10 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “Passing Through Gethsemane” Spoiler Space”

  1. This is my absolute favorite episode of Babylon 5. I don’t think it’s the best episode, but it is the one that packs the hardest emotional punch for me, the one I’ve gone back and rewatched the most times, and the one that I’ve used (since it’s a standalone episode) to draw the most people into the Babylon 5 web. If you’ve got someone who is getting really squirmy about four or five episodes into S1, show them “Passing Through Gethsemane.” No big major-arc spoilers, and it’s a beautiful showcase of what JMS can do when he really gets the writing wheels turning.

    Brad Dourif as Brother Edward might be the most perfectly cast guest star on a show full of well-cast guest stars. I’ve watched his answer to Delenn’s question about the defining moment of his faith about six thousand times, and I’ve gotten choked up every single time (you can tell Mira/Delenn is choking up a little too). Favorite moment of the show, hands-down. But keeping the distinction between “favorite” and “best,” I think the BEST moment of the episode is right at the very end, when Brother Theo introduces Sheridan to Brother Malcolm, whom Sheridan instantly recognizes as the new personality of Edward’s killer. It hits home one of the messages that permeates the whole episode: true forgiveness, forgiving someone who has actually seriously wronged you or someone close to you, is really freaking hard. It’s easy to talk about forgiveness or to “forgive” someone whose sins haven’t actually touched you, or don’t feel like sins to you; it’s a lot harder to do what Theo does for Edward and Malcolm. I always remember this speech during that awful and beautiful moment in “The Fall of Centauri Prime” when G’Kar tells Londo, “My people can never forgive your people. But I can forgive you.”

    1. That’s a sharp observation about the applicability of this story to the culmination of the Londo-G’Kar storyline.

      One thing I’d add, though, is that the ending still has a disturbing element to it. For all Theo’s essential decency, he’s still committing to concealing the truth from Malcolm for the rest of Malcolm’s life – which is to say that he’s helping to reproduce the same injustice-in-the-guise-of-justice that has just played itself out as tragedy.

      One of the many things that I find so brilliant about Passing Through Gethsemane is how it communicates just how horrific
      a crime the system of justice here perpetrates, not on the original criminal, but on the new personality that has taken his/her place. It’s a Catch-22 – it’s monstrous to conceal from someone something so fundamental to how they came to be, especially since it raises questions about whether any of their choices are in any real sense theirs; but it’s monstrous to reveal the truth to a personality whom you’ve constructed consciously as the sort of person that knowing the truth will destroy. The death of personality is a profoundly inhumane thing, that no humane society could truly tolerate, but with a seductive veneer of humanity that makes it easy to see how, yes, we would not just tolerate it, but embrace it as the most humane option.

      Since we’ve (OK, mostly I’ve) touched on Babylon 5’s tense/productive relationship with Star Trek a fair bit here, I’ll note that this is a case where B5 clearly wins. One can absolutely see Star Trek running with a story like this as its problem of the week, and such an episode of Star Trek might well garner more than a few plaudits for its thoughtful and serious exploration of the same basic situation. But in Star Trek, you could never implicate the Federation in this: it would have to be a situation that the heroes encountered in an alien society they were visiting.

      In Babylon 5, in contrast, it’s our heroes and their society that have been taking all this for granted. More than that, so have we as viewers, ever since The Quality of Mercy, just taking it for granted as part of the worldbuilding. We’re implicated in the horror too, just like Brother Theo.

      1. I think it’s a little unfair to judge the punishment system by what happens in this episode. Brother Edward didn’t remotely consider anything about his past until after his old memories were unlocked by the Centauri telepath. I got the impression that resurgent memories are exceedingly rare. Since no Psi Corps-registered telepath would do what that Centauri did (and hiring a teep on the run would be dangerous or impossible), this episode might be the first case of such a thing happening.

        I think this episode shows that any criminal justice focused on revenge instead of rehabilitation will be flawed. One could argue that the death of personality worked perfectly until it was upset by those who were seeking revenge on the previous personality. And since the new personality is geared towards community service, having people to contribute towards society like that provides some benefit.

        That being said, I’m not entirely sure that I would approve of the practice of death of personality. It raises the metaphysical question of what possible distinction there can be between a person’s body and their mind. By treating them separately, I almost feel like it devalues both. The personality is disposable (with the new one preprogrammed for what the state wants you to believe), and the body becomes just another drone in society, potentially performing the work no one else wants to do.

        1. It’s not, for me, a matter solely (or mainly) of whether or not the old personality is likely to reemerge. To conceal from the new personality such a fundamental fact about their existence is to my mind wrong in itself, especially since it is effectively dictating pretty much everything about how they live their life and how they “choose” to live their life.

          On revenge vs. rehabilitation, I’m totally with you.

        2. “The personality is disposable (with the new one preprogrammed for what the state wants you to believe)”

          This is why I’m glad that personality alteration such as was done on Garibaldi is so difficult as to be almost unheard-of. There was a comment in the spoiler-free section about hiring a teep to tweak your personality (e.g, more conscientious). Combine that with EarthGov’s slide toward authoritarianism and the prospects are chilling. That guy’s too liberal. This one’s too conservative. He’s too critical of the current administration. She holds politically incorrect views. We’ll fix them all, with the help of our local Nightwatch-affiliated telepath.

  2. My biggest issue with the death of personality is that it’s punishing an “innocent.” Once the original personality is wiped it’s essentially the same thing as killing them. The original person is gone, so the new personality is innocent of any wrongdoing.

    We never get to see how these people are typically treated. Edward escaped due to an accident, but we are told that they’re programmed to help society, so right there there’s a lack of free will punishing the new personality. And we don’t know how closely controlled these people usually are.

    I’m of two minds usually on the death penalty debate, but either way it’s not fair to the new personality to take any amount of their free will away. They’re a different person and not guilty of their previous personalities actions.

    Of course there’s also the question of if its right to program any kind of personality into them and whether that infringes on free will too.

    1. But it’s entirely believable to imagine a society (a) deciding that the death penalty is too barbaric to continue and (b) implementing an equally barbaric punishment that seems “cleaner.”

      1. Absolutely. One can completely see how it would appear to be a more “productive” response to wrongdoing than imprisonment or execution. There’s a remarkable elegance or symmetry to how just this would appear and how unjust it would actually be.

  3. Ok so if you were to take a murderer and switch out his brain for someone else’s, who is guilty of the murder? If it’s the brain then surely the body with a new brain is innocent. If it’s the body then the poor guy who donated the brain is going to be blamed for something he doesn’t remember doing. This would be similar to mind wiping I think.

  4. Misery loves Company S1 E2 – Gardening in Gethsemane

    Vir’s Minbari aide takes the blame after Vir accidentally digs up a sacred zen garden. Vir is mocked at his attempts to free the aide. Ambassador Sinclair says it will all blow over. Londo suggests Vir steals the large glass swan of Valen to travel through a Minbari blessing river below the jail.

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