Wednesday, August 1, 2012

B5 Rewatch: Infection

Hello! Thank you for joining us for the Wednesday installment of the Babylon 5 rewatch. Today's episode up for discussion is "Infection."

Spoilers for ALL the things. Just, so you know.

What Happened

A woman asks Garibaldi when Sinclair is due back and all he can tell her is "soon." It seems that Sinclair took out a fighter to check on something off the station. The woman seems to think that this kind of task would normally be delegated to someone a little lower in the chain of command. Garibaldi replies that the Commander is a real hands on kind of guy. She says she wouldn't know since she hasn't been able to talk to him since her arrival. Garibaldi tries to change the subject and it is revealed that she is a reporter from Interstellar Network News, there to interview Sinclair for the station's second anniversary. It's kind of a big deal, since no one back on Earth thought it would last even one year. She is clearly frustrated that Sinclair has been avoiding her.

We visit Doctor Franklin working in his lab. An old teacher of his, Vance, stops by to offer him an "adventure." Franklin asks for details but Vance is vague, telling him to "savor the mystery."

A man working station customs greets the pilot from the last ship of the day and goes over his belongings. He notices that one of the boxes appears to have a false bottom, suggesting the pilot might be trying to smuggle something in. The pilot says it's just packing material but when the customs agent continues to investigate, the pilot grabs him from behind and hits him with a stunner before running off into the station.

Sinclair and Garibaldi find Franklin in the bay and Franklin drapes a tarp over the agent's face. He tells Sinclair that signs point to death by natural causes, likely a heart attack. He says he'll know after an autopsy. Garibaldi says the man just started and nothing in his health jacket suggested a heart condition. Franklin questions Garibaldi's medical expertise and Garibaldi says he just wants to be sure. Franklin says he'll have his best men look at the victim.

Franklin returns to his lab and his former teacher and apologizes for the delay. He asks why Vance is there and Vance says he needs Franklin's help. Franklin is surprised, considering that Vance is an archaeologist. Vance says he'll explain all in good time and introduces his newly arrived assistant, the man who killed the customs agent. He introduces him as Nelson. Nelson says they just got back in from a dig on Ikarra 7. Franklin realizes they must have found something on the dig. Nelson opens up a crate.

On the bridge a couple of technicians pick up an energy spike around the Medlab. It was only a brief spike, but it got their attention.

Vance tells Franklin of finding a vault miles under the surface of Ikarra 7. Franklin remarks that it is a dead world but Vance has maintained that it was once populated and home to a space-faring society. His artifacts are at least a thousand years old. He wants Franklin to look at them in the medical scanner. Franklin realizes that the artifact was once composed of living tissue. It is organic technology.

Franklin is awed by the discovery. He thinks the device he scanned was some sort of scanner itself and gets very excited about the implications of the find. Franklin asks why Vance didn't contact him as soon as they arrived and Vance said they did. Franklin is confused, commenting that organic tissue has to be quarantined for at least 48 hours before being allowed on the station. Vance assures him that it went through quarantine at their transfer station off Proxima 3. He says it's all approved and authorized.

Vance goes on to expound upon the importance of what they are looking at. He clearly considers organic technology the pinnacle of technological advancement. They know the Vorlons have it and suspect the Minbari do, but they've never been able to see any up close or to study it. Between Franklin's genetics expertise and his own archaeological knowledge, they have a chance to understand this technology once and for all. Franklin says there are better equipped facilities on Earth but Vance says he needs someone he can trust. He says he can't do it without Franklin and after a moment's consideration Franklin says he is in.

They get busy unpacking the rest of the artifacts. Nelson takes a closer look at a piece and when he touches it a current of electricity seems to shoot through him and he is engulfed by a strange green light. He is thrown back across the room. Later, he carries a tray of instruments across the lab and appears to be quite ill. He glances down at his hand and it appears that he has some sort of infection spreading throughout it and his arm.

Garibaldi finds Sinclair on the bridge and Sinclair asks for an update on the customs agent's autopsy. Garibaldi says it is still being ruled as natural causes but they will know more tomorrow. Other than that the only thing going on is that he assigned an extra security detail for Narn-Centauri negotiations scheduled for next week. He is ready to call it a day. Sinclair agrees and asks Ivanova why she is still on duty. She tells him about the unusual energy readings they have been picking up and says she is waiting to see if they happen again. He asks if it is anything serious and she says she is going to find out. He tells her to keep him informed and get some sleep.

On her way out she reminds him that his interview with the reporter is scheduled for the next morning. Sinclair is less than thrilled. Garibaldi asks him why he is ducking it and Sinclair says the last time he gave an interview it did not go well. Garibaldi tells him to just be himself. Sinclair seems dubious that doing so will help matters.

