"All life is transitory: a dream. We all come together in the same place in the end of time. If I don't see you again here, I will see you in a little while in the place where no shadows fall." "Delenn… when I do see you again… call me John?"
REVIEW: Let's start with my own confession - I think I've finally hit the point where I can say I'm neck deep in this world and its characters. This is the first episode that got me to laugh out loud (at everyone's reaction to how poorly the Minbari dinner date went) and tear up (mostly at Delenn's soulfulness). I can't even process right now why Confessions and Lamentations left me so thoroughly gutted. After all, it's very nearly just a traditional medical mystery episode. I say "very nearly" because the story does feature a couple of vicious twists that make it rise above the usual fare, in particular how Doctor Franklin doesn't create the treatment in time to save the Markab living on the station, and then how the entire species is made extinct by the disease. The Markab have been one of the most visible alien species in the Non-Aligned group, and the show has just jettisoned them. That in itself is shocking and shows the value of developing background aliens in at least some detail, but it's not where my grief comes from.
Nor is it in the allegorical/political aspects of the story, at least, not consciously. The main reason the Markab's disease is so hard to treat is because it's all tangled up in a social stigma. The Markab believe, because of where the disease first historically cropped up, that it is a punishment for immoral behavior, and so even checking for the illness is considered a grave insult, an accusation. While the model for this is explicitly the Black Plague, which was believed to be a visitation from the Devil, the Drafa plague can stand in for any illness with an attached stigma. While JMS has protested the link to AIDS, methinks he doth protest too much. Doc Franklin even mentions it, which I thought was giving away the game a little. But Markab being assaulted in the corridors as a "carrier" doesn't quite make sense - you'd be exposing yourself to the plague - until you add the "only junkies and gays can get it" element. Today, we have the incredibly stupid idea that vaccines are dangerous, which has made infectious diseases explode in the Western world. The point of all this is that treating illness according to political or religious belief is dangerous. Drafa does not spare the "moral" - it kills an innocent child, no problem - though one could argue it's punishing the sin of pride which made the Markab trust in their purity more than the available facts. A poignant irony that still resonates today.
So what is it about this episode? For me, it's how the characters react to this emergency with acts of kindness and sacrifice. Delenn and Lennier are at the top of the list, "space elves" whom I somehow still expect to be above it all, but are remarkably empathic and sensitive creatures. They actively feel others' pain and are obliged to offer comfort and succor. So being confined to the a space where everyone else dies must be unbearable, and that is their sacrifice even if they can't be infected. Delenn, a sort of Sister of Mercy, gets all the best, surprisingly touching speeches, but Lennier's quiet, controlled grief is just as potent. In the middle of this is Sheridan admitting his feelings for Delenn in a simple, implicit manner. "Call me John." Letting her go into what becomes a tomb (and the direction very much bears this out in the closing moments) is HIS kindness and sacrifice. Similarly, Garibaldi's is very simple, risking contagion by giving a hurt Markab his hand. Obviously, this is Doc Franklin's plot and I'm always taken by his passion. He snaps at interns, he rages when his friend Lazarenn, the only progressive Markab on the show, dies (and again, great direction with the stark shocking light change to indicate the termination of a patient), some of which is no doubt fueled by the stims he's been taking. And yet, there's clear focus too, and though I'm sure real scientists can poke holes in the episode, a believable, logical investigation the viewer can understand, not the hand-waving technobabble similar shows have gotten us used to. So they killed off an alien race no one actually cared about, but through the visceral emotion of the main cast, C&L MADE us care. Delenn is right, nothing should limit our compassion.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: As contrast, I offer Voyager's Learning Curve, broadcast two days early, about Neelix's stinky cheese infecting the ship. I should probably limit comparisons to Deep Space Nine given the gap in quality between Voyager and everything else ever.
REWATCHABILITY: High - A surprisingly powerful episode.