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Thursday, 5 January 2017

Babylon 5 1-21: The Quality of Mercy

Episode:21|Writer:J. Michael Straczynski|Air Date:17-Aug-1994

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm rewatching The Quality of Mercy, the penultimate episode of Babylon 5 season one! But the Lurker's Guide Master List claims that it fits better before TKO and Legacies as they have more of a connection to the season finale, and I'm willing to go with that.

So this is how the end of season one looks to me:
20 - Babylon Squared
21 - The Quality of Mercy
14 - TKO
17 - Legacies
22 - Chrysalis
I'm tempted to change my mind and put it back to the airing order so that I don't have to watch TKO at all... but TKO aired after Chrysalis in the UK so either way I can't escape it!

I'll be recapping the whole episode and throwing in my comments along the way, but I'll also be throwing in SPOILERS for earlier episodes so be warned. Everything that comes after it is safe though, even TKO, not that it's really possible to spoil that any worse that it already is.



Hey it's the first appearance of the Centauri minister! He's like my... third or fourth favourite Centauri on the series. Top five for sure. He's only on screen here for a couple of minutes to whine to Ambassador Londo Mollari about the need for him to forge good relations with the other ambassadors, but he'll show up again in other episodes eventually. Very eventually.

Londo storms out of his quarters and runs in Lennier, who hasn't got much to do right now while Ambassador Delenn is visiting her homeworld... or a secret Grey Council starship if you watch this immediately after Babylon Squared, like I'm doing.

This random meeting gives Londo an idea: he'll take Lennier on a tour of the station to give the naive attaché some real world experience. That way he can forge good relations and go to the casino at the same time! Lennier has... concerns, but Londo's a whirlwind of personality driven by frustration and alcohol so the poor guy has no chance.

Meanwhile in the courtroom a serial killer, Karl Edward Mueller, is found guilty of three murders. Not much else going on in the scene really.


ACT ONE.


Act one begins with Lt. Commander Ivanova going down to Downbelow, to confront a doctor running an unauthorised free clinic... who just happens to be Dr. Franklin, Chief of Staff of Babylon 5's Medlab facility.

The station is expected to be self-supporting, which means they shouldn't be diverting medicine and supplies to people who can't pay for treatment. Not that Ivanova's going to stop him, she just wants to be in the loop. Hang on... wasn't Commander Sinclair asking the government for more money a few episodes ago? They definitely weren't bringing in enough cash to be self-supporting back then.

But an off-handed comment by Ivanova gets Franklin wondering why he's only got half the patients queuing up today and he decides to investigate.

Elsewhere... hey Ombuds Wellington is back and this time he's grown a beard! Grail wasn't a great episode but he was one of the better parts of it.

Garibaldi wants to space their serial killer, flush him out of an airlock for the sake of the gene pool, but he's going to be disappointed. Wellington points out that their only legal options are to either send him to Earth, lock him away in the brig, or wipe his personality and implant false memories.

There's a nice well-acted sensible discussion here as they work out what they can do and what they should do within the system they operate in, but in the end their only real choice is the mindwipe. Which means that telepath Talia Winters is going to make a couple of trips to the killer's messed up head to verify that his personality has been erased, and she hates doing that more than Ivanova hates mornings.

It doesn't take Dr. Franklin to figure out the cause for his missing patients. He has a rival called Laura Rosen (played by June Lockhart of Lost in Space fame) who's practicing medicine without a licence and without medicine either. She's using a machine which she claims to heal people, in exchange for a small donation.

Franklin thinks she's a con artist and this assessment pisses off Rosen's daughter Janice, who crept in while they were talking. Franklin explains that he has a problem here because if she's tricking people into thinking she can heal them, they won't be seeking treatment from an actual doctor. But Janice wants him gone and he agrees for now, so that he can drag the storyline out for the entire length of the episode.


ACT TWO.


Meanwhile in the B plot (or maybe C plot), Londo has taken Lennier (played by Bill Mumy of Lost in Space fame) to the Dark Star club he visited way back in Born to the Purple. This is where he met Adira, the love of his life, who then immediately vanished from the series.

Lennier would like to do nothing more than escape Londo's clutches and bolt for the door, but Londo's determined to make him join in with his fun... and pay for it too, as he claims to have accidentally left his money at home.

Lennier's protestations suddenly cut out mid-sentence as the dancer disrobes. Londo has to try a couple of times to get his attention back before he can offer him a drink.

He asks if there's any alcohol in it and Londo assures him it's fine. Lennier's a trusting type so he takes his word for it, mentioning that he only asked because Minbari go into a violent homicidal rage if they drink (and they nearly wiped out humanity due to their anger issues when they were sober). Fortunately Londo manages to get the glass away from his lips at the last possible moment to prevent a one-man interstellar war from breaking out. And he's learned an important fact about another race!

Meanwhile, Dr. Franklin utilises his doctor's salary to buy enough jewellery from Janice's stall to chat with her for a few minutes.

