Religious themes run through Babylon 5 like veins, angels and demons, faustian bargains, prolonged discussions on the nature of the soul and gods, but it’s no mere battle of good vs evil. Even the character you might believe farthest fallen shows himself capable of redemption, and his most bitter and vengeful enemy manages to forgive him.
This is the tale of Ambassador G’Kar of the Narn, last of the governing body known as the Kha’Ri. Proud, stubborn, and wrathful, G’Kar represents a people who have suffered greatly at the hands of the Centauri, centuries of slavery and oppression, their homeworld ransacked of its resources, and countless deaths even before the bloody struggle for liberation. The role is played by Andreas Katsulas, and given that the role calls for a great deal of emotional extremes backed by incredible gravitas, all under a layer of prosthetics, it was a tall order made of him.
G’Kar undergoes a prolonged transformation, a journey to self realisation forged in fire and blood, becoming something of a messianic figure. By the fifth season he is a man of peace, a man of words, sworn to protect his once sworn enemy against all harm. And yet when asked the question “What do you want?”
“What do I want? The Centauri stripped my world. I want justice. [I want] to suck the marrow from their bones…and grind their skulls to powder. To tear down their cities, blacken their sky, sew their ground with salt! To completely and utterly erase them!”
Despite his transformation the Shadows still deliver. The skies blacken with Shadow vessels, the sun blotted out by the Vorlons; he has justice as the Centauri become slaves of old allies of the Shadows, who set about tearing the Centauri empire down upon it’s own head, making a ruin of their homeworld, and leaving them nothing but puppets… erasing them, completely and utterly. In the end, Mollari’s vision of he and G’kar killing one another comes as redemption.
So let us break down the vision of G’Kar as the religious leader and messiah of his people.
Despite his slightly boorish and angry beginnings, we understand that G’Kar is religious, perhaps more religious than most of his race. There are many prophets, and their books and teachings are considered most sacred above all, as those through whom the universe speaks, great figures given the voice of all things. G’Kar reveres G’Quan, observes his religious rituals and is a leader for his ceremonies and teachings. While he is a Narn, and bears the scars of his people, he understands his faith more thoroughly than others, and is an incredible teacher.
The First Ones are as close to gods as we come in Babylon 5, and there are two note-worthy moments that show how G’Kar is moved by them. The first are the walkers of Sigma-957, the mysterious race (who resemble some kind of ancient Aztec totem) and the strange insights he offers to Catherine Sakai about their nature. The second comes when he attacks Mollari while high on a drug that induces telepathic powers, Dust. Stripping away the Centauri’s mind, we learn much about him, but the visions are turned upon their originator when G’Kar is visited by his father… the Vorlon Kosh in a guise that G’Kar will hear more clearly.
When Kosh visits a “mortal” that mortal goes forward forever changed, and the experience drives G’Kar to spend his time in prison for attacking Mollari to start writing a book…
In his angrier days, G’Kar is more than willing to die for revenge, even through inaction. He has a great opportunity to watch Mollari die, alone with him trapped in an elevator that is filling with smoke. He is unable to kill Mollari himself because of the terrible penalties imparted on those who try, but by waiting he can have his revenge through patience.
During his grand transformation there are two great sacrifices made by G’Kar, all while imprisoned by Centauri Emperor Cartagia. The first is his eye, gouged when it offends the Emperor. Eyes make for a fairly clear biblical metaphor, an eye plucked out for an offence, an eye for an eye, and more fascinatingly the replacement eye given to him. His prosthetic eye can be removed and accessed remotely, meaning he has the ability to leave it in unusual places and witness all that takes place around it, gaining a sliver of omicognisance – the ability to see all.
The second is his pride, offered as a sacrifice. He is lashed to a pillar, whipped to within a very literal inch of his life, and in the end he gives the one thing he begged to keep to save – not himself – but his people. This is his crucifixion, the death of his old self, and rebirth through whom his people can also find salvation. In the sacked palaces of the Centauri he denies a throne, refuses all demands for revenge against their old aggressors, and begs that all efforts be made to rebuild, and to join with the other races in allegiance and the efforts of peace.
As a member of the Kha’Ri, and a long-standing ambassador to his people, G’Kar has always been a leader to his people, not just in faith but in politics. He’s incredibly eloquent, Katsulas receives the very best of the writer’s craft:
“No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand. The Centauri learned this lesson once…we will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years…we will be free!”
It is his way with words that drives President Sheridan to ask him to draft the official oath of office for the newly appointed position of the President of the Interstellar Alliance, but it is not until his book is leaked to the public, copies made – complete with coffee stain – shared and read and studied by the Narn, and he is eventually forced into the position of teacher, his students utterly devoted to his every word, even the ones he no longer meant.
“These are the latest chapters of my book, I tried to set right a few of the things at the beginning of the book, written when I was a much angrier person than I am now.”
I look to this as an Old/New Testament analogue. The prophets of the Narn strongly resemble the mouthpieces of god throughout history, and as G’Kar’s attitude has changed it serves as a parallel to how religion has been forced to change as time has demanded it. Of course, it’s fairly easy to compare G’Kar to Brian from the Monty Python film, the unwitting prophet and messiah who vigorously and repeatedly denies the role. The “Yes, we are all different!” scene is just too similar to a scene where a student of G’Kar asks him repeatedly “What is truth, and what is god?” until he gets an answer that he likes.
That scene itself is a tragedy, an analysis in how people will bend religion to their will, beat it until it fits their purpose. In this case, a Narn imbecile, but the use of words is something that is a common theme during the War Against Earth.
So what do you make of the idea, of G’Kar as the epitome of a messiah? He is a man redeemed, one forced through a crucible of suffering, a man of forgiveness, whose words inspire others to tremendous acts, a leader of his people, elected through belief and faith.
His is also one of the finest performances in science fiction history, and his loss is a tragedy to the profession.