Babylon 5: Comes the Inquisitor
August 25, 2018 9:26 AM - Season 2, Episode 20 - Subscribe

Kosh mortally tests Delenn. Meanwhile, G'kar begins the Resistance. "The Vorlons are."

-Well, what a hell of an episode to try to choose a pullquote from. Also considered: "Nothing changes. Corruption, immorality, chaos."; "This is Hell, Captain, and you are its chief damned soul"; "Who are you?"; "Have you nothing of your own? Nothing to stand on that is not provided, defined, delineated, stamped, sanctioned, numbered, and approved by others? How can you expected to fight for someone else when you haven't the fairest idea who you are?"; "Do you know what your problem is, Delenn? You are a piece of the machine that thinks it is the whole of the machine. The flute that believes itself a symphony. You have malfunctioned. Admit it, and you'll feel better. Your only destiny is to be a nail that is hammered down. Bang, bang, bang"; "Well, well. A mutual admiration and sacrificial society."
-Let's just get the G'kar plot out of the way: he rebuys Narn weaponry, sold to Earth during the Earth-Minbari war, at extortionate prices from an arms dealer. He also faces a leadership challenge and convinces Sheridan to use the Rangers to smuggle a message on/off Narn,; Sheridan agrees, because of some variant of 'better the devil you know'.
-G'kar and Vir meet in an elevator. Vir apologizes, and G'kar very coldly loses his shit, cuts his hand, squeezes to make it bleed, and counts the blood drops: "Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. How can you apologize to them?"
-A man arrives on Babylon 5. He has been summoned by Kosh. He is human. He is dressed in a decidedly archaic fashion and his job is to test Delenn, to see if she is suitable as an ally and leader, to see if she's the right person or an insane egomaniac. His name is Sebastian and he was abducted by the Vorlons from Earth on November 11th, 1888.
-He takes Delenn to an abandoned room and puts pain cuffs on her. They are loose enough that she can throw them off at any time and leave. Her choices are: stay and prove herself; stay and die; leave. He questions her very being: Who are you? Not your name, family, or title; these were all assigned. Who ARE you?
-He questions her on her messianic delusions; on using the Triluminary to fulfill Valen's peophecy. Everytime he deems a response of her unacceptable, she is punished with the pain givers, and it gets worse every time. She gives an incredible quantity of unacceptable answers. Meanwhile, Sebastian seems to be perfectly in his element, giving pain.
-Delenn counters that Sebastian himself has messianic delusions and he cannot bear to think that someone might be right about theirs, so he'd rather destroy them. He loses his shit and starts hitting the pain givers so often that Delenn is near death.
-In the only time in the series we see him act like this, Lennier drops by at one point, sees Delenn, freaks out, and runs to Sheridan to get him to save her as he truly believes Sebastian will kill her.
-Sheridan arrives, is knocked out by Sebastian after thinking he could win this by force, and is interrogated and gets the everloving shit kicked out of him by Sebastian. Delenn eventually intervenes, screaming at him to stop, that she'll take Sheridan's place--that neither of them truly matter as another soldier will always rise to continue the conflict, but she cannot allow him to die for her.
-This means Delenn (and Sheridan) have passed the test.
-In a coda, Sheridan figures out who Sebastian is: Jack the Ripper.
-JMS is a Ripperologist who believes the Ripper was a local pastor who had written furious diatribes to the papers about the filth and decay of the area. His explanation is here:
Who was the one person whose wife actually wrote a letter to the London Times suggesting that the ripper maybe was trying to tell them something, and that maybe he'd stop if they listened? Who was the last person to see at least two of the victims alive on missions of mercy to the jail? Who was reported to have become unhinged by the filth in the area around the murders when he found a rat in his breakfast? Who had medical experience? Who left England suddenly after being questioned, with the murders stopping soon afterward? Whose transcripts of interviews with church officials and British police are *still* kept under lock and key? Who is the sort of person who might say -- as the only witness to hear the ripper reported hearing him remark to one of his victims -- "You would do anything but pray?" Who had the same last name -- and was a likely relative -- of the man living with the very last victim, the only one killed in her room (suggesting she knew the killer)?
The Reverend Samuel Barnett. That's my choice.
-And indeed, our Sebastian knows his Bible very well.
-One of the Narn is CNN reporter Dennis Michael, reporting on the B5 makeup group (Optiv Nerve).
posted by flibbertigibbet (10 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The first shots of Sebastian are of his fancy cane, cuffs, and shoes. I turned to my husband and drily remarked, "What, is he from 1888 London?", thinking of the Ripper, and turned back to the screen.

