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.