Babylon 5 #51: Dust to Dust

"Are you deliberately trying to drive me insane?" "The universe is already mad. Anything else would be redundant."
IN THIS ONE... Bester returns to the station to investigate the trade of a telepathic drug, which G'Kar uses to assault Londo.

REVIEW: "Dust" is a narcotic that activates one's latent telepathic abilities until you violently mind-rape someone and experience their whole lives in a rush. And being in another person's head is a theme shared by all the threads in the episode. The one character expected to get in your head is PsiCop Bester, but he's denied this ability, first by Minbari "jammers" and then by the drug given to those who don't want to join PsiCorps. That's an excellent solution for the army of light conspirators to use, much more logical than Ivanova "accidentally" blowing up Bester's ship. And despite not having access to his powers, this is Bester's best episode to date! He still gets into people's heads, but does it the old-fashioned way. His skill definitely doesn't begin and end with telepathy. He shines as a badass interrogator and cop, a slick eel that never lets anything get a grip on him, and no one would judge you if you started thinking he was, in his way, a good guy. Indignant at the way he's characterized, isn't what he's doing for the good of Earth? But this is the monster who may or may not have had Talia dissected (I prefer to think he's just goading Garibaldi, but we never see her again, so...) and in the end, talks about how the Corps created "dust" in the first place to activate raw recruits, and he's completely nonchalant about the destruction left in its wake. Slimy.

Whether or not Bester is using the dust situation as a pretext to grab a quick and secret scan of the crew - the Nightwatch might be feeding the Corps suspicions about Sheridan and his lot, especially if he's dressing down security personnel harassing the station's citizens (but where was he when shop owners were being disappeared?) - the truth of it is that a dealer is indeed selling to aliens who might weaponize the drug. Specifically, the Narn. G'Kar not only buys what dust he can, not to get high but to use as a weapon, and is turned into a telepathic berzerker when he doses himself. The beating he gives both Vir and Londo is brutal, regardless of any mental powers, but props to JMS for not hacking out a montage of clips we've seen before in the mind rape portion of the sequence. Yes, we've seen Londo's meeting with Morden, but that's an important discovery, the first time a non-Centauri finds out about Londo's ties to the Shadows. but there's also an all-new memory, showing Londo getting his posting to Babylon 5 and learning it's more punishment than reward. G'Kar will end up getting 60 days in the clink (which is light, considering), but his victory is threefold. He humiliates Londo, uncovers his treachery, AND via his own memory, is given a new reason for living and a certain serenity. Of course, that wasn't actually his father's memory turning him from his destructive path. I felt pretty sure he was being manipulated by Kosh even before his vision turned into an angel, and then we see Kosh sneaking around. I think G'Kar just got recruited, guys. But will he be in the main team, or will Kosh send him on a separate quest? Anything could happen.

A few words on Vir? Don't mind if I do, because he too taps into the episode's theme. What else would you call his happy naturalization by the Minbari? They obviously got in his head with their strange and peaceful ways. In a way, Vir is a better Minbari than Lennier right now, for Lennier has abandoned hope for Londo's soul. If there is kindness and repentance in Londo, he can't officially make use of it. is hard-edged response to the Drazi's attempt at negotiation is proof of that. He's a servant of evil, and so he must do evil things. Does that make HIM evil? One of the questions the series asks.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Mind rape has surfaced in such Star Trek episodes as Dagger of the Mind, Violations and Meld (starring Brad Dourif as a telepathic killer).

REWATCHABILITY: High - Whenever it's about G'Kar and Londo, the show soars. Great appearance by Bester as well.


Anonymous said...

One of my favorite episodes, and I imagine a lot of people's.

I prefer to think that Kosh wasn't "recruiting" G'Kar so much as teaching him, now that the student was finally in a state where he could hear the master. There may be a war on, but I like to think Kosh is also about being kind for its own sake, when circumstances allow.

Siskoid said...

Well, his last pupil was recruited, so...

Ryan Lohner said...

The primary issue of any recurring antagonist like Bester is what I like to call Borg Syndrome: after seeing the heroes defeat them x number of times, it's impossible to take them seriously anymore. This episode deals with that problem quite neatly, first by showing that four Minbari telepaths are needed to counteract Bester, and then by having him actually be right about everything he's doing, so for once the heroes have to work with him despite their personal distaste. He absolutely sees himself as the hero of the story, and this time that's actually true.

I haven't found any info on the motivation behind the line about Talia being dissected, but I imagine the thought process was that there was still a chance, however small, that Andrea Thompson might come back at some point, but then she probably wouldn't. So the solution was to give her an offscreen fate that could easily be revealed as a lie in case Thompson did decide to return, but could still stand as closure on her if she stayed gone. If only more TV writers took this much care with their stories (I'm looking at you, Supernatural. Adam's still in Hell, you know).

JMS' fondness for playwriting shows again as the centerpiece is simply two actors against a black screen, and both the writing and acting is absolutely up to the task of keeping our attention in these circumstances. For once a Vorlon manipulation seems to be all to the good, setting G'Kar on a much different path than the revenge-crazed berserker he'd been before. And yet before this we'd still gotten plenty of hints about his hidden depths so this doesn't come out of nowhere; he always had it in him to be this kind of person, and just needed the right push at the right time. And hence the dual meaning of the episode title, a funeral benediction for the old G'Kar, so the new one can emerge.


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