his conscious, and Londo admits he cares about Vir, but wishes him to be away from all the awfulness happening around them. Delenn agrees but reminds Londo they were never really friends like he remembers and essentially he’s an awful person (alien).
Absolutely no one wants G’kar to leave, where he’ll clearly be executed and made an example of, including Michael Garibaldi. That’s supposed to be a big deal because of how much of a pain in the ass G’kar is, but the reality is it’s very clear who’s right and who’s wrong here. This envoy preaches the Centauri have promised clemency for many, that G’kar may even live and that they’ll take care of the Narn people. G’kar protests that taking table scraps from their oppressors only increases their reliance upon them and that he has been getting them food and supplies already. Our friend Na’Far pleads with him, that yes, they deserve retribution and the Narn will rise again… but when the time is right, when something happens that is in the future and safer. Right now it isn’t safe.
I’ve never seen Babylon 5 as a politically progressive show. It’s a product of the time and reflects some of the progressive values of the era, while also reflecting a more militaristic world view where might makes right, but only smart might. Still, this is a truly damning look at what most Americans have gotten to know as liberal politics. At this very moment, the Democratic party is walking back its promise to voters that if they got control of the House, Senate and presidency, stimulus checks would fly out to the American people immediately. Instead, now, they’re counting the previous stimulus payment as a “down payment” on the promised sum. It’s in the name of bipartisanship in an era where partisan divide is so deep that shaving $600 off of pandemic stimulus leaves literally nobody content. It does nothing to “reach across the aisle” and promises that the way forward is slow, steady, and to push incremental change.
We’re emerging from an era of rampant corruption, and most of us doubt there will be any reform whatsoever. As I write this, a Reddit board is attempting to manipulate the stock market to stick it to a few hedge funds, bankrupting one and causing chaos in our financial system in the process. It shows how easy it was for a relatively small group of people to disrupt a bedrock system that our country relies on and has been the casino for the ultra-wealthy for far too long. The relevance here is that our government is looking into ways to prevent this from happening again. No, not the already legally dubious short-selling, the “retail traders” being able to disrupt the market in such a simple, profound way.
Na’Far is an agent of slow, incremental change. Na’Far believes in the doctrine of fear and not rocking the boat. Ultimately, his threat of imprisonment for the rebel Narn families pushes G’kar to sacrifice himself to return home and face his judgement. Na’Far has shamed and guilted G’kar into giving in to an occupying, oppressive force to protect the average person. What pushes him is seeing the other Narn attack Na’Far and accuse him of being a race traitor, one Narn looking to stab him in the back, which enrages G’kar.
Na’Far asks them what could be more important than their safety.
Just when G’kar is ready to leave and sacrifice himself, the Narn step forward, one-by-one, telling G’kar to stay. He’s confused, don’t they want their families to be safe? It turns out that they want their families to be free. What point is safety without a promise of freedom? Na’Far offers nothing but empty promises, and his leadership over the Narn resistance would mean the end of any resistance whatsoever. It takes Ta’Lon, Sheridan’s pal, stepping forward and unsheathing his sword to stop G’kar in his tracks. He points out it’s a ceremonial blade that, once unsheathed, can only be put away once it draws blood. Ta’Lon then explains that in a fight between the two of them it would be an unfair one because Ta’Lon has his blade, but G’kar has two weapons: his heart and his mind, making it an unfair fight. G’kar has heard enough and will stay, Ta’Lon draws his own blood to satisfy tradition.
The probe thing? Yeah, they got most of the information they needed and Sheridan decided just to not send it because it made absolutely no sense that a race with advanced technology would kill lesser races instead of kill advanced ones that pose a threat. Like those on Babylon 5. So they transmit nothing, it backs away, then they send a loader bot out with the answers loaded onto it, which explodes, proving Sheridan’s point.
Hooray. Oh, and Vir leaves. Londo and he just stare at each other. It’s pretty tense.
“Passing Through Gethsemane”
This episode is… different.
While self-contained, it takes another bold stance on the idea of punishment and redemption. In the last piece I wrote about B5, I talked about this idea of redemption and how not everyone is owed redemption.
Lyta Alexander returns from her voyage to the Vorlon homeworld, remarkably different, even passing by Londo in the hallway without seeming to notice him, only to get angry at him when he stops her to have a conversation. The return of a strong telepath coincides with the concept of a “death of personality,” where instead of the death penalty, the worst of the worst criminals are subjected to a process where a telepath wipes their memories and personality, replacing them with suggestions that they need to serve their community instead.
It turns out, there’s a holy order of monks aboard the station and Sheridan plays chess with the leader, while Brother Edward looks on. Brother Edward, it turns out, is one of the people who went through death of personality for his crimes. He was a serial killer who was then given over to the order to serve out the rest of his life as a monk where he studies religion, helps people and makes little crystal sculptures.
Edward engages with Lennier and Delenn to share ideas about their religions, which leads to him talking about Jesus and the Garden of Gethsemane and how Jesus could have fled before he was arrested and executed, but he instead remained strong and faced his judgement. Delenn wanted to see someone who’d been through that death of personality firsthand, confused as to how humane of a punishment it was. It’s a rather extreme punishment.
Brother Edward is haunted by visions and bloody letters etched into the walls, this episode playing out like a horror movie in parts. Edward is confronted by messages alluding to his true personality, objects that should trigger his memories like a black rose, and even a staged scene of a woman on the ground with a rose between her teeth. This pushes him to investigate and discover who he really is: a cold-blooded killer who was sentenced to death of personality. Of course, nobody really understood who Edward was or what he’d done before this, the monks not caring where their members came from, just that they were good people.
By all accounts, Brother Edward was a kind, caring person who devoted his life to helping people. He was a far stretch from the black rose killer of the past. Still, he grappled with this revelation before he was finally confronted by families of the victims, looking for revenge. Nobody wishes to kill him anymore, except for one guy. By the time the gang finds him, it’s too late, he’s quite literally crucified and near-death when they find him. His attacker shows zero remorse over his actions, and nobody seems happy here. Brother Edward passes into the unknown, assured by Brother Theo that he was forgiven for his sins and a good person, that redemption was possible. The killer had hired a Centauri telepath to muddle with Edward’s programming and help him remember as much as he could, who Lyta could extralegally extract information from because hey, she’s a rogue now!
Brother Edward’s death at least came with talk about the Garden of Gethsemane, where he didn’t know if he’d have that same courage, but he did. He faced down his past before dying, an important lesson that leads us into his killer stepping forward in the last scene, mind wiped, a new member of the order. Sheridan is uneasy, but Brother Theo reminds him of Brother Edward with one last, unfinished sculpture that he wanted Sheridan to have.
The episode closes with Kosh traveling from Lyta’s body back into Kosh’s body through a sort of violent transfer that leaves her drained.
What we can take away from this episode is the idea of redemption and confronting the wrongdoings of our own pasts. Brother Edward was haunted by his past as a killer, but once presented with it, stood firm on who he was and his beliefs, thus “redeemed” in the eyes of Brother Theo. Only for his killer to take his place in the order, thus continuing the cycle. We’re meant to be uneasy with this transfer.
Was Brother Edward redeemed? I don’t know. Brother Edward was an entirely different person at that point. It’s definitely a view on crime and punishment and meant to provoke thought in the least, discussion at most, about what punishment and reform should look like.