Monday, January 15, 2007

Snow day=Babylon 5 day

McMaster is closed due to freezing rain, which means I get the day off, which means, after I got up at my usual 6:15 time vowing to sleep in just a little and then get a whole bunch of useful stuff done, in reality I was going to go back to sleep until 11:30 and then amend my plans to watch a whole bunch of Babylon 5 on DVD.

I've just started watching Season 4 of this thing, which is apparently going to be balls-out insanely awesome the whole time because Straczynski, having planned out a very elaborate 5-season story arc for the entire show, found out at some point that there was a threat of cancellation and had to pack in the bulk of the resolution into Season 4 (meaning there's not much left to do in Season 5 after they didn't get cancelled, and it's a little boring, but for now, it's all good). I have so many thoughts and analytical questions on this show I almost don't know where to start, but I think what I'll do right now is run through some of my thoughts on some of the spiritual elements.

I'll stay away for now from the fact that Sheridan was just resurrected from the dead somewhat altered (after falling for ages into a deep pit called "Za Ha Dum", which even sounds like "Khazadum", so, hi, Galdalf the White, sort of) mainly because I don't know yet exactly how he's changed or whether that First One he brought back to B5 with him in the last episode I saw is, like, the devil (or the Balrog, all Maia and whatnot) or whatever. I'll also just peripherally acknowledge that, obviously, I think the revelation that "the One" of prophecy is the Trinity is very, very cool.

I really like the Mimbari (Tolkien Elves, much?) spirituality in general, and think Delenn is a great overall representation of its grace, serenity, beauty and depth. I love her teach-by-living-example attitude with the more jaded human crew members. But the character I really love from the spiritual angle is Leneer. The episode with the terrorist bombings is so poignant from the perspective of personal moral decisions. His best moment ever (well, so far) comes after he is badly injured saving Londo from a bomb, and wakes up to find Londo at his bedside, thanking him. Leneer turns to him and says (paraphrasing): "Let me be clear: I saved you because I believe all life has value. But because you do not feel the same, that choice may be worse for the universe in the long run" and he turns away with his face packed with conflict and pain. Contrast G'Kar's choice in the same episode: he's trapped in an elevator with Londo, who was unconscious for a good chunk of the time, and who wakes up demanding to know why G'Kar didn't do anything to help him or get them out of there. G'Kar answers that if he kills Londo, the Centauri, occupying the Narn homeworld, will kill 500 Narn including G'Kar's family, but if he just watches him die, he gets the satisfaction without the consequences, even if he himself dies later as a result. It's a situation somewhat analogous to Leneer's: both men want to see Londo dead, for very different but pretty much equally valid reasons, but know it has consequences. The effects are immediate and tangible in G'Kar's case, and existential in Leneer's. Both are presented with the loophole option that they could simply choose not to act to save Londo (requiring different levels of exertion and risk to their person in the process) when he's placed in peril through circumstances outside of their control. They make the opposite choice, and as the viewer, you can understand both on a very deep level. What I love most about Leneer's decision is that you can see on his face that he knew the loophole was there, and he almost could have justified inertia to himself, but he also knew that would have been deluding himself as to what was truly the right thing to do, and he had to look at his own action in and of itself, outside of all "ends justify the means" excuse-making or, really, a morality that extends beyond his own personal choices. G'Kar has much more intense personal reasons for wanting Londo dead, and takes the loophole, partially because his consequences are essentially "legal" ones, and he isn't so much looking for grace and salvation as for a way not to be enslaved and exercise some form of power (not that grace and salvation don't ultimately do that, but at that point, G'Kar is not in a place to be looking that far ahead).

Oh, G'Kar. I love love love G'Kar. He makes some bad choices, the best example of which is when he decides to essentially mind-rape Londo, but his character development is profoundly spiritual and ridiculously awesome. It's in the mind-rape episode that he starts to look big-picture, beyond his personal pain, to some extent beyond the suffering of "his people", and to see that, for lack of a somewhat less clich├ęd expression, he has to "be the change he wants to see". The near joy he expresses while he's in prison makes me think of Johnny Cash at Fulsom Prison closing with a line about how his body may be imprisoned, but his spirit was free with the Lord. The character is also brilliantly acted, in my opinion, especially for a dude covered in makeup and prosthetics, and his incredible pride in himself and in his people, especially as his ability to hold his head up high is shattered and stripped away from him more and more, just bleeds from his eyes (that's the expression that came to mind, and I thought about changing it knowing he's going to lose an eye in the near future, but couldn't find a better way to say it). While it's not part of the spirituality of the show, I must note that the episode in which he's being tortured by the Centauri Napoleon Bonaparte, first forced to play court jester, then culminating in being whipped with electricity in ever-increasing intensity, knowing that 40 will kill him and that Napoleon Bona-wanktard will only stop if he screams...that scene, with the Emperor just counting nonchalantly and the camera just showing people's faces as it happens--the Emperor's complete callousness, G'Kar struggling with his competing desires to maintain his personal pride and help his people in the long run (you know if it was just about him and not saving Narn, he would rather die than scream), Vir in absolute shock that anyone could behave this way, and Londo mouthing "Just scream"--was fucking genius and absolute, well, torture, at the same time.

I'll close with a note that my friends Erin and Jeff have been assuring me since Season 1 that Londo gets really really awesome (from a character perspective, rather than necessarily a "gee, he's a great heroic guy" kind of angle) and I'm only just starting to see it (which, appropriately, I had to swallow my pride a little to inform them of last night, as I've been bitching about him in emails pretty much forever). I appreciate that he's been somewhat conflicted as he realizes more and more the cost of his personal advancement and the glory of the Centauri people, but fuck if, for the most part, I don't give a damn. The two parter in Season 3 where Sheridan gets "unstuck in time" and ends up meeting him in the future was something of a turning point in my view of him. I sent an email after watching part 1 bitching about future Londo blaming Sheridan for what happened to the Centauri after they won the Shadow war, like Sheridan was seriously supposed to come and bail out his dear Centauri friends who had no responsibility whatsoever for their own fate, but then part 2 revealed that he was just doing that to appease the demon controlling him and waiting for the chance to actually save Sheridan, and then one-eyed G'Kar comes out and they kill each other, and it's a little different. I'm was still kind of like "yeah, well, you did sell your soul, dude", but the real moment of making Sarah think came when he was telling G'Kar to just scream, dammit, so that he could buy time to save him, save the Narn homeworld from occupation, and save Centauri Prime from Caligula, and G'Kar says "You don't know what you're asking", to which Londo responds, "Yes, I do. Yes. I. Do.". The intensity there, and everything he himself is putting to the side to accomplish this coming through in that simple line, made me much less inclined to say "Fuck waiting for a legal/moral loophole, just kill the fucker".

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