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Author Topic: Babylon 5, Through the Eyes of Sorcerer  (Read 3642 times)
charlesperez
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« on: March 20, 2010, 08:18:14 PM »

Much of the story told within the 5 seasons of Babylon 5 is basically sorcerous, and several of the characters within B5 could have been solid sorcerous protagonists. The following is some of what I see in that regard, having recently rewatch the series.

The main demons appearing in the story are the elder races, particularly the Shadows, but including other elder races that remain, even the Vorlons. A case could be made that the Vorlons might be angels, according to the rules in The Sorcerer's Soul, but what happens to them in the series, individually and collectively, seems to say "demon" rather than "angel". Such demons are immanents, according to the Sorcerer and Sword definition; they are part of the setting, but binding them or pacting with them stirs up wrongness and badness.

The common Need of all of the elder races, and their demonic servants, is validation. The Vorlons and the Shadows have conflicting world views, and want those views validated by the younger races, and have pressed for that at times in the series. Whenever an agent of the Shadows asks, "What do you want?" and gets an answer, then acts on that answer, and gets an appropriate favor in return, this transaction validates the Shadows' world view, feeding the Shadows in the process. Even those other elder remnants who seemingly only want their respective patches of space left alone thrive on the reputation their space gets, as a place to avoid; those who heed the danger are validating the notion of "here be giants", and thereby feeding the giants' Need.

The Shadows and the Vorlons themselves strike me as Inconspicuous demons; the Shadows are routinely invisible, and the Vorlons hide in their encounter suits. Their servants, mainly the Drach as well as Morden and company, are Passers; their ships may also qualify as Passers, seeing as how they are alive.

More on sorcerous protagonists later.

Charles
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2010, 05:19:11 PM »

Totally. Londo is one of my favorite sorcerous characters from the 1990s.

Best, Ron
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charlesperez
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« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2010, 05:53:04 PM »

The two most sorcerous characters in Babylon 5 are as follows.

Londo Mollari (of course) was the most obviously sorcerous of the characters. Interestingly, he did nothing more than Pact with Morden from time to time, until the end of the series when, for his people's sake, he bound the Drach-spawn that was possessing him. It is strongly implied in the series that he was basically the Drachs' bitch, but he was able to Command the Drach to save Delenn's life when she was stranded in hyperspace. His basic outcome, out of the four in Sorcerer's Soul, was Remorse; he regretted his deals with the Shadows, and did his best to redeem his people, and came to a bad end.

Captain, and then President, John Sheridan was the most strongly sorcerous of the characters. His main sorcerous acts were, in chronological order: Commanding the Vorlons to give the younger races a demonstration of victory over Shadow forces; binding a part of Kosh, at his death, said part acting as a parasite demon; binding Lorien as part of the act of "giving in to Tock", as Lorien would put it, while between life and death on Z'ha'dum; and the mass banish of all the elder races - but not their servants - out of the galaxy at the final battle with the Vorlons and the Shadows. His basic outcome was Redemption; he turned his back on dealing sorcerously with the elder races - on behalf of the whole galaxy - and the Shadow war ended with no further destruction - at least from the war itself.

The three others I intend to present, in decreasing order of sorcerousness, are Lyta Alexander, G'Kar and Michael Garibaldi.

Charles
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charlesperez
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« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2010, 06:26:45 PM »

The other B5 sorcerers are as follows.

Lyta Alexander's main sorcerous acts include: entering Vorlon space and staying there until her life support was almost out, thereby Contacting them; Binding Ambassador Kosh; and Binding Ambassador Kosh 2.0 after the first one was killed. What was unique about Lyta was that she was the only character in the series who was introduced as a human and then became effectively a demon by the series' end. Her demonhood was evident to all when confronted in public, when she gave the short speech, "You cannot harm me. You cannot stop one who has been touched by Vorlons." By then she obviously had run out of compassion for the younger races, compassion being the Humanity definition for the setting. What was left was her Need, for validation of her world view, which was freedom, safety and a homeworld for human rogue telepaths.

