Babylon 5 #112: The River of Souls

"Faith is good. But sometimes faith is blind."
IN THIS ONE... Martin Sheen guest stars as a Soul Hunter looking to get a whole race's souls back from an archaeologist. Meanwhile, an illegal holo-brothel has sprung up in Brown Sector.

REVIEW: So the night before the season finale (Objects at Rest; let's call Sleeping in Light the SERIES finale), they broadcast THIS piece of crap that takes place 6 months later. Bizarre, until you realize how anti-climactic it would have felt AFTER it. Essentially, we're seeing what the show would be like after everyone of note has left. It's just Lochley, Zack and Corwyn, with a special guest appearance by Garibaldi sporting the worst goatee in the series (and that's saying something), with a Doc Franklin cameo. Not that I mind Lochley getting a little more play, and Zack has really grown on me, I admit. To give the TV movie its due, it's definitely director Janet Greek's best effort. I've often felt that seeing her name attached to an episode meant it would be a poor one, flatly directed, but I'm reassessing that. In The River of Souls, you won't see much of a "river" EXCEPT in her direction, as the camera (and CG camera) will often be involved in smooth, long, single takes, flowing and following the action. We also get some quality guest-stars like Ian McShane (of later Deadwood fame) and Martin freaking Sheen (although I think he's wasted doing alien intonations and wearing a prosthetic that limits his expressions).

Whether or not the Soul Hunters really were as popular as the production says they were, it seems a bit late to follow up on the thread at this point. It's another alien artifact story, like Thirdspace, but much more contained. Interesting to see the ancient mausoleums the Soul Hunters keep the taken souls in, and the idea of a whole world taken just as it was about to transcend the physical - as we know can happen in the B5 universe - is an interesting one, even if it's used to do a "haunted station" story. The holo-brothel (more on this below) element is obviously there to give escaped souls a physical presence, at least for a while. Sheen's Soul Hunter is unique in that he's ready to accept the possibility his people made a mistake and comes off as sympathetic, and his sacrifice is unsurprising. Ultimately though, the episode hinges on a lot of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, and debates we've heard before.

The real irritation is the holo-brothel subplot. Not only does Joel Brooks dish out another of his supposedly-funny-but-annoying characters (I blame the scripts, not him), but we spend too much time in his company as girls in negligés walk around the set. When the souls take over the holograms, it turns into a peep show, one that hardly makes sense if the holograms have no actual substance. And then it's revealed the brothel has been illegally using Lochley's image (calling it public domain) as one of its "holo-hos" (the production's word, not mine) forcing Scoggins to get undressed (come on, Joe, try to keep it in your pants). To the CHARACTER'S credit, she's got too thick a skin to really let it get to her, and only arches an eyebrow when she finds out it's mostly been used by women. On the WRITER'S level, a writer who has allowed it to be suggested (by Gaiman in Day of the Dead) that Lochley might have been involved in prostitution as a young adult (done things she's "not proud of" to survive), it seems like this should have been more disturbing to her. Lochley has some good scenes with the brothel's over-tanned lawyer (I think B5 had some real make-up problems when it came to covering those up), but the pay-off is also the pay-off to an absurd and unfunny scene (which, according to the commentary track, JMS found EXTREMELY funny... this guy) in which Corwyn gives Lochley a "love-bat" that spouts feel-good psychobabble when you hit something or yourself with it. It's dumb and makes me think Corwyn is  a real creep, which I'm sure wasn't the intent. Just embarrassing. But we need the scene, see, because at the end, Lochley has reprogrammed it to tell the lawyer he's an idiot. Oh, ow, my sides hurt. Groan.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Looks like Quark has started a holosuite franchise in the B5 universe (and getting Lochley's image was a lot easier than getting Kira's). Its operator, Jacob Mayhew, is played by Joel Brooks who played an equally annoying producer of illusory entertainment on Deep Space Nine's Move Along Home.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - While I'm glad for the spotlight to be on Lochley, a normally disposable story with admittedly strong guest stars is sunk by the writer indulging his baser impulses, i.e. creepy voyeurism and bad jokes only thinks are funny.


