In the tenth episode of the first season of Babylon 5, WHAT THE FUCK. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent, death of a child
Seriously, I’ve seen stories like this before. On Star Trek, on Battlestar Galactica, and I’ve read short stories and novels that tackled the issue of religious rights and its intersection with the medical industry. And for maybe the first few scenes of “Believers,” I was ready to discount this script as something repetitive and unoriginal. I’d seen so much of this already!
HAHAHA, NO I HAVEN’T.
Indeed, I’m not going to deny that there aren’t a number of tropes here that aren’t used exactly as expected. Plus, the whole Egg thing just sounded super cheesy and was more distracting than illuminating. It’s not a perfect episode, but it’s a messy one, and I mean that as a compliment. These characters get dirty. They argue, they make mistakes, they insult other people, and it all felt so terribly realistic, which is why the ending is so devastating. Dr. Franklin and Dr. Hernandez both believed that they were doing what was best for young Shon, who needed a surgery to survive his condition. And in the end, his parents really believed they were doing so, too! From their perspective, they acted out of love, and they did as they were supposed to according to their cultural traditions.
So who is “right” in a situation like this?
“Believers” is less concerned with who is right than it is with the ramifications of each escalation, each decision made by the parties involved. There’s a neat thing that happens here, too. This starts out feeling like an episode centered on Dr. Franklin, and then it expands to encompass many of the people on board the station. But it loops back around to him and his assistant by focusing on what it means to make a difficult decision like he does.
But before it gets to that point, there is a torturous, complicated path behind Dr. Franklin. At the beginning of this episode, I felt a lot more certain about his take on all of this, and I know that’s because of my own bias towards religion. I may not have seen this exact scenario play out, but we had a Christian Scientist family at my elementary school, and I witnessed some strange shit with their youngest son. I don’t feel the need to go into detail here, but my own religious upbringing felt a lot like the restricting, overprotective atmosphere that is on display in this episode. So, it’s easy to believe, if you’re biased in this sense, that what Shon’s parents are doing is heinous. How can they let their son die when the solution is so simple and so readily available?
Well, that’s not what it looks like to Shon’s parents. And David Gerrold (OMG HOW DID I MISS THIS DURING THE CREDITS) does a spectacular job sowing so much doubt into this story. Because as this episode escalated further and further, I started to worry: What if this species really did have a soul that exited the body if it was cut into? What if Dr. Franklin was wrong, and his actions killed this kid? And that’s not even introduced until right before the surgery. Prior to that, it’s Sinclair who forces this story in a new direction. Ever the diplomat, Sinclair has to think about the ramifications of his actions if he rules that Dr. Franklin can continue with the surgery. The script brilliantly calls back to The Gathering and the way Ambassador Kosh was saved despite an ethical dilemma of a similar nature. So, his concerns are even more complicated. If he rules in Dr. Franklin’s favor, that means that he’s setting a precedent, one that privileges human medical decisions over the belief of any alien species who resides there. And how would that look?
Throughout this all, emotions are on the surface, tensions are high, and the actors never hide this. It gives “Believers” a hectic, terrifying energy. At any second, you feel like someone will make a snap decision and send this story careening in a new direction. Indeed, that happens a lot! God, there’s that mesmerizing and heartbreaking sequence where Shon’s parents ask for help, only to be turned away repeatedly because no one wants to upset their own lives or their own political situations. IT’S SO DAMNING, and it’s yet another reason why this episode felt so much more scathing than what I expected.
Of course, there’s that ending, which… jesus, this show went FUCKING DARK. There’s a contrast, too, since Ivanova’s subplot is so tied to the main one. Both characters take huge risks because they believe that they’re doing what’s right. Ivanova engages with a Raider because she is trying to protect a stranded ship. Her gamble proves victorious when she stops an ambush. Tragically, though, Dr. Franklin’s gamble has a disastrous consequence: Shon’s parents immediately recognize that their son had the operation, and they MURDER HIM. Like, how am I ever gonna get the image of Shon in that bed, his parents at his side, looking upon him with joy and relief? IT’S SO FUCKED UP. THEY THINK THEY DID A GOOD THING!
And did they? That last image of Shon makes me think they didn’t, that no religion should be allowed to do such horrific things to children. But for Dr. Franklin, this was a problem without a solution. As Sinclair points out, if he’d abided by Shon’s parents’ wishes, Shon would have died, too. So how was he ever going to save him?
HI, WHAT THE FUCK WAS THIS.
The video for “Believers” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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