Babylon 5

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“The Summoning” – The Christological Allegory of Babylon 5

I’ve never watched Babylon 5 before, but I got the whole series on a great sale and have been watching it from the beginning. In this post, please do not SPOIL anything past the episode discussed. There will, of course, be major spoilers for this episode.

“The Summoning” – The Christological Allegory(ies) of Babylon 5

I’ve often argued that science fiction can explore the deepest questions of the human condition. It allows creators to make stories of how humanity ought (or ought not) to be. It also lets people play with themes in ways that are unexpected, subversive, or meaningful in many different ways. Babylon 5 frequently explores religious themes in its episodes. “The Summoning” has several themes come to a head as we see just how deep some of the allegorical background of the show flows.

G’Kar is an alien character who has endured much throughout the series to this point. His people, the Narn, have been at war with another alien species, the Centauri. The Centauri have enslaved the Narn after defeating them. G’Kar has gone from a prestigious ambassadorial post to a pariah on the Babylon 5 space station. Finally, he is captured and put at the whims of the Centauri elite.

The Emperor of the Centauri at this point is Cartagia, a kind of Nero stand-in. He delights in tormenting G’Kar for his own pleasure, and for that of his court. G’Kar endures several ways of suffering which parallel Christ’s suffering. The image I used in this post shows him carrying one of the instruments of his torture in a scene that is surely intended to parallel Christ’s carrying of the cross. In one scene, he is wearing a kind of crown with spikes seemingly screwed into it around his head, akin to a crown of thorns. Though the imagery is somewhat overt, the subtleties behind the imagery is its own commentary on the depth of the show and its allegory of Christ. Cartagia wants to force G’Kar into some expression of pain, and finally resorts to a lashing. No one has managed to survive 40 lashes, and G’Kar is whipped 39 times before he finally cries out in pain. That number may not seem important, until one turns to Deuteronomy 25:3 and sees that punishment is not to exceed 40 lashes. Traditionally, some have said that Jesus was lashed 39 times. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:24, discusses being lashed 39 times on five separate occasions. Throughout this whole sequence in this episode, as well as the few before, we see that G’Kar is a kind of allegory for Christ, suffering in behalf of his people. 

I already mentioned how Cartagia is like Nero, but I wanted to draw that out. His hedonism at the cost of all else is one of the most obvious parallels. His utter contempt for any other people is narcissism, yes, but it’s so over the top and insidious that it takes it to another level. As he smiles, there is an ominous tinge to everything he does. Others try to emulate him to keep him pleased, and end up failing and being discarded or killed. The Nero parallels are there, but he could also be interpreted as a kind of stand-in for love of self over others, the easiest but also most easily corrupting sins. The greatest demonstration of this may be in his willingness to toss aside his own people for the sake of being remembered as a god. Cartagia’s delusions of grandeur could almost be humorous if he didn’t have the will and power to bring about some of his most dastardly plans. Cartagia then–whether he is a Nero, a Satan, or a kind of stand-in for human moral failing that evolves into monstrous evil–is another religious theme here. Is it a commentary on the overbearing power of the nation state? A questioning of the human condition? A nod to the spiritual power of corrupting evil? I think each viewer can take something away from it, and that is the power of a truly excellent work of art.

Babylon 5 is a show that inspires as much as it entertains. It makes viewers think, even decades after the show run finished. A powerful emotional response is almost unavoidable in an episode like “The Summoning,” and I’m sure I’ve missed some details as well for how the parallels might play out. Regardless, it’s a beautiful narrative that leads to reflection on the life–and death–of Christ, as well as how evil can so readily corrupt in heinous ways. 

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– My “Eclectic Theist” site features a number of posts discussing my first watch-through of Babylon 5. Check them out here!

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Also see my other looks into television (scroll down for more).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Passing Through Gethsemane” – Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity

A very fragile human moment.

I’ve never watched Babylon 5 before, but I got the whole series on a great sale and have been watching it from the beginning. In this post, please do not SPOIL anything past the episode discussed. There will, of course, be major spoilers for this episode.

Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity- “Passing Through Gethsemane”

There are moments when you’re watching something on TV or a movie when you realize it’s a transcendent time. Something about what’s happening on the show clicked; one of those moments where everything aligned. “Passing Through Gethsemane” was one of those episodes for me. It may be the first time TV has ever touched me on such a spiritual level.

