Babylon 5 #103: The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father

"Much as it might offend their sense of perspective, not everything is about Babylon 5."
IN THIS ONE... Told from the PsiCorps' point of view, Bester tracks a telepathic killer to the station.

REVIEW: This season's "change of pace" episode (and I note the DVD DID change the opening sequence to match this time) treats the show as if the Psi Cops were its protagonists. While I'm not always convinced of their "world" - the Orwellian signs on the walls are rather obvious and silly - the net effect is to make the Babylon 5 personnel the "villains" and Bester and his fresh recruits the heroes. It's more than the premise, it's also in how it's played. Bester comes off as a tired old veteran, wise and gracious in how he lets Mundane jerks be mean to him. The few B5 characters we do see (Zack and Franklin) are smug, callous, and arguably racist. This holds up until the end when the show loses its nerve and has Franklin play up his ethics, and the Psi Cops ditch a Mundane out an airlock in hyperspace. You ALMOST had me.

The real shame is that the sympathetic interns accompanying Bester couldn't be better written. Both are little more that groupies, however. The guy, Chen, isn't given much to do except be rash (because young men are rash). The girl, Lauren, is so star-struck by Bester, she tries to seduce him. He refuses, still in love with the telepath in cold storage on B5 (and married to boot), and handles it rather graciously, but she comes off as a pure twit. Is this what JSM thinks of female interns in general? Of female fans? Or is he going back once again to his experience in a cult, and playing the PsiCorps as Yet Another B5 Cult(TM)? Whatever the case may be, the whole thing creeps me out. If at least they were used to expose a lot of cool stuff about the Corps, but showing orientation videos seems a terrible use of Bester's time. The cool stuff is limited to the creepy effects on the psi-battle (but the tentacles put us in mind of the Shadows and are probably misleading) and the hidden ship in hyperspace (but is that ever going to be anything?).

As for the plot about a telepath with split personalities, one of which is a P12 murderer, it's fine, but not great. Split personalities are a hack device, as far as I know still dubious in the eyes of science, though in a telepathic context, it could have been made to work. The idea that the rogue Harris could steal a skill from a victim - and may I say, the victim gets the strangely gory end of the stick, yeesh - opened the door to a foreign personality infecting a telepath, creating the schism. They miss the boat by an inch. It doesn't help that the actor portraying Harris isn't as strong as he needs to be, nor is the mystery very mysterious. We realize what's going on long before Bester makes the leap.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A pretty negative review, but it's born from disappointment, because this idea had legs. It's not a bad story for Bester to go out on, but it's completely disposable.


Ryan Lohner said...

This was unsurprisingly Walter Koenig's favorite episode, with JMS personally presenting the script to him and saying it was a gift for the fine work he'd done throughout the show's run. Doubtlessly aided by his experience on Murder She Wrote, his aim was to deconstruct the entire procedural structure. We get to see Bester in his own environment for once, allowing him to appear relaxed and crack the occasional joke, and unlike his usual appearances he gets to have the last word in his arguments with Zack. And then the kicker comes when we get the usual heartwarming growth moment for the rookie cop...which in this case is her killing her first mundane, intended to cause a whiplash effect as we realize how the plot structure itself has gotten us to root for the bad guy.

His experience writing this one got JMS convinced that you could indeed create a whole show about an organization like Psi Corps, and in the script volumes he says a few times that he'd like to actually make it, though for whatever reason it hasn't happened yet. I'll still cross my fingers, because in his hands it'd probably be something worth checking out.

Anonymous said...

Borgnine would have found a better way.

LiamKav said...

There's probably TV tropes name for this, but rememeber back when Bester was first introduced and we got every impression that telepaths communicate via telepathy all the time and view talking as slow and inconvenient? It's one of those ideas that doesn't really work on TV, so here we have everyone at PsiCorp headquarters talking out loud to each other all the time. Even on B5, when Bester is trying to talk to his interns somewhat covertly, he's still speaking out loud.

The casino wasn't the old season 2 set, and I don't think we've seen the War Room all season. What's it being used for? It's their biggest set, so it seems strange not to use it. Along with the smaller cast and the fact that the entire ISA seems to be run by Sheridan and his best mates, it leads to the odd feeling of smallness that season 5 has.

We get TWO British accents in this episode. Guess JMS was missing Marcus/Brian.

I don't believe that Zack/Lochley would hand over the mundane to the PsiCorp. They must have known what they'd do to him.


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