In the seventh episode of the fifth season of Babylon 5, I AM DEEPLY UPSET. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of genocide, nonconsensual medical procedures
THIS WAS SUCH A HEAVY EPISODE, WHAT HAVE YOU ALL DONE TO ME.
I’m glad that Dr. Franklin was given a meatier role in the Alliance, and lord, what a terrible first case to deal with. But this is Babylon 5 and rarely is anything nice. Still, this specific story highlights one of a number of potential issues concerning confidentiality, privacy, and self-determination that the Alliance is going to have to face. How can the Alliance build a database like this without exposing the information to parties who would use the information for terrible things? How can the Alliance respect the privacy of others? Here, Dr. Franklin uncovers a terrible secret that the Hyach attempted to scrub from their history. (And possibly the history of others?) That’s certainly not the intended purpose of this database, but it was still a ramification of it.
And it’s such a disturbing ramification, too. The Hyach committed genocide to wipe out a sub-species of their race, named the Hyach-Doh, and then covered up the existence of it. Only to discover, by the way, that the Hyach species needed that subspecies to survive. WHICH IS ONE HELL OF A DOSE OF KARMA. One thing I liked about this plot is that Dr. Franklin was able to speak of the complicity of people like Tal and Kirrin. Both of them insisted that it was their ancestors who committed this atrocity, not them. Why should they be judged or held responsible for it? Well, as Dr. Franklin so succinctly put it, they participated in a cover up. They were active in making sure that no one found out about it, and that makes them accomplices! Yo, Kirrin was willing to MURDER DR. FRANKLIN to keep it a secret. He absolutely has the right to judge you!
But this is a start, no? The Hyach elders perhaps saw a chance to finally get this information out in the open so that their people could begin to atone and fix themselves. And the first step they had to take was admitting the truth of what they’d actually done.
Well, it seems the major missing piece in this story has fallen into place, and damn, this is UPSETTING. But it’s more than just the Vorlon reveal that fucks me up, and I wanna talk about how frustrating Zack is in this episode. The man has been developing a bias against the telepaths for a while, but it’s not been on display like this before. He’s openly hostile to the telepaths who arrive at the beginning of “Secrets of the Soul,” which… look, he’s entitled to that. But his job as Chief of Security literally requires him to work in the best interests of the people who are onboard the station. Since the telepaths are allowed to be there due to Sheridan’s agreement, it is enraging to me that he treats them with so little regard. And it’s not just that he’s rude to them, but he acts against their interests. After Carl brutally assaults Peter, is anything truly done to track down the perpetrators? Does Zack seem to even care at all about stopping someone who is terrorizing people who are legally allowed to be on Babylon 5?
Even worse, when he discovers Byron near the unconscious body of one of Carl’s men, he overreacts, takes no initial statements, and just arrests Byron because his confirmation bias gives him everything he needs to “prove” that Byron did what he’s being accused of. It’s sloppy and unprofessional, and I’d argue that it is a factor (not the sole factor, of course) in why the telepaths feel desperate enough to turn to violence. The station security is more or less allowing it to happen! If you don’t counter violent extremism or terrorism, if you craft and foster environments where it can flourish, this is what happens.
So I understood the telepaths’ rage, even if it disappointed Byron as much as it did. These people have been systemically mistreated over and over and over again, and this was a breaking point for them.
Now, we could debate the morality of revenge on Carl here, but I believe that because of the big end reveal, it’s not quite as important to the future of this struggle. There’s a bigger sense of revenge at work. Y’all, I knew the Vorlons had meddled around the galaxy, but the reveal here is far-reaching and devastating. It is now possible that all telepaths were created by the Vorlons for the Shadow War. ALL OF THEM. And it’s exactly in line with how the Vorlons view all the other races: they are canon fodder. A means to an end. Weapons. Everyone is a pawn in a galactic chess game, and after that war is over? Well, who cares what happens to those pieces?
I understand Byron’s rage. I understand the telepaths demanding their own world. And I’m worried about how this might be spun in future storylines only because so often, we see oppressed people (or people who act as a metaphor for oppression) being cast as violent, unreasonable radicals. Will Babylon 5 do that? I hope not, and the show has been sympathetic to resistance forces before. (Which is an understatement, of course, since that’s a key component of most of the show.) The one image we’ve seen of where this story is going has painted this whole affair as a disaster, so I’m REAL worried about what’s going to happen. Lord, this is SO MESSED UP.
The video for “Secrets of the Soul” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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