Book Review: Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons by Phil Sandifer

“First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin…”
Due diligence: I am a backer of Phil’s Patreon, and received the ebook version of this for free as a backer reward.
2015 was a year of struggle within science fiction and video games, the two major topics of this book. Two bands of “puppies,” the Rabid and the Sad, tried to hijack the Hugo nominations process and stuff the lists with their preferred form of science fiction, by which we mean fiction that, at best, expresses conservative values, and at worst endorses Christofascism. Meanwhile, GamerGate, the sustained terrorist campaign against women in video games that began in late 2014, stubbornly refused to die.
Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons: Notes on Science Fiction and Culture in the Year of Angry Dogs is author, critic, and blogger Phil Sandifer’s counterattack. It opens with a series of chapters, mostly adapted from posts on his blog, that look at science fiction in 2015 and the regressive Puppy backlash from a progressive perspective. The first chapter, which gives the book it’s title, is an analysis of the Rabid Puppies which argues, quite effectively, that they are not just regressive but fascist; in particular, Sandifer discusses their version of the stab-in-the-back myth at the heart of fascist rhetoric, and compares their movement to the criteria for fascism suggested by Umberto Eco, finding that they clearly fulfill all but one of the criteria and arguably fulfill the last as well. This is followed by an interview with the leader of the Rabid Puppies, Theodore Beale, revealing him to be at once fascinating and repulsive. Following up on the interview is a transcript of a podcast Sandifer recorded immediately after, in which the participants discuss, reframe, and joke about the interview, and then after that is Sandifer’s response to author John C. Wright (one of the Rabid Puppy authors and a commentor on Beale’s blog) calling for his death.
These initial chapters thus pass from unsympathetic analysis, to direct engagement, to mockery, to dismissal and rejection. They are intelligent, well-argued, and utterly scathing; a beautiful catharsis after a year in which the world often seemed to be sliding backwards into the void.
The book transitions over the next few chapters into a series of reviews. The first few reviews are still in the mode of responses to the Puppies: a discussion of the winner of the 2015 Best Novel Hugo, The Three-Body Problem, and the complicated question of who that’s a victory for; a review of Seveneves that brings in Beale’s attacks on the book and what they reveal about his toxic views of masculinity and involvement with GamerGate; and an utterly delightful study of Janelle Monae’s ongoing song cycle The Metropolis Suite as a work of afrofuturist science fiction. That last marks the point of transition–its only real connection to the Rabid Puppies is that it was brought up in the first chapter as an example of something wonderful that goes against everything they want and believe.
From there we get to honestly the least interesting part of the book, a series of reviews in the same style as the previous one, but lacking the edge of Sandifer’s engagingly mocking, furious hatred which enlivened the Rabid Puppy-focused chapters. There’s then a bit of a divider near the center of the book in the form of a short story, one of Sandifer’s rare forays into fiction; interesting enough, I suppose, but it’s not going to get nominated for any awards (unlike, say, the first chapter, which I would not be surprised to see nominated for a Related Work Hugo).
After the story are a series of short chapters exerpted from his ongoing Super Nintendo Project, a combination memoir and history of the Super Nintendo, which Sandifer cheekily describes as a “magical ritual to destroy GamerGate.” The second of these chapters, on Final Fantasy II, is a fascinating look at the relationship between the way games reward players, tedium, poverty, and the price points for Super Nintendo games, which contained much that rang true for me–which given that I was a child living in poverty when I first played Super Nintendo games, including Final Fantasy II, should say something. I actually have a great deal more to say on this topic than will fit in a review of the book, but it’ll all be in a future episode of re:play. (Specifically, right after I get Mog.) The other major standout from this section is its last chapter, on Mortal Kombat, which much like the earlier chapter on Seveneves takes the opportunity to look at the model of masculinity it represents, and the fetishization of pointless, empty, childish violence, as formative in the development of the attitudes that would fester and burst out 20 years later as GamerGate.
The next and longest chapter is the one where I eat crow: The Last War in Albion is, contrary to what I said in my review of Sandifer’s earlier book A Golden Thread, very good and not difficult to follow at all, as this chapter demonstrates, so long as one reads a minimum of an entire chapter in one sitting, rather than broken across fragmentary blog posts separated by days.
The final section of the book focuses on the work for which Sandifer is best known, his critical study of Doctor Who. It includes three chapters on writer Peter Harness (one analyzing his work on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Doctor Who, and two interviews with him), and concludes with possibly my favorite thing Phil’s ever written, the complete text of his short book Recursive Occlusion, a review of the classic Doctor Who serial “Logopolis” as a microcosm of Doctor Who, framed as a mystical journey through the Tarot and Sephiroth, and structured as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. I’ve been clamoring for an ebook version of this since its 2014 release, and here at the end of Guided by the Beauty we finally get one.
This is a perfect ending to a book that began with a study of frightened neofascists throwing a tantrum because the world is moving on without them into something they do not understand and are too hateful to accept. We end on a deliberately outre celebration of the weird and wonderful, which simultaneously reaches into the mystical past and expands outward and upward into the future, which denies authority to the extend of not even giving it to the author, allowing instead the reader to choose their own path. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition that lends truth to Sandifer’s claim that the Puppies have already lost.
Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons is available in print or ebook through Amazon and in ebook through Smashwords.