In the lab Franklin and Vance are burning the midnight oil studying the artifacts. Franklin is engrossed in the work, but he wonders what happens next if they can figure out how the tech works. He is surprised that Vance is trying to reverse-engineer alien technology rather than develop his own. He says it feels like a shortcut, and that corporations mounting expeditions to alien worlds to steal whatever tech they find feels a bit like grave-robbing to him. Vance says corporations have to be involved in the expeditions, they cost too much otherwise. He's seen enough on other worlds to consider the work worth it.

Franklin says at least he knows his hands are clean and asks if Vance can say the same. He wants to know more about Interplanetary Expeditions, the company that sponsored the Ikarra 7 dig according to Vance. Franklin hasn't been able to find any information on them. Vance said he didn't come there to argue, he can because he needed friendship and help. Franklin says fine, he just wishes Vance would stop taking shortcuts. They agree they are both tired and decide to get some rest and start fresh in the morning.

Garibaldi leads the reporter through the station, regaling her with tales of his adventures with Sinclair and how he was given the job as head of security on the station. She is not terribly amused. She asks him about rumors surrounding his record prior to coming to the station, insinuating that Babylon 5 is a last chance job for him. She asks if he would care to comment on that and he declines and stalks off.

In his quarters, Nelson paws the artifact that attacked him and we see that his arm has been grotesquely transformed. He looks even more ill than before and he takes something out of the artifact. It crackles with energy and then moves on its own, looking like a very large tick. As if in a daze, Nelson places the bug to his throat and a pulse of sick green energy washes over him.

Franklin gets to the lab and tries to turn the lights on but they do not respond. He calls out for Nelson and Vance but gets no answer. He turns around and Nelson steps into the room. Franklin is shocked by his transformation, the conversion of his arm has spread to most of his body now. Nelson declares, "protect!" and raises his arm to shoot a beam of energy at Franklin, throwing him across the room.

Garibaldi briefs Sinclair on Franklin's status and they go to see him in the Medlab. They ask him what happened to him but he doesn't remember much after Nelson attacked him. He says the design of the weapon was similar to the organic artifacts they had been working on. This grabs Sinclair and Garibaldi's attention and they ask if the artifacts had been cleared by customs. Franklin says he was told that they had been. Sinclair tells Garibaldi to check into it and Garibaldi asks who Nelson was working for.

Sinclair questions Vance and reveals that the artifacts were never quarantined. Vance swears that Nelson told him everything was in order with the artifacts. Sinclair says that until he hears otherwise, he intends to hold Vance personally responsible for Nelson's actions and any other harm those artifacts might cause. Vance seems more concerned about Franklin's condition. Sinclair says he took a pretty bad hit but should be okay. Garibaldi asks if Vance can tell them anything else about the artifacts. Vance says they are organic lifeforms but with limited capability. To do more they would need to graft themselves on to another life form. He admits that it's possible if they were activated they might have tried to assimilate Nelson. His guess is that Nelson is under their control. Garibaldi asks why. Vance says it could be anything. They focus on Nelson's utterance of "protect" and wonder who the artifacts are trying to protect, and from what. Vance says that maybe, with Franklin's help, he can figure that out.

Nelson wanders through the station and runs into a group of people. Once more he says "protect," and fires his weapon. On the bridge, the technicians alert Ivanova to another energy spike. They tell her the energy pattern has changed though, it is now 20% cooler more powerful. A security detail is sent to check it out and finds charred outlines of Nelson's victims along the wall. Meanwhile, Nelson continues to roam.

Garibaldi informs Sinclair of the fatalities and that it seems like Nelson was responsible. They begin organizing a search for Nelson. The reporter, Cramer, comes in and says she's heard there's been an attack. She is brimming with questions. Sinclair tells her she's in a secure area and needs to leave. She retorts that this situation is news and the people have a right to know. He threatens to put her in the brig for the next two days. He orders Ivanova to triangulate the weapon and Cramer tries to press the issue but Ivanova manages to convince her to leave, which she does grudgingly.

Nelson, who seems to be continuing to transform, becoming covered in a chitinous armor, wanders along seemingly aimlessly. Garibaldi and a team pick up his trail and begin to close the gap. They get him cornered and open fire. He repeats his mantra and fires at them. While they are trying to get out of the way of that, he manages to cut right through the bulkhead and disappears. Ivanova says the added shielding of the bulkheads means they won't be able to pinpoint his location until he fires his weapon again. Sinclair has Garibaldi split up his team to do sweeps in search of Nelson, hoping to find him before he attacks anyone else.

Vance and Franklin, meanwhile, consider their research. Franklin finds something, perhaps a data storage device. He thinks he can use it to figure out what the heck is going on with Nelson and maybe how to stop him. As Vance turns to go fire up a sensor device, Franklin kneels and picks something up from Nelson's pile of stuff. It appears to be a stunner. He looks at it and then back over his shoulder at Vance.

