Wednesday, July 25, 2012

B5 Rewatch: Soul Hunter

Well, hello there. It's time for another episode of the Babylon 5 rewatch, is it? In that case, let's jump into today's episode, "Soul Hunter."


What Happened

A Ship docks with Babylon 5 and Sinclair and Ivanova are on hand as one of the passengers disembarks. Sinclair introduces him to Ivanova as Doctor Stephen Franklin, the new medical chief of staff. Ivanova is familiar with Franklin's work and is glad to have him aboard. From the context it sound like he has experience in treating aliens as well as humans. He asks when he starts and she replies as soon as he'd like. Sinclair is called away and leaves Ivanova to show Franklin around.

Sinclair reports to the bridge and is briefed on the situation. An unidentified ship has been detected and is about to come through the jumpgate. It emerges and is on a wild trajectory, following a collision course straight for the station. Sinclair takes a fighter to try to intercept the ship before it can hit the station. Ivanova remains behind to monitor the station's defenses and, if necessary, shoot down the strange ship. She asks why they don't just do that straight off and Sinclair says he wants to follow first contact protocol in case this is a new species they haven't encountered yet.

Sinclair flies out to the ship and prepares to grapple it before it can hit the station. He plays a few rounds of the claw game as time gets short. He tells them to destroy it on the next pass if he misses again but manages to grab hold of it just in time and heads to the flight bay with it. He orders Franklin to have the medical bay ready in case the pilot is still alive.

Once Sinclair is back aboard, Delenn finds him and asks after the pilot. Sinclair tells her he was still alive but only just and that they managed to get him to the isolab. He tells her that the ship was pretty banged up and had clearly been attacked. He can't tell if it was raiders or something else but the more pressing concern is who and what their new patient is. Delenn says she has seen many different forms of life and volunteers her help to see if she can identify him.

Garibaldi stands outside the isolab while Franklin checks on the pilot. He reads out the vitals and Garibaldi says they sound good. Franklin replies they would be if the pilot was human but he has no way of knowing at the moment if they are good for this particular species. Sinclair and Delenn arrive. She takes one look at the pilot and begins muttering "Shak Tot!" in a very agitated fashion. She grabs Garibaldi's gun and tries to shoot the pilot through the glass but Sinclair manages to stop her.

She implores him to kill it, and quickly. He is confused and asks her why she is so upset. Delenn realizes that he does not recognize the pilot for what he is. She tells him it is a Shak Tot, a soul hunter, and once more demands that Sinclair get the alien off the station NOW, before it's too late. She says someone will die otherwise.

After Delenn has calmed down and been taken back to her quarters she apologizes to Sinclair. She says her behavior was extreme but he doesn't know these things like she does. He asks her to educate him, pointing out that he's known her for almost two years and has never seen her react so violently to anything before. She says it is training. As children, Minbari are taught to be careful, warned that if they are not a soul hunter will come in the night to steal their souls. She claims they are immortal and their origin is unknown. But they sense death and are drawn to it. Sinclair asks why and she explains that they can steal souls at the moment of an individual's death. They collect them, and are known to be fond of a particular class of Minbari. She maintains that while the soul hunter is aboard the station everyone else on board is in terrible danger. Once more she begs him to send it away while he still can. She is clearly unnerved by its presence.

In one of the lower decks of the station a hustler plays a shell game. In the isolab the soul hunter seems to hear the hustler's banter and his eyes open momentarily.

In the dining hall Garibaldi meets with Ivanova and Sinclair. He tells them he just got back from the alien sector, finding it strangely deserted, as if they are all in hiding. He heads out, and Ivanova comments that almost a dozen alien ships have asked to leave the station immediately. Sinclair remarks that word has gotten out about their visitor.

