Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 5: "Secrets of the Soul"

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Episode Information

Title: "Secrets of the Soul"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Tony Dow
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: August 5, 2010

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


Lyta and Byron consummate their relationship following a crisis with the telepaths, while Franklin begins researching the medical histories of Alliance races.

Despite Byron and the other telepaths' problems with the Psi Corps ("Strange Relations"), more rogue telepaths are arriving on the station to join them. A new, young arrival, Peter, has rudimentary powers of telekinesis.

Lyta has been getting even more involved in Byron's group, much to Zack's dismay. Zack tries to warn her that the telepaths are only trouble, but Lyta tells him straight out that she believes Byron and his cause, and would follow him anywhere. We've gotten hints that Zack has a crush on Lyta before - bringing her pizza last season in "Epiphanies", for example - but he sure doesn't know how to handle it. He comes across as trying to control Lyta - just when she's realizing she doesn't like being controlled by others - and prejudiced.

The thugs in Downbelow have begun picking on Byron and the other telepaths. Byron heads off the first confrontation by coming straight to the point and telling the main thug to hit him; he asks to be hit twice more. Then he asks the man if one of the hits was more satisfying than the others - if not, why continue? Byron's eloquence goes way over the head of the thug, so Byron and the others make an exit while the thugs are trying to figure out what Byron meant. In the end, the head thug just concludes that Byron used his telepathic powers to confuse him.

Lyta wasn't there, but she arrives to nurse his wounds. She may believe in his cause, but she's not convinced that nonviolence will be sufficient to realize their goals. Bryon implores her to not be violent like the Psi Corps and the "mundanes", but he's not successful.

Later, in a manner convenient for the plot, Peter is alone in Downbelow and is set upon by some of the thugs. He initially uses his telekinetic abilities to fight back, but he's not strong enough. Apparently he's later found almost beaten to death, and Lyta and Byron beg Dr. Franklin to save him. The other telepaths on the station read Peter's thoughts and feelings and go looking for the thugs in order to take revenge.

Byron realizes their intentions and goes to stop them. He's almost too late - some of the telepaths have cornered one of the thugs and are projecting into his mind the thought that he's on fire. Byron convinces them to stop - just in time for Zack to arrive and arrest him. Zack throws Byron in the brig, from where he can sense the other telepaths still searching for the thugs to take revenge. He begs Zack to let him go so that he can stop them. Byron is only too right, as the telepaths murder the head thug. Zack finally releases him.

Byron returns to the telepaths' quarters, where everyone but Lyta is sleeping. He is very upset at the violent revenge the other telepaths exacted. Lyta begins comforting him, which leads to some passionate sex. During their encounter, Lyta inadvertently (?) broadcasts her memories of her alteration by the Vorlons and her work with Kosh to the other telepaths.

Afterward, Byron, Lyta, and the others piece together the meaning of Lyta's memories. Byron realizes that the Vorlons created human telepaths for the express purpose of fighting the Shadows. Byron claims that their very existence (as telepaths) is a violation, and since the Vorlons are no longer around to repay them, then the Alliance must do so. After all, they were created to save everyone else in the war, so now the "mundanes" owe them.

This plot is the most urgent in the episode and obviously is going to propel events into the future of the season. At first, Byron's goals are relatively simple: keep the telepaths together, safe, and nonviolent. Byron himself is taking on a rather messianic posture, with his literal "turn the other cheek" attitude. Will he continue on this path and sacrifice himself? He certainly has the commitment to do so.

Lyta has completely committed herself to Byron's cause, although I suspect she has actually committed herself to Byron himself. She doesn't go for Byron's pacifist ways, and she's used violence herself many times to further a goal. Will he convince her completely to follow his philosophy? She also has a range of unusual telepathic abilities - how will she use them to help Byron?

Seeing the telepaths picked on and beaten up is frustrating. I don't know how realistic this is - would there really be thugs around who have nothing better to do than to beat up people? Especially people that have nothing to steal? I also wonder why the telepaths don't use their ability to read the thoughts of those around them so that they have a warning of danger - they seem to not care about distinctions like authorized vs. unauthorized scans.

