In the twelfth episode of the first season of Babylon 5, Sinclair must deal with a religious spat and the threat of a worker’s strike all at the same time. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of riots, strikes, imperialism
Holy shit, this was spectacular. I said this on video and am 100% fine repeating it, but I’m so used to stories about striking and protesting to be handled… well, a lot more poorly than what “By Any Means Necessary” gave us. This is a scathing episode that firmly sympathizes with the plight of the workers without treading in a lot of the negative tropes normally associated with this kind of story. And the same goes for the fight that G’Kar and Londo have!
Actually, let’s start there, because it’s clear to me that while some elements of their conflict are played for humor, this is still a deeply serious issue, and the script treats it as such. There’s no attempt to portray G’Kar’s religious belief as silly or superficial, and indeed, by the time that final ceremony plays out onscreen, it was clear that the show wanted us to know what a huge deal this was. But I can’t forget the historical context that hangs over this episode: the Centauri were once an imperial force, and they stole the very plant that G’Kar sought out. And while these two characters have a bitter rivalry, I couldn’t ignore this. Londo was one of the people who participated in subjugating the Narn and ransacking their world. So his spiteful behavior isn’t really funny; it’s pretty horrifying. For what it’s worth, I felt as if we were supposed to interpret things that way. Katsulas plays G’Kar not only with a sense of unending frustration and panic, but with a sadness. This man was part of the terror visited upon his world, and now, years after that war has ended, he is still tormenting him. He insults G’Kar’s faith, views the Narn as nothing more than pagans, and wants to use this spiritual plant to GET DRUNKER. It’s so callous in comparison with what the plant means to G’Kar, you know?
I know I’ll say it again, but I did enjoy that Sinclair found a way to bend the rules to bring some justice to G’Kar. The man is a lot more flexible than I initially thought, and it’s been a treat to see him adapt to conditions on the station.
I don’t know if we’ll see Neeoma Connally again, but I really hope so. This episode manages to capture so many parts of the struggle for workers’ rights without ever stooping to condescension or building straw men. Even Orin Zento, who is the over-the-top, almost comically villainous negotiator, still works perfectly within the story because of how he’s connected to the larger arc of Earth’s humans feeling like Babylon 5 is too progressive in its politics. Indeed, this episode is both a standalone and another addition to that theme since it furthers the complicated politics around alien life.
Of course, it’s also a very personal story because of Eduardo Delvientos, and I was so thrilled to see a prominently placed Latinx character in this episode. It’s a little on-the-nose in terms of our community, since workers’ rights are so intimately tied to the Latinx community and history, but it’s not like this story is wrong. Plenty of workers from Latin America immigrate to work in jobs where they are underpaid, undervalued, and thrust into dangerous conditions because corporations and governments want to cut costs. Truly, that was the moment I knew this episode wasn’t fucking around: when Zento honestly thought the workers would understand that the government had to “cut the fat” on the workforce.
It’s so telling, isn’t it? That’s the whole problem, demonstrated in the horror of the opening scene. To those who don’t actually work on the docks, there’s a formula that can guarantee “efficient” work. Those experts that Senator Hidoshi and Zento spoke of are nothing more than bullshit peddlers; they have no real idea what the mental cost of that work is. They don’t know how back-breaking it is. And after Alberto Delvientos dies due to understaffing and poorly-made equipment, that cost is spelled out in grim detail.
It’s human life.
So Connally works here to unabashedly defend the rights of these workers to have safe working conditions, despite that it’s uncomfortable, annoying, and possibly SUPER illegal. Does that matter? Yes, actually, and thankfully, the show didn’t also portray Connally as reckless, uninformed, or incompetent, and that’s… really rare. EXCEEDINGLY RARE. That’s usually how these characters are written, but that’s not the case here. She is fierce and dedicated, and it genuinely pays off in the end. Oh, I am certain that Senator Hidoshi’s warning will come to fruition, but for now, I just want to praise the fact that this show actually had it’s central protagonist TAKE MONEY FROM THE MILITARY AND GIVE IT TO IGNORED WORKERS. Sinclair’s solution is a bending of the rules, but it’s one that grants these workers what they need and what they deserve. Oh my god, I’m still blown away by this. How the fuck did this air in 1994??? WHEN WILL YOUR FAVE EVER.
The video for “By Any Means Necessary” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff