Mark Watches ‘Babylon 5’: S01E21 – The Quality of Mercy

In the twenty-first episode of the first season of Babylon 5, Londo teaches Lennier about the station; Dr. Franklin discovers a secretive medical practice; Talia must deal with a murderer. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of capital punishment, trauma, brief mention of addiction.

Learning with Lennier

So, let’s start with the least heavy of the three plots at the heart of “The Quality of Mercy,” though… oh my god, I can barely wrap my mind around THE THING that this episode revealed. I’m guessing that I now understand what the Centauri senator encouraged in Mollari: to make actual friends with someone from another species. I find it hilarious that even the senate knew that Mollari had not really done this and he had to be compelled by a request to actually do something about it. Of course, Mollari pursues this through means that are indeed quite self-centered, which isn’t surprising at all. But it’s not purely motivated by that, and there is a tenderness throughout this episode that helped to further make Mollari a complicated character. Yes, he got Lennier to pay for his drinks at Darkstar, and Lennier’s incredible computation skills mostly worked to Mollari’s advantage. I can’t deny that. But when Mollari is caught cheating (WITH ONE OF HIS GENITALS, FOR THE RECORD, AND I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED, OH MY GOD), Lennier reacts in a surprising way. He defends Mollari. He later lies to Sinclair in order to take responsibility for the riot that breaks out. It’s all a demonstration of respect, at least in terms of how the Minbari see things. And because this show seems to pick up threads left behind, I’m betting we’ll see Lennier take up Mollari on that favor that Mollari offered. Is this the start of an actual friendship? Maybe. I was entertained, so I’d love to see them paired off again. 

Dr. Franklin

Well, this was not what I expected it to be. By the time Dr. Franklin confronted Dr. Rosen and her daughter, Janice, I was convinced: Dr. Rosen’s machine was only providing a temporary relief to the patients she had been seeing. It made sense! Out of guilt over the patient she killed while addicted to stims, she latched on to this alien device. It gave her a meaning, and it allowed her to feel like she was doing something important to make up for what she’d done. However, in hindsight, I now understand why this was her backstory. Dr. Rosen was trying to do penance, and giving up her own life energy was a means to make that happen. It’s disturbing, sure, but this script handles the issue with care. I found it fascinating that Dr. Franklin, for instance, so quickly came to support Dr. Rosen, one doctor to another. I think that’s related to the opening scene, the one where Ivanova discovers Dr. Franklin’s free clinic. Both Dr. Rosen and Dr. Franklin were willing to bend the rules to help those who otherwise couldn’t afford medical treatment. 

Which is worthy of an entire essay on its own, for the record! I don’t know if there’s quite the same system of capitalism in place here, but money certainly still runs the galaxy. Ivanova mentions taxpayer sentiment when she addresses Dr. Franklin’s clinic and the use of supplies for those who aren’t paying. (And I adore that both of them ultimately decide that ending the suffering of others is more important than taxpayer concern I LOVE THESE TWO.) We now have confirmation that use of the MedLab requires money, so there are people in Downbelow who can’t afford normal medical care. Is there health insurance in this world? Do medical supply companies or pharmaceutical corporations inflate their prices? GIVE ME ALL THIS ECONOMICAL WORLDBUILDING. The point, though, was made without all these details: there is a strata of society on Babylon 5 who needs medical care, but can’t necessarily access it. So how can Dr. Franklin ultimately stop Dr. Rosen if she consents to draining her energy? How can he stop her if she fulfills a need for the station? 


There’s another confirmation in this episode: capital punishment is not legal except in two circumstances. You can be “spaced” for mutiny or treason. But… not murder? Apparently, the military and national security concerns are placed higher than anything else. All of this is relevant because of the trial of Karl Mueller, who is convicted of three counts of murder in the first degree at the start of the episode. While I appreciated another look into the justice system on the station, I was more fascinated by the means of punishment that are introduced to us here. Namely: rather than use the death penalty, a person can be sentenced to a mindwipe and be reprogrammed as an entirely different person, destined for labor to the community that was harmed by their actions. It’s poetic and disturbing, of course, and the script makes this situation even more complicated by using a character as despicable as Mueller. The man is easy to hate and to wish the worst upon, and he’s only made more terrible by the time Talia Winters has to do a mind scan on him. 

So, does he deserve death? Legally, no, but Garibaldi is convinced he should be executed. (Which I think says more about Garibaldi than anything else. I’ve noticed that he’s more willing to punish suspects than others, that he’s prone to violence, that he also bends the rules but will do so to harm someone else, as long as they’re deserving of that harm in his eyes.) His suspicions are correct, though: this was not the first time that Mueller murdered someone. Talia discovers through her scan of him that there is a “chorus” of voices of the countless people he’s killed, and it’s SO IMMENSELY UPSETTING. Particularly since we know that Talia has trauma associated with being inside the mine of terrible people!

Thus, by the time Mueller escapes and makes his way to Dr. Rosen, we’re left with a moral conundrum: was it right for Dr. Rosen to kill Mueller by using her device to give him her pain and her Lake’s Syndrome? On the surface, it seems an easy decision to make. Mueller murdered tons of people and was willing to murder the Rosens, too. She was just defending herself! However, I appreciated the consistency here. Dr. Rosen sought out that machine specifically because she believed she had betrayed her oath as a doctor. Thus, she still believes she did by killing Mueller, even if it was a “necessary” act. That consistency made this a much more fulfilling episode, and I’m hoping that we see that strange machine again at some point. I would love to see it used as a consensual device to heal someone because it provides such a fascinating storytelling opportunity.

The video for “The Quality of Mercy” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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