Babylon 5 #49: Passing Through Gethsemane

"Gambling is one of the lesser sins. I've always thought if you're gonna sin you may as well go for one of the really big ones."
IN THIS ONE... Lyta Alexander is back from Vorlon space. Brad Dourif guest-stars as a monk whose troubling repressed memories start to emerge.

REVIEW: By having Garibaldi and Delenn discuss the "death of personality" sentencing of murderers and their subsequent "helpful" personality implants, Gethsemane gives its game away relatively early. Brad Dourif is playing against type (more or less) as a kindly monk interested in alien races' faiths, but he used to be a creepy psychotic killer, the kind of character we might usually see Dourif play. So it's an interesting casting in that sense. And Dourif plays kindly innocence very well; he's someone whose roles I've always felt a lot of compassion for, even when they were outright villains. I remember saying mind wipes were just as bad as the death penalty back when the idea was introduced, and we can compare and contrast the portrayal of the end result in this episode with how the Vorlons "rehabilitated" Jack the Ripper. In both cases, a serial killer was taken off the streets and put to work for a higher purpose. In Jack/Sebastian's case, he remained aware of his sins and was forced to confront them. In Brother Edward's, the sinner isn't aware of his sins and is artificially made to atone for them, which in his opinion when he finds out (and really, in a post-Internet society, how would you avoid seeing your face on a famous criminal?), he believes he can never wash the stain off his soul. In terms of his faith, he has been damned by the "procedure". But his faith wouldn't exist without it. And is Delenn wary of this practice because she believes life is sacred and that life ends with the death of personality, or rather the sin is not expunged from the soul so nothing is resolved? No easy answers here.

Forgiveness is just as hard, and it's one of JMS' more important concerns running through the series. The families of the Black Rose Killer's victims apparently don't believe a mind wipe is justice/vengeance enough (much as Garibaldi opines earlier), so they've sent their own murderer to end the killer's physical being. As if to rid themselves of any guilt, they use dirty tricks (including a Centauri telepath) to make him relive elements of his crimes so he dies knowing what he did, i.e. feeling guilty for what he did. And he lets it happen, atoning for sins untold and unremembered, a mirror of Jesus' own bravery and sacrifice. History repeats at the end when HIS killer is also mind wiped (which seems harsh given the circumstances and that he confessed), and Sheridan can't help bu feel angry at the new "Brother Malcolm". But a stern word from his "parish priest" softens him. Perhaps there's hope, after all. How can we stay angry at a new personality, unless what angers us is the person's dark soul? While the plot seems to tell us this style of execution works to the benefit of society and individual, justice, both human and divine, isn't as satisfied.

The episode also brings back Lyta Alexander, who has spent time on the Vorlon homeworld and now acts as one of their agents. Free of the PsiCorps' rules, she can show, or threaten to show, the full extend of her abilities, which are terrifying. One of the episode's highlights is her brief encounter with Londo, who seems to be perpetually trying to remind people they used to be friends. I think that as an audience, we've stopped empathizing with his loneliness, which is much deserved. Of course, he also wants information from her about the Vorlons, and when invoking old friendships fails, goes so far as to threaten her with exposure to the Corps. She calls his bluff and threatens to implant recurring nightmares into his subconscious, which perhaps does the trick even though one more might not change much to his nightly routine. The final scene, with Lyta appearing to feed Kosh her soul is strange, creepy and unexplained. More to come. I does need to be said that JMS piles on a few too many coincidences in this one, including having Lyta on hand just as the crew needs a telepath who doesn't follow the rules to find Edward. In addition, we have Garibaldi talking about mind wipes just as it becomes relevant, Edward talking about the event from the Gospels he'll get to test later, and Sheridan becoming friends with a man who's about to become the focus of the episode.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Beginning episodes with captains playing chess is an old Star Trek tradition. Brad Dourif would soon play another sympathetic but tortured killer, the Betazoid Maquis Lon Suder, in Star Trek: Voyager.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A good guest-star in Brad Dourif and it asks a lot of pointed questions. The plot is a little clunky, however.


Ryan Lohner said...

