This episode really doesn’t make a lick of sense. In fact, it makes so little sense that it stretches back in time and makes several *earlier* episodes nonsensical as well. Despite all that, I was so happy with the resolution that I really can’t say anything bad about it. After the last couple weeks of standalones, we’re now back in full-on Arc territory
PLAY BY PLAY
A ranger and a random extra are being chased through the sewers on Mars. One escapes, bound for B5 with information of some sort.
On the station, it’s a morning like any other. Sheridan and Delenn are buying newspapers; Talia and Ivonova are having an oddly intimate breakfast in a café in the zocalo. Garibaldi is taking a leak. Talia mentions her quarters are having a tech problem, and she needs to find a place to stay for a couple days. Ivonova invites her to stay at her place. It’s a little awkward, but they both seem happy about it since they‘re both gay this week. Garibaldi and Sheridan discuss bringing Talia into their cabal. They both think it’s a good idea. I’m not sure why they would as she’s really annoying, and consistently refuses to do her job, but there you have it.
A shot-up ship appears (Babylon 5 cliché # 6). They bring it aboard, and discover - dun-dun-dahhh - Lyta Alexander is aboard! As Garibaldi explains, Lyta was the station’s original Licensed Commercial Telepath, back in the Pilot 2 years ago. Since no one actually *watched* that, he recaps: Lyta arrived at the station. Someone tried to kill Ambasador Kosh via poison. In order to save his life, Lyta did an unauthorized scan, which necessitated actually reaching inside his encounter suit and touching him. “Afterwards, she was never quite the same.” Six weeks later, she was shipped back to earth. Or was it two months? The script flipflops. It doesn’t matter.
Lyta herself later explains that the Psicorps kept grilling her for information about Kosh, which she couldn’t give them because she didn’t remember it herself. There was just the subjective memory of the assassination attempt on Kosh and a vague inexplicable feeling. They kept grilling her anyway, kept probing. Six months ago, she escaped, and had been working with various underground “Mars Independence” movements to pay her expenses, and trying to get to Vorlon space. As we’ve repeatedly seen, no one gets into Vorlon space and returns. Of course no one’s ever touched a Vorlon and survived before, either.
I digress: Lyta explains that there’s a mole on the staff, something we’ve known for 13 episodes now, but which the cast have seemed oddly ambivalent about. Whomever it is, their code name is “Control.“ This person has been programmed by the Psicorps with an artificial personality that monitors and reports back in periodically. The host has no knowledge that they’re a mole, nor that the alternate personality is there, nor that they’re doing anything untoward. They have no memory of their actions when “Control” is in control of them. They don’t even know they’re disloyal. It’s totally not their fault.
Lyta has the password, however, that will fully activate “Control.” On the down side, this will permanently overwrite and destroy the personality of the host, effectively killing them and leaving their body possessed by the artificially-implanted personality. On the upside, the mole will be exposed, and Psicorp’s window into their doings will be shut down. All Lyta has to do is telepathically transmit the code into a person’s head, and zowie.
As we’re not even two acts in, Sheridan needs to hem and haw a bit, and ends up having an encounter with Delenn in the Zen Garden that’s almost cute/charming, but is really a bit too obvious and over-written to pull it off. He doesn’t actually tell her what the problem is, and she doesn’t ask, but she gets all goofy, ad then skips off like she’s got a schoolgirl crush. Which, of course, she does. (I must confess, when she lifts her head, and rolls her eyes up and to the side while declining the verb forms of the word ‘Butt,’ she’s very pretty) Talia and Ivonova are lounging around a bit too casually in robes and nightgowns, and talking about how much they trust each other, since they‘re gay this week. Later on, Talia wakes up alone in Susan’s bed, and seems distressed, what with them being gay and all this week. (Thought I was joking, didn’t you?) Then Control tries (And fails) to kill Lyta. Ivonova explains to Sheridan that she won’t allow Lyta to send the password, because - dum-dum-dahhhh - Ivonova is a latent telepath. “I’m probably not even a P1, but that’s still enough for the Psicorps to come in and take you away.” Her mother and her had been keeping it secret when she was young, and Susan’s been keeping it quiet since then.
They do it anyway. Everyone files through Sheridan’s office on one pretense or another, and Lyta sends the signal. Everyone is clean. Susan finally agrees to do it, but to everyone’s surprise, she’s clean as well. Then Talia comes in for some unspecified spur-of-the-moment reason (B5 Cliché # 8: The only time Talia ever enters Sheridan’s office is when the plot needs her to accidentally notice something), and is immediately outed as the mole. She goes bat guano and tries to shoot everyone, but Garibaldi wrestles her down and huls her back to her apartment under house arrest.
