Babylon 5 #93: The Paragon of Animals

"The new Interstellar Alliance, fresh out of its crib and before its even learned how to walk, is going to go find the neighborhood bully and pick a fight. "
IN THIS ONE... To get the delegates to sign the Declaration of Principles, Sheridan sends ships to save a border world. Garibaldi enlists the help of telepaths. Lyta feels a Ranger die.

REVIEW: I was hoping to see Season 5 unfold as a political story, and for now, it is. The Alliance has members, but Sheridan insists on them all signing a Declaration of Principles, as G'Kar the Poet struggles to find the proper wording that will unite such disparate cultures and linguistic traditions. But Garibaldi is right when he advises him to do something other than expound on principles, because practicality matters. The episode manages to provide both. Though G'Kar apparently bettered it (a comic epilogue that cheats because we never hear his new draft), I want to quote his entire "solution", which gave me the chills:

"The universe speaks in many languages but only one voice. The language is not Narn or human or Centauri or Gaim or Minbari. It speaks in the language of hope. It speaks in the language of trust. It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion. It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul. But always it is the same voice. It is the voice of our ancestors speaking through us. And the voice of our inheritors waiting to be born. It is the small, still voice that says: 'We are one.' No matter the blood, no matter the skin, no matter the world, no matter the star: we are one. No matter the pain, no matter the darkness, no matter the loss, no matter the fear: we are one. Here gathered together in common cause we agree to recognize this singular truth and this singular rule: that we must be kind to one another. Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us, and each voice lost, diminishes us. We are the voice of the universe, the soul of creation, the fire that will light the way to a better future. We are one. "

Not only is it a great encapsulation of the series' theme, but "We are one" turns the whole concept of "the One" on its head. The Rangers live for the One and die for the One, and now the One is everyone. Just wonderful. But still, the ambassadors need a little more to go on, and the Drazi provide it with their treachery. Using a loophole in the Alliance's premise, they've been letting raiders attack border worlds they've conveniently not annexed and protected in return for a portion of the booty. An opportunity for the White Star fleet to scare the bejeezus out of those responsible and for Sheridan to put his money where his mouth is. Before we know it's the Drazi, Sheridan wonders if he's heading into a Vietnam/Iraq-like quagmire, which is all very correct. And yet, a Ranger died to get him this plea for help, bringing us back to that amazing speech.

The Paragon of Animals should also be commended for making me care about Lyta for just about the first time. I'm not a big fan of Byron - or is it Shakespeare? there's no good reason for him to quote that long a piece of Hamlet to make his point, geez! - but he is well used to call characters out on who they really are. I've several times complained that Lyta Alexander wasn't a full-fledged character, but there's an explanation: She's been dominated her whole life. Hers is a life of service, first to PsiCorps and then to the Vorlons, which never really gave her room to become her own person. But we see her compassion when she stays with the Ranger as he dies, and how burnt out she feels when, red-eyed, she at first refuses to help Garibaldi. Her shock at Sheridan's thanks, while the fruit of the absurd notion no one's ever thanked her before, is poignant, and I can't tell if she's still moping at the end, or quietly proud that she made things better. The other character that gets a boost from Byron's psycho-analysis is Garibaldi, described as someone who rehearses conversations in his head, which seems to provide justification for the way he sounds so "scripted". He's a man who sees himself as a noir figure, and writes his "character" that way.

REWATCHABILITY: High - The focus on the political is fascinating and there's some interesting character development thrown in for free.


Madeley said...

I'm so used to recalling the fifth series as being the weakest one I always forget that it had some wonderful moments, as you've been highlighting over the past couple of days.

Also, the other thing about it is that yet to come is a) probably my favourite Sheridan moment in the whole run of the show and b) the finest last episode of any series I've ever seen (even if the final episode is, technically speaking, a postponed fourth series ep.)

Anonymous said...

Loved G'Kar's statement of principles.

Loved the image of not one or two, but dozens of purple rings opening in the night sky -- what a cleverly understated way to show the arrival of the White Star fleet, and keeping the promise of the Alliance. Purple rings mean hope.

Personally I place season 5 at about season 2's level of quality, with season 1 being the worst. This episode proves, to me anyway, that the lack of a multi-year arc does not mean there aren't worthy stories to tell.

Ryan Lohner said...

The Statement of Principles has been borrowed for use in numerous sermons, speeches, and lectures in the years since this episode aired; JMS even notes that he's found it quoted in full on a few religious websites that declined to mention it came from a silly sci-fi show. And it was written the same way as the closing monologue for season 3: JMS simply sat back and listened to the part of his brain that spoke for G'Kar, and ten minutes later it was all on paper.

The inspiration for the main story here is the creation of the US Constitution, and specifically the Bill of Rights, which some states wanted constant changes on while others wanted to junk it entirely. One result of this is that the most controversial amendment, abolishing slavery, was cut, and would take a couple generations more to resolve in horrific bloodshed.

JMS describes this season as when he finally got to start writing Lyta properly. After only making two appearances in season 3, and having her character arc compromised in the name of her plot function in season 4, she now finally got to come into her own. By stealing what was supposed to be Ivanova's story, but still.

LiamKav said...

I usually love political stuff, and I really enjoyed it at the beginning of the show. But now, I really have trouble getting my enthusiasm up. I dunno what it is. Maybe it's just that there's only so many scenes I can sit through of the Drazi being obstinate arses.

There's a bit where Garibaldi first goes down to see the telepaths. He says to them "I'm here on behalf of President Sheridan. You know, the guy who lets you live here, eat here..." [woman walks past] "...whatever here." IT MAKES NO SENSE! I'm not sure if the woman was supposed to be dressed like a prostitute, but as it is Garibaldi does a sharp intake of breath and lears at this person apparently just because she's female. It's really skeevy. Likewise, knowing things that happen in a few episodes time, what's the deal with the female telepath that puts her arm around Byron's waist and looks lovingly at him?

- Hey, after various "nice guy" relationships, it's good to see a new approach with Byron. Pity his "shout at someone before being nice" is straight from the Twilight/Psychotic boyfriend playbook, but a change is a change.


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