In the thirteenth episode of the third season of Babylon 5, I don’t know how to summarize this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of PTSD, trauma.
I have thoughts. So many of them. This episode was truly an experience, and I’m gonna try to think about this from a few different angles.
I mentioned this on video, but this is a bold as fuck episode. On the surface, it seemed like such an innocuous and silly story, and I was grateful for the “break,” so to speak. I was reminded of the bizarre episode about the Holy Grail, though this episode certainly didn’t feel like a repeat . Regardless, It was so different! A man claiming to be King Arthur arrives, ready to fulfill his destiny. The absurdity of the premise is half of the tension. Is this really what this episode is about? Is it really what this show is doing? And as “A Late Delivery from Avalon” unfolded, I was still astounded that this was really happening. The Vorlon theory was compelling, too! That seemed like a possible explanation for all of this, given what they did with Sebastian. So what if the Vorlons were gearing up for some bigger fight, and this was a prelude to that?
Except that why were there SO MANY scenes just showing us how much this man believed in himself as King Arthur? The whole subplot with G’Kar was entertaining, but it took this story to an even weirder level. What was the point of it all? I feel like that was all intentional; this show committed to the premise it had given us as a means of directing us away from the truth. The further David McIntyre (and this script) delved into this delusion, the more I began to believed it all. This was really him, wasn’t it? There didn’t seem to be any explanation that made a lick of sense outside of the Vorlon one, so… were things as they seemed?
From a craft perspective, I got the sense that “A Late Delivery From Avalon” is in conversation with both the genre of science fiction and the medium of episodic and serialized television. By all accounts, this should have been a one-off. It was a story that was probably unconnected from the larger plot, or even if it was, its sinews were thin and superficial. Except that isn’t even remotely the case. The story of David McIntyre is integral to Babylon 5 because it’s the tale of how one man followed the orders of his captain, and those orders changed the course of human-Minbari history forever. Y’all, the Earth-Minbari War was started because A HUMAN CAPTAIN MISINTERPRETED A MINBARI SHIP WITH ITS GUN PORTS OPEN. Dukhat was killed by mistake!!! IT WAS ALL AN UNFORTUNATE MISUNDERSTANDING. This is! A Lot! To Handle!!!!!!! Oh my god, I can’t believe this. It’s such a brilliant idea, and once the twist hit, I was in shock. I still am. If this one person had defied orders, maybe the Minbari wouldn’t have ever gone to war with Earth. (But maybe they wouldn’t have discovered that Minbari souls were living on in humans either.)
This is going to be A Lot for a long time.
There is an undeniable tragedy to David McIntyre, and from a character building perspective, this episode is also fantastic. In just forty-odd minutes, we get an in-depth look into a deeply complicated and troubled character. The twist does not negate what we saw before it hits; instead, there is a new depth to David’s delusion that he is King Arthur. Arthur’s story, especially the Battle of Camlann, fits so perfectly with what David went through. Thus, the script has a fullness to it. I felt like we got to see so much of this one person, and it made David’s confrontation with the truth so much more powerful. Of course, the serialized element of Babylon 5 helps with that, but even if that hadn’t been the case, I appreciated this from a characterization prospective.
If there’s anything to nitpick here, though, I would say that I felt that the eventual resolution cheapened this a bit too much for me. There were moments that were so real to me, especially when we see how David is triggered by certain images, sounds, or phrases. For me—because all manifestations of mental illness vary from person to person—these scenes had a texture and a grit that felt believable, that felt living. I worry about people thinking this was a bit gimmicky, and I say that because, despite that this man has lived with his trauma and PTSD for years and years, the end of the episode makes it seem like he’s just “cured.” There is no sense that he’ll continue to have to deal with his PTSD now that he’s been able to confront his delusion. Which isn’t to say that people don’t have breakthroughs that are significant and life-changing! Or that people are stuck within their trauma forever either. The end was just abrupt as hell, and I think I would have appreciated a little more attention paid to the possibility in David’s future. What does his life look like after this?
Ultimately: I AM SO MAD AT ALL OF YOU FOR THIS. WHAT’S WRONG WITH Y’ALL.
The video for “A Late Delivery From Avalon” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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