Babylon 5 #42: Divided Loyalties

"I guess this wouldn't be a good time for me to suggest we all join hands and sing Kumbaya?"
IN THIS ONE... Lyta Alexander is back with news of a PsiCorps sleeper mole, and last appearance of Talia Winters. (These events may be connected.)

REVIEW: This episode may start with an innocuous, light-hearted scene, but it actually fits the theme of the PsiCorps shocker to come. I like how the station rations and recycles everything, including newspapers, and how print news is tailored to each reader's particular interests (and biases, just like TV news?). It's a nice bit of world-building, and a little more serious than the public restroom scene (which I still appreciated, but it's not the first time go in there). And who doesn't like Sheridan and Delenn flirting? He stays just a little too long while she gets her copy, and though the Minbari don't lie, she still tries to impress him and has to save face when it appears she protested too much about disliking gossip. (Of course, their courtship continues more explicitly in the garden scene, and it's sweet how very innocent it is.) Thematically, it's a scene about customization and information gathering. And that's just what the A-plot is about.

The return of Lyta Alexander smacks of her interchangeability with Talia Winters. Not just because the latter replaced the former on the cast (and soon, vice-versa), but because both characters are ostensibly on the same path to betray their untrustworthy organization. While I like what little I've seen of Lyta, and am intrigued by her quest to join the Vorlons - is Vorlon a state of mind, or is it perhaps something we, or at least, telepaths, can evolve into, sort of like how Ironheart evolved into HumanityNext - but Talia has something she doesn't, namely relationships with other members of the crew. Her friendship with Ivanova is in fact written like a romance, and an intimate one at that. This episode has a odd moment where it looks like they're about to kiss, which is followed by a scene in which Talia reaches for Ivanova in bed and wakes up, realizing Susan's gone. As a plot contrivance, it's supposed to draw suspicion to Ivanova as the sleeper agent (an attempt is made on Lyta's life while she's missing), but as background, it's the same kind of thing Chris Claremont used to do with the female X-Men. I'm not sure it's believable Ivanova would risk such physical contact with a telepath, even if Talia does show incredible respect and restraint around her. And when Ivanova finally shares her dark secret with us (well, Sheridan) - that she's a weak latent telepath - it's put into terms a gay person might find familiar. The scene is about her coming out of the closet to a friend, and only that friend, who then shares her secret. Still, that would be a great cover for a "programmed" PsiCorps agent, as since B5 doesn't mind doing permanent harm to its characters...

But it's not Ivanova. The mole is Talia, and I'm not sure I like that. Originally, it was going to be Laurel Takashima, and after two years, that would have been a shocker. But JMS didn't have that option and moved the plot line over to Talia Winters, he claims. Apparently, it's there from the beginning and why Talia is so aggressive in seeking Ivanova's friendship. That's as maybe, but making a PsiCorps operative a PsiCorps mole isn't exactly shocking. She wasn't the most trusted person in the cast to begin with. If JMS really had wanted to make the switch, why not to Ivanova, who was also a replacement character and in the same position as Laurel? JMS swears it has nothing to do with Andrea Thompson being difficult and wanting a bigger role (appearing in only 8 or 9 episodes a season, I can't really blame her), but that sounds bogus to me. Because losing Talia creates a whole lot of loose ends. She was investigating PsiCorps and hiding the underground railroad. She had powerful, evolving powers left her by Ironheart. She was said to be "the future" somehow. That's all gone. And the worst of it is, while I'm sure she'll be mentioned again, she won't reappear again. She doesn't even turn up again as a vicious villain who knows everyone's weaknesses. A huge waste. So you'll forgive me, Mr. Straczynski, if I don't quite buy you're "it was all planned from the beginning". If it were true, she would have welcomed Garibaldi's advances, not spurned them. Come on now. And while I wouldn't want Claudia Christian off the show by any means, at this point, Ivanova's arc has played itself out. Just the right time for the character to take this dramatic a turn.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The episode's conclusion is wasteful, but I can't deny how exciting this thriller is, nor how interesting the characters moments are.


Anonymous said...

I suspect JMS did have Sleeper Agent designs on Talia, and I say that because of the Vicar. Remember that jerk, collecting Talia's greatest fears? If I had to guess, the plan was to use those primal experiences to bust through whatever Manchurian Candidate programming they'd put into Talia's head.

