Babylonia!

We’re back on track with our Ninth installment of the Babylon 5 Viewing Club!

The introductory post was here, The Soul Hunter was covered here, and Born to the Purple was covered right here. After that was Infection. Then came The Parliament of Dreams. Following on its heels was Mind War.  Then, RTod covered War Prayer. After that, Patrick recapped Sky Full of Stars! Then Dman recapped Death Walker!

This week: The Believers! (Jaybird does the honors.) You can watch a couple of clips from it here and here (sadly, I don’t think the site has the whole episode).

It’s very difficult to discuss this show without discussing the next one (or the one after that, or the one after that), or referring to the pilot; if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.

We good? We good! Let’s get to the recap!

Believers

So we’re starting in Medlab. Already I reach for the bottle and refill my glass because, oh boy, we’ve got ourselves a Dr. Franklin episode. Uh-oh. There’s a kid. So we’ve got a Dr. Franklin With A Kid episode. He doesn’t have the ability to move! He doesn’t have the ability to act! Together, they fight crime! Well, let’s try to give this episode a chance…

Of course, the kid has something awful… wait, he goes out into the hallway with the parents and there’s a small exchange. The kid will be fine. It just takes a little trivial surgery and… the parents go nuts. No surgery. Nope. None. Animals are cut into. Moral Agents are Not. So It Was Written, So Will It Be Done. The doctor makes some small disagreement and, wham, the parents say “Nope. There’s a period at the end of our sentences.” And That Is That.

 It was the dawn of the third age something something.

Ivanova (she’s from Russia (did you know that?)) is at her post and she explains to the Commander that, seriously, she’s earned dibs on the distress call that they just got. Commander Sinclair does that thing where he communicates that he just wants to end the conversation and nods his way into letting Ivanova into doing the recon/rescue of the “Asimov” (hrm, maybe I should google that… nah).

Well, we’re going to take a note from Dman and split the post up into two parts: the subplot portion and the plot plot portion. Ivanova vs. The Raiders is the subplot, let’s dispense with that first: Ivanova finds the Asimov, finds some Raiders, shoots them, finds a lot (A LOT A LOT) more Raiders, and shoots them too. The Asimov gets home safely. Yay. They point out to Ivanova that, seriously, her fighter got beat up bad. She points out that, yeah, she knows. She’s Russian. Now back to the Plot Plot.

Okay, this sets our major dilemma. The doctor goes to Sinclair and says “Order me to save the boy’s life” and Sinclair says “I don’t want to set a precedent.” The doctor throws the fact that Sinclair already set a precedent in the Pilot I haven’t seen and Sinclair says something to the effect of “Yeah, well, nobody’s seen that. I’m not resetting the precedent. BUT FOR THE RECORD, KOSH GOT POISONED AT ONE POINT AND IT WAS TREATABLE IN MED LAB.” (I imagine that that will be important in some future episode.) Anyway, Sinclair tells the doc that, no, I’m not going to order you… yet.

So the doctor goes back to the lab, tries a handful of other things and they all don’t work… but surgery *WILL* work. The doc tries to tell the parents this again and they explain to the doctor that, seriously, surgery will cause the child to lose his soul and loss of a soul is a fate worse than death. Find Another Way.

(I admit to yelling at the television at this point “SCOPE IT! NO SURGERY NECESSARY!” but, apparently, Arthroscopy of the kind I’m thinking of was more of a “oughts” phenomenon than a “nineties” one. If only the show had been written 15 years later, this would have been much easier…)

The doctor gives the child one of those things that was all the rage back in the 90′s: a piece of plastic that lit up when you hold it in your hand. Those and snap bracelets. Pogs! Where was I? Oh, the doctor gives the kid a piece of “industrial gel” but calls it a “Gloppett Egg” and tells the kid to pet it and, tah dah, the industrial gel glows a bit when he does. The kid looks to his parents for approval and they hrumph and haw and say, well, okay… but don’t talk religion to the egg!

Anyway, we’ve now reached an impasse. The doctor is pretty much telling the parents that he doesn’t give a rip about the religious beliefs of folks, the parents are going to Sinclair begging him to tell the doctor to stand down, and the kid is getting worse by the hour. Sinclair says that he needs time to think about it… which, of course, the parents interpret as him saying it the exact same way that people in authority always say it: I’ll Do What I’ll Do. As such, they start hitting up the people who show up in the credits for diplomatic help and this provides one of the most interesting moments in the show.

G’Kar offers his deepest sympathies but… what can you do for the Narn? The Narn do not intervene lightly, you see. Londo offers his deepest sympathies but points out the amount of paperwork and comes out and asks “Just how much Justice can you afford?”. Kosh, of all entities, entertains an audience and drops some science on them: “the avalanche has already started; It is too late for the pebbles to vote.” Finally, we stop by and see DeLenn and she says that she would totally support the people who are right and she has no idea whether the parents are right or whether the doctor is and so she can’t advocate either… not knowing who is right.

