Earhart’s: “The Paragon of Animals” Spoiler Space

As if nearly being assassinated on the eve of his inauguration wasn’t bad enough, Interstellar Alliance President John Sheridan now has to pull off the impossible and convince everyone to sign the declaration of independence principles even as G’Kar continues to edit the darn thing. And Lyta meets the new telepaths.

Chat about how these things shake out later in the season here.

20 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “The Paragon of Animals” Spoiler Space”

  1. This is not specific to this episode (as much as I would love to spend hours deriding the ridiculousness of Byron — Ok seriously, its like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King had a baby and raised him at the royal Shakespeare academy for douchebaggery.)

    But I digress- This is the best podcast out there for actual episode discussion. The Babylon Podcast does have some cool guests and stories from the cast and crew (Not that the AGB5 doesn’t) but they literally only spend 5 minutes discussing the episode and plot implications. For fans who actually want an in depth (and in some cases shot by shot) analysis this is where they need to go. Also… its basically chocked full of spoilers from episode 1.

    1. Agreed. Beyond being over reminded that our “control group” “didn’t say fudge”, this is a great podcast. I’ve tried other B5 podcasts and they are chock full of f-bombs, self importance and incoherence. I’ll be sad the day this podcast ends.

      I’d love them to try Crusade in the JMS order but hard to get excited about Crusade with no end to it. 🙁

      1. F-bombs, self-importance, and incoherence? And Babylon 5 itself only ever suffers from the middle one. 🙂

        I personally enjoyed Downbelow: The Babylon 5 Introcast, if someone is looking to add another B5 podcast. Now finished, but worth a listen, especially if you really like the “control group” sections of this podcast.

  2. On subsequent re-watching, Season 5 seems to get better and better, even Byron. There is a lot of good non-Byron stuff going on and this episode isn’t bad. I think the weakest of this entire season is LEARNING CURVE.

  3. Really?? I think learning curve is one of the strongest episodes of the season. And let me justify…

    Seasons 2-4 were all in service of the two main arcs (Shadow/Civil War). All the stories in those seasons were mostly laying the groundwork for the payoff on those two stories. E.g. – We are told there are rangers, we know the Psi Corp is scheming, and we know the Centauri have some serious internal issues. But, we never see much day to day with those particular plot lines. To put it another way, what do Rangers do before they go out to fight the Shadows, what is the Psi Corp doing when they aren’t worried about Babylon 5, and how does the Centaurum actually operate. JMS built an amazing looking house in those seasons, but if we were to walk through that house what would we see furnishing it? Season 5 is the window dressing. We get to see slice of life episodes that feel much more like the non-arc heavy episodes of Season 2. They are character pieces. (This is very much why “There all the honor lies” is one of my favorite Season 2 episodes). B5 really shines when the characters are not dealing with galaxy spanning implications, but when two or three characters are engaged on a personal level. And I agree the IMPLICATIONS of these smaller moments may have grander ripple effects, but the moments themselves are surprisingly low stakes (I’m thinking here of the G’Quan’eth story from Season 1). This is why I feel the “One-off” episodes actually tend to be the best. You get flesh on the bones of the story that inform and add even more weight to grander plot moments.

  4. Do you guys know that this episode isn’t appearing at all in the iTunes podcast feed? The last one there is “The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari”. I came to the website to make sure everything was OK.

  5. Thanks Samuel, that covered the two big issues I had with 5th (and some of Leta’s plot lines in 4th) season.

    In the 5th season telepath arc:
    – I was offended by the whole human-only view of telepaths;
    – Barely a mention of how other species deal with telepaths;
    – Byron is never shown talking to alien telepaths;
    – No question as to whether some alien species could give them a home.

    It may be realistic to show stupid politicians with not-invented-here syndrome, but I don’t have to enjoy it. 🙂

    The other part was the “job” issue, especially in 4th season. I don’t understand why Leta wasn’t being paid like a god for what she did in 4th season. She was a super rarely capable specialist who they should have compensated with a hell of a contract fee.

    1. On the alien telepaths thing, for me that’s palliated (although not completely removed as a problem) by a couple of considerations.

