Byron Gordon (from Babylon 5)

(As a note, I apologize for the lateness, this is “essay week” before “finals week” at school, this really just slipped my mind to post it when I got home last night. Apologies.)

I hate Byron.  Hate hate HAAAATE.  Maybe that’s too strong a word.


Nah, I hate him still.

Byron Gordon is the leader of a colony of telepaths on Babylon 5 during the fifth season’s filler arc.  He was intended to grant some depth to the universe and the hinted at, upcoming Telepath War which would eventually be resolved between movies.  Nice.

Now this isn’t really his fault, it’s more the fault of the studios.  Bablyon 5 was fully scripted out before it was sold, and plans were drawn up covering the entire arc of the series.  Sadly, probable cancellation was called for Season 4, so the creators worked through the rest of the Shadow War.  I personally don’t like how it ended, I think it could have used a few more episodes to flesh out the conflict and make it seem bigger.  As it stands the Shadow War seems smaller than the Earth Civil War, and that’s just wrong.

Anyway, moving on, Bablyon 5 had three arcs with which it was going to fill Season 4 and Season 5, and just judging from the pacing, it was probably intended to end Season 4 with the outbreak of war between Babylon 5 and Earth.  As it stands, Season 4 covered the entire civil war, ending with the formation of the Interstellar Alliance.  This was probably supposed to happen during sweeps of Season 5.  This left the creative staff with only one story arc, the Centauri-Alliance war and Londo’s ascension, for the final year.  As such, the first half of Season 5 is filler, lots of fleshing out of the universe, like the Psi Corps, and the inner workings of the Alliance, and Sheridan’s relationship to Lockley, and my personal favorite, the Day of the Dead, giving us some interesting character pieces which were brilliantly crafted together into a single episode. But hanging over all these episodes was Byron.

When we first meet Byron, he is leading a small group of blips, or Human rogue telepaths, on the run from Psi Corps.  He looks like a cross of the outrageous Okana from Season 1 Star Trek TNG, and Fabio.  This is the first sign that things were headed in the wrong direction.

Do you know how FEW pictures around the internet this guy has? Still, this one makes him look good.

Okay, honestly, when Byron first appears, he’s not all bad.  And if Byron had been what he was intended to be, as a way to define Lyta’s character instead of trying to be his own, he would have been great.

Why do I say Byron was supposed to be dialed back? Well I think, watching Lyta’s character arc, that Byron was always planned.  Lyta was a very willing, helpful asset to the cast prior to Byron’s arrival.  It’s only after she meets Byron that Lyta will embark on her god complex.  Byron would have been, I think, the main guest star of a two-parter.  Maybe he would have arrived one episode, fallen into the background, then come back for his death episode.  I’m not sure, but he was definitely there in some incarnation.  Perhaps he had his colony of telepaths, or perhaps he was a lone fugitive Lyta took into her confidence.  Either way, he was given too much to hold on his shoulders than his simple, stupid self was capable of hanging on to.

Byron’s first appearance is good.  He understands the levity of his situation as refugees from the Psi Corps.  He is diplomatic, charismatic, and understands he is at the mercy of Lockley and Sheridan.  He and his people need breathing room, and he is willing to bargain to get it.  Just long enough, it seems, until they can get to a settled place on some remote world.

Seriously...not pleased!

But after this it’s too much.  They tried to make Byron the telepath Martin Luther King.  And then they dialed it up to 11.  The sing songs, the hand holding, the indignation at being treated as second class citizens by the governments of the galaxy (except we know that Garibaldi approached them with an offer of a job uniquely suited to them, more on that later).  But it all rings as hollow due to his first conversation with Lyta, which I think was unscripted (originally) and added as filler later, because it comes off as so contradictory to what the character has been until that point.  This voice, this second voice and attitude, is what will dominate his character for the rest of his tenure. He is arrogant, devious (to a degree), and worst of all, he sleeps with Lyta.  We can’t forgive him for utterly ruining Zack’s chances.

Okay I kid, I kid.  But that didn’t earn him any brownie points with me either, even if I can understand why Lyta would pick Byron over Zack.  But Zack is so cute! He’s like a puppy dog…and Byron is charismatic because the SCRIPT says so.

Alright, first, his arrogance.  This came WAY out of left field when I heard it the first time, because until now Byron was very much a “we’re not a threat to you, we want to live in peace side by side” rhetoric.  And after this, rhetoric is what I have to call it because he clearly didn’t mean it. Lita comments “We’re just as good as normals” and without skipping a beat, Byron jumps in with “Not good, better!”, like he is waaaaay too practiced in this conversation.  He advocates a full use of telepath abilities, not boxing themselves in.  This is a very, very dark side to Byron that pretty much makes me, for the first time, feel sympathetic to Bester when he’s called in to deal with them.  And maybe that was the point, but let me explain why this is bad.

