Babylon 5 #31: A Race Through Dark Places

"I'm not saying what I'm saying. I'm not saying what I'm thinking. As a matter of fact, I'm not thinking what I'm thinking."
IN THIS ONE... Bester investigates an underground railroad for rogue telepaths aboard the station. Sheridan bristles at Earth Alliance trying to make him pay rent.

REVIEW: Another Talia-centric plot so soon? She really is being better integrated into the show. Bester's back and though on the "right" side of the law, his right is all kinds of wrong, from torturing a man and enjoying orgasmic spasms at his "last thought" to wanting to repatriate (and do God knows what to) unregistered telepaths who have made their way to the station. Even though we're set up to think of Bester as a villain, it's not a black and white issue. Talia, though she secretly distrusts PsiCorps, has to be convinced through a series of horror stories told by the refugees. Garibaldi preaches absolutism, while Doc Franklin is revealed as the underground railroad's engineer since before he came aboard, his clandestine clinic down below something of a front for his operation. This puts Sheridan in a difficult position - and the audience too - and though Talia's "third option" lets them all off the hook, it doesn't exactly restore the trust our heroes should share.

The only real winner in the trust game is Talia who, by betraying Bester and PsiCorps, aligns herself with the Earthforce Four. Even Ivanova now feels at ease with her, and deigns to share a bottle of wine late at night (though she still calls her "Miss Winters"). The point is well made that PsiCorps is both empowering and limiting, and that in trying to protect people from telepaths, Earth has created monsters that now have political power over them. But PsiCorps isn't the future according to the Lurker who leads the misfit telepaths, Talia is. We saw what Ironheart became in Mind War, and his gifts to Talia may set her on the same transcendent path. She exhibits telekinesis, the ability to cloud Bester's mind, and with the help of networked telepaths, even cast convincing mental illusions. How powerful will she get?

The comedy subplot about budget cutbacks and Sheridan absolutely refusing to pay rent or move to smaller quarters has several good moments, but the storyline is a little thin (though it does show how Earth Alliance is losing faith in the costly Babylon project). Still, the best bit for me was Sheridan's hyperactive good mood after his date with sexy Delenn in a human dress. Reminded me of so many shared hotel rooms and group sleepovers where clowning supersedes sleep. And it's very true to life. Meeting someone new, finding out you have chemistry, it's very exciting. Even mention of his wife can't break the spell. I found myself feeling happy for him. Don't spoil it, Ivanova! At least you got the couch!

Garibaldi's the law is the law is evocative of Odo's attitude, but it's Delenn's fascination with humanity that's most Trekkish (by way of Data).

- A solid story, a shocking(ish) reveal, and good recurring guest-star, and several signs of things to come.


Anonymous said...

This is the episode where Sheridan completely won me over; it's not often you see an actor convey the giddy delight you feel when you're starting to fall in love. You go, John! Now that your one wife is dead and the other is assigned far far away, nothing whatsoever could interfere with your pursuing Delenn.

LiamKav said...

I seem to recall that this episode and the prior one were switched at some point, and that Talia's attitude in the prior one regarding PsiCorp makes more sense if she's had the experiences that she has in this one.

There is a MASSIVE conversation to be had regarding the shows attitude towards telepaths. Like the X-Men, it occasionally tried to treat them as a put-upon minority, which is true, but it's a minority that can know every secret you have without you being aware of it. Telepaths are [i]extremely[/i] scary, and if they popped up in real-life I think, as a society, we'd collectively as a society lose our shit.

Siskoid said...

Unless we got genocidal about it (which I wouldn't put past humanity), what we see in B5 is a fairly likely outcome.

We'd try to control them by rounding them up, segregating them, drugging them, and training them so they could do the least harm. We would work out countermeasures. (Look at the ESP race that apparently went on during the Cold War.)

Over time, the segregated group would be feared (segregation leads to lack of understanding and alienation), would benefit from activism, and would gain political traction. Their powers would make that traction particularly powerful and insidious. If not political, then the group would seek power through other channels, like crime or armed rebellion. Same deal.

Look at real-world segregated groups for a hint of what would happen and throw in super-powers.

Ryan Lohner said...

It's a bit odd that this is the first time we've seen Talia trying out her new mental powers since Ironheart gave them to her a year ago, but it works nicely with her development, and I guess I can handwave that encountering Bester again, and seeing that she could now block a P12's probing, really got her considering the full implications. Though JMS was also never fully satisfied with any endings he wrote for this one. The trick on Bester was the best he came up with, but he still worried that he was making Talia into a walking deus ex machine, able to solve any situation with her vaguely defined but extremely powerful abilities, which is a major reason that they were brought up so few times at this point.

That's Walter Koenig's real wife in the opening interrogation scene, and I like to think she's the wife Bester is talking about with Garibaldi. Though that also adds a depressing layer in retrospect, given that their son would later kill himself.

We've seen the telepath leader before, giving Garibaldi information in Chrysalis. He's played by Brian Cousins, which makes his earlier appearance more memorable than it might have been with his slight facial deformity and the heavy lisping it causes.

