In the ninth episode of the first season of Babylon 5, a war criminal arrives on the station and causes chaos. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of war crimes, genocide, torture
Good gods, this was a LOT. It’s a heavy, complicated, and violent story with a perplexing subplot that was ultimately really upsetting, and that ending??? What the fuck? WHO DO THE VORLONS THINK THEY ARE.
Better than everyone, that’s who.
So, let’s start with a bigger picture aspect of “Deathwalker,” because there’s one part of this episode that presented a challenge to me that probably wasn’t intended. There’s a moment early in this episode where it became obvious to me that Sinclair and Garibaldi both recognized who Deathwalker was just by name. I began to worry that I had forgotten who this was, and for probably the first third of this episode, that concern kept growing. Was this a mythology that had been a part of a previous story? Was my memory that bad? But it soon became clear that what was happening was that the writers were giving worldbuilding through dialogue, that nearly everything the audience needed to know was being communicated with the things being said. It’s a really odd technique, not because of the medium, but because so much information was distilled through this way.
What happened, then, was that I spent a large amount of time trying to piece together a complicated history that everyone onscreen knew, but I did not. So as they made references to things that were understood by all parties involved, I still struggle to understand what was meant. For example, I didn’t figure out until nearly the end of the episode that the Dilgar weren’t involved in the Earth-Minbari war. This took place… before that? The timeline is still shaky to me, and I don’t quite get Earth’s involvement. They helped the non-aligned worlds fight off the Dilgar, and in the process, learned that many of the other races used Dilgar weapons and technology in their own wars.
The point I’m trying to make is this: I can tell there’s a huge, complex history at work here, but “Deathwalker” has such a narrow scope that that history often felt inaccessible to me. This is something that happens in genre work when you have to build a world that an audience is not familiar with. How do you communicate that world to someone new? Everything I’ve seen before this has largely done it really well, so it stuck out to me that “Deathwalker” suffered from a dense bout of exposition that was challenging to pick apart.
That being said, there’s enough emotional and political stuff here that I did get the point of a lot of this. (More or less, that is.) Jha’dur is written as an unrepentant villain, one who is not just honest about what she did during her time, but who is unapologetic about it. She is a pure manifestation of supremacy, the kind of person who believes that she is utterly superior and that those who are superior deserve to rule as they please. To her, life is all about power, and her people wielded it for as long as they could. They did so through murder, retribution, genocide, and medical experimentation, all of which she was never sorry for.
Her attitude makes the actions of many of these characters seem so much more messed up, too. Jha’dur brags about what she’s done, and she later tells Sinclair that her new development—an immortality serum—was created specifically so that the Dilgar will always go down in history as being superior. Not only that, but immortality can only be achieved through the death of another living being, further continuing the same sort of violence that the Dilgar enacted in the first place. In short: she’s a monster.
Who the Narn and Centauri used. Who the Minbari refuse to hold accountable because she didn’t hurt them specifically. These people deny the non-aligned worlds justice because it’s inconvenient for them. It’s shameful. Because it might reveal uncomfortable secrets. In almost every turn, most of the characters here think of themselves over those who Jha’dur hurt. Repeatedly! Even Sinclair does a few times, particularly since he was intrigued by the idea of introducing immortality through Earth’s help. So, in the end, he was willing to collaborate with one of the most cartoonishly evil war criminals ever, as long as humanity got something out of it. (Bless Garibaldi for NOT believing this was moral, for the record. He’s a clear voice of reason here.)
That’s why I’m actually perfectly fine with the abrupt, shocking ending. All of these races and these leaders behaved abhorrently, and they were most certainly not ready to be immortal. They cannot view things in the long term; each of them thought of only the recent future or the recent past, and everything outside that scope wasn’t important. So, the Vorlons swoop in, destroy Jha’dur and any possibility to use this serum, and that’s the end. That’s it. In one instance, everything these people did is undone.
And it’s through that, plus Talia’s plot, that the show further builds on this notion that the Vorlons believe they are “above” it all. They are perplexing creatures, of course, but the mystery that surrounds them speaks of its own supremacy. They make a decision for other races, like a parent scolding immature children. (I mean… I don’t think they’re wrong in this respect.) But the manipulation of Talia is just… really fucking creepy. REALLY CREEPY. Why the fuck would Ambassador Kosh need to know Talia’s weakness? How the hell is it okay for Kosh to trigger such an awful memory in her? That is exceedingly cruel, and I’m not terribly excited to see what Kosh does with it.
The video for “Deathwalker” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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