Mark Watches ‘Babylon 5’: S05E19 – The Wheel of Fire

In the nineteenth episode of the fifth season of Babylon 5, Lyta makes demands; Garibaldi is discovered; G’Kar is overwhelmed; and Sheridan and Delenn experience a major change. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent, alcoholism

Oh, there’s SO MUCH going on here, so let’s jump into it!

Garibaldi

If I have anything to nitpick here, it has nothing to do with the depiction of alcoholism and addiction. Even though my experience with it intersects only partially with Garibaldi and Lochley, I can still recognize how this disease manifests in others. And it’s important to have differing depictions of these sort of things to help folks understand that this experience is not a monolith. There is no one way to be one, to deal with addiction, or to live with it. That’s the beauty of seeing such very, very different characters having this common ground between them. There are shared aspects to the experience that a lot of folks have. 

So, I’ll talk more about that in a second. I kind of expected the show to deal with the more specific failures that Garibaldi had been responsible for. While Sheridan suspected that his friend had started drinking again, we don’t get a solid timeline for when that suspicion began. Did Sheridan ever come to know how many missions Garibaldi botched? How many people died because of him? I get why the script ultimately focuses on the more personal stakes here, but I didn’t get a sense that Garibaldi was held accountable for some pretty heinous things that happened because of him. On the other hand, however, I greatly appreciate how much care and compassion is demonstrated by both Sheridan and Lochley. That stuff is important to see! Garibaldi needed to hear that Sheridan wasn’t furious with him (at least not right then) and that his friend was ready to listen to him. Sheridan allowed vulnerability by being vulnerable, and it was such a compassionate response. Lochley, meanwhile, was more forceful, but her technique was to drive home the point that Garibaldi was not alone. He repeatedly tells her that she doesn’t understand what he’s going through, but she knows that isn’t true! And if Garibaldi hadn’t consistently lashed out at her during that conversation, he would have found that out a lot sooner. 

But this is Garibaldi we’re talking about; he’s quick to being defensive. So I appreciated that he did apologize to Lochley for snapping at her. I’m interested, then, in seeing how his genuine desire to do better—a desire I do believe!—is going to be complicated by the deal he’s made with Lyta. I don’t doubt that one of the reasons Garibaldi was driven into his relapse was the neural block that Bester gave him, but I also don’t exactly feel ecstatic about where his story is going. Part of that’s because there’s just so much unknown! Which… you know, this is going to require me to talk about Lyta a lot, so let’s just go there.

Lyta

Wow, hi, she’s a lot, isn’t she? And without that crucial reveal, I started questioning the writing choices for her character in “The Wheel of Fire.” Yes, she was more confident in herself and in her mission, and yes, she was also willing to bend the rules more frequently. But controlling an entire room full of people? Funding bombings of the Psi Corps? It was just a tiny stretch too much, at least initially. Why? Why would she do these sort of things? And why would she be so righteous about what she was doing? 

Yeah, it really changes the context of the episode to find out that the Vorlons basically made her into the telepathic version of a thermonuclear weapon. She knows that by this episode, and I bet she figured it out after Byron died. If you’ve got that kind of power—a power that must seem limitless to her—wouldn’t you act invincible? Wouldn’t you believe that no one could hurt you or detain you or stop you for any reason? That’s exactly how she behaves in this episode! So, her ego has played a huge part in her character arc, and it’s all complicated by the emotional reason why she’s doing what she’s doing. Well, and not just her! Garibaldi’s need for closure intersects with her need to the destruction of the Psi Corps. This might be a symbiotic relationship with this goal in mind, but it could so easily turn toxic, too. If Lyta is willing to violate the consent of so many people at once without a second thought, how far will she go to liberate the other telepaths? I GENUINELY DON’T KNOW.

David

There are three episodes left, and somehow, we’ve got a TON of time left to cover in this story. Delenn’s pregnancy is now finally here, but there are only a couple hours that remain to explore it? What about the events of “War Without End”? I’m now going into this last block of episodes wondering if there will be a major time jump at some point. I still believe that G’Kar and Londo will die strangling one another, so how do we get there? What about the imprisonment of Sheridan and Delenn? WHAT WILL DAVID LOOK LIKE?

G’Kar

Let’s just appreciate the fascinating journey that G’kar is on and how it contrasts with Londo’s. Long ago, G’Kar would have relished the opportunity to have the kind of reverential power he now has. His desire for retribution would have taken center stage, and his story would have gone in a much, much different direction. But G’Kar is at a point where he could not be less interested in power or worship. He wants nothing of the sort! And yet, many Narns see him as a religious figure to be idolized and worshipped, despite that this is deeply uninteresting to him. G’Kar wants people to listen to him, and he wants to teach his people, but the adoration he’s receiving is TERRIFYING. It’s senseless and without deep thought! People want to mirror G’Kar, to do exactly as he does, and it’s part of that elevation to godhood that haunts him in this episode. It doesn’t matter that he decries the attention and worship; even these acts are seen as noble because of course a great man like G’Kar would be deeply humble.

It’s an endless cycle, and G’Kar’s plan to break it is brilliant. It’s so pure. He just wants to leave it all behind and to explore the cosmos, meeting other races and species and cultures so as to further his own scope of the universe. If he wants to celebrate the diversity of difference, what better way is there? And maybe, just maybe, while he is an absurd distance from home, his people will stop looking to him to answer all their questions. They have to figure these things out for themselves!

Hell, maybe Lyta will find an uninhabited world for the telepaths! Well, if she doesn’t SET HERSELF OFF LIKE A BOMB. Oh god, I’m so nervous for the end of this show??? I don’t know where this is going!

The video for “The Wheel of Fire” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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