I can understand not wanting to live with a chain around your neck.  Like, how they explain that telepaths have to constantly sing songs, make up rhymes, tell themselves little stories to make sure they don’t pick up surface thoughts, I think that’s unfair.  I mean, granted, I have a brain that does that naturally, so I can’t really sympathize with keeping the brain busy on PURPOSE, but it seems unfair to me.  I think if you’re thinking loud enough for everyone in three miles to hear your thoughts in a universe with telepaths, you should be careful.  But Byron displays a whole new level beyond this.  He thinks that because you have the gifts, you should use them whenever it suits you.  This, again, wouldn’t bother me, as he plans to make his own telepath colony.  On a world of telepaths, no one would be at a disadvantage.  But the thing is, it’s not equal, it’s inherently unfair.  We know that Byron is a P12, the highest rating of telepath there is.  Ivanova, by comparison, can sense being scanned and while being scanned, knows how to double back and surface scan other telepaths, and this puts her at a P1 rating.  P1 cannot scan others arbitrarily, nor can they detect thoughts, act as lie detectors, or conjure illusions in a victims mind, and, like mentioned, can barely project a thought into other telepaths, let alone normals.  Byron doesn’t care about the inherent difficulties in telepath hierarchies of power, and their powers are immense. We’ve seen them use their powers to block other telepaths abilities, and even the idea that Bester, if he wanted, could duplicate Lyta’s “psionic bitchslap”, understanding the principles involved.  Lower ranked telepaths would be at the mercy of higher ranked ones under Byron’s society, where your status and opportunities are defined by birth.

This is also contrary to Byron’s defining characteristic, his pacifism.  This supposedly stems from when he was forced to destroy a ship of normals, murdering them all.  So, what, does Byron look at normals as animals then? Granted the right to live but nothing else?  The scene were he lets the hick punch him over and over was brilliant, as is his dedication to peace. But this is at odds with his attitudes that Normals are so far beneath him, their rights don’t matter.  And he does think that, he scans Garibaldi and lies to him using information he knows Garibaldi wants, just to get what he desires.

Also...the crying. If your actor does not cry well, making it half of his character is a bad idea.

Byron also shifts around too much. One day he wants his colony, the other he’s proselytizing about how his people are persecuted, the next he’s raging at the Vorlons for creating telepaths, the next he’s stealing supplies.  I don’t think consistency is a big demand for characters. We see him jump from crisis to crisis without any underlying morals other than he wants his people to go without leashes.  And by without leashes, I mean without EVERYTHING.  He’s even unwilling to work for normals, despite the fact it is on a normal’s good will, Sheridan’s, that his people even HAVE a home.  You’d think a LITTLE gratitude would be warranted.  I don’t think he needs to worship the ground Sheridan walks on, but not being able to do a favor, even when nothing has been asked of them until that point, and it’s not even being asked of all of them, only a handful of volunteers, wouldn’t be out of reason.  I think asking for two volunteers is reasonable.  I mean, it’s a skill they have.  We don’t ask people with broken spines to serve in the ground forces because their abilities might lend them to get killed.  Athletes don’t berrate NFL recruiters who are looking for people with certain abilities.  Same with any talent scout, which is what Garibaldi is acting as: The Alliance has a need for telepath agents in the greater intelligence war, to supplement the Rangers, who remain the Alliance’s “secret police” of sorts.  And yet, just because he heads for the closest population of telepaths (again, for VOLUNTEERS), Byron chews him out like he’s some sort of Gestapo.  The man is unbalanced!

Perhaps most painful of all is that the man is not charismatic when the script says he was, and is completely sympathetic when there was no attempt made.  It is unfortunate writing of the highest order.  This is why I referred to him as Okana from TNG….the best rendition of this farce is done by SFDebris, look it up.  Whenever you need to resort to telling the audience your character is such and such, instead of showing it and allowing us to come to that conclusion ourselves, it’s not called entertainment. We’ve grown beyond the Homeric poems, I think, we don’t need exposition for character development.

Byron’s eventual death was a welcome moment for me.  And yet it was still so forced, it left me gagging so much I couldn’t enjoy the image of Byron burning himself alive with his dirty hippy followers.  The out of key singing, uninspired lyrics, for one, and the forced messianic image are enough to drive you to tears.  Byron is not a prophet, he is someone who is in over his head.  He’s a Psi Cop, a police officer, not a politician.  And this is probably the most tragic part of his character.  But what was supposed to come off as a Greek tragedy, instead looks like hack writing, because the writers themselves forgot that Byron was not supposed to succeed.  If we had not watched him be so successful, and worshipped in the same way Garibaldi perceived Sheridan the previous season, Byron wouldn’t have even looked like filler.  If we had instead seen a man trying his damnedest to bring his people justice, but constantly finding it slipping out of his control, this would be an approval of the character in the same manner I did Davy Jones.

“But wait, isn’t that what he was?” No.  Again, consistency was the failing point here.  Byron started out on that path, but the next time we see him, he is in total control, his utopia is flourishing, his people are getting by just fine on Brown 3 like the diplomats in Green Sector, there’s no suffering.  There’s no struggle.  They get attacked once, sure, but then they kill the offenders.  But I think it’s important to note the telepath colony wasn’t its own entity, it only existed to represent Byron.  For half the season they survived just fine, until suddenly things got out of hand and the colony goes from utopia to destroyed in two episodes.  Instead of a tragic figure, Byron only comes off as an egotistical jerk who’s too stupid to notice the obvious.  The writers couldn’t decide if Byron was Malcolm X, or the Buddha, so it rested in the crap in between.


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