In 2002 I created a review website around the actor Christopher Walken, which was also home to some of my writings on science fiction television. I have decided to let this site lapse as it has been languishing for years without updates. I will be reposting some of its content on this blog.
I originally wrote the piece below in 1997 as a favour to a friend, delivering it as a somewhat tongue in cheek talk at a Babylon 5 convention, in the days before the virtual mainstreaming of media fandom. Babylon 5 is an American science fiction TV series set on a space station and featuring political and territorial conflicts between humans and other species. The series ran from 1994 to 1998.
I will begin by assuming that as avid viewers of the science fiction series Babylon 5 you are all familiar with Commander Sheridan’s dream which is deployed in all its surreal and hitchcockian glory in the third season of the series. In this short article I propose to offer an in depth and definitive interpretation of this symbolic fest.
There are three types of dream interpretation: the traditional psychic and spiritual method, variants of which have been practised by most cultures. In this tradition, dreams are divided into a number of categories, including the prophetic, the predictive, past lives and allegorical. Sheridan’s dream is clearly of the prophetic kind – a foretelling of future destiny and a warning.
The second type of dream interpretation is more modern: this is the Freudian or psychoanalytic method which reduces dream to a pathology, to a revelation of that which has been suppressed and is struggling to emerge as a symptom. In this tradition, a dream does no more than point to a medical and psychological condition. The third type of dream interpretation – also modern – is an uneasy amalgam of the first two methods. This is Jung’s analysis of a collective unconscious, the manifestation of a universal symbolic imaginary. I will ignore these two latecomers in the field of dream interpretation and concentrate solely on the first, which if it lacks the spurious precision of modern science, accumulates the insights of generations lost in the mists of time.
Finally, to get down to the nitty gritty. As I have mentioned Sheridan’s dream is clearly a warning and a prophecy. I will begin by concentrating on the appearance of the birds. There is a crow or raven on Ivanova’s shoulder and an eagle or falcon on Garibaldi’s. The identity of the bird in the latter case has been the subject of some controversy – some viewers perceiving Garibaldi’s bird as a dove. Rather than choosing the wimpy sentimental dove, however, I prefer to see the strong predatory form of an eagle.
Both the crow and the eagle can have multiple meanings in a dream. A crow in Celtic mythology is the messenger who flies between the twilight world of death and this life. To dream of seeing a crow betokens misfortune and grief and in combination with Ivanova’s hushing sound there is a clear warning of betrayal, that enemies will be plotting behind the commander’s back. It is also a warning that he stands in dire need of aid and council. The Irish hero Culchulain died betrayed and strapped to a post in battle with a crow perched on his shoulder. There is a warning that a similar fate awaits Sheridan. The fact that the crow sits on the shoulder of his second in command is significant – someone in his own camp will betray him after he has ignored all the indications that such betrayal was imminent.
The eagle implies that Sheridan will soar far above the ordinary world, struggling fiercely to attain lofty ambitions. It also means that he will make a long voyage to distant and unknown planets in his search for knowledge and wisdom. The eagle is also a sign that he will overcome his enemies and achieve all his dreams. But one must not forget the predatory nature of both the eagle and the crow. The crow feeds off death and the eagle cruelly snatches life at its strongest. The conjunction of the eagle and the crow means that Sheridan will indeed conquer and throw off the trammels of worldly existence but only through death, grief and betrayal and the loss of all that he holds most dear.
The conjunction of the eagle and crow is interesting at another level. The crow represents Celtic Britain and the eagle, America. This is a clear reference to the earlier appearance in the series of King Arthur (in the form of Michael York) or even Jack the Ripper, that English harbinger of death, on what is largely an American space station. And to stray briefly into the arena of Jungian interpretation, it could also be a reference to the American war of independence during which the English and Americans fought – this would clearly be an event deeply rooted in Sheridan’s ancestral memory.
To turn to Kosh’s remarks: their significance is rather obvious. When he intones the phrase ‘you have always been here’ he is talking on a number of levels. First of all, he is referring to a hidden spiritual level of Sheridan’s psyche which has hitherto remained dormant but has nonetheless always been there. And of course it is standard doctrine in writings about the psychic realm that one is more susceptible to prophecy and spiritual insight when the conscious mind is stilled in sleep or unconsciousness. As is written in one of the standard texts: ‘A dream is an event transpiring in that world belonging to the mind when the objective senses have withdrawn into rest or oblivion. Then the spiritual man is living alone in the future or ahead of objective life and consequently lives man’s future first, developing conditions in a way that enable waking man to shape his actions by warnings, so as to make life a perfect existence’. Sheridan’s case is a perfect illustration of this. But Kosh’s statement is perhaps more prophetic than this. When he says ‘you have always been here’ the backdrop is clearly the space station Babylon 5. Sheridan has been destined since the beginning of time to make a messianic stand on Babylon 5 and he has also done some time travelling in the process.
The mystical and faintly Eastern sound of wind chimes or bells that appears in the dream further indicates spiritual attainment and the need to ward off the evils of death and betrayal. The chimes are also a call to spiritual purity. This sound combined with the appearance of the figure standing in judgement means that Sheridan must undertake a journey of spiritual purification where he will be judged according to his merits. He may be found wanting. The figure standing in judgment is also a clear evocation of ‘Q’ the powerful alien being who acts as judge and jury in the first and last episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Babylon 5 would not be complete without a Q figure, no matter how brief his appearance. In fact, this scene could well presage Q’s future appearance in the series. After all, for Q there are no physical boundaries or impossibilities. A transmigration from Star Trek to Babylon 5 is quite within his capability and no doubt he could consort closely with Bester as a kindred spirit in the latter series.
But to move to the next point: the statement ‘you are the hand’ is also clear in its meaning. Ivanova neglects to complete the phrase which in its entirety should read ‘you are the hand of God’ thus completing the link to Islamic and Arabic prophetic traditions. Sheridan is the instrument of Allah, the instrument of a cosmic destiny. As for the man in between , this is both a reference to Lorian and Sheridan himself. Sheridan must encounter both himself and Lorian in between the tick and the tock of eternity, in between life and death, in between the material and spiritual worlds. ‘Between’ has always indicated that twilight zone of possibilities, of openness to mysterious and other worlds. ‘The man in between’ is also the man in between what was and what will be. More tenuously perhaps, ‘the man in between’ is also Q, an entity who, as I have clearly shown, exists in the twilight zone between two series – Star Trek and Babylon 5.
The veiled woman is again a sign that Sheridan will be betrayed and maligned by apparent friends. The mourning veil denotes further grief, distress and trouble, the dark purple lips indicate the vampiric kiss of death. In sum, the whole dream is loaded with dark portents of gloom, betrayal and death but there is also hope that out of this darkness will come victory and spiritual enlightenment.
Madame Zora has spoken…
For another interpretation of this dream sequence see The Lurker’s guide to Babylon 5.