4thofeleven: (Default)
[personal profile] 4thofeleven

Babylon 5 is one of my favourite shows of all time – I bought the entire show on VHS tapes, and then bought it all again on DVD! Still, I’ll be the first to admit that it rather fell apart in its last season; my understanding is the fourth season was written on the assumption that the show wouldn’t be renewed for a fifth, so when it was renewed after all, all the major plots had already been wrapped up, so the fifth season isn’t as focused and tightly plotted as the earlier ones. Still, it’s annoying how the fifth season’s stories end up going nowhere and just trailing off – specifically, the telepath storyline, which had been subtly building across the entire show.


Still, there is one aspect of the telepath storyline that I really like – I like that nobody really cares about telepaths. It’s very easy for a setting to say that there’s anti-telepath bigotry or anti-alien feelings or whatever, but it’s very hard to make that bigotry feel as pervasive and ingrained as real-life intolerance – mainly because most settings don’t want to show the heroes as being, well, bigoted jerks. So you end up with settings where supposedly aliens or mutants or whatever are hated and feared, but the only people you ever see actually expressing bigoted attitudes are either out-and-out villains, or misguided people who are very quickly brought around to a more tolerant viewpoint, and apparently never lapse back.

On the other hand, I think B5 did a very good job of making anti-teep prejudice feel like something that’s very deeply ingrained into human culture. Garibaldi outright says a few times that he doesn’t trust telepaths, and nobody calls him on his prejudice. Sheridan really doesn’t seem to have much in the way of moral qualms about sacrificing telepaths to disable President Clarke’s fleet during the liberation of Earth. In general, the good guys are perfectly willing to use telepaths during the Shadow War, but aren’t concerned about what happens to them once the war is over. Lyta never gets treated as… well, as one of the regular cast. She’s not even mentioned in the final episode. And when rogue telepaths start causing problems in the fifth season, Lochley calls in the Psi-Corp. One gets the impression that even among the heroes, the telepath problem is seen as less “How do we ensure full civil rights for telepaths?” and more “How do we ensure those damn telepaths don’t cause problems for regular people?”

It’s a nice little theme, and subtly done – I think it makes the issue feel more real. Real prejudice isn’t just the KKK and cross-burnings; it’s “Some of my best friends are x, but…” and “I’ve got nothing against it, but do they have to be so obvious?” and sexist or racist jokes shared behind closed doors… and just, in general, the underlying belief that while you have nothing against those people, you don’t really think their suffering or their experiences are as valid as your problems. The human characters of Babylon 5 aren’t evil; they’re sympathetic to telepath issues* – but when push comes to shove, they’re not really that concerned. So it kind of works on a meta level that the show also doesn’t care much about the telepath storyline. Once Byron and his band had been dealt with, Sheridan and the rest put the telepath issue out of their heads again – and the show itself forgets all about it.


* Though there’s also the interesting touch that “opposition to telepath oppression” in the B5 universe equals “opposition to Psi-Corps”. And yes, the Psi-Corps is a nasty organization – but it is a telepath organization too; the only way telepaths can gain any real power in the Earth Alliance is through the Corps. Being an enemy of the Corps doesn’t necessarily make you a friend of telepaths – and it’s a lot easier to criticise those mean Psi-Cops for oppressing their fellow telepaths than looking at the larger society that ensures Psi-Corps is the only place telepaths can live openly. 


on 2008-01-18 04:51 am (UTC)
ext_3752: Concept art of Alderaanian citizen. "We are a retro planet." (CylonGirls)
Posted by [identity profile] sunnyskywalker.livejournal.com
They did do a good job of having that low-level prejudice consistently throughout the show. And on a meta-level, I think it works that the show forgets about telepaths for stretches of many episodes on occasion, or only has them in the background. However, I think the show failed in this case by taking too much of the characters' viewpoints and dropping it altogether at the end. It's one thing for the characters to see telepath issues as less important than their own, and another for the show to validate that view when the entire history of the show has demonstarted that no matter how the characters try to ignore telepaths, the telepath issues just won't go away.

