Written by David Gerrold and J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Richard Compton
Back when I first began watching Babylon 5, this was one of the first episodes I saw, and one that resonated with me for many years. Whenever I thought about the show, this was an episode that would pop up in my mind first, as it resonated with me so strongly. Who knew that more than 25 years later, its message would take on a new meaning.
Believers is mainly a way to present the debate of faith vs. science. Which should take precedence in a situation? I guess that would depend on who you talked to. Doctor Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) examines Shon (Jonathan Charles Kaplan), a child of the Onteen race, who has been diagnosed by his own healers with a disease that will cause him to weaken and die. Doctor Franklin states his problem can be solved with a simple operation.
However, the religion of the Onteen will not allow the child to be cut open. Although Dr. Franklin assures his parents that there’s nothing to worry about and it’s a simple operation, they refuse to allow him to treat the boy. His assistant, Doctor Hernandez (Silvana Gallardo), is more confrontational with the family while Doctor Franklin tries to give them time to reason it out. They believe the spirit will escape if the skin is punctured. The end result is that Doctor Franklin does the operation over the parents’ objections. He believes once the parents see the result and Shon assures them he still feels the same, it won’t matter. The parents then reject the boy as being a demon.
Doctor Franklin is smug when he believes the parents have capitulated and accepted the boy. They bring a robe for a long journey with them and state that they see that Doctor Franklin did what he did thinking it was best. However, they have set him on his journey believing that the spirit was already gone and they had to end the pain of the shell it was in.
In this day and age of science-deniers around COVID and the COVID vaccine, this episode resonates all the more. Should people who reject science then turn to it when their beliefs fail them? Shon’s parents know what their healers have told them – based on their beliefs. Yet, they travel off-planet to seek a solution for their child. When Doctor Franklin gives them a simple option to cure the child, they reject it, based on their beliefs. Why did they consult a medical professional, and a man of science, if they were going to reject his advice anyway? If you are truly that committed to your faith and your choices, then why do you run to people of science when things don’t go the way you’d like them to?
Sinclair: Who asked you to play God?
Franklin: Every damn patient who comes through that door, that’s who. People come to doctors because they want us to be gods. They want us to make it better – or make it not so. They want to be healed and they come to me when their prayers aren’t enough. Well, if I have to take the responsibility, then I claim the authority too.
I love they way J. Michael Straczynski treated religion and faith throughout this series; all the more remarkable since he’s an atheist. In this episode, with writer David Gerrold, they manage to convey that science doesn’t always have all of the answers either. Doctor Franklin tries to temper Doctor Hernandez’s arrogance as a physician, but then it surfaces in him as well. He’s so convinced that he knows the right thing to do over everyone else that he defies a direct order from Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare). The Commander has explained that they have to honor all religions and not just throw diplomacy to the side when it isn’t convenient to their particular set of values. The end result of the situation is the same for Shon whether he had the operation or not.
Without an Onteen Ambassador on the station, the parents consult with Ambassadors for other races present on Babylon 5. None of the diplomates the Onteen consult will intercede for them. This is a good way to not only involve other members of the cast in the episode, but also subtly show the different philosophies of the different races when faced with this situation.
Meanwhile, Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) cajoles Commander Sinclair to send her on a mission off the station to provide fighter escort to a ship that lost its navigation and is in Raider territory. She breaks off from the escort to follow what she believes to be a raider and ends up face to face with many more raiders. Somehow, she arrives back at the Station intact, although her ship is somewhat worse for wear. The audience does not see how she escapes from that, though.
I loved Believers for the questions it asks in regard to balancing science and faith. It’s become more relevant today than it was when it first aired. What does that say about us as a society?
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