And so we’re back to Sinclair and Garibaldi and Sinclair explains that the folks back home on Earth refuse to intervene as well… so he does the obvious thing and he goes and talks to the boy. The boy himself lays out the problem quite eloquently: He does not want to die but he wants to follow the dictates of his culture’s religious faith. Yeah, kiddo… that’s what we want as well. We’re stuck having to choose one or the other. Oh, and the kid knows that the Gloppett Egg is Horse Hockey. Smart kid.

Which tells Sinclair everything that he needs to know. Sinclair tells the doctor that he’s choosing to side with the parents. The doctor, as expected, goes nuts and starts pulling out every dirty argument he has. Sinclair saw this coming and deflects them all handily. Hey, he doesn’t like it any more than the doctor but… it’s not their call to make. Humans can’t go around pushing their religious views on all of the other races.

The parents thank Sinclair for his objectivity and there’s this seriously touching scene where the parents and the child are talking and saying their goodbyes without acknowledging that they are saying their goodbyes. “When you were hatched, I could hold you in one hand and I was so proud of you” and I’m getting all misty just thinking about it. (When I watched this episode the first time, I was a bit tipsy and I absolutely lost it. Sobbing in my chair watching this interchange between the parents and the kid… dang, You never saw this stuff from Picard, I tell you what.) This little exchange between the parents and the kids changed the episode for me… I had seen them as ignorant backwater aliens who should have known better. This scene? They were parents who love their child to distraction and are making the hardest decision they’ve ever had to make and they’re doing their darnedest to make the right one. No matter what.

The parents leave and the doctor says “Good, now it’s my turn to make the right decision” and he gets ready to operate.

The operation is, of course, a simple one and is, of course, successful as these things tend to be measured by humans. When the parents come back into medlab, they see the kid all bright and shiny and obviously better… which tells them that something has gone terribly wrong and they start chanting protective wards and back out of the lab.

Sinclair is livid and the doctor has all of the certainty of a guy who just did what he knows to have been the right thing and they have a pretty interesting argument about medical ethics. “Who asked you to play God?” “EVERY SINGLE PATIENT THAT WALKS IN MY DOOR!” and this argument is interrupted by a summon to the medlab. They go back down and they find the parents are calm and not chanting anything and they explain to the doctor that they know that he was only doing what human doctors do and, while they cannot forgive the unforgivable, they understand that he wasn’t trying to hurt anybody, he was only trying to help. Hey, the kid even has a traveling robe. Sweet.

The doctor chooses this moment to be all smirky.

A while later, we see the doctor doing some light wikipedia searches on the whole traveling robe thing and FREAKS OUT and runs down the hallway to find… yep. The parents have killed the kid. “Don’t grieve,” they tell the doctor. “His soul was already gone. We just ended the misery of the shell.”

And so we’re back in Sinclair’s office and the doc asks “Do you want my resignation?” “Not this time,” Sinclair says. And gives one of those morals that adults know but we don’t tell kids: “Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t change anything.”

Oh, and that’s the point of the Ivanova sub-plot. It makes it so this episode doesn’t end on a *TOTAL* downer. She survived insurmountable odds.

Glad someone did.

Anyhow, this was a great episode. It make the doctor interesting (something I was sure wasn’t going to happen), it had an important discussion of the ethics of medicine, the ethics of culture/religion, and we saw some very interesting interplay between the main races and the less advanced ones… but, knowing what I know about G’Kar, I’m suspicious that they could have made a decent episode where he decided to advocate on behalf of the parents. He’s a religious leader of sorts (we see this in a couple of episodes) and it might have been interesting to see that tension… but, alas. It was not to be.

What did y’all think?

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15 thoughts on “Babylonia!

  1. 1) This is one of my favorite episodes, because of the moral quandry and how the whole thing worked out. It’s difficult to side with one side over the other, and serves as a great intro to the style of B5.

    2) This is one of the stupidest episodes. Does your soul exit your body if you get a papercut? What if you trip and scrap your knee, is that enough? As far as goofy religious beliefs go, this one takes the cake (and then beats you over the head with it because you popped a zit and now you’re evil).

    • Hey, we established in episode 2 that souls exist for some races. I wish they kept the soul hunters around to act as validation for this sort of thing.

      “Yep. The soul flew out of there the second the scalpel touched the skin. Like the skin was the shell of an egg.”
      or
      “Nope. If the soul left, I would have seen it. So it’s either still in there or you people don’t have them.”

      • Hey, we established in episode 2 that souls exist for some races.

        Not really, A Soul Hunter may just be destructively recording a person’s brain state. And I doubt the parents would have considered a Soul Hunter’s testimony dispositive.

      • It would need to be something that couldn’t be explained by neurology. That’s going to be tricky in a world where neural interfaces and telepathy exist.
    • Seriously, how does a religion get going when its followers consider any combat to be near 100% fatal? And you’d expect them all to wear full bodysuits made of space Kevlar or something.

      Still it’s a classic sci-fi move to add a plot element solely to focus on a moral quandry.

  2. What I like about this episode is that it provides some characterisation for Dr Franklin, and in a way that puts new light on what we’ve already seen of him. His primary personality trait thus far is that he’s very principled – he won’t deal with smuggled artefacts or let his knowledge be used for war. In this episode we see the dark side of that trait – Franklin’s sense of principle makes him unwilling to compromise for other peoples’ principles.

