In the fourth episode of the third season of Babylon 5, a monk is plagued with mysterious and violent images. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of capital punishment, consent
This was… a lot. And I know it was designed to be a deeply uncomfortable examination of capital punishment, of justice, of revenge. By the end of this episode, I’m not sure I have a succinct answer to everything brought up here. Part of that is because JMS did not write this to be easy. Brother Edward had spent eight years doing good for others; that much is undeniable. But it’s undeniable right alongside the misogynist killings he did. He took nine lives, and he ruined countless others. So, was there justice in the personality wipe? Are there some acts so heinous that nothing can ever be done to held accountable for them?
Those questions are complicated all on their own, but they’re even more difficult to answer once you look at all the people affected by what Brother Edward had done. Before I get to that point, I do want to acknowledge how I was utterly convinced of another solution to the mystery here. I thought there were a lot of red herrings in this episode, so my theory went in a… well, a very interesting direction? See, I thought the news broadcast that Garibaldi had watched was a clue that… I don’t know. Maybe that serial killer’s “wiped” personality had somehow been transferred to Brother Edward’s mind? And thus, we were meant to see the random Centauri as a red herring, because THAT was the actual clue, and LOOK, I TRIED. OKAY. DON’T JUDGE.
However, this episode instead challenges the notion of how complete a personality wipe is. There might be a poetic sense of justice to this form of capital punishment, and I can’t really argue about the saved cost. The death penalty, at least here in the states, is an immense drain on the budgets of various state governments, and it’s a good thing that prison populations are reduced, rather than deal with what we’ve got now. (For-profit prisons should be 100% illegal, y’all, THEY ARE WALKING NIGHTMARES.)
But did the victims’ families get to participate in the sentencing of Charles Dexter? And even if they did, it felt clear to me that at least one of them wanted more than a mindwipe. So, does that mean this person was denied justice? Are the desires of a victim above all other concerns? And does that still make the mindwipe ethical because it is so poetic?
There’s something attractive in the idea of a criminal being sentenced to work for the public good, but there’s another question raised by this episode: Does that work count when the criminal cannot remember why they’re doing it? In hindsight, it’s deeply uncomfortable to think about how Brother Edward’s personality is constructed. His memories, his desires, his motivations… all of them were made. Thus, his attrition is done without personal knowledge. Charles Dexter won’t ever know that he’s doing good for communities he’s harmed; as far as the technical definition, he “died,” right?
Thus, there’s a complicated landscape here that immediately begins to unravel once one of the victim’s family members hires a Centauri to trigger Edward on purpose. (And I’m unsure on this point, but were the other surviving family members real? Did they follow “Malcolm” to Babylon 5? If so, then that means they all backed down on the murder, as Malcolm stated. Why did they change their minds? Was Malcolm’s idea attractive on its own, but once faced with the idea of actually crucifying someone, they panicked?
I don’t know. I don’t think we’re supposed to know. We see this conflict from so many sides, y’all, and each one muddies the waters. We know from Brother Theo’s anecdotes that he had never had a better monk in his company, and we know that what Charles did was one of the most vicious crimes imaginable. So where does this leave these characters? Sheridan, Garibaldi, and Brother Theo are completely heartbroken over Brother Edward’s murder, but truthfully, they only knew one of the men who happened to be in that body. Is it really fair of them to perceive of him this way when they never knew who he originally was? As for Brother Malcolm, there’s a tragic irony in his fate, but he also willingly chose this path. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he didn’t care. Revenge was all that mattered to him, though from his perspective, this was justice, wasn’t it? All of this is told through a story heavy on Christian imagery, particularly Jesus’s sacrifice, and it’s an interesting wrinkle to the story. Was Edward accepting his fate a moral act, one deserving of comparison to Jesus’s sacrifice to atone for the sins of others? In this case, I’d argue that the scope is massively smaller. This was about Edward atoning for his own sins.
AND THEN THERE’S LYTA ALEXANDER MAKING THIS EVEN MORE UNNERVING. Y’all, I don’t know what the ending of this episode even means. Was there actually a Vorlon in her body the whole time? Or had Ambassador Kosh just given her something that allowed her body to heal and helped her process oxygen better? DOES SHE HAVE FUCKING GILLS NOW, Y’ALL??? What does that mean??? I AM UNCOMFORTABLE. Actually, I’m uncomfortable for another reason: wow, Lyta was real quick to perform a nonconsensual mind scan on another person. Was anyone else super disturbed by that? It’s done so casually when normally, everyone would be far more reluctant with it.
Anyway, HI, THIS SHOW IS FUCKED UP.
The video for “Passing Through Gethesmane” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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