By, Eleni Papanou
“‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'” Captain Jeffrey Sinclair
With the recent passing of Michael O’Hare, I thought it was the opportune time to write about my favorite example of Visionary Fiction on the small screen, Babylon 5. The series is mostly written by one man, J. Michael Straczynski, as opposed to a team of writers, which is typical in a television series. Perhaps that’s why the visionary scope of this series is so strong.
The setting is a space station that serves as a bridge between alien cultures, some of which were at war with each other.
Monologue from the opening in season one:
“The Babylon Project was a dream, given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where humans and aliens can work out their differences peacefully.” Captain Sinclair
Several of the Characters evolve in deeply profound circumstances that will leave the visionary fan satisfied. The two who resonated the most for me were Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) and G’kar (Andreas Katsulas), who start off as bitter enemies. Londo’s home world, Centauri Prime, conquered and enslaved all the citizens of Narn, G’kar’s world. While the series begins after the liberation of Narn, the hatred between the two races is intense. Londo’s thirst for power and G’kar’s lust for vengeance will lead to many dramatic moments that leave both characters struggling between their morality versus the pride they have for their respective worlds.
Mira Furlan plays Delenn, another strong character who hails from Minbar. She’s part of the religious caste, and fans of another visionary fiction series, Lost, will recognize her as the actress who portrayed Danielle Rousseau.
On Minbar, the religious and military castes constantly clash over how to resolve political issues. When the series begins, we learn that Minbar was at war with Earth. The humans would have lost the battle had the Minbari not mysteriously halted their attack. The reason for their retreat is tied to Captain Sinclair and is revealed in future episodes. This shocking revelation leads Delenn to take an extreme action that will demonstrate how far she’s willing to go for peace between the humans and Minbari.
After I completed watching the series, it was clear to me that J. Michael Stracynski has a great deal of spiritual depth to write something so evocative and profound. What I personally took from this series is a deeper conviction not to write cookie-cutter characters that are either good or evil. Staying away from these stereotypes allows me, as a writer, to create characters that are more realistic to the human condition. It also forces me to dig deep inside a character who commits acts of evil. Even the most sinister among us can show a spark of light at times. While some of us can’t overcome our darkness, the opportunity to do so is possible. It’s all a matter of will, and letting go of belief systems that separate us into groups.
The cinematography on Babylon 5 blows my mind. Effective visuals make the viewer emotionally attach to the characters, scene or both. In one particular episode, I recall Mollari looking out from a window onboard his ship as Narn is being decimated. He never says a word, but all you have to do is look at his eyes to uncover his ambivalence. In another episode, some of the team aboard Babylon 5 make friends with soldiers who are on leave. Their fate is later revealed very starkly on the battlefield. This particular scene haunts me because it mirrors what’s currently happening in our world. Unlike Mollari, we don’t have a window view to all the destruction that’s happening today, yet insightful writing can make us understand the cost of war.
Well written visionary fiction let’s us peek inside ourselves and can lead us to acknowledge inner-truths, many of which have been covered up by years of social conditioning. This is what makes Babylon 5 a prime example of the genre.
In closing, I leave you with my preferred quotes, which weren’t easy to narrow down. My favorite one is the first; however, what’s so amazing about Babylon 5 is I can find a few great quotes in every episode, a testament to impeccable character development and writing.
Delenn: “All life, every life.We are all born as … molecules … in the hearts of a billion stars. Molecules that do not understand politics, policies or differences. Over a billion years we foolish molecules forget who we are and where we came from. In desperate acts of ego … we give ourselves names, fight over lines on maps, and pretend that our light is better than everyone else’s. The flame reminds us of the piece of those stars that lives on inside us. The spark that tells us … “you should know better”. The flame also reminds us that life is precious, as each flame is unique. When it goes out, it’s gone forever … and there will never be another quite like it. So many candles will go out tonight. I wonder some days … if we can see anything at all.”
“We believe that the Universe itself is conscious in a way we can never truly understand. It is engaged in a search for meaning, so it breaks itself apart, investing its own consciousness in every form of life. We are the Universe, trying to explain itself.”
Captain Jeffrey Sinclair: What makes a religion false? If any religion is right, then maybe they all have to be right. Maybe God doesn’t care how you say your prayers just as long as you say them.
“All my life I’ve had doubts about who I am, where I belonged. Now I’m like the arrow that springs from the bow. No hesitation, no doubts. The path is clear.”
Captain John Sheridan: “The Universe speaks in many languages but only one voice. A language which is not Narn or Human or Centauri or Gaim or Minbari. It speaks in the language of hope.”
G’Kar: “If I take a lamp and shine it toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth, for understanding. Too often we assume that the light on the wall is God. But the light is not the goal of the search; it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the sense of revelation upon seeing it!”
“I have become a distraction for our people. They require patience, direction, determination, and strength. I have provided a little of the first two. Now, you must provide the rest.”
“We are all the sum of our tears. Too little and the ground is not fertile, and nothing can grow there. Too much, the best of us is washed away.”