Saturday, December 08, 2007

Babylon 5 Review: "Soul Hunter"

"Soul Hunter" takes an interesting premise and goes absolutely nowhere with it, so that only good writing and direction save this from becoming an incredibly hokey version of stop-the-madman. At best, however, you can only say that this is an entertaining if deeply flawed episode that in no way presages the interesting and at times powerful ways in which Babylon 5 will ultimately explore questions related to religion.

The interesting premise comes in the form of Soul Hunters. Although called an "order," they seem more like a race in that the ones we see look alike and claim immortality. (The latter, incidentally, would seem to be cutting in on Lorien's territory, but I digress.) All we learn about them is that they capture the souls of the dying and preserve them in little orange globes, that the Minbari see them as thieves, and that other races fear them as heralds of death.

This brings up some fascinating questions which the show simply shies away from. Do the Soul Hunters actually take souls, or simply recreate something based on personality elements? In other words, what is the soul? That is episode wisely leaves open, and I'm honestly not sure how one would go about exploring it. Beyond that, however, is the question of what happens if the soul exists and can be preserved. Is it something that someone should do, even against the will of the individual? What do the Soul Hunters gain from having all these souls? This theme could have been examined, but the show goes nowhere with it.

Exploration of issues is short-circuited when another Soul Hunter arrives to proclaim that the first one is disturbed and about to murder someone. From then on, it's a straight action sequence. This was kept engaging, and in fact the whole show moved really well, a testament to Jim Johnston's solid direction and the fact the main characters were extremely well-written, especially Sinclair, Garibaldi, and Franklin. The Sinclair/Garibaldi chemistry in particular is also very strong, while Richard Biggs does a good job creating Dr. Franklin without any significant exposition. For some reason, this episode also came off better visually than most of the rest of the season.

This business of representing the stealing of a soul physically could have been hokey, but since the episode mostly ignores the giant machine involved, it somehow works. I was less convinced by the blue wisps when Delenn was releasing souls at the end. That scene also presents some philosophical issues - do all those souls want to be released? If the collections of Soul Hunters are filled with people who hate them, you'd think they'd notice, and not see only the Minbari as resistant to their ways. On a somewhat related note, Sinclair's sudden declaration in Medlab that the Soul Hunter is a threat seems an oddly unexplained turnaround from his interest in new life earlier in the show.

I'm far too spoiled to offer an opinion on how the revelations and hints went over. I did, however, note an abandoned bit of foreshadowing in the very romantic way Sinclair was depicted after he saved Delenn. Sinclair's departure wasn't known until about a third of the year through the season, and it's pretty clear he was going to marry Delenn, with Catherine Sakai presumably moving into something like the Anna Sheridan role.

In short, this episode introduces some interesting ideas, but stops at introducing them. On the other hand, it's certainly much more entertaining than some of the other early outings, and shows the characters to good effect. Although frustrated with the lost potential, I'll err on the side of generosity and call it 6/10.



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