      1) Babylon 5 as a whole is, from a storytelling point of view, put together from individual stories that tend to stay on separate tracks but often parallel and illuminate one another. So the Human-Minbari story parallels the Narn-Centauri story – two former enemies that hate each other, with a focus on the relationship between the two main characters that represent the two species. But the stories don’t really interact, which is what I mean by separate “tracks” – no key development in one story turns on a development in another story.

      This is unlike real life, which is more chaotic than this — in real life, there would be more mutual interaction between events. But it’s not real life, it’s a story, and keeping these stories pretty much separate helps to clarify how they illuminate one another – the harmonious resolution to the Human-Minbari conflict, symbolized especially by the marriage of Sheridan and Delenn, contrasts with the absence of any reconciliation between Narn and Centauri despite the harmonious resolution achieved on a personal level by G’Kar and Londo.

      Because the show is more about humans than anyone else, humans get much more detail in their internal stories, and the telepath story is confined to humans – it’s about how humans deal with their internal problems. In a show that didn’t compartmentalize as much as B5 does (e.g. DS9), this would be a more serious flaw than it is in B5.

      2) I’m not sure it’s that unrealistic for the possibility of aliens taking in human telepaths not to be explored, although there is one exception where I think your criticism has a lot of force. We’re only four years away from the universe of S1, in which the notion of co-operation between species at all seems a relatively new development and xenophobia seems common. As for S5, the Interstellar Alliance is a new and fragile development, and – as this episode shows – one where the most basic questions about how it works and what exactly falls within its purview have not been settled. I think it’s reasonable that the human President of the new Alliance would prefer not to go to an alien species and ask them if they’re willing to antagonize Earth by creating a home planet for human telepaths. It can be seen as something that was considered offscreen, and dismissed as too politically sensitive to raise at this time.

      The exception is the Minbari, because the show itself put that one on the table by having Delenn be so willing to give sanctuary to a human telepath in S1. One can explain it away — Minbar has just gone through its own civil war — but it’s not something that’s easy to dismiss as “outside the story,” because it’s actually happened in the story before this.

      1. I would handwave Byron not talking to alien telepaths as firstly he can do so off-screen, even before coming to Babylon 5; and secondly that because all the alien species treat their telepaths quite differently, they won’t be much help.

        On whether alien species should give them a home, I can see why many telepaths would not want to. Bester and Byron believe that telepaths are fundamentally different and better, but many others would regard themselves as human beings first and foremost. They would want to stay in the Earth Alliance, not be shipped off planet as another kind of “alien” who doesn’t belong.

  6. Having listened to the podcast:-

    I think our hosts do an excellent job of pointing out all the things that are disturbing about Byron, as well as all the things that are more sympathetic now than they might have been in the 90’s

    I’d like to add a (warning: crazy!) theory about why B5 fans may have reacted so badly to the Byron arc then and why – he said cautiously – modern SF viewers might be more open to the arc now. This isn’t intended as an alternative to our hosts’ thoughts about our greater sensitivity to marginalized communities at the current political moment, but as a different way to look at the Byron arc that can be added to that.

    The Byron arc can easily be read as about SF fandom and specifically about Babylon 5 fandom.

    Take Byron’s sense that he and his are “better,” despite being looked down upon by others. That’s something that was definitely part of being a genre fan back in the day, going back, in fact to the birth of modern fandom in the interwar period. “Fans are slans” — other people look down on you for loving to read science-fiction instead of grown-up “serious” literature, and you respond by saying, “90% of everything is crap,” this shows how seriously interested you are in Science! and Ideas!, etc.

    Those are drawn from “Golden Age” science-fiction literature, but you can insert equivalents from other related fandoms easily enough: the Marvel superhero reader from the ‘60s protesting that it was DC that was producing kids’ stuff, and his stuff had real characters in it, the Star Wars fan protesting that this wasn’t just a movie that destroyed the great age of early ‘70s American film epitomized by things like Taxi Driver, etc. It reproduces itself over and over again in the history of modern fandom: to be a genre fan is to be intensely aware that other people don’t think an adult should consume the stuff that you love, to be defensive about that, to take refuge in stories that are often power fantasies (not least, the recurrent trope of psychic powers), and to conceive of yourself as marginalized but “really” superior.

