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Five Thoughts on Babylon 5‘s “Sic Transit Vir”

By | August 27th, 2020
Posted in Television | % Comments

Vir gets embroiled in one too many plots, some hot, steamy, tasteless flarn is shared between two more-than-friends, and this show from the 90s about two and a half centuries into the future is painfully prescient in our ability to not be total shits to each other. Welcome my friends. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2260. The name of the place is Babylon 5.

Spoilers ahead.

1. McLovin

Oh Vir. You tried. You tried so hard. But you are not good at picking fake names nor are you particularly good at lying. I’m actually surprised he had a whole story cooked up to hide the truth of what he was doing. He was obviously hiding the whole thing from the Centauri but why come up with a fake story for the crew of Babylon 5 rather than the real one? I’m not sure what the in-universe point was, other than perhaps because he didn’t quite trust the crew to not let slip what he was doing and needed a plausible cover. I mean, it’s totally the line of thinking he’d take, but it seemed like an unnecessary diversion that let to more difficulties later in the episode.

I think he did it because JMS wanted to add a bit of tension and keep up the mystery for the audience. It’s a good instinct, even if I did see through the bald-faced lie from the start. I mean, come on, you had Vir meet in secret with a bunch of Narn on the homeworld. There was no way he was actually sending them to Konzentrationslager, which is the implication of the statement and the episode, even if it was more “humane,” a statement which felt more like a policial line than anything else Vir had said, which did make it seem more plausible.

It wasn’t surprising, however, when he had to come clean later on, though it did make for a damn powerful scene. Regardless of how it played out, we’ll always have the name Abrahamo Lincolni, which made me giggle every time I heard it.

2. Nekid! Nekid on the Deck!

From the cold open, I honestly thought this episode would have been a laugh the whole way through. I should know by now this will never be the case for Babylon 5 but I was still lulled in thanks to Ivanova’s mortifying dream of being Naked on CNC™. I, thankfully, have never had this particular stress dream in any form, though that doesn’t stop the embarrassment Ivanova feels from resonating with me.

I have to wonder what triggered this particular dream and what Straczynski wanted to say with it. I don’t fully buy the in-episode explanation of it being because she feels directionless. I mean, I’m sure that the stress of being unmoored and the fear of being “exposed” in that fact in front of the crew plays a big part, but I’m willing to make the case that it goes a little deeper. “Voices of Authority”, Ivanova goes into gross Cerebro and mind-melds with the universe. She becomes a tiny part of a greater whole and feels that smallness as well as the vastness of everything else.

And then the Shadows almost catch her, and her mind is almost laid open to them. That’s gotta be traumatizing and there hasn’t really been a good chance to rest since. Compound that with losing her former grounding with Earth and coming to terms with the loss of her love, Talia, and what that means for her, and it’s no wonder she fears she’s been laid bare in front of her crew and the universe.

All of who she was has been altered and all that she had a connection to, save her crew, is gone. She is forced to remember and work through her relationship woes, and how her work has always taken priority, even if she is in the right to be put off by the situation she ends up in. They see her, stripped of her Earthly vestments, stripped of the woman she loved, even if it was for a short while. The things she could hide behind are gone and all eyes are on her to lead, to steady the ship, when all her bearing and moorings are gone.

Continued below

The Commander has no clothes, and she is terrified others know it.

3. When the Lights Hit Your Arm, Like a Grey Piece of Flarn, That’s Amore

Ain’t the Captain and Delenn just so sweet? It’s been a season of small flirtations and then half a season of big flirtations and near-death experiences, but it seems like things are finally heating up between the two. I really like how this relationship has developed. It’s felt natural and the chemistry between the actors is there, just as awkward and bumbling as the on-screen romance.

This is the second time Ivanova has accidentally dropped in on Sheridan like this. Although, the first time was a relief for him.

I would have more thoughts on how cute the whole thing is, and how I’m saddened Talia and Ivanova’s was never able to be given the same treatment, both because the studio would have fucking flipped more than they already had at the show and because Talia’s actress chose to leave the show before it could be developed more, but I have to talk about Sheridan trying to cook. I cannot remember in which episode he tried to cook before, all I remember is that it was a disaster as well, but I love the way the director shot the intro to the scene.

Slow pan over the mess in the kitchen unit. The grey slop in an overturned bowl. Sheridan narrates how he usually gets take-out and that it isn’t like Garibaldi’s cooking. It’s all perfection. Then we get Delenn’s reactions. Joy! Thoughtfulness. Utter horror at how badly Sheridan could have fucked Flarn up. His clear enthusiasm and love of this garbage paste version that needs to be drowned in salt.

*chef’s kiss emoji*

4. Six

Those of you who have watched the episode and not totally disregarded my spoiler warning know what I’m going to talk about. If you remember way back in season one there was an episode called “Quality of Mercy” wherein Londo uses his, ahem, appendance of sexual origin to cheat at cards and references the statue of fertility he keeps in his room. You will also notice that it did not have just one but six. This has been sitting there, WAITING IN THE BACKGROUND. Forbidden knowledge that I cannot think about.