Froborr Watches Fringe, S1E1-4

So, over on Mark Spoils, which is a sort of shadow-site to the Mark Does Stuff empire, I’ve started blogging my way through Fringe, a show I have never seen and did not know about. So here’s the collection of entries on last week’s viewing.
So first off, here’s what I knew before I started:

  • It’s by Abrams, Kurzman, and Orci, aka The Team That Ruined Star Trek.
  • No one except Mark Oshiro has ever said anything about it, ever.
  • Mark really, really likes it.
  • Parallel universes?

Spoilers below the cut!
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Journeys end, but hell bent we continue on

In her TARDIS Eruditorum entry on “A Good Man Goes to War,” El Sandifer laid out the theory of narrative substitution, which she identified as the definitive technique of Moffat’s tenure as Doctor Who showrunner. A narrative substitution is, as the name implies, the substitution of one narrative for another; specifically, it is the creation of an expectation that a story will be one kind of narrative, only to reject that narrative (usually on ethical/political grounds) and tell a different kind of story.
In “Face the Raven”/”Heaven Sent”/”Hell Bent” (which I am choosing to treat as a single three-part story despite “Face the Raven” having a different writer and director than the other two) there is a series of substitutions, each rejecting the previously established story as an insufficient answer to a single question: how do we get rid of Clara?
Which is a question that needs to be answered. Jenna Coleman, her actress, is leaving the show, and even if she weren’t, every companion has to leave eventually. And it’s not like it hasn’t been explored before; both Oswin Oswald and Clara Oswin Oswald, “echoes” of Clara that predated her first true appearance on the show, died at the ends of their episodes, “Kill the Moon” has Clara announce her departure after a fight with the Doctor, the Series Eight finale ends with what appears to be a final goodbye between the Doctor and Clara as they each pretend to no longer need the other, and the following Christmas special contains a sequence in which the Doctor meets and says farewell to an elderly Clara.
But each of these departures was rejected as inadequate. The problem of Clara is that she was originally introduced as a narrative substitution; she is presented as a mystery (“Why is the Doctor meeting identical women with similar names in very different times and places?”) and the Doctor (and audience) is then rebuked for treating a person as a mystery when the answer turns out to be “She’s a perfectly ordinary person who made a very brave and dangerous choice.” The downside of this substitution was that Clara had to spend an entire half-season appearing to be the most generic companion ever; it’s really only after the Eleventh Doctor regenerated into the Twelfth that we could finally start seeing how extraordinary this “perfectly ordinary person” could be. Clara is a fierce protector of both the people she loves and the innocent; she is someone whose heart has been broken and healed; someone who loves children and teaching, fights fiercely for justice, loves traveling and experiencing new things, has an open mind, lies glibly, can see the humanity in a grotesque alien and the monstrosity in someone who looks completely human, and uses words as her main weapon.
She is, in short, the female Doctor fans have been clamoring for (well, the fans worth knowing, anyway) for years. All she’s missing is a TARDIS, immortality, and a companion of her own.
Given that, how can we say goodbye to her?
Well, she’s a human daring to be the Doctor. A mere mortal posing as a Trickster God. So that gives us our first answer; in “Face the Raven” she has Rigsy transfer the death sentence laid on him by Mayor Me to herself, hubristically assuming that she will be able to cheat the inevitability of death itself (since that is clearly what the Raven represents here). But she can’t; only a true immortal like the Doctor can. Her hubris is lethal; as Me reveals when the Doctor persuades her to lift the sentence, the complex rules of the Raven mean that Me could have lifted it from Rigsy, but now that he has transferred it to Clara she cannot. (Why Rigsy can’t is not explained, but must simply be accepted, the rules of death being as immutable and unfair as death itself.)
And then the first narrative substitution kicks in, as the Doctor rejects that Clara has done anything wrong, rejects the very moral schema in which hubris is a punishable crime (as of course he would and should), and instead begins learning and planning to go after the (unidentified at this point) people who used Me to bring this about and get his attention. Hubris has been rejected as a narrative, but instead we are getting a simple fridging: Clara dies not because of who she is and what choices she made as a character, not in a way that is at all respectful of her agency, but as a plot device to move the Doctor’s character along to the next plot point in his story.
Clara is having none of that, and soundly rebukes the Doctor before his rampage has even begun. Instead we get her death as the anti-fridging; she embraces that her choices have brought her to this point, orders the Doctor not to take revenge on her behalf, steps out proudly to stand and face the Raven where all others have run, and dies on her feet.
