Oh, there’s so much in this episode to talk about, most of it invisible, all of it interesting.
Firstly, let’s get the bookkeeping out of the way: G’kar’s role in this episode is a largely self-contained plot in which he’s attempting to start a Narn resistance. His leadership is challenged, and he asks Sheridan to help him. Sheridan uses the Rangers to smuggle a message from a family on Narn to one of the Narns living on the station, thereby proving G’kar can get things done (In fact, it proves no such thing, but the others don’t know what.) He also attempts to buy weapons for the resistance using money given by Narns who were off world at the time of the bombings. A human arms dealer agrees to sell him stuff, much of which is stuff the Narns sold earth in the Minbari war. G’kar knows he’s being ripped off, but he knows he has no choice, so he agrees, and delivers the most badass line ever, warning the man not to run off with the cash, because if he did so, “Rest assured that though your body may someday be found, they would never be able to identify it.”
In the more interesting plot, Kosh says that the other Vorlons have begun to doubt Delenn’s role in the coming war. Is she the right person for the job, or just a crazy egomaniac? To decide, they send an Inquisitor to the station. Sheridan meets him at the docking bay: he’s a human in Victorian clothes, carrying a cane and a (Somewhat wobbly) English accent. He introduces himself as “Sebastian,” and when Sheridan pushes him for info, he says that he was abducted by Vorlons on November 11th, 1888, and gives his old address (They try to make this casual, but it’s still an odd ramble), and refuses to divulge more.
He brings Delenn in, and has her put on pain givers. Her choices are: prove you’re the chosen one, give up and leave, or stay and die if you fail to prove you’re the chosen one. She stays. He asks her questions that seem straightforward, but have no answer: Who are you? Your name is not you, your family is not you, your title is not you. All these were things that were given to her or assigned to her. “Have you nothing of your own? Nothing to stand on that is not provided, defined, delineated, stamped, sanctioned, numbered, and approved by others? How can you be expected to fight for someone else when you haven’t the barest idea of who you are?“ And so forth. He goes on and on about her messianic delusions, anticipating that the universe itself will step in and save her. Occasionally she manages to give an answer that surprises him (“I don’t know.” “Well then there may be hope for you yet. As a reward you may rest for ten minutes”) but it’s obvious that he’s a vicious, crazy, messed up dude, and each time she gives an unacceptable answer, the punishment gets worse. Sebastian makes it very clear that he’s done this a lot of times to a lot of would-be saviors, and *all* of them have either broken and run away, or broken and died.
Lennier sneaks in to see her, and tries to get her to escape, but she won’t go, she needs to finish this. He runs away in a panick (the only time we see that of him in the whole series) and tells Sheridan that Sebastian is killing Delenn.
Delenn has rallied, however, and has gotten Sebatian’s number. She’s figured that he, himself, is a failed messiah-type who can’t stand the thought that there might be someone out there who’s actually right, and he’d sooner destroy them than admit someone else might be able to do what he couldn’t. He snaps and basically just starts torturing her for no reason, unto death.
Sheridan bursts in with a gun, and makes him stop. Sebastian knocks him out effortlessly, and begins interrogating the captain, no longer having any interest in Delenn. He beats the crap out of Sheridan, smacking him around with rapid-fire questions. Then Delenn comes in and insists she be allowed to take his place, even if it means she dies, it doesn’t matter, because John will take her place. And if he dies, another will take their place, because it’s all about the struggle and not about the individual soldier, they’re more than willing to throw themselves on a grenade.
Suddenly they’re let go, and Sebastian explains they’ve passed by paraphrasing the Gospel of John:
“How do you know the chosen ones when they appear? No greater love had a man than this: that he lay down his life for his brother. Not for millions, not for glory, not for fame, but for one person, all alone in the dark, where no one will ever know or see.”
In the coda, Sheridan does some research to figure out who Sebastian is, or was prior to abduction. He pieces things together, and realizes that he disappeared just a day after the last of a series of murders in London. Sebastian explains that the city was falling apart, corruption, decadence, sin, a message needed to be sent, and he foolishly had messianic delusions that he could do it. He did horrible things, and then the Vorlons found him, abducted him, showed him the error of his ways, and “Four four hundred years, I’ve done pennance. Now that my job is done, maybe they’ll finally let me die.”
“Yes,” says Sheridan, “I think that might be for the best.”
“Ironic, after all this time to be remembered not as a reformer, not as a prophet, not as a hero, not even as Sebastian. Remembered only as ‘Jack.’”
At one point Vir, the only decent Centauri, accidentally gets into an elevator with G’kar. The narn says nothing, but eventually Vir works up the courage to apologize for what his people did. G’kar slices his own hand out, and as each drop of blood comes out, he says “Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. How can you apologize to them?”
“I can’t,” Vir says.
“Then I can not forgive.”
