Babylon 5: Divided Loyalties
August 11, 2018 9:28 AM - Season 2, Episode 19 - Subscribe

Lyta Alexander (the telepath from the pilot movie, The Gathering) returns to B5 with a warning: there's a sleeper agent for PsiCorps on the station... "I never told them. I never told anyone. I hid it all away in the smallest, tiniest corner of my mind."

-Talia is sleeping in Ivanova's quarters because her room needs repairs. They wind up having sex.
-Minbari society operates on a 'need to know' basis for everything, and yet Delenn is buying Minbari gossip news...
-Lyta arrives on B5 with information a Ranger helped smuggle off of Mars. The Martian Psi base (mentioned a few times now) has planted an artificial personality in the mind of someone on B5: when a code word is telepathically implanted inside their mind, the second (evil) personality will awaken and take over--permanently. In the meantime, the artificial personality only takes over periodically, in order to send back intel to their handler ("Control"), and with the main personality completely unaware.
-A plot point mentioned in a previous episode: only two people are known to have encountered Kosh outside his suit. Lyta, and a doctor who was smuggled out by B5 earlier, both in response to an attempted assassination on Kosh. She returns to Kosh and begs to see him one more time, and is bathed in white light... PsiCorps drilled through her mind, looking for what happened when she touched Kosh to heal him, but found nothing.
-Back to Control! Lyta eventually convinces everyone to let her probe everyone to see if they're the sleeper. There's resistance, because it turns out Ivanova is NOT opposed to being probed by telepaths because of how PsiCorps treated her mother -- it's because she herself is a latent telepath ("probably barely a P1"; Talia was a P5 at the beginning of the series) and if she is probed, they'll figure it out and make her choose the Corps or the drugs, just like her mother. But it eventually happens anyways. Everyone comes up clean... except Talia. Her trigger gets flipped and she tries to shoot up the room.
-How screwed are they? Well, Talia knew about the Underground railroad, but that's embarrassing to the Corps so they probably won't go public with it. Unbeknownst to the crew, Talia is also a TK (remember Ironheart?) but this is never mentioned again.
-I, or someone else, will get into this more in the comments, but: this is not how this plotline was supposed to go. The marriage of the actors who play Talia and Garibaldi was dissolving, and Talia's actress (Andrea Thompson) had been offered a juicy role on NYPD Blue and wanted out. As far as many fans can figure, this was likely at least the second time this plotline had been re-written due to behind-the-scenes troubles. It's a mess.
posted by flibbertigibbet (8 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Alright. There's two theories about the Control plot:

1) Per JMS (and please don't google this until you've finished the series): Talia was *almost* always intended to be Control. In this version, Takashima -- the pre-Sheridan, pre-Sinclair captain of B5 -- was going to be Control and written off quickly, but she and the network semi-mutually parted ways (she was, after all, in a lot of film roles at the time). So, JMS re-wrote Talia as Control -- having Control subconsciously compel her to get all friendly with B5 control staff, which is why she and Ivanova have a drink in the pilot.

Now, some of you who have finished the series will want to interrupt with "But wait! What about [future plotline]!" Re-watch Deathwalker, that's apparently the way out they had planned. Otherwise: spoilers.

2) The more suspicious fan take: if Talia is Control, the events of Spider in the Web *make no sense*. Control is telling her agent to kill... herself... Oh god what is going on, what is Bureau 13, what is anything. In this more suspicious take, Control was supposed to be some combination of Takashima (left), Sakai (made irrelevent by Sinclair's departure and written out), and Ivanova (had better plotlines to go with), with the baton getting passed as life interfered.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:36 PM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

"Wait, B5 had a pilot movie in which an Asian woman was captain of B5? And the station telepath was a redhead, not icy Talia? And G'kar was a hardcore inappropriate horndog instead of a low-key horndog? And someone tries to kill Kosh?"

Oh yes. That and so much more, my darlings.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:52 PM on August 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

And another entry in the "bury your gays" list. Though the repercussions didn't really arise until later.
posted by happyroach at 9:56 PM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty sure I watched the B5 pilot movie when it first aired, but for whatever reason, I missed season one and only got sucked in around the time Sheridan first came aboard. Reading all this, I'm kind of glad I missed Talia the first time around. :) Too much to ponder.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:30 PM on August 12, 2018

Per JMS (and please don't google this until you've finished the series): Talia was *almost* always intended to be Control. In this version, Takashima -- the pre-Sheridan, pre-Sinclair captain of B5 -- was going to be Control and written off quickly, but she and the network semi-mutually parted ways (she was, after all, in a lot of film roles at the time). So, JMS re-wrote Talia as Control -- having Control subconsciously compel her to get all friendly with B5 control staff, which is why she and Ivanova have a drink in the pilot.