His poker face was remarkable.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:28 AM on August 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would suggest "Remembered only as...Jack" as our pull quote.

Wayne Alexander, who plays Sebastian, will be seen again on B5...just not as Sebastian.
posted by nubs at 11:34 AM on August 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

One of Boxleitner's coldest line reads of the series is here. At the end, when they're seeing Sebastian off, Sebastian says that once he has completed his task, he might be permitted to die. At this, Sheridan nods and says "I think that would be a good thing." I found it chilling, as I'd seen Sheridan the soldier in the heat of battle, but never seen him just straight up look someone in the eye and calmly wish them dead.
posted by Mogur at 5:13 PM on August 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Shortly after watching this for the first time, I remember starting to wonder what the Vorlons were up to, that they would select and keep someone like Sebastian around.
posted by nubs at 5:36 PM on August 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

That was incredibly creepy but interesting. And what nubs said.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:52 AM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

This was my first exposure to the Was Actually Jack the Ripper sci-fi/fantasy trope, but I'm not sure if it was actually the first.

I dislike this episode more with each subsequent re-watch. Vorlons are such assholes, and I just don't have the stomach for well-written torture scenes. And B5 does these very well! I sometimes, uh, take a prurient interest in fictional torture scenes, and it's easy to because so many shows and movies play up the sexy aspects. B5 never does, which makes them both effective and hard to watch.

Wayne Alexander is fantastic, though, in this and all other roles (including his other B5 ones).
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:48 AM on August 26, 2018

This was my first exposure to the Was Actually Jack the Ripper sci-fi/fantasy trope, but I'm not sure if it was actually the first.

Original Trek's episode Wolf in the Fold has it beat by a few decades, but I'm not sure if that one is the first either.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:39 PM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have always wondered about why the Jack the Ripper insert - thank you for explaining it.

I have loved G’kar saying that to Vir for a while, and especially on this rewatch. It adds depth to the Vir-upset-by-Londo’s-actions thing. Yes, he was upset - but he still pled for the release of Morden, which made the destruction of the Narn home world possible. He is complicit, even more than G’kar knows.
posted by corb at 2:14 AM on March 24, 2019

Welllll this episode certainly hits different in the year 2021.

One thing I'd forgotten: I thought the Markab had voluntarily quarantined themselves, but no: it turns out they locked themselves into a huge room as a sort of religious retreat, believing they would be spared the plague if they prayed hard enough. As a plot device to get all the Markab into a locked room, this doesn't seem to make as much sense as a voluntary quarantine: wouldn't they simply begin to leave once their people began showing symptoms?

Still. It's hard not to be moved by that last shot of Delenn and Lenier staggering through the room over the floor strewn with corpses, holding each other up.

The actor who plays Dr. Lazarenn is very good, and his scenes with Rick Biggs are lovely. The characters' collegial friendship is so believable that I wish that character had appeared earlier and built up the relationship a bit. Rick Biggs was so good, and we get so little of Dr Franklin's life away from Medlab.

(I know the addicted-to-stims storyline is coming up. I'm... not wild about the choice to have the only Black character in the main cast also be the show's only drug addict. I think Biggs deserved better. Still, this episode is a solid showcase for Stephen before it all goes to hell for him.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:29 PM on April 17, 2021

(Sorry: I meant to leave that comment on the thread for the plague episode, Confessions and Lamentations, a couple episodes ago. That will teach me to have too many B5 threads open at once)
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:09 AM on April 19, 2021

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