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Friday, 2 September 2016

Babylon 5 1-09: Deathwalker

Episode:9|Writer:Lawrence DiTillio|Air Date:20-Apr-1994

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm watching an episode of Babylon 5 that's genuinely called Deathwalker. That's a real screencap up there from a legitimate DVD, not an example of my incredible Photoshop skills.

Well they made a movie about a guy called Skywalker once and that turned out pretty well, so I'll give this the benefit of the doubt. I mean I've seen it before, I should already know what it's like, but it's been a while.

Chances are you already know that my writing past this point is going to be full of SPOILERS for this episode and the ones that came before it, and that I won't be saying a word about anything that aired after it. But I'll leave a warning anyway as it's better to be safe I reckon.



The episode begins by revealing a new fact about the station in the very first establishing shot! It turns out... that the bit at the top between the prongs is a zero-g docking bay. I guess they're saving the reveal of what the prongs do for a shocking season finale. They must do something really important though, as they're bloody huge.

Another surprising reveal: Ambassador Kosh is finally out of his room and walking around the station! Only took him 9 episodes.

He wishes to engage the services of resident telepath Talia Winters, but he refuses to go into specifics. Except that that they'll meet in Red 3 at the 'Hour of Scampering'. The man is so pathologically cryptic that he can't even say a time without turning it into a riddle.

I bet Vorlons don't even scamper, and he only said it to see the expression on her face as she tries to imagine what that'd be like.

Down in customs an unusual alien dressed in a Minbari outfit is coming on board. Na'Toth from Parliament of Dreams is here as well, waiting around for a transport to dock, but when she catches sight of the alien she flips out.

"Deathwalker?" she says to herself in a tone of disbelief and disgust, as all the actors must have done when they first glanced at their scripts.

"DEATHWALKER," she yells again, shoving the woman back into the docking bay and through some boxes. Na'Toth follows that up by punching her a few times, before coming to her senses and realising that she'll do more damage with the wrench lying nearby. She gets three good hits in before security finally finishes their doughnut break and runs in to break it up.

So I guess this woman's called Deathwalker then, huh.


ACT ONE.


Commander Sinclair brings Na'Toth to his office as he's keen to know why someone other than him is beating up one of the guest stars, so she explains that it's Shon'Kar: the blood oath. Deathwalker once used her grandfather in her experiments, implanting a machine in his brain that slowly killed his mind and spirit, so it's pretty important to her that she gets revenge.

But Sinclair points out that Deathwalker disappeared during the Dilgar War 30 years ago, so she'd be way older than the woman lying in a bloody mess in Medlab right now. Still, it couldn't hurt to break in and search her ship just in case.

Meanwhile Na'Toth will be released into house arrest... in G'Kar's house.

In Red 3 it is the hour of scampering at last, and Kosh is ready to get down to business with his old friend Abbut, with Talia on hand to make sure that neither party is lying.

Kosh would like her to scan Abbut to know his thoughts and I guess that's permitted under Psi Corps regulations as she goes along with it. She reads nothing though.

Not just a lack of deception, but a complete absence of surface thoughts altogether. The way he's dressed, I can believe it. Kosh is happy with this though and commences their business.

"Crab Nebula," whispers the man in the purple suit, and Talia rolls her eyes like she can hear the comedy music playing. And she's a telepath so who knows, maybe she can.

In Medlab the alien is in a stable condition but the doctors are having less luck with figuring out what species she is. She's dressed like a Minbari but her DNA doesn't match anything on file, and she's healing like she's Wolverine.

"She's a Dilgar," reveals Sinclair. Dr. Franklin's a little confused by this as the Dilgar are a dead race, entirely wiped out when their sun went nova. Suddenly Sinclair's speech from the end of Infection about humanity needing to colonise the stars in case the Earth blows up seems even more sensible.

Sinclair's brings up Deathwalker's Wikipedia page and there's her face looking back at them. Turns out that her real name is Jha'dur and... she's responsible for the destruction of three planets? That's pretty hardcore. She's like Space Hitler and Space Mengele in one.

The photo's from the early 2230s though and it's 2258 now, so their patient can't be the same person. Not unless she was surgically altered or cryogenically frozen and there's no sign of that.

But if she's not the real Deathwalker then she must be into Deathwalker cosplay, as Garibaldi's found a Dilgar unform in her ship with 'Jha'dur' written on it. Plus he also found a vial of red and yellow paint (or maybe it's a mysterious drug, who knows?)