“Heaven Sent” opens with the Doctor trying to reject this again, announcing that he is doing exactly what Clara told him not to, ordering the unseen creators of the castle to fear him. But this is quickly subsumed by the puzzlebox of the castle itself, which by the time the Doctor finds clothes hung by the fire, identical to the sopping wet ones he’s wearing, and then after putting the dry clothes on replaces them with his own wet ones in exactly the same position, is clearly that Moffat standard, a complex but very clever puzzle with a timey-wimey solution.
And then it isn’t, as it becomes clear that this puzzle has no solution. This is just the Raven again, the inevitable death, the futility of trying to escape. The castle, the Doctor realizes, isn’t a puzzlebox but a torture chamber, specifically designed to make him suffer. It is a reification of his grief for Clara, the inescapable prison of mourning someone who is lost. Only that’s not a narrative that can survive long in Doctor Who either; he imagines Clara telling him to move on, and futility is answered not with the cleverness to solve a puzzlebox, but the determination and sheer bloody-minded stubbornness to punch the same spot in a diamond wall for billions of years. There is an old and rather inaccurate saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result; here we see that cleverness is only enough to figure out the trap. Actually getting out requires insanity, doing something completely futile so much that it stops being futile.
Which brings us back to the revenge narrative. The Doctor may have let go of Clara, but he did so with the rage and passion to push himself through a wall of diamond and into the next episode; in “Hell Bent” that same rage provides the motivation and his secret knowledge of the Hybrid, the mystery dangled in front of us all season, his leverage in conquering Gallifrey.
And then the whole narrative up to this point, both the “Face the Raven” substitution and the “Heaven Sent” substitution, is rejected. The Doctor doesn’t really know what the Hybrid is better than anyone else, and he hasn’t been trying to avenge Clara; all of this was a plan to bring Clara back. To use Gallifrey’s resources to pull a Chrono Trigger, returning to the frozen instant of her death to snatch her away from the Raven in a way even it can’t follow. His plan succeeds; he and Clara work together to descend into the Cloister, steal a new TARDIS, and run away.
But then Clara’s heart doesn’t resume beating. Another substitution, as this becomes a story familiar from the Russel T. Davies era of the show, a story of how being with the Doctor is wonderful, but ultimately unhealthy. The Doctor is all about escape, which is precisely what he and Clara were doing on Gallifrey, “stealing a TARDIS and running away.” And escape is not always possible or advisable; “Hope is terrible on the scaffold” as Ohila tells him. He has to let go of Clara; she is dead, has been dead for billions of years, and the Doctor is tearing the universe apart in his denial of it. As Me points out, the two push each other to extremes, which is probably why Missy got them together in the first place.
This was a recurring problem of the Davies era. The Doctor changes his companions, opens to them an entirely new world. Rose ultimately threw herself into that world completely and was swallowed up by it. Martha ultimately rejected it completely, choosing to leave the Doctor and live out her life on Earth, even joining UNIT, an organization which exists to maintain a barrier between the world of the Doctor and “normal” life on Earth. And Donna… Donna was an ordinary woman who proved extraordinary given the chance, a normal human who became the Doctor. Like Clara, she wouldn’t stay forever, but would never leave. She’d rather die than lose her experiences with the Doctor–so the Doctor took the choice away from her, wiped away her memories, destroyed what she’d become in order to keep something that looked like her alive.
Now, briefly, we see Moffat telling the same story, and he rejects it. Firmly and absolutely, Clara refuses to become the next Donna. The past is hers, and she will not allow the Doctor to take it away from her. She would rather die; that is her choice, and her choice is really all that matters here. The confrontation between the Doctor and Clara, their argument over the neural block, is a profound rebuke to the staggering violation the Doctor committed against Donna in “Journey’s End.” Like her death in “Face the Raven,” Clara refuses to allow her agency to be stolen from her in order to give the Doctor something to be sad about in the rain. Her past belongs to her, and so do her present and her future.
So: Clara retains her agency. Both vengeance and grief are rejected when they are more about the Doctor’s story than about saying goodbye to Clara. And death is an inevitability that cannot be cheated.
But this is Doctor Who, and summer can last forever if you steal a time machine. Clara’s death is a fixed event, which means that until she decides to finally go back to Gallifrey (which, I suspect, will be around the time her memory fills up and she realizes her choices are to die or to become like Me), she cannot die. So she steals a time machine and goes off to explore the universe with her companion, Me.
Like I said, all she needed was a TARDIS, immortality, and a companion. The Doctor-Donna was wrong, the hubris of the Tenth Doctor made flesh, and had to be destroyed. The Doctor-Clara is wrong, the hubris of Clara Oswald made flesh, and it is glorious.
After all, another word for hubris is rebellion; another word for reaching above your station is transcendence. Clara Oswald rejects your narrative, and substitutes her own.
Bravo, Mr. Moffat.
Edited 7/6/19: Corrected El Sandifer’s name and gender and made a couple of other minor grammatical edits.

