RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “Soul Mates” (Season 2, Episode 7)

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Despite my general dislike of the Talia Winters character, and my very specific dislike of havint two Talia stories back-to-back, this is a darn near *Perfect* episode, and funny, too. Everyone should just set down their drinks and/or pencils and/or surgical equipment and watch it now, but assuming you’re too lazy to do that, I’ll just tell you about it instead.

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Once upon a time there was a man with three wives: Famine (“Timov”), Pestilence (“Daggair”) and Death (“Mariel,” who was also the French chick in that Mark Harmon movie, “Summer School.” Remember her? Hubba!) The man in question - Londo, of course - hates all three of his wives with a passion, and always has. Arranged marriages all. Since Londo’s star is on the rise in the Imperial court, however, the emperor has agreed to allow him to divorce his wives. He has asked, however, as a personal favor to retain *one* of the three, just for official purposes. Londo readily agrees, and invites all his spouses to the station, where he sets them to fighting with each other in the hopes of ‘winning’ the honor of being the one wife left hitched when the dust settles. Hilarity ensues, with Londo being all manner of bastard, and Peter Jurissic playing it *really* big.

Of course all three wives have their own agendas, and they’re all motivated by various combinations of jealousy, hatred, and self-preservation, so things get better and better fast, with Londo setting them to do more and more demeaning things, and seeing where they’ll refuse. Timov refuses to get involved in a menage a quad with the rest of them, slaps Londo and storms out. So she’s out of the running.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Talia Winters was also subject to an arranged marriage, this one set up by the Psicorps in the hops of breeding a telepath of equal or greater rating. Her husband was a guy named Matt Stoner. He visits the station stalking Talia and immediately runs afoul of her current stalker, Mr. Garibaldi.
Not only is he an instantly irritating, unlikeable pain in the butt, but *somehow* he managed to get out of Psicorps. Nobody leaves Psicorp, unless they’re in a body bag. Yet somehow he did it. How?

He tells Talia that he volunteered for some experiments the corps was running, and that the process went wrong, scrambled his brain a bit, and when he came to, he was mundane, no telepathic powers whatsoever. The Corps had no choice but to let him go. Ostensibly he’s visiting the station to trade some geegaws he found on an archeological dig on an abandoned Centauri world in Narn space, but really he’s there to get back together with Talia. He says he knows the Corps scares the hell out of her. He says he knows she secretly wants out. He says he knows how the process works, and he can do the same thing to her as was done to him. She can be free. And they can be together.

Of course her current stalker is even less pleased by this. Fortunately, Mariel buys one of the geegaws as a present for Londo, and gives it to him at a party. It’s apparently a Centauri artifact, but when Londo holds it, it shoots darts into his head, and he’s instantly in a coma, dying in Medlab. Turns out it was a booby trap left over from the days when the Narn drove the Centauri off that world. This gives Garibaldi pretense to arrest Stoner while he sorts stuff out.

He notes that Stoner keeps getting special treatment from the guards (Lou Welch in particular) despite being a raging jackass. When asked, Lou says “He’s just a nice guy, the kind of guy you want to do stuff for.” Garibaldi puts the pieces together, and sets up a sting in which Stoner reveals himself: he didn’t actually lose his Telepathic powers, he had them transformed into a new kind: he’s an Empath. He can force emotions on people, make them like him, make them want to do his bidding. He didn’t actually leave the corps, the corps just didn’t want knowledge of their experimenting on their own kind to get around, so they took him off the roles officially, and had him running odd jobs for them unofficially.

They send him packing, and warn him not to come back. He don’t come back.
Meanwhile, Timov volunteers to give blood to save Londo, provided Dr. Franklin never tell him about it. He reluctantly agrees. Londo survives the poisoning as a result,

Franklin: “Ambassador, do you know where you are?”
Londo: “Either in Medlab, or in hell. Either way the décor needs work.”

He immediately starts insulting everyone again, including Timov, until his wives storm off. This upsets Franklin.

Franklin: “Ambassador, if I may make an observation?”
Londo: “Yes?”
Franklin: “Stuff it.” [Storms off]
Londo: “How odd. I didn’t know *WE* were married.”

G’Kar and Mariel are talking in his quarters, where he rattles off his whole theory about how Mariel conspired with Stoner to ship the booby trap on to the station, then make a point of taking credit for it moments before it kills him, thereby allowing her to prevent Londo from divorcing her, while getting rid of him in the process and securing her name, future, and fortune. Mariel basically tells him he’s right. They both part, amused.

Londo, mostly recovered, decides to keep Timov and chuck the other two wives, mostly for pragmatic reasons. Daggair is a scheming evil manipulator who has no use for anyone, save her own advantage. Mariel destroys everyone around her, largely intentionally. Timov…well…

Timov: “Why did you choose to keep me as your wife and not them? I’ve made no pretense of affection for you, I find your recent actions contemptible, I’ll *never* love you, at best I’ll toelrate you, and I’ll never be what you want me to be. Why me?”
Londo: “Because with you, I will always know where I stand.”

