Babylon 5 #44: Comes the Inquisitor

"No greater love hath a man than he lay down his life for his brother. Not for millions, not for glory, not for fame--for one person, in the dark, where no one will ever know or see. I have been in service to the Vorlons for centuries, waiting for you: Diogenes and his lamp looking for an honest man willing to die for all the wrong reasons."
IN THIS ONE... Delenn's worthiness is tested by a Victorian agent of the Vorlons. G'Kar works hard to smuggle weapons back to the homeworld.

REVIEW: Whatever the Vorlons are, they want confirmation that Delenn is the right person to head the army of light. Their questionable means - have her tested by a Victorian sadist who just happens to be Jack the Ripper. Urm... On the one hand, the notion that the Vorlons are angels who nabbed Jack/Sebastian from London (and I sort of knew as soon as 1888 was invoked) to show him his "holy crusade" against corruption was itself corrupt and turn him into an agent who would go on to test and break people the same way is intriguing. The most dangerous sin in Babylon 5 is Pride (as we've seen again and again) and the Vorlons must make sure their "heroes" aren't motivated by it. Delenn and the also-tested Sheridan prove they aren't in the fight for fame, glory or the need to prove something by showing the trait of heroic self-sacrifice, not when the stakes are epic, but when they are personal. It's a good scene, but it would ring a little more true if the two characters willing to sacrifice themselves for the other weren't in a romantic relationship. Can you sacrifice your life for a stranger's, with no emotional predisposition? In the context of JMS' statements across the whole of the show's production, I find it remarkable that he keeps attacking sinful Pride, because it appears to be one of his defining traits (just looking at his statements about this episode and how he stridently defends his use of Jack the Ripper as yet another example). This is either highly ironic, or a personal exorcism, a writer working through his faults by exposing and examining them in his fiction.

On the other hand, I have to wonder why Kosh's exercise was necessary in the first place. As a Minbari, Delenn is culturally hardwired for self-sacrifice, and has already given up her position on the Grey Council by turning herself into a "freak". And she should really be able to run circles around Sebastian in the early interrogation scenes; she's a master of zen wisdom and cryptic debate. Perhaps the solution to both problems is the same - her new human turmoil. It's what makes her emotionally vulnerable when hard-pressed by the journalist in And Now for a Word, and the same happens when up against the Inquisitor. And perhaps it's the reason Kosh is no longer sure about her. Has she integrated human sin and made herself less worthy in the process? Or of course, Kosh didn't need confirmation, but Delenn DID, and the process was meant to assuage HER doubts. I feel like I'm trying to win a No-Prize here, which is why I'm so ambivalent about it. Same thing with the secret identity of Sebastian. What a strange detail. The Vorlons are kidnapping serial killers and both reforming them and using their sadistic qualities? Keeping them alive through the centuries? Bizarre. The Victorian attitude adds color to Sebastian, but making him the Ripper might be a step too far. I'm not saying it doesn't work - how he projects his sin on Delenn, how they avoid making him a mysterious killer, etc. - but again, ambivalence.

G'Kar too is being tested, by everyone. First he is tested by the arms merchant who pushes to see if he can put his money where his mouth is and pay the high price he's asking to get guns to his people. Then he's tested by Garibaldi who knows everything and gives him a chance to either fess up or disappoint him. G'Kar passes this test as well, and is rewarded with a place to run his guns through, it just isn't Babylon 5. A great Garibaldi moment (damn, have I finally warmed up to him?). We may still find G'Kar lacking in that he's doing exactly what he not so long ago accused the Centauri of doing, but the situation is hardly the same. If it were, Garibaldi would hardly be helping him on the sly. And G'Kar is tested by his own people, who won't contribute to the cause unless he can prove he can make good on his promises. And with the help of Sheridan and the Rangers, he manages to get that proof. Seems everyone is on the Narns' side these days, so long as they don't ask for anything big. And then there's Vir, the one repentant Centauri who's been against his people's plans from the beginning. He's the only one who fails his test, unable to obtain G'Kar's forgiveness for the lives of all the Narn killed in the Centauri action, an incredible moment in which G'Kar cuts his hand open and lets each drop of blood represent a life lost. Amazing stuff, and why people keep talking about G'Kar as the show's best character.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: The Narn and Klingons both enjoy cutting up the palms of their hands. DS9 would eventually broadcast an episode called Inquisition in which Bashir was tested by a creepy operative. Of course, Jack the Ripper also exists in the Star Trek universe, as the alien entity Redjac.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - While I'm unsure about some of the choices this episode makes, the high points are quite high, the theme is present throughout, and the G'Kar plot thread is damn near flawless.


