December 6, 2011

Babble On, part 4: "Soul Hunter"

The Soul Hunter (W. Morgan Shepard)
Commander Sinclair recovers a severely damaged spacecraft from Babylon 5's jump gate, but when Ambassador Delenn sees who the survivor is she immediately demands the alien be killed. Panic begins to spread on the station out of fear this new arrival - the mysterious 'soul hunter' - has arrived to steal the soul of one of the station's inhabitants.

Any hopes that I had completely misjudged Babylon 5 are shattered by "Soul Hunter". This was apparently the first episode  of the series produced, and it shows. The episode is weakly written and clumsy, and several of the actors (particularly Claudia Christian) feel like they haven't quite worked out how they're going to portray their characters.

My general thoughts on this episode are as follows:
Not in this episode, but no less silly: Martin Sheen
  • The core concept of the soul hunters - an alien race who collect the souls of the dying - chafes badly against the very science fictional framework of the series. It's a difficult line to tread, I think: combining elements of the supernatural or spirituality with science fiction is about the hardest thing to achieve. In that sense perhaps I should applaud Straczynski for the attempt. The problem is that over on another channel, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was combining elements of spirituality, the supernatural and science fiction with exceptional skill. As it stands, this episode felt 10 years out of date when it aired.
  • Speaking of Star Trek, it's interesting that after such excellent prosthetics work in the pilot and "Midnight on the Firing Line" we suddenly get the Soul Hunters, a species designed almost as a parody of bad Star Trek 'bumpy face' make-up. After the conclusion of Babylon 5's fifth season they returned to these guys in the TV movie River of Souls, and they somehow convinced Martin Sheen to guest star. He doesn't look any less silly.
  • On the other hand, "Soul Hunter" also introduces a fantastic fence in the alien sector who is basically an enormous talking preying mantis. He looks ridiculous, and sort of wobbles around like an extra from a Toho giant monster movie, but you have to applaud the attempt. Science fiction TV needs more hilarious giant insects.
  • The bottom line is that this is a dodgy, poorly made hour of television. I wouldn't recommend it, except for the keenest fans of ridiculous looking alien make-up.

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