Babylon 5

Series Rewatch: Babylon 5 – Infection

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Richard Compton

Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics, and you’ll get ten different answers, but there’s one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won’t just take us. It’ll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-Tzu, and Einstein, and Morobuto, and Buddy Holly, and Aristophanes, and – all of this – all of this – was for nothing. Unless we go to the stars.

-Commander Jeffrey Sinclair

It’s nearly impossible to write about Babylon 5 and not discuss the amount of foreshadowing in the series. The 5-year story-arc was written almost entirely by J. Michael Straczynski which meant he could incorporate things in year one knowing how they would play out in years three, four, or even five. The best way to view the series is to watch it once and then go back and watch it again. There are those moments of “that’s what they meant” while viewing for the first time, but there are far more of them on subsequent viewings. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched the series and I still have those moments.

Initially, Infection seems like a typical “monster of the week” story. The main story is about an old friend of Dr. Stephen Franklin’s (Richard Biggs) who shows up. Dr. Vance Hendricks (David McCallum) is an archaeologist who touts the “adventure” he’s offering Stephen. He’s brought artifacts from an archeological dig he was on. Actually, he and his assistant smuggled them in. The artifacts are made of living tissue and Dr. Hendricks believes he has found the perfect fusion of living tissue and machine. His assistant, Nelson (Marshall Teague) gets zapped by the artifacts and starts mutating.

After an argument with Vance about who he really works for, Stephen takes a break and returns to Med-Lab only to find the mutating Nelson, who attacks him then disappears. Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) and Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) read Vance the riot act when they learn the artifacts weren’t quarantined for 48 hours, as is the law. Meanwhile, Nelson is developing skin-like armor and attacking people.

Doctor Franklin access the organic databases present in the artifacts and learns the artifacts are remnants of the Ikarran civilization. The Ikarran people were invaded multiple times and attempted to create a perfect weapon. What has ingrained itself in Nelson is the personality of Tular, one of their weapons researchers. He has been programmed not to listen to anyone that s not “pure Ikarran.” It’s a race against time as none of the conventional weapons on the station seem to have an effect on the Tular creature and Garibaldi and Sinclair must do something before the entire station is destroyed.

The episode has some good character development. There is some background given on Garibaldi, that he’s been fired five times from various other security positions and Babylon 5 is pretty much the last hope for him. Garibaldi also calls out Commander Sinclair for his actions during the battle with Tular and accuses him of looking for something to die for because it’s easier than looking for something to live for.

The technology Hendricks has found has ties to the Vorlons and the Shadows. Oh, you haven’t heard of those yet? Well, you will as the series goes on. Doctor Franklin wonders if Tular, as a weapon, is hinting at the ramifications of the “Pure Earth” movement he’s heard about. All of this will have payoffs down the road, as will the fact that the artifacts are seized by Earth Force bio-weapons division.

The secondary story is that a reporter from ISN arrives to interview Commander Sinclair on the second anniversary of Babylon 5 going live. The Commander dodges her for the time being. When he finally gives the interview at the end,

The remastering is noticeable in the shots of computer screens especially. In both Dr. Franklin’s Med-Lab and the Command Center, they look crisp now, where before they were unreadable. Sequences showing the space station from the outside with ships arriving and departing also look better than they ever did. The only part that still seemed a little shaky was the scenes with the Tular-monster. During battle, he doesn’t appear crisp and clean as I would have expected, especially since he was primarily created through makeup and costuming. That’s another thing the series really excels at – creating some very interesting aliens on the station.

This is a strong episode to develop the regular series characters. We get some more information about both Garibaldi and Commander Sinclair. Doctor Franklin shows signs of what’s to come with his dedication to his work, spending 15 hours straight working with the artifacts when he’s first given them, then returning on his own to Med-Lab even after Vance suggests they need rest. The very end of the episode introduces the concept of the “Earth First” movement and the possibility that the powers-that-be on Earth aren’t embracing peace quite as much as they appear.

If there’s one fault it’s the use of David McCallum as a guest star. Granted, he wasn’t as known for his work on NCIS at the time, but the role of Vance Hendricks is pretty one-dimensional. He’s not above using people he knows to enrich himself, which is his motivation for seeking out his friend Stephen and getting him involved in something that is pretty underhanded. It’s not the worst thing in the world, though.

For a “monster of the week” episode, Infection is pretty good. There’s a lot here that doesn’t seem relevant on first viewing that has payoffs down the line.

Previous episode in the series (link): Babylon 5 -Born to the Purple

Next episode in the series (link): Babylon 5: The Parliament of Dreams

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