I like how they're investigating all the angles and admitting that they still have no real proof that they have an ultra war criminal here, but my favourite part of the scene is when Jerry Doyle nearly knocks the uniform onto the floor and Michael O'Hare quickly grabs it.

Wow G'Kar's really got his lights turned to 'red' this episode. It used to be possible to see other colours in his quarters.

It turns out that G'Kar's actually supportive of Na'Toth's Shon'Kar murder oath, it's just really inconvenient for them right now. Deathwalker came here to do business with a Narn councillor, and now G'Kar will have to take his place.

The plan is for him to make the deal with Deathwalker, get her to the Narn homeworld alive, and then they'll kill her when she's of no further use to them. A scheme that makes everyone happy!


ACT TWO.


Hey it's Senator Hidoshi! He must show up in a couple more episodes after this as I recognise his name.

Hidoshi wants Sinclair to send the woman to Earth as soon as she's fit to travel. Sinclair mentions that she might be the war criminal known as 'Deathwalker' and I can imagine the senator thinking 'no shit, why do you think we want her so badly?' He reminds Sinclair that Deathwalker is long dead, pulls the 'information is on a need to know basis and you don't need to know' card and ends the call.

I'm not sure if this is ever really made clear in the series, but the senators in B5 aren't representing a state in the U.S., they're representing a country in the Earth Alliance. So Hidoshi here is presumably the senator for Japan. We're only at episode 9 and the political set up of Babylon 5's future Earth is already more fleshed out than Star Trek's ever was. Then again Trek's Earth was always kept deliberately vague, as it's a functioning utopia and if we could figure out how that works we'd be halfway to living it by now.

Down in Medlab, Deathwalker is up and yelling at Dr. Franklin for prying into her life's work. She wants to talk to Sinclair so he drops by to pay her a visit.

"You know the way of command, yes the Windswords are right to fear you," she says, greatly impressed that he successfully interpreted her nod as meaning 'get rid of the doctor so we can speak alone'. The Windswords she's talking about are Minbari warrior clan, and they've been sheltering her these last few decades in return for her services. She says they talk of Sinclair often, though she makes it sound like all they ever say about him is that he has a hole in his mind. Sorry Deathwalker, but Sinclair already figured out the "hole in your mind" thing last week.

The topic shifts to the mysterious tube of paint she was going to sell to the Narn, which she reveals to be a universal anti-agapic: an immortality serum. She's living proof that it works, and with the help of Earth she'll bring it to all the worlds of the galaxy, and cure death and illness before the year is out! What an evil bitch.

Then we're back with Talia for the tail-end of Kosh's talks (which must have been going on for hours at this point).
"Then the willows must scuttle carefully."
"Does Saturn have rings?"
Talia's been stuck here listening to them both speaking utter gibberish all day while having nothing to do herself but look bored and concerned... so basically this is the same as every other episode she's appeared in so far. Kosh explains that if it's meaning she's after she should listen to the music, not the song.

Somehow Abbut's even less helpful.

When she speaks to him she finds herself momentarily trapped in a mental hall of mirrors. This is about the point where I'd tell them both to fuck off and find a different job.

Ambassador G'Kar finally meets with Deathwalker and offers her triple what Earth Alliance is going to pay her for the anti-agapic serum. She's willing to consider the deal, but she wants him to throw in one more thing before she'll offer his people immortality. She wants Na'Toth's head, within the hour.

G'Kar done some shady shit in the past for the good of his people and he's always talking about the sacrifices they have to make, but he doesn't even give this a moment's consideration. He just storms out of the room, giving Deathwalker some privacy for her supervillain laugh.


ACT THREE.


Docking bay shot! We get a good view of Deathwalker's Minbari shuttle as well, with it's fishy paint job. Sinclair orders that her shuttle is to be recharged and a fighter escort readied as he's going to get her off the station quietly. Not what he wants to do, but those are his orders.

First though Sinclair wants to know why she's giving the cure to Earth. She explains that it was Earth that turned the tide in the Dilgar War 30 years ago, so they deserve to benefit from their conquest. Plus she likes the irony that those who cursed her people and their atrocities will now have to thank them for the rest of time. Space Hitler is back from the dead to spread good health and cheer to the galaxy and people will have no choice but to be grateful.

She's still utterly unrepentant, but as evil revenge schemes go this one seems kind of win-win.

Sinclair and Deathwalker don't make it far though, as G'Kar has called the League ambassadors and told them all what they're up to. Now everyone knows Deathwalker is on the station, and they want her to go to trial for her crimes. Which gives Sinclair a reasonable justification not to follow his orders!

