In the twelfth episode of the third season of Babylon 5, a secret of Vir’s spills out. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For extended discussion of racism, imperialism/colonization, concentration camps, the Holocaust, and genocide.
I think I wanted to like this episode more than I did, primarily because it does something I’ve been asking of the show for a while now: it gave me a break. For the most part, “Sic Transit Vir” is a funny, light-hearted departure from the grim and upsetting nature that I’m used to. At least, it is right up until it’s not, and that’s when the episode should have abandoned the humorous tone. It would have made sense if the script had careened into a new story, but there’s a clumsy effort to keep the humor around after a couple horrific and traumatizing scenes. And I don’t get why it has to be that way! There’s actually something amazing in a story that manages to successfully change tone, and I believe that Babylon 5 could have pulled it off.
Let me back up so I can explain myself. I think I misunderstood the opening, and I want to clear that up because even understanding it correctly, it still doesn’t really change my opinion. I usually jot down notes in the immediate moment after I stop recording, just so I know what I’m going to talk about in my review. I was trying to figure out how’d I would talk about Ivanova’s dream and its ramifications for her character when I realized that Vir also had a dream, right? His scene in the opening may have started in reality, but I thought he really did go back to his quarters and find a bunch of Narns waiting for him. Thus, I kept waiting for the show to address that. Why didn’t they? Clearly, the Narns knew what Vir was doing, so why had they confronted him over him saving their lives? It made the assassination attempt confusing, too. Did they also believe that Vir had been sending Narns to their death, not saving them?
But… that scene didn’t happen, right? He dreamt it! And that gives at least some narrative similarity to his story and Ivanova’s, which I appreciate. Both of them were dealing with their respective situations in a subconscious manner. In Ivanova’s case, her stressful dreams were a manifestation of her restlessness onboard the station. She finds a means of dealing with that by taking on the “Abrahamo Lincolni” persona in order to free more Narns from Centauri occupation.
This all stems from what Vir has done, and the parallels here—to people saving Jewish people during the Holocaust, or to the actual Underground Railroad—are deliberate. Vir knew what was happening to the Narn people, and he used his position to save over two thousand Narns from certain death, from being forced to work in deplorable conditions at work camps, from suffering even more than they had already suffered. He had done this by hiding these people within their deaths. One of the most scathing lines in this episode—and perhaps in the show as a whole—is Vir’s assertion that people only care about living Narns, not the dead ones. Dead Narns have no affect on the world, and so, the Centauri just keep on killing them, and most of the universe turns away from looking at the carnage.
Thus, Vir has a way to save these Narns. He designates them as dead, then smuggles them through Babylon 5 before sending them off elsewhere. It’s an admirable and incredible thing that he does, and this episode makes sure that we know how terrifying the other Centauri are in regards to this. JMS’s script is so direct in this aspect, and both Londo’s and Lyndisty’s dialogue leaves nothing open to interpretation. They truly believe the Narn deserve what they get, they believe that they are civilizing an inferior race, and they believe that they are doing the universe a favor. This is spelled out in no uncertain terms. Londo is direct about it, but it’s Lyndisty’s mortifying monologue to Vir about the real reason an assassin attacked Vir that left me with chills. And disgusted. Let me say that! Because the casual way in which Lyndisty spoke of genocide was just… what can you say? There’s a glee in her voice as she speaks about villages razed to the ground, or when she talks about culling “aggressive” members of the Narn gene pool. Genocide fills her with a spiritual happiness, and it’s one of the most revolting things I’ve ever seen. Just… ever? And I don’t think that’s a strange reaction, and nor do I think that JMS didn’t intend for us to be totally repulsed by Lyndisty’s words or the context in which she was saying them.
So it felt strange to me that there was still this jokey tone in “Sic Transit Vir” after this point. What happened to the Narn assassin that was in Vir’s room? Why isn’t Vir more vocal about his disgust towards what Londo or Lyndisty say to him? Vir’s private actions are bold and commendable, but once confronted, we’re given the sense that he basically feels embarrassed by it all? It’s a little strange, and I expected him to push back more against the genocide of the Narns and the support of it. He kinda does when he bids Lyndisty goodbye, but it’s still too cutesy for my tastes. Like, how can he even feel attracted to this woman when she represents something so obviously fucking terrible?
I don’t know, I just think this episode gave us a very important addition to this war, one that is deliberately uncomfortable, but the humor dilutes it just a bit too much. I’m actually interested in the fandom’s take on this because I can also recognize that there’s a horror in the contrast of it all. The joy and certainty we hear in the voice of Londo and Lyndisty as they calmly talk of genocide is half the reason their words are so impactful. So I wouldn’t take that away at all; I just wish the episode ended with the same weight as those scenes had.
The video for “Sic Transit Vir” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff