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Brain Reclamation - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Jul. 13th, 2007

10:56 am - Brain Reclamation

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You know how sometimes you pose a question to yourself and you can't figure out the answer and so your brain (without your consent) just kind of slices off a piece of itself to be reserved for quiet contemplation of the question until an answer comes forth. Every once and a while out of nowhere you'll remember that you still don't know that answer and it still bothers you. It doesn't bother you enough to go ask anyone or to discuss it or to seek the answer, it just bothers you enough to keep thinking about it. And that piece of your brain is thus forever useless for other tasks.

Well I just got one of those pieces back in the shower (that's usually where it happens). This one has been occupied for about 6 or 7 years.

There's a Babylon 5 episode in which someone gives Londo a poison. He makes a long speech about how the poison comes in two parts. Both parts are harmless alone but if you've eaten the first part ever in your life then later in life the second part will kill you. He says it's an old school way of assasinating someone. It's a wonderful metaphor and a great plot device, but I always wondered: what's the point? To Londo this is highly threatening, the guys says the second dose could be delivered at any time in his food or drink and this freaks him out. But why does this freak him out more than the same threat made about a single dose poison? Why does this poison make things more scary? I mean maybe it's because it would pass some chemical detection that detects poisons but any 26th century poison detector could be programmed to detect this substance as well, couldn't it?

Every poison detector except one. The one that is centrally relevent to Centari culture. The Centari use food tasters. If the food taster dies then the food was poisoned. If he lives then the food is safe to eat. Unless the poison comes in two doses and the food taster is only exposed to one of them!

All this time I thought that that plot device was just the writer stretching to create an interesting scenario....but really the writer was showing a keen understanding of the cultural history of the Centari imperial aristocracy.

Now that I think about this it might have been really obvious to everyone else. Like maybe they even set it up by having the revelation about the use of food tasters in the same episode. Heck maybe the antagonist even explained this and I just missed it. I don't have the episode to review, I just have the nagging memory that I was confused/annoyed by it at the time (and ever since).

Imagine the things I could use this piece of my brain for now that I have it back!

Current Mood: hungryhungry

Comments:

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From:arettber
Date:July 13th, 2007 03:11 am (UTC)
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I think you're absolutely right, but I also thought that part of Londo's fear was that with a single-dose poison, at least things would be over with quickly. With the double-dose one, having had the first part, he had to live the rest of his life in fear.

But on the other hand, living your life in fear of receiving the second part of a double-dose poison is basically the same as living your life in fear of receiving a one-dose poison. So never mind.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:July 13th, 2007 03:23 am (UTC)
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Yah it was exactly your second paragraph that's been bothering me all these years.

On the one hand maybe the fact that the first dose was verifiably delivered (was it verifiable?) was real proof that his adversary was able to get past his security (by taking advantage of trust). There's a strong psychological note of insecurity there. But he could have proven this ability through a lot less obscure methods than a complex dual dose poison ("I've just put oregeno which you hate in your spagetti...next time it could be cyanide"). I think that psychology is still in play but it takes this particular form specifically because of the food taster tradition.

And it is about tradition, the poisoner says as much in the episode. I'm sure there's plenty of other ways to get around the food taster but this is probably an ancient way to do so.

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From:skywind8
Date:July 13th, 2007 04:37 am (UTC)
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Oddly enough I think this was actually early enough years ago that I saw the episode. And I remember understanding why pretty immediately. I guess I caught the clues.

Glad you got your brain bits back tho! :)
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From:erikforperson
Date:July 13th, 2007 06:24 am (UTC)
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Adam Rettberg? Is that you?

Don't know if you remember me - Erik Alexander - but we were in VMGC for a couple years together back in undergrad.

It's crazy the people you run in to.
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From:erikforperson
Date:July 13th, 2007 06:24 am (UTC)
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Oh, and Zach, your post was really interesting - I love that momens of euphoria where something just clicks as your brain has been working on it unbeknownst to you.
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From:arettber
Date:July 13th, 2007 02:59 pm (UTC)
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I'll be damned. Glad to see you made it out alive.
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From:samwize
Date:July 13th, 2007 01:46 pm (UTC)
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I always read a large part of Londo's emotional reaction to his reading of the message the method implied: I pwnz0red you. I've _already_ gotten to you. Every breath you take from now on is a gift, from me, to you. You are alive at my sufferance and your defenses are as tissue paper to me.

I mean, you just straight up poison a guy, you never really get to savor his knowing you poisoned him, right? This way he gets to see Londo squirm, as well as bend him to his will.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:July 13th, 2007 04:08 pm (UTC)
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Well, like I said above, I got that and it was a great device for that purpose...but I didn't really get how he couldn't have just as easily made his point with any number of other substances, why a dual poison? What he needs to do is prove to Londo that he can easily gain access to betray him at any time. Why do it specifically with this weird poison? Why not slip him a sleeping pill and when he wakes up say "next time you won't wake up" or something? That's what I was looking for a good answer to, above and beyond the psychological angle. The cultural tie in is why. If a Narn wanted to make the same "I pwnz0red you" point to another Narn, this would not be the method used.

I think there's also a metaphorical angle there too which is that some moments in your life set up other tragic/fatal moments in your life. That's completely Londo. The first few favors he got from Morden were the first dose of poison...they didn't seem to harm him at the time, but they'd come back to bite him later in conjunction with other choices: the fatal dose.
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