They discuss how screwed they are, and conclude ‘a bit, but not very.’ Psicorps undoubtedly will now know about the Underground Railroad, and Franklin, but probably don’t want that info out, so they won’t push it. The B5 staff know about Psicorp’s sleeper program, and clearly the corps won’t want that out either, so they have some leverage. On the other hand, if this had happened just a few days later, and Talia had been invited into the cabal, then the whole world would have come crashing down upon their ears. Garibaldi thinks he might be able to find something from a previous episode that will help them out a bit, and goes off to find that.
Susan confronts Talia, who we can tell is evil now because she’s got big, super-hydrated hair (Honestly: this is the only time her hair’s looked good in the entire series) and American Tourister luggage. Talia II explains that Talia I is dead, and that it was Talia II’s job to manipulate her way into having access to the command staff, thereby causing Talia I to fall in love with Susan, whisper sweet nothings in her ear, and pump he for information, all the while getting up at night and killing people who opposed the best interests of the Psicorps. Susan realizes, rather heartbroken, that Talia is indeed dead.
Lyta goes to see Kosh and tells him she’s gonna’ try to get into Vorlon space. She doesn’t know if she’ll be back again, but she wants to see Kosh one more time. He obliges. We don’t actually see him, but we see Lyta’s reaction.
SHE’S GONE! SHE’S OUTA’ THERE! NO MORE TALIA! THE MOST TEDIOUS, AWFUL CHARACTER ON THE SHOW IS GONE, GONE, GONE! MY MOST HATED CHARACTER IS OFF THE CAST! HOORAY!
Despite the many logical failings of this episode, I can’t help but feel great that Talia’s gone. Also, this is a well-directed, well-acted, fun ep to watch, and it plays the audience well. We know *someone* isn’t going to survive the episode, and it *strongly* implies it’ll be Susan. This even makes some logical sense, as she’s likeable, prevalent, but not in any way essential to the show thus far.
We get our first real glimpse of the Mars Colony tonight, on Syria Planum. Big 1950s-style dome. All we see inside are the sewers, but I found myself wondering if these were purpose-built sets for B5, or if they pilfered ‘em from some other production. They were water-filled, which seems overly elaborate and pricey for this show.
Garibaldi mentions that Lyta first arrived on the station in the first week of January, 2257, so that’s when the “The Gathering” took place.
Oddly, though Dr. Kyle’s actions are mentioned in Garibaldi’s flashback/info dump, and we even see a very brief and unrecognizable stock shot of him, his name is never mentioned. I suppose that might be confusing. A Namecheck Too Far, as it were.
Garibaldi says Lyta was “Never quite the same” after her scan of Kosh, but how would he know? They’d really just met a day or two before, so he really should have no sense of what her ‘normal’ was like. I was about to call this a flaw, but Sheridan actually says “you only barely knew her” several scenes later on. I suppose Garibaldi probably only meant it in the “She was a little tetched in the head” sense, not in the “I knew her when she wasn’t crazy” sense.
They imply Lyta’s incarceration/interrogation by the Psicorps was unpleasant, but never actually say it. They never say what it was that finally made her snap and make a break for it, but a subsequent episode next year implies (But doesn’t say) they were going to dissect her.
(Just as an aside, Lyta is pretty va-va-voom here. Way better looking than Talia, though Talia is curvier and more traditionally sultry. Lyta is more effortlessly attractive, though, and though Talia was supposed to be slinky and sultry and sexy, and theoretically it works on the page, she just never pulled it off. Also, given that she was a professional stuntwoman before becoming an actress, Pat Tallman has a really pretty nose)
Psicorps slang: “Teeps” are telepaths. “Teeks” are telekinetics. It seems odd to me that it’s taken 41 episodes and a movie for this to actually come up onscreen.
Is house arrest wise for Talia/Control? I mean, she’s got communications equipment in there, presumably all manner of secret ‘control’ stuff as well, and at least one gun. Seems to me it would have been wiser to stick her in a cell.
It’s like JMS had a mental list in his head of stuff they’ve never done or wouldn’t do on Trek, and he’d just drop one in whenever it was appropriate. They never showed a bathroom on Trek - or hadn’t up until this time - so he made a point of throwing one in here. (RDM also made a point of this on his version of Galactica for the same reasons). It’s a futuristic public multi-species restroom. A Pak’ma’ra walks out of a “Methane Breathers Only” toilet stall while they’re in there. I like the little “Do not enter!” signs in English around it. They’ve mentioned “Scrubbing the Meth Toilets” before as an undesirable duty, but this is the first time we’ve seen one.
