In the eighth episode of the fourth season of Babylon 5, I will never forgive each and every one of you for this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For talk of fascism, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism, and consent
This was an unbearable episode to watch. I’ll just say it. It’s brilliant, and the level at which this campaign of disinformation and propaganda operates is so fucking smart and insidious and on-the-nose that I really do want to state this shit outright. This is an expertly written episode of the show, and JMS completely dominates this. This is EXACTLY how powerful people and organizations spread misinformation and how they manage to get away with it: by pairing “facts” that are carefully manipulated and edited with appeals to emotion that will get most people to ignore that the “facts” are not actually true at all. Or, even worse, telling like 25% of the truth and 75% of a lie, making it even harder to detangle what is reality and what isn’t.
There are so many incredible and heart-crushing moments in this single broadcast, which JMS gives us IN FULL, to ever possible recount. How long is it going to take this team to undo this? How are they even going to approach doing that? My gods, y’all, this is so much worse than I ever could have imagined, and Randall planned the WHOLE FUCKING TIME to manipulate these people into giving him access to the station so he could ruin their lives. I mentioned this on video after the episode ended, but it’s worth repeating: This is a perfect and stunning example of a bad faith actor, upon whom good intentions, kindness, politeness, and ethics would never, ever work. And it’s the great mistake this team made: they assumed that being good and honest would win in the end. It might eventually, and I don’t think this negates that line of thinking, but in the short term? It absolutely lost them this battle. Randall should have been met with force, as he was in the beginning, and he and his crew should have been kicked off the station, never allowed to return as long as they were still a propaganda arm for President Clark.
But really, that’s why this episode stung so much and made it so deeply painful to watch. This is what we are living through right fucking now. This is fiction, yes, but JMS has borrowed so heavily from reality and the way fascist and corrupt organizations utilize the media to gain support that it is barely indistinguishable from what we’re watching unfold in the UK, in the United States, in countless places around the globe. My country just lived (BARELY) through an election in which another country’s government spent millions upon millions of dollars and utilized countless hours of manpower to manipulate Americans through social media. We are still sifting through the misinformation campaign that the Russians waged against us. And just like we see here in this episode, real shit got twisted up in the propaganda. The Russians targeted Flint, the Black Lives Matter movement, income equality, redlining and gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, and they did this alongside spreading complete falsehoods to more conservative social media users. It was a multi-pronged effort to sway an election, and I do not doubt for one second that it worked.
So how can I watch “The Illusion of Truth” and not see the similarities? How can I experience this without feeling like my life has become so absurd and terrifying that a fictional space opera nightmare is perfectly describing it? THERE WERE SO MANY LITTLE DETAILS THAT WERE WAY TOO REAL! Portraying John and Delenn’s relationship not just as deviant, but as if there’s an agenda to make everyone like them. (I mean, I would have preferred an actual queer couple here, but the analogy still felt understandable.) Portraying acceptance and inclusion as a means of “destroying” other races and cultures. Portraying growth and progress on a personal level as self-hatred and erasure. Discrediting people by outright associating them with a mental illness and diagnosing them from afar in order to do so. Editing of events (in this case, the images in Downbelow) in order to fulfill an agenda, but then portraying them as a shocking truth. All of this is here, and all of it has happened in one way or another in just the last two years of my country ALONE.
There’s one part of this, though, that frustrates me on a different level. I’d assumed that Garibaldi was “activated” by Psi Corps in the previous episode during that Bab-Com transmission. I was then immediately confused by him quitting because… well, why reject access if you want someone to be a spy? But now, having seen “The Illusion of Truth,” I wonder if I’ve been thinking of Garibaldi in the wrong light. What if this isn’t about spying but something far more insidious? What if those scenes we saw of Garibaldi distrusting Sheridan and Lorien after Garibaldi was rescued were part of a long con? Because now that Garibaldi has publicly turned away from Sheridan—and oh lord, I imagine the next episode is going to be deeply uncomfortable because of that—WHAT IF THAT WAS THE PLAN THE WHOLE TIME. Not spy on Sheridan, but use his security officer to turn people against him! THIS IS LIKE A MILLION TIMES MORE FUCKED UP. It was always going to be terrible, but turning a friend against another by brainwashing Garibaldi??? UGH.
This was exhausting to watch. Brilliant, completely unexpected, and necessary, but oh my god, I AM SO STRESSED OUT.
The video for “The Illusion of Truth” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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