Madeley said...

No better summation of this episode than what you not in the "Rewatchability" field. Bravo, sir.

Doug Hudson said...

You pinpointed my main problem with this episode--how could Delenn have so much difficulty with this particular inquisition? Hell, I could come up with better answers to "who are you?" than she does. Your no-prize suggestion is the first plausible explanation I've heard, but if that is the reason, it certainly should have been made clearer.


The fact that the Vorlons recruited Jack the Ripper, and especially the way they did it, makes perfect sense later on in the series.

Ryan Lohner said...

This is one of JMS' personal favorites, as are pretty much all the episodes which for their majority are more or less stage plays put on film.

In Signs and Portents I talked about the Shadow question "What do you want?" being a direct appeal to the id. Now we get the flip side, as it turns out the Vorlons also ask the same question over and over: "Who are you?" This one goes right to the superego; answer it enough times without being allowed to repeat yourself and you may discover things about yourself you had no idea of. And the larger issue this is all getting at is that there really is nothing wrong with the Shadows' question in and of itself; the problem comes when you try to answer it without first answering the Vorlons' question. G'Kar knew who he was when Morden came to see him, which resulted in disappointment for Morden. But Londo's answer did come purely from his basest desires with no thought to his own personal identity, and that's what the Shadows can exploit.

I've seen complaints that the episode makes the Vorlons out to be just as bad as the Shadows and makes it hard to root for them knowing they employ people like Sebastian, which to me misses the point rather spectacularly. We want to see the Shadows as pure evil and the Vorlons as heroes for opposing them, but as the show goes on it's clear that it's not that simple, and we should be suspicious of both sides equally. Also, the use of Jack the Ripper has been criticized as a cliche, but I quite agree with JMS' defense of it, that he's used in a far more cerebral role than the typical "Jack shows up and goes on a rampage" stories, which is enough to make it worthwhile. Though they did have the embarrassing mistake of Sheridan saying the murders were in the WEST end, which had to be clumsily dubbed over.

Sebastian is played by Wayne Alexander, who was so impressive here that he showed up several more times as various aliens. And while we're talking about casting, I need to mention one tidbit I forgot in the last episode: G'Kar's uncle is played by W. Morgan Shepard, who not only played the Soul Hunter earlier but was one of the finalists to play G'Kar himself, with his casting here a great in-joke that gives us a taste of what that might have been like.

Siskoid said...

It's too simple to say the Vorlons' use of Jack is "evil" or that it even "grays up" them up. They took a serial killer with "good" intent and "evil" plans/means, broke him, and redeemed him.

Is this not "good"? Forgiving even the most heinous crimes and giving the sinner a chance to do some good in some capacity? (His techniques seem cruel but they are in the service of the bigger picture.)

Doug Hudson said...

I disagree that the Vorlons redeemed Jack--I think they chose him as an inquisitor precisely because he was a sadistic bastard who enjoyed torturing women under the cloak of self-righteousness. They even provide him a convenient way to keep his self-righteousness, by appearing to him as "angels" who give him a "divine mission."

But then, I'm on Team Shadow, not Team Vorlon. :)

Siskoid said...

Maybe, but he explicitly states that the Vorlons showed him his sin, which he can now recognize in others. Even if he does not repent, he is an "evil" tool put to work for the army of "good", which redeems his existence if not his soul.

jdh417 said...

God uses flawed people to achieve good ends. After all, is there any other kind of person?

Siskoid said...


Doug Hudson said...

You're assuming that the Vorlons are the good guys, but what have they actually done that's "good"?

Siskoid said...

Helped assemble an army of light? Remember, I'm seeing most of this fresh, not remembering much from what comes later. The reviews will remark on any surprise twists when they come about.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, JMS thinks he's far too clever in using Jack the Ripper -- it's not particularly clever, the "shock value" (such as it is) doesn't justify it, and it cheapens the episode.

Then again, at least it wasn't another guy in a hood, so thank Kosh for small favors.

LiamKav said...

JMS: "Actually, I think I saw more *annoyance* at Jack being used from the UK folks than the US folks, that's the main difference, I think. Probably because it's a peaceful, wonderful country which is *still* paying off, in the public eye, one particularly nasty creature in their recent history. They're probably tired of hearing about him, and to some extent, correctly so. "

Sorry, Joe, but I can assure you that the UK has no collective guilt over Jack the Ripper. I don't even think we're that tired about hearing about him. I do findit fascinating what can be read into online debates (and personally, I quite liked the small twist.)

Siskoid said...


LiamKav said...

We reserve it for Piers Morgan.


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