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Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Babylon 5 2-07: Soul Mates

Episode:29|Writer:Peter David|Air Date:14-Dec-1994

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm watching episodes out of DVD order again, as I've left Soul Mates until after A Race Through Dark Places. They aired the other way around in the US, as the network wanted to move an episode to an earlier air date and Race's VFX shots wouldn't have been finished in time, but this is their correct production and story order.

Why does it matter to you what order I'm watching the episodes in? Well it affects the SPOILERS you're going to be getting, as I avoid spoiling things that happen in later episodes, for the sake of people who haven't seen the rest of the series yet (or have forgotten it all), but as far as I'm concerned Race Through Dark Places has already been and gone, and is now fair game. Also, I'm going to recap this whole episode as I give my thoughts about it, so I'll be spoiling the hell out of it too.



The episode begins with a really nice shot of the station that I just thought I'd share. The CGI team at Foundation Imaging had certainly gotten the hang of showing off the big blue cylinder at this point.

Though we don't usually see Babylon 5 sitting with its ass pointing towards Epsilon III like that. I always assumed that the station turns as it orbits to keep its side facing the planet, like the USS Enterprise, but maybe not!

After it's fully established that we're on a space station, the episode cuts to the customs area where Vir's greeting one of Londo's three wives, who introduces herself as Timov, daughter of Alghul. Man, how many daughters does Ra's Al Ghul have? Vir's actually supposed to be waiting for all of Londo's wives, but Timov demands to see her husband immediately and then skips ahead to the part where he agrees to take her, so the best the guy can do is try to keep up.

I remember Londo telling Garibaldi a story back in A Voice in the Wilderness about the time he married a dancer with a voice that could apparently shatter glass, and if his impersonation of her was accurate I think we may have just met her.

Garibaldi was there for all of this and makes a quip to end the scene, but before the episode can cut away his attention is drawn to these two arguing about something. Well, the man on the left is arguing anyway... until he suddenly changes his tune and apologises without a word from the other guy.

The mysterious man on the right is Keith Szarabajka (I'm so glad I don't have to try saying that out loud), aka Holtz from Angel and Harbinger from Mass Effect 2! He's got a great voice for playing villains and he's had plenty of practice at it so Garibaldi's not liking his presence in the episode one bit.

In fact, he even goes and speaks to Captain Sheridan about him, revealing that his character's called Stoner and... he's done absolutely nothing wrong. There's nothing suspicious about him, no cause for concern, but Garibaldi's taken an instant instinctive dislike to the guy.

Just then telepath Talia Winters shows up for the third episode in a row to help Sheridan check out some rumours about the Psi Corps. This is why the story has to come after A Race Through Dark Places, because it's following on from her decision to turn against the Corps at the end.

But before they can turn this into another Psi Corps episode, Talia catches the name Stoner and we learn that he's her ex-husband. No wonder Garibaldi's spider-sense is tingling; he's got a thing for Talia. Plus last time one of her exes came to B5 he nearly blew up the station with his mind.


ACT ONE


We come back from the opening titles to this great shot of a joyful Londo buying drinks for the whole bar, with everyone cheering in the background. It's always nice when the director finds a way to make the series look less like a sitcom.

The shot also gives us a rare glimpse here of a Centauri woman without a headband on to hide the seam of her bald cap. I don't know if that's really why they're all wearing them, but it seems plausible.

Meanwhile, in Londo's quarters, Vir's trying to cover for his boss and keep his wives happy. Well Timov and Daggair anyway, the third one hasn't arrived yet. But Timov's pretty annoyed that she was dragged all the way out here without being told why and Daggair's appearance isn't exactly cheering her up.

This is the first of two episodes by 'writer of stuff' Peter David, mainly famous for his comic books and Star Trek novels, and now that these two are together on screen you can really tell. They get straight to the verbal sparring, with every insult a punchline.