iZombie is really very good

I was hoping to have something a little more in-depth to say today, but then I got hit with a bout of insomnia last night, so I watched the first eight episodes of iZombie instead. It was good. Really good. Like, Veronica Mars when she was still in high school good. Basically Veronica Mars meets Dollhouse without the squicky consent issues of the latter. Well-written, well-performed, great balance between ongoing story and mysteries-of-the-week.
(No but seriously. “Has me thinking about my Hugo picks” level of good, here.)

That je ne sais quoi

I mentioned in my video on Gravity Falls episode 1 that it lacks a certain quality I struggled to define, but which is possessed by many other cartoons I enjoy. It is a quality possessed by several of the best cartoons, such as Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Friendship Is Magic, but while clearly quite good, Gravity Falls seems to lack it (at least in the five episodes I’ve seen so far). On the other hand, Phineas and Ferb, which is really not a good show (although it is one I enjoy enough to have watched most of it), has the quality, whatever it is.
So this post is me trying to figure out what that quality might be by comparing shows that do and don’t have it. I’ve come up with a few possibilities–things that are shared in common between the four shows that I mentioned which possess this quality, but are not present or less present in what I’ve seen of Gravity Falls. Most likely it is a combination of multiple factors, maybe all of them, in different amounts.
What I’ve come up with:

  • Colorfulness: All four of Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Friendship Is Magic, and Phineas and Ferb tend toward bright palettes. Gravity Falls is not dark by any means, but it tends toward less saturated colors and a lot more browns; despite both it and Phineas and Ferb being set in summer, the colors of Gravity Falls make it look like fall to me.
  • Lack of cynicism: There’s no trace of cynicism in four of these shows; Gravity Falls is cynical as hell.
  • Playfulness: All of these shows can get pretty weird, but treat it differently. The weirdness in Gravity Falls is treated as portentous or uncanny, even when it’s used as a source of humor; there’s a sense of something behind the weirdness, that there is some kind of Other from which the weirdness derives. In the other four shows, weirdness is just there because someone felt like tossing it in.
  • Pacing: Phineas and Ferb, Steven Universe, and Adventure Time have 11-minute episodes. Friendship Is Magic episodes are 22 minutes, but tend to have very rapid pacing anyway. Gravity Falls tends to unfold things more slowly, taking a lot of its cues from genres that rely on slower pacing to build tension.

Again, this shouldn’t be taken as a measure of quality. Gravity Falls is a good show, and I enjoy it. Just not in the same way or to the same degree as the shows which do possess these qualities. And I still feel like I’m missing something; that je ne sais quoi remains elusive.