Lyta tells Kosh she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to return. JMS *wanted* her back on the cast, but it wasn’t clear if Warners would allow it at the time. At this point it was entirely possible we would have ended up with a THIRD Telepath character joining the show.
Delenn says she was ambushed by the ISN reporters two weeks ago, having no idea what she was getting into. Minbar does not have a free press, nor even the concept of one. She’s since started reading Universe Today’s “Eye on Minbari” section, and says she enjoys finding out what her people are up to before her government decides to tell her about it. And, hey, they still read newspapers in the 23rd century! I actually like that, despite the illogic of it. I mean, we barely read ‘em now, they’re dying. Still: It adds an earthiness and veracity, gives the station a sense of “Place” that a more rational, antiseptic world would have.
YEAH, THEY’RE GAY
I’m joking about them being gay this week, but the Talia/Ivonova relationship was obviously intended from the getgo. When they were casting for both parts, he made a point of telling all the actresses that they would be playing bisexual characters, which would require them to show physical affection to other women at some point during the run of the series. He asked all women trying out for the series if that presented a problem. JMS said that either Andrea Thompson or Claudia Christian (I forget who) just immediately started making out with some other chick on the set as her way of saying “No problem at all.” Thus *some* kind of relationship was intended from the getgo, and if we watch their scenes together through the series up to this point, we can see them edging towards it. It still seems a bit rushed here, as we’ll discuss below. Also, they never actually make out, though it’s implied they’ve done it a bit, and it looks like they’re gonna’ smooch at one point. JMS said he decided that would be gratuitous and exploitational, so he decided to shoot things more chastely. So chastely, in fact, that one of my female friends denies to this day they were gay. I even went so far as to ask JMS directly and he said “Well of course they are.” My friend still refuses to admit it, but she’s a bit homophobic. Meanwhile, my friend Heather *immediately* got that they were, and was kind of thrilled that such a thing would turn up in an SF show. It being 1995 and all, and gay people only barely being on TV at all.
I think there’s kind of a double standard here, though: Most of the women on this show are either bi or implied to be (As with Lochley), but all the dudes are straight. Never see a gay guy in the run of the show. Seems to me a bit of a boy’s club fantasy, don’t you think?
This is the second time we’ve had mention of the secret Psicorps base on Syria Planum, Mars. Garibaldi isn’t supposed to know about that, but he does. How? If you were reading the B5 comics (Canonical!) at the time, you already know. If you weren’t, you’ll have to wait until the middle of season 3 for me to explain it to you. It’s important, though.
We get flashbacks of three earlier episodes here: Talia’s dealings with Kosh from season 1, and some scenes from the pilot. There are also mentions of events from other eps we don’t see, and discussion of stuff that happened in the year-or-so between the pilot and “Midnight on the Firing Line.” We also get a clip of Sheridan’s Kosh-inspired dream, in which Ivonova asks him “Do you know who I am?”
CANONICITY THROUGH DIFFERENT MEDIUMS
Speaking of canonical stuff, the first-ever B5 novel was a mephitic turd called “Voices” by John Vornhort, written (Says the author) in 6 weeks, and little knowledge of the show, and it shows. The initial concept was that all the tie-in novels and comics would be canon. This worked out pretty well in the short-lived comics, but it fell apart almost instantly in the novels, despite the fact that JMS actually gave a little bit of info to the writers so they could tie it in to the arc. The info was pretty trivial, though. In “Voices,” for instance, the .01% of canonical info is Talia’s imaginary friend that sometimes shows up in stressful situations, whom she’s nicknamed “Invisible Isabel.” The novel takes place during a convention of Telepaths on the station. In the episode “In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum,” Talia mentions “We just had a convention.” And there you go, that’s it for canonicity. Bleah. The Talia character manages to encrapulate everything.
SO HERE’S WHY THIS EPISODE DOESN’T MAKE A LICK OF SENSE
Firstly, we’ve had a *lot* of cast changes on this show. Lyta was intended to be the telepath character from the pilot through the end of the series, but Warners didn’t like her, and had her jettisoned. Her contact with Kosh was supposed to have given her telekinetic powers that would have developed in the run of the series. There is *something* wonky going on with her hinted in the original version of the pilot (She’s hanging out with Dell Varner, and turns up on a display at one point curiously) but I’ve never been able to figure it out. They *WERE* setting up a mole from the outset of the series, in the pilot itself, but it wasn’t Lyta, nor a telepath at all. It was Laurel Takishima, *also* jettisoned after the pilot.