Sheridan catches up with Talia in the Earth History exhibition, which looks a lot like his office, except with old radios on display. Plus there's a Stratocaster on a plinth, which she runs her fingers across. First rule of museums: you don't put your hands on the 300-year-old exhibits, I don't care how many pairs of gloves you're wearing! Though to be fair, I'm not sure I'd be able to resist the urge to take a screwdriver to it and straighten out that bottom pickup.

He just wants to know if she wants to talk about Stoner's awkward appearance on the station, seeing as she's obviously not happy about it. These two characters must have only shared a half-dozen scenes together during the series so far, but he already considers her an ally (probably due to their mutual distrust of the Psi Corps) and he doesn't like seeing people suffer.

Speaking of people suffering, Ivanova is called to Delenn's quarters but is unprepared for what she discovers there...

Delenn's gone through another transformation! She's become someone really pissed off about her unmanageable hair, and she wants Ivanova's help. The poor woman only became half-human a couple of months ago, she's never had to worry about hair before and she doesn't know what she's supposed to do with it.

Ivanova asks what she's been washing it with, and Delenn explains that Minbari use a chemical compound that strips away the outer layer of their skin. Ivanova reacts pretty much as you'd expect.

But as the first officer of Babylon 5, it's her duty to do what she can to help ensure galactic peace, even if it means putting off her other duties to give Delenn a makeover.

It seems strange that it's Ivanova she asks for help, considering that I can barely remember a time the two of them have interacted before now, but I guess that shows how Delenn really hasn't made any friends with female humans during her time on the station so far. Her change has left her with a body she doesn't know and has driven a wedge between her and the Minbari, so she can't afford to be so isolated from the human characters anymore.

Down in the central corridor, Sheridan's walk and talk with G'Kar is interrupted by Londo, who's still about as happy as we've ever seen him.

The two of them had been talking about Commander Sinclair's mysterious reassignment to Minbar, with G'Kar complaining about how bizarre events like these give him a literal headache, so he's a little put off when Londo starts being inexplicably nice to him for once.

Londo even compliments him, saying that he looks in excellent health and he should keep doing whatever he's doing, which leaves G'Kar in apparent agony. The actors are playing it a bit broad this week, but then it's Londo and G'Kar so it kind of works.

With his job here done, Londo wanders off again, this time to his quarters to finally meet with his wives. The two that have shown up anyway.

He arrives still just about sober enough to give his wives the good news: it's the 30th anniversary of his Day of Ascension and the Centauri emperor has given him a divorce as a present! In fact, he has the emperor's permission to divorce two of them and leave them cut off from the wealth, title and privileges that they have become accustomed to! But he has to keep one of them to be at his side for state affairs and now he just has to choose which of them gets to stay.

Until then Londo will have the pleasure of watching the three of them compete with each other for his affections. Well two of them at least, as Timov's no interest in playing this game. Instead, she's trying to destroy her rivals (and Londo) verbally, mostly out of irritation with the whole situation. To her, the secret to their marriage's success has been their lack of communication, and now he's in the same room talking to her and she doesn't like it.

By the way, I've really started to notice here just how much better Londo's quarters look compared to last season. The colours are so much richer, there's more going on and I don't get it mixed up with Delenn's room anymore. It helps that they were letting more light into the camera this year so it's less dingy and there's much more contrast.


ACT THREE


Hey, it's that composited shot of the two-storey bazaar from the opening credits. First the radio and guitar museum, and now a bazaar; we're getting to see all kinds of exciting new parts of the station this episode.

I'd point out all the little flaws in it that make it obvious that it's a visual effect, but I can't actually spot any. I can't even decide if the railings are CGI or not, and that's pretty good for mid-90s TV budget VFX.

You can't really tell from this shot of the back of his head, but this scene features a surprise appearance by Carel Struycken, famous for playing Lurch in the Addams Family movies, and Lwaxana Troi's personal assistant Mr. Homn in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is basically a cameo though, as he's just buying a Centauri statue from Stoner.