G'Kar performed one sorcerous act in the series, that is, binding Lyta Alexander as both were departing Babylon 5 for parts unknown at the end of the series. However, he did have a Lore score much earlier, with a descriptor I would call Narn Heritage. Remember that religious scriptures available to him warned him of the Shadows' coming. The Minbari had a clearer picture of the last Shadow war, and knew a good deal about what to expect from the next one; this leads me to declare Minbari History to be another Lore descriptor. However, no Minbari that I can recall ever did anything overtly sorcerous, besides cooperating with the immanent Vorlons and thereby validating their world view.

Michael Garibaldi also performed one sorcerous act, that of Pacting with Lyta Alexander, by then a demon, to launder money and use it to create a telepathic fighting force for her in exchange for lifting a telepathic block from his mind in two years time. One may be tempted to look at alcoholism as a demon of his, but that would be inaccurate; alcoholism is actually Garibaldi's Price. When he was wrestling with it, his true adversary was Bester; that conflict between them was joined when Garibaldi found out about the block against harming Bester, or even allowing him to come to harm. Even the dream about his life being destroyed by himself was instigated by Lyta Alexander, who presumably was angling - successfully - for an ally. The promise of removal of the block was the resolution of that conflict, and the end of his troubles over drink.

Charles
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2010, 03:58:40 AM »

Hi Charles,

I agree in full. The series was running during the main phase of developing Sorcerer as a game, and for a while, some friends of mine and I were avid viewers. I came into it sometime at the very end of season 2, I think, or maybe in season 3, and watched a number of earlier episodes to catch up. I never did see most of the fifth season, though. I even quoted from it in The Sorcerer's Soul.

One of my favorite elements of the story was that the Minbari were initially presented as these sort of excellent elves, or hip Vulcans, against whom all the other groups were small potatoes in every way, but just as you describe, it turns out they're the most hidebound of the bunch.

Best, Ron

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charlesperez
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« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2010, 08:25:08 AM »

Hmm. "Tolkien elves meet Vulcans" is the best short description of the Minbari I've heard.

See the whole fifth season, if you can. A number of story threads meet their epilogues there, including most of the sorcerous ones, and especially the one where Londo meets - and accepts - his fate. In fact, the only sorcerous story thread wrapped up earlier than Season 5 was Sheridan's, with the mass Banish of Elder races in the fourth season.

The Minbari being a hidebound race, especially sorcerously, is quite an interesting notion. The only races more hidebound than them would seem to be the Elder races. Furthermore, up until now, it hadn't occurred to me that the Minbari were next in line to become an Elder race themselves. So, that would seem to be why the Minbari aren't sorcerous; they're on their way to being demonic instead, except that Vaylen triggered the ongoing diminishment of the Minbari lineage 1000 years ago.

Charles

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2010, 09:05:00 AM »

Hi Charles,

Yeah, that makes sense. And with it in mind, Delenn's physical conversion to a more-human form seems much in line with the demon-to-human concepts in The Sorcerer's Soul.

The Vaylen make most sense to me to be demonic in ultimate crunch terms, especially the Humanity rules, but with ultra-human, over-human ideological content. So "angels" in the same sense as I describe for the simplest application of the Sorcerer rules, meaning demons in mechanics terms despite in-game in-fiction descriptions and motivations.

Well, all that leads to a closer look at what I like to call the Synanon Game episode, when Delenn gets interrogated and therapeutically capital-P Processed by the Vaylens' interesting choice of psychoanalyst, Jack the Ripper. (Or to geek out for a minute, we get, yet again, to participate in Harlan Ellison's personal obsession with that historical figure). At face value, the Vaylen effectively force Delenn to start taking responsibility for her Humanity (in rules terms), rather than just letting events hit her (or in rules terms, letting the GM do all the Bangs and impose all the Humanity-relevant conflicts). Which is pretty cool. But in the larger sense, since the Vaylen ultimately are dangerous to Humanity, that sort of reverses things. I guess it might be most coherent to think that when the Vaylen ask, "Who are you?", they are only ultimately going to be satisfied with their own preconceived notions about the answer.