MEANWHILE, Delenn is having difficulty settling into to some of the more girly human aspects of her post-transformation life. Specifically: she can’t figure out the hair thing. She’s been washing it with a mild acid - which is how Minbari bathe in general - and it’s just getting drier and frizzier and won’t behave, and it’s a rat’s nest. In desperation, she calls Ivonova to help her out. Ivonova, clearly uncomfortable, remembers how her mom used to do her hair when she was a little girl, and reluctantly agrees to teach Delenn how it’s done. After several meanwhile-back-at-the-ranch scenes of this going on, Delenn is presented looking quite nice, in an eyebrowless bonehead kinda’ way. The unexpected payoff to all this is the mortified “Oh, hell, no!“ look on Ivonova’s face when Delenn asks her about menstruation.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Divorce must be all-but-illegal and/or scandalous in Centauri society. This is not unreasonable to assume in a society where the nobles apparently exclusively practice arranged political marriages. As we saw twenty-two episodes earlier, in “The War Prayer,” (Season 1, ep 7) and to a lesser extent in “Born to the Purple” (Season 1, ep 3), Centauri’s Married lives and Romantic lives are basically independent of one another, and the idea that one should marry for love and be a devoted spouse is kinda’ scandalous. Sure it’s happened, but it’s so impractical and limiting….

Londo has, in fact, been married four times. The first was a woke-up-with-a-monster situation where he got really drunk and married a stripper. It was evidently annulled. The sense I get here - and I base it on nothing whatsoever - is that the Emperor’s *real* gift here wasn’t the divorce itself (Called an “Easement” in this episode), but rather the erasing of any negative stigma Londo might have acquired from it. This may not be the intention of any of these shenanigans, but something about the way we’re told the Emperor asked him to keep one as a personal favor makes me sense it might be thus.

Lou Welch!

Uhm….did….uhm….did G’kar and Mariel…uhm….did they have sex? I kinda’ think they did. He’s sashaying around in his big half-undone nightshirt, pouring her a drink, and she’s *very* casual and relaxed around him, and it’s obvious they already know each other. They’ve made it very clear in the past that G’kar will nail the female of *any* species, and scoring with his arch nemesis’ wife probably would hold some alpha male appeal to him.

That said, I’m not sure how it would work from a strictly mechanical point of view. As has already been repeatedly implied, Centauri naughty bits aren’t at all like human ones, neither on males nor on females, neither in number nor in placement. Yeah, it’s all kinds of icky.

It’s an open question of whether Stoner was trying to get Talia on his own, or if it was a Psicorps thing. I suspect it was on his own, as it makes no sense for them to go to any lengths to trick her. Yeah, there was the Jason Ironheart incident (“Mind War,” Season 1, episode 6), so the higher ups probably don’t entirely trust her, but that was an unusual circumstance. Frankly, if they wanted her gone, they could just transfer her back to Earth or Mars, and that’d be that. I think Stoner really just wanted her back, by hook or by crook.

This is the first we’ve heard of arranged marriages in Psicorps, by the way. It’s not the last we’ll hear of it. Though it’s referenced several times, it’s not a major plot thread, though it’s fairly important in the Psicorps novels.

This is, however, the first we’ve heard of Psicorps “Scarring the hell out of” Talia. In fact, she’s been nothing but scrupulously loyal, and though she didn’t tell anyone about Ironheart’s gift (Telepathy), there’s certainly been no indication that she doesn’t trust ‘em. Even in last week’s episode, where she discovered a Psicop was somehow involved in the goings on that almost killed her, I didn’t quite get the sense of fear. Shock, sure, fear? No. The way she plays it here, it’s like this is a long, burning, growing fear. We haven’t seen any evidence of that.

Nearly the whole gang is here tonight: Sheridan, Ivonova, Franklin, Garibaldi, Lou Welch (!), Lennier, Delenn, G’kar, Londo, Talia, and Vir. We’re missing Keffer (Who?), Corwin, Na’Toth, and Lou Welch’s replacement, Zac. Big cast.

Earth medical technology can synthesize most kinds of blood, but can’t do Centauri blood. There is a Centauri blood bank on the station, but the quantity is fairly small, and Londo’s blood type is rare.

“The Thirtieth Anniversary of Londo’s Ascension” is celebrated here. This is a big deal. It’s never really explained, but the vague sense of it I get is that it’s like the booster shot on a Bar Mitzvah, or maybe “A full generation of having been able to vote and drink in bars.” Something like that. Gifts are given. Attendees must be barefoot.

Mariel: “G’kar, you are wearing shoes! You *DO* recognize the level of offence you’re causing?”
G’Kar: [Cheerfully] “Oh, yes! You do take offence, don’t you, Ambassador?”
Londo: [Even more cheerfully] “No, not at all!”
G’Kar: [Suddenly furious, runs off mumbling to himself]

Good stuff.