Garibaldi's eager to catch him dealing in stolen goods, but Stoner's got the certificate to prove he participated in an archaeological dig and there's really no reason for him to suspect otherwise. Being a slimy obnoxious little git isn't a crime on Babylon 5 and Garibaldi's kind of overstepping the line here.

Okay, dragging him in for questioning is way overstepping the line. Though Stoner crosses several lines himself, trying to bait Garibaldi into doing something he'll regret by talking about the noises Talia makes in bed. Damn, man!

Stoner's marriage to Talia was actually arranged by the Psi Corps and was annulled when he left, which is kind of weird as the Psi Corps never lets anyone leave. The only ways to get out of the Psi Corps once they've got you is to run away or die, but this guy's done neither. Maybe he just pissed them off so much that they unanimously decided to make an exception in his case and kicked him out. I mean, that's what Garibaldi would like to be doing right now if there was an airlock handy.

Elsewhere on the station, Londo catches his third wife, Mariel, making the moves on Captain Sheridan. Mariel's got a thing for people in positions of power, the ambassador explains, as he jumps over to his rescue. She's drawn to them like a moth to a flame, he tells him, except they're the ones who get burned.

This is the first time that his three wives have set foot on the station, but they have made an appearance in the series before. Or their photographs did at least, way back in The War Prayer20-something episodes ago.

I'm fairly certain those are three completely different faces we're looking at though.

'Pestilence, Famine and Death' he called them back then and he hasn't grown any fonder of them in the meantime. Knowing they were waiting for him at home is what's kept Londo on Babylon 5 all this time, 75 light years away. I'm still not sure why he named them after the Four Horsemen from Earth mythology though, especially as there's only three of them.

Speaking of The War Prayer, Londo's scenes here are working so much better than his scenes in that episode and I'm pretty sure it's 90% down to the lack of obnoxious comedy music this time around. Well more like 55% due to the music, 35% due to snappy Peter David banter and 10% due to less shouting from Peter Jurasik. This episode's just better in general is what I'm saying.

In a cafe just down the corridor (or down some other corridor entirely, it's hard to tell with this series), Talia's sitting on her own, deciding what she'd like to order. And then her asshole ex comes and sits down next to her!

Talia doesn't believe that Stoner has found himself on the same space station as her by coincidence and she's probably right. He knows that she's sick of the Psi Corps though (which is strange as Bester was entirely unaware last episode) and he knows she's curious about how he managed to leave them. Turns out that the secret's actually pretty simple: he found a way to remove his telepathy. Now that he's lost his psychic powers they've got no interest in him anymore, and he can arrange to for Talia to have hers removed too. Then the two of them can be together again!

Oh good the planet's back on the left side of the station, where it should be. Though now it's a bit too high! Who the hell's steering B5 this week?


ACT THREE


Later that night, Londo's struggling to get to sleep; mostly because all of his wives keep throwing themselves at him! Mariel arrives at the door to seduce him, determined to keep her place as his wife, only to find that Daggair is already in his bedroom. They decide that they might as well make it a threesome, but Londo doesn't feel like it'd be right... because they can't leave out Timov!

Timov's been hanging around in another room listening to all this, and she makes it very clear she's not interested in getting involved in his "Sexual Olympics" with a very impressive looking slap to the face. Then she walks out and leaves them to it.

I can't remember who I expected him to choose the first time I saw the episode, but it's seeming pretty obvious now that he's going to pick Timov because she's been getting the most focus and she refuses to play along. She's the both the least likely and the most sympathetic candidate, so by the rules of drama, she has to ultimately win. So now the question is: what's going to happen to make Londo choose someone who obviously hates him?

After another stock CGI shot of the station to show the passing of time, Talia drops by Garibaldi's quarters and apologises for being rude to him in an elevator yesterday.

She came over to see him because she wants to make sure that everything's settled between them before she leaves Babylon 5 forever to be with her ex that she hates. Seems that Stoner took an experimental drug that scrambled his neural pathways and nearly killed him, and now she's going to try it too!

