"This isn't clear and present danger? I must read the rulebook again."
REVIEW: Compared to Trek's secular humanism (although not necessarily DS9's), Babylon 5 doesn't shy away away from religious debate and presents the soul as a real thing. Or is it? Ambiguity reigns. Soul Hunters could be seen as harvesting "minds", since they speak to their "collection" and draw wisdom and comfort from it. They are "saving" souls the same way we might save a file on a computer, and these souls/minds have a will of their own and eventually turn against the featured Hunter played by the always awesome William Morgan Sheppard. In the Soul Hunter's view, lost souls evaporate into nothingness, true death. This is completely at odds with the Minbari world view, which turns what could be a noble enterprise into an evil nightmare. The Minbari are Emersonian transcendentalists who believe in an Oversoul from which all souls are formed. Remove souls from the whole, and generations are born with less soul-stuff to share among themselves. The Soul Hunters are boogeymen to others as well, possibly to anyone who believes in an afterlife from which "preservation" might cut them off. Humanity seems generally secular, judging from most characters' reactions. Neither Londo nor G'Kar appear (with its big cast, B5 has committed itself to using essential personnel), so we don't know what the Centauri or Narns (or Vorlons) think of this. Talia is also noticeably absent, as telepathy might have provided a complication too many.
This is very much a Delenn-centric episode. She has such poise and zen wisdom usually, that it's a bit shocking to see her so freaked out by something, though it may be a bit early for it. What do we really know about her? Well, less than we thought! It's revealed here that she's actually a member (was a member?) of the Grey Council, the Minbari's ruling body, "slumming it" as an ambassador on Babylon 5. The mystery deepens when it's suggested that she's there to manipulate/help (depends on your point of view) Sinclair. Is he at the very center of why the Minbari surrendered? He WAS at that battle. More to come. And while Delenn's anxiety and later, her panic as she's being bled out, bring her a little too close to human and damsel in distress, the episode ends on a bizarre note that restores her alienness. She frees the Hunter's collection, clearly in the throes of extasy, the screen going to credits under an orgasmic sigh. What the hell is going on, exactly? Kind of gave me the heebie-jeebies.
This is Dr. Franklin's first episode, which Richard Biggs plays as another genial old friend of Sinclair's. (Is the commander a little too chummy with his subalterns?) Franklin makes a good first impression, a scientifically-minded skeptic with an easy smile and the capacity to take control of his surroundings. Another recurring character making its first appearance is N'Grath the mantis-like black marketeer who lives in the Alien Sector. This inhuman thing could easily have looked ridiculous, but I think it works. More N'Grath, please! As for catering to other characters, Ivanova proves herself a cold pragmatist, a true Russian with the driest of wits, and Sinclair gets his hands dirty by recovering the Hunter's damaged ship in his personal fighter before it crashes into the station (he'll also dispose of the Hunter in the climax). The outer space sequence, despite its technical problems, is vertigo-inducing, feeling like it might to actually be in space where there is no up or down. The climax, however, is a little limp.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: The Grey Council once had a leader called Dukhat. Seeing as the Minbari have a similar place in history the Cardassians do vis-à-vis Earthers...
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Despite the fact the episode introduces much, reveals much and isn't lacking in the action department, it still feels a little slow and talky. I can't wait for everything to be established enough for a more serialized format, leaving these very "DS9" episodes behind (you know the ones I mean: Alien/object comes trough the wormhole/jump gate and causes trouble for 40 minutes).