    You can see this is the way Franklin approached the issue. If his goal was simply to save the kid’s life he made three mistakes. The third mistake was the one Sinclair called him on, he shouldn’t have made it official – its better to ask forgiveness than permission in a situation like this. The first mistake was not getting as much information as he could on their beliefs, not only might he have averted the kid’s death at the end, he may have been able to find a way that would have worked with their beliefs.

    Failing that, his second mistake was being honest with people he thought were an obstacle to saving an innocent life. What he should have done was tell them he was going to try to try ultrasound and oils, but the odds weren’t good. Then do the operation on the kid. When he recovers the parents will call it a miracle and a reward for their faithfulness and everyone goes home happy.

    I think the reason Franklin did what he did is because it wasn’t enough to save the kid’s life, he wanted to prove he was right and that his principles were superior. He wanted the parents to concede to his position, and fixing the kid on the sly, or compromising with the parents wouldn’t achieve that.

    As an aside, I like all the little ways the shows points out that it isn’t Star Trek. From the ambassadors who transparently don’t want to get involved in something that can’t help them (although Delenn’s response had a “Prime Directive” flavour to it), to the ways in which minor rule-breaking for personal gain is tacitly accepted (Inanova’s coffee plant, Franklin research steak); this feels more like a story with real people in it than non-DS9 Star Trek generally did.

  3. I really like this episode because it does not handle this in the normal TV manner. Neither Franklin nor the parents were portrayed as being absolutely right, or absolutely wrong. The obstructionist bureaucrat who will not help the noble doctor was Sinclair, one of the good guys. Sinclair made a hard decision and Franklin made a hard decision, and those decisions had consequences. There was no miraculous recovery, and the kid did not die before Franklin could cut him open, allowing the characters to avoid carrying out their decisions. Then, at the end, the parents killed their kid. They did not realize “wow, the doctor was right, we will love our boy regardless.” That is not how these plots are resolved in a TV show.

    It is also interesting how JMS handles religion. JMS is an atheist, but his treatment of religion is very respectful. On the other hand, Franklin, who appears to be an atheist, comes across as a smug jerk at times because of it.

  4. What I remember most about this episode was how stupid Franklin was. During the first 3/4 of the episode, he was head-over-heels in love with his own intellect and morality. Then he didn’t notice the parents’ 180. “Oh, everything’s fine now, we’re just putting these ceremonial robes on him for his journey to the afterl– um, Sirius. That’s it. We always have a big death ceremony, or, um, “ceremony”, not “death ceremony”, because we sure wouldn’t do that, but the journey to Sirius is something we always wear traditional robes for. Here, boy, put on your death robes. Sorry about overreacting earlier.”
    • His stupidity at the end is entirely consistent with his attitude throughout. He is so absolutely confident that he is right; it never crosses his mind that the parents would not realize that they were wrong. He is blinded by his arrogance. He looks so damned smug when they come get the boy, too. He really thinks he has it all fixed up.
      • Agreed. If Franklin could watch the episode, he’d be proud of himself for being the hero.
  5. Before I saw this episode again, I remembered not liking it. I remember it being ham handed and blunt, but watching it again, I kind of liked it, though it made me dislike the doctor more than I did before (the character, not the actor). It bugged me because I could not put my finger on why though. It has been pointed out by others, Pinky and James K, why. I think my favorite part of this episode was the parents shopping around for help. Earlier in the show they are very arrogant about non-believers and their own superiority because of their beliefs. Then they are deflated time and time again. They find out they are only superior in their own minds and the rest of the universe does not give a damn about them.

    And I have to comment on the lack of facial responses, again, from Sinclair. There were more sorrowful faces though this entire episode. Just his normal dull scowl.

  6. This was a strong episode, and one of the few that has almost no connection with the series’ overarching plot developments. It almost felt more like Star Trek, in the sense that it revolved around a characters and a moral dilemma rather than around an overarching plot arc, but unlike Roddenbery et al. JMS is not stridently anti-religion.

    I was impressed with how well it portrayed Dr. Franklin; the “gloppet egg” scenes show that, as compassionate as he considers himself, he’s patronizing these people, and the scene where the kid says he know’s its just industrial goo indicates that Franklin’s arrogance and sense of intellectual superiority is unjustified. And the kid is, in his own way, more understanding and open of other people’s ‘beliefs’ than Franklin is, saying “don’t tell him the ‘egg’ isn’t real”. It’s a really cute scene.

    The whole ending, with Franklin realizing that he seriously screwed up, is excellently done, as is the compassionate portrayal of the family.

    There’s a bit of a Science Marches On problem with the show designers not considering that, 200 years (or, as it happens, 10-20 years) in the future we’d have medical technologies open to us that averted the need for surgery in many situations, but I can overlook that.

    Ivanova’s subplot wasn’t well-done – it didn’t have any significance, and it put her in a seriously dangerous situation and then just wrote it off with “…and she escaped”. I heard somewhere that they had intended something else with that subplot and had to cut it and that’s why it feels off.

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