Man, I should've known that Talia was crazy the first time I saw her in that outfit with the folded lapels. That isn't some kind of future fashion trend she's following, no one else on the station dresses like that!

Taking mind-altering drugs to cure her natural ability seems like a bit of a drastic step, but she's not just doing this because she's disillusioned with the Psi Corps. She's also tired of learning things about people she doesn't want to, and of people avoiding her because she might read their thoughts and learn what they think of her folded lapels. Telepathy is a rubbish superpower and she wants rid of it.

It's a shame really that she couldn't have figured this out and mentioned it a bit earlier... like before Jason Ironheart gave her that massive telepathy upgrade back in Mind War , throwing in telekinesis as a bonus). He likely could've removed her powers just as easily if she'd asked him to. The guy had transformed into a naked twinkling space torso by that point, but he had a real knack for high-speed long distance brain surgery.

Whoa, giant scary looking painting of Londo out of nowhere.

Londo's throwing a party for the anniversary of his Day of Ascension and the ambassadors and staff have gathered to give him gifts. To wear shoes to the event would be a great insult to him, so everyone has arrived barefoot... except for G'Kar who doesn't miss any opportunity to offend or annoy his arch nemesis. Londo doesn't mind at all though, he's just happy to have another opportunity to confuse G'Kar with his good mood.

Now I'm wondering if the actors were actually barefoot for the scene, because aside from a few nameless extras at the start, the only feet we get to see are G'Kar's.

Oh, I just caught a woman walking barefoot in the background on the left.

But Londo doesn't seem to have caught G'Kar sneakily throwing his wife Mariel a grape right under his nose. It's so subtle that I didn't catch it either the first time. Narns and Centauri don't typically get on, so there's got to be something up with that.

This reminds me a lot of Londo's party in Parliament of Dreams, it even has a Centauri band in the background playing the medieval hits again, except this time Delenn is actually smiling. She claims to be the same person after her transformation, but she's definitely seeming a lot more human these days. Plus she's sorted out her rebellious hair! She's noticed that Garibaldi's not doing so well though.

He admits that he saw someone and fell in love with them immediately, then saw the person who once hurt her and hated him just as instantly. Delenn has an explanation for him and like most Minbari explanations it involves souls. Basically, Garibaldi and Talia are the 'soul mates' mentioned in the title, who may have been together in their previous lives. But the episode's definitely not going to confirm or deny that.

Oh it looks like Vir and Lennier's actors both went barefoot as well, though I'm still not sure about rest of the main cast.

But this is Londo's day and it's time for him to open his gifts! His dear friend Lennier's gotten him the marked playing cards he wanted and Mariel has gotten him that Centauri statue Stoner was trying to sell earlier before Garibaldi dragged him away.

Everything's going great for Londo, right up to the point where the statue fires out poison darts into his forehead and sends him falling to the ground. I think Mariel may have just thrown away her chances of staying Londo's wife... though now she's in with a shot of being his widow.

This is a medical emergency, which means that Dr. Franklin's got an excuse to make yet another appearance this season! He skipped half of season one, as is the way of most B5 characters, but this year he's found a way to turn up in almost every episode. It's like he thinks he's on Star Trek or something.


ACT FOUR


The bad news is that Londo's dying and Franklin can't create an antitoxin in time. The good news is that Londo's dying and Franklin can't create an antitoxin in time! Now no one's has to worry about getting divorced and they can get right back to spending his money.

Well until Timov comes back later on her own and admits to Franklin that she has the same blood type as her husband and they can give him a life-saving transfusion. It took her a while to decide whether she really wanted to save him, but eventually decided that she does have some principles and that this isn't how she wants to win her battles. Though she does have one condition: Londo can never find out she saved him (it'd make things unbearably awkward).

You'd think that security would be dragging Mariel away right now, but it's actually Stoner they've got in a holding cell! He wasn't even at the party, all he did was bring a deadly booby-trapped statue on board... okay that does actually sound a little illegal now that I think about it.