Throughout the episode, the situation for the telepaths seems to be deteriorating, as they get more beaten up and they become violet despite Byron's leadership. Plus, they are just waiting for Bester to come back and collect them. However, the revelations in Lyta's memories at the end of the episode would seem to be game-changing for them.

Now the telepaths know that it wasn't just some fluke of nature that caused the human race to suddenly develop telepaths. And since human telepaths have generally been ostracized and controlled, it's only natural for them to be upset that they were genetically manipulated - they could have been born as a "normal" human! Byron, in particular, seems to have a deep-seated anger about the Vorlons' manipulation. This revelation seems to have given him a more focused and concrete goal: reparations from the Interstellar Alliance to human telepaths. Will he continue using his pacifistic methods to achieve this goal, or will he following Lyta's advice of using violence when appropriate?

The fact that the Vorlons did create the telepaths is sheer arrogance - manipulating the genetics of an entire species! Clearly, they thought they had the right to do so in order to protect humanity, but I think a lot of humans would argue the other side of that. I wonder if the Vorlons did anything to influence the societal acceptance of telepaths once they started appearing. I hope not, since if they had anything to do with the start of Psi Corps, it truly back-fired on them in the Shadow war. On the other hand, did they assume that the mere existence of human telepaths would be sufficient to win the war? Or were they planning to step in and control the telepaths at a key time? The fact that Lyta describes some of the telepaths as weapons may imply that - a weapon needs someone to use it. At any rate, this is overall a fascinating ethical issue.

The second plot in the episode involves Dr. Franklin's new job for the Interstellar Alliance of putting together the medical profiles and histories of the member races of the Alliance. In this episode, he is focusing on getting information from the Hyach, about whom he knows very little in the medical sense. He formally requests information from the Hyach ambassador, promising to die before allowing anyone to use the information for harm. The Hyach ambassador agrees to provide him with the race's medical histories, but once he leaves, we see that the ambassador's assistant is not pleased with the situation.

When Franklin goes through the Hyach medical information, he realizes that it doesn't reach back as far as their civilization has existed - there's information missing. He does some sleuthing into Earth and alien records and eventually finds out that there used to be two sentient races on the Hyach homeworld. The Hyach exterminated the other race some 800 years ago.

The Hyach ambassador's assistant is suspicious that Franklin found out their "secret", so she takes him hostage in his quarters. The ambassador arrives and confirms what Franklin discovered: they wiped out the other race for religious reasons. The ambassador also reveals that the Hyach government was secretly hoping he'd figure out their secret, because the Hyach race has been in decline for a long time. Their supposition is that the Hyach need intermixing with the other race to stay healthy overall, so now that they lack that interaction, the race is doomed. The Hyach government is hoping that Franklin or others in the Alliance can find some way to help them - without revealing the genocide the Hyach perpetrated.

Franklin refuses to help unless the Hyach acknowledge their crime publicly. Even so, the ambassador orders her assistant to release Franklin. In the end, it's not clear how Franklin, the Hyach government, and the Alliance are going to proceed.

This plot was much less interesting to me. Yes, the genocide is horrific, but it occurred a long time ago and involved a race that we don't know especially well. Intellectually, it's a sad story, but it just didn't carry the emotional punch. Perhaps it was partly because the acting of the Hyach characters was pretty weak, and the fact that SOMETHING WAS UP was telegraphed from the very beginning.

I also thought the ending was weak. If Franklin refuses to help (unless the Hyach go public), wouldn't he be guilty of aiding the on-going slow Hyach extinction? How could he justify that? On the other hand, I don't quite understand the problems the Hyach government have in revealing this history. Yes, it's embarrassing - but it was 800 years ago! Would any of the other races really care now? After all, some of these races already know this history, so it's not news to them - Franklin discovered it through a Drazi record.

The virtue of this plot is that it does highlight the problems that Franklin is going to have in his new job for the Alliance. Even so, it's clearly a challenge that he loves.

Both of the plots in this episode delved into "secrets of the soul" in different ways, and in a more general sense than just the secrets of one person. My rating on this episode is a balance between the superior telepath plot and the less-enthralling Hyach plot.

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