Garibaldi reports in and Sinclair thinks that Nelson will be heading for a central corridor. Garibaldi says that each time he fires he seems to withdraw, needing to recharge. Ivanova notes that every time he does fire it is 20% stronger than the last. If they don't stop him, he will soon be powerful enough to destroy the whole station. That means they only get one more chance.

Garibaldi starts to clear civilians out of the central corridor and Ivanova's people manage to locate Nelson again. As they suspected, he is heading for Garibaldi. They prepare to confront him. Franklin tells Sinclair he's managed to access one of the memory data banks from the artifacts. It seems the Ikarrans were attacked a whole lot while they were still around and wanted to develop a weapon to effectively defend their people. Since it would take years to create the kind of organic tech they wanted, they incorporated the brainwaves of one of their researchers into the weapons. It was hardwired not to respond to any being that wasn't pure Ikarran. one is "pure."

Nelson, meanwhile, is burning through the ship, headed for where Garibaldi's team waits to confront him. Sinclair moves out to join them and Franklin accompanies him, finishing his explanation. Sinclair asks who set the parameters for purity for the weapons. Franklin says religious fanatics and military extremists who ran the Ikarran government. They used ideology rather than science--Sinclair draws a comparison to the Nazi idea of Aryan purity and Franklin agrees. Franklin tells him that the Ikarrans released eleven of the weapons during the next invasion and they stopped the invasion but then they turned on their creators and killed them all, not stopping until all of the Ikarrans were dead, since none of them perfectly matched up to the programmed ideal. Eventually the machines fell into disrepair and were destroyed from sheer neglect. Then Nelson managed to find and activate one. Now it's trying to protect a world that's been gone for a thousand years or more.

Sinclair asks about the programmer whose brainwaves were programmed into the weapon, Tularr, and wonders if there is anything there to talk to. Franklin admits that there's a complete personality there, yes, but it is buried by programming. Sinclair says they'll have to find a way around the "logic" of the program and sends Franklin back to the Medlab, suspecting there will soon be many in need of medical attention.

Nelson arrives at Garibaldi's ambush and Sinclair says to wait until they can hit it point blank. They open fire and when the smoke clears they find that it managed to cut through the floor and drop to the level below. It is headed for where the civilians have been quarantined. Garibaldi laments that they hit it with everything they had. Anything bigger will kill everyone else on the station, as well as damaging it. Sinclair wants to try to lure it to a docking area and blow it out an airlock.  Garibaldi asks how he will get it there and Sinclair says he's going to make it mad.

Sinclair follows the weapon and starts calling for Tularr over the intercom. He goads Tularr by telling him that Ikarra is dead and Tularr failed in his mission. He says that Ikarra fell by Tularr's own hand. Tularr refutes the claim and when Sinclair shows himself Tularr gives chase. Sinclair gets him almost to the docking area, provoking him more about the "purity" that it was programmed to protect, saying that even the Ikarrans were never that pure, he was programmed to defend an imaginary ideal. That's enough to get it into the docking bay and Sinclair orders Ivanova to seal the hatch. She warns him if she blows the airlock he'll be killed to but he says go ahead and do it. He seems to have an idea to avoid needing the airlock blown.

Sinclair continues to taunt Tularr, trying to tell him the truth of how Ikarra 7 really fell. He gives him a big speech bout how there's no such thing as a pure or perfect race or world. He tells Tularr that he forgot the first rule of a fanataic: when you become obsessed with the enemy, you become the enemy. Tularr breaks down, begging forgiveness and pulls the bug off of his chest, destroying it with a shot of electricity. Sinclair looks down to find Nelson, naked and unconscious, in Tularr's place.

Vance goes to visit Franklin and check on Nelson. He shows Vance the stunner he found in Nelson's effects. He says it matches the marks found on the body of the customs agent. Franklin says he spoke to Nelson and knows the truth, that Vance lied about quarantine and that Nelson was acting under his orders when he killed the agent. Franklin demands to know why. Vance sighs and tells him that Interplanetary Expeditions is a front company for a bioweapons supplier. He could have just turned over the artifacts to the company, but he suspected they were organic weapons and if they were, he could hold back and demand more money. But first he had to be sure, that's why he brought them there to Franklin. Vance says they can still sell all of the other artifacts to Interplanetary Expeditions and split the money, so long as Franklin doesn't turn him in. Franklin says too late and a pair of security guards come in to arrest him.

Sinclair settles onto his couch with a drink and Garibaldi comes to see him. Garibaldi says it's the third time in a year that Sinclair has put himself at risk to save the station. Sinclair tries to brush it off. Garibaldi says, as a friend, he needs to say this. They were both in Earth Force together and he knows a lot of people came back from the war changed. He thinks that Sinclair is now looking for something worth dying for because it's easier than finding something worth living for. He goes to leave but Sinclair stops him and says thanks. He is clearly going to be thinking over Garibaldi's words.

