Sunday, January 27, 2008

Babylon 5 Review: "Infection"

According to episode notes, JMS said he wished this episode would just "vanish into the night" and rated it as possibly the worst of the season. Maybe I just went in with exceptionally low expectations, but I didn't think it was that bad. We're definitely ahead of "Midnight on the Firing Line" and "Born to the Purple" here. In clarifying, he said: "I tried to use the Nelson/machine as a metaphor; it wasn't supposed to be about the Nelson/machine, but about the kind of people who would create it, the kind of people who would sell it, and the kind of people who would confiscate it even KNOWING what it was." That, I think, strikes closer to the mark. This show didn't actually do much wrong, but it also didn't do very much right.

One problem going into this show is that we'd seen it before, in Star Trek's "The Changeling". In fact, we're really watching a prototypical TOS plot here, complete with the captain outwitting the machine, organic though it may be. The show tries to transcend that with the remains of JMS's focus on the thought behind such a device, but without any development it just comes across as a bunch of pious cliches. Sinclair tells the Ikarran his people became so obsessed with the enemy that they became the enemy, but how on earth does that apply? We're supposed to be thinking of Earth there, as we see when the government's bioweapons division comes to confiscate the artifacts. I can also see the idea of the metaphor, in hate or obsession turning people into machines, which would go very well with the show's overall arc. JMS is right, though, that it just didn't work.

Speaking of the arc, I was surprised over just how significant this episode was. Exhibit A is Interplanetary Expeditions. I'm not sure Franklin's opinion of them as cheating holds up, though it is interesting that we never see them actually do anything good despite hiring people we like. At the same time, we learn they're a front for a bioweapons firm. Does this just get forgotten? No one seems to remember it in "Messages from Earth," when people talk cheerfully about having seen the ads. The idea of organic technology is also established, though I'm not sure just how much that matters in the end.

Garibaldi's talk with Sinclair at the end is a nice bit of character work. I found myself drawing a connection between Garibaldi's comments about not being able to find a reason to live, and so looking for a reason to die, and Lorien's question of Sheridan in a later season: "Why are you here? Do you have anything worth living for?" Assuming he also would have said that to Sinclair, there's the start of a good character arc there. As it is, the show frequently portrays living as a courageous choice. We also met our first annoying reporter. JMS was an investigative reporter in San Diego before going into TV. He must have had some annoying experiences to write every journalist we meet as Rita Skeeter.

That about wraps things up. This wasn't very good, but I have a hard time calling it bad, and if we grant that the Ikarrans were idiots there were no major plot holes. That makes this a fairly bland 5/10.



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