The hustler continues his game and the soul hunter still seems to be listening in. The victim of the game takes exception to his loss and the hustler runs for it, the other man giving chase. The soul hunter's eyes open once more. Franklin walks by the isolab and finds the soul hunter awake and standing at the window, staring at him. He begins to question him, asking if the soul hunter can understand him. When he is greeted with silence he calls for a translator to come down to the med bay. The soul hunter begins to grunt something to Franklin and manages to finally form the word "no." He tells Franklin he has been to his world and then asks if he can feel it. Elsewhere, the hustler continues to flee from from his pursuer. The soul hunter begins listing the emotions that the hustler clearly feels. He says "It comes" with a triumphant gleam in his eyes and the hustler's attacker finds and stabs him. The soul hunter repeats, "it comes," once more, sounding very satisfied.

Garibaldi's security staff checks in with him, reporting the stabbing. They have the attacker in custody and the victim is en route to the med lab. Garibaldi heads to meet him there. As Franklin and his team try to save the hustler, the soul hunter continues his creepy narration of the death of the man. Franklin calls out for someone to kill the speaker that lets them hear the soul hunter. It is for naught though, as the man dies on the table. Franklin angrily turns the soul hunter's speaker back on and he says to the doctor, "gone now." He laments that if Franklin could only see, and seems elated by the death. Franklin stares at him in horror.

The soul hunter retreats into a meditation of some sort, muttering a chant to himself as he does so. Sinclair comes down to the med bay and tries to question the soul hunter, but gets no answers. He asks if the soul hunter came for that man's soul. That stops the chant for a  moment, but then he continues again. Sinclair shrugs it off, commenting that he shouldn't be surprised, no one would want to admit to being a thief, a stealer of souls. The soul hunter stops and protests that his people are not thieves, they are preservers. They act for the good of all. Sinclair says the Minbari don't seem to think so and the soul hunter scoffs. He doesn't think much of the Minbari. He says they won't let his people help them. Franklin tries to ask what soul hunters are, exactly and he quips to ask the Minbari.

Then the soul hunter says that he and his people are drawn to the moment of death. When they are, they save the souls. But only the special ones. Dreamers, thinkers, poets, "blessed lunatics," leaders. Sinclair asks what they do with these souls they "save." He says they enshrine them, worship them, talk to them, listen, and learn. Franklin laughs and calls it nonsense. He says it is superstitious and can't be done. He says maybe with the right technology a person's mind could be cloned, but the idea of taking a person's soul is ridiculous. The soul hunter says let him go, then.

Sinclair wants to know what there is between the Minbari and the soul hunters. He tells the Commander that they are jealous, selfish. They are too private, only a few souls of their race have been saved. Minbari souls are very rare among the collections of his kind. The rarest would have been their leader Dukat. The soul hunters tried to "save" his soul during the war with the humans but the Minbari fought it, put a "wall of bodies" in the way, and so he died. All he was, all he could ever be, the soul hunter tells them, gone. Wasted.

Franklin still seems dismissive of the soul hunter's claims. Sinclair seems speculative though. After a moment the soul hunter returns to his meditation, muttering about the jealous Minbari and the loss of Dukat's soul. Sinclair asks Franklin if the soul hunter can get out of the isolab without a breather, if he can survive outside of it. Franklin says it's hard to say and Sinclair says he'll have security post a guard on the isolab. He turns back to the soul hunter and says that personally he doesn't believe that he can do what he says, but his presence on the station is causing a disruption. The alien population considers the soul hunter a clear and present danger and he has no reason to question their judgement. He says the soul hunter can stay in the lab until he is fit to travel but then he wants him off station immediately.

Franklin reports to Ivanova that he's finished the autopsy of the stabbing victim and has cleared the body for burial. She asks if the next of kin have signed off on the death certificate and he replies yes. They can't afford to send the body home, so it is given a space burial. The body is taken out in a shuttle and Ivanova says a short prayer, committing the body to the deep, and the shuttle shoots the casket into the nearest star. They have a brief discussion on the fleeting nature of life.

Delenn goes to visit the soul hunter. She says they never travel without their collection and asks where his is. He tells her it is safe, calling the souls his children. She wonders if any of them are Minbari. She promises him that before he leaves she will search his ship and she will find his collection, she will find any Minbari souls that he has stolen. He asks what she will do then and she says she will free them, release them. He says she means she will kill them. She says they will join with the souls of all of her people, meld with them until they are reborn as the next generation of Minbari.

