Thursday, October 2, 2014

Third Age Thursday 3

 "It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night." 
- Jeffrey Sinclair

Welcome back to Third Age Thursday, an ongoing feature here at Unfettered Brilliance! Along with Ensley, who's posting the wonderfully-named "Tuesdays with Mollari" over on his blog (click here for the latest!), these posts are written to keep you up to date on the writing and publication of Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5. Please feel free to comment, re-post, tweet, plus-one, pin, and all sorts of other ways to pass along the news that a comprehensive Babylon 5 book is in the works! And remember that you can always search through these posts to find all the "Third Age" posts by using the search feature on the right. Just use "Babylon 5" or "Third Age" as your search term.

In this post, I want to talk about an issue that doesn't come up all that much on network television even now, twenty years after the initial broadcast of Babylon 5 - major characters who suffer from mental illness. We've come a long way from being expected to believe that a cop can blithely shoot any number of bad guys and still be just jim-dandy to have on the job, and that's a good thing. I don't think taking a life should be depicted as being easy, even if the situation and circumstances leave the character with little choice. I want to see a character who's gone through something so difficult to wrestle with it, not to simply take a long weekend in Vegas and be back at work whistling "Dixie."

Babylon 5 got that right.

Just look at Season 1 - Jeffrey Sinclair, who is shown to be a capable commander, a competent administrator, and a skilled fighter, struggles with the aftermath of the Earth-Minbari War. While I'm not flat-out saying that Sinclair suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") brought on by his experiences in that horrific conflict, others have been quite willing to go in that direction. However, it is undeniable that he certainly shows symptoms that are consistent with that diagnosis* and that is the centerpiece of the Season 1 episode "And the Sky Full of Stars." In that episode, we see Sinclair as a man haunted by his actions, even the ones he's not entirely sure he took. His mind is presented as fragmented and disjointed, a far cry from the pulled-together multitasker that is his public persona. Viewers have known from "The Gathering" that Sinclair has "a hole in [his] mind," and maybe those enigmatic words shouldn't have been dismissed as the ravings of a lone madman. However, we don't see Sinclair repeatedly wrestling with these demons and being laid low by them - as the writer of the linked piece puts it, Sinclair has "PTSD in a can."

For Michael O'Hare, who played the role of Commander Sinclair with authority and sensitivity, this was not the case. For years, speculation swirled around his abrupt departure after Season 1, but not much was spoken about the issue over the years. Then, in 2012 - and far too soon - O'Hare passed away and JMS felt free to speak about the issue, thereby putting some rumors to rest and, in the process, making me admire both men that much more.

You see, O'Hare knew Sinclair all too well. O'Hare suffered from paranoia and delusions that rendered working nearly impossible - there was a point in which O'Hare was combing through newspapers looking for secret messages that had been planted there for him. JMS considered shutting down production of Babylon 5 to give O'Hare the time necessary to seek treatment - maybe there was a combination of medications and other treatments that could push the monsters back under the bed - but O'Hare wouldn't have it. Shutting down production meant that dozens of people - from actors to grips to caterers - would lose their jobs. He'd find a way to tough it out. And that's what he did, by the skin of his teeth and the clawing of his nails. JMS worked with him (and his family) for a solid year, then brought him back to finish his arc. Once that was done, JMS swore he'd keep O'Hare's secret to his grave, but O'Hare interrupted him and said:

"No. You don't have to. Keep it 'til my grave. Because if anything ever happens to me, I want people to know . . . because people need to know if there's a problem in their family, if this can happen to an actor, a star of a show, the commander of a station, it can happen to anyone and it's not a scandalous thing; it can be dealt with."

And it was - for a time. O'Hare married, started a family, and began working again. But at some point, for reasons that remain unclear, O'Hare went off his medication and disappeared. He emerged in a halfway house and continued to struggle with his mental illness until his death in 2012.

Compared to the real story, Sinclair had a walk in the park.


* As does Chief of Security Michael Garibaldi, but that's a separate discussion.


Beth said...

I just cried when I heard JMS talk about O'Hare at last. Like most of us, I'd had no idea, and it made me appreciate him and his work, and JMS and the whole project that much more. Thanks for including this in your blogging. Can't wait for the book.

Martin Winters said...

Mental illness is a long, hard and lonely road. If you know somebody who suffers from such a condition, be there for them when they need you, understand when you can't help and above all, maintain contact and support.