Age of Ultron and the Impending Collapse of the MCU

We all know the MCU is inevitably going to collapse, right? It’s a shared superhero continuity, an attempt to force an ever-expanding number of stories into the straitjacket of continuity nitpickery. It is not only deliberately encouraging the paranoid reading style and gossip about imaginary people, it wants us to see Guardians of the Galaxy and Daredevil as two windows into the same world.
So of course, sooner or later, it will do what the comics always do, and implode. The need for ever-more obscure references in order to build ever-more elaborate conspiracies for viewers to unravel, combined with the unrestrained growth of constantly adding new characters and new media–so far, in order to fully follow the MCU, it is necessary to watch two network television shows, a web-series, and five film series–and those numbers are growing allm the time.
Now of course it’s possible to follow and enjoy an Avengers movie without knowing what’s going on in Agents of SHIELD (says the person who hasn’t watched any Marvel TV shows). But remember, it is the nature of a conspiracy theory to grow more convoluted and complex with time, and a shared continuity is essentially a conspiracy theory about a group of fictional works. Right now, the MCU films spend relatively little of their time laying clues for future films or paying off clues dropped in other series–but that amount is growing.
There is a particular minor subplot in Age of Ultron (if you have seen the film, you know which I mean) which serves no purpose except to bring Age of Ultron‘s own story to a screeching halt so that it can spend a few minutes congratulating us nerds who recognized how Captain America, Thor 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy were building toward Avengers 3. (To his credit, Whedon apparently fought against including these scenes, and had to be forced into it by executives threatening to cut a major character-building sequence. But not too much credit; that sequence includes Black Widow suggesting that being unable to have children makes a woman a monster.)
This kind of thing is only going to keep getting worse. How long until plot threads introduced in Agent Carter get resolved in Ant-Man 3? Until we get entire films that exist solely as set-up and teaser for the next big crossover? Until the whole thing is just the same mess of conflicting reboots, alternate universes, and continuity lockouts as mainstream comics?
(Rhetorical questions, but I’ll answer anyway: No later than Avengers 4, and possibly much, much earlier.)

The Mortification of the Flesh

In Desolation Road, which is seriously one of the most overlooked and undervalued should-be classics of science fiction, there are a few chapters late in the book dealing with this religious cult that, much like certain medieval Christian monks and mystics, pursues the mortification of the flesh–they believe the body is sinful and evil, while the spirit is pure, and so seek to punish the body as a way of expressing the purity of the spirit. For medieval mystics, this meant stuff like living in deliberate filth, whipping themselves, starvation, and so on, while in the novel, they do it by destroying their sinful flesh and replacing it with pure, holy machinery. They are, of course, a parody of a certain kind of science fiction fan, the sort who talks about “the singularity” a lot–the end-goal of the cult is the Ultimate Mortification, a human mind in a completely robotic body.

It’s gotten me thinking a bit of how I think about my own rotting sack of vomit, and in particular how I tend to view it as not a part of me, but rather as an antagonist that holds me hostage. I am occasionally insomniac, yes, but far more often the reason I don’t sleep is stubbornness: I deliberately stay up, doing things that make it hard to sleep, because I’m sick of my body demanding I waste a third of every day doing nothing. Sleeping isn’t taking care of myself, in this mindset; it’s letting my body win.

Or there’s the time in college I kept refusing to go to the doctor while I got sicker and sicker, either though campus health services was literally across the lobby from the student newspaper offices where I spent the overwhelming majority of my time. The only reason I ever made it there was because I passed out in the office and other members of the staff carried me there. …And then a few years later more or less the same thing happened, where I had an infected cut on my face, and despite it being both painful and incredibly disgusting, I walked around with it for weeks until my fever got bad enough to make me delirious, and Viga (again, literally) dragged me to the doctor.

Or these last few weeks, where my feet have been getting steadily more painful, until last night I finally broke down and bought some arch support inserts for my shoes. And I really do experience it as breaking down, as a failure of will and a defeat. Once again, my body has defeated me and gotten its way, forcing me to alter my behavior to cater to its whims.