Without those souls, she says, her people are diminished. Each generation is less than before. The soul hunter calls this a quaint lie, a pretty fantasy. He says that the soul ends with death unless it is preserved. He insists that his people will help the Minbari in spite of themselves. Then he looks at her more closely and says he knows her. She was there at the death of the Minbari leader Dukat. She exclaims that they stopped him from taking what he had no right to take. He retorts that they stopped him from saving Dukat. That is where it all began to go wrong, he tells her. So many lost souls, he tells her, lamenting his failure and blaming her for stopping him. Then he says it is curious that they called her Satai Delenn of the Grey Council. What is one of the great leaders of the Minbari doing on the station playing ambassador, he asks. Delenn flees from his questions.

The guard watches her go and then hears a crashing sound from the lab. He looks in the window and sees the soul hunter unconscious on the floor, lying in a pile of broken glass. He puts on a mask and runs in to check on the patient, calling for a medical team as he does so. He pulls out his gun as he approaches but the soul hunter, playing dead, manages to knock him out quickly and take his weapon. He leaves the med bay, carrying the gun. He makes his way to his stash of souls, which seem to be stored in glowing glass orbs. He tells them to be at peace, saying he now knows why they were brought to this place. He has realized who they have come for.

On the bridge Sinclair asks for an update on the guard. Learning he'll survive he then asks how the search for the soul hunter is going. Garibaldi says not well. They know that he made it to his ship before they did because they found a cabinet they missed on the first sweep. It had been well hidden but is now empty. Sinclair thinks that he will head for the alien sector of the station to avoid drawing attention. Garibaldi agrees but doesn't know why. The soul hunter can't leave, even if his ship was in working order, the ways off the station are too well guarded. Sinclair mentions that Delenn told him they were drawn to death. The more important the person about to die, the stronger the pull. Ivanova says if that is the reason the soul hunter is hiding, then they just need to figure out who is about to die.

The soul hunter makes his way through the ship, meeting up with an alien called N'Grath, who resembles a giant preying mantis. He asks if N'Grath knows who he is and gets an affirmative response. He says he wishes to buy a guide, someone to show him all of the secret ways of the station, places to hide and to run, ways in and ways out. N'Grath calls this difficult, requires level five security, so Earthers only. He says it will be extremely expensive and the soul hunter cannot afford it. The soul hunter says he must. There is a soul about to be lost and he will not allow it to happen.

Meanwhile, as many alien vessels as can are getting the heck out of dodge. Ivanova is supervising their departures when they pick up another ship arriving through the jumpgate. Nothing is scheduled for arrival and another soul hunter ship comes through. Sinclair has Ivanova patch him through to the new soul hunter. Realizing they know who and what he is he says he needs to dock immediately, someone is about to die. Sinclair asks what happens if they refuse to allow him on the station and he answers then more will die. Sinclair gives him approval and asks who he is there to see. He says he is there to see Sinclair, and quickly, before it is too late.

The original soul hunter skulks about the ship, sneaking up behind a human guard.

Garibaldi intercepts Sinclair on his way to meet the new arrival and tries to talk the Commander out of it. Sinclair will not be dissuaded. He picked up on something in the second soul hunter's tone that convinced him that the meeting is necessary. They meet up with him and he says he has come to warn him about his brother that is on the station. He fears that his brother is deeply disturbed and says that someone is about to die, and at his hands.

Delenn is in her quarters speaking with someone on a monitor. Her door beeps and she calls out for the visitor to enter without turning around. It opens and the soul hunter walks in. He says that he has come for her, calling her Satai Delenn, and that he will save her soul at any cost. She turns, startled to find him there.