Siskoid said...

Yes, I remember because there's a flashback to it in this very episode. And then they do nothing with it. Kosh doesn't help stop her, doesn't bring "Talia" back, and since she doesn't appear again, never does.

Anonymous said...

Well goddamn. I do recall Bester later telling Garibaldi that they did cruel things to Talia, for no other reason than to be a jerk. The show basically Poochie'd her, which suggests something about the creators' opinions of her.

(Poochie, for those who don't know: . "Talia died on her way back to her home planet.")

LondonKdS said...

It's interesting the way in the 1990s ideas of personalised news sometimes seemed to crystallise around the idea of somebody having a uniquely-tailored printed newspaper created for them. The basic concept was right, but they couldn't conceive the delivery method not being paper, even though the Web proper was just starting.

Siskoid said...

Babylon 5 certainly didn't predict the death of print media.

Ryan Lohner said...

I've heard a bit of a different story about how this change came about, which starts with Andrea Thompson being an absolute nightmare to work with. She was an utter prima donna, constantly demanding to be the center of attention in every scene she was in, and by season 2 she'd started demanding the entire show revolve around Talia, including sending her new husband Jerry Doyle to beg for more screen time on her behalf. JMS kept insisting the story was the story, and she would have a much bigger role in season 3, but she refused to listen and quit the show herself. After Takashima left, the new plan had been to transfer the sleeper personality plot into Talia, but then use Kosh's crystal from Deathwalker to bring the real Talia back, and that implication was still put in Divided Loyalties on the off-chance they could convince her to return, but of course that door was shut for good. And I do find it kind of amusing that this means that episode featured TWO Chekhov's Guns that ended up never being fired.

The bright side to this was that Patricia Tallman was able to come back, the issues that resulted in her leaving after The Gathering having been cleared up, and JMS was able to move this part of the story back to what he'd wanted in the first place. This did have its own downside, as JMS had intended to make Ivanova and Talia a full-blown, completely unambiguous romantic couple, and now felt that transferring that to Lyta would have been too forced, so it was dropped.

This brings me to one thing B5 absolutely had over Star Trek. For all the crowing that franchise does about portraying a future where everyone is equal, one place where it has always undeniably fallen down on the job is homosexuality. There have been several times since TNG that the writers toyed with making a character gay (most notably Captain Janeway, which Kate Mulgrew was completely on board with), and almost without exception chickened out and ran screaming in the other direction. The one time they had the guts to go through with it was the DS9 episode about Dax's former lover, and even that is wrapped in a safe, insulating layer of analogy so they could say to all the homophobes in the audience "Don't worry, we're not REALLY talking about it."

Compare this to the B5 approach, where not only would we have gotten a full-blown homosexual relationship if one of the actresses hadn't left, but in any scene with enough extras, at least one gay couple is among them if you look for it. The idea JMS was working with was that once aliens entered the picture, humans would start seeing any other humans no matter their color, creed, or orientation as "normal." I sure know which future I'd rather live in.

Siskoid said...

I've read that explanation about Talia's departure, and it just sounds like JMS is throwing Thompson under the bus, blaming her for unresolved plot lines. I'm sure she was difficult, but it sounds a bit blown out of proportion. As if she couldn't tell this was an ensemble show. I think the issue was likely that Talia was underutilized compared to other characters and it's true that she was. Asking for more screen time and more episodes (they were paying her for 13 and she only did 8) isn't unreasonable.

I'm not sure how much credit I want to give the production for gay portrayals given that it's a veiled portrayal here and they didn't go through with it in the end (with any characters). Good intentions, but no payola.

There's another gay moment in DS9, win the episode with the female Ferengi in drag going out with Quark, and Dax is super surprised that she's a woman, not that Quark is in a relationship with a man. That said as much as this B5 thread, that such things are perfectly acceptable in the universe, it's just not the focus of the show. It's even more daring, in a sense, because the presumed same sex couple was male, which suffers from a much greater taboo than lesbianism.

As for which universe I'd rather live in, it isn't the one with the Fascist Earth.

LiamKav said...

