18 thoughts on “Zocalo: Spoiler-free Discussion of “Secrets of the Soul””

  1. I’m not really that sympathetic to Lyta’s complaints about shabby treatment. I mean, “It only got me three months of free rent, so maybe I shouldn’t have bothered stopping a galactic apocalypse and then saving 35,000 lives.” I mean, sure, Byron would probably say the latter wasn’t her problem, just mundanes killing mundanes because they’re incapable of valuing human life the way telepaths do (and ignoring the fact that the Clark administration was pretty much a front for the first stages of Psi-Corps’ attempt to take over the government), but winning the Shadow War? How does she not feel saving the galaxy is its own reward? All her stuff is there!

    I feel like she would’ve been just as unhappy if everyone kept bringing up that she’d worked miracles before and constantly expected her to top herself, a la Sam Carter blowing up that star, even if it did come with a regular paycheck.

    1. I have to disagree, Lyta is right to feel the way she does. When Sheridan and Ivanova were going to be thrown out of their quarters in season 2 (?) a creative interpretation of regulations kept them comfortable. Nobody tried to do anything similar for Lyta.

      1. It’s never struck me as plausible that Sheridan & Co. don’t look after Lyta better, really. It contrasts with the attention paid to the care and well-being of the telepaths-on-ice.

        And other things. You could, in theory, explain it as the result of anti-telepath prejudice, but that’s not consistent with the characterization of the various decision-makers.

        You could also justify it by making it a matter of Earth politics, and I think that’s quite plausible: Earth could easily have made it a condition of its entry into the Interstellar Alliance that the IA does not organize its own “Psi Corps” alternative system for dealing with telepaths, including any form of financial support. But the show doesn’t really give us the evidence for that — it would, for instance, be something that should have come up during Garibaldi’s use of Byron and his followers.

        This is the sort of thing that I would have liked to have seen the show address more during the first half of season 5. E.g. Sheridan gives Lyta a position as “special advisor to the President on telepathic affairs,” and Lochley is ordered to challenge it as Earth’s representative, saying that it violates Article 57, Section IIIa of the treaty of alliance. Reluctantly, Sheridan fires Lyta, and that drives her alignment with Byron, etc. Really dig into the “all options are bad” nature of this sort of situation.

        1. I’m with Voord on this one. “Special adviser to the President on telepathic affairs” with a sufficiently-generous stipend and free quarters seems the least that our Big Damn Heroes would have done, if for no other reason than to keep such a valuable asset on their team (and to honk off Bester).

  2. Having listened to the podcast, a mild defence of Zack. The language he uses when talking to Lyta about not getting involved sounds racist, but it’s also the language a friend would use when someone is getting involved in a strange or dangerous cult. And Zack in an earlier episode did IIRC compare Byron to a cult leader.

  3. The “carnys” come to together to welcome Lyta. “We accept her, we accept her! One of us, one of us!”

    Since when is “telepath” a race?
    Poor Zack. No empathy from our hosts, only judgment. Consider these facts:
    1. Zack genuinely cares about Lyta
    2. Byron’s crew are a bunch of creepy cultists led by a wanna-be messiah.
    3. Zack has prior experience with how dangerous creepy cultists led by a wanna-be messiah can be.
    4. As we have seen, and see again here, telepaths are genuinely dangerous (“Somewhere on Beta colony, there is… an institution.”).
    Zack may be jealous, but to piously condemn him as a “racist,” and shake your heads over how “unfortunate” his personality is, for not trusting Byron’s crew, is uncalled for.

    As for Franklin, I’m going to go ahead and say that the moral high-horse of “I’m okay with your entire species going extinct because you’re not sufficiently woke about your intersectional privilege” does in fact undermine his character. Holding someone accountable (to the point of death) for the actions of their ancestors is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that.

    1. I think we’re seeing the difference between 20th century progressives, the world of the 23rd C as imagined by a progressive writer from the 20th C, and 21st C progressives.

      From oh the 1960s through to the 1980s and into the 1990s progressives generally believed that there was only one race, the human race. Dividing humans any further was outmoded and unscientific. (BTW, as a fifty-something these are my beliefs too.)

