Babylon 5 #97: Secrets of the Soul

"Byron, the Vorlons changed me. More than you could possibly know. I don't know what it'll do once you get past my barriers and I get past yours. It could burn you." "Then let it burn."
IN THIS ONE... Franklin investigates the Hyachs' medical history. The telepaths get bullied (again). And a connection between them and the Vorlons is revealed.

REVIEW: Babylon 5 has generally done medical mystery stories better than the competition, not cheapening Doc Franklin's stories with technobabble endings, and keeping things low-tech and understandable to a lay audience. That's true here too, but I'm not sure I entirely buy the medical dilemma it spins into. We start with the promise of a medical tour of the station's aliens (the Pak'ma'ra are JMS' new favorite sons, and are pretty funny), but we stop at the lesser-known Hyach. In fact, I don't even remember them from background scenes. Were they created for this episode? And if so, we're a far cry from when the Markab got the plague in Confessions and Lamentations. The dilemma is this: Franklin discovers they've been hiding and revising their species' medical history to hide the fact a genocide was committed on a cousin species centuries ago. Now they're dying because their own species needed the other's gene pool to bolster itself. I think there's an Enterprise episode that describes evolution in similar terms, and it's just as wrong, but even if I buy the premise, Franklin's reticence to help doesn't make sense to me. He would blame people today for the crimes of people 1200-800 years ago, based on the fact they've been hiding information about those crimes. If only they admitted it, there wouldn't be a problem. The fact they need to share the information if the resources of several Alliance worlds can be brought into play to save their race is more compelling - he should have led with that - but Franklin's ethics are too strong for him to even conditionally turn his back on an entire people. Regardless, I don't think this problem is likely to be mentioned again, or the Hyach to play any big part in what's left of the series, so it's hard to stay invested.

Meanwhile, more telepaths and telekinetics are arriving on the station to join Byron's colony, and violence explodes despite the latter's protestations. JMS writes him as Gandhi or Jesus (hey, that's Sheridan's shtick!), preaching peace and literally turning the other cheek. When a young, stammering teek is bullied by yet more thugs down below - I can't help but feel JMS is repeating himself here - the telepaths take revenge (again) and if Byron is right about one thing, it's that anything that makes the normals fear telepaths will lead to more violence and hardship. I'm wondering if Zack is kept from intervening more decisively by telepathic powers. He keeps acting like he's got a massive headache whenever Byron is around. It seems to indicate something.

At any rate, a secret about telepaths is revealed by the end of the episodes that makes Byron turn against his own pacifist philosophy (believe it or not). Let's talk about that scene. Over the course of the last couple episodes, Byron and Lyta have been moving closer to each other romantically. She's really taken in by his extended literary quotes, fabulous hair and whatever cheeseball music is pushing the relationship (I like the soft piano used all through this episode, but check the glittering fairy dust in their scenes for where it gets way off track). When they finally become intimate in a rip-off each others' clothes (Lyta has no underwear, as per the rules of movie and TV sex scenes) in a crowded room kind of way, she's afraid what the Vorlons did to her will make telepathic sex dangerous. Well, it's certainly a powerful experience, one that awakens all the other telepaths so they can share it. JMS' voyeur agenda is really skeeving me out. As the barriers come down and everyone experiences a clip show of Lyta's greatest hits, one new memory resurfaces that proves the Vorlons manipulated all the lesser races' genetic codes to create telepaths that could be used against the Shadows. How Byron turns this coitus interruptus into a call for a holy war is a little beyond me. Thinking that having been "made" makes the "users" (and in the absence of the Vorlons, this must apply to the parent race, humanity) responsible for... what? I can't even explore this line of thought because it doesn't really make sense. Humanity was just as  much a pawn of the First Ones as the telepaths were. And where the Vorlons are concerned, what's the difference between them and natural mutation/evolution? They might as well be forces of nature in the scheme of things. With Byron the only telepathic colonists developed in the slightest, he sort of has to play every role in his community, which means he ditches his own established character to turn into a warrior-king. Well... that's a problem.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Motivations are all out of whack in this episode that yes, features a major (if not exactly surprising) revelation, but also a forgettable one.


Ryan Lohner said...

The Hyach have been seen for the whole show, but have never been prominent before, with their name only being mentioned through their nameplate in the council room.

It's in this introduction that JMS posits his theory for why Byron became so hated: one, he was a representation of the kind of guy every fan of the show (himself included) despised in school, and two, he got to sleep with Lyta despite Zack's clear feelings for her, and the latter was naturally who the viewer's sympathies were with. I don't really buy the first as it seems like a very personal thing, but the second definitely was part of it, for me at least. It all goes back to what I said before that without Ivanova he didn't need to have a romance with anyone, but JMS had lost all his other ideas so here we are.

Though it also bears mentioning that Byron isn't supposed to be entirely sympathetic. He's largely based on the leaders of that cult JMS joined in college, down to the methods by which he attracts Lyta, and as originally intended his romance with Ivanova would have been much more damaging than what he ended up having with Lyta.

LondonKdS said...

I must admit, part of the reason why I dislike Byron is that I thought at the start that he was meant to be entirely sympathetic, it wasn't until my second viewing of the show that I changed my mind about that.

And I didn't feel any kind of conscious resentment of her not sleeping with Zack, it was obvious to me at the time that he had no chance and that any relationship with Lyta wouldn't end well (even if she didn't accidentally fry his brain the first time they got intimate). In the light of later cultural works, Zack/Lyta would seem like one of those Judd Apatow dudebro romantic comedies where the beautiful, intelligent, incredibly successful woman for some reason falls for a guy with nothing whatsoever to attract her.

Anonymous said...

I don't dislike Byron nearly as much as I did Marcus, so let me talk about Marcus instead and work my way back. Marcus didn't strike me as a person so much as JMS's idea of what a really cool dude would be like: British accent, long flowing hair, loves to banter, dresses like a D&D character. He was the character you were supposed to like because JMS couldn't see how you wouldn't. Well, he never rang true to me, and inauthentic characters are hard to like.

Byron's got so much of that going on too, the character you were supposed to both like and admire because JMS couldn't see how you wouldn't. Rather than wise he is so bloody high-minded, like when he's having the guy punch him and asking him to rate the quality of the punches ... it might have been a much better teaching moment if Byron had at least pretended to be beaten-up, and then asked: "did beating the crap out of me fix anything?" But I guess portraying Byron as a basically vulnerable person wasn't an option.

It really does come down to the name, doesn't it: Byron, the dashing romantic figure, smarter and more eloquent and more daring than the narrowminded masses. Oh well, at least Byron's story takes a turn and ends fairly quickly, which is much better than having Marcus Cole hang around for two seasons.

LiamKav said...

Accidently deleted my message. Annoyed. It basically came down to:

Franklin's storyline has the same issue that Garibaldi's had. Seriously, only one person is doing this very important job? And the file gets deleted after a SINGLE mistyped password? If you can find me someone who's never mistyped a password, you've shown me Data.

Unknown said...

Byron is a pretentious twat, lacking empathy and real leadership skills. That's why I don't like him, JMS. That and the far too obvious naming.


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