I haven't heard anything official, but going off LiamKav's comment I do very much suspect that this episode and Soul Mates were intended for the opposite order, as Talia's sudden distrust of Psi Corps in the latter would make much more sense. Maybe Stoner was using his abilities on her, I guess.

Jeff R. said...

You're far to optimistic, Siskoid. Just about all roads lead to either genocide of the telepaths or a dictatorship dominated by them; you're just describing the first dozen steps along one of those roads. The fundamentals of liberal democracy break down when mind control is even a plausible possibility (and sufficiently advanced telepathic blackmail is indistinguishable from mind control, ultimately)

(The exception is if you can arrange for the trait to be spread to near-universality in the entire population, but getting there probably means a trip through the telepath dictatorship branch and hoping it remains benevolent long enough to accomplish there.)

Siskoid said...

Well, I'd describe myself as an optimistic skeptic.

Siskoid said...

If we were talking about Quebec, I know I'd be a hardened Federalist. What's your opinion of Scottish independence?

LiamKav said...

I think it's a horrendously misconceived and badly thought out idea that appeals to the worst parts of nationalism without ever offering decent arguments.

Alex Salmond has made a career out of shouting loudly without offering facts. He said that Scotland will be able to use the Euro, before Europe said "er, no, it's not that easy". He then said that they can use the British pound, despite all UK party leaders saying "er, no, you can't". When pushed on these he's not offered any sort of logical argument, merely stamped his feet and said "we WILL use the pound so there!".

He's made the vote count for 16 year olds, because they are more likely to be swayed by the yes camp, even though we all agree that 16 is to young to vote in anything else.

The voting process itself is ridiculous. Scottish people currently living in other parts of the UK can't vote, for instance.

Financially, there's a good change Scotland will be worse off. Businesses will be less inclinded to base themselves there, unless they start doing things like lowering tax rates to make themselves more enticing (a move that hasn't really done anything good for most people living in Ireland).

Generally, the whole thing seems to be based on the idea that an independent Scotland will get more power to run itself (which is good), but will continue to get all the benefits of living in the UK, like free movement across the border, same currency, same financial standing in the world. This is almost certainly a fallacy.

I live in Northern England, so we have similar issues with the government being very London-centric and forgetting that the rest of us exist. I don't think an independent Scotland is the answer to that, though. I think it plays into the same sort of us vs them mentality that is being used by the anti-Europe groups over here. It seems small-minded, and if they do go independent then England will go through a horrible nationalist movement of there own where we'll be forced to salute Winston Churchill every morning before drinking a cup of English (Indian) tea and snogging the Queen. (Note, this might not be true).

And, it's a minor thing, but the celebrities who want an independent Scotland? People like Irvine Welsh (lives in Chicago), Brian Cox (lives in New York City) and Sean Connery (Bahamas, doesn't like paying tax).

(If a Scot wants to argue the opposite, of course, they are welcome to. I could be wrong about everything. I frequently am.)

Siskoid said...

So not far off the Quebec situation. I empathize.

LondonKdS said...

That alt text for the image... are you *sure* you haven't seen later episodes?

One of my favourite things about Babylon 5 is the way it looks hard at the massive social problems that any kind of "superpowers" would cause, as opposed to normal superhero comics which, whenever they explore the issue, go straight to "any social control of people with powers will lead to mass DEATH CAMPS!!!!!!!!!".

Siskoid said...

Alt text: The joke is based on the pic, but the serial killer whose mind she had to enter no so long ago wanted to add her to his choir, so there's a hint of that.

LiamKav said...

One other fact... there are 422,000 English people living in Scotland who can vote on the referendum, and 681,000 Scottish people (more than any single Scottish city) living in other parts of the UK who can't vote.

Clusterfuck, as I said.

LiamKav said...

-Soul Mates starts with Bester and company using telepathy fairly heavily... with each other, with the "normals" they meet. Of course, now that we've established that, this episode (and future ones) drop that and have the telepaths talking to each other out loud. I'm guessing JMS realised that most of the viewers don't have telepathy, and so having his antagonists standing around staring at each other in silence probably doesn't play too well.

-The Minbari spend a whole year in temple learning humour? How long do they spend on JMS-level advanced comedy? At least Ivanova had the decency to look disgusted by Sheridan's jokes.

-Bester and Talia are drinking out of the DS9 Replimat style mugs. I remember you could buy them in the 90s froma few shops. They were marketed as a coffee/tea mug that was hard to spill.

-The reuse of the Lurker from Crysalis shows an important lesson... if you're going to reuse an apparently unimportant background character and have him turn out to be important later, make sure he's a bit visually distinctive. *cough*Jack*cough*

-This comes up all the time in Trek as well as here, but it stuck out at me during the scene where Sheridan and Ivanova are camped out in his office. Here's a situation where they're both in it together, and it's about as informal as it can get, and yet while he calls her "Susan", she has to call him "Captain". I get the chain of command, but I don't think that applies to first names.

-"There are laws. And whether I like them or not, I'm a soldier. I am honour bound to obey the law". We might want to revisit this line later, so I'm just making a note of it here.

LiamKav said...

Er, shouldn't our conversation above be on the commends tread for "Spider in the Web", not here?


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