Posts Tagged ‘Quality of Mercy’

It has occurred to me that my choice of which episodes to look at in detail, in the course of this revisitation of Babylon 5, has been perhaps a little self-consciously quirky.  Across the first five discs I’ve plumped for By Any Means Necessary, Grail, and Babylon Squared (I’m suddenly aware I didn’t really properly review anything from episodes 1-8, which I’m suddenly regretting: difficult to say which of the first four episodes would be most rewarding, but it’d be hard to choose between Parliament of Dreams and Mind War, given they’re both interesting G’Kar stories). And here I’m going to do the same by talking about The Quality of Mercy rather than Chrysalis.

Is there a reason for this? Hmmm. Partly, I suppose, I’m hoping this series of reviews may possibly just tip someone over into trying the show who otherwise wouldn’t, and so I’m trying to avoid in-depth spoilers (quite difficult to do, even so), but also I think that it’s very tempting just to think of B5 in terms of its major episodes – and to do so means overlooking many of the most interesting stories it produced.

The Quality of Mercy is not quite in the top flight of B5‘s first season, but I always enjoy it. Initially it looks like we’re in for an A, B, and C story structure: Dr Franklin discovers a disgraced physician using dubious alien technology to treat the station’s homeless population (this still doesn’t quite hang together for me – are all these people on some sort of welfare? If not, what do they eat? How expensive is interstellar travel, anyway? Do none of them have families who could spring for a ticket somewhere else? Hey ho). Franklin being who he is, he is righteously outraged by what he sees as a con trick – until he realises that the machine works, but not in what you’d call a conventional way…

Elsewhere, someone else has been trying to solve the homelessness problem, but by killing the homeless people. For this he has been put on trial and found guilty, and now he is going to have his mind erased and a new personality implanted. It’s down to poor old Talia to go into his head to ensure the erasure is carried out successfully…

These two stories are competently told – although JMS is apparently only 90% happy with his script – and fill in some background on the legal footing of telepathy in the 23rd century. The two strands bang together at the end of the story when it becomes clear – sort of – that this has been a story about capital punishment (despite one character getting capital and corporal punishment mixed up in her dialogue – then again she’s supposed to be very ill). It presents various ideas on this topic but doesn’t really go on to do anything with them or dwell on them in any depth. One later episode does just that with a similar theme, and the results are outstanding, a breathtakingly good and unusual piece of TV – Quality of Mercy isn’t close to that standard, which is a shame.

The episode is perhaps most memorable for its unrelated C-story, in which Londo Mollari takes Lennier out on the lash, with uproarious results. This concludes with a hilarious, jaw-dropping scene in which Londo demonstrates a method of cheating at cards which would be anatomically impossible for a human being. Quite how they got it past the TV censor I have no idea. This is really as broad as broad can be but it’s a lot of fun.

The Ambassador lets it all hang out. So to speak.

It also presents a nice contrast with the tone of Chrysalis, which is serious and significant throughout. I don’t know, I think the thing with Chrysalis is that it really doesn’t give you a moment to sit back and contemplate the magnitude of the game-changing events which occur almost without pause throughout it. Someone is spectacularly murdered, one character turns out to be a traitor and very nearly kills another regular, someone else gets engaged, yet another character initiates what is clearly a radical and painful physical transformation… and all this is before someone previously only depicted as a little bit dubious ends up with ten thousand deaths on his conscience.

It’s full-throttle stuff, perhaps lighter on CGI than you might expect: the only major sequence gives us our first proper look at Shadow vessels in action (apparently the proper name for them is ‘battlecrabs’. This is a stupid and wholly misleading name. I shall not be using or referring to it again. That is all) and they really are supremely well-designed ships, in terms of appearing sinister and powerful yet also oddly beautiful.

Overall the episode hits like a brick, and feels much more like the rest of B5, somehow. But watching the first season as a whole, again, I have been pleasantly surprised by just how good it is overall. I don’t think I’ll ever find a huge amount to enjoy in episodes like Eyes, but on the other hand Born to the Purple – something I execrated the last time I watched it – really didn’t seem too bad this time around. The wobbly start to the first season is pretty much part and parcel of starting any new series; I’m looking forward to revisiting this one really hitting its stride in the season to come.

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