The League of Non-Aligned Worlds hasn't been given too much focus so far in the series, they're the guys who sit in the audience in council meetings and listen to Londo and G'Kar shout at each other. This time though it's them who'll be addressing the council, led by Saavik #2 from Star Trek III under fish-woman makeup. They had a Star Trek II actor last week, and Chekov before that, so the series seems to be working its way through the movies in order.

Meanwhile, Talia wants out of Kosh's negotiations as it's all gotten a bit too nonsensical and weird to her (plus Abbut is a terrible comedian). But Kosh dismisses her concerns with a cryptic comment and then Abbut gives her another vision.

This time she's faced with the image of a happy sparking computer straight out of some disturbing kids TV series from the 80s. Uh... okay then.

Later in the council chamber, everyone has assembled to decide whether Deathwalker will go to trial. Apparently the way this assembly works is that the five major races get one vote each, and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds all get a single vote between them. Seems incredibly unfair, but that's life!

Ambassador Kosh hasn't turned up as he doesn't give a damn, so that means that three votes can win this. Sinclair suspects that G'Kar and Londo will vote against a trial, as their races collaborated with the Dilgar in the war, and Lennier (sitting in for an absent Delenn) will join him in voting for a trial. The League will obviously vote 'yes', so it'll be three to two.

And Lennier goes and votes 'no'.

The League are outraged and storm out with a lot of yelling. In fact everyone leaves except Sinclair and Lennier, who explains that his people were too ashamed to vote for a trial, as it would meant admitting that they harboured her all these years.

It soon becomes very obvious why it's not a good idea to piss off the League, as a Drazi starship comes in through the jumpgate with its weapons hot. They demand the extradition of Deathwalker or they'll attack immediately.


ACT FOUR.


Unfortunately for the Drazi, Ivanova is the one running C&C and she offers them a free demonstration of the station's gun arrays.
"You will find their power quite impressive, for a few seconds."
Three more weird CGI ships arrive and take up positions, but she keeps their captains busy by getting them to argue between themselves over who has he best claim to Deathwalker. The winner gets to attack first.

Meanwhile Sinclair has to convince the League to quit pointing guns at the station while also keeping them from quitting the Babylon 5 assembly.

And then there's more of this Talia B-plot.
"A herring is just a herring, but a good cigar is a Cuban."
"A stroke from the brush does not guarantee art from the bristles."
It's like the writer is deliberately trying to draw attention to how ridiculous Kosh sounds every time he opens his... translator device.

On her third vision Talia is attacked by a stranger, who smashes a bottle and puts the jagged edge up to her face, causing her to scream out loud and get the attention of everyone else in the room.

Kosh seems satisfied by this and declares that their business is now concluded.

And so Abbut takes his hat off and gives the Vorlon a data crystal from his the top of his exposed metal skull. Talia should probably be more freaked out about this, but I think at this point she's just grateful it's over.

She asks Kosh what was on the crystal and he tells her. "Reflection, surprise, terror. For the future." Kosh is a dick.

In some other part of the station, Sinclair negotiates directly with the League to find a compromise they can both be happy with. It's basically the same deal G'Kar made with Na'Toth: Earth gets Deathwalker long enough for her to make the immortality serum for everyone, then she'll be handed over for trial. The League are satisfied and their ships depart. Everyone's happy!

But when Sinclair arrives to escort Deathwalker to her ship, he finds her all dressed up in her Dilgar uniform, wearing a smug grin on her face. She drops the other shoe: the secret ingredient in the immortality serum is people. To live forever the powerful will prey upon the weak, the different races will set upon each other like wolves, and they'll all become just as bad as the Dilgar were. That's like the exact opposite of what Babylon 5 was built to achieve. This woman is their ultimate nemesis!

Plus she's really good at this science thing isn't she? I can believe that a woman who spent decades performing horrific experiments on a planetary scale could come up with medical breakthroughs that entire races have failed to crack, but it seems incredibly convenient that she just happened to invent an anti-agapic that requires the death of sapient beings. You can't just harvest bunnies for it or something.

It's a shame Na'Toth utterly disappeared from the plot halfway through as she'd really be useful right about now. They could hand her a wrench and let her save the galaxy. Instead Deathwalker is allowed to get into her ship, leave the station and fly away, without anyone to stop her.

Except for the Vorlon ship that suddenly flies in through the jumpgate and obliterates her ship in a single blast... on the second try. The hyper-advanced Vorlons actually miss with their first shot! Probably because they're trying to shoot with a weird intersecting energy beam Death Star laser instead of just using a gun they can aim properly.

