Boy, it’s been a while since I’ve watched this show! I got distracted by Buffy and Angel (although I am definitely lukewarm about Buffy right now… Season 5 wasn’t that good), and caught up in other stuff, like a party we had at the house yesterday, but because I was too tired to work last night I decided to hit the series again. I know too well how easy it is to let things drop, and this is a show that has a lot of momentum that can get lost if you take breaks that are too long.
That said, I’m just not thrilled about this episode. I watched partway through the first time while I was too busy wrapping presents to pay attention to it, and then started from the beginning another day. There’s just not that much in it. If a show has been so carefully scripted across multiple seasons as this one has been (or so it is said), then there’s probably not a lot of fluff in it. If I take as a given that everything comes back as important in future episodes, then fine–it’s chock full of stuff. But I’m not seeing much beyond the beginning of the Delenn/Sheridan romance, some glimpses into Minbari culture, some generalized comments about society during a plague, and a hint at how the population at large views the events happening at Babylon 5 (a la the remarks about Vorlon poisoning from the bartender at the end of the episode).
We got to see the stock scenes of a child in distress, of incomprehensible grief at incomprehensible loss, panicky people waving travel tickets in a crowd behind a locked gate, thugs acting out in fear by attacking a lone representative of a despised group, noble sacrifice, help coming too late, crazy foreign rituals that make the natives look funny, and crossing artificial boundaries to help a guy in need. Sometimes, in a show that has a lot of mythology, you need an episode to just have a story, and I think this one was it.
I thought it was interesting that the doctor brought up Black Death and AIDS in the story. I stumbled on something about the original airing of the show (while I was confirming the episode number a Wiki page came up) that said people thought that this episode was supposed to be a statement about the AIDS epidemic. I am watching this fifteen years later, and the way AIDS is perceived by people has changed, I’m sure. It’s more or less a heterosexual disease now, and the bane of poor nations. You don’t get a lot of the rhetoric anymore about God’s vengeance on gay people, but I don’t really remember enough about the specific cultural context of AIDS from the 1990s to comment on if the episode seemed to be a direct response to it. I don’t think so. For one thing, the show was more about Delenn and the doctor than it was about the actual people dying from the disease (the Markab). We get some observations from a scientifically minded Markab doctor about the cultural taboos surrounding the disease, and a few lines of dialogue from a preacher type who corrals all the Markab people and dooms them (though they would have died in one place or the other), but really they were a backdrop for other things. We saw how the doctor responded to the disease, and to his staff when they balked at entering the room for the autopsy and we saw how Delenn and Lennier bravely decided to go minister to those people.
Probably the most interesting moment to me in the show was when the doctor asked his team–before they’d really figured out the disease–to go into the room with the body and perform an autopsy, and the balked. They didn’t say a word of refusal… they all just sort of looked around and couldn’t meet each other’s eyes. It was very awful. I don’t know what I would do. Sure, everyone trusts the scientific method and believes in the sanctity of the biohazard suit on Earth, but the hazards of a cross-species alien infection is scary. Plus the guy was already dead… it would be hard to be noble. What stuck with me even more was how the doctor accepted their failure to help. He seemed impatient when he said he’d do it, but he was impatient to get started. He wasn’t angry; he didn’t shame them. I think he empathized completely, even though he personally wasn’t afraid to do it, or was less afraid than he was compelled to solve the problem, or was too stimulated to tap into his human emotions. I wish we would have seen him go in there and put the airlock to the test, but I know why the Markab doctor guy showed up to do the work–they were friends, and he had some dramatic atoning to do for keeping the plague a secret from the B5 doctor in the first place.
The only other thing that really excited me was the makeup on the Markabs. I couldn’t take my eyes off of whatever it was they did to the backs of their heads. It was truly alien and totally cool. Plus the bits with the noses was seamless, too. The Narn have very good makeup, but we haven’t seen them in a while (which is that I haven’t seen the show in a while) and we’re used to it. But this came out of nowhere for me. I loved watching the slight jiggle in the seams of those patches over their skulls.
This picture, sadly, doesn’t really do it justice, but the chances of me finding a publicity still of the back of an actor’s head are low and I don’t feel like going back into the episode to make a screen shop. Like the Borg, Gentle Reader, you will have to adapt.