As the mole was an important character, they needed to conserve that plot thread, so once the series went into production, someone *new* became the mole. Just like Lyta before her, the mole was never intended to be a telepath. Thus Talia *wasn’t* the mole, at least not in season 1. Who was the mole? For a time, I think it was Ivonova, but I don’t think that lasted very long. As the season progressed, the mole pretty clearly became Catherine Sakai, Sinclair’s girlfriend. Think about it: she’s brilliant! She’s got access to the command staff through Sinclair, and they’d be likely to trust her. She’s away from the station for weeks at a time. She’s the perfect mole. When Michael O’Hare left the cast, though, it was difficult to justify keeping her on, and her efficacy as a mole more-or-less evaporated, so she just disappears with no onscreen explanation after season 1. The original plan was to have Garibaldi shot in the back by Catherine in the season finale, after which point we’d know she was no good, but the characters wouldn’t. As it was already apparent by then O’Hare wouldn’t be sticking around, the whole “Shot in the back” thing was rather ham-fistedly transferred to Garibaldi’s disposable sidekick, “Jack.”
So now it’s season 2 and we need a new mole yet again. Who is it? Again, I think it was Ivonova for a while, which would have made more sense. (Think about it: her opposition to being scanned because of what happened to her mother would have been a PERFECT cover!) But then I think it became Talia at some point fairly early in the run of the season. Again: Cast changes.
Thompson and Doyle met on the set, fell in lust, got married, and had a kid. Their marriage fell apart quickly, and they were getting divorced. Thompson felt she was being underused, and her part on the cast was causing her to have to pass on more high-profile, better-paying gigs. (To be fair, since an actress’s career is measured in years, while an actor’s career is measured in decades, this *IS* a valid concern). She had an offer from NYPD Blue. She wanted to take it. I’ve never heard that she was difficult to work with, but I’ve always gotten the subliminal feeling that she was. Added to which, her character on B5 is just basically crappy, whiney, and more-or-less useless in that she continually refuses to do her only stated dramatic purpose. So when she decided to leave the cast, she *BECAME* the mole. By this point the whole “Control” subplot had become a cursed issue, and I think JMS just wanted it out of there. He mentioned once somewhere that had it gone according to plan, the Mole wouldn’t have been outed until about six episodes into season III.
SO: Had things gone according to plan A (As per the pilot), WE would have found out that Laurel was Control in the end of season 1, and she would have been exposed in Season 3, epiosde 6 or 7. Likewise, had things gone according to plan B (As per “Midnight on the firing line”), Catherine would have been revealed to the viewers as the mole in the season 1 finale, and to the characters themselves in season 3, ep 6 or 7. Follow? Am I confusing you? Sometimes this change-of-directions stuff is confusing, so don’t feel ashamed to ask questions.
Given what we know of Telepath sex (That it’s a merging of minds and souls with no borders between ‘em) and Ivonova’s own latent telepathy, it seems unlikely to me that (A) Ivonova would have sex with Talia, no matter how much she dug her, and (B) that Talia wouldn’t know Ivonova was a latent Teep. I mean, how could she not?
There were a lot of behing-the-scenes changes necessitating hairpin changes in the onscreen story, ultimately resulting in the consolodation of B5 with the projected spinoff, “Babylon Prime.” In general, I think these worked to the advantage of the series. I generally think the show we got was better than the show Joe thought up in his shower in 1988. That said, I think they really fumbled the ball here, because not only is Talia way too obvious, not only is the resolution of the arc rushed, but it just doesn’t make any logical sense. None of the “Control” related things from earlier in the series make sense in retrospect, the Bureau 13 storyline was dropped, and, what, are we to believe that Talia had telekinetic abilities and Invisible Isabel *DIDN’T* report that in to the Psicorps? Or that she *didn’t* tell them about the Underground Railroad? Or the appearance of the Shadows? Or a dozen other things?
Just the same, I’m glad it’s all done.
Sheridan, Ivonova, Garibaldi, Franklin, Delenn, and FOR THE LAST TIME EVER, Talia
Zack, Corwin, Kosh, Lyta
Londo, Vir, G’kar, Na’Toth, Lennier, Keffer
WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?
Inasmuch as it involves getting rid of a terrible character, yes. Inasmuch as it involves paranoia about rogue agencies inside the government spying on our personal freedoms, yes. Inasmuch as it involves bisexuals, probably not.