There’s a touring museum exhibit of 20th century culture on B5. This is the second instance we’ve seen of Talia having an interest in artifacts from our time. By my largely baseless calculations, I’d say this episode probably takes place around late April of 2259.

“Timov” is “Vomit” spelled backwards. Presumably she’d be the wife Londo nicknamed “Famine.”

Minbari don’t sweat, however while they sleep they secrete a fluid that somehow regulates body temperature. We don’t get a lot of details because it immediately grosses Ivonova out, and she changes the subject. Evidently Minbari women don’t menstruate, or if they do it takes some unrecognizably different form. In the typical OCD fashion of their species, even bathing is an arduous religious ritual.

One thing I’m going to point out here simply because it’s subtle and you tend not to notice it until it piles up on you: Even the humanoid aliens in B5 are pretty darn alien. Yeah, the Centauri are silly humanoids, but they’ve got their weird hair (Natural, BTW), their vampire teeth, their frankly disturbing reproductive organs, two hearts, a lack of arteries in the wrists, and some built in precognitive abilities, and that’s just stuff we’ve heard of in the first 29 episodes of the series. They’re weirder the closer you look at ‘em, and they’re *unquestionably* the most humanish of the alien species. Everyone else is stranger still.

The Minbari, for instance: Hairless humanoids, very long lived, very OCD, never lie but never tell the truth either, cold, ancient, with the head-bones, the weird blood, the ears in their jaws, their generally small, occasionally fey bodies, different biologies, psychotic reactions to alcohol, stranger and stranger.

Not to mention the Narn, who are mammalian reptiles, and the men have pouches for taking care of the newborns. Many of the lesser species are stranger still, such as the monosexual Drazi, or the very, very disturbing Pak’Ma’Ra (Hint: I know what that hump is. Trust me: You don’t want to know what that hump is.)

I don’t *want* to compare all this to Trek, but what else is there to compare it to?

Aliens in Trek are, by and large, abstractions. Few are developed well: Vulcans/Romulans, Klingons, Ferengi. The Cardassians were always kinda’ “meh.“ Trill never seemed logically consistent, and despite there being at least 130 episodes directly involving the Betazeds, I never got the sense that we really understood or explored much about them. Which is just as well as they were boring. Now, understand that I’m not slamming on Trek because of this. Trek chooses to do aliens that way for a reason: Aliens in Trek *generally* represent some aspect of humanity in figurative form. Thus the Ferengi are our greed, and the Klingons are our aggression and/or honor as the fashion of the time dictates, the Vulcans represent our purest quest for knowledge, and so on. That’s just the way Trek does stuff. Nothing wrong with it, though from where I sit the limitation is that you’re never going to see anything really freakin’ weird, and if you *do* you’re only ever going to see it once (Like the “Horda.”) The Betazeds weren’t even as alien as the entirely human telepaths in B5.

In B5, the aliens are *aliens.* They don’t represent anything apart from what they are. They’re similar in appearance to humans, but, as I’ve pointed out, the closer you look, the stranger they are. In Trek there has always been this sense of “our differences are artificial, why can’t we all just get along?” In B5, there is a sense that people kind of do want to get along, but the differences are so great that they have to work at it. For instance, the Centauri and the Humans genuinely appear to like each other, they’ve gotten along well for a century, and yet there’s a cold remove that shows up abruptly from time to time where the Centauri just shut us down. “This is our thing, not your thing, you wouldn’t understand.” Likewise, Humans and Narn really don’t get along on anything but a commercial basis, and yet you *don’t* get that kind of shutdown. Narns and Humans understand each other, Narns and Centauri don’t understand each other. Humans *almost* understand the Centauri. Nobody *quite* understands the Minbari, and no one understands the Vorlons at all. (Not that the Vorlons want to be understood). It humanity’s nature as gobetweens in this confusing network of commutative understanding that the show revolves around.

And that’s kinda’ neat!

One final note: Sheridan’s presence in this episode is pretty much entirely useless. He does nothing, contributes nothing, and his dialog is pretty bland and pointless. The only good bit is the recurring “I see you’re settling in” gag, and G’kar’s bit about Sinclair’s disappearance and admitting “I still don’t understand what all that was about!”

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Though we never see it, the orgy is icky, and the whole notion of arranged marriages (Both among the Centauri and in the Psi Corps) is deliberately unsettling. Likewise, some may find the menstruation gag in the end a little uncomfortable (As it’s intended to be), but I personally think it might be the *only* funny example of that kind of thing I’ve ever seen on TV. And I watch a lot of TV. Trust me: that’s not a road I go down for laughs, and yet it made me laugh.

So if one can put those qualms aside, yeah, I think conservatives will like this episode a lot. There’s nothing expressly conservative about it, but it’s a really good story, and there’s some aspects we can tendentiously pretend are ‘cautionary examples.’

Also: it’s funny.

Also: Lou Welch!

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