It’s time for the 21st installment of the Babylon 5 Bookclub. This week: The Quality of Mercy. Personally I find the Shakespeare reference a little strained.
In any case, 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, Sky Full of Stars, then Dman recapped Death Walker! Jaybird hit The Believers. Followed by Survivors, then Dman recapped By Any Means Necessary. Then Signs and Portents, followed by TKO, followed by Grail. After that, Eyes and then Legacies. Then we had a two-parter for A Voice in the Wilderness parts One and Two, and most recently Babylon Squared.
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.
Everyone sitting comfortably? Then onward!
We open with Mollari talking to a functionary from home, being lectured on the importance of cross-species friendship. Mollari responds by smiling and nodding, and them making what I assume is an obscene gesture after the call ends.
He meets Lennier in the corridor and decides spending more time with him might fit the bill. He says an ambassadorial aide should be experienced in alien cultures. Lennier is reluctant, but Mollari says to trust him. This can only end badly.
Speaking of ending badly, A man named Mueller is found guilty of murder and remanded for sentencing.
After the credits we see Ivanova on the prowl through Downbelow looking for Franklin. He’s running an off-books medical clinic, and didn’t tell Ivanova so she wouldn’t have to say no (he’s learned from his last experience with command decisions apparently). But Ivanova isn’t Sinclair, she prefers to make her own choices about whether to break the rules or not (and being a 2IC, she probably has a little more flexibility than Sinclair does). Franklin is puzzled at the low turnout at the clinic though.
The Judge is talking to Garibaldi, Winters and Sinclair about Mueller’s sentence. Garibaldi’s for airlocking him, but apparently that’s not a legal punishment for murder. Earth doesn’t want to imprison him, and B5 doesn’t have room. That leaves a 3rd option – one that requires Winters poking around in Mueller’s head.
Franklin discovered off-camera that there’s an unlicensed physician, Laura Rosen (who I will call Rosen), running an even more off-books clinic, and he’s having none of that. He briefly converses with Rosen’s daughter (Janice) without realizing it before confronting Rosen, who is treating people with some kind of alien device. He accuses her of fraud, and then Janice turns up to tell him off, so he leaves, vowing revenge.
Mueller’s sentencing is about to begin, and the judge sentences him to brainwipe aka “The Death of Personality”. His memory and personality will be erased and replaced with a new set of memories. I have a hard time seeing this is more humane than simply killing him. Mueller is led away, vowing revenge.
Afterward, Garibaldi and Franklin discuss the brainwipe, Franklin will run the machine but wants something in return – information on Rosen.
On a lighter note, it time for Lennier’s education to begin, so Mollari takes him, naturally, to a girlie bar. I know that this is supposed to be racy, and I doubt they could have gotten away with more at the time, but in a post-Game of Thrones world I can’t help but feel the display is laughably tame. I see people on the street wearing little more than those dancers are. We learn that Minbari and alcohol don’t mix, and Mollari’s not above pulling the oldest con in the book.
Franklin has the goods on Rosen and goes to have a chat with Janice. It turns out Rosen once was a physician, but lost her license after a stimulant-related medical misadventure. Janice doesn’t know if Rosen’s Device works or not, and she doesn’t care so long as her mother feels like she’s helping. Franklin isn’t terribly impressed by this sentiment.
Mollari is regretting taking Lennier out – it turns out spending your life (did he say he was more than 115 years old!?) cloistered does little for your social skills. But when Lennier lets slip that he’s familiar with probability, Mollari moves him on to poker.
The time has come for the brainwipe, and Winters’s job is to scan Mueller before and after to make sure the wipe was complete. It’s fair to say that Winters does not enjoy the process.
Persuasion having proved ineffective, Franklin decides to try – Science! He has his assistant do some follow up on Rosen’s cases, but it seems they are in fact getting better. Hmm.
On to poker time and Lennier makes the standard errors educated noobs make playing poker on TV.