But damn if it didn’t make for a hilarious scene as the ever nervous Vir had to explain Centauri sex to an equally embarassed and uncomfortable Ivanova simply because Vir has what is medically known as “shut-up-already-you-rambly-man-you’re-making-things-worse”-itis. It gets worse when under extreme stress like being potentially married to a deeply bigoted person.

Oh. Yeah. That.

5. Vir’s List

“Sic Transit Vir” began with two scenes of hilarity that set the initial tone of the episode. By the end that joviality had been sucked out, like the blood draining from a person’s face as they realize the extent of the horrors of a situation like, say, the shooting in Kenosha. Oh, I’m sorry, the SECOND shooting in Kenosha, which is another in a catalog of shootings by overly funded, overly militarized, barely accountable police on African Americans in the U.S.

Sorry. Got stuck in today instead of 1940s Germany. Or most eras in United States history re: the treatment of those deemed Not White.

Let me start again. There are two aspects to the events of this episode: Vir’s actions and Lyndisty Drusella’s. Vir is a mid-level governmental official in a Republic that is, in all but name, an Empire with eyes on expansion. He forges travel papers for an oppressed minority, whom the government has an open disdain for and blames for the hardships of the nation. He saves 2,000 before being caught and his only thought is that he regrets he could not save more.

Sound familiar?

As for Lyndisty, here is a woman of high class, spouting about how the Narn are genetically inferior, lazy and stupid and filthy, “they foul their own nests” to quote her, better dealt with and destroyed, the “violent genes” rooted out to breed a gentler populace. She sees this as a result of those genetics, a racist idea transplanted from our world via JMS to theirs. Londo shares these prejudices, though how much is a show and how much is truth is always up for debate when not in private, even if it’s been made clear he has no love for the Narn and thus, it perhaps does not matter.

Continued below

I’m pretty sure Straczynski made these comparisons on purpose. Reading his autobiography strengthens my belief that this was not merely lip service to one of the world’s greatest atrocities and another arm of the very same mindset that drove those atrocities. Tying the rhetoric used by White Americans about their fellow Black Americans to similar rhetoric in Fascist Nazi Germany is no accident, as both are fruits from the same racist tree, even if we are not that far gone yet.

The Centauri Republic is not a one-to-one for Nazi Germany. Neither is Earth in B5. They are both iterations of the same system that ALLOWED for Nazi Germany’s myriad atrocities. Atrocities which have played out across the world and across time, to varying degrees and in different forms. Racism and bigotry, because they are different even as they are the same, fuels a fascist regime and those are what the Centauri Republic & Lyndisty represent. Vir is fighting the racist system whereas Lyndesty holds bigoted views bred via a racist system and society.

Y’all must be tired of my soapboxing about this but as a Jewish person, when the Holocaust is echoed in media, I pay attention to how it is used because I have been raised to continually be on the lookout for it. The generational trauma (a term with shaky roots, I know, but a useful one) remains in my knowing exactly where my passport is at all times and always keeping it updated. It never leaves my mind that things could turn horrible in an instant. That racist attitudes are used to justify racist systems and policies which predate or were a result of the attitudes, which in turn act to legitimize the bigotry which fuels the systems which in turn develops and legitimizes the views which bolsters the systems and on and on and on. And I am shielded by my folding into Whiteness, which also informs my next statement.

This is where I believe the episode missteps in its final scene. I don’t know if Vir’s line about marriage having problems is meant to reassure himself because he is trapped and unsure how to deal with Lyndisty asking him to KILL A NARN LIKE IT WAS NOTHING or because the lesson is that we must put up with deplorable views. It reads as a false way to not completely write Lyndisey off as someone who can change. But her views are heinous. How can we? It’s naive to believe that Vir and her attitudes are equal, as the framing implies.

But, then I think about it more, and I don’t think that was the intent. The intent may have been that even “good people” can harbor deeply twisted views without ever realizing it. That constant dehumanization of a group can be accepted as a fact when given a logical framework within which to operate. A racist framework which manifests as bigotry and hatred.

Moreover, Lyndisty is shielded and sheltered and powerful. She is what Centauri society, what Centauri policy, has taught her to be: hateful of the Narn, finding any excuse to support their governments unethical treatment of them, because if they are not “real people,” if they are inferior, then they can be written off and abused and, finally, eradicated. It’s horrifying. But Vir’s reaction at the end exemplifies the tricky nature of navigating a racist society while trying to change it. He wanted to believe that Lyndisty’s beliefs were separate from the system he was attempting to subvert. But they’re not, and that is a tragic lesson he may have to learn. Lyndisty might change but it won’t happen until the fight is over. For she has the might of the Centauri Republic behind her beliefs and Vir, Vir only has his hope that he can save more.

That may be enough but damn if it doesn’t hurt.

That about does it for now. Join me again in a week for something a little lighter, something a little more fantastic, something. . .questy on the station that, in the year of the Shadow War, became something greater.

This is Elias. Signing out.

Best Line of the Night:

Sheridan: You know, back on earth, we have a saying. Eat, drink, and be merry. For tomorrow we die.

Delenn: Humans can be a very depressing people.

Sheridan: Only if we get turned down for dinner.


//TAGS | 2020 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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