    Babylon 5 had a lot of this back in the ‘90s – other SF TV was mostly crap (“90% of everything is crap,” after all) but *this* was good, the auteur masterpiece of a brilliant creative mind, JMS, who interacted regularly with the fandom online. Which is the other side point on which Byron’s telepaths resemble JMS: there was a definite cult of personality around JMS (that at the time has to have flattered his ego*).

    So on some level, I think the contemporary reaction to the Byron arc might have been discomfort with the complicated, both sympathetic and unsympathetic, portrayal of something that SF fans wanted to be able either to identify with wholeheartedly or reject wholeheartedly — and perhaps with a certain discomfort with seeing yourself reflected.

    I include myself, by the way. I hated the Byron arc at the time, and it may amaze you, but I was a genre fan going back to my childhood, and it would not surprise me if subconsciously I was reacting in the way that I describe.

    And, to complete the argument, this is an area where we’ve shifted quite a bit, and I think we might be more welcoming of this kind of critique of ourselves. Geek culture is more secure and mainstream now (see, for instance, the phrase “geek culture”). And with that greater security has come greater awareness of just how horribly poisonous all that “Fans are slans” sense of being allegedly victimized but allegedly superior beings was. Not least because the people feeling it were, you know, mostly middle-class white men prone to misogynist gatekeeping and, in some cases, disturbing willingness to trade in simplistic versions of history with racist implications — things with which that sense of defensiveness and personal superiority were obviously intertwined.

    *Exhibit A for me is an absolutely astonishing moment on one of the Babylon 5 DVDs. It’s about the memory of Richard Franklin. And the story that JMS chooses to tell is about how he went to the funeral, and was introduced to the family (whom he hadn’t met before) as “Joe.” And he says (quoting from memory, but I’m pretty sure accurately. “Just Joe. That was enough.” You are remembering a friend, and the story that you choose to tell is one about how important *you* were to him?

    But I think the thing is, moments like that also reflect one’s perceived relationship with the audience to whom you are talking.

    1. Just wanted to add a point that I forgot to make: for me, it’s often a sign of a gifted writer like JMS that his or her work will incorporate, sometimes without intending it, a sense of discomfort with his or her own work. Sort of like I think that Banks shows his brilliance with the Culture novels in those moments in which the vision of utopia somehow seems like it’s not complete, that it’s missing something important, even though I know that Banks was trying to portray what he thought the good society would be like. Or like some of the best early Elvis Costello song are about what a horrible person he is.

    2. You can never (and should never) trust anything you hear, but I;ve heard enough stories over time to never quite lionise JMS as this great messianic figure anyway. It was a great accomplishment to bring B5 to our screens and keep it going to the end, but I suspect you don’t get anywhere in Hollywood by being nice.

      The whole saga about Claudia C leaving is sufficiantly murky to take both sides’ accounts with a pinch of salt. And there was also a dispute loing ago, with UK SF magazine SFX over JMS’ involvement with toms epoorly-run convention that resulted in him refusing to ever deal with the magazine again, or let them quote him in anything (his email .sig said as much).

      So do I doubt he has an ego, or can be a right bastard if he needs to? Not at all. I just stick to respecting his work. And hope to Christ he doesn’t end up being outed as another Weinstein or Spacey or Toback, because then what the hell will we all do about kliking B5? Obviously theres no evidence to suggest he would ever be so, I’m just hypothesizing topically about the nature in which fame can be impacted…

    1. That should have been songs, plural. One day I will remember which ones. As for which songs – well, an awful lot of Armed Forces, especially, in particular, “Accidents Will Happen,” “Goon Squad,” and “Two Little Hitlers.”

      But not just on Armed Forces. I think there’s a fair amount of self-loathing on This Year’ Model, such as in the self-portrait in “No Action,” or the depiction of fame and celebrity in “This Year’s Girl,” for instance.

      1. And another editing mistake. The first sentence should read “One day I will remember to proofread.” (And I should.) Delete “which ones,” which is from a version of the next sentence.

  7. I think Shanon is right about how Byron will be received now as opposed to the first run. As a long-haired, theater kid, queer, jewish, goth, geek, growing up in a rural NW trailer park, I really identified with Byron and the telepaths. His confrontation (getting punched then inviting more) later in the season resonated having repeatedly had similar confrontations in my life but not having the words or skill to deal with them. Though his arc definitely frustrated me, and his characterization could be clunky, I never understood the hate towards him.

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