Franklin goes back to Rosin, and makes some scans of the device in operation. It turns out it is doing something. I’ve previously had an argument with Jaybird about whether souls exist in B5 and I made an argument that, despite the existence of beings called Soul Hunters, that they don’t. But it would appear that Elan Vital, or similar life force does exist, because that’s how Rosen’s Device works. Originally a form of capital punishment, it sucks the life out of people and uses it to heal other people, which is how it heals such a diverse range of conditions, in the manner of a Dungeons and Dragons Cure ___ Wounds spell (although this version casts an equivalent Inflict ___ Wounds on the caster). Rosen is suffering from a fictional syndrome that leaves her terminally ill and in incredible pain. She decided that killing herself and helping others at the same time is the best way to go out. Franklin is moved and wants to help. Now he can see she is actually a fellow healer, his attitude toward her is completely reversed.
Garibaldi notices Winters taking a break in one of B5’s gardens. It seems she is still recovering from Gazing into the Abyss and talks it out with Garibaldi.
Meanwhile, the poker game progresses, and things are getting … weird. Mollari is cheating, which isn’t weird, but he appears to be using some kind of tentacle to do it.
The time has come for Mueller’s wiping, but he isn’t so keen on the idea. He injures one of Garibaldi’s guys and makes a break for it, but gets shot by a PPG in the process (Side Note: I’m not sure this gets covered in an episode, but it does get discussed in one of the DVD commentaries – PPG stands for Phased Plamsa Gun, they’re used on ships and stations because they won’t damage bulkheads or breach the hull).
Mollari’s cheating ends badly (saw it coming, didn’t you), leading to a fight. Lennier has hidden talents in that area.
Franklin works out Mueller is probably heading for Rosen, and goes down there alone (yeah, real clever Franklin), but Mueller got there first. He threatens Janice, leading Rosen to realize there’s no way everyone’s getting out alive and so she switches the Device from blow to suck. Mueller is quickly killed, though disappointingly he doesn’t crumble into dust Last Crusade style.
Rosen’s murder trial goes well, Mueller’s death is ruled self-defense and Rosen is acquitted. On top of that draining Mueller dry has cured her maladies, leaving her in great health. But the weight of her guilt over killing a man will be harder to displace.
Sinclair brings Mollari and Lennier in for a Please Explain. Lennier takes the blame (this is apparently an honourable thing as Minbari see it), and gets off with no more than paying for the damages since he has diplomatic immunity. Lennier is curious about the tentacle though and it turns out that it’s Centauri male genitalia (meaning that Centauri and the enemies of Japanese schoolgirls everywhere). Lennier wishes he hadn’t learned that and I’m right there with him.
Franklin has taken possession of Rosen’s Device, and he hopes to figure out how to use it without harming the donor. Rosen has decided to head off to Earth, leaving Franklin and Janice to sort things out between them.
- The B plot with Mollari and Lennier was largely forgettable, apart from learning a bit about Lennier (I don’t think we learned anything about Mollari that we didn’t already know). In many ways I think it highlights one of the weaknesses of the Minbari caste system – Lennier is too callow to be running a diplomatic office, even part time. Though clearly his time at the monastery wasn’t entirely wasted. As a tiny little nitpick, I don’t think knowledge of probability would make you very good at poker, Game Theory would have been a better choice. Game theory has implications for diplomacy too, so this would have helped explain why Lennier was sent to B5.
- In the A plot, we once again get to see some “real world” issues in the B5 universe. Murderers haven’t magically disappeared in the future, leaving the question of what to do with them. I can see someone deciding brain wipe was a humane alternative to execution, but to me it just looks like combining a death sentence with turning your corpse into a meat puppet. I also like how when a problem case crops up, the various authorities do their best to avoid having to deal with it if they can find an excuse.
- I’m not terribly keen on Rosen’s Device, since I tend not to like mystical elements in my science fiction. Still I can overlook it since it’s really just a plot device to explore the implications of a device like that. It ties in with the brainwipe in asking the question of what is it acceptable to do to those who violate society’s laws. However, this exploration was pretty preliminary. We’ll just have to wait and see if this theme gets another look later on.
- Bonehead move of the episode has to go to Franklin – he remember to let security know that he’s checking out the possible location of a fugitive serial killer, but with a sufficiently large lag that they’ll be too late to help. Seriously?