He's discovered that her mother is an actual doctor, or at least she used to be. Rosen was obsessed with treating people to the point where she started taking stims to stay up nights working. This became an addiction and eventually cost a patient their life. So she spent a few years looking for undiscovered alien healing technology in the hope that she could... win back her licence I guess? And she actually found it, apparently.

The reason Rosen's not back on Earth showing off the amazing healing device she miraculously discovered is that Janice has being lying to her about how much money they have. She doesn't think she can afford the ticket yet, but really Janice has been keeping her here because healing people is making her happy.

While Franklin's having a break and Londo's having a drink, Talia's paying a visit to the serial killer's head to get a 'before' image so she can be sure he's gone later. Turns out the guy is a prolific murderer, with a dozen victims hanging around in his memory. He needs to keep adding voices into his choir so that it's big enough to sing him into heaven he explains, though he seems too self aware to really believe that. I think he's just screwing with her.


ACT THREE.


Back in Franklin's plotline, he's gotten his assistant to collect information on Rosen's patients to show Janice the damage she's doing by letting her mother lure patients from his clinic. But it shows that they actually have been getting better. Seems like Rosen's alien healing machine works!

I think he's very rude here by the way, as his assistant asks him a question and he just ignores it and walks out. After she went to the trouble of getting all the information in that file for him as well!

The adventures of Londo and Lennier have moved on to a poker table by this point. Lennier was boring Londo into a coma earlier with his long dull stories about his studies at the temple, until he mentioned a talent for probability. This sounded close enough to 'being really good at poker' to Londo for him to drag them to a table, and it seems like he's right! Though Lennier's still struggling with some of the basics, like not telling everyone around you how unlikely your cards are.

Dr. Franklin returns to Rosen's clinic and secretly scans her while she's operating the healing machine. Rosen is tired after her session and wants him gone, but after the scan he understands why that is. The machine transfers life energy from one being to another, and she's giving up a little bit of her life at a time to heal people.

She explains that it was designed as a means of corporal punishment, to drain a person of life and use it to cure the terminally ill. Which I guess explains why she can't just plug the thing into a wall socket. Though give Lennier a couple hours and I bet he'll have that thing rigged to use a Minbari power source, like he did with Garibaldi's Kawasaki Ninja a few episodes back.

Though hang on, corporal punishment... that's an interesting thing to mention when the other plot line is about a serial killer.

Speaking of the serial killer plot, Talia's sitting in a garden right now trying to get over her mind scan so we get a nice matte shot.

But back to Dr. Franklin and Dr. Rosen's conversation. Turns out that she deliberately avoided giving Franklin proof that the machine works because then Janice would learn what the treatments are doing to her. Seems that mother and daughter are both lying to each other. He's not keen on her continuing to use the machine, but she reveals that she's dying anyway so it doesn't matter how much of her life she gives up. So Franklin actually agrees to let her carry on studying the machine and helping the sick, as long as she comes to him for regular check ups.

Wait... so now there's a convicted serial killer, an execution device that heals terminally ill people, and a terminally ill person in this episode? Interesting.

Actually it seems like the serial killer's leaving, as he just managed to escape Garibaldi and pair of armed guards to dive into an elevator, and recurring security guy Lou Welch is trapped in there with him!

Garibaldi's men did manage to shoot him in the back, but he's got serial killer strength so it's barely even slowed him down.


ACT FOUR.


Back at the poker table, Londo's trying an innovative technique to tilt the odds in his favour. He's secretly using some kind of tentacle to switch cards around. Well he was until someone put a jug of ice on it without noticing. Londo on the other hand is definitely noticing and doing a terrible job of hiding it, and when the jug starts jiggling everyone knows something's up. The whip-crack sound when it's finally lifted off is kind of a giveaway too.

It is at that point that the table gets flipped and the other players decide they'd rather spend the evening rearranging the ambassador's face. Not just the players at their table, all of them.

Mild-mannered Lennier takes this opportunity to demonstrate another skill he excelled at in his time at the temple: ass-whooping. He takes down one assailant with a variety of kicks and then moves to cover Londo and encourage him to make a swift exit.

Over in Medlab we learn that recurring security guy Lou Welch survived! He tells Dr. Franklin about the gunshot wound that Mueller took, and the doctor realises he must be going down to his free clinic for treatment.

He phones up his assistant to ask her to notify him if any serial killers turn up, and she replies that he'd be the only patient they've had all day. Then he hangs up on her mid-sentence and runs out of the room! I don't know how the woman puts up with him.

Franklin races down to Rosen's clinic and finds Mueller taking advantage of her services, using her daughter as a hostage so that he gets what he wants. He also finds that he's a hostage himself now, seeing as he rushed in here alone without thinking.

Realising the danger to her daughter, Rosen uses the machine as it was intended, taking life from him instead of giving it. I guess she was using the machine in reverse all this time, which is a strange feature for an execution device to have.