One thing I do like about hte abrupt departure... it makes you feel unsteady. Siskoid, like everyone else is going "but, wasn't Talia supposed to be the future?" and she's now gone. It means that future prophecies all have an element of doubt, which can only be good.

I'd be curious of an article discussing the x (number hidden because SPOILERS) abrupt character departures because of life, how successful they were, whether they helped or hurt the show... Ignoring the pilot we've had 2 so far (actually 3, but we won't realise that the other person has left for a while yet), Of those, I think that the Sherican/Sinclair situation largely works out. The wife storyline is a teeny bit bungled, but I think Sheridan plays better on TV as a character, and moving Sinclair somewhere else also ups the intruige factor. Lyta/Talia... I like Lyta, but I'll see on this rewatch whether it's to the shows benefit or not to swap them out.

(Arguably, Zack is a replacement for Lou Welch, but I doubt Lou would have had Zack's character arc.)

Siskoid said...

Yes, that's a worthy topic, but as for the unsteadiness argument, I'd only find it acceptable if it had been planned (which I still don't believe it was, not to any such extent).

JMS sounds strident in the comments reported by the Lurker's Guide, saying sometimes things happen at random. IT'S JUST LIKE REAL LIFE!

Yes, except you've gone out of your way to make this an operatic novel which neither moves nor sounds like real life. So either it's a novel/saga/epic, or it's brutal uncompromising realism. As a viewer, I don't feel unsteady. I feel jerked around and disappointed that something I invested in turned out to be a cul-de-sac. (When first broadcast, it might have looked like Talia would return and all those plot lines would have morphed and evolved. Because we know she didn't in hindsight, all we can do shake our heads and wonder what might have been.)

Anonymous said...

Agreed -- the difference between literature and life is, literature has deliberate structure. GOOD literature does, anyway. Good literature can also incorporate the vicissitudes of life, but not at the expense of the story it's trying to tell.

LiamKav said...

- "Why is it when things have calmed down and things are going great, life decides to turn around and kick you in the butt? Well, when I say 'great', obviously there was the extinction of the Markab that happened last week. But apart from the death of entire race, things have been pretty spiffy around here."

- For the scene between Sheridan and Delenn in the guarden, I can almost read it that Delenn knows full well what the word "butt" means, but is just trying to chear John up. After all, lying to help someone else is permissible for a Minbari. (And she is pretty cute when she's sat there saying "butt butt butt".

- There's one thing that this episode proves that's always surprised me: I always assumed that the PsiCops and other evil telepaths weren't above scanning people without their permission. But if Ivanova can detect it, that means they aren't. In any event, it makes her meeting with evil Talia extremely reckless. Also, if the implication is that they slept together, then based on what Talia told Sinclair about what happened when telepaths made love, Talia should be well aware that Susan is a latent telepath. (Of course, maybe they were just sharing a bed. But my wife and her female friends have shared beds before, and they don't normally put on their sexy silk nightdresses when they do, much to my disappointment.)

- Hey, we've had one part of Sheridan's dream explained. He doesn't know Ivanova because she's a latent telepath because telepathy is having a bird on your shoulder? Something like that. Note... a lot of the other explanations for the dream are much worse than this.

- Fair play to Patricia Tallman, who has to spend an awful lot of this episode glaring in a variety of ways at different people. (It reminds me of a story I heard about Alan Rickman. He said he and Maggie Smith was relieved when the last Harry Potter film was made, because they'd both run out of unique ways to glare at the kids.) No Other Side Of the Wormhole for her frequenct stunt double appearences on TNG and DS9?

- If Talia was "Control", doesn't that mean she tried to kill herself back in "Spider in the Web?" Also, following on from a conversation had back then, it appears that the PsiCorp has integrated Bureau 13 into itself.

- How could Lyta have spent time training with Psi Cops? She's only a P5 (or was at the time). Or was that a lie by the Control personality?

- I always thought it was a shame they couldn't have used Talia as a badguy. Certainly, a supercharged telekenetic Talia vs a *spoilerspoilerspoiler* Lyta would have been more exciting than, well, most of season 5.

Siskoid said...

I reserve the other side of the wormhole for things each show seems to have poached from the other, not actors they have in common unless the role is somehow similar.


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