Near the beginning when we see Brother Edward, a Trappist Monk, talking about the Garden of Gethsemane. He says that there, Jesus could have chosen to leave, postponing the inevitable. It was a “very fragile human moment” that resonates so deeply with Brother Edward. Later in the episode, we discover that  Edward has been mind wiped and is, in fact, a notorious killer. He himself starts to discover this as a telepath reawakens his memories–apparently as a step of a plot to get revenge from families of the victims. Edward finds himself in a kind of broken psyche, realizing who he was, but also that his entire life and outlook on the universe has changed. Who is he, now?

Edward asks whether there is “enough forgiveness for what I’ve done” as he contemplates his former life, and the implications of being that same person. The answer, provided by Brother Theo of the Trappist Monks, is simple: “Always. Always.” Edward’s killed by the families of his victims, but he chooses to go to his death, knowing what they will do. He sees it as his own “passing through Gethsemane” and the fragility of the human condition one finds there. He apparently saw justice and forgiveness align and chose that path.

One astute reader pointed out the problematic nature of seeing Edward as a good man, since he was, in a sense, made that way. As a viewer, I viewed Edward-as-he-is as a completely new and different person than Edward-as-he-was, the murderer. This is aside from the moral question of the mind-wipe as punishment which seems highly questionable at best. (Feel free to comment on that below, I’d love a discussion on that, too.) As I reflected on this, it reminded me (as a Lutheran, particularly) of baptism. Edward’s old self was like the Old Adam, which we drown in the waters of baptism, creating a rebirth and, in a sense, a New Adam/self washed clean by Christ. The metaphysics of this metaphor playing out become quite complex as one thinks about it, because here the question of the morality of a mind wipe is writ large. But I’m thinking of the outcomes, not in a consequentialist way, but in a pragmatic one. If Edward has been created anew, however that happened, he seems a new man. For the baptism analogy, this plays out quite well and, while likely unintentional, makes me think even more on that sacrament. 

Theo and Sheridan have a conversation about “Where does revenge end and justice begin?” and Sheridan makes a point that forgiveness is a “hard thing”–likely himself thinking about his wife. But then, we discover Malcolm–one of the men who committed the vigilante act against Edward–is mind wiped and himself one of the Trappists. And Theo turns Sheridan’s words back on him. Knowing Sheridan is enraged by this vigilante killing, Brother Theo says that Sheridan himself just made a comment about forgiveness being a hard thing. Sheridan pauses in his rage and shock, and finally shakes the new Brother Malcolm’s hand. 

It’s not often that you get to see full on theologizing in a television series, but this episode presents just that. Of course, it never fully realizes the whole of the Christian message, but it is powerful and compelling for Christians all the same. It may also speak to those who aren’t Christian, due to the beauty of the moment. And I suspect that’s what the writer(s) was going for. Christ, here, is seen as facing a “very fragile human moment,” but the total importance of it is made to sound more like an ethical moral choice than something about the fate of humanity. However, there is no question that this episode beautifully shows the humanity of that moment. Yes, Jesus Christ is God the Son, but we must not forget that he was the God-man, fully human as well. I was struck deeply by how this episode made that point so clearly. To humanity as turning on this moment with Christ in Gethsemane, able to “delay the inevitable” but choosing instead to pass through Gethsemane. It’s beautiful. 

The other ethical-theological aspect here is the notion that individual humans can also “pass through Gethsemane” with their own trials/temptations. We have our own fragile human moments, and those can define who we are. Babylon 5 doesn’t portray the help we receive from the Holy Spirit here, but I still think it is to be commended both for the genuine look at the humanity of Christianity and the beauty of its story.

Appendix: A number of comments on Facebook when I shared this post raised questions about the death penalty and the justice of the mind wipe. I’m opposed to the death penalty, and I think that the book and movie of “Just Mercy” help explain some of the issues surrounding that. They’re highly applicable to discussions of the mind wipe as well.

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– My “Eclectic Theist” site features a number of posts discussing my first watch-through of Babylon 5. Check them out here!

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Also see my other looks into television (scroll down for more).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

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