"In a world where every day is a struggle for survival, you need all the gods you can get... gods by the bushel, gods by the pound! Gods for all occasions!"
REVIEW: The Parliament of Dreams (which I guess is the Minbari ceremony) presents us with what at first appears to be an ill-advised festival celebrating all the religions represented on Babylon 5. To everyone's surprise, it goes off with a hitch, and in the process, not only do we explore a couple of the show's main races, but JMS weaves in some interesting themes as well. The Centauri, for example, have a kind of Grecian orgy where they get drunk, eat too much and, decadence oblige, make fun of their gods. Londo even goes so far as to kiss one of his gods' asses. Truthfully, there is little of the divine in his culture, gods are but gaudy trinkets, genocide is celebrated as a joke, and faith is an excuse for a party. How perfect! Gotta love seeing Ivanova have so much fun as well. Russians and boisterousness, eh?
The Minbari are at the other end of the spectrum. It's not just that they're an obviously spiritual and wise people, but that every word they say seems to have hidden depths. Their sober ceremony isn't passionless, by any means, but it's formal and composed. The passion comes from Delenn's face when she eats the fruit of rebirth, a gesture we later realize may mean she just wedded Sinclair! At least, to her. The words of the ceremony are equally redolent with meaning. When she talks about feigning defeat, isn't that exactly when they did at the end of the Earth-Minbari War? So when, giving each member of the audience a fruit in turn, she tells them to leave behind old things (Garibaldi), old fears (Sinclair) and old lives (Ivanova), that has to mean something. With rather more obvious irony, G'Kar is told about his death.
Speaking of G'Kar, as the main focus of the A-plot - an assassination attempt by an old enemy - we don't really get to see his religion. The Narns surely have a set of beliefs - there's a line about the "next incarnation" in there - but perhaps G'Kar himself is more secular. And yet, one could argue he came closest to a religious experience. His life under threat, fear, anxiety and paranoia always about him, his soul was the most tried. As far as these kinds of plots go, it was well handled. It seems G'Kar has plenty of past indiscretions, as many as Londo presumably, and we meet his new aide Na'Toth touted in the credits (as does Delenn's, the reverent Lennier played by Lost in Space's Bill Mumy; I guess the cast is now complete). Apparently, the previous actress was unable to keep wearing the prosthetics, but where Ko D'ath was a bit of a caricature, Na'Toth is more likable and competent. I quite enjoy her, actually, and the camaraderie that eventually blossoms between her and the ambassador. One thing's for sure, Narn females are FIERCE! The story thread is resolved cleverly, with the Narns getting the better of the assassin, and so on, all the while doling out equal measures of tension and humor.
And what of the humans? Well, Sinclair gets a visit from Cartherine Sakai, an old flame who disrupts his life every three years or so. Obviously a replacement for the pilot's Carolyn, and though you might at first expect her to be a dangerous femme fatale, it's what between them that's at fault. He's just as bad for her as she is for him. Or have they grown beyond that now? Maybe. I'd be more enthusiastic if my notes didn't tell me she was going to be in so few episodes. The relationship is adult, but their dialog a little over-written, leading to occasionally mannered performances. So was this JMS showing us where humans get their spiritual fix in our apparently secular future (going by Dr. Franklin)? Finding love in each other instead of in a giving God, and so on? That's the expectation, but then there's a twist. In the last scene, Sinclair leads the delegates to a corridor and presents an atheist. We know JMS is one, and this seems to bear out Franklin's world view from the previous episode. And then a further twist. The atheist is standing with a Catholic priest, a Muslim, an orthodox Jew, a Native holy man, and so on and on and on and on. A long line off people are seen as Sinclair rattles off Earth's every faith. Our contribution to the galactic community is - and JMS is out-doing Trek here - variety. I found this an incredibly poignant ending, bettering the "why do we need to go to the stars" speech from Infection. It made me feel so proud of my little planet, which is a really strange feeling to have. JMS may be an atheist, but he seems to be an enlightened one, unthreatened by those who do have a faith, and willing to embrace other beliefs as an artifact of culture, if not as scientific truth. I must say that matches my own attitudes, and perhaps that's why I was so touched. Regardless, here is a future where faith (human and alien) need not be an impediment to understanding or peace, but perhaps an engine of such.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: A station-wide religious festival leading to romance is still some months off on Deep Space 9 (Fascination).
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Powerful stuff, even if I don't quite buy into the romance.