Babylon 5

Series Rewatch – Babylon 5: The Parliament of Dreams

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Jim Johnston

In what seems like a good idea to the pencil-pushers (but is often not the case to those who have to execute said idea), Earth Central has the idea that bringing together aliens to present the religious beliefs of their various worlds will promote unity. They term it a “cultural exchange” although it’s not clear if this is seen by anyone outside of Babylon 5. There doesn’t appear to be any broadcast of the events to the various homeworlds.

The Parliament of Dreams opens with Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) dealing with an alien race trying to bring a knife on board the station as a sacred religious object. It’s been a rough week for security. However, he spots Commander Sinclair’s (Michael O’Hare) former girlfriend, Catherine Sakai (Julia Nickson), getting off one of the transports.

Meanwhile, the Narn Ambassador, G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) gets a visitor from the Narn Homeworld. He is a courier who delivers a video that tells G’Kar one of his former associates is dying, to which G’Kar toasts his death. However, his former friend has one last surprise for G’Kar. His last request was to hire an assassin to kill G’Kar and tells him he will be dead within 48 hours. Meanwhile, his next new attache, Na’Toth (Caitlin Brown) introduces herself.

The Centauri Ambassador, Londo (Peter Jurasik), hosts a celebration of the Centauri faith which centers around their defeat of the Xon species. It’s very typical of what we see by the Centauri. Sinclair ducks out and meets up with Catherine. She offers to leave the station if her being there is uncomfortable for him, but Sinclair tells her to stay and they make dinner plans.

G’Kar has become paranoid over the identity of the assassin. Na’Toth counsels him that he’s worrying over nothing. However, a black flower, indicative of someone from the assassin’s guild, is later placed in his bed. He hires a bodyguard to protect him.

Delenn’s (Mira Furlan) new aide arrives as well. Lennier (Bill Mumy) has a hard time understanding why Delenn is keeping so many secrets from the other ambassadors, but he relents that he doesn’t have to understand, only obey. He helps her with the religious ceremony of death and rebirth. When G’Kar’s bodyguard fails to show up at the ceremony, he returns to find him dead in his quarters.

Sinclair and Catherine have dinner and relive old memories. Not all of them are good as they have a history that isn’t good for either of them. When she meets with her business partners, she finds out she made a huge finder’s fee on a planet she surveyed for them that was rich in minerals. She decides to celebrate with Sinclair, but he resists her overtures, initially.

G’Kar questions the courier who brought the data crystal with the message on it. He points the finger at Na’Toth which G’Kar believes all too easily. It’s only when he makes contact with the Narn Homeworld that he puts together who the assassin is. It is Na’Toth who helps to save him, eventually. G’Kar sets it up that it looks like the assassin betrayed his commission and sends him packing.

Sinclair’s take on Earth’s “dominant belief system” is a very interesting one. Unlike the other planets which seem to only have one main belief, he trots out representatives of all of Earth’s religions (including an atheist).

The cultural exchange of religions is a good way to get into the faith and religious aspects of this show. Although an atheist himself, J. Michael Straczynski has managed to craft one of the best science fiction shows involving faith and belief systems. He asks the hard questions that people of faith should ask, while at the same time reinforcing the right of people to have these beliefs.

The depictions of the Centauri and Minbari cultures are about as expected for both of them. The Centauri see victory over another race as an article of faith that allows them to celebrate in true Centauri style with drunken debauchery until Londo passes out on the table. Vir (Stephen Furst) does a great job telling the story that leads to the celebration and talking about the statues on the table depicting “household gods” like they had in Roman times. The Minbari have a very symbolic and thoughtful ceremony. There are many signs of the alien cultures in both ceremonies and much of it will mean more watching this episode after you’ve viewed the entire series.

There are a lot of things in The Parliament of Dreams which seem like filler or throw-away lines. They aren’t. There is a deeper meaning to all that is going on. Catherine overhears Sinclair listening to Tennyson and asks And which are you? ‘An idle king doling unequal laws unto a savage race that hoard and sleep and feed and know not you?’ Or ‘This gray spirit yearning in desire to follow knowledge like a sinking star.’ Their relationship hasn’t worked in the past, ostensibly because of the baggage both carried (in Sinclair’s case, a now-ex-wife). Both have been hurt in the process and are somewhat wary of starting up again, knowing that the odds are against them making it work. Knowing now where the series goes, and that Michael O’Hare’s character had to be written out due to the mental illness of the actor, this episode sets the stage for an eventual relationship between Sinclair and Delenn after Catherine goes missing beyond the rim.

The additional attaches for the Diplomats are good. G’Kar went through a couple already, and Na’Toth is the one that stays for a while. Caitlin Brown does a great job in this role, as a formidable complement to Andreas Katsulas. She’s one step ahead of all of them, even while dealing with an assassination attempt. Lennier comes across as somewhat star-struck at being assigned to Delenn. The relationship that will develop between them is a protective one on both sides, but for different reasons. The stories here do a great job setting up these individuals and their stories. Although not the main characters, they are nevertheless pivotal in what’s going to happen over the next five seasons.

The acting is pretty good. The newer additions to the cast are a little unsteady just yet. In particular, Julia Nickson is a little wooden as Catherine. She gets better as the series goes on, but it seemed as if here she’s mostly trying to be both a convincing, ruthless businesswoman as well as soft when it comes to Sinclair. She doesn’t quite have a handle on the character, yet, but does get better as the series goes on. The same is true for Bill Mumy, although I could see that his hesitation was more of a fish-out-of-water issue for the character that worked in the long run.

This is episode five of the first season and it really sets the tone for the entire series. It’s a clash of cultures and tries to bring them together in something resembling understanding. There is a lot of foreshadowing that doesn’t seem to amount to anything now but will later on. The last scene is a favorite among series fans, and that includes me.

Previous episode in the series (link): Babylon 5 – Infection

Next episode in the series (link): Babylon 5: Mind War

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