In the second episode of the first season of Babylon 5, a mysterious and controversial figure arrives aboard the station. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
I HAVE QUESTIONS, LET’S GO.
This really feels like the “start” of Babylon 5 for me. I got to watch the first film and the premiere in last week’s batch, but now is the time when I get to settle in to see what this show is going to try to do. I am not sure of that yet, which is to be expected; I am barely at the beginning of it. Tonally, this feels very serious; visually, it’s a lot darker than most things I watch, both literally and figuratively. Seriously, like two episodes in and we’re talking about the nature of death and the existence of souls. There’s still a hint of serialization going on here, and I think that all the weird stuff around Sinclair and the Minbari is related to his patch of missing time at the end of the war. Which evokes determinism, fate, free will… all in a tiny subplot in an episode about something else. At its heart, though, “Soul Hunter” introduces some important Minbari mythology while giving us a solid (but not groundbreaking) science fiction story.
I’ll get to some of the meatier stuff later, but there was one element to “Soul Hunter” that was striking to me. The unnamed Soul Hunter in this episode later confirms the stories Delenn heard: that Soul Hunters only seek out “special” souls, people worthy of being “saved.” We watch this happen in an unnerving sequence in which a man, caught cheating, is chased and then stabbed to death. (Slight nitpick: the man gets stabbed in the stomach, but then later, in the Medlab, his injury is in his chest?) The Soul Hunter basically narrates the man’s death WHILE Dr. Franklin is working on him. IT’S A LOT. Now, we’re not told why this specific soul is so important to this specific Soul Hunter, and I don’t actually feel the need to know either. I can just accept that the Soul Hunter found something interesting in that person.
I was, however, far more intrigued by the fact that this episode highly suggested that there’s an underbelly to Babylon 5, and that on the ship, this is some sort of lower class. The victim is dressed to look as if he lives in poverty, ragged clothes and all. So… how does money work in this universe? If we’re looking at something akin to capitalism in our world, then what other aspect will crop up in this show? The atmosphere on the Babylon 5 station felt more rough around the edges than I expected, and I’m curious if this will pop up in future episodes.
Ah, so here’s my answer to Dr. Kyle’s unexplained disappearance! He’s off to work for the newly elected president, and in his place, there’s Dr. Franklin. (Who, I will not lie, is a bit of a babe.) I’m fascinated by the fact that he’s posited as the skeptic throughout this episode. It seems obvious on the surface; he’s a medical doctor, and thus, he’s not going to believe in the more mystical shit that he hears over the course of “Soul Hunter.” But I am usually interested by skeptics in speculative fiction narratives. Clearly, the world is not that small around Dr. Franklin. He’s seen innumerable alien races; he’s probably seen them do weird shit, too. So why the skepticism on top of that? Why is he resistant to the idea that there are souls that Soul Hunters can take and then “keep” alive? At the same time, he was very intrigued by what he had heard that Sinclair has witnessed, so it’s not like he isn’t willing to expand his knowledge of the universe.
Still, VERY INTERESTING.
Babylon 5 is not necessarily making this easy for me, but I don’t want that to seem like I’m complaining. I know some of the Minbari’s history and mythology, but “Soul Hunter” introduces a part of their culture/reality that felt new and vital. We learn here that Minbari souls basically join with others and more or less “reincarnate” into a new Minbari down the line. That one element helps explain why Delenn is so completely and utterly horrified by the Soul Hunter. Even if these beings are preserving souls—and I have no reason to believe they aren’t—their act prevents the Minbari from growing. From continuing their species. From having that being’s knowledge in the spiritual pool, so to speak. Initially, I read “Soul Hunter” as a clash between truth and fiction, but by the end of the episode, I’d changed my mind. I assumed that perhaps the Minbari had a flawed take on the Soul Hunters and that the Soul Hunters maybe weren’t doing as they said they were doing, that a fundamental misunderstanding was at the heart of this.
That’s not the case, though. There are two groups here—the Soul Hunters and the Minbari—whose interests are completely at odds with one another. Given what we see in the climax and the final moments of this episode, we know the Soul Hunters really could preserve souls and talk to them. We know that Delenn released a Minbari soul as well. Thus, I’m partial to believing that Delenn and the Minbari were wronged here, even if the Soul Hunters meant well. They were preserving Minbari souls, despite that Minbari souls needed to move on and join the other deceased Minbari.
Of course, I’m ignoring the greater injustice, which is that the specific Soul Hunter in this episode was killing people just to get to their souls. Why? Because a long time ago, Delenn and other Minbari stopped that Soul Hunter from taking the soul of Dukhat, some great military leader. I don’t understand Dukhat’s importance, and I’m not sure I am supposed to yet, but the motivation is there: the Soul Hunter didn’t want to lose another opportunity again. It’s real fucked up, especially since the Soul Hunter is so nonchalant about ripping souls from bodies. But it’s wild to me that this act unearths something else: Delenn is not quite who she says she is. Another thing I don’t get: why being Satai is a big deal. I figure that has to do with Sinclair being “chosen” for… something? So, there’s possibly some huge manipulation going on here that Sinclair and the other humans are unaware of?
THIS SHOW IS ALREADY FULL OF MYSTERIES, WHAT IS IT DOING TO ME.
The video for “Soul Hunter” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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