Babylon 5 #120: Patterns of the Soul

"Must be difficult for you, being a career military officer, having to play the roles of jailer, ferryman, executioner. That's where we're different. I just do what I'm told. The corporation knows all, sees all, and tells very little. If we make a bad call, we can honestly say that we've acted in good conscience based on the information available. Absolution in absentia, the blessed state of being able to say, 'It's not my fault.'"
IN THIS ONE... Gideon uncovers a conspiracy after being ordered to deport colonists infected with the plague. Dureena finds the last tribe of her people.

REVIEW: Earth - we're the worst. There is nothing more important than finding a cure for the plague, except maybe covering one's ass when illegal cybernetic experiments run off to found their own colony. Then it's okay to use the plague as a weapon, risk having it get out, and as it turns out, infect the last of a species on the verge of extinction. Gawd, just let us die. With such fine examples of humanity as Max on the Excalibur, and an psychotic cyborg like "Tim", over-acted past my teeth's grinding limit, Patterns of Souls is rather misanthropic. Should we read the infection of Dureena's people as anything other than a mirror of Native American peoples falling prey to European germs? They've even got an elder with long white braids in there. Oh sure, Max doesn't quite betray the Excalibur in the end, deleting his report at the last minute as if to show he has a heart after all. That's as maybe. The moment feels unearned, and when he's accused of butting into things that don't concern him, it's hard not to agree, but it's what you do when you LITERALLY have nothing to do on the show. And there's the more sympathetic cyber-GROPOS Robert Black who has a touching back story about a dead love... well, touching if Fiona Avery hadn't also written the same deal for Galen.

So who's going to redeem the human race? It's down to Gideon (as usual) and Dr. Chambers (oh man, almost forgot she existed). The latter is a cipher in this. No character but the job, needed to do the medical things and play damsel in distress. Disappointing. The Gideon bits save the show. He frets about the nano-shield that's supposed to protect them from viruses - I'm starting to see a lot of Enterprise's Archer in him... or rather, the opposite - he has access to codes he shouldn't because he won them in poker games (or is he lying and it's that magic box of his?), and he tricks the corrupt Earthforce general who sent him to do his dirty work into thinking the colonists are dead (not unlike the Technomage trick from The Long Road). Gideon bristling at bad orders, uncovering a conspiracy and finding a way to have his cake and eat it too makes the episode watchable. Dureena gets a good role as well, and now that she has actual skin in the game, she has a reason to be there, to care, to push Gideon and the others. Even if this was a side-trip, it had more to do with the Drakh plague than any since the TNT-imposed pilot. Time to get more focused.

Focused in not, however, how I would describe the episode's script and direction. It's all rather messy. For example, Dureena climbs up a cliff face and finds the lost tribe, then Chambers shows up in their cave and they're on ground level. Not impossible, but it's jarring to the viewer who sat through the long climb, but didn't see a climb down. There's a conversation between Gideon and Max that comes out of nowhere, and seems edited in from some other episode. Dureena's outrage that Chambers would tell the captain that her people were on the planet is hard to swallow, as is her mistrust of Gideon by now. And so on. In the end, this episode is more important for the show's future - but like the thrown stones, we know it's actually a blank, be careful what you write into the script (similarly, Max announces the mission will be dull) - setting up a shorter death date for Dureena's kin which might have coincided with JMS' plans to cure the plague a year later, introducing an element of urgency at the culmination of that arc. Alas...

Moving people off a planet for cover-up purposes is right out of Star Trek: Insurrection's playbook. A decontamination process before going down to a planet (or when coming back) would feature on Enterprise. Deleting your report at the end of an episode has become a cliché, but was never so well done as on DS9's In the Pale Moonlight.

As a Gideon/Dureena adventure, it just about works. I could jettison all other characters, of course, especially the plainly evil guest star who takes Chambers hostage.


Ryan Lohner said...

It seems like this is one where you can really see the seeds of what the show was actually meant to be, with the crew discovering a conspiracy within Earthforce in the course of their search for the cure. And actually, the more I hear now the more it seems like book three of the Techno-Mage trilogy actually contains a lot more of what was meant to be on the show than I realized, though tweaked a bit to take place after the five years would be over.

LiamKav said...

I'm kinda curious how Crusade would have done "there's something rotten going on back at home" differently that B5.

LondonKdS said...

Blake's 7 swipe file - this is a big episode for Dureena, and makes it clear that she's a hybrid of B7's Vila and Cally. Like Vila she's a criminal who's supernaturally skilled at getting into things, but like Cally she's a stoical outcast whose species got wiped out by biological warfare.

Siskoid said...

London: I'll discover Blake's 7 one day. Just waiting on the Region 1 DVDs.

LondonKdS said...

You'll wait a while - I think the Region 1 DVDs are still caught up in a messy US rights tangle related to a revival plan that collapsed.

Siskoid said...

You should see my "to-watch" shelf. Actually shelves.

I can afford to wait.


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