Stoner claims that he had no idea the artefact was dangerous, but he's a sleazy little bastard and Garibaldi's determined to find something that he can blame him for. Stoner finds the whole thing amusing as usual, like it's barely an inconvenience for him, and that just winds Garibaldi up even more. This guy has to have an ace up his sleeve and Sheridan wants him to find out what it is.

Unfortunately, Lou Welch drops by Garibaldi's office later to tell him that Stoner's story actually checks out. He really was at a dig and he really did get booted out of the Psi Corps. Garibaldi wants to harass him some more but Lou explains they can't bother him at the moment as he's eating.

Prisoners aren't supposed to get dinner for another hour, but the guy asked Lou to get him some and he did. He's not entirely sure why he did though. The best explanation he's got is that there's just something about Stoner that makes you want to like him! I think they need to check and make sure they're talking about the same Stoner.

Seems that everyone's coming by to visit Stoner today, as Talia drops in to tell him she's changed her mind; she wants to keep her telepathy and she's not leaving with him after all.

He's disappointed, as he expected her to come with him of her own free will, but explains that she is going to be coming with him. After a moment she smiles and agrees with him, and then his friend Lou opens the door for them so they can all head out to Docking Bay 9 together.

And then Garibaldi knocks him out with one punch. Turns out that Talia and Lou went in there to test if Stoner really did have mind control powers. By making it out of the door he passed the test! Though when they charge him with transporting a dangerous object and trying to escape custody, the Psi Corps that supposedly kicked him out immediately comes to his rescue.

Sheridan's theory is that their experiments turned Stoner from a telepath into an empath, which apparently means something very different here than it does on Star Trek. He can push emotions onto people to manipulate them and leave them open to suggestion, even secret super-telepath Talia apparently. So the reason that Garibaldi's been wanting to punch the guy all episode is that he's been psychically winding him up and trying to provoke him. Funny how that worked out for him in the end.

The plan was for him to come here and persuade Talia to come back and have empath babies with him. Or babies that can be turned into empaths maybe; I'm not sure if the process actually alters their DNA. Anyway, he's gone now, turned over to the Psi Corps. Hopefully it doesn't take long for one of them to punch him as well.

Over in G'Kar's quarters, the ambassador is sharing a drink (and his bare chest) with Mariel. The poor actor must have spent ages in makeup for this scene.

He's still doing that 'bizarre situations give me a headache' thing that only seems bothers him this episode, so he starts working through the mystery of what exactly went on at Londo's party to spare his allegedly aching head. It's his theory that Mariel arranged for the booby-trapped artefact to appear on Babylon 5 so that she could openly give it to her husband and murder him in plain sight of a room full of witnesses without any suspicion falling on her. But he's not going to share it with anyone.

It appears that that Mariel and G'Kar have actually known each other for a while now; she likes to get her claws into people in positions of power and he likes to secretly sleep with Londo's wife, so they've got a good arrangement here... or at least that's the impression I'm getting. He seems surprisingly fond of her, considering that she's an amoral Centauri. In fact, before she leaves he warns her to be careful, as if he were married to Londo Mallori he'd be concerned right now.

Mariel spots the set-up and delivers an episode-winning punchline: "G'Kar, if you were married to Londo Mollari, we'd all be concerned."


ACT FIVE


Down in the customs area, Londo is back on his feet and saying farewell to his wife and two exes. He's not a total bastard though and he's going to make sure that Mariel and Daggair both get a reasonable allowance.

Yep, he chose Timov in the end, despite the fact that she openly despises him. She's understandably confused, especially considering that he has no idea she saved his life, but it does make perfect sense. All of his friends on the station are people who cut the bullshit and tell him what they think: Vir, Garibaldi... Lennier kind of. He chose to stay with Timov because with her there's no deception and he always knows where he stands. And soon that'll be 75 light years from wherever she's standing.