To an extent it runs in my family–my brother and nephew are very much the same way about sleeping. (“Runs in the family” is not, of course, the same thing as genetic–it’s quite plausible that my nephew and I picked it up from my brother as small children, imitating the attitude and behavior of a familiar adult.) But I’m rather a lot more stubborn that the rest of the family–my brother will stay up until 2 a.m. on occasion, while I’ll pull all-nighters when I’m feeling stubborn enough, and they usually don’t apply it to obvious medical issues the way I do–and I think that has to do with chronic illness.

My teen years were pretty shitty. I was already severely depressed going into them thanks to a combination of parental neglect, peer abuse, and AvPD, and then my dad died when I was 13, and put on top of that the usual problems of a shy, nerdy adolescent, and my emotional state throughout high school was basically suicidal, but too depressed to be able to put together an attempt. Also I threw up a lot.

Which, you know, when you’re fat at the beginning of freshman year, and by late sophomore year you’re pathologically skinny and publically throwing up in the middle of the cafeteria almost every day, there’s kind of an assumption people make about what’s going on. Thankfully, my parents at least believed me when I told them I wasn’t making myself throw up, it was happening on its own, and took me to a doctor instead of a therapist, because it wasn’t an eating disorder at all. It was purely neuromuscular, and curable, as long as I was willing to trade it for a near-certainty of chronic acid reflux disease. Death by starvation or chronic pain; that’s not actually a hard choice once you’ve experienced true hunger. I’ve experienced a lot of pain in my life, and nothing has been worse than the combination of agony, discomfort, and mind-numbing lethargy that was two straight weeks without anything making it into my stomach.

Add onto that what I increasingly suspect to be the case, that I’m sexually anhedonic, and the net result is that my body is basically entirely worthless to me. It is a hindrance, a hateful, demanding thing that gives nothing in return. I would love to be a brain in a jar, to be able to spend all my time on intellectual pursuits and communicating with people through text. (I mean, food is nice, but basically all food-related pleasures result in pain later, whether because of the reflux or the lactose intolerance or what I suspect is stress fractures caused by being too damn fat for my feet to support in these cheapass shoes.)

So basically, for all that I mock the singularitarians, I’m sympathetic. I can understand in wanting to believe you could be liberated from the flesh, could finally defeat it once and for all. It’s just that I’m skeptical it’s possible, hyper-skeptical it’s easy enough to happen in the fairly short timespan our civilization has left to survive, and aware that most people actually like being made of meat and would strongly prefer it not occur, which is a fairly significant factor where major social changes are concerned.

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Babylon Prime and afterthoughts

Continuing my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of “original”) “supposed to” go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here. However, since that original post I have acquired the actual treatment by JMS and am therefore working from that, rather than summaries. Thanks again to Glenn for giving it to me!

Babylon Prime

Although Babylon 5 was originally planned to end with defeat and destruction of the station, JMS’ plan was immediately to move into a sequel series, essentially additional seasons under a new title, Babylon Prime. 

Known: This series would open with Sinclair, Delenn, and their child in hiding, together with Garibaldi and a Narn (“a friend or relative of G’Kar”). They meet with the Grey Council-in-exile, who refuse to do anything to help Because Prophecy, and express the need for a base of operations. They go back in time and steal Babylon 4, but there are time distortions that cause problems. (Interestingly, even in this early stage B4 goes into the future relative to the date it’s being sent to, then settles down in the correct date.)

This time travel would cause Sinclair, Delenn, and the baby to age very quickly, so the baby would actually be an adult for most of the series. Meanwhile, Londo would become Emperor and be implanted with a creature that spies on him and reports his activities to the Shadows. Londo captures Sinclair and Delenn, but then rebels against his not-actually-called-a-Keeper at unspecified “terrible personal cost” and frees them. Meanwhile, their son becomes “something greater than human.”

Earth wins the second Earth-Minbari War and Sinclair’s name is cleared. Babylon 4 takes part in a great battle that ends with the final conquest of the Shadows, and the victors form an interstellar alliance led by Sinclair and Delenn’s son. Delenn leaves Sinclair to resume her position on the Grey Council and help her world heal. The series ends with Sinclair retiring to an uninhabited world and going fishing.

Speculation: The most likely place for Delenn and Sinclair to hide out is Epsilon III, where Draal can protect them. Likely additional candidates for their allies include Ivanova (if she survived the destruction of Babylon 5), Kosh (if he survived the end of the Shadow War), Draal, G’Kar and the Narn resistance, Talia/Lyta, and possibly Vir (though he is unmentioned in the treatment).