Ivanova finds Franklin at a bar and says he seems troubled. He says no, just thinking. The Ikarrans were obsessed with fighting off invasions of their world, much like Earth used to be obsessed with fighting the Minbari. He mentions that there is a growing pro-Earth movement, hate groups targeting aliens. On every side there are fanatics claiming that their society must be protected from anything that's different. Franklin wonders if what they saw on the station with Nelson was just a preview of what's to come. Ivanova says it would be foolish of their people to go that far. She quotes Santayana: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Right then two members of security come up and tell Franklin they have orders to confiscate the artifacts and take them back to Earth, on Earth Force's bioweapons division's authority. They want to study them for "planetary security reasons." Franklin and Ivanova share a grim look and she quips that it would seem no one reads Santayana anymore.

Sinclair finally sits down for his interview and Cramer asks him, after all of the events of the past few days if it, meaning the station, is worth it. Should they just pull back to Earth and take care of their own problems? Sinclair says no. They have to stay for a very simple reason. Eventually Earth's sun will grow cold and go out and when it does it will take with it all of the culture and memories and history of humanity. Then all if it, all of who they are, will have been for nothing. Unless they go to the stars.


Okay. There Now, maybe it's just that I was pretty doped up on cold medicine when I watched this, but this to me seems like an absolutely ridiculous episode laced with a TON of heavy stuff and some serious portents. Is that just me? Maybe? I mean, the whole thing with the organic technology and the transformation of Nelson...none of that really made any sense to me at all. But let's just take it at face value and assume that all of that was really just an excuse to get a lot of important ideas in front of our eyes and firmly placed in the back of our minds.

Okay, so...we get Vance the shady archaeologist working for Interplanetary Expeditions, which is really just a front for a weapons corporation. That name set off all kinds of warning bells in my DayQuil addled brain (summer colds suck, y'all). I feel like Interplanetary Expeditions plays a big role in events to come (possibly pertaining to Sheridan's dead/missing wife?). But, yeah. So. For now we know that there is at least one company out there financing expeditions to other planets so that Earth can scavenge dead civilizations for their technology.

Franklin's opinion on "shortcuts" also seemed a little abrupt and strangely forceful, considering that he's a doctor and not an engineer. I mean, I agree that just poaching abandoned alien technology and trying to make it our own is a Bad Idea. That is pretty much straight up We Don't Know What We're Doing But We're Going To Keep Doing It Anyway territory. I do think, however, that one of the benefits of getting to know alien cultures is getting to learn from them, to see their technology and see how our own can be adapted to match or work with it. Alien tech should be studied, certainly, and it an be a great springboard for advancing the development of our own. I do think, however, that humanity shouldn't be so damn isolationist about it but should openly work with other alien scientists and enlist them to help us understand all of the new things we find. Here is probably where it becomes clear I have watched too much Stargate, but I think you get my drift.

Anyway. The other really big thing I took away from this is that not everyone on Earth is overly fond of alien cultures or of Babylon 5. The side plot with the reporter mostly served to show that clearly a lot of people on Earth believe that the station is a waste of both time and resources and should just be scrapped (which I personally think is an indication that it definitely needs to be kept going, but that's just me). Given her readiness to go with that angle, it is clear that isn't a fringe belief, either. Pair that with Franklin's musings about the pro-Earth movement, as well as the human tendency to try to conquer and control any new frontiers we find, and you can see some of the conflict brewing down the line.

Lastly, we have Garibaldi calling Sinclair on his hero complex. I'm not really sure what else needs to be said about it, but it is there and worth noting. The guy definitely is on the side of diplomacy between all of the races, and doesn't actually seem to believe that Earth is in any way superior to the other cultures. He is definitely invested in Babylon 5 and making sure it succeeds, but beyond that, he isn't too sure what he's doing, so he takes more risks along the way than he should. that I think about it, actually turns out to be a pretty important thing down the line as well. So, let's just stick a pin in that for now, okay?

Favorite Quotes

"I need your help." (Vance)
"Vance, you're an archaeologist. Everything you touch has been dead for at least a hundred years. My area of expertise is a little more current, and a lot warmer." (Franklin)

"What's the worst that could happen? They fire you, ship you off to the rim, and I get promoted to Commander. I don't see a problem here." (Garibaldi)

"Don't. You're too young to experience that much pain." (Ivanova)

"Win, lose, or draw, this thing's gonna know it was in a fight." (Garibaldi)


Welp. That's it for this week. See you back here on Monday for the next episode, "A Parliament of Dreams."

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