So many weird things come together here! IIRC Takashima was second in command in "The Gathering"; Sinclair was still the one in charge of the station, but he winds up on trial for the assassination attempt on Kosh, so she defaults to being in charge (which was part of the plan). There is one scene in "The Gathering" where whoever the assassin's contact on the station is opens a secure door, and some enterprising fans went to freeze frame on their VCRs (this is the long ago, my children) to see Takashima's name, so the big fans knew there was supposed to a plant/mole on the station for a long time. And while Takashima was always intended for this role, and I'm not sure jms never settled definitely on anyone later (I think he was leaning towards Talia, hence Kosh's actions in "Deathwalker") but too many things are a bit too loose in places.

Yes, G'kar was far more of a horndog - he comes on to the station telepath - Lyta Alexander - pretty hard in the interest of getting telepathic genes for the Narn ("I prefer direct mating. But I don't know what your...pleasure threshold is"). G'Kar was also heavy in the original pilot movie - the Narn helped to get the plot going, transporting the assassin, and G'Kar is very provocative in the aftermath of the attempt, in the hopes of starting a war between the Vorlons and the EA. I think we weren't supposed to like G'Kar much, at least until somewhere in S1, but I always had a soft spot for the character - something about the writing/how Katsulas played him made G'Kar so enjoyable. Or maybe we were supposed to like him, even though he was often in opposition to other characters, because one of the things B5 strives for is making the audience understand (not necessarily agree) with different viewpoints/approaches.

"The Gathering" also introduced some tech that I'm glad disappeared from the show (a shapeshifting item), though I'm always disappointed that the voice modification tech didn't work well enough for Delenn to go from male to female as part of the planned transition of the character.

The relationship between Talia and Susan is most explicitly brought to the fore in this episode (it starts in "Midnight on the Firing Line" when the two of them share some tense conversations/a drink); the fact that Susan got involved with a telepath is an interesting thing on its own that gets explored later and is perhaps the only meaningful storyline to get lifted out of this mess.

The ending of this particular plotline just becomes really unsatisfying in retrospect - Talia being Control messes up the idea/actions of Bureau 13 from "Spider in the Web"; the fact that she had a relationship with Susan means she's likely privy to all kinds of dirt/info (I think it was in "Mind War" that we are made aware of the fact that when telepaths have sex, a lot of mental barriers drop, so she should be aware of Susan's limited abilities and her knowledge); but the fact that the actress is leaving the show means that the information she has never gets picked up again, nor does the intriguing recording of her brain that Kosh made. Basically, what happens is that a bunch of possible plot strands just get dropped here, and it is annoying. The fact that Andrea had a bigger part coming elsewhere and the dissolution of her relationship with Jerry Doyle made this necessary, but it left some holes that the show deals with by never mentioning them again despite some comments from JMS about how this wasn't the end of Talia's story.

It's a indicator of the times (1998) I think, how circumspect the show was about the Talia/Susan relationship - it's never directly referenced here; Susan suggests Talia share her quarters but it's kind of an awkward thing, and all we see is Talia waking up and noticing Susan is missing, implying they were sharing the bed (and apparently this was their first time together). JMS said, at the time: "I didn't show a kiss because, in my experience, it's easier on all around if one steps into the shallow end of the pool first, and walks into the deep end rather than diving in and splashing everybody in the process." Anyways, yeah, it's disappointing that Talia gets written out about the same time we discover she and Susan are gay/bisexual.

This is one of my "grar" epsiodes, in that I see so many potential things that could have happened here, that just don't for a variety of circumstances. I am glad to have Patricia Tallman back, though.
posted by nubs at 8:41 AM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I loved Talia, I loved their relationship. It was bad enough how this went, and hated the romantic interest they tried to give Susan later on because it felt like such an erasure to unconvincingly pair her with a man.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:30 AM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

So part of me would be super-duper nervous about the Delenn transition storyline (queer themes: not often handled well on TV in the '90s! Or now! Still!), but given where Delenn's storyline goes, to imagine those events with a trans character three years before Ellen even came out as lesbian is astonishing.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:43 PM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I often wonder if things had been different in real-life if they could have somehow brought the real Talia back, given the gift that Ironheart gave her and the weird recordings Kosh had.

This episode also shows just how many changes there were from "The Gathering." Everybody in Earthforce that Lyta interacted with was pretty much gone when she comes back. I would have loved her to chat with G'Kar for old times' sake, but that doesn't really fit with where he is thematically at this point. Comic Foil G'Kar is gone, JMS is now gradually turning his awesomeness up to 11.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

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