Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Jim Johnston
If there was an episode of Babylon 5 that I could point to and say “this is what hooked me,” it would be the second episode of the first season, titled Soul Hunter. There was so much going on in this episode, and yet it presented a great, cohesive story that introduced new characters and concepts. It also started delving into the various belief systems out there, even among the alien races considered highly intelligent. Despite being an atheist himself, J. Michael Straczynski really outdid himself examining belief systems in an interstellar future.
Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) and Lt. Commander Ivanova (Claudia Christian) are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new doctor, Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs). There’s a passing mention of Doctor Kyle (from the pilot) being reassigned to work with Earth’s President. In actuality, a weekly series was too difficult for the actor due to his health.
Sinclair is called to the Command Center when there is a disturbance at the Jump Gate. A ship with a signature they’ve never seen before emerges from the Jump Gate and seems to be on a collision course with the station.
“This is not a clear and present danger? I must read the rule book again….”– Susan Ivanova
Sinclair himself takes one of the flyers out of the station to retrieve the out-of-control ship to attempt to secure it instead of destroying it. He is successful and brings it on board. The pilot is of a race they haven’t seen before. Minbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) offers to see if she recognizes his race. Sinclair brings her to Med-Lab where she tells them the patient should be killed. He is a “soul hunter” and she urges Sinclair to get him off of the station before it’s too late.
What Delenn describes at first sounds like a story told to scare little children. She claims they have the power to steal a soul at the time of death and have been after certain classes of Minbari for a long time.
The soul hunter (W. Morgan Sheppard) awakens in Med-Lab. When the victim of a stabbing is brought into Med-Lab, he narrates cryptically as the patient dies. He then seems to go into a meditative trance to avoid answering questions. When Sinclair asks him if he came to the station to steal his soul, he defiantly claims to be acting as a preserver for the greater good.
This Soul Hunter and Delenn know each other, although they don’t recognize each other at first. Eventually, he recognizes her and asks what one of the great leaders of the Minbari is doing on the station playing Ambassador. It suggests that there is much more to her than meets the eye.
Eventually, the Soul Hunter escapes Med-Lab.
Another Soul Hunter comes to the station. He is there to warn them that the one they had in Med-Lab is dangerous. He no longer waits for someone to die to catch a soul, but will kill someone he considers “worthy” to capture their soul.
This is the start of some of the stellar performances by actors in this series. Not just the regular cast, but the guest stars as well. In Soul Hunter, there is some great acting here by Mira Furlan and Sheppard as the Soul Hunter. Although he is mostly delivering his lines in a monotone, it is his facial expressions and eyes under the alien makeup that is compelling. This is a bit of a different role for Delenn. We saw a bit of her angry side in The Gathering, but here she is immediately hostile to the Soul Hunter. It seems she is definitely hiding something from her fellow Ambassadors as there are a number of cryptic interactions on her part. During the series, she has something of a reputation of being peace-loving, but she is much more than that.
The episode also gives us the first glimpse of some not-so-nice areas of Babylon 5. One of the creatures living there is a bipedal insect that appears to be a giant praying mantis.
There’s foreshadowing galore here, although viewers won’t realize it the first time they watch. There’s talk of the Minbari and the Grey Council, of which Delenn is a member. However, the Grey Council is pretty much unknown outside of the top levels of Minbari society. They seem to have a purpose for Sinclair, although just what that is won’t be revealed for quite some time.
The remastering of this episode is a gift I thought I would nave have with this series. Even the opening credits had been hard to read previously and now they are much easier to read. There were many problems with the original copies of the show and the earlier transfer to DVD. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s worth the investment in the remastered digital copies. Some are holding out hopes for a blu-ray release, but I’m not sure the series has enough fans to justify it.
This episode drew me into the series and has some clues for the overall story arc, but it’s really great as a stand-alone episode as well. There’s not enough that a viewer would have to know about the characters to be lost without the background, and it’s sowing seeds for future episodes to play out. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it again for this review and highly recommend it as part of your series viewing.
Previous episode in the series (link): Babylon 5: Midnight on the Firing Line
Next episode in the series (link): Babylon 5 -Born to the Purple