Thursday, March 28, 2013
I Can't Watch Anything Without Developing a Crazy Fan Theory
As previously noted on this blog, I'm watching my way through 'Babylon 5', and last night I got to 'Interludes and Examinations'. For those of you who don't want to know what happens in a twenty-year-old TV series, you should probably navigate to a different page, because the spoilers are going to hit hard and fast here, but for those of you who either do want to know or have already seen the series and just don't remember specific episode titles that well, this is the episode that features the death of Kosh.
Or does it?
Because let's face it, the whole episode hinges on the idea that Kosh finally breaks the millennia-old pattern of being a lying, scheming, untrustworthy manipulative bastard who somehow still thinks of himself as holding the moral high ground, and does the right thing for once in his life even though it kills him...and then is promptly replaced a few episodes later by a Vorlon who's a lying, scheming, untrustworthy manipulative bastard who somehow thinks of himself as holding the moral high ground. And he's totally not the same Vorlon, and we know this because he wears a different outfit. And because, well, Kosh just wouldn't play emotionally manipulative games like that with Sheridan's head, not this time. That's why he appeared to Sheridan as his father and forced Sheridan to see a vision of his beloved parent dying before his eyes, to show how he was done being emotionally manipulative!
My theory is this. When Sheridan confronted Kosh in the hallway, Kosh rapidly realized that this was one time when his usual "cryptic jackass" schtick wasn't going to work. Sheridan wasn't about to back down, and no longer respected Kosh's moral authority to conduct the war in his own fashion. The thought of actually respecting Sheridan's autonomy and treating him as an equal partner clearly never even occurred to Kosh; if it did, he'd have said to Sheridan, "If the Vorlons enter the war, the Shadows will kill me in reprisal," instead of saying, "If you do this, there will be a price. I will not be with you when you go to Z'ha'dum." The former allows Sheridan to make an informed, rational decision over the value of risking the life of a friend and ally in order to make a decisive strike against the Shadow forces (as well as allowing him to prepare for the counter-strike when it does occur, and possibly saving Kosh's life)...the latter is a thinly-veiled threat, the kind a parent makes against a petulant child. (While simultaneously being the act of a petulant child: "Well, fine! If you're going to tell me what to do, maybe I'll just die, huh? I bet you'd be really sorry if I died and you had to fight the Shadows all by yourself!")
At this point, Kosh goes off, rallies the Vorlons, and they have their decisive battle...and then he walks right back to his quarters at Babylon 5. This is an action that really only makes sense if he's either a) going to fake his own death, or b) if the "petulant child" theory is correct, and he's really so into his Vorlon Pity Party that he's going to let the Shadows kill him just to make a point to Sheridan that acting like you know better than a Vorlon has serious negative consequences. (In fairness, JMS says that he goes to his death willingly because he doesn't want to risk anyone else dying to defend him, but that's really a slightly nicer way of saying, "Vorlon Pity Party" all over again. "No, I don't trust you to make a rational, informed decision that might cost someone their life. I'll just sit here and die so that you don't get hurt. Don't feel bad for me or anything. It's not your fault that I died saving your species, just because you wouldn't listen to me when I told you I knew best.")
Which is pretty much what Kosh says, at the end. And just to really twist the emotional knife in good and hard, he says it wearing Sheridan's father's face. Sheridan is forced to watch his father die, which is emotional sadism of the highest order even if he does know it's Kosh behind it. Given that, and given Kosh's history of manipulating people towards what he sees as benevolent ends without any real regard for them as people--let's face it, Kosh only acts even remotely nice in order to reward people for doing what he wants them to--I don't see any reason why we can't assume he escapes the Shadows (he's already duked it out with them once and only received minor damage to his encounter suit) and then comes back as Ulkesh in order to punish Sheridan for disobeying. (Yes, I'm aware that this will require a little work to make fit into the events of "Falling Towards Apotheosis". More on this later.)
I think that the only reason people ever believed Kosh would die for someone else like that is because he slots into the Wise Mentor role for Sheridan in the Campbellian ur-myth, and Wise Mentors always die mid-way through the story so that the hero can find his own way in the world. But if you instead assume that the younger races are not so much being taught by the Vorlons as relentlessly patronized and used as catspaws in an ancient, petty feud, it becomes pretty clear that there's no way Kosh is going to sacrifice himself for anyone. It's completely out of character for him. Whereas lying, shamelessly using guilt as a tool to make people do what he wants, and using his chameleonic abilities to appear to someone in a form that they will listen to, well...that fits right in.