Our long-delayed second installment of the Babylon 5 Viewing Club is finally here (pause for crickets)!
The introductory post was here.
This week: The Soul Hunter!
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.
We good? We good! Everybody who has done the watchin’, see you after the cut!
Rather than write a detailed synopsis (an effort that I expect was over-over-kill), I shall instead link to the Wikipedia synopsis, here.
Here’s the Big Observations for this week:
- Sinclair does his fighter-jock bit again. He also leads the security team to find the deranged Soul Hunter. Our captain once again demonstrates his “lead from the front” philosophy.
- N’Grath, the insectoid alien, represents some sort of major player in B5’s underworld, which gives him enough self-assurance that he’s okay with being in on a plot to assassinate an ambassador of one of the big 5 races.
- Delenn is no ordinary ambassador, she’s a member of the Grey Council. What precisely this means is not yet clear, but it appears to be a Big Deal to the Soul Hunter, who calls her one of “the great leaders”.
- We have three brief descriptions of possible states for the soul, set forth by three different characters:
- Franklin: There is no soul that survives the body. Maybe you can have a Singularity recording of someone’s brain recordings, but you’re a ghost in the machine.
- Delenn: All sentients have immortal souls. When a Minbari (in particular) dies its soul merges with the souls of other dead Minbari (no word yet on what this implies for humans, Narn, Centauri, Vorlons, etc.). Mimbari souls are recycled into future generations, so as individuals advance their own souls, the Minbari as a whole advance.
- Soul Hunter: All sentients have souls, but when someone dies, the soul expires into oblivion. A soul can be captured at the moment it leaves the body before dissolution.
We’re encouraged by the situation at the end of the episode to accept Delenn’s description, at least to some extent. First, because the englobed souls apparently assist Sinclair against the Soul Hunter during the fight, which, granted, implies the souls aren’t too happy with the Soul Hunter’s actions… but it could be argued that the trapped souls don’t like the Soul Hunter killing to preserve the souls, but they’re otherwise okay with their state. Second, however, is that the end scene is clearly intended to invoke the feeling that Delenn is “freeing” those souls. Of course, that could just be the Mimbari ones. The show very carefully does not come down hard on declaring who is correct, here.
You’ll see a lot of this in the series. J. Michael Straczynski sets up a goodly number of conflicts with resolutions that are open to a number of interpretations, which I happen to think is one of the nicest features of the series.
Outstanding question: if the Mimbari are the only race who reincarnate, what does it say about the Soul Hunter englobulating non-Mimbari souls? Would you rather be englobulated than diffuse back into the ether?
Is it ethical – or even morally required – to try and preserve souls before they vanish upon death? (For a different take on this question, see Spider Robinson’s books in the Lifehouse Trilogy.)
Delenn has a big plan of some sort. As the Soul Hunter says, prior to draining her life, “You would plan such a thing? You would do such a thing? Incredible!” (side note: both Mimbari and Soul Hunters appear not to be under Psi Corps rule, as they clearly possess extrasensory powers, implying pretty strongly at this stage that PsiCorp is a human-only affair). The episode implies that maybe Sinclair is involved with this plan, as Delenn says to him while coming out of delirium: “I knew you would come. We were right about you”. Although, one other possibility, there is some link from Sinclair to Delenn from the past that only Delenn knows.
Nerd detail: the doctor arrives aboard the starliner “Asimov”. The ship was named thus because Sir Issac died just before the filming of this episode.
Here’s the big takeaway that I got from the episode:
(More to come later, of course. But that’s the big one.)
Some souls, certainly. The doctor appears to be wrong to some extent. But the nature of their existence is as yet unclear.
Maybe only psychically-aware creatures of a certain level have non-ephemeral souls.
Troo dat: Humans had no idea that Soul Collectors even existed. Is it because humans don’t have souls? Is it because humans haven’t been awesome enough for Soul Collectors to show up and cultivate? Is it because Soul Collectors are usually good enough to sneak in and out before humans notice?
Ah, but is he wrong?
The funny thing about Franklin’s argument with the Soul Hunter is that they don’t appear to be disagreeing. What exactly does the word “soul” mean anyway? The souls hunters don’t believe in immortal souls, perhaps soul is just the closest English word they can come up with to describe the output of their sapience preservation process?
I tend to lean in that direction. Surely a Soulcatcher (Iain Bank’s term for a nifty device that snags your mindstate prior to death, in case your body isn’t gonna make it) would, you know, look like something.
I mean, maybe glowy balls of energy happens to be an efficient method of soul storage and powering. It’s not like they come out of dead bodies that way.
The Hunter had something — whether a nebulous supernatural concept or a technological recording of a quantum state — is up for grabs. (Actually, if your soul or spirit or mind or whatever has processes on the quantum level, which is possible given what we know of how the brain works, your ‘mind’ might be something that can be transferred or captured or recorded, but not duplicated…).
I’m cheerfully awaiting the Technomages.
I admit to having to reassess my presumptions by this episode.
I had always assumed that the Minbari were the Vulcans of Babylon 5. Seeing Delenn react to the soul collector though put that bad assumption to rest fairly quickly.
My current assumption is that the Minbari are the “mature” alien race that are established and recognize humans as big players (or big potential players, anyway) and want to mentor them… but, I had assumed, it was for altruistic “This Is Our Lot In Life” reasons like the Vulcans had. Now I’m not so sure.
But Delenn is there because the Minbari see Babylon 5 as Very Very Important.
Now I just need to figure out why Sinclair is there.
The fun thing about this show is that the major races aren’t just versions of races you’ve seen before. There may be common tropes in the Minbari (and the others), but they are their own unique thing.
Yeah. Just when you start to think “these guys are analogs of such-and-such,” you realize they are not.
I had always assumed that the Minbari were the Vulcans of Babylon 5.
The ones who charge $8 for a 1-ounce bottle of vodka?
Then they’d be the Ferengi of Babylon 5.
The Centauri are the Ferengi. Kinda.
Your questions touch on a MAJOR story arc. I think you’ll find the results rather interesting. 🙂
There’s already a Sir Isaac, so that’s confusing (and since he’s the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space it pays not to make him mad). Besides which, an honorary knighthood doesn’t entitle you to use the honorific “sir’.
It’s not good enough for one of the Gods of science fiction.
This was an okay episode. The best part is it lays down the start for some big mysteries. If it was not for these the show was a throw-away freak of the week.
1) Why is a member of the highest rulnig body of the Minbari, not to mention that the Soul Hunter thought she was exceptional even for the Grey Counsil, a diplomat?
2) Delenn has something audacious planned.
3) The Minbari have plans for Sinclair. Does this have anything to do with #2?
Yeah, reminds me of a season 1 Buffy episode. Awkward, Boring A plot, with hints of genius around the edges.
Babylon 5 is usually pretty good about burying some gems in the freak-of-the week episodes. I do agree that this is one of the weaker episodes. It is an interesting concept, but I always thought the presentation fell a little flat.
A question I don’t need answered about the Mantis in the basement: is he like Quark? An acceptable level of corruption that acts with partial knowledge of the Powers That Be or is he someone that would be busted in a half-second if Security knew about him?
He’s a gangster and he most likely is a higher guy running the organization.
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