"He's played by Brad Dourif, who you might remember from your nightmares." -SF Debris review of this episode

Not much to say here, with another straightforward story that really speaks for itself. Though there is one notable thing: Garibaldi and Delenn's debate about the death penalty is taken just about word for word from an argument Jerry Doyle and Mira Furlan had during lunch. Apparently this happened quite a lot thanks to the casting people having assembled quite a mix of political opinions, with Doyle and Bruce Boxleitner the loudest conservative voices while Furlan and Jason Carter were the biggest liberals.

And since I didn't mention it for the character's first appearance, Brother Theo is played by Louis Turenne, aka Draal Number One. It would probably have been too awkward to go back to him playing Draal when he became available again, but it's nice they were still able to fit him in here.

Cradok said...

One of my favourites, I have always loved how it starts in a place we like, and takes several simple and logical steps, and we end up back where we started, only we don't like it so much anymore. And Brad Dourif is, as always, almost transcendentally good.

I've always thought it a shame that the trial Garibaldi was watching at the start was of someone we'd never heard of before, rather than someone like the bomber from two episodes back.

LiamKav said...

This is the episode that was apparently delayed because of the "reading plot ideas online" hoo-hah. It's also a storyline that would make more sense in a world where Divided Loyalties hadn't happened yet, and where there was a possibility of Talia coming back. It then becomes a "Quality of Mercy" type "self-contained but also setting up fugure stuff" episode.

LiamKav said...

Claudia Christian has also just started rewatching season 3, but she's not doing an episode a day so she's gonna fall behind. Apparently it's her first time watching the show pretty much ever. I won't just repeat everything she says, but she does have a funny story about this episode:

"the scene that made me laugh out loud was the arrival of Ambassador Kosh’s ship.

You see, I was kicked off the set for the first and only time in four years that day.

What happened was this:
When you do a scene where you cannot see the actual ship (because it will be inserted later with CGI) and no one has shown you a drawing of it or anything, you kind of have to use your imagination… and you have to stare at a guy holding a little flag or piece of paper up where they want you to look; it’s called your “eye-line”… So I was staring at the little piece of paper held by a rather frumpy looking grip and doing my close up and all was fine.

Then came Pat Tallman’s entrance as Lyta Alexander. Pat had to appear as if she were sort of on a people mover like they have in airports; kind of rolling or floating towards me so they came up with a contraption that to me was the single most ridiculous thing I had ever laid eyes on.

Pat was kneeling, yes kneeling in a wagon… Yes a little kid’s type of wagon with a rope on it which was being pulled by the same frumpy grip only now said grip was eating a bagel with one hand and pulling Pat (who was desperately trying to look heroic and stoic) at the same time.

I’m sorry folks; I lost it. I could not stop laughing, take after take after take of wasted film with me laughing until I was crying until finally… Yes, I admit it: I was kicked off of the set and told to “go to my room”…

I am still to this day mortified and embarrassed and yet, I still crack up when I think of how utterly silly she looked kneeling in that wagon and being pulled by a bagel chomping dude who was probably thinking about the football game that night.

LiamKav said...

- The Vorlon homeworld appears to have at least one hair salon on it. Bet the small talk there is a nightmare. "Can I have highlights and a bob cut, please?" "The folicles float on the music. The parting of the hair is not the parting of the soul. Do you want the conditioner that coats the stream with its sounds?"

- Speaking of hair, we're not 4 episodes in and guest star Brother Theo has appeared in twice as many episodes as main character Marcus Cole. Werethey just sitting around waiting for Jason Carter's beard to grow in?

- I think this is the first time we hear that Valen is a Minbari not born of Minbari.

- Nice touch: The ISN logo used in 2251 is different from the current day version. (I'm not sure if they used a different version in season 1)

- The use of Lyta bypasses a situation that was beginning to happen with Talia, namely "why not use your resident telepath"? Lyta could potentially be even more trouble as she isn't bound by PsiCorp rules, but she's also gonna be off station a lot. Convenient for stories to happen!

- Now she's back for good, I can say that I much prefer Patricia Tallman to Andrea Thompson. She seems more passionate, fun, and terrifying. I would never admit that the bit where she threatens the Centauri telepath both scares me and slightly turns me on. Never.


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