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Five Thoughts on Babylon 5‘s “Deathwalker”

By | July 18th, 2018
Posted in Television | % Comments

Ambassador Kosh is now a creepy enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an encounter suit, the monstrous is weighed against the good, and Diplomacy is once again the name of the game. Welcome my friends. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.

Spoilers ahead.

1. Space Mengele

Let’s not beat around the bush with this one. Deathwalker is easily the most unambiguously evil character in Babylon 5 so far. We’ve encountered plenty of one-off villains that have been cruel, antagonistic or hateful, but none have (so far) been motivated by pure spite and the desire to see the whole universe suffer. I had originally written that Jha’dur had no motivations but that’s not true. Her motivations were revenge. Revenge against Earth Alliance and the council of non-aligned worlds for their part in taking down her cruel, oppressive regime.

She was a tyrant, a despot whose only pleasure was derived from the suffering of others in her experiments. The show does not try to paint her as anything else. When she reveals she has the secret to immortality, not only is that met with skepticism but her motivations for sharing it are as well. In another show, this may have been the point where Jha’dur would have pretended to be doing it out of remorse or the goodness of her heart. It would have prompted the same conversations that the episode already prompts but it would have done so through duplicitous means.

Here, instead, she says it’s out of some sense of duty to pass on the spoils of war to the winners, but it seems she’s doing it to save her own skin. There is a blanket of mistrust placed over her motivations by the construction of the episode, one which successfully steers clear of a disconnect between audience knowledge and character knowledge for this kind of plot thread. This way, when the other shoe drops, it’s neither a surprise nor is it a moment of exasperation. Instead, it is simply a moment of cold realization of just how cruel Jha’dur is.

Tyrants, as Ivanova says, seldom show remorse for their atrocities.

2. Any way the Windswords Blow

Another glimpse into Minbari society, we learn of the Windswords, a militant sect within the Minbaris. We don’t learn much about them but from what little we know, they do not sound like good news. First, they have enough of an influence in the government as a supplier of weapons that were they to exert more control, the Minbari might been significantly less peaceful as the season goes on.

Second, if they willingly hosted Deathwalker, then we know these are not a morally sound group of Minbari. Third, it shows that the Minbari are not united in their decision for surrender. If this faction is as war hungry as it is presented here, that’s a bad sign.

3. Winters’ Edge

Poor Talia Winters. She’s really given the run around this week by Ambassador Kosh and Pimp Danny Devito. This B-plot is certainly set up for something in the future between Kosh and Talia but at the moment, it’s just another of Kosh’s weird decisions. “Deathwalker” is an episode that seems to have two main focuses: the monstress and the all-powerful. Both Kosh and Jha’dur have the ability and the power to control all those around them and, in this episode, they do.

Think about it. By dangling the idea of immortality in front of the Narn, Earth Alliance, and the Babylon 5 Station Command, she controlled all their actions, almost brought war to the station, and forced Command to make terrible choices all for the possibility that no one would have to suffer again. Kosh, on the other hand, removed that playing card from the table by blowing up Jha’dur’s ship, saying that they weren’t ready for immortality. And knowing the price they would have had to pay for it, Kosh was probably right.

Plus, on the above point, he batted around Talia Winters’ mind, provoking a traumatizing memory and committing it to a memory crystal for future ambiguous use. If that isn’t the action of someone powerful and possibly threating, I don’t know. I don’t want to equate the two however. Kosh is mysterious but not evil. Jha’dur is evil but not mysterious. Both still contain great power, it is what they do with it that matters.

Continued below

4. Diplomatic Immunity

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love the focus on diplomacy in this show. This episode is another great example of me being totally engrossed in the politics of the show to the point where I was disappointed everytime they cut away to Talia’s plotline. Not because it was bad but because I wanted to keep watching Sinclair, Garibaldi, Ivanova, and the ambassadors weave and bend and try to get one up on each other while Sinclair tries to keep the peace. It’s hard to do but “Babylon 5 has managed to do it.

5. What Do We Do with Our Monsters?

One final question “Deathwalker” asks us to ponder is a question that we as humanity have to ask ourselves too often: What do we do with the monster and their creations? J. M. Coetzee wrestles with this question in his novel Disgrace, albeit from the perspective of a layman and not a leader, but this is not a question I will wade into here.

Instead, I present this episode as a case study of the many facets of a conversation like this one. It presents governments who prioritize selfish gains and control over justice, of just people stuck in untenable situations, of just people fighting within and without the system, of compromise and of difficult choices being made with thought and consideration. It condemns the monstrous, but it also presents the reality of this flawed world we live on.

That about does it for now. Join me again next week for another Dr. Franklin focused episode, another discussion of culture clash and tradition, and more of Babylon 5’s complexity on the station that wraps humans and aliens in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night. This is Elias. Signing out.

Best Line of the Night:

“And like all secrets long kept, we cannot bear the shame of admitting it now.” – Lennier

//TAGS | 2018 Summer TV Binge | Babylon 5

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after wining the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and really needs to update his profile photo again.


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