This scene was cut out in the UK broadcast for being too graphic. It’s a great scene, though.
Garibaldi: “You’re right: I never start a conversation unless I know how I’m going to finish it. But I always leave a little room for someone to disappoint me. Thanks for not doing that.”
Straczynski loves stage plays. Perhaps a bit too much, really. He’s tenuously experimented with it in the show before (In season one when two guys from earth abducted and interrogated Sinclair), and he’ll do it again, each time edging a bit more towards a minimalist one-act play. The Delen/Sebastian scenes are far and away the best example of this, it totally works here, and it’s great. The Sinclair episode really didn’t, and the ones that come after - particularly “Intersections in Real Time” - are too self-indulgent and just don’t work. Here, however: nailed it.
And perhaps that’s not entirely surprising, in that the ENTIRE Delenn/Sebastian interrogation sequence - half the episode - is a deliberate homage/pastiche of The Prisoner. Compare his line from that show “My life is my own. I will not be pushed, stamped, filed, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered” to the “provided, defined, delineated, stamped, sanctioned, numbered” one from B5 I quoted above. In fact, this episode is not just a pastiche, but a very SPECIFIC one: in the penultimate episode of “The Prisoner,” Number Six and Number Two are locked in a limbo set with very harsh and unattractive lighting, firing rapid, terse questions and responses off of each other, with Six continually under attack and Two full of himself and aggressive, until Six gradually turns the tables. Likewise, this episode is the penultimate one of season 2, and it involves Delenn and Sebastian in a limbo set with very harsh, unattractive lighting, doing the exact same thing. The meter and candor and composition of the dialog is, in large part, identical to much of that from The Prisoner, as is the direction of some scenes.
Straczynski is a huge fan of The Prisoner, and there have been numerous nods to it in his series (“Be seeing you.”) This is the most extensive, and probably least-obvious one, however.
Now, a question about Jack:
When the episode came out, there was a whole lot of guff about “Why stick Jack the Ripper in here? That’s a cliché! And a dumb one!” And maybe it kind of is, however it’s a great sort of dumb. It turned out that JMS was something of a ripperologist, and had his own theory as to who the killer actually was, based on the notes. This isn’t surprising. There’s at least a hundred viable candidates, none of which completely fit the clues, but most of which fit most of them. JMS let it be known that he had a theory, but was reticent to discuss it at the time (Or so I likely misremember) because he was thinking about doing something else with it, like write a book, or maybe he just didn’t want to talk about it at the time. 20 years is a long time for me to remember this stuff. In any event, the important part is that “Sebastian” in this episode was, indeed, a fictional representation of the real guy JMS believes “Jack” to have been. I could never find out an answer at the time.
When re-watching it, I was struck by the frequent Biblical allusions, “A silence as profound as when the whale swallowed Jonah” and him quoting the Gospel of John 15:15 in the end, and his speak of “Penance” and “The scales fell away from my eyes” and his taunting of Delenn in much the same way Satan tempted Jesus in the desert (“Throw yourself down from here, and angels will save you before you dash yourself on the rocks” says Satan to Jesus [Paraphrase] whereas here Sebastian mocks that by claiming the universe will save her, etc.). There is, in fact, a whole heapin’ lot of religiosity in here, particularly of the Christian sense. Every time I’ve watched this before, I took it to be simply the fact that the Bible was universally known in Victorian times, and makes a handy metaphor. This time out, however, it seemed a bit excessive, and Sebastians’ line at the end about being a ‘reformer’ struck me as really odd.
I decided to look back into it, and see if JMS ever explained himself more on who he thought “Jack” was. He did:
“Who was the one person who‘s wife actually wrote a letter to the London times suggesting that the ripper maybe was trying to tell them something, and that maybe he‘d stop if they listened? Who was the last person to see at least two of the victims alive on missions of mercy to the jail? Who was reorted to have become unhinged by the filth in the area around the murders when he found a rat in his breakfast? Who had medical experience? Who left England suddenly after being questioned, with the murders stopping soon afterward? Who‘s transcripts of the interviews with church officials and British police are *still* kept under lock and key? Who is the sort of person who might say -- as the only witness to hear the ripper reported hearing him remark to one of his victims -- ‘You would do anything but pray?’ Who had the same last name - and was a likely relative - the man living with the very last victim, the only one killed in her room (Suggesting she knew the killer)?
The reverend Samuel Barnett. That‘s my choice”
Looking into it from this perspective, all of Sebastian’s lines make vastly more sense. Here’s some info about the guy.
I find it interesting that The Vorlons are very interested in purity, but they’re using monsters as tools to find it. This is our first clue that perhaps they aren’t as good as we thought.
Sheridan, Delenn, Lennier, G’kar, Ivonova, Garibaldi, Vir
Franklin, Zack, Keffer, Londo, Na’Toth
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If we don’t, there’s something profoundly wrong with us.