The new soul hunter rides in an elevator with Garibaldi and Sinclair and explains to them that his brother had been tasked with saving as many Minbari souls as possible during the war with Earth. But whenever he tried to do so, he always was stopped or arrived too late. He was very fragile, the second soul hunter explains, and after their order was disgraced he became obsessed with the fear of losing souls. He claimed one day to have found a solution to the problem and vanished. They ask what his solution was and the second soul hunter explains that his brother decided to stop waiting for death. When he finds a soul worth preserving, he now means to kill those people himself. The second soul hunter explains they have been hunting his brother for some time. They almost captured him a few times but failed. Garibaldi receives a call from security that a guard in Green 2 has been found stunned. Sinclair remarks that Green 2 is the ambassadorial wing and they realize that Delenn is in danger.

Delenn lies unconscious, strapped to a table, and the soul hunter says that she and the others stopped him. They shamed him before his brothers and his failure to preserve Dukat was a horrible loss and waste. He says there must be balance for that failure. As a member of the Grey Council, Delenn's soul will make up for losing Dukat. He says he will be gentle, she will hardly feel it when her body dies. He fires up his soul-capturing machine. Delenn begins to wake, crying out in objection to the soul hunter. He orders her to be quiet tells her he could just take her soul, just rip it from her body. This would damage the soul however. A peaceful death and a clean transfer would be for the best. He doesn't wish her to feel any discomfort. His plan seems to be to puncture an artery and drain her blood. Yeah, death by exsanguination, that sounds comfortable.

Sinclair and Garibaldi get to Delenn's quarters and find her gone. The second soul hunter laments that they are too late. At least his brother can't escape this time, he says, cheering up a little. They will bring him back after the death. Sinclair barks that there isn't going to be any death. The soul hunter tells him apologetically that it's inevitable. He can sense the death and a soul hunter is never wrong. Sinclair says if he can sense the pending death, he can guide them to his brother and Delenn.

Delenn draws closer to death and the soul hunter says she is far enough gone that he can now catch a glimpse of her soul. He looks into the orb he has set up for her. He looks back at her, saying, "You have planned such a thing? You would do such a thing? Incredible." Sinclair get close and calls out for Delenn. Hearing him, the soul hunter turns around and pulls his stolen gun, muttering, "not again." The soul hunter fires at Sinclair who returns fire and manages to hit him. Sinclair approaches cautiously and the soul hunter lunges out from the shadows, slamming him up against the wall, his hand wrapped around his throat. He demands to know why Sinclair fights so hard to save Delenn. "She is Satai!" he exclaims, adding that he has seen her soul and "they are using" Sinclair. He tosses Sinclair aside and Sinclair lands next to the bag of souls. They begin to glow and float to surround the soul hunter. He calls to them, "my children!" seeming to fear what he is hearing from them. He swears he never meant any harm and begs them to listen to him. Sinclair takes advantage of his distraction to turn the soul-capturing machine on the soul hunter. His soul is extracted and he collapses. Sinclair manages to revive Delenn.

Later Sinclair goes to check on her in the med bay and Franklin says she is doing quite well. Losing so much blood would have killed a human but the Minbari seem to be made of stronger stuff. He asks Sinclair what he saw when he fought the soul hunter and Sinclair is reluctant to say, unsure of what actually happened. Delenn wakes up momentarily and seeing Sinclair says she knew he would come. She adds that they were right about him. When he asks her to elaborate she falls back asleep. Franklin says that's normal for her stage of recovery. Whatever she has to say she can say later. Sinclair says he doubts very much she will finish that sentence.

Back in his quarters Sinclair calls to his computer to do a search on the Minbari language. He tries to remember the word he wants and then asks it to search "Satai." The computer says it is an honorific, a title applied to a member of the Grey Council, the ruling body of the Minbari. Sinclair wonders why a member of the Minbari ruling council would be assigned to serve as an ambassador on the station.

