Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to another installment of "Tuesdays with Mollari." I've taken a couple of weeks off from working on Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5 in order to keep some other plates spinning properly, but now I'm back. Work on Dreams Given Form continues to be more fun than anything else, and season 1 of Babylon 5 continues to reward a close and critical rewatch. Today I took notes on "Grail" (1.15), which features David Warner as Aldous Gajic, a human who has dedicated his life to the search for the Holy Grail.

David Warner as Aldous Gajic, complete with Big Stick.
Gajic (named by writer Christy Marx for Mira "Delenn" Furlan's husband Goran Gajic) is regarded by the Minbari as a True Seeker, leading to one of my favorite Delenn lines:
"It does not matter that his Grail may or may not exist. What matters is that he strives for the perfection of his soul and the salvation of his race, and that he has never wavered, or lost faith."
Later in the episode, Aldous himself will note that "Sometimes it's the search that counts, not the finding." This is one of several themes that JMS returns to again and again throughout Babylon 5, as pretty much every character on the show continues to search for - to paraphrase Delenn - "a reason for everything."

In fact, a lot of what we humans do comes down to the act of creating meaning - for ourselves, for our communities, for our posterity. We are creatures who crave significance and the security of there being a reason for everything. This sometimes doesn't work out for us, of course. The universe, as Babylon 5 never fails to remind us, is both more wonderful and more chaotic than most of us are really comfortable with. Yet, as "Grail" suggests, and as JMS will reiterate again and again, the true significance of our lives is the act of seeking, the attempt to create meaning in things great or small. We make houses into homes, lovers into family, strangers into communities, duty into honor. The end result isn't the point. It's all about making a house a home, all the lived experiences that go into that process. It's the journey, not the destination. In the end, we all go "beyond the rim," so all we have is the seeking.

It is also worth remembering that twenty-some years ago, it's likely that JMS was telling himself something along these lines regularly. Babylon 5 can seem kind of inevitable, a brilliant story well and completely told, but in 1994, no one knew if the show would get a second season, much less a fifth. Everyone had hopes, but that's all they were. In television production as in life, an appreciation for the value in the process itself can be the one thing that keep you sane!

In the end "Grail" is a self-contained, "monster-of-the-week" episode, with nothing much to do with the great arc of the series. Yet it fits, because the macro is in the micro. Sinclair's journey, and Sheridan's, and Delenn's. and Londo's, and G'kar's are all just beginning, and even with the final episode of the final season, they have not ended. We know all along how Londo and G'Kar will go out, but what's relevant is everything that happens before that final, deadly embrace. Ends are just punctuation. The meaning is in the sentence before.

That's it for this week. I'll see you next time around, and in the meanwhile, be sure to check out my co-author's brilliant "Third Age Thursdays" over on her blog, Unfettered Brilliance, and be sure and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or even Google+, for all of the latest B5 news that comes across our screens. Until next time -

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to another "Tuesdays with Mollari!" Unfortunately, I have come down with a head cold so viscous that either Warmaster Jha'Dur cooked it up in one of her laboratories, or some kind of Pak'ma'ra virus has jumped the species barrier, so this will likely be a short check in as I have largely forgotten how to brain.

One of the things that science fiction does best is to ask the hard and the really big questions. Babylon 5 is a prime example of this. Besides "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" one of the most interesting and longest running questions asked by the series might be phrased as "Who is the Other?" A narrative universe that contains sentient non-terrestrial life can automatically open up some really interesting avenues for discussions about race, creed, gender, or any combination of "otherness." After all, when dealing with the Cantauri or the Narn or the Dilgar or whoever, humanity is dealing, for the first time in our history, with different races, different species, than our own.

Like human societies throughout history, the humans of the late 2250s and early 2260s, have a real tendency to put aside their differences when something comes along that we can all hate together. From the earliest episodes of Babylon 5, we hear reports of so-called "Earth First" organizations, which want to limit or end human contact and trade with aliens of all types. As the series progresses, we see both Sinclair and Sheridan derided in the Terran press as "alien lovers" a phrase that should immediately resonate in a nation which not too long ago hurled "Indian-lover" and "Nigger-lover" at citizens who began to look beyond what a person looked like in order to find out who they actually were.

In Babylon 5 this racism is brilliantly, and unfortunately, quite realistically mixed in with the goals of a security state under President Clark. Fear of the other is developed by official organizations like the Night Watch into fear of dissent and fear of disloyalty to the human race, and EarthGov. Disloyalty is framed as coming from people who have been confused or unknowingly subverted by vague and unspecified "alien influences." Such people are misguided, and need "reeducation." It kind of makes me sad that this theme is one of the things that gives Babylon 5 longevity beyond its original broadcast in the late 1990s. Oh, there are the good things about us homo saps in there too, but how prescient does JMS seem when rewatching the series after 9/11/01? The tensions between security and freedom, between our willingness to exercise our rights and our equal willingness to curtail them when the world makes us afraid, or when we are made to be afraid of the world and each other by people who have a vested interest in making us afraid are all there in Clark's government, the Night Watch, and the hatchet jobs performed on the crew of Babylon 5 by ISN.

Fear of the other rode to the stars with us in Babylon 5, and continued to manifest in some very, very ugly ways. Here as elsewhere in this tremendous series, JMS' fiction - isn't. It is said that great fiction is universal, by which people mean that it deals with eternal human truths - William Faulkner's "human heart in conflict with itself." Babylon 5, is just such a great fiction, and Straczynski, bless his writerly heart, always managed to remember that while we may carry the better angles of our nature into the future, we can be counted on to bring along our demons. We always struggle with Shadows.

John Vickery as Mr. Welles (hummm.... sounds familiar!) in 2.22: "The Fall of Night."

Until next time - Hold the Line!