Ryan Lohner said...

Ian McShane has had a rather spectacular late-life career resurgence ever since Deadwood, thanks to the industry finally recognizing that few can play a cocky Magnificent Bastard quite like him. I had actually held out hope that he would play Doran Martell on Game of Thrones, and I do still anticipate he'll get on the show sometime as it seems like a perfect fit. So it's pretty fun to see stuff like this when he was relatively obscure.

Martin Sheen was actually first offered McShane's role, and after reading the script he requested to play the Soul Hunter instead, finding it the far more interesting part. JMS warned him that it would involve a ton of makeup work that he really wasn't used to, but he insisted, and so we ended up with this.

Madeley said...

Plus, at the time, pre-West Wing, Sheen wasn't exactly getting the best parts. Anyone recall his turn as the villain in the Spawn movie?

Siskoid said...

I think the first time I saw McShane was in Sexy Beast. I liked him from then on.

Sheen has some spectacular turkeys on his CV, that's true.

LiamKav said...

In my continuing grumpiness over the uniform situation, I will now rant about the fact that with all the departures, both Zack and Lockley are wearing unique uniforms worn by no-one else on the station.


Also, in the future goatees apparently mean "maturity", and not "wannabe hipster".

Madeley said...

Both of which are advancements on the goatee's prior signifier of "evil".

Anonymous said...

From what I remember at the time jms lost the real script and had to write this at the last minute to fill time. Would be great to hear from anyone with the script books what the original would have been like.

Ryan Lohner said...

Unfortunately, In the Beginning is the only one of the films in the script books (unless you count The Gathering).

Anonymous said...

According to his site the lost draft is in vol 15, but it doesn't sound like its an actual full script

Green Luthor said...

Martin Sheen played a Soul Hunter, and Joe Estevez was the star of Soultaker. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. (Which one is better is open to debate...)

DustMan said...

Actually, the draft in vol 15 is from Soul Hunter, the 1st season episode, not the TV movie. I don't know that I ever heard about the script being lost.

The TV Movie script notes a couple of interesting things:

a) JMS started writing River of Souls right after Objects at Rest. He states that he was exhausted, and when he's exhausted, he gets "funny" (ironic emphasis added). Also, the cast and crew kept giving him self-help items (vitamins, meditation CDs) near the end of production, which is what led to the "Love Bat."

b) The archaeological SF aspect was considered a test run for the Crusade spin-off.

c) Apparently, Martin Sheen is a big proponent of 12-step programs, and was encouraging everyone he could to join one, whether or not they thought they needed it, including JMS.

In my opinion, this is slightly better than Thirdspace, but only just. The humor is as forced as most of JMS' laugh lines tend to be. It involves a large event happening to the station that appears to have little to no long-term impact on anyone involved. After more than 3 seasons where the events in the episodes kept building onto each other, these self-contained stories where everything returns to status-quo feel like a step back.

What it has over Thirdspace, though is that it's not trying to shoehorn an unrelated story inside a time frame jam packed with existing inter-connected stories, and it doesn't try to oversell the threat (No "the universe will be destroyed if we fail" over-the-top-ness).

I'm not sure if it's just my memory, but I was thinking that Tracy Scoggins had a few cheesecake y roles on her CV before this, so she may be more comfortable in that role than others. That, plus the lack of horrible date/non-date stories involving Tracy makes it at least a little less skeevy than Claudia Christian being put in similar circumstances.

Cradok said...

She was mostly known before B5 for playing femme fatales on various shows, including turns in both Dynasty and Dallas, and a quick image search shows that she was never afraid to show a lot of skin. The holo-brothel stuff was probably no big deal. She spent a season as Cat Grant in Lois and Clark, all but humping Dean Cain's leg.

I suspect that DS9's Holosuites were originally Holosex Suites, based on the first few DS9 books, written by different authors, calling them that. One of them at least, Peter David's contribution, was written from the series bible before the episodes were finished, so it's likely that's what the intention was, before someone decided that wasn't going to fly on TV.

(I'm not talking about the episode that much, because I find the main plot dreary and the secondary plot unfunny. Possibly my least favourite of all of B5.)


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