Sinclair later escorts the second soul hunter off the station. He says Delenn is expected to make a full recovery and the soul hunter agrees, saying he would sense if it was going to go differently. Sinclair has a parting message for the soul hunter and his brothers. Babylon 5 is off limits to them. He acknowledges that he knows they are only doing what they think right but he can't allow it on his watch or on his station. The soul hunter understands, saying they are rarely welcome. It is just part of who they are. He bids Sinclair goodbye but stops to ask what happened to his brother's collection. Sinclair replies that life is full of mysteries and suggests the soul hunter consider this one of them.

We then see Delenn in her quarters with the souls, joyfully releasing each of them from captivity.


Heh. So, remember on Monday when I was griping that we got so little of an introduction to Delenn in the first episode? I totally forgot that was because the second episode is pretty much all about her. I mean, yes, we get the introduction of Doctor Franklin, which is cool, but it is very much integrated into Delenn's story here.

There are really two big things set up by this episode, at least to me. The first is the reverence that Minbari have for souls. Their cultural belief is that when they die their souls rejoin all of the other Minbari souls currently being used and it is from that stuff that the souls of each new Minbari born are made. It is an interesting spin on rebirth and past lives. It is immediately obvious why such a belief would put their race at complete odds with that of the soul hunters on a fundamental level.

Granted, the soul hunters are just kind of creepy and we see that they are more or less unwanted by all of the other alien races as well. Part of me feels like maybe they get a bad rap. Delenn was going on about how everyone on the station was in danger while the soul hunter was there, but that doesn't seem to be how it actually works. It seems to me that the deaths the soul hunters are drawn to will happen whether they are there or not. They are not (usually) the cause of that death. There is probably some kind of argument to be made here about the implications of knowing future events and predestination v. free will, but I am not sure I am the person to make it. I do think it is kind of unfair that they seem to get blamed whenever such a death occurs, then. On the other hand, whatever their beliefs regarding the rightness of their "preservation" of souls, they are still profiting from the deaths of others. I can see where people mourning the loss of a loved one, or a public figure (as many of these preserved souls are indicated to be) would resent the vulture-like nature of the soul hunters and see their presence as an intrusion upon their grief and disrespectful of the dead. So, yeah. Basically just a super creepy concept all around.

So this episode introduces us to the Minbari's belief about what happens to their souls and the importance they place on such constructs. I love the way it is done and that it is presented as something of a one-off episode. Granted, there's really no such thing in this series. But I know damn well that I had no idea after the first time I watched this just how important that belief about souls would come to play in so many events throughout the series (both in the future and the past of these characters).

The second big thing established is the mystery of Delenn. She is serving as an ambassador for her people on this space station operated by a people her own almost obliterated not ten years past. While it is natural that a representative of some stature within the culture fill such a position, it does seem a little bit strange that a member of their own governing body would be chosen. Even more so that she would hide that facet of her identity from those on the station and the council. So. There's intrigue afoot. Awesome! Even more, we learn that Delenn was present at the death of her people's leader Dukat. We've only gotten a few hints at this so far, but the death of Dukat was huge turning point in the Earth-Minbari war. It was pretty much a crucial moment in the history of both races. So, Delenn having been there, it is a pretty important little fact to have handy.

There is also the bit about the soul hunter seeing that she has apparently planned and possibly intends to do something very out of character for her people. This coupled with his warning to Sinclair that she is using him, and her kind of out of it comment so Sinclair that "they" were right about him...well. These are things we should be making note of, eh?

Favorite Quotes

"This is not a clear and present danger? I must read the rule book again." (Ivanova)

"It's all so brief, isn't it? Typical human lifespan is almost a hundred years. But it's barely a second compared to what's out there. Wouldn't be so bad if life didn't take so long to figure out. Seems you just start to get it right and's over." (Franklin)
"Doesn't matter. If we lived two hundred years we'd still be human. We'd still make the same mistakes." (Ivanova)
"You're a pessimist?" (Franklin)
"I am Russian, doctor. We understand these things." (Ivanova)

"I really hate it when you get heroic. It cuts into my business. A man's gotta earn a living, you know." (Garibaldi)


That wraps up today. Thanks for stopping by. Please join us again on Monday for the next episode, "Born to the Purple."

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