      So when 20thC progressive writer JMS imagines his 23rd C future, everyone thinks like that. Throughout B5 “race” and “species” are used interchangeably. Even the human bad guys don’t notice whether other humans differ in skin color or ethnic background.

      It’s now 20 years since B5 aired and progressives in this decade now take racial differences among humans very seriously. So I imagine that neither writer nor actor meant Zack’s lines to be interpreted as anything other than referring to the cult aspect of Byron and the telepaths. It’s the audience that has changed.

      1. I’m suddenly reminded of the song “Everone’s a Little a Bit Racist”…

        Has anyone else also noticed that Lyta switched from using the more neutral term “normals” to the more racist term “mundanes”? She said “normals” when talking to Franklin about her time with the Psi Cops last season, but now she’s going racist. And I’m pretty sure Byron has only said “mundanes.”

        I think it shows that while Byron is preaching peace and nonaggression, he’s not preaching integration and coexistence, and that’s probably part of where his problem lies.

        1. Since we don’t have a word for superpowers as a basis for the construction of identity, I am forgiving of the use of “race” and “racism” here. It’s easy enough to coin terms that people might actually use in the B5 universe (e.g. to talk about “dynamist” prejudices against telepaths). But they’d probably also have a word that distinguished prejudice against aliens from other planets from prejudice against other ethnic groups within your own species.

          1. Given enough Marvel films, eventually some made-up usage or new word for superpowers as identity will go mainstream 🙂

            But on the word for prejudice against other ethnic groups within your own species, no I don’t believe there would be one in the B5 universe as imagined by JMS. I see it as a world where racial discrimination, even the words themselves, just are not present in everyday usage and thought.

            It would happen in the same way that we don’t use, or even think about, the dark age/medieval words for various social ranks such as slave, serf, yeoman, lesser nobility. Those were important a few centuries ago, now we’ve almost entirely forgotten about them.

            Idealistic? Yes. And well worth striving for IMHO

          2. Hugh,

            While I seldom underestimate the human capacity for being horrible, I would tend to agree about racism between humans fading. One thing that brings people together is a mutual “enemy.” Who cares about a human with a different skin colour when we’re sharing space with Pak’Ma’Ra and Gaim and… whatever N’Grath is?

  4. Unsurprisingly, I have a somewhat different reading of Sheridan’s absence from these plot developments from our hosts — I think JMS is protecting Sheridan by keeping him well away from what is, after all, a massive [expletive deleted]-up.

    Bring Sheridan into it, and you’d have to have him at least *try* some ingenious solution to the problem — that’s what Sheridan as a character does in any difficult situation.

    Obviously, Sheridan’s decision to allow the telepaths on the station in the first place is in the background, but it seems pretty clear to me that *Byron* is being ascribed the blame for [expletive deleted] that up.

    But I think our hosts are doing a wonderful job of pulling out interesting stuff about Byron as a character, especially the significance of his like “We would be *normal,*” in the context of his earlier alleged confidence that telepaths were superior. One has the sense of someone who has to some degree internalized normal prejudice against telepaths, and has compensated by defensively claiming to be “better.” And yet that has driven Byron actually to *be* better, in his sincere embrace of non-violence. Which in turn has its own problems, because he hasn’t really done more than dominate his followers instead of persuading them. And so on.

    I’m starting to wonder if the problem with the Byron arc is really that it needed its own show, in which things like Byron’s relationship with his followers could have been fleshed out properly.

    1. Nearest we have are the Psi Corp trilogy of books, which do examine normal-telepath relationships and how they change over time.

      But this brings up another thought, which perhaps our podcast hosts might like to discuss too. Star Trek has been remade (sorry, rebooted) on TV, what are the chances that Babylon 5 might be?

  5. JMS himself has broached the idea in the past, going so far as to suggest that actors such as Boxleitner could be recast as other characters. I don’t think it’s likely for a host of reasons, and I’m not sure I would be in favor of it myself. But the lack of care on WB’s part in preserving this show for the HD age means that a reboot might be the only option for B5 to gain significant new attention.

    1. After the depressing mess that STD turned out to be (dropped it after five episodes), a new B5 could still be The Not-Trek Show by staying itself. Except now the contrast would involve B5 being different by showing us characters who (even though flawed) are basically decent people that can work together with a bit of mutual respect.