Finally, Delenn finds Ivanova to thank her for helping her out earlier, though she does have one other question... about these odd cramps she's been getting. Claudia Christian has been killing it with her reactions this episode and she's got another great one here as she contemplates how awkward this elevator ride's going to get.

It seems like a dumb throwaway joke and kind of undignified for the character, but it does hint at a fairly major aspect of her change: she has a human reproductive system now, or close enough to it.


CONCLUSION

I'm going to have to agree with the Lurker's Guide Master List on this one, Soul Mates works far better coming after A Race Through Dark Places instead of the order they've put them on my DVDs. Spider in the Web gave Talia reason to suspect the Psi Corps murdered her friend, but A Race Through Dark Places really drove home how terrible and scary the organisation is. It finally brought her onto the same page as the as the rest of the crew, which is where she is at the start of this story. And by the end of the story she's been mind controlled and almost taken away against her will to have empath babies, so there's a definite arc there.

This is basically the end of a Talia trilogy and seeing her show up in three episodes in a row is a rare and amazing thing. Unprecedented, in fact. It doesn't seem so crazy anymore that her name's in the opening titles of every episode. Not that she's actually in the episode all that much; her plot's as much about Garibaldi dealing with his love for her and his instant hatred of her ex.

Though the A plot for the episode the tale of Londo and his wives, or at least it feels like it should be. Londo's comedy plots have become much more bearable to me now that they've dropped the comedy music, and Jane Carr's performance as the sharp-tongued Timov definitely doesn't hurt. It's all solid guest stars this episode and Peter David's given them some solid dialogue to deliver, especially when the insults start to fly. Plus it's nice to see Londo and G'Kar on semi-friendly terms for once, or at least annoying each other cheerfully.

I noticed that the episode seems to have an overall theme about arranged marriages and how much they suck, regardless of whether they're for political reasons or to create a super race of telepaths, but it's also about Delenn learning about conditioner from her new friend Ivanova. On paper, this sounds like a terrible use of powerful, dignified female characters, but in practice it's mostly an excuse for some great Ivanova reaction shots. Plus I like how straightforward their C plot is. The episode leaves it a mystery whether Stoner was working with Mariel alongside his own Psi Corps schemes, but there's definitely no way he was in any part responsible for Delenn's hair.

Soul Mates is technically skippable, seeing as it's not pushing any arcs forward, but I'm glad I didn't as it's one of the best episodes of the season so far. It's definitely better than first season story Soul Hunter, so if you're only going to watch one Babylon 5 episode beginning with 'Soul', make it this one.



COMING SOON
Babylon 5 will return with The Coming of Shadows! But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be writing about Deep Space Nine's Invasive Procedures.

Thanks for reading, it definitely makes me feel a lot better about all of the writing I just did. You could also leave a comment if you want and share your own thoughts about Soul Mates or my website. Then I'll get to be the one doing the reading for a change.

3 comments:

  1. I suppose it makes sense that B5 wouldn't keep the same side facing Epsilon III all the time. It would have to be rotating slowly on its short axis to do so, and that would just make it harder for ships to dock.

    (Given how the USS Enterprise would start losing altitude when someone turned off the engines, I assume they weren't really orbiting so much as maintaining a powered hover, so they'd need to keep the engines pointed in the right direction.)

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  2. I can sympathize with the way Claudia Christian plays Ivanova. She's confident when she's in her comfort zone, and she can cope with unexpected forays outside that zone, but she just doesn't move smoothly into doing weird stuff that's not her normal job. She's got to go through her "oh crap" moment first, and she's terrible at hiding it.

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  3. It seems strange that it's Ivanova she asks for help, considering that I can barely remember a time the two of them have interacted before now,

    Well, from a practical point of view, Ivanova does have glorious hair for a military officer -- and Talia is busy -- so it makes sense for Delenn to ask. That's probably much more prosaic than what they were going for, but you never know with B5.

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