Some version of Talia/Lyta becoming a living telepathic doomsday weapon would likely have still occurred in this series, given that both Lyta’s closeness with the Vorlons and Talia’s telekinesis are set up in the pilot and Season 1, respectively.

In all likelihood, the “terrible personal cost” for Londo freeing Sinclair and Delenn is the same as in the broadcast series: his death at the hands of G’Kar.

Two things stand out as intriguing: Babylon 4 still swings into the future as a result of the time distortion, meaning that wasn’t actually an obvious patch between a “Babylon Squared” that assumed it was being stolen to fight a war in the future and a “War Without End” that had it stolen to fight a war in the past. Also, Sinclair and Delenn’s son being “greater than human” recalls Ironheart–it suggests perhaps that his role as spiritual leader who has odd powers and ultimately ends up leading a new alliance was ultimately divided between Sheridan and Lorien.

Afterthoughts

Frankly, while better than what we got of Crusade, this entire treatment is basically crap. With the sole exception of the Catherine Sakai as mole thing (which itself, recall, was speculation) none of this sounds likely to be as good as the series we got. It’s much more straightforwardly about good against evil and the Shadow War, G’Kar’s arc is jettisoned almost entirely, the Earth Civil War (which in my opinion was a better storyline than the Shadow War) is entirely gone, the ancient cycles of violence and “get the hell out of our galaxy” are gone, the massively powerful elder races whose technology is millions of years more advanced than the younger races are defeated in a war, Ewok-style, rather than persuaded to go away on moral grounds… this is simply not very good.

The timeline surrounding the theft of Babylon 4 is clearer and more sensible in this version, true. In “Babylon Squared,” it’s pretty heavily implied that the station is being pulled into the future. The retcon in “War Without End” requires that Draal first pull the station into its future so that passengers can be offloaded, then throw it into the past, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. On the other hand, the treatment suggests an accidental trip into the future, so maybe that’s what was going on in “Babylon Squared.” On the other hand, the price of that sense is losing Sinclair-as-Valen and the reveal that all that Minbari prophecy is just him remembering the future. Which makes Sinclair Merlin, bringing in all the references to the Arthurian legend, of which there is no trace in the treatment. Plus, I love a good ontological “paradox.” (As I have noted a few times on this site, it’s only a paradox if you believe that information cannot be created ex nihilo. As someone who creates information of one kind for a living and of a couple of other kinds as my primary hobbies, I take rather a large amount of exception to such claims.)

It’s notable, too, that this belies a number of claims by JMS regarding how closely he stuck to his original plans. For example, he has claimed that he knew what the last shot of the last episode of the series would be before Season 1 began. However, if he meant the end of the planned Babylon 5 series, then the shot of the station being destroyed while a single shuttle leaves occurs a few minutes before the end of the aired finale and in a very different context than originally planned (the actual final shot of the series, if credits are not included, is the sun rising over Minbar as Delenn reaches out for it; if the credits are included, it’s a split screen of a young Londo as he appeared in the first season and the aging Emperor Londo seen in the flashforward in “War Without End.”) If he meant the end of Babylon Prime, then there is no equivalent scene at all to Sinclair fishing.

There’s also his claims in response to fan comments on the apparent contradiction between JMS’ statement that after Babylon 5 finished he planned to stop writing for television and the announcement of the Crusade spinoff. JMS claimed that he had “always” said there was one possible spinoff idea he might explore given the chance, but that otherwise the end of Babylon 5 would be the end of the series, and indeed early on he did make claims that the series would consist of a planned five-year arc, possibly followed by a spinoff. Given this treatment, however, it seems clear that the spinoff he referred to in those early comments was Babylon Prime, and as such his citation of those comments in defense of Crusade is at the very least equivocation, if not outright prevarication.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of Babylon 5, nor is my point to suggest that JMS is a bad person or anything of the sort. Babylon 5 is truly great work, and JMS has done some other really great work in TV and comics (such as The Real Ghostbusters or the fantastic Rising Stars comic series). His scriptwriting textbook is excellent, as well. I am merely observing that some of JMS’ statements regarding the series seem very likely to be deceptive statements with the aim of making it look more planned than it really was; as such, it calls into question his reliability as a source on the genesis and development of Babylon 5.

What we have here, ultimately, is a classic example of why at least the soft form of Death of the Author is necessary.