The Ethics of Waiting: Babylon 5’s “Mind War” and Star Trek: Voyager’s “The Gift”

The Star Trek: Voyager episode, “The Gift,” (1997) was clearly largely influenced from the Babylon 5 episode, “Mind War” (1994). In both episodes there is a.) the build-up/evolution of psychic abilities, b.) the damage to the ship/station through those abilities, and c.) a parting gift. The formula is too exact to be an accident. Aside from the science fiction historical explication, what we can also take away from these two episodes is the moral formula of waiting.

Jason Ironheart waits to see Talia Winters, knowing she will be asked about him when the Psi Corps arrives on Babylon 5. He delays seeing his former partner for her own safety, and for his. Indeed, the Psi Corps do question Ms. Winters and scan her intrusively to make sure she is telling the truth. Here, the ethics of waiting have proven those with ill intent are impatient. This waiting is also the reason Ironheart came to Babylon 5, so that he could allow his transformation, his individualized evolution to progress. He needed to stay out of the hands of the Psi Corps as he understood what he had become was too dangerous for them to have access to. Likewise, Kes waits as long as she can before determining what she seemingly already knew was a very real possibility, that she must leave Voyager. She had time to allow others to say their last words and allow others to be in the right place at the right time to assist her in leaving to save the ship, such as when Tuvok uses a mind meld to give her the strength to hold on just a little longer.

With each, Kes and Ironheart, they are losing control of their enhanced psychic abilities. They are becoming something else. Something else they have waited for. A resolution to a long wait that culminates in an exhaustively thorough new becoming, a new being. With this new becoming they are both transformed beyond what humans might expect to see for themselves as ever being able to evolve towards. However, in line with the plot of Babylon 5, Ironheart does say at his leaving that he will see them again in a million years. I briefly mention the million years tie-in for Babylon 5 in my post, Attraction to Light: Light as Communication of Imagined Evolution.

Then there is the parting gift. Having achieved a higher level of sentience, a gift seems like a staple of traditional mythical ethos. Kes becomes a being of light that vanishes, but first propels Voyager light years closer to home and safely out of Borg space. Ironheart’s parting gift is personalized. He gives Talia the ability of telekinesis. This is all very fitting with the respected stories. Kes was a member of the crew. The entire ship was her family, and it could be argued that they had awaited the gift that life brings from good deeds. In this case that good deed was to save Kes in the pilot episode and save her entire people at the risk of leaving Voyager lost in the Delta Quadrant. If waiting is related to good deeds, both have intertwined to reward Voyager. Ironheart’s gift to Talia was personalized, as he had known only her, intimately, previously in their lives.

Ironheart was also rewarded through his efforts to keep the secrets of his evolution out of the Psi Corps’ hands. However, even though Talia receives the gift of telekinesis, it is not simple. As we later learn, the corruption of the Psi Corps ran so deep that even Talia herself was an unknowing, unwilling double agent. In that episode, “Divided Loyalties,” (1995) we learn that Talia had been compromised by a sleeper program and that, further, if Sheridan and Garibaldi had not waited just a little longer, they would have brought Talia into the fold and she, the programmed Psi Corps extremist agent, would have learned everything they were doing. It was a close call, but patience and the ethics of waiting proved to be a resourceful tool to avoid becoming compromised themselves. I have long believed that when we are tested in life, it is how we respond to the situation, how we cope with the situation, that will best define our character, and it is through waiting to react, respond, or be impulsive that will yield the largest reward and the best measure for recovery.   

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