What's extra weird about this that she seems to be inflicting the symptoms of her illness onto him, so either the machine is deliberately damaging his body in a way that mimics her condition, or it's using space magic to swap the condition over. The more I think about it, the more I don't like it, so I'm going to stop thinking now.

With the machine turned up to its full potential Mueller is dead within seconds and Rosen has lost a another patient.

Ombuds Wellington rules that Rosen acted in self defence and she's released, though the healing device is confiscated. She's not happy though, as she's added another 20 or 30 years to her life at the cost of someone else's. She's made Garibaldi day though; Mueller died a painful death, just like he wanted.

The episode seemed like it might have been building towards tackling the morality of the death penalty or their sci-fi mindwipe punishment, but in the end this is as close as it gets.

The good news for Londo and Lennier is that they survived their epic brawl. The bad news is that now they have to give Sinclair an explanation.
Londo: "I am prepared to give you one commander, as soon as the room stops spinning."
Sinclair: "This station creates gravity through rotation, it never stops spinning.
Lennier soon comes forward and claims responsibility for everything, lying that it was his mistake that caused the incident. They both have diplomatic immunity so there'll be no charges placed against them, but they will have to pay for the considerable property damage they caused.

Londo wants to know why Lennier took the blame for him (especially considering that Minbari never lie), and he explains that in his culture it is an honour to help someone else save face.

In return he wants to know what the tentacle was. Londo explains it to him with a TV friendly visual demonstration, revealing that the statue he's holding is the goddess of passion... a hermaphrodite with both male and female characteristics. The tentacles are a male characteristic. So now Lennier's learned something about his race too, and decides to swear an vow of silence concerning the entire conversation.

The fact that the ambassadors are learning basic facts about the other major races decades after first contact says a lot about how important Babylon 5 station is. They've been here a year or two now, so understanding isn't coming immediately, but being able to go out to a strip club with each other and play some poker helps!


ACT FIVE.


In the epilogue Rosen reveals to Franklin that she's going off on another journey in search of redemption, saying "I would ask you to look after my daughter, by my instincts tell me that won't be a problem."

Sorry Rosen, but your instincts are way off this time. There's been two kinds of love interests in the series so far: those who have had two episodes and then vanished (Catherine Sakai, Lise Hampton) and those who have disappeared entirely after their first appearance (Adira, Ironheart). From what I remember, Janice is definitely a category B.


CONCLUSION

So now I have to ask myself, which is the better episode, Babylon 5's Quality of Mercy, or Star Trek's Errand of Mercy? Actually I shouldn't do that as it's been ages since I last watched original Star Trek and I can't even remember which one Errand of Mercy is.

But I did remember being pretty unimpressed by The Quality of Mercy first time around, so I was happy to find that it's actually pretty decent. I'd put it in the mid-tier for season one, above episodes like The War Prayer and Mind War, but below Believers, Deathwalker and anything with a bit of the main story arcs in them. Not bad considering that it was writer JMS's least favourite script so far. Mostly because he was so sick with the flu at the time that he doesn't remember writing it.

The episodes reveals a bit more about how criminals are punished on Babylon 5, introducing the concept of 'death of personality'. Mueller is an utterly hateable, unquestionably guilty mass murderer without a hint of regret for his actions, and the story examines what our people would do about someone like that. Garibaldi represents one extreme, as he doesn't just want him dead, he wants him to suffer horrific pain in the process. On the other extreme there's Dr. Franklin, who isn't even comfortable with a non-lethal mindwipe, but is willing to assist with it in the least painful way that he can when it's the only alternative. And that's about as much examination as the subject gets by the end. Still, it's nice to see people discuss these things like adults.

Plus I appreciate how the episode fills in a bit more info on how telepaths are used in criminal cases, seeing as you'd think that they could just scan a person's brain and immediately say 'yep, they did it, no trial required!' But this spells out that anything a telepath sees while inside a defendant's mind is inadmissible as evidence, and who'd want to go into a murderer's mind anyway? I can apparently thank the internet for this, as JMS took the time to add extra information into the script to clear up some confusion he was encountering on Usenet. I guess that happened after the draft he doesn't remember writing.

I should mention that this is a bit of a Lost in Space reunion, with the original Will Robinson and his mother in the episode together... except for the fact that the two are never reunited on screen. Their plotlines turned out to be entirely unrelated in the end.

It's also an episode of television where an ambassador literally whips his dick out on screen during a poker game to help him cheat and nearly causes a diplomatic incident. So there's that.


COMING SOON
Babylon 5 will return with TKO. But not for a while, as first I'll be watching Deep Space Nine's Dramatis Personae.

Comments are welcome!

2 comments:

  1. Ah, there's the tentacle I was thinking of, er, the last time a tentacle appeared in B5.

    Mueller used to be Drake in Aliens and that's how I always think of him, even when he turns up in umpteen episodes of Murder, She Wrote, playing a different Irish man each time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoa, how did I not realise that he's Drake? They've both got the same face and everything.

      Delete