But I do think that it was probably a good decision not to show the telepath problems as wrapped up neatly by the end, considering their secondary importance in the show. A minor nod to show that Lyta was sill out there working for telepath rights, still not giving up, would probably have been enough to satisfy me. Maybe CEO Garibaldi in the last episode could have been investing funds for a client or something just before the bad news came, and the screen could have showed Lyta's name. (I also would have liked something to come of Talia's Ironheart-given telekinesis, but can't have everything.)

One of the most fascinating episodes to me was the one totally focused around Bester and his trainees. Seeing the teeps at home, being comfortable among each other, made the usually-minor-to-us knee-jerk distrust and the restrictions they faced outside fresh again, and helped show why the Corps had gotten the way it had.
Edited on 2008-01-18 04:54 am (UTC)

on 2008-01-18 05:31 am (UTC)
ext_20885: (Default)
Posted by [identity profile] 4thofeleven.livejournal.com
I'm wondering if the Byron story would have worked better spread out across the season. First, because it would have broken up the monontony - Byron's an insufferable prat, and most of his episodes seem to take place entirely in the same drab corridor. And second, because as you said, you really need a payoff for the main cast's complacency over telepaths, and having a few months after the rogue's arrival where nobody mentions Byron and THEN his followers start going nuts because they've been completley ignored would probably work better...

Then have Byron's death in the last few episodes, and it would feel more like the climax of that story, whereas having it less than halfway through the season implies that it's setup for something else.

on 2008-01-23 03:54 am (UTC)
ext_3752: Concept art of Alderaanian citizen. "We are a retro planet." (CylonGirls)
Posted by [identity profile] sunnyskywalker.livejournal.com
Yeah, that might have worked better. And maybe taking out Lyta's line about coming back to kick Garibaldi's ass if he didn't set up her secret fund in two years if they weren't going to at least reference her later, because it's very weird the way it plays now: "Do as I say or you will SUFFER MIGHTILY when I return!" "Okay." *twenty years pass* "Lalala, everything's fabulous, orange juice is yummy."

on 2008-01-23 10:08 am (UTC)
ext_20885: (Default)
Posted by [identity profile] 4thofeleven.livejournal.com
I suspect at least some of this was supposed to be dealt with in the spin-off series, "Crusade" - apparently, an episode was scripted for that that would have featured Bester on the run after the fall of the Psi-Corps and an appearance by Garibaldi...

Unfortunately, Crusade was meddled with extensively by network execs, and then when the results of their meddling turned out - surprise surprise - to be utter crap, the show ended up canceled after half a season.

Of course, considering how hard it was just to get Babylon 5's main arc told in a relatively coherent fashion, I rather feel it was tempting fate to leave anything unresolved - and a spin-off that existed only to resolve another show's character arcs probably wouldn't have done very well even if it hadn't been screwed around with...

Garibaldi really seemed to be doing far too well for himself in the end, didn't he? I mean, I'm not saying I *wanted* to see Edgar Industries crash and burn under his stewardship as he realises that he doesn't know a damn thing about business, but it might have been a bit more just considering what happened to poor Londo or G'kar or Lennier or... :)

on 2008-01-25 04:57 am (UTC)
ext_3752: Concept art of Alderaanian citizen. "We are a retro planet." (ChewieR23PO)
Posted by [identity profile] sunnyskywalker.livejournal.com
I think anytime the phrase "We'll wrap up that plot point in a spinoff book/show/movie" comes up, someone should be thinking really hard about whether that's a good idea. (Yes, that means you too, George, with your Sifo-Dyas thing.)

He did end up doing amazingly well. I guess someone had to be happy by the end or it would be too much of a downer. Ivanova was apparently fated to be vaguely miserable forever, Franklin was doing well but wasn't the focus as often as some of the others, we knew G'Kar and Londo were going to be dead since S1 or so, and Sheriden and Delenn were having their Tragic Predestined Death plot, so I guess that just leaves Garibaldi. But yeah, did he get lucky or what? I suspect Lise did a lot of the actual day-to-day business stuff, or maybe whoever Garibaldi's right-hand employee is, and he just handles the big picture and any tricky investigations.

Still, I'm going to imagine that somewhere, Lyta, Lennier, Na'Toth, and secretly-escaped Talia are hanging out and having a fantastic time.


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