Zocalo: Spoiler-free discussion of “By Any Means Necessary”

Labor negotiations! Botany! It’s another exciting episode of Babylon 5! If you haven’t seen the whole series yet, or would like to discuss this episode on its own merits without spoiling others, here’s your thread.

8 thoughts on “Zocalo: Spoiler-free discussion of “By Any Means Necessary””

  1. I suppose, if I’m going to try to throw out another “then and now” question, I should probably ask younger American viewers watching the show for the first time if they’ve ever heard of these “union” things…

    But this isn’t really a point on which things have changed that much between now and then. The trajectory of the salience of unions in American society was the same when By Any Means Necessary first aired – it’s just that the US has travelled further along it since then.

    So a different question: what background do people think might be required for us to imagine in order for the events of this story to be plausible? To clarify, I don’t think they are implausible, but I do think that they imply certain things about what has happened in the past and how things usually work to create the required expectations.

    To give a specific example, I’m thinking of what’s required for an experienced negotiator like Orin Zanto to miscalculate the way that he needs to miscalculate for the resolution of the plot to work. It needs, I think, to be essentially unthinkable for him that an Earthforce officer like Sinclair would be other than eager to put down the strike by force. I think that says something about what Earthforce officers in this universe are typically like.

    Other questions: what does it imply that simply firing the ringleaders or bringing in replacement workers aren’t options or at any rate aren’t the preferred first responses?

    This is obviously an area where people may have strong political views – I’ve tried to phrase the above as neutrally as I can.

    1. I really enjoyed this episode. In Australia unions still exist and have some power to negotiate wages and conditions of employment (we have a very different system compared to both US and UK). In fact my employer and unions are right now working out mine. (I get a vote). We’re not a militant group so no striking but certainly “blue flu” has been a topic. The negotiator certainly is no negotiator but maybe that’s an attitude and behaviour that may occur when you have a “Rush” law that can be used and what I thought was no real desire to see a conclusion that didn’t include using that law.

  2. the bigger issue for me was that he wasn’t a negotiator in any way! He just cam in and said “this is the way it is suck it up or I’ll rush act your asses”. Demander is more like it!

    1. I basically agree: “negotiator” was me trying to find a neutral way to describe his job. But I don’t know that this is unrealistic – it appears that a policy decision has been made back home to put an end to the union and Zanto’s instructions are to see that this happens. He has no interest in negotiation because conceding that the union has any right to bargain is what he’s there to prevent in the first place.

    2. Yes – I also felt Zanto was a cardboard, two-dimensional “baddie” for this episode. It’s a shame, because in labor disputes that reach such a crisis point there are often valid issues on both sides. It was hinted at here that there were good reasons for EarthGov to say no more money, but having Zanto be such an unsympathetic mouthpiece diminished the effectiveness of that point.

  3. This is one of my absolute favourite episodes! So pleased to be re-watching it tonight as my homework for the podcast. You don’t get to see much of the dirty low paid side of space travel in ‘other’ SF shows. DS9 did have an episode that was eerily similar to this (“Bar Association”)

    I see JMS has stated that the Rush Act is named after Rush Limbaugh. That made me chuckle a little.

    I do have one question – as I haven’t watched it in a while, from memory, one of the union guys says he has worked the docks ‘for 41 years’ or something like that, but he doesn’t look much past his mid 40s to me, how could that be?

  4. I know I’ve been a Sinclair critic over my last few posts. But this is my favourite Michael O’Hare performances and one of the best S1 episodes in my book. Some depth, substance and believability that is too often lacking.

    Bring on Signs and Portents!!

  5. They could have done away with the Zanto character entirely and had Sinclair/Garibaldi continue the negotiations with the Senator to throw in the threats. That would have removed an annoying character and given more emphasis on developing the lead characters. Although I’m not sure Sinclair could have taken on any more than he did! I’m amazed he didn’t throw G’Kar and Londo out of the nearest airlock, but the speed of light solution was a nice clever end to that arc.

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