Written by J. Michael Straczynski and Larry DiTillio
Directed by Jim Johnston
While Psi Corps has been involved in several stories up until now, A Race Through Dark Places fills in even more gaps about this organization and how it came to be. Watching it now, knowing what is going to happen, I’m also terribly sad that Andrea Thompson, who portrays commercial telepath Talia Winters, left the show before her character could reach a payoff for all that’s set up about her. That’s not to say that Patricia Tallman, who filled in that role in this story, did a bad job. It’s just that Thompson didn’t seem to grasp what was being set up for her and just how great the role would be.
A Race Through Dark Places starts out with Commander Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Commander Ivanova (Claudia Christian) being told they either have to move out of their large quarters or start paying an additional $30 credits per week. Sheridan balks at this and tells Ivanova she has to go along with him and present a united front.
Meanwhile, Psi Cop Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig) is trying to uncover an underground railroad that is helping unregistered telepaths move around and get to places where Psi Corps can’t track them. He tortures information out of a prisoner and knows Babylon 5 is involved. He travels there and meets with Commander Sheridan, Commander Ivanova, and Mr. Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) as well as the resident psychic, Talia Winters. In private, Mr. Garibaldi confesses his misgivings about Psi Corps.
Bester is walking with Talia on the Station and hears voices, but Talia does not. There are rogue telepaths hiding on Babylon 5, who now have to decide how to deal with his presence. Garibaldi thinks Ivanova must be involved, due to her feelings about Psi Corps. However, when questioned, she tells him it’s not her. He states that someone at the top level of command has to be involved.
Alfred Bester: They must be getting desperate to try something like this. They know we’re on to them. Why else would they try to kill me?Cmdr. Susan Ivanova: Is this a multiple-choice question?
The unregistered telepaths kidnap Talia and tell her their stories. She listens and is resistant at first to what they are telling her, even knowing what she went through with Jason Ironheart in the episode Mind War. Eventually, she starts to see that Psi Corps has mutated into something other than what it was originally intended to be. Dr. Franklin (Richard Biggs) tells Sheridan the leader of the rogue telepaths will meet with him alone. That person turns out to be Dr. Franklin. He started helping the telepaths after he learned about the conditions they were subjected to.
Bester confronts the rogue telepaths. They argue, and then it would seem Bester kills all of them except Talia, who joins him in shooting the rogue telepaths. However, what they did was create a false memory in his mind using a telepathic projection. Bester believes the Underground Railroad has now been destroyed, and only Talia and a few others know the truth.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) is trying to figure out what it is to be human, so she asks Commander Sheridan to dinner to spend time together just talking about anything except “business.” Delenn arrives dressed very attractively and draws attention while in the restaurant. Sheridan and Delenn share a happy evening together and get to know each other better.
Michael Garibaldi: The Corps got started because we were afraid of telepaths, and now we’re victims of our own fears. We took away every right they had and shoved them into a big black box called Psi Corps. Now, look at them. Black uniforms, jack boots, giving orders… Some days they scare the hell out of me.
There is a good moment where Mr. Garibaldi details how Psi Corps came to be – that once it became known that telepaths walked among us, the human population was afraid of them and forced them to be registered with Psi Corps. now, telepaths have no rights and Psi Corps is a rather frightening organization. They try to genetically manipulate the registered telepaths and there are forced breeding as they try to create more powerful telepaths. When they won’t go along with what Psi Corps wants, they are sent to live in “relocation camps.” This is setting up the dark organization that is Psi Corps. Sheridan has already questioned whether they were involved in the assassination of President Santiago.
It’s a shame that Andrea Thompson left the role. The set-up of her character is really strong and the way Straczynski wrote her out really undermines a lot of her growth about Psi Corps and what they represent. I think the character of Talia Winters was a much stronger one than the detective she went on to play on NYPD Blue. Allegedly she left because she didn’t think she was getting enough to do, but Straczynski was setting the character up for a great story.
The moments between Sheridan and Delenn foreshadow their future as well. It’s nice to have moments like this that are the start of something contained in episodes that are about something else. The majority of the episode deals with Psi Corps and setting them up as a secretive and serious adversary, but there is also the start of a romance and some humor.
A Race Through Dark Places is character-driven, so there are only a few minor special effects. However, the acting here is great and really sets up many things to pay off in the future. Andrea Thompson, in particular, carries a lot of the episode on her shoulders and does a terrific job. When Garibaldi confronts Ivanova about her possibly being involved in the Underground Railroad, it would seem to be a natural path to take, since she’s made her feelings about Psi Corps well-known. She laughs it off, but she should be concerned that she would immediately be suspected.
That it is Dr. Franklin who is involved with the Underground Railroad comes out of left-field a bit, but makes sense in the long run. When the doctors on Earth saw what was going on, they did what they had to and set up a network to get these telepaths off of Earth and away from Psi Corps. It also ties into why he opened up a clinic in down-below, where the “invisible people” of the station reside.
This is a dark episode with some light moments, but it is setting up a society that has its issues This is no idyllic, utopian future. Much of what makes humanity imperfect is still there, and our fears over those who are different from us lets us make poor choices while defending the action in terms of “safety” or being “illegal.”
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