by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 10 of
If one of Babylon's characters says something like “I want to ask about the suicide problem” again, I might be forced to toss my computer right out of a window. For well over ten weeks now, Babylon has done nothing but ask the suicide question, and I'm beginning to think all of this stalling is because not a single character or person involved with the creation of this series has an answer to give. I was intrigued by the ideas that Babylon was brining up in its early episodes, despite the show's clumsiness and precarious writing, because I envisioned a version of the show that took those potentially challenging ideas and ran with them. This story was probably always going to be a mess, but I'll take an overambitious and confrontational mess over whatever the hell Babylon has turned into in its back half.
Take, for instance, the first half of the episode, wherein virtually nothing of consequence happens. Sure, another city in the UK adopts the suicide law, and the woman from the hospice decides to kill herself in front of Seizaki, a decision seemingly spurred on solely by Hartford's adoption of the suicide law. Those events don't really have any substance, though; they're merely extensions of Babylon's sole line of questioning, which is an endnless variation of “Gee, what would happen if the government made suicide legal?” The problem with that query, which has been apparent from the earliest stages of this story, is that it is exceedingly difficult to articulate just how legalizing suicide would suddenly engender a literal epidemic of suicides across the world.
Early on, there was plenty of foreshadowing about the shady pharmaceutical companies' link to the issue, and you could honestly shape that into a feasible conflict: “The very companies that profit by manipulating brain chemistry and feeding off of people's suffering have come up with a way to make suicide not just easy, but marketable.” That could make for incisive satire indeed. Babylon seems to have completely abandoned any of that nuance or specificity, though. The hospice lady jumps off of a bridge due to her grief, and there are apparently mass student suicides happening in my own hometown of Denver, for some reason? In order to make this scenario even remotely believable, a story has to have utter mastery over its tone and execution, and it needs to precisely articulate the kind of global atmosphere that would lead to not just an increase in suicide rates and euthanasia, but a veritable tidal wave of calculated and interlinked instances of self-annihilation. Babylon has no such control or direction, preferring instead to faff about with scene after scene of politicians and investigators sitting on their hands and accomplishing nothing aside from occasionally stopping to ask, fruitlessly, just what in the fresh hell is happening anymore.
In this sense, President Wood is Babylon's Achilles heel, and no amount of lame political commentary can justify how limp of a secondary protagonist he is. Zen, fares just a little better, despite also suffering from some major lack of direction as a character – his one life goal is just to kill Ai Magase, but the show can barely hold on to that motivation without tail-spinning into another meandering conversation about nothing at all. Thankfully, a late-in-the-episode chat with President Wood gives us something to chew on, even if that something is mostly just a regurgitation of where Zen is at as a character. The writing here becomes painfully straightforward, to the point where I wonder if the intent was to try and speak directly to Western audiences that might be a little slower on the linguistic uptake. Even though the characters are all speaking Japanese, there are multiple conversations where Zen and Wood have to ruminate over the meaning of characters' names – the show even has the gall to have the President explain the irony of Ai's name having the meaning of “love” when she's, you know, basically the Joker, except with boobs.
Still, I must admit that I found myself feeling affected by Zen's recollection of everything he's lost, and how his friends and comrades had to die such meaningless deaths to get him to the point where he sees killing Ai as the only option. Sure, this monologue comes after Wood asks Zen to explain his thoughts on suicide, and at no point is that question satisfyingly addressed, but it is a scene that feels like it came from the show Babylon might have been after those initial episodes, which held so much promise. Now, all we have is a wayward hero with nothing to do but kill time until the villain shows up again, and a U.S. President who is literally incapable of making any kind of decision without considering it for a ridiculous amount of time first. Last I checked, this is usually not a desirable trait for a Commander-in-Chief. Aurthur Wood finally does come to a decision, though, when Kaika Itsuki announces that he is hosting the hilariously named “Suicide Summit”, which will include the leaders of all the cities that have adopted the law so far. This is set to rival the G6 summit, but when Wood declares that he everyone will be “going to the summit” to make a final decision on the suicide law, it is unclear whether he means the former or the latter, though I suspect I know the answer to that question, at least. If anything, having the newly christened FBI Agent Seizaki accompany President Wood to the Suicide Summit would bring the show back to Shiniki, which could right the ship just a little bit, maybe, by returning us to the place where all this absurdity started.
Odds and Ends
• There's a seen where Wood seeks advice from a Catholic priest, who tells the president that there's nothing in the Bible that technically forbids suicide. I don't know the text well enough to argue otherwise, but I can't help but feel like having a man of the cloth even entertain the morality of the suicide law is one of the most fantastical leaps in logic Babylon has attempted so far.
• Another weird religious bit: The President's wife gives him some sexy makeout time because “God told her to”, and just a few minutes later gives him an inspiring speech about following his intuition that includes paying attention to the ideas that “make his balls shrink up.” Just…what? Why?
• How many death flags are we going to have to endure before the show just kills Zen's family off, already? I know that even saying that reveals how much of my good will Babylon has eroded, but I can't take anymore of all this nothing that is happening. Let the bodies hit the floor already!
Babylon is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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