Best, Ron
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greyorm
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« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2010, 09:41:25 AM »

Term check, Ron:

Vaylen: old Mimbari hero/prophet.

Vorlon: elder race.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2010, 09:43:06 AM »

Vorlon, Ron, Vorlon. Vaylen are worms from Iron Empires...

I nitpick just to prove I'm reading this. I did watch the first 3-4 seasons of the series when it was on TV here, but I never was too impressed. I was deep into real science fiction at the time (literary, that is), and I could never quite accept that Babylon 5 was limited to sniping at the big picture from the fringes, never delving in the social and cultural issues of the world it depicts in detail. I remember how we used to snidely condemn any episode that didn't progress the overall plot as "filler", and specifically refused to consider any literary merit in stories that didn't directly involve the main characters and their key issues. For example, anything to do with the human telepath subplot was "filler" to me at the time. I guess I should look at the series anew just to see if I've grown to interpret this sort of television differently since then.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2010, 10:31:49 AM »

Too many SF/fantasy terms in my head.

Eero, I'd suggest considering the historical economics of TV show production. Today's relative creative freedom and limited scope of show concepts totally didn't exist back then. "Cable" barely existed in its current form in the first place. The model of the successful TV show was M*A*S*H, and the idea of finishing a story or even a character's story was anathema. Nielsen ratings are still an issue, but then, they were simply and only God as far as production policy was concerned. So unless something was a Hit Hit Hit from day one, and unless the content implied that this show would be on the air forever just as it is now, keeping it on the air at all would be a bitter fight, and even then it would be subjected to constant pressure concerning its content.

If I'm remembering correctly, the strengths of B5's third and fourth seasons could be traced to the successful lobbying by the fan base which both reassured the production execs' fears that no one would be watching and also scared them a bit regarding loyalty to their channel if the show were canceled. So the shows' creative directors, or Strazcinski I suppose (I never did get into the JMS fan thing so I dunno about the details), may have had a rare opportunity actually to get dialogue and forward-moving content into a TV show.

I guess I'm saying that instead of decrying a show because some or even many episodes were absolutely filler from a long-term story point of view, it's worth considering that a show from that time with any story-forward content at all was a cause for wonder and appreciation. I'm not claiming that B5 ended up being wholly good in story terms; it suffers from a lot of blocked, poorly-realized, or stumbly content. But I do think it managed more than many shows, probably because it was predicated on long-term story logic and had to cope with production and executive assumptions for which that was simply gibberish, crazy talk.

All of which leads to an X-Files rant about the reverse, when the show isn't a long-term story but they pretend it is and maybe try to turn it into one. The X-Files worked just fine as the Gilligan's Island of the 1990s. But if you do have a show which is built within the limitations of "if they get off the island, the show's over," don't freaking constantly tease that they might, or hint that there are ways, or pretend that there's something to see once they're off. 100% episodic, i.e. short-form stories, is cool. Long-term story is cool. Trying to make one into the other blows, or to sum it into a pithy phrase, who the fuck cares about Fox's sister? But ... there are probably Lost fans reading this, right? So forget I said anything.

Best, Ron
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charlesperez
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« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2010, 11:20:52 AM »

I suspect that the Vorlon are perfectly happy to accept many possible answers to the question "Who are you?" I believe it's the question that's important to them. When a Vorlon asks the question, he expects you to answer, and to agree that his was the right question to ask; getting both the answer and the affirmation validates the Vorlon world view. Remember when Sheridan said to the Vorlon, "What do you want?" and the Vorlon replied, "Never ask that question"? With that in mind, one could easily see Jack the Ripper's ministrations upon Delenn as keeping her focused on the Vorlons' question and away from the Shadows' question. That her ultimate answer was in accord with real compassion might have been a happy accident.

Charles
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