In the fourteenth episode of the third season of Babylon 5, Bester comes bearing an olive branch… sort of. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent, nonconsensual medical procedures.
What the fuck, what the fuck.
Lord, this is a viciously uncomfortable episode. But when it came to this subplot—which honestly felt inevitable at this point—that discomfort is necessary. At some point, they had to address the fact that G’Kar and the Narns were left out of the resistance efforts, despite that they deserved to take part in it all. Of course, there’s a much bigger issue at hand: the decision to keep the growth of the Shadows a secret, despite how it would affect the Narns. It’s a calculated act, and the math is spelled out to us: either millions of Narns died, or all of them died. And how do you make a decision like that? How do you live knowing that your actions had ramifications like this? Which isn’t to blame the resistance force for what the Shadows and the Centauri did themselves! Obviously, they’re not actually responsible for the attacks. But there’s an undeniable guilt at work here, one that we see as Delenn emotionally apologizes to G’Kar for keeping him out of the loop.
What I appreciated about this was the honesty. Delenn explains why they did what they did, but she doesn’t try to take G’Kar’s reaction from him. And the script gives G’Kar his anger, his grief, and allows him to feel them honestly as well. That line about how he would have killed Delenn if she’d told him the truth on the day the Narn homeworld was bombed? It’s chilling. But this revelation has happened after G’Kar’s own transformation. Yet that doesn’t mean he isn’t angry. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to express how hurt he is by this. And ultimately, his decision to put this behind him to unite with the others doesn’t mean forgiveness is granted. That’s a nice touch, and one that added depth to the entire interaction.
Y’all know I love the trope of enemies having to work together to defeat another enemy, and goddamn, does “Ship of Tears” ever bring this trope to perfect use. At no point do we ever trust Bester, not even when the first pseudo-sympathetic element of his story crops up. We still greatly dislike him, and his selfishness (and his penchant for fascism) is still on display. This is a character who is pragmatic and self-serving more than anything else. It’s why he lied about knowing what was on that Shadow transport vessel. He knew that Sheridan wouldn’t help him rescue telepaths, particularly some who had tried to escape Psi Corps.
But this episode is yet another massive update to the show’s mythology, and within this story of an uneasy alliance is the biggest dose of hope we’ve had so far. It’s telling that this happens in the same story in which the Shadow War truly breaks out, and that’s such a brilliant touch. War is here, yes. But guess what else is? A weakness. That being said: WHAT A WAY TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH. The Shadows have been kidnapping telepaths in order to install them into their ships as a defense mechanism. Well, and for offensive purposes! Which means Bester was right from the start: they were transporting weapons. Wrapped up in this is the complicated nightmare of telepathy, free will, and the Psi Corps, and I really do wonder how loyal Bester is going to stay to the Psi Corps after this. Because how much different is the Psi Corps than the Shadows? Oh, the Shadows are open about the fact that they are literally using the bodies and minds of people against their will. But look at the system set up in place by the Psi Corps for human telepaths. How much free will is built into that system? If your only choice is death or subservience, how much of a choice is that?
I don’t necessarily think that’s the point of this episode, but I couldn’t help but think about the eerie parallels. Plus, Bester is mostly at the center of this, and the reveal that he’s had a mistress this entire time is… it’s a lot. Is it enough to make me care about him? Not in the slightest. And for what it’s worth, I don’t feel like this script wanted me to like Bester. Y’all, he straight up says the only thing he gives a damn about is this woman and his unborn child. Not his current wife and current child!!!! And he doesn’t flinch at all during all of this!!! No shame!!!
Gods, y’all, what a fucking CHARACTER. He’s so gross and strange and now he’s dedicated himself to fighting against the Shadows in the War, and I can barely fathom how this happened. But it did. This is real, y’all.
HOW IS THIS STILL ESCALATING.
The video for “Ship of Tears” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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