But the point is made: Ambassador Kosh may not play their game but that doesn't mean he's not paying attention, and when he has something to say he'll say it. In this case he's saying that the other races just aren't ready for immortality.


ACT FIVE.


Later, down in the Zocalo, Talia joins Garibaldi and Sinclair to ask them about Abbut. They explain that cyborgs like him are called 'vicars', because they can record thoughts like a VCR records video. I guess in the B5 universe video cassettes must have come back like vinyl LPs, as our last VCR factory shut down last month.

Anyway they figure that Kosh set her up, possibly to get something to use against her later. "Ambassador Kosh has been a busy boy today," concludes Garibaldi.


CONCLUSION

After 8 episodes Ambassador Kosh finally gets some screen time! He doesn't turn up to the council meeting and we barely get a straight sentence out of him, but when he's throwing out gems like "Understanding is a three-edged sword," who can complain?

I expected Deathwalker to be another dip in quality after And the Sky Full of Stars, but it's not really. I mean sure I found the Talia B-plot to be cryptic and annoying, but I appreciate how it sneakily set Kosh up to sort out the A-plot. It could've seemed like a deus ex machina resolution, but the Vorlon is just so damn weird and sinister this episode that his surprise intervention is just more Kosh being Kosh. It also shows that the Vorlons really do care! They just don't care about the other races' opinions in the matter, and they've got the biggest guns so they always get the final say.

One thing that surprised me that the Vorlons were the only ones with a problem about the 'immortality' part of the deal. I'm used to series like Doctor Who and Star Trek portraying immortality as a curse, and having cautionary tales about how trying to extend your lifespan always leads to disaster, but B5 seems cool with it. There's also no mention of the morality of using medical research acquired through horrific human (well, alien) experimentation; instead the dilemma is about whether to let Deathwalker continue her work in a more humane fashion for the benefit of all or bring her to justice. And the decision everyone ultimately reaches is 'we can do both!'

The biggest problem I had with Deathwalker is the title, and the way it gets dropped over and over again, always with absolute seriousness. I've gotten over 'Deathstroke' and 'Luke Skywalker', but put them both together and my brain wants none of it. As a character she was pretty good though, and she's played well by former Kryptonian Sarah Douglas. She's the anti-Babylon 5, a woman determined to tear the races apart and throw the galaxy into endless war purely for her own satisfaction, and she would've gotten away with it if it wasn't for those pesky Vorlons.

She also provides an excuse for some backstory on one of the three major events in B5's recent past. The 2230s were a busy decade as the Narn won their independence from the Centauri at the same time as the Earth Alliance was getting a rep by defeating the Dilgar and saving the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. This established them both as a major players who get one of the nice seats in B5 council meetings (the third major event, the one that caused the B5 council to be built in the first place, was the Earth-Minbari War).

So the episode it might not have much to contribute to the ongoing story, but it fills out the universe a little and it's watchable enough. Easily my fourth favourite episode so far (figuring out the fifth would be harder though).


Babylon 5 will return with Believers. Or maybe Survivors. One of those two, I get them confused. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures it's Star Trek's 50th anniversary so I'm watching the very first Star Trek... movie... by J.J. Abrams. Sorry.

If you have anything to say about the episode Deathwalker or the themes contained within then you're welcome to transfer your thoughts into the box below. I always appreciate feedback! Mostly always.

2 comments:

  1. For me it is the 'Hour of Scampering' that really grinds, rather than 'Deathwalker'. Deathwalker is not much of a reach from the 'Angel of Death' sobriquet attached to Josef Mengele, for whom Deathwalker is somewhat of a nautral sci-fi extension. Let's assume JMS is saying aliens feel the need to paint people who do unspeakable things with the same tabloid friendly names we do, I can go with that.

    The 'Hour of Scampering' though is one of the many times you can almost see JMS leaning nonchelantly against your TV, arching an eyebrow and casting one eye in your direction, his look saying 'See that writing? That's gold that is. So cryptic, God I'm wasted on you'.

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  2. To be fair the episode was written by Larry DiTillio, so JMS's only crime may have been to leave it in the script. Personally though I didn't mind the line, because Talia basically had the same reaction to it that you did. But she didn't need her telepathy to know that if she'd pointed out that no human could possibly know when that is, he would've replied "Good," and slid off without another word. Being cryptic and aloof isn't just Kosh's nature, it's his hobby.

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