In the sixth episode of the second season of Babylon 5, THIS IS REALLY FUCKING DARK. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent and non-consensual medical procedures, fascism.
HI, WHAT THE FUCK, THIS IS THE MOST MESSED UP EPISODE THUS FAR. Holy shit, the more I think about this, it’s about one of the most cruel speculative fiction ideas I’ve ever come across. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Psi Corps is an antagonistic organization, and sometimes, I really like a villain or a villainous organization who is just evil and unrepentantly so.
But I think you can view Psi Corps or Bureau 13 (if they’re one and the same, or perhaps two different organizations working together) as a commentary on something that is most certainly real. The show is borrowing from a complicated and horrifying history of “secret” government organizations who really did try to disrupt progressive organizations and often succeeded. Hell, and some of those government bodies weren’t secret at all! I’m reminded of McCarthyism, of the House Un-American Activities Committee, of CIA coups around the world deposing democratically-elected leaders to crop up far more conservative, violent, and capitalism-friendly dictators, and of COINTELPRO, who were responsible for the murder of countless of civil rights leaders and progressive activists in the United States. And that’s just confining a view to the US! I bet you could analyze this and talk about the rise of fascism throughout Europe with Hitler or Mussolini, and there’d still be parallels to what happens in “Spider in the Web.”
With that in mind, as horrifying as the Lazarus Project is, it’s not exactly out of the realm of human possibility, and for me, that’s what makes science fiction so compelling. Maybe the technology is currently impossible, and maybe writers are taking great liberty with science in order to craft an interesting story. But are humans of capable on experimenting on other humans this way? Are they capable of violating the consent of others in order to advance a political agenda? Have they ever, in history, destroyed political movements through obfuscation, manipulation, and gaslighting?
I think you probably get where I’m going with this. The details, of course, make Abel’s fate to be nothing but pure tragedy. This episode felt like an even darker interpretation of the tropes at the heart of The Manchurian Candidate, but here, there’s no hope within Abel, at least not until he chooses death—a truly final death—in order to remove himself from this vicious machinery. Until he comes across Talia Winters, he is fully controlled by the people of… well, whomever was responsible for this. (My money is on Psi Corps, who have shown remarkable similarities to fascist organizations in the past.) His life was nothing but programming. How many had Abel killed? How long had he been commanded? Violated? How many times had he relived his own death?
It’s a difficult thing to think about, and so I’m pleased that while this episode does not pull any punches, there’s so much else going on besides the tragedy. I made a comment early into the episode that I am enjoying how often the show puts in scenes where these characters are just enjoying one another’s company, growing closer as friends, and, through that process, revealing their histories to the audience. There’s a particularly great scene between Garibaldi and Talia that addresses their parents and upbringing that I’m thinking of, and that stuff provides levity in an otherwise IMMENSELY fucked up story. The world in Babylon 5 truly feels like it is tipping towards an oppressive darkness, but I don’t feel dejected and depressed while watching this happen. (Yet. I’m sure I haven’t seen how fucked up this is all going to get I’M SCARED.) The characters feel so alive, so very real.
And I want to focus on one of them, because I’m now VERY interested in what this is all going to mean for Talia Winters. Ivanova remarks in “Spider in the Web” that Talia is very loyal to Psi Corps. (She also calls her “interesting,” and if you’ll excuse me, I am going to take this single line of dialogue and create an entire romance in my head, THANK YOU.) The images she scans from Abel’s memories contain something that directly challenges her notion of how charitable or helpful the Psi Corps is. How the fuck is she going to deal with this? She saw a Psi Corps agent overseeing Abel’s invasive surgery, then lied to Sheridan about seeing anything. Even worse: she thinks that agent is dead when they are VERY MUCH STILL ALIVE, and apparently, there’s still another agent on Babylon 5. How will this test her loyalties? Will she lose faith in Psi Corps? IT’S SO UPSETTING!!!
My god, I can already tell I’m just not ready for what’s coming. This is ALL YOUR FAULT.
The video for “Spider in the Web” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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