      1. Well, a B5 with that not-the-lead-character focus could work across locations and work incredibly brilliantly. The times, the backgrounds, all have their foundations in this five year mythos. The worst that could happen would be a [expletive deleted] Mack & Bo re-tread.

        I had loads of notes from prepping for the SecretsOTSoul Downbelow Introcast, but recently I misplaced them and I’m just a bit annoyed. Something I wanted to talk about was how the telepaths function as a moveable metaphor, and in this case, emigrant/immigrant is the focus, with the flip side as Hyach nationalism/secrecy. The moveable metaphor though. I wonder if some of those positions aren’t conflicting in a have-cake-eat way. I don’t know. It’s 4am, I’ve just finished filling in my self-employ tax returns and I’m in pain.

        As for the ‘racist’ label debate, it’s a handy go-to, but look, ‘sectarian’ is much closer to the word you’re looking for. And superhero-hate? Do you mean mutant scum?

        My brother and I felt very uncomfortable watching the sex scene on Sunday morning. The teep voyeurs are creepy, he said, but I knew his eyes weren’t on the Vorlon manipulations.

        1. Superpower-hate *could* be the X-Men (and I suspect that’s a definite influence on JMS).

          But the notion that psychic powers = new race coming into being that will (depending on the story) either inevitably conflict with normal humanity or normal humanity wrong fear as a threat, is fairly common in midcentury SF. It’s been a long time since I read Sturgeon’s More than Human , but I’m pretty sure it’s there, for instance. The Psi Corps as the solution has a definite whiff of being a negative spin on Agatha Christie’s To Ride Pegasus.*

          John Wyndham was particularly fond of it: The Midwich Cuckoos and The Chrysalids play two different variations on the theme. (When I read them as a child, I don’t think that I ever noticed that The Chrysalids was getting me to identify with pretty much the same thing that I was terrified with

          Of course, Jack Kirby was an indefatigable reader of science-fiction, so SF literature is probably where it comes from when it intrudes suddenly in UXM #14. (I have bored people endlessly on other fora about my belief that the X-Men, when created, are obviously not at all a metaphor for prejudice, but for inherited privilege — look at the prep school trappings, for God’s sake — and that Kirby reworked that to introduce the prejudice metaphor only when the book had been in existence for over a year.)

          *Now that I think of it, that’s quite interesting. TRP (published in 1973) smacks of asserting the values of midcentury American liberalism right as it was suffering crisis. Its Center for Parapsychic Talents is very much a product of unquestioned faith in a world in which the solution to social problems is to collect brilliant young men (mostly) with bad haircuts and Ivy League degrees in a new institution and set enlightened paternalism to maximum.

          JMS reworking the same basic concept as a quasi-fascist entity that’s really about taking over in its own interests is more a product of “The era of big government is over” than one might think — another point on which JMS, despite his own personal leanings, produced in B5 a show with definite neoconservative (sorry, Professor Headbutt, but I really don’t think it shares much ground with paleos) strains.

          1. Voord99,
            “sorry, Professor Headbutt, but I really don’t think it shares much ground with paleos”

            One of the major complaints that paleocons have against neocons is how comfortable neocons are with big government and military interventionism. And I have said before that one of my difficulties with JMS’s writing is that his solution to almost everything is morally excellent people equipped with overwhelming violent force. As a paleocon (I don’t agree with everything that all paleocons have said, but Russell Kirk’s “six canons of conservatism” fit my viewpoint pretty well, so I’ll accept the term for now), I reject that kind of authoritarianism. But I am well used to enjoying fiction written by people who do not share my politics, so I do not fault JMS for daring to disagree with the great and wonderful me about the best way to run a society.

            I agree about the B5-XMen connection. We’ve even seen the term “homo superior” (most often used by Magneto to describe mutants) used in B5 to describe telepaths. My objection to the use of the term “racism” is not a rejection of the idea of prejudice against telepaths, it is only the use of the term “race” to describe something that is not a race (another conservative characteristic is the belief that words mean things). Bigotry against telepaths is bigotry, and I share our hosts’ confusion that nobody seems to have bothered to ask